She shouldn’t have come to the beach tonight.
There was no reason whatsoever for her to be there. It was cold and the wind from the ocean was only making it worse. Even bundled up in three layers and being under a quilt wasn’t enough to stop her from shivering.
She absolutely loved Ireland and wouldn’t change a thing about her trip, but damn she could do without the cold.
A voice drifted over the water and was answered by another. Sasha tilted her head and tried to pinpoint where the voices were coming from. It took a minute because the water and caves in the cliff, whose beach she was on, echoed the voices back and forth.
Sasha made her way to the left, down the beach and further from the cottage she’d rented for her trip. It was the right direction as the voices slowly got louder and she was able to pick out words here and there.
When she hit a pile of boulders, having fallen long ago from the cliff, she sighed. They’d told her to join them in one of the caves to discuss something, they just hadn’t been able to specify which one so told her to wait for the voices and follow them.
She tied the quilt around her waist and scrambled up and over the pile. It didn’t take long thanks to her years of free climbing and there was the barest hint of sweat on her skin when she hit the sand on the other side.
Still shivering despite the exertion, she pulled the quilt off and wrapped herself into it again, continuing her trek towards the voices.
Finally, after sticking her head into about ten others, she found the cave they were in. It helped that they had torches lit and a bonfire too. Had they told her there would be warmth and light she wouldn’t have dragged her feet so much. Okay so she still would have because she didn’t feel good but still.
Hearing the voices up close and personal told her what she’d suspected since she’d made it over the boulders. They were angry. Actually, she’d go so far as to say they were furious. Well, one of them was, and it was the only voice she didn’t recognize. The other three she knew pretty well having met them her second night in Ireland.
Sasha waited a few minutes to see if she could get any insight into what had made the fourth voice so pissed off and thought, not for the first time, that this had been a very bad idea. She was in Ireland! She’d already met some not-so-normal people since arriving and this could have all been a trick to get an unsuspecting American to commit a crime. Or be the victim of a crime.
Slowly, so slowly in fact she didn’t realize it was happening until far too late, it suddenly exploded and all she could think was that there had never been a worse time to sneeze.
The voices went silent then a young voice yelled out for her to join them further in by the fire where it was warmer.
Not knowing why she insisted on doing something so colossally stupid, Sasha reminded herself that this could be the thing to get her not only a degree but that coveted position at the library. This was, after all, the reason she’d come to Ireland. One last dissertation and she’d be an official graduate ready to pursue her love in the world.
Until then, once more unto the breach. Or onto the beach as the case was.
Taking a corner of the blanket she wiped her nose, grimacing at the necessity but not being able to stand the thought of continually sniffing. She hated when people did that and couldn’t abide doing it herself.
Sasha walked inside until she could see that the cave was a heck of a lot bigger than she’d thought and the voices were a bit farther away. In fact, the cave was actually a good sized cavern in the side of the cliff and she couldn’t figure out how she had missed it all the times she’d been out on the water. She knew she had come this way multiple times and never seen any sign of a cavern.
The cavern wasn’t really that big of a deal though when compared to the fact that she had no way of getting to where the others were. Not without swimming that was.
The cavern held a small lake inside and the others were all the way on the other side with no discernible walkway to cross. Still, she looked around to see if she had just missed seeing it. When she had visually searched everywhere she could think of she looked back at the others and started.
She knew it hadn’t been there before, but now there was a clear pathway across the lake to the others. Made of corral, the bridge was flat with no rails and straight as an arrow. It shimmered opalescent and she found herself staring at it for long moments. She had always liked shiny, pretty things.
Shaking her head, Sasha focused again and walked across the bridge. She hit the other side in no time, though she could have sworn the bridge was longer than she had walked, and walked over the small pebble beach to the fire.
“Alright. You asked me to come and I’m here so what do y’all need to talk to me about?” she knew it was bordering on rude, but she wanted to be in bed where it was warm and she could sleep.
Meghen twisted her hands together and gave Sasha a tentative smile. “Yes, well, the thing is we wanted to give you a gift for what you did for us. Unfortunately, we are not strong enough to give you the gift and so we had to petition our leader.”
Sasha looked at Meghen, then Andrew and finally Grava. She smiled at Grava because how could you not, the kid was adorable, before looking back at Meghen and Andrew.
“I told you I don’t need any gifts. I didn’t do anything special and-“ she held up a hand to stop them from interrupting, “though I can appreciate you wanting to thank me in some other way I seriously don’t need anything. I didn’t save Grava so I could get presents okay?”
“This is who you would honor?”
The deep voice had her head whipping around and she stared, dumbstruck.
God had blessed this one mightily.
Standing a good few inches over six feet, the man was lithely built with a strong physic that made her think he worked hard every day. And not at the gym either. He had the hard body of a cowboy or farmer. Someone who does so much physical work that they can’t help but be that level of fit.
She admitted to staring for far longer than was polite, but she was pretty sure no one would blame her considering that his good looks were only part of it. The man had antlers on top of his head. She couldn’t tell if they were attached to his head or just a prop.
She was betting on them being real because that would just fit into the whole situation. After all, Grava and his parents were Kelpie, so the man having antlers was actually easier to believe.
Behind the antlered man lounging on his front with a hand under his chin watching her with amusement, was a mermaid. Or merman since he was a he and not a she. Sasha shook her head to try and shake clear thoughts back into it. It worked so long as she didn’t look back at the antlered man.
He was too captivating and she lost herself every time she looked at him.
The merman answered the question, “Yes my liege. This is the human woman who put herself in grave danger to save Grava when he was being harmed by the poachers.”
Antler man folded his arms across his chest and glared at Sasha. “You mean the other humans don’t you, Makar?”
The merman, Makar apparently, stiffened before shoving himself back into the lake until he disappeared under the water. A short second later he emerged again, only this time he had legs and walked out to stand a few feet away from Antler man and slightly in front of Sasha. She got the feeling he was protecting her.
“Yes, the poachers were also human, however, she is not like them. If she were she wouldn’t have helped Grava.”
The silence was deafening for so long Sasha almost fell asleep on her feet right then and there.
Sasha jolted and blinked at Antler man. “Yeah?”
His jaw twitched, “I am Casarn an Telikra, Fae Lord of the Water Tribe. I have been petitioned by two of mine to honor you or saving the life of their only child. As children are precious to my people I am inclined to give you a boon.”
Sasha heard someone behind her, probably Andrew, draw a breath as if to speak, but a look from Casarn stopped the words before they came out.
“Choose what you will and it shall be yours.”
Sasha considered him. There was an undercurrent between the players here that she couldn’t traverse and that concerned her. On the one hand he was offering a heck of a gift, anything she wanted as far as she could tell, on the other hand the undercurrent made her think there was something extremely important she was missing.
“Anything I want?” She wanted to make sure of the terms before accepting anything.
He smiled beatifically, “Anything you can dream of human.”
She thought of all the fairy tales she had read over the years since she was little. The cute Disney stories where the good guys always won quickly gave way to the darker, original fairy tales and had eventually, inevitably, led her to get a degree in Folklore and Mythology. She was by no means stupid and knew that the fae loved word games and twisted the meanings around to suit them.
She couldn’t think of any story where a human won a word game with a fae. There were plenty where humans passed tests set by the fae to win a loved one back, but none that she recalled where a human got the better of a fae, let alone a Fae Lord.
It was the indrawn breath from before that helped her decide. Something about what he had said concerning the ‘boon’ didn’t quite ring true and being ‘inclined’ to do something didn’t necessarily mean you would actually do it.
“Alright then. Anything I want would come out to…”
At her words his smile became edged with cruelty and she knew she had made the right choice.
“being honored by you.”
There were three audible sighs of relief from behind her and she saw Makar’s shoulders relax minutely as well. So, that had been the trick then.
Casarn’s smile was no longer edged with cruelty. It was far worse.
He looked smug.
Had that not been the right choice after all? Crap, what did being honored mean anyways?She wasn’t the only one who realized that they had been played. Makar’s shoulders were tensed again and Meghen, Andrew and Grava were making little distressed sounds behind her.
“As you wish human.” He strode forward to stand before her, waving Makar and the others away as they tried to intercept. “I, Casarn an Telikra, Fae Lord of the Water Tribe do consider you to be of my people. As such, you shall be protected as one of my people. Should you ever need shelter, food, clothing, drink…” he waved his hand in a circle to say ‘what-have-you’, “it shall be provided to you. Should any refuse you then they shall know my wrath and it is a swift and deadly thing.”
Before she knew what happened he had grabbed her by the shoulders and leaned in so close she felt his breath on her mouth. “In this way I honor you. Sasha Richards.” As her name left his lips she felt a dissonant chord inside somewhere and realized that not only had she been played, but that this had been a long time coming.
Casarn kissed her then and the dissonant chord smoothed until it resonated with the lake behind him. And the ocean outside, and all the waters in and around Ireland and further.
Until it resonated with something inside of him.
He ended the kiss slowly, whispering against her lips as he did, “Watch yourself little girl. You’re swimming in the deep end now.”
With that he turned, changed shape, and disappeared into the air.
Sasha turned her head to Makar, her face flushed from the kiss and unbelieving from what had just happened. “Was that…did he just…what?”
Makar would have laughed at any other time, but this night had not gone the way he had thought it would at all and he was afraid of what that meant.
“If I were you little human, I would run as far as I could away from here. Go back to your America and hide as deep in land as you can get. As far from bodies of water as you can if possible.”
She blinked up at him a few times, looked at the others, then shook her head and started walking. Back across the bridge, outside to the beach and to her cottage, muttering, “I never should have left the house today.”
©2016, Illeana Nexry.