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Winter Ship

by Sarah Ann Watts

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Chapter 18: Soul Thief

part 2

Footsteps outside and the door opens. Razvan gestures abruptly to Kras. ‘Get out!’

I blink. Razvan never spoke to me like that, even when I nearly killed us in the desert. Kras’ face burns, but he goes.

Razvan kicks the door shut after him. ‘Tell me what happened to you.’

‘Make me.’ It’s a foolish thing to say. He glances at the manacles. I have time to remember the knife searing my hand. ‘You burned me!’

‘No Kyran. You did that to yourself. The heat was your rage, not mine.’

‘Kras didn’t burn.’

‘Kras wasn’t angry. He was sorry for you.’

That Kras was ‘sorry for me’ is the last thing I want to hear. ‘Do you have to chain me? Let me go free.’

‘I wish I could. Open your mouth.’

‘You think I’ve grown fangs?’ I stretch my lips in a smile that hurts my face.

‘Show me the scar.’

I pull my shirt loose at the neck with my unbound hand. ‘It’s healing.’

He lays a finger on the scar and, despite myself, I flinch. ‘The wound may still open and bleed.’

‘I sailed in the sunlight for fourteen days. I didn’t burn.’

‘You should be dead.’

‘Everyone seems to think so. According to Kras, if you’d left me in that city I would be. Why bother to put out a reward for me? Or was it my death you wanted?’

He flushes at that. ‘We heard stories of the temple where they took you. Naraya made the divination. She said you were still alive. She couldn’t follow you in the Fortunate Isles, though she tried. We waited. The ship stayed in that bay for twenty-one days. The Winter Ship has never waited for anyone before. We didn’t abandon you. You chose to leave us. As for Kras, we couldn’t tell him the truth and we can’t let him go.’

‘So he is captive like me?’

Razvan sighs. ‘Kyran, you’re not a captive. How many times do I have to tell you? This voyage isn’t about you. You know what Kras is. He’d sell his heart for gold.’

This is only what I’ve been thinking myself, but it sounds ugly when Razvan says it.

‘At least Kras talks to me. I’m dead to the rest of you.’

‘He has no one else. What happened between you?’

Then when he sees I’m not going to answer. ‘I don’t know why I bother to ask. You’re so predictable. Kras is protecting you. He cares for you. He wants to make sure no one cuts your throat while you sleep. He says you should have your chance. There are those who say the risk is too great, that we should kill you now while you can still die.’

I don’t want to think what that might mean. ‘And what do you think, Razvan?’

He shrugs. ‘I think it doesn’t matter. The Winter Ship has a voyage to complete. Like it or not, you started this journey. You can’t leave. What happened in the Fortunate Isles doesn’t change anything.’

He proffers a flask, some fiery spirit. I drink and the glow at least takes the chill of fear from me.

‘Whatever happens - however far and fast you run, this ship will always be waiting for you.’

‘You should kill me now.’

‘What makes you think you’re still alive? Look at the water, Kyran. The Winter Ship doesn’t sail the oceans of the world. We don’t age, not while the voyage endures. You tried to sacrifice yourself, and the sea spat you back.

The Goddess has no use for you. You have to shed the curse that binds us all or there will be no death and no new life. Listen to me. You should forget Kras and let him go. He serves a very different goddess. You couldn’t afford to pay the fee she’d ask. Not if everything you touched changed to gold.’

* * *

Razvan goes out, leaving me to think. I can’t help remembering how Kras saved my life and how it was between us. I’d swear there was a look in his eyes money can’t buy, and surely he can’t be blamed if he was raised to the only trade he knew? Special pleading, and I know it. I want to believe in him.

I imagine he was born in poverty. His manners were like a veneer over broken glass. With looks like his... who could blame his parents for selling him for the chance of a better life?

I close my eyes. Even now when he is not beside me, I see his image in my mind. A spare body, none too well-fed when he was young. Eyes and hair flecked with gold, dark lashes, the brand on his shoulder that marked his caste in the pleasure city and those delicate hands with their long fingers and delicately tinted nails.

But strip away the veneer and there is something harsher, stronger. Vicious or merely bruised? I hug my arms around myself, remembering. How like me to be beguiled, but he is beautiful. The gods themselves would be tempted. I sigh, thinking of the curve of his lips and the way his face seemed to glow when he smiled at me.

As for Razvan, there I am confused. His anger seems sparked by jealousy and fear, fear of love itself? Maybe he is wrong. Maybe Kras is bound to a gentler god. I shiver. There is nothing gentle about the arrows of the god of love.

As for me, according to Razvan, I have done nothing to expiate the curse. I will never be free of it.

You’d think that if the gods wanted my life, they would take it. Until the voyage is over, there will be no death and no life: cryptic words. I muse a little but can make nothing of this. If my blood is tainted, will I even know if I change?

* * *

As the day ends, it grows darker. I didn’t hear Razvan turn the key in the lock and I’m tired of skulking below decks. I also wonder how Kras is faring. It seems he has fewer friends than I do. Besides, I’ve had enough of my own company.

The manacles weight my wrists, but I can still use my hands. Easy enough to open the door and, even with my hands linked together, I can manage the companionway. I meet no one below decks but the lamps burn.

When I reach the top of the companionway, the hatch is closed. I push it open thinking the sound of it falling will bring someone, but when I come up on deck, there is a curious hush. The ship runs before a light breeze, and the helmsman is at his post. Then I see the gathering at the bow and Kras, his back to the rail, ringed by the crew as I was, the night I came aboard.

I push my way through the crowd and find some kind of trial going on. Kras is held in the grip of two sailors, so far unharmed. Daan, Naraya, Razvan and Lorcan seem to be judging him.

I see the captain in the background, but he plays no part in this, and the crew wait for his command.

‘What’s going on?’

My voice seems loud. I wonder if they will listen, but the four of them turn to face me.

‘We can’t take Kras with us. He must return to his city. We’re giving him your boat.’ It is Lorcan who speaks and he doesn’t meet my eyes.

‘He can’t go back! He risked everything to save me. He is a passenger on the Winter Ship just as I am. What has he done that you would condemn him to death?’

‘He won’t die.’ Daan is laconic. ‘His kind lives for aeons. Throw him over the side, and he could walk home. It would take him a while, and the world might be better without him.’

Kras’s eyes blaze and he twists and snatches a knife from his captors, slashing his arm. Instantly the blood wells up. ‘I bleed like anyone else. I can starve but not die. Would you condemn me for saving him?’

I go to him. He has dropped his knife and now clutches the gash closed, trying to staunch the bleeding. There is so much blood. It drips to the deck and spreads like wine, and the others scramble to avoid it.

The captain comes running and frantically the crew try to clean it from the decks while Kras stands there laughing then slowly sinks to the deck, his face grey.

I kneel in his blood. ‘What happened?’

‘Just as I can’t die, I don’t stop bleeding. Not for a while. They think my blood pollutes the ship. None of them will touch me. I’m sorry, Kyran.’

I fumble and tear cloth to staunch the bleeding. I call for wine in my father’s war voice, and the cabin boy scuttles to obey my command. When he brings it, I give Kras a little and colour comes back into his face.

Meanwhile I call for a bucket and mop and cleanse the deck, casting all overboard when I am done.

It may be my imagination but it seems like a dark stain spreads on the water. When I turn back to my former companions, I am black with Kras’ blood and they recoil from me. My face is spattered; there is matted blood in my hair even.

I see their eyes go to my boat, ready for launching. There is an axe kept to cut sails from the shrouds and cut spars and masts away when the ship runs into a gale. I seize it and, before they can move to stop me, I stave in the side of the boat.

‘We sail together! Kras is with us now. Get rid of these manacles and set us both free.’

To my amazement the captain signals, and we are released.

Lorcan, Daan and Naraya turn their backs on us and leave us alone in the bows.

Razvan watches for a moment. ‘It seems you have recovered some of your strength, Kyran.’

I can’t tell what is in his tone: admiration, fury or despair. To my surprise he echoes my words. ‘We sail together now.’

* * *

Even so, no one comes too close to us. Kras sleeps and they bring blankets for him and water for me. There is blood under my nails and specks on my skin even after I have washed. They send the cabin boy with clean clothes for me and I change. Razvan burns mine in a brazier on deck.

I don’t ask and he doesn’t tell me, but I imagine the Guardians don’t want to risk further pollution of the sea and what vengeance that might bring. The smoke catches in our throats. Kras is ashen and he seems to drift in and out of consciousness, and he is cold.

I call to Naraya, asking her to bring medicine, and she sends the cabin boy with a chest. There is little enough within it: clean strips of linen and the remnants of the salve she used on me. I call for water again and clean the gash on Kras’s arm and then I heat a needle in a flame and sew up the cut on his arm. His eyelids flicker, and I know I hurt him, though he makes no sound.

In the end, I wrap him in my cloak and take the first watch of the night. The ship’s cook sends food; rice and meat on a tray but Kras is too weak to eat. I ask for broth and try to feed it to him in spoonfuls, but he does not take it. I am afraid to sleep.

So I watch through the night and try to trace a course through the stars to let me know where we are. The Guardians keep to their cabins below, save for the lone figure of Daan who haunts the stern. Every time I lift my weary eyelids to scan the decks, he is there, waiting.

Kras’s breathing is laboured. There is nothing I can do to ease it. I place my palm over his heart, which still beats strongly, and try to push some of my strength into him. After that I feel weak, but a little colour steals into his face and his breathing is stronger. I can see the shallow depressions as his chest rises and falls.

Finally, sometime in the small hours, after the changing of the watch, I drift into sleep. My last image as I close my eyes is of Daan, cloak hooding his face, prowling the deck.

It strikes me that the Winter Ship has become a prison, not only for Kras and me, and that for good or ill we are bound together until the end of the voyage.

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Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Ann Watts

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