Up close the castle was huge. Merguards were everywhere though they didn’t stop them. They didn’t even speak to them. Sean was glad. The guards, formidable from a distance, were downright scary up close. Their faces were hard under their helms and their expressions were fixed. Each held a weapon of some sort, mostly spears but Sean saw a couple of swords, tridents and some kind of chain weapon he couldn’t identify.
His father didn’t seem bothered by the guards. He simply hauled Sean confidently along into the depths of the castle, threading his way through the many corridors with ease. Sean, lost in five seconds flat, gave up on memorizing their route and instead tried to take in as much of the castle as possible.
The castle was surprisingly bare. It had the same luminescence as the rest of the city but sparingly, leaving all the corridors in a soft, hazy darkness. The floor was covered in soft white sand that drifted up at their passage. Occasionally Sean would see the darting motions of some sort of fish and once, an octopus. The walls eventually moved from bare rock to being adorned with carvings of intricate skill. Sean had no idea of what they might be depicting though he thought he might if he had more time to study them. Pearls were studded into the carvings here and there and they glittered in the luminesce giving an eerie but pleasing sheen to the passageways.
Above all though the castle was silent. If Sean didn’t know better, he’d have thought the place abandoned.
“Does no one speak here?” he mumbled, “Or is it just your sovereign who stays here?”
“They speak,” his father replied softly smiling, “But most of them are deeper in the castle and in rooms that are for all intents and purposes, soundproof. My sovereign doesn’t approve of information leaks.”
Sean nodded and then said, “I know you said he’s a good guy and all but he does seem scary.”
“He is,” Rakcigion said cheerfully. “You just might like him though. I do.”
“I’ll wait until after I survive this to see if you’re right,” Sean told him.
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The elaborate corridors finally gave way to a very large set of double doors. Sean blinked and then sort of drifted back as he tried to take in the whole thing. The doors were easily the most ornate things he had seen since entering the castle. It was a combination of stone and crystal and elaborately carved shells. Jewels studded the doors in a pattern that Sean was sure was meant to be artistic but was just so strange to his human mind, he felt odd looking at it. The crystal panels of the door were opaque yet flickers of movement beyond them made Sean feel as if he could see through them.
Hovering before the doors were two guards who were, if it were possible, more armored and heavily armed than the ones outside. They also looked meaner.
This time Rakcigion spoke to them but what he said made no sense to Sean. It wasn’t English. It wasn’t any human language and Sean highly doubted that it could be spoken with a human voice box. The sounds were harsh, guttural, but had oddly melodic strains through the whole. Some of it, Sean was sure out of the range of normal human hearing; he was just catching the edges of his father’s speech.
One of the guards replied, his voice lower and smoother than Rakcigion’s, and then the guards turned and pushed the doors open. Sean suffered an instant attack of nerves. His mouth went dry, his heart rate sped up and he felt distinctly queasy.
Rakcigion didn’t seem to notice though his bearing was stiffer than usual. He gripped Sean’s upper arm and towed him into the large room beyond. Sean allowed himself to be gracefully carried in while he swallowed convulsively and hoped he didn’t throw up or do something more embarrassing.
The room, though cavern seemed to be a more apt description, was awe-inspiring simply by its size alone. The roof soared over their heads and the walls were mostly left to their original condition. Thus, the walls were a mix of stone that appeared to his eye, rippled like a curtain or even twined together and over each other like graceful folds of silk. In between them were carved murals that were of startling color. Glittering stalactites hung from the roof and some of these fused with stalagmites to form pillars that were shaped in ways no creature, human or mer, could ever manage.
Seated on the dais at the far end of the room was the sovereign of Teroceanican. He was a large merman, with a broad chest and well-muscled arms. His thick tail was covered in dark green scales and the crown he wore on his head was made up of some fusion of shell, metal and pearls. Long black hair floated away from his face which had faint silver scars running over it. His eyes were a brighter green but insanely intense and he held a trident in one hand. Sean could feel the sheer power rolling off him and understood that power in these underwater kingdoms was not merely political.
Rakcigion carried them to the foot of the dais and then released Sean’s arm. Sean drifted down to rest on the floor. His father bowed gracefully to his sovereign who eyed him and then said something in a deep, gravelly voice. Rakcigion rose from his bow and his sovereign spoke again. It took Sean a moment to realize he was speaking English.
“You have returned.”
“I have,” Rakcigion agreed.
The Sovereign’s eyes turned to Sean who felt like his feet instantly glued to the floor.
“So this is the child.”
“This is the child,” Rakcigion replied. “If it would please you, I would introduce you.”
“Come forward child.”
Sean stepped forward, feeling rather proud of himself when his legs didn’t shake visibly. He stopped just shy of the first step to the dais and waited.
The sovereign of Teroceanican leaned forward and inspected him. After a moment he turned to Rakcigion and said, “He does not look like much.”
“Children his age hardly do,” Rakcigion replied and Sean had to fight to not whip his head around and glare at his father. He also had to push down the feeling of embarrassment of being found wanting.
The sovereign leaned back in his throne and fixed his eyes on Sean once more.
“What is your name, child?”
“Sean,” he answered and then with a quick glance at his father he added, “Shenaragle.”
“Shenaragle,” the sovereign repeated. Then, “What do you think of my kingdom, Shenaragle?”
“I’ve hardly seen it,” Sean replied softly.
“What have you seen?” the sovereign asked him.
Sean thought about it for a moment and then said, “Order.”
The sovereign regarded him for a moment and then turned to Rakcigion and said something in mer-speak very quickly.
“Thanks,” Rakcigion replied. His father sounded amused. Sean wondered how anyone could possibly be relaxed enough in the presence of this sovereign to feel amused.
“Sean, Shenaragle, child of Rakcigion and Zaira of the land,” the sovereign said, drawing Sean’s gaze back to him. “I will let you accompany my circuit. Endeavor to be of use. Endeavor to not be a distraction. My justice is absolute. My standards are high. Cause them to falter and you will know my wrath.”
“Yes sir,” Sean replied.
“Something moves beyond my domain. It is quick and clever. Find it.”
“Your majesty.” Rakcigion bowed.
“Your majesty,” Sean replied.
“Learn quickly. The ocean is an unforgiving place. Dismissed.”
Rakcigion bowed once more and Sean copied him awkwardly and then his father took hold of his arm and swam them both out of the room.