A Coral Pillow
Copyright 2009 by G. Wells Taylor
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Edited by Katherine Tomlinson
Cover art by G. Wells Taylor
When Carl paused in his long and dangerous descent to wave, he almost lost his footing on the crumbled shale slope. A scatter of stones clattered and drew his eyes to the sharp rocks below where the wild waves chewed the shoreline with foaming teeth. Risking another scare, he cocked his head from side to side, peering through a tangle of sea wrack for another glimpse of her. He'd seen her swimming just before.
Yes, there on the salted sea breeze, he saw a golden coil of hair. It danced in the air and beckoned, but he could see nothing more. She had moved behind a wayward boulder that had crashed down the slope in a reckless bid for the deep-years or even centuries past.
Urgently, he resumed his climb, weathered boots scuffing at the loose rocks for purchase and more small avalanches rattled. He hugged his pack tight to his chest so the iron tins of ham bit into his flesh. His free hand clutched at the air for balance.
A cave worn by water and wind gaped before him. Reflected light sent spangled ghosts into its depths. The waves rolled in along a stony trench and to either side ran a shelf of rock where the footing grew more sure. Echoes of daylight and breakers filled the cave's mouth. Carl searched for signs of her.
His name floated up from the shallows of the sea cave, the syllable buoyed by emotion. Carl stepped a few more yards beneath the arch of frowning stone. Beside him the waves were slowing. The trough of lime green water showed visions of colored fish and coral.
"Lhasa?" he whispered. The name sparked on the dancing water before trailing off to burbling echoes.
"Here." Her voice again, this time followed by a lighthearted giggle and playful splash.
"Lhasa," Carl breathed, face widening around a grin as he rushed forward.
The cave broadened out at the end where the trough spilled its contents in a pond. To either side the rock swept up and cradled a beach of fine, dark sand. Time had cut holes in the vaulted ceiling so beams of amber pierced the briny air.
Lhasa sat on the sand, her smile dancing. She raised her smooth, strong hands and beckoned-long fingers flickered anxious.
Carl hurried and then paused a moment over her, breathing deeply, always disbelieving. It was magic.
Her pale irises held the color of driftwood shot through with pupils darker than the deepest shadow of the wave worn cave. Her skin shone with the tan of endless summer, and jeweled her shoulders and arms with gilded bands. Golden hair fell in ringlets by her shoulders, hid her breasts in playful tangles.
"Carl, my love." She stretched her arms toward him.
He dropped his pack, fell to his knees and swept her into his arms. Her face he covered in kisses.
"I have missed you so!" Carl gasped, tears growing hot in his eyes. His voice was heavy.
"It is more difficult to meet you, love," Lhasa sang, her accented tones an enchantment. "My family grows suspicious."
"Damn them!" Carl blurted boldly, then softening, kissed her closed eyelids. "We must be together, we must. The hours in the lighthouse grow long and as each passes, the memory of your face grows stronger. It grows, my love, until I feel you with me. We must find a way."
Lhasa's eyes dropped and her full lips formed a frown.
"I fear there is no way. My family will not approve," she sighed, her strong hands kneading his shoulders. "Already they seek a suitor."
"We must find a way!" A pang of envy made his voice so sharp she flinched. "I am paid well for my lighthouse work; my carpentry earns me money from the shipwrights on the shore. We can have a life together..."
"But, we differ so..."
"No." He grasped her hands and brought them down between their chests. "In here we are alike. The same God set these hearts to beating." He rubbed the knot of fingers on their breasts. "We are one, my love. We have seen the round moon many times and watched the stars whirl in the inky black. Lhasa, we know each other's heart."