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The silver siren, p.12
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       The Silver Siren, p.12

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “What can we do?”

  “How can we protect ourselves, when the Jesai family couldn’t protect their own blood?”

  “I wanna go home,” someone wailed.

  “You should leave and don’t come back,” another voice hollered.

  More and more shouting began, and I felt overwhelmed. Syrani sat silently in her chair and looked at me thoughtfully. Her calm demeanor bothered me.

  Joss ran between the tables and jumped up onto the table with me. If anyone could speak reason to them, Joss could.

  “We weren’t prepared before. You’re prepared now. It is obvious that they are now actively pursuing Denai. But you are not defenseless. Your whole body is a weapon. You were raised to be peaceful, but you know that peace is only an illusion of the mind. Last semester you began training in combat.” He turned and pointed a finger at an older student. “How many ways can you take down an armed attacker?”

  The student was taken aback at the direct question. He stood up, pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose, and thought about it. “Um, four?” he answered.

  “Wrong!” A strong, angry voice interjected. A thrill raced through my body just hearing it.

  I turned to see Kael’s tall form stride into the room. Eyes followed him as he moved forward, and he turned a furious gaze on each of them. “I taught you twenty four ways to disarm an attacker without using your power. Thirty-two if you had a weapon in your hand. You are Denai and are strong. You shouldn’t cower from these men who hide their faces behind masks and robes. You could destroy them before they ever touched you. The only thing stopping you is fear.”

  “That’s right. We will find these monsters and they will be brought to justice. Now all of you, get back to your studies,” Joss demanded.

  I could hear the groups grumbling about how we didn’t answer more of their questions. If Lorna or Pax had heard what we had just done, we would have been in serious trouble. But since they were gone…

  When the room emptied out, Kael turned on me, his voice deep with frustration. “You shouldn’t have told them.”

  Joss stepped nimbly between Kael and me. “I think she should have. If someone is targeting them, they should know about it. Thalia’s right. They have a right to defend themselves.”

  “What do you think I’ve been teaching them? How to knit? I’ve been preparing them for this. But now you’ve made them terrified.” He looked at me, his dark eyes filled with emotion. “You should have known better.”

  I pushed Kael hard in the chest in anger. “I only did what I thought was right. If there are monsters out there, then they should know about them.”

  Kael sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “There are always monsters out there. Thieves, murderers, slave traders. And you can’t protect everyone.” He stared at me and I noticed the light stubble on his chin and the dark circles under his eyes exhibiting his lack of sleep. Something was bothering him, but he hadn’t come to talk to me about it.

  “Kael, I’m sorry.”

  His shoulders stiffened and he spoke to Joss, ignoring me. “I bet that tomorrow morning, we will lose more students. And it won’t be because they were taken in the night.”

  ~~~

  Kael was right. The next morning, there were fewer students at breakfast. News had traveled fast and concerned parents arrived that morning with carriages to take their sons and daughters home. Letters arrived by messenger, pigeon, and even an eagle, demanding that the Denai students who lived farther away be escorted home.

  Kambel was at his wit’s end. Without Lorna and Pax, he had no choice but to release the students. Queen Lilyana had organized a guarded caravan to leave in three days to escort the others home. She had seemed truly disheartened, and I couldn’t help but feel responsible. Over half of the Citadel’s students were leaving with the caravan.

  I was going with them.

  Queen Lilyana was angry at the change in attitude and the loss of students. Her presence at the school was becoming routine, so she stepped in and helped handle the dismissal. Physically, she was tensed and a bit high strung.

  I approached her quietly. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

  “Haven’t you done enough helping?” she snapped. “Go with the caravan for protection and go home. Please.”

  I was heartbroken. I was going home a failure. I hadn’t found Joss’s sister. I hadn’t found the Raven, and Mona had escaped.

  On our day of departure, I found myself at the back of the caravan on Faraway with my packs. Garit had been commissioned to lead the caravan, and Kael was hired on as an extra guard. Joss chose to come with me, to see me home back to my clan. I had a feeling he wanted to talk to my father and try and get him to reconsider the agreement concerning Kael and me. Hemi was excited about returning home, but saddened that he wouldn’t get to say goodbye to Fanny. I knew how much he liked the copper-haired Fanny, but I also knew how much my family despised outsiders.

  The rear of the caravan was the dustiest and dirtiest place to ride. I was literally eating the dust kicked up by the horses. But I chose to ride rear because I could ride in silence. Behind me, four guards rode. If I slowed my pace at all, they would kick their horses and force me to speed up.

  Travelling was simple for me because I didn’t have anything that I needed brought home.

  Syrani, on the other hand, had two wagons filled with cargo. Even all the way at the back, I could hear her shrill voice yelling at the wagon driver to be careful and go around the pothole. I grimaced, feeling bad for the man. When I realized it was Donn, I was both surprised and excited he’d been assigned to come as well.

  For four days we traveled, and for four days I barely saw or spoke with Kael. We made it to the home of Pan and dropped him off with his welcoming but anxious family. It was bittersweet to watch his mother and father worry over him. We got back on the road headed west, toward young Brecken’s home.

  Later that evening, the wagons were pulled into a circle, just like every other night. Donn went to work with a few of his kitchen staff to prepare the evening meal around the central fire. Other smaller fires were started closer to each of the wagons. There were a total of ten wagons, fifteen students, not including Joss and me, six servants and twenty guards. We were quite a large group to feed on the road, but Donn and his team put out a wonderful spread.

  It was a warm meal of soup and fresh pheasant shot down by a guard earlier that morning. Donn even brought a barrel of cider and warmed it up for us on the chilly night. At first it was quiet as everyone was eating, but soon it became louder as trepidation dropped and a sense of security set in. To most of the Denai students, this felt like an adventure. Someone started to sing, and then others joined in. Soon even Donn was bellowing a song about lost love in his deep baritone.

  I didn’t join in the festivities. I couldn’t. I was too busy thinking of what I was going to tell my father. A shadow fell over my shoulder and Hemi lumbered down to sit by me, placing his large axe by his right knee. I turned and studied him, realizing I hadn’t given him much thought lately. I’d been buried in my own problems. He had come bearing two cups of cider and handed one to me. He took a long drink and licked his lips and sighed.

  “You miss home?” I asked.

  He stroked his long red beard before answering. “Yes, I will be happy to be back to my own home, but I fear that it will feel very empty.”

  “Do you love her?”

  Hemi started to gasp and sputter like he was choking. His face turned a deep red and he started to mumble.

  “So bring her home with you. Marry Fanny. Who cares that she is a Denai?”

  Hemi didn’t even argue with me about him wanting to marry her. “I don’t think she would be happy there. Even if she could pretend not to be a Denai, she would always be inventing things, creating things, people would call her names because they wouldn’t understand her. Our clan would ostracize her for being different. It happened before with your mother. I wouldn’t want to repea
t it with Fanny.” I watched the great bear of a man groan and stretch out his arms. He downed the last drops of his drink, so I handed my untouched cider to him. His smile widened and he soon polished off mine.

  “Does she love you?” The sputtering occurred again from Hemi. I took it for a possible yes. “Then leave the clan and marry her. Live in Skyfell.”

  “And betray your father? I can’t. I won’t. Don’t ever speak of it again.” He stood up and grabbed his large axe and walked away.

  I had upset him. I knew that this was going to be a very long trip, even longer because we were only going to our second drop off tomorrow.

  High-pitched laughter came from over by the nearest fire. It was Syrani, laughing at something Joss had said. I couldn’t help but feel a surge of disgust at her.

  I pulled out my bedroll, laid it out under the wagon, and tuckered down for the night. Someone came by and whispered my name. It sounded like Donn but I ignored him. I just wished to be done with everyone. I had failed, and I wanted, I wanted…I didn’t know what I wanted.

  So you don’t feel like talking?

  No, I don’t feel like talking, even to you.

  My…aren’t we moody?

  Of course, I’m moody. Queen Lilyana sent me home! She didn’t ask if I wanted to leave, but she commanded that I go home. I feel unimportant.

  Nonsense, I don’t think that was really the reason she sent you.

  I couldn’t possibly think of any other reason.

  I’m sure you could think of one, if you tried.

  Gah! I mentally screamed at Faraway. I’m done. Goodnight.

  I pulled my blanket over my head and watched Joss and Kael talking across the camp. I could see Joss shaking his head angrily and Kael, arms crossed, standing firm. Finally, Joss threw his arms up in the air and stormed away. Kael watched Joss’s retreating back and then he turned and stared at my makeshift bedding arrangement. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw his shoulders shake with laughter. I pulled the blanket even tighter over my head and completely blocked the sound of the camp.

  I lay awake for hours under the wagon. I listened to servants gently admonish their wards to get ready for sleep. The wagon above me shifted and groaned as two students moved their luggage around and made beds in the back. I could hear them giggling as they hefted what sounded like a large waxed tarp above them. I could feel the pull of power as another Denai used his gifts.

  Opening my senses, I let myself see the glows and threads of power being manipulated by the Denai. I marveled at how much I was able to do now, but couldn’t months ago. I recognized the one using his gifts. It was Tydus, the Denai who had sat next to me to record the council session last season. The session during which the Valderstal clan came to find me.

  Tydus pushed back his spectacles and frowned in concentration over a particular spot in the dirt. He waved his hands in a coaxing manner and a small seed began to sprout. He manipulated the sprout, and within seconds it grew into a large tree. Most impressive were the vines that wrapped themselves around the tree to create a large swinging bed that hung suspended from the largest branch.

  When his great accomplishment was completed, Tydus smiled and crawled into his bed with his wrap and immediately went to sleep. Someone started to hum and a bright light flashed. I turned over in my bed and watched as another young Denai, Brecken, made the dying campfire spring back to life. He took his bedroll and lay down unnaturally close to the wall of heat.

  I watched a young girl named Karni run over to the next wagon, braids bouncing against her shoulders. She got comfortable next to her older brother Marcel. The two whispered back and forth. I was able to catch bits and pieces as Marcel told her a bedtime story. By the time the story was over, the princess was saved by the powerful Denai and the young Karni was fast asleep. Marcel opened his hand and created a soft ball of glowing light and placed it near his sister, in case she became scared.

  My soul was conflicted. I was jealous of their gifts that were so natural and the way their inner light glowed brightly. Whenever I looked inside myself, all I saw were shadows. My eyes burned and a small tear slid out of the corner of my eye. Here I was feeling sorry for myself again. I wanted to be like them, a Denai from birth who always knew who she was and what she came from. A Denai who wasn’t scared to use her gifts. I would never have thought to spend the energy and create a bed out of a tree or build a wall of fire to keep me warm.

  Joss never did those things excessively because he thought it was a waste of valuable energy. I had forgotten for a second how wonderful the Denai truly were, but now I was to go home and pretend to be something I wasn’t—again. And I realized right then, I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to go home in disgrace. But if I stayed with the caravan, there would be no way to avoid it.

  Because Kael was on duty as a hired guard, I knew he wouldn’t sleep anywhere near me tonight. I doubted he would sleep at all over the next few days. My determination grew. When the time was right, I would leave my companions.

  I didn’t have a plan on where I was going to head, but I knew I didn’t want to come home with my tail tucked between my legs, and I didn’t want to lead the clan. More tears slid down my face as I mentally walked out the consequences of my decision. I was planning on never seeing my father again. I found it hard to breathe. The wagon moved slightly and I opened my teary eyes to see Hemi wrapped in a blanket leaning against the wheel to try and sleep sitting up. I caught a hiccup in my throat and rolled over away from him. I’d be abandoning Hemi to my father’s wrath as well. At that thought, my soul all but shriveled up and died.

  I was a terrible person.

  ~~~

  Another nightmare attacked my dreams and I awoke shivering and shaking. I turned over and looked at the fires.

  Something was wrong. They had all burned out and only smoldering coals remained. I tried to take stock of the camp, but the moon was hidden by shadows. Someone tiptoed past me and went over to Brecken, whose wall of fire had dissipated. The silhouette leaned forward, and a second later, Brecken was lifted into the air and slung over the taller person’s shoulder.

  The wagon creaked above as someone stepped into the bed. I could hear whispering. “Here, take the girl. I’ll grab the older one. Make sure you stuff their mouth with cloth. The others will start to wake up soon, and I would hate for these couple to start screaming.”

  I was instantly wide-awake. I slid my hand over to try and shove Hemi. He’d collapsed and was sleeping soundly on his side. I shook him, but he didn’t move. I even tried to pinch him, but he was knocked out and snoring loudly.

  Someone stepped out of the wagon, and I saw the flash of red robes.

  My body froze. The Septori. They were here. They are kidnapping the Denai students. I heard a branch break and my head snapped in the direction of Tydus. Someone was snapping and breaking the branches around Tydus’s hanging bed.

  Faraway!

  Hmm? A sleepy voice answered.

  The Septori are stealing the students!

  Instantly he was alert. “Not if I can help it”

  A loud scream from Faraway pierced the night, and the second Septori that was coming out of the wagon cussed in surprise. “What was that?”

  Faraway let out another frightening scream. The other horses he was tied up with started to get nervous from his temperament.

  “It came from one of those horses.”

  “It could wake the others.”

  “Then you better go take care of it, and silence the beast.”

  I held my breath in horror at the thought of him killing Faraway. He couldn’t.

  One of the Septori leaned forward and put the unconscious Karni on the ground. The other moved away in the darkness and approached the horses. I grabbed Karni and pulled her under the wagon, hiding her behind Hemi’s large form. I took my blanket and draped it over her.

  I slipped out from under the back of the wagon and very carefully tracked the Septori that was heading toward the ho
rses. My heart pounded heavily in my chest, and I could feel my ears start to ring from stress. A tingling sensation ripped through my hands as I pulled a knife out of my boot. A moment later, I struck. I was swift, quiet and deadly…just like Kael had taught me. The infiltrator slumped to the ground in a heap, and the horses quieted their noise. I wiped off the blood on the grass. I untied Faraway’s tether from the tree and let him free. I needed his extra set of eyes.

  I needed to find Kael.

  I needed to find Joss.

  Where were the guards? I tripped over someone in the dark, landing on something warm and soft. I stifled a scream as I recognized the familiar uniform of one of the Calandry guards. I pulled away and reached for his neck, feeling for a pulse and relieved to find a steady one. He was alive. I left the unconscious guard on the ground and stood up to run toward another robed figure who was leaving with Emry.

  I was about to reach the Septori when the ground opened up in front of him and he sunk down to his waist in quick sand. He had dropped his prize, and the young girl fell to the ground a safe distance from the deadly sand.

  “Wha—?” He yelled and tried to scramble out of the ground, sinking lower and lower. Within seconds he was gone and the earth hardened once again. There was no hint of the tomb buried below. A blonde girl ran out of the shadows and checked on the younger girl. Syrani! I was somewhat taken aback by her efforts. She hefted Emry in her arms and looked around in confusion. It was clear she didn’t know what to do then.

  “Woods!” I whispered loudly from behind her. “Run to the woods.”

  Syrani jumped and let out a little noise in fear. Once she recognized me, her eyes widened, and I thought I saw a small hint of relief. She turned and carefully headed into the dense trees, carrying the young girl.

  Thalia, they’re leaving!

  Stop them. We can’t let them leave with the students!

  It was time to stop being quiet and stealthy. I didn’t know if anyone else was awake during the midnight ambush. I had to do what Kael always said to and assume the worst.

  I ran into the middle of camp, making every single fire relight at once and blaze angrily into the night sky. I wasn’t going to hide. I wanted to see how many of my attackers there were, and I wanted to face them. I’d usually become the strongest when I was angry.

 
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