Chapter 14 - Raines
Panicked, I awake mid-afternoon. The sun has passed its zenith and is halfway back to the horizon. After three. Competition time.
The boat. Cal’s boat. No one will be on it. Assuming he’s still being cared for there…. Why would they take him from the boat? Especially if he’s as hurt as Minta’s paper made out to believe.
Standing, I find my bag where I dropped it, and nearby is the tray of food Nemia brought me.
I’m starving, but I don’t have much time. Snagging a few strips of meat, I slip out the door. Downstairs, Nemia is busy with some local regular patrons. When she turns to the counter, I walk out the door.
The harbor is easy to find. Behind the buildings, across the street, sand begins and slopes down to the wake. I run across the sand; it’s already hot from the heat of the sun, almost burning my feet.
My eyes skid over the ships by the docks ahead. Caerini’s green and blue flag - the only one of its kind - pulls me forward.
The dock wobbles as I run down it, my feet dampened by eddies of water sloshing over the edge. The gangway is down, workers reloading supplies. The captain walks off and up the dock to negotiate with a merchant. I grab a cargo box, hiding my face behind it, and board the ship.
There’s a quarterdeck, the door below…. That should lead to the sick bay. I practically drop the box, double-checking to see if any eyes are on me. I slip through the door. The small hallway is dark but for a sliver of candle light shining through a door.
My heart hammers. Cal. Please be there. Please be alive.
I slip through the door and freeze.
A plump woman stares back at me. Wrinkles, an apron, hands full of bottles of medicine.
“S-sorry, I was um-”
A rustling from the other side of the room cuts me off. The face poking above the covers is battered; one eye swollen terribly, a cut on the cheek, bruises everywhere.
“Raines?” There’s a pause. “Aleria, I think…. I think I’m seeing things again.
And then the woman does something I don’t expect. She walks over to me and guides me to the bed.
“No. No, Calix, he’s right here.”
And that’s when Cal’s eyes brighten and he gasps and I cry and fall to his bedside. Our mouths crush together tenderly, his cheeks becoming damp with my tears. Painfully, he reaches one arm up to cradle me. My right hand strokes the soft, short hair at his left temple - it’s grown out a little - my left palm cupping his face.
“My gods,” I whisper, taking him in. His good eye holds my gaze, green as ever - perfect, spring, beautiful green. Tenderly, I kiss his bruises.
Laying my finger against his lips to quiet him, murmuring, “shh, later,” I hold him. And he holds me as best he can. Gently, sweetly. Aleria watches us unobtrusively, with a small smile. She appears to be guarding the door.
“What happened?” I murmur, tenderly picking up his bandaged, broken wrist, kissing it. “Cal…. I’m so sorry.”
“No. Raines. Gods, you’re here.” He pulls me to his lips. “Are you alright? The battles…. I read about it.”
“Oh, Cal. Cal, it’s horrible. I’m okay, but…. Gods.” I hide my face in his shoulder. After a moment, he speaks. Breath is shuddering in both of our chests.
“We had a free day. A day off to spend in Rushes. South end of Icenäe. We’d had a ten-dance winning streak. The others invited me to a bar or brothel, but I wanted to explore. It was so lovely, Raines. The food, the music - everything. On my way back to the ship, some locals found me. They don’t want to be involved. Somehow they knew I was a dancer.” He fingers his braids. “Probably these…. Athro Teirnan found me in an ally early the next morning.”
I stare, imagining. “You’re going to be able to dance again.”
“I hope so.” He squeezes his eyes shut.
“That wasn’t a question.” Forcing a small smile to my lips, I sit up a bit.
“The dance!” he cries suddenly. “The dance today! Has it happened?”
I glance at Aleria. “It’s happening right now.”
Cal jerks up, wincing. “I have to be with them. If I can’t dance, at least -” Aleria is pushing him back to the bed.
“No. You will stay here and rest.” Her stern voice crackles in the warm scented air of the sick bay. “Heal your body.”
Reluctantly, he lays back. The conversation dies. Cal’s eyes close. Very slowly, his breathing calms. I lay my head on his shoulder and stroke his hair gently. My fingers stroke the soft strands at his temple, run over the ridges of his braids.
“I love you,” I murmur.
It’s a long while later when Aleria bursts back in - she’d left us to our peace - whispering frantically.
“The dancers are coming back! They’ve skipped the feast - something’s not right. Raines, you have to go.”
I stand. Cal’s hand grips mine. “No, please. Raines….”
I turn to him. His hand tightens. I squeeze it. “I’ll be back. Soon.” I break our grasp and my heart clenches. His gaze follows me to the door. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. I swear. Rest.”
When the door shuts, I realize I’m in trouble. I can already hear the dancers pounding up the gangway. Holding panic tight in my chest, I tread through the dark hall.
Over my head, feet stamp on the deck, raised short voices clash together. With a sinking heart I realize: they lost. The Caerinian winning streak has come to an end. I already feel Cal’s anguish searing in my heart. The door to the sick bay drags my eyes to it. I almost return to tell him. Or to be with him when the other dancers bear the news. But no. That’s for his team. They’ll comfort him.
“Someone has to tell him, Athro! I’m sorry. He’s already been waiting. Why should we keep it from him?” The voice trickles down the steps from the deck, alongside tumbling footfalls.
Head down, I force a steady walk. Just a cabin boy. Or someone delivering medical supplies to Aleria from Kiptor.
The two dancers don’t even spare me a glance. They shoulder by, still in dazzling costume, sweat dampening their hair. If ever the druids’ gods could ease a moment, I pray it is now.
Sun pierces my eyes as they adjust. My feet smack across the deck and I ignore the one suspicious question I receive.
Through the town, up the beach, I return to Nemia’s inn. They welcome me and my heart eases. They walk me to my old room and press a steaming mug of tea into my abruptly shaking hands.
They somehow know what I need. Somehow, the Caerinian team’s loss today means something more than a broken winning streak.
Across from me, Nemia sits candidly looking right through my walls.
“Tell me everything.”
I break, and words come spilling from within.