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Winter Ship

by Sarah Ann Watts

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Winter Ship: synopsis

Kyran, a king’s son, has been disinherited and exiled to a remote temple. One snowy morning, a messenger arrives to recall him to court, where he is to serve as governor of the king’s other children. Kyran is a seer and a child of the Falcon, but his paranormal abilities do not protect him from court intrigue. He must ultimately set out on a quest to find the Winter Ship and its destination.

Chapter 15: Stranger from the Sea

part 1

I wake in a room without a window, my hands shackled. A lamp is burning on a stand. They left me food and water, gave me a blanket for warmth and decency. I’m naked otherwise, having lost the last of my rags in the fight. It seems they washed me. Someone has applied salve to my wounds and bandaged my feet.

The room contains the bed I’m lying in, a table and chair and sheets over the straw mattress. When I touch the walls, they are warm, and heat rises from the floor. It’s like being inside a clay oven. I try the door but it’s locked. The room is clean and bare. There are no books, no paper, and nothing I can use to open the door.

I’m tired just getting up to look around. I sit back on the bed and then, feeling bone-weary and bruised, I curl my feet off the floor, draw the sheet over me and sleep.

When I wake, the lamp is brighter. They have refilled the water jug and left fresh bread of the kind the girl, Karishma, gave me.

I think of her, remembering the scent that clung to her, even in the cave. Something like it lingers in the air of this cell. I put my hand over my eyes to prolong the illusion. Then the door opens.

I’m off the bed and crouched in the corner of the room, no weapon to hand. The girl and the hunter come in. His face still bears the mark of my flints. She is robed like a princess. It is then I see the likeness between them: they might be twins.

Karishma draws her veil forward to hide her face from me, but not before I see how she has changed. She is taller, more graceful. Her hands are delicate, and her nails are painted. But I know she is the girl who tended me in the cave.

‘Is this the man?’ The hunter’s voice is harsh. ‘Answer me, Karishma.’

She looks at me but says nothing.

He grabs me and pulls me under the light, tilting up my face. ‘Tell me, he is a stranger here. Who else could he be?’

‘Jarmil—’ her voice implores him.

‘Is this the stranger from the sea?’

She shakes her head, not meeting my eyes, and I feel sorry for her.

He looks at me. ‘Was it you she found?’’

I swallow and, with a grimace, he releases me, all but wiping his hands on his cloak.

‘My name is Kyran. I told you. Yes, I came from the sea, nearly drowned, and this noble lady helped me. She brought me food and drink and tended my hurts.’

‘And the mark on her wrist?’

‘I did that.’

‘And what else did you do?’ His voice is flat, controlled, holding down anger.

‘It was an accident. I did not mean to hurt her. I did nothing else. Karishma, I am sorry.’

‘Don’t talk to my sister. Leave us, Karishma.’

She hastens to obey. The door closes, leaving me alone with Jarmil.

He walks around me and hits me across the face. He wears heavy rings and catches me below the eye. I feel the skin tear, and blood trickles down. The force of his next blow throws me across the room, head ringing. The blanket falls and he kicks it away. I am a mass of bruises and cuts and that seems to give him pause.

‘I should have you flogged.’

‘As My Lord commands.’ It’s a foolish thing to say, but I’m beyond thinking. I reach for the blanket to cover myself and stay where I am, crouched in the corner of the room. He makes an impatient exclamation and turns on his heel, sweeping out the door, cloak trailing.

Then the light goes out, and I crawl over to the straw mattress and close my eyes. The next time the door opens Jarmil may carry out his threat or let his men finish me. There was something in his eyes that made me shiver as he looked at me. I wonder: if he came alone, what he might do and would I have any will to resist him?

Such a small thing to buy my life, but how would I live then: as his slave? That’s if he let me live at all or, having taken what he wanted from me, would he crush out my life with those strong fingers at my throat?

The iron shackles are loose on my wrists and I spend some time trying to work them loose. If only I had some oil or tallow to ease my hands through them. I remember the lamp and, following the scent of the congealing wax, I smear it over my wrists and contrive slowly and with some pain to work one hand free. It’s not easy; I have to lose the bandages.

The burns are healing. The second hand is easier, and I chafe the feeling back into my wrists and then weigh the iron - a weapon maybe I can use. If I break out of this room, where would I go? I sense the weight of the earth above me and somewhere a great source of heat that warms this subterranean dwelling.

I lie back, the shackles grasped in my wrist, buried under the straw. I’m thinking about the girl at the cove and before that my lover, Mathuin, who gave me my sword. If I close my eyes, I can see his face and imagine he holds me close. I wonder if he ever thinks of me.

As for the girl, she is like a dream of summer. I remember my three unwilling companions, and Lorcan saying, ‘We were glad of your help last night.’ Glad enough to have me with them and take me on their Winter Ship until the storm came.

With that, I wrap my arms around myself and bury my face in the pillow. I wonder: if they kill me, will anyone ever know of my death or what became of me? These are maudlin thoughts. It seems odd I worry that I’ll die as a nameless stranger. A flogging is a slave’s punishment. I fall asleep and, in my dreams, Naraya kisses me and pours wine into my mouth and I’m drowning again.

When I wake there are shadows in the room and a pool of light. The lamp is a crystal that projects an image of clouds on the wall. In the pale luminescence, I see they have left me water and soap and a towel... also a change of clothes.

I strip and wash, thinking I will at least start the day clean. The clothes are several sizes too big. My cuts and bruises sting, but I’m still alive. I will heal, given time. Moreover my hands are free. The shackles are gone. I take this as a hopeful sign.

Hours pass as the illusion of the day plays out on the screen. I have water and bread left over from the night before. Jarmil does not return to carry out his threat.

I rest. Sometimes I sleep and eat and drink, trying to build up my strength. There is something peaceful about watching the clouds on the screen - and then, as the light begins to dim, the lamps kindle again in their sconces.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Ann Watts

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