From Half Faerie, "Chapter 8: Achill Island"
Elynus’ simple stone abode stood like a solitary sentinel on the sweep of an elevated promontory—Achill Head, the shopkeeper had called it. A thin trail of grey smoke blew from the chimney, dissolving into the grey clouds overhead. Melia heard seagulls clacking in the bay to the south.
She paced in the short grass, staring at the three steps that led up to the cottage. The locals held her father in high esteem. Did she dare confront him? After all, he was a great druid. Who was she to question his work?
Melia felt weak and confused. She hadn’t realized, when she’d arrived on the beach, she’d have to roam the countryside to find her father. For some reason, she’d expected to arrive closer to where he lived. Maybe she should have swallowed her pride and asked Melusine to help her. But that was her hunger talking. Although it had taken a generous fisherman and a benevolent grocer to keep her from starving, and every single muscle in her legs and feet ached, she told herself she was fine.
She touched her hand to her forehead. She couldn’t feel Nandana’s mark, but knowing it was there gave her a sense of purpose. She saw things her father couldn’t bear to witness. Didn’t that mean some part of her was stronger than some part of him?
The wood door swung open. Melia faced a young lady in clean, but well-worn clothes. She carried a wicker basket on her hip. Their eyes met.
“He’s busy, he is,” the young lady said, closing the door behind her. “Best to come back later,” she whispered.
Melia tilted her head. “I can’t.”
“Suit yourself.” The young lady pushed by. “His mood’s dark; it’s all I'm sayin’.”
Melia watched the young lady retreat into the distance. When she was a black stick on the horizon, Melia raised her fist to the door. This time she knocked.
She recognized her father’s voice. “It’s M...m...melia.” Her body trembled again.
The door swung open. Her father stood before her, a sour look on his face.
He backed away from the door. “You shouldn’t have come.”
Melia followed him inside. “I need to talk to you.”
They stood in a bright room, a massive desk overwhelmed its center. A fire popped and crackled in the hearth to the right; two large oil lamps provided additional light. Bookshelves lined three of the walls. A leather-bound book, an ink pot, several quill pens, and a stack of parchment covered the desk’s surface. A single shadowy doorway stood to the far left of the fireplace.
A stew of emotions simmered in Melia’s stomach. They bubbled up into her ribcage and made her throat feel hot. Over the past three days, wandering around Achill island, she’d wondered what it would be like to see her father for the first time in more than fifteen years. Although she’d never welcomed his intrusions in her mind, there had been a time she’d loved him deeply.
Any lingering affection scattered in his presence. He was as stiff as a fence post and made her feel about as welcome as a horsefly.
He pointed to a chair in front of his desk as he settled himself into a larger one behind it. He steepled his fingers, glared, and penetrated her mind.
Traveling to the Mortal World had strengthened Melia’s confidence.
She pushed him away, but not before she felt his resentment that she was freer than he was, banned as he was from the Enchanted World and Faerie. The look in his eyes told her he was surprised by the force with which she’d closed her mind.
His eyes took her in. “Perhaps Little Bird is not as small as she once was,” he mused. “Yes, you’ve grown up. Into quite a lovely young lady, I daresay.”
His compliment caught Melia off guard. He opened one of the desk drawers and pulled out a bit of cloth. He handed it to her.
“You’ve got some dirt—” Elynus brushed his fingers between his eyebrows. “—there.”
Melia twisted the rag in her hand. “It’s not dirt. Nandana—”
“Say no more,” her father said. “I usually recognize the Illustrator’s work. It’s usually more—”
“Delicate,” Melia finished his sentence.
He smiled. “Yes, that’s the word I was looking for. But young people do like to have their own styles, don’t they? It’s quite unusual, gives you an exotic look. Does it serve some purpose? Awaken your third eye, perhaps?”
Melia didn’t know what he was talking about. Nandana hadn’t mentioned anything about her eyes, let alone a third one.
“Did you know Nandana’s Hindi?” her father asked.
“No,” Melia said.
“Her husband died; he was young. So was she. Her culture dictated a faithful wife go with him. They were going to burn her alive on his funeral pyre. She was frantic, then she found the way to the Realm of Faerie. I don’t think she’s ever come back to join us mortals. No reason she should. Illialei’s much safer for her these days.”
“She didn’t tell me,” Melia said.
Would Nandana have told her, if Melia had ever gone back to visit her? How many times had she wanted to return to the Illustrator’s shop and talked herself out of it? A pang of sadness settled in her chest. She’d have to fix that when she returned to Illialei.
Once again her father had turned the conversation away from himself. On the shores of the Nyssalei he’d talked about Queen Luisa, now he talked about Nandana. Melia shifted her gaze to the fire; its heat stifled. She recalled the horrible vision of the Illustrator dying with her grey cat beside her.
“You can’t incarnate Umbra. You must think about others beside yourself.” The clarity of her speech felt like a small—yet important—victory.
Her father’s eyes hardened, but he said nothing. His silence unnerved Melia more than any outrage she’d anticipated. Although her heart raced, she was determined to match his quiet. In those still moments, Melia recognized her father’s strength within her. She’d always dwelled on her faerie-blood, the gifts it had bestowed and denied. Not once had she considered what traits might have come to her by way of her father’s blood. By matching his resolve that afternoon, it became clear strength of will was one of them.