by Prue Batten
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The sea is always a mystery – an enigmatic place filled with superstition. In this extract from The Shifu Cloth a Ceasg, or mermaid, gives the hero the fright of his life, showing just how dangerous waterwights can be…
The evening was clear and calm, the welkin wind moist and cold, bringing a tingle to the back of Nicholas’s neck. As he sat on the rocks at the side of the cove, an image of his cousin being tied and hooded flashed through his mind. He tried to banish the traumatic moment until he was ready, instead thinking on his own place in this world of mortals in which he lived.
But as always, it came back to the difference that seemed to striate his very soul, the difference between he and she.
Why is it that the sum of one’s parts are so affected by one of those parts being so altered from the rest?
For so long he had quietly envied Isabella, envied that she was completely all of one thing – mortal – while he was neither one nor the other. A mixed up melting pot of Færan and mortal and as alien one to the other as sugar is to salt.
I’m a confusion where one side must by its very essence, cancel out the other.
But all that aside, he cared for his cousin as if she were gold and it was that above all else that reduced him to what he was as he sat on the rock in that hideous cove. He had not been able to protect her that night and he a Færan.
‘Poor miserable Færan man.’
A thrilling voice disturbed his self-indulgence, setting the hairs on his arms to attention.
He turned around and found a Ceasg standing behind him, her lustrous tail shed and in place, shapely legs. Her beauty drew his breath away. She was as tall as his shoulder and her form was clothed in sea-green fragments that undulated in the welkin wind. He chided himself for ignoring the unsettling fingers of the little zephyr earlier, knowing it implied something Other was close by.
Her hair waved in the eldritch breeze, silver tresses touched with the light of a winter’s frost, her skin as pale as snow, nacreous, like the lustre of the pearls that laced through her hair. Her hand touched him and he knew if he had been mortal he would crave more of the same. But he was of Færan blood and sensed danger, as though he had just put a finger into an icy stream. He stood up as she came closer, so close that as she spoke, cool breath with the tang of sea dusted his neck.
‘Poor Færan. Searches for his sister without luck it is said, and lost his speech as well. I can hear your thoughts, Færan. Speak to me with your mind voice.’
Alert as never before, he sifted through his thoughts, allowing only those the Ceasg would approve of to come to the fore.
‘It is true,’ he offered politely, knowing how malevolent the waterwight could be.
She looked him over – a glint at the back of her eye smacked of short temper.
‘Nicholas of the Færan has spent too long wondering and wandering. Cassiope of the Ceasgs has helped once and has waited long for him to return here to help him again.’
‘What do you mean, ‘helped once’? I’d remember one such as you.’
She simpered, walking around him, trailing cold fingers over his chest, round his neck, flicking the leather buttons of his shirt open. One … by one … by one until his chest was laid bare.
He let her move, his wits sharp. Something tingled, an intuition.
‘Have you not wondered how you did not drown so long ago as you lay face down amongst the ripples of approaching tide? The black men gave little care as they sped away.’
Nicholas’s heart began to thump, the woman having returned to her position in front of him, a scrap of sea-coloured wisps falling to reveal a perfect globe of breast. She sidled closer again, so that he was able to see the bluish veins tracing across her flesh. She reached for his hand, placing it on her cool skin so his palm lay across her nipple. Her fingers moved to his exposed chest, running along the lines of muscle – lower and lower to his belt. Seduction incarnate…
I feel nothing. She is iced poison and I feel nothing.
‘Did you help me?’ His guts clawed as a wicked giggle filled the space around them. ‘Then you must have seen the men, where did they go?’
Like a weather change, she whipped her breast back into the confines of the fabric and her face shut down.
‘Færan is an ungrateful churl. Cassiope wastes her time with him.’
She flung herself round and was about to walk back to the shoreline when Nicholas grabbed her arm.
‘I am thoughtless. But then all Færan are – you know this. It’s a universal truth.’ He held her chilling hands in his own and ran a touch over her palm, letting one finger linger. Her breath sucked in.
‘What you say is true.’
She kept her face turned from him.
‘If it was you who saved me, I am in your debt. What did you do?’
‘I turned you over and I nursed your head, stroking away your hurts until the tide changed and you woke. Do you not remember?’
‘I remember the black men and then a kick to my stomach and head. Nothing more. Which is a shame,’ he added as he gentled her with his fingers, shifting them back and forth as if she were silk. He bent his head and kissed her palm.
‘Færan knows many tricks,’ she sighed, sitting on a rock, indicating with a tip of her head that he sit by her. ‘It is true the black men hit you very hard. I thought if they had been your bane that you would have died from the force. Men were very strange. Voices were sharp and unknown.’
He lifted a hand and ran it through her waving silver hair, wrapping a tress of it round his hand and pulling her toward him, lowering his head to her neck.
‘Did you see them leave?’
He licked and felt her shiver, his own body stone cold at the touch of tongue to skin.
She sat very still and then spoke words that pierced him like sword strokes.
‘Perhaps, perhaps not. If Nicholas of the Færan will follow me and let me love him then I will take him to where they have gone.’
It was his turn to sit unmoving and then, ‘And if I do, shall it take you long to show me where they have gone?’
She pushed hard at his chin, almost a punch.
‘Færan does not believe me.’
‘Cassiope,’ he stood and towered over her, ‘give me proof that you know something and I will decide.’
‘Black men disappeared with great speed as if they had never been. Like ghosts of the sea.’
‘Then tell me, Cassiope, if they disappeared, how do you know where they have gone?’
‘Feckless Færan.’ She stamped her foot. ‘You have tricked the woman who saved you. If you were not already cursed, I would bring such an oath down upon you.’ She spat at him and stormed toward the waves. ‘Cassiope won’t forget, Nicholas of the Færan.’
‘I owe you for my life, Cassiope, and I will honour the debt,’ he thought-shouted after her. ‘But I will not enter your world.’
He watched her swim away, a splash of furious phosphorescence.
Make love to her? Never.
He buttoned his shirt and dragged the tails into his breeches, goosebumps lifting in the after-chill the Ceasg left behind.
I am cursed.
And by whom?
Guest post created by Prue Batten, author of The Shifu Cloth
© 2013. All rights reserved.
by Prue Batten
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READ more about this world...
by Prue Batten
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In a world where Others play with mortal lives, in a hidden province that survives on the backs of abducted slaves, Isabella, one of those stolen folk, sends a message woven into rare cloth made of paper and silk, in the vain hope that her cousin will find it, decipher it and rescue her.
For cousin Nicholas, with whose life the Fates have been playing, only time will tell if he can find her and whether what makes a curse does indeed break a curse.
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