Hallowed

XXX. Reprieve

The sun rose early, this far north.

Avenel sat on a crate near the stern of the ship, watching the sun rise on the starboard side. A cloak was draped about her shoulders to ward off the early morning chill. Nearby, the crew busied themselves with whatever it was they had to do. A serving boy ran up to her to ask if she wanted something to eat or drink, but Avenel only shook her head.

She remembered the first time she had sailed over open seas. She had been chasing Symeon’s shadow, her own guilt and grief. That passage had felt like limbo, as though the time between boarding and landing wasn’t real, as though that time was a stolen reprieve.

It was similar now. For the first time since the sun first showed its missing piece, Avenel felt she could breathe.

“Good morning.”

She looked up. Garthniiel, wearing little more than a pair of faded trousers, approached her perch. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked.

Garthniiel shrugged, the chiseled shape of his shoulders sliding beneath his skin. “Aren’t you?”

She looked down. Her cloak had fallen slightly open, to reveal the thin tunic underneath. She adjusted it. “I didn’t intend to stay here long,” she replied.

Garthniiel nodded. “How are you feeling? Your injuries, I mean. I was so worried about Frost that I forgot to ask.”

“They’re healing,” said Avenel. She flexed her fingers. They still felt sluggish and slow to respond to her movements, but Izra had assured her that they would recover with time.

“I could train with you, if you think it would help,” said Garthniiel.

Avenel smiled. “Are you looking for a rematch of the last time we sparred?”

“Maybe,” admitted Garthniiel, grinning.

“Perhaps later,” said Avenel. She slid down from her perch. The way their heights lined up, she could lean her head into the crook of his shoulder if she wanted. Instead, she took a step back. “Garth, there’s something I’ve been wondering.”

“What is it?” asked Garthniiel.

“Why haven’t you asked me how Jaliin died?”

“Because I thought that if you wanted me to know, you would’ve told me already.”

“Is that all?”

“What else does there need to be?” asked Garthniiel. “I won’t deny that I want to know, but I’ve lived this long without knowing. I can live a while longer, until you’re ready to tell me.”

“What if that’s never?”

Garthniiel shrugged. “Then I still know you didn’t do it. That’s enough for me.”

Avenel shook her head. “No. You deserve to know the truth.” She reached for his hand, threading her fingers between his. “When all this is over, I’ll tell you everything.”

He closed his fingers around her hand. “I’d like that.”

For a few minutes they stood there, hand in hand, watching the sun rise over the sea.

When Flame woke, Frost was already up. He found her in the sitting area between their rooms, her feet propped up on the table.

“You’re up,” she said.

Flame nodded and took a seat across from her. “How did you sleep?”

Frost shrugged. “I hate this rocking.”

“Me too,” said Flame. He yawned. “Have you seen Garth?”

“He’s up on the deck, talking with Avenel,” said Frost. She turned to look out the porthole. “I should probably go thank her.”

“I think she knows,” said Flame.

“Yeah, well,” said Frost. “Was it her idea, having you two at the execution to fool Matiias?”

Flame nodded.

“It fooled me, too,” admitted Frost.

“What did you think was going to happen?”

Frost shrugged. “I didn’t know what to think.”

“Did you think we were just going to stand and watch?” asked Flame.

“Maybe,” said Frost.

“Sister, we’d die before we let that happen.”

“Don’t,” said Frost.

“Don’t what?” asked Flame.

“Don’t die,” said Frost. “When I was up there, when I thought I was going to die, I realized it was worth it if it meant you were alive.”

“Sister,” began Flame.

Frost shook her head. “I mean it. If I had to kill Da again, if I had to do it in front of Matiias and the entire city guard, I would.”

“I know you would,” said Flame. “But Sister, you’ve given too much for me already. Don’t give your life, too.”

“I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you,” said Frost.

Flame sighed and took his sister’s hands in his. “I’m a grown man, Sister. You need to stop living for others—for me, for Greoore, for Garth—and start living for yourself.”

“I don’t live for others,” said Frost.

“Don’t you?” asked Flame. “When was the last time your pursued something for no other reason than because you wanted to?”

Frost was silent for a moment. “What if I don’t know what I want?” she asked.

“All the more reason to find it. I know you said you wanted to leave when this is over, just the two of us, but I think—I think you should consider what you really want.”

There was a knock on Izra’s door, and hurriedly she shoved the bloodstained hankerchief under her covers. “Come in,” she called.

It was Nicholas who opened the door, carrying a tray of toast and fruit. “We missed you at breakfast,” he said.

“I wasn’t hungry,” said Izra.

Nicholas gave her a look. “Izi, it’s me. Who are you trying to fool?” He set the tray down on the little table by her bed. “Saving Kassie’s life nearly killed you, and to use your magic again so soon—” Izra had covered her nose with her hand, and he grabbed her wrist to pull it away. “See, you’re bleeding.”

“I’m fine,” said Izra, using her other hand to wipe the blood. “I’ve bled before.”

“And I’ve had a broken arm before,” said Nicholas. “Doesn’t mean I want it now.” He sighed and picked up a piece of toast. “At least eat something. Come on, I buttered it for you.”

Izra took the toast. In silence she ate it, then the second piece, while Nicholas watched her.

“I’ve missed you, you know,” said Nicholas.

Izra gave him a look. “You see me every day. You were in a cage on my desk for three hundred years.”

“Not that,” said Nicholas. “I mean the old you. You changed when Inoor fell sick.”

Izra looked away. “So did you.”

“Maybe,” said Nicholas. “I missed Inoor, too, toward the end. You were both so far away, in a world I couldn’t understand, and I just felt so helpless.”

“We were trying to end the plague,” said Izra.

“I know,” said Nicholas. “And after all the years you sacrificed, all the sweat and tears—they were going to sentence you to die.”

“Nicholas, don’t.”

He looked at her, and in his eyes was that mixture of hate and hurt she had seen so much from him. “You didn’t deserve it,” he said. “It isn’t your fault you’re a blood mage. But Izi, they didn’t deserve it either.”

“Nicholas—”

“You didn’t have to do it, Izi. You didn’t have to sink Asterii.”

Deena had never prayed. She had seen the monks do it at the Meridian, but it hadn’t occurred to her then to try it herself. After all, she hadn’t had anything to pray for or anyone to pray to. But now, on this ship on the ocean, she had both.

She felt a bit silly, on her knees by the cot and speaking to herself, and she kept her voice to a murmur in case anyone heard her through the door. “Ruuzael,” she said. “Izra said you want to help us save the world, so are you watching? Are you listening?”

Her only answer was the creaking of the ship on the waves.

Days on the ship passed in a blur. Izra gave her some herbs for the seasickness and nausea, but it made her sleepy more often than not, so she spent most of her time in her cabin. Sometimes, in the afternoon, she would climb up to the deck for a breath of fresh air. Sometimes the others would join her, or members of the ship’s crew.

The first mate—a tall woman named Urii—and the ship’s cook—known only as Cook—took an interest in Deena as soon as they saw her books. Urii had never learned to read but liked to collect the ones she thought looked nice, and many afternoons she would bring one to Deena to read aloud. Cook, on the other hand, preferred to do the telling. He seemed an infinite fountain of tales from far off lands.

“In Neben,” said Cook in a conspiratorial whisper, “they eat rats.”

“They do not!” exclaimed the cabin boy. “Do they?”

“They eat snakes in Plithia,” said a deckhand. “We’ve been there.”

“But rats?” asked the cabin boy.

Cook winked. “You’ll have to go to Neben to find out, won’t you?”

Sometimes, Garthniiel and Avenel would spar on the deck, and the crew would gather to watch. Deena liked watching too. It made her feel better to see Avenel’s movements return to their usual grace and speed. Once in a while, when Avenel moved her arm in a certain way or Garthniiel landed a blow in a certain place, the slightest shadow of a wince would cross her face. When Deena saw it, guilt would make her look away.

She didn’t mention it to Avenel. She didn’t want to burden her more.

She did mention it to Izra, once. “She’s still hurting,” said Deena. “Isn’t there some way to make her better?”

“There is,” said Izra. “It’s called time.”

In the evenings, Deena would look for Avenel in her room, and they would curl up next to each other, each with a book in hand. Sometimes, Avenel would ask what Deena was reading, but usually they would simply sit in a comfortable silence. It reminded Deena, a little, of evenings at home, of reading while her mother sewed.

But the days were growing longer. Every waking moment, the sun hung low in the sky. And try as she might to ignore it, Deena could not. It was the first thing she saw in the mornings, and the last thing before her eyes slid shut. “I have to save you,” she whispered, standing on the deck one day. “I have to save the world, but I don’t know how.”

If the sun heard her, if it was alive as Izra implied, it gave no acknowledgement of her words.

And every day, its crescent grew a little bit thinner.