It was only a fifteen minute boat trip, but it was shocking to me how he had ever even found the place he was taking us. He stopped the boat in shallow water and we dragged it up onto the sand. When we got close enough to the thick wall of trees and vines, he pulled out the rope attached to the boat and tied it around a tree.
"So...you brought us to the beach?" I asked confused. I looked from him to Brannagh. They seemed to be laughing with each other silently.
"Come on," Ardon said. He walked down the tree line and then turned into it, disappearing. I jogged after him slowly as the sand gave beneath my feet, but I could not see where he disappeared. Brannagh overtook me laughing and stopped.
"Silly, look," she said. She walked back a little ways, and I followed her. She stopped and pulled back a thick hanging of greenery, revealing the most perfect lagoon I'd ever seen. I gasped and walked in through the opening, reveling in the beauty of it all. There was green everywhere, even a loose canopy of it. The water was deep enough to dive and swim in and still enough to reflect the sky and leaves above it. I laughed when I saw Ardon. He was on a mossy rock that stuck out from the cliff about ten feet above the water. His feet were dangling and he looked absolutely delighted to be there.
Brannagh came to stand beside me with a sigh. "I just love it here," she said, sitting the picnic basket down on the sand. "I brought swimming things, if you wish to," she added with a smile. "I know it's not quite appropriate, but it's hard to resist the lagoon." I was confused, but happy. She spoke of the lagoon as if it were a living thing, but it just seemed right somehow.
Her brother had already stripped off his shirt, shoes, and stockings and was readying himself to leap into the water. "Swim first, eat later?" he called down to us. She looked at me, waiting for a response. I smiled at her and walked to the water, letting it rush over my feet. It was warm! Warmer than the ocean, almost warm enough for bathwater. The words were out of my mouth before I'd even consciously decided.
"Swim!" I called back. I watched as a grin broke out on his face and he leapt gracefully from the rock, diving into the deep clear water below.
Brannagh held out clothes for me and led me to a more secluded spot. "You can change here. I'll watch out for my brother- we'll take turns." She could barely conceal the excitement in her voice as she stared off toward the beautiful pool that seemed to be made for us. I couldn't imagine that anyone knew of this place besides them and now me...I was starting to get excited too. I changed quickly into what she had brought for me and then we switched spots. I watched Ardon's head bob above the surface for a moment before he submerged himself again. He had decided to climb back up to the rock by the time she finished changing and we both ran back to the lagoon quickly. He performed another perfect dive and his sister climbed up to dive after him. I walked into the water until it was up to my chest and gazed down. It was easy to see the bottom, even with the water moving. The bottom was uneven, making the pool safe to walk in or dive in without discomfort, but what caught my eye was that it looked like it was covered in gemstones or bright pebbles, not sand.
I held my breath and swam toward a reasonably deep part of the beautiful floor. I had learned to swim when I was child, and when my mother let up, it was one of my favourite pastimes- something I did naturally well. I sped toward the bottom and found myself gazing at a rainbow of stones to choose from. I felt a tug toward the deeper floor, but then I found a green one that matched Ardon's eyes. I ignored the pull and reached for stone, then raced for the surface.
When I broke through the water, I heard the muted laughter of my friends at full volume. They were swimming toward me, toward the more easily walkable depths, so I swam too, until I could stand. "What do you think?" he asked his eyes bright.
I glanced at the stone in my palm, comparing it more closely to his eyes. It matched almost perfectly, so I slipped it into a pocket of the garments Brannagh had brought me. "I think that this is a beautiful place, and I can't believe you shared it with me."
He just laughed and splashed me. "Of course I would share it with you, Saoirse! I would've brought you with us sooner, but I could never break you out at the right time."
I smiled and splashed them both, dipping under the water before they could retaliate. I swam around them to the bottom again, to discover the source of that mysterious pull.
I reached a comfortable depth and paused. I was being pulled to the next, well, sort of a shelf, but my ears would pop if I went further. I grimaced, but couldn't resist the lure. I slipped through the blue a little deeper and stopped again. There was a bright orange stone that almost seemed to glow. It was larger than the rest, about the size of my palm- still easy enough to take back to the surface. I reached out to take it.
A bright light blazed and I suddenly realized the stone hadn't been glowing, it had been sitting on top of a light. "How silly of me," I murmured calmly, inaudibly. Bubbles slipped from my lips and I realized I need air. I kicked off from the bottom and began to rush toward the surface, but something was pulling me down. I looked back at the light. It was growing larger and larger. I swam as hard as I could to the surface, bumping into Ardon as I came up panting.
"Saoirse," he said, confused. "What-"
"Hey!" Brannagh called. Her head was barely bobbing above the water, ducking under, coming up. "Help! Something's pulling me under!"
Muscles burning, I swam to her, Ardon right ahead. I could feel the pull and struggled after them. "We have to get-" I sputtered as I was sucked below again. I fought one last time to break the surface, to take a final breath.
I watched them as they were sucked under, too- we reached out to each other as we were pulled closer to the light. I thought my heart would burst with fear, but our hands finally touched and we all held on to each other as we spiraled into the bright unknown below us. I gasped in terror as we grew closer and felt the burn of water entering my lungs as everything went black. My last thought was fleeting grief, the knowledge that I had doomed my closest friends.
I dimly heard voices calling my name frantically. I felt a pounding on my chest, salty lips blowing air into my watery lungs, and sudden consciousness as I turned and choked out what felt like gallons of salt water.
"Saoirse," I heard again, this time relieved.
"Ack," I rasped. My throat felt so raw, almost burned. "What happened?"
Someone was cradling my head in their lap now that I was done spewing sea water. I looked up into emerald eyes and blinked. "Brannagh?"
"I'm here," a soft voice crooned, taking my hand beside me. I turned to look at my maid, my friend, and started to hyperventilate. If she was beside me, I knew who's eyes were above me. I looked up again into a worried expression, noticing a bare expanse of muscle above me. "Ardon," I whispered. Then I started to cry.
"I'm so- sorry!" I sobbed, trying to move. He just pulled me up beside him, setting an arm around me. Brannagh threw an arm around me too and sighed. "I didn't mean to kill us- I'm sorry!"
"Kill us?" she asked blankly. "Saoirse, we're not dead."
I frowned and my crying slowed. "Then, we made it out of the lagoon?"
"Nope," her brother said brightly. Brightly?
"I don't understand," I said dully.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his curly wet hair and turned to look at me. "I think you should look around a bit, little fire."
I complied without thinking and for the third or fourth time that day, my jaw dropped. All around me were trees, beautiful trees with smooth white bark and silvery green leaves. Somehow, we were in the middle of a forest I had never seen before, surrounded by tall thin trees that seemed to reach the clouds. Nothing looked familiar. Nothing smelled familiar. I saw a bright blue bird with a golden tail and breast hop on the ground about ten feet away as he searched for food. I'd never seen a bird like that before, either. It seemed to be a sort of cross between a swallow and a robin.
"Where are we?" I asked in a hoarse voice.
"We don't know," Brannagh sighed.
I glanced at Ardon. He seemed to be taking this too well. "Have you ever heard the tale of Lorcan's Lagoon?" he asked, a slight thrill in his voice.
"I don't think so," I rasped.
He stood, offering each of us a hand. "Why don' we go find some fresh water, and I'll tell you the tale along the way."
We stood and followed him, followed the sound of a burbling stream and the sound of his story.