Kadri explored every part of Leila’s rooms before finally settling down; the main bedroom, the cozy parlor, the tiny office, the bathroom, the little secondary bedroom, and of course the balcony. She talked to the entire time, commenting on this or that, or getting ideas about what she wanted to do in each room. She was contemplating taking a bath, but she didn’t know when Leila would be back, and she didn’t want to surprise her or be in the way if she wanted a bath herself right away.
She asked me which bed was mine, and seemed disappointed when I told her that my room was in a different part of the castle. She felt that Lord Thorne should have put us together when I’d arrived. As much as she claimed to understand the entire story about Leila being kidnapped and me having a hard time chasing after her, they were so many things she still seemed to not understand. Yes, I would have preferred to be close to her so that I could make sure she was safe, but I hadn’t been given that option, and while I assured Kadri that I had asked for it, there was really nothing I could do unless Leila was the one to insist.
Kadri introduced herself to Claire, Leila’s maid-servant, who had brought her bags up to the room, and who didn’t hesitate in agreeing to bring back some milk and fruit for her to snack on. Once she was settled in, we sat together at the small table in the common room. The last of the daylight was gone, and the wind was blowing even stronger outside. I could smell the hints of ozone and petrichor as the rain prepared to fall.
Moonlight peeked between the clouds and fell across the ripples of the ocean, though even that would be blocked out soon enough. The sound of the waves caressing the shore was rhythmic, but at that moment, I would have much rather been listening to the wind rustling the trees surrounding Leila’s house in the mountains.
“What are you thinking about stefan?” Kadri asked after a while. Apparently she’d been watching me while I let my mind wander.
I turned my eyes back to her. “How did you– I mean, how did your village elder know that you were supposed to be the next great musician to protect this world?” It wasn’t what had been on my mind, but I have been meaning to ask it earlier; I couldn’t tell her what I had actually been thinking.
“There are clues in the ballad,” she told me, “lines that refer to smaller people from the far, far northwest. That’s my people.”
“So they figured out that it was one of the haltija,” I replied, “but what about you in specific?”
“Oh, you mean the way I’ve loved music all my life?”
“I don’t think you’re the only haltija to like music,” I pointed out.
She gave me a curious look. She tapped her chin as she seemed to think even harder.
“You…” She scrunched her mouth to one side. “It’s the questions you ask. I keep thinking that you should know, but…”
For the first time that day, Kadri seemed shy about responding. “Well, I thought you’d read the Ballad of Ríocht Ceoil, but there are things in it you don’t know.”
“Gotcha… Okay. Well, Brom and the others were going over the ballad with us, and playing some of the songs, but we only got through the third one. Brielle was missing, so she couldn’t play her cello with the others. It was time to take a break, anyway. But even if we wanted to go back to reading it without playing the songs, we couldn’t, because Leila was kidnapped.”
Kadri listened with wide, round eyes, fascinated by my explanation. “They didn’t even tell you Leila’s part of the ballad?”
“No, just the first three musicians– and the parts before that, the stuff about Moss.”
“But Leila really needs to know her part of the ballad!” Kadri seemed very worried about how we’d gone about things. They should have started with her stanzas, then gone back to the parts about Tiernan Moss.”
I laughed a bit that that suggestion. “Once you get to know Leila better, you’ll understand that she doesn’t like doing things out of order. Star at the beginning, follow the steps and so forth.”
Kadri pursed her lips and nodded. “Yes, the ballad did mention the way she could unify science and magic, light and dark, music and–”
She stopped talking when she realized that I was out of my seat. I had crossed the room, stepped out onto the balcony, and leaned on the railing to gaze down at the beach below. It wasn’t that I meant to be rude or dismissive, but I’d heard a voice coming from down there, and I simply could not ignore it. Someone was singing the words of the Ballad of Ríocht Ceoil– and it did so in a way that seemed at though it had sung it for centuries.
“Stefan?” Kadri came up beside me, holding onto her cap so that it didn’t blow away, and followed my gaze. She shivered at what she saw. “It’s some kind of siren… sort of a ghostly one.”
“That’s just the way the moon is shining on her,” I explained. “That’s not a ghost. I wonder if she’s from Rosenthal Village…”
“Sirens don’t live in villages, Stefan.”
“Heh, that’s no siren,” I told her. As I kept watching her, I noticed that she was wearing a red and silver ribbon around her neck. Hanging from it like a pendant was a key that glittered in the moonlight. “Hey, wow she–“
Kadri grabbed my hand and looked up at me with worried eyes. “Your friend said there would be bad things on the beach at night, didn’t he?”
“It’s not even that late yet, Kadri,” I insisted as I turned to walk back into the room.
“Where are you going?” she asked when she realized that I wasn’t headed for the couch.
I paused in the doorway leading out to the hall. “Look, if you came straight to Leila, maybe the key did, too. I need to at least check.”
“What?! No, Stefan, she’s tricking you!”
“What, was the siren in the ballad, too?”
“No, but the whole point of sirens is that they fool you and then pull you into the water and drown you.”
“Wouldn’t there be a lot more bones on the beach if there were sirens here?”
She grumbled. “No, because they take their victims deep into the ocean, and– and there are plenty of hungry creatures down there.”
“Your village is near the ocean, isn’t it? Of course you’d have stories like that.”
Kadri glowered at me; had she already learned that from Leila? “Didn’t your ancestors go out on the sea?”
“Yeah, but the Vikings aren’t afraid,” I said as I continued on to the stairs. “Come on, I want to get down there before she’s gone.”
“That’s a really, really, really bad idea, Stefan!”
I sighed and looked down at her. “You don’t have to come, but if that woman knows the ballad and has a special key, I’m going to talk to her.”
I continued on down the stairs, and Kadri grumbled. “I’m telling Leila!” she called to me.
That didn’t stop me. I went all the way downstairs, then out into the cool night, determine to help Leila get the key to her palace.