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The silver siren, p.2
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       The Silver Siren, p.2

           Chanda Hahn
 
A few hours later, a hand touched my shoulder and Darren whispered that it was time for my shift. Wide-eyed and tired, I nodded and stood up. I walked the perimeter of our camp and listened while Darren settled into his bedroll. Within minutes he was asleep.

  No one else in the camp stirred. Mona was chained to a tree that was relatively close to the fire. Hemi and Fanny were sleeping around her but out of reach. Joss and Darren snored lightly, and Kael—on the other side of camp from us—never moved. Not a single sound of sleep ever came from him.

  I scanned with my senses to see if anyone was near. A badger was digging a burrow, and an owl circled overhead searching for dinner. Other than a few small animals, I couldn’t sense anything larger within a half-mile of us.

  Maybe I was becoming lazy and relying on my gifts more than I should. But I let my mind wander, and I kept going back to thinking about Joss.

  I had feelings for Joss, and they were growing, but I was also deeply troubled by the doubt I had about our future. When Joss asked if I would be his lifemate as a pretense to finding his sister, my mind had started to consider the real possibility. After all, he had hinted to it possibly leading to more.

  We were still young, still unsure. But what would a life with Joss actually be like? Even though I really liked Joss, would that be enough to overcome my reservations?

  For one, I didn’t like Skyfell. I hated it—hated flying, hated being imprisoned in the air. Joss was to be the future clanleader of Skyfell, so he had to go back. I was the future clan leader of Valdyrstal. How could both of us uphold our birthrights and be together?

  Second, my clan hates Denai, and I wasn’t even sure that they would allow me to lead. Some of my clan already knew what happened to me, and they were willing to follow me, to protect me. Hemi was proof of that. But even if I convinced them or was able to hide what I am from them, they would never ever allow Joss, a Denai, to be my lifemate.

  Sighing in frustration, I tried to reason with myself—even to the extent of having pretend arguments with my father and the council to justify being with Joss. And each scenario in my head turned out worse than before. I knew the clan laws; I knew what the punishment would be.

  Exile.

  Could I live with that? I wasn’t sure. But it gave enough doubt to a viable future that I felt I should try and slow down our relationship.

  When my shift was over I was to wake Kael. Walking over to him, I kneeled down and touched his shoulder. A flash of movement, and I flew through the air and landed on my back painfully. The impact knocked the wind from me, and Kael loomed over me, one of his deadly blades pressed to my throat.

  I looked up at Kael in confusion. His dark eyes glittered dangerously, and I felt my breath catch in my throat.

  “You’re getting careless,” he whispered into the night.

  “Whatever are you talking about? I’m waking you for your shift,” I hissed back angrily.

  “You are letting your guard down; I could have killed you right then.”

  “But you won’t kill me. I trust you with my life.”

  Kael didn’t speak. We watched each other silently. He swallowed, and I reached up to touch his hand and move the knife away from my throat. He didn’t look too pleased.

  “Thalia, you can’t trust me. You can’t trust anyone,” his eyes burned as they stared into mine. “What happened in Skyfell proved that, and you have to be extra careful.”

  “I trust you.” I meant it.

  “You’re a fool if you do.”

  “Then I’m a fool,” I said solemnly.

  A moment of contemplative silence passed as Kael’s mood darkened.

  “Thalia, don’t get too friendly with Joss.” Kael warned, his eyes darkening again. “He’s starting to fall for you, and if you’re not careful, he’s going to ask to be bonded to you.”

  “Why not? It’s not as if anyone else is dying to choose me,” I snapped back.

  Kael leaned away from me. I felt the coldness creep in as soon as he moved. I shivered. Kael noticed and wrapped his blanket around me. “Get some sleep,” he ordered.

  “I can’t,” I murmured.

  “Why not?” He started to walk away.

  I couldn’t look at him; I could only stare across the fire in silence. In a moment of panic I asked. “Are you going to leave?”

  He stopped and glanced back over his shoulder at me. “I have to check the surrounding area.”

  “I’ve already scanned. There’s nothing out there except for a badger, an owl, and some bats.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Positive. So are you going to leave?” I hated how weak I sounded.

  Kael studied my downcast eyes and answered, “No.”

  “Will you stay close?” It sounded crazy coming from my own mouth, but I needed him near.

  “I’ll stay as close as you want,” he whispered. Then he sat near me cross-legged. “Is this good?” A small smile played at the corner of his lips.

  Nodding my head, I curled up in his bedroll and immediately felt comfortable and safe. I yawned and inhaled the smell of him from his blanket. I was definitely tired.

  “Thalia?” Kael leaned over and whispered into my ear.

  “Hmmm?” I answered.

  “Why don’t you want me to leave?”

  “Mmm. ’Cause you keep the bad things away,” I mumbled sleepily.

  “What if I am the bad thing?” His thick voice questioned. Was that a hint of fear I heard?

  “You’re not,” I answered honestly.

  I was almost asleep when I heard shuffling. My eyes flew open, and I reached out to grab Kael’s arm. He looked at me in surprise.

  “I’m just getting comfortable,” he smirked.

  “Promise you won’t leave me,” I demanded tiredly.

  Kael nodded, and I let sleep finally win. But I swore I heard him whisper under his breath. “Never.”

  Chapter 3

  The next day as we packed up camp, Fanny was apparently the only one who noticed the bedroll I was sleeping in wasn’t mine. She shot me a curious glance but then went back to tending to hers and Mona’s things.

  Kael had kept his word and stayed near me. When I woke up, he was still in the same position. He looked as if he hadn’t moved an inch during the entire night. I felt guilt overcome me and eyed him gratefully as he woke.

  “Thanks,” I said meekly.

  Nodding his head, Kael stretched out his arms and started to stand. “Any bad things come your way?”

  “No.”

  “I’m glad,” and he smiled at me. A small smile that made his eyes crinkle in the corners.

  He stood and stretched out his back and then moved to start breaking down camp and to check on Mona’s bonds. She was actually being a very easygoing prisoner. If it wasn’t for the chains she wore, we could almost feel as if she were part of the group. But we couldn’t let that fool us. Underneath her friendly façade, she was still a member of the Septori.

  I had never gotten the chance to speak with Kael about what had happened between us. But it seemed like water under the bridge since he wasn’t giving me the cold shoulder. So we had come to a common understanding somewhere in the night, and we wouldn’t speak of it.

  When we stopped for lunch Kael insisted on running me through training drills. He’d once been my arms instructor at the Citadel, and we bickered constantly. I had felt that he was being tougher on me than the other students, and so I resented him.

  Now he was no less tough on me. In fact it seemed as if he was trying to make up for lost time by beating me around the camp in circles. My anger rose, and I was determined to show him that I would not be so easily bested, but I dropped my sword on the ground.

  Kael kicked it over to me and I bent to pick it up.

  “Wait,” he snapped.

  I froze in a crouch. Without warning, Kael attacked again, and I threw my arm up to block the downward strike of his palm. Kael sheathed his knives, so now we were sparring hand to hand. Hemi and Darren
had stopped everything they were doing to watch us fight.

  Kael wasn’t giving me any openings, and I had to work hard to get a strike in. Too late, I left my side open and he feinted with a kick. Stepping and bringing up my leg and arm to block, I missed the feint, and he punched me in the solar plexus. Dropping to the ground, I grabbed my middle and fell forward face first into the dirt.

  “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” Joss yelled at him.

  “Saving her life.” Kael spoke stiffly, refusing to look at Joss.

  “It looks like you’re trying to kill her, not save her,” Joss growled back angrily, stepping in front of my prone body to challenge Kael.

  “Move aside. This is none of your business.”

  Joss kneeled next to me. I pushed him away as I struggled up from the ground. I glared at Kael, shifted my weight to my back leg, and brought my fists up to the ready position. I wasn’t going to quit.

  Kael wasn’t harder on me because he hated me. He was harder on me because he was scared for me. He knew what I went through in the prison; he’d gone through it too. He wasn’t trying to punish or demoralize me. Kael was trying to make me into the best fighter he could, because he cared about what happened to me. The least I could do was take what he had to offer and dish a little back.

  We continued fighting until Kael called a halt and told us it was time to get back on the road. My muscles ached and I had numerous bruises to show for my stubbornness—sitting in the saddle was a constant reminder of it—but I was happy. I grabbed my water bag and took a long drink out of it when I heard a horse draw near.

  Fanny rode up to me, her brows knit with worry. “Thalia, I’m not even going to pretend to understand you young ones, because I don’t. But all I have to say is that letting a young man beat you to a pulp is no way to let him know you like him.”

  I choked and spat the water all over Faraway’s neck. None too pleased, Faraway stepped sideways in shock and rode into Mona’s horse. Still coughing and wiping my mouth, I noticed Mona’s disgusted expression.

  I had to clear my throat a few times before I was able to speak without coughing. “I think you are mistaken.”

  Fanny raised one eyebrow. “Am I now? Well I guess you can’t believe the observations of an old woman like me. I mean, it’s not like I was ever a young girl who held the admirations of a few gentlemen either.”

  “No, that’s not what I mean,” I tried to apologize.

  “Thalia, you have to be careful and pick one. Otherwise you could end up hurting both of them.”

  “That’s nonsense. Nothing could hurt Kael.” I meant to go on but Fanny raised her hand to stop me.

  “Listen to yourself; you mentioned one and not the other.”

  My mouth dropped open in shock at her quick observation.

  “But I don’t feel that way about Kael, and he doesn’t feel that way about me. I love Joss.”

  The look that Fanny shot me read that my statement was plain preposterous.

  “Your head loves one but your heart loves another. That’s never a good mix, my dear. Think about it.” And Fanny dropped back to ride next to Hemi.

  And I did think about it. I thought about it for hours, and I came to the same conclusion. Deep down, I knew Fanny was right.

  Now if only I could figure out which one to follow.

  Chapter 4

  We came upon a farm when we were still three-days ride from Haven. Darren had suggested we knock on the farmhouse door and ask if we could pay to sleep in their barn for the night.

  Hemi looked at the farm skeptically. “I don’t think they would even open the door to us.”

  Darren waved his hands in the air. “Nonsense. They wouldn’t open the door to you. A strapping young man like myself who is traveling with his wife and children on the way to Haven—yes.” Darren held out his arm to Fanny who laughed and latched on to it playfully.

  “Yes, my darling husband,” Fanny batted her eyes at him. Hemi looked at the exchange and his face darkened, turning red.

  “The rest of you would do best if you stayed back out of sight. Kael, that includes you. Your whole body language reads trained killer. Hemi, you look…uh...hmm, well.” Darren paused as he took in the huge muscular frame, the wild red hair, his long beard and fur pelt Hemi wore around his shoulders. “Umm let’s just say, you look like you could scare them into saying yes, if it comes to forcing them to let us stay the night.”

  “Darren, you don’t really think we would force them?” Fanny looked up worriedly.

  “Of course not. Watch and learn.” Darren had Kael and Hemi lead Mona into the woods along with two of the horses. While Fanny rode one of our horses, Darren led Faraway, and Joss and I walked demurely behind.

  “Joss, now remember you’re my devoted son who wants to grow up and be just like his good ol’ dad.”

  Joss snorted and his shoulders shook in mirth.

  “Shhh, stop laughing. You’re blowing our cover,” Darren admonished.

  I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing as we tried to play the parts that Darren assigned to us. Fanny the worried mother, Joss the devoted son and—Darren spared one look at my skeptical face and deemed me the mute daughter.

  No way on earth would this scheme actually work. But sure enough, Darren slumped a shoulder, ruffled his hair, and took on the persona of a worn out father who was looking out for his family. He knocked and we waited.

  The elderly farmer and his plump wife were slow to open the door, but once they looked at Darren’s face and saw Fanny and her children, the door opened wider.

  “What can I do for you?” the farmer asked, his eyes crinkled in concern.

  “Well, good sir. We only wish to take shelter in your barn for the night. We are on our way to Haven, to take young Jon here to my brother’s to become his apprentice. Our horse threw a shoe and we’ve lost the light. We had hoped to make it to an inn by now, and my wife and daughter don’t wish to sleep out in the open again.”

  “Oh, the poor dears.” The farmer’s wife looked at us with understanding, leaving me to believe that she had been in a similar situation. Faraway played his part perfectly by favoring one hoof.

  “We would be willing to pay for the use of your barn, hay, and some feed. We have our own food stores so we won’t need anything else.” Darren spoke slowly and calmly.

  I shot a look over to Darren and had to bite my tongue. Of course if I were the one negotiating I would have asked for a bathing tub and maybe some food. The baked bread I smelled coming out of the kitchen made my stomach growl. But then we would have a hard time explaining why we ate enough food for a party of seven.

  When the deal was struck, Darren gave the farmer and his wife enough money to seem generous but not make them overly suspicious. He told them we wouldn’t need anything else and to not worry about us, but the extra few coins paid them for our privacy.

  We led our horses to the barn and waited till dark to motion for Kael and Hemi to bring Mona. The barn was a great distance from the house, so none of us worried that they would hear us talking. Still, few words were spoken as we settled in to sleep, everyone grateful for the abundance of hay to pad our beds. Everyone, that was, except for me.

  Sleeping on the straw brought back awful memories of being a prisoner of the Septori and how Kael had set the whole prison on fire—an underground prison beneath a stable. The similarities were too much, and every time I closed my eyes, I saw the iron butterfly and the cold metal table.

  Not to mention that the fever and burning stomach pain was back. Rolling on my side, I tried to concentrate on breathing until this latest episode passed. That is what I had started calling them. Episodes. Which usually only came during the night.

  Joss had even taken a look at me and couldn’t find anything wrong.

  “It burns. Everything’s on fire,” I whimpered. Tonight, it wasn’t letting up. It was getting worse. My body felt as if I were literally on fire. I wasn’t being as quiet as I thought, becaus
e cool hands pressed themselves to my forehead.

  “She is burning up,” a soft feminine voice whispered. I felt a cool energy pass through me as Fanny attempted to heal me, but the energy came and went. “It’s not working. I can’t identify what is attacking her, so I don’t know how to heal it. It’s not a regular infection. I don’t know what to do.”

  A few muffled words were spoken. And someone mentioned Mona’s name in question.

  “No, I’ve checked for signs. It’s not Mona,” Joss spoke.

  More muttering and someone cursed in aggravation.

  You’ll be fine. It will pass, Faraway intoned sadly.

  Do you know what’s happening? I gasped as another wave of pain overcame me.

  It’s as the Raven said. You are changing.

  AGHH. I grunted and tried to think the words to my horse. Into what?

  Silence followed.

  Let me guess. You’re not allowed to tell me? By this time, tears poured down my face.

  Is it almost over? I screamed mentally to him.

  No, it will get worse before it’s over. Faraway sounded miserable. He didn’t want to be the one to tell me.

  And for an instant, I saw it all in my mind. I wasn’t trying to scan, but I could see what was happening, and I wasn’t in any kind of condition to do anything.

  “FIRE!” I screamed loudly. Opening my eyes wide in pain, I saw the shocked faces of Fanny and Joss. “Fire!” I shouted again.

  They just looked at me confused.

  Desperate, I searched for Kael and saw him farther back, watching me with a helpless expression.

  “Save them—fire.” I mouthed to him. And I saw my warning register on his face. Kael believed me. Running outside, he saw what I had seen in my mind.

  The farmer’s house was on fire.

  Chapter 5

  A high-pitched feminine scream erupted from inside the house. Glass shattered as someone threw a chair through an upstairs window. Smoke billowed out in waves.

  Everyone rushed from the barn to try and help, leaving me alone in the stall on the floor with Mona nearby chained to a support beam. Darren was smart enough to release the horses, because the smell of smoke would drive them crazy. Hopefully they would find a place to graze out of the way and we’d find them again come morning.

 
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