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Chapter 24

My vision swam, my mind trying to rationalize what it was seeing. I felt detached, somehow, like my mind was floating away from my body. I felt cold, chilled to my very core. So much so that my hands shook and my legs trembled. My mind, though, seemed shattered into a thousand pieces. This I knew to expect; after all I’d witnessed in my time out here, I knew what shock felt like. The only difference here was that I was solely responsible for taking his life.

The man lay motionless, his own dark blood pooling around him. His eyes were glazed over, staring wide without seeing. Time felt suspended as I gaped at him. I couldn’t hear, couldn’t smell. Remi moved in my peripherals, but she was only an amorphous blob of color. I felt a warm, rough tongue on my hand. I pulled the hand to my face. It was stained with blood. It was my hand.

Remi began tugging on my arm, hard. She was strong despite her petiteness. She was saying something, motioning for me to follow. I stumbled after her and into the blackness that awaited me.

The night was frigid, the townsfolk tucked away against the cold. We ran hand in hand, Remi towing me along alleys between buildings, guiding us away from the sound of the crashing waves. Bear’s paws thudded alongside us. My chest ached with exertion and emotion, and I pulled us to a stuttering stop as we reached the edge of town. Remi glanced around, her pale cheeks flushed.

“We must keep going,” she whispered between gasps. I only nodded, turning to stare down at Reyka.

“Where will we go?” I asked, suddenly remembering Jon, our plan to leave and go north. “I can’t leave!” I hissed, turning to run back to the scene of the murder I was responsible for. Remi gripped my arm tightly, but I was strong enough for her to skid towards me a few paces.

“No!” she hissed back.

“Why?” I said, exasperated.

“Because they’ll catch you and hang you!” she pleaded. “They’ll kill me too, for running and-and hiding!”

My brow furrowed. How would I be killed for defending myself? My mind jumped irrationally to Jon. He was in the process of killing someone. How was his deed going to go unpunished?

“Come on, we can hide in the-in the woods and w-wait for your husband!” she tugged again. No sounds came from the town above the roar of the sea and the whistle of the wind. No one yet knew the man was dead and we were missing. It seemed running away would make it obvious as to who had killed the man. The way their society worked still dumbfounded me at times.

“Alright, fine. We’ll go and hide.” I said, throwing my hands up in defeat. The moon was full, casting long shadows in its silvery light. The snow underfoot sparkled brightly. Bear’s ears perked up, his tail wagging slowly as he faced the woods. In an instant, he took off, straight into the darkness.

“Damn dog!” I growled, instantly worried about him. He was likely giving chase to a rabbit or squirrel. Remi and I turned to follow him. I locked away the memories of the last few hours, knowing I’d have to face them sometime later and reconcile them.

The frosted snow crunched underfoot; there was no fresh powder, only slush during the warm periods of the daytime that would turn crisp as night fell. Remi was wearing a thin dress, her sleeves too baggy to provide much warmth. I took the shawl from my shoulders, throwing it over hers. She smiled up at me, teeth chattering. We entered the shelter of the woods as the world became quiet and eery. Bear was nowhere to be seen, causing a slight panic to rise in my chest. We had no defense now. My knife was still wedged in our attacker’s ribs at the brothel. We walked for half an hour, deeper into the winding forest. It hadn’t changed all that much since Jon and I had first come through. I doubted I’d been in this exact spot, but it was hard to decipher the difference amongst the trees.

I began to hear noises, almost like footsteps behind us, but they were so far off and so infrequent I wasn’t sure. My mind was worked up, after all. Remi moved closer to me as the trees became more and more dense, the moonlight barely penetrating the canopy. I felt we were far enough into the woods to find a spot to hunker down for the remainder of the night, but Remi seemed intent to keep moving.

“Did you hear that?” I asked, suddenly hearing the crunch of a footstep much closer this time. We stopped, Remi glancing at me with furrowed brows. She opened her mouth to speak, but another woman’s voice cut through the darkness.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my brother’s blushin’ bride.”

I stared across the small, bright fire at the ghost before me. She sat straight as an arrow, shoulders squared, her blue eyes just as piercing as I remembered. Her dark hair was cropped short now, just brushing the tops of her ears, falling across one side of her face. She kicked another log into the fire with her boot.

“So, ye married Thran, eh?” she said, smirking darkly. My stomach churned at the memory. I could tell she still didn’t like me all that much.

“He forced me.” I said.

She only bobbed her head in thought. Bear sat happily by my side. Having sensed Meleryn was near, he’d run off and lead her to us. I wasn’t sure I was all that pleased with his decision. Remi inched closer to the fire, warming her dainty hands. I glanced back at Meleryn, still not convinced my mind wasn’t fooling me. She locked eyes with me.

“I had no choice but to cut it,” she said, tugging on a short strand of her shiny hair. I shook my head, not meaning to stare. “Some idiot had me by my braid, so I chopped it before I chopped him.” she smirked maliciously. I had no response to her bloodthirsty comments.

“Where’s Jon?” I asked, hoping she’d know something of value. She rolled her eyes.

“In love with him already, are ye? Or just in love with his prick?” she leaned forward, glaring at me. I glared back, unwavering. She sat up, sighing.

“He found me a day ago and told me where ye were hidden. I was on my way into town when Bear nearly attacked me,” she kicked a bit of snow in his direction. He growled. “So why are ye runnin’? Married life too dull?” she asked.

“I killed someone.” I said, looking to my blood stained hand. Meleryn shifted.

“Aye, looks like ye did. What’d they do to ye?”

“Attacked Remi and I in my room. I had no choice.” I explained, defending my actions. Meleryn leaned forward.

“Good,” she said. “We’ll rest here for the night. Jon should be back to town by tomorrow. He never found the man he was lookin’ for.” she turned around, reaching for her pack. She dug around in it, throwing a tattered blanket my way.

I caught it deftly, turning the fabric over in my hands.

“Jon’d kill me if I let ye freeze to death.”

Dawn came earlier each day it seemed. The skies were streaked with red as the sun rose over the vast water. It felt like a lifetime ago that Jon and I had stood on this same sandy hill, staring down into Reyka. I was more anxious now than ever to leave this place.

“Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning,” Meleryn muttered, tugging the reins of her white horse to keep us moving forward. She walked on foot alongside Remi and I.

“What does that mean?” I asked. She stared out over the sea, a small smile on her plump lips. Her short hair accentuated her facial features drastically.

“It’s a sailor’s saying. If the sun rises red, the seas will be rough. If the sun sets red, they’ll be alright.” she shrugged. Remi was stoic beside me. I knew she was nervous to be heading back. Although I’d only known her less than a day, I already felt responsible for her well being. We’d have to sort out what to do with her. I refused the idea we’d let her stay at The Pearl. I pulled the dirty blanket around my head to conceal my hair.

We passed The Pearl quietly as phantoms. Not a peep was heard, not even the flicker of a candle was seen. I wondered when they’d find the body. Fear wriggled up my spine and settled in my gut like a rock. I missed Jon desperately now, more so for his cunning ways around delicate situations. Our goodbye a few days ago had been brief, and I’d refused to think on it, lest I miss him even more than I already did. He had hugged me fiercely, causing his scent to linger upon my dress and hair.

“Stay hidden, princess,” He’d said, kissing my forehead. I’d smiled and tried to memorize every line of his face.

“Come back to me, or I’ll kill you myself.” I’d threatened, causing him to laugh, his eyes to crinkle near the edges as he smiled.

“Aye, I promise ye I will. If only for another handful of yer perfect arse!” He’d ducked through the door before I could reprimand him. I hadn’t realized I was smiling to myself until Remi nudged me, a worried look in her eyes.

“Are you well?” she whispered, concerned. I wiped the reminiscent smile from my face and nodded, realizing it probably wasn’t proper to be lighthearted the morning after you’d murdered someone.

We passed by the tavern, pushing farther south through town than I’d been before. The smell of saltwater and unknown sea creatures mingled on the morning breeze. Jon had attempted to explain certain animals that lived in the depths, having to give up and saying I’d see them for myself someday. The ships in the harbor bobbed slightly in the waves, though the water had receded since the night before, something called a tide. Meleryn lead us to the largest ship, tying her horse to a rail at the edge of the road. A long plank ran from land to ship. Without a word, she stepped on and marched forward. Remi and I glanced at each other in silent question; I shrugged and followed her. She was Jon’s sister, and I felt I had no choice but to trust her.

Once aboard the quiet, massive ship, Meleryn paused, turning to me.

“Jon should be here now. They were supposed to come to harbor late last night.” my heart swelled at the news. Meleryn’s eyes were full of concern, though.

“What’s wrong?” I said, squinting at her. She seemed taken aback that I had read her facial expressions so flawlessly; months spent studying Jon had proven fruitful.

“He, uh, sort of had a little fight. He’s pretty banged up, but he’s been through worse.” I caught the double meaning in her words, knowing she still blamed me for my family’s transgressions.

“Let me see him.” I growled, staring her in the eye.

“Ye care about him.” she stated, more to herself than to me. Exasperated, I threw my hands up.

“Of course I do!”

She continued to stare at me in question for a moment, but turned on her heel and towards a set of doors below a deck. She pushed them open. I heard Jon’s voice and rushed past her into the darkness.

I gripped his hand and stared at him as he recounted his last few days for us. His right eye was swollen shut and he moved cautiously, clearly sore. He had been ambushed by three highwaymen on his first day, and had spent his remaining time trying to get back to Reyka. Whatever happened to his attackers, he never said; however, he’d been careless in cleaning his sword. Dried flecks of blood spattered the shiny steel. I felt no pity towards the people who’d tried to kill Jon.

“My bargain with Fletcher is null and void,” he rasped, shifting to sit up higher and gritting his teeth against the pain. Neither Meleryn or I moved to help him; we knew better. “But he’s still takin’ us north in two weeks, once all supplies are on the ship.” he fell back onto the pillows, sighing. His rough hand gripped mine tightly.

“I’m sorry if I frightened ye by sending Mel,” he said as she scoffed and rolled her eyes in the corner. I pressed my lips together to bite back my retort.

“You didn’t,” I assured him. He nodded.

“She found me in the next farming village over, and I told her to get ye. I figured Fletcher wouldn’t keep a close eye on ye.” his look soured considerably.

“Turns out she can fend for herself.” Meleryn said, standing to peer down at Jon. His one functioning eye snapped to me, the other a protruding, purple mass.

“What happened.” he growled. It wasn’t a question as much as it was a statement. I felt my face go hot, my insides squirm, as the suppressed memory burst forth. Remi cleared her throat.

“I-I brought her dinner and-and, well we were eating, and Hector came—“

Hector?” Jon’s voice was low and deadly. My brow furrowed as Remi’s head bobbed. “Ye killed Hector?”

I was instantly defensive.

“He tried to kill me and turn me in for money, and he’s been paying to sleep with a twelve year old—“

Jon’s rasping laugh caught us all off guard. Perhaps he was feeling the effects of his attack and needed rest.

“What’s so funny?” Meleryn said. Jon positively beamed up at me.

“Hector was the man I was supposed to kill.”

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