SCARS OF THE SEA / book two /// chapter 57 - finn&castor&jack&brana on a mission
Posted September 6th, 2017 by Garrett
in a city drinking coffee
a/n: it feels like forever since I've posted i'm sorry. I've had a bit of writer's block. or some kind of writer's block where i can only manage a few hundred words at a time. hence only writing a couple thousand words every other week. hopefully i'll get out of it soon and back on a normal writing schedule. maybe i'll even finish this book during nano or something.
| 57 |
Normal and Dreary
The carriage driver had taken them all the way to a small outpost village four miles from the canyons. It had taken days to make the trip, to arrive at what was barely a collection of buildings surrounded by tents of travelers. It seemed that many people of Kaede were living a nomadic lifestyle now, deeming it safer than sitting like ducks, waiting to be slaughtered in their home cities. Castor pondered that and wondered if it might be true.
They bought one of the last tents from the store and the three of them set up the canvas and poles. Brana stood by and watched silently. She hadn’t spoken more than a handful of words since they left, often glancing back at the horizon as if she could still see her sister waving goodbye. Bonfires rose as the sun went down and the stars were born. Flames licking in open circles between clusters of tents. Hundreds of people piled around to keep warm in the midst of the blowing winter. Snowflakes drifted by in sheets of sparkling white, almost indistinguishable from the stars. Just a random crowd of peasants and nobles, blended into one freezing community.
From inside the cozy tent, the four of them shoulder to shoulder, Brana, then Finn, then Castor, then Jack, swaddled in blankets, the world seemed so small and safe. The distant fires casting a warm orange glow and the flickering lantern they’d hung casting a shifting gold on them. A chorus of rough voices arose outside. Castor jerked up, mistaking the sound for yells. Screams. There was an attack.
No one moved.
He opened his ears. Singing. They were singing a flowing, low, melodic song. One of experiences and adventures and age. Castor peered at his friends, all asleep, even Brana—her little hands folded under her head.
He opened one of the heavy canvas flaps and stepped into the brisk night, wrapped in a coat and thick pants.
Snowflakes swirled to the melody of their songs. Gathered around a campfire not twenty yards away, a group of men and woman and children hummed and sang the lyrics to old ballads. Castor stumbled toward them, his shoes crunching in the fresh white blanket. The group were silhouettes before the orange flames licking the falling snow.
Some held small wooden instruments, plucking and strumming at the strings to tune with the singing.
They all sat on crates, ratty chests, felled tree trunks, and old stumps. Swaying to the music, swaying with the flames. Castor stepped into the circle of light and song. He took a seat, almost instinctively, beside a weather-worn couple bundled under a quilt. The night was too dark, even with the firelight, to make out the sewn designs draped over both their hunched backs.
He offered a smile to the woman beside him. Her nose was wide and her eyes bright. When her chapped lips moved to the words of the song, when Castor watched her singing the words, letting her voice fly with the wind and her breath mingle with the smoke—
He sighed and watched the people. These were the people he and Eileen and Finn and Jack were trying to protect from Serilda. These were the people who could sit this far from open flame without fearing it would strike them. Who still hadn’t witnessed the horrors of the Witches’ powers. Castor thought about his father alone in Berea and his heart twinged, the strings that made the music of his soul snapping one by one.
When they returned. When they took Euanthe back, Castor would apologize to his father. He’d be with him once more, he’d give him a nice house, retirement, grandchildren—
The song ended in a trickle of chords and the low rumble of the last singer’s voice.
Without thinking, Castor spoke. “That was beautiful.” His voice was the only one, mingling with the crackle of fire and distant whispers of other conversations.
The women and men playing instruments nodded in gratitude. A woman with smooth dark skin slung her lute across her back. “Welcome to our circle.”
Castor grinned, his eyes crinkling, his lips closed and stretched. With one hand he brushed away the snow from his hair.
“I am Atara.”
One by one the people circling the fire introduced themselves. Castor wondered if they did this to every new person who joined their band of music. After they were done, they took up another song, resuming on their instruments. After the chorus repeated twice, Castor picked up on the lyrics and sang along with the others. Swaying and laughing and singing.
He didn’t realize when the morning came, when dawn turned the sky gray and yellow and the lightest hues of pink. Eventually he made his way back into their tent and curled into a fetal position on the other side of Jack, falling fast asleep, his eyelids heavy from a long night of being normal.
Brana rose before the men. She could basically see the sun through the heavy canvas tent. When she stepped outside, the thick snow groaning under her shoes, the light shining against the white blinded her. Shimmering on what looked like an ocean of sugar—rolling hills of pure, untouched snow, a smooth face freckled with tents and trees. The sky was clear, a crisp blue. And the sun shone almost ironically. Because even while it grinned down at her, she felt as if she were standing at the bottom of a frozen lake—the cold stabbing at her, prying open her pores to get inside her.
She shivered, her teeth chattering. Black, dead remains of bonfires were scattered about the tents—some still up, some being taken down as she watched. The wind picked up ash, carrying it in its current. Maybe it felt lonely after the snow abandoned it. Felt as if it needed a replacement.
Brana blinked behind her, at the slit opening up into her own tent. Her companions were still snoring inside.
She watched them, studied them breathing and sleeping. If she wanted to—if she had to—she could kill them. Slit their throats one by one while they dreamed.
Brana dropped her head to the ground. The snow crumbling around her small feet.
Finn, the prince, said they were leaving at dusk. A day of rest and then they’d dispatch. A day of preparation and then they’d march to their demise. That’s what it felt like—the reality of charging right back into the nest of vipers she’d clawed her way out of.
She and Ciara killed to escape that. And now she faced it once more—willingly.
Was she really prepared to see her nightmares? To fight against them?
The tent rustled behind her—footsteps crunching the snow.
“It’s dreary, isn’t it?” Jack asked.
Brana cast him a side-eyed look. His dark red hair was ruffled, russet scruff on his cheeks and neck. His own breath unfurled in the air like smoke.
“What is?” She stuck her hands deep in her coat pockets, burrowing them, seeking any ounce of warmth.
“This landscape. It’d make a beautiful painting. A harsh one. But a beautiful one.”
“You just said it was dreary.” Brana didn’t understand this man. The one with the accent from distant lands.
He turned to look at her. They locked eyes for a moment, but she tore hers away. “Just because something is dreary doesn’t make it any less beautiful.”
He looked to the empty, sunny sky. “You think the stars are beautiful?”
“Is this a trick question?”
He ignored her. “Well, you see, the stars are so far away, strewn across the heavens by the gods themselves, that when we look at the night sky we’re seeing the past. In reality, all the stars are dead.”
Brana dragged her eyes up and bore them onto Jack. He stared at her with an open mouth, waiting for her to say something, to be amazed.
“At least someone can still enjoy them after they’re gone.”
Jack’s mouth twitched.
After a second he chuckled and turned away, joining Brana as she examined the field of people packing up their tents and leaving.
“You’ve been through hell, aye?” he asked, his voice startling her.
Her shoulders loosened. “That’s right.”
“And now you’re going back in?”
She exhaled, her breath as uneven as a churning river. “Yes.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him slowly shake his head—heard him sigh. “I can’t imagine.”
In that moment, Brana did not feel like the small, helpless little girl. She was a woman. A scarred, strong woman.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’m hungry.”
They packed salted pork and bread. But after a few days of journeying, only mere granules of salt and crumbs remained. So they splurged. The tavern, one of the four buildings, opened an hour later. Somehow the four of them made it through the deluge of travelers trying to get a table and something to eat.
A barmaid strolled up to their table and asked them if they were interested in any refreshments.
Brana figured if they said no or hesitated in their answer, they’d likely lose their table in such a busy place.
Jack started, and around the table the barmaid went, taking their orders mentally. Brana wasn’t sure what to say when the woman’s soft brown gaze fell upon her. She stammered for a moment and went with some stew Finn had ordered and water.
In return she got a gentle smile.
The tavern rumbled with voices, people stopping for breakfast before they dispatched to go to another outpost. In times like these, they were all over Kaede. Back in Acantha, Father often talked about packing up and living a nomadic life. He argued night after night with Mother over it.
But she’d said Acantha was as safe a place as any—watched over by King Roku’s royal guard.
Brana swallowed a hard knot that had tied in her throat. It had only been a facade—that safety. The city was now a nest of Savages—led by a broken, lousy king. And her parents—
She wondered how Ejiri Roku was faring on his journey to the southern coast to disperse his wife’s ashes over the sea. Brana refrained from speaking poorly of him since the murder. She felt the flaring pulse of his pain in her own heart when she’d seen him in the grand hall that night.
She’d recognized the cold anger, regret, heartache that had stolen his weathered face in the following days. She saw it mirrored in her own heart.
The barmaid strolled up to their table, trays of food clattering on the wood, water and ale sloshing over the rims of cups—all of it pulling Brana from the deep levels of her mind.
She reached for her spoon and swirled her soup around—the broth spinning and steaming. Noodles, some gray meat, and other herbs eddied around the bowl. Whatever it was, Brana didn’t particularly care—her roaring hunger won the fight against any trace of sense she mustered. The dim room and babbling people—the conversation over their own table—it all fell away as she ate. Like clockwork the spoon scooped her soup and carried it to her mouth. Warm, thick liquid down her throat—soothing the ferocious beast in her stomach, lulling it to sleep for the time being.
Finn played with his food. He let the broth trickle off his spoon—watching as it carried the noodles and meat with it, back into the bowl. He wasn’t very hungry, not when their upcoming trip occupied his mind. He knew he should eat, that this disgusting stew would be the best meal he’d eat for days. But he couldn’t bring himself to swallow anything other than his glass of water. Even that felt like tar in his throat—a hundred swallows to get down a single gulp.
It would be hard to get the slave women to fight against their captors.
And the entire fate of their mission relied on Brana’s ability to invoke that rebellious fire in the women’s souls. If she could make them angry, ignite that flame—if she could do that, then Finn, Jack, and Castor could swoop in and lead them out. They would have hundreds of slaves revolting. Thousands, maybe.
It would work.
He had faith in their brave little girl.
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