The river foamed with white water, a formidable border. Even Keita’s Sprite cousins would have hesitated to swim it.
After a few minutes of walking, Brian held up his hand and pointed to the river. “I don’t think we’re going to get any better than this.”
This stretch had no rapids but the murky water surged past with significant power. Sienna stepped behind her mule. “I’m not going in there!”
“I can carry someone else with me,” Carli said, “but I can’t pick up horses.”
Her ability to create winds was unusual even among heat-shaping Coles—the Mers wouldn’t know that she could fly.
“You three fly then,” Brian said. “I’ll take the horses.”
Whether or not he was being awkward, Keita was not going to let him ford the river alone. “Eyrie only follows me,” she said. “I’ll wade with him.”
Carli nodded. “I’ll warm you up when you get over.” Then she lifted her arms. Winds swirled around her, turning into a white spiral as it picked up snow. Sienna grabbed Carli’s hand and shut her eyes. A second later, their feet left the ground. The two girls rose into the sky.
“Are you sure about this?” Brian asked Keita.
In answer, she marched to the river. Water raged in front of her. She looked back. Brian held Dusty’s harness. Eyrie wore no harness or other gear. She slipped a hand over his neck, and together they walked into the water.
On her first step, cold cut her bare foot like a knife. She splashed on, pretending not to notice, carefully feeling for each slippery step. Water reached her knees. By the time it reached her waist, her feet were numb.
She’d reached half-way when she realized what was happening. She was leaving. She whirled around to look at the other bank, slipped on a rock hidden in the sludge below, and fell.
Her arm slipped from Eyrie’s neck. She had one glimpse of her pony charging after her, leaving the ford, and then her head went under. For a moment the shock of the cold kept her still. Then she struggled, flailing with both arms. Her lungs burned and she fought with all her energy to find air. The current whipped her around—which way was up? She could concentrate on nothing besides the pain in her chest and her flailing limbs unable to fight the raging current.
Suddenly her course changed—she was rising fast. Her head broke the surface. Keita gasped in air and spray, and heard a voice behind her do likewise. An arm that wasn’t hers extended in front of her, grasping a rope. Keita’s brain took a moment to process what was happening. Brian was behind her, his arm wrapped around her waist, keeping her snug against his chest. Her entire body was tingling so badly that she could barely feel his touch—from the cold, she was sure.
On the shore, Carli pulled the rope. Keita kicked, trying to help. Let her pull us in, Brian sent her. The river was too loud for speaking. Just relax.
How was she supposed to relax with his arm around her? Not to mention the current trying to pull her downstream? The cold, fresh air stung her nose and lungs. The current still tugged, but its efforts took them nearer to shore.
Keita’s feet sank into mud, and she caught her balance. Before they had even reached the shore, Carli's warm wind whipped around them, drying them off.
“All the times...” Brian panted, “we’ve been around water... you could have mentioned... you can’t swim.”
Keita didn’t answer. The Silver River that passed through her home was too fast for swimming. “Please let go.”
He did at once.
Brian’s ankles were still in the river. Over his shoulder, Keita saw the other bank, abutting trees that stretched as far as she could see. The forest continued on both sides of the border, but her beloved homeland was behind them.
Excerpt from "The Spectra Unfurled". Learn more here.