Ruili Windwolf said nothing as Y’lanna told him about her life before coming to Aeldreth. He let her talk without interruption but with the support of his attention, just as he let the Guardian Cat run, feeling her movements through his steadying hand on the tiller.
Y’lanna’s tale was of a woman caught in a web of malice and dishonesty, one that must have been more cruel than any prison, the way freedom had been pulled away every time it came within her reach. He could imagine the desperation that had driven her to plunge blindly into a vortex even though the expectation must have been her own death. He and his brothers had faced desperate traps in their time as well. He wished he could tell her that such terrible people did not exist in Aeldreth, but of course, he could not.
Ahead of them the sunset flared in brilliant colors, and the day’s light drained quickly into the sea, a dissipating mist that revealed the glittering splendor of the night.
“Well, my dear Y’lanna,” he said when she was done, “I will not vouch for the future, but that past is well and truly behind you. Your chances of seeing those people or that world ever again are small indeed. At least it sounds as if there won’t be much to miss. But see now, my lady who flies among the stars,” he waved his hand across the sky, “new stars, by which to steer a new course. A ship, a star, and a wind are all you need to get by in this world — at least, so we selkies would have it.”
He pointed. “See that one — the bright one low over the horizon, with the lesser lights around it? That’s the Winter Bear, the sign under which my brothers and I were born. That’s why some at home call us the Three Bears. We should have a seer find your star, the one that will guide you. They’re ever so handy.”
He winked and then, on impulse, leaned in, his fingers lightly lifting her chin, and gently kissed her cheek.
“Sleep now,” he said. “I will take this watch. By this time tomorrow, we’ll enter the Serpent Strait. The ride will be rough from there on, but it should be but another three quarters of a day to Sesus.”
— — —
And so the third of the Bear Lords of House Ereon cut another wind cord for speed and settled down with the waves around him, the stars above, and the racing boat’s tiller under his arm. Through that star-lit quarter, he puffed a long-stemmed pipe and sang songs to the winds — songs from his play, of course — and thought about Y’lanna Sparti’s story … and about how to adapt it to the stage.
Meanwhile, the second brother was strolling through the waterlogged ways of the Diamond Plaza, filling out a strange shopping list of portable portals, scrying eyes, and boxes of nothing — and one rather fine and delicate item that some might have thought an extravagant gift for an employee.
And the first brother, the eldest by minutes, had made his way from the berth of the Marsh King’s Daughter to the gallery of sellers of magical books and papers in the Diamond Plaza. The tall selkie in the silvery fish-skin rain cloak and simple half-mask was standing in a cartographer’s shop, looking through atlases, lost in the art of finding his way.