Portuguese: A Casa do Sétimo Minueto
“I got him!” Larsa called the instant his head was above the surface.
Killian and I ran out to help grab Stefan’s arms, and Justin helped drag him to shore once he was closer. He was heavy from the way all his layers of clothing were water-logged; his boots left long, deep trails in the sand as we dragged him past the reach of the waves. At Larsa’s direction, we laid him flat on his back, and he knelt beside him.
“Just give us some space, okay?” Larsa rushed out, already positioning him and checking his airway. Cold raindrops were starting to fall, pattering down on us and the rest of the beach.
Justin went to Blackthorne and clung to him nervously. Killian noticed right away that I wasn’t moving, and he tugged gently on my arm.
“He knows first aid,” he reminded me. “He can resuscitate him.”
Of course he did; I knew that. It was handy for swimmers to be able to help each other in an emergency. Besides that, Larsa spent a lot of time in the wild and had to be prepared for minor emergencies. I was still terrified for Stefan, though; he looked terrible, with seaweed stuck to him here and there, his wet hair stuck to his face– and now he’d have sand stuck to his sopping-wet body.
After Larsa gave him several breaths, Stefan started to cough. “Ja!” Larsa cried in Swedish. He turned Stefan’s head to the side to let him cough up the seawater. “Ja, det är det Stefan!”
“Let it all out, Stefan!” I added.
Larsa repositioned him and went back to giving him mouth-to-mouth. Stefan spat out more water, then groaned weakly.
“Ta det lugnt… du kommer att bli okej. Koppla av.“
Stefan’s eyes opened weakly, then closed again. We watched him closely– Larsa especially, checking his pulse and making sure he was breathing.
“He’s freezing cold,” Larsa said, looking up at us. “We have to get him out of the rain and help him warm up.”
“Bring him to me,” Lord Thorne commanded; he wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer in this situation.
Larsa nodded and started trying to lift him. Killian and I moved in to help, and once he was part-way up, Blackthorne lifted him the rest of the way up.
“Woah,” Larsa commented as Stefan’s weight was pulled away from him. “You’re a lot stronger than you look!”
Blackthorne smirked, but he didn’t have time to explain. He turned and carried Stefan over where his Grandfather stood– just within the shadows– and transferred him to his arms as easily as he might a child.
“He’s shivering,” Blackthorne said as he met my eyes. “He might have more to cough up, too. Go with him and get him warm. I’ll take Sleipnir to the stables and meet up with you before too long.”
“Can we take him to your room, Leila?” Larsa asked. “You have a huge tub!”
“Ah– umm… I–“
“That will be best,” Lord Thorne said; he seemed to realize that too much was going on in my mind to be able to answer any questions.
“We’ll come with you!” Larsa announced, gripping Killian’s hand. “I can still help.”
Blackthorne was already helping Justin onto Sleipnir, Kadri gave me a worried look. The raindrops were getting a lot bigger and coming down faster and faster.
“I’ll take Lorelei,” she said. “Then I’ll hurry up to your room.’
Lord Thorne had no objections to who went where or how; he was entirely focused on getting Stefan help as fast as he could. He let Larsa step closer to us. “I will take all of us through the shadows. It will be an interesting sensation, but think of it as taking a shortcut through a cave.”
Then he led the way deeper into the shadows. The light disappeared, and we were surrounded by absolute blackness, as well as the scent of ozone and wet rock; it really was was reminiscent of a cavern. I could still hear everyone’s footsteps, so I just kept pace with them.
When we emerged from the pitch black, we were in my bathroom, where it was dark except for the light that came in from the main room. Moonlight might have streamed in through the windows if the storm hadn’t been worsening the entire time. The clouds were thicker and darker, and the wind was howling as though it were the voices of the merrow angry that we’d taken Stefan from them.
Erik went to the main room and brought back an oil lamp, then went about lighting the various wall sconces around the bathroom. Larsa already had the bathwater running, and was getting it to a gentle lukewarm temperature before putting the plug into place.
“We need to get all of his clothes off,” I told them. “They’ll just make the bathwater cold, and they’re covered in sand.”
Thankfully they didn’t object; they knew I was right, and if they tried saying anything, I’d have some choice words for them. Stefan’s boots fell to the floor with heavy thunks, and his shirt and pants, heavy with seawater, squelched as they landed on the stones. Lord Thorne was starting to lower him into the water when I stopped him so that I could get his undergarment off, too; I needed everything that had soaked in that ocean with him off of his body, and I didn’t care what Stefan thought about me seeing him. He was hardly conscious anyway, and if he complained later, I’d– well, not dunk him back into the sea, but I’d do something.
Stefan trembled even in the warm water. Lasra was trying to scoop water onto him while Lord Thorne helped keep him upright; if he let go, Stefan might slip under the water, and we certainly didn’t want a repeated of that. Killian brought over a pitcher, though filling it so they could pour water over his body seemed far too inefficient. I started unlacing the bodice of my dress.
“Can I get some help getting out of this gown?”
Killian looked up at me. “What’re ye plannin’ on doin’ lass?”
“What does it look like?” I grumbled. He knew as well as I did that body heat was some of the best warmth available. “I’m getting in there with him!”
Erik looked to Lord Thorne, who nodded to him, then he came to me and helped slide the outer own up and over my shoulders. The chemise underneath was thin enough that I could keep it on, though if it had been as soaked as Stefan’s clothes, I wouldn’t have hesitated in removing it, too.
Once I had everything else off but that, I slipped into the oversized tub and pulled Stefan over to sit in front of me. I let him go a little deeper into the water, but kept his head resting safely on my chest. He groaned as he moved him, but I wasn’t going to put up with any complaints. I warmed my hands and gently caressed his cheeks, forehead and neck to help warm him up. Killian used the pitcher to pour some water down his hair and the back of his head.
After a few minutes, Larsa turned up the heat a little. Stefan was starting to feel less like he’d been in an ice bath, and was also starting to move a little more on his own. Kadri arrived with Blackthorne and Justin, and she sat on the edge of the tub to look Stefan over worriedly.
“Is he warming up?” she asked.
I nodded. “He’ll be okay. We ju–“
I was interrupted by Stefan moaning as though in pain. He started coughing uncontrollably, then suddenly sat up and grabbed onto the edge of the tub. Still coughing, he leaned over, then moaned again before spewing water all over the floor. Not just water, though; apparently he’d swallowed chunks of seaweed, too, and those splattered down heavily.
“That’s a good sign, right?” Kadri asked. “He’s getting the ocean water out.”
“Yeah,” Larsa replied. Stefan was coughing again, and I was wondering whether voluntarily drinking water would help at all. “All that salt is going to be really rough on his throat, though.”
“A bit of healing potion should help him,” Lord Thorne said as he pulled up a chair and sat beside the tub. “It won’t get the salt out, but it should help him be less sore, as well as keep him from getting sick.”
He sent Erik off to get the healing potion and summon the nurse to bring some other medicines. Meanwhile, Stefan threw up more water and a longer strand of seaweed, then collapsed weakly against me. I went back to trying to warm up his face.
“Wow, lad, ye really swallowed a lot out there,” Killian said as he poured more water on him. “Ye’re lucky tae be alive.”
“Leila…” Stefan croaked out.
“I’m right here, you crazy viking,” I told him. “Do you know how many people it took to save you?”
Stefan turned his head and tried to look up at me, but the movement only served to make him cough more.
“Take it easy, mister,” I ordered. “You’re not out of the woods yet.”
“Just out of the ocean!” Larsa added. He chuckled at his own play of words and turned the heat up even more. He also took out the plug to let out the cooler water so it could be replaced.
“You’re really going to try talking?” I shook my head. “You don’t have to act tough; we already know you are.”
Blackthorne scoffed. “You took the siren’s bait way too easily, my friend. I never expected you to fall for that trick.”
Stefan narrowed his eyes at Blackthorne. “I got it,” he snapped before coughing took over his body again.
“You what?” Blackthorne asked, raising a brow.
“You did?!” Kadri seemed way more excited, whereas Blackthorne was incredulous.
I have to admit, I didn’t think it was possible; sirens are all lies and deceit, right? But then again, there was that ribbon…
“My pants,” Stefan added when his coughing stopped.
“You really mean it?” Justin said excitedly. He grabbed Stefan’s sopping-wet pants, turning them around in search of the pockets. He ended up turning them upside down, and a piece of metal fell out and clanged onto the floor. He bent down to pick it up. “Woah, it really is a key!”
I stared up at Justin in disbelief. “It’s probably some something generic meant to fool him.”
Lord Thorne asked to see the key, and Justin handed it to him. He looked it over slowly and thoughtfully. “It’s certainly not a skeleton key; these bits and notches are far too complex. And look at this…”
He reached over to hand me the key head-first. It was a shiny sort of metal, but too dark to be steel or silver. I thought about asking whether it was titanium, but I decided that it was too scientific to get into just then. The head was ornately shaped, with curling banners that reminded me of a coat-of-arms. At the collar, there was a piece of opal, in the shape of an eight in calligraphy-style script, embedded in the metal. I ran my fingers over the stone, admiring how the colors changed in the light.
“An eight…” I breathed. For the eighth palace. And I was to be the eighth Terran to teach music. I was to write the eighth minuet. This was too much to be a coincidence, especially knowing that Great-Uncle Morrigan’s key had a seven on it.
“You may want to ask Brom or Evander to be certain,” Lord Thorne went on, “but I do believe that Stefan is right that this is the very key you seek.”
That was when Stefan laid his hand on mine and looked up at me. “I got this for you,” he told me, his voice hoarse from coughing up seawater.
I stared back into his eyes, those bright blue eyes that I’d known for so long, and I found myself lacking the words to tell him how I felt about what he’d done.