“Lift up your hearts and rejoice, for we are saved. Let none other seek to destroy you for Apollo is with thee.”
Book of Apollo, Chapter six, verse twenty-two
Walking down Adeline’s muddy main street, Jake thought of the day the Knights of Apollo arrived on the island; how unsure he was. The island had been new territory to him. A fresh, mysterious place to explore. She had taunted Jake’s curiosity. But now it felt as though the whole island was known to him. Her secrets had been revealed and they were not what he had expected upon his arrival. Instead of wonder, Jake had found horror, blood, and regret within Delwhick’s shores.
In the fields to the west, countless Spratzian musketeers had been disarmed and placed in prisoner camps. They would be in the Brenarian Regulars’ charge until they could be shipped to more permanent accommodations. Hundreds of surgeons collaborated with captured Spratzian physicians to heal the wounded, both friend and foe.
Jake scratched the white wrap on his brow. He had not yet had a chance to wash himself completely of the filth collected during the conflict but his head and leg wounds were as clean as they ever could be with fresh bandages.
Downhill, four Brenarian regulars escorted General Gerard civilly into the town hall. Because of his rank he would be detained in one of the offices there with his closest officers. All in separate rooms of course.
Seeing no sign of any Nashtinook brave, Jake assumed they escaped on one of the three ships that slipped around the Brenarian blockade. No easy task. Six attempted and three now lay at the bottom of the bay. Jake looked out into the bay and recognized the famous Brine Hammer and its sister vessel: The Foe Hammer. Both were well known ships-of-the-line, built to rival the Crown Fiona for lethality and endurance.
Several commissioned privateers were anchored along the mouth of the bay. Great Brenar had paid quite a bit to retake the island, indeed. Jake didn’t recognize all of them but a few stood out to him. Swell Shredder, Le Souhait de Nanette, Fog Runner, the Storm Head, Sea Goddess, the Black Prince and the Black Princess were all known to be formidable fighting craft with crews of naval experience from the sovereign nations, old world and new. Le Souhait de Nanette was a Spratzian vessel but any privateer’s loyalty could be swayed by a fat purse. Her captain might lose the ship’s letter of marque, but Jake was certain Great Brenar would issue another if they had not already.
Count Varro and Master Salvo stood in front of the courthouse shaking the hands of Admiral Kro and Captain Albreight.
“I am glad to see Fray’s star pupil made it through this conflict,” Kro said with a wide grin directed at Master Salvo. “The future of the order is bright indeed with you to inherit the headmaster’s mantle, Master Salvo.”
Flattered, Salvo said nothing.
“May I speak with the knights?” Admiral Kro shifted his attention to Count Varro. “I would be honored to thank them personally and shake each of their hands.”
Varro indulged his superior.
“Knights of Apollo,” Varro called. “Front and center. Come receive your gratitude.”
When they lined up, those who could, stood at attention. Jorn was on crutches and Dogwa’s arm was in a sling. The admiral addressed them in a loud voice.
“What you have achieved here will not be taken lightly. However, due to the nature of the crisis, the world will not know of your sacrifice. This does not mean your loss will be forgotten. Your fellow knights will be remembered for their acts as mortals and forever revered as their immortal souls dine with Apollo. You have defeated evil creatures, rooted out the coward, traitor Bradford and liberated this colony from the evil forces of the enemy who planned to use the dark power of the well on other Brenarian colonies. You have saved countless lives and for that, I am grateful.”
Admiral Kro began shaking their hands down the line with the same wide grin on his face. After he had shaken Jake’s hand and moved on to Dogwa, Jake noticed a familiar person out of the corner of his eye. Anna had rounded a corner just as the admiral mentioned the late governor. She stormed off up the hill, holding her muddy dress up in the front.
As soon as the Admiral dismissed them, Jake followed her. He found her kneeling at Brom’s grave.
Jake placed a hand on her shoulder, intending to be of comfort but Anna shrugged it off immediately.
“That man may know what has happened here, but he doesn’t know why or what damage these events have caused.” Anna turned to Jake with apologetic eyes. “There is nothing to celebrate. No reason to smile. Bromley was your best friend and my betrothed. He was just one of hundreds who have died for nothing. There was no honor in it. He did not fall in battle. He was hardly awake when death found him.”
“Brom died a Holy Knight of Apollo. We are taught there is always honor in this,” Jake lied. “His death should not be celebrated but his sacrifice should be. That is all the honor any of us could hope for.”
Anna plunged herself into Jake’s arms and sobbed. Jake sheepishly put his arms around her in another attempt to comfort. He let her cry without a word. At that moment, he knew he would never see her again. He knew the time had come to leave the island. It was a more bitter feeling than he had anticipated.
Noticing a surplus of emerald hoods disembarking their longboats, Varro went to find the Admiral again. The Count found him leaving General Gerard’s makeshift holding cell.
“I have noticed a great number of alchemists getting off the ships.”
“A precaution,” Kro reassured. “We want to be certain the dark power can be contained and ultimately destroyed.”
“This power cannot be harnessed and used for any cause other than its own,” Varro said bluntly. “I am attesting to the horrible things that well is capable of. It should not be taken lightly. Let what happened on this island serve as a warning.”
“You forget yourself,” Kro erupted. “Even if I planned to use this power, it would be no business of yours. I have told you my intentions. It is your job to trust me and report to your next duty station. The Marion will leave tomorrow morning. Plenty of time to get your men cleaned up and resupplied.”
“I did not mean any disrespect,” Varro said as he straightened his jacket. “I just know what dominion the well has over the mind of ambitious men.”
“You are dismissed,” Admiral Kro said abruptly, almost cutting Varro off.
Walking toward the docks, Jake hauled his heavy pack over one shoulder and his rifle in one hand. He was passing through town when he felt eyes on his back. Looking over his shoulder, he found Anna standing on the boardwalk in one of her spotless gowns. Jake grounded his pack and leaned his rifle on it.
As he approached, Anna acted as if she wasn’t watching him. Jake placed his hands on his hips and tried to look as gentlemanly as possible with one foot forward and one in the rear, canted at an extreme angle. He puffed his chest out and lifted his chin, looking down his nose at Anna. The stance was mocking Anna’s pristine appearance in a roundabout way, but Jake could tell she did not miss it.
“Well, Miss Crane,” Jake spoke through his nose, his best attempt at an impression of a stuffy noble. “It appears time my party and I depart.”
“How kind of you to allow me the honor of your presence and quick wit before your departure, my lord.” Anna curtsied to match Jake’s level of exaggeration.
Dropping the act, Jake stood next to her and looked out over the bustling port.
“We have plenty of room, you know. We are bound for New Franton. I have two weeks of leave. I could make sure you get settled properly. You could go to university, further your education.”
“I cannot leave,” Anna said. “This is my home. I belong here and I am needed here. There is no place for me in New Franton.”
Amir called for Jake from the docks below. Jake had nothing else to offer and he was out of time. He resumed his elegant charade.
“If you are certain, I will bid you farewell.”
Jake kissed Anna’s delicate hand and turned away. He did not look back until he had loaded his gear into the longboat and climbed in himself.
Her stomach felt empty though she had eaten. The ground under her feet moved backward up the hill as she watched the knights leave, but not really. All was as it should be. She glanced to her feet to make certain she stood still but the space between her and Jake seemed to stretch as if he were miles away already and growing ever farther. Anna couldn’t pinpoint the sensation. Hollow. Alone.
“Alone,” she muttered.
She placed a hand on her belly as her insides twisted. I might be sick, she thought. Shivers rattled her spine and a coldness embraced her as if the island’s mist had come to comfort her. No comfort to be had in the chill.
She exhaled slowly through pursed lips to calm her stomach. A familiar scent pinged a faint memory as she inhaled. She sniffed again, but it was gone. She grasped at the memory as it faded like grasping at a cloth swept away in the wind. She caught it by a thread before it was gone. Anna closed her eyes to view the memory. A faint shape in the black stepped forward but Anna doesn’t recognize it. It was like looking through a pane of glass as heavy rain flowed down it. She strained her mind for more detail, and the vail disappeared. Bromley stood there smiling.
Had I almost forgotten his smell?
How long ’til I have forgotten his face?
Anna opened her eyes and huffed her frustration away. I must not forget him, and I am not alone. I have Jumping Stag.
As they rowed into the bay, Jake’s gaze returned to Anna, but someone stood next to her in a bloody nightshirt. Jake’s stomach grumbled. The sour flavor of bile bubbled up his throat. Brom stood by Anna, staring at her. Red saliva dripped from his mouth, but Anna didn’t see him.
Jake clinched his eyes shut for a long time. When he opened them, she had begun her long walk up the hill, and Brom was gone. Jake shook his head. I’m losing it, he thought.
The foggy little village of Adeline shrunk and faded with each rower’s stroke.
Part of Jake hoped he would never see this island again but the other part hoped to see Anna again. Regretting those thoughts, Jake wondered if he was betraying Brom’s memory. He was not sure if it was right or wrong but he was sure for the first time that he was harboring feelings for Miss Anna Crane.