The birds outside my window let me know it was morning. The sun had barely begun to rise and the moon lingered before it set behind the mountains. My bed was warm and I didn’t want to wake, but I knew that the day wouldn’t wait for me. I peeked through the slits of my eyes, testing the sun before I committed to it.
“Wake up sleepy head.” Arsan sat in a high backed leather chair near the fire, eating bread and drinking warm milk. “I managed to save you some breakfast, although it was hard for me.”
“Thanks for your consideration.” I laughed. The nights rest had done me good. I felt like my body was stronger and my mind had reset. I was new again.
I took up residence on the floor next to Arsan and poured myself a glass of milk. It looked fresh. It only made me want it more. I hadn’t had fresh milk since winter had come, and it didn’t disappoint. The warm liquid slipped down my throat and filled my belly. I set the glass down and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.
“Feel better?” Arsan asked with a smile.
I nodded slipping a piece of bread in my mouth. “So, did you find us a ship that will take us north?”
Arsan sat forward in his chair and helped himself to another piece of bread as well. “I did, but it wasn’t easy. I had to drink almost an entire pint with the captain before he would even think about sailing north this time of year, and even then he was reluctant.”
“What did you say to convince him?”
Arsan chuckled. “I had to give him the rest of my money. Get your boots on, the ship sails with the rise of the sun.”
The tavern was quiet, still in the crisp morning air. Everyone who had been there the night before either went home or was passed out on the floor in the corners. The bar still smelled like someone threw up in it, but the smell was stronger, fresher. I scrunched my nose from the stench as we left the building, glad to be away from this place.
Outside, the streets were empty. The only sound was from the birds that had woken me earlier. They sang a cheerful song, one that made me smile. This day had all the makings of a wonderful adventure. My magic warmed me, letting me know that it thought the same.
Arsan lead me through the narrow streets and down to the docks. There wasn’t a soul in sight, but it was still before the sun made its appearance. There was only the hint of light in the distance.
The water lapped at the shore, spraying cool mist over the buildings and streets nearby. The sound of the ocean was soothing and calm. I wanted to stay here forever, just watching, but it was crisp out and I bundled the hood of my coat around my face.
I had never seen the ocean before. The vastness of its waters amazed me, it was unfathomable. My body stood frozen, taking it all in. The blueness of the water. The smell of salt in the air. The mist that kicked up off the rocks under the dock. It was all a new sensation.
“There it is. That’s the Stallings.” Arsan pointed to a ship moored at the end of the dock. It was a small ship but it was beautiful. Two masts jutted up toward the sky with white sails ready to catch the wind. A mermaid decorated the bow, its hand outstretched toward the sky. Big bold words that said Stallings were painted across the dark wood. My heart pounded at the thought of sailing on such a ship. I smiled with excitement.
At the end of the dock we found a plank that lead up to the ships deck. It was narrow and rickety. I managed to traverse it without falling into the cold water below, but it shifted as I crossed.
The sun finally peeked over the mountains behind us, casting beams of pink and orange light across the deck of the Stallings and out onto the sea beyond. Men moved quietly across the ship, gathering rope and climbing the mast. I watched as they made the ship ready to sail. The plank was raised and the white sails were set free to catch the wind like a kite.
“I was afraid you weren’t going to make it.” A man’s voice startled me. I turned to find a tall man hovering over us, watching us. His eyes were piercing and weary. His beard came in patchy on his long face, and he covered his balding head with a large floppy hat that sat lopsided on his head. I stared straight through his gaze trying to figure out why he looked at me that way. He finally spoke again with his snake like voice. “I’m Captain Bruce Decker and this fine ship is the Stallings.”
As I watched him speak, a warm feeling filled my body from my magic. A feeling like something was wrong. My magic was trying to warn me of something, but I couldn’t tell what. It was a feeling that I should leave, but when I glanced back at the shore it was too late. The ship had already pulled away from the dock and was headed out to sea. I would drown in the cold waters if I tried to swim back.
I moved close to Arsan. His shoulders were stiff and his brow was set. Did he sense the same threat that I did? His hand weaved with mine comforting me, but it wasn’t enough. Something was very wrong here.
Decker waited, watching us as the ship moved further and further from shore. Well out of shouting range of land. He smiled at me as he spoke again. “Make ready to sail north.”
The sailors moved about the ship, watching us, waiting. They gave each other sly smiles and side long glances. They didn’t even try to hide it.
“I have a bad feeling about this.” I whispered so only Arsan could hear. Something was going to happen and soon. Decker had something up his sleeve and it was dangerous. My magic told me so.
“Nell’s going to kill me when she finds out about this.” Arsan didn’t look happy.
The sun rose steadily from behind the mountains. It was fully alive when it happened. Decker shouted to his men. I felt a tug on my back. My hand was pulled from Arsan’s quickly, ripped from his security with ease.
Arsan turned to stop the man who had grabbed me but two more jumped him from behind. They wrapped their strong arms around him, pulling his hands behind his back and tying them with rope. He struggled but it was no use, the men were stronger.
I tried to scream, to fight my attackers, but a hand clasped over my mouth before I could do anything. The hand was dirty and smelled like wet dog. I tried to struggle, to fight back, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t move.
It was all happening so quickly. The warmth from my magic was surging through my body. It helped with the panic but it was still there in the back of my mind. What was happening?
“Take them below.” The captain shouted from his perch near the helm. “Be careful with the girl. We need here alive and unscathed.”
The darkness of the hold was consuming. Most the light came from the open hatch the men carried me through, but there was a small lamp hanging in the middle of the hold. It cast a dim circle that moved with the sway of the ship. It made me dizzy just looking at it.
The men who had carried me down into the hold carefully set me down, chaining my legs to a beam in the middle of the room. I fought as much as I could, struggling with all my might to be free. All I got for it was a slap in the face. I cupped my cheek as the burning began to pulls through my skin.
Arsan wasn’t as lucky. The men dragged him down the stairs from above, his head bouncing carelessly off each step. I could see the pain on his face. The agony each hit gave him. The last step knocked him unconscious with a crack. The men dragged him past me, the blood from an open gash on his head smeared blood across the wooden planks beside me. I wanted to call to him, but I was afraid of what the men might do.
I didn’t understand what was going on. Why would they do this to us? Why would they treat someone with such cruelty? Arsan didn’t deserve this. He was kind and helped me escape the monastery. Arsan’s limp body was thrown into a small room. The darkness there was impenetrable but I could hear the sound of iron clinking as a metal cage was slammed shut.
“Why are you doing this?” I screamed as loud as I could, hoping that Decker would hear me. No one answered. They only left me sitting in the dark, alone.
I shook my head to regain my composure, but all I wanted to do was cry. No, I wouldn’t let the tears come. I needed to be strong, show these men no fear. The thick skin that I had learned to wear during all those years of being on the run filled my mind, but this time I could feel the warmth of my magic aiding in my recovery and control of my emotions. No matter what they did to me, I would not cry.
The ship rocked softly as the waves lapped against the hull quietly. It would have been soothing if I wasn’t in so much trouble, but as it was, I couldn’t imagine a situation worse than what I was facing now. There were too many outcomes, most with me ending up dead. Not knowing why they had taken me caused me anxiety. If only I knew what they wanted, then maybe I could find a way out of this.
The chains around my ankles were tight but I was able to move around the hold. I grabbed the lantern and scooted toward the dark room where Arsan had been placed. I could barely reach the iron door that held him captive.
In the dim light I could see Arsan’s limp body on the floor. If I didn’t know better I would have thought he was sleeping. His face was serene and calm. My hands brushed the hair from his face so I could examine the damage they had done better. His eyes were black and swollen. Cuts bled from the back of his head where it had bounced off the stairs. I wanted to hold him, to make everything better, but I couldn’t. I was outside his sell, so I sat and stroked his hair instead.
I couldn’t believe what they had done to him. These men were evil. I intended to destroy them, one horrible man at a time. The rage I felt was only fueled by the warmth from my magic. I let it surge through my veins, controlling my thoughts and emotions. It was empowering. It kept me from fearing my situation. It kept me from giving up.
I could feel land slipping away as the ship sailed further from solid ground. The feeling of everything I knew slipping away like the night. It made me feel hopeless, lost. With every passing moment, our escape seemed less and less probable. Arsan murmured as I stroked his hair letting me know he was still alive, but time moved by slowly. No one came back to the hold. No one made a noise above. We only sailed out into the open sea, away from life.
It seemed like forever before Decker came to visit me. The Captain hovered over me again, watching me with his sly stare.
“What do you want with us?” My voice was horse and quiet, but it felt like a shout in the darkness.