German: Das Haus des siebten Menuetts
The beach beneath Thorne Castle was just like any other beach: lots of soft sand, salty air, some driftwood here and there, and little signs of life. Elan wasn’t entirely impressed by the seaweed, so he munched on grass closer to the hill while Larsa ran ankle-deep across the water.
“Oh– oh, it’s cold!” he announced as he came hopping back.
“Yes, it would be, considering how far north we are,” Blackthorne told him.
“Aren’t you used to it,” Justin asked, “being from Sweden and all?”
“Kind of… But I’ve been in Portland for over a year now, and even back home, he had an indoor pool,” Larsa explained. “If I had to go in colder water, I had a wetsuit.”
“Oooooh, cool! I’ve never worn one of those.”
“They’re like a second skin. Mine is super warm, and I got it customized with Sámi colors.”
They went back to running along the beach, chasing waves and looking for fancy shells in the sand. Killian joined them for a little while, and eventually took a break to spread out a blanket he’d brought and relax in the shade under the cliff.
Leila and I walked at a more leisurely pace, chatting about this and that. We got far enough along the shore that the only voices we could hear were each others, and from there we went back to the edge of the woods to pick some fruit and sit in the grass and tell stories.
She told me one about a selkie who was basically held hostage when the man who loved her– well, supposedly loved her– hid her seal-skin. If Leila had been a selkie, I could never do that to her, no matter how much I wanted her to be part of my life. She pointed out that love makes people do crazy things, and it’s different for everyone. I guess she had a point.
The merrow were the Celtic version of mermaids, and they weren’t– as Leila put it– all sunshine and rainbows. They had sharper, more aquatic features, and were actually really fierce. That’s how it usually is with Celtic creatures: more danger, less whimsy. Some merrow maidens have been known to enchant human men and lure them out to sea; I had to promise her that I wouldn’t fall for such tricks.
After a while, we picked a little more fruit and headed back to the others to share it. Larsa hardly ate because he was too busy telling me about the nearby cave he and Justin had explored. They had even found a few gems and interesting stones, but Blackthorne insisted that they put them back until they could get permission from his grandfather to keep them. What they found out in the sand was fine, but he was a little uncertain about the caves.
“The foundation of the castle goes down into that hill,” he explained. “Grandfather won’t tell me how far down, or whether it connects to those caves in any way, but I see no reason to take risks with his domain.”
“Wait… Would he punish you?” I asked.
“I doubt it. Really, it’s more a question of courtesy and res–” Blackthorne paused. His eyes shot to the western stretch of the beach.
“What is it?” I followed his gazed and noticed something bright on the horizon. What should have been a dull, hazy blur was instead vivid white and shining. It seemed to be moving as though it had a body–and that body was approaching us.
“Woah, that’s really bright!” Justin exclaimed.
Blackthorne stood up, frowning as he stared it down. “What creature of light would trespass on my grandfather’s land?”
“The beach is his, too?” Leila asked.
“His domain, yes,” Blackthorne confirmed. He stepped over to Nox. “I’ll go see what it is.”
He was on his horse in seconds.
“Should I –“
“No, Justin,” Blackthorne told him. “I won’t be long.”
He took off down the shore, and although the others watched him go, I refused to sit there and wait. If he was worried about it, so was I, even if it was as simple as Lord Thorne’s anger being invoked. I didn’t want Leila getting caught up in any situation involving a creature that shouldn’t be there.
“Stefan!” she cried when I got up and leaped onto Sleipnir’s back.
“He shouldn’t be going alone,” I told her.
“And you shouldn’t be going at all.”
I went anyway. She was screaming my name as Sleipnir charged across the sand, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I was doing this for her.
“Never one to miss the action, are you?” Blackthorne asked when I caught up with him.
“Seeing something bother you is a big deal,” I pointed out.
“Heh… I see your point. Hopefully Leila doesn’t try to follow; she has a will all her own.”
I knew that. In fact, I appreciated that about her. But I was just as willful.
“At least we have a head start.”
As we raced towards the white glow, it moved towards us. Galloped, really. It was something on four legs. We got closer. It was a horse. Even closer. A horse so purely white and clean that it had an aura. It was almost pearlescent.
“That’s not a horse!” Blackthorne called to me.
The hell it wasn’t! What did he — then I realized that he was right. Of course. A creature of light, pure and glowing. What else could I expect to find in Tierney Ríocht?
Blackthorne pulled Nox to a stop. “Woah, boy. Take it easy.”
Sleipnir drew up beside him and nearly reared up. I held his mane tighter.
the white creature slowed down as well, and it did rear up, neighing and snorting at us. Then I realized that it had a rider; a small one, but certainly nobody to ignore. ‘Had’ was the operative term, of course, because they immediately tumbled down onto the Sand.
Blackthorne settled his horse and climbed down to help the small figure.
“Are you all right?” he asked as he knelt down beside them.
“Oooooohhhh… ow.” the figure sat up and rubbed their head. “Wet sand… not so soft.”
“You seem mostly okay,” Blackthorne noted.
The small figure accepted his hand and got to their feet. I couldn’t yet tell if it was a boy or a girl, what with their yellow and green tunic with decorative embroidery at the edges, sage-green leggings, and tiny leather shoes. Their cap was round and poofy, and it matched their tunic ; it also had a sort of flap coming down to cover their ears, neck, and back of their head. They had on sandy-brown riding gloves made of buttery-soft leather and stitched with strips of leather dyed an assortment of colors. All in all, they could not have been more than three feet tall.
“Ooh, thank you,” they said in a soft voice that really didn’t give away their gender. They quickly became busy dusting the sand off their clothes.
“No trouble at all,” Blackthorne replied. “Now, can you tell me why you’re racing through a vampire lord’s domain on a unicorn?”