"Riddle Master of Hed" - Waiting for the right question.
It was, she sometimes added, one of her favorite parts of his harping. He smiled and said nothing, but he played it for her alone.
The heavy harvest moon had risen high over the ceaseless wash of the waves, night turned to pale shadow of day in a wash of silver light and velvet shadows, when she slid silently from breeze to breath at his side. He kept his fingertips moving lightly across the string, drawing softly plucked notes from their vibrations, and she listened for a time with cocked head and quiet eyes.
"Do you remember," she said at last, her voice slipping easily between the rush of wave and wavering harp notes, "what you once said? That once every hundred years..."
"I would draw you from the sea to the wind with my harping," he finished with the ghost of a smile, letting his hands fall silent at last.
"Yes, that was it," she agreed. She settled down beside him on the sandy beach, moonlight shaping her from sea foam and ebony in milk pale flashes of fluid limbs that seemed to move with a soft grace even when she was sitting still. "They're bringing in the harvest," she announced, her slim toes buried like smooth bone shards into the sand beyond the shifting hem of her skirt. "You can smell the fresh cut grain all over Hed." And then, after a moment; "You always come here."
"I like it here," he told her.
"Farmer," she accused.
"Pig herder," he shot back and she smiled.
"Play for me?" she asked, and he never said no.
"I want to learn the vesta," she told him once, and they spent all the long, harsh Osterland winter among the snow drifts and meandering herds as he taught her the shape and feel and fur of the vesta. But in the end, even the tiny crystal flakes of frozen water that blanketed all that land were no replacement for the washing ceaseless surge of the ocean waves that echoed in the cool tides of her blood.
"Do you remember...?" she asked one night as they walked along a nameless stretch of beach. Many of her conversations began that way now and he listened without comment. One of her slender feet was upon the sand, while the footprints of the other were lost in the wash of foam and wave as the spray dampened her skirt. She didn't seem to mind. "Do you remember when you first taught me that shells carried the echo of the waves in them?"
"When Rood and I were at college in Caithnard," he supplied. "Yes, I remember."
"Oh good," she replied in her quiet voice, sounding almost surprised. "I was afraid I didn't remember it correctly." A wave washed up the shore, swirling white pearls of foam around her ankles. "It's difficult sometimes," she remarked, frowning. "Memories seems so rigid, just this way or just that way, but then time tumbles them around like pebbles in the waves and the next thing you know it's all as fluid as mud and about as clear."
He laughed then, softly, caught not so much by her words but by the slightly perplexed tone of irritation in which she uttered them. She turned the frown on him, then, her look reproving. "Don't laugh, Morgon."
"I'm not laughing at you," he assured her. He tucked her beneath his arm, her slim form fitting easily against his. "I'll remember for you, if you want," he whispered into the soft strands of her hair.
Her eyes, at night, were always as dark as the depths of the glittering sea. "Can the High One of the lands remember every wave in the sea?"
"I can try," he promised. Her skin was cool in the night breeze and tasted of sea salt to his lips. "I remember teaching you about shells," he confided. "I remember laughing with you. I remember thinking you were the most breath taking thing I had ever seen."
"I was," she pointed out primly, "the second most beautiful woman in all of An."
"You've always been the first to me," he assured her.
"Will you always be here to remind me?" she asked one time, on the verging strand where sea and land met in a tumult of pale foam. "Will you always draw me out of my waves to your land and sky? Will you call for me, Morgon?"
"Always," he promised. "How could I not?"
"Good," she said, smiling. "I'll be waiting."
"Play me something," she said at another time and another place, when the sound of the waves was only an echo on the ceaseless wind and the notes of his harp rang clear and mournful over the open moonlit plains. "Something familiar."
Morgon thought for a time and then plucked forth a melody, something bright and quick that fell like silver rain from the harp strings, simple and cheerful. She laughed, the sound breathed like the rippling rush of the surf and foam, and clapped her hands in girlish delight to the rhythm. When he finished she was smiling. "They used to play that during the harvest in An," she said.
"Would you like to go to An?" he asked her.
She cocked her head, eyes large in the darkness. The light of the small fire before them found its flickering reflection in the curls of her hair that fell, tumbling, over her shoulder. "Why?" she asked.
He turned his eyes up towards the glittering stars, considering. "If we leave now," he replied, "your great great great grand niece will just be born when we arrive."
"Oh," she said, startled. For a moment the firelight lost her shape, flickering into formless shadow and then back again. "Is that all?" she asked, wondering, and then shook her head. Standing, she brushed grass and dust from her skirt. "Then we'd better go."
She found her wings well before he finished dousing the fire, all bright glossy black feathers and sharp, glittering eye. Morgon laughed, his smile fond. "An," he told her, "is filled with nothing but old crows."
She flicked a wingtip at him disdainfully and spread her feathers to the night breeze. He had to throw himself into the starry sky to catch up with her and they raced, tumbling, along tailwinds half the way to An.
"Do you think," she asked once late in the depths of night, curled snug and warm in the circle of his arms, "my father minds?"
"Minds what?" he asked. "That you married the High One?"
"Well, yes," she mused. "That and the fact that, you know, we've never really been properly married."
"Which was your choice," he pointed out, smiling. "I think Mathom understands. I suppose we could always ask him."
She considered, then shook her head. "No," she decided. "I know my father. It does him good to have something to turn over in his grave for once in awhile. The dead of An wouldn't know what to do with a restful sleep."
The quiet brush of the wind rose in unbroken strains on the night air, hushed and clear beneath the silver moonlight. It had no tune, no melody, no words or voice. It was, he thought, more mournful than glad; the soft whispers of solitude, without verse, like the breath of a forgotten love.
The silver sliver of the new moon had risen high over the rush and swell of the waves, velvet night dim lit in shades of charcoal and dove grey, when she rose in silence from milky foam and deep depths. The waters shaped her, seaweed and brine and death pale bone, the moonlight caught like molten pearls in the jeweled pins that dotted the disarrayed tendrils of her hair. She watched him, head cocked and dark eyes unreadable.
"You didn't call," she said at last, the crashing surf still echoing in her voice.
"No," he agreed quietly.
"I waited," she told him.
"I know," he said.
She said nothing more and they sat in silence, each looking to the other beneath the stars and moon. At length he drew breath, tasting the sting of sea salt on his lips. "Raederle," he said softly, "I... want to learn the waves. Will you teach me?"
Her expression softened then, white foam and shimmering pearl fading away, and her face was only as he remembered - pale and beautiful beneath the moonlight, the blooming flower of An. She reached out one slim hand and he took it in his, her fingers twining easily between his own. Her palm, pressed to his, was warm and reassuring. "Of course," she said gently. "Morgon... I was only waiting for you to ask."