For Alanna, I hope you like it!
The storm tossed and threw the ship about the sea.
Perhaps, Gehlen thought as his stomach threatened to come up through his mouth once more, all our troubles will be solved by this mirror being swallowed and taken to the depths.
The horrible weather had beset them three days ago and hadn’t stopped. Nor did it show signs of letting up, much to Gehlen’s dismay. He was regretting his spur-of-the-moment decision to stow away more every minute.
In the week aboard the ship, the wizard had learned it was called My Sweet Susanne, after the captain’s wife, and it was homebound for Blackmeer, a small province which was mostly desert, carrying a load of luxuries for Lord Hamington, the ruler of the land. Gehlen didn’t remember exactly how far it was to Blackmeer, but it couldn’t be close enough.
The ship shuddered once more, and then it fell still. Gehlen waited for the next heave, but it didn’t come. It was as if a giant hand had scooped the ship out of the raging sea and held it unmoving. A tingle in the wizard’s fingertips told him there was something unnatural about the calm. Shouts came from above-decks, as the superstitious sailors began to panic.
The wail of an unearthly music silenced the sailors, and Gehlen strained his ears to hear what was happening over the ethereal notes. He shrank back from the beam of light that pierced the dimness when the hold was thrown open and ungraceful steps thudded down. They made straight for Gehlen’s hiding place behind the barrels, and the wizard had no time to move before the craggy face of the first mate appeared over the barrels.
The mate’s eyes roved the shadows, and Gehlen was reassured that his cloak of invisibility was in full force.
“Mr. Gehlen?” the first mate asked in a voice like waves breaking on the shore. “Mr. Gehlen, I know you’re there. Show yourself.”
Gehlen waited, pressed against the wooden slats, holding his breath, trying to figure out how the mate could know he was there.
“Mr. Gehlen, there’s someone out there who wants to talk to you. I think you’d better come out.”
The first mate turned and started for the ladder. Gehlen waited until he had disappeared, then the wizard followed, but kept his invisibility about him. He blinked in the light his eyes were not used to. The sailors were gathered at the stern in a tight group. The captain, a tall, dark haired man with a ponytail and tattooed arms, stood at the fore, peering over the side. The deck was steady under Gehlen’s feet as he walked over.
After a moment’s thought, the wizard waited before brushing away the glamour of invisibility – the sailors were scared enough as it was without a strange man appearing out of thin air. A voice of the music of rushing water floated up and greeted him before he could be seen.
“Gehlen, I have a message from the queen.”
The sailors turned just in time to see Gehlen appear out of thin air, and their faces went even whiter. He sighed, put his chin up, and stepped forward, leaning on the gunwales. Hovering on a fountain of silvery water, a glorious creature with a sapphire blue fish-tail and long tresses to match watched Gehlen with piercing green eyes. She was as beautiful as any of her sisters, but Gehlen couldn’t tell her apart from them. He nodded with great respect.
“My lady,” he greeted her. “How did you know I was here?”
“The sea tells us many things,” the mermaid inclined her head. “But we do not have much time. My queen wishes me to tell you that in the end, all your efforts will come to naught.”
Gehlen’s fingers tightened on the wooden beam, but when he spoke, his voice was even. “How can she know that?”
“You do not possess the only mirror that makes clear the past, present, and future,” the fae creature told him. “She did not see all, but she did see that you will fail. The Order will reign supreme before winter turns.”
“Then there is no hope,” Gehlen said.
The mermaid shook her head. “There is always hope. The darkness of the Order will birth a light, many years from now. This light will be the end of the Order. We must prepare for that time.”
“What is this light?” Gehlen demanded, his voice urgent. “Why can we not kindle it now?”
“It is not a what, but a who,” the mermaid told him. “A girl with hair the color of flame will come for the mirror.”
Gehlen nodded. Prophesy was a rare skill, but the queen of the merfolk would have a strong Sight, strong enough to pierce the shrouds veiling the future from common knowledge. It would do no good to argue with her.
“What should I do?” he asked.
“You must hide the mirror, as you planned. In the land of Half-men, there is a man at a tavern called the Magic Mug. He will help you. Give him this.”
She held out a pearly shell on a thin golden chain. It was warm in Gehlen’s palm. He put it in the same pocket that held the miniature mirror, then glanced at the captain of the ship, who stood watching the exchange with uneasy eyes.
“And what of these men?” Gehlen said. “The land you speak of – the land of the Half-men – is a week west. It will double the time to Blackmeer.”
“We will help you, the wind and the waves will carry you swift and true,” the mermaid said, and glanced at the captain and his sailors with a sly smile. “I am sure they will not mind aiding you in this.”
The captain gave a begrudging shake of his head. Though his eyes were stormy, he would not cross the powerful denizens of the deep with the power to control the elements that most affected his life. Gehlen nodded his thanks to the man.
“Do not despair, Gehlen,” the mermaid told him as she sank back into the water. “Though the sky grows dark and the storm looms and thunder crashes, on the other side of the horizon waits a glorious dawn.”
Gehlen lifted his hand in farewell, her words reverberating in his ears. He doubted he would live to see this light she spoke of, but he would do all he could to make sure the mirror would be waiting for the girl with hair the color of flame.