Dyritican Annals - The Book of Kings: Marked

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Chapter 9

Bace was given three weeks off to heal. Not because he needed that long but because he had asked to take the time to see his family. He decided to surprise them so he left his mother’s note at home and started to make his way across the country as fast as he could manage. The first few days were painful but he slowly felt his wounds begin to heal as time passed. The bruises on his neck would take much longer to heal so he was worried about what his mother would say when she saw them. It was late in the evening when he arrived. It wasn’t often that a rider made his way along the only road that led to Bace’s old home so the hoof beats quickly drew their attention. The door opened slightly and a curious face peered out. Bace finally reached the small yard and the face quickly ducked back in and was replaced by the sure-footed figure of Bace’s father who stepped to the edge of the porch. The man stopped and a curious expression spread across his face in the dim light. His wife was close behind. She came running out and smiled but looked at her husband with a small warning in her eyes. The man didn’t notice. He looked over to his wife then.

“Is that my son?” He asked quietly. The woman nodded and then smiled. Bace dismounted stiffly and his mother rushed forward.

“You’re hurt.” She gently helped him down.

“Not really.” He said quietly but then looked up again at his father who had tears in his eyes.

“My son.” He said. Bace felt his mother draw away as he stepped towards his father. “You’re alive.” Bace noticed the banner he had given to his mother only a few weeks ago dangling from his father’s pocket. Before he could say anything, the man stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his son. “My son.” He repeated. Bace returned the embrace and together they formed a powerful pillar rooted to the ground.

“I’m so sorry.” Bace mumbled into his father’s shoulder. The man didn’t understand the words but he felt the purpose behind them in his son’s tone. When the two men finally parted, his father turned and called out a young girl. The girl stepped forward and looked up at Bace. Bace moved around his father and stepped up to the young girl. He held out his hand and licked his lips.

“Hello Paige.” He said quietly. The young girl was small but thickly built. The strain of working on a ship was clearly muscling her. Her hair was long and thick; dark like his own. He saw his own eyes in her but with a much brighter light coming from within. The young girl grabbed his hand but pulled him in and wrapped her arms around his neck. He hesitated but then returned the embrace. She pulled away.

“I thought you’d be taller.” She smiled. Bace laughed and she seemed to enjoy it. “At least your laugh makes up for it.” She said, now intrigued. Bace’s mother suddenly noticed the bruises on his neck.

“Bace, your neck.” She ran forward and pulled him inside. He quickly turned before the door shut but saw his father leading his mount to the barn. Bace sat before the blazing stove and traced the triangular scab that had been carved into his shoulder. He peeled his collar over his shoulder and found the cuts immediately in the flickering firelight. The words of his enemy suddenly came to mind.

Marked, marked, prey of the dark. Slay he who bears the Ender’s mark.

“How long will you be staying with us, Bace?” His mother interrupted his thoughts. He turned as she approached him from behind.

“Mum, I’m fine.” He said as she sat down beside him with a warm cloth.

“No son of mine will have injuries untouched by my own hands.” She said and pressed the warm cloth to his neck. He jerked away as the pressure brought back the same pain as if the enemy’s hand was still there. He pushed her hand away.

“The warm cloth will help.” She dipped it in the bowl of warm water again and then wrung it out before carefully pressing it to his throat.

“Mum, he obviously doesn’t want to be babied. Leave him be.” His sister called across the room as she finished unpacking for Bace. She obviously thought he’d be staying for a while because she was pulling everything out and piling it on the table. She suddenly gasped a pulled out a long bolt of fabric. Bace watched her run her fingers over it.

“I got that for a good weight at the market for you.” He told his mother. She glanced over and her eyes widened. She looked back at her son and soaked the cloth again to reheat it. Paige pulled out the second bolt of fabric and stared like she held the moon in her hands. “That one’s for you, Paige.” She looked over and then back at the fabric.

“It’s beautiful.” She said quietly with a mesmerized tone.

“Bace, you really didn’t have to-” His mother began.

“For all those birthday’s I missed.” He assured so only his mother could hear. She looked up at him and stared with wet eyes deep into him. Her gaze broke when the door opened and Bace’s father walked in.

“Your horse is bedded. He’s a strong headed animal, that one.” He said as he pulled off his coat.

“All battle horses are.” Bace replied.

“Well, he’s no farm horse.” He said as he moved into the kitchen to poor some coffee.

“Won’t you tell us what’s wrong, Bace?” His mother suddenly asked and Bace heard the other two in the kitchen turn to look.

“I had a bit of an injury on the job. They gave me three weeks to heal and allowed me to visit you for the duration.” He said and his sister squealed.

“You’re staying for three whole weeks!” Her mother answered before Bace had a chance to open his mouth.

“Oh, no no, dear. It takes him one week to travel here so he’ll stay for a week and then leave.” She smiled sadly as her daughter nodded and quietly stroked her fabric.

“But we’re glad for any time we get with him.” That was their father. He slapped his daughter playfully on the shoulder. A smile crept onto her face. Bace’s mother finally seemed satisfied so she stood and walked to the kitchen to admire her fabric. Bace watched them and then saw a small sack on the table. He stood and strode over to pick it up. He handed it over to his father.

“I almost forgot.”

“What is this?” He asked.

“I bought it for you.” His father opened the bag hesitantly and reached inside. A moment later he pulled out a hand-carved spyglass. His father gasped.

“Bace, this is too much.” He exclaimed but couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the gift. He finally looked over and held it out to his son. Bace grabbed his father’s hand and pushed it back towards his belly.

“It’s a gift, father.” He said. His father looked down at it again and then slid it into his pocket. The family eventually settled in front of the stove and they talked until both Paige and their father fell asleep. When Bace’s mother knew they were both settled into their dreams, she turned to her son.

“You have other wounds. Where are they?” She asked as she stroked her daughter’s hair.

“I hit my head a little and my fingers are a little swollen. Then there’s a small dagger wound just below my ribs and of course my neck.” He tried to make them seem as insignificant as possible but he could see the horror rising in his mother’s eyes. “I like what I do, mum. I can help a lot of people and that’s worth it to me.” He said quietly.

“I know.” She said as her face grew pale. She sighed and looked down at Paige who breathed quietly with her head in her mother’s lap. She looked over to her husband.

“Jeorge.” She suddenly said and he jerked awake. “Perhaps we should-” She began and pointed to Paige. He nodded and stood. Together they woke Paige and then disappeared into the house. His mother returned a moment later carrying a blanket and a small rolled up mattress. They made his bed together and then hugged before parting.

“Good night, dear.” She whispered.

“Night, mum.” He replied and watched her walk back to their room. Bace slept fitfully that night as dreams of the attack in his house kept him stirring and jerking awake. He woke before the sun and walked outside with a sweater in hand. He was surprised to see his sister walking up the path towards the house carrying a basket. She smiled at him as he quickly pulled on his sweater as the cool air of the coast met his skin. Despite her smile Bace could see that she was slightly taken aback. They sat down on the porch together.

“What are all those scars from?” She finally asked as she pulled the stems off the grapes she had just harvested.

“I guess people don’t really like me.” Bace joked quietly and quickly snatched one of her grapes away and popped it into his mouth. His sister didn’t remove the placid expression. Bace sighed. “Daggers, swords, arrows. They all leave their mark.” He looked down at her. “Then of course there’s the one’s from being trapped under a beam in a burning building, bear attacks, and a few angry people along the way.” He said. “What about you? I’m not the only one at fault here. Looks like you have a few marks of your own?” He said but she didn’t seem interested in talking about herself.

“What about the one on your shoulder?” She asked and Bace felt his breath catch in his throat. Or maybe it was the grape. He swallowed and looked down at her.

“That was from an arrow.” He said.

“No, this one.” She said and placed a finger on the wool sweater he wore over the exact placement of the triangular scar. Bace watched her carefully but she met his gaze with equal dexterity. They were interrupted by their mother before Bace could reply.

“Good morning you two.” She smiled and knelt down behind them. “Those grapes look lovely, dear. Did you find them in the woods again?” She asked.

“Yes, by the big rock just like last time.” She smiled up at her mother.

“Good, why don’t you two come in for breakfast? It will be ready any moment now.” She stood and the two quickly followed her in.

After breakfast Bace disappeared into the woods and took the trail through the trees down to the water. Memories haunted him like they still lived in the exact places he had left them. He suddenly found himself next to the big rock his sister had collected grapes from. He knew the rock well. It was a strange landmark. Each year it seemed to grow something different at its base. One year, as a boy, he had found strawberries. The next year there were berries. He didn’t quite understand it. Nobody could explain it. He often found himself thinking about the strange boulder in the middle of the woods with a different harvest every year. He walked around to the other side and felt a sharp pain in his gut as more memories flooded his core. Then he found the names. Three names carved in stone, forever a mark in history.

Bace

Carter

Collin

They were all in his writing. His brothers had been too small, and had inherited the short attention span of their father, to put such dedication into carving the three names. Bace had carved them as they played further in the trees drawing closer and closer to the water. If only he had turned around. He felt panic rise in his chest as his fingers traced the names.

“Those are our brother’s names.” Bace startled at the sound of his sister’s voice. He spun around. She looked away shyly. “Sorry.” He turned away again and pulled his hand away from the rock. The silence continued but Bace couldn’t turn away from the names. They seemed to draw him in leaving him with no room to escape.

“I should have been watching them.” He suddenly whispered and he heard Paige take a step closer.

“That happened a long time ago.” Bace finally turned and felt the same deafening anger that had consumed his childhood return. His sister stepped away and drew in her arms protectively.

“Put it behind me?” He asked quietly.

“You left us, Bace. You ran.” Her voice suddenly rose and her arms lowered.

“Why don’t you try being responsible for your brother’s deaths.”

“Don’t you start.” She yelled back. “Do you know how long it took for mum to recover? She was still mourning the loss of three boys ten years after I was born. I meant nothing to her; I was just another thing to lose. She needed you and you ran away.”

“She hated me. She couldn’t even look at me.” He replied and felt a growing pain in his shoulder as the tension built.

“She cried every night wishing you were back.”

“And what would you have me do about it? Go back in time. You know I would if I could. I would gladly take their place.” He pointed to the names on the rock.

“No, you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’re going to help a lot of people and you wouldn’t be doing that if things hadn’t happened the way they did. You’d be doing what I do. And I love it, don’t get me wrong. But this life, it isn’t you. You’re meant for something important, I can feel it in my bones and I can see it when I look at you. That scar is leading you somewhere so you have to stay focused and be who our country needs you to be.” Bace placed a hand over the scar without thinking. He let his breath out and met his sister’s gaze. A new light was behind it, one that Bace understood and felt ignited a spark inside him. He knew what he had to do.

The week seemed to fly over their heads and before they knew it the family was packing up Bace’s things together. He was sorry to leave but itching to get on the road. Soon his mount was saddled and by the break of dawn he had everything in order. Each member of his family embraced him.

“Well, it feels like you’ve just arrived.” His mother said as they hugged. When they drew apart Bace quickly mounted.

“I won’t see you for a while.” He said down to them. They smiled up.

“I’ll write to you.” His mother said and they all waved as he rode away. Bace quickly crested the hill that separated the coast from the inner leagues of the island and rode briskly for the remaining hours that carried the sun overhead. When they stopped to rest for the night he found a small piece of parchment slipped into his coat. He unfolded it and caught a small object that that slid out.

“It’s a ring.” He held it up so Taunt could see. The horse tossed its head, wondering why he wasn’t being unsaddled. Bace studied the ring for a moment longer and then turned to the note.

Feel free to bring you girl home anytime!

~Paige~

Bace shook his head then slid the ring onto his smallest finger before unsaddling his restless mount.

“Settle down.” He cooed and his horse stilled as he slid the saddle from his back. Bace patted him and then let him loose to graze on the thin grass below. After eating, Bace settled in a tree and then woke to find the distance between here and home beckoning to him. He quickly saddled and then turned to the road. The rest of the week set a heavy boredom on Bace’s shoulders. He knew the land well and could hardly gaze at it with wonder as he once had. He reported to his Master the moment he entered the city and then rode to his small home. They entered the quiet building and after doing a quick sweep of the outside Bace settled in feeling more at peace than he ever had. Bace was finally home for the first time in eleven years.

Bace paced excitedly. His shift was almost over. Matt saw the young man from across the street and made his way towards him. The young Knight saw him immediately and stopped.

“Is it time already?” He asked. Bace nodded and glanced towards the quay at the other end of town. He sighed.

“How much longer?” He asked. Matt looked around and then leaned in and threw a hand on Bace’s shoulder.

“Go now, I’ll sign out for you.” Matt grinned.

“Serious?” He asked.

“M-hmm.” Matt nodded and Bace flew from his grasp. Matt watched him sprint down the street. “Doesn’t mean you’re off duty. Still have a job to do!” He yelled after the man. Bace held up a fist without turning and then ran out of sight. Bace sprinted home and quickly fed Taunt before racing out, still in uniform, to the docks. He sprinted onto the boardwalk a few minutes later and traced the outline of the two mountains rising on either side of the river leading out of the bay to the ocean. Rising like great green teeth out of the ground, Bace had heard once that no man had ever climbed to the top of either mountain. Too many stories haunted the trees. He slowed to a stop and walked down the empty dock. A small supply ship had pulled in recently, drawing in a small crowd at the east end of the loading bays. He glanced back at the mountains and then planted himself on the boardwalk over top of the water. He could hear it hitting the shore below him. Bace tapped his foot nervously and then walked over to the Yardmaster. He knocked on the small access panel on the door. It slid open a minute later.

“What?” The man said.

“Have there been any delays on the next ship coming in? The North Patrol.” Bace said, leaning in.

“I know what ship is coming in next. And no, nothing reported yet.” The man slammed the panel shut and Bace quickly pulled his fingers away so they would get caught. He stepped back and eyed the panel for a moment. He took another step back and slammed into a young woman.

“Oops, sorry sugar.” She said. Bace watched her walk away tapping a large staff in front of her. A long scarf was wrapped around her eyes. Bace glanced down, picked up a loaf of bread that had rolled out of her bag, and ran after her.

“Hey, Miss.” He said as he ran up. She spun around and he quickly dodged her large staff.

“What?” She asked. Bace stared at the scarf around her eyes.

“You-ah- dropped this.” He quickly ducked as she swung her staff.

“You’re quick. Wait, I know you.” She grinned and submitted her staff behind her back as she drew closer. “You’re the water boy.” She said.

“Water boy?” He said as he stuffed the bread into the bag at her hip.

“Yup, a few weeks ago that Knight pulled you out of the water.” She said and then jammed her staff between two boards at their feet. She suddenly reached out and Bace jerked back as her hands wrapped around his face. She drew them away and shrunk back.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“Please, it’s how I see.” She reached out again, slower this time and then scanned Bace’s features with her hands. Bace glanced around, hoping nobody was watching.

“How did you know it was me?” He asked.

“When you’ve been blind your whole life you learn to compensate.” She smiled and tugged her staff free. Bace watched her leave but then couldn’t move his feet. He glanced around, still trying to register what had just happened.

“Hey, Knight!” A Storemaster suddenly yelled. Bace turned and saw the master pointing down the docks at a young boy sprinting away. Bace turned on his heels and sprinted after the boy. As he whipped past the Storemaster was surprised at the gust of wind that hit him and stepped back in momentary shock. He watched the young Knight easily catch up and wrestle with the little boy. He knelt down so his face was only inches from the boy’s and, after a brief moment, the boy handed over the stolen item. The Knight slapped him on the head and then pointed to the city. The boy nodded and ran for home.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to take so long.” Bace said as he walked up and handed the necklace over.

“Thank you.” He said. He was about to question the Knight further when the man suddenly spun around, catching the white sails rolling in from the corner of his eye. He sprinted away. “Nice to meet you too.” The Storemaster said quietly. Bace stopped at the end of the receiving dock and scanned the deck. After a few moments, he noticed two pairs of arms waving frantically in the air. The shorter of the two was jumping up and down. The taller one, which was undoubtedly Kale, steadied the springing figure and then disappeared. Bace guessed he was likely gathering their gear and haltering their mounts. Bace stood solidly as the ship slowly rolled in. He could see Stephen more clearly now and suddenly realized that he was mirroring the large grin on the boy’s face. He brought it down a level and then tried to pick out what Stephen was yelling at him. Stephen yelled again and Bace shrugged. It took another minute for the ship to slide up to the dock and Stephen couldn’t wait any longer. He jumped over the railing and dropped the remaining eight feet to the dock below. He hopped painfully on one foot across the dock and embraced Bace with such power that they almost toppled over the other side of the dock. Bace grinned and returned the pressure around the boy. They separated suddenly and held each other at arm’s length.

“Bace! You’ve grown smaller!” He exclaimed. Bace grinned again and wrestled the boy under his arm. Stephen squirmed free and then quickly threw a few playful punches at his Master. Bace dodged them easily and then turned to the lowering ramp. Stephen turned too and watched as Kale led both of their mounts to the dock. He tossed the reins to Stephen and then greeted Bace with matched enthusiasm. After checking to make sure they had everything Bace walked the two back to the boardwalk along the shore.

“How was the trip?” He said. Kale was about to respond when he noticed a lone figure exit one of the shops struggling with an armful of groceries. Bace followed his gaze and then grinned. Stephen noticed too, for Kale had stopped walking, and looked over at Bace. The figure dropped a bag and then slowly bent down, trying to scoop up the one on the ground and balance the others in her arms.

“What?” Stephen asked. Kale suddenly looked down at Bace.

“Looks like someone could use a hand.” Bace said quietly. Kale nodded and pulled his mount forward. After struggling with beast, he finally mounted and rode towards the figure.

“What just happened?” Stephen asked.

“Kale met a girl before he left.” Bace said.

“Did they kiss?” Stephen asked. Bace watched Kale gently take all but one of the bags from the young woman and then follow her down the street. “Well, did they?” Stephen asked.

“How am I supposed to know?” Bace turned back to the boy.

“So they like each other?” He asked as Bace walked them forward.

“Well, Kale likes her.” He replied. “Can I walk you to the Academy?” He asked.

“So, are they going to get married?” He asked.

“Maybe.”

“What’s her name?” He questioned.

“I don’t know. I don’t think Kale even knows yet.” Bace replied. “Can I walk you to the Academy?”

“Is she nice?” He asked.

“Stephen.” Bace stopped and grabbed the boy’s arm and turned him. “I know just about as much as you now. So can I walk you to the Academy or not?” He asked.

“Oh, yeah, sure. You have a horse though, don’t you?” Stephen continued.

“Glad to know you haven’t changed, Phen.” Bace said quietly. After stopping to grab his horse, Bace rode quickly to the Academy with Stephen chatting at his side. Stephen registered in the Hall and then found his stable and room. Bace joined him and glanced around at the familiar walls.

“It’s going to be a lot different without you here.” Stephen said as he noticed Bace glancing at the door. Bace looked over.

“Kale will be here. And I’ll be around.” He replied evenly.

“I guess so.” He sat down on the bed. Bace stood and ruffled Stephen’s hair.

“Don’t grow up too fast, Stephen.” He said and then walked out. It felt strange to leave the boy alone but as he walked down the hallway he listened to the dozens of other boys all talking excitedly in their rooms. It was a strange comfort but the loud voices helped him through the door. The sun was beginning to set so he quietly walked over to Taunt.

“Good evening, Bace.” The loud voice startled him as he spun around.

“Sir.” He exclaimed and held out his hand. The loud voice belonged to the Headmaster. They shook hands. “You take care of my boys, Sir. They’re the best you have.” Bace calmly pointed to where he had left Stephen. The Headmaster smiled.

“Do you have a moment, Bace?” He asked.

“Of course.” The two men walked inside and then sat down in the Headmaster’s office.

“There has been an opening at the Academy, Bace. The position of Travelmaster has suddenly been vacated due to an unfortunate accident during his journey here.” Bace sat quietly, wondering where this conversation was going. The Travelmaster was responsible for planning and leading the week-long training exercises that brought a group of students away from the Academy to train on the road. Survival skills, as well as travelling by foot and horseback were mastered on these trips. The Travelmaster was only gone once a month for a week which would give Bace ample time to train Kale and Stephen plus he’d be paid to do it.

“Sir, I’m- much too young. I’m only a year older than-”

“Bace, I am well aware of how old you are just as all of the Masters who recommended you for the position knew how old you are. Students respect you. Even when you were a student they respected you.” Bace was flattered, yet confused. He looked down at his hands and then scanned the Headmaster’s desk quietly.

“Sir, I am honored, but I also feel obligated to my current position right now.”

“You’re not the first man to step out of a team, Bace. This is a great opportunity, never mind the salary. And not to mention how much time you’ll have to train your two students.” The Headmaster could tell that Bace was wavering. He gave the young Knight one more push. “Your horse, too, would have much better accommodations.” Bace looked up at the man and slowly started nodding.

“Under one condition.” He suddenly said.

“You will have a room to yourself and a stall for your beast, food and salary included.” The Headmaster filled in the silence.

“And one other thing.” Bace said, holding his gaze.

“Name it.”

“I want one hundred percent freedom, access to records and transcripts that come in and permission to investigate the invasion of the Daini.” Bace leaned back in his chair as the room grew silent. The Headmaster held his jaw firmly. There was a long silence as the Master considered.

“Done.” The two men stood and shook hands. “If you would sign this then.” They returned to their seats and the Headmaster passed over a pen and ink jar after a long form. Bace made a show of reading the form from top to bottom before signing. By the time he was done the Headmaster had finished glancing through a few more registration papers. He was busy with another as Bace stood.

“Good evening, Sir. I’ll return within the week to settle in.” Bace turned to the door.

“Yes, good evening, Bace. I am glad to have you on board.” The door closed and the Headmaster heard the man start into a sprint. The doors slammed behind him. He looked up, confused and then down at the document Bace had just signed. He noticed a few scratches at the bottom of the page. None spelled out the man’s name but instead there had been written: ‘I know who you are’. The Headmaster read the words again and then glanced over at the Daini seal sitting on his desk. The letter opener with the Daini word for ‘Victory’ scratched into the handle.

“Fool.” He spat at his desk and then lunged for the door and threw it open. The Doctor, who had just run into Bace, watched as the Headmaster sprinted out.

“Hmm. Maybe now that Bace is gone it will be a much easier year.” He said but then remembered Kale and sighed sadly. The Headmaster was across the yard in moments and furiously threw on its bridle. He jumped on and then bolted from the barn. Bace, hoping he could lose his hunter in the woods, quickly rode across the field and hit the tree-line at a canter. They knew the paths well together so even in the dark Taunt was able to keep up his pace. They rode deep into the forest before Bace finally pulled up. The moment he did he felt something crash into him. He was thrown from the saddle and immediately thought of the bear he had fought off with Kale and Stephen. He figured it had finally found him and was exacting his revenge for his fallen wife. Bace rolled to his feet but was hit down again. He crumpled and then glanced up as a large man extended a large club in the air.

“You’re a liar.” Bace spat blood from his mouth as the Headmaster brought the club down on him. Bace quickly covered his head and curled up. He was hit again.

“He’s all yours.” The Headmaster said to the trees. Bace felt a pair of strong arms grab him from behind and turn him onto his stomach. They pushed him into the ground as his wrists were tied behind him and then his ankles. He was then pulled to his feet but they grabbed his hair to pull his head up so he could look at the Headmaster.

“You thought nobody would figure you out? Who else could walk around during the day and burn down buildings without being noticed. Who else could sneak my enemy’s kin into our Academy? And then the seal on your desk? Face it, you were getting careless. And then I realized, how would you know of all the other sightings of the Daini pirate? You’re the Headmaster of an Academy, not the Country’s Warmaster. That information didn’t belong to someone of your rank.” Bace double over as one of the men at his side slammed a fist into his gut. Bace fell forward and felt his face hit the ground. The pair of arms was at him again and pulled him to his feet. He looked up in time to see the Headmaster once more before a sack was drawn over his head. He felt his own warm breath fill up the sack as he was hoisted onto the back of a horse and draped over its rump. He felt them secure him to the saddle like a dead carcass they had just hunted and then they started forward. Bace bounced off the horse as it started at a canter and then slammed back down. His gut was long spent by the time they slowed. He only realized he was passing in and out of consciousness when he opened his eyes and suddenly realized that the movement had stopped and he was sitting on a wooden floor.

The floor lurched and Bace fell over on his side. The rocking continued as he struggled with the sack on his head so he bent his head down and grabbed a corner of the fabric between his knees. He pulled his head back and felt the sack slide off. He squinted as his eyes adjusted but then quickly turned his focus to his bonds. He tossed the sack away and squirmed across the floor to a jagged bar.

“Ow.” Warm blood slid down his hand as the room lurched again and caused his hand to slip against the rough metal. The ropes snapped a moment later so he quickly untied the bonds around his ankle. He sucked the blood away from his hand and then pressed the wound to his pants. He waited for the bleeding to stop and then stood. A set of stairs led from the center of the room to a square hole above leading to a blue sky. His gaze refocused on the bars he gripped in his fists.

“Four walls of bars.” Bace whispered hoarsely. He felt a pain in his ribs and quickly lifted his shirt. He had never seen a bruise that size in his life. He pressed it and moaned as a thick pain like syrup spread through his body. He sat down and then scooted over to a dozen hens in a small cage next to his. “Just you ladies and me then.” He said and poked the chicken in the side. It squawked and pecked at his finger. “Well, I don’t like it here much either.” He said quietly.

“We’re on a boat.” A voice suddenly said behind him. He spun and frantically scanned the body in the cell next to his.

“How long have you been there?” He asked. Bace wasn’t used to being surprised like that. Then he remembered his head. He pressed his fingers to the bump on his head.

“You’re not yourself. No worries, you’ll have plenty of time to heal now.” The man said as he played with a small bird on his shoulder. “We’re on a ship, you know.” He said as he glanced up at Bace.

“I figured as much.” Bace said as he scanned the man. Something seemed odd about him; like he was there but somehow lingering in a fog.

“The name’s Cob.” The man inched closer and they shook hands. He felt real.

“Bace” He replied.

“Yes, I know.” Bace released and pulled his hand away but couldn’t ask how he knew before heavy footfall interrupted. A big-bellied Dainer trudged down the stairs and smiled.

“Good, you eat now.” The man said and handed a bowl of mush to Bace who grabbed it greedily. A skin of water was passed through which he poured down his throat like he’d never had a drink in his life. The Dainer grabbed his wrist and pulled the skin from his hands before he could finish. Bace glared and grabbed the spoon from the man’s fist. The man grinned and walked towards the stairs.

“Hey, what about him?” Bace said, pointing to Cob. The big man glanced over to the empty cell next to their prisoner and then back at the small soldier. He let out a short bark of laughter and then stomped up the stairs.

“Coo coo.” The man mumbled as he trudged to the deck above.

“You can have some of mine.” Bace sat down and shoveled a few mouthfuls in. “What was that about anyway?” He asked and pulled a long hair from his mouth. He gagged and then shoveled in a few more bites. He watched Cob closely and suddenly felt a sick feeling warm his gut. He lowered the spoon and bowl into his lap and eyed Cob up and down. “You’re not real, are you.” He suddenly realized.

“Smartest thing you’ve said all day. Now you’re catching on.” The big man said. Bace finished the small meal and then slid the bowl away. He crossed his legs and watched Cob carefully.

“So, why do I see you?”

“Why not? Relax, we’ve got at least three more weeks in this thing. Plenty of time to think of your own answers so I don’t have to bother with speaking.” He said.

“Wait, how did you know that it would be three more weeks when I didn’t?” Bace asked.

“Don’ know. You tell me, you’re the one with the brain here.” The big man rolled over and soon Bace heard the rhythmic drone of his snoring. Bace watched him until the light outside grew dark. Cob woke suddenly and looked over at the man, still unmoving.

“I could have at least imagined someone who slept without waking the whole ship.” Bace grumbled as Cob grinned.

“Well, what’s it going to be, son? You going to sit still or get your blood pumping. You’ve never stopped moving in your life so why stop now?” Cob said. Bace glared and then rolled onto his back and moaned as the pain spread throughout his body again.

“I told the Doc that if I hit my head one more time it would turn to jelly. I didn’t think I’d completely lose my mind.” He grumbled into the floor with his back to Cob.

“I could be useful, you know.” Bace sat up and turned to the man.

“If you’re in my mind how do you know more than me?” He asked again. Cob shrugged.

“Remember what Aunt Mede taught you?” He said gently. Bace looked down as he searched for the memory.

“She believed that our minds have different compartments for every memory. Some we forget, and some we remember. But they’re all there.” Bace replied.

“So, maybe, when you hit your head you ‘unlocked’ some of those memories.” Bace drew in a long breath and leaned back.

“You could be useful. I wouldn’t mind if you stuck around.” Bace finally said after a long pause. Cob nodded.

“Good, now listen to me and get some sleep.” He said.

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