“The siren’s song possesses the charms of the ocean and the treachery of its depths.” -The Lady, Tarot Ranseur
The parson drew the little girl aside, wringing his weathered hands as he looked at her. Her large eyes were filled with trust, and it broke his heart that he might never look into them again, and see her silent moments of curiosity, of wonder, of laughter.
“Taja,” he began, and she blinked at him and smiled in recognition of her name, but it fell a little as she observed his grave expression. “I am leaving you with Ramsay.”
She looked at him in confusion, a little crease forming between her fine brows.
“Ramsay,” Ascot tried again, pointing in the direction of his friend.
Taja followed his gaze and turned back toward him, her expression blank.
“I know that you don’t understand, but perhaps someday you will. I can’t protect you, Taja. I’m only a parson.” Ascot spread his hands, willing her to comprehend some of what he was saying. “My place is with my parsonage, but it’s not safe for you there now. I’m sorry.” Eyes beginning to blur with tears, he enfolded his surrogate daughter into a hug. When she pulled away, she was smiling, her eyes sparkling, as if to say, “What was that for?”
“Ramsay,” he called, his voice breaking a little, and Taja’s smile fell again.
His friend came over, his expression sad and sympathetic.
“I need you to make sure she doesn’t follow me,” Ascot muttered to him, turning his head away to hide his tears. “I don’t think she knows what I’m trying to tell her.”
Ramsay nodded his understanding and moved to place a large hand on Taja’s shoulder. She glanced up at him, her gaze growing wary as she looked between the two adults.
“Surely you can take a little more time to say goodbye to the child, Parson,” Ramsay said, frowning. “She’ll be heartbroken.”
Ascot shook his head. “No. If I don’t leave now, I’m not sure that I ever will.” His feet felt unsteady under him, and he thought of his poor wife’s tears when he would arrive home alone; how empty their home would feel without little Taja ever underfoot, often helping and sometimes hindering, always with her sweet smile. It had only been weeks since she’d washed up on the beach, but they’d grown to love her as if she were their own daughter.
He crouched down to give her a last kiss on the forehead. The child’s confusion was turning into distress, and she was beginning to cry. Her tears smelled of brine – a siren’s tears. “Forgive me, dear,” he managed. At last, he turned to leave.
Taja’s supernatural wails of grief were audible far longer than they should have been, and they rang in his ears as he made the long journey home.
Ramsay exerted more effort than he would have thought to hold on to the little girl, who was struggling and sobbing in an odd timbre that made his head ache, as her adoptive father rode away from her. It was another several minutes before she had calmed down enough that he could let her go, though she was still crying.
“Now, now,” Ramsay said, blinking back his own tears of pity for the child’s distress. “It will be alright.” He patted her awkwardly on the shoulder, and she sniffled. “Taja, I am Ramsay. I’m going to take you to live with my wife and me. We will look after you. Do you understand?
From her expression, it was obvious she didn’t, but she seemed to ascertain that he was trying to comfort her and clumsily wiped at her eyes.
“Come now,” Ramsay said quietly, straightening.
Taja took his offered hand after a brief hesitation and a glance back in the direction the parson had left.
Ramsay first took her to see his wife, aware that he would need to explain himself but confident that she would believe he had done the right thing. Yasmine fell in love with the little girl instantly, drying her tears and holding her in a way any child would understand was the instinct of a mother. The rest of his story, however, she was slower to accept.
“What do you mean, she’s a siren?” she scoffed, though keeping her tone gentle so as not to alarm Taja. “I was raised not to believe in such things.”
Ramsay rolled his eyes in exasperation. He loved his wife’s critical mind and rebellious spirit, but there were times he wished she was a little more credulous. “It’s not about the folklore or the myths, Yaz. It’s about the way people react to them. Whatever the child is,” – although he privately did think she was a siren – “she seems to evoke suspicion in the average person. They think she’s a siren, so she might as well be, for all she’s just a little one. The point is, she’s not safe.”
“Fools,” his wife snapped, and at Taja’s surprised look petted her hair to show she was not angry with her. “To threaten a child? Even if she were a siren, anyone can see she has a gentle spirit and wouldn’t wish to harm a soul. And even if she were difficult, she’s just a girl!”
“I know,” Ramsay said in a soothing tone, and Yasmine sighed. “In any case, at least we can do our best to take care of her. Poor thing.”
“Who’s a poor thing?” came a joking voice from outside their tent, and Allerban the lute player, one of the members of their troupe, stuck his head in with a large smile. “Could it be me, for having to play an extra set last night when somebody’s voice was too tired?”
“Hush, you ass,” Yasmine rebuked him. “He was sick. I didn’t see my husband complaining for having to sing longer that day you were hungover from too much temple wine.”
Allerban bowed in mock shame, and his eyes fell on Taja, who had ducked away when he’d entered. “Who’s this?” he said, pointing. “Is she the poor thing?”
“She’s our new apprentice,” Ramsay replied before his wife could say anything. “The man that was here earlier? He is an old friend. He brought her here so she could learn from us. Unfortunately she is an orphan.”
Allerban’s eyes narrowed in doubt. “She’s awful young, Ramsay. I don’t know any crowd that would gather for a little sprig like her.”
“She’s got a voice on her,” Ramsay stated.
“Who has?” Another person followed Allerban: Uli, one of the dancers. “Have we got somebody new? I’ve been lonely for a roommate ever since Talyn left us.”
“You’re not getting a new roommate,” Ramsay said, beginning to get testy. “It’s only an orphaned apprentice. Her name is Taja.”
Uli glanced at Taja. “That little girl can sing?” she inquired, with a disbelieving stare at Ramsay.
Taja, likely used to being alone or in the parson’s small household, appeared unsure whether to cower or bask in their attention.
Ramsay sighed and exchanged a look with his wife. As it was, they might as well go ahead and introduce Taja to the troupe.
“Taja, can you sing like you did for Ramsay?” Yasmine encouraged, and at the girl’s blank look repeated, “Sing?” With another glance at Ramsay, Yasmine demonstrated a few notes in her lovely alto.
At this, Taja seemed to understand, and brightened a little. In a moment, she had opened her mouth and was singing a song in a tongue Ramsay had never heard. The entire tent stilled, everyone now listening to their new prodigy. The child’s voice, though untrained, was nothing short of miraculous.
“Wow,” Uli’s eyes widened. “I think I could listen to that forever.”
Taja smiled, sensing the praise even though Ramsay knew she couldn’t understand what the woman was saying.
“And she’s not even trained up yet,” put in Yasmine, both she and Ramsay feeling a little smug at their charge’s brilliance being vindicated.
“What was that?” called a voice from outside the tent, and Quin the drummer opened the flap, an expression of rapture on his face.