By L.E. Bryce
A mysterious young man washes ashore on the beaches of Sirilon and is taken by the Lady of the Waters as one of Her sacred consorts. A shy artist, Ninion soon finds himself wooed by the persistent, handsome Olenwe. Can Ninion accept the love of another male, and what is the secret he so fearfully guards?
The sloop turned toward the deeper water of the harbor, where the sea began to roughen. Unused to boats, the young man grimaced as nausea threatened to overcome him. He managed to hold his stomach. The fisherman and his crew noted his pallor with disdain, but his coin was good and, as long as he stayed out of their way, they would not bother him.
Waves frothed in the wake of the boat as the wind caught the sails, and it picked up speed. Among the whitecaps he saw the sleek, darting bodies that could only be hrill. On the port side, the fishermen paused over their nets to call out to them, to the dolphins frolicking among the seal-like creatures to compete for attention, and the fish heads the men would eventually toss back into the waves.
Swaying with the movement of the boat and his own unsteadiness, the young man stepped up to the stern, ostensibly to get a better look at the hrill. His breath caught at the dark heads that emerged from the waves to regard him; all his life he had heard of these sacred, intelligent creatures but had never seen one. The waterfront neighborhoods were too rough for well-bred youths, said his father, and his mother complained that such places always smelled unpleasant. From his bedchamber window the young man could see the ocean, and drink in the salty tang of the air that blew inland to cool warm summer afternoons. Until now, that was all he ever knew of the sea.
"You are very beautiful," he murmured to the hrill. With trembling hands, he gripped the rail to lean out and watch them. Time pressed down upon him. Urgency and fear made his heart race. If he was to do it, now was the time. There would not be a second chance.
"What are you doing?"
The boy's voice cut through the breeze, an arrow of annoyance that made him start. Forcing a smile, the young man turned to see about getting rid of the child. "Can you read?"
Curious gray eyes met his. "Just a little, sir, but my da can read better."
From his pocket, he took a sealed letter and pressed it into the boy's hand. He had meant to leave it on deck, but this was better. Its discovery would not be left to chance. "When the boat comes to shore, give your father this. Remember, when you dock and not before, and you are to tell no one you have it until then." He emphasized his point with a silver coin and bade the child to be off.
Toward the prow, he heard the fishermen calling out to each other. Rough nets were cast overboard, well away from the hrill who veered to avoid them. Now was the time, he decided, when their eyes were turned and they had no mind for him.
He pulled himself over the wooden rail, balancing there while he swung his other leg over. Splinters dug into his palms. Sea spray flew up into his face; he licked salt droplets from his lips. Behind him, he heard a shout and knew it was for him. He did not turn to see who had called out or bother to note what the man said. When the rail slid from his grasp, gravity sped him into the water. The sea weighted his clothing, surging into his mouth. Through the stinging spray he saw the boat making a sharp turn. Voices called out advice to tread water and remain calm. No one knew he could not swim.
Pale sky and blurred faces vanished under a smothering blanket of foam. Water swirled into his lungs and, whether he wanted it or not, the body's fight for survival began.