SCARS OF THE SEA / book two /// chapter 44 - In Flames
Posted May 15th, 2017 by Garrett
in a city drinking coffee
| 44 |
Tarrinport was bustling, one of the few cities untouched by the Savages’ brutality. Located on the southern coast of Kaede, Tarrinport sported blue skies and a temperate climate. The sun’s buttery rays splattered on the shopkeepers and vendors, coated the fathers and sons fishing just of the harbor, and glistened in golden shards on the waves lapping against the shore. Devdan’s legs were sore from the ride and he ached to dismount, but he’d been searching for half an hour for an inn and nothing had turned up. He knew exactly where his old home was, where his mother and father still lived together. But he wouldn’t go back there—wouldn’t be the disappointment he was to them.
Mila clamped her teeth on the skin of an apple he’d stolen from a distracted vendor. His conscience didn’t even feel guilty, not when they were both starving, not when he heard her stomach growling at him. Devdan felt more guilty about not being able to provide for his best friend’s daughter than he did about being a thief.
Seagulls squawked overhead, casting shadows before the sun. Devdan scanned the cobblestone street as they turned. A little way down, there was a building on the corner where it branched. People slid in and out, the ones leaving all carrying bottles of sloshing amber liquid. A tavern. More than one story, hopefully there’d be housing there.
Devdan left their mount outside the building, knowing that someone would likely come by and steal it. He didn’t particularly care, his mind tunneled on the food inside. He lifted Mila off the horse, her eyes wide with uncertainty and her mouth tight. She hadn’t said a word since they’d fled Sudbury. Since she’d seen her own father swallowed up by a throng of Savages.
Devdan tried to keep Ezekiel off his mind, tried to not think about his best friend being gone forever.
The empty hole that now gaped in his heart. Having a goal helped—keeping Mila safe. But it was so hard not to look in the little girl’s face, her sharp cheekbones and courageous brown eyes, and see Ezekiel.
He climbed the threshold and stepped inside the wide open doors, Mila’s small hand clenched in his. His blade was heavy at his hip, swaying side to side as he walked through the doors. Tables were set about, booths on the far wall, full of people either drunk or getting drunk. A bartender at the back of the room was scrubbing at dirty glasses with a sopping rag. Devdan strode over to the bar, glimpsing into the past when he entered The Red Maiden to meet his friends countless times. The sticky floors, the dim lighting, his cheerful friends in the corner booth.
Devdan looked to the corner, and saw a booth filled with people. None of them were his.
The bartender finally noticed him and raised her eyebrows, still cleaning.
“Got any rooms?” Devdan asked.
“Two silver a night,” she smirked.
Devdan blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“Two silver a night.”
“That’s…” He leaned against the counter and laughed. “That’s insanely expensive for a tavern.”
“We get a lot of business.”
“The cheapest you have is for two silver?” He couldn’t wrap his head around it. There had to be something for less.
Still, the woman nodded, her short brown hair swaying. “I’m guessing you don’t have what we need.”
Devdan whistled silently. “You’d be guessing right.”
“Well what do you have?”
He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small purse. A very small purse. He dumped its contents on the counter; three copper coins thudded against the wood.
She eyed the money and leaned over the counter. “I’ll tell you what,” she said, her voice hushed. “You can’t afford a room here, but I’ll let you stay at my place for that much, how about that?” The bartender’s eyes flickered to Mila, the girl peeking out from behind Devdan.
“Deal, but first tell me your name.”
She scooped the coins into her hand. “Scarlet.”
“That’s it? No last name?”
She glared at him, and he decided not to press any further.
“Where do you live?” Devdan asked.
“Meet me back here at dusk, I’ll take you and your…your girl there.”
Devdan glanced out the front window. His horse nickered at a passerby, the man scrunching his nose at the animal in distaste.
Scarlet’s brown eyes dropped to the coat around his waist, the sleeves bound together, slinking on his hips.
“Has the first snow fallen up north?” She asked. Devdan scanned her tan arms, her young face.
“Yes,” he said, recalling the way the flakes had poured down, so pure on such a bloodied land.
“It’ll be chilly here in a couple weeks. But the southern coast hasn’t seen snow in years.”
“I know,” Devdan said. “I was here the last time it did.”
Her eyes widened.
“I grew up in this city. Tarrinport was once my home.”
“And now where is your home?” Scarlet asked.
Sudbury was his home. Festering with Savages, burning. “In flames,” Devdan answered. Scarlet didn’t inquire more, so Devdan led Mila out of the tavern and into the city he once called home.
After an hour of walking around, his purse now light as the feather bouncing atop a passing man’s hat. Strange fashion, Devdan thought, wondering what foreign country the feather-adornments had originated. He’d seen many men and women sporting them, some of the feathers multicolored. Braided into hair, stuck in hats, woven into clothing. Just another phase of the world that would come and go, Devdan realized. Still, as Devdan and Mila strolled under the passing shade of overhanging eaves, Devdan couldn’t help but notice a stray feather drift away from a woman’s shawl.
It tumbled on the measly wind, flitting this way and that. The current must have been on his side, for when Devdan reached out his hand, it landed right in his palm. Smiling, he curled his fingers around it.
A tap on Mila’s shoulder got her to stop and turn around. Devdan held out the feather. It was the shade of the sky at dusk, a mixture of navy and pastel hues, ruffling in the forgotten breeze. Her eyes lit up instantly. So she had marked the sudden trend in style, had wondered what a feather would look like on herself.
“Let me put it in your hair,” Devdan said. She smiled and spun around, tucking her hair behind her ears.
Devdan slid the feather just behind the shell of her ear, amid a bushel of hair. It shot out in a sapphire plume and tickled at her temple.
“You like that?” Devdan laughed.
She nodded, rocking back on her heels, swaying her arms.
“Well I’ll see what I can do, then.” With that, Devdan had the next few hours all planned out.
When he was finished collecting them, he had an entire bag filled to the rim. Blues, reds, oranges, purples, yellows, greens, whites, blacks, every color possible. Devdan had pinched the feathers off of civilians’ clothes, caught stray ones blowing in the wind, snagged a few from a cart that sold them. Just a little bit here and there, and two hours later he had more than he knew what to do with. The bag he’d snagged off the side of a grocer’s cart, just a burlap sack full of apples. He’d dumped the apples into a nearby basket, even though the aching voice in his stomach told him to steal those too.
The sun was flying low over the hazy rooftops, gilding the tiles, bathing them in its brilliant light. Devdan beckoned Mila to follow him, and they walked back to the tavern, Devdan trying to be inconspicuous about his bulging bag of feathers. He even went as far as to stuffing the bag under his shirt and saying that he was pregnant. That put Mila in a fit of giggles.
When he stepped back into the tavern, the smell of alcohol and the dimness slowly washing over him, Scarlet was already rounding the counter and coming at him. Devdan instinctively wanted to run to the side as she came charging, but she stopped a good two feet away and said, “Alright, let’s go.”
Devdan nodded and opened the door, motioning for her to lead the way. Mila clung to his tunic, hiding behind his back.
“You got a horse?” Scarlet asked, walking down the front steps. Devdan followed her, a hand on Mila’s small shoulder.
“Yeah, that one right there,” Devdan pointed to their mount. He was utterly surprised no one had stolen it; the horse had been sitting there all day, baking in the sun, restless.
“Good; get on it.”
Devdan obeyed, helping Mila up first and then climbing atop himself.
“Follow me,” Scarlet commanded.
Once again, Devdan followed her order and trailed her through the wide streets. In ten minutes they were riding under the unguarded city wall. There wasn’t even a portcullis or gate to block intruders, just a giant archway in the wall that wrapped around to the shore, encasing Tarrinport between the wall and the sea.
“Where are we headed?” Devdan asked, his mount’s hooves clopping dully on the packed dirt road. Trees rose on either side of them, far apart and thin, sinking into the sea of grass that approached.
“Just a little bit further to my house.”
Devdan thought he sensed amusement tickling her words. He felt uneasy, the hair on his neck rising.
They left the trees behind and followed the winding road over grassy knolls. The sky was a deep blue, the moon creeping over the horizon to his right, pouring its milky light on the suspicious night. Eventually, a cluster of cottages appeared just behind a high hill, thin trails of smoke fading into the night sky.
It wasn’t a town, nor a village, merely a little neighborhood. As Devdan’s horse clopped over the flagstone walkways that separated the houses, he examined the make of the buildings themselves. Some had thatched roofs, though most were clay tiles. The walls were either wood or stone. Patches of palestone stood out like liquid moonlight in random places where repairs had been made.
There were holes in the sloping roofs of some of the cottages, boards nailed across windows.
And just outside the group of buildings, at least twenty bodies were rotting beneath the earth, cheap headstones to mark their graves.
“The Savages have been here,” Devdan said, not a question.
Scarlet didn’t confirm, but he thought he saw her nod her head in memory. Or maybe trying to shake out the memories she’d already witnessed.
She climbed off her horse just outside one of the farthest cottages. Two stories. Some of the windows were cracked, but not closed up, and a warm glow pulsed through the foggy panes. Smoke trickled out of the chimney of the tiled roof. Devdan wondered if there was a stew simmering over the flames inside. He dismounted and lifted Mila off the horse. He gripped her shoulder and led her into the house, just behind Scarlet. When they stepped inside, warm air crushed him.
An open stove squatted against the back wall, the iridescent flames licking at the sides. Scarlet moved to stir a pot suspended over the fire, sprinkling in a few spices while she was at it. While she prepared what he assumed was their meal, Devdan soaked in the main room. A wide, open doorway to the right led to a small sitting room with fur carpets and a velvet sofa, scattered with blankets, bookshelves lining the walls. Somehow, the cozy sitting room seemed like the coldest of the entire house. The embracing glow of the stove didn’t reach into that room, and moonlight pooled through the window. Pale surfaces juxtaposed against the cozy interior of the first room. Devdan found a chair at the small dining table and seated himself. He patted his leg and Mila sat there, laying back into him, both of them watching every move Scarlet made.
A narrow wooden staircase lined the left wall, ascending to the second story, where Devdan assumed the bedrooms were.
“How many rooms does this house have?” He asked.
Scarlet opened the pot and spooned out bowls of the stew with an iron ladle. The three bowls were steaming, still bubbling, when she sat them on the table. She pulled in her chair across from Devdan and Mila, and then at last answered his question.
Devdan raised his eyebrow.
“There’s a community bathroom just outside the neighborhood limits,” she explained.
So it would be a short trek if he woke up at midnight and needed to relieve himself. Just what he wanted to do after jerking awake from a sweaty nightmare.
“You get used to the walk,” she said, blowing on her spoonful of soup. The liquid rippled.
“How long do you expect us to stay here?” Devdan asked.
She shrugged. “I assumed you’d leave in a couple days?”
Devdan’s eyes trailed the wall behind her. “Sounds about right.”
Devdan scrutinized the little girl on his lap, as she slurped at her soup as if it were the nectar of life. Her eyes were ravenous, glimmering with hunger as she devoured her meal. Devdan drove a spoon into his mouth and swallowed. The liquid seared his throat but he forced it down anyway, even as it felt like a rope of fire being lowered into his stomach. As he droned his eyes to her, he realized Scarlet had been watching him the entire time. She likely distrusted him just as much as he did her. Every reach for his spoon he made probably had her muscles tensing, her mind telling her that he was reaching for a knife.
He knew that’s what his mind said about her.
Devdan was thankful by the time they’d made it through their near silent meal. Mila was already growing anxious on his knee, squirming about. He finally set her loose, allowing her to roam the cottage freely. But before she ran off, he said, “Do not leave the house. I mean it.”
She nodded, eyes like a scared doe. He honestly didn’t know if she would go outside at night by herself in a long, long while. Not after witnessing what had happened to her father—to Ezekiel.
Devdan’s swallow was audible, and he knew Scarlet noticed it. Noticed the fear that his throat gave away.
“The Savages—they—attacked your home?” Scarlet asked.
Devdan nodded. “They’ve been here?”
Scarlet set her spoon down, cleared her throat, and said, “Yes.”
“Did you—did you lose anyone?” Devdan asked the question, his voice tinged with nerves. So upfront, so blunt.
She blinked, and that was answer enough.
“Me too. I lost…” Devdan mentally counted as if each of his friends’ deaths had just been a statistic for the books. He hated himself for that, for not really thanking the gods about the breath that still flowed in and out of his lungs. For not fully appreciating the life that he still had. “I lost everyone.”
Devdan nodded. Lucus, Michael, Howard, and Nicolo were all somewhere, either dead or alive. But still…not with him. They weren’t his men any longer. And where had Ciara, the pregnant girl, and her sister gone? And the man Devdan had locked up in the jail, the Outcast, probably dead now. And Ezekiel…he was…Devdan looked out the window, as if he could see the graveyard not just outside, but the one that they’d probably constructed at Sudbury. The one that now served as the home to Devdan’s closest friend.
He looked around, peered into the adjoining room. There was Mila, perched upon the sofa, tiny fingers tumbling over the pages of a large picture book. She read by the moonlight, examined the pictures with the help of the stars winking at her, bundled in a cocoon of blankets.
That image, seeing her in such an empty room, made it all even eerier.
Devdan sat cross-legged on the floor of his and Mila’s room. He had the open bag of feathers at his side, and Mila was slumped before him, her back to him so that the fluffy mess of her hair trailed down her back. He stared at his ominous project. The idea he’d had seemed so far from tangible.
After half an hour of attempts to braid the feathers into her hair, Devdan growled in frustration and rose. He began to walk to the door, but stopped himself. He needed to bathe—needed to rid himself of the death and anger that stained his skin and soul. But there wasn’t a washroom. More agitation rippled through him, the waves of anger increasing like rolls of a tsunami. Devdan’s face shone vermilion. He shoved through the door, stumbling into the hallway, fist reeled back. He remembered the way he slammed his knuckles into that man’s—Phillip’s—face. How good it had felt to connect his bone against someone else’s, how it had simply released all his pent up anger.
So that was Devdan’s reasoning when he drove his fist into the paneled wooden wall. At first he felt the jarring pain that sparked in his fingers, in his hand, jolting up the veins of his arm. He shook out his entire right limb, trying to shake away the pain that now bloomed beneath his skin. Then he looked up and saw the dent he’d made in the wood. Thankfully not a hole, but still very obvious.
The last step of recovering from stupidity was Devdan realizing that the wall he had punched was the wall to Scarlet’s bedroom. So it should have been no surprise when she came stalking out of her room in bedclothes, short hair ruffled, and nearly screamed, “What the hell!?”
Devdan looked away from her, clutching his screaming fist.
“I invite you into my home and you punch the wall?” She did not sound happy.
“So you don’t like to be woken up? Noted,” Devdan said.
“This is not funny,” she sneered, coming at him, but then turning to the wall to really see the damage he’d done. Just a dent, just a—
She groaned. She just groaned, faced him, and said, “I’m going back to sleep. Please just—”
“Wait,” Devdan said, catching her bare wrist. The shift she wore barely reached past her thigh, the straps were measly scraps of translucent fabric. “Can I…um…ask you for a favor?”
“Okay, sure? What’s the favor?”
“Could you come…braid my girl’s hair? Please?”
Scarlet narrowed her eyes at him, crinkles forming between her eyebrows. She must’ve seen the utter despair and the frustration rippling off him, for she sighed. Her next words startled him. “First thing in the morning.”
Then she shut the door to her room and probably went straight to sleep.
Devdan closed the door to his room, tucked Mila into the large bed, kissed her forehead, and sprawled out on the hardwood floor. He had a single blanket and pillow, but still the cold, hard surface yanked him out of sleep every time he was just about to fall into it.
After an hour of restless coming and going into slumber, Devdan begrudgingly snatched up his pillow and the sword he’d leaned against the wall. He tiptoed down the stairs and stared into the sitting room. The moonlight filtered through the windows and shone speckled light on the couch. Devdan stepped through the doorway and felt a shift in the air.
Maybe it wasn’t that the room was empty, but rather that it wasn’t empty. He watched the bookshelf, the large window that the couch faced. After setting up his bed on the couch and drawing his blade—just in case—Devdan drew the curtains shut.
As he curled on the couch, tucking his fur blanket close to his chin, he prayed to Tomoki that his life could last a little longer—that Mila’s life would be full and fruitful. That they would both see tomorrow. And finally he fell asleep.
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