To his credit, Blackthorne– unlike Larsa– dropped the subject the fist time I asked him to. He seemed a little disappointed that I denied having the kind of feelings for her that he thought I did, but at least he respected my wishes. That was a relief, since the staff brought Leila and the others up soon after that, and I didn’t want her– or any of them– to see me arguing with him.
“So, Blackthorne,” I began as soon as everyone had their plates full, “seeing as how your grandfather says we’re not prisoners here, I’d like to explore the beach down below. Leila especially sounded interested in it.”
He gave me a long, knowing look; I was relieved that he had the courtesy to not point out that I was doting on her– well, possibly doting on her.
“That sounds really fun!” Justin chimed in when Blackthorns didn’t reply right away. “We can go, right, Blackthorne? Ingrid and Brielle are doing a lot better, so we can go outside for a while and–“
“Oh they’re feeling better?” Leila asked. “I thought it would take a lot longer for them to regain their strength.”
“I was worried that it would take quite sometime,” Blackthorne said, “so I fed Ingrid a little early this morning.”
Leila stared at him. “You… You did? But I thought you didn’t…”
“You’re right that I didn’t want to be disturbed. Still, since I’m here, there was no point in leaving the burden to you alone.”
“Wow,” she said, clearly in awe of his kindness, “that’s… I really appreciate that, Blackthorne. You always were a nice guy, even if some people in high school didn’t understand you.”
That had him smiling. “I simply do what’s right. And if that’s taken care of, I do what I like.”
“Ohh– tell me you like going to the beach!” Larsa added excitedly.
Blackthorne chuckled a little. “It’s all right, I suppose. We can go down there, if you’d like, so long as the day is bright.”
“Right after breakfast?” Larsa asked, about ready to bounce out of his seat.
“Wait, why does it matter how bright it is outside?” I asked.
“Because at night,” Blackthorne explained, “the shadow creatures take over the sea and the shores.”
“What, like they took over the forest when Stefan tried to rescue Leila?” Larsa asked.
“Most likely,” Blackthorne said with a nod; he couldn’t confirm much, as he hadn’t been there that night.
“What sort of creatures?” Leila wanted to know.
“I imagine all the mythological sea creatures you’ve ever heard of,” Justin said. “Sirens, kelpies, leviathan…”
“Leviathan doesn’t come near the shores,” Blackthorne reminded him. Then to Leila, “There are also selkies and merrow; I’m sure you understand the dangers of them.”
She nodded. “They’ll beckon you in and drag you under.”
He nodded. “Thankfully, they shun the daylight, so they won’t be bothering us.”
The conversation turned to other things as breakfast went on. After we’d had enough to eat, and a little time relaxing, we headed downstairs. As it turned out, Blackthorne’s tower was one of the highest points in the castle, bested only by his grandfather’s chambers, so we had quite a few floors to descend. Justin and Larsa pretty much raced down them, laughing and making plans for being outside.
“I have tae say,” Killian told Blackthorne, “it’s incredible tae see him so happy. Ye’ve done ‘im a world of good.”
“Don’t say that as though you didn’t brighten his day back when you were together.”
“Ye… ye’re really goin’ from hittn’ me tae complimentin’ me?”
“Can’t I?” Blackthorne replied. “Like I explained yesterday, I didn’t like how things ended, but I’d be lying if I claimed he wasn’t happier after meeting you. There is a difference, though, is there? Between you and me…”
“Aye, a lot,” Killian agreed. The two had gone so far ahead that they were out of earshot, making Killian a little more comfortable in asking, “So, bein’ here… and bein’ with you, did Justin gain some sort of magic or ability?”
“Sort of like Larsa?”
“Ah… Aye, in a manner o’ speakin’, though Tobias and Aubré say that there was already magic inside him.”
“Tobias…” Blackthorne repeated. “He’s the fae one, isn’t he? He’d know better than anyone when it comes to magic. The closer Larsa’s people live with nature, the greater power here.”
“The lad loves his cultural roots,” Killian told him. “Am I right, Stefan?”
“Hmmmm…?” I think I’d been too focused on making sure the stairs weren’t too narrow for Leila that I’d only been partly listening to them. “Oh, Larsa? Heh, for being from such a young generation, he really embraces the old ways. The elders adore him, and he learns everything he can from them about the Sámi deities, the sieidis, and so forth.”
Blackthorne smiled. “All that playfulness, but he embraces his culture. And he has your love, Killian. I can see why he has the magic he does.”
“Aye, and he’s really excited about it. But what about Justin?”
“Well…” Blackthorne sighed. “What he can do is vastly different from what I can do. No contrary, but…”
“Justin we very badly hurt, Killian. I won’t describe it to you, but no sooner had he mostly recovered from being in the hospital– he’d even gotten the central line removed– than he was attacked. I refused to allow Grandfather to give him the embrace, so the shadows couldn’t heal him.”
“Light and magic,” Blackthorne explained– though really that didn’t explain much.
“Does that mean his powers can hurt you or the vampires?” Leila asked.
“Nothing that strong. Those healing potions Larsa has? Justin has been to the source.”
“The source?” Leila repeated.
Blackthorne nodded. “I can’t say too much, but because of what healed him, he is safe from anything in the darkness that may wish to harm us. He always heals quickly from minor scrapes and the like.”
“Oh, so you’re the sword,” Leila noted cheerfully, “and he’s the shield,”
He thought for a moment before replying, “That is as reasonable a summation as any other.”
“Can he do anything else?”
“I think I’ll let you figure out the rest over time, Leila,” he replied.
We got back to ground level, where Blackthorne led us through the halls towards stables and the garage-type chamber. By the time we got there, Justin was running back in and calling for his husband.
“Little Moon, I’m right here; what’s wrong?”
Justin was a little short on breath when he stopped in front of Blackthorne. “Moonglow!” he gasped. “She… there’s a really huge horse letting Moonglow snuggle up to him.”
Larsa walked in a little more calmly. “It’s just Sleipnir,” he told us. “They’re being nice.”
Blackthorne turned to me with wide silver eyes. “Sleipnir? Odin’s legendary horse?”
“The very one,” I confirmed with a grin. “He’s amazing. Actually, Leila got to meet him before I did.”
“And Nikolai and the centaurs before me,” Leila added.
Blackthorne looked down at Justin. “That is a bit of a surprise, isn’t it?”
“Yeah…” Justin breathed. “Wait, isn’t Sleipnir the horse from Loki who…”
“Loki’s child from when he became a mare and distracted the giant’s workhorse?” I finished for him. “Yep.”
“Woah,” Justin chuckled. “He’s huge!”
“Wait till you see the moose,” Larsa told him.
“You brought a moose?” he asked, raising a brow. “But you said your people take care of reindeer.”
“They do,” Larsa said with a nod. “But I haven’t found any reindeer here, so Evander let me ride his moose so he could sit in the carriage and talk to Jean-Marc.”
“In Tierney Ríocht, most of the moose live near the faun villages,” Blackthorne noted.
“Yes,” Leila said. “Evander is the faun who helps the new musician who come from Earth.”
“Come on Justin, let’s go find Elan!” Larsa grabbed Justin’s hand, and they were back outside in seconds.
“Do ye need me tae calm him down?” Killian asked as we followed at a more casual pace.”
“Oh, he’s all right,” Blackthorne assured him. “I know he acts as sweet as ever, but Justin will let him know when he’s has enough.”
I was relieved to hear that he was no push-over; Justin had struggled enough growing up, and I didn’t want him to feel like he had no voice.
Leila stepped outside ahead of us and headed straight over to Sleipnir. She greeted him sweetly, cooing and speaking in soft tones. He seemed excited to see her; I can’t really blame him, seeing as how I felt the same way when I saw her. Blackthorne was pretty impressed to meet him, and afterwards he introduced his stallion: a solid-black Friesian with a long mane and tail and silky fur.
“This is Nox,” he told us. “He’s the offspring of Grandfather’s favorite horse.”
“He’s so magnificent,” Leila said. Sleipnir snorted, and she turned back to him. “Oh, Sleipnir, you know I think you’re incredible; don’t be jealous.”
Once he and Larsa had located the moose, Justin came back in to get his horse ready. Moonglow was a sleek and timid fjord mare with a black body and white tail and mane. Blackthorne had taught him how to care for her, even though they did not visit Tierney Ríocht often and relied on the stable-workers to keep her pampered. I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded changing that, though. He really did look like a young prince on that horse.
Once Nox and Moonglow were ready, I helped Leila onto Sleipnir and then joined her. We ventured outside to see Larsa and Killian already on Elan’s back, eager to head to the beach. Blackthorne showed us the path that wound around and down the hill, which cut through the spars woodland. The day was cool but sunny enough, although I could see gray in the distance. I was glad we were heading out then, because I wasn’t sure if clouds would be coming our way later.