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Chapter Three: Lorelei

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Port Barlow
Early Redwind

Lorelei stood at the cliff on the hill's crest, watching the sea toss and turn in the distance. The view from the farm had always been the most redeeming quality of Port Barlow. The cool breeze of the early redwind season played with her hair, making strands slip out of her braid and tickle her neck. While her mother baked fresh rolls, Lorelei left the small cottage and did the same thing she did every morning—stood, watched, and dreamed.

She dreamed of seeing nothing but the dark blue of the sea surrounding her. She dreamed of waking up to the sound of waves washing against the ship she would travel on. She dreamed of the wind and the sky above her and the endless sea of stars that reflected in the water.

But that was all they were—dreams.

She would never drift across the sea in hopes of finding someplace new. She never had, and she never would. It wasn't her fate to storm the seas—it wasn't her legacy. Her destiny was here, on the farm with her mother.

Lorelei sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear even though the strands fought against her in the wind. Goddess, she missed her mother. She'd just seen her before she left the cottage—hunched over, kneading dough—but in the past year her mother had deteriorated from the woman she was in Lorelei's memories into someone consumed with madness. Lorelei missed the sound of her mother's gentle voice and the cinnamon scent of her hair from the soap she used to make herself. She missed the stories of beautiful mermaids, ice dragons that lived up north, beyond the Frozen Gap, and most especially the legendary Captain of the Storm, a mortal pirate whose goddess-given sea magic won an ancient war. Mystical tales that seemed so real it was almost as if her mother had lived them. But that was an illusion, the art of great storytelling. Her mother had always run this farm, and so Lorelei buried the way the sea sang to her, reached for her, called to her, because she would run the farm one day too.

Lorelei could very easily catch the first ship out of Port Barlow and head somewhere new. She'd once seen a map that had slipped out of one of her mother's old books. She still remembered the jagged scar of islands cutting between the Silver and Bronze Seas—the jungles of Macaya, the lively sister islands of Sarva and Ravana, the ruins of the Lost Isle, and other islands, with the capital, Baltessa, at the very center. Cerulia. During one of the tales her mother used to tell years ago, she'd told Lorelei the island kingdom of Cerulia was a welcome home to anyone wishing to escape the bitterness of the land kingdoms. Maybe in Cerulia Lorelei could find a witch that could help cure her mother's mind, erase the imaginary voices she was certain whispered to her from the fire. Maybe Lorelei could find her father, the man her mother barely spoke of but murmured about in her sleep.

Jack was his name. Her mother's croons in the night echoed off the walls in their small cottage. Although she never delved too far into details of the man she loved, from the bits and pieces she'd told, Lorelei had put together that her mother never wanted to leave Jack behind but left because of a great fear of something from which even he couldn't protect her . . . of course she never said exactly what. Lorelei could sail away and find him, bring him back, and make their lives whole again. Even though she'd never met him, she could look into his eyes and know who he was—they shared the same blood. He could be the piece that was missing from Lorelei's life. Perhaps his return could fix her mother.

But each time thoughts of leaving drifted into her mind, her heart tugged, pulling her away from the dreams and back to the farm where she belonged.

Lorelei gripped her skirts and turned away from the sea. She should be ashamed for even thinking about leaving her mother. Especially now, when she faded with each day. But being around her was suffocating, and Lorelei needed the stolen moments by the sea to breathe freely.

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