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Short Story--The Lost City of Llira, Part 1
Here's the first installment of my Sleeping Beauty retelling. I wrote it for a contest, but couldn't finish it in time.

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.

           *                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *                     

           Keturan sailed into the harbor of Elsor, scanning the horizon. He sighed as he lifted packages out of his boat and slung a leather bag over one shoulder.

           “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:


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