Nis. His name had been Nis.
Those three little letters are still carved on Taer’s heart, etched deep so the tide and time won’t wash them away. Nis, the other half of his soul. Then the storms came, and Nis was gone.
So why can Taer hear his laughter on the wind?
Home was a small, one-room hovel that sat at the far end of a boardwalk whose wooden planks were beginning to rot beneath the briny air. Each step Taer took on the boards sounded flat and listless, the echo hanging beneath stifling clouds that pressed down on him as heavily as the weight of the nets on his back. The air itself was a thick blanket, cloying and tight around him with the uneasy calm before the storm. It rains too much anymore, he thought as he entered his hovel, but that wasn’t the truth. The truth was it hadn’t rained in months, and this storm was long overdue. The last time it had rained, they’d been out on the water ...
He shook the memory away and threw the nets down to the sand-covered floor. That was long ago, a different life, a different person -- not him. He was just a halfling, eking out a living at the edges of the world. The last time it had rained, he’d been torn in two, part of him drowning in the sea while the rest of him, the part he was now, washed ashore. Like driftwood, cast aside. He lit a smoky lamp to push back the shadows. Some days he wished both halves had drowned. At least then he’d still be whole.
The oily light illuminated the small room. Two chairs lined one side of a low, wooden table -- only one chair was ever used now. The other one waited patiently, but it would wait forever before anyone sat in it again. Along the far wall a narrow bed stretched out like an empty palm, too damn large for the half of him that was left. A cast iron stove, cold and unlit, a bucket sink, a trunk full of clothes and photographs and memories he no longer bothered to look through ... in the center of these things, the nets looked like beached leviathans, huge and awkward and noisome out of the water. With a sigh, Taer closed the door to the hovel and pulled out the only chair he ever sat in and, tugging a corner of the nets into his lap, began to stitch the damaged ropes as he waited for the storm.
* * * *
It was summer when Nis last smiled. He used to run along the edge of the water like the pipers, laughing as he tried to keep ahead of the tide. “Taer!” he’d cry, and Taer would look up from his nets and grin as he watched the boy splash through the waves. Nis. His name had been Nis. Those three little letters were still carved on Taer’s heart, etched deep so the tide and time wouldn’t wash them away.
Nis, the other half of his soul. When he smiled, the sun rose in the sky. When he cried, the heavens filled with stars. When he laughed, everything in Taer swelled like the sea rising to the moon and he had to throw the nets aside to catch Nis in his arms, kissing his salty skin until they both lay in the sand, exhausted and tangled together like kelp.
But then the storms came, and there was no laughter anymore.