“Where I come from, people help each other because it is the right thing to do, not because there is payment involved.”
“How little you know of the mortals you lived among,” Hearthorne said.
Kya shook her head. “I saw for myself, the many times my keeper helped those who came knocking and had nothing to pay her with.”
“You’re thinking too small,” Hearthorne said. “Even the mortals are wise enough to do what they can to keep the balance of their Realm from tipping too far one way or the other. There are plenty of despots and kings, plenty who harm without thinking or those who find joy in it. The mortals like your keeper are simply evening out the balance. Just because she took no reward doesn’t mean there was no debt left to be paid.”
The sea unclasped a shell from her hair and held it out in her liquid palm. “This shall grant you safe passage through my waters. It will both guide and protect you and warn my children that you travel with my blessing.”
Hearthorne gaped at the sea. The sea’s own blessing was as rare a thing as the apples they carried that had grown from a tree sprouting out of a moon dragon’s heart.
The shell fizzed pleasantly in Kya’s hands as she took it. And though it was small enough she could curl her fingers around it and hide it in the palm of her hand, the shell gave her a feeling of vastness beyond anything she’d ever known and a weight greater than any she’d undertaken before, save one.
The gaze of the moon dragon stared out at her from her memory.
“As for payment, I give you three stones from the Pearl of Perchance herself. Use them wisely. They were a gift that cannot be replaced.”
Kya accepted the stones with her other hand. They gleamed milky white and secretive in her hand, a cool weight that felt like stardust and moonshine and the deep, steady dreams of the greenlife nestled at her roots.
Hearthorne snapped her mouth shut. “What sort of horrors do you expect us to have to face to pay with something like that?”
Kya snapped her attention to the faerie who was staring at the sea as though she could part the waters and peer into a mind far more ancient and vast than could ever have an end, let alone a beginning.
“Only one,” the sea said with a humorless smile. “A heart is a wretched thing indeed, and I am anxious to be rid of mine. But a heart that has swollen in pain and darkness can be difficult to persuade, regardless of however much one might be well to be rid of it.”
“Is your daughter’s sister—“
“Calome,” the sea whispered, pressing her hand against her chest as though the name pained her. Then stronger, “Calome.”
“Is Calome,” Kya stumbled over the liquid name as it danced across her tongue, “is she likely to eat us?” Even without Hearthorne’s comments, the small treasures she held in either hand were heavy enough that Kya could feel the weight of them, and through that, the weight of what the sea was asking of them.
The sea’s smile widened enough to reveal sharp, pointed teeth the color of an abalone shell. “Of course. All of my children share my hunger, just as I share in all their fates. You will do this?”
Hearthorne nodded mutely, and Kya followed suit, wishing she understood the meaning of all that had transpired, and promising herself she would find a place that would fill her with all the stories she didn’t know and had never heard of. Stories that would explain what was going on when no one else would.
Stories that would lift her ignorance and shine a light upon her understanding.
The sea nodded as the binding bound the three of them with slender golden links to a chain they couldn’t see, but could feel wrapped about their very essence.
“Prosper amid the waves and luck be unto you,” she said, bowing her head. A breath later, she dissolved into a thousand droplets of glittering water that flew upward into the bowl of water running over them.
“Quick,” Hearthorne said, “affix the shell to the compass, and whatever you do, don’t lose those pearls.”
Running as though in a dream, Kya hastened to do as she was told. She had no sooner secured the shell against the compass—in a way she couldn’t explain, the compass welcomed the shell and stretched out to hold it securely among the other dials and spindles that made up its unique orrery—then the waters about them pressed down on the ship until they were all completely submerged beneath the sea.
Kya managed to gulp a breath of air before all had turned to water, and she looked around in panic. But in the strange world of the sea, it was hard to tell which way was up and which was down. She swam over to Hearthorne, intending to abandon ship in favor of land and air.
As she threw out her arms to steady herself, her hand brushed against the wheel. With a fizzle of magic, the shell filled with light nearly as bright and pale as the moon’s. As it did, a loopy script skirled itself across the compass.
Even in the darkest night, shine the stars.
Kya gasped in surprise, and the last bit of her air bubbled up to the surface. But then a surprising thing happened. Rather than breathing in water and beginning to drown, her lungs somehow found air even beneath the sea.
Hearthorne shrugged her leafy shoulders. “I wouldn’t have thought the sea would have remembered that not every creature of importance is born with gills. It would seem what she said about having the echoes of a heart is true.”
Tentatively, as though the spokes could burn her, Kya took hold of the wheel. She turned it, carefully matching the path the levers and arrows indicated. The shell gleamed a little brighter in approval.
With the quiet shudder of a ship who wasn’t sure whether or not the sea was friend or foe, The Curious Leaf set off in the direction Kya had indicated.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2014 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved. Originally published in Saltwater Curiosities.
If this is your first time visiting, check out the first installment of this voyage, and swing by the library to read The Curious Leaf for free if this is the first time you’ve met Kya or Hearthorne. Or, subscribe to join the Wonder-Kin and receive The Curious Leaf free as part of your Free Starter Library. 🙂
Have a great day!