PUFFIN BOOKSMermaid Curse
The Black Pearl
Born in Hertfordshire, England, on 29 May 1952, Louise Cooper describes herself as ‘a typicalscatterbrained Gemini’. She spent most of her school years writing stories when she shouldhave been concentrating on lessons, and her first fantasy novel, The Book of Paradox , was
published in 1973, when she was just twenty years old. Since then she has published more thanseventy books for adults and children.
Louise now lives in Cornwall with her husband, Cas Sandall. When she isn't writing, she enjoyssinging (and playing various instruments), cooking, gardening, ‘messing about on the beach’and – just to make sure she keeps busy – is also treasurer of her local Royal NationalLifeboat Institution branch.
Visit Louise at her own website at louisecooper.com
Books by Louise Cooper
Sea Horses series in reading order
Gathering Storm The Last Secret
Mermaid Curse series in reading order
The Silver Dolphin The Black Pearl
Mermaid CurseThe Black Pearl
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First published 2008 1
Text copyright ? Louise Cooper, 2008 All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
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For Lucy and Tim – when they’re old enough to swim with the dolphins
Light shimmered in the undersea cave, casting all the colours of the rainbow across the wallsand the surface of the huge still pool in the centre. On a rock couch draped with seaweed anddecorated with hundreds of shells sat Taran, self-proclaimed mermaid Queen. She was verybeautiful, but there was a cruel edge to her lovely face as she gazed at the golden circletthat she held in her hands. She turned her head and stared haughtily down at her servant.
‘Well?’ she said. ‘What news have you brought?’
The servant, whose name was Tullor, hissed, ‘Your Majesty, the rumour is true – Morvyr'slong-lost daughter has returned!’
‘Ah!’ Taran clenched her fists and leaned towards him. ‘And where is she now?’
‘At this moment the girl is with her mother and brother in a cave not far from the place wherethe human fishermen live. But there's more, Your Majesty. The girl-child has the silver pearl.I saw it with my own eyes – and I heard it sing!’
Taran's cold green eyes lit up. ‘This is far better than I expected! Well done, Tullor – Ishall reward you! But first you must watch the girl, and follow her whenever you can. Make sureno one realizes what you are doing – especially those interfering dolphins!’ Her facedarkened in a scowl, then the scowl was replaced with a cunning smile. ‘I have been patientfor eleven years. I can be patient for a little while longer.’ Her face twisted threateningly.‘Don’t fail, Tullor. I want that pearl, I must have it – at any cost!’
When Tullor had gone, Taran looked again at the golden circlet in her hands. Seven pearls wereset into the circlet, and the mermaid stroked them hungrily.
‘Only seven,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Only seven. But soon I will have the eighth. Thenthere is only the black pearl to find – and when I have all nine, my power will be complete!’
It was going to be a perfect summer’s day. Lizzy Baxter woke to the delightful sight ofsunlight streaming in at her window, and the air in her bedroom felt warm and balmy. Throwingher duvet back, she scrambled out of bed and went to the window to peer out over the rooftopsof the Cornish fishing port where she lived.
Beyond the roofs was the harbour, with the sea sparkling sapphire blue beyond. The morningbustle of the docks was in full swing, for several trawlers were due in on the tide andeverything had to be ready Lizzy could just see the boats in the bay, far out beyond the greatlandmark of St Michael’s Mount, which shone in the brilliant early light. In less than an hourthey would be home and unloading their catch.
Lizzy smiled to herself as she thought how much she already loved this place. It was hard tobelieve that she and her family had been living in Cornwall for only two weeks. So much hadhappened to her since they’d come to their new home… and it was all so astonishing andincredible that she could still hardly believe it was real.
Lizzy had always known that she and her older sister, Rose, weren’t the Baxters’ ownchildren. Mr and Mrs Baxter had adopted Rose when she was one, and a few years later they hadadopted Lizzy too. But, while they knew that Rose was an orphan, Lizzy’s history was unknown.She had been found abandoned as a baby, not very far from here, and no one had been able totrace her family. Lizzy had thought that she would never learn the truth about herself. Butthen Dad had been offered a lecturing post at a college in Cornwall, and the new house theybought was, by coincidence, in the same area where she had been found when she was small. Amidall the upheaval and excitement of moving, Lizzy hadn’t had much time to wonder about her ownpast. But then one day on the nearby beach she had met a boy called Kes. And what she learnedfrom him changed everything…
There were footsteps on the stairs and along the landing. Moments later Lizzy’s door openedand Mrs Baxter’s head appeared.
‘Morning, love,’ she said. ‘Breakfast’s nearly ready, so if you want a shower first you’dbetter get a move on.’ She smiled. ‘Another lovely day! We’ve been so lucky with the weathersince we came. What are you doing – going to the beach again?’
‘Mmm, yes, if that’s all right?’
‘Of course. Lucky you – I’m working, and Dad’s going in to the college to be shown round. Idon’t know what Rose is up to; staying in bed half the morning, I expect, and then seeingPaul.’
Paul Treleaven was Rose’s new boyfriend. His father was a fisherman and Paul sometimes went tosea with him. He was used to getting up early, but it hadn’t rubbed off on Rose yet.
Lizzy grinned. ‘I expect so too. OK, Mum, I’ll be down in a few minutes.’
Mum went back downstairs and Lizzy headed for the bathroom. She showered quickly, then dashedback to her room, feeling light-hearted and excited. She had arranged to meet Kes today and shewas so looking forward to seeing him again.
She pulled on a swimsuit, then put shorts and a T-shirt on top. As she wriggled the T-shirtover her head she suddenly remembered something. Her locket – it was on its silver chain roundher neck. Quickly she unfastened the chain, and laid the locket on her bedside table. It was avery beautiful and unusual one, made from two pieces of mother-of-pearl. It had been with herwhen she was found as a baby, and she always wore it. But not when she went to the beach and
the sea. Because now she knew the real truth about the locket. Inside it, hidden in a secretcompartment, was a tiny treasure. And that treasure must be kept safe at all costs…
She gave the locket a last glance, then pushed her feet into flip-flops and hurried down tobreakfast.
The trawlers that Lizzy had seen from her window were heading towards the harbour when one ofthe fishermen shouted to his crewmates and pointed further out to sea. A dolphin was headingwestwards along the coast, streaking through the water. The fishermen watched it with smiles ontheir faces. They always enjoyed seeing dolphins. Sometimes the creatures came right up close,hoping to be thrown a few fish, and the men wondered if this one might follow them towards theharbour.
But the dolphin wasn’t interested in fish. She had somewhere to go – and she needed to getthere fast. Soon she had left the boats far behind and, as she surged on, the sun glinted on anunusual silver streak down the length of her back. Then suddenly she dived with hardly asplash, and swam down, down into the sea’s depths. Ahead of her now was a forest of oar-weed,the long brown fronds swaying gently in the current. This was the right place… the dolphinplunged in among the weed, pushing herself through it with flicks of her powerful tail, andemerged on the far side, in front of an underwater cave. The cave entrance was covered by awaving curtain of finer weed, and many-coloured sea anemones grew around it.
The dolphin swam up to the entrance and gave a series of high, shrill whistles that echoedstrangely through the water. She waited, and a few moments later the curtain parted and someonelooked out.
‘Arhans!’ A boy emerged from the cave. He had black hair and brilliant blue eyes, and, thoughhe looked completely human, he breathed underwater as easily as any ordinary boy did in air. Hewas smiling at the dolphin, delighted to see her, but as Arhans whistled again his expressionchanged.
‘Mother? She’s away in the forest, gathering food. Arhans, what is it? What’s the matter?’
There was no mistaking the urgency in Arhans’s shrill reply, and the boy, who had grown upunderstanding the language of dolphins, was alarmed. ‘Yes, I’ll take you to her – I knowwhere she’s gone, she shouldn’t be hard to find. Come on!’
He dived into the forest, Arhans close on his heels. The boy was an expert swimmer, but thedolphin had told him that there was no time to lose. So he concentrated his mind… and hisshape began to change. His legs seemed to fuse together; shining scales appeared on them as hisfeet became fins, and suddenly he was no longer human but a merboy with a fishlike tail. Arhanswhistled approval and their speed increased as they headed through the forest.
Within minutes they saw a shape moving more slowly ahead of them, and as they drew closer theshape resolved into the figure of a mermaid. She was picking seaweed and putting it in a wovenbag that was slung over one shoulder. Her long golden hair flowed around her, and they couldhear her singing to herself as she worked.
‘Mother!’ The boy put on a last burst of speed and rushed up to the mermaid in a swirl ofbubbles.
‘Kes?’ The mermaid, whose name was Morvyr, smiled a welcome, then saw the dolphin. ‘AndArhans too. What are you both doing here?’
‘Mother, there’s trouble!’ Kes said breathlessly. ‘Arhans came to warn us – she sayswe’re in danger!’
Morvyr’s smile changed to a frown. ‘Danger? What kind of danger?’
Arhans answered with a stream of whistling and chittering, and as she listened Morvyr’s eyesgrew wide with alarm, for the dolphin’s message was simple and stark. Taran, Queen of themermaids, was planning to arrest Morvyr.
‘ Arrest me?’ Morvyr exclaimed. ‘But why? What have I done wrong?’
Arhans did not know, but there was no doubting it, she communicated. She and her friends hadheard the news from their cousins. Taran had already sent her henchmen to find Morvyr and takeher captive – and it had something to do with a silver pearl.
‘The pearl that’s hidden in Lizzy’s locket!’ Kes gasped, horrified. ‘The Queen must havefound out about it somehow – and that means she must know about Lizzy too. Oh, Mother, whatare we going to do?’
‘I can guess Taran’s plan,’ said Morvyr grimly. ‘She means to hold me hostage, to makeLizzy give her the silver pearl.’
‘But why?’ asked Kes. ‘What’s so special about it? Mother, why won’t you explain themystery?’
‘I’ve told you before: it’s far safer if you and Lizzy don’t know the whole story, at leastnot yet.’ Morvyr looked around at the flowing fronds of weed. ‘Taran’s henchmen could comeat any time. Whatever else happens, she must not get her hands on the pearl! There’s only one
thing to do, Kes. We’ll have to go into hiding.’
Kes was aghast. ‘Where?’
‘The dolphins will find us a safe place.’ Arhans chittered agreement, and Morvyr stroked hersmooth head. ‘We’re so grateful to you, Arhans! Now, we daren’t waste a moment. We must setoff at once.’
‘Mother, what about Lizzy? I promised to meet her today –’
‘Then you’ll have to break your promise. Neither of us can risk seeing anyone until this isover.’
‘But Lizzy’ll be frantic with worry! Can’t I at least try to reach her through the shell Igave her?’
‘No, Kes, it’s too dangerous. Until we’re safe in hiding, we daren’t try to contact her incase Taran’s servants overhear. We must leave everything and everyone behind, and go now!’
Kes tried to argue but Morvyr was immovable, and eventually he gave up. Arhans had sent out acall to her friends, and now five more dolphins arrived. They knew a hiding place that Taran’sservants would never find, and they urged Morvyr and Kes to go with them as quickly aspossible. Two dolphins went ahead to make sure that the way was safe, and Arhans and the otherthree flanked Kes and his mother as they swam away through the kelp.
They had not been gone more than a few minutes when, not far away, there was a suddendisturbance in the oar-weed forest and five of Queen Taran’s servants emerged in front of Kesand Morvyr’s cave. Tullor led them; with the rest crowding behind him he swam to the entrancecurtain and thrust his huge ugly head through it. One look was enough. The cave was untidy, andthere was half-eaten food on the rock that served as a table. The occupants had obviously leftin a hurry.
With a savage hiss Tullor withdrew. ‘They have gone!’ he snarled. ‘Someone must have warnedthem – they have escaped!’
Thinking fast, he gave orders. Morvyr and Kes must be found – if they were not, the Queen'sfury would have no limit and they would all suffer! Immediately the other creatures set off tostart the search; but Tullor called one of them back. It was a huge cuttlefish, and as ithovered in front of him, its long tentacles quivering and its savage beak snapping, he said,‘We too will search for the mermaid and her son. But first we will destroy their home, as awarning to others. We will show them what becomes of anyone who dares to disobey our Queen!’
A shudder of pleasure ran the length of the cuttlefish’s body. Then the two of them swamthrough the seaweed curtain into the cave.
Though it was still early, the sun was hot when Lizzy arrived at the beach not far from theharbour. From a distance she could hear the cheerful sounds of summer holidaymakers. The beachwas already crowded; people swam or surfed in the sea, played games on the sand and fished inthe rock pools, watched attentively by the lifeguards from their 4x4 truck parked well clear ofthe tideline.
Lizzy found herself a spot at one end of the beach, near the low headland where a smallautomatic lighthouse stood. Dumping her striped drawstring bag on a handy rock, she strippeddown to her swimsuit, stuffed her clothes and sandals into the bag then flopped on to the sand.She was early; Kes wouldn’t turn up for a little while yet, so she gazed at the sea, watchingthe swimmers and surfers in the water.
She thought back to the first time she had met Kes. She had lost her locket in the sea and wasdesperately searching along the beach to see if it had been washed ashore. Miraculously Kes hadfound it, they had started talking… And she had discovered that Kes was her brother, andthough their father was human, their mother was a mermaid…
She remembered the shock and wonder of it all as clearly as when it had begun. The discoverythat she could breathe and speak underwater. The first meeting with Morvyr, her mother. Theencounters with Arhans and the other dolphins, and the first steps she had taken towardsunderstanding their strange language. She was so eager to see them all again, to swim withKes, to see the cave where he and Morvyr lived, to be with them.
Impatiently she looked at her watch, and was surprised to see how much time had passed. Kesshould have arrived by now, but when she shielded her eyes against the dazzling sunlight shecouldn’t see him on the beach or in the water. But he was sure to turn up at any moment.She’d better get ready. Reaching for her bag, she took out her wetsuit and wrestled herselfinto it. A final twist and wriggle as she pulled up the zip at the back of her neck, then shesprinted towards the sea. At the water’s edge she stopped, letting the small wavelets curdlearound her feet. The wind whisked her short blonde curls round her face; she pushed them back,blinking her blue eyes as she watched the sea. She waited a few minutes, then a few more. Butthere was still no sign of Kes.
Where was he? He should be here by now. Though there were no such things as clocks in theundersea world, he had always been on time before. Was something wrong?
She waded into the sea until she was waist-deep and the waves were breaking around her. MaybeKes was playing a joke – she wouldn’t put it past him to be waiting under the water not farfrom shore, ready to dart out and startle her when she least expected it. All right , Lizzy
thought, grinning to herself. We’ll see about that !
A bigger wave broke and she let it lift her off her feet, then began to swim further out. Onequick glance to make sure the lifeguards weren’t looking… the next wave rolled towards her,and Lizzy launched herself towards it and dived under the water.
She couldn’t see much at first, for the rolling waves were churning up the sand and makingeverything murky. But, as she reached deeper, calmer water she left the swirling grains behindand the sea became clear, translucent blue-green. Lizzy took a breath, watching bubbles streamfrom her mouth and up to the surface. A shoal of silvery phosphorescent fish – mackerel, shethought – dashed past in the opposite direction, and patches of drifting seaweed rolled andflowed in the current. Weed would make a good hiding place. But when she plunged in among thestrands she found only a small crab and several bright yellow periwinkles hitching a ride.