Maleah woke to the light crashing of waves against the ship. Through the window, she saw the first rays of dawn break the blackness of the sky. Sitting up, she brushed her fallen mane from her face. She felt around for the tie she'd fashioned to tame it, sighed when she found it had broken in the night.
After stretching, she searched the room for the others and was slightly puzzled when she found them huddling over open crates and whispering in hushed tones. Wounding her way to then, she noticed they had both discarded their old clothes and had changed.
"Why are you wearing Kings' Men uniforms?" she asked, her voice cracking.
"Morning star-shine," Cam grinned at her.
"Cam-ouflage," Rhys snorted. "This dolt thinks he is clever for denoting the art of 'blending in' in his name."
"Alright," she said slowly. "But why?"
"You don't plan to hole up here all day do you? Well, I don't. Now that I am here, and here to stay as it appears, I plan to seize this unique opportunity to do some investigating. These," Cam gestures to their uniforms, "are so we don't get caught."
She still didn't understand. She let her fingers caress the deep-sea blue uniform they'd set aside for her. "Why blue?"
"Different color, different ranking. Red for lords, brown for scavengers, blue for messengers. The blue allows us to go where we please and when without direct orders from a Lord."
"So our presence on this ship will not be questioned?"
"Correct. It nearly gaurantees safe passage through the lands."
"Nearly?" Rhys squinted.
"Well, no man alive who has sworn his soul would bat an eye if they suspected something was off. And now that we are all fugitives--"
"They will be more vigilant," Maleah concluded.
"Precisely. This means we cannot draw attention to ourselves in any way. Which means you cannot use your gifts." He eyed Maleah harshly.
She needn't argue with him. Knowing too well she'd already shown enough of her secrets since they'd met.
"Put those on," Rhys urged, waving off the eerie tension between Maleah and Cam.
She took her uniform and changed in the privacy of her corner. She pulled the chestnut pants over her willowy legs until the fabric clung to her hips. The tunic was light and pale as she shrugged it over her angled shoulders before donning on the black and blue bodice. It cut off just over her thighs and shrunk into a peak in the middle. Fashioning it tightly, it caught her breath.
To her side, the knife-less sheath hung. The boots felt odd on her feet. She hadn't worn shoes in years. Wiggling her toes, rolling her ankles she tried to acclimate to the foreign feeling and felt the empty slits inside brush her ankles and instantly knew they were meant for knives.
Lastly, she wrapped the long midnight blue cloak around her and walked back to the others. Balling her old clothes, she placed them into the pile with the others.
"What?" she demanded when Cam snickered at her.
"If I hadn't already known, I would definitely know you had been a prisoner in your past." Cam shifted as she narrowed her eyes.
Rhys smacked his arm. "You'd be just as uncomfortable wearing as many garments after having worn near nothing for so long." Maleah silently thanked Rhys.
Cam set a steely glare on Rhys. Then without a word, he stepped forward and yanked her bodice so that their bodies stood inches apart.
"What do you think you are doing?" she swatted at his hands as they began to work the laces she had tied loosely.
Ignoring her protests, he continued to work. "Ladies are never King's Men. They do not have the privilege to roam freely. They are not messengers. They are not even considered Broken. If you are to blend in, you must own your uniform as it is part of you. You - the fake you - have proven herself useful to the King and you must convince the others to show you the same respect the King has. And that begins by wearing your uniform correctly." He took a step back and examined his work. "And comb your hair, the two of you look like you slept in a cave."
Rolling her eyes, Rhys grabbed the bundle of clothes and shoved them into Cam's arms. "Here, dispose of these."
Narrowing their eyes, they watched as he left the room.
"That boy knows absolutely little about women," Rhys huffed. Then, shifting to the room she searched for a box with combs. Maleah listened to the sounds of sea and boat and muffled feet until Rhys' enthusiasm drew her attention.
"Aha!" She held up two horribly carved wooden combs and handed one to Maleah before untangling her hair. Maleah let her hair fall to her hips after she'd finished and occupied herself by watching Rhys string to braid across her head until it swung down her back.
When Cam returned, the smirk on his face told her he was pleased. But he said nothing as he led them from the room. Outside, some men still slept in hammocks over crates and barrels.
The sea air was a sweet mix of salt and fish. Pulling at the collar of her cloak, Maleah shielded herself from the cold. She took it in. Few men moved swiftly, swabbing the deck with sticks whose bottoms were wrapped in filthy grey garments. The ocean looked calm to all her sides and lapped gently beneath them, rocking the boat. Half the sails were raised, leaving the single-crested one to fly alone.
Cam bid them goodbye, but not before claiming he'll meet them at supper. Not long after, Rhys left her, too. Expressing her desire to explore the ship and test their camouflage.
When she was alone - finally - she walked the deck. Avoiding long wooden poles and wounding her way around large round mounds with wooden poles sticking out the sides. To her right, the sun hung lightly over the horizon. Behind her, the crew and King's Men began to percolate. And to her left, the sea remained untouched by their presence and appeared a marvelous crystal blue.
At the bow of the ship she stood. From there, she saw everything. An endless world at her fingertips. An adventure on its bed. Freedom, so close she could almost taste it.
Climbing onto a pole, she straddled the wood and leaned into its post. Staring out into her future, she allowed herself to dream of better days. In her freedom, she could sail the sea for days. Discovering new places, maybe finding land to call home. Perhaps she'd find the second sun and live where she could watch it rise day after day.
Perhaps she'd stroll across green hills and into a thick forest where she would live out her days alone. Surrounded by earth and fed by its nurturing nature. And no one to tear her from it.
Perhaps she'd find Sábhille. Perhaps it is as real as the mythical sanctuary they had talked about. Perhaps she'd find freedom there. In the land between sea and forest.
All possibilities spread out before her. She could have any life she desired. Living safely and hidden from those who seek to see her dead.
Turning, she looked to the people behind her. Did they know they did not live freely? That even as pirates, they answered to someone who claimed themselves greater than.
At the helm of the ship, she spotted a raised deck. A man wearing a long leather coat and a hat far too large for his head steered their course, a hand on the wheel, the other on his hip. To his sides, she found two young boys. Their faces were void of emotion, but their body sang with power.
Shifting, she held the post with her hands and eyed them. One's gaze rested on the water; the other rose to the sky. Observing their movements, she watched them dance. Her focus melted to them until she could feel them as if they were by her side.
Together, they bent wind and sea to propel the ship forward. Deeply enthralled, Maleah did not notice when a pirate approached her.
"Ay, what do ye think yer doin'? Git! Git!" He tried shooing her from where she sat. She began to scramble down and away, then stopped. Remembering Cam's warning, she straightened her spine.
"No," she said.
His eyebrows raised several inches. "No? Who do ye think ye are, girl?"
Hopping down, she cast her eyes to stare into his. With her face stern and her voice firm, she lied. "I am a loyal servant of the King. Entrusted to carry his word across the realm. Who do you think you are questioning a King's Men." He said fumbled for something to say. "I will let your ignorance pass this one time, pirate. But question me again and you will not have a tongue to question anyone after that. Do I make myself clear?"
When he cast his eyes down, she walked away. Shaking with an emotion she had never felt before, she grinned and walked with the false confidence her uniform was meant to give her.
As she approached the helm, she heard it: Maleah, and stopped mid-step. Looking around, she searched for its source, half expecting Cam or Rhys to appear. When they didn't, she shook it off and began walking towards the Broken.
Maleah. Her hand stopped as it reached the railing. Her name was louder there as if echoing.
She thought she left the voices behind in her cell. Clearly, I was wrong, she thought, as she listened for her name again. Following under the jutting helm, she found a set of glass doors. Checking for any eavesdropping eyes, she slipped silently through the doors and quietly pressed them closed.
Leaning against its ebbed glass, she scanned the room. It was well decorated. Two pelted chairs sat idly atop a fur rug in the middle of the room, a plain table between them. Just beyond rose a large wooden desk. Its glossy finish was covered with paper, quills, books, and an unlit lantern. A long window stretched around the room so anyone looking would be looking to their past. A bench ran underneath it and was littered with more books and dead plants.
Maleah grazed her fingers over the furniture. At the window, she picked up a dead plant and without a care, caressed its carcass. Lifting it, she hoped to steal its last scent. But it had long gone. Replacing it atop a stack of books, she turned to the desk. A chill teased her back. She closed her eyes, breathed unsteadily.
"What do you want?" she whispered.
Bending over the desk, she eyed the maps sprawled on top. Deep black lines were drawn into its parchment. Curving in jagged edges where the land ended. Fading off the edges where the Ether Mountains began in the east continued beyond what could be recorded on such small pieces. The map stopped far south where the land of Ilioch hugged the sea. Tiny printed names were scrawled everywhere. Miniature pictures depicted water, hills, mountains, villages.
She noted the sextant that sat next to the map. It was the same tool her father used to chart the stars. It covered the single name of the land, etched across the top: Dianmoore.
Searching the names, she skimmed for Sábhille in hopes it would be hidden between smaller lands or lesser-known territories. About to give up that hope, she placed her hands on the parchment. They had hardly touched it when the lines quivered and new names appeared.
She suspected they were ancient names. Old Elven homes, land of dwarves, or other creatures. She saw the realm of the Night Creatures shimmer just hardly visible in the northeast corner of the map. Only the black of it told her what it was.
Maleah's breath caught when her eyes befell the land where Ilioch once was. It was real. As real as all the other old lands. She had to bite back the tears so they didn't spill onto the map. Carefully, she folded the map inside her bodice, replaced it with another on the desk, and swerved around it to leave.
As her hand reached for the door, it swung open and three men strolled in. Melting into the dark behind the door, she waited until all their backs faced her. When the last burly man sauntered into the room, she crept out of the room.
Walking casually across the deck, she ignored the ramblings of the men and slid back onto her perch to await nightfall when she could study the map and chart a course to freedom.
About the Creator
From crafting second-world fantasies to scheming crime novels to novice poetry; magic, mystery, music. I've dreamed of it all.
Now all I want to do is write it.
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