Daybreak found me down at the water’s edge, as arranged, waiting for Phineal Glyfphith to appear. It was to be his last day at the Farrow Lake, and he had promised to take me down into its depths before departing. As I looked out across the still water, my heart hammering in my chest, the Spirit of Keris broke the surface. Phineal opened the glass front of the magnificent vessel, and I jumped in.
‘Of course,’ he said, as I settled myself in the seat beside his, and he bolted the door shut, ‘normally I’d travel with the Keris filled with water. It makes it far easier when I’m navigating the underground tunnels. But today, Hedgethorn, with you – a lung-breather – on board, we shall descend with her chambers filled with air.’
He reached forward, and I watched his long webbed fingers dart expertly over the dive-levers. The vessel juddered and thrummed, and we started to descend. There was a loud hiss as the propulsion jet blasted, followed by the sound of bubbling as the steam funnel was submerged.
I’d dived down into the lake before, several times, but with my eyes filled with water, everything was always blurred and indistinct. This time was different. This time, as I stared out through the glass at the underwater scene, I could see as clearly as if I were still on the lakeside – clearer, in fact, for the curve of the glass magnified the incredible scene before me.
Nothing could have prepared me for that underwater world. There were shoals of fish – red fish, blue fish, orange and purple fish; striped and spotted fish, swimming this way, that way, shifting direction together, like sheets blowing in the wind. Sometimes a brave one among them would approach the glass and peer in, its eyes wide and unblinking, before losing its nerve and darting away with a flick of its tail. There were flotillas of curious beaked crustaceans that swam upright and snapped at passing shrimps and tiddlers. And as we neared the lakebed, I saw rocklobsters and lakecrabs scuttling over the sand and pebbles, and hiding in the tall, fronded lakeweeds that swayed like a mighty underwater forest.
I don’t know how long we stayed down there, but when the air inside the Spirit of Keris began to get warm and stuffy, Phineal suggested we re-surface. I nodded, and was about to sit back in my seat, when something large and blue caught my eye.
‘Over there,’ I breathed. ‘What’s that?’
Phineal looked, and scratched the crest on his head thoughtfully, before turning to me, a look of wonder in his eyes. ‘This is truly remarkable…’
He eased off the phraxthrust, brought us round and steered us across to the rocky outcrop where I’d seen it. And as we passed through a curtain of flowing reedgrass, it appeared before us, a large blue clam, almost the size of the Spirit of Keris itself. Its shell was nobbly and rough, and encrusted with sandwhelks and ropebarnacles that had made their homes uon it. As we approached, the two halves of the great bicuspid open up, and a blue light streamed out.
Leaving me clutching the controls of the Keris, Phineal left the phraxmarine by the rear hatch and swam over to the great clam. While I watched, he communed with it, as, he later informed me, do all the webfoot goblins of the Four Lakes. When he returned, his crest was glowing blue, more brightly than I’d ever seen it glow before – the blue of the great blueshell clam itself.
We rose to the surface of the lake in silence, and Phineal steered the phraxmarine to the shallows, where I jumped out. He climbed out beside me and tethered the Spirit of Keris to the wooden jetty, next to my bobbing corracle. He seemed to be in a trance. He stood at the end of the wooden walkway, staring out across the lake, then turned to me.
‘It seems I shall be staying here at the Farrow Lake longer than I thought, Hedgethorn.’