For the second day, Maleah woke to the slow pull of water. Rising, she cleared the sleep from her eyes and peered around the room. Someone had put a blanket over her in the night and for that, she was grateful as she felt the air bite her exposed skin.
Outside, night steadily faded and took with it the dazzling stars from the night before. Inside the room, she heard the shuffling of crates and scraping of metal on hard wood. Turning, Maleah found Cam and Rhys surrounded by open crates and piles of weapons. Lanterns lit their search nearby and illuminated their faces so that Maleah could see they were deep in consideration.
"What if we--" Rhys looked up at the sound of Maleah sliding onto the floor. "Good morning."
She nodded back. "What is all this?"
"Precautions," Cam said as he lifted a knife, turned it in his hand, and set it back on the pile. "We will be docked soon. Best we gather everything we will be needing for the long road ahead."
Maleah picked up a knife and examined the blade. "How much will we be taking?"
"As much as we can carry. Villages are few and sparse between. Perhaps even more so now as I've been away for some time." Cam reached into a crate, pulled out a tin, smiled, then placed it in a pile. From the looks of it, it contained several rations of food, skins for water, and additional clothes and blankets.
"How do you intend we carry it all?"
"With these," Rhys handed her a sack. Its straps were wrapped in a loop and would hang easily on their shoulders. She'd seen her father use one when she was younger.
They didn't speak much as they packed their sacks of stolen items. She padded the bottom with the extra tunic and pants Rhys handed her and sandwiched food and water skins between them and the blanket Cam insisted she take.
When they had packed their sacks as full as they could manage, they gathered around the weapons.
"We'll each need something to protect us. Most messengers are not armed with heavy weapons. Easier to travel light. So something small and concealable would be best."Cam passed Maleah a knife. "Put this in your ankle slip. Don't worry, you'll get use to the feel of them."
She eyed the dagger. The narrow girth straightened into a sharp tip. The metal was welded into an auburn-red hilt with a black grip. Foreign carvings were etched into it.
"It's an athame. Light as a birds' feather and made with metals wrought from the deep Highland Sea. Rumors have it that only those born of sea lineage - sylphs or sea folks - can swim into its mysterious bottom and live to tell the tales. Though most don't as I imagine the wonders are too much for any one language to detail. Land witches are known to use them to direct their magic. It becomes an extension of its master but is not necessary for their practice." Maleah looked at Rhys. Her eyes were glazed in fascination.
Maleah knew little of witches and their use of athames. What she did know came from her mother, a budding witch in her own right who preferred to be completely hands-on and hands-free in her work. Her mother had once told her about others like herself, simple humans born without gifts yet with the inclination towards the ways of the Fae. Those lucky enough were welcomed to study the Fae and their magicks. But only few were ever able to develop gifts straight from the land itself. Her mother had said that those blessed by the land never took more than they could return. It was the basic way of all Fae folk and so it was for practicing witches, too. In time, a witch who acquired the deep knowledge and subtle arts of Fae magic gained the privilege to call themselves a witch.
Her mother was not one of them. She respected the land and all it provided. But she would not give up her family to study its art. For that, Maleah was both grateful for and saddened by.
"It's also good for cutting an enemy in close quarters," Cam jeered.
Rolling her eyes, Rhys looked back to the contents of the weapons' crate. Recognition and delight curved on her lips. Maleah slipped the knife into her boot as she watched Rhys dig out a set of hairpins.
Delicate and beautiful, the small round accessories were carved into three knots wrapped around a single straight pin that stretched through the center. At the end of each pin was the face of an animal. Rhys lifted the one with a dragon's face. The detailing was so clear, Maleah almost thought it was alive.
"It's beautiful," she said.
"It's a finity knot. A Fae symbol for wisdom and life. These were made by the elves of old. Very ancient magic was used to make these." A shadow crept across her face. "I cannot leave these here. Help me find them all."
Maleah did not argue with the urgency in her voice and began burrowing through crates until they were sure they had found every last one. She helped her wrap them into a tunic and secure them in her sack before clipping the dragon-faced pin into her hair.
"You know a lot about history and myths," Maleah found herself saying after a beat. She didn't know where her curiosity came from, but couldn't stop herself. "How?"
She saw Rhys hesitate. "My father loved history. He believed every myth to have once been true. That their stories, however, have been distorted by tongue and time. He taught me everything I know."
Maleah related much to the tone of admiration and love Rhys exuded. "Where is he now?"
"Dead," she said flatly and turned away to reset the crates aright.
Resolute, Maleah observed the sky as the moon sunk into the sea. Then, silently she helped put the room back together and made sure they left no trace that they were ever there.
When Maleah lifted her sack, she groaned. "What have you put in these?"
"Only the necessities." He listed them: food, water, blankets. Fire rocks, leaflets, extra weapons, rope, extra clothes. When he had finished, he held out the map to Maleah. "You found it, that makes you its keeper."
They made their way from the cabin and to the front of the ship. The port of Saeve shifted into view. From afar, she could see the tiny movements of wakeful men preparing to anchor the ship.
"Are you ready?" Cam asked them, sucking in the cool sea air.
Neither Maleah nor Rhys answered. Instead, Maleah looked back to the sea.
Behind her was a life of imprisonment and torture. A life that was not a life at all but a hollow state of living, waiting for death.
But ahead of her - she turned to the port and the mountains that rose beyond it - was uncertainty. Life on the run, lived in the shadows, hiding from those who sought the worse for them and even those who sought better for themselves, she supposed. Still, freedom lay beyond the reach of those people.
She had never asked for the former as she'd never wished for her gifts. But she had prayed for the latter every single day of her life.
So as long as we are not caught, she determined, we will find Sábhille.
Gazing into a world deserving the title of foreign, Maleah hadn't the idea of what they would encounter once deep in its hearth. Glancing to Rhys and Cam, she watched with sad eyes as they, too, stared into uncertainty.
As the ship docked, the deck buzzed to life. Pirates hauled crates down the plank; King's Men disembarked between crates.
They separated to different ends of the line, molding into the line. She marched slowly between the men, minding her step. Ahead of her, she scanned the port in search of their previously deciding meeting point and found the Teller's house easily. The large bird on the sign on its building, wings stretched as wide as the wood would allow determined her direction.
Winding her way through the bodies, made her way to the Teller's house. Nodding slightly and silently when she was greeted by King's Men and pirates. Distracted, she wasn't paying attention when she rounded a building and ran into someone. By his build and uniform, she knew he was a King's Men.
"Oy! Watch where you're walking," he shouted at her. Grunting an apology, she pushed on. But the man was less than satisfied. "Oy! You have no manners? I am speaking to you." He grabbed her shoulder, whipped her around. She met his snarling eyes with her own wavering confidence. His eyes widened. "A girl? And a pretty one, too." He wettened his lips.
Attempting not to show her discontent, she responded. "Take your hands off me."
He only laughed. "Fiesty. Perhaps I and my men could fix that. Take that fight right out of you." His fingers gripped her arm tighter and began to pull. "I have a few waiting for me as it is. They'd worship me to have a prize like you."
Her small frame struggled against his meaty hands. Her feet began to drag; she dug her heels into the ground. "You will take your hands off me unless you want a beating by my own."
He laughed and pulled harder.
"I have done nothing to beg your attention. Leave me be!" She smashed her fist into his knuckles, but they did not loosen.
"You forget your place," he snarled.
Scowling she considered all her options. Then reconsidered when she remembered Cam's warning. She couldn't use her gifts to get her out of this fight. Not this time.
"I am a King's Men as much as you are!" she protested. The words turned her stomach but she forced herself to say more. "The King has entrusted me to carry his word. You owe me the same respect he has given me."
"Ha! I can't wait to see how you managed to persuade the king to give you your post." He stopped, turned to her.
Her eyes grew dark and the air fell heavy around them. Angry swelled in her chest, flushed her cheeks a crimson red. Dark and determined matched anger and armored. "You will let me go."
"Or else?" he dared.
"Or I will have your head on a platter." Cam came up behind him. The man's head twisted slowly. Maleah saw his demeanor change, weaken.
"Commander," he said, dropping his head slightly. "You must understand. I was only putting her in her place."
"Her place is not for you to determine. She is my charge and you will do so to respect her and the wishes of the King. Forgot your place again and I will do well to remind you of it one finger at a time." Cam's face was stern. "Leave."
Releasing her arm, he cast a loathing look back at her before slithering away. Once he was gone, Cam stepped up to her.
"Are you okay?"
She let out a shaky breath, bit back the tears she wanted to shed. When she nodded, Cam took her elbow and gently guided them through the port.
"There you are! What took you so long? The horses have gone," Rhys rambled when they arrived at the Teller's house. Briskly, Cam hastened around the building and stared into empty space.
"Did you see where they went?" He turned to Rhys.
She shook her head. "The stable boy said they have been taken to somewhere called Aaurn."
Frustrated, Cam ran a hand through his hair.
"Is there another way to take passage?" Maleah asked, ignoring the residual shaking threatening her calm exterior.
"No." Cam searched the port, his eyes darting frantically back and forth.
"What are we going to do?" Rhys fisted her hands on her hips. "We cannot walk. That'll take months and we haven't enough to get us by that long."
Sighing, Cam turned. "We'll have to steal the horses from Aaurn, then."
"Go to Aaurn? How long will that take us?"
"A day with luck. Three without."
They looked to one another and waited for luck to arrive.
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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