It was a few days before they were able to see Thenorn and Belna about their ideas. They listened intently about Nehma’s netting idea, but then Thenorn shook his head. “Develop a way for one set of brothers to do it, but not one person alone. A hesitant young man might not make the effort to bond if he thought he could get just as many racks alone.”
“But what about the people who lose their brother,” Nehma protested.
“They can hunt with others until they form a new bonding.” Thenorn leaned forward. “Nehma, you must understand that there are more benefits to the uniting of the Elsue and Merree than simply the ability to bring in more racks. Unfortunately, before one is bonded, sometimes it is hard to see those benefits. Sometimes even an older Mersue is unwilling to bond again. We must not give the hesitant any more excuses to avoid what is best for them and the whole community.”
Jorn nodded. “You’re right. It has just been a few months, but we work far better together than I would have thought or than I could have alone with twice the time. Nehma has another idea for a boat which will help us together…” he paused to give Nehma a slight grin. “…be able to gather more at one time and bring more in. Do we have enough rank for it? What do we have to do to earn a custom boat?”
Belna and Thenorn both laughed. “You two remind me of another set of brothers,” Belna said. “If only age did not come with the price of slower reflexes.”
“Talk with the boat builders,” Thenorn said. He winked at Nehma. “I think they’ll let you know everything you need to do and what their priorities are. They’re aware of your rank and that you are now gathering medicinal supplies also.”
After they left the elders, Nehma and Jorn went hunting, and then as they were processing their walpigate, a water mammal which was almost as wide as it was long, Nehma and Jorn talked over their net idea again.
“I think we just have to make a big net and try different things,” Jorn suggested. “I wonder if a log on the bottom, but using your weights idea would hold that down.”
“And maybe the elbrother would pull the net still, but the merbrother would release the weights so that the fish are trapped.”
“Or maybe floaters on all four corners with weights on two corners which the merbrother can release. Should we go see your fathers tomorrow?”
“Yeah. After we finish at the docs.”
Doctors Thorn and Manha kept them busy until late afternoon. They were learning a lot, and Nehma liked working with the patients. His nervousness over asking his fathers for a very difficult to make boat distracted him several times as he tried to imagine how they would react to the request. They may have gained rank, but they were still very young.
When the doctors dismissed them, Jorn said, “Maybe we should wait.”
Nehma shrugged. “Okay. Let’s eat first. I’m starved.”
They headed home and ate dinner with Lajarn. When they finished Nehma stood. “Let’s go.”
“Where are you going?”
“The boat makers.”
“Are you sure we should ask?” Jorn said, not getting up.
Nehma guessed Jorn had been feeling as he had most of the day. “Yeah, we should.”
“Ask what?” Lajarn stood and stretched his wings briefly.
“We need a special boat,” Nehma said.
“With a sail,” Jorn teased.
Lajarn frowned. “You should save your requests for when you might really need them. You shouldn’t impose on the resources of the group needlessly.”
Jorn’s face became impassive.
Nehma felt irritation sweep through him, but he didn’t feel he could show it. Lajarn was his elder and to be respected. But Lajarn hadn’t worried about imposing on the group resources before. Already he’d requested new knifes and mats and containers that Jorn and Nehma hadn’t found necessary enough to request. When he moved in, he’d brought little but his work tools and clothing, apparently leaving all his cooking utensils and other supplies back at his high cliff home.
“I’m going to visit my parents,” Nehma said, trying not to show his exasperation at Lajarn’s controlling ways. “Please accompany me, Jorn.”
Jorn shook his head and crouched back down. “Don’t need me,” he mumbled.
Nehma sighed. “Didn’t we plan this?” He glanced at Lajarn who was just as silent as Jorn. Merfather had been right with his warning that Lajarn would be difficult. And Jorn always backed off and gave in to him. Nehma hated confrontation, but they’d both really wanted that boat, and it was foolish to let Elfather keep them from doing things that would enrich the community overall. “I am sticking with our plans,” he said firmly. “I’m afraid my family will not accept my excuses if you snub them yet again by not coming with me.”
Jorn didn’t look up, but seemed stiffer.
“Of course, that’s not your problem, is it? Just mine. I’ll see you later.” He dived into the water.
Nehma swam quickly out to the sea. He didn’t go immediately to his fathers’ home, though. He needed to cool his emotions so his fathers wouldn’t see how agitated he was. He didn’t want them blaming Jorn.
When Nehma left, Jorn sagged against the wall. He should go. Nehma had never hesitated to be there for him or to defend him to his family. He shifted toward the entrance.
“You’re not going to follow him, are you?” Elfather asked.
Jorn faced him. “Why not?”
“He’s trying to control you.”
“Jorn, new partnerships are always a bit of a power struggle. Don’t let him make all the decisions. You must do what is right.”
“But….” Nehma had never, ever tried to control him.
Elfather sighed. “I guess you two really don’t want me here.”
“Yeah, we do,” Jorn protested.
“Of course he does. He’s the one who invited you.”
Lajarn shook his head. “You’ll see. I’m just a burden to the community now.” He shuffled toward the passage to the sleeping nooks.
“That’s not true!”
“Not even you think my advice is worth anything,” Lajarn said with a sigh. “I better just go sleep.”
All Jorn’s muscles tensed, and he stared straight across the room until his father disappeared. His father had lost so much, but he thought that now that he and Nehma had accomplished far more than his father had expected that he would not feel so useless.
A spurt of irritation ran through him. Would his father ever be satisfied? But then he wondered if someone had slighted his father yet again. It was hard to lose so much.
Jorn paced the gathering room, and his thoughts turned to Nehma. Would his fathers agree to the boat? Did they really have enough rank? Had he really made things more difficult for Nehma? But Nehma understood that Elfather needed him, didn’t he? He wasn’t selfish like Burna. Nehma had never been selfish.
A long while Jorn paced until he heard the splash, indicating the surface of the water at the edge of the room had been broken. “Nehma!” Jorn strode to him. “What did they say? How did it go?”
Nehma gave him a look that Jorn didn’t know how to interpret.
Elfather came from the sleeping nooks and stood at the edge of the room.
Nehma glanced at Lajarn, his face still wearing a look that Jorn had not seen before. It wasn’t anger, but he knew Nehma wasn’t happy. He finally focused on Jorn. “Apparently you are not aware, as I was not, that we cannot conduct major business transactions alone. We must be united.” He turned his attention back to Lajarn. “But you, Elfather, surely knew this. Why didn’t you tell us?”
Elfather gave an incredulous look. “Why would I assume you didn’t know? Besides, I didn’t think you were going to conduct business. Jorn had decided not to request a boat.”
“I don’t recall discussing that fully.”
“He expressed doubt. You tried to control him by going ahead anyway,” Elfather said. “You don’t control Jorn. You’re partners.”
“No,” Nehma said softly. “I do not try to control anyone. I think I’ll retire.”
Jorn wanted to stop him, to go after him, but he couldn’t follow him underwater, and Elfather stared at him as if accusing.
“Jorn, you want his friendship too much. You must do what you know is right. Don’t just go along with his crazy ideas. I know he’s planning to use that boat to go where you both know you shouldn’t.” He shrugged. “But then what does an old man know anyway.” He trudged back to the sleeping nooks.
Jorn paced the gathering room again, but realized Nehma was not coming back.
The next morning Elfather was in the gathering room before them. Nehma silently ate the food he’d brought from the workroom for them.
“We should go hunting this afternoon,” Elfather said.
Nehma was silent.
But they usually went hunting in the afternoon anyway, never with Elfather yet, but that must be what he’d meant. Since Nehma remained silent, Jorn said, “Sure. We usually go hunting or gathering in the afternoon, but I’m not sure when we’ll be dismissed from the ward.”
“I heard that the toolmakers at the Narwhale Cluster wanted you,” Lajarn said.
Jorn pretended not to hear his father’s words. He’d known he’d want him to be a toolmaker also. He’d never thought he had a chance to be a doctor before he saw the petition, but as soon as he had, he’d known he wanted to learn all he could.
Lajarn focused on Nehma. “Why did you want to be a doctor?”
Nehma lifted his gaze to Elfather’s. “We both wanted to be doctors.”
Lajarn rolled his eyes.
Nehma stood. “Think we should go?”
Jorn leapt into the air and shot down the passage, anything to get away from the tension.
At the medical ward, Nehma climbed from the water but ignored Jorn, going straight in to see if there were any patients.
Nehma faced him. He didn’t have his ready grin, but instead that look from the night before.
Jorn hesitated. Was he mad at him? “I… can we go see about the boat during our break?”
Nehma relaxed and smiled. He took the few steps back to Jorn. “You still want to?”
“It’s what we decided, right?”
“Yeah. I just….” He shrugged and stared beyond Jorn no longer happy.
“Elfa feels useless. I don’t know how to make him happy,” Jorn admitted. “Nothing I do is right.”
Nehma touched Jorn’s arm and nodded. But then Docs Thorn and Manha were there, and Nehma dropped his hand to focus on their mentors.
The doctors dismissed them at noon with instructions to gather pink anemones, hairy cucumbers, and tripod sponges. All three animals lived in mid-deep water among corals, many fish, and other creatures. They all had medicinal value, their mentors explained. They were to be brought back alive and then the doctors would show them what to do next.
Outside the ward, Jorn said, “To the boat makers first?”
Nehma smiled. “Yeah. Then we better stop home for gathering nets.”
At the Whelk Cluster home, Nehma’s elfather greeted them. “Good to see you both together today.” He led them back to a work room.
Merfather popped up from behind a partially finished raft. “Ah, so you’ve decided you need a boat, huh?” He grinned as Nehma would and pulled himself from the water.
Nehma glanced at Jorn. Everyone else watched him also, apparently all waiting for his response. Jorn nodded. “Yes. We would be able to gather more with a boat.”
Nehma’s fathers smiled as if in good humor, and Nehma relaxed, crouching down. Jorn followed his example, and the boat makers crouched across from them.
“And we are talking about the boat Nehma described to us last night?”
Jorn nodded. He didn’t need to ask what Nehma had described. He knew it would have been what they talked about before. Elfa was wrong when he kept assuming Nehma would try to control him. All night he had gone over each of their major decisions and realized that Nehma had deferred to him. He’d never made a fuss. And Nehma’s boat idea would help them hunt and gather better.
“This is a large project,” Merfather said. “I think we may need some help from the both of you to get started.”
“Sure,” Nehma said. “What do you need?”
“The base tree. If you wait until we have time to search for it, we may not be able to start until spring. But if you find the right tree and bring it here, then we can get started a lot sooner. We have everything else.”
Jorn and Nehma agreed, and the boat makers described what they needed and how to bring it back. “As thick a tree as you can get, because that will be how wide your boat is. Cut it about this much longer than you want the boat,” Elfather said, holding out his hands to indicate a distance about twice as thick as his body.”
“You’ll have to get an axe from the stoneworkers,” Merfather said, telling them how to cut the tree down and then to float it here.
“There aren’t many good thick ones near the water here, but I’m told you two know where other islands are that probably have giant trees,” Nehma’s elfather teased.
When Nehma and Jorn left their cave and were once again in the bright autumn sunshine, Jorn said, “I bet your fathers will be on the elder’s council in a few years. They remind me of Thenorn and Belna.”
Nehma laughed. “You like them, then?”
Jorn shrugged. “Sure. They smile and laugh like you do.”
As he expected Nehma burst out in even greater amusement. Then he gave his teasing grin. “You can laugh and smile, too, you know. I’ve caught you doing it a few times.”
Jorn gave a small chuckle. It was easy to laugh with Nehma. He never made Jorn feel awkward or ashamed. “We better go scout those plants… animals… things.”
Nehma laughed again. “Yeah. That’s the hard part. Catching them will be like catching grass. Let’s get the nets.”
Lajarn flew to meet them as they approached their cave, coming in right behind them. “Where have you been? You didn’t come from the ward.”
Jorn stiffened. He had hoped it would be some time before his father discovered that he’d gone for the boat anyway.
“We had business to take care of,” Nehma said, his face devoid of the humor that had been there earlier.
Lajarn glared at Jorn. “I thought you decided not to….”
“We decided,” Nehma said evenly, “that we needed a boat. We welcome your opinion, but the decision is ours and it has been made.”
Even though Nehma was right, Jorn cringed. His father would not tolerate disrespect from anyone, and he’d consider that blatant disrespect.
Lajarn glared at Nehma, and then focused on Jorn. “Are you going to let that imprudent child control your cluster?”
Jorn couldn’t speak. Anything he said would upset one of the two people he loved.
But even that was the wrong response. Lajarn sagged and shook his head. “I can see you wish I’d died with your merfather.”
“Your actions speak louder than words. Neither of you want me here. Perhaps I will just fly off to the setting sun.”
“No, Elfa. We don’t want that,” Jorn said desperately.
Elfather as usual ignored his protest. “I suppose you don’t even wish to go hunting with an old man now.”
“Of course we do.”
“I’ll get the nets,” Nehma said quietly. He disappeared toward the work room.
While he was gone, Elfather slumped to a crouch with his hands on his face. “You don’t want me,” he said. “I have no one.”
“I do want you,” Jorn protested.
Nehma reappeared. “Ready?”
Elfather ignored them. Jorn knew he’d feel that Jorn cared more for Nehma’s opinion if he left now.
“Docs are expecting those hairy cucumbers,” Nehma reminded him.
Lajarn lifted his head and made a face of disgust. “You’re gathering cucumbers? That’s a woman’s job.”
“That’s our job,” Nehma said evenly. “Because our mentors requested that we do it.” He hesitated and then added, “I’m sure we’ll find something to hunt while we’re searching for the Docs medicines.” He gave a jerk of his head toward the entrance. “Ready?”
Elfather refused to look at either of them.
Jorn knew he didn’t want him to go, but…. “Elfa, I have to go. Docs Thorn and Manha have asked for it.”
Elfather ignored him.
But Jorn did have to go. He didn’t want the doctors to change their mind and decide they weren’t worth the hassle of training. After all, their other apprentices were already in their fourth year. He’d guessed right away that the Doctors had chosen to train them because of their ability to gather efficiently. If they didn’t do that, then what need would the doctors have of them?
Jorn jumped and shot out of the cave. He circled and spotted Nehma below him. They set out again for the east side and a reef they had passed several times before without stopping.
Jorn could do little to help in the gathering but watch Nehma to assure that no predator surprised him. Nehma filled three separate nets and then popped above the water. “I found one!”
Jorn dropped to a float. “It looks like you found a lot.”
Nehma grinned. “I found another conch, and I think this one is even bigger!”
“Yeah, but I don’t know how we’re going to get it back. Could you fly it in your net? We have to keep these things in the water.” He lifted the hand which didn’t hold his trenk. The three nets were full of pink anemones, hairy cucumbers and tripod sponges.
Jorn pulled the extra net from his waistband and handed it to Nehma. Then he held Nehma’s nets so that Nehma could maneuver the heavy shell into the net.
They went straight back to the ward to give the doctors their plant animals. Jorn hesitated at the entrance to leave their new conch, but finally did and followed Nehma inside.
When they were through in the ward their conch was still waiting for them. Nehma and Jorn hurried home and headed straight to the workroom to liberate the slug from its shell.
Jorn knew elfather would join them, and he tried not to think about what he might say about him leaving. But maybe he’d be glad they’d found this new conch to decorate the edge of their gathering room.
Lajarn did arrive. He looked over at them, and Jorn tried not to stiffen up as he waited for him to speak.
“Why did you waste energy bringing that home?” he asked. “We should go whale hunting tomorrow.” Then he left them.
Jorn let out a sigh of relief.
Nehma studied Jorn with that strange look again.
“What,” Jorn asked, keeping his voice low.
Nehma shook his head. Then he gave Jorn a small smile. “You’re the best hunter I know. And this conch is going to look great in our gather room.”
Jorn didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t even know why Nehma had said that now. He stood to tend the fires and lay the flat round slices of slug over the nets to dry.
Elfather now often joined them on their afternoon hunting trips. When he was with them he insisted on hunting large animals, whales, walpigates, and such.
They didn’t have time to search for their boat bottom until the Docs let them go early two weeks later.
It was even colder than before, and harder to stay out for extended lengths of time, but they took the axe and went to Ironwood Island and then on to the next small island. The sun had set by the time they felled the tree. They tied ropes to it, and they both pulled it home, deciding to go straight to the Whelk cluster with it.
It wasn’t until they reached the gathering room that they realized how late it was. All was quiet. Nehma whispered that they should take the log to the workroom and leave it there. His fathers would know who it was from.
Back at their home, Jorn wanted nothing more than to retire to his sleeping nook, but he knew Elfather would be waiting for them.
He motioned them into the gather room. “Where have you been?”
Jorn felt all his muscles tense again.
“You have not been with the doctors, nor on an errand for them.”
“No,” Nehma said, again in that even voice he seemed to use only with Elfather. “We had other business to attend. Please excuse me. I’m tired.”
He disappeared before anyone could protest. Jorn wished he could do the same. He saw that half-lidded look in Elfather’s eyes. He’d found some more mushrooms.
“You went to the fulls again, didn’t you?”
“No,” Jorn said, relieved that perhaps he’d be spared his father’s irritation. When he ate mushrooms to drown out his depression he became unpredictable, and Jorn tried to avoid him as much as possible at these times.
“Don’t lie to me. You have your brother and your rank, and you no longer need me. But you still must respect me.” He advanced on Jorn with a quick backhand to the side of his face.
Jorn twisted back and flew to his nook. Hopefully Elfather wouldn’t follow. Hopefully he’d be better in the morning, and Nehma would not see him react this way. It was bad enough that he always acted as if Jorn had to choose between him and Nehma. Nehma rarely spoke at home anymore, and they stayed out hunting more than they should. Sometimes they worked late at the ward even after the doctors had dismissed them for the day. But Nehma never said anything against Elfather — not like Elfather, who repeatedly said Nehma was childish, controlling, and selfish. If Jorn attempted to explain that Nehma wasn’t that way, his father would think that Nehma had turned Jorn against him, or that Jorn didn’t care about him anymore.
It was hard to lose so much, but Jorn wished his father would not keep dwelling on it.
Go to Chapter 7
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.