With each wave, the docked boats called out to Lorelei like the sirens of the seas. She knew enough from her father’s shipping business. She could take one and be off the Empire-forsaken island in moments. She glared up at the darkening clouds and the nuns surrounding her. It wouldn’t work. If the sisters didn’t stop her, the possible storm would. Besides, running away wouldn’t help prove her case that she wasn’t crazy.
With a sigh, Lorelei scanned the pier at the bustling faerie. A girl’s laughter caught Lorelei’s attention. It was a swift melody in its own right, brightening the dock despite the slate colored sky. Two phooka stood close together next to a small fishing boat. The girl's long, fur-covered ears twitched as she wrapped her slender pale arms around her lover and pulled his head down in a kiss. Her lover drew her closer, his bushy golden tail wagging as their kiss deepened. The two appeared oblivious to the activity around them as dockworkers, sailors, and fishermen prepared for the worst the darkening clouds could bring.
“Disgraceful,” muttered one of the nuns near Lorelei.
Lorelei tore her eyes from the two lovers as the other nuns made noises of agreement to their sister’s opinion.
The sea churned, its murky waves cresting white before dissolving and giving glimpses of the blue-black depths below. Lorelei’s heart seemed to twist and turn in time to those waves. She blinked at the stinging of her eyes. Damn the sea salt. That’s what it had to be. It certainly wasn’t tears.
She cleared her throat of the knot making her breath ragged and brushed back a lock of her mahogany hair the wind had blown in her face. She stepped close to Prioress Abagail who stood a few feet apart from the rest of the nuns. The Prioress give her the barest of nods before she continued to stare out at the sea. The skirts of her robe flapped about her legs, a stark contrast of red against the muted gray and blue of sky and sea.
“Am I really required for this?” Lorelei asked.
The Prioress stabbed her with a narrowed eyed glare. “Were you not listening, girl? The Apostle of Fire has specifically requested to meet you.”
Lorelei ducked her head to hide her scowl. “Yes, but you never told me why.”
“The Empress only knows. Perhaps she’s come to request you join the Elemental Order, though I couldn’t guess why.” Prioress Abagail raised her face to the sky with the shake of her head. “You are only here with us at your parents’ request, but in the past year I have seen little improvement on your attitude or your condition.”
Her condition. Lorelei let out a soft snort. The Elemental Order had a name for it. That name rang in her head, taunting her. Reincarnation Sickness. According to the Order, everyone was reincarnated, though most didn’t remember their past lives. However, some were plagued with memoires, like Lorelei. Hers wasn’t the worst. She mostly suffered from nightmares, and they weren’t as bad as they used to be. However, most of her life whispers had followed her and her parents had grown tired of those whispers, especially after she’d been expelled from the Aimsir.
Lorelei crossed her arms, slipping her hands under her elbows, and stared out at the sea. A small dot appeared on the edge of the horizon and rode the waves.
Lorelei pointed to it. “Is that the ship?”
The Prioress leaned forward, peering out. “I believe so. I only hope it reaches here before this storm hits.”
As if brought on by her words, thunder rumbled followed by a downpour of rain. It came as a downpour of cold, hard drops. Shouts from the dockworkers mixed with the whoosh of the rainfall as people rushed about to secure the boats. In minutes, what had once been small crests grew into monstrosities crashing against the dock. One slammed into the wooden post near Lorelei and sent a spray of water over her and the nuns, soaking through her dress. She let out a shriek along with several of the nuns.
“Prioress,” called a nun dressed in white robes of the Path of Air. “This storm is only going to get worse.”
Prioress Abagail straightened her shoulders and stood to her full height. “All right, Sisters…we need your combined power on this. Sister Dina shall lead.”
The nun in white nodded and stepped forward. The remaining sisters crowded around her and bowed their heads. Sister Dina stared out at ship fighting against the waves and began to chant.
Lorelei grabbed the Prioress’s sleeve. “I can help.”
Prioress Abagail gave her a scornful look. “You would only break their concentration. Go find a place for shelter. We will come for you when we are done.”
Lorelei’s shoulders slumped and she trudged up the dock, towards the wooden buildings of the town with her arms wrapped around her.
“Lorelei.” The Prioress’s voice rang out through the storm. “Stay away from the wine.”
Lorelei half turned and gave her an arched eyebrow. “Why? I’ve taken no vows.”
“It wouldn’t do to have you meet the Apostle drunk.”
“I can handle my wine better than that.” With those words, Lorelei turned and marched up the remainder of the dock.
She stood at the hill and scanned the one- and two-story wooden buildings with their coral rooftops. A line of small shops and huts strung across the main road. Most of the doors were closed and their windows shuttered.
Lorelei bit the inside of her cheek. None of those would work.
Her gaze landed on the sign of a structure at the end of the muddy road. Seacrest Tavern. Perfect. A flash of lighting split the sky, followed by a boom of thunder, causing Lorelei to start. The rain pounded harder against her skin, soaking her through.
She raced across the street and yanked the door open. Warmth and the smell of burning wood rushed over her as she stepped inside. The wind rattled against the windows of the tavern as the rain pounded on its roof. A murmur rose up from the patrons of the tavern as the hob barkeep tottered across the room on his short legs to close the wooden shutters over the windows. His pointed ears stood out from his head, behind a mass of wavy brown hair and his skin sparkled in the flickering lanterns that hung on the wooden walls.
He stopped at the door and he stared up at her for a moment before glancing at the puddle around her feet. “You done brought some of the storm inside.”
She glanced down and gave a soft cough. “Sorry.”
“No worries, lady. Why don’t you find yourself a seat near the fire and get yourself warm?”
He disappeared through a door behind the bar along the right wall as Lorelei took in the room. A large hearth with a roaring fire stood in the center of the room surrounded by square wooden tables and chairs. Lorelei shivered and scanned the four tables closest to the hearth. All full. She would have liked to have sat near the hearth, but it didn’t matter. She would warm up with a few glasses of wine at the bar instead. She settled herself on one of the barstools and huddled as she waited for the barkeep to return.
He came from the back, holding a mop with a handle twice as tall as he was. He scurried to the wet spot at the door. Lorelei turned to watch. How was he going to wield such an awkward mop?
The barkeep muttered something and flicked the handle of the mop with his thumb and forefinger. It shuddered and leapt from his hand. It danced around, absorbing the water as it went. With a nod, the barkeep turned and headed back to the bar.
Lorelei chuckled softly. She’d never paid much attention to the work the hob servants did at her parents’ house. They were known to have magic of hearth and home. That seemed to work for taverns, as well.
The barkeep stepped up on a stool behind the counter and leaned close. “What can I get for you, lady?”
“Wine, please.” She pulled out a silver coin from her pocket, one of the few she had remaining. “The best this can get.”
He climbed down and shuffled around beneath the counter. In a few moments, he popped back up with a dark, unopened bottle and a brass cup.
He poured the wine. “Don’t see many sidhe here on the Isle aside from the Prioress. We’re supposed to have a lord of some Great House looking over us, but I’ve never met him.”
Not surprising. What sidhe would want to upheave their life to look after some small island they’d been granted? Most preferred to stay in the heart of the Elphyne Empire on the central continent. It was where most of the political maneuvering happened. Few would want to travel to the outskirts. Bayacre, the island’s one town, had nothing to boast about. Their biggest fixture was the dock and the attached boathouse. Moving here was a form of banishment. Lorelei knew that all too well. The Quorum wouldn’t grant the Isle to one of the commoner races though. The sidhe were born to rule.
“Your mayor or town elder is probably responsible for reporting to him or her,” Lorelei said.
“So, you’re not them.” The barkeep picked at his chin with a speculative gleam in his eye. “I guess that means you’re the girl living with the nuns up there at Morningtide.”
“That would be me.” She raised her cup in a mock salute.
She gulped down the wine. The sweet liquid danced on her taste buds. Heat welled up from her chest and it felt like her veins were alive with tiny bubbles. Aether. Pure power. It was like a drug all its own and she’d had so little over the past year. She leaned against the bar, letting her head fall back, and exhaled a long breath.
“I guess you approve.” A quick laugh burst out from the barkeep. “Want another?”
Lorelei held out her goblet. “Much obliged.”
He filled the cup. “So, what brings you to the Priory? You don’t wear their robes.”
Lorelei chuckled and sipped her wine. “I suppose you could say they’re gracious enough to look after me.”
She tried to keep the bitterness. Here she was, stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere, sharing a moment with a barkeep.
Well, the barkeep thing wasn’t much different from what she had got up to before she had been banished by her parents. It was usually the start of the trouble she created.
But then, she’d had Arryn to get her out of it.
An ache filled her chest as his face occupied her mind. She took another drink of her wine as thunder boomed loud enough to rattle the windows.
The door of the tavern flung inward and a tall female with a set of black leathery wings stepped inside. The wind blew through the tavern and caught Lorelei’s hair, forcing several brown locks to slip from behind her pointed ears and whip around her face.
With a sigh, she pushed them back and leaned forward to study the new female. She was an ankou, a race of winged faerie that had an affinity with death. Her wings draped over her body as she pressed her spindly form against the door to shut it. Her chest heaved as she scanned the tavern. Her gaze passed over Lorelei and landed on the barkeep.
The ankou rushed forward, her voice coming out in a hoarse murmur. “Bardo, the Elkar is still out. It’s caught in the storm.”
Bardo paled, his eyes wide. “Aela…I’m sorry.”
Aela shook her head. “I tried to get the nuns on the dock to help bring it in, but they’re fighting the storm to bring another ship…They can’t save both.” She pressed her face in her hands and let out a sob. “My husband and son…”
It was strange to see. Even with their connection to death, the ankou still grieved the ones they loved. They still felt the loss.
Lorelei’s chest tightened. Once again, Arryn’s face flashed in her mind. This time it was deathly pale as he lay on the brink of death. A death she’d almost caused.
Aela didn’t have to lose someone today. Not if Lorelei could help it.
Lorelei drained the rest of her cup and slammed it on the counter, causing Aela and Bardo to start. “I’ll help.”
Aela blinked at her. “Milady, are you a nun? Do you follow one of the Paths?”
Lorelei glanced at her wine goblet and let out a soft laugh. “Oh, not at all.”
Bardo’s brow furrowed. “How can you help then?”
Lorelei stood and stretched her arms above her head. “I happen to know a little bit of magic…especially, elemental. So, I’ll bring your husband’s boat in.”
Aela’s back straightened as she pressed her hands to her mouth and stared at Lorelei with a glimmer of hope.
Lorelei took a deep breath. “Would you show me the closest dock to where your husband’s ship would be?”
With an emphatic nod, Aela rushed to the door and opened it. The wind tore the handle from her hands and the door hit the wall with a loud crack. Icy rain poured in, pelting the closet patrons’ faces and arms as she stepped into the doorway. Aela strode into the storm with her wings curved above her head to shield against most of the rain. With a sigh, Lorelei lifted the hood of her cloak and followed.
The sky had become charcoal, filled with churning clouds that spat torrents of rain.
They came to the harbor, stopping along the wooden boardwalk that held a few stalls that sold fish, now abandoned due to the storm. The sea, usually cobalt, was gray-green, with large waves crashing upon the pier and the shore that stretched beyond.
Lorelei shivered, wrapping her cloak around her as a frigid gust of wind blew against her. To her right, on the same dock she’d left earlier, the nuns stood clustered together. They stared out at the ship fighting against waves, almost as large as it. The ship was still several miles out.
Aela pulled at her arm and pointed in the opposite direction of the ship. A small boat struggled to avoid a stack of rocks that jutted from the sea. It shifted its small body towards the docks as a large wave slapped against it.
“Please,” Aela cried over the wind as she clutched Lorelei’s arm. “They can’t make it past those rocks by themselves.”
Lorelei untangled herself from Aela’s grip and patted her shoulder. “Go back to the tavern. It’s dangerous for you out here. I’ll bring them home.”
At least she’d try to.
“No,” Aela shook her head, her hair whipping around her. “I want to stay here.”
Lorelei pressed her lips together. She didn’t have time to argue. “Fine. At least find a place to take cover.”
She drew in a deep breath and stared up at the sky. If she could calm the wind, the waves would follow. She hummed the first few chords of a song, willing her magic to connect with the air currents. Her voice rose above the howling wind and she grasped control of the air currents. She could feel them in the back of her mind, urging her to be swept up in their dance.
She forced the sense of serenity into the heart of the storm. It rampaged against her, trying to wrest control by increasing the winds. A large wave slammed against the little fishing boat.
Her heart pounded so hard it could have leapt into her throat. She couldn’t control the storm. She wasn’t powerful enough. She had to change tactics.
She shifted her song to a hypnotic melody, like the ebb and flow of the tide. With it, her will touched that of the water. She summoned a wave and caught the boat with it. Her voice overcame the wind as she used the wave to push the boat away from the stack and towards the harbor.
With each verse, she grabbed wave after wave, guiding the boat to safety. As it reached the docks, she calmed the water around it, keeping it from crashing into the wooden planks.
The faeries on board scurried about the boat, pulling at the sails while one stood clenching the wheel. A phooka tossed a rope around one of the dock’s pillars.
Lorelei let the song die and stepped back to lean against a stall, closing her eyes and drawing in a deep breath. A smile danced on her lips. It had taken all the Aether she’d gained from the wine, but she’d done it.
She’d brought the boat home.
“Oh!” Aela leapt forward and gripped Lorelei’s hands. “Thank you, lady. I would as sure as lost him without you.”
She planted a kiss on each of Lorelei’s palms and then let go to rush down the dock to meet her family’s boat. On the other side of the dock, the ship that held the Apostle of Fire coasted into a space as well. The nuns had been hard at prayer while Lorelei had been struggling with the waves.
With a sigh, Lorelei straightened up. The wind had blown the hood of her cloak back during her battle with the storm and her hair was completely soaked through. It looked like she would be meeting one of the most important faeries in the Empire looking like a drowned waif.