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The silver siren, p.15
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       The Silver Siren, p.15

           Chanda Hahn
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  She caught me staring at her dirt-caked hands and began to pick at the dried clay and flick it to the ground. Her cheeks reddened and she shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve discovered that Fenri’s mother has a potter’s wheel, and I’m a natural—obviously.” She said the last word in a lighthearted manner. A piece of stray hair fell down into her face and she tucked it behind her ear with her hand. Still wet clay smeared across her cheek.

  “Syrani, you seem different.” I tried not to sound callous. “I mean, at ease. I didn’t think you liked my clan. You called us barbarians.”

  Her mouth opened and her hands flew out in front of her. “Oh, I know. I’m terrible. I was terrible. I mean, I’m trying to change. I’m trying to figure myself out. Oh, how do I say this?” She wrung her hands together and began pacing back and forth. “Your clan is…yes…backwards and a little barbaric, but Thalia! No one knows who I am.”

  “They know you are a Denai, Syrani,” I cocked my head to the side and crossed my arms.

  “Of course they know that. It’s obvious by my looks, but they don’t know anything about my family, my parents, and my heritage. They don’t treat me any different than…um, you.”

  “Why would they? My clan doesn’t care about the Denai or their culture at all.”

  “Exactly! They don’t know that my father is a powerful leader, or that we’re rich. I’ve never been allowed to do anything, because I had to have a servant do it all. I’ve always been expected to do whatever my family wanted. I’ve never cooked, cleaned, sewn. All of those things you did at the Citadel, I would never even be allowed to touch, or it would get back to my father. Here, Gentri is making me learn to bake and sew. But once I burned the bread, she had me clean out a storage shed and I found the potter’s wheel. Fenri pulled it out and I’ve been at it for days. With my gift, I’m able to do some really amazing things even without the wheel. But I’d never be able to sell it or trade it or let anyone know I made it. Here, the women are already lining up and placing orders. They want something from me! They want something I’ve made.” She reached out and grabbed my hands and did a little dance in excitement.

  I was too shocked to do anything more than a few jumps of excitement with her. “Really? That’s great!”

  “I know. I think so too!” Syrani flung her arms around my neck and—after a brief moment—pulled back awkwardly. “I’ve got to get going. I just needed a breath of fresh air before I went back to work. The air up here in the mountains feels different than back home and it smells wonderful.” She waved at me and headed back to the main road.

  I suspected that the real difference was freedom. I was completely humbled by what I’d just witnessed—and a little unsettled. Was that all it took to change Syrani? A chance to be something other than what she was raised to be?

  Isn’t that what I wanted? Suddenly I was jealous of her happiness and wanted a chance to start over too.

  Reluctantly, I waited over the next hour. It had grown dark. A slight chill filled the air, but I refused to move from my position. Even my growling stomach didn’t deter me from my mission. I did find a barrel and move it close to the window just under the sill. It was a perfect solution for my sore legs. It seemed the clan couldn’t reach a decision over whose side to fight with if it came to war. The families that were housing the Denai had been won over and voted to pledge allegiance to Calandry along with quite a few others. But there were still a good portion that refused to side with Queen Lilyana, while others wanted to remain neutral.

  Twice more, I heard mention of the convoy King Tieren continued sending to Valdyrstal.

  I had never seen anyone ever come into our lands, so there had to be a meeting place in the mountains. I remembered months ago when my father had watched the pass, and he rode into the mountains with Odin and Fenri. They’d refused to let me follow. Had it been for some sort of private meeting? Had my father been secretly meeting with messengers from Sinnendor?

  Lying in bed, I stared at the large beam that crossed my ceiling and I placed my hand over my heart. As I felt its strong beat, I thought of Kael. Please, stay strong Kael. I’m coming for you. I promise. Somehow, I’ll find you. I’d become grateful for our bond. Because no matter what the Septori did to him, he would survive as long as I did.

  Slow tears fell upon my pillow as they had every night since I lost him. I knew that the same tears of guilt and worry would fall every night until I found him. More questions without answers swirled through my head, and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed.

  I hoped sleep would bring me answers. Because if I didn’t hear from Kael by tomorrow, I was determined to go to find Kael myself.

  Chapter 19

  The trail was a small one, hidden along a cliff and barely discernible.

  During the winter months it would be completely blocked by snow. Even now, snow started to fall gently, covering the pines and leaving a white blanket across the higher peaks. It wasn’t cold enough to stick, but in another few months it would be impassable. My breath left a white trail in the air as Faraway and I continued up a cliff opposite of Sumner Pass. Gotte said they had been watching this pass, and I wanted to confirm with my own eyes who was coming and going.

  This wasn’t a stealth operation. I knew that Gotte or one of his men would have seen me already riding up on my horse. Faraway’s white coat was a beacon in the valley. Still, now that we were heading north, he had a better chance of blending in among the light flurries and gray rocks.

  Once we found a comfortable perch on a ledge to wait and watch, I donned a thick wool cloak and sat. The chances were slim of catching anyone using the pass. I imagined I could sit here for weeks and not see a hint of life. Well, that wasn’t true. I’d already seen movement on the other side of the pass. I’d recognized the stance and red fox fur wrap of Fenri, before he moved and hid behind a tree, taking up watch across the pass from me. But he was trying to be seen. He had noticed me across the way and had waved his arms and gestured angrily toward the village.

  I pretended I never saw him.

  A few hours later, after I had accidentally eaten most of my day’s rations out of boredom, things changed. I heard something before I saw anything—the echo of horse hooves on rock. Instantly alert, I crouched low and watched with anticipation. Six horses with riders walked single file down the pass below, still a great distance off. Five of them were dressed in metal armor ready for battle. The man in front, the one with a trimmed mustache, wore a brown wool cloak and leather gloves. Very official looking.

  Movement across the way distracted me as Fenri raced from his position and down the mountain. He pointed up at me angrily and mouthed the words, Stay there! With his hands, he pointed to me and signaled me to stay put. He slid down a path to his horse tethered at the bottom of the mountain and raced off toward the village.

  I watched in interest as the riders passed beneath me. The finely dressed noble rode ahead of the others, while the fighters scanned both sides of the pass. I ducked behind a large rock and waited until I couldn’t hear the sound of their horses’ hooves clapping against the rocky path.

  “Hoowah,” someone called just enough to echo across the pass. I peeked over the top of my boulder and saw Gotte standing there. He looked grim and had a bow and arrow nocked, ready to release. I ducked back down as he shot the arrow into the tree closest to my hiding place. It only took a moment to spot the arrow and see the slim parchment tied to the shaft.

  I pulled it down and opened up the message.

  King Tieren’s men.

  Stay hidden.

  Of course I couldn’t obey. If someone got hurt, they might need me. I could see Gotte mutter something when he saw me run for Faraway. Like the arrow that had flown toward me, we made it quickly to our destination. At the bottom of the mountain, Faraway took off, sprinting across the field. We were still miles from the village, but I could see that the convoy of Tieren’s men would never make it that far.

  My father, Odin, and Fenri were locked
in battle with the five armored soldiers. Tieren’s messenger already lay dead on the ground, an arrow through his heart, his quiver of arrows scattered on the ground. The bow just missed being trampled under the horses’ feet. Odin screamed a war cry, ducking under a sword. He used his axe to swing into his opponent’s back and knock him to the ground.

  Bearen was dueling with the largest of the men, but the man’s armor protected him from side blows and deflected the smaller swings. My father wasn’t as lucky—his leathers offered little protection. He was faster than the armored knight, but he was also older.

  Odin was the first to go down, a sword in his stomach. Fenri let Odin’s cries of pain distract him, and he missed a parry, slipping on the wet grass.

  Bearen roared as he continued battling two of the men.

  Not again! I refused to lose any more to battle if I could prevent it. I darted in for the bow and picked up a few scattered arrows. I aimed to pick off each of the warriors in succession, one after another. I knew my gifting would very well lead me to lose control, but in that moment, all I cared about was saving those so important to me. I screamed in pain and frustration as I channeled that destructive power into the arrow and aimed for one man’s beating heart. Faster than I have ever done it before, I released the arrow.

  Like a snuffed candle, he was gone.

  Each arrow exploded with my rage upon contact. I worked my way out, focusing on those closest to me. The one who had his sword raised to stab Odin again was blasted backward as my next arrow exploded into his chest.

  I curled my fingers and turned to Bearen’s attackers. One danced an intricate dance of parries and thrusts, leading my father around to expose his unprotected back to his companion. The other man saw his opening and ran forward to thrust his sword into Bearen. With an enormous magical push, I shoved my father out of the way. Unable to stop his momentum, the enemy stabbed his own comrade. Bearen used the opening to kill the other man while he was distracted. He slid his knife into the soldier’s back and held him until he fell forward to the ground dead.

  Fenri had regained his footing and run over to Bearen. Only one man remained. glancing around, he ran for his horse to make a hasty escape. I should have been exhausted, falling over faint with the use of expended energy. I should have been on the verge of blacking out.

  Instead, I felt alive. Powerful. And it scared me.

  Odin pulled himself up and surveyed his wound. It had apparently missed any major organs. He was already ripping his vest and making a bandage. Since he wasn’t worried, I wasn’t worried.

  Fenri turned to yell at me, but I was already moving away from them. I had one particular goal in mind. The messenger. The first one killed. I stared, unfeeling, at the body of the stranger. Maybe I should have felt something akin to pity but I didn’t. Instead, I focused on the leather satchel attached to his side. With a quick flick of my knife, I detached the bag and shoved it under my arm as I ran to Faraway and mounted him.

  “Thalia, don’t read those,” Bearen warned, running toward me.

  “I won’t if you tell me what they say. Why have you been hiding this from me? If this has something to do with the Septori, then I need to know.” I grabbed the bag and shook it in his face.

  Bearen reached for the satchel and tugged it gently from me. “Once a year, he sends a messenger with men demanding that you come to Sinnendor. Every year we refuse. When you were younger he didn’t know your name, just demanded that the child of Thelonia be escorted back. A few years later, he demanded the girl child. Now he asks for you by name.”

  “Why?” I gasped.

  “I don’t know. There were many things your mother refused to share with me about her past. But I discussed it with the council and we all agreed that we would not respond or give you up. Recently, the demands have come closer together—the first week of each month.” Bearen opened the satchel and pulled out the message. He turned and showed me what was written upon it in fine script.

  Bring me Thalia Valdyrstal.

  ~King Tieren

  “That’s it?” I scoffed. “That’s all it says.”

  Odin winced as he walked over to me. “It’s exactly as your father says.” He nodded across the field to a large mound of rocks—the kind we used to cover the graves of our fallen members. The one he motioned to was larger than the other, so tall and round it looked like part of an avalanche. “They’ve been coming more frequently over the last few months, and we’ve started leaving fewer and fewer survivors.”

  “Does this have to do with Sinnendor’s borders being open?” My mind began to whirl with possibilities.

  “As far as we know, the two are separate matters.”

  Odin turned to go back to his horse, and I couldn’t help but reach for him and gently touch his side. His face relaxed and he sighed as I sent a healing touch through him, closing up the wound and spending an extra few seconds working on his bruised muscles. “One could definitely get used to this.” He opened his eyes and leaned forward to give me a side hug. “Having my own personal healer would make aging much more enjoyable.”

  Bearen watched us with a solemn expression. He looked down at his forearm and the deep cut laced across it. He looked over at Odin and then back at me before he thrust it my way and turned his face away.

  I tried not to smile as I ran my hand over the sides. It was easy to coax the body into healing itself. I pushed a little bit of energy toward the wound and watched as it sealed itself up. My father tilted his head just slightly to watch what was happening out of the corner of his eye. When I was done, he held up his arm and flexed his fingers, studying the place where the wound had been with interest. “Yes, and it may be that Tieren knows something more about you than we do.”

  I smiled wanly. I was happy that I’d healed my father, but scared of the new turn of events and what it meant for my future. I couldn’t ignore that there was an unending threat that seemed to be closing in on me from every angle. It was only a matter of time before it caught up to me. I just couldn’t guess who would strike the first blow.

  King Tieren and his army or the Raven and his Septori.

  Chapter 20

  The sound of metallic swords clashing and women screaming made me fly out of my room with barely enough clothes to be considered decent. Leaving boots by the door, I grabbed one of my father’s swords and rushed into the street, unsure what I would find.

  I was unprepared for the bloodshed. People rushed by, running for cover. Others grabbed weapons, attacking the invaders.

  Horses with black-clothed riders flew between houses laying waste to anyone who opposed them. My heart raced as I tried to scan the crowd for my father, but one warrior was too hard to find among the mass of furiously battling clansmen.

  Still, something was very wrong. This wasn’t a ragtag band of thieves trying to steal and pillage from my village. They were trained soldiers in black and silver.

  HERE! I heard Faraway call to me and I ran over to him, jumping onto him bareback. We rushed into the fray and fought for our lives and for those of my clan. I killed without blinking an eye. I stabbed an attacker in the back as he was about to behead a little one. He fell off of his horse to the ground, and I leapt from Faraway to finish him off—hell bent on saving the child.

  I saw another towheaded child run between the houses. A horse nearly ran her down. I caught her, threw her onto Faraway, and beckoned the other child as well. He was smaller, probably around four. It pained me that I couldn’t remember his name, but I placed him in front of the girl and told her to hold him, giving Faraway instructions.

  Take them into the woods and guard them.

  I should stay with you.

  Children come first. I left no room for argument. Faraway bobbed his head at me and carefully trotted into the woods, keeping his gait nice and even for the children. I heard the boy yell out “horsey!” I could tell from the slant of Faraway’s ears that I had hurt his feelings, but I didn’t have time for that. Someone needed to ge
t the children out of harm’s way.

  Someone yelled my name, and I turned to see Syrani send a soldier flying through the air as she kept another soldier from entering a house. There must be someone inside. I yelled for my father and ran toward the town center. The soldiers were after something. They were entering each of the houses and pulling out the women.

  Me! They were here because me. My mind roared at the thought! Fenri fought ferociously with a sword in each hand, spinning and attacking the cavalrymen.

  Pounding hooves alerted me to an attack from behind, and I turned and raised my sword to meet the downward thrust of a blade. I deflected, and the rider turned in his saddle to glare at me. He slowed and turned back, beckoning me with his black-gloved hand.

  Fear raced through me, but anger matched its intensity. How dare they attack my home and taunt me! I adjusted the heavy sword in my hand and tilted my head in acknowledgement. I knew that on my own, I was no match for soldier on a horse, but I had a different kind of advantage if I had enough control on my power to wield it.

  The horse snorted as the rider kicked his mount spurring it on. He leaned forward in his stirrup and held his sword high.

  I rushed forward, my sword low to the ground, trying to keep a small target.

  He swung down.

  I rolled to the left, sprung back up, gripped my sword and used all my strength, plus whatever power I could still pull from within to launch the sword directly at his torso. It flew straight and true and should have been a kill shot.

  What followed was near impossible.

  He saw the sword leave my hands. His eyes widened in surprise as a young girl launched an impossibly large sword at him. He twisted his body at the last second and almost unseated himself from the saddle, but the sword passed him by.

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