The surface of the lake was ruffled by the wind. White-capped waves scudded across, barely an inch high. They broke on the shore on the eastern side, where the beach was more than a finger-thin line of sand and shells, washing all the way up to the grass-line. It wasn’t the sea. It didn’t smell or sound right, but it was at least the interplay of water and wave, and Meridon had hoped it would make him happy.
Instead it had made him more homesick still, and though he was still sat, cross-legged, on the grass forcing a smile on his face, it was more of a grimace or a rictus than a real smile. No-one coming by would have been fooled for an instant. He’d promised himself that he wouldn’t move until the shadows reached him, but now he was regretting that promise. In the last half-hour the shadows seemed not to have moved at all.
He shifted slightly, his legs protesting that he’d not uncrossed them in two hours, and noticed a slight mounding of the earth by his foot. Curious he leaned forward, and then jerked back as the mound bulged a little more and split slightly. Something brown and soft protruded from the hole had formed. He prodded it with a cautious finger, and it gave and moved slightly, revealing itself to be a knitted head of some kind. More puzzled still he grasped it and pulled, and a tiny knitted doll emerged from the ground.
Meridon turned it over in his hands, wondering what he’d found, and so missed the shadow falling across him completely. Only when a soft voice said, “I think you’ve found my hoodoo,” did he look up at the young woman holding a hand expectantly out.
“Finders keepers,” said Meridon. He gripped the little doll tightly in his hand so that she couldn’t grab it from him. “Who are you?”
“I’m the owner of that hoodoo,” said the woman. “I’d like it back please.”
“I found it,” said Meridon. “It wasn’t dropped on the ground, or attached to anything. I pulled it up myself, so it’s mine.”
“How it emerged doesn’t matter,” said the woman. She sounded impatient now. “It’s mine. Give it back. Please.”
Meridon unfolded his legs and stood up. His feet tingled as the blood flowed back into them, and he looked down at the woman. She was medium-height for a human, but Meridon was merfolk and was more than twice as tall as her. She looked up, and then up further as she realised this.
“Oh crap,” she said.
“Mine,” said Meridon.
“It’s not yours,” said the woman. “It’s a hoodoo. They’re spirits of the earth, not of the water. Please don’t try and run off with it.” Her impatience had disappeared now and she sounded nervous.
“What’s a hoodoo?” Meridon unfolded his fingers, knowing that his hand was too far above her for her to jump up and grab the doll from it, and inspected it. A large, yellow-nailed finger poked the doll, turning it over and rolling it around his smooth, lineless palm. The doll was knitted from a coarse wool and was brown except for its feet where the wool was red. It looked like it had been standing in something hot and had burned itself.
“It’s a spirit doll,” said the woman. “The earth creates them and provides them to people like me. We use them to make changes around us. I used one a month ago to open a tunnel through a mountain that would have taken months to dig otherwise. And using the hoodoo doesn’t hurt the earth, or damage it. So it works with the earth instead of against it. Can I have it back now, please?”
“It’s like a skelpie,” said Meridon. “They grow in seaweed and they have the power to change ocean currents.”
“What do they look like?”
Meridon peered down at the woman, noting the sudden eagerness in her tone. He frowned. “They look like skelpies,” he said. “What else would they look like?”
“Right, that makes sense,” said the woman. She held her hand out. “Can I have my hoodoo now, please?”
“No,” said Meridon, coming to a decision. “This one was given to me, and I can use it.”
“Use it for what?”
“Homesickness,” said Meridon, lifting his eyes to the horizon. The sea might be two hundred miles away, but this woman said that the hoodoo could move the earth itself. Perhaps it could open a channel right to the sea and bring his home to him.
“Oh crap,” said the woman with feeling.