Authors: Amy Rae Durreson
Copyright © 2013 by Amy
Thank you for
downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your
friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for
non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete
original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your
favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author.
Thank you for your support.
This little novelette
was written as a companion piece to my longer novella The Lodestar
of Ys, as a thank you to my readers. Although it is set twenty
years before The Lodestar of Ys, it assumes that you have read that
book first. The most important thing you need to know is that the
islands of Ys float in the sky just offshore, lifted by the magical
derwen trees that grow on every island. The most low-lying of the
islands is Sirig, which floats just above the sea. The islanders of
Ys travel by flying ships, built of derwen wood and steered by
lodestones. Emyr and Heilyn make a brief appearance in The Lodestar
of Ys, but the main characters and plots of the two stories are
HEILYN HAD just loaded
up his brush with the most perfect shade of blue he’d ever mixed
when he heard a very polite voice say, “I think you ought to know
this field usually contains an awfully bad-tempered bull.”
Heilyn laughed without
looking aside from his canvas and the shimmering view before him:
the sea, still hazy with early mist, and the islands floating above
low-lying Sirig, the morning light catching on their undersides
where the moss velveted the rocks and brushed against the
interlocking brass pipes and cisterns, and the tumbling streams
where the water fell like Dwynwen’s tears down the islands’ craggy
cliffs, garlanded by misty rainbows . “I’ll take the chance,
“I only mention it
because he broke the last artist’s arm and ate his canvas.” After a
moment, the unseen stranger added thoughtfully, “Which in his case
was no loss, but your work is much better.”
Well, that was a new
approach. “Thank you, but flattery won’t persuade me to move.”
“I don’t want you to
get hurt.” The stranger’s tone was a little frosty now. “Pumpkin is
going to be in an even worse mood than usual when he gets back, so
consider yourself fairly warned.”
“If you really want me
to believe in the bull,” Heilyn suggested, “you should choose a
more likely name than Pumpkin.”
don’t believe…?” the stranger said, sounding quite bewildered.
“Why wouldn’t you believe in a bull?”
Heilyn sighed and put
his brush down. He would have believed it without question at the
start of his trip around Ys. Travel, however, as he’d tried to
explain to his protesting family as they gathered to wave him off
from the wharf on Rhaedr, broadened the mind and taught new skills.
“You see,” he said now,
“people like art.”
“They do, yes, on the
“But that doesn’t mean
they like artists. Oh, people like to know what you’re doing, and
they love looking over your shoulder to criticize, but after that
they don’t really like you sitting around on their land, blocking
their view, and making them feeling embarrassed to scratch their
arses. But Dwynwen forbid they look like they don’t like art, so
it’s all, “The light’s bad there,” and, “Oh, the view’s better in
that other man’s field,” or “Mind the bull.” Heard them all.” There
was silence from behind him, and he belatedly realized that might
have been a bit much. “Uh, sorry. Didn’t mean to go into that much
detail.” He turned to offer up his most charming smile, the one
which had gotten him out of trouble in more islands than not, and
caught his breath sharply.
The man on the other
side of the hedge was lovely—no, not lovely. That sounded too
pretty and delicate. This man was stunning. He was all lean clean
lines, even his face long and high-boned. His hair was cut close
enough to his head to display the perfect curve of his skull. It
could have looked too austere, on someone even a shade paler, but
there was just enough color to him: a hint of pink in his cheeks
and the darker blush of his lips, the dark otter-pelt hue of his
hair, and his eyes, the brightest thing in his face, blue as the
sky and so sad. Heilyn wanted to put his hands on that face and
feel the lines of it under the heels of his palms until he knew how
to shape it in clay. He wanted to mix those colors in watercolor or
ready to slide straight onto fine china.
Heilyn blurted out, his heart in his words.
The vision of
perfection across the hedge looked a little disconcerted at that.
“Oh. Um, thank you. That’s very… I still have to put the bull back
in his field.”
“The bull named
Pumpkin?” Heilyn was slowly coming back to his senses, though he
still couldn’t look away.
“Is that a name I would
That was a fair point,
but Heilyn could refute it. “I’ve been painting here all week, and
there are no pumpkins in this field.”
“He’s been down at the
east end of the island all week earning the price of his pasture in
stud fees. Owen ap Owen Up-the-Hill is bringing him back this
afternoon. He’ll be worn out and irritable, poor Pumpkin.”
“And late,” Heilyn
added, because he might only have been on Sirig a week, but that
was still long enough to know that the only reason Owen Up-the-Hill
was still in business was because he was the only carter on the
The stranger’s long
lips twitched, not enough to count as a smile, but enough to make
him look smug. “He isn’t late for me. I pay him in whiskey, and
take a tot off for every hour’s delay.”
“Is that the secret,
then?” Heilyn asked, smiling to see if he could get one back. He
wanted to see a real smile on that solemn face.
“Don’t share it, or I
may lose my advantage.” His words were serious enough, but
everything he said was tinged with a note of quiet irony, as if he
was laughing at the world. Why wouldn’t he smile, if that was the
“My lips are sealed,”
Heilyn promised, and made a heroic effort not to add, “I’d like to
seal them to yours.” A slightly more delicate approach was clearly
Sighing, he turned back
to his painting. There was at least two hours’ work still to do.
“When’s the carter due?”
“In an hour.”
“Let’s hope he’s not
too desperate for a drink, then,” Heilyn muttered, and picked up
his brush again. “I’ll have to paint fast.”
“Do you mind if I keep
repeated, perhaps a little too ecstatically for a casual
acquaintance. “Not at all. That would be wonderful!”
His beautiful stranger
gave him a quizzical look and said very carefully, “I have to wait
for the carter.”
“I could wait in the
opposite corner of the field, but that feels a little awkward. I
promise I won’t offer any unwanted criticism, though.”
Heilyn said, and cleared his throat. “I’m Heilyn, since we’re
keeping company now.”
“Emyr,” Heilyn repeated
slowly, imagining ink, a brush, and this man’s naked back, lit by
firelight. He’d paint the name across Emyr’s shoulders in round
script, putting curls on the tails and swells of the letters. Would
Emyr squirm beneath the caress of the brush? “Are you
“What?” Emyr asked.
“Not particularly, no. Why?”
“No reason,” Heilyn
said hurriedly, and made himself concentrate on his painting again.
He hadn’t spent a week trying to capture those rainbows just to
lose it all to an errant fantasy. Finish the painting first, and
then flirt with the gorgeous man.
Of course, after that,
he finished too soon, long before the bull showed up. In fact,
Heilyn had almost forgotten about the bull, caught between the
light and his awareness of Emyr’s presence at his shoulder,
watching every stroke intently. Triumphantly, he put his brush down
and said, “Done! Let’s get a drink.”
“I have to wait for my
bull,” Emyr reminded him.
“I’ll wait with you,”
Heilyn said at once.
“No, go and get your
drink. You’ve earned it.”
“I was wrong. I’m
really not quite finished.” He could add a little more mist up in
the corner there, and redo the white curls of the starflowers in
the the derwen grove so they stood out more clearly.
“No, it’s beautiful,”
Emyr said, clearly under the false impression that he needed
reassurance. “Go and celebrate before Pumpkin gets here to ruin
“But…” Heilyn started,
trying to think of an excuse.
“It was very
interesting to meet you,” Emyr said gravely. “I hope we meet again
before you leave Sirig.”
Well, that was just
pointed enough. Daunted, Heilyn retreated with his canvas held out
before him. This, he promised himself, glancing back at where Emyr
stood gazing up at the afternoon light on the cliffs of Briallen
floating above them, was not the end. He’d paint that man yet, and
only time and luck would tell whether it would be on canvas or
whether he’d be tracing color onto smooth skin.
HEILYN WAS woken the
next dawn by the soft sigh of rain. It pattered down gently on the
roof of the attic of the village inn, and plinked off the bedpan
Heilyn had put under the leak. It drowned out the snores of the
overnighting sailors in the other two bunks and made the air
suddenly taste clean and cool. Strange, he thought sleepily, how
rain sounded the same on every island. He had been traveling since
the spring, island-hopping on the ropes, and the rain sounded the
same tucked into a shepherd’s hut on the slopes of Callestr, high
in the sky, or in a shrineside hostel below Luaith, where the
priests of Dwynwen lived on actual searocks, lower than any island.
Even on the mainland, where he’d spent a bewildered weekend, the
rain sounded the same.
Now summer was drawing
to an end, and he would have to slow the pace of his travel, as the
ferry services became less frequent in the face of winter storms.
He wasn’t ready to plant his feet in the ground and grow roots, not
yet, but it was time to start thinking about his route a little
more. Winter wasn’t quite such a forgiving season for just jumping
on the next boat out when you were bored of a place.
He thought of Emyr, and
smiled up at the scraps of paper pinned over his bed, all covered
with charcoal attempts to capture Emyr’s face. Perhaps there was
time for one last fling before summer was over.
With that thought, he
slipped back into sleep, and didn’t stir until he was woken by the
clang of pots in the kitchen below. The rain was gone, and the sun
shone through the open windows as he dashed down the stairs to the
kitchen. He was traveling for the sake of his art, but art wasn’t
as useful in getting cheap accommodation as a willingness to scrub
dishes, so he was working for his stay.
The sunshine came
spilling in the window again as he splashed and scrubbed with
goodwill, that amazing low island light that made his heart feel
light and his fingers hungry for a brush. He whistled as he worked,
the music spilling out of him as if he were a lark flitting across
the base of a high island, loose and bright and happy.
“You’re in a good
mood,” Elin the innwife remarked, bustling in with more dirty
plates. The crew of the Gylfinir, the trading ship that had
docked overnight, were making a good breakfast while they waited
for the wind and everyone in the kitchen was busy.
“I’m in love,” Heilyn
informed her happily.
She snorted, dumping
the plates beside him and picking up the clean stack. “Oh, yes?
What is it you’re in love with today, boy? The flowers outside the
window, is it? The birds in the trees? A handsome sailor?”
“My heart is as wide as
the ocean,” Heilyn told her.
“Aye,” she said with a
snort of derision. “And as shallow as a puddle.”
He chose to ignore
that. Slander! “For your information, I’m in love with a smile I
haven’t seen yet.” He thought of Emyr’s mouth and his sad, sad eyes
and sighed again.
“Dwynwen save us,
should I be telling my friends to lock up their daughters?”
Heilyn wrinkled his
nose at her. “Girls? No, thank you. This smile belongs to a man.”
Emyr was definitely all grown-up, though he wasn’t old, Dwynwen
“Does this lucky man
have a name?” Elin asked, openly laughing at him now. It wasn’t his
fault he approached his life with such enthusiasm, was it? Some
people would think that was a good thing.