More beautiful than a sun-blessed day…
As promised, the god stood on the deck of the ship, his golden hair streaming against the setting sun, the light capturing the stark angle of his bronzed cheekbones.
Awestruck, Mariel gaped and nearly stumbled to her knees at sight of Maman’s promise. The filling sails accentuated the god’s stance of command as the sleek ship rolled beneath his booted feet, and the sun glinted off the jeweled scabbard at his side. In billowing shirtsleeves and gold-embroidered vest, he stood head and shoulders above all the common sailors knotting lines and raising sails. The brown column of his throat emerged from the open lacing of his shirt, and Mariel thrilled at the sight. He was golden all over.
If anyone was the god her mother had predicted, that giant of a man with his air of confidence must be. Seeing him from the top of the bluff, Mariel almost wept in gratitude that once more, her mother’s prophesies had come true. They were saved! Francine would eat again. The babe would be born healthy. All would be well…
And then—as she waved a greeting and raced for the path leading down to the beach—he turned away to watch the ship’s sails unfurl to catch the wind and outgoing tide.
Waves of despair and fury washed over her. He couldn’t leave! The golden god was supposed to save Francine.
Standing on the bluffs above the harbor, Mariel choked on a half sob as the wind licked at the canvas. Hunger brought her emotions too close to the surface these days, and she wrestled with her failure now.
The cries of the gulls wailed her dismay.
Maman’s predictions were never wrong. She had promised a golden god would save the village from straits most dire. Not a single person in the village would survive if their situation became any more desperate.
She was the only one who could act on Maman’s predictions. It was her task to do so—but she’d arrived too late to prevent the ship from sailing.
No, she hadn’t. She’d been here on time. The wretched man simply refused to wait! More must be required of her.
With the force of terror driving her, she scrambled over the rocks.
On this, his last journey into the world outside his own, Trystan l’Enforcer admired the cliffs of Brittany without a trace of regret. He was looking forward to the responsibility awaiting him, the one for which he’d prepared all of his life.
Behind him, the sails of his pride and joy, the Sword of Destiny, unfurled in preparation for catching the tide that would, for once and all, carry him home. No more wandering the sea.
Oddly, at this moment of rejoicing, a poignant cry of defeat carried over the wail of the wind, a cry that reached deep down inside as if to draw him back to the shore. With the wind whipping his hair, he scanned the scene for the source of the sound, and was arrested by the sight of a Breton maiden atop the bluff, waving her farewells. Her cap a lacy crown against her ebony hair, she wore long black skirts and a pristine white apron, identifying her as a simple villager, unlike the richly dressed merchants with whom he often dealt. He had learned many things about modes of dress in countries other than his own, things he must pass on to his nephew, who would sail the Destiny once Trystan married and took his place on the Council.
“Now there’s a lass someone has made happy.” Nevan l’Nauta, his navigator and closest friend, watched the willowy girl shout and wave from the path. “Can you read lips in that language? What does she say?”
“She tells us to wait,” Trystan replied, his gaze not wavering from the comely wench. “She needs to speak with us.” He stood at the rail, boots spaced widely, adjusting to the swell and fall of the sea as the wind tugged his shirtsleeves and blew the maid’s words away.
The tide was on the way out. This was the moment he reveled in—when ship, man, and sea became one, and home became more tangible than a thought.
There was no chance of waiting, even for this comely miss.
But for some inexplicable reason, he could scarcely tear his gaze from the words tumbling from her mouth, as if an invisible tether had bound his eyes to her lips. And to her nimble figure as she frantically scrambled down the rocks, calling…
Abruptly, the wind stilled, abandoning the sails with a single loud slap of the canvas, as if it, too, felt the tension of her call and dared not interfere.
“What is happening?” cried a crewman from the rigging, puzzled by the sudden calm.
With trepidation, Trystan wrenched his gaze from the vision on the cliff to search the sagging canvas and the clouds above. Nothing marred the perfection of blue sky and wave. What sorcery was this?
The cries from shore merged with that of the gulls above and the sea creatures below, calling him to turn back…
Nonsense, Trystan snarled in denial, setting his shoulders, resisting the call. His future lay ahead, on the beautiful isle he called his home. The wind did not stop and the gulls did not cry for him, but for a caprice of nature. The woman was a mere distraction.
Without warning, the canvas again filled with a stiff breeze, seeming as eager as he to be off. Or more like, her captain, Waylan Tempestium, had stirred the winds. Dismissing the maiden’s futile cries, Trystan crossed his arms, leaned his hip against the rail, and forced his thoughts back to the future. “Despite the charm of Brittany’s maidens, I’m eager to return to the black sand of Aelynn,” he said with firm assurance.
“Are you missing the sand, or Lissandra?” Nevan responded with a laugh. “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, she should be on the beach, waving you home.”
Trystan tried to picture cool, enigmatic Lissandra waving joyfully—or even furiously—like the maid on the bluff, and could not. “If she makes room for me at the dinner table, I will be grateful. We are of like mind.”
“You both love our island home and wish to guide its future,” Nevan agreed.
Trystan caught another glimpse of the woman on shore. She had lifted her skirts to scramble down the path, revealing fine ankles. He wished he had been the lucky man who’d wooed her in their brief hours in this coastal village.
He shook his head sharply to dislodge his whimsy. As a man driven by his sense of duty, he’d resisted the ladies on this short journey. Given her gift as a Seer, Lissandra was bound to know if another woman held his thoughts, and her stubborn nature would require that he pay—with great pain, no doubt. He grinned, imagining the path of his intended’s revenge, even as he continued to watch the lass clamber expertly down the rocky path, shouting and gesturing.
The increasing wind blew the flaps of his vest, tugging his hair loose from its binding, and he swayed with the roll of the rising waves. “Maybe some other time, fair one,” he shouted, although he knew she could not hear over the roar of the breakers.
“You don’t think one of our men has made her promises?” Nevan asked with interest as the lithe dynamo grabbed boulders and slid on wooden sabots to the sandy shore, as if she would dive in after them.
Did he mistake, or had she just called him a rude name? Judging by the way she shook her fist, he assumed those weren’t pleasantries she was hurling.
“It wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last.” Trystan sighed his regret as the beautiful creature ran down the beach through the foam, her skirts up to her knees, exposing shapely calves. “We all know we must choose carefully, but she seems hale and hearty enough, if a bit thin. Ask around, see if her suitor left sufficient coin to last her until next time. From all reports, they’ve had drought this past year, and the harsh winter has driven the fish away.”
He watched as the lass caught the cap falling from her loosened hair and flung it down, stomping it into the wet sand.
“Her hair is the black of Aelynn’s sands.” Trystan nodded at the furious female. Then fighting this odd longing for that which he could not have, he deliberately turned and walked away. He was going home. For him, that was freedom—freedom to finally begin his future as he would have it.
He had been groomed since birth for the privilege and power of a princedom that did not exist to the Outside World. For the good of all, it must remain that way. His home wasn’t called Aelynn, the Mystic Isle, for naught.
Mariel’s heart sank in despair as the ship joined the tide despite her hasty scramble and cries for a halt.
She refused to accept another day of watching the village die. Her mother’s prophesy had to be true. If still more were required of her, then more she would do. She had never attempted such an impossible goal as the one before her, but if this was the last thing she ever did, she could not let the ship escape without her.
She seldom dared indulge her gift in daylight, but she would risk all for this.