The Threshold Child

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Chapter Thirteen: The Mission

Adesina hadn’t been working long in Hass’s shop before she heard Aleron singing from next door. The sound was a welcome one, dispelling the gloom. Adesina recognized it as an old folk song that was one of his favorites.

In a golden land, over sapphire seas,

Lived a lily maid who once loved me.

Three times a day her soft sighs fell,

Three times a day she wished me well.

For o’er those seas, with danger fraught,

I sailed away. To where, I knew not.

Three times a day I longed for her.

Three times a day my heartache did stir.

And yet, for all the pain we bore,

The tears we cried, the vows we swore,

My love and I were still apart.

Distant memories in each other’s heart.

Adesina found herself humming softly along as he launched into the second verse. Her hands smoothed the board in front of her in a rhythm that went along with the song. She found her thoughts occasionally straying to Kendan, but forced herself to focus. Her mind relaxed and she was able to go over her plans for her mission in a more orderly fashion. Ideas flowed with a clarity that had been missing since Ravi’s absence.

In that golden land, over sapphire seas,

My lily maid, she waited for me.

Three times a day suitors did call.

Three times a day she denied them all.

And I, in turn, was ever true.

I, in turn, from temptation flew.

Three times a day I saw a fair face.

Three times a day I regarded it base.

And yet, for all the pain we bore,

The tears we cried, the vows we swore,

My love and I were still apart.

Distant memories in each other’s heart.

The soft sound of someone approaching jerked Adesina out of her reverie. Keeping her eyes on her work, she waited for the knock on the door to look up. Standing before her was the gangly figure of the blacksmith’s apprentice, Horas.

He occasionally made appearances in Hass’s shop with small gifts and stumbling compliments for Adesina. Aleron teased her about her young “suitor,” but Adesina couldn’t believe that a boy Horas’s age honestly considered her as a candidate for some sort of romantic relationship.

“Hello, Horas.”

“Hello, Adrie. How are you today?”

“I am well.” Adesina set aside her tools and looked at Horas expectantly.

He dropped the small package he was holding in his hand and hurried to pick it up again, bumping into the doorframe as he did so. “You look nice today, Adrie.”

She looked the same as she did every day. Adesina suppressed an impatient sigh. “What do you need, Horas?”

His hand shot out, almost dropping the small package again. “I made some nails. I thought you could use them.”

Adesina raised an eyebrow. “I do not think Master Quinlan would approve of you giving so many gifts.”

Horas puffed out his chest, trying to show some bravado. “I do not tell him. There are many things that happen in his shop that he does not know about.”

Adesina was skeptical. “Really?”

Horas nodded, eager to prove himself. “There are many excess materials that I can use without him noticing.” He lowered his voice. “I am not like the other citizens of this city. I follow my own set of rules. Once I made a dagger for an Outsider.”

Adesina studied the boy intently, focusing on his eyes. It only took a glance to show her that he was lying. She smiled briefly and picked up her tools again. “Thank you for the nails, Horas. I will let you know if I am ever in need a renegade blacksmith.”

“Do you not believe me?” disappointment was written in his voice.

She looked at him earnestly. “I do not believe that your training has yet made you skilled enough to make weapons.”

Horas was caught, uncertain how to react. “What…what if…what if I prove it to you?”

Adesina shrugged and went back to work. “If it was proven, then I would be wrong.”

She heard him hover in the doorway for a few moments more before shuffling away. Adesina shook her head ruefully, glad to be alone again.

Her mind was now able to continue with the planning of her upcoming mission. No one else disturbed Adesina for the remainder of the work day. Aleron could be heard singing next door, Hass was in and out of the shop doing business, but Adesina could have been invisible to the rest of the world—as the world was invisible to her.

When it was time to go home for the evening, Adesina had decided on a course of action for the following day. It was to be a simple plan, and hopefully one without complications.

Aleron popped his head in the door. Apparently he was back in his high spirits. “Ready to go?”

She nodded with a grimace. She labored to stand up and put her tools away. Aleron was by her side instantly.

“Are you all right?”

She put on a brave face. “I am fine.”

Adesina pretended to stumble, and Aleron grabbed her around the waist to support her. “You are not fine.”

He sat her down again and held her by the shoulders. “Are you ill? Are you in pain? Tell me your symptoms, and I can help.”

Adesina shook her head. “I just need to go home.”

He wasn’t sure whether he should press the matter of diagnosis or hurry her back to her house. He decided on the latter and helped her to her feet. “Put your arm around my neck.”

She felt her cheeks get warm, and frowned at this strange reaction. “No. Just lend me your arm.”

She linked arms with him and leaned on him as they walked. People stared as they passed, scandalized that a young woman would be so forward as to take the arm of a young man who was unattached to her.

Aleron was careful to keep her from pushing herself too hard, and Adesina was intent on getting home as quickly as possible.

“Would you like to sit here and rest for a while?”

She shook her head. “No, I am fine.”

His face was brimming with uncertainty. “Are you sure? I do not mind.”

Adesina resisted the urge to roll her eyes impatiently. “I am sure. I do not want Jelana to worry about me.”

They were not far from a park bench. Aleron gestured to it and said, “You could rest here while I run ahead to tell her.”

“No, that will not be necessary,” she replied firmly.

“I do not mind,” he insisted.

“No, Aleron. I just need to get home.”

After a few moments of thought, he asked hesitantly, “Would you like me to carry you?”

She hastily shook her head. It was bad enough that people were staring because she had a hold of his arm. If he carried her, there would practically be an uproar. “No, Aleron, I can walk.”

He quickly let go of that idea, a little shocked at his own suggestion. “Do you promise to let me know if you need to stop and rest?”

Adesina could not help but smile, even if it was a bit ruefully. “I promise, Aleron.”

At long length, they arrived at the house. Jelana saw them coming up the walk and rushed out to meet them. “Adrie! Are you hurt?”

Adesina was touched by the concern in her voice. “No, I am not hurt.”

Aleron chipped in. “She is ill. She needs to lie down.”

Together they got Adesina upstairs. At this point, she couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Aleron and Jelana were talking about possible ailments and how to treat them. Fia was fluttering nearby, constantly asking Adesina what was wrong and if she would be all right.

Jelana went downstairs to brew a cup of herbal tea, with Fia following close behind. Aleron waited outside while Adesina changed into her nightgown and then came in to tuck her blankets around her. He was still talking about possible medications when Adesina firmly took a hold of his hand.

“Aleron, listen to me.”

He looked surprised, but nodded readily.

“I have seen this sickness before in my tribe from the north. What I need right now is lots of undisturbed sleep. Could you please tell Jelana to stop fussing over me and let me rest?”

He nodded again. “Of course, Adrie.”

She gave a weary sigh and a weak smile. “Thank you.”

It was obvious that she had Aleron totally convinced. He reached out tentatively and brushed the hair away from her eyes. Then, as if embarrassed, he cleared his throat and hurried out of the room.

Adesina heard him talking to her hostess just outside the door. After a few moments, Jelana walked in with a cup in one hand and a damp rag in the other. She sat beside Adesina and placed the rag on her sternum like a plaster. It was very warm and smelled of various herbs and spices. The effect was both calming and refreshing.

She handed Adesina the cup of herbal tea. “How are you feeling, Adrie?”

The young woman smiled softly. “Tired.”

The worry on Jelana’s face sent a wave of shame over Adesina. Jelana’s voice was subdued. “You have seen this illness before?”

She nodded. “Yes, Jelana.”

“Is it serious?”

Adesina suppressed the guilt she felt. “It can be.”

A new idea occurred to Jelana. “Is it contagious?”

She shook her head, and her hostess looked mildly relieved. “What can I do? There must be something I can do for you.”

“Just let me sleep. Undisturbed. I should be fine before long.”

Jelana agreed to this rather reluctantly. She continued to fret and fuss over Adesina while she drank her tea. “You will call me when you wake up, yes?”

“Yes.”

Jelana finally left Adesina on her own. Throughout the evening, Adesina heard the older woman standing outside her door, listening to make sure that everything was all right. Getting out of bed was out of the question with such a devoted watchman patrolling the hallway. Having nothing else to do, Adesina settled down for the night to get some much needed sleep.

She awoke before dawn the next morning. First she listened carefully to make sure that the family was still in bed, then she arose from her own. Adesina looked around the room, hoping to see Ravi sitting there, but she was completely alone. With a quiet sigh, she began preparing for her day.

Adesina sat on the edge of her bed and pinned back her hair. She put on her generic brown dress and tied a square of material around her head to hide the lustrous silver of her hair. For the hundredth time in her life, she wished for eyes that were less conspicuous. Today, in particular, she needed to blend into the crowd.

She fastened her weapons belt around her slender waist and then tied a large shawl around herself to hide it. Then she arranged her pillows and blankets in her bed to make it appear that someone was sleeping there. When this was done to her satisfaction, she double-checked herself to make sure she had everything she needed and then slipped out of her room and down the hall.

She made no sound as she crept out of the house. It was just becoming light outside, and Adesina knew that she needed to hurry if she was going to beat the sunrise. A quick glance around the street told her that she was totally alone. She hurried through the quiet city streets towards the Square.

Adesina made her way to the shop of the most prominent blacksmith in the city. He was said to be the best weapon smith in the central lands. People came from all over Sehar to buy his work. This is where she was to find her target.

There was a small alley in between two businesses across the street from the shop. Adesina hid herself in the darkness of this alley, standing just behind a stack of old barrels. She knew she would be protected from the changing light of day in this position. The young Shimat settled in for a long wait.

Hours passed, bringing nothing. Citizens and Outsiders alike strolled by, sometimes stopping at the shop and sometimes only glancing in as they passed. All of them seemed nondescript in Adesina’s eyes. She looked only for the markers of her target.

At length, the man appeared.

The identifying trait she had been given was the insignia on his tunic. It was a strange symbol embroidered in gold thread on a background of rich crimson material. The style of his clothing was unlike anything Adesina had ever seen. It had a simple and elegant look, which complemented his regal features. He carried a sword, and looked completely at ease doing so. All of these details were lost, however, when Adesina looked at his face.

His hair was a lustrous silver, the exact shade of her own, and the locks around his face were blonde. More striking than that were his eyes. Even from a distance, she could see that his eyes were a dark metallic orange with a wedge of an equally metallic indigo.

How was this possible?

She had never seen anyone that bore a resemblance to herself, and she was stunned to see one now.

Who was this man? Why did he share her unusual coloring?

He scanned the street warily as he approached the blacksmith shop. It was clear that he was on his guard even in a city as mild as this one. As if warned by some invisible force, his eyes turned in her direction and widened in shock.

Adesina ducked out of sight, furious that she had made such an amateur mistake as to be seen. She went to the other end of the alley and out onto the street, blending in with the crowd.

Her mind began turning the problem over automatically. Adesina had never seen that man in her life, but his expression said that he recognized her. How could that be?

She shook her head and reminded herself to focus on her mission. A Shimat always put the mission before personal concerns. Adesina began to consider the ways she could turn her current situation into an advantage. Her information said that he would be going to the marketplace next, so she hurried there to begin assessing the environment and what would be needed to draw him away.

It was about an hour before Adesina spotted the man through the crowd. She took a deep breath and moved out into the open. It was a great risk she was taking, but she was convinced that it would work. Placing herself right in his line of sight, she glanced over her shoulder, making sure to meet his eyes. The look of stunned disbelief reappeared on his face.

Adesina then turned her back to him and began winding her way through the crowd. Somewhere behind her she heard him call out.

“Beo themu!”

She picked up her pace, moving quickly but making sure that he could follow.

“Beo themu! Zhuma polo vobethe!”

The crowd began thinning as Adesina moved towards a less populated section of the city.

She could hear the man’s steps behind her and broke into a run. He matched her pace, calling out in a voice that bordered desperation.

“Zhuma polo vobethe! Be oser u pol!”

When she was far enough away to avoid any unexpected encounters, she darted into a deserted alley and pulled a dart from her belt. She turned and threw the dart at the man as he entered the alley behind her. The dart hit him in the neck, and he barely had time to look surprised before he fell to the ground.

“E’ria...” he whispered as he lost all consciousness.

Adesina froze in place. Had he spoken her mother’s name? Even her unusually sharp hearing had left her uncertain. She approached the unconscious form slowly.

She turned the man over onto his back and removed the dart. Now that she had a closer look of his face, there was something familiar about him. Adesina was certain she had never seen this man before, and yet she was equally certain that she should know him.

The young Shimat was tormented with indecision. She wanted to question her prisoner and find out everything he knew. She wanted to ask about his past and discover why he was so familiar to her.

Most of all, she wanted to ask why he looked like her.

In moments of such indecision, Adesina’s natural reaction was to rely on her Shimat training. And her training told her that she needed to complete her mission. After all, she could always request to question the prisoner after she had turned him over to her superiors.

She put all thoughts and doubts out of her mind, and refused to allow herself any more delay. Her contact would be waiting for her to take this man off her hands.

After binding and gagging the prisoner, Adesina hid him under an old tarpaulin and hurried off to the location set to meet her contact. The meeting place wasn’t far. It was behind an abandoned building in the old business district.

This section of the city was in the process of being transformed into a residential area, but as of now it was empty. Adesina arrived in a couple of minutes, and although she was early, she could sense that she wasn’t alone. Her contact was waiting for her.

A slender figure stepped out of the darkness. The full Shimat uniform hid all traces of identity, save a pair of cold and calculating eyes.

Adesina was surprised by the full uniform. It lead her to believe that the kidnapped man would be taken out of the city by ways not frequented by High City citizens. Otherwise, the uniform would be too conspicuous. Adesina was also a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to ascertain the identity of her fellow Shimat.

“Have you fulfilled your assignment, Shimat Falcon?” a voice whispered.

Adesina nodded.

“Where is the prisoner?”

The young woman hesitated. She felt an inexplicable reluctance in turning him over to this faceless Shimat.

“Well?”

Her sense of duty as a Shimat took over once more, and she gave the location of the man she had taken prisoner. The masked Shimat melted back into the darkness and was gone without a sound.

Feeling lost and more than slightly dissatisfied, Adesina slowly turned around and walked home.

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