My little she-goat often feasts on the berries that grow along the old stone fence at the edge of our pasture. I wander south toward the village, but don’t spy her anywhere. My father mended the gate to the commons, so she can’t have gone that way.
Turning north again, I begin the long trek up to Am Bàrr. From the summit I’ll be able to survey the rest of our farm, but it’s the view of the ocean that always tugs at my eyes.
To the east—just a few leagues distant—lie other islands. Silver specks rush across the ground and through the air. Niall once told me they were metal craft piloted by Outsiders—strangers who enter the change before they’re born, and who spend their entire lives as one gender.
The Daoine-Sìth love peace, but Outsiders kill without mercy any who leave our island. Their weapons target even small fishing boats that stray from our shores. How have we ever harmed them that they hate us so?
To the west a distant gray shape fades in and out of the mists. Long ago, a faraway land called Aimeireaga sent a floating island. To protect us, they said. Our elders thanked them, but insisted that God alone would our defender be. Still, they haunt our shores.
Along the coastline boulders tumble into the sea. Halfway up to Am Bàrr I find Anna, perched on an outcrop between the trail and the cliffs. She doesn’t come when I call, but I won’t follow her out on the tilted rock. Only a ruadhan would be so bold. Or so foolish.
A glance at the sun tells me I can afford to be patient. So I sit and wait for my stubborn pet to tire of her game.
Thoughts of Anna flee my mind when I gaze back down the coast toward Cladach Beag. Something looking very much like a dead body floats in the shallows.
Before me—and a hundred feet below—lies the ocean, its waves pounding the rocky shore. “Jump,” whispers l’appel du vide. “Be at rest.” The void tugs at the emptiness in my soul. I lean into the wind and shiver at the darkness seeping from my heart. Rain falls in earnest now. Drops stream down my face. I brush the hair away from my eyes.
“Brit!” I scream her name into the approaching storm. As much as I love Courtenay and want to help the girl, it’s my bestie that I miss. How could I have gotten so far away from her?
“Maman?” The small voice behind me doesn’t belong to my bestie. Or to anyone else I know. I turn in slow motion as my heart pounds frantic in my temples. A timid young girl with bright pink eyes and crazy white hair stands just out of reach. A moment passes before I realize how tiny she is. And how frightened. Yeah. Like me as a toddler facing an angry Kyrill.
Several yards behind the little one stand two young women and two girls. The tallest—a redhead—eyes me with love and a touch of uncertainty. The other one. Yeah. The blonde. She could be me. The petite me. Except that she’s nursing a baby. And digging it. The woman’s braid hangs down past her waist. Her smile beams reassurance.
“Ruadh Maman?” The white-haired girl in front of me holds out a shaking hand. Terror fills her eyes. “I sorry,” she says. “I taked. I give back you.”
Am I that scary to her? The girl’s leg twitches. Her eyes plead with me to please not hurt her. Not kill her family. Why me? I’m no threat. I sit on the ground in front of the kid, hoping to calm her fears. “It’s okay,” I say. After a moment, I hold out my hand.
Into my palm, she drops a glowing heart on a chain. The tension around her eyes melts. The girl turns and runs back to the blonde. “Okay now, Maman? I give back.”
The blonde says something comforting to the child. The little one scrambles up her mother’s side and digs beneath her blouse. The woman smiles at me as the others start back down the cobblestone trail. Her free hand rises. A fingertip brushes against something at her throat. Yeah. Without any doubt, the heart her mother gave her. She nods and walks away.
I watch till the group passes out of sight. Till the rain stops. And the sea mist disappears. Till there’s a roof of glass and steel above me again. I glance back toward the ocean. Though l’appel du vide still beckons, an ancient stone wall marks the end of the cobblestone pathway and of my watercolor landscape. A sigh lifts my shoulders. I’m living in a fantasy world.
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