Back to the Kelp Forest
Te squealed with delight as Ko pulled her from arms length behind forward and past in a rush. Even at play Ko kept a watchful eye for predators, sea-folk or animal. Then too, Ap would be watching.
Looking at young Te with her speckles and big smiles, Ko remembered she had not been allowed joy like this. Most of the older shoal had been slaughtered in the attack or picked off one by one on the long swim through the deep blue. She didn’t like to think of it.
Te had no such bad memories, nothing but fun, and that is as it should be. Still, there was no reason why Te’s fun should result in tragedy. Ko knew enough from the hard experience of a short life, that just when you trust peace and safety tragedy strikes.
Ap knew it too. He wore that knowledge like a badge of office, there on his chest beneath his thick crossed arms. Ko could not tell if he approved or disapproved of Te’s sport.
Ap’s face was a mask. If you didn’t know him you would think him angry. Even when you knew Ap well you still couldn’t tell. You just knew you couldn’t read his mood on that face. The frown was always there.
Letting Te lag, Ko flashed the bagged fish before launching the youngling toward the Kelp bed that shielded their home. Te yelped and then, laughing, wiggled into the sheltering green.
Adults and Children
“Smiley is about,” Ap began, deadpan.
“I saw,” Ko countered, letting him know she was wary as he, if not so fearful.
Maybe that was a bad way to put it, Ko thought. Ap would face a shark or even one of the huge black and white porpoises to protect a shoal mate. What Ap really was, was no fun,”I found breakfast,” she said, and bossy, she thought.
“That’s a good catch.” Ap shifted from arms akimbo to fidgeting with his club, a nasty sharp hunk of whale bone. “I don’t think Te is ready to go with you. . .”
“Do you think I took her out? No. That one needs a parent, but all she has is us.”
“I just mean I can’t keep her safe…”
“That’s the thing Ap, you can’t keep her safe, or me, or any of us. Not your fault.”
Ap positively glowered, you couldn’t tell by his face, but when Ap was angry you could see it in those huge shoulders. You couldn’t see his eyes then, because they were focused on that heavy club wooshing back and forth from hand to hand. “We all need to be careful, we don’t really know where we are.”
That was true. It was good to know that while he hovered, guarding everyone, trying to make everything safe, to make it all right, he was thinking. “What do you want me to do?”
“I figure we need to know what’s about, you know, all around.” He sighed, “I’d go, do it myself, but…”
“Oh,” breathed Ko. They all felt, endangered even in this cozy little hidey hole. They had more than reason enough to be afraid. They’d seen their parents murdered, seen them sacrifice themselves to give the younglings a chance to escape, seen the old and what few parents survived sacrifice themselves to protect the shoal on the long swim through the deep blue that finally found them hiding in the Kelp in their little cave.
He looked at her intently, his eyes were blue like hers, but there was something of the wounded animal in them echoed by the frowning brow. “. . .so we’ll all go fishing, like usual, but you have a look around the mount. Only Te can’t go, she isn’t ready. She’ll want to, but if she gets wind, you need to make her stay. Take someone, maybe a couple of the boys.”
“I’ll talk to her. Tell her she has to stay, ‘cuz Ap says.”
“Oh no, she’ll just. . .”
“Kidding. I’ll tell her straight out that she can’t go, but I’ll promise her shell hunting or something.”
“Good, yeah, thanks Ko.”
She turned to go, but Ap stayed where he was, looking out into the uncertain distance. “Aren’t you coming? There’s fish.” Ko waved the catch at him.
“Nah, let the young ones eat. I’ll fish better hungry.” Ap flexed his heavy shoulders, but kept looking stolidly out into the blue.
Ko looked at her friend, He took too much on himself, she thought, “Nothing there today. . .”
“Yeah,” said Ap, bone club passing from hand to hand, but he didn’t relax or let down his vigilance.