Short Story: At the Beach

*This short story is set in the world of The Twelve Kingdoms and was originally published as a blogpost. May contain spoilers if you haven't read The Mark of the Tala*


I stood in my rooms, my mother’s old rooms, looking out over the Annfwn sea. I cupped a mosaicked mug of tea in my hands, the fragrance of gentle herbs wafting up like Glorianna’s sun rising over the cliff at my back. Gradually she illuminated the tranquil waters, bringing color to the grays, deep blues with glimmers of turquoise. On the horizon, Moranu’s full moon set, a pink pearl sinking with the grace of a retiring queen. It looked to be a beautiful day ahead.

But then, every day in Annfwn was. Partly because I made sure of it.

The Heart answered my thought, thrumming with magical connection—an extension of my own heart and mind. It lay out there somewhere, under those shimmering waters. I could never be quite sure where. Shapeshifting into a fish and swimming to it in the abyssal sea did not give my human brain much of a sense of direction. So many aspects to learning to master holding the reins to the Heart, and through it, all the magic of Annfwn.

“Good morning, Andromeda.” Rayfe ran a hand down my arm, assessing my mood and wakefulness. I smiled at my fierce husband, who remained ever wary of my morning temper. “You’re up early.”

“You were up earlier.”

He grimaced, shaking back his long, black hair. “Not by my choice. I thought I’d spare you dealing with the Council’s latest debate. The good news is we have some free time this morning and it occurs to me that I made you a promise I’ve never fulfilled.”

I raised a brow at him. “You? The King of the Tala who never fails to follow through on the least of his vows?”

A grin broke through his stern features, like the sun lightening the Onyx Ocean, his eyes blue as the deep waters. “Never let it be said.”

“All right then. Remind me of this promise, as I’ve clearly forgotten.”

“Let’s go down to the beach and walk on the sand. And I’ll show you how to make light.”

Oh! The blue light he’d made, back in the chapel outside Windroven. It seemed so long ago, that siege, and a time when he’d been my enemy. I’ll teach you this and much more, my Andromeda. He charmed me so, remembering these small things.

“I would love that.”

* * *

The sands of Annfwn are pearlescent white. Even in the shadow cast by the high cliff of the city, the beach gleamed. Soon Glorianna’s sun would tip over the sharp edge—the sky tropical blue beyond it, as was the sea in the other direction—and Annfwn would spring into busy life. But for the moment, all remained in sleepy quiet.

“Why now?” I asked him.

“This is a good time to access new magic,” he said, taking my hand and walking me to the edge of the sea, where the gentle waves lapped. “Making light isn’t so much creating it as bringing it through a doorway. The first time you try, it’s easiest to do it at transition points. Between land and sea. Between night and day.”

“Makes sense.” Most of the Tala looked to Moranu, goddess of the shadows and shapeshifting magic. But Glorianna was the bringer of light. “From darkness to light.”

“Exactly, my queen.” He kissed my temple, inhaling my scent in that wolfish way that persisted even in human form. “And from me to you. Feel the magic in the air, balanced between the sun and moon, day and night, male and female, solid and water.”

I could feel it. More and more every day, the verve of magic all around me infiltrated my blood, humming in my mind and body. The mark, which seemed like small birds fluttering through my veins and arteries, surged at my call.

“That’s it,” Rayfe murmured against my skin. “Reach through the shadows, and bring light through.”

It was an easy reach. Far simpler than controlling the magical barrier that protected Annfwn, and requiring far less power and concentration. I found the thread of light. Tugged.

Fire exploded around us, day blazing through hot as Danu’s noon on the beach.

Rayfe laughed, a deep and delighted sound. No discreet ball of blue light as he’d made that pivotal night. No, I’d illuminated the beach for leagues up and down, the white cliff reflecting it back as sounds of surprise rose from all the dwellings.

“That will wake them up,” Rayfe remarked, midnight eyes sparkling with pride.

“Thrice curse it,” I growled.

“You’re simply too powerful, my sorceress queen. Control will come.”

“How do I put it out again?”

“Send it back again. Through the edge.”

Water, warm and gentle, lapped at my bare toes and the last sliver of Moranu’s moon sank into the water. I sent the light with her, just as Glorianna’s sun tipped over the cliff, replacing my magical light with her softer, rosy one. I sighed in relief, though my blood still crawled with magic.

“Well done,” Rayfe said, winding a lock of my hair around his finger.

“Another promise dispensed with,” I teased him. “Though now I need to do something with all this restless energy. Maybe I should practice with the barrier some.”

“I have a better idea.” His eyes glinted with mischief. And wolfish desire.

“And what would that be?” Though I knew, my blood leaping to match his.

“Let’s go back to bed.”