Chapter 6, “Ghosts of a Different Kind, Part 2”
A flutter of movement caught her eye as Cianna stepped onto to the lighthouse platform.
She stood still, holding her dagger at the ready.
“Come on out,” she called. “I know you’re there.”
“You can’t go anywhere. Unless you want to jump. And it’s a long way down. Come on out where I can see you.”
Another moment passed, then a figure came bounding around the bend.
“Don’t move or I’ll shoot!” The voice was female. She was dressed in clothes that seemed out of place, blue pants faded almost to white, a shirt hanging long and loose. Her hair was cropped short. And she held a bow.
Cianna laughed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t mean to make fun of you. But if you try to shoot that arrow your bow will fall apart in your hands. It’s seen better days, I’m afraid.”
“Don’t try to trick me,” the young woman said. “I know how to use this.” Her words were fierce, but she looked doubtfully at the bow in her hands.
“Up to you. But you might hurt yourself if you insist on using that thing.”
The fair-haired woman looked back and forth between Cianna and the bow. Finally, she threw it down in disgust.
“Fine. Go ahead and kill me. I’m tired of running and I’m tired of hiding. Go ahead. Kill me.”
She stared defiantly at Cianna, though her hands were shaking.
“I’m not going to kill you,” Cianna said. “I’d like to help you, if I can.”
“Why would you want to help me?”
The voice was still guarded, but a bit of the tension had gone out of her shoulders.
“I want to help you because you’re an Outlander,” Cianna said softly.
“People who come to this world from another place.”
“You know that?” she said with a bit of fear in her voice, as she looked around her. “How could you know that?”
“By your clothes, for one. By your hair, for another.”
“Hey, what’s wrong with my hair?” The young woman raked a hand through her matted, short crop of hair. “I mean, I know it’s dirty, but….”
“The color, mostly,” Cianna laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with quite that shade of blonde before.”
The young woman grinned. “Well, yeah, I bleached it myself, so it’s kind of…funky…I guess.”
Cianna looked her over more intently. “How long since you left your home?”
The young woman’s smile faltered. “I’m not sure. Several days, maybe a week.”
“How did you survive once you got here? Did you get help?”
“Not much. I, uh, found some food and funny looking coins. But the coins didn’t last long. Some jerk stole them later. I’ve been sleeping in barns, mostly.”
A light went on for Cianna. “And in decrepit old houses, too, I think.”
The young woman blushed. “Is that your house? I didn’t do anything, I swear. I just crashed. It didn’t look like anyone lived there.”
Cianna waved her hand to dismiss the words. “No one does, now. Not for many years. I’m glad you found refuge there.”
Cianna let the door behind her swing shut and she walked out fully onto the deck. “May I ask your name?”
The woman hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders. “My friends back home call me Dancer.”
“That’s lovely. And why do they call you that, Dancer?”
The woman made a face at Cianna. “Um, because I dance,” she said. “Don’t you have dancing here?”
“Indeed we do,” Cianna said with a laugh. “But somehow I suspect it’s not the kind of dancing you’re talking about. You’ll have to show me some time.”
“So, how do you know so much about Outlanders?” Dancer asked. “Are you one, too?”
Cianna shook her head. “No, but my mother and grandmother are…were. And my father, too. But I was born here in Novia. This,” she indicated with a sweep of her hand, “all belonged to my grandmother. She left it in my care.”
Dancer whistled. “Wow, this is all yours?”
Cianna smiled at Dancer. “And I keep her memory alive by helping out Outlanders and other misfits, people who have a hard time fitting in. Don’t glare at me, that wasn’t an insult. I’m a misfit, too. Anyway, I give them a place to live, help them earn a living, even provide a sense of family if that’s what they want. My grandmother did that in honor of the people who helped her when she first came here, and now I do the same in her honor. I know you have no reason to trust me yet, but I can help you, if you’ll let me.”
Cianna could see that Dancer was hesitating, unsure of how to proceed, so she turned away to give the young woman a chance to think it over. She placed her hand on the delicate telescope perched on the deck, and ran her fingers over it lovingly.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Dancer said, as she watched her, “but I was looking through that a while ago. It’s pretty cool.”
“Yes, it is. I used to spend a lot of time here as a child looking through the telescope.”
“Do you own those other islands, too?”
Cianna looked at her sharply. “Other islands? What other islands?”
Forgetting her fears, Dancer bounded over to the telescope and put her eye to it. “There, they’re right out…hey!” She looked in astonishment at Cianna. “They’re gone!”
Cianna looked through the telescope as well, but only saw the smooth clear sea water spread out before her. She turned away from the telescope with a small smile on her lips.
“I promise you, they were there! I saw them with my own eyes. Two islands! One was larger than the other, but there were definitely two. They were sort of covered in clouds or mist or something, but they were there. I swear to you.”
“I believe you, Dancer,” Cianna said, reaching out to touch the young woman’s shoulder. “I’ve seen them, too.”
“But…but where have they gone? How can they exist one minute and not the next? I don’t understand.” She shook her head a bit, then looked wide-eyed at Cianna. “Is it magic?”
Cianna didn’t answer at first. “I don’t know, Dancer,” she finally replied. “I don’t know what that is. And I’ve never met anyone else who had seen them before, until now.”
She walked to the edge of the lighthouse deck, and leaned against the cool stone wall. Her gaze swept out over the sea.
“I’ve caught glimpses of those islands. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for why they show up. At least none that I’ve figured out. But, well, it very much reminds me of an old story Aelasar used to tell me. It was my favorite bedtime story. And in it, there was an island covered in mist. It was called Avalon.”
She blinked to stop the tears that threatened to fall. “Sometimes I wonder if maybe Aelasar somehow found a way to…I know this sounds crazy, but…to bring Avalon here and maybe…that’s where she’s gone to, out there in the mists.”
“What happened to your grandmother that makes you so sad?”
“That, my friend, is a story for another time. First, we need to get you cleaned up, into some comfortable clothing, and fed. Does that sound good?”
“It sounds heavenly, but you don’t need to do all that. I can keep sleeping in the old house, and I can work to earn my keep.”
“We can work out the details later, Dancer. Let’s just get you settled first, okay?”
Dancer hesitated one last time, then grinned and nodded her head. “Hey, what do I call you? You never told me.”
“My name’s Cianna, Dancer. And it’s a pleasure to meet you. Now let’s get you cleaned up.”
She let Dancer go through the door first, stopping to take a last look out over the still sea. “If you’re out there,” she whispered into the wind, “I love you. Thanks for guiding this young woman to the Forest. We’ll take good care of her, I promise.”
She gently closed the door and started down the steps. For now, Cianna gently put the ghosts of her past behind her, and set out to make a home for Dancer in Aelasar’s Forest.