You’re Not Gonna Find Her
The first thing she noticed as the road twisted and turned was the sound. It seemed to roar to life in great bursts like a breathing thing. They approached late in the evening and the cries of the gulls rang out in desperate cries. The gulls were looking for something, food or rest or whatever it was that birds wanted and then the roar would begin again and the crash of the high tide and the wash. Wind whipped around them, sometimes it carried salt and sometimes flowers and high grass and as they crested the ridge the white towers came into sight.
No one else seemed particularly impressed with the sight, not with the marching grey of the sea (though Lunet would later find out this was no more than a sheltered bay) and the great red of the sunset, not with the swooping grey birds, not even with the lofty towers and connecting bridges of the great port city. She tried to picture Bree, its clustered gamboled roofs and tilting chimneys… even with the hedge it might have taken up only a corner of this broad place. Its great main street was no more than an alley here.
Lunet would see many great, fair things in her life but this was the first of them and that made it the fairest.
She hesitated on the hill, holding Copperfire’s reigns as she looked down. The tradecarts and dwarves flowed around her as a river until finally they dissipated and she felt, for a brief second, utterly alone.
“You coming along?”
“What? Wh- Oh!” The spell was broken, down at her side Narfin with his exquisitely braided beard had stopped beside her. He wore a grey surcoat and chainmail and carried a hammer with letters all carved into the head of it. But he didn’t wear a cloak and his black braids flopped around his head and his broad shoulders. “Sorry, I just got distracted,” she apologized and cleared her throat.
“Hurry along, don’t want to be out in the hills at night. It’s all better up close anyhow.”
They passed under a sort of gate, a great, arched space that dipped and then rose again into an avenue so wide the caravan might have ridden six abreast and had space to stretch out yet. Fair, grey-robed people passed them by, their voices sinking below the gulls’ cries and the waves and then rising again just like the waves. There were men here too, tall men with sharp features like Ilona who had reappeared and walked beside her horse and smaller men with dark hair and fair robes.
If she had kept a count of them it might have occurred to Lunet that the men, at least in this road, outnumbered the elves. Or perhaps they were more noticeable. The elves seemed to fade into the architecture, as much a part of the city as the city was of them. Or perhaps they were just part of the sea.
They ate dinner in a low, wide guest house with a great common room. It opened onto a garden full of flowers and Lunet surreptitiously pocketed a bright blue flower in the corner and pressed it into one of her father’s journals. Maybe she could find the seeds and bring them back to Bree for Yule, Attie would like that.
She ate dinner with Ilona and Thorold and listened to Thorold complain about the food and watched Ilona flick little bits of vegetable at him when his head was turned.
The guest house was on the gate side which meant the walk down to the water was a gentle slope across the city and down to the havens. This late at night the men were all gone and the grey robed elves floated by without looking at her. Thorold said they never slept which was even stranger to Lunet than the supposed immortality. Living forever seemed entirely pleasant but never sleeping as well?
That just seemed like torture.
Eventually the fair houses gave way to masts and the creaking of ships. The wood of the sodden beasts seemed to speak in groans, to announce that it was here and that it had always been here. That it would always be here. They spoke to each other with each swell of water against the sheltered haven and the forest of masts rose and fell back again. Lunet had once heard that the great plague had come to the north by ship and ever since the ghosts of the dead clung to the hulls and shouted for help but she didn’t believe it. The music of the monstrosities was pleasant and made her think of Coruvir and all of his stories about the south and the sea.
Stairs twisted away from the dock eventually and onto a stretch of beach, the soft sand dotted with shells. Lunet pulled off her boots to walk across it and up to the very edge of the water as it rolled gently back and forth.
“It’s just low tide, y’know,” interjected a voice, Narfin with his boots still on leaving divots in the sand. He stood a way back, hands on his belt. “You go where it’s open to the world, not in a bay, and the waves’ll come in higher than you.”
“Aye. That’s so. Still, as good a view as any I suppose.”
He walked forward and they stood there in silence for a few minutes and, in silence still, wandered back to a low stretch of white stone wall where Lunet found a shell the size of her palm sitting.
It was a twisting spiral of blue with white at the base like petrified foam and she turned it over while they sat and stared.
“I never knew there was anything this big in the world,” Lunet said after a moment. “Something this big where there’s nothing.”
“There’s all sorts in there though, water goes down farther’n anyone knows but it’s lord and there’s fish and bones and mountains and merfolk just the same as you and me, wondering how anything can live in the air.”
Lunet laughed despite herself, looking over at the dwarf. “There’s no such thing as merfolk,” she snickered.
Narfin tapped his nose. “And somewhere down there some merman is telling a merlass just the same thing.”
“What would they even breathe?”
“What do airfolks breathe?”
Lunet snickered at him and turned the shell over, running her thumb on its colorful face, over the bumps of foam. “Why’d you follow me out?”
“Can’t have my healer go wandering, s’how I lost the last one. Wandered off and fell in love and found a new home.”
Lunet kicked her foot against the wall, trying to knock away a little bit of the sand. “Have you got a home?”
“Aye, sure as anyone.”
“I don’t think I have though.”
“Sure you do. Road’s a home. Bigger than most but the space in between places is a space all the same. Just means you get to wake up to a different sunrise every morning.”
Lunet let out a little puffy laugh and smiled at him. “It smells better than Bree too.”
“Aye, you’ll say that about most places you get to.”
“Don’t you ever wish you could settle though?”
“Why? Got everything I need. Fresh air and sunshine if I want it, friends too and gold. What more could anyone need?”
Lunet peered out at the sea again, the stars glinted overhead cold and distant and always there. The same stars Ma and Pa would see if they looked out of the window. That was alright, it was like they were still under the same roof, just in different rooms.
“Now, you don’t stay up too late, aye?” Narfin suggested, hopping down onto the sand. “Road’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“Yeah, alright. I’ll be back in a bit.
She smiled at him and he waved and she turned back to the sea.
I’m sorry about how I left, I’ve been nearly starting this letter since the first day I was gone and I’m sorry for the argument and for the things I said. I hope you’re not still mad at me so I thought you might like this. It’s a peace-offering I guess and I thought you would appreciate it anyway. It’s a shell from the beach just past a city where Elves live. I know it’s not home but you’d like it here anyway, it’s nice and the food is good and everyone is really nice.
I miss you a lot, and Ma and Pa and everyone and I hope you find a thing someday that makes you as happy as travelling makes me. I wish I could explain it, maybe someday I’ll be able to.