"The fairies are in the sea as well as on the land. That is well-known by those that are out fishing by the coast."
The Lady Gregory, Irish Folklorist
Tristaine's oceanside life with her drunk of a father has never been easy, but when the world starts to crumble beneath her very feet, the sand and glistening tides call temptingly to her like the only solace she's ever known...
This Tuesday, we'll join Tristaine and her newfound band of friends—and enemies—in the world's most whimsical last frontier...
Preorder your copy of Jamie Webster and M. Dalto's ARMS OF THE OCEAN, HERE!
“Come on, Papa,” I whispered as I leaned in close to pull my father from the chair. The sour smell of fermented ale oozed from every pore in his clammy skin. He slumped further away from me, pushing me back while grumbling in protest. White wiry hairs weaved through the red beard that was etched into his face, poking me as I again tried to pull him up. “Please, Papa. You can’t sleep here.”
Which wasn’t exactly true, since he spent most nights in that wooden chair, nestled into the corner of the cottage next to the window overlooking the cliffs of the Inara Sea. From the corner of my eye, I could see white crests rocking violently across the ocean, slamming full-force into the rocks, splashing up and over to soak the ground with salt and water.
Usually, a bottle of ale would be in his hand as he cast angry eyes over the water, his mind saturated in the vile liquid that fed the deep-seated fury he felt toward those waves.
But tonight was not most nights. Tonight was Midsummer Night’s Eve, when the entire town came together in celebration, freeing themselves to music and the beauty of the night sky.
While the town danced and sang, playing harmonious songs on the shrill pipe flute and melodious harps, however, my father would drink himself into oblivion.
We did not celebrate Midsummer Night’s Eve. At least, not anymore. There would be no gifts given, no songs sung, no love nor laughter shared.
My father pulled away from me again, a low growl erupting from his throat as he shoved me away. The night’s bottle of ale tumbled from his hand to the floor, and an ear-piercing shatter erupted around us. Shards of glass scattered, what little liquid that remained soaking into the gaps between the stones. I swore as I smelled the strong scent of the fermented hops, knowing it would linger no matter how hard I scrubbed.
My attempts to comfort him were met with him swatting my hands away. “Don’t worry, Papa,” I said. “I promise I’ll get you another bottle once you go to bed.” Only then did he stop fighting me. His arm laid “heavy over my shoulders; I boosted his body up, hoping he wouldn’t lose consciousness and pull me down with his weight.
“Come on, Papa,” I said again, weary from a day on my feet and years of dragging my father away from that window. He leaned against me, and though he still supported some of his own weight while we stumbled along, he allowed me to drag him to his room as he muttered about the sea.
Weaving around the broken glass, the discarded alcohol was slick against the soles of his shoes as I walked him into his room. The room was cluttered with dirty clothing that had been unceremoniously dumped onto the floor. An empty woven seagrass basket sat in the corner. Empty bottles were scattered across the floor. I kicked any that blocked my path away with one booted foot just before we reached the bed. He sat down heavily, burping, and looked at me, the whites of his eyes reddened. I avoided eye contact as I reached down and pulled the first leather boot from his foot; the faint scent of the fisherman he had been lingered.
It had been a long time since he had properly fished, but he so hated the sea....
“I can get them off myself,” he growled, his voice thick from the effects of the ale. But he didn’t move to remove his shoe, letting himself fall back against the grey cotton sheets that were laid over the mattress. His other foot, still in its shoe, hung precariously over the bed.
It was growing harder to remember what he had been like when I was a child, when I still had baby curls in my long brown hair, streaked with blonde where it was bleached from the sun and salt. Back when he was a man with a reputation to uphold, managing deck-hands that would pull in the thick nets filled with fish from his boats to take to the fishmongers. He had two vessels in his fleet back then and I loved to stow away onto those boats, to see the wriggling fish in the nets, to watch the water slosh against the wooden hull, to feel that fresh sea breeze on my face. All these memories sometimes made me wonder if they were real in comparison to the dark-faced man now snoring on the bed. His nose twitched over the coarse hair that grew on his face while I stood there, watching him, and I hoped he’d stay asleep tonight.
I grabbed a handful of the soiled clothing, hearing the clink of hidden bottles as they shifted within their cloth caves. I tossed the clothing into the basket, clearing a path to the door in case he needed to make it to the bathing room, and slipped out of his small room, shutting the door behind me.
The scent of fermenting alcohol again penetrated my nose, and I grumbled to myself as I put the basket aside, realizing the floor would need to be cleaned—again. I almost made it to the kitchen area before a soft breeze from the open window near Papa’s chair caught my attention.
The smell of brine on the wind overpowered the acrid scents of the cabin, and as always, the scent had the ability to raise my spirits, even at the darkest of times. I would often find myself staring out to sea, wherever I might be, and feel completely at peace.
Another breeze wafted into the cabin, and I listened to the soft sounds of music from the village floating toward me. My stomach dropped—I still needed to go back to town since I had promised Papa more ale.
I dreaded my infrequent visits into the village. The pitying eyes of the villagers haunted me. I attempted to remain in the shadows, away from the red light of the lanterns that hung throughout the streets. The daughter of the drunk, that’s all they would see.
What did I expect them to say? To do? Someone had to stay with Papa, to take care of him.
Yes, I had promised, but first, I needed something.
I licked my fingers and doused the lantern’s flame between my index finger and thumb, feeling a quick bite of heat before leaving the dark cottage. The air outside was warm and inviting. The sea breeze mingled between the strands of my hair, lifting it to trace along my cheek bones. The salt was thick in the air; the only sound was the violence of the sea as it nibbled away at the minerals in the rock. I walked across the worn dirt path toward the edge of the cliff on which our home sat. The pathway ran down through the craggy rocks, which would bring me directly to the rocky shore, but tonight I didn’t have time to feel the frothy water on my bare feet. Tonight I had a promise to keep, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t first see the white peaks of the water crashing before I headed to town.
I crossed my bare arms over my chest as I arrived at the edge of the cliffs and looked out over the sea. The combination of brine, seaweed, and salt made me pause and close my eyes, allowing only a moment for myself to take it all in. I listened to the song of the sea, tasted the salt brought to my lips by the breeze, and let it rock away the sadness nestled in my heart.
But I had already lingered too long, and with one final glance at the sea that would always feel more like home than our dark cottage, I reluctantly made my way toward the village.
I slowly approached the Midsummer’s Eve festival, the village already alive with music and laughter. There were too many people dancing, drinking, and celebrating for my presence to be clandestine, and those cursed lanterns were strung as expected, glowing with a vibrant red in the summer’s night, removing any and all shadows I could have used as cover.
The upside to the promise I’d made, I realized as walked along the outskirts of the partygoers’ dancing circle, was that every tavern within the village would be open for patrons, and my search for my father’s imbibement would only need to go as far as the nearest pub. So long as I kept my head down and my eyes forward, I would be able to enter, get what I needed, and return to the cabin before Papa awoke, yelling for more.
I stopped in my tracks, blood freezing into ice.
“I wasn’t expecting you to escape from that hellhole you call home at least until morning.”
I squared my shoulders and raised my chin, turning on my heels to face the one person I would have preferred to see bobbing under the ocean’s waves, never to resurface.
“Fiero,” I responded with the same distaste he had spat at me.
What I wouldn’t have given to smack the self-satisfied smirk from his face as his dark eyes roamed freely over my body, but the less attention I brought to myself, the better. He stood a head taller than me and I took a step back so I wouldn’t have to arch my neck as I continued to glare at him.
It wasn’t that Fiero was unattractive. Smoldering dark eyes with high cheekbones and a deep-set jaw had many of the local girls fawning over him. No, he definitely wasn’t unattractive...he was just an ass. At least he was alone tonight and not with his usual entourage of village girls desperately hoping to one day be the young lord’s wife.
He had grown up in our village—we’d even gone to school together—but when he was fourteen, his father received a lordship due to an ancient uncle who had never conceived his own children. After that he had moved to some inland town that I couldn’t be bothered to remember the name of.
Like the others in the village, he wore his festival best, though his was made of silk versus the linen that the villagers wore. His ash blond hair was tied back to fall behind his shoulders. Why he chose to come back here on Midsummer instead of some more glamourous celebration day was beyond me. Maybe he wanted to flaunt his new “wealth” to the fishing town he grew up in, finally proof that he was always better than us.
“What do you want?” I snapped. I just wanted to go home, give Papa the ale, and maybe sneak another glance at the sea before retreating to my small loft room and sleeping.
He crossed his sculpted arms in front of his chest. The smirk remained. “That, there, is the question to ask, isn’t it?”
I huffed and turned from him, but his hand grabbed my arm, harder than necessary, and he pulled me back to face him.
“We’re having a conversation, Tristaine. It’s rude to turn away when someone is talking to you.”
“Well, I am done talking to you,” I responded through clenched teeth, trying to rip my arm from his grasp, but his grip only tightened.
He pulled me closer, and I could smell the familiar scent of ale on him. Fiero had clearly begun celebrating earlier in the day. I attempted to hold my breath to keep from gagging.
“You’ll be done when I say you’re done.” He smiled threateningly. “When will you come to your senses, Tristaine? You’re better than that shabby cabin. You deserve better.”
“And I suppose you know what I deserve?”
He grabbed my other arm, blocking any chance of pulling away as he held onto me tight—too tight. My breath caught in my chest.
“I know I do,” he barked, and I watched his eyes glaze over as if he would be more than happy to prove it to me.
The sound of someone clearing their throat behind us snapped his attention away just enough for me to wrench my arms free from his grasp. I whirled away only to come face to face with another individual I wasn’t expecting to see until morning. No one ever came to the house on Midsummer’s Eve, so I hadn’t been surprised when the note arrived saying my brother would be coming for a visit the morning after.
“The last time I checked, Fiero, my sister was fully grown and no longer needed decisions made on her behalf.”
The look on Fiero’s face darkened as he assessed my brother’s presence.
“The prodigal son returns, eh, Sloane?”
Sloane merely shrugged in response but kept his eyes on Fiero all the same. “Just enjoying the festival with everyone else. No armed guards this year, Fiero? Has Daddy fallen on hard times?”
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. I hadn’t seen him last year, but Sloane had told me how he had paraded through town with an armed escort, as if there was any danger to Fiero’s person in our small town.
Though I was grateful for my brother’s appropriately timed appearance and enjoyed his jabs at Fiero, I was not in the mood to be protected. Already too many people had shifted their attention from the festivities to our conversation. Fiero was fixated on me—had been since I had come of age. I didn’t understand the reason for the fixation. He could have any girl he wanted. There was an endless supply of girls throwing themselves at his feet. Maybe it was because I was the only person who had ever told him no. Either way, if rumors began to swirl that I was spurning his advances, it would only make him try harder. Placing a gentle hand on Sloane’s forearm, I motioned toward the walkway before us, hoping he would accept my suggestion and walk away.
Thankfully, he glanced at me from the corner of his eye and nodded in understanding. Returning his gaze to Fiero, he gave him a mocking bow and turned his back to him. Fiero may have not been a member of our small town, but he was the son of a lord in one of the nearby inland territories. And with that title came a certain level of expected respect.
“We’re not done here, Sloane!”
“Ah, but we are,” Sloane called over his shoulder. “Goodnight, Lord Fifi!”
I cringed at the old childhood nickname he flung at Fiero, and even more so at the growl of a man who was ready to pounce. But Sloane rushed us into the closest tavern before any more damage could be done. He led me to an unoccupied table at the back of the crowded room, a mischievous grin on his face
Sloane settled into a seat, crossing his arms and leaning back against the dark wooden wall of the tavern. His green eyes were the color of fresh moss, just as mine were. Just as our mother’s had been.
“You really shouldn’t antagonize him,” I warned. I had been avoiding Fiero as much as possible, hoping he would turn those dark eyes on a different girl in the village.
Sloane looked down his long nose at me, meeting my eyes. “Tris, the guy is an ass.”
I sighed, glancing to Rand, the barkeep and my boss. When I was old enough to work, he had taken pity on me and given me a job stocking the warehouse and cooking whatever soups and stews would be on the menu that night. I was grateful for the job, but still I kept to myself. He gave a nod, rummaging under the counter. He knew why I was there.
Sloane followed my eyes to the bar before taking a long look at me. While others were in their festival finest made of tightly wrapped floral silks and tied with matching sashes, I was wearing my hand-me-down working breeches that had once been his. A black cotton tunic clung to my slender frame, tucked into my waistband. Barely dried salt spray clung to my hair, which was pulled back away from my face.
“I know he’s an ass, Sloane,” I muttered. I tried to tidy my hair and straighten my clothes under his concerned watch. “That doesn’t mean you need to make it worse.”
Sloane’s eyes softened, and he sat up straighter. “I’m sorry, Tris.”
I nodded, accepting his apology and knowing it was meant for more than his comments to Fiero. “It’s okay. What are you doing here, anyway? Your note said tomorrow. Where’s Mya?” I tried not to wince. I heard the bitterness in my voice twist her name.
It wasn’t fair of me, I knew, but it was hard not to be annoyed by the woman who had married my brother. Due to her insistence to be closer to the capital, together they had moved far away from our cottage on the cliff.
There wasn’t anything wrong with her; she had been kind, offering a few times for me to visit, even live with them. But the thought of moving inland, not being able to see the swells of water each day, to smell and taste the salt on the wind, made my breath catch in my throat. Panic laced through my veins just thinking of it, and I rubbed my arms, feeling the claustrophobic unease fill me.
I would never leave the ocean.
Sloane heard the bitterness, and while he didn’t reprimand me for being rude, I could see the sadness in his eyes.
“When are you going to come and visit us?”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
“Papa would never—”
“Father is an adult, Tris. He doesn’t need a keeper, especially his own daughter who should be celebrating Midsummer instead of enabling his bad habits."
“As if to prove Sloane’s point, Rand walked to our table, quietly leaving the ale I had requested. “I’m not enabling him,” I said, but even if I was, it didn’t matter. “He’s going to get it one way or another. I’m just saving myself and the entire village the trouble of having to deal with him coming here.” Today. That word was left unsaid. But of course, Sloane understood.
It had been a Midsummer’s night just like this one when my mother had left. Though some people claimed that time would heal the wounds she had left behind, I knew that was a lie. Fifteen years later, and Papa had only gotten worse. The pain of losing her had stripped him of everything. And even though Sloane had watched Papa go from being one of the most successful fishermen on the Inara Sea to a man who sold it all only to chase the bottom of the bottle, he hadn’t been around these last three years. He didn’t know how bad it had gotten. If he had any inkling, he would have ripped me away from the cottage. He had wanted to when he had first married Mya, but Papa had forbidden it. I had been secretly grateful; I wasn’t made for life inland.
I still remembered the rage that had seared through him. He had tossed the letter on the table, grabbing my arms and shaking me.
“They all left me, and now you think you will, too?” The noise that left his throat was like a howl of pain that wrapped around my heart and squeezed. My mother had chosen to leave us, and now so had Sloane. And while it had been time for him to do something with his life, I knew what it did to Papa. Everything he had ever had, ever been, had been stolen away from him with my mother’s selfish act. I didn’t have to read the letter to know what Sloane had asked of him.
If only my mother hadn’t left, maybe Sloane and I could have had normal lives. While I couldn’t fault my father for a broken heart, someday I hoped he would snap out of it and return to the man he had once been. The father who had been full of smiles, who had wrapped me in a wolf pelt and told me wild stories of the sea as the fire crackled beside us.
That was the hope that made me promise never to leave him. And Sloane’s catalyst of a letter that caused it.
I didn’t say anything, didn’t meet Sloane’s eyes, my fingers tracing the grooves on the bottle. “Are you staying long?” I said finally.
Sloane shrugged, motioning for the bar keep. “A day or two. I came for a fish shipment.”
Midsummer’s night also marked the date for one of the largest salted fish pulls. It was probably why Fiero was here as well. Both were far from where they lived, and Goddess knew that the festivities in their respective cities would be far more splendid than anything our little town could offer. Though Fiero’s family was wealthier than Sloane and Mya. I would have expected him to have sent one of his minions to pick up a shipment. Something in the back of my head prickled. I wondered why he had made the trip.
“And then you’ll return as quickly as you arrived.” It wasn’t a question as much as an observation. Sloane never remained long—a day, at best. The sea had never called to him as it did to me, even when it had been the source of our livelihood.
My brother turned toward me. “Tristaine.”
“Mya truly has no desire to associate with us, does she?”
“You know that’s not why.”
I shrugged slightly. The bitterness was seeping through my skin as I thought of my sister-in-law. I didn’t hate her—on the contrary, she made Sloane extremely happy, and I wished them all the best. She had it set in her mind, however, that she knew what was best for me. One too many times she had offered to whisk me away, despite the many times I denied her insistent requests. In the end, not only did she stop asking, but she stopped visiting, which was most likely best for all involved.
“That’s actually another reason I came to find you tonight,” he admitted, a hand rubbing the back of his neck.
I perked a brow in question. It took a lot to make my brother uneasy, especially after our upbringing.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back, truth be told.”
I felt my heart sink. “What’s wrong, Sloane?”
His eyes finally met mine again, and a slow, sheepish grin grew on his lips. “Mya’s expecting.”
I could only blink at him as I processed his news.
Sloane had been my source of strength for so long. I would never discredit him his happiness, but if there was a child on the way, his short, sporadic visits would soon become non-existent. There was no way Mya would allow their future children anywhere near my father....
Sloane was watching me, as though waiting for a response.
Only I didn’t know what to tell him.
“Say something, Tris.”
I swallowed. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
Sloane reached for me, a crestfallen look in his eyes, but I had to move. Papa would need his ale, and I needed to get away from my brother, if only for a moment, before I told him how I truly felt.
“I’m happy for you, Sloane, I really am,” I said hastily, and I grabbed the bottle and got to my feet. Sloane looked alarmed, pushing to his feet to stop me, but I spun away before he could grab me, hold me there. I had to go. Our father would be awake soon.
“I’ll...see you tomorrow, okay?” I promised, taking another step back. “Just...don’t come too early. You know how Papa can get.”
“Tris,” Sloane pleaded, but I had already turned and marched through the door.
I didn’t watch the dancers.
I didn’t look at the lanterns, or the colorful decorations.
I didn’t dare another glance behind me.
Instead, I walked as fast as I could from the village, sprinting into a run the moment the light and sounds died down behind me.