The king and queen of Llira had no children.
Llira was a lovely city, built on a group of tiny islands. Canals ran through it, and its spires seemed to rise from the waves. It was rich from trading, and at peace with its neighbors, except for Arlese.
Arlese was notorious for robbing ships, and their rulers were prone to vicious quarrels among themselves. One such dispute had driven out a young prince, Artan, who fled to the island of Aratis.
When he was there, he met a faerie named Kanmira. She was very beautiful, and they soon fell in love. However, they had only been together a few months when Kanmira’s younger sister, Lemaria, saw them. Lemaria became jealous, and stirred up a lord of Aratis to fight Artan. She pretended to have fallen in love with him, and claimed Artan had insulted her.
Their fight didn’t last long, and when it was over, Artan was dead. Lemaria met Kanmira on the beach. The lord of Aratis had left, and she hadn’t bothered to follow him.
“Why do you weep so for a mortal man, sister?”
“You,” said Kanmira, lifting her eyes from Artan’s face. “Could never understand.”
“Where do you go now?” asked Lemaria. She was as fair as her sister was dark, and a sneer crossed her lovely features.
“I will take Artan home,” answered Kanmira, her voice quiet.
“And after that?” Lemaria frowned. “He would have died sooner or later anyway. I don’t know why you stayed with him. Mortal men are easy to manipulate, they’ll fall in love with you if you so much as smile at them. But I don’t know why you—”
“Enough, sister,” Kanmira picked up Artan’s body and vanished.
Six months later, the king and queen of Llira gazed out to sea.
“You said she often comes here,” said the queen, Magdalena.
“Yes I did,” replied King Heinrich. “But faeries keep their own time.”
They had scarcely finished speaking when Kanmira came towards them, walking along the balcony, a bundle tucked in the crook of her arm.
“Welcome, friend of the city of Llira,” said Heinrich. “What brings you here ?”
“I need you to grant me a very special favor,” answered Kanmira. She sounded weary. “Can we sit down to discuss this?”
They sat on benches in an alcove against the wall, looking out over the darkening sea. Kanmira looked down at the bundle in her arms, smiling. There was a baby, peacefully sleeping.
In a low voice, Kanmira explained about her love for Artan, and his recent death. She handed the baby to Magdalena, who held her to her chest.
“I can’t take care of her,” explained Kanmira sadly. “Faerie places aren’t safe, and her father’s family won’t have her. I have always been a friend of Llira, and I know you wished for a child.”
“What is her name?” asked Magdalena, gently running a finger over the chubby cheek.
“Mara,” replied Kanmira. She gave her daughter one last look, then turned away. “She will know the truth. I will be here often, to see her and protect her from that sister of mine. Do you promise to raise her as your own daughter, as the heiress of Llira?”
“Yes,” answered Heinrich. Magdalena echoed him.
It was two weeks later when the curse fell.
The Lost City of Llira
They said it floated upon the sea. No one could see what lay within it. All the sailors saw was the storm, waves lashing, rain pouring down, and lightning flashing in the sky. But it never moved beyond its bounds. The storm stayed in place, like a wall. A wall that drifted.
Those who had sailed around it reported it was a circle. Some said a city had been there once.
* * * * * *
“Five letters, three parcels,” he grumbled as he made his way up the winding street. “I wonder what’s in this one. It weighs a ton.”
The sun was low in the sky, and the late afternoon light gilded the walls of the houses. They were long and low, only a few having a second story. A constant wind whistled between the walls, stirring Keturan’s brown hair and bringing up salty scents from the harbor.
Keturan stopped at several houses as he made his way up the hill, handing off the heavy package first. At the highest point of the street he paused and stared out to sea, as if he hoped to catch a glimpse of distant islands. Yet all he could see was the distant horizon, stained red with the remnants of the sunset. Sighing, he turned his back and walked up the road to the inn.
It was dark inside, and the smoke from the lamps made his eyes water. A few men glanced up when he came in, but no one paid much attention to him. Keturan tossed a few of the coins onto the counter and collected a plate of meat and bread, sinking wearily into a chair. Another long day.
He was halfway through his meal when a woman in a dark cloak sat down across from him. Keturan glanced up, startled. She had a hood pulled over her face, so he caught only a faint glimpse of her features. When she spoke, her voice was low-pitched, reminding him of the sound of the sea.
“I need your help. Are you Keturan Arkhor?”
Keturan stared at her, his fork paused halfway to his mouth. How does she know? Memories of ten years ago came back into his mind. There had been a city by a bay, seagulls crying above a rocky coast, stairs cut in the cliffs that led to the shore. He had used to sneak down there in the morning . . . He recalled open rooms filled with sunlight, and a small boy bent over pages of writing, frowning at the length of it. There had been a parade, once, with singers dressed in red and gold . . .
“I haven’t gone by that name for . . .” he said at last. Who was this strange woman, and why did she want to know? He put down his fork and frowned, pushing his plate away. He had no more appetite. “Why do you need help? I’m a messenger. If I ever was . . . anything else, that is over. What do you need me for? Who are you?” There was hardly anyone else in the room, but the men on the other side were giving him odd looks.
“I need to speak to you alone,” said the lady in reply. “Then I will tell you all you need to know.”
“At least give me your name,” Keturan got to his feet. “Then I’ll listen to your story.” And you’d best have a good reason, he thought. Why did you have to remind me of who I used to be?
“Kanmira,” whispered the strange lady. She sounded worried.
Keturan paid for a room, and turned to go up the stairs. He was sure he had heard the name Kanmira before. She followed him, her footfalls as light as a cat.
His room was a tiny closet at the top of the staircase. There was barely room for the two of them. As soon as he closed the door, Kanmira flung back her hood, and Keturan gasped.
He had never seen anyone so lovely. Dark brown hair waved gently around her fair face, without a single blemish. Her sea-blue eyes seemed to gaze far beyond him, as if she had seen things that were long before him, and would see things that were long after. Yet despite her beautiful appearance, Keturan felt uneasy. She didn’t seem exactly . . . human. More like old pictures he had seen, long ago. Figures from old legends . . .
“Who are you?” he asked, not taking his eyes from her face.
“Kanmira, of the faeries. Children of the Sea, as some of you call us,” she replied, taking a seat in the room’s only chair.
“What do you want with me?” Keturan backed away, though it was hard to back anywhere in the tiny room. I don’t like the sound of this. Mortals aren’t supposed to meddle in that sort of thing. He remembered being warned of that long ago. Ahmes had been insistent . . .
“Have you ever heard of the lost city of Llira?” asked Kanmira, her eyes glinting in the light of the room’s only lamp.
“I have,” answered Keturan, still skeptical. “That’s an old legend. But what does that have to do with you?” And why did you come to me?
“I will tell you,” Kanmira replied patiently. “Please sit down. It is rather a long story.”
Keturan sat down on the bed, still mystified. He had heard sailors tell in whispers of the drifting city, and how many ships had met with strange ends after meeting it. Llira was an omen of death. Yet all the same, he had never heard why. Now he was about to find out.
All the rest of that evening, she told him the story that follows: