Creative Reading Prize: The Unknown Child
Entered by: Niamh (13) from Epping
Book: The Unknown Child by Michelle Lovric
The Studious Son
Venice-I can’t think of anything more beautiful or magical. I love this city and I feel I truly belong here. However, since I first came here and travelled “between-the-linings” and had to save Venice, I knew some kind of danger would come again. I was right. My name is Teodora and this is my story.
It was quiet in the early morning. Venice wouldn’t awake for another couple of hours but beneath the surface of the Grande Canal life was stirring. One single gondola glided by filled with a family of tourists enjoying the fresh crisp air and rising sun. As the gondolier guided the boat, a large splash startled the peaceful morning. Surprised, everyone in the gondola turned around so they didn’t see the dark shape sink the boat and take them.
Teo was awake before anyone else in her new home. It was an old fashioned house which was a surprise as her parents, being scientists, enjoyed things to be more modern. Venice however was slowly working its magic on them. They were seeing things a bit like Teo would. Excitement tingled all through Teo’s body. It was her twelfth birthday and it signified a new beginning, life and journey. This, she was certain, would be a birthday like no other. Teo leaned over to where her friend Maria lay in the bed next to hers. Maria used to be Teo’s worst enemy but after a frightening experience, Venice had worked its magic on Maria too. She now attended a strict boarding school and stayed with Teo’s family during the holidays.
“Happy Birthday Dora!” Maria mumbled, still half asleep.
Dora was Maria’s nickname for Teo although Teo still wasn’t sure that she liked it. The two girls lay in bed for a while, happy to listen to the rare silence Venice was engulfed in with only the occasional gurgle from the Grande Canal below.
When the sun’s final rays of light had risen and the bustle and noises of the street had begun, the girls got changed and walked downstairs.
“Leonora, I’m not sure that would work. You know how they are at the museum.”
That was Teo’s parents talking over breakfast. They had recently accepted the jobs of Director and Chief Scientific Officer for a living museum in the lagoon.
Also at the table was Renzo, Teo’s best friend who had helped her save Venice. He had fair hair and a very confident air about him. All table conversation stopped as the girls walked in. Cries of “Happy Birthday” greeted Teo. After embracing her parents in a large hug she turned to Renzo.
“What are you doing here?”
“Can’t a someone wish their friend happy birthday?” he replied.
”Besides I’ve planned an exciting day for you-Maria can come along of course” he added, flashing a smile in her direction.
Declining, Maria explained that Leonora and Alberto, Teo’s parents were showing her their museum that day.
Avoiding the smelly Rialto Fish Markets that were just outside Teo’s house, Renzo took Teo to all the places she loved. Professor Marin’s old bookshop and Signora Rioba’s were Teo’s absolute favourites so Renzo took her there first. After visiting some other places including the ice cream parlour, Renzo led Teo to the House of Spirits. It was here that Teo lived the first months of her life in the care of the nuns. When they reached the nuns Teo embraced each one as if she was her mother and in a small way, they each were. After their time with the nuns, Renzo told Teo that he would take her on a gondola ride through all the waterways of Venice.
“Oh thank you Renzo!” Toe exclaimed excitedly.
It was a beautiful summer afternoon and as it was the second last day of holidays, Venice was quite peaceful. As Renzo steered the gondola, Teo gazed happily about her.
“Renzo this has been the best day ever! I was right when I thought this would be a birthday I would never forget! Thank you.”
Little did Teo know how right she was. At that moment there was a splash.
“What was that?”
“I haven’t a clue, some tourist probably threw rubbish in! They have no respect for Venice!”
Teo glanced at Renzo; he still hadn’t got over his dislike of tourists. The pair looked around searching for whoever had littered their beloved city. They were in the quietest canal in Venice so there was no one to have caused the splash; there was also no one to see a black shape sink the gondola.
Water engulfed Renzo, submerging him entirely. Panic surged through him because he couldn’t swim; Renzo tried to scream but water spilled into his mouth. In the dark water he could only faintly see Teo. Fish were surrounding her but as Teo was a strong swimmer she shook her head and pointed at Renzo. Before he knew it the fish began to push him towards the surface. Just as he felt that his lungs were going to burst, air surrounded him. Gasping heavily Renzo grabbed hold of the gondola and saw Teo. She was struggling and Renzo saw flashes of white around her. Startled he tried to save her but Teo knew it was helpless.
“No Renzo…” she went under water, “…just get the…” This time she didn’t reappear.
“Oh Teo, I’m so sorry.” Renzo was still holding onto the gondola.
“Get who? Who could possibly help you now?” he groaned.
Staring into the water Renzo saw a fish with blue writing-like squiggles on it swim by.
“Of course!” he thought, “Lussa!”
Lussa was the Queen of the Mermaids. Very few people knew of the mermaids but Teo and Renzo were amongst these fortunate people. Lussa and her mermaids had helped them save Venice and now Lussa had spells and incantations inked on her body. Renzo knew that he needed to reach Lussa. With the help of the fish, who all loved Teo and would help in all ways possible, Renzo reached the edge of the canal. He quickly wrote a note to Teo’s parents saying that Teo and he would be staying the night at Professor Marin’s bookshop. He hoped they would believe this as they were good friends with Professor Marin and loved his bookshop.
The entrance to the mermaids’ main cave was in the House of Spirits though not near where the nuns lived. When Renzo entered, the mermaids were all busy and none were sitting still except for the one in the centre of the cave; Lussa
“Ah Lorenzo” she smiled. Everyone stopped.
“She’s right. It’s da Studious Son.”
“My gib was atwitch-I might have knowed we’d be seeing the humans again. But I say, where be da Lost Daughter?”
The mermaids learnt to speak from sailors so when they spoke it was rough. With a sigh, Renzo sat down and told them what had happened.
"What ye tell grieves us all but pray forgive, there be nought we can do!” Lussa cried distressed.
“What do you mean?” Surely there isn’t someone who you’re afraid of? …there isn’t is there?” Renzo added after seeing Lussa look so uncomfortable.
“Yar-she be a friend of Bajamonte Tiepolo and owner of the White Eels!”
“Da nasty scoundrel of a mermaid!” a mermaid shouted.
What kind of mermaid like white eels? They were mermaids’ worst enemies.
Seeing how depressed Renzo was, Lussa quickly told him that Professor Marin could help.
“Thank you Lussa. I’d better be on my way.”
As Renzo turned to leave, Lussa called out to him “Lorenzo, you better hurry-we don’t want to lose our Undrowned Child!”
The sun was setting when Renzo arrived at the old bookshop at Miracoli. The bookshop was dark and empty when Renzo walked in. Professor Marin was putting some books away.
“My dear boy. What is distressing you? I see in your eyes all is not right.” Professor Marin looked around Renzo as if searching for someone.
“Am I right in assuming it has something to do with our beautiful Teodora?” Professor Marin spoke in a calm voice though his eyes looked urgent.
“We were on a gondola ride when our boat was tipped and Teo was taken somewhere underwater. The mermaids told me that some kind of evil mermaid with white eels as pets and a friend in Bajamonte Tiepolo had taken her but that they couldn’t do anything.”
When Professor told Professor Marin this he couldn’t keep the distress out of his voice.
“Oh my! Stalla” mumbled Professor Marin and this time he couldn’t hide his urgency.
“Stalla is almost as evil as Bajamonte was. She used to be Queen of the Mermaids but Lussa, her younger sister was preferred and was given the leadership. As a result, Stalla turned against the other mermaids. She has great powers and as part of Lussa still remembers and loves the sister she grew up with so she is untouchable. I have met with Stalla before and actually found her weakness but I’m afraid I can’t remember what it is. I recorded it in my book ‘Mermaids I Have Known’ but I can’t seem to find it” explained Professor Marin.
Remembering that Teo had taken it, Renzo told the Professor that he should probably stop looking for it as it wasn’t there! Professor Marin chuckled quietly and shook his head.
For the second time that day, Renzo thought there was no way he could save Teo but when Professor Marin came out of his storeroom holding a package, Renzo became curious.
“I do hope that will help me” Renzo mumbled under his breath.
In the package was an empty wine bottle and two feathers. Renzo groaned-a wine bottle and two feathers; he couldn’t think of anything more pathetic.
“If you want to save Teodora you had better trust me and follow my advice!” the Professor commanded strongly. He also gave Renzo something that looked like a fish kite but was in fact a lamp. Renzo and Teo had used it and another like it before and he wondered how Professor Marin had possession of one.
It was dark by the time Renzo set off on the Professor’s instructions. He was incredibly nervous as he would have to go under water. Professor Marin told him that the floating fish lamp would lead him to Teo but he was beginning to doubt it. He paused on the edge of the canal where the gondola had sunk. After a deep breath Renzo held tightly to the floating fish lamp and jumped into the canal. It was incredibly cold and he began to panic but stopped when the cord in his hand began pulling him along. Renzo tried to stay calm and concentrate on his breathing.
It didn’t take long for Renzo to reach the entrance of Stalla’s cave. There had been many white eels along the way but the lamp kept him out of sight. Now he saw he was in a place where the water was unable to enter. Guarding the cave were two frog like creatures. Professor Marin had warned Renzo of this and he took out of his pocket the two feathers. Just as they saw Renzo he aimed the feathers at them and they crumpled unconscious to the ground without a sound. Renzo grimaced as he imagined what would have happened if he hadn’t had the feathers filled with a sleeping drug. Renzo left the lamp outside and crept into the cave, gripping the wine bottle tightly.
Teo was terrified. She had been trapped in the cave for the whole day. She was sitting waist deep in water opposite a beautiful mermaid. There was one flaw to her beauty and that was that her face was empty of emotion. Teo thought she looked familiar but couldn’t remember where from.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the brave little girl who saved Venice!” Every word dripped with sarcasm. “I’m Stalla. I was a good friend of Bajamonte Tiepolo before you decided to destroy him! I have brought you here to take my revenge. Nobody kills my friends and gets away with it!”
Teo realized with a stab of fear that this mermaid wouldn’t stop until she was dead.
“You will…” Stalla broke short as a loud pop sliced through the silence and a fine mist drifted over to her.
The mist formed an image. It was of Lussa sitting on a rock, before the spells were inked onto her skin. Teo had never seen Lussa look so sad and heart-broken.
“Stalla, my dear sister .I cannot express how much I am missing you at the moment. I wish you had never left as I feel I am missing something in my life. You will probably never get this but I…” Lussa took a deep breath.
When Teo looked at Stalla she saw a single tear roll down her smooth cheek. Suddenly without warning Teo was grabbed from behind and quietly taken out of the cave while Stalla was occupied. In surprise she turned to see who her captor was and found that she was looking at Renzo. Holding a finger to his lips Renzo took her to the floating fish lamp.
When they re-surfaced Renzo took Teo to Professor Marin’s. He was waiting for them and his face broke into a relieved smile when he saw them approaching.
“I have been worried sick with fright, don’t you two ever do that again.” he told them kindly.
Professor Marin took the tired pair inside where they told him what happened.
“What you told me reminded me of Stalla’s weakness. She yearns desperately to be loved. I asked Lussa to say that for me, knowing she meant it completely, and I stored the memory in the wine bottle,” Professor Marin said. “Now you two better be off to bed, I’ve made up a bed for you both as that is what your parents believe is happening.”
Exchanging smiles Teo and Renzo headed off to bed, once again feeling safe and relieved that no harm had come to Teo or Venice.