But this was different, this soft and moving web of silence. No, not quite silence, for past his ear the splendid hyacinths drifted with a musical creaking, leaf on leaf, the buoyant bulbs brushing each other. The islets joined and parted; once he saw open water and plunged for it—and over his shoulders there surged a soft coverlet. He turned and beat it; he churned his bed into a furious welter, and the silken curtain lowered.
He shrank from it now, staring. The feathery roots matted across his chest, the mass of them felt slimy like the hide of a drowned brute.
“Drownin’ cows”—he muttered thickly—“comin’ on a man driftin’ and drownin’—no, no! Lilies, jest lilies—damn ’em!”
The tall spiked flowers seemed nodding—yes, just lilies, drifting and singing elfin music to the sea tide. Tedge roared once again his hatred of them; he raised and battered his huge fists into their beauty, and they seemed to smile in the starlight. Then, with a howl, he dived.
He would beat them—deep water was here in the pass, and he would swim mightily far beneath the trailing roots—he would find the man with the boat yet and hurl him to die in the hyacinth bloom.
He opened his eyes in the deep, clear water and exulted. He, Tedge, had outwitted the bannered argosies. With bursting lungs he charged off across the current, thinking swiftly, coolly, now of the escape. And as he neared the surface he twisted to glance upward. It was light there—a light brighter than the stars, but softer, evanescent. Mullet and squib were darting about or clinging to a feathery forest that hung straight down upon him. Far and near there came little darts of pale fire, gleaming and expiring with each stir in the phosphorescent water.
And he had to rise; a man could not hold the torturing air in his lungs for ever. Yes, he would tear a path to the stars again and breathe. His arms flailed into the first tenuous streamers, which parted in pearly lace before his eyes. He breasted higher, and they were all about him now; his struggles evoked glowing bubble-jewels which drifted upward to expire. He grasped the soft roots and twisted and sought to raise himself. He had a hand to the surface bulbs, but a silken mesh seemed tightening about him.
And it was drifting—everything was drifting in the deep pass of Au Fer. He tried to howl in the hyacinth web, and choked—and then he merely fought in his close-pressing cocoon, thrusting one hard fist to grasp the broad leaves. He clung to them dumbly, his face so close to the surface that the tall spiked flowers smiled down—but they drifted inexorably with a faint, creaking music, leaf on leaf.
Tedge opened his eyes to a flicker of myriad lights. The sound was a roaring now—like the surf on the reefs in the hurricane month; or the thunder of maddened steers above him across this flowery sea meadow. Perhaps the man he had killed rode with this stampede? Tedge shrank under the lilies—perhaps they could protect him now? Even the last stroke of his hands made luminous beauty of the under-running tide.