The beaches of Luckwater Island were pearlescent, shimmering with the moon’s quiet light as the waves lapped at the shore. The Wide Sea was calm today, not a cloud in sight. The only wind was a gentle breeze from the west.
Yet even so, a storm was brewing.
Odil, the headmaster of the island’s academy, was pacing an orderly pattern across the floor in his office. His students knew it to be a favorite method of his to focus his thoughts, to dispel the distractions of the world as he worked through complicated problems. Keep the body active, he claimed, and the mind would follow. His robes billowed behind him, casting shivers through the papers on his desk.
Sitting in the chair on the other side of the room was the source of those shivers: a stranger, dressed in clothing too weathered to be any color but brown, a burlap bag clutched to his chest, a child sitting on the floor beside him.
The headmaster’s advisors had long since left for the night, primarily to halt any growing rumors among the students about the stranger’s identity. The headmaster himself was committed to hearing what the stranger had to say. So far, the stranger hadn’t said anything.
“Please understand,” said the headmaster at last, never stopping his cadence across the floor, “we do not receive visitors on this island. Not from the mainland, certainly not from anywhere else. It isn’t that we don’t welcome people, but no one comes here who isn’t looking to be enrolled.”
The stranger shifted in his seat; the movement brought the headmaster to an abrupt stop.
“The little one is too young to start,” said the headmaster. “And you told the orderly who found you that you had no interest in furthering your education.”
The stranger nodded silently.
“And there was no boat,” the headmaster went on. “You didn’t so much arrive on our shore as appear, as if out of nowhere, as if carried by the wind itself.”
The stranger did not move to speak.
“I suspect yours is a story worth hearing,” said the headmaster. “But the look on your face tells me it isn’t a story I want to hear.” He took in a sharp breath, sat down at his desk, steepled his fingers in front of him, and fixed the stranger with a look that had cowed many a first-year student.
The stranger was silent. Expectant. Patient.
“Alright,” said the headmaster. “Let’s have it, then.”
The stranger took a breath. His voice was calm, with just the barest hint of a rasp. “Before I begin,” he said, “how much do you know of the lands beyond the sea?”
The headmaster felt a headache coming on, and shifted his fingers to rub his temples. “There are no lands beyond the sea,” he said.
“Is that what your maps say,” the stranger said carefully, “or what your historians say?”
“Both,” said the headmaster. “The Wide Sea stretches to the end of the world, maybe beyond that. No one has returned from the sea with any word to the contrary, if they returned at all. Even the wild king was never seen again, and he started his journey west more than two centuries ago.”
“What was the wild king’s name?” asked the stranger. He was building to something, the headmaster realized.
He leaned forward. “Shai Herik,” he said. “He sailed with a small fleet carrying the last of his kingdom.” He paused, letting the lingering silence focus his mind. “I forget their name.”
“Luria,” the stranger said. He said it with such certainty, such familiarity, that for an instant the headmaster believed him, believed everything, believed the entirety of the stranger’s story without having heard a word of it. The name was enough.
“Yes,” he breathed. “That was it. Most of our history books fail to mention it.” His voice carried the weight of ritual, a pattern being followed. The evening’s events were falling out as though from a bag being shook. He didn’t know what might fall out next, but he knew it was inevitable.
The stranger nodded. “I suspect that’s because they never came back from their journey,” he said. “They settled in the lands they found.”
The headmaster closed his eyes. “If there are lands beyond the Wide Sea, that would explain their not returning. They left with a dozen ships; even if they met a storm, it’s likely that at least one of them would survive to sail back.”
“Thirteen ships,” the stranger corrected. “And you are correct; they met a storm a month into their journey, and four ships were scuttled. The remaining nine found a wall of mountains, with a narrow passage to the lands beyond. Their king was among them, and he led the founding of a new city, with a new palace.”
“And that is where you come from?” The headmaster looked at the stranger, and smiled. “Forgive me if I find your story a bit far-fetched. Surely they would have sent someone back with news of their discovery.”
“They did,” said the stranger. He stood up from his chair, walked across the room, laid the bundled sack on the headmaster’s desk.
Whatever was in the sack was small, round. But as soon as he laid his hands on it, he knew what it was. Slowly, carefully, he opened the sack and pulled the gleaming object from the cloth. Inevitable.
Odil’s father had been a whitesmith by trade. He crafted rings, amulets, and bracelets for nobility across the known world. Their family line had forged crowns for kings and queens for centuries. Legends told fictions about enchantments buried in their creations. The legends were nothing more than story, but Odil knew his family’s work, had studied their history.
He knew the crown he now held in his hands. He knew who had made it, and for whom it had been made.
The stranger saw the recognition on his face, and breathed a sigh of what might have been relief. “Good,” he said. “You know it. Then I don’t need to waste time convincing you that where I come from is real.”
“You have my attention,” said the headmaster. He turned the crown over in his hands, paused, frowned. “What’s this? This stain?”
The sadness in the stranger’s face gave the answer. “I should start at the beginning,” he said.
“Please do,” said the headmaster. “I would very much like to know what happened.”
“Very well,” said the stranger. And he began to speak…