Chapter Six

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IN THE NYMPH'S humble opinion, on such a day a moment spent indoors was a wasted moment. Isiilde hurried back to her beach to enjoy what little time she had left under the elusive sun. A whimsical tune drifted from her lips as she watched a pair of otters floating beyond the breakers, bobbing up and down, swaying with the kelp forests beneath the sea.

Despite the lovely day, she was distracted, and her gaze kept drifting back to the cottage, impatient for Marsais to finish. If she had known that Oenghus was going to chase her away, she would have never suggested a bath. Although on further thought, her master did look rather dingy and smelled of fish. After a few impatient minutes of waiting (which in her mind stretched longer than the past six months) the nymph became unbearably bored.

The herd of walruses had reestablished their hierarchy, and the giant mounds of slumbering blubber offered no amusement to speak of. Disappointed, Isiilde ventured over to a shallow tide pool, and carefully avoiding the sharp mussels that clung to the rocks, she balanced across the slippery surface, while peering beneath the water to the rock bed below.

The starfish weren't very entertaining. And when she'd worked up the courage to touch one a few years back, she decided never to try something so foolish again. It was squishy. So at present, she just poked around the pool with a stick, wrinkling her nose at the slimy sea life. As much as Isiilde dreamt of traveling, the merekind's watery abode was a place she had no desire to visit.

A tiny crab skittered out of the rocks, moving with an awkward, lopsided gait caused by a single claw disproportionate to the rest of its armored carapace. Isiilde's ears perked with curious wonder as she watched it scurry about its business in the algae. Whether the crab sensed the looming nymph or its path naturally took it beneath the water, she couldn't say, but she was sorely disappointed when the strange creature disappeared beneath a rock.

Isiilde glanced down the beach, brightening when she saw Marsais walking towards her. She quickly hopped from rock to rock, and in her eager excitement slipped. The nymph fell into the tide pool, splitting open a toe. A whimpering oath flew from her lips. She scrambled upright, climbing over the rocks to the safety of the sand, where she stood shivering and hopping on one foot, clutching her toe in misery. Bright, warm blood covered her big toe and dripped onto the sand, making her lightheaded.

"It's bleeding, Marsais!" The nymph plopped onto the sand. She was sure nothing had ever been so painful.

"It's not such an uncommon occurrence as you might think," Marsais remarked, covering the distance between them with long, quick strides. Now that he was washed and groomed, his long white hair shone in the sun, falling past his shoulders as he crouched at her side. Isiilde lifted up her bloody toe and stuck it in his face. He studied the wound with sharp, grey eyes that always twinkled for her, as if a field of fireflies danced within.

"I'm no expert, but I believe you'll live, and I have just the cure." Marsais produced a pristine handkerchief from his travel-stitched trousers. Isiilde squirmed as he carefully wrapped it around her toe.

"Thank you," she whispered, folding her legs to cradle the injured member.

Marsais dropped his worn rucksack next to her, and sat on the opposite side. The nymph studied him as he stretched out his long body, propping himself on his elbows to gaze at the sea. She wanted to reach across the leather pack and poke her master, just to assure herself that he was really sitting beside her, but the throbbing ache of her cut was reminder enough that she wasn't dreaming, so she sniffed at him instead.

"Do I meet with your satisfaction?" Large patches were haphazardly sewn onto his billowing cotton shirt and the lacing hung in tatters, leaving the sleeves loose and dingy. He still looked like a vagabond, but at least the fishy odor was gone, leaving a whiff of soap that mingled with his strong, familiar scent.

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