Taja cooed at the aquine as it bobbed and floated, seeming content in her hand. She followed Ranseur up to the woman’s mansion. The afternoon sun dipped, the sky’s burnt orange hue casting a backdrop of light about the steepled manor. “Uh-queen?” Taja turned and looked to the lady, hoping she’d pronounced it correctly.
“Aquine,” Ranseur corrected her, rolling her tongue. The lady glanced over her shoulder at the pair and laughed. “You two are thick as thieves already.”
Taja’s eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?”
“It means I’m going to have to keep my eye on you two. You’re bound to be trouble.”
Taja bunched up her nose. “You can count on it.”
Ranseur shook her head and smiled as the three passed through the threshold of the mansion. The elegance and beauty of the spired estate still took Taja’s breath away, and she couldn’t believe Ranseur lived there. She set White Cap on the ground, and the aquine waved and wobbled, appearing to find its balance through perpetual motion.
“Can you understand White Cap yet?” Ranseur asked.
Taja paused and pondered the simple question. “I didn’t think I would, but yes. Strange, isn’t it?”
“Strange?” Ranseur’s eyebrows raised. “I don’t think so. You two have a connection—and always will. It is truly something special. Have you seen it transform, yet?”
“An aquine can shape themselves into most anything they wish. It’s quite a sight.”
The two watched as White Cap cycled through a series of simple shapes including a ball and a star. Taja giggled at the aquine, then blinked, turning back to the lady. “So, what’s next? Do you have another test for me? Something else to find?”
“Patience,” Ranseur assured. “I believe you’ve had enough for one day, my daughter.”
“But I’m ready!” Taja blurted before she could stop herself. “Didn’t you see what I did today? I passed all your tests, didn’t I?”
Ranseur’s countenance softened, and she nodded. “You did, darling. With flying colors.”
“I’m ready for anything you have for me,” Taja boasted.
The lady took Taja by the shoulder. “I know you are, but you need your rest first.” Ranseur patted her on the back, and with a gentle turn sent her through the doorway of her bedroom. “I promise you’ll have your answer soon.”
Taja’s smile wilted and she looked over her shoulder while Ranseur quietly shut the door. As Ranseur’s footfalls faded into the distance, she began to pace. White Cap watched, the little wave mimicking her walking by spinning pirouettes at her feet.
“Rest? After such an incredible day? I don’t want it to end!”
The aquine crested and fell, bouncing in agreement.
“You can understand me, can’t you?” Taja asked.
White Cap continued to wobble, and Taja snickered.
“Let’s see. Come here.” Taja pointed to a spot on the ground in front of her, and White Cap obeyed, slithering itself toward her.
“Can you make yourself as tall as me?”
In no time at all, her friend rose to her eye level, stretching thin.
Taja gasped. “You’re amazing!” She sat cross-legged, and White Cap shrank to its usual size. “I have so many questions. If only you could speak.” As the words left her mouth, she realized how silly they sounded. “But you have been speaking in your own way.” Taja’s eyes sparkled, an idea forming in her mind. “I’m going to ask you some yes or no questions. If your answer is yes, rise above my head, and if it’s a no, make yourself a puddle. Is that okay?”
White Cap rose a couple of feet, looming over the girl.
Taja chuckled. “Good. Are you happy to be here?”
Once again, her friend grew.
“I’m happy you’re here, too.” Taja crossed the room to lay on her bed, and the aquine followed and stopping beside it.
“Do you like your name? I mean… the one I gave you?”
White Cap signaled yes.
She smiled, happy to have a friend to talk to. She yawned, feeling her eyelids grow heavy. Maybe she should rest her eyes for a little.
Taja didn’t remember falling asleep, but a warm hand on her arm and Ranseur’s voice woke her from her dreams.
“What is it?” Taja managed, her voice groggy. “What’s going on?” She wondered how long she’d been asleep.
“Taja, I’d like you to meet someone.”
Taja blinked, and the woman came into focus. She sat next to her on the bed while a tall man stood behind her, shadowed in the doorway. Taja sat up.
“This is Captain Pymecanth. He’s here to take us to an island. One close to your ancestral home.”
The bearded stranger nodded to Taja. A silver brooch in the shape of a trident glinted on his lapel. “Hello, miss. It’s a pleasure.”
Taja waved and turned back to Ranseur. “An island? Why are we going there?”
Ranseur smiled. “It’s a surprise, sweetheart. One I’m sure you’ll enjoy.”
Taja beamed back at her. The day just kept getting better and better.
“I’m glad you got some rest, dear. I see you slept in the clothes you wore on the beach.” Ranseur sighed and pointed at a fine wooden wardrobe that stood in the corner. “Change and refreshen yourself,” the lady continued, “and the meet us in the foyer. But be quick about it.” Ranseur turned and followed Captain Pymecanth away, pulling the door closed behind them.
“I guess you don’t sleep do you?” Taja turned back to her new friend who stood beside her bed. White Cap puddled on the floor and then rose to eye level with the girl. She smiled and whispered, “I’m going home, White Cap. Isn’t this great?”
White Cap reduced to a puddle.
Taja’s chin pulled back and she squinted her eyes in surprise. “What’s wrong?”
White Cap’s shape changed to show its thoughts—an object that made Taja’s heart skip a beat.