The Fifth House
By L.E. Bryce
First in the Water Lovers of the Islands trilogy, the follow-up series to the bestselling The Water Lovers of Sirilon!
For years Dyas has been unlucky in love. So when the brilliant yet outspoken servant of the Lady of the Waters is sent to the Seaward Islands to establish a new house for the Ladyªs sacred consorts, love is the last thing he expects or wants to find. Will Dyas survive the culture shock and finally find the man of his dreams among the islanders?
Dyas struggled to contain his disappointment as the ship's deck on which he stood moved into the harbor. With his snow-white hair, in his priestly blue and gray robes, he knew he was on display, and it would not do to offend people with whom he would be staying indefinitely.
Lachant might be the largest of the Seaward Islands, and its center of administration, but its main port left much to be desired. Built around a natural, crescent-shaped harbor, Thevit hugged the waterfront like the rustic town it was, no match for the city Dyas and his companions had left ten days earlier.
You were warned not to expect too much, he thought ruefully. This is not Sirilon. You'll be fortunate if the priests here can read and write.
Because he had no other choice, Dyas accepted the grim reality before him. Nevertheless, he yearned for the seaport that had been his home since birth: its jostling forest of masts and sails, its many shops and thoroughfares, and most of all the temples crowning the heights. That Thevit lacked these things only magnified the void he felt.
Behind him the first mate shouted. As the ship glided toward the dock, lines were thrown and caught by dockhands, and the anchor dropped. The gangplank descended even before the ship stopped moving. Dyas's gaze went to the dock with its long pier, and the crowd that had formed. Some called out to the crew, asking for news or shouting offers of assistance. Most stared at the ship and its passengers, making no attempt to hide their astonishment.
Dyas frowned at their overt curiosity. In Sirilon and elsewhere on the mainland, people treated the Lady's sacred consorts with deference, which included keeping a respectful distance.
Beside him, his two companions noticed also. "They are staring at us," muttered Elantho.
"Gods, are those three what I think they are?" Lamad did not point. There was no need. Dyas could not fail to notice who was striding up the gangplank, or share the other man's surprise.
The three men boarding with the dockhands wore homespun tunics and trousers, and might have been mistaken for sailors or laborers if not for one slight difference. Dyas had been told by islanders among the Lady's servants that long exposure to the sun often bleached light-colored hair. From afar such people might be mistaken for talevé.
Not this close.
Dyas gaped, then swallowed hard. The men moving toward them were indeed Water-lovers.
Without a word, the foremost man approached the bundles on deck, bent, and hefted the smaller chest containing Dyas's books and writing materials onto one shoulder. He stood tall, as people from the Seaward Islands often were. Strands of white hair, stirred by the afternoon's faint breeze, escaped their braid to frame a face roughened by wind and sun. Full, sensual lips parted in a smile revealing even, white teeth. "We'll show you where you'll be staying," he said, in a deep voice.
"Put that down at once." Elantho, product of a princely upbringing, wielded protocol with rigid authority. "Talevé do not perform manual labor. There are plenty of other men to carry that for us."
Dyas winced at his imperious tone. However those words might reflect his own sentiments, Elantho could have phrased his reprimand more kindly. "What he means is—"
"That he'd prefer to carry his own baggage," finished the man. Glaring once at Elantho, who immediately fell silent, the stranger turned once more to Dyas. His eyes were pale blue, a shade not often seen on the mainland. "My name is Adarrel. The men with me are Teval and Omis."
Dyas caught his breath at the intensity of the man's stare, then, realizing he was being observed, cleared his throat and blinked. He prayed he was not blushing. "I am Dyas Olvyseras," he said. "The one who gets to carry his own things is Elantho né Hethigal, and the one beside him is Lamad. We are talevé of Sirilon, servants and consorts of the Lady of the Waters."
Adarrel snorted with laughter. "Are you always that formal when introducing yourselves on the mainland?"
"No, but it is the custom in Sirilon."
"Maybe so, but here in Thevit you'll have your audience asleep before you're done."
Now Dyas knew he was blushing. Gods, it's those eyes, and that smile. Resisting the urge to bite his lip, as he often did when flustered, he shifted his gaze to the chest Adarrel balanced on his shoulder. "Is it customary for you to come down to the docks whenever a ship puts in and help unload?"
"We help wherever it's needed, and we knew you'd be arriving any day now." Adarrel turned, took a cautious step back down the gangplank, and motioned Dyas to follow. "You don't do the same for your neighbors in Sirilon?"
"Absolutely not," Elantho replied, his voice dripping with disdain. Dyas noticed that he made no move to carry his own baggage, even the manageable leather satchel at his feet, but left it and his trunk for the dockhands. "Where are your priests, and your guards?"
"Why should we need guards?" asked one of the other talevé.
His question met with laughter from the other two. "Why, indeed?" answered Adarrel. "As for the priests, they'll meet you later. There's no need to be so formal when you're only just arriving."
Under the circumstances Dyas judged it wiser not to mention that he and his companions would have welcomed the formality. Priests would have served as a barrier between his group and the onlookers pressing around them. Someone touched his elbow, tugged at the sleeve of his robe. Other hands reached for his hair, his face, their boldness prompting him to sharply gesture them back. Elantho snapped at them, and even Lamad, who rarely spoke, muttered something about the lack of manners.
Whether it was the sudden closeness, the heat and smell emanating from too many bodies, or the sensation of being on land once more, the pier seemed to sway, its rough planks no longer as solid as they first appeared. Dyas blinked back his dizziness, and grasped Elantho's arm to steady himself.
"Move back, all of you!" shouted Adarrel. "You're going to smother them, and they haven't even gotten their land legs again."
Good-natured laughter followed compliance. Dyas felt a hand on his shoulder, heard a voice urging him to catch his breath. Once the nausea passed he found Teval, the talevé who had spoken earlier, standing beside him. "Are you ready to go on?"