The soft crackling of water on rocks lulled Maleah awake. Rubbing her eyes, she pushed herself off the ground. Eyes wides, she glanced frantically around. The bleak cave resembled her black cell and sent a shivering panic through her before she saw the fire spitting out and the lump outline of a stranger sleeping opposite her.
A faint light trickled through the cave's mouth, cool and beckoning. Slowly, she rose from the ground and tip-toed out of the cave.
She met the cold slap of dawn wind as she stepped into the mist of falling water. Both of which calmed her unsteady heart and reassured her that she had not dreamt it all. To her left, the sun poked its head at the edge of the world, reaching its arms in a warm welcome. Above her, cirrus clouds moved lazily over violets and pinks.
Maleah walked to the waterfall. She could've sworn it was only a trickle the night before, but let the query go as it was rich and full of clear, clean water. Through its rain, she saw a distorted world and cared not when she cupped her hands to drink.
Void of pollutants and untouched by ill intentions, she drank her fill. Letting its purity seep into her bones, numb her acts, and calm her qualms. She washed the dirt from her body, scrubbing furiously at the deep remnants of the borstal. Trying to rid herself of the evidence of her captivity and watched as dried blood washed away.
She tried not to think too much. For she feared she'd cry if she lingered too long on Doc's memory. But despite her best efforts, he entered her mind. His kind face; his blood on her hands. The promise she made him.
As far south as south will go, she thought. Where would that take her? What waited at the edge of the world that wasn't already consumed by the sea? Sábhille? She'd never heard of the land. Or was it a village, a city? A person maybe.
Scrubbing at her feet, she clenched her teeth. Angry and confused, Maleah turned over her options.
Going back was not one, that was certain. She'd be killed for treason. Or worse, punished for all eternity. No, turning herself in was not an option.
Moving forward seemed the only way. But without a map or provisions - or clothes, she considered because the nights would no doubt grow longer and colder soon - she would not make it far. And she didn't know the land. Or where she was for that matter. How would she manage to get anywhere when she had nothing to begin with?
Shifting to clean her arms, she winced. Angling her head, she peered over her shoulder and saw the scorched skin - pussed and bruised on her back. Maleah struggled to reach it. Twisting her arms around her neck and back without success.
"I can help with that." Startled, Maleah jerked around. The red-head stranger stood over her. "May I?" Crouching down, the girl tore off a piece of her clothes and soaked it with water before pressing it gently to Maleah's back.
Maleah grimaced at the pain. Hissing as the girl dabbed at her wound.
"I realize," the girl began, "I haven't properly thanked you. You risked your life to help me, a stranger. And you got us here. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Maleah whispered.
"Maleah," she returned the girls' extended hand. "Even though I do not know where here is exactly."
Rhys laughed softly. "You don't, do you? Well, I won't state the obvious but we are on the Isle of the Broken. An island about twenty leagues off the mainland."
Sighing, Maleah tucked her knees to her chest. Well, that's one answer. And it gave her just another question: how was she to get off the island?
When Rhys had finished cleaning her wound, she rinsed the cloth and turned it to her own skin. They sat in silence as she washed and Maleah stared from the side of the mountain. The world seemed endless from there. Dead and endless. A forest of bare trees rose high below and stretched further than she could see. Small mountains rose on either side, framing the valley like a shield.
It was still a simple beauty, one that reminded her of Doc's home, and the memory cut deep. Laying a hand over her aching heart, Maleah held her tears in. From the corner of her eye, Maleah saw Rhys' back straighten. Her face drew together in concentration. The stark contrast from the relaxed girl moments before stirred Maleah's concern.
"What is it?"
"We're not alone," she said quietly. Maleah opened her mouth to respond, but before she could a male's voice entered the conversation.
"Keen ears." Jumping to her feet, Maleah stood alarmed next to Rhys whose stance grew defensive.
"Who are you?" Rhys demanded.
"Didn't mean to startle you," he raised his hands innocently. He eyed them both as they did him. His clothes were deep brown and tan and raised every hair on her neck. Prison guard.
"Who are you?" Rhys repeated. "What do you want?"
Laughing, he dropped his hand to the bag at his side and leaned against the mountain. "Who are you?" His eyes teased even as he mocked.
"We do not answer to you."
"No? Then who do you answer to?"
Maleah took in his appearance. Dirt-covered face, a single bag, dirty clothes are worn thin. Weary eyes disguised by a strong front and on a slightly kind face. Glancing to the cave and back again, it dawned on her. He lived there. But why? she wondered.
"Apologies," Rhys began, "if we stumbled into your home. We only sought shelter for the night. We were just on our way." Carefully, she began to step down the mountain. Maleah walked close behind. Just as she thought she was out of his reach, the boy grabbed her by the arm and whipped her back.
"How much would they pay me for your capture and return? How much for both of you? One must wonder these things when two prisoners wander carelessly through the island."
She recognized the threat and the challenge in his tone. But knew a runaway when she saw one.
She kept her voice steady, "You won't turn us in. Unless you're aiming to turn yourself in, too."
Alarm flickered across his face. He tossed her arm loose and she stepped a quick three steps back.
"You know nothing," he spat.
She met his resistance with a dare. "Don't I? You wear their uniform, yet you do not stand with them. You carry what little possessions you have on your body. You live in a cave, under their noses. Clever hiding place."
"What would you know about hiding," he cursed at her.
"More than you would expect from a prisoner, I presume. Still," she did a slow circle to look at Rhys, then back. She pieced together a plan faster than she had only thought it. "I will make you a deal."
"I'd never --"
"I will make you a deal," she repeated. "If you can secure our passage off the island, we swear to keep your existence a secret from any we come across." Ignoring Rhys' protests, Maleah stared idly at the boy from the mountain.
Silent and unmoving they stared at each other, considering one another.
"You swear it," he finally said.
"You have my word." She reached her hand to his. When he accepted it, she turned to Rhys. Rolling her eyes, she gave her word. "Right then, where to?"
"Port," he said. Shifting around the girls, he lead the way. A few feet behind him, Rhys leaned into Maleah.
"We cannot trust a King's Men. They're sworn to the King, to protect his interests despite their own. What if he betrays us? What if he leads us into a trap?"
Maleah knew Rhys' concern. Happened to agree with her. But they needed off the island and he was the only one who had some idea how to do that.
"If he does, I will turn the winds on him and buy us time to run."
"And if that isn't enough?"
"I don't know," she admitted as they followed the mountain boy into the dead forest.
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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