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DarkFyre Chapter Thirteen

Rael and Silmaria make their escape from Trellings Rest.
The mild weather snuck away in the night, setting the stage for their departure, to be a much more bitterly cold and uncomfortable affair. After sundown the temperature dropped until snow fell in a scintillating curtain of white, crystal-soft flakes. They danced along the wind, dazzling and fleeting in the moonlight as they did somersaults and dizzying spiral dives before collecting in a graceless mass grave all along the docks, their frantic, joyful celebration of cold and movement and life meeting the inevitable earthbound end that all snowflakes meet, except perhaps the extra special ones.

Rael’s breath curled up in puffing tendrils of fog, barely visible in the dim light cast by the half-moon and the lanterns spaced intermittently along the piers. He and Silmaria were both bundled up thickly, their old shambles of worn and ragged clothes discarded in favor of new garbs well suited to the harsh North climate. He had a new heavy cloak, thick and insulated with soft wolf fur. The black cloak he’d stolen from the assassin, just a few short nights ago but already feeling like a lifetime gone by, was snugged away in one of several packs he had slung across his broad shoulders, along with a sturdy ash longbow, a quiver full of arrows, and a steel greatsword he’d taken from Galin’s personal armory. Between the supplies Galin had given him and those they’d bought on their own, they were well provisioned for the days ahead.

The Knight glanced back at Silmaria. Even bundled thickly in winter wear, a heavy cloak, and weighed down with a few packs of her own, the girl looked small as she huddled in on herself. She stood close behind him to let his larger form block most of the bitterly cold wind as it whipped the snow about. She’d abandoned her dresses in favor of the practicality of thick, loose cotton breeches and a warm long sleeved tunic, both in shades of simple browns and dark greens, with a small hole cut in the back to let her tail through to move freely instead of keeping it uncomfortably trapped. Despite the masculine cut of her clothing, the mere shape of the Gnari girl’s body left no mistake of her gender. She glanced up at him, and nodded, but remained silent.

They stepped slowly away from The Siren of The Lake and walked slowly along the largely empty docks. The fishermen and traders and sailors would be mulling around the docks early, even in the worsening weather, but dawn was still hours away yet. The only people about were the beggars and paupers who preferred the waterfront district to the crowded press of the more tightly clustered poor quarters, and the drunkards who had been tossed out of the bars and taverns along the docks to sleep off their stupor in the cold. Of the few guards who should have been patrolling the piers and waterfront buildings in a resigned, lackluster fashion, there was no sign.

Rael was on edge, and no mistake; Galin told him the guard would be taken care of and their departure would go smoothly, but Galin said a lot of things, and no less than half of it tended to be bluster and false bravado. He trusted the old warrior, but he couldn’t help but feel anxious and on guard. He did his best not to let it show, for Silmaria’s sake; the last thing he needed was to make her any more edgy and tense than she already was. But his hand rested on the curved short sword strapped to his hip. He would have preferred his greatsword, but it was bundled with the rest of their packs and wrapped up tight. The Nobleman didn’t want to be any more inconspicuous than necessary, and there wouldn’t be much way to subtly wear the greatsword with its distinctive hilt sticking up from his back.

The harbor was clogged with boats; nearly all the lake’s fishing vessels were docked and secured for the night. They cast eerie shadows along the piers as they bobbed gently along Lake Glasswater’s smooth, calm surface. Even in the middle of the night, the distinctive smells of the docks surrounded them, comprised mostly of fresh water, falling snow, and many, many fish.

Despite Rael’s misgivings, the pair reached their destination without happenstance. The Cutter was a weathered old single mast boat, built for mobility and speed. She was a practical sort of boat with no flash or pretense, but the lines were clean and the sail was of good, thick canvas. When they reached her, the Cutter had clearly been prepped, and her Captain was impatiently tapping his boot on the gangplank.

Captain Emil Jemmings was Captain of no one but his fine little vessel, being that she was a one-man craft and he had nothing resembling a crew or underling of any kind. He was the Northern, freshwater version of a salty old seadog, which made him a lakedog, he often joked. He swaggered with an exaggerated sway in his stride, as if he’d been on the rocking and turbulently rolling deck of a proper seafaring vessel instead of the relaxed bobbing of his faithful fishing boat on Glasswater’s tranquil waters. He had the swarthiest, darkest tan of anyone working the port, remnants of days gone by sailing the Jade Sea during his younger years, back when he’d been a true sailor and not a mockery of one like the rest of the poor sods at the docks, or so Captain Jemmings insisted.

He did have a brown chin-beard that he oiled to a point, and a certain ruddiness to his cheeks. He also, impressively, only had one gap in his smile, and that won in a memorable brawl in a less memorable whore house in Stillwater Bay. He’d lost the first knuckles worth of his middle finger on his right hand, and the pinky finger on the same hand was gone entirely. The middle finger was the victim of an unfortunate sailing accident that was brought on by a younger, stupider Emil Jemmings’ carelessness and an alarmingly large jug of spiced rum. The pinky was taken as punishment for being caught at smuggling in his home port of Cordain’s Rock. Not quite satisfied with his pinky, the port authorities exiled him on top of it.

Which was, of course, why Rael and Silmaria were involved with Captain Jemmings in the first place; though he plied his trade on a smaller scale, he was a smuggler still. Galin had vouched for the man’s trustworthiness and insisted Jemmings was capable. With the security at the gates increasing by the day, slipping out via the lake had been the least risky option available. Galin paid the smuggler well and put enough coin into enough guard’s pockets to convince the men not to pay too much attention tonight. How the surly old Knight had managed this without even leaving his home, Rael didn’t know, but Galin was nothing if not resourceful, and he’d done enough dabbling in the wrong places to make the right friends.

Captain Jemmings stood a bit straighter when they approached. He looked over Rael first, then Silmaria, his eyes lingering much longer on the Gnari girl in a way that immediately grated on Rael’s nerves. The smuggler spat, fished a smoking pipe out of his pocket and clenched it in his teeth. He struck a match, the flame a blossom of brilliance before he put the small fire to his pipe.

When he regarded them again, he flashed a haughty grin and said, “Either someone forgot how to count, or I drank more tonight than I realized. Coulda sworn I agreed to one package, not two.”

“Plans changed,” Rael explained simply. He tossed the man a pouch jangling with coin.

Jemmings caught the purse, weighed it in his hand, and grinned again. “Seems a touch light to me.”

“It’s the same fee you were already paid. Double the fee for double the cargo,” Rael reasoned.

“Ah, that’s true. But see, you’ve not taken into the extra fees and charges for inconvenience, increased risk, space and storage…not to mention how terribly unlucky it is to let a woman on your ship…”

Rael set his jaw hard and fished out a few extra silver, and tossed them to Jemmings, who caught it with a nod.

“Ass,” Silmaria said clearly, with no attempt to keep her words from the smugglers ears.

Captain Jemmings stared at her for a moment, then let out a bark of laughter.

“I think we’ll get on just fine,” Jemmings said. He blew a few puffing smoke rings into the dark, snowy sky overhead, then stepped aside from the gangplank, dipping into an exaggerated bow as he motioned toward his ship with his glowing pipe. “Welcome aboard the Cutter.”

Once they were settled into the stern of the GlassCutter, Captain Jemmings paid them little mind, setting about his business of getting underway. Even after they cast off and slid silently out onto the lake, Rael didn’t relax. He split his attention between watching the smuggler suspiciously and casting his gaze back toward Trelling’s Rest to watch for any sign of pursuit. Only once the lights of the city began to recede into the horizon did he relax his grip on the sword at his hip, yet even then, he remained vigilant.

Night crept on, slow and ponderous and deliberate. The Cutter sliced through the lake waters, quiet and steady and strong. The mist rose off the lake to mingle with the falling snow to form a hazy sort of shroud around them. Jemmings lit a single lamp on the bow of the ship, its soft glow the only light to guide them aside from the dim filtered silver of the crescent moon overhead. Before long, the sailor was whistling a jaunty little tune. His lackadaisical attitude had Rael close to lashing out.

He likely would have, had his attention not been drawn to Silmaria. The Gnari girl had been strangely quiet since they boarded the boat, and skittish, constantly fidgeting with restlessness. She looked all about, eyes darting as she gripped the narrow bench she was perched on. Rael noticed her breathing coming in slow, shallow little pants and caught the reflection of the moonlight in her slitted green eyes, which were wider and darker than usual.

“Are you seasick?” the Nobleman asked her quietly. Silmaria started at his sudden words, then looked up at him, blinking.

“Seasick? Um. No,” she replied, then gave a shaky, bashful smile. “I’m fucking terrified, actually.”

“Terrified? Of him?” Rael asked with confusion, glancing at Captain Jemmings, who seemed to have decided to treat his ‘cargo’ as legitimate cargo, and completely block them out.

“No. He’s greedy, but I’m not scared of him,” Silmaria replied. “I’m scared of the lake. I hate water.”

Rael took on a look of confusion. “You didn’t seem to mind it at all when you were in the tub the other day,” he protested.

Silmaria looked at him incredulously. For a very intelligent and capable man, he Noble could be awful dense at times. Was he really going to make her spell it out?

“I mean large bodies of water. I can’t swim,” she admitted, struggling not to let her embarrassment show.

“I see,” Rael said with a cringe, feeling foolish. “I probably should have asked about that before we went through all this.”

“We were in a hurry,” Silmaria shrugged, “And this was the best way. I’ll get through it.”

“Can I help?” He asked.

“Aside from making sure I don’t go pitching off the side? Sure. Keep me talking. It’s easier than sitting here thinking about how big and deep this lake is.”

Rael smiled lightly and leaned forward a bit. He pulled his dagger from his belt and began to trim his nails. “You should see the sea. GlassWater is a sizable lake, it’s true, but the sea makes it seem nothing. We’ll reach the other side of GlassWater by midday more than like. You can sail on the sea for days and weeks at a time and never find the other side.”

Silmaria listened and drew her knees up to her chest. Breeches were still a bit strange to her; she’d worn pants before, sure, but so rarely that it was still unfamiliar to go without skirts draped around her legs. “You’ve been to the sea, then?”

“Briefly,” Rael nodded. “When I was a lad, still a squire, really. The Knights took me on trips to other Kingdoms and Lands outside the Dale. Said I needed to know that there was a world outside the North or I’d never understand anyone who came to, or threatened, our lands. We went on a short sea voyage. I spent most of it seasick and miserable.”

“Really? Why aren’t you seasick now?” Silmaria asked, mustering half a smile.

Rael grinned softly. “GlassWater has some of the smoothest sailing you’ll ever find. It’s nowhere near the pitching and rocking you experience at sea. And you get used to it, after a while. Still, I’m sure I’d be green in the face if we were on the sea now.”

“Landling,” Captain Jemmings said to no-one-in-particular.

“I think if we had to go onto the open sea, I would die,” Silmaria said, ignoring the smuggler.

“You’d make it. It would be hard, I’m sure, but you would,” Rael nodded firmly, smiling at her. “You’re tough.”

“So’s a rock. And a rock sinks quick,” Silmaria said stubbornly. Rael laughed. So did Jemmings.

“Tell me about your mother,” Silmaria said.

Rael looked at her strangely, caught off guard. Not unkindly, he said, “Why do you ask?”

“Because Master Edwin wouldn’t speak of her. And we’re going to be traveling together for a long time, so I figured I may as well know more about you,” Silmaria reasoned. She rocked slightly on her bench, and her ears flicked forward curiously.

Rael leaned back, bracing his hands just behind him on his seat as he stared up at the stars and the still steadily dropping snowflakes. “She died when I was a baby. Barely even crawling.

“All I remember of her are moments. Pictures in my mind, little snips of frozen clarity. She was… vivid. Alive. I remember her best, in my father’s chair in a sunbeam in the sitting room. Her hair was the richest red I’ve ever seen, like the world saw the color of it and said, ‘Yes, this then, is red, and no mistake.’ The sun made it glow around her. She saw me and smiled warm and wide and that was the first smile I knew, of all smiles. It was a hard smile for everyone who came after to follow,” he said wistfully, lost in memory. “She was slender, and tall, like a graceful willow, all supple strength. The gown she wore for my father was simple but fine all at once. But anything would have looked fine on her. She looked like a proper lady, regal and proud, but her eyes spoke of a wild thing that no finery could tame. And I remember her smell. She smelled like fire.”

Silmaria studied the Nobleman’s face as he spoke, watching the distant, fuzzy-yet-distinct memory play out across his face highlighted in the moonlight. She shivered, felt a tug in her heart at the emotions she saw there. He was distant from it all, of course. He’d spent near his entire life without the woman, knew practically nothing of her. Yet she saw the longing there, as well, that all too brief little shift in his gaze that told her in some small, tucked away spot inside, he wanted to know, he wanted it to be so very different. She knew it, felt it in her own tucked away corner of longing for the never-was.

“She sounds like an amazing woman,” she said at last, because she didn’t know what else to say, and because it was true.

Rael’s smile was a barely-there turning at the corners of his lips, at once poignant and sincere. Silmaria’s breath hitched briefly, that smile unexpectedly affecting her in a way she couldn’t quite identify. For a moment, she wasn’t afraid at all, too thoroughly distracted by him.

“What about your parents?” he asked.

She didn’t want to answer him. She wasn’t sure what would come through her voice, or what play of emotion or memory would cross her face, and she didn’t want to let him see. But she’d drudged the memories up in him, and he didn’t flinch from them. She couldn’t help but do the same.

“My father died when I was younger than you. I don’t remember him, at all,” Silmaria said with a soft sigh as she rested her chin on her knees and curled her tail around her feet. “My Mother said he was a hunter and a warrior and a follower of Gnari Shamanic traditions, back when they were young and still lived with their people. When they came to live with the Humans, father traded the animals he killed and sold pelts and leathers, and made trinkets and decorations made from claw and horn and bone.

“After my father died, Mother worked for a while as a dancer and performer, then did serving work in taverns and inns before Master Edwin found us and took us in. I hardly remember the years we were traveling and wandering. By the time I was old enough to really hold on to memories, we were living at the Manor and my Mother was working as a kitchen maid.”

“What was she like?” Rael asked quietly.

“Scared,” Silmaria said thoughtfully. “She was sure that something would go wrong, and we would be on our own again, no home and no roof and no food. She was frightened of the other servants. People don’t always tolerate us under the best of times. That she was husbandless with a little brat like me hiding in her skirts, well. Everyone thought the worst of her, and me by extension.

“But for all her fear she was… determined. She seemed to make it her personal vow to make our life at House IronWing work. She always told me we had to work very hard to repay Master Edwin for his kindness. She was graceful, and she was patient. She said Humans hated us because we frightened them. Because we were different. It wasn’t their fault, and we should try to be patient with them, and kind.”

“She must have had a good heart,” Rael offered.

“Yes. Well. Her good, tolerant heart got her stabbed by one of her scared Humans.”

Rael stared at her in the darkness. She could see the surprise and sympathy written on his handsome face. She was glad his eyes weren’t as sensitive as hers; she didn’t want him to be able to read her as plainly as she did him right now.

“I’m sorry,” he said at last, because it was all he could really say.

Silmaria shrugged. “Master Edwin had the man executed. My mother had her justice, at least. Master Edwin swore he would keep me safe after that. It’s probably the biggest reason I’m still alive now.”

“You must hate us,” Rael mused.

She reached up and pushed her hair back, then pulled her cloak close around her body. “I used to. I guess I still do, here and there, or at least sometimes I try. I don’t trust a lot of humans. Experience has made me cautious of them until. Really, experience has made me cautious of everyone, not just Humans. But caution and hatred are different things. I don’t think I have it in me to hate that much.”

Rael smiled that same small, wistful smile. “I’m glad that, if you took nothing else from your mother in your brief time together, you learned how to have her good heart.”

Silmaria swallowed on whatever feelings it set off inside. She reminded herself of the deep, choking, smothering water under them, of how very cold it would be as it pressed down on her from above, heavier than all the world, and she let some fear creep back inside. Good. Fear was easier than the rest of her disjointed, muck of emotions. Simpler, cleaner, and less dangerous.

For a time, the only sounds were Glasswater gently lapping against Cutter’s hull, the soft rushing of wind occasionally rising into the crescendo of a quietly mournful howl. The creek of the lines holding the sail unfurled, the canvas straining against the blowing wind. There was occasionally the small little splash off to the side of the ship where a large fish broke the lake surface, in and out, in and out. The smuggler puffed at his pipe and his cargo quietly chewed on old memories whose flavor had faded with age, and gave them no fullness or satisfaction.

When dawn broke over the horizon, the snow had relented, but it was just as cold. Rael and Silmaria sat, huddled deep in their heavy cloaks and thick, warm clothes, and took some of the travel rations they’d brought with them, and broke their fast. They passed strips of salted elk and beef, thick, tough carrots, and handfuls of toasted nuts that Silmaria actually found very pleasant. They watched as the sky over the distant SkySpear Mountains to the west blossomed with light and pigments. The heavy clouds still overcasting the sky were aglow with lush purple like a deep, colorful bruise, then brightened, bleeding into a stunning orange, then pink. Red emerged, vibrant and deep and powerful, filtering into the rest of the colors, until the whole sky was a great blend of otherworldly shades, dancing together in blots and smears of color in the clouds.

The sunrise was a marvel, unique in all the world, and destined to fade after all too brief a moment of fiery glory, much like the snowflakes in the night.

“Beautiful,” Silmaria murmured softly, her breakfast forgotten for a time as her eyes followed the heavens.

“The gods are painting with a mighty fine brush this morning,” Captain Jemmings agreed.

Jemmings joined them for the meal, then, and surprised them both with a large loaf of good bread, and a fresh block of cheese, both of which he broke into chunks and shared. They gave him some of their beef and nuts, and the strange trio ate in almost amiable silence.

“So, you’re the poor sod they’ve got the city locked down for, eh?” Jemmings said when they’d finished, and wiped the crumbles of bread from his beard.

Both of them froze. Silmaria looked, wide eyed, from Rael, then to Jemmings, and back to the Nobleman again. Rael said nothing, just stared into the smuggler’s eyes, hard, with his hand once again at the hilt of his short sword.

Jemmings met Rael’s icy gaze for a moment, then gave a snort and waved his hand dismissively. “Leave off that. What, you think I’m going to betray you? Bit late for that. If I were going to turn you over to the guard, it would’ve been before we shoved off, not after. And I’m not going to be taking you down myself. I’m no fighter, and even if I were, I hear tell you’re not one to be taken down by less than about half an army. No. You’re secrets safe with me, no fear.”

Silmaria let out the breath she’d been about to choke on, and relaxed.

Rael didn’t. His glare was unwavering.

Jemmings didn’t seem particularly phased. He tugged at his beard slowly and leaned forward, watching Rael intently with his sly, critical eyes. “Them things they say you did, to your folks and all that. You did it?”

“No.”

Jemmings studied the Nobleman, searching his flinty silver stare for something, a lie, a tell, a sign of remorse or hint of satisfaction, something.

At last, apparently satisfied by what he did or did not find, Jemmings nodded and smirked mirthlessly. “Fine enough. I’ve smuggled blackhearts as much as good folk. But I like good folk better.”

“Just get us to the other side of the lake,” Rael said through gritted teeth.

“Aye, Cap’n,” Captain Jemmings said with a mock salute, and returned to the wheel.

For the rest of the voyage, Rael’s mood was black.

***

When the Cutter butted up to shore on the western bank of Lake Glasswater it was mid noon. The clouds had, if anything, clustered even more densely, choking the sky and blocking the sun from all view. Snow had begun to fall once more, but more lazily now, a light little flecking that wouldn’t do much to add to the thick, airy powder already packed thickly onto the ground and dusting the tall pines and ferns dotting the shoreline.

Rael had calmed somewhat, but he was still clearly on edge, and his eyes followed Jemmings, always. Silmaria wisely kept silent and out of his way, sensing he was wound tight as a spring and wanting no chance that she would set him off. He’d never been unkind to her, but tension such as his did strange things to a man.

Captain Jemmings looped a line around one of the smaller trees nearby, then hopped ashore. Rael and Silmaria grabbed their packs and followed. Silmaria leapt off the side of the small boat, landed on the shore, and promptly crumpled in a heap to press herself to the ground, snow and all.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! Gods, I promise to never take something as beautiful and perfect as solid ground for granted ever again!”

Rael smiled briefly as his companion, but quickly sobered. He rearranged his packs, and made no effort to hide his greatsword now, purposefully strapping the frightening length of killing steel to his back, along with the full quiver of arrows and his longbow. His cloak was pushed back, and the short sword at his hip was in full view.

Many deep, gulping breaths later, Silmaria stood and took in her surroundings. There were clusters of trees at the shoreline, and spread out farther west, but for the most part the Dale opened up before them; sweeping plains covered in thick, shin deep snow, pure and untouched save the occasional tracks of deer or mountain yaks or other wild creatures. Here and there, large stones broke up the bleak, empty spaces of the plains, their rough, rocky faces wearing the white of falling snow like winter coats.

“Well, here we are then,” Captain Jemmings said with a toothsome grin. “Safely arrived, and before the day’s out, as promised.”

Rael regarded the man closely, his sharp silver gaze boring into the jovial smuggler’s face. Then, at last, he held out one huge hand. “Thank you. For your service. For getting us safely free.”

Jemmings threw his head back in a short bark of laughter, then shook Rael’s hand energetically. “I like you, Lord IronWing. You’re a mite serious for my taste, but you’re a good sort. For a Noble. Now, if you’ll humor me, there’s one last thing, and then I’ll be back on the Glass, and you can be on your way to…wherever it is you’re off to.”

Rael, still wary, replied, “Go on.”

“Our good friend Galin told me you have a peculiar dagger. Show me, if you please? He was very insistent I see it.”

Rael stared at the man hard for a moment, then pulled his dagger from his belt.

It was, indeed, a peculiar sort of dagger. It had been his father’s, and his father’s father before him. The blade was straight and double edged, with a wicked, fine point. It was Leftin steel of the sort forged by the great Empire’s finest Dwarven smiths, and enchanted by their Elven weapon masters to make the edge keener than any common steel in the world. The blade had a strange bluish tint to it, and the IronWing family crest had been emblazoned into the fine, curving crossguard, and the Dragon of the house crest sported tiny twin eyes of twinkling sapphire.

Captain Jemmings whistled softly as he held the blade, reverent and careful, running his eyes over it with obvious appreciation. “I’m no man of arms, but this… this is amazing, truly. A blade fit for a king, I’ve no doubt.”

The smuggler looked up at the Knight, and there was almost an apology in his dark eyes. “I’m sorry to do this. I know how important this blade must be to you. But Galin has a plan. A plan that requires your dagger as proof of your recent death.”

Rael stared at the man incredulously. “What? What the hells can he be thinking? Why wouldn’t he have spoken of this before we left?”

“Because he knew you’d argue with him. He said you’d have argued and fought and balked and talked until he went mad with it and changed his mind just to shut you up.”

Silmaria, listening closely to the exchange, covered her mouth with one hand and pointedly glanced over to some very interesting snow pit-pattering its way down a nearby tree’s low hanging boughs.

Rael scowled and shook his head. “Damn that old bastard anyway.”

“I know you don’t want to be parted with it. But if all this weren’t pretty grievous serious, I don’t think you’d have gone this far out of your way in the first place, yes? So perhaps it’s best to give our friend’s plan a chance. It may make a difference in your necks being saved. Literally.”

Rael took a deep breath and, begrudgingly, nodded. “Very well. Give it here,” He growled, and held his hand out for the dagger’s return.

Captain Jemmings looked confused, but did as the Nobleman asked.

Rael gripped the dagger and, without a word, ran the devastatingly sharp blade along the palm of his hand.

“What are you doing?” Silmaria gasped as she swiveled around just in time to catch Rael’s bold act.

“The dagger alone won’t be enough,” Rael said, grimacing slightly. He gripped the dagger’s hilt with his bloodied hand, smearing it, and then tore a strip of cloth from the hem of his shirt and bound his bleeding palm tight. “It’s true that anyone could recognize this as being mine…but if they are as serious about the price on my head as I’m sure they are, they will want something more convincing.”

“Mages,” Captain Jemmings said, understanding lighting his face.

“Exactly,” Rael nodded. “Only a bare handful of the sorcerers and mages in the realm have the power and knowledge of blood magic sufficient to identify this as my blood, but the people after my head seem to be desperate for it, so I wouldn’t doubt if they hunt one down to do it. This isn’t definitive proof; nothing short of my head would be beyond question. But it may just be enough.”

He handed the blade back to Jemmings, who took it gingerly, trying not to touch the blood, or cut himself, in the process.

“You’re a crafty man, Lord IronWing. Well then, I do believe our business is concluded. I wish you safe, quiet, hidden travels. May our little sham be accepted and bring you reprieve from whoever hunts you.”

“Thank you, Captain Jemmings,” Rael nodded. “But it’s more than a reprieve I want from them, and it’s more than a reprieve I shall have.”

“Mm. Well, gods speed, in any case,” Jemmings nodded, then turned his mirthful smile onto Silmaria.

“Well, little miss, I thank you kindly for not capsizing my boat, as women onboard are wont to do. Mayhap one day you can learn to swim a bit. You might even enjoy it! I’ve heard cats like fish very well.”

Silmaria poked the man in the chest with one clawed finger, hard enough to nearly draw blood. “You’re an ass. Worse, you’re an ass that smells like fish, and not in a way that even a cat would enjoy. But thank you for getting us safely just the same. If the boat had gone under and I drowned, I’d haunt you to your dying.”

Jemmings laughed heartily, and hopped away and back onto the Cutter. He began to undo the line keeping his small vessel docked, calling, “Why, little miss, if the boat had capsized, I would have downed myself! Don’t you know? Most sailors can’t swim for shit, and me no better than any!”

Silmaria looked at the sailor turned smuggler turned potential savior with a mix of amusement, perplexity, and annoyance.

They watched the Cutter slide off, gliding over the tranquil surface of Lake GlassWater.

“If they find out he helped us, he could be killed for it, couldn’t he?” Silmaria asked.

“Absolutely,” Rael nodded. “It’s safe to say anyone who helps us, or is even passingly linked to us, could be killed at this point.”

“He’s taking a lot of risk, for total strangers,” she observed as she shouldered her pack.

“He is,” Rael agreed. “But I think he’s used to risk taking. Galin chose wisely after all; he knew, I suppose, what he was getting tangled up in. And it doesn’t seem he much minds.”

“Sailors,” Silmaria said by way of explanation. “Anyone who would willingly go scooting around on a glorified block of wood over any body of water bigger than a duck pond has a deathwish to begin with.”

***

Thank you to all my supportive readers for patiently waiting for this chapter. Work and training and family matters got away from me a bit these past few weeks and slowed my progress a bit. I hope to finish the next chapter much sooner, but if it does take me awhile, know that it is still most certainly coming.

As always, comments, questions and critiques are welcome at

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than Lushstories.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.


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