Chapter 11 - The Waters of the Wash
King Calin insisted she join them for dinner and she sat beside him again but barely ate and barely spoke. Though it had little to do with her being held captive.
It felt like she was all riddled up like a knot. Part of her couldn’t wait to get back to Fain, to be safe with him but deep down she knew that in returning she’d have to face Uther’s rage. She had disobeyed him after all, she’d done exactly what he’d told her not too and now for all intent and purpose everything he’d feared had come true; she was in the hands of his enemy. She shuddered thinking about what he would say, what he would do. Perhaps he would collar her now. She could tell Fain thought he would and the thought made her feel physically sick. Somehow she knew even if Fain wanted to he wouldn’t be able to protect her from it, protect her from his brother. If Uther collared her there’d be nothing she could do and she really would be a prisoner then.
“What are you thinking about?” King Calin asked standing beside her as she looked out over the water.
“Tomorrow.” She said quietly.
“Surely you have nothing to fear from it?” He asked narrowing his eyes at her and she shrugged because she wasn’t sure what else to say. She didn’t want him to know that she had disobeyed the High King, that he was in all likelihood going to have her collared before the day was out.
He laughed then, a quiet gentle laugh.
“You are quite bad tempered.” He said.
“Wouldn’t you be if you were being held as leverage?”
“You are lucky I did not have you tied and dragged the whole way here. I have treated you well. If you were a man I may not have been so kind.”
“If I were a man you would not have forced me into this ridiculous dress.” She snapped.
“The dress offends you?”
“It is what our Queens would wear.”
“I know. The maid told me.”
“And yet it offends you. Why?”
“If I were given the choice I would not wear anything so…” She struggled to find the word. “Exposed.”
“You feel exposed wearing it?”
“Yes.” She said gritting her teeth and he looked down at her again.
“You are beautiful as all Fae are.” He shrugged. “If I wanted to I could force myself on you and with that bracelet there would little you could do…” He stopped and met her suddenly fearful eyes with a cold hard stare. “But I am not that kind of man. I am not that kind of King.”
She looked away shutting her eyes as the ghost of Rillon stirred in her head.
“That’s not to say I can’t enjoy looking though.” He added with a smirk and she clenched her fists but held her tongue. “Get some rest Fae. We have a big day tomorrow and I don’t want the High King to think that I have not taken enough care of you.”
They were up with the sunrise. The maid was back washing and scrubbing her and forcing her into a new, clean dress. This one was a deep emerald colour and it shimmered emphasising her curves even more than the last two. She scowled. She’d hoped after her conversation with King Calin that he’d give her her own clothes back but evidently he didn’t care what she had said. He was doing this his way.
She walked out of the tent and frowned seeing all the armed soldiers now in shining armour around her. The guards escorted her up to where King Calin was waiting. He looked at her and smiled before appraising her like a piece of meat.
She rolled her eyes but said nothing.
“Your Highness.” One the guards said. “Your ship is ready.”
“Ship?” Alice repeated confused and looked at the King suddenly alarmed.
“Our audience will be out there.” He said pointing to where she could just make out a ship waiting. “In the waters of the Wash.”
“Were you worried we were about to sail off with you?” He asked quietly and she narrowed her eyes but didn’t answer him. “Come Fae. Let’s get on with it. No doubt the High King is itching to get you back as I would be if I were him.” He said before leading her up and onto the ship.
As the ship got nearer she felt her butterflies getting worse and worse. It was like she was splitting, with half of her desperate to get there and the other half petrified of what would come.
She stood on the deck, watching as they drew closer, looking for any sign of Fain but they were too far away to make out who all the figures were.
“Fae.” King Calin called her from the other side of the deck and she turned gritting her teeth. Maybe she should have told them her name, but it was too late now she thought, and besides, she didn’t exactly want to give him anything more over her.
She walked to him and he held out his hand to her. She hesitated before glancing down to where a smaller, rowing boat was waiting.
King Calin tilted his head, his hand still waiting for her to take and she sighed before accepting it. Hopefully she would be free from him soon enough she thought, though she had no idea if where she was going would be any better.
He helped her up over the side of the deck, and she climbed down the rope bridge. A soldier leaned up and grabbed her waist pulling her onto the boat and she recoiled at his touch but she didn’t fight. King Calin climbed down after her followed by his son and more soldiers.
They rowed slowly to the High King’s ship, the waves were choppy and the spray kept covering them in salty water. Alice gritted her teeth but was thankful that she at least wasn’t feeling sea sick. The last thing she wanted to do was see the High King while actually retching.
When they reached High King Uther’s ship a rope ladder was tossed down and one by one they climbed up. Alice stood waiting as half the guards climbed. This was it, she thought, knowing that once she was on deck they would all be there and whatever her punishment was she wouldn’t be able to escape it. Part of her wanted to turn and run. Turn and throw herself into the water but she knew she couldn’t escape this. She had done this to herself. She had got herself into this mess and whatever her intentions had been she had to face the consequences.
“After you.” Prince Frederic said and she turned to face the rope, trying to control her breathing, trying to control her emotions. She could feel herself starting to shake and she tried to inconspicuously take in a few deep breaths to calm herself. King Calin was almost up and onto the deck. She now had no more reason to hesitate.
She grabbed the coarse rope and slowly started to climb.
And then she felt it. It was subtle, like a slight change in the wind. She hesitated her hands gripping the rope as she turned and looked around her confused.
“What is it?” Frederic asked but she just shook her head slightly, her mind still trying to figure out what her body instinctively already knew.
Something hit her hard in the stomach. She doubled up winded, holding onto the ladder but there was nothing around her to explain the attack. Another blow hit her back and she fell back into the boat beneath her, landing hard on her knees.
“Witches.” She said looking up at Prince Frederic.
“This is Uther’s doing.” He snarled and she shook her head getting to her feet.
“It’s not. He wouldn’t do this.”
Frederic snarled. “This is a trick.”
“It’s not a trick.” She snapped back. “Why would they attack me if it were?”
He looked at her not sure whether to believe her. It would be a great trick he thought, this whole thing, bring them here then have the Witches destroy them. But something about her told him it wasn’t true. Something told him to trust her.
“Can you fight them?”
“I can try.” She said thinking about how long her Magic was gone last time she’d been forced to wear Iron and she hoped it wasn’t the case this time because if it was they’d be at the mercy of the Witches unless one of the Magi’s could help them.
He pulled a dagger from his hip and grabbed her wrist.
“If this is a trick…” He warned as he cut through the leather strands that looped the Iron together.
The minute it dropped off her she felt her Magic was back. Like someone had released her lungs after clasping them tight for days. She felt the Magic filling her up, reenergising her as it did but it also felt like she had less than before, that some Iron was somehow still in her system, still holding her back.
She shook her head, trying to shake away the uneasiness she had in her gut. Just focus, she thought, focus and the Magic will come as it always did.
She turned and scanned the horizon looking for the source but could see nothing. Another blow came from nowhere and this time it smashed directly into their boat smashing it to smithereens and sending them flying into the water.
Alice gasped as the cold water surrounded her and she grabbed onto some debris to help keep her afloat. Looking round she saw the High King’s ship and it was also now under attack. She closed her eyes feeling the Magic, feeling for it’s source. Jelric must be on there, she thought, as she recognised the pattern of some of it but most of it was alien to her.
Something grabbed her leg and she screamed before it pulled her under. She didn’t need to open her eyes to know what it was. A Spectral. It swam around her as though as comfortable in the water as it was on land. She watched it, holding her breath for as long as she could before she was forced to the surface gasping. But the moment she breathed air it pulled her back down again. Back down into the darkness.
She tried to swim back up but it pulled her again. Pulled her further down.
This was it, she thought, if she didn’t do something now then she’d drown here in this dark depth, and no one would even realise. She closed her eyes as she summoned her Magic, calling to it and feeling it grow in her. She opened her eyes and the water around her was filled with light. Beautiful colourful light. The Spectral swam around, trying to quell it, trying to put it out. She watched as the colours swarmed like a school of fish and then she saw the Spectral turn on the attack, swimming straight towards her. She pulled the Magic and sent it right at it, hitting it hard in its chest as she swam up to the surface again.
She gasped, letting the air fill her lungs.
“Take my hand.” Frederic yelled and he pulled her out of the water and onto what little remained of the boat.
She lay panting on the wood for a few moments.
“Did you get it?” He asked and she shook her head because she knew it was still down there somewhere. She looked round at the main ship. It was no longer recognisable and looked more of a wreck than a ship. Alice wondered how it was still afloat, though she could feel Jelric and the other Magi were putting up a damn good fight.
And then she saw the Spectral again, it was climbing up along what remained of the stern, creeping to where everyone who wasn’t fighting was trying to get into smaller boats and escape to shore.
Alice stood up and cracked her neck, knowing what she had to do and not liking it one bit. She swallowed trying to calm the feeling in her gut.
“Can you kill it?” Frederic asked and she looked at him but didn’t answer. She wasn’t sure she could but she was damn well going to give it a go, she thought.
She launched herself off the wood diving into the water and feeling the coldness envelop her once more. She swam hard towards where the creature was, not taking her eyes from it. Not daring to look anywhere but where it was.
It saw her coming, screeching it’s deep guttural cry that reverberated through the water. She narrowed her eyes beckoning it to her. It was just like she’d done before, she reminded herself. Don’t get cocky, don’t over think it, just let instinct take over.
But the creature grew. She felt it. Felt the Magic being poured into it and she stopped swimming suddenly afraid. She looked around trying to find where the Witch was but she still couldn’t place her.
The creature was too big, she knew it, she could feel it. With the limited Magic she had there was no way she’d be able to defeat it.
The creature cried out again and dived into the water aiming right for her. She screamed and it engulfed her, pulling her down as it choked the air from her lungs.
She closed her eyes, feeling it boring into her, tearing at her skin, ripping at her as it tried to devour her Magic. But she had nothing to fight it with. She cried out into the water and it filled her mouth, filled her lungs. And the little air she had escaped her. She desperately tried to reach out, to pull her Magic back from it but it had taken too much. As the darkness overtook her she shut her eyes and fell into it.
And then it happened. Just when she thought she was drowning, she felt the shift. As she became part of the darkness she felt her own Magic changing, growing, feeding back off the Spectral as it had fed off her. The bitter taste filled her mouth and soaked into her. But she remembered the colour, the taste of her own Magic. And the cleanness of it too. She forced it out. Forced it all out of her.
It was like an explosion.
The Magic reacting to the force of her expelling it.
And the water reacted too. It was like a giant bomb had gone off, the water splashed back and slowly Alice floated back to the surface.
She heard herself gasp as she reached the surface, too tired to swim. Too tired to do anything but just float. She heard the shouts too and knew that the attack was over and the Witches were gone.
Someone jumped into the water and grabbed her, pulling her back to a boat. She dazed in and out as the Magic within her spun and her head spun with it.
Ridley carried her from the water and onto the boat. They rowed to the shore and Fain rushed forward into the water to meet them. He looked at Alice, half drowned in Ridley’s arms barely believing that anyone could have survived what he had witnessed.
Ridley held her out to him and Fain took her carefully from him. She opened her eyes and looked up frowning slightly as if she couldn’t quite believe it was him.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you.” He said quietly to her as he carried her back.