This chapter reverts to Leila Moss’s perspective.
If Stefan thought I was just going to sit in the shade like a good little girl, he was fooling himself. I’ll give him credit for not tell me to stay there, though; he knows me well enough. By the time I caught up with them, Stefan and Blackthorne had dismounted and talking to someone I couldn’t yet see. I didn’t exactly have time to focus on that, though, because there was a sleek white unicorn right next to them.
“Stefan, wh– wow! Oh wow… that’s…”
Blackthorne looked over at me. I wasn’t sure if he was disappointed that I’d followed, or if he was just going to concede that he should have known I would. He had so much control over his facial expressions that it was sometimes hard to tell.
“Yes, Leila, it’s a unicorn,” he confirmed for me.
“Yeah… It’s beautiful,” I breathed. “And hey, you have nothing to worry about, right? Unicorns are creatures of light; they only time I’ve ever seen one hurt anybody was in that one horror movie.”
Blackthorne did not seem impressed. “There is a level of respect to be maintained between light and dark.”
“Respect, huh? I think that’s more your grandfather talking than anything. You’re not usually this… stand-offish.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You’ve always been yourself– unapologetically, without compromise– but you also let other people be themselves. You also don’t discriminate.”
“You remember me well, even after all these years.”
“Well, you’re kind of unforgettable,” I told him. I ignored the way Stefan narrowed his eyes when I said that. “Blackthorne, light and shadow don’t need to be at odds with each other.”
“Ah, there!” I heard a small voice say. “I got all the sand off.”
I glanced down to see a small person– not even three feet tall– looking up at us with bright yellow green eyes. He or she looked young, but wasn’t a child. I was reminded more of a gnome or a halfling. The little person seemed to be in awe of the three of us, and a wide smile crossed their face.
“You’re all Terrans!”
“We are,” Blackthorne replied with a friendly chuckle, “but I’m still wondering what brought you all the way out here.”
“My family sent me,” they said, their tone bright and matter-of-fact. “I’m supposed to find a Terran who only recently discovered Tierney Ríocht.”
I shared a knowing look with Blackthorne and Stefan.
“Ah, well that won’t be me. My grandfather has been bringing me here to visit for about ten years now.”
The little person looked to me, then to Stefan. “Can you play music?” Then they looked past Stefan. “Ooooohh, maybe they can play music!”
I turned around to see Justin, Larsa, and Killian approaching us. I assumed they’d decided that it was safe to join us, since we were all standing around chatting.
“Well…” I began, “actually, yes, a few of us can.”
“Oh, amazing!” Larsa cried when he got closer. He quickened his pace. “Wow, a unicorn! So pretty– ohhhh, and a haltija! Hei, hallå!”
“A hal-what?” I asked. I realized too late that maybe I shouldn’t have asked quite in that tone. They didn’t seem to mind, though.
“Hei!” the small person replied, grinning even brighter at Larsa. “You’re, right, I’m a haltija! Not many people know that, you know.”
“They’re more from Finnish mythology than Swedish,” Stefan explained.
“And Estonia,” Larsa added. “But they call them haldja. In Sweden was usually just say tomte.”
“Yes, yes,” the little person agreed. “We are here to guard and protect Tierney Ríocht. And sometimes we help people with other things.”
“Ye mean like brownies?” Killian asked.
“Mmmmmm, maybe a little,” Larsa told him. Then he knelt down before the haltija and offered his hand. “It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Larsa!”
They shook hands, and I couldn’t help but notice how tiny the haltija’s hand seemed compared to his. “I’m Kadri Oja,” they replied. “Can you play music, Larsa?”
“Well, I can drum a little…”
Their smile brightened. “I want to hear your drumming! I wonder if it’s anything like Lord Nikolai’s drumming.” Then, before Larsa could respond, they turned to Killian. “What about you?”
“Oh, ye know about the musicians? O’ course ye would. So ye’ll hae heard of the bassoon.”
Kadri thought for a moment. “It the the reeeaallly long one?”
“It is. I’ve been playin’ it for o’er ten years now– probably closer tae fifteen. And I teach it, too.”
“Fifteen is pretty good for a young human, right?” Kadri asked. “Sir Maël learned it about two hundred years go.”
“Aye, he told me much the same.”
“Hmmm… So you two can’t be the Terrans I need to find…”
Kadri looked up at Stefan. He looked down at them. I think he intimidated Kadri a little because he’s so big, and they looked a little uncertain. At least, I thought I would have been intimidated by him if I were their size, but they must have been used to so many of Tierney Ríocht’s species being taller, because they seemed curious rather than nervous.
“You’re so big. Is your instrument big, too?”
“Not as big as Killian’s!” Larsa answered for him. “Wow Stefan, can you imagine if you played tuba? She’d have a really hard time learning that from you.”
“Uhh… Yeah,” Stefan said, looking dubious. “But… Wait, if you’re looking for a Terran who can play music, does that mean you’re going to be your world’s next musician?”
“Stefan, don’t grill her with questions!” I told him.
“Why not? Don’t you think it’s weird that they–” He looked Kadri over again.
“Oh!” Larsa cried. “I get it now. Stefan doesn’t realize you’re a girl, Kadri.”
Kadri giggled a little. “I am, I am. But sometimes I forget that people outside of the Haltija can’t always tell the difference.”
Stefan nodded. “Thanks. Anyway, I thought Terrans had to go out and seek the person they’re supposed to teach.”
“Ooohh, but finding me would have taken so long!” Kindri said. “My village is far, far away. Very far.”
“Farther than the reindeer can run?” Larsa asked. I Don’t know if that was some sort of Sámi phrase, but I thought it was cute anyway.
Kadri nodded. “The reindeer live all around our land, and they don’t really like to leave it. The elder let me ride Lorelei instead.”
“Is that the unicorn’s name?” I asked. She nodded. “That’s so pretty.”
She grinned contentedly at me, then noticed the unicorn pawing at the sand. “Oh, did you find something, Lorelei?”
Kadri knelt down and picked up a little white stone. It shone in the daylight, slightly pearlescent.
Karsa leaned in close to get a good look at it. “Ooooohhhh, that looks like one of the magic pebbles I was using to fight off the werewolves the other day!”
She looked up at him with big eyes. “A Terran who can use magic stones?”
“Ja, Tobias helped me learn how. He said that my people are very close to nature, and that’s what allows me to use magic items.”
“Tobias the fae– The violinist Tobias?” Her eyes shone brightly– and brighter still when he nodded. “How lucky that you got to meet him!”
“I’ve meet all the musicians, actually,” Larsa told her.
“Really? All of them?” Kadri asked, and suddenly she grabbed his hand in both of hers and stared into his eyes. “Larsa… Do you have a second name?
“It’s Báltu,” he told her.
“Larsa Báltu…” she breathed, suddenly lost in thought. “It’s such a handsome name, but you’re not the one foretold by the Ballad of Ríocht Ceoil. I think you could be a big help to them, though. Can you show me what you can with this stone?”
Larsa looked over the shimmering white stone that she pressed into his palm. “I could… but wouldn’t it be a waste? This is a healing stone, and nobody here is hurt.”
His response had her grinning. “Wow, you even know the difference between that and the light stones!” She shook her head when Larsa tried handing it back to her. “You should keep it; I have plenty of my own.” She patted the leather pouch attached to her belt.
“Are you sure? The bag I had was taken from me when we arrived here.”
She turned around and looked up at the castle Larsa was pointing at. “Is that where you’re staying? What a dark castle! I’d have to check my map to be sure, but I think it’s one of the vampire lords’ castles.”
“That’s exactly what it is,” Blackthorne told her. “It’s my grandfather’s castle.”
Kadri looked surprised. “Wow, you’re the grandson of a vampire lord? And you’re friends with musicians and magic-users? It sounds like so many things changed while I was on my way here.”
“Oh, you’re in for quite a few surprises,” I told her. “If you come with us, there’s room in the stables for Lorelei, and I can introduce you to Jean-Marc and the other musicians.”
Kadri’s eyes went wider. “There are even more musicians staying in the vampire lord’s castle?! What is going on there?”
“I can tell you all about it once we’re inside. You’ve probably have a long journey, and it’s about tea time for us anyway.”
Kadri seemed to be a mix of nervous about going into a vampire’s home, and excited about meeting so many musicians. She agreed to come with us, even though I don’t think she knew yet exactly who I was yet. Stefan helped her onto the unicorn, and she gave him a long look as he walked back over to Sleipnir; then her eyes fixed on me as I got onto the legendary horse with him.
Kadri was amused to see the moose, and fascinated by Sleipnir having extra legs. All in all, she seemed really excited to be in this part of the world. I don’t think she’d ever left her homeland before then. I don’t know how long ago she’d set out to start looking for me, whether it was soon after the first time I’d come to Tierney Ríocht, or if it was a little more recent, but we’d soon have plenty of time to talk about all of that.
Blackthorne led us up the hill and into the stables. Lorelei seemed a little nervous at first, but she quickly warmed up to being around Moonglow in the other horses. Kadri explained that unicorns usually preferred to eat sweet grass and flowers, but she could manage okay with whatever the rest of the horses in the stables were eating. She could gather some flowers for her later on, once things settled down.
Blackthorne didn’t think that his grandfather was awake for the day just yet, so he didn’t bother going to his room to inform him that he’d invited in another guest. Instead to the suite of rooms where Jean-Marc and the others were staying. Evander opened the door soon after I knocked, and seemed overjoyed that our new friend was an haltija.
“Oh, how very wonderful for Tierney Ríocht!” Tobias exclaimed as he shook her hand. “A fellow being of magic and joy!”
I have to say, meeting Kadri and having the others be so happy that she’d come was just what I needed to make my birthday a happy one.