Stone braziers lit the open-air market. It was crowded, despite the hour. Cobblestone roads cut between the canvas stalls and animal pens where pigs, chickens, and sheep were held. Emile struggled with the keg of ale. The oak barrel weighed more than a yoke. She smiled as she waddled from the cart to Ninkasi’s table. None of the other caravan members set up shop on the first night in Laon, and Ninkasi traveled alone. Only Emile showed up to help her.
Ninkasi had been kind, if quiet, ever since Emile had bought a drink from her on her first night with the caravan. Long brunette hair shined against her tan skin. She took the keg and lifted it with one hand onto the wooden table. That strength was a surer sign of her elven heritage than her pointed ears.
There were clay jugs of wine and liquor situated between the kegs. Ninkasi ran her finger along the edge of a pitcher. “Thank you for the help. I’m always anxious to get set up as soon as possible.”
“It’s nothing.” Emile’s mind had wandered back to her nightmare. She had hoped that the market would distract her, but the charm of the place was already running out.
People were lining up at Ninkasi’s table, holding their own cups. She kept her eyes on Emile as she served them. “You can tell me what’s wrong.”
Emile folded her arms. “Do you know much about magic?”
“I know a little,” said Ninkasi.
“I think someone attacked me while I was projecting.”
“The witch that’s been hunting you?” she asked.
Emile nodded. “I used to see faeries all the time, even while I was awake. One of them tried to protect me. She killed it. I haven’t been able to see them since.” Her voice was shaking.
Ninkasi waved to the last customer in line as he raised his glass and walked off. Her eyes flashed in the brazier’s light. “What makes you think faeries can die?”
“I saw it,” said Emile. “Its light went out after she stabbed it.”
“Faeries can’t die so easily. They might fade for a while, but they’ll come back.” She put her hands on Emile’s shoulders. “Do you trust me?”
It was almost too good to be true. Emile smiled and nodded. A tear formed in her eye.
“Go rent a canoe at the shop closest to us. When the market clears out, I’ll come down and see you. We’ll find your friend, together.”
Cold mist whipped off the water, stinging Emile’s face as she rowed into the sea. Laon’s port sprawled out behind them. Hundreds of ships from all over the world were docked here. Their masts were a forest. Emile and Ninkasi were a half mile from land when Ninkasi motioned for her to stop.
“Why are we here?” asked Emile.
Ninkasi took a deep breath and stretched her arms. “Can you feel it?”
Emile looked around. The dark sea was beautiful under a sky full of stars. Only Laon’s lighthouses and firelights were visible along the coast. She mirrored Ninkasi and took a deep breath. It was so quiet. There was an emptiness out here. She closed her eyes and felt herself expand into the nothingness. “It feels, hollow, but full?”
“The word I like is ‘thin.’ Most people can’t feel it, but you’re more attuned to the spirit world. The sea isn’t special by itself, but the world is thinner when you’re in the darkness and far from banal people.”
Emile looked into the water. “What do I do?”
“Let’s invite your friend and see if he wants to show up.” Ninkasi was even more graceful than she was strong. She stood without rocking the boat in the slightest and poured two glasses of wine. Emile took hers and followed along. They sipped, then poured the wine into the sea.
I’m sorry, thought Emile. Seconds stretched on like eternities. I really am.
A pale green light appeared beside the boat. Emile’s throat caught. “Hey,” she whispered, reaching out to feel its gentle energy on her fingers. Its emotions entered her mind. Thank you for finding me.
“Why is he thanking me?”
“Faeries that lose their form can’t become whole again without help. Someone has to bring them back. You’re a natural sorceress. You believed we could find him, so we did.” Ninkasi grinned. “I’m sorry if I misled you.”
Emile turned to her and hugged her so suddenly the boat almost tipped. “Thank you so much.”