Kingfisher

Written By: Patricia A. McKillip

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip





PART ONE




   CHIMERA





1


Pierce Oliver was pulling crab rings out of the water off the end of the dock at Desolation Point when he saw the knights.

They were throwing doors open, clambering out of a black touring car half as long as the dock, it looked, and inset with strange devices depicting animals so rarely seen most were presumed extinct. Three young men, sleek and muscular, adjusting their black leathers and quilted silks, heads turning this way and that as they surveyed the tiny harbor, caused Pierce to forget what he was doing. The line went slack in his hands. The tiered, circular frames of the net he had hauled up, dripping and writhing with crabs, slumped into one another. A fourth door opened; another head rose out of the driver’s side, black-capped and masked with sunglasses. His voice queried something lost in a sudden squall of screeching gulls. The three shook their heads, turning from him toward the dock.

They were all, Pierce realized abruptly, staring back at him.

A crab hit his shoe, skittered over it. He glanced down hastily, pulled the rings taut again, knelt to shake crabs back into the net and bat the smaller escapees back into the sea. He felt the tremor of footsteps along the dock. Boots, black, supple, and glistening like nacre, came to a halt under his nose.

“Sorry to interrupt your work there, but could you tell us where in Severen’s name we are?”

Pierce, the crab net rope in one hand, a lime-green plastic measure in the other, opened his mouth. Nothing came out. The shadow stretching out from the boots on the dock seemed to have grown wings. They expanded darkly across the wood, rising to catch the wind. The boots under Pierce’s transfixed gaze refused to levitate, ignoring the wings.

Then the broad, shadowy wings were gone, and he could lift his head finally, look helplessly up at the speaker, who had hair like cropped lamb’s wool and eyes like a balmy afternoon sky in some other part of the world. The eyes were beginning to look more bemused than tranquil at Pierce’s silence.

“He doesn’t know either,” the dark-haired man with a green jewel in one ear the color of his eyes guessed with a laugh. The third, a golden-haired giant as solidly massive as a slab of oak, flared suddenly, flames licking out all around him. Pierce jumped, dropping the crab measure.

“Cape Mistbegotten,” he gabbled hastily, not wanting to rile them into further displays of weirdness.

“Mistbegotten?”

“Des—Desolation Point.”

“Des— Seriously?”

A gull landed on the dock beside him with a sudden, fierce cry. After the crabs, he thought, but it stayed very still then, raking the strangers with its yellow-eyed glare. He retrieved the crab measure, stood up shakily, and realized that he had forgotten to take his apron off. It hung limply around his neck, untied and grubby from the kitchen, the trellis of green beans on it like some stained mimicry of a heraldic device. Another crab was snarled in his shoelace, trying to untie his ancient, cracked trainer.

“Desolation Point,” he repeated more clearly, though his mouth was still dry. The dark-haired man’s shadow seemed to have grown a barbed tail; it lashed sinuously, soundlessly, as though to sweep the crabs off the dock. It stilled finally. Pierce closed his eyes tightly, opened them and his mouth again. “It’s the only town on the cape. The sign got blown into the ocean during a winter storm. It’s still a little early in the season for tourists; we haven’t bothered to replace it yet.”

They were gazing at him with varying degrees of incredulity. “People come here?” the fire-giant said dubiously. “On purpose?”

Pierce shook the crab off his shoe; it landed on its back, legs waving at him furiously. “Like I said, it’s the only town on Cape Mistbegotten.”

“Then why isn’t it on the map?” the blond with the temperate eyes asked reasonably. “Our driver couldn’t even find it on paper.”

Pierce grunted, puzzled. Something in the gull’s grim eye, its oddly motionless stance, enlightened him. “Oh, that was probably my mother. Sometimes she hides things and forgets.”

“Your mother.” The burly giant’s face flattened suddenly, all expression gone. “Hides. An entire cape.” He had shifted suddenly very close to Pierce, forcing Pierce’s head to angle upward. “Are you mocking us? Do you have any idea who we are?”

Pierce, caught helplessly in the hazel-eyed smolder, finally registered the odd crunch in the giant’s wake. “Not a clue,” he said breathlessly. “But you just squashed a perfectly good dinner crab.”

The giant looked down at his boots, raised one slowly, grimacing at the legs dangling from the sole. The fair man with the wings dropped a hand on his shoulder, shook him lightly, fearlessly.

“Temper, Bayley,” he murmured. His eyes, on Pierce’s face, widened in sudden comprehension. “We must have wandered off the map into the realm of a sorceress.”

“Or a lunatic,” the giant muttered, shaking crab off his boot.

“No.” The intense gaze fixed Pierce, held him motionless. “He is the sorceress’s son. That’s why you couldn’t speak. Isn’t it? You saw something in us. Tell me what you saw.”

“I saw—” Pierce whispered, losing his voice again, “I saw your shadow. Your wings. And I saw your fire,” he added to the giant, then to the dark knight, “I saw your barbed tail.”

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