Blood calls to blood; charm calls to charm.
It is the way of the world.
Come close and tell us your dreams.
Sanna is a mermaid — but she is only half seavish. The night of her birth, a sea-witch cast a spell that made Sanna’s people, including her landish mother, forget how and where she was born. Now Sanna is sixteen and an outsider in the seavish matriarchy, and she is determined to find her mother and learn who she is. She apprentices herself to the witch to learn the magic of making and unmaking, and with a new pair of legs and a quest to complete for her teacher, she follows a clue that leads her ashore on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands. There, as her fellow mermaids wait in the sea, Sanna stumbles into a wall of white roses thirsty for blood, a hardscrabble people hungry for miracles, and a baroness who will do anything to live forever.
From the author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book The Kingdom of Little Wounds comes a gorgeously told tale of belonging, sacrifice, fear, hope, and mortality.
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The moon lowers herself to draw the tide.
When she knew her time had come, she slipped from the quiet of her father’s house to make her way down to the docks.
It wasn’t easy. The pains came fast and hard, even at the start. In the light of a half-made moon, she stumbled in the familiar ruts and puddles of the path she’d raced down many times before. Each pain was an ember blazing from her belly to the tips of her fingers and toes; pain blinded her and stole her breath. Only force of will kept her on her feet and stealing toward the waterfront, the one place she knew —or hoped —she’d be safe.
Her body was ripping apart. She was being drawn and quartered like the worst kind of criminal, a thief or a murderer whose limbs were tied to four different horses and the horses then spurred in different directions. Blood sport. Something to think about as she both gasped for breath and tried to keep silent, because the worst thing she could do now would be to make a sound loud enough to wake her neighbors. If things were as bad as she thought they might be, the villagers would come after her with torches and sharp-tipped hoes. Her parents, grudgingly kind as they had been to this point, would lead the charge.
Stars swaddled the sky while she sweated through her linen chemise and into her coarse wool dress. She fixed her eyes on that half pie of moon as her knees buckled under an especially terrible pang. She clutched her belly and pushed herself against the streaky wall of a butcher shop. It held her up as she smothered a groan. The butcher and his family slept above the shop; she shouldn’t wake them.
The smell of her blood mixed with ripe meat was nauseous.
Pain is thirsty work, even in a cool month when green things are just beginning to take on summer hues. She wished for a barrel full of rainwater but instead found a pebble to pop into her mouth, and she sucked to draw the water from inside her own body.
In all her eighteen years she had never felt so alone as tonight, under the thick white stars. But soon she wouldn’t be alone anymore. Soon she would have a baby.
A large —another rending pain —an enormous baby.
And that was about all she knew. She knew it was coming, yes, and she knew what she’d done to make it, and she knew she had to get down to the water fast because —because —because that was the only place she could birth this baby safely.
This would be a special baby. No one in memory had given life to a baby such as this. No one had dared.
By the time she reached the narrow strip of sand that was the only beach in this country of cliffs and caves, she was exhausted, crawling on hands and knees. Not easy to do with her belly heaving and her skirts, soaked with birthing waters, tied up beneath her arms. But she had no choice. This was where she had to be.
The tide was slowly swelling to meet the half-moon. The sharp blade of it was cutting her open and drawing her tides, too, as it sank gracefully toward the horizon.
Would her lover meet her here? Would he bring sisters and aunts and cousins to help, as he’d promised he’d try? His people had unusually keen hearing, but she had done her best to make no sound at all. They might find her by smell, though; she smelled like an animal, sweaty and afraid. And of course he’d warned that the women of his clan might not come. They disapproved of what he and she had done as much as her own people would, if they knew —and she was determined they wouldn’t.
The sand was cool against her palms and knees and shins. It felt like comfort. She let herself sink onto one side and press her temple against that yielding damp, breathe deep of the clean wet air. The lap-lap of the bay’s rising little waves was soothing, too; even the stars seemed gentle and kind, floating behind wispy drifts of cloud, now that she’d reached the place that was her entire plan.
She lay there, let the pain and the elements take her while she prayed. Holy Virgin, Empress of the Seas, have pity on a sinner . . . And: Bjarl, my love, please find me.
He did find her. First a wet head bobbed out among the waves —it could have been a seal. She didn’t even notice it at first, but then came the steady plash of water as he propelled his powerful body along. He was flicking and steering in a way that both fascinated and revolted —revolted because it might mark this baby, too, and what would she do then?
She moaned. It did not give as much release as she wanted, but it was all she could allow herself.
Soon Bjarl’s arms were around her, and the chilly skin of his chest was propping up her head. He had humped his way onto the sand where they used to make love. His hands somehow raised her knees and shifted them apart, though in a way very different from their old giddy nights. It was a position at once awkward and reassuring; in arranging her this way, Bjarl seemed expert, as if someone had trained him for precisely this moment. Maybe he was taught by a woman of his people —which might mean the women would not come to help at all.
She realized that Bjarl was pulling her from the sand into the shallows. The little kidney-shaped bay’s salt water bathed her most fevered parts, stinging where they were already starting to tear but otherwise soothing with coolness.