The path was long and bumpy as the cursed wagon dragged them through forest debris. In the dull silence, Maleah watched as the sky shifted colors. Twilight arrived as the wagon lurched to a halt. Somewhere off in the close distance, she heard a bell ring.
Feet scuffed over hard ground and the muffle of voices crept away. Shifting, she saw Cam vanish into the port. Rhys shuffled to his place, looked at her.
"Ready?" she whispered.
Shaking her head, Maleah answered, "but I have no other choice, do I?"
"No." A fragment of regret slipped over her face before she made her way to the end of the wagon. Lifting the tarp, Rhys peered out. "They are everywhere. We'll have to stay in the shadows."
Understanding, Maleah slipped off the wagon behind her. From behind the nearest building, she gazed into the buzzing port. Kings Men walked in pairs, their uniforms giving them leave to wander without question. Swords hooked to their hips and crests of fealty claimed their chests. They laughed easily as they strolled. Unclad men smudged in white and brown clothes hauled crates at the other end. Following them, she found the ship.
A single sail bore the crest of the King. Embroidered in bold gold on a crimson fabric, a single flames' tail dipped into an upside-down tree whose branches struck out in threes.
"There," she pointed, "the ship."
"Trick is getting there." Jumping, the girls spun to find Cam crouching over them.
"Where did you come from?" Rhys demanded.
"Nearby. The port is swarming with King's Men and pirates. Word has already arrived of you two and there are several men posted around to bar you from escaping."
"You have a way through, right?" Maleah inquired.
"Yes. They've stationed most of the men near the roads. But they've scant any near its rear. If we stay between the buildings towards the back, we can make it there quickest."
"How do we get onto the ship?" Cam looked to Rhys, grinned.
"There is a small window on its other side. When we are there, I will help you climb in so you can be on your way."
"How do you know all of this?"
"I've been around some time. Remember, silence and stealth are our friends. Keep an ear and eye out for any men passing by. If you hear or see something, let us know."
Ducking behind, they followed Cam through the port. Maleah hadn't time to console her worry as she focused on not getting left behind.
The smell of rotting fish threatened the sweet scent of sea salt as she crept through the shadows. Twice they had to falter into empty buildings to await the passage of half-drunk King's Men and pirates.
At last, at the end of the port, they stared as the large ship swayed gently with the soft tides. The bow reached far above her head and the sails curled towards the sky. To her left, Maleah saw pirates fumbling around the dock.
The bell rang again.
"We must be quick," Cam said easily. "On the third ring, they shall pull the anchor and set sail."
"But it is just night. Do they plan to sail through the dark?" Rhys cast a curious look at him.
"Pirates sail through hail-fire. Darkness does not scare them. Besides, with news of you two on the loose, they'll want nothing to do with the Kings' hunt. The faster they are gone, the easier it'll be to say you were never here."
Maleah saw the logic in his words. From their side of the ship, she saw two Kings Men emerge from the peer.
"C'mon laddie! Don wanna miss the cast-off." One of the men said.
"Sorry," his companion panted.
The first slapped the other on his back. "No worries chum, let us feast on the ship and sleep away any woe the Lord has given us this fine night, shall we?" His laugh followed them from the peer around to the plank where others gathered to set sail.
Cam readied himself, leaning from their perch into the night air. On his signal, they dashed for the shade of the ship. They stopped under the window Cam had told them of and glanced up. The light from inside illuminated a single rope that hung to its side.
"Here, I can give you height." Cam knelt to the ground and interlaced his fingers.
Sneering Rhys walked to the edge of the peer, turned, and with two forceful strides ran up the length of the ship until her hands wrapped tightly around the rope. Pulling her body up the rope, she hauled herself through the window.
Cam and Maleah looked wide-eyed at each other. After a moment, Rhys stuck her head out. "Come on then!"
"Can you do that as well?" he jested.
Shaking her head, she let out a small laugh. "No, I'm afraid not."
Shrugging, Cam knelt again, obliging and grateful Maleah placed her foot in his hands. But before he could lift her, voices floated from the end of the dock.
". . . untie the rope. It'll only take a moment." They froze as their eyes locked with the Kings' Men. "Oy!"
"What about you? You'll be caught."
"You needn't worry," he grinned. But she did. He had fulfilled his end of their bargain but would be punished for it. "Well?" Panic edged its way into her chest. Bracing herself, Cam hoisted her into the air. Reaching, she barely caught the end of the rope before her body slammed into the ship. Struggling, she used what little muscle she had and pulled herself inch by inch towards the window.
Rhys stretched out her hand and when she could, Maleah took it and wrapped her leg over the sill. Glancing back to Cam, she saw him wrestle against the Kings' Men. He'd wrangled Cam's arms behind his back, twisting until she heard him groan with pain.
Let him go, she tried to convince herself. He said so. She looked to Rhys, whose eyes pleaded to let him go. But she couldn't bear the thought of leaving him to rot at the mercy of the King's Men. Sighing, she turned back to Cam.
Channeling her panic, she drew the air over the water. Lapping it over the dock and letting it soak the wood with salt. She stirred it, pooling it at the man's feet. The water caught his attention. In his moment of distraction, Cam fought himself free.
Between her legs, she felt the ship move. The anchor lifted to her right and the heavy body sank forward.
Time was running out.
Raising her hands, she focused. They became the sea. Dragging the water up the man's legs until it folded around him. It caught his scream so they sounded gurgled. Cam stumbled backward, his eyes staring in disbelief as the man scratched at the water with no effect.
"Cam!" she shouted. She saw him hesitate, turn back to the island, then the Kings' Men before breaking into a sprint towards her.
With the same grace as Rhys, he scaled the ship and until he shared the sill with her.
"Why did you do that?" he spoke between heaves.
She thought for a moment for a good answer, then said, "a life lived in exile is better than a life not lived at all."
She slid from the window and into the room. She felt drained. Fatigued. Pushing back her hair she looked around the room. She heard a muffled metal rattle nearby as the boat swayed away from the port. It did not take long for her to determine they had slipped into the storage room where all the crates and barrels had been stowed.
Without warning, Rhys fled to the window, effectively pushing her and Cam out of the way. Maleah cringed at the sound of her retching.
"The island looks less frightful from here," Rhys said, wiping her mouth. Maleah chose to take her word for it as Rhys bent over to heave again.
Cam did not speak again but retreated to a corner of the room with a silent goodnight. Rhys mumbled to herself between wretches in a slew of words that sounded both foreign and vile. As they each chose their spaces, Maleah resolved herself to a separate corning. Weaving her way through the crates to lay on the cool floor.
As night spilled into the room, she filled her mind with dreams of the world across the sea. She imagined the end of land as it gave way to the sea. A port filled with people - most likely King's Men - and more people beyond it still. She thought of the open water, the green on trees, the rolling hills of her childhood, the mountains her family lived between. The crystal-clear water that fell from them.
She wondered if the place Doc wanted her to go truly existed. Or if he had simply just wanted her to get away from danger.
Sábhille, she repeated to herself. Where do you look for a place that does not exist but only in myth?
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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