The day passed promptly. Shades of dark purple framed the clouds. Spackled pink puffs clung to the remains of the day and from its bed, the moon rose. Many men retreated to playing games with cups and several-sided dies. She ignored their hoots when they were pleased and howls when they weren't.
The men had not emerged from the room and sometime after mid-day, the Broken boys had been replaced by two others. They worked like their predecessors: silently chained to the helm and exquisitely dancing with the elements.
When the sun neared its last breath, a man walked the deck calling for supper.
Absently, Maleah laid her hand to her stomach. She hadn't given much thought to food since the village. Dropping from her seat, she followed the crowd of hungry men into a packed room below deck. Scanning the heads, she searched for Cam, recalling he said he'd be there. With luck, she found him and Rhys tucked into a corner of the room.
They made space for her to sneak onto the bench. With the growing noise of the room, she needn't worry about the parchment crinkling under her clothes.
"How did you waste your day?" Rhys shouted over the chatter that erupted around them.
"Who said I wasted it?" Cam responded, reaching for a platter of rolls and then placing three on each of their plates.
"So you made use of it then?"
"As a matter of fact, yes." He offered them jam but did not elaborate. Instead, he turned to Maleah. "What about you Mal?"
Mal? she mouthed questionably. But before she could reply, the Captain stepped into the room. His presence caused the men to beat their cups against the tables. When the Captain stood at the head of the room, he raised his hands, effectively silencing everyone.
"Welcome all, to the Dark Ranger. It is my pleasure to guide you safely to Dianmoore. Come morning, we will have docked in the port of Saeve. Many of our guests will be joyously on their way, never to journey with us again.
"I would like to address and squash your qualms," he continued over the mix of murmured pleasure and scowls. "Late yesterday, we received word from the new lord and King about two escaped prisoners. As a result of the new lord's ambitions to cleanse the borstal of all blessed, judgment day was thrown askew. How they managed to break out, I was not informed. It is my gravest hope that we have stranded them on the island, giving the new lord his best chance. But I do implore you, should they have managed to board our ship, detain them at once. Who knows, by finding such a prize, you may also find yourself in his Godliness' good graces."
The Captain peered darkly at the men, allowing his words to hang heavily on their ears. "That'll be all."
He sat in his high chair at the center of the head table. When he was settled, the side door opened and men filed in carrying platters of food and pitchers of drink. The smell of fire-burnt fish wafted the air. Freshwater pitchers and slates of seaweed were laid intermittently on every table.
Maleah's mouth began to water. She hadn't realized how desperately hungry she was until the hot food sat under her nose. She waited as every man filled their plates and cups with the largest portions she'd ever seen. No one monitored or scolded for taking what they wanted. And when platters were emptied another was ready to replace it.
The food tasted like bliss. She tried not to mull over the ebbs of anger that threatened her temporary peace. All this food swam all around them, yet they were fed leftover sludge and blackened bread.
The room swelled with conversation. Men gorged themselves and no one gave them consideration. Even Cam and Rhys joined in the merriment. Putting aside their distaste for each other and swapping stories of the mainland. Of Cam exploring the rolling hills and Rhys' knowledge of creatures both mythical and real.
To her other side, both pirate and Kings' Men engaged in a debate. Maleah raised an ear to listen.
"What would you know? You pirates have no sense of the world off of these floppy waters," one King's Men sneered. His elbows were placed deftly over his plate.
"The wind carries more on its breeze if you have the ear to hear its whispers," a pirate said. "The tides are changing and you best be ready for what is to come."
"Ha! And what would that be? Seasons change all the time. You have no brain if you believe that two measly prisoners will smite us all just because they bested the veil. Two foolish girls who've been locked away forever and have less knowledge of the mainland than you lot. No, the new lord will have them behind bars before long and it is there they will await their hopefully long executions."
"Has anyone told you you're an ignorant dupe. Why would the King acquire the Huntsman in their search if he believed them to be anything less than treasure? At least one of those foolish girls has value. You'd be more stupid than you look if you ignored what happens behind the curtain."
The King's Men hand tensed around his cup. She could see his veins attempting to burst.
"The pirate is right," another King's Men said just in time. Leaning closer, Maleah watched the scar above his lip frown. "I overheard our Captain in his quarters this morning. He was writing a letter to the King, ensuring the prisoners had not boarded this ship. Then, I heard him ask his squire to write the King a question asking if one of them is who he seeks."
"What are you doing eavesdropping on our Captain for? Best keep your ears to yourself else it'll be you he detains and feeds to the fish!" A different pirate reprimanded.
Maleah stopped listening as the men began to howl at each other.
She wondered of herself and Rhys. She knew they would be hunted for escaping. But what of their importance? Were they of any value to the King? She knew herself of value no question. A naturalist is always of value. She saw the Broken earlier and knew her fate would be similar if she hadn't left.
But Rhys? She glanced to the red-headed blessed, watched as she split a roll in half, and spoke through a full mouth. What was her gift? Would she be of any value to the King?
Looking to Cam, she thought of what he said earlier. If ladies do not become King's Men then what becomes of them?
She wondered about what the King's Men said about the land. Her lack of knowledge shouldn't be overwhelming. Unless . . . Had it changed that much since she'd been taken? Would it be that difficult to navigate? To travel as far south as she needed to?
It dawned on her, then, that she couldn't do it alone.
. . .
Back in the storage room, they each staked out a spot to sit and relax. Cam entertained himself with a knife he'd found by throwing it into a crate. Rhys had shut her aways as if willing her nausea away.
But Maleah, she fiddled with her hands and mulled over all the how's and if's of her future.
How would she approach them? Could she persuade them to come with her as her companions? What if they said no? When would she do then? How would she get as far south as she needed to go?
"Would you just say it?" Rhys hissed. Turning, Maleah found Rhys staring heatedly at her.
"You've something to say, so say it. You're making me insane with all that worry you're cooking up."
Cautiously, Maleah reached for the map and placed it at her side. Cam shifted to his feet and crossed to her.
"Where did you find this?" he asked, plucking the lantern from its swing and hovering it over the drawing.
"Captain's quarters, before supper."
"What are you doing with it?" Rhys inquired.
She shrugged. "I hadn't intended to take it if that's what you're wondering. I just found it and figured it would come in good use." They both looked at her blankly. "It's a map to safety."
Then they each frowned.
"It's a map of Dianmoore. It isn't safe anywhere." Cam crouched over the map.
"But what if there is? What if I can promise you safety? Freedom and life beyond the reach of King's Men and any who seek to harm us."
"I'd say you are wasting your breath."
Maleah looked to Rhys. "I made you a promise when we escaped. To get you to safety. If I knew of a place that offered us all this, would you risk the journey? No matter how far?"
Rhys bit her pale pink lips, considered her. "I would say that depends. Where are we going?" Sucking in a breath, Maleah whispered its name. Instantly, Rhys' eyes drew together.
And instantly, Maleah knew she recognized the name. "You know of it?"
"It is a myth. A story my father once told me. A false place of hope and security." Sadness grew in Rhys' eyes.
"I once believed the same. But what if I told you it was real? That I know where to find it. And I could show you on a map."
"I'd say you're as hopeless as my father."
Maleah refused to believe that. "But I'm not. Look." She pointed to Ilioch on the map. But it did not move and Sabhille did not appear. Strange, she wondered cocking her head at the parchment.
"See?" Rhys shrugged. "It does not exist."
"I promise it is here." She reached for the parchment and smiled when it shimmered. Glancing up at Rhys and Cam, she watched as their faces twisted with surprise and disbelief.
"How did you do that?" Cam muttered, leaning into the page. His fingers danced over names and lands as if entranced.
"I don't know. Rhys, It exists. If it is as real as the stories we were told, then we've no choice but to go and find out for ourselves. You said your father believed in this place. If you do not believe in me - and I would not blame you - then believe in him as I believe in Doc.
"Go with me. Both of you. I cannot make this journey alone. They may be insolent fools, but the King's Men were right: I know nothing of these lands. You two do."
Cam considered her, then the map. It had changed back. "I wasn't supposed to be with you this long. However, you saved my life. Our paths are intertwined. I will go with you."
She smiled, then they both waited for Rhys who looked away from them and out to the sea. Tears threatened to coat her face.
"Alright," she finally said before turning away and disappearing into her own corner.
"Thank you," Maleah said to Cam when they were alone.
"Don't thank me. I will help you get where you need. Get some rest, the day will be upon us in no time."
Nodding, Maleah slithered onto her crate and turned to the sea. The stars blanketed the black sky and winked happily at her. It was the first clear night she'd seen in years.
Somewhere between wakefulness and half-sleep, Cam laid a blanket over her and tucked a bundle under her head.
He watched as she and Rhys slept and wondered how he had tangled himself in their mess. Studying the map and the stars, he mapped their passage from Saeve to Ilioch. Considered time and season, he planned and prepared for what was to come.
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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