Chapter 9: Bargetown
Bargetown consisted of three large storehouses, a guardhouse, an inn and a stable. The town’s sole purpose was to maintain the supply chain to Sandcastle. The activity at the two piers was not regulated by night and day but by the ebbing or rising tide. At high tide, the barges would make as many passes back and forth as possible. When the water was low, their crew would rest until the next burst. Goods arriving at low tide would be unloaded in the storehouses next to the pier, and the merchants, drivers and guards would pass the hours at the inn.
As the two young women climbed the stairs to the pier, the first of the townspeople and travellers were already preparing to start loading the barges. None of them seemed to take an interest in the new arrivals.
‘Can you see him?’ Ada asked, looking back at the sea that now separated them from the city of Sandcastle.
‘No. It’s d-dark. I c-can’t see anything out t-there,’ Rayn replied through chattering teeth.
‘I thought elves had night vision.’
‘They d-do. I’m a half-elf. I’ve got my father’s eyes.’
‘Did you know your father?’ Ada asked. She had never heard Rayn mention him before.
‘No. He ran away with his war band after he’d raped my mother,’ Rayn replied. Only the sudden absence of the chattering of teeth revealed her altered emotional state.
Ada endured the awkward silence, which was made more agonising by the increasing pain from her wounds as the numbing effects of the water faded. She thought of jumping off the pier again, but the vivid memories of the first exposure to the saltwater made her consider her options.
‘There is a fire in the city. Look!’ The relief was so evident in her voice, she sounded almost joyful.
Rayn turned towards the city and the red light flickering in the distance. There was neither relief nor joy in her voice as she said, ‘That’s my shop burning.’
‘No! That can’t be! Who would set fire to your shop?’
Rayn turned to face her, tears welling up in her eyes. ‘You did.’
Ada opened her mouth to deny the accusation, but could not find the words. She remembered the flames spouting from her hands, scorching the intruder’s arms. But the experience was so unlike her, so alien, that she could not comprehend that she had done it. Or rather, it had been her, but a different kind of her. Some version of her she had never known.
‘I’m sorry,’ Ada whispered.
‘Yes.’ Rayn wiped the tears from her face.
Ada put her arm around her friend. ‘You’re cold. Come, let’s find some shelter and some dry clothes.’
Soon, they were huddling under blankets on a bench in front of the inn’s fireplace. Ada had no difficulties persuading the innkeeper’s wife to let them sit by the fire until dawn. She even reheated the leftovers from last night’s stew, which they quickly devoured.
‘I can help you with your wounds,’ Rayn said without preamble.
‘Really? How?’ Ada asked, not accustomed to Rayn knowing anything remotely useful.
‘I make healing salves from stone. I grabbed two vials from the shop before we fled.’
‘From the shard?’
‘No. But the shard helps me prepare it better.’
‘What are those shards anyway?’ Ada said.
‘Shards from the starfall.’
‘The starfall twenty years ago. You don’t remember?’
‘I wasn’t born twenty years ago. I’m nineteen,’ Ada said.
‘I remember the starfall. I lived in the forest not far from here with my mother. Before she died.’
‘Yes.’ Rayn rose, carefully removed the blanket from Ada’s shoulders and produced a yellow vial from some unseen pocket in her nightgown. ‘Lay on the bench, face down.’
Ada did as she was told, and Rayn removed the burnt edges of her shirt, fully exposing her wounds.
‘You’ve been lucky,’ the half-elf said. ‘The oven burned a hole in your shirt, but most of the skin underneath only has moderate damage. Maybe the cold water helped reduce the severity of the injuries?’
‘Perhaps.’ Ada did not accept the explanation. Her skin had been burnt as she was pushed up against the oven. But it stopped when she started channelling the heat through her body. Despite never experiencing anything like that before, it had been so easy. She knew exactly what to do at that moment. Because she had to do it just like that.
‘Lie still.’ Rayn started applying something on Ada’s naked back.
‘That doesn’t feel like a salve,’ Ada remarked.
Rayn sprinkled a pinch of white sand in Ada’s open hand. ‘It will, soon, when the stone interacts with your blood.’
Rayn put away the yellow vial and lay her hands gently on Ada’s back. The pain subsided.
‘What’s happening?’ Ada said.
Rayn spoke slowly as she moved her hands a few inches, back and forth. ‘The sand absorbs the blood and moisture from the wound, and transforms.’ She reached out with her hand for Ada to examine the brown salve smeared in her palm. ‘It’s a healing salve, especially effective against burns.’
‘It feels cool,’ Ada mumbled and dozed off.