Sea of Twisted Souls – Chapter 3

Sea of Twisted Souls – Chapter 3

He’d spent years preparing for this moment. Even as the storm shrouded his small kingdom in shadow, the watch fires flickered to life. Every night for sixteen years, his citizens lit the beacons at the docks on either side of the island. He’d almost forgotten their true purpose.

The words Damian spoke in parting may have been amiable, but that hadn’t stopped Sentomoru seeking peace offerings. He often wondered what would have happened had Damian stayed. Could they have taught their children peace when they couldn’t keep their claws from each other’s throats? Not that he was glad Damian left; shame had feasted on insides since the man’s departure.

Guilt drove his efforts over the years. He hoped to embrace Damian as a brother upon his return. He didn’t want the man to feel forgotten or superfluous. As he shifted his weight from foot to foot, Sentomoru was keenly aware he’d never found a satisfactory solution.

They’d kept his room, of course. Everything was just as he left it, aside from a regular rotation of clean sheets and disposal of the gathering dust. Proof he’d always had a place among their family. But it was a poor olive branch to extend.

Sentomoru had expanded Damian’s study beyond a reclaimed cubby in an unused corner of their quarters. A sturdy pine desk took up one wall, accompanied by a comfortable chair which had never been used. In addition to the books and scrolls Damian had squirreled away, Sentomoru filled the study’s bookshelves with rare volumes acquired throughout their travels. Every time they went to market, every time a trader visited, every time he contacted an old friend, he inquired after texts he thought Damian might enjoy. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t covet some of those acquisitions, but he stacked them unread on the shelves to present when Damian returned.

He’d seeded dozens of smaller gifts into the study throughout the years. An enchanted journal with an unlimited number of pages. Notes on spells he discovered that Damian might find interesting. Maps and a few small tokens. None of it felt like enough.

As the years drew on, it became increasingly obvious he could offer only one thing of real value. He was on his way across the damp beach now, wind whipping his unruly blond hair across his face, his brother jogging to keep pace. Exchanging a wordless glance with his wife, Sentomoru gently adjusted the path of the storm so it would take a course back out to sea, sparing them an extra day of storms, though it was too late to save the reunion. If it weren’t for Morulin’s rain barrier, they’d all be soaked by now.

Lyntaru bent double as he entered the range of her spell, dispelling his enchantment before they had a chance to conflict. Darien, equally out of breath, straightened his back and lifted his chin. Only long familiarity allowed Sentomoru to spot the anxiety in the press of his lips and the flexing of his fingers at his sides.

Darien ceased to be Damian’s son ten minutes after he was born. He had been an endearing child with his father’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge. His head had been buried in books since the moment he learned to read.

Watching him try not to squirm in anticipation of the imminent meeting, a deep sense of pride suffused Sentomoru. Darien had grown into a fine young man. He’d been well loved, his interests had been supported, and he was going to be wise one day. He is as much my son as Lyntaru. Just as Morulin was Damian’s daughter in the days before he left.

Perhaps when Damian saw their children standing side by side, walking the same path, finishing each other’s sentences, he would finally accept fellowship.

Sentomoru nodded to Darien as Lyntaru straightened. Darien relaxed, a hint of a smile gracing his lips. Breathless, the family stood in a ragged semi-circle as Damian approached the ramp. Sentomoru suspected he’d delayed his departure to grant them all privacy; the other guests had already sought shelter from the storm.

Catilen stepped forward, standing at the edge of Morulin’s invisible umbrella. An eager smile lit her face. At the top of the ramp, Damian paused to return it. Lifting a small bag, he made his way down the rain slick walkway, pausing at the base. Anticipation hung in the air a moment before Catilen broke into a run, erasing the distance between them. She threw her arms around Damian’s neck and he embraced her in return. Lifting her from the ground, he spun in a circle, heedless of the driving rain.

Sentomoru tried not to cringe when they kissed. His stomach twisted and he fought to keep his expression neutral. It had been a long time since he had to share his wife. Now he recalled why matters between he and Damian had been so turbulent.

The pair paused a moment when they parted, murmuring in each other’s ears. Then Catilen entwined her fingers in Damian’s and drew him toward the waiting onlookers. Damian glanced at them each in turn, recognition flashing in his eyes.

The silence stretched, quickly growing awkward. His wife shot him a sharp look and Sentomoru cleared his throat. “Welcome home, Damian. We have waited a long time.”

Green eyes flicked in Darien’s direction. The young man inhaled sharply, trying to maintain his composure. His back was ramrod straight. His brother laid a hand against his shoulder, trying to ease some of that tension, while his sister took hold of his hand.

“I can see that.” Damian sounded much as Sentomoru remembered. The sun of many worlds had darkened his skin and streaked his hair, but he hadn’t aged a day. There were smile lines beneath his eyes, though that familiar unruly lock still obscured one of them. He tossed his head, momentarily clearing his vision. “Look at you, all grown up.”

His eyes were on Morulin. She stood at the back of the group, partially obscured by her brothers. Sentomoru motioned her forward, but she hesitated. She was the spitting image of her mother. She moved with the same easy grace and her eyes bore the same tender care. The twins parted to give her space. She stood between them, but refused to go farther.

“It was bound to happen.” She didn’t smile.

“This is Lyntaru,” Sentomoru swept on, motioning to the dark-haired young man beside him.

“And, of course,” Catilen grinned as she indicated the light-haired young man, “this is Darien. Your son.”

“But of course he is.” Grinning broader than Sentomoru had ever seen, Damian extended a hand. With an explosive exhale, Darien grasped it.

“It’s an honor to finally meet you.”

“The honor is mine,” Damian insisted, shaking his head. “And I regret it has been so delayed.”

The silence returned. Darien’s hand remained in Damian’s. No one seemed to know what to do.

“Perhaps we should move inside,” Catilen suggested, laying one hand on Damian’s shoulder and the other on Darien’s. “The storm is bound to last a few hours and there’s a hot dinner waiting for us.”

“You’ll join us, won’t you?” Lyntaru added before Damian had a chance to doubt the invitation.

Darien released his father’s hand, his expression hopeful.

With a chuckle, Damian shrugged. “Sure.” He shifted from foot to foot, disturbing a small pile of sand. “I’ve spent a lot of time picturing this reunion, but I never expected it to go this well.”

“You have ever been welcome,” Sentomoru asserted so there could be no mistakes. “Time has changed many things, but never that.”

“Well then…” Damian exhaled heavily, much like his son moments before. “I suppose that settles that.”

Darien scurried to retrieve his father’s bag while Catilen tugged Damian toward the bathhouse. “Your timing couldn’t be better. There’s roast pig tonight. And I baked tarts for dessert.”

“I’ll be spoiled by the end of the week,” Damian laughed.

The wind shifted, offering momentary respite. The rain had slowed to a drizzle. The twins fell into step behind Damian and Catilen, who walked hand in hand up the beach. Swallowing against another twist of his stomach, Sentomoru brought up the rear.

* * * * * *

Though she dismissed the barrier, Morulin did not follow her family up the beach. Relief swelled beneath her breast to see her brother’s yearning fulfilled. But his joy didn’t reach her. She wished her father hadn’t diverted the storm; she would have reveled in the driving rain, sweeping winds and grey gloom beneath the clouds.

She understood Darien’s excitement. She knew the emptiness born of a missing parent. Though her father had always been there when she needed him, her memory retained a lost pocket of time during which Damian filled his position. She recalled her deep satisfaction when her curiosity was fulfilled, though it conflicted with memories of her father sharing her youth.

She understood her father’s reaction. She was old enough, now, to realize what happened in the wake of the merge. Two men had loved the same woman but hated each other. Their constant dissatisfaction hadn’t stemmed from her inability to please them but, rather, the denial of their greatest desire. She didn’t know how her father could accept a total stranger after rejecting a familiar foe, but an uncivil greeting served no purpose.

And, of course, Lyn supported his brother.

But her mother embracing the man who abandoned her… Unforgivable.

Sharp pain drew attention to her palms. She glanced at the curved indents made by her nails and shook her hands, trying to dispel her dark thoughts along with the pain.

The scrape of boots on wood startled her. She assumed all the guests were inside, fighting over seats in the great hall, and she doubted the crew would unload during the storm. She turned toward the dock.

A tall figure stepped onto the beach, features obscured by the watch fires at his back. She blinked as he moved forward into focus. He wore a long jacket, unusual in the tropical heat. It was made of leather, buttoned in the front and bore a high collar. A wide-brimmed hat sat atop his head. Buckskin pants and thick boots completed the ensemble.

The stranger paused three feet away, lifted his wide-brimmed hat and dipped his head at the same time. Morulin caught a glimpse of long, unkempt hair bound at the nape of his neck and a scraggly beard.

“Pardon me ma’am,” he spoke with a heavy accent she thought she should recognize.

“You’ve just missed the lord of the island, I’m afraid.”

“Not to worry.” The stranger returned the hat to his head. “I thought I mighta disturbed ya.”

Confused, Morulin noted her rigid stance. How severe she must look, clenching her fists while she stood with her feet apart, shoulders square and jaw set. Exhaling, she tried to relax.

“Not at all. And if you had, I’d owe you thanks. I should know better than to dwell.”

The stranger stuffed his hands in his pockets and glanced toward the bathhouse. Lights flickered to life as the staff lit the lanterns. “Can’t see what there is to brood ‘bout in a fine place like this.”

Morulin smiled faintly. It was a familiar admonishment. “I suppose when you live in paradise, you forget the measure of your luck.”

“Ah, now I don’t think luck wards ‘gainst sorrow, young Miss.”

Morulin cast him a sharp sideways glance, arching one midnight eyebrow. “Who said I was sad?”

Rocking back on his heels, the stranger laughed. He dipped his head and raised his hat again. “Your pardon, Miss,” she could hear the grin in his voice. “Ya caught me assumin’.”

It wasn’t the reaction she expected. Morulin pursed her lips. If only she could see the face beneath the hat and beard. “Since you’re new, I suppose I’ll forgive you. I’m Lady Morulin Taylor, by the way, Lord Sentomoru’s daughter. Have you got a name?”

“Quite a few actually. Not fond of most of ‘em.”

“If you don’t pick one, I’ll have to call you ‘traveler’ for the duration of your stay.”

The heavy-jacketed stranger shifted his weight again. “Always considered myself more of a pilgrim.”

“Well then, Pilgrim, is this your first trip to our fair island?”

“Not as such, but I don’t expect it’ll match my memory.”

Her eyebrows drifted skyward. She didn’t recognize him, though she might if she saw his face. She didn’t have an encyclopedic memory of all the guests who had visited during her lifetime, but she didn’t think she’d forget anyone this interesting. “It must have been a long while. Time does change things. That’s really the trouble with it.”

The Pilgrim answered with a low whistle. “I can’t tell if that’s wise or cynical comin’ from someone so young.”

“Neither,” Morulin replied with a weary smile. “It’s just the frustration talking.”

“Not interested in the reunion?”

“Eavesdropping, were you?”

“Is it eavesdropping when the scene takes place in public?”

Fair point. “I just didn’t want to dampen the festive mood.”

The Pilgrim tilted his head, granting her a first glimpse of his face. His skin was tan, his hair and beard burnished auburn in the firelight. His eyes were so dark she couldn’t distinguish their color in the gloom. The intensity of his gaze made her shiver. She got the impression he could see straight through her soul.

“I know it ain’t none of my business, Miss ‘Lyn, but might I ask what’s got ya in such a foul mood?”

She almost didn’t hear his question. A little thrill ran up her spine. She stared at him until he shifted his head again. From this angle, she thought his eyes were grey, almost black.

“Since you asked nicely… My family hasn’t seen Damian Cooke in a long time.” Though Mother had always maintained that her long lost husband was a man of his word. “I’m just not as happy to see him as everyone else.”

“Not a family friend you’re fond of?”

Morulin snorted. “He’s family. Or he was, once. He left a long time ago.”

“That means he ain’t family no more?”

“Even if he is, I’m not ready to forgive sixteen years of absence.”

Another low whistle. “Maybe he didn’t realize he’d been gone that long.”

Morulin lifted her chin and wrinkled her nose. “I don’t care. That doesn’t excuse breaking a promise.”

The Pilgrim blinked. “Must not have been very important if he forgot ‘bout it.”

“It was important to me!” Morulin’s blue eyes flashed in the twilight. White-hot fire burned in her chest. Lifting a hand, she swiped away the annoying moisture forming at the corners of her eyes. “What kind of beast makes a promise to a child if he doesn’t intend to keep it?”

The Pilgrim inhaled sharply and exhaled slowly. “I didn’t know it meant that much to ya.”

Morulin sucked a deep breath, urging the tension to ease from her muscles. “How could you?” She made a soft, apologetic sound. “This isn’t usually how we greet guests. Why don’t you get your things and I’ll show you to the bathhouse?”

Removing both hands from his pockets, the Pilgrim shrugged. “Got everything I need right here.”

“Then let’s get inside before the rain returns.” With a sweeping motion, Morulin started up the sandy beach. The Pilgrim fell into step beside her. He must have been hot beneath all the leather and buckskin, but he didn’t complain about the brisk pace.

“I hope you’ll forgive my clumsy tongue if I upset ya, Miss.”

She waved a hand in dismissal. “Maybe it’s better to have it out in the open. I’ve been angry a long time. I just hoped I’d never have to face it.”

“Ya ought to be careful. Anger like that can twist a person up inside. I wouldn’t wanna see a charmin’, bright young lady like you turn bitter.”

Morulin chuckled. “You sound like my mother.”

“Then your momma must be a mighty wise lady.”

“She is.” But that didn’t mean she was ready to forgive Damian. First, she needed to see what kind of man came back.

“Just remember; ain’t never been a grudge that did anybody good.”

“Yes, Mother,” Morulin teased, laughing as she led him through one of the side doors. The bathhouse didn’t have a reception desk, but there were several places on the first floor where guests could seek assistance. She took the Pilgrim to the nearest to get a room assignment.

“How long do you intend to stay?” she asked as one of the staff fetched a room key.

The Pilgrim shrugged. “As long as the fancy strikes me, I s’pose.”

Morulin grinned. It was a popular answer and usually indicated her favorite kind of guest. “Good. Next time we talk, I want to hear about the places you’ve been.”

Flicking his wide-brimmed hat back, the Pilgrim arched an auburn eyebrow. “What makes you think I been anywhere worth talkin’ ‘bout?”

She raked her eyes over his long jacket and funny hat before she smirked. “I know how to spot a man with stories to tell.” She inched toward the nearest staircase. “I’d better get back to the reunion.”

The lips above the shaggy beard formed a smile. “Then I’ll look forward to our next meetin’.”

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