“You!” said Tiri, looking for the voice. “You’re a fish!”
“That I am,” said the fish. “You are not.”
“No, I’m Tiri,” said Tiri. “Not a fish at all.”
“But you are in my waters, Tiri-Not-A-Fish-At-All.”
“It’s just Tiri.”
“You are in my waters, Justiri.”
Rather than continue to argue, Tiri said, “I am. I don’t mean to be in your waters, but I fell. I can’t seem to get out. My boots are stuck.”
“If I unstick your boots, Justiri, will you get out of my waters?”
“I will try,” said Tiri, who knew better than to be anything but polite to a talking fish. “If I get out of your waters, will you tell me please how you came to be talking?”
The fish bubbled a yes, and then was gone below the surface, into the cold, murky water. Tiri felt a strange pulling at her boots, a pushing and then a pulling, and then it was easier to move, and she stumbled along the shore in the water a few more steps, and then a few more, and Hekka ran alongside, barking brightly.
All was well until she took one-two-tumble more steps, and then she was splash-in the water all over again, and Hekka was barking madly.
Tiri came back up to the surface, coughing and spluttering. She was cold and wet and so very cross.
“You did not get out.”
“I’m sorry,” Tiri apologized, and kept her cross feelings to herself, because she knew better than to be anything but polite to a talking fish. “I’m terrible sorry.”
“If I lift you up, Justiri, will you get out of my waters?”
“I will try,” said Tiri, hopeful. “If I get out of your waters, will you still please tell me how you came to be talking?”
The fish bubbled another yes, and then it was gone below the surface. Tiri felt a strange pushing at her boots, a pulling and then a pushing, and then she was lighter, and she went up up up and Hekka barked so excitedly, Tiri almost forgot what she was doing. She reached out her hands and took hold of the shore, the long dry grasses and the half frozen mud, and pulled herself up and out of the water.
When she looked back down, she saw no sign of the fish.
“Excuse me!” she called, because she knew better than to be anything but polite to a talking fish. “Excuse me, please?”
The fish bubbled to the surface and said, “Yes, Justiri?”
“Will you still please tell me how you came to be talking?”
“Not today. I’m too tired,” the fish explained. “On account of saving you. Come back tomorrow, when the sun is high and the water is warmer.”
* * *
[To Be Cont’d]