An enormous wave churned up out of a black sea. It hovered over the little boat swaying on the rough chop. The next instant, it smashed down on the open deck and swept all before it. The impact ripped the sails off the mast. The boat canted sideways, and the boom swung dangerously. It slammed hard to port, and the main sheet snapped. The boom kept flying far over the raging water, and its momentum threw the boat farther over on its side. A young man struggled along the deck to make his way forward when another monstrous wave crashed down on his head. Sea water gushed in his curly blonde hair and saturated his shirt. His kilt stuck to his legs and made walking even more difficult. He grabbed the main stay to steady himself before he fought his way further along the deck. He inhaled a deep breath and bellowed against the roaring storm. “Arch! Christie! Are ye there?” No one answered but the feral shriek of wind. The tempest threatened to shove the words back into his mouth. He couldn’t see anything or anybody through the spray stinging his face.
He let go of the stay and made a dive for the foc’sle. At that moment, another catastrophic wave pounded the boat, knocking the man off his feet. He collided with the hatch frame, the wood hurting his shoulder. He leaned there for a moment to catch his balance. He stuck his head below. “Clyde! Christie! Where are ye?” No one answered him. Was he alone on this ship? Had all his companions been washed into the sea? He cast one glance over his shoulder, to the north. He couldn’t see the land he knew must be right there, just beyond the solid wall of waves and rain. When he turned around to take another look forward, he spotted the biggest wave yet. It came from nowhere at a cross angle to the storm.
Inch by inch it grew until it leaned over the tiny vessel floundering at its feet. The man stared at it for a moment. The next instant, his features hardened in grim determination. He pushed himself away from the hatch, skipping over the slippery deck and grabbing the helm. He gave it a vicious yank to starboard. The vessel lurched, almost righting itself. The wave dangled over the man’s head. Then, with a deafening blow, it struck. The man ducked his head, but he didn’t let go of the wheel. The wave hit the boat in all its malicious fury, sweeping the boat back the way it came.
The man clamped his eyes shut against the concussion of so much water hitting him in the face. When he shook the deluge out of his eyes and his stringy hair off his face, he saw the destruction. The main boom snapped off and went spinning into the gloomy sky. The boat heeled before the wave’s momentum until the bowsprit pointed straight up. Sail flapped in the wind and did nothing to help the boat. The man fought the wheel with all his strength, his chest and shoulders showing through his drenched shirt. He planted his stout legs wide to brace himself against the heaving deck. The wave lost none of its power when it broke over the stricken vessel. The sea groaned out of its depths and pushed the boat back against all efforts to steer her. The man bared his teeth at the storm and roared in desperate fury, but it did no good.
He narrowed his eyes at the onrushing disaster. He didn’t react when an equally massive swell yawned out of the void to loom over him once again. He didn’t bother to steer anymore. He held the wheel in his fists from sheer indomitable determination. This wave did not break on top of the boat. It kept on coming, lifting the boat high into the air. The man glanced down into the swirling maelstrom far below him. The boat craned back. The bowsprit scraped the sky. The man felt the tug of gravity shift away from his feet.
His weight hung from his hands on the wheel. The next instant, the boat flipped over. The wave caught it and crushed it down onto its mast in the foaming sea. The man hung onto the wheel with everything he had. The next instant, he was underwater. The boat shuddered and quaked in his hands. The sea rolled it over and over. His body smashed against the deck. Then it shook him upside down in empty space. The rain lashed his face and body.
It tore at his clothes and froze his skin. He shut his eyes and screamed in holy terror, but the storm wouldn’t let him go. Another swell groaned out of the unquiet sea. It lifted the boat high and carried it miles out of its route. It expanded to a monstrous side, and with one devastating smash, it drove the fragile little craft down one final time. The howling tempest ripped the wheel out of the man’s hands. The wave caught him in mid-air. He struck hard ground with a catastrophic impact. The boat landed a few paces away from him. It shattered into a million matchsticks, and the wave thundered down on the remains and the man as well.
Ivy Tennant watched the scene through her mirror. Water trickled off the man’s hair and skin. It drained out of his eyes and down his cheeks like so many tears. His arms and legs lay limp and lifeless on the rocky shore. The storm abated and sank back into the sea. The dense cloud gave way, and the sun broke through. A tall square tower rose out of the rough fields in the distance. Ivy studied the man’s face at close range. She inspected the rough stubble of pale whiskers around his cheeks and chin. The sun reflected off his high, angular cheek bones and the indentation of muscle where his neck met his chest.
Lachlan McLean. That’s what Grace Spencer called him. Lachlan McLean, eldest brother of Clan McLean, Laird of the Isle of Mull and Chief of his Clan. Ivy put out her hand. The mirror’s surface rippled when her fingers passed through it. Her hand sank out of sight and reappeared on the other side of the shimmering surface. She touched Lachlan’s face and felt the roughness of his beard. She stroked the wisps of hair off his forehead and caressed his cheek. He sighed once, turning his head one way and the other at her touch, but he didn’t open his eyes. He gave a weak cough, and his body spasmed.
She ran her hand farther down his face. She traced her thumb over his lips. Why did he fascinate her so? A loud bang startled her from behind. A big burly man with a flowing gray beard barged into her bedroom and stormed up to her. She pulled her hand back just in time, and the vision evaporated to a rippling silvery mirror again. The man walked up behind her. “Those fools missed again. Can you believe such incompetence? I’ll have to handle this situation myself.” Ivy gazed at the mirror. It offered no reflection of the room behind her.
She couldn’t see herself or the man behind her, but she already knew what he looked like. She knew every nuance of his eyebrows framing his flashing gray eyes. His long, curly gray hair flowed around his shoulders and joined his beard to spread over his chest and shoulders. He wore only a skirt of seaweed around his hips and another swathe of seaweed draped from one shoulder over his bare chest. His stout legs ended in bare feet, and he wore a crown of seaweed in his hair. Ivy smiled to herself at his boisterous entrance. “I’m sure you’ll handle it one way or the other.” “It just goes to show what happens when you entrust important work to someone else,” he grumbled. “I should have handled it myself from the beginning.” “Is this really necessary, Aegir?” Ivy asked.
“Can’t you just let it go?” “You know I have to do this,” he replied. “You know I can’t leave them alone to do what they want in my own realm. The next thing I know they would be invading, and I can’t have that. I have to stop this now before it goes any further. I thought you understood that.” “I know,” she replied. “It just seems a little excessive, that’s all. They could never threaten you. You’re God of the Sea, and they are…well, they’re human.” Aegir snarled under his breath.
“They’re not human.” “Whatever they are, they could never threaten you,” she replied. “You have nothing to worry about. Just let them flounder in their own little world and leave them alone.” He came up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. He buried his face in her neck. “I won’t leave them alone. They’re searching for you, and one of them already came here looking for you. I’ll destroy them all. That’s the only way to ensure they don’t take you away from me.
” Ivy snuggled against his face, but she kept her eyes on the mirror. She still saw Lachlan before her eyes. “I will never leave you.” He growled behind her ear. “In a few days, you and I will be married. Then they can look to their hearts’ content, and it won’t do them any good.” “You have nothing to worry about,” she replied. “You know you have my heart.” “It’s not your heart I’m worried about,” he told her. “They won’t give up until they take you back to the world above.
” She twisted around in his arms and draped her hands around his neck. “You worry too much. Have I ever given you any indication I wanted to return to the world above? Haven’t I returned your affections a hundredfold?” “Of course you have, my dear.” He kissed her. “You’ll have to forgive me if I want to take extra precautions to protect what is mine. The world above never took such a notion to invade my realm before. If I don’t put a stop to it, the next thing I know they’ll all be down here grasping at what’s mine.” Ivy broke out of his embrace and turned back to her mirror. Her heart skipped a beat when she looked at it, even though there was nothing to see there. “Isn’t it fascinating how they can turn from men to wolves and back again at will? I never knew such creatures existed, but I’ve seen them doing it often enough.
” “They only do it when they’re threatened,” he replied. “The rest of the time, they live as men. They want everyone to think they’re human when they’re not.” “You don’t have to sound so resentful about it,” she shot back. “I’m sure the world above has lots of strange creatures, just like the world below. They certainly look human enough in their… their ordinary shape. I can’t blame them for wanting to live that way. I’m sure the humans would never accept them if they knew the truth.” Aegir walked away. “It takes all kinds to make a world.
We have our curiosities, and they have theirs. Now I must go and meet with Pakrineau about the next assault.” He vanished through the wall, and silence descended over Ivy’s bedroom. She stared at the empty mirror for a long time, but she didn’t call up the image. She conjured up her last sight of Lachlan in her mind. She relived the sensation of touching his rough face, his smooth delicate lips, and the wetness of sea water running out of his hair. A man that fine was a wolf under his skin. She’d never heard of any such thing before she came here, but she saw the McLeans shift enough times to believe her own senses.