“Take her upstairs and watch her.” Arion snapped while glaring at me and handing the keys to Rian. “Make sure she doesn’t go and get herself killed.”
I glared at him, sick of his attitude, but he was already turning toward the bar where Aitch sat calling loudly for ale. Jazera lingered long enough to smirk at me. “I don’t like you but at least your stupidity brings amusement to the trip.” She told me and went after him. Rian gave Jazera’s back an exasperated look before he took my arm with one hand, wrapping the other around my shoulders to lead me up the stairs.
There was a bath waiting for me in the room, steaming hot and looking absolutely wonderful. Rian made enough motions to let me know he would be outside the door and to knock when I was finished. After he left, I removed my boots and gloves and sat in the chair by the lone table, looking at my wound. It was deep, but small. It would heal quickly. My worst worry was of whatever had been in the water. My bloodline didn’t get sick easily, and infection was doubtful under normal circumstances, but that water…
Best not think about it.
Uncomfortable with knowing someone was outside the door waiting, I quickly stripped myself of both my own cloak and Rian’s then my clothing and washed my body in the tub as quickly as I could before I washed the clothing as well. By the time I was finished, the water was near-black, making me – again – worry of the water and the fact that it had been in my wounds. I had also swallowed some, which was something I didn’t wish to think about at all.
I used the ointment on my neck to hide my marks as I always did and, for the first time in a long time, used it on the marks around my ankles and my hands and wrists as well before pulling the robe around me and opening the door for Rian.
He held medical supplies as he came in, but he used the other hand to tap my cheek and tilt his head, silently asking how I was.
“I just need a few stitches.” I said.
He shook his head and tapped my temple. Mama he mouthed. Ah, he was asking how I was after seeing my dead mother.
I smiled at him, thankful that he cared. “I’m fine.” I promised. “She died a long time ago. Besides, I’m just glad she’s not trapped as a ghost.”
He nodded, patted my cheek again, then got me to sit.
Immediately he started to stitch the wound left by the sirens grip. Seeing as I felt nothing, he must have had some sort of Shadow magic that numbed the pain though I’d never heard of such a thing before, so I was left to wait and wonder. It was unusual having someone else stitch me up (it had been one of the things Jovian made me do each time I was injured, knowing I would need to know how to do it myself) but it was my sword hand and so I didn’t dare attempt it on my own when I didn’t have to.
It was odd having someone touching the skin of my hands; I hadn’t felt much of anything without my leather gloves on in a very long time.
“How did you lose your voice?” I asked quietly. Gently. Worried that I was insulting him but curious just the same. “We’re you born that way? Or...”
He shook his head and moved his hand enough to pull down the wool of his shirt, revealing a red and angry scar there of which I’d never noticed before. He held up five fingers, then four.
“Nine summers ago?” I guessed.
He shook his head.
“You were nine summers old?” I asked, horror tainting my voice.
He nodded and went back to stitching, then he bandaged it and sat across from me, tapping his finger on his lap as if thinking. Finally, he touched his neck and then his hand, as if tracing marks.
Fear welled up in me for the briefest of moments, then I squashed them after realizing he didn’t mean me. “King Marqis?” He shook his head and moved an imaginary sword. It took me a moment, but soon I understood. “The war where the Beoworth’s stole the crown.”
He nodded again, patted the table once more in thought, then smiled and took my hand, the uninjured one.
He said nothing, not a word. He only sat there in a comfortable silence. It was in that moment that I realized I had made my first friend. This made me chuckle and he tilted his head questionably. I debated on telling him, then decided there was no harm telling him.
“Arion was right. I’ve made my true first friend, and it’s with a man who cannot speak.” I told him with a grin. “I wonder what that says about me.”
He looked surprised and pointed to himself. Me? He was questioning. Your first friend? Then, when I nodded, he tilted his head, his eyes still wide in surprise. How?
I shrugged and gave him the answer I had given Arion. “I don’t like people, much.”
His shoulders shook with silent laughter and he stood, pulling me to my feet to hug me and kiss my cheek. I laughed for the both of us as I squeezed him tightly and found myself wishing with all my heart it was possible for me to tell him who I really was.
I’m the heir. I wanted to say, leaning over to his ear. I wanted to whisper it and watch his eyes widen in surprise. I’m a Greyov, but shh, we can’t tell anyone.
But I couldn’t tell him either, and that understanding nearly broke my heart.
A sharp knock on the door interrupted us and Arion burst in. “Out.” He demanded of Rian, who knew Arion well enough to roll his eyes in reply to the order. Still, he kissed my cheek again before he left.
I grimaced and waited, folding my arms across my chest as I awaited a very different conversation than what I’d just had.
Arion paced for several minutes, then finally he faced me.
“That was stupid.”
I fought the urge to argue, nearly flinching with the effort. “I know.”
My agreement surprised him. “Then why the shenz did you do it?”
I wasn’t sure now. Any reason I had seemed trivial. “It felt like a dream.” I answered finally. “And I feared she was a ghost. I wanted to know why she was there, but she was walking away... I panicked.” I swallowed harshly. “It won’t happen again.”
“Shenz you right it won’t.” He snapped.
Alright, enough being nice.
I narrowed my eyes. “I’m sorry that you had to save me, alright? But if you remember, that’s what you’re here for!”
“Aye, and I didn’t think I’d have to be doing it so soon! We’re not half-way to the mountain yet!”
“I’ll do better.”
He snorted. “In the mudwaters perhaps, but there’s worse than that we’ll need to pass.”
I frowned. “Why, of all places, do you think I’ll be fine in the Mud Waters?”
“That’s where you’re from, is it not? Your accent.”
I straightened in surprise and not a bit of excitement. “I have an accent?”
“A bit, and only when you’re right pissed. Just a bit of a roll on your tongue and emphasis on your a sounds, but not much.” He tilted his head curiously. “Isn’t that where you’re from?”
“I...” It was true that I spent more time in Mud Waters than I had in most other places, but that was because it was one of the more secluded areas. Where the illegal fights set up, where people were masked and tossed onto a small island in the mudwaters and everyone would watch and bet from the land.
I had been masked a hundred times out there as I learned to fight, but had I truly gained an accent during that time?
For some reason, it made me feel warm inside. It made me feel like I had a home already, as dark and as viscous as my apparent home may be.
“Yes.” I finally said. “But it’s been a long time. My uncle and I travel a lot.”
He seemed confused at my long pause but shook it off with a sigh, apparently seeing no reason to pursue it. “Look at it this way, you and I don’t like each other much, but I don’t want to worry about you running off before we even reach the Black Mountains.” He let out a breath as if what he was about to propose was difficult for him. “So, can we come to the agreement that you’ll stay at my side from now on? No more running off to chase dead parents?”
I nodded once. I could do that.
He was suspicious with my lack of argument, but he couldn’t very well argue with me being so agreeable and so, with nothing nice to say to each other, he left.
I stoked the fire to build it higher, then went to bed and opened the locket around my neck. It was perfectly sealed with magic, so I had no worries about the note inside having gotten damaged, but I looked at it anyway.
I saw Mama. I thought in my mind as I stroked the familiar words of my fathers’ hurried writing. She wasn’t real, Papa, but I saw her, and she was beautiful.
Luqas was a traders’ town that sat between deadly lands but was safe itself. It was an unlikely paradise and thrived on those brave enough to venture into the North. Because of this, it had, quite literally, everything you’d need to try and keep yourself from getting killed.
We did not need horses, but we needed just about everything else, having left behind most of our supplies with the lost horses in Eastwood. The sun was hiding beneath grey again, so my hood once more shadowed my face, making me more confidant as I walked through the market, buying clothing, dried meats and fruits, several bladders for extra water, and weapons. My own sword had been on the horse, so I had another made during the two days we revived ourselves.
“You sure you can wield that, girl?”
Arion had been true to his word in keeping me at his side. It was already driving me mad as he seemed unable to simply walk in silence, feeling some sort of compulsion to irritate me at every passing moment. This particular question of his did not irritate me as it normally would have, however, instead it made me grin at him.
“You have no idea.” I said simply.
He raised an eyebrow at me; my choice of words clearly made him curious.
I paid the blacksmith for his excellent and quick work before we headed back toward the inn, my new sword at my hip. We would leave in the morn. I wanted, very much, to leave right away, but I understood that it would be getting dark soon. I had to remind myself of patience once again and wondered if Jovian would have been disappointed with how often I had to say it to myself, or if he would have been impressed with my ability to hide my impatience so well.
“I wonder what the king wants?”
I blinked out of my thoughts and looked to Arion with a frown. “Hm?”
He motioned up and I followed his gaze.
And felt a zing of fear go through me but I could not show it, not at all.
There were at least three dozen white dragons, each with a rider, circling down from the sky all over Luqas. As I watched, one suddenly dived down in a beautiful arch and came back up with someone in its’ claws. Mid way between street and sun, the dragon hovered while the rest continued to circle.
“He’s searching for someone again.” Arion said grimly. “No doubt he caught whispers of someone’s thoughts in the Stone.”
I had already been afraid, but now I felt my stomach clench tightly. Had someone recognized me? Was someone searching for me? The chances were slim to none seeing as I had kept my face hidden, but still, the possibility was terrifying that they could be here for me. It didn’t matter anyway; I had to hide either way.
“Where are you going?”
I’d completely forgotten about Arion. “Just putting the sword away.” I told him with as much casual ease as I could manage.
“You know the law, when the dragons are searching, you need to come out in the open.”
Don’t think about it! The Stone will hear you!
“I know, Arion.” I gave him a look as if he were a fool. “I’m just getting my sword somewhere safe. You know those old rumors of them stealing weapons, and I just bought this one. I plan to keep it.”
“Hm.” He tossed me his with a grim look. “Bring mine up too.”
I nodded and went in through the doors casually and unhurried. Meanwhile, fear was clenching my stomach. Where to hide?
“What’s going on out there?”
I turned to the barmaid who looked like she needed Barta from Green’s to clean her. “The king is searching for someone.”
She cursed loudly and with several colorful letters, wiping her hand on her pants. “I have pig in the oven ready to come out, they better not take too long! I haven’t had a good pig in weeks.” She went to go around the counter, but I took the chance and stopped her.
“Is there somewhere I can poke these away so that I don’t have to go upstairs?”
She only had to glance at the swords to understand immediately – it was well known that the Dragon Knights sometimes enjoyed a bit extra on their raids. She motioned behind her. “Just throw them down in the cellar. Door on the far left.”
I smiled and gave her a relieved look. “Thanks.”
She was already gone, blending with the crowd of worried, annoyed people.
I pushed myself behind the counter and down the narrow hallway to the door on the left. It was a cellar, but a small one. It would not do. I tossed the swords into a pile of potatoes and then I searched further, desperate now as I knew it would be any moment the dragons would be landing so their riders could search the homes. And though they were incompetent with several things, Dragon Knights were very organized on their raids.
Finally, I found a place. It was in the storage room where barrels of ale sat, and a single one of those barrels had the top off and it was empty, drying out so it could be reused for storing rice or other dried goods.
Thankful that I was small, I turned the heavy barrel over and squeezed myself inside it awkwardly. I was thin, but with my cloak and clothing, it was a tighter squeeze than I’d expected. I’d have a good time trying to get out, but I’d worry about that later.
Knees up to my chest, wood digging into my spine, elbows up over my head so my hands could keep from touching the sides and shaking it accidentally, I watched through the spout hole as, seconds later, a man wearing the armor that showed him as an official Dragon Knight of the King walked into the room across. There was the sound of things moving, then he swiftly moved to this room and went out of my sight as he looked behind barrels with quick movements.
I held my breath.
And he was walking out again.
He hadn’t found me.
As quickly as that, I knew I was safe once again.
I let out a long breath of relief and waited a few more minutes before trying to get myself out. I knew they never searched the same room twice (this was not my first time hiding, not by far) so though they were still in town, I felt relatively safe. I feared, however, that I would get stuck in the barrel and someone would find me and realize what I’d been doing. If they knew, the dragons would turn back immediately as the king would be told through the Stone.
Nahdiera was filled with his unwilling spies.
I struggled, pushing at the heavy barrel, trying to squeeze my knees out but the cloak kept getting caught around my hips. It took me some time, but I managed to fall on my side – rolling a little unintentionally – and straighten my legs out which gave me more room to crawl out backwards.
Finally free from the enclosed space, I quickly righted it as it had been and wiped sweat from my face. Just in time, too, as I could hear the noise of many footsteps as the people were allowed to come back inside, so I quickly went out in the hall and down to the cellar. The swords were pushed across the floor, but I quickly picked them up again, glad they hadn’t been taken.
I found Jazera by the bar, a grim look on her face. Her eyes widened when she saw me, and she gripped my arms tightly. “Where were you?”
“Out the back.” I said, being sure to look confused. “There wasn’t time to come back out the front after hiding the swords. Why?”
She groaned. “Arion’s gone into a panic looking for you. Rian, too. They thought you’d been taken.”
Don’t think that! “Well, they were wrong.” I handed her Arion’s sword. “I’ll be upstairs. It’s getting late and we leave early in the morn.”
I went without another word, feeling myself still sweating from the encounter – that was close.