Lorelei wasn’t sure what to expect. She’d heard the finfolk call when they were swimming, and it had stopped her cold. After two weeks, the finfolk had finally seen fit to send her mentor. Finally, she’d have someone to answer the million questions she couldn’t handle rolling around her mind any longer.
She hoped Vardon wasn’t pissed. They’d been having fun. Yeah, it was different than it had been, but it had been fun. It had been a release, and she needed it. Would he be mad that she’d abandoned their time together the moment the finfolk called? She had to. She had to learn all that she could if she was going to make sense of how to move forward.
Being not-Lorelei didn’t work for her. She had to reach an understanding of these new powers, and who she was now that she could wield them.
Since the first call, she’d heard nothing. Was the mentor coming?
Almost as soon as she thought it, the response entered her mind, unbidden.
I am here. Wait for me.
And that was it. So Lorelei did as she was commanded. The voice in her mind felt like a woman, and Lorelei hoped it was so—she didn’t want much to do with finfolk males at this point. Not after finding out two weeks ago that one of them had been trying to turn her into his child bride. She waited, treading water, naked as a jaybird. Skinny-dipping had never been so unanticipated.
Not two minutes later, an unknown head popped through the waves. “Child bride?” were the first words this new contact spoke. Definitely a woman—and relief flooded through Lorelei.
“Uh…you heard that?”
“I don’t miss much.” And she smiled. “I am Shona. King Cleophus tells me I am the perfect choice as your mentor.”
“I’m Lorelei…but you know that.” Lorelei returned what seemed to be a friendly smile. “I’m glad you’re a chick. I can’t handle the guys right now.”
“Yeah, I heard you think that, too.”
“You don’t talk like them.”
Shona tipped her head to one side, bright blue eyes sparkling, reflecting the early morning sun on the waves. “No. I don’t.”
Well, that was mysterious.
They looked at each other for a moment.
“I’m having a bit of a personal issue.”
“Swimming with a seal, perhaps?”
“It wasn’t the swim. It was the shifting. I lost my clothes.”
“You weren’t supposed to experiment until you’d been assigned a mentor.”
“I couldn’t help it. I don’t have anything to do now that I’m ostracized from school and my friends because I’m a total weirdo.”
Shona’s laugh surprised her—it was loud; the type of laugh you could easily hear across a crowded room. Lorelei liked it.
“Look…is there somewhere we can go to talk? There are others here, and I would have a private word with you.”
“Clay?” The one word was enough to drive slivers of ice through Lorelei’s nerves.
“Yes. The prince has not left these shores since your birthday.”
Lorelei frowned at the word prince. The idea that the one who had stalked her had standing among the finfolk drove her crazy. What kind of people could they possibly be if this was a prince among them?
“You misunderstand. He isn’t all bad.”
“Okay, quit with the mind thingy. I’ll speak my questions, thank you.”
“Miss Spitfire, I can’t help but notice when you think so loud.”
“Can he hear everything I think, too?”
“Yes. It is part of what drew him to you.” Shona shrugged. “We will talk about all of this.”
“We can go to my house. It’s close.”
Lorelei could have sworn Shona looked frightened for a moment when she said that, but the finfolk mentor quickly shielded her expression.
“First…my clothes?” Lorelei squeaked.
Instantly, she wore the bright whites King Cleophus had also chosen. “Er….something, anything else?”
Shona read her mind again, and the color shifted to a soft blue, matching the waves that buffeted them as they moved toward shore.
She and Shona were about the same height, about the same coloring. The finfolk smiled as Lorelei digested her looks, and Lorelei knew she’d read her mind…again.
Impossible to keep private thoughts from the finfolk. Mental note.
Shona smiled bigger, and Lorelei rolled her eyes and led the way up the beach, her clothes drying instantly. Shona was full of tricks. Lorelei followed the trail to her back door, the finwoman behind her.
Was this a smart idea? What if Shona meant her harm?
Lorelei hushed her runaway thoughts with an exasperated sigh. She didn’t have any option but to trust that the mentor King Cleophus had sent was here to teach, and not to cause trouble.
The house was empty. Dad would be at work. Lorelei suddenly missed Grandma Shaye, who had stayed with them before her birthday, when the selkie revelation came out. Grandma and Grandpa Shaye were full-blooded selkie. It had taken a threat against her grandmother’s life for Lorelei to accept she was finfolk.
While the initial acceptance was forced—Clay would have hurt Grandma Shaye, possibly killed her, if Lorelei hadn’t complied—Lorelei now wondered if any other decision had been possible. No matter what, she would have had some level of finfolk powers, just like her father. Learning to reconcile these three parts of herself, the selkie, finfolk and human, would have to happen at some time.
If, like her father, she hadn’t accepted her powers fully on her seventeenth birthday, she still would have had to learn how to handle the powers she did possess, which were considerable. Even her father could shift shapes, could exercise control of susceptible minds. She would have needed to come to grips with similar powers eventually.
And a secret part of Lorelei was excited to have the potential to join their kind in Finfolkaheem.
Her father could never go there. Everything he’d learned had been on his own terms, and he was not fit to live among the finfolk. She’d understood this since the night she accepted her powers and was instantly stronger than her father in them.
“Are you listening to my thoughts?” Lorelei asked, realizing she’d been thinking a lot.
“I think that’s my job. I’m supposed to help your transition, right?”
Lorelei rolled her eyes, but she grabbed the key from under the pseudo-rock hiding place, and opened the back door, letting Shona into her kitchen, and into her life.
“What is your first question?” Shona asked. Her hands were wrapped around the cup of tea Lorelei had brewed.
Lorelei hadn’t realized this first exchange would depend on her…and a million questions burst randomly into her mind. Too many questions. The first?
“Why doesn’t my dad have the same powers I do?”
“You already know the answer. He had no ceremony. The finfolk didn’t find him in time. Our tribe is ruled by men. They are far less likely to track down a male halfling. He is more a threat than a blessing.”
Lorelei absorbed that. It left a sour taste in her mouth. Why would they think her a blessing, just because she was a girl? She wasn’t sure she wanted the answer to that one. “Why does the ceremony matter so much? If it’s in the blood, then what is the difference if you have a ceremony or not?”
“There is a difference with some of our gifts, and not with the others. For instance, anyone with finfolk blood will have artistic gifts not often rivaled by humans. And even without a ceremony, those who try to develop their gifts in shape changing and illusion will have some success.”
“Yes, I’ve seen that with Dad.”
“Have you noticed a power your father does not share?”
Lorelei nodded. “The telepathy. He doesn’t hear any of you. And may I guess that you do not hear his thoughts, either?”
Shona grinned, her eyes glimmering. “Correct! The ceremony opened you to our telepathic link. Your father’s mind was never opened to it, and so he cannot participate.”
Yeah. Participate. That was one way to put it.
“So the ceremony opened my mind…do you all hear each other all the time?”
She chuckled with genuine amusement. “No. Any finfolk with a lick of practice will close off most of their thoughts to this intrusion. We only share what we wish to share, besides a general sense of each other’s presence when we are close by.”
“I’ll learn that, then? Because I could really use that. The fact that Clay is always out there listening to my thoughts does not help my peace of mind.”
“Yes, I will help you to learn.” Shona set the warm mug on the table, entwining her long fingers in front of her in a gesture Lorelei found oddly familiar and reassuring. “There is a reason that King Cleophus chose me to teach you.”
“What is that? Besides that you’re a woman and the men of your kind are entirely untrustworthy?”
She had to get in that jab. It felt good.
“I, too, was raised among humans. I made the choice to move from sand to sea, to join the finfolk.”
Lorelei stilled. She hadn’t expected that. “Where did you grow up?”
“California. I was raised near San Francisco.”
Weird. Lorelei found herself watching Shona more closely. She’d appeared at first entirely otherworldly, and that just showed what expectations did to your vision. Now Lorelei thought maybe she could see it. A similarity with her own position. A humanity the others hadn’t borne.
“Did you know what you were when you were a kid?”
“Not exactly. My father knew my mother was different, but it took him a long time to figure out what kind of a woman he’d been dealing with. She left when I was small, an infant, in fact.”
“That was the same for Dad. My mom was selkie; she at least stuck around until I was six.” A harsh joke that rang loud in the quiet of the kitchen as Shona said nothing, just watched her with large eyes blue as the sea on a clear day.
Why did Lorelei want to cry?
The door opened in the other room, and a shot of adrenaline burst into Lorelei’s veins. “Dad?”
“Yeah. Hey, I came back for my—” he broke off as he walked into the kitchen and caught sight of the guest seated at the breakfast table with his daughter.
He seemed to realize he was staring, and Lorelei knew he understood this person was another finfolk, and yet Lorelei had let her into the house…she caught all of that flash across his expression before he said, “Hello. I’m Peter Dorian. Lorelei’s father.” He spoke the words like a challenge.
“Hello, Peter. I am Shona. I was sent to teach Lorelei what she needs to know.”
A snarl twisted Dad’s expression into a look Lorelei had never seen on his face before. “They sent you to teach her? How about release her from the promise she made under duress?”
“Dad,” Lorelei said softly.
He looked away. “Well, can I join you, at least?”
Shona waved him over and he took a seat with them at the breakfast table. “Today, yes. You may join us. You need to hear what I have to tell Lorelei as much as she does. It affects you, too.”
He clenched his jaw. Dad had gotten seriously less good at keeping his cool over the last couple of weeks. Lorelei hurt for him. This was hard on her, but for her dad, who had always tried to protect her…the last two weeks had been miserable. She knew he felt he’d failed her, though he’d had no way to know what Prince Clay of the finfolk had planned.
“Shona was born among humans, too. It’s why they sent her,” Lorelei said, to break the silence that seemed to be hardening into ice between her father and Shona.
“It is one reason,” Shona confirmed. “I will tell you the other before wasting any more time, because I fear if I take any longer at least one of you will hate me forever.”
No one smiled at her attempted joke.
“What is it?” Lorelei asked, her voice sounding far off. She couldn’t take any more surprises.
But isn’t that the way life goes?
“My mother…” Shona locked eyes with Dad. “My mother…is your mother, Peter.”
Lorelei’s blood roared in her ears like ocean waves in a winter storm…your mother, your mother, your mother…
“You’re my aunt?” For the second time in a few minutes, Lorelei’s image of this woman seemed to refocus. This was her father’s sister. Her aunt. She thought she could see it now in the cheekbones, and the shape of her eyes, but that was probably just her mind playing tricks, trying to tie it all together.
Dad said nothing for several seconds, and Lorelei realized she’d been holding her breath.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“May I tell you what I know?” Shona asked.
He locked his fingers together in front of him in a classic Dad impatience gesture. And Lorelei realized why she’d found the same gesture familiar when Shona had done it a few minutes ago.
Holy shinoly. It was true.
“Yes,” Dad said finally. “I want to hear what you have to say. But it can’t possibly be…” He trailed off, and Lorelei didn’t remind him of what he already knew. He’d never known his mother. Anything was possible.
“I was born near San Francisco in 1980. My father has pictures of my mother, very pregnant with me. They had not planned a child, but when one occurred they settled in with one another and my father thought they planned to raise me together.”
Dad just watched her, and Lorelei couldn’t tear her eyes away. She flashed to the painting in the living room, painted by the same woman—maybe?—that Shona spoke of now. The shining golden castle of Finfolkaheem. The mermaids, with their flowing hair mixing with the seaweed.
“But when I came, she left.” A wry smile. A look that expressed what they all felt when they thought of their mothers. Left. Abandoned. Cast off for the wide blue open.
Her own mother was no different. Lorelei knew now that her mom lived with another selkie, in a half-land, half-water lifestyle that she didn’t choose to share with her only daughter.
Lorelei swallowed. She reached for Dad’s hand, and he gave it over, watching their fingers interlock. He seemed to draw strength from that. As he should. They were family. And no matter what, she’d never forget that Dad had stuck around for her. He’d made every sacrifice to make sure she had the life she deserved.
“How do you know she’s the same finfolk?”
“Because I met her, after I joined them.”
Dad made a strange noise. A strangled growl? “You met her?” He said it like he’d never really believed she existed.
Lorelei squeezed his hand.
“Yes. And she spoke of me as her second child. The second of three, in fact. I believe our younger sibling is about twenty now. I have no idea where she lives.” At this, Shona met Dad’s eyes and grimaced. “I know this is not welcome news for you…but I’m glad we have been given the opportunity to meet.”
Dad remained silent.
“Me, too,” Lorelei said. “I’m glad I know.”
Who could tell?
Shona smiled at her, a slow sad smile that put a crack in Lorelei’s facade of calm.
Suddenly, she wished Dad wasn’t here, and she could talk to Shona on her own. This admission had brought up more questions. Issues she didn’t feel comfortable discussing with her dad in listening range.
Dad sat straighter. “There’s nothing that I can do to avoid you spending time with Lorelei. But I’m not one of you, and you are no sister of mine. Stay clear of me, do you understand?”
Shona blinked, just once, and then nodded her agreement. “I am here for Lorelei, as you say.”
Lorelei swallowed to clear her throat. Well, this had not gone swimmingly. Not at all.
Find the Water Rites series at your favorite retailer.
Castle and Crown (**Coming winter 2017**)