by Dawn Elliot
“Marra!” The voice of an exasperated mother rose over the sound of the waves and the ever-present hiss of the sea wind. “Marra, come home now! It’s dinner time. Marra!”
Alyn walked up the sandbar, boots crunching on gravel and worn sea shells. Her attention was entirely on the small figure crouched next to a deep tide pool; she paid no mind to the child’s mother further up the beach. The child didn’t stir, arm sunk elbow-deep into the water. She didn’t move until Alyn’s shadow fell across the pool, and its resident shrimp and crabs fled under rocks and into crevices. The dark-haired girl looked up with a frown: “You scared the fish.”
“They’ll manage well enough, child,” Alyn smiled, gold pilot’s ring glinting in her nose and green eyes bright in her tanned and weathered face. She crouched down beside the girl, worn oilskins rustling against the sand. “What have you found there?”
“She’s tickling me,” the child giggled. Alyn peered past the reflections dancing across the pool’s surface. The waves had whispered to her, speaking of the great whales traveling south for the winter and the storm rising in the west. The whispers drew her here, to this small village on the edge of the kingdom, filling her dreams with images of tangled black hair and–Alyn saw the iridescent gleam of a abalone shell in the water–blue shell. She’d had this dream for years, as she’d searched for her heir.
The girl had her hand under the abalone. No doubt the mollusk was scraping harmlessly at her skin, tasting her. Alyn reached into the pool as well, tickling an anemone. Because of Alyn’s skills as an adept, the creature neither stung her nor withdrew but allowed her to stroke it lightly, fronds waving in the gentle current.
“They always curl up when I touch them,” the girl said, watching in fascination. “I don’t mean to scare them.”
“There’s a trick to it, Marra. It is Marra, is it not?” Alyn smiled again as the girl nodded, clearly impatient to learn the trick of tickling anemones. Behind Alyn, her small sailboat bobbed on the water. A flag with a quartered circle on it flapped from the top, marking her as an adept offering her services to those in need. “Can you feel the stir of the water?” she asked. “Breathe it in. Let your hand drift like kelp in the current. Then the anemone will not fear you, and neither will the shrimp or the little fishes.” She paused, studying the girl’s expression.
“Can you understand the voice of the water, Marra?” Alyn asked gently, hope ill hidden in her voice. “Does the wind speak to you?”
Marra lifted her gray eyes to meet Alyn’s and nodded solemnly. “The wind told me you would come. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Alyn stood and smiled, her old knees creaking. She held out her hand, and without hesitation, Marra took it, as if grasping the hand of her mother, and stood as well. “And I have been waiting for you, child,” Alyn said. “For a very long time.”