“None of your folk are here, brother.” Hot breath scalds my mind and I nod. Hades cannot see this of course, but we’re not gods for nothing. He knows.
“Why does the song sound so faint then?” I mutter.
“I do not know, brother, but it is not of Hades that your quest is born.”
He has a point. At least I know now she isn’t dead. I return my attention to our northward course.
The air is cold enough now to grow ice flecks in my beard. The only sound for thousands of miles is the ‘ssshhhh’ of my ship’s prow slicing through the sea, and the occasional cracking jolt as the ship ploughs through small hunks of sea ice in sheer darkness .
Yet I know that below the hull is my ocean. Even here, in the second coldest waterway on earth, my seas teem with vitality. My creatures murmur greetings, sending me waves of love. Some even wish me well. I feel Delphine’s children reaching out to me, though they cannot travel so far north. There are whales in the deep and sea monsters you mortals believe long dead. So much, so much you do not know about my oceans. Far below, deep, deep down where not even the darkest of your probes can find them, are my beasts that sleep. They sleep and wait, waking only for me. I can hear them rumbling, snoring, turning in slumber. They have been there for thousands of years and it is reassuring now to know that I am not unarmed and I do not travel so far from Olympus unaided.
This mission is no longer safe. I feel it in the waters all around me. My creatures – every one of them, from the smallest sea snail to the Kraken herself – are alert at some level, even my monstrous beasts. There is nothing they will not do to protect one of their own. There is nothing I will not do.
A flicker of light shimmers across the night sky. A missive; a message. No – a warning.
The Pearl calls for you.
I hear it, even fainter than my siren’s call. The song line I follow is the Pearl’s music too. Fear grips me. My gut, my jaw. My clenched fist. I must remain calm. It helps no one to deluge the world again. I ask Notus to blow harder, speeding my ship forward and soon, we reach the centre of the Arctic Sea. Mountains of glittering white rise on either side of us, like jewelled offerings glinting eerily in the starlight.
Massive weights of ice move to crush us between them, mass and momentum driving them heavily and fast. Is this an accident? Or something more? Tension sings in my blood. There is something here. Something I can feel with instincts honed over three thousand years.
Images of Scylla and Charybdis flash through my mind – but as my grandchildren, I know they will not hinder this journey. Accident, I decide as the huge ice walls move towards each other once more – with my ship poised between them.
The South Wind hesitates. The Giant Pearl slows. The air smells of fear and fury.
Gods! I do not have time for this. I must keep my temper.
“Steady, Notus. We have far to go.”
“My Lord,” breathes Notus against my ear, “I cannot spare you thus far. It is too cold for your blood.”
“I will not freeze, Notus. My blood can take more than you know, boy.” I smile again and this time it is not a kind smile. It is not directed at the kid either, but out towards the tensely-gathered air.
“At your service, my Lord.” The voice breathes only into my sails now and my craft picks up speed. Less smooth this time and the air is so cold I do feel my blood slow a little. No matter. There is rum aboard and I am not frightened like the wind. The ice bergs are so close now I can feel their coolness in the dark. Closer. Cooler. Closer. Cooler. Closer still . . . this is my ocean, no matter how far from home and an ice berg is only water in another form.
I exhale, raise my palm and the icebergs move aside. A small resistance sharpens my awareness, but the ocean churns beneath us and all around is the silence of the night. It is the dark of the year here. Eos is hours away and still, those hours may not be enough.
“We must hurry,” I mutter, knowing one small wind cannot blow at speed indefinitely.
As the trireme’s bow crests the next wave I steer hard right, narrowly missing a crashing ice shelf that sets the waters to whirling. This does not deter me in the least. I whistle to Notus and the wind dies, but the sea spins faster.
This cannot be right. We are not there yet. The North Pole remains some distance away.
Staring over the side, I watch the developing whirlpool gather momentum, decks rocking violently beneath my feet. The sea foams and boils around the prow until the whole ship shudders and tips.
Tips me into my sea.
Okay, now I’m pissed.
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