To Go, or Not to Go
The human boys had an expression back in the faraway city of Vaarn where I was born. It went
Curiosity killed the cat
Satisfaction brought him back
I am a curious person. I was just as curious back in my early days in Vaarn as I am now,
perhaps even more so, because my curiosity had not yet been given a chance to be satisfied.
The first time I heard this expression, I was very excited. I thought it meant that my curiosity
could make me feel like I was dying, but it would let up if I discovered the answer to whatever
was making me curious.
I told my mother about the rhyme. She was not impressed. In fact, she looked at me as if I had
just set my own hair on fire on purpose. She patted my chin, which was woefully free of any sign
of the beard that should have been growing there.
“That’s very nice,” she said, returning to her chores. “But just in case nobody told you, you are
not a cat, Ven. Unlike you, cats have whiskers.”
My pride stung for days afterward.
But it didn’t stop my curiosity from growing as fast as my beard should have been.
My name is Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme, Ven for short. Unlike the human boys in Vaarn, I
am of the race of the Nain. Nain are somewhat shorter than humans, and grumpier. They live
almost four times as long as humans, and tend to be much less curious, and much less
adventurous. They hate to travel, don’t swim, and generally do not like other people. Especially
those who are not Nain.
I clearly am not a good example of my race.
First, I am very tall for a Nain, sixty-eight Knuckles high when I was last measured on the
morning of my fiftieth birthday. I’ve already mentioned my uncontrollable curiosity, which
brings along with it a desire for adventure. I have been blessed, or cursed, with quite a lot of that
But as for the curiosity, while I’ve had a lot of satisfaction for the questions it has asked me, it
doesn’t seem to matter. As soon as one burning question is answered, another one springs to
mind immediately. As a result, I am frequently in trouble.
So now I am about to lay my head on a chopping block, on purpose, and a man with a very sharp
knife is standing over me, ready to make slashes in my neck.
I’m wondering if in fact instead of being a live Nain, I am about to end up as a dead, formerly
curious cat.Because now I have three whiskers of my own.
Ven Polypheme had two sets of eyes staring at him.
One set was black as coal. The other was green as the sea.
Neither of them looked happy.
The green eyes were floating, along with a nose, forehead, and hair on which a red cap
embroidered with pearls sat, just above the surface of the water beneath the old abandoned dock.
The brows above the eyes were drawn together. They looked annoyed.
The black ones were in the middle of the face of his best friend, Char, who stood beside him on
the dock. They looked anxious.
In the distance a bell began to toll. Ven looked to his left at the docks of the fishing village to the
south of them, where work had begun hours ago. Then he looked behind him. The sleepy town of
Kingston in the distance was just beginning to wake up.
Ven looked back down into the water.
“Come on, Amariel,” he said to the floating eyes. “I can’t really go off into the sea without him.”
A glorious tail of colorful scales emerged from below the surface, splashing both boys with cold
“Why not?” a girl’s voice demanded from the waves. “He’s a pest. And he isn’t nice to me.”
Char’s black eyes widened.
“I—I’m sorry ’bout that,” he stammered. “When I first met you, Ven didn’t tell me you were a
mermaid—” He shivered as another splash drenched him again. “Er, I mean merrow. I’m sorry if
I made you mad.”
“Please let him come,” Ven said. “Captain Snodgrass gave him orders to keep an eye on me. So
if I’m going to explore the sea with you, he kinda has to come along.”
Char nodded. “Cap’n’s orders.”
“He’s not my captain,” said the merrow. “I don’t take orders from humans. You know better,
Ven. My mother will fillet me if she finds out I’m traveling with a human male. Especially if we
are going to go exploring. There are very clear rules about not showing humans around the
wonders of the Deep. And besides, it’s dangerous. You have no idea how many sea creatures
think humans are tasty. I don’t want to get chomped on by mistake.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Ven watched Char’s face go white.
“We’ll be careful,” he promised. “Char will be on his best behavior.”
“I’ve seen his best behavior. I’m not impressed.”
“Look,” Char said. “If you get sick of me, you can always cover me with fish guts and toss me
out as shark bait.”
The merrow stared coldly at him. “Oh, all right,” she said finally. “But remember, there’s a reason they call bait for sharks chum.
‘Chum’ is another word for ‘friend.’” Her eyes stayed locked on Char. “And if you make a
bunch of sharks angry, Chum—”
“I’ll be chum,” Char said. “Got it.”
“So if you’re coming, we have to find a fisherman named Asa with a red-bottomed boat.”
Amariel pointed south to one of the far docks. “He’ll cut your gills, and we can get going.”
Both boys grabbed their necks.
The merrow rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. Do you want to be able to breathe underwater or not?
Gills are the only way I know of to do that. I’m tired of waiting. Decide whether you’re coming
or whether I’m leaving.”
“We’re coming,” Ven said as he let go of his neck. “Sorry—it’s just instinct. Let’s go.”
Char nodded, but did not remove his hands.
The merrow disappeared below the surface of the water.
The two boys hurried south over the packed sand along the shore.
“Ya know, it’s not too late to change your mind, Ven,” Char muttered. “We could get a boat or
somethin’, and follow her out to sea, like we did when we were chasing the Floatin’ Island, and
then dive down to see whatever she wants to show us—”
“You can stay on shore if you want to, Char,” Ven said, trying to see the merrow in between the
waves. “But I promised her a long time ago that I would explore her world with her. It’s now or
“Have it your way,” Char said gloomily. “You always do anyway.”
They followed the pebbly path in the sand south until the fishing village came into sight. Several
long piers led out into the harbor, with docks along each of them. Small boats lined the docks. At
each boat fishermen were hauling nets filled with flapping fish and cages with crabs and lobsters
onto the piers. Seagulls flew in great wide circles above, screeching and crying, then diving for
“So how did she happen to find this Asa, and how does she know he won’t just cut our throats?”
Char asked as they picked their way among barrels and pieces of rope on the slats of the pier.
Ven shrugged. “No idea. But sailors and merrows have a pretty good connection.” He pointed
about halfway down the pier, where a small green fishing boat with a red bottom bobbed lazily in
the morning tide. A wrinkled man in a wrinkled hat sat on a barrel at the edge of the dock,
cleaning his morning catch of fish. “Could that be him?”
Char squinted. “I guess so.”
“Come on. We may as well ask. If it’s not Asa, he probably knows where to find him. Fishermen
all know each other.”
The two boys walked along the pier, stepping out of the way of men dragging lobster traps and
heavy netting, until they got to the red-bottomed boat. They stopped behind the elderly
fisherman, who did not seem to notice they were there.
Ven coughed politely.
“Excuse me, sir—are you Asa?” The fisherman looked up from his work, his sky-blue eyes twinkling in the sun.
“Er, my name is Ven, sir. I was told I might find a fisherman at this dock who could, uh, cut
The wrinkly man nodded. “Well, Ven, you’ve found ’im. But I can’t say as I’ve heard of any
Ven blinked. “Pardon?”
“Shipwrecks,” said the fisherman. “That’s the only reason I know of for a man to risk a slice in
his neck—to salvage the treasure from the bones of a shipwreck.”
“Oh.” Ven and Char exchanged a glance, then looked off the edge of the dock.
In the water behind the boat, the beautiful tail of multicolored scales was waving at them from
beneath the surface.
“Uh, we weren’t really planning to dive for treasure,” Ven continued, trying to block the sight of
the merrow’s tail. “We just want to do some exploring.”
The fisherman’s eyebrows arched.
“The sea’s no place to explore without a good reason, lads,” he said seriously. “Lots of bad stuff
down there—believe you me. The only reason a man takes his life into his hands on a daily basis
by going out there is to make a living for his family. Otherwise, we’d farm the land.” The blue
eyes twinkled. “If we knew how.”
“Well, we’d really like to have gills, nonetheless,” Ven said. “We’ve been told you know how to,
er, cut them without too much pain—and safely. Is that true?”
Asa exhaled, then nodded.
“I suppose that depends on how much is too much where pain is concerned,” he said. “That’s
really up to you. It’s not my business what you’re doing. We mind our own business on the sea.
If you want gills, and you’re willing to take the risk, I can cut ’em for you right quick.” He held
up a thin silver filleting knife. “Then I have to get back to cleaning my catch. So, what’ll it be?
Make haste, now.”
Char and Ven looked at each other once more, then nodded at the same time.
“We’re in,” said Char.
“All right then,” said Asa. He reached into the boat and took hold of the top of a small sea chest
that held his tackle. He slammed it closed and put it on the dock in front of them. “Kneel down
and put your heads on this chest, your left ears down.”
The boys obeyed.
“Well, ’s been good to know you,” Char whispered as they positioned their heads on the chest.
“Shhh,” Ven whispered back. “We’re not being executed, for pity’s sake.”
“You hope we’re not. You never know.”
Asa wiped the filleting knife on his trousers, then came and stood over Ven.
“Hold very still, now.” Char winced and put his hand over his eyes.
Ven started to close his eyes as well.
Suddenly, from the end of the dock near town, a bright flash of rainbow-colored light blinded
And the world seemed to stop around him.
Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Haydon
Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Brandon Dorman
Interview with Elizabeth Haydon,
documentarian, archanologist and translator of Ven’s
journals, including The Tree of Water
Little is known for sure about reclusive documentarian and archanologist Elizabeth
She is an expert in dead languages and holds advanced degrees in Nain Studies from
Arcana College and Lirin History from the University of Rigamarole. Her fluency in those
languages [Nain and Lirin] has led some to speculate that she may be descended of one
of those races herself. It should be noted that no one knows this for sure.
Being an archanologist, she is also an expert in ancient magic because, well, that’s what
an archanologist is.
Being a documentarian means she works with old maps, books and manuscripts, and so
it is believed that her house is very dusty and smells like ink, but there is no actual proof
of this suspicion. On the rare occasions of sightings of Ms. Haydon, it has been reported
that she herself has smelled like lemonade, soap, vinegar, freshly-washed babies and
She is currently translating and compiling the fifth of the recently-discovered Lost
Journals when she is not napping, or attempting to break the world’s record for the
longest braid of dental floss.
We had the chance to ask her some questions about the latest of Ven’s journals, The
Tree of Water. Here is what she shared.
1. Dr. Haydon, can you give us a brief summary of The Tree of Water?
Certainly. Ven Polypheme, who wrote the, er, Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme,
lived long ago in the Second Age of history, when magic was much more alive
and visible in the world than it is now. His journals are very important finds,
because they tell the story of ancient magic and where it still may be found in the
In the first three journals we saw how Ven came to the mystical island of
Serendair and was given the job of Royal Reporter by the king of the island, a
young man named Vandemere. The Royal Reporter was supposed to find magic
that was hiding in plain sight in the world and report back about it to the king. As
you can imagine, this could be a fun but dangerous job, and at the beginning of The Tree of Water, we see that Ven and his friends are hiding from the evil Thief
Queen, who is looking to find and kill him.
Amariel, a merrow [humans call these ‘mermaids,’ but we know that’s the wrong
word] who saved Ven when the first ship he sailed on sank, has been asking Ven
to come and explore the wonders of the Deep, her world in the sea. Deciding that
this could be a great way to find hidden magic as well as hide from the evil Thief
Queen, Ven and his best friend, Char, follow her into the Deep. The sea, as you
know, is one of the most magical places in the world—but sometimes that magic,
and that place, can be deadly.
The book tells of mysterious places, and interesting creatures, and wondrous
things that have never been seen in the dry world, and tales from the very bottom
of the sea.
2. The main character in The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme series is
Charles Magnus "Ven" Polypheme. Tell us about him.
Ven was an interesting person, but he really didn’t think so. He and his family
were of a different race than the humans who made up most of the population
where he lived, the race of the Nain. Nain are an old race, a little shorter and
stockier than most humans, with a tendency to be on the grumpy side. They live
about four times as long as humans, are very proud of their beards, which they
believe tell their life stories, don’t like to swim or travel, and prefer to live deep in
Ven was nothing like the majority of Nain. He was very curious, loved to travel,
could swim, and longed to see the world. He was actually a pretty nice kid most
of the time. He had the equivalent of a baby face because only three whiskers of
his beard had grown in by the time The Tree of Water took place, when he was
fifty years old [around twelve in Nain years]. He had a great group of friends,
including the merrow and Char, who were mentioned earlier. It is believed that
his journals were the original research documents for two of the most important
books of all time, The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic.
The only copies of these two volumes were lost at sea centuries ago, so finding
the Lost Journals is the only way to recover this important information.
3. What kind of research do you do for the series?
I go to places where Ven went and try to find relics he left behind. Usually this is
with an expedition of archaeologists and historians. I am an expert in ancient
magic [an archanologist] so I don’t usually lead the expeditions, I’m just a
consultant. It gives me the chance to learn a lot about magic and lets me work on
my suntan at the same time, so it’s good.
4. What is/are the most difficult part or parts of writing/restoring the Lost
Journals? Here’s the list, mostly from the archaeological digs where the journals have been
4] Sand flies
5] Dry, easily cracking parchment pages
6] The horrible smell of long-dead seaweed
7] Grumpy members of the archaeological expedition [I could name names, but I
8] Expedition food [when finding and retrieving the journal for The Tree of Water,
we ate nothing but peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, olives and yellow tea for
six months straight]
9] When salt water gets into your favorite fountain pen and clogs it up. This is
10] Unintentionally misspelling a word in the Nain language that turns out to be
embarrassing [the word for “jelly” is one letter different from the word for
“diarrhea,” which caused a number of my Nain friends to ask me what on earth I
thought Ven was spreading on his toast.]
5. What do you enjoy about this series that cannot be found in any of your
Getting to write about a lot of cool magic stuff that used to exist in our world, but
doesn’t anymore. And getting to travel to interesting places in the world to see if
maybe some of it still does exist. Also getting to show the difference between
merrows, which are real, interesting creatures, and mermaids, which are just
6. What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I hope, in general, that it will open their eyes to the wonder of the sea, which
takes up the majority of our planet, but we really don’t know that much about it
down deep. There is a great deal of magic in the sea, and I hope that if and when
people become aware of it, they will help take care of it and not throw garbage
and other bad stuff into it. I have a serious dislike for garbage-throwing.
Probably the most useful secret I learned that I hope will be of use to readers is
about thrum. Thrum is the way the creatures and plants that live in the ocean
communicate with each other through vibration and thought. As Ven and his
friends learn, this can be a problem if you think about something you don’t want
anyone to know about when you are standing in a sunshadow, because
everyone gets to see a picture of what’s on your mind. Imagine how
embarrassing that could be.
7. Are there more books coming in this series?
Well, at least one. In the archaeological dig site where The Tree of Water was
found was another journal, a notebook that Ven called The Star of the Sea. We
are still working on restoring it, but it looks like there are many new adventures
and different kinds of magic in it. The problem is that it might have been buried in
the sand with an ancient bottle of magical sun tan lotion, which seems to have
leaked onto some of the journal’s pages. This is a very sad event in archaeology,
but we are working hard to restore it.
As for other books, it’s not like we just write them out of nowhere. If we haven’t
found one of Ven’s journals, there can’t be another book, now, can there? We
are always looking, however. We’ve learned so much about ancient magic from
the journals we have found so far.
8. You are a best-selling author with other books and series for adults. What
made you want to write books for young readers?
I like young readers better than adults. Everyone who is reading a book like mine
has at one time or another been a young reader, but not everyone has been an
adult yet. Young readers have more imagination and their brains are more
flexible—they can understand magical concepts a lot better than a lot of adults,
who have to deal with car payments and work and budget balancing and all sorts
of non-magical things in the course of their days.
Besides, many adults scare me. But that’s not their fault. I’m just weird like that.
I think if more adults read like young readers, the world would be a happier place.
9. Tell us where we can find your book and more information about where you
are these days.
You can find The Tree of Water anywhere books are sold, online and in
bookstores. There are several copies in my steamer trunk and I believe the
palace in Serendair also has one. I also sent one to Bruno Mars because I like
At the moment, I am on the beautiful island of J’ha-ha, searching for a very
unique and magical flower. Thank you for asking these interview questions—it
has improved my mood, since I have only found weeds so far today. I am hoping
for better luck after lunch, which, sadly, is peanut butter and raisin sandwiches,
olives, and yellow tea again.
All the best,
Dr. Elizabeth Haydon, PhD, D’Arc
Review by Nancy Famolari