Read an Excerpt
Thom stared straight ahead, ignoring his brother Liel. Tired of his older brother throwing tantrums when things didn't go his way, he ran his finger along the new bow hanging from his saddle. A present from his father this morning given to celebrate his fourteenth year.
"'Tis your fault I missed that deer, you stupid fool." Liel glowered at Thom as he leaned over and shoved him.
"I am not the fool." Thom grabbed the mane of his horse and righted himself. His stomach clenched. Going hunting with Liel had been a poor idea. He hated the fact that Thom could shoot better than he, but Thom had so wanted to try out his new bow and his father had insisted they go together. "'Twas your bad aim and nothing else."
Liel's face flushed crimson and he kicked Thom in the shoulder.
Thom landed with a thud, the wind going out of him. Damn. Liel would see him hurt before they got back to the castle so he'd have an excuse for not bringing home the deer. The horse snorted and pawed at the dirt. He rolled to the side so as not to be trampled. He scrambled up and dusted off his breeches. "You are only upset because you have nothing to bring to Father. You boasted you would provide a feast for tonight."
"I would have if you hadn't spoiled my aim." Liel crossed his arms over his chest and huffed. "I should have made you stay behind with Mother. You're hardly old enough to be on a hunt."
"I'm not a baby to stay with his mam or Father wouldn't have given me a new bow." Thom hit his horse on the flank to move him forward.
"I don't know why Father wasted that bow on you." Liel ground his teeth. "It should have been mine."
"'Tis my birthing day, notyours." Thom stood as tall as he could. "I would have brought home the feast if you hadn't bumped me so you could take the shot."
"What a liar you are, Thom. You would never have had that deer." Liel leapt from his horse and landed on top of Thom. The two rolled across the dirt, stirring up a cloud.
Thom yanked away, gave a kick at his brother and stomped toward the horses. "You're a poor hunter." He faced his brother. "I can shoot an arrow straighter than you on my worst day."
Liel lunged and grabbed Thom by the ankles, felling him. He raised a fist to smash it into Thom's face, but the younger boy twisted and the fist hit the dirt. "Hah!"
"Ow." Liel moved to pin Thom to the ground.
Thom lifted his hips and dumped Liel. "Give it up, Liel."
Liel's face contorted. He scrambled to his feet as Thom leapt up. Liel butted Thom, spilling him into the pool of water.
"Hah!" Liel stomped to his horse, mounted and rode away. "You're nothing but a drowned pup," he hollered over his shoulder, "while I'm the heir of the McGarrety castle and fiefdom."
Thom sank like a rock, the pool deeper than he'd realized. He pushed against the bottom, but his foot sank into the mud. His lungs burned, wanting air. Forcing himself not to breathe, he kicked to push himself upward. Large plants swayed with the water and his foot became entangled as he tried to get to the surface.
Don't panic. He'd drown if he did. Bending down, he tried to pull the plants free, but they seemed to have a mind of their own and his feet became more entangled. Never would Liel best him. He refused to drown.
He needed to breathe. His lungs would explode any moment. He yanked against the plants, but he couldn't get his legs free. The harder he pulled, the more the plants twisted about his legs. They would hold him and not allow him to leave their pool.
He righted himself. He'd seen but fourteen years. He wouldn't give in to the pool. Bubbles escaped his mouth. His life's air was leaving him to rot in this damn pool.
Coming toward him was something. In the murkiness of the water he couldn't tell what it was, but he knew it wasn't Liel. He couldn't swim. It must be some monster who would eat him for sure. As it came closer, he let more air escape his lungs. It had the tail of a fish and its arms were covered with scales, but the face was that of a girl, though gills pumped along its neck. It could breathe under the water. He couldn't. His mind felt fuzzy, as though he could no longer concentrate.
Is this creature death come to take me?
It skimmed along the bottom and grabbed at the plants. He had fought so hard against them, they had tangled upon themselves and it couldn't get him loose. The plants would never let him go. They would keep him.
He let more bubbles escape. His lungs burned and it did no good to hold the air he had. He could settle onto the bottom of the pool and rest. He was so tired. So very very tired.
It grabbed the hilt of his knife that showed above the top of his boot. His eyes widened as it pulled the blade free and he put up his hands to defend himself. He was nearly drowned and a strange creature stole his knife. Will it carve out my heart? Will that be less painful than not being able to breathe?
It smiled, a strange lopsided smile, scales on its cheeks, but definitely a girl. A fish girl. He opened his mouth and let the rest of the air out. Breathe in the water and end it.
She hacked at the plants, and his legs came free. As she gave him a push toward the surface, he floated up. Before he reached the surface, he sank back into the water. His lungs held no more air. The water swirled in larger and larger circles and she swirled with the water. After grabbing him, she pulled him up and shoved him toward the shore. He coughed as his head broke free of the water, then sucked in a mouthful of water rather than air, gagging.
She grabbed him from the back, under the arms, and paddled toward the shore. Fighting against her, he coughed and twisted. She still held his knife and she could still use it on him. Now that he could breathe, he wouldn't die today. He wouldn't let her take his life.
"It fine," she cooed, a soothing sound.
After three tries, she got him close enough to the shore so he could grab at the grass that lined the edge. With great effort, he dragged himself from the pool and lay upon the grass, gasping. "What are you?" he wheezed.
She blinked and studied him for a moment before she spoke. "Your saver."
He coughed and retched up water, holding his chest. When he'd finished, he looked at her again. She wasn't a fish girl. She was but a girl and one smaller and younger than him. But he'd seen her tail and gills. He knew he had.
"The devil you are." His heart raced and he clenched his hands into fists. "You're the evil that tried to drown me."
She sat up and folded her legs before her. "Your saver." She planted his knife into the grass between them. "Your saver."
He stared at her for a long moment. "'Tis too much water I have breathed. You are but a dream." He stood, wobbled toward his horse, and pulled himself up into his saddle. "Imaginings from the depth of the water. Nothing more." He rode away, clutching the mane of his horse to keep him in his seat.
His lungs still ached and his breath came in rasps. He let his chin rest against his chest as he rode, trying to suck in enough air to ease the pain.
His ire against Liel leaving him to drown burst forth. A fine birthing day he was having. He nearly died because of his brother's jealousy. Then he saw a strange, impossible creature who saved him.
The worst was he hadn't caught a deer for his feast tonight.