Idira pushed the door open and went out into the dusty yard. A few hens veered towards her, hoping for some food, but there was nothing to give them, as usual. They hung around for a while, making hopeful noises, then wandered off one by one to scratch at the dry earth, searching for any scraps they might have missed. Idira wandered around watching them, at a loss for something to do. The evening sun hung low in the sky and the wind blew through the yard in sudden, fierce gusts, carrying the stink of the sea up the side of Westfall Cliffs into their little farm perched near its edge.
The sea's smell was stronger than usual. Idira turned and sniffed, hope blooming in her heart. The air was definitely stinkier. That meant it was raining out to sea and there would be crabs in the traps tomorrow. Idira rubbed her tummy, trying to ease her hunger pangs. There had only been one potato left in the pantry today, so Myra had given all the soup to Papa, because he had said tonight's rally was an important one and he would need all his strength.
Idira decided to walk down the cliff path to the beach and check the traps, to make sure they were still in place and undamaged. Papa had no interest in them, or in the farm he had inherited from Mama for that matter, so Myra and Idira did the work. As Papa liked to remind them, he was a mason, a builder of stone and not a common farmer. He wasn't an important mason, just a regular one, but he sure was proud of his skills. Maybe a little too proud. They still had to eat, Myra had muttered more than once behind his back.
Papa kept saying when he got the money he was owed, Myra could marry Benny, and then he would use the money to build himself a big stone house in the Redridge Mountains and afterwards he would spend the rest of his days hunting boars. He never said anything about taking Idira with him, she supposed Myra would have to take her with her, but then, maybe she wouldn't. Myra never seemed to have much time for Idira either, if the truth was told. Idira pressed her lips together, pushing aside the familiar bite of loneliness. Nobody really seemed to care about her, all she was to Myra and Papa was a burden. She knew she wasn't making that part up, because she had overheard them talking about her late one night when they were out on the porch and she was supposed to be asleep.
As she neared the top of the cliff path, her thoughts brightened as she thought of Benny. He wouldn't leave her behind, all alone in Westfall. Benny was her friend, actually apart from Papa and Myra, Benny was the only other person she had ever met. No one except Benny ever came out to their place; it was too far off the beaten path, Myra said.
The last time he had visited, Benny had talked about reports at Sentinel Hill of murlocs moving north up the beach from the lighthouse, and something having to be done about them. He warned Myra to be careful, and not go down to check the crab pots anymore. Idira didn't say anything, because she already knew about the murlocs, even though at the time of her discovery she didn't know what they were called.
She had been wandering around the rocks on the beach looking for treasure when she had pushed through a thick patch of dune grass and walked right into one of them. It was so bizarre looking she had nearly died of shock. The poor creature—almost as tall as her—looked pretty scared too, for a walking fish-head, that is. It stared at her with its huge fish eyes, first one eye, then it turned on its two legs and eyed her with its other. And then, incredibly, it talked. It said something totally incomprehensible. The creature sounded a lot like she would if she tried to talk with her mouth full of water, while gargling. She had just stared at it, astonished by the strangeness of it, until it ran off. If those creature were the big threat Benny had warned Myra about, it all seemed a big fuss for nothing. Idira didn't think there was any reason to stay away from the crab pots, just because of walking, talking fish-heads. She was hungry after all, and the murlocs seemed more afraid of her than she was of them. Sometimes, Idira thought people were a little too quick to kill things. Maybe the murlocs were just hungry, too.
She stopped halfway down the cliff and looked over the empty beaches littered with driftwood and moss-covered rocks. Sometimes, when the tide was out she would find a pretty stone or a sea shell in the shallow rock pools. She liked to make necklaces out of her shells. Once, she made one for Myra for her birthday, but the next day when Idira went out to the outhouse, she saw her gift laying half-buried in the midden heap. She decided to leave it there, even though she had used up all her best shells for Myra's gift. She didn't want Myra to know she knew, so she covered it up in case Myra came back and wondered if Idira had seen it. She didn't want Myra to feel bad.
Movement near the crab pots caught Idira's eye, the fish-head stood up, its body glistening as the water sluiced off it, clutching a crab in its hand. Idira's jaw dropped. Crabs already? They could eat tonight? Wait, it was stealing their food. Desperate to salvage her dinner, she ran down the path, keeping one eye on the murloc, and the other on her footing. It might be the only crab. She couldn't let it have it. They were her traps, after all.
She bolted across the beach, jumping over driftwood and splashing through the rock pools, straight at it. It was already tearing the crab apart, eating it. The crab wiggled, still alive, the murloc hadn't even had the decency to kill it first. It bit into the crab again, right through its shell. It had very large, sharp teeth. A lot of teeth. Maybe she should slow down, and think about what she was doing, but it is eating my dinner another part of her protested. Hunger won out. She ran at the thing, waving her arms, screaming at it.
It turned, its mouth full of crab innards and snarled at her. It ran at her with its mouth open wide, making its strange noises, only this time it sounded very hostile. Idira stumbled to a halt. She had thought she could scare it away, like the ravens who picked on the farm cat, but she was wrong. That thing was going to tear her apart just like it had torn the crab apart. She stood, terrified, unable to move as the creature ran at her, all teeth and eyes, with slimy bits of crab insides dangling out of its jaw. A blur ran in front of her and caught the murloc just as it was about collide with her, sending it tumbling into the grasses. They rolled down the beach, hitting bits of driftwood and bouncing off rocks. Idira backed up, panting. She stared, incredulous. Another murloc? It made no sense—why a murloc would help her.
She didn't stick around to figure out why. She ran as fast as her legs would carry her back up the cliff path. At the top, she looked back to where the two of them still fought, tearing at each other with their teeth. They both looked the same so she couldn't tell if her murloc was winning or losing. She hoped it would be okay. It had saved her life. She sat down and waited; she had to know who would win. Their fight went on, slowing as their injuries increased. The sun slid beneath the horizon and they melded with the shadows. Idira waited until she couldn't hear them anymore. It was over. She had no idea who won.