Bleed for Me

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Chapter 27 - Raines

It is one day until Cal’s Trial.

Although this ship’s rocking is markedly similar to my very first days as a Caerinian soldier, it is the only resemblance I can find to that other time. That other lifetime.

Cal, torn from his team.

Cal, a price on his head.

Cal, on a cold dungeon floor.

I know it must be dark now. The ocean waves always sound more free at night. I slip from beneath my thin blanket. My bunkmate is, thankfully, asleep. I drag myself up to the deck and breathe.

Just breathe.

The sea is awake, its spray falling in cold pinpricks on my cheeks and eyelids. There is a misty haze in the distance, the lights of our long-distant port reflecting off droplets.

Waves are rushing, crashing against the hull. I watch the tarred boards cut through the water. We rock into the dark.

A few more velveteen minutes scamper by before the whole world is dark. I rake my eyes up to the sky, scanning for stars; they’ve hidden behind an oncoming column of clouds. I wish I could sleep. My body desperately needs rest, but I am too awake. My heart is aching too much. So I stand there, draped over the edge of the ship for the remainder of the night. It is only when the mist begins to light with dawn that I haul myself back below deck.

For the next twenty-four hours, we’re moving restlessly about the ship until Trinova’s skyline appears against the horizon, a dark, crunchy shape outlined before a layer of clouds. It looms quickly, appearing ominously motionless. A scattering of boats wobble on swallowing waves in the harbor.

Our hull sluices through the dark water. It laps hungrily at the boards. In a few moments, we’re tapping against the dock. Silently, subdued, we assemble on deck. I do not know how they all feel about Cal, but it is obvious from their demeanor that they do not wish to see his death, simply because death means pain. It is a sudden association I have never made before. Death, in my understanding from a child’s mind, was peaceful and calm. It was never something to be feared. Always a new experience. A relieving adventure for the elderly. Now, it is suffering, and we are even more scared because this fear of death is new and full of unknown.

We disembark. It is a smoky mainland I do not expect, several dozen of us tramping as one through heavy silence and deserted streets. Officials sparsely guard the merchant square and grow more numerous as we approach the Trinovan Embassy building.

I snatch at my tunic collar anxiously. The flesh beneath is surprisingly well-muscled, and it dampens my fingertips with cold sweat.

Looming closer like the thickest of clouds, the embassy building glares down upon us. It is of marble and dark obsidian, the shining ebony rock glittering from inlays and the edges of carved letters.

Inside, a chill climbs upon my shoulders and refuses to leave.

I lose sight of the general. A ringing voice commands our halt, and my heel is the last to click to a stop. It could have been minutes or hours that we stood there on aching feet. I am weak with hunger when officials summon us forward, deep into this marble and obsidian maze. We are in the bellows of the beast, so far into enemy territory that a single mistake would be our demise.

A set of grand doors open into an immaculate, spacious hall. Stone benches rise in uniform ranks around the edges of the room, culminating in a large cubicle straight ahead, featuring a gilded judge’s desk.

The room is not empty.

Haughty-looking elves line the benches, dressed in finest Ordovician silk. Only one chunk of seating is left, and it looks hardly big enough to offer space for my troop. But it is there we are ushered. We sit, pressed tight together, heels and toes of our leather boots touching those of the comrades on either side.

Soldiers, for backup.

Soldiers, for protections.

Soldiers, to bear witness?

Why are we here? And a Caerinian troop, no less. Is this a fear tactic?

Three crisp, sharp clacks echo throughout the courtroom. The judge stands, gesturing to a few guards. They open a small door on the lowest level of the space. Before it sits a single, angular chair. Empty.

The guards drag a broken figure through the archway and toss them into the chair. They stand back against the wall.

The figure looks up, wincing, gritting his teeth.

Although I can only see a profile view, there is no mistaking that sharp but kind face, the glint of golden hair in thick braids now muddied, the delicate point of his ear….

Another three clacks sing across the stone benches.

Calix Mandalia’s Trial of Treason has begun.

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