The three swam through warm water and they swam through cool water. They swam through waters deep and waters so shallow the sunlight warmed the sandy bottom. They swam through clear water, murky water, safe water, dangerous water, lively water, and desolate water, too. They swam for hours on end, resting only when Ramata gave the OK, which wasn’t too often.
“What are you so worried about?” Adam asked after one particularly long bout of non-stop swimming. “Can’t we please stop and rest a while?”
“I’m not worried about anything, Adam, except the Urchin Army coming along and grabbing us. Tiskaloons aren’t allowed to be this far from the city.”
“Not allowed by whom?”
“By Altern, of course.”
“I thought Tiskaloons didn’t answer to Altern.”
Ramata’s smile was tired and patient. Adam had stumbled upon the absurdity in the Tiskaloon attitude toward the monarchy. “Officially, we don’t answer to Altern. The problem is that Altern doesn’t recognize that we don’t recognize Altern’s rule.”
“Huh?” both Adam and Spot said.
Ramata stopped swimming and Adam was grateful that this conversation had led to a break. “Tiskaloo can talk until it’s green in the face that it doesn’t follow King Altern. It doesn’t. We do what we need to do as a city. And, so far, Altern’s been rather gracious about letting us manage Tiskaloo. No matter how we feel about the kingdom though, to Altern we are subjects — disloyal subjects — but subjects nonetheless. We know that if and when Altern wants to, the Urchin Army could come to Tiskaloo and overrun us. Altern hasn’t sent that order yet but some of us believe it’s only a matter of time before Altern brings a reckoning to Tiskaloo. That’s what we were debating at Frear’s house.”
“What to do when the Urchin Army comes?”
Ramata shook her head. “Whether to admit there is even a threat.”
Spot said, “My school and others have dealt with Altern’s rule.”
“What you must understand is that our history paints us as the chosen of Ocean. Admitting that another has rule over us is tantamount to heresy. Altern’s history goes back thousands of years, to when Ocean first rose, but Tiskaloon history reaches back even further than that, to the Waterwood Tree itself. Altern doesn’t care about real history though and the Tiskaloon circle of influence grows smaller and smaller the further we get from the city itself.”
“Because Altern treats Tiskaloons like criminals if we’re caught outside the city. Most inhabitants of Ocean are leary to associate with us. We’ve got to keep on the move. If we’re caught, we’ll be sent to work the magma mines.”