What do you do when your heart contradicts everything you know?
Ieuan is a young morgen in a lot of trouble. The storm he sung up to soothe his broken heart attracted the attention of the Cursed One, an underwater sorcerer exiled from the morgen group for a terrible crime. But the Cursed One wants Ieuan's help to save a life -- that of Zane, a sailor shipwrecked in Ieuan's storm. Ieuan finds himself drawn into the Cursed One's impossible task against his better judgement. But as his morgen kin mount a search for him, Ieuan's help might be all of their undoing.
Set in the same world as Deep Magic, Morgen Curse explores what happened to the morgen who left the Llyn Peninsula. Morgen Curse is not a sequel, exactly. And it's not exactly a romance either. It's a beginning.
- 2 To Be Read lists
Publisher: Independently Published
Ieuan followed the Cursed One through a series of twists and turns. He had come far from his intended destination. Meaning to judge me before revealing his problem? Ieuan felt a distinct satisfaction. He had passed some test.
The sound of the waves was muted, the changed acoustics indicating a narrowed space—a cave or perhaps a tunnel. Ancient volcanoes left many such tunnels in the wake of their eruptions, slow-moving lava leaving its cooling shell behind. Ieuan, determined to remember which way they turned but was hopelessly overwhelmed within seconds. All he had to guide him was the Cursed One’s wake ahead of him, the ripples feeding back faster in the confined space.
They turned towards the surface. There was a rush of movement around them. Ieuan relaxed as he recognised the sharp clatter that followed. Crabs, caught unawares by his sudden intrusion, dived back into the cracks of rock in which they lived.READ MORE
Ieuan strained his senses but did not hear any such clatter from the tunnel ahead. They do not startle at the Cursed One. Was this the Cursed One’s lair? Am I the first of our kind to visit this place?
“Do not dawdle. Come.” Decided on his course of action, the Cursed One’s impatience showed.
Ieuan rolled his eyes but made no reply. He was too curious to risk his companion changing his mind.
The tunnel billowed out into an underground cave. Light penetrated the gloom. Relieved to see the sun, Ieuan darted ahead to break the surface. Morgen didn’t need to breathe air to live, but Ieuan rejoiced in the feeling of it anyway. After the dark pressure of the tunnels, the warmth of the sunlight was a relief. Ieuan hummed, using his fingers to comb his long hair out of his face.
The tunnel continued above the water, winding back into the steep rock of the island cliffs. Where the tunnel met the water, however, it was open to the sky. The roof had crumbled, not by nature’s design, Ieuan suspected, but by his companion’s. The space extended into a gentle pool, surrounded by shallow shore for lounging in the sun and smooth rocks, perfect for sitting on. Ferns grew in the gaps of the rocky walls, and paua shells and scavenged glass were placed where they would catch and reflect the sunlight. The steep rocky walls surrounded the cavern on all sides and protected it from stormy weather and the cold southern winds.
Definitely the Cursed One’s lair. Ieuan considered the walls thoughtfully. Protection from the elements—or for his privacy?
There was a splash behind him. Ieuan turned to see the Cursed One’s head emerge from the surface.
“Oh!” The Cursed One’s hair was a rarity, the same rich red-brown colour as the seaweed that hugged the cliffs of their lost home. Ieuan’s memories of the Cursed One were few, but they all centred on his hair, combed until it blazed fiery hot like the sun, shining like a cormorant’s back. Seeing it now, hopelessly tangled, in dull clumps more like fur than hair, felt like blasphemy. “Your hair!”
The Cursed One looked at him sideways. For a second, Ieuan saw him as he had been, the proud mouth tightening, colour rising in his cheeks. All morgen were fair, but he was fairer than most. Then his mouth twisted, and the Cursed One looked Ieuan full in the face. “What use is vanity to me now?”
Ieuan flinched back, colliding with the cavern wall. Flee! Those were predator’s teeth, long and sharp as a barracuda’s. Too big for the mouth that held them, they contorted the left side of the Cursed One’s face, drawing the mouth into a vicious snarl.
The Cursed One floated between Ieuan and the only way out. Ieuan’s stomach revolted at the thought of approaching him. Trapped! I am trapped—
“You seem surprised.” The Cursed One eyed him, one eyebrow raised. His tone was cool. “Did Howel not tell of my shame?” The distortions of the bone beneath had torn away skin and left jagged, gaping patches in his flesh. His left eye stared out of one such hollow.
Bile rose in Ieuan’s throat. I’m going to be sick. “You—” he started, but his voice failed him and the word was a retch.
“What better argument in favour of Howel’s wisdom than this?” The Cursed One motioned to himself. The entire left side of his body was twisted, bone-thin, and mottled with rough grey ridges like an oyster shell. Lifted by the tide, the Cursed One’s hair fanned out around him, revealing strange, spiked protuberances that dotted his spine like fins. “Why bother warning people of my presence when the very sight of my face makes others sick?”
Ieuan looked at the sky above them. He’d known the Cursed One’s body was warped, the price of his crime. Twisting nature, he became twisted himself. Howel made certain they all knew the story. His words echoed in Ieuan’s mind. Cedifor’s curse is to be seen as he truly is—an unnatural creature distorted by ambition.
Knowing was one thing, facing it another. To steady his mind, Ieuan forced himself to study his surroundings. Why has he brought me here?
Bleached driftwood and polished bone lay on the high tide line. Ieuan took small comfort from the fact that the bones were few, before a pile of kelp within the shelter of the tunnel mouth caught his attention. An object lay half-buried by the kelp, its shade of orange unknown to nature. It was a vest such as men wore when they ventured onto the sea. Ieuan raised himself in the water to see more.
A prone figure lay on the vest. It was half hidden in shadow, kelp and weed piled around it, but Ieuan had no difficulty recognising it.
“His vessel was caught in the storm two days prior,” the Cursed One said. “I saw it wrecked. He was tossed against the rocks with it, helpless in the waves.”
Ieuan could easily believe the man had been battered. His face, the most visible part of him, was bruised purple and brown. As he looked on their ancient enemy with curiosity, he saw the man’s forehead crease and his mouth part. “He lives!”
“How terribly observant you are, Ieuan.” The Cursed One flicked his hair out of his face impatiently. “Yes, he lives, though just barely. He has slept since then, stirring slightly and waking only once.”
The rise and fall of the man’s chest was only just perceptible. Unconscious—but for how long?
“We must kill him!” Ieuan spotted a rock of suitable size and grasped it with both hands. “Quickly, while he sleeps—”
The Cursed One grabbed Ieuan's wrist, bony claws digging into Ieuan's skin. “You will not harm him!”
Ieuan cried out in pain, dropping the rock.
His cry echoed off the cavern walls. The man made a distressed sound, his bed of kelp shifting as he stirred.
The Cursed One froze, fingers digging even further into Ieuan's skin. Then he dived, dragging Ieuan underwater with him.
Ieuan tugged but was unable to free himself from the Cursed One’s grip. He was pulled deep into the tunnel, feeling the Cursed One’s hair in his face. “Let me go!”
“You will not harm him!” The Cursed One stopped, turning to face Ieuan. “Give me your promise you will not.”
The shadows obscured the Cursed One’s horror. Ieuan found he could speak. “Why should I?”
“You need my goodwill to find your way back through these tunnels. Harm him and you shall never have it.”
Beneath them, startled crabs clattered uneasily into fresh hiding places.
Ieuan mentally recounted the dizzying journey. He might find his way out in time… But there was no way the man had navigated those tunnels by himself. Air-breathing creature that he was, the Cursed One must have employed magic to do so. “You brought him here.”
Ieuan frowned. “Why would you bring him here?”
“The same reason I brought you.” The Cursed One released Ieuan with a flick of his hand. “To save his life.”
He had one chance. Dive now, make for the tunnels and take his chances in the dark. He might not know where he was going, but Ieuan sensed that Cursed One would leave him to take his chances in the darkness. “Why?”
“Because it pleases me,” the Cursed One said flatly. “Give me your promise.”
“I want your reason first,” Ieuan said. “Your real reason.”
There was a moment in which the water between them was still, moved only by the departing tide. “Why does it matter?” the Cursed One asked.
“I was not born when the humans cast us from the land,” Ieuan said, brushing his hair back from his face. “I do not remember to grieve what we lost. But you do.” He peered at the murky shadow that obscured the Cursed One’s face. “You have no reason to save this man.”
“No.” The word was almost a sigh. “None whatsoever.” There was a glint of bone-white as the Cursed One smiled, and Ieuan uneasily remembered that he was alone in a predator’s lair. “And yet…” The Cursed One spoke briskly. “The storm was sudden and unusual. It roared with a powerful fury. I made up my mind to see it for myself. I was there when the boat smashed against the rock, and I delighted in the wreck! I searched the surf for any survivors, thinking to drag them down into the deep, feel for myself the moment of their death. But when I saw him—” The Cursed One faltered, his voice growing uncertain. “His arm was broken, and there was no hope of rescue. Yet he clung to the wreckage of his boat like a man who very much wanted to live.” The water stirred as the Cursed One drew his hair around him, gathering it into a single rope.
What is so remarkable about that? Ieuan opened his mouth, but he caught a glimpse of the Cursed One’s face, the part of it that remained.
The right eye was downturned beneath delicate lashes, the fine brow creased as the Cursed One continued. “It has been long—so long—since I felt any interest in living that I have forgotten what it feels like to want to live,” he said slowly. “Since I lack it myself, I wish to preserve it in him. I cannot kill him.” He looked up, his undamaged eye meeting Ieuan squarely. “Do you understand, Ieuan? The man must live.”
Ieuan swallowed. The weight he felt had nothing to do with their depth in the water. “What would you have me do?”
The Cursed One breathed out, releasing his rope of hair. “There is water—fresh water—in a container of metal I took from his boat. Help him to drink.”
Ieuan nodded. “That should not be difficult.”
“Talk to him gently so that he does not agitate himself,” the Cursed One continued. “If you succeed, he may eat. I have placed what supplies I could recover within reach. If he will speak to you, ask him the extent of his injuries.”
“Injuries?” Ieuan looked to the surface above them. The man was not visible, but remembering how still he lay and how slight his movements, Ieuan felt a moment’s pity. The Cursed One is wasting his time! The man will die.
“His arm appears the worst of his wounds, but it is possible he has other injuries. If he responds well, have him tell you who his friends are and how they will seek him.”
“Friends?” Ieuan tilted his head.
“Men have learnt—as they should have centuries ago—to fear the sea,” the Cursed One said wryly. “He will not have ventured out alone in a vessel without telling someone of his plans. There will be someone searching—”
A pebble slid down the slope above them, soon followed by a scattering of loose stone.
“He stirs!” Ieuan started towards the surface.
The Cursed One snatched him back by his ankle. “Ieuan, what do you know of man?”
“I know enough.” Ieuan kicked his foot free of the Cursed One’s bony grip.
The Cursed One followed him towards the surface. “We morgen came here in secret to live apart from man. The people of these waters are entirely ignorant of us, and we must keep it so. Ieuan, he must think you a man.”
It never changed! Whether it was Ieuan's mothers, Howel, or even the Cursed One, everyone thought they could tell him what to do! Ieuan sliced cleanly towards the surface. “But that is simplicity itself!” Men were just like morgen after all, except they drowned.
“Ieuan, I am serious—”
Ieuan broke the surface.
He heard a gasp and then a second rock fall of pebbles went skittering by him. “Stay back!” The words were rough.
Ieuan trod water, turning to see the man. He had succeeded in raising himself on one elbow, staring at the water with an expression of fear. How extremely ludicrous! Ieuan smiled. To think that we live in fear of such creatures!
The man’s expression relaxed. “Thank God. I thought—” He coughed, his body shaking.
“That was your first mistake.” Ieuan pulled himself from the water, settling on the edge of the high tide. He could not stand on the land—no morgen could, thanks to the curse handed down by their king—but Ieuan was adept at using his legs and hands to scoot himself over the rocks. “You should not be thinking, but resting, conserving your energy.”
The man fell back against his cushion of seaweed. “I try to think, but the pounding in my head…” He watched Ieuan through half-shut eyes. “I don’t know where I am, how I got here. All I remember is the boat breaking up…” His lips were cracked and swollen, his words painful to hear.
Ieuan made a soothing sound as he wrung the water from his hair—no use approaching the human if he merely dripped on him. He looked around for the metal container the Cursed One had spoken of. “You talk excessively. It would be better if you drank.” He spotted the container placed within reach of the man’s hand. It was cool to the touch but exquisitely made with only a thin line to show where it had been forged together. Ieuan held it up so the man could see it. “Can you sit?”
The man made a second attempt to raise himself, but it was even less successful than his first. Ieuan carefully positioned him so that the man rested against his side and he could dribble the water into the man’s mouth. The man shut his eyes to drink.
Like a suckling calf! Ieuan smirked at the idea of this man among the seals that populated these waters. His cheeks were warm. Ashamed of his weakness?
The man’s body was mostly covered, but his arms were thick, well muscled. A powerful man… Perhaps a warrior. He must feel his vulnerability keenly. Ieuan watched the man’s face with interest. He had been struck on his right temple, probably with some flotsam from his own boat. The bruised flesh extended to his cheek, but the eye was unhurt. A lucky escape! His skull was close shaven, dark bristles tickling Ieuan where they came into contact with his skin. The bristles extended to the man’s chin and neck. Most curious of all was a metal stud in the man’s left eyebrow. Even in the dull light of the cave, it shone.
“That’s enough.” The man waved Ieuan's arm away.
“You must be parched,” Ieuan told him. “There is more—”
“Save it,” the man said. “We don’t know when we’ll get more.”
We? The man accepts me as his fellow! Ieuan bared his teeth in triumph. How easy it is to be a man!
“Where are your clothes?”
“My clothes?” Ieuan looked down to the kelp that covered his waist.
“Aren’t you cold?” In contrast to his words, the man’s cheeks were a fiery red.
Ieuan placed a hand on the man’s face, marvelling at his warmth. “Not at all. I find the shallows very pleasant.” Despite the heat of his body, the man trembled. “Are you cold? Here, I will lie beside you to shield you from the wind.”
“No!” The man’s hand tightened on Ieuan's. “You’ve got to get out of here.”
Ieuan was speechless. Even a shipwrecked human thinks he can tell me what to do?
“It’s not safe,” the man continued. He struggled to speak, his breath coming hoarsely. “I know it sounds crazy, but there’s a monster in this cave.”
Ieuan stared at him. “A what?”
“Maybe it’s an animal or something that’s mutated. I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s terrifying.” The man kept his hand clamped on Ieuan's arm. “Hideous. I woke up to see it bending over me. I’ve got no idea why it didn’t kill me right then.”
Ieuan bit his lip. No wonder the Cursed One needs my help!
“Don’t laugh! I’m telling you, this thing is as real as you are!”
“I believe you,” Ieuan assured him, settling down beside the man.
“You’re not listening to me! This thing will be back. Look at this cave…” The man relinquished his hold on Ieuan’s arm to wave at their surroundings. “It’s a perfect predator’s lair. Probably drags its prey here to eat at its leisure, like a crocodile.”
Ieuan stroked his fingers through the man’s short hair, enjoying the bristles. “You know much about crocodiles?”
“Saw a documentary.” The man sank back onto his bed of seaweed.
Is that a fish? Perhaps some sort of human storyteller… Ieuan thought hard.
“I know what I saw.” The man’s voice cracked. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Be at peace. The monster will not return so long as I am with you.”
“That’s what you say.” But in contrast to his words, the man lay still.
Ieuan smirked. Humans were so very weak! “I will stay with you. Sleep.” He hummed in encouragement, recalling his mothers doing the same for him.
The man’s face was tanned where it was not bruised. He frowned faintly. “Have we met before?”
Ieuan laughed. “Surely you’d remember!”
“Your voice. It’s really familiar.” His frown deepened. “Where—”
“Do you have a name?” Ieuan asked quickly.
“Zane. Zane Carter.”
Ieuan gave Zane a sitting bow. “I am Ieuan.”
It probably wasn’t Zane’s fault. His words had a strange shortness to them, a distinct lack of melody. He cannot help being human, Ieuan decided. He is much to be pitied. The sooner they could restore the sailor to his own kind the better. “Is there anyone who will be seeking you?”
The man’s frown increased. “I was sailing solo. Do you have a radio?”
“Not recently,” Ieuan said quickly. “Do you not have friends?”
“With any luck, they’ve already called the Coast Guard. I check in every night. I’ve missed two now, at least.” He coughed weakly. “Storm came up so suddenly, I didn’t have time for an SOS.”
Ieuan stroked his head. “Where will they be looking for you?”
“God knows. If I’d stayed on my projected course, I’d be fine, but I changed it to try and avoid the storm, and now I could be anywhere…” His voice was slurred. “You don’t know our location?”
“Of course I know where we are.” Humans asked the strangest questions. How could Ieuan fail to know that he was in the Cursed One’s territory?
“You must rest and regain your strength. Listen to you! You barely have the energy for this conversation.” Ieuan made his voice as inviting as possible. “I’ll be here with you. Sleep in safety, Zane.”
The man was asleep the moment his eyes shut. Ieuan studied his sleeping face. Am I that good at reassurance? Or is the man simply so exhausted?
An arbitrary tug at his ankle reminded Ieuan he was not alone with the man. Giving Zane’s head a last stroke in farewell, Ieuan sunk under the water.
“Well?” The Cursed One waited in the shadows where he could not be seen by Zane.
Ieuan couldn’t suppress a laugh. “You are cursed indeed! To save a man’s life from a storm and be feared by him as a monster! Were you going to tell me that you tried to help him and terrified him instead? Truly, fate plays jokes with us all—”
The Cursed One moved faster than Ieuan could see. He felt himself pressed against the wall, face-to-face with the Cursed One’s monstrous visage, the distended teeth only centimetres from his skin. “Careful, Ieuan! You would not like to wake the monster in me.”
Ieuan stared at him, too shocked to protest.
The Cursed One let him go, sinking back into the depths of the tunnels. “Did he say anything about a rescue?”
Swallowing hard, Ieuan repeated what he had learnt. “There is a Guard searching for him, but he fears that they will look in the wrong place. He was blown off course by the storm.” Ieuan gathered his hair around him, twisting the ends. “Guard… Do you think he is a man of some importance?”
“It matters not. We will help him, Ieuan, no matter who he is.” The Cursed One’s voice grew fainter, his body almost out of sight. “There may be something of use among the wreckage of his ship. I will search for this… radio… he spoke of.”
Ieuan frowned. The Cursed One is going to a lot of trouble for a man who fears him as a monster… Is there something here I do not see? “What would you have me do?”
“You will stay with him,” the Cursed One’s voice floated back to him. “And remember, Ieuan. It is essential that he does not guess what we are.”COLLAPSE