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Winter Ship

by Sarah Ann Watts

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Chapter 10: Children of the Falcon

part 2

If I recall my companions, I have no leisure to think on them. Needless to say Mathuin does not leave me alone, but the morning’s languor is gone, and there is a sense of urgency. For him this is no more than a diversion, and I am under no illusion that this brief idyll will last beyond the day. In the end he puts me away from him with little ceremony. This is another new experience for me, being the one dismissed.

Even then he is kind, calling in a servant to bring me clothes so I am not shamed and breakfast, coffee and fine white rolls, eggs and bacon.

I am surprised that a chief who lives in caves has such resources, but I am not fool enough to show it. I am beginning to realise that Castle Crag, once the centre of my world, is perhaps only a small part of it. There are marvels in these caves that would amaze my people. I realise that our power is not strength but fear, and while we have lived solitary on our Crag, the world has moved on.

Mathuin does not eat with me. He sips at a flagon of mead, while I’m famished and devour whatever is put before me.

‘Are you so hungry?’

I’m abashed and let my napkin fall. Now, for the first time, he laughs at me, and I turn my face away, not ready to bear his scorn. I remember the last time I saw him at court: I probably toyed with my food, not knowing then what hunger was.

‘Kyran, look at me.’ Though said gently, it is a command. I push my chair back and go and stand before him, where he sits in his throne-like chair by the hearth.

His brow is furrowed, and I can tell he is puzzled, not knowing perhaps how to remind me that I am still his prisoner. The rope that tied my hands is still on the hearth, and I pick it up and give it back to him. He reacts as if I have struck him. For a moment I think he is going to hit me, and then he throws it into the fireplace.

‘Is this to insult me? I know you had little choice in what happened between us but I will not lie and say I am sorry for it.’

‘I meant no insult, My Lord. I am still your prisoner.’

‘You could never be that, and you know it. You knew you were safe. I could never hurt you.’

The clothes his servant brought me mask my bruises, and I keep my thoughts to myself. There are red marks on my throat, and I have left the mark of my nails on him.

We both laugh. I see that he is shy, and I understand how foolish I was to disregard his love when it was mine for the taking; but we both know that it is too late now.

‘With your leave, My Lord, I should go.’

Another error, it is for him to say when I should go, and he hasn’t told me what he intends by me. For a moment, it is in my heart to beg him to let me stay, and I can feel my face turn crimson as he looks at me. Somehow, despite the beating my pride has taken, I am not ashamed.

There is a certain intensity in his eyes that makes me think he would not say no, but there are no secrets in court. My brother would know Mathuin sheltered me, and it would bring to his people the war he feared. To take me as his lover would be to invite poison or a knife in the dark.

All this I think passes between us without words, and I wait as he searches for a formula that will release us both.

‘You ride now for the coast? I will give you safe conduct with your followers.’

I bow my head. ‘You are gracious, My Lord, and I thank you.’

The doors open and his servants enter. ‘My guest is leaving today. He requires water and provisions for his servants to cross the desert to the sea. He is under my protection.’ With a nod, he dismisses them, and the doors close.

I am not sure if I am meant to go with them but I can’t leave him without a word. ‘Mathuin...’

He lays a finger against my lips, silencing me, and retires to an alcove. When he returns, he holds a sword in his hands. ‘This is yours, I believe. It was your father’s. I think he knew that if anything happened to him, I would know how to find you.’

I stare at it in awe.

‘Take the sword, Kyran. I will not surrender it to Majvaz.’

It is a plain blade, unadorned save for the blue-grey quality of the steel forged in the days of the gods, for a prince or a king to wield.

‘It is a sword like any other. Take it and go. The next time we meet, I’d like to think I gave you means to defend yourself. If I can do no more, I owe you that.’

‘You owe me nothing, My Lord.’

I take the sword and raise it to him in a salute, laying my lips on the metal like a kiss, and then I sheathe it in the scabbard he hands to me. ‘You have my thanks.’

In that moment I think that I would die rather than raise a blade against him, but there is a shadow in my mind like foreboding. This kingly gift, my father’s sword, will turn in my hand. I raise my hand to my brow in the Children’s salute and leave without looking back.

Proceed to Chapter 11...

Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Ann Watts

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