“Time and tide wait for no one.” -Archdeacon Tagore, of the Shrine of the Ancient Oceans
“I’m tellin’ ya, Parson, it’s the truth.” Derbis spun the tale a second time. Ascot frowned as he listened to Derbis, growing impatient with the man. Derbis lowered his voice even more as he emphasized the spectacle he witnessed. “Her tail disappeared when I pulled her from the waters. Look,” he continued, pointing to the girl, still tangled in his torn net, lying on the grass. “You can still see the markings where her fins were.”
Ascot strained to hear his final words, now lowered to an almost whisper, as Derbis bent over the unconscious girl.
“She be a siren, I’m tellin’ ya,” Derbis muttered in a thick brogue, “Parson, she be a siren.”
“There’s no such thing, my son,” Ascot replied politely, waving the man’s story away as easily as if swatting a fly. He knew most of the local fishermen of Ashray Cove held superstitious beliefs but wanted to swiftly dispel any rumors of such a creature. “What you have here is an injured girl and one that nearly drown. Quickly, bring her inside so that I may aid in her recovery.”
Derbis did as he asked, carrying the tiny girl and following Ascot back into parsonage. Once inside, he carefully laid her down on a bunk near the back of the house, considered the child for a moment, then laid his faith in the man he’d come to for help.
The parson nodded, gave Derbis a pat on the back and helped the man back outside. Once he was sure the fishermen would be on his way, he returned to the bunk, knelt and began what he hoped would restore health to the girl.
“Jesavius, goddess of the waters deep,” Ascot offered in prayer, “if it be the will of the gods, help this child find her way back into the light. She’s far too young to be lost.”
He broke from his divine meditation and scrambled to inspect her more closely. Despite initially doubting that the girl was more than a victim of a greedy current, it soon became apparent to a skilled healer such as Dalton Ascot that something else ailed this child, and time was waning like the tides.
He discovered that the discoloration of her lips, pale as a drowned seaman, were unnaturally so if she had survived this long. He opened her mouth to discover a more insidious malady.
The inside of her mouth was ulcered from whatever she had imbibed, but the effects of the poison manifested nowhere else on her body. She couldn’t have been much older than ten or twelve solstices, which made her a nectern, one closest to the beginning of pure life. With a child of her age and size, he would have to work fast.
Ascot rushed to his pantry and quickly retrieved components for an antidote. The ingredients were simple: crushed echinacea roots, mint sprigs, ten drops of essence of lavender, crushed fennel seeds and then stir. Typically, the draught would need to be heated in his medical cauldron and left to brew, but he didn’t have the time. It would have to do.
He mixed the concoction and offered more prayers for divine intervention before pouring it carefully into the girl’s mouth. She coughed and fought swallowing the liquid, but Ascot tilted her head to ensure she ingested as much as possible.
“Jesavius, patron goddess of our life-giving seas, please grant me the wisdom to save this girl.” He would know soon, but if the poison was strong and deliberately administered, she was doomed.
With the aid of a healing potion for strength, a long incantation to banish ill health, plus repeated prayers to Jesavius herself, Ascot hoped he had within him enough curative powers to bring the girl back from the brink of death.
Then it was time to wait and pray. Hours passed and the girl barely flinched. He held his vigilant reverie above her.
In between praying for the child, Ascot heard his wife, Elyss, enter the parsonage. A believer of the seas herself, and one who knew the fantastical possibilities the waters could produce, she rushed to his side.
“Is it true?” she said, kneeling to look at the girl. “Word is about town.”
“Derbis has loose lips,” Ascot huffed.
“Does she live?”
“Aye.” Ascot stood and felt the girl’s forehead. “For now.”
“Derbis claims she was -“
“A siren?” Ascot interrupted, turning a doubting face to Elyss. “Be careful my love. The mere rumors of such will spiral throughout this town.”
“They already have,” she replied. “He’s been drinkin’ and talkin’ since he brought her here.”
Ascot sighed at the notion. Ashray Cove was a quiet town, but prone to fearful exaggerations. If she lived, and he were to have healed a siren, an enemy of the seafarers of the cove, that would mean trouble.
“What can be done?”
“Pray,” Ascot replied.
That evening, the town’s Mayor, a woman named Vil Samons, came to visit and upon inspection of the girl, was convinced enough the child was no siren, such as the ramblings of a drunken fisherman suggested. She left, satisfied that Ashray Cove was safe, and that Derbis’s fishing nets had saved a stowaway that had fallen from a nearby ship. Ascot, in an attempt to make no greater a matter than it already was, made no mention of the poison, nor the antidote he had administered.
After a few days of endless prayers and potions, the child began to regain her strength, returning from the world of shadows for longer and longer moments each time. While the parson and his wife tried to question the girl, she seemed unable to answer them, her memories faded into obscurity.
It wasn’t until the third day since her arrival that she spoke at all and to Ascot’s surprise, in a tongue unfamiliar to him.
“How can a child of that age not know the tongue of Avera?” he asked Elyss that night. “And how did a stranger so young find her way to Ashray Cove and into a fisherman’s net?”
“It’s as if she was borne from the ocean itself,” Elyss replied. She had a point. The girl’s flaxen hair and alabaster skin were common enough to the people of the cove, but it seemed when her eyes opened, their color changed. At times, they were blue like the ocean, others green as the Emerald Lagoon to the south. He swore at one moment, when she woke for the first time, her eyes dazzled with a golden hue.
By the fourth morning, Ascot knew that he would eventually need to find more permanent arrangements for the child, who Elyss had started to call Taja. At first, he had frowned on the naming of the child, for fear of Elyss taking her too close to heart and unable to part with her. But his wife was no fool and knew what was needed.
Taja had grown in strength considerably and had begun walking down to the water’s edge, sometimes just to sit and watch as the waves rolled in. Other times, she would walk up and down the beach, as if trying to remember something.
On the evening of her sixth day with the couple, Ascot had been reading an ancient text about mythical creatures, while Elyss prepared the evening meal. Suddenly as if floating on the wind itself, a magical voice came to them, filling the very air with the sound of harmony.
Ascot and Elyss went to the door of the parsonage, looked out and saw Taja seated before the sea, staring out across the water as the melody from her very soul filled the air. They could do nothing but listen to the magical tune, unable to move as the realization came to them. This girl was more than just a chance discovery. She had been sent by Jesavius herself.
As they continued to listen, they soon realized that the words the child sang sounded completely foreign to them, with neither recognizing the tongue. It almost sounded conjured spontaneously, something implausible from a child her age. But the more they listened, the more they heard the regularity of a real language.
The mystery of the girl continued on for many days, with more questions arising in time with the sun. Ascot knew that he needed to discover her true purpose, but also understood that such a thing might not happen for a long time to come, time which he and Elyss did not have in abundance.