Lady Emma Worthing in 'The Wreck of the Corbeau'
When Lady Emma seeks to recover its treasures from a long lost ship, she discovers why it was lost.
The old fisherman looked at his visitor with interest that even a face hardened and weathered by a lifetime of the sea could not disguise.
He dwelt in an old shack made of driftwood and rusting metal siding set up beside the water. His small boat, pulled up on shore, was as patched and stained as his trousers. Everything in his single room was damp, rusted, and corroded with salt.
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In such a place as this, his visitor seemed like a being from another world.
She was a young woman, tall, graceful, and well formed. Her hair, elegantly styled beneath her wide sun hat, was a deep midnight black that was almost blue, and her large eyes sparkled like opals with a lively intelligence and interest in all around her.
It was this interested, open quality more than her evident beauty that so many found captivating about her. For Lady Emma Worthing had that elusive thing: personality.
In her simple, perfectly fitted white sundress, belted above the waist by a pale blue sash, she looked entirely too clean and too elegant to be seen anywhere near so dingy and dirty a place as this hovel. As she greeted him and took her seat at his small table, the fisherman merely stared at her with a kind of bewildered confusion, as though he doubted whether she were real. He had a half-finished can of beer in one hand, which he seemed to have forgotten about. But if Emma felt herself to be out of place, she did not show it, and when she graciously thanked the old man for sparing the time to see her, no one could doubt she meant it.
“I will come straight to the point,” she said in perfect Spanish. “For some time I have been looking for the wreck of a ship – the Corbeau – that is believed to have been torpedoed in these waters during the Second World War. I have inquired around the island, and every time I mention it, I am told ‘go see Senor Escovar the fisherman. He can tell you about it if anyone can.’ And so, here I am to ask whether, at any time in your work, you have come across a wreck that might once have looked like this.”
She handed him a black-and-white photo of a large, ocean-going cargo ship from four decades past. Escovar’s eyes went reluctantly from his beautiful guest to the photo. Slowly, he nodded.
“You have?” she said eagerly. “Can you say where, or perhaps show me on a map?”
“Why must you know?” he asked in a slow, creaking voice.
“There is something on that ship that I would very much like to find,” she said. “An historical artifact that was being shipped away from France. Most people presume that the thing was lost for good, but I believe it may have survived the sinking and, if so, I mean to find it.”
“You are going out there? In the sea?”
“Yes,” she said. “That is, if I can find the wreck.”
Slowly, he shook his head.
“You should not do that, senorita.”
Another pause. Then:
“It wasn’t a torpedo that sunk her.”
“Come again?” she said, a little startled.
“I’ve seen her. On the bottom of the sea. By a big reef.”
He glanced at his can of beer as though only just remembering he had it. He drained the last of it in one draught, then crushed the tin can in his fist.
“Looked like that,” he said, chucking the can aside.
Emma frowned at the crushed bit of tin on the floor.
“You mean, she was cracked in half like that?”
“Aye, that’s it,” he said. “Tanwo’s what did it.”
“What is Tanwo?”
But he merely shook his head.
“You go out there, he’ll eat you up. As sure as I’m sitting here.”
She blinked in surprise.
“Ah, I see. He is your local sea monster?”
“No. Only stays by that reef. But if you go diving there, you will not come back.”
There was a pause as Emma considered this.
“Thank you for the warning,” she said. “But I assure you, I shall be very careful.”
But he shook his head again.
“You mustn’t go,” he said. “I don’t want that on my soul.”
Emma’s perfectly made-up brow furrowed. Here was an unexpected obstacle indeed: a man whose conscience would not allow him to send a young woman to be possibly eaten by a sea monster. As undeniably admirable as it was annoying.
She did not, however, immediately discount the idea of a sea monster as many would have done in her place. She had an open mind on such subjects, having seen a few queer things herself. But monster or no, she meant to find that wreck.
Fortunately, she had a shrewd idea that the old man’s scruples were not quite ironclad.
“I really do need to find it,” she said, setting her purse on her lap and drawing out several crisp bills. As she had expected, Escovar’s eyes lit up at the sight. “I am so grateful for your concern. It’s very good of you, but quite unnecessary. I have done this sort of thing before.”
She fingered the bills in her white, manicured hands. Escovar’s face twitched.
“I...if you mean to go anyway,” he muttered. “It’s at Calevare Cove. Round that big island out there,” he pointed out the stained window to the large, bluish mass on the horizon. “No one lives there. Then out past it, the ocean drops down. There’s a big reef there, and if you follow it north for about three leagues, that’s where you find that ship.”
“Thank you so much,” she said, pressing the money on him. He grasped her hand as she did so.
“Don’t go, senorita,” he said. “Please don’t. You’re too pretty to be et up!”
“I appreciate that,” she said, gently disengaging herself. “But I promise you; I won’t be.”
Lady Emma had done her best, but in the end a wetsuit was never going to be very chic. There was only so much one could do with what was essentially a latex second skin. All but the simplest printed patterns would, of course, look horrid stretched over one’s flesh, and it was tricky to get any kind of variety or interest without compromising the suit’s integrity. But she had managed to give it a little character with a series of white, yellow, and aqua-green vertical lines along the profile to complement the light-blue color scheme, the lines branching off under the shoulders to meet in a gentle point beneath the bust. Of course, when she had designed the suit she had strictly ordered her supplier to remove any and all logos from it, warning that his predecessor had tried to slip one in and had been forced to pay a complete refund while losing her custom forever.
One ought never to neglect one’s appearance, she always thought, whether in society or under the sea.
She stood before the mirror in her cabin on the Silver Wand – her small, private yacht – as it sped its way to Calevare Cove and examined herself critically. Her hair, as it always was on such occasions, was done into a tight braid to prevent it’s snagging on anything. This style was not a favorite, but it was at least acceptable, particularly when safety was a concern. There wasn’t much else to be done with her appearance. Her weight belt and waterproof bag were, like the wetsuit, aesthetically resistant. She had at least had the belt dyed and painted a lovely and complimentary shade of gold that went well with her suit, but could do little more.
All in all, she thought her appearance tolerable. And she had the satisfaction of feeling she had done her best.
There were those who called Lady Emma the vainest woman in England. She herself vehemently denied any undue vanity. She had a keen eye and great appreciation for beauty, that was all, and she didn’t discriminate between her own and anyone else’s. Her exquisite face and form were but a canvas, and fine clothes and jewelry were tools, just as were the pencils and paint brushes that she used for her artwork. And whether from a canvas or her own body, she meant to get as much beauty out of a thing as could be found.
Though also in both cases, she didn’t think it very wrong to find especial satisfaction in her own efforts.
It was this very reverence for beauty in all its forms that had brought her out to the Caribbean. Those who only knew her from the gossip columns would have been surprised to know that Lady Emma, in addition to being a skilled artist, had quite a reputation in learned circles as an excellent amateur antiquarian. She had not only donated a good deal financially to museums and collections but had also contributed a few items herself that she had acquired from odd corners of the globe.
During the course of her recent researches, she had come across the story of the Corbeau. It seemed that during the Second World War, Hitler had developed a particular interest in La Soleil du Roi, the Sun of the King. This was a pendant of gold and alabaster which had been commissioned by Louis XIV to celebrate his fiftieth year on the throne. It was set with a great gem known as the Star of Egypt, which the sainted Louis IX had brought back from his crusade. The gem featured in many legends as being infused with mystical properties and the Germans had sought to acquire it. To protect this priceless piece of French history, a plan had been made to smuggle it out of France and across the Atlantic to America with a view to keeping it out of German hands for good.
Reports were that the ship had made it as far as the Caribbean, for witnesses saw it passing among the Leeward Islands. Then it had vanished without a trace on its way to Miami. Files recovered after the war revealed that the Germans had had a secret submarine base somewhere in the area, and it was assumed that the ship had been torpedoed.
Through diligent work, Emma had tracked down the area where the ship had sunk and now, with this last piece of the puzzle in place, she meant to recover the long-lost pendant from its hold.
“May I once again voice my strenuous objection to this venture, your ladyship?” Nicholson asked as he helped her strap on her air tank.
“You may, Nibs,” she answered carelessly. “Though it won’t do any good. I certainly am not going to turn back now, sea monster or no sea monster.”
To watch over Lady Emma had been George Nicholson’s duty ever since she was small enough to think his name was ‘Nibbles’em’. When she left her family estate to establish her own household, he had gone with her, and wherever in the world she travelled he insisted on being at her side, as straight backed and dependable as ever.
“I wish you would at least have found someone to accompany you,” he said.
“Nonsense. I know perfectly well what I am doing. Besides, if I did, it wouldn’t be as delightfully dangerous.”
“Yes, that would be the general idea, your ladyship.”
She smiled and lowered the mask over her eyes.
“I will be back before you know it. Keep the boat ready.”
With that, she stepped over the side and into the warm, clear waters. She took a moment to get her bearings in the water and to assure herself that her regulator was working properly, and then swam down, down to the great reef below.
The Corbeau lay on her side upon the slope of the reef. The old fisherman had been right; she was cracked nearly in half, the middle part of the hull crushed like a tin can.
For the first time a sense of real unease passed over Emma. What on earth could have done a thing like that?
Judging that if La Soleil du Roi were anywhere, it would likely be in or near the captain’s quarters, she made for the aft end of the ship. The stern was lying mostly upright, leaning a little to port and partially buried in rubble. The hatch to the cabins was inaccessible from here.
Emma swam down to the broken hull, where the water grew murkier. As she swam, she kept a sharp eye out for movement. Wrecks like this were often a haven for sharks.
She plied her powerful torch against the rusting sides of the ship, seeking a way of egress, and soon found a hole near the bottom large enough to admit her. Approaching cautiously, she shone her light inside. A jumbled, tangled mass of rotting crates and algae met her eyes; the remains of the cargo hold and its contents.
Taking care to avoid the jagged metal edges, she slipped inside the pitch-black hold, kicking her way as hastily as she could toward the stern. She was seeking a way into the crew chambers, but the hold was so bent and so crowded with debris that it was difficult to get her bearings. She only hoped there was such an entrance to find.
Something moved in the water to her left and she whipped around, shining her light onto it. She had a flashing impression of jagged teeth and black eyes before the shark, startled by the light, twisted aside. It was a tiger: about seven feet long. Not very big for its kind, but more than capable of making a meal of any scuba diving ladies that came in its way. Emma drew her knife and kept her eye on the beast. About ten feet away it swung around, eyeing her with interest. Emma focused the light on its eyes once more and it jerked around irritably.
She took the opportunity to play her light around the rest of the hold. Where there was one shark, there was likely to be others, and she didn’t mean to be caught in an ambush. Finding no sign of any such thing, she hastily turned the light back on the predator.
The shark had once more taken an interest in her in the momentary absence of the blinding light. It was moving toward her, not with the fast, darting movement of an attack but with much more curiosity than she liked to see. Emma clicked her light on and off rapidly. This was enough; the big fish jerked away from the uncomfortable strobes and turned around. She watched it swim out of the hold and into the ocean.
Alarming as the encounter was, Emma couldn’t help admiring the animal’s sleek, powerful form, the solid muscles moving under the hard, rubbery skin, the blunted nose and pointed fins. Sharks really were rather magnificent in their way, much like lions or tigers. Only, like those, she much preferred to admire them from a safe distance and preferably with iron bars in between.
She played her light around the hold once more, checking for more sharks, but once more found nothing and so resumed her search for some means into the crew quarters.
Luck was with her; a few more minutes’ search uncovered an open hatchway over the remains of what had once been a catwalk and was now a mass of rust and algae dangling from the wall. She pulled herself into the rotting, pitch-black corridor (her aesthetic tastes revolting at the slimy, cold touch of the algae that covered every surface) and swam steadily forward, guided by her light.
She had not gone far along the corridor when the waters around her suddenly vibrated with a low, terrible sound. Emma froze, listening. The sound was like nothing she had ever heard; it was part growl, part moan. Not loud, but huge and powerful.
And it was coming from somewhere up ahead.
Emma held her breath, listening. The sound died away, but it was replaced by another sound: a kind of continuous wet scrapping sound, as though something damp and hard were sliding against a metal surface.
Something was moving inside the ship not far ahead of her.
Slowly, drawn by fearful curiosity, Emma pushed forward, trying to move as silently as she could through the water and taking particular care that her bulky tank didn’t bang against anything. She made her way to a place where the corridor turned a corner. Here was where the sound was coming from. Bracing herself against the wall, she poked her head and her torch around the corner.
A hatch stood open only a few feet away, giving into perhaps another corridor. Only, there was something inside it.
Emma shank back around the corner, dowsing the torch at once and allowing total darkness to surround her. Her heart pounded in her chest and she tried hard to keep calm and consider what she had just seen.
The light of her torch had fallen on a wall of bumpy, mottle grey flesh. The skin hung loose, like ill-fitting cloth over the great muscles of the body, and the thing seemed to fill the entire corridor.
There had been no features to it; no limbs or head or eyes. It had been a section of the body, nothing more. And judging by the scraping sounds reverberating through the darkness, it was still moving through the passage.
Emma didn’t dare use her light to observe any further. For one thing, she didn’t know whether the creature was moving forward or backwards, and if it once caught sight of her, she didn’t give much for her own chances. For another, it was possible that its skin was sensitive enough to detect the change in temperature caused by the light of an electric torch, in which case she would be in equal trouble.
No, the best she could do was wait in the darkness, as quiet as she could, and hope it passed by.
Tanwo, I presume, she thought. It’s a monster eel or a great sea serpent. Good Lord: the Admiralty never considered that possibility!
It seemed to take Tanwo forever to pass. But at last the scrapping sound of his huge body moving through the ship faded into the distance and then ceased entirely.
Maybe’s he’s gone outside to hunt, Emma thought. Oh, dear; I hope Nibs will be all right! Of course he will be he’s sensible; he can look after himself. I hope Tanwo doesn’t come in behind me!
Her one comfort was that she was likely to hear him coming.
On the other hand, there were still the sharks to consider. One might be swimming toward her right now….
Emma switched her torch back on, half-dreading what it would reveal. But it showed nothing. She was quite alone in the sunken ship. Rallying herself, she resumed her explorations.
Tanwo was nowhere to be seen, but the corridor was bent and scoured by his passage, leaving an unpleasant film on the walls and floor that drifted lazily in the current.
Emma took the first passage she found that lacked this evidence of the monster’s passage and discovered it led to a steep set of steps leading to an upper deck. And here was something she had hardly dared to hope to find: an air pocket.
She rose out of the water and into the dark, sealed off chamber. She took off her rebreather and tried the air. It was stale, but breathable, and she gratefully lifted her mask.
She was in a comparatively wide passage, with hatches to her right and left and in front and behind. Considering the tilt of the floor below her feet, she guessed the one in front of her led back to the deck and so would be blocked.
She tried the hatch to her left first. It opened on what appeared to have been a navigation room. Molding charts and rusty instruments lay scattered about the floor under an upturned table. None of these would help her, so Emma closed the hatch and tried the other. This one wouldn’t open. Hoping that she hadn’t come all this way just to be stopped by a locked door, Emma tried the third hatch at the end of the corridor.
Her heart leapt as it opened and her light revealed the chamber beyond. This was evidently the captain’s cabin. There was an overturned file cabinet bristling with mold, several books that had spilled out of their shelves, and a desk built into the wall. A window that had miraculously survived the sinking now looked out over the murky reef.
Emma tried one of the drawers of the desk and to her further delight there was a journal inside. The drawer had protected it from the worst ravages of mold and mildew, and as Emma eagerly opened it, she saw that it was indeed legible. By the light of her torch, she flipped through to the first entry of the last voyage.
Have left Rochelle. Damn the Germans! We’ll have our revenge someday. For now, La Soleil du Roi is safe. I wanted to put it in my own safe for security, but M. Duroc has insisted upon having it with him. I tried to represent to him how, if anything should go wrong, his cabin in the forecastle is the furthest from the lifeboats, but he would not hear it. I only pray that we make through to Miami.
Then it would be in the forecastle, if it were anywhere. Emma joined in the captain in cursing the foolish Duroc. She skimmed through the next few entries, then read the final few pages:
Have intercepted reports of German submarines in the area. We have altered our course to try to evade them, making as if we are bound for Mexico. God willing we escape.
Submarine spotted off the stern. They have not fired on us, however. Perhaps they intend to force a surrender? Or perhaps they are waiting for instructions. Duroc wants to know what he ought to do. I tell him to stay in his cabin. What else can I do?
It is not a submarine. It is something alive. God knows what it is, or what its interest is in us. We have set a direct course for Nassau; the submarines be damned. We can make it by dawn. Please God we will make it through the night.
This was the last entry.
Emma sighed over the poor doomed ship. Tanwo had evidently followed them during the day and attacked at night. That struck her as interesting: what had made him wait so long? Emma tucked these facts away into her mind for future consideration and stashed the log in a waterproof compartment of her bag. At least now she knew where to look. If La Soleil du Roi was still on the ship, it would be in M. Duroc’s cabin in the forecastle.
That meant she had to go back into the water. More than that, into the open ocean…with Tanwo.
She drew a deep breath of the stale air, clenching her trembling hands into fists to try to steady them. For a moment, she considered simply making a run for it and trying to get back to the boat, leaving someone else to try to actually recover the artifact. But no: that would be cowardly, unbefitting a lady. Besides, she had come this far, and she did hate to leave a job unfinished.
Before she attempted it, however, she checked the indicator on her tank. To her surprise it was still better than two-thirds full. The dive had felt much longer than it had really been.
Emma returned to the steps, put her mask back on, and slipped back into the warm, dark waters. It was absolutely necessary to use her torch in the pitch-black passages. She moved through the slime-filled corridor as quickly as she could, back the way she had come to the hole in the side of the ship.
There she switched off her light and looked out into the open water. Nothing was visible save a school of fish passing by overhead. If Tanwo was around, he was well concealed.
Emma kicked out into the open water. She swam low beside the ship, keeping as close to the rocks as possible in the hopes of masking her movement from any predatory eyes.
She passed by the crushed center of the Corbeau toward the bow. This section of the ship was pitched forward slightly, its open wound fully exposed to the sea. The cabin would be near the top, in the forecastle.
Here she paused a moment and looked about her. The tiger shark – or one just like it – was visible overhead, a streamline silhouette against the sun-bleached surface. That was a relief; she had nearly forgotten about the more mundane predators now that she knew Tanwo was about.
Then, all at once, something lunged out of the dark, murky mass of the reef and into the open water overhead. Emma ducked down, but the monster was not after her just yet.
The tiger shark vanished as swiftly and completely as a drop of ink absorbed into a spill.
For a moment, Tanwo drifted there like an enormous black weed, framed against the far-off surface. More serpentine than eel shaped, Emma thought: long and round, his body of almost uniform thickness as far as she could see. His head was coffin-shaped, like a python’s, and his body was at least a hundred feet long. She could make out no other details. He was like a sinuous shadow waving overhead.
Tanwo turned around and swam back to the wreck. Emma held her breath as he passed right in front of her, moving to what must have been a cave or crevice in the rock just above the shattered center section of the ship.
She trembled to realize she had passed unawares right under the lair of the sea serpent. Had she swum straight over the ship instead of keeping low over the rocks, she would probably be in his stomach right now.
Emma waited a little while after Tanwo disappeared to make sure he had really gone. But she couldn’t wait too long: she didn’t know how long it would take to find the pendant, and though she had at least thirty minutes of air left, she didn’t want to risk wasting it.
She entered the gaping hole in the ship just below the upper deck. Here too she had to risk the light to guide her way through the darkness. There were several closed off hatches opening on either side. She’d have to check each one until she found it.
Emma tried the first hatch. It opened onto a small cabin, the metal fixtures crusted with rust and algae. She played her light over the floor, but it was bare save for mold and a few shellfish.
Leaving the hatch open, she tried the next cabin. This one too was empty and seemed not to have been in use when the ship went down. The third wouldn’t open at all.
Then she tried the fourth and final cabin, and the first thing her light fell upon was the blank holes and leering grin of a skull. She shrieked into her mask, but hastily collected herself. The body was almost completely decomposed by now, leaving a slime-covered skeleton held together by the last remnants of moldering sinew. Its bony hands still clutched a steel case.
Trembling with a mixture of excitement and revulsion, Emma took the case from the skeletal grip. The hands broke off almost at once and drifted to the floor with a faint clatter. Emma’s stomach turned within her, but she focused on the case. Something was inscribed on the lid, just above the handle. She rubbed hard on the grim, too eager to care about the stain it would leave. The inscription read ‘A M Duroc.’
For a moment, Emma forgot all about skeletons and sea monsters and disgusting algae as she stowed the case in her bag. She had done it!
Emma saluted the skeletal remains of Monsieur Duroc. If it was true that the spirits of the dead were troubled by unfinished business on earth, then she hoped his would now rest easy knowing that she would finish his task for him. She returned to the corridor and made for the gaping hole to the sea. A short swim to the surface, and her long quest would be over.
It was the low, grinding noise that made her turn around.
The light of her torch fell on a nightmare. Blank white orbs set high on a long, wart-covered head. Needle-like teeth sticking out of a mouth held slightly open, as though just preparing to strike. Grey, mottled flesh lined with ragged scales hanging loose upon a flexible skeleton.
It was an ugly, foul creature, and it was less than ten feet away.
Emma screamed into her regulator, her eyes wide with horror. For a second, she thought it was all over. But the sudden light in his eyes startled Tanwo even as it had the shark. He jerked away, slamming his head into the roof with an impact that caused the whole bow to shake and growling his terrible moan. Emma kicked backwards frantically, keeping the light fixed on his eyes as she made for the open sea.
She reached the end of the corridor just as Tanwo recovered from his shock sufficiently to strike. His great head plunged forward, and Emma ducked downwards, not caring where she went as long as she was moving away from those jaws. Tanwo’s teeth snapped shut upon the sea just above her, and Emma frantically swam down, down toward the rocks, hoping against hope there would be a way to lose him there.
Her light showed a narrow crevice in the reef before her: too narrow for the monster’s head – or so she hoped. She swam for it, not daring to look back or even to turn her light. It had seemed much closer than it now appeared. She kicked harder, then caught the overhanging lip of the cave with her free hand and pulled herself in.
Even as she did so, there was a rush in the waters about her, and her foot struck against something like a stiletto, tearing her fin. There was a crash from overhead and dust filled her vision. But she was inside, squeezed above and below by rock, barely able to fit herself and her oxygen tank into the narrow hole.
Emma looked back and saw Tanwo’s open mouth with its three rows of teeth closing behind her. He had been so close that she had actually torn her foot on one of his interior teeth! But the rock had foiled him. As she had thought, it was too narrow for him to enter.
But it left her with no other way out either. The cave was more of a mere crack in the reef, and within a few feet it closed off entirely. She was trapped.
Tanwo floated before her, as though considering how best to get her out of there. Emma was beginning to feel the early stages of panic. Her oxygen wouldn’t last forever. And the horrible creature before her showed no signs of giving up. That seemed to leave her only two choices: drown or be eaten.
She shined her light directly into his eyes, clicking it rapidly on and off as she had with the shark. Perhaps that might irritate him enough to drive him away as well….
Tanwo shook his head in irritation, then suddenly lunged forward. Emma screamed again as the great, hideous jaws slammed shut upon the rock. Again, dust clouded her vision as the serpent tore at the rock. Chunks of rock fell away from the roof, and just like that the cave was a little shallower.
Emma saw at once what Tanwo had in mind. He would tear the cave from the rock, exposing her, and then she would disappear down that dark, tooth-lined throat. Her breathing came in rapid spurts as she realized that she wasn’t going to have time to run out of air….
With that thought, desperate inspiration came to her.
As Tanwo struck again, Emma’s hands flew to the straps holding the tank on. The cave was now nearly gone. She tore the tank from her back and drew the knife from her belt, taking as many quick, deep breaths as she could as she did so. Then, as the great, flexible jaws closed over the remains of the cave one last time, she spat out the regulator and struck the valve on the top of the tank with the handle of the knife with all her might.
The escaping air tore at the water around her as the tank shot forward with the force of a torpedo straight into the serpent’s open mouth. Tanwo flinched back, stunned by the blow. The water vibrated with his cry of pain. But Emma didn’t wait to see how much damage she had done. She threw off her weight belt and kicked off to the surface, ascending as fast as she could, breathing out the whole way.
The surface seemed to be still far away. Every moment she expected those horrible jaws to close about her body. But the light was growing closer. Her lungs burned and her head ached. She summoned every ounce of her remaining strength to kick faster. Her vision was growing hazy, but she was almost there. Almost…
Her head broke the surface, and the first breath of air was like being born again. She gulped it down again and again, coughing, gasping, nearly sick, but breathing.
Only now did she dare to look back. Through the clear water she saw him; a great, dark shape like a living stream of ink. But he was not, as she had half feared to see, rising up beneath her. Instead he was turning back, as though deflected somehow; like an evil spirit who cannot cross the borders of his domain.
I was right, she thought through the haze of adrenaline. Can’t stand the sun.
There was the boat, with Nibs waving to her. Emma swam for it, elation giving strength to her worn-out muscles until he pulled her onto the boat and she at last was able to sit down and just breathe. For the moment, she thought she would never want to do anything else.
“Are you all right Lady Emma?” he asked anxiously.
She nodded and was surprised to find herself beaming.
“You are bleeding,” he said, pointing to her foot.
Emma looked down and saw the ugly tear in her fin. Upon seeing it, she realized that it hurt quite a lot.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “But that can wait. Set off for shore if you would please, Nibs; I would much rather not wait anywhere near Tanwo longer than I have to.”
“Tanwo? You mean….”
“The sea monster, yes. He is quite real. I will explain when we are under way. For now, kindly make such speed as you can.”
“Yes, your ladyship,” he said. He started the engine and revved the throttle, and soon they were going; going away from Tanwo!
Emma got out the first aid kit and began bandaging her wound. She would probably need stitches and have a scar. That would mean no open top shoes for her for months at least. What a bother!
“Did you…get it?” asked Nicholson.
Emma grinned again, forgetting her wound and pulled out the precious box. She used her knife to crack open the rusty locks and there, untouched by the seawater, lay La Soleil du Roi, with the Star of Egypt shining in its center. The great orange gem sparkled as though with joy at receiving the first rays of sunlight it had known in forty years.
“All there,” she said, running a reverent hand over the carved surface. The work was exquisite, and the gem was magnificent. To think that this stone had been won by the hand of St. Louis himself, and this pendant had been commissioned and worn by Louis XIV, the Sun King! After all, a little pain and fright were a small price to pay to preserve such things. She thought the gem almost seemed to be thanking her for rescuing it from those cold, dark waters.
Smiling contentedly, she shut the case and carefully set it in the seat compartment next to her. From the same compartment she drew out a much smaller leather case of her own, opened it, and examined herself in the mirror attached inside the lid.
“Goodness me, I look an absolute fright!” she said, eying her flushed face and sea-tossed hair. It had begun to come out of its braid with all the excitement. She undid the braid, letting her long, full raven locks cascade over her shoulder. Then, as the yacht sped away, she selected a brush from the case and set to work.
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