Of the Sea (version 1)

No prompt. This is a first version of an idea I had been playing with at the time. The next version (the one I prefer) will be published next. Written 24 August 2020

She lived with her husband on an island ten miles from the mainland.

Perhaps “island” is too grand a word, for it held enough space for a house, a spacious garden, a copse of trees and no more. Her husband was a sea-loving man who made his living as a sailor in the trade season and a fisher the rest of the year. He had built the house on the island for her as a present on their wedding day. But she loathed the ocean. Its chopping waves and salty spray turned her stomach, and so he completed his gift with a border of trees so thick she could pretend she was still on the mainland.

As he worked in water, she worked in earth, selling the surplus of her garden, from vegetables and herbs to those with more magical uses. Much of it, though, she saved to feed her spells, which she bottled and hawked at market with the rest.

The strangeness of their home brought the Fair Folk, bargaining for her expertise and use of her husband’s ship. The couple declined as long as they could, trying to buy time enough to properly ensure their safety.

But a year in, his trade routes went bad, and his luck in fishing turned as nets tore, lines snapped, and the schools were driven away. If they suspected the Folk of anything, they kept quiet about it, and agreed to their demands.

Their bargaining with the Fey took her husband farther out to sea than ever before, leaving her alone with her spells for longer, at the mercy of those who would have her magic.

The couple knew the Rules, though. They ate and drank only what they had prepared themselves, and before every voyage she extracted a promise that no harm would come to her husband. Each time, she worded it carefully and clearly, and each time, she imagined the loopholes they might exploit as she sat at home.

These promises kept them both safe. Until, of course, they didn’t.

It was early on a summer morning, and she was working in their garden by the first light of dawn. Her husband had just dressed and readied for the day. He was set to start another voyage that evening.

She knew something was amiss when he didn’t meet her for breakfast. Her next clue was that, for the first time in years, their island was not occupied by a single Fey. When she went to the deck and found it empty, she raced back up the path and into her home, ransacking it in her efforts to find all she needed.

The thing she had feared for so long finally came. They had taken him. She didn’t know why they wanted him, but so close to Midsummer she knew he could be lost forever in no time at all.

Armed with a staff, a green cloak, and a bag full of spells, she willed her trees into an arch, into which she threw bottle after bottle, chanting all the while. She drew a silver blade across her arm, and threw that, too. It disappeared as it passed through the arch. She downed a potion that would keep her on her feet, and at last threw herself through the wobbling portal, still bleeding.

She found herself on a beach, mere steps away from an alabaster palace. It did not smell of brine, and the sand was alarmingly soft beneath her feet. The discovery unsettled her. For all her hate for these things, her husband loved them, and she found in their absence that perhaps she had grown to love them, too.

She gained her bearings and set off towards the palace, but the beach was far from empty.

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