Brine gathered in her hair, sweeping in then sweeping out like the slow exhale of human breath. Sand clung at her golden curls in a race against the sea. Her still fingers lay curled in the smoothed dunes, half-buried.
She tasted of sea salt and red wine.
Waves crashed against rocks, creating a cacophony of crackles all along the bay, but her lashes did not part to show the blue brilliance of her eyes. Almost shrouded in sand, the bottle by her hand had been finished a long time ago. Dawn light crept rose tinted across her cream skin.
He’d watched her emerge from the water in the early hours, strange red essence trickling from her nose. She’d seemed disorientated and exhausted, collapsing to her knees on the damp sands before giving in, face first, to her gritty bed. He wished he could help her, but there was nothing he could do. His battle was not on the soil.
Nevertheless, the girl made him curious and he hugged the shoreline with care, watching over her.
He’d heard of these creatures hundreds of times before. They were akin but not the same as him. They could not survive solely in the water.
She was pretty, though.
Hours passed, the water rising around her, picking her body up like a gift. Eventually she was close enough to pull into his arms, allowing him to kiss her sand encrusted lips. She did not wake.
Confused, he smoothed through her sodden hair, holding her tightly against his flank in the deepening water. All of the kelpie tales he had ever heard had spoken of moments like these. The oldest of all these tales spoke of an elemental maiden washed ashore in a dead sleep.
He’d always thought there was some truth behind the tales and now, holding the water elemental in his arms, he didn’t understand why it hadn’t worked. In every kelpie story he’d ever heard, the kiss was the most magical of all.
His heart beat wildly in his chest. Perhaps there was no way to bring her back. Perhaps she was dead.
Sad eyes scanned her sweet face.
There was no sign that her gills were working and her eyes still had not stirred. With a heavy heart, he understood he could not keep her. Her people would want her body to celebrate in their own way. His warm sigh rushed across her cold skin.
Tail flicking, he swam to an outcrop of rocks he knew would never submerge and carefully slid her body onto the smoothest of these. Satisfied her people would find her there, he whispered a soft goodbye then sunk into the depths.
The sea roared against the stone as blue eyes opened with slow understanding. Salty breath passed her lips, a strange taste upon her skin. Her soggy brain squeezed tight. Gently spoken words surfaced as if a memory from the past in her befuddled brain, begging her to find who had spoken them.
I love you, my sleeping sea princess…
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