Chapter 10 - Calix
We dance our way down the Icenäean coast, our winning streak growing with every competition. Rorik continues to place me in the solo positions, his demands raising to more complex leaps and turns each day. I finish every rehearsal sore, and every performance aching but exhilarated. I invest everything, all my energy, forgetting my mothers, forgetting Raines, forgetting the potential opportunity to go to Volcin.
Somehow, it’s easier to cope this way.
We are pitted against team after team and perform with an almost reckless abandon until, after five days, we are given a blessed day off of training, rehearsals, and competitions. Now, on the Southern end of Icenäe, we’ve harbored on the coast by a major trading post, Rushes. We’re allowed to spend the day exploring the city and be back on the boat before nightfall.
Natja, Soren, and Tiago invite me to the market with them, where they intend on looking for the blacksmiths and leather workers, frantically making weapons and armor for what is currently being called ‘the conflict.’
I gently decline. It reminds me of Raines. My heart aches when I picture him in battle, clad in armor.
“Ahh, come on, Cal!” Soren pries. “We’re gonna go to a tavern afterward! Maybe ask for some women if they fancy.” He winks.
“They’re not property,” I snap, brushing him off. “Sorry.”
“I know that!” There’s a pause. “You sure you don’t want to come?”
I shake my head and force a smile, waving them away. “Go have fun.” I’m going to hunt for knowledge. Any news of the war…. And hence, Raines. Any information about Volcin…. And hence, my mothers.
Rushes is happy and bustling, full of imports and smells. A sunny breeze whips dust up from the road, swirling into an azure sky. Stalls float by in my vision, fabric of every color, swaying, steam wafting from huge woks and griddles.
It’s only a while later when I drop a few coins into a food merchant’s palm with a tinkle. The steaming bun is delicious; a warm, pocket of blended meat and spices.
Sun lights my face. I wonder a little down the street, stopping to listen to a few players, smiling and skipping about on the hard-packed dirt as they blow into flutes and pipes and pluck their fingers over gut strings. A pretty girl winks as she plays, drawing a blush upon my face.
I stand, giving them a small bow of thanks, and continue down the street. The sun arcs across the sky, sinking behind the buildings. Long shadows are cast along the ground. I turn, looking out across Rushes. The city is on a slope, and now I can see all the way to the distant harbor, our ship rocking softly in the waves.
Time to head back.
Take a breath, up here in the golden sun, on top of the world. I imagine I can almost see Volcin’s shore. Home. Is Raines there yet? Will he be? Will I see him and my mothers?
The world paints itself red as I start to walk down the long road to the harbor. Then it is gold. Purple….
Someone grabs my wrist. I turn.
“You’re one of the dancers, aren’t you?” She’s lean and muscley, with the haughty look of Icenäeans: high cheekbones, a long sharp nose, arched brows.
“Um, yes.” I don’t like the feeling I get from her. A few other locals walk up behind her.
“What’s going on here?”
“He’s one of those dancer boys!”
“In Rushes? Surely not! We’re staying out of this.” A man walks away, but the young woman advances.
“Good evening to you all,” I nod politely, shoving at my fear. “I’ll be getting back now.” I turn to go.
An arm is clenched around my throat and drags me off balance. I scramble to stay on my feet, barely managing.
A gruff, brown-bearded man makes his way through the gathered crowd. Icey eyes burn into my face. “I won’t have warrior dancers wandering my province,” he growls. “Get back to your ship, boy.”
I cough, protesting, trying to explain that’s what I was attempting to do. Little black dots begin to swim in my vision.
The man continues, his back to me, addressing the surrounding rage-lit faces. “See that he gets there.”
When he’s out of sight, the grip on my throat loosens and I gasp at the air, trying to stand, but stumbling into the fraying edges of my slipping consciousness.
“That man doesn’t know what he’s saying. You’ve already done your damage here, haven’t you, boy?” Spit lands on my face. “I won’t stand for it.”
Please just let me go back to the ship like he said…. “Ack!” A cry wrenches itself from my lips as my chin is jerked sideways by a strong hand. I wretch when putrid breath finds my nose.
“Take care of him.”
I am pushed roughly away, slipping on the sloped road. Before I can right myself I run, stumbling and uneven, barely keeping the ground from rushing up at me. A blow hits my back and I topple forward, skidding across the unforgiving dirt. I land face-first, chest slamming onto my arm.
My wrist crunches. Hot blood seeps from my face.
Then they’re on me, kicks and yells, bone on bone, fists and feet sinking into me. I am dragged across the ground, kicking, good arm snatching at anything. It gets suddenly darker. I can’t feel the sun’s warm breath anymore. A blow catches the side of my back, just under my ribcage. I am writing, gasping, making some sort of awful noise.
The pain is crippling, all-consuming. Somewhere in my body, bones are grinding against each other. Somewhere, many places, my skin has been ripped open and hot blood sears my eyes.
The voices are fading, dark shapes disappearing, lost to the dusky distance. No one’s hitting me, but it’s all for not. I couldn’t tell fresh pain from the persistent residual agony ripping through my every nerve.
I blink hard. Think, Cal. Get up, get help….
My left hand isn’t working and I’m somehow struggling to breathe.
Stay awake. Stay awake. Awake, Calix!
Night descends fully. I squint toward the torch-lit main market. I’m in a dark and secluded side street.
Every so often, someone hurries past, holding their child’s hand or a bag of food, eager to get home and turn in for the night.
My pain shifts from sharp, paroxysmic bursts to dull, excruciating aches and pulsing, swollen bruises. I feel them grow.
I’m not going to be able to dance.
“This way!” Rushes harbor workers in uniform jog past carrying torches. Among them, I see Athro Tiernan.
“....back by nightfall. None of my other dancers have seen him.” The Athro’s voice carries to my ears, bouncing down the stones in the alley.
Here! I’m here! My voice is clogged and raspy, barely a whisper.
“....No, no he would have come back. I know that boy,” the Athro continues his conversation with one of the harbor men.
“I’m here!” I gasp. “Athro, please, I’m here! Just….look.”