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The silver siren, p.14
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       The Silver Siren, p.14

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  I hadn’t known that my other eye had changed. Inwardly I groaned, but I was able to be nice. “Thanks, I guess.”

  “Do you know why they do that?” she asked causally. Her hands deftly wound the braid into a bun on top of her hair, and with only a few hairpins she was able to keep it secure. The style, though simple, made her look less like a spoiled girl and more like a meek young woman.

  “No, it started happening when I lost control of my power.”

  “What’s the chance of it happening to me? I think I would look nice with silver eyes. It takes some getting used to, but they are quite fetching.” She turned to look at me, her head cocked sideways as she studied me.

  “Pretty slim,” I sighed.

  “Oh well. I would hate to be too beautiful.”

  I snorted in reply. Syrani didn’t notice. Loud voices greeted us as we headed back to the group.

  “What’s going on?” I yelled over the din.

  One of the soldiers had a male kitchen servant on his knees, a sword pointed at his neck. “Narn. He’s burned the mark off.”

  “I did no such thing. I burned my arm this morning when I was moving the hot coals from one fire to make another…away from them,” Narn wouldn’t look in the direction of the few dead bodies of the Septori or of our own, laid out very close to the central cooking fire.

  “Yeah right. You dropped the coal on your upper arm?” the soldier said sarcastically. The soldier pulled up Narn’s sleeve to reveal a large red circle burn. It was still swollen, an angry red blister had appeared, and the edges had burned black. The smell was rank and the sight of the yellow pus made me sick, but I tried to look closely for any sign of a previous mark. It was just too hard to tell.

  I wasn’t like Adept Lorna and I couldn’t read him.

  “Kill him,” Karni spoke softly.

  I was surprised at her young voice and the certainty with which she demanded death. Syrani looked to me with a question in her eyes. Neither of us knew what to do.

  “Please, please don’t kill me! I’m innocent, I swear,” Narn cried out and fell forward to the ground, burying his face in his hands. “I didn’t do nothing wrong. I’m not a killer. I’m not like one of the others.”

  “Tell me what you know of last night,” I demanded angrily.

  It took Narn a few tries before he was able to calm himself to answer. “Nothing out of the normal. We made dinner, like normal. Same stuff we make at the Citadel. Nothing new, soup, bread.”

  “Did you notice anything strange?” Syrani prodded.

  Narn started to cry again. “N-n-nothing. Except that Donn wanted to bring out a case of cider. He was very adamant that everyone get a cup. He said he was trying out a new recipe.”

  I thought back to last night. And how everyone had happily been indulging in the cider. Hemi had brought me a cup and ended up drinking my portion. So that was why I hadn’t drunk any. I looked to Syrani and flat out asked her, “Why didn’t you drink the cider?”

  A blush ran up her face and she refused to look at me. “I’m allergic to cinnamon. So I never ever drink any cider. I break out in an ugly rash.

  I remembered when she tripped me at the Citadel when I was carrying a pitcher of cider. The drink went everywhere, but not a single drop spilled on Syrani. I guess, if something as simple as cinnamon could mar her beauty, she would be extremely aware of it.

  “Well, I suppose that leaves us no choice.” I looked over at Narn’s pitiful form. Snot and tears ran down his nose. “Leave him with a few days of rations and no horse. He can find shelter in that time, but he can’t do us any harm if we leave him.”

  Narn began to wail loudly. “No you can’t leave me. I don’t know how to survive out here. There could be bears, wolves, or monsters out in these woods.”

  Enough. I’d just decided to spare his life and now he was whining. “I’m the monster you need to worry about,” I growled.

  He shut up and began to sniffle and cry.

  We decided to tie him up until we were ready to pull out. But where to now? We needed more men, more protection. We were vulnerable to attack. I looked to Hemi and he nodded his head at me. He knew what I was thinking.

  “We keep heading north. To the Valdyrstal lands,” I announced. “Right now, out in the open, we are under constant threat of attack. We need to get help, regroup. We are closer to Valdyrstal than Haven, so I say let’s go forward.”

  The few soldiers that were left became silent. I looked over the students, and even Syrani had a bemused expression. Hemi stepped in and began ordering them to transfer only their absolute necessities into the first three wagons. We would leave the rest.

  I only prayed that my father would understand and forgive me as I led a ragtag bunch of Denai, his sworn enemy, right into his home.

  Chapter 18

  Understand was a stretch. Not only did my father not understand our arrival, Bearen was livid.

  At first he was delighted to see his daughter and his good friend Hemi return. His face dropped into a scowl when the first wagon crested and he saw Karni on the seat next to the driver. His face turned from red to purple when more of the Denai students crested the hill behind us, escorted by soldiers.

  Fearful for my friends, Hemi and I rode out ahead to greet my father. “Father, we need help!”

  “Turn around, because you will find none here,” Bearen threatened, pointing the direction we had just come from.

  “We can’t. We were attacked; we lost most of our men and many of the students. They were taken, like I was before,” I whispered the last sentence so only he could hear it.

  “Where’s the SwordBrother?” he asked, searching for Kael. “He swore on his life that you would be taken care of.”

  “He made sure I was safe before he went after them. Father, the Adept Council and all of Calandry are in a dilemma. We don’t know where to go. People have even started disappearing from the city, the Citadel, the roads. Nowhere is truly safe anymore. The Septori always seem to be one step ahead of the Queen and adepts. This was the safest place I could think of.”

  Bearen rubbed his long black beard thoughtfully as he listened to my words. Odin had come and stood by to listen in, along with Eviir and quite a few others. The three wagons continued straight into the middle of town, and the five remaining students began to hop down and gaze in awe at the unique architecture of our longhouses. Some started to shiver. I supposed it was because we were high up in the mountains and it was cooler than most were used to.

  Women came out of the houses carrying extra coats and blankets. Their own children followed closely behind and were drawn to the beautiful Denai. Looking at those left, I realized sadly that only the youngest were spared. The Septori had taken all the older ones but Syrani. Whatever their plan was, they didn’t need the young children anymore.

  “Of course it’s the safest place. We are the best warriors, but I don’t think it would be good—” Bearen started to speak again.

  “This problem is bigger than our distrust of the Denai. The safety of these children is now our responsibility. Help us get them home safely. That’s all I ask.”

  Odin, one of the older warriors and my godfather stepped forward. “No one would blame you, Bearen, for taking in children. Even we can make an exception. And as you know, times are quickly changing. The borders are no longer closed.”

  My ears perked up and I gave Odin a questioning look. He waved at me, signaling that we would talk later. After a moment of consideration, Bearen stepped forth and began directing families to volunteer and house the Denai students. Hemi and I had expected a fuss among the clan members about the taint of the heathen Denai. We thought we would have to force them to shelter them. But without my Uncle Rayneld there, no one started trouble. Apparently his hatred had died with him.

  “Where’s Siobhan?” I asked, craning my head to see her among the crowd. I was hoping to check in on her, to see how she was holding up.

  “She’s gone,” Odin answered witho
ut any emotion. “She couldn’t handle the accusations that kept floating around about her involvement in the fire. She went to live with her aunt in the mountains. I don’t blame her. No one trusted her anymore.”

  We continued to oversee the delegating of children to host families. My clan members surprised me when quite a few stepped forward and gladly offered up their homes, food, and shelter in the main barns for even the soldiers that were left. The few remaining servants immediately went to work at the cookhouse, helping with the main meal for the village.

  Bearen stood looking around, his eyes furrowed over his hawk-like nose in apparent disappointment. “I really thought it would be more of an issue.”

  I watched as young Karni attached herself to Eviir and grasped his hand, refusing to let him go. Eviir’s wife was laughing and talking animatedly to the younger girl. I had forgotten that Eviir and Lina couldn’t have children.

  Hosting a young Denai child might lead them into a few surprises, Faraway chimed in, chuckling.

  “I’m surprised there wasn’t more of a discussion either,” I agreed. But I remained hopeful.

  “Maybe it was I who had problems accepting change. The clan is much more willing,” Bearen remarked.

  “But these are children,” Odin spoke up. “The older one, that girl. I noticed that no one has come forward to offer her a place to stay.” He gestured toward Syrani.

  Syrani stood off to the side, for once looking completely out of her element. Maybe it was because the men in my clan were giants. Or it could have been because Fenri was close by. She probably recognized him by the fox fur he wore, and realized he was the one who knocked her in the mud that fateful day at the Citadel when my father had come to retrieve me.

  Maybe you should offer your home, before Fenri sees her and knocks her in the mud again, Faraway said.

  I guess you’re right.

  Course I’m right. I’m always right, he said.

  And you’re always hungry. So it usually comes down to whether you’re thinking with your head or your stomach. You’re just not saying we should shelter Syrani, so I can get you back to the barn for feed are you?

  No…Maybe...Now I’m hungry.

  Figures.

  I was about to approach Syrani, but Fenri saw her first.

  Syrani’s eyes went wide and her face paled when Fenri came forth out of the crowd to stand in front of her. She took two steps back in fright, and her hand flew up in an attempt to keep him at a distance. He spoke softly, and I watched as her hand dropped, her face flushing pink. She looked around desperately, as if waiting for another offer from someone else—anyone else. When none came forward, I expected her to balk and lash out at Fenri with her viperous tongue. Instead, her shoulders slumped and she nodded her head, following him with her small bag of belongings.

  She would be in for a bit of surprise when she met Fenri’s mother, Gentri, who was just as demanding as Syrani was. Gentri would keep her in line and may even teach her a thing or two about homemaking. Of course, I was also aware that if she couldn’t curb her spoiled ways, Syrani could very well be running for the hills by the end of the night.

  When everyone was taken care of, my father sent off two messengers to Haven to tell them of the attack on the caravan and ask how they would like them to proceed. But now that our first duty was taken care of, all I could think about was Kael. What would happen if I went after him?

  He said he would come back. But the waiting was torture.

  It was strange, this new feeling of responsibility for someone else’s life. It also made my emotions swing like a pendulum from melancholy to anger. After a week among my clansmen, Kael still hadn’t returned. My mood became perpetually dark. I sat at the large table in my house poring over a map and guessing possible locations the Septori might have headed. Though I’d asked, Bearen had refused to let me leave to go looking for Kael. I was tempted to sneak off and go after him anyway, but I couldn’t leave the students. I was responsible for all of them, and I couldn’t leave until we had heard back from the Adept Council or the queen. All I could do was for answers.

  I found Skyfell on the map, placing a coin over the city from which Tenya had been taken and where we had first encountered Talbot, Xiven, and Mona. I put another coin down to mark the spot our caravan of wagons had been attacked. I put a handful of coins on the city of Haven to represent all of the students disappearing. Last, I put a coin on the riverbed where Joss said he’d found me, downstream from where Kael and I had escaped. Queen Lilyana had said that the underground hideout was on the river that bordered Sinnendor and Calandry. She suspected Sinnendor.

  Everything about this seemed to point to Sinnendor and King Tieren, but something just wasn’t feeling right.

  Something nagged at me.

  Before I killed him, I asked my uncle who the Raven was. He told me it was one of my precious Denai.

  And why was the hideout in Calandry, if Sinnendor was the enemy? Why not take us into Sinnendor? Why risk everything by hiding in their enemy’s lands?

  No, something was off.

  I wrote down every clan in Calandry and found them on the map. I put another coin on each of the clan’s lands. At first I had thought they were taking both human and Denai, but that was because I didn’t believe I was human. Now there was a thread of doubt. I believed the Raven was looking for something specific in each of the clans. It was probably blood-related, so the Septori hit the strongest clans first. When that didn’t’ work, I guessed they went after the strongest Denai.

  No matter how I looked at the map and the layout of coins, I couldn’t help but notice that Haven was the epicenter of the movement. If Sinnendor was the answer, then wouldn’t there have been more coins placed near the border? In fact, other than the one I placed on my own home, there was a noticeable lack of coins in that region.

  “Gah!” I pounded my fist on the table and then swiped all of the coins onto the floor. I wasn’t skilled in the art of war, but I knew someone who was.

  I left my house and headed down the road to the main building. It was dark and I passed an open window. I could see that the clan council had gathered with my father. Even though he was the rightful leader, each seat of the council was held by the head of one of the founding families. Bearen and Odin were leaning over the table pointing at areas and speaking in low tones. They too were studying a map. I noticed that our setups mirrored each other, but their map was more detailed. And quite a few red wooden markers stood on theirs.

  “Markis, tell me about your recent survey into Sinnendor.” Bearen leaned back and directed his attention to a man sitting by a wall.

  I stood on tiptoe and tried to lean closer to the window. This is what I had been waiting for—what Odin had alluded to.

  Markis, a short clansmen with blond locks, stood up and walked over to the table, pointing at the map. It looked like he had been on the road for a while, because both his short beard and the bobcat furs he wore were covered in dirt.

  “We know that, since Tieren became king, trade has been non-existent. Over the years, little traffic has entered Sinnendor because of fear of the Elite, guarding against Denai. But I was able to cross over quite easily. There are less patrols.

  “Why would they abandon their borders? What reasons do they have for slacking in this area?” Odin asked.

  Markis shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s a trap to draw us in? But I made it to Merchantstown and have heard from a few servants in the palace that it’s gotten worse. King Tieren’s left his borders wide open, and people are coming and going. The Elite have drawn their troops in, closer to the king, staying within the castle walls, and protecting the crown princes. They’re weaker than we’ve ever seen them. They are scattered and disorganized, and they know it.

  “But they still continue sending messengers.” Odin said exasperated. “Why continue with their demands?”

  Gotte walked over to the map and pointed out a trail along the map. “I’ve been wondering that
myself. They’ve been sending someone almost weekly now down Sumner Pass. But Bearen, how long can we keep killing the messenger without consequence? It won’t be long before Tieren tires and sends a small army.”

  Markis spoke up before Bearen could answer, “You can be sure we aren’t the only ones to have noticed Sinnendor’s lack of patrols. I’ve seen others’ scouts. We never came face to face, but I believe they are from Calandry. Do you know anything about this Bearen?”

  Bearen crossed his arms and stared at the map. After a moment, he stood up and made eye contact with every man in the room. Many became uncomfortable, shifting their eyes elsewhere. “Yes, it’s apparent from the last message from the Citadel that the queen firmly believes Sinnendor is behind the recent abductions of Calandrians, including my daughter.

  “For generations, we’ve purposefully kept our distance from Calandry and their politics. We’ve always been vassals of Sinnendor, and lately those lines have been muddied with the current events, but we mustn’t let it cloud our judgment. I’ve known it would one day come to this, and now I must ask you. If this leads to a war between Calandry and Sinnendor, we cannot sit idly by. We must choose—a side we are willing to die for. I will not be the one to start the war, but by the stars I will be the one to finish it.”

  The room erupted. Clansmen slammed their mugs on the table, yelling and pushing each other. A few even came to blows, but I wasn’t surprised. It was normal for my people to discuss matters with fists first and heads later. I was, however, surprised to see my father open up the discussion of switching allegiance to Queen Lilyana.

  “Eavesdropping?” a quiet voice drifted over my shoulder.

  I turned to see Syrani standing behind me. Her blonde hair was pulled to the side and tied with a leather strap. She wore a simple blue wool dress trimmed in rabbit fur. It was obviously not one of her more expensive dresses, but one more suited to my own clan’s style. Over the dress, she wore a large brown apron, covered in dirt and clay. Even her fingernails were covered in dirt. She didn’t look intimidating or haughty. She looked happy.

 
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