Chapter Two (working title: THE TSARITSA’S GIFT)

Chapter Two (to read all available chapters in order, go here.)


Cyril Halvorsson stood at the edge of the Sea of Sirens, staring out at the rock hummock known as the Siren’s Footstool. He picked up a stone, smooth and cool, and turned it over in his palm. It had been a year since his father’s death, in these very waters. A year of blaming himself, a year of regrets. He clutched the stone tightly.

“Run, Cyril! Run for Father Mikhail and Padraig the blacksmith!”

These were the last words his father had spoken to him. The abbey bells had been marking the hour of nine. Cyril had run. But then he’d stopped, ducked behind a gorse bush, and turned to watch. By now, the marauders had made it ashore, a carcass in their stern, its silver scales stained with blood. Cyril felt ill. Was his father being brave or foolhardy? Cyril reached for his dagger. He should help. Should he help? Or should he run? Paralyzed with fear and indecision, he had done neither.

His father had spoken softly, warning the intruders they had broken the Tsar’s Peace. The attackers, siren hunters, had not spoken softly. The argument had grown violent and they had dragged Cyril’s father into the sea and drowned him, abandoning his body as they fled in their agile craft. The bells had chimed ten before Cyril had risen from where he had hidden. He walked into the sea, swam out, and recovered his father’s lifeless body.

That grim day had marked a new course for Cyril’s studies. Before he had pursued ecclesiastical law; after, he shifted his focus to the laws pertaining to magia, its lawful use and its unlawful gathering. Someday he would find those who had murdered his father, and he would see them punished according to the laws codified under the Tsar’s Peace.

Turning the stone in his palm again, once, twice, Cyril threw it into the sea, watching as it cut an arc across the azure sky before vanishing in the waves.

Since his father’s death, Cyril had ventured into the waters of the Sea of Sirens only once, for the race on the chill feast day of Holy Ekaterina. Despite the weather, he had won the swimming contest, as he did always, presenting the prize of a hazelnut torte to Katrin, as was his custom. She had not thanked him. Had not attended the festivities at all. Did she think it was an offense, to compete here, where their father had perished? He had not asked. The siblings no longer spoke.

After that however, he had swum only to the north of the island, in the Leviathan Sea. The water churned more violently to the north, and Cyril had gained strength in the months since. His shoulders had broadened, his chest grown barrel-like. In the sea, it did not matter that one of his legs was shorter than the other, one of his feet smaller. In the sea, none could surpass him.

Cyril had been born a perfect fish, according to his mother. “My little golden fish,” she would call him. He remembered less and less of her each year, but her kiss as she called him her perfect little fish—to this memory he held fast. There had been no tale young Cyril demanded more often than that of the Golden Fish who granted wishes to the poor but worthy.

For a time, Cyril had mistakenly believed his mother meant that he would one day transform into an actual Golden Fish, and he earnestly looked forward to the day when he might grant wishes to the poor but worthy. When he’d told this to his sister Katrin, she had laughed and said that the point of the tale was to be the poor but worthy person rather than the greedy and unworthy person. Cyril had shrugged. He didn’t want to be either person. He wanted to be the one giving wishes away.

A seabird squawked at him, bringing him back to the present. To this fateful place. The sea. The hummock. No, he would not swim here today. He turned from the sea and began the walk back to the abbey. He had to get off the island, away from the memories that haunted him as surely as fey haunted the deeps.

Once, it had been his chief desire to teach here like his father, but now, he was counting the days till he could leave Talisfarne behind. He would start afresh. He had a plan in place, and it was progressing well.

Dukes and lords and wealthy merchants needed someone among their household staff who specialized in Magia Law. Here at school, Cyril had the opportunity to befriend the sons of lords and wealthy merchants whose fathers would require someone like him. Cyril had always excelled as a scholar; lately he had added the arts of rhetoric and diplomacy to his studies. Who knew but that he might someday labor for the tsar himself? The tsar’s city was assuredly where he could discover who had killed his father. All dealers in the forbidden magia trade were drawn irresistibly to the great city of Nyiv. But first he had to get off the island. And to do that, he needed a position in a great household.

And to do that, he reminded himself, marching back to the abbey, he must bolster friendships, make strategic alliances, and, yes, occasionally fawn at the feet of those whose fathers could afford to keep a law scholar amongst their retinue.

Thus far, Cyril had avoided parting from his cottage home and moving into the dormitories, but perhaps it was time to do this. Because he lived at a distance from the other scholars, there were japes and capers he was not a part of, and these sorts of things increased the bonds between school fellows. These very madcap adventures might be what would get his foot in the door with a lordling who could gain him a position.

Perhaps it was time to give up on Katrin, and the hope that she would forgive him. Forgive him? Holy Yosip and Maria! He would settle for her speaking to him once in a while. But perhaps he should move on. Soon enough, he would leave Talisfarne forever. He ought to see Brother Ignatius about transferring the family stonecote and its lands to Katrin. She would like that. Or perhaps she would simply stare at him and say nothing, as was her habit these many months.

He told himself he did not care, tasting the lie of it as he crested the low hill.

To continue, buy here.