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The silver siren, p.7
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       The Silver Siren, p.7

           Chanda Hahn

  Her brows furrowed and her mouth formed a slim line. She prodded me again with her hand, and I rolled my head and glared at her, mimicking her solemn face. She stood up and I could see her mouth form words. She looked like she was yelling at me. I didn’t care. I really just wanted to close my eyes and wish away the annoying woman.

  Then I caught the motion of her black boot as it pulled back to kick me in the side. Now that I wouldn’t allow. Her boot came forward, and I lunged forward and clenched it. I hit her behind the knee, twisted her foot, and pinned it under my arm, forcing her to fall backwards and roll to her stomach. I had full control of her, a great pressure lock on her foot, and I smiled.

  “Don’t kick me,” I warned her. “Don’t you ever kick me.”

  Her eyes widened in shock, but I didn’t see awe. I saw determination. Gwen screamed against the pain and pushed herself off the ground into me, forcing her leg to bend horribly. She gained enough footing to grasp my braid. She yanked and I saw white blinding stars.

  I kicked out with my feet and wrapped them around her neck and squeezed.

  Her hand snaked up and gave me a palm strike under the jaw. I lost the upper hand as we rolled again in the dirt.

  Kicking and using every trick that I knew, I fought her.

  Voices called down to us, but I couldn’t hear them over the beating of my frantic heart. All I knew was the fight. I pummeled the woman and took my own punishment. This wasn’t about killing or injuring her; this was a fight about honor, and somehow we both understood that. It lasted another five minutes.

  We were equally matched.

  Gwen stood up and wiped at her bleeding lip. She was covered in dirt and scratches, and her cheek was already starting to swell.

  My head was pounding and something warm slid down my cheek. And my eye was hurting. However Gwen looked, I probably looked worse.

  “Are you done wallowing?” she said, leaning down and resting her weight on her heels.

  “I’m not wallowing.”

  “I wouldn’t blame you for wallowing; you almost killed Kael. You probably should have been left down here for days not hours.”

  “Wait…what?” Kael wasn’t dead? My befuddled brain instantly cleared and recalled the words she’d been yelling at me.

  “Get up. Kael’s still alive.”

  She stared at me, shook her head, and then whistled. A few seconds later, the large rope dropped down into the pit, followed by a second one that landed next to me. Gwen reached for one and wrapped it around her arm and foot. I walked over to the second and watched.

  She smirked. “Pull!” she called. One second she was there; the next, Gwen disappeared, pulled upward.

  Taking a deep breath, I mirrored her actions with the rope. My stomach dropped as I too was hauled upward. The sun hit my face, and I had to blink to adjust to the brightness. I pulled myself over the ledge and dusted off my hands. The two SwordBrothers that had pulled me up were winding the rope.

  Alek was there, watching us come out of the pit. He reached over and gently touched Gwen’s swollen lip, and he looked at me not with disdain, but respect.

  “Where’s Kael?” I demanded.

  “In the infirmary,” he answered and turned to walk away.

  I ran forward and followed behind him. Apparently, Kael’s abrupt attitude and lack of small talk was a family trait.

  Every part of my being wanted to ask annoying questions, just to see if he was as calm as his brother. I followed Alek into a plain building that was similar in architecture to the rest of the village. Curtains closed off a wing. Alek pulled the white material to the side, and we ran into Alba just as she was leaving. She leaned over and whispered something to Alek who nodded his head in understanding.

  Alba’s piercing gaze caught mine, but I was unable to read her expression as the small woman left us alone.

  The room wasn’t fancy. It was filled with brown cots and a small table with a pitcher of water, a bowl, and a lone stool. There were no others in the wing that we were in, and for that I was grateful.

  Kael was sleeping on the cot. A white blanket covered him, and he looked so helpless and young. I was taken aback and stared at him for a few minutes just taking him in, trying to figure out what was different.

  He wasn’t in his normal black attire, but a simple white robe, which made his tan skin seem pale against his dark hair. I slowly sat down on the wooden stool, being careful to not disturb his sleep. It was odd, I finally decided, to see him so unadorned and without a single weapon. His eyelids flickered and he turned restlessly. Kael was dreaming. I watched him sleep, fascinated by the turn of events. For once, I was able to watch over him.

  His strong chin showed just the lightest bit of stubble, and I studied his profile silently, noticing a small scar. I followed the hollow of his neck down to the exposed part of his chest—the part that the shirt didn’t cover up. I’d never been able to see it before, the pale criss-crossing of scars long healed. His body was covered with them. To have so many and still be so young! Some of the scars looked to be years old.

  I turned to Alek who was still behind me watching my actions with interest. “How old are these scars?

  “Oh, that long one there is probably a few decades old. That was an accident during weapons training. The small moon shaped one is from two years ago where I knicked him during a small scuffle over a game of cards.” Alek answered matter of factly.

  “But that can’t be. Wait how old is Kael?”

  Alek let forth a loud laugh as if my question surprised and delighted him. “What? Has my brother never told you?”

  “No, I never asked because he only looked to be a few years older than me. But these scars on his body!” I reached out to touch Kael’s bare chest and my hand was enveloped by Kael’s large warm one.

  “Don’t,” Kael warned. “That tickles.” His deep blue eyes were opened and they were focused on me. His hand had caught mine and pulled it away from his scars. He turned his gaze on his brother and with a firm look warned, “And don’t you tell her.”

  By now Alek was coughing as he tried to stop his laughter abruptly. I was slightly annoyed by both of their antics, and by Kael’s sudden burst of energy, and all because of his never telling me his age.

  “What’s the big deal?” I asked.

  Alek answered, “Apparently, it’s not just women that lie about their age but SwordBrothers as well.”

  Kael still hadn’t released my hand. It was now lying wrapped in his on the cot next to him. I could feel the slight tickle of his thumb rubbing the top of my hand. It was a heady feeling, making me slightly distracted which was probably his goal.

  “Well then, fine,” I answered back tartly. “How old are you Alek? Since you are his older brother, he can’t be that much younger than you.”

  Alek plopped down on the cot next to Kael’s and leaned back on his arms. “I’ll be two hundred come next month.”

  “How is that even close?” I stopped and stared at Alek who had quit laughing and was now studying me. “Kael, he can’t be…can he? Then how old are you?” I turned and glared at Kael.

  Kael’s hand had stopped stroking mine and he pulled it out of my grip. I felt cold and alone with the realization. I studied Kael but he wouldn’t meet my gaze.

  “Kael?” I asked again.

  He stood up and took off the white shirt, and I stared again at all of the scars that laid an intricate map across his back. Part of me wished I had time for him to explain every one to me. Kael picked up a neatly folded black shirt and donned it. From under the bed he pulled boots, knives, and more weapons, because he would never be far from a knife. Kael began to prepare himself for battle, dressing the part of the SwordBrother once again. Only I knew that it was going to be a battle of words.

  I wouldn’t admit it, but I preferred him in his black attire.

  “Kael is a hundred and thirty. Our father was 420 when he passed away. It’s our gift, our longevity. It’s in our blood, and it’s why w
e make the best guards. We’ve been practicing our techniques for over a hundred years.”

  I wanted to kick Kael but settled for shoving him angrily in the side. “How dare you berate me for not being as good as you, when you’ve had a century of training on me?”

  I heard a long drawn out sigh from Kael and then heard him mutter a single word. “Women.”

  “Are you sure he’s not five? Because he sure is acting like a child right now,” I grumbled under my breath.

  Alek sat up and motioned for me to follow him out of hearing range from Kael. We stepped just outside the curtain so Kael could finish dressing without an audience.

  “Thalia, Kael told us you know the story about the King of Sinnendor and his SwordBrother body guards. How he had hundreds bonded to the king.”

  “Yes, Kael told me. There was a man named Lake that ended the reign of the King by killing him himself along with all of the SwordBrothers.”

  “Yes, but that was a very long time ago.”

  “Not for Kael and me. Lake was our father. Kael was only an infant when our father brought down the King. The rest of us fled here to live in peace. We are few, but we live a quiet, peaceful, and a longer-than-normal life.”

  “Until I came into the picture,” I spoke softly. Alek turned to look at me and I could see how pain-filled his eyes were.

  “No, Thalia. He was never at peace. Even here, in our sanctuary I knew it. Every time someone looked at him, they commented on how much he looked like our Father, Lake. I didn’t mean to fall in love with Gwen, but it just happened. We tried to stop it, but neither Gwen nor I could fight the feelings. Now add that betrayal onto all of the pressure to be the best.”

  Alek’s words were meant to make me feel at ease, but all they did was leave a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach. He didn’t know what we had been through, and I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him how much Kael had suffered on my account.

  “He’s risked his life plenty of times saving mine. But all I did was take his life.” I turned and sat down on a bench outside Kael’s room. “I still don’t know how that is possible. Shouldn’t I be dead since I killed Kael?”

  Alek shook his head. “No, although if you had succeeded you would not be alive much longer.” Alek’s hand drifted to the knife in his belt as a gentle reminder. “In the times before, if our charge—the person we were bonded to—died, the SwordBrother died. Also, a SwordBrother can be killed in battle with no harm to their charge. By all means, Kael should have died, but he didn’t. This is something else. Something different, maybe? All I know Thalia…is that he’s alive because you’re alive.”

  I could see Alek’s mind whirling with wonder and a hint of awe. I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say, but I was too angry to wait for an answer. “Spit it out, Alek.”

  “It means, Thalia,” Alek answered slowly. “Kael will live only as long as you do. He will no longer have his gift of longevity.”

  “Then undo it!” I gasped out.

  “Thalia, Kael was a broken man when he left here. Bitter, angry, hurt, and betrayed by the ones he loved. I’m not sure how, but you’ve brought him back a changed man.” Alek tilted his head and gestured to the infirmary, where an odd gravely noise could be heard coming out of Kael’s room.

  It sounded off pitch and grated on my nerves. “What is that sound?” I asked.

  Alek covered his mouth with his hand. “Do you see what I mean? He’s humming—my brother is humming.” He tried to hide his smile.

  I couldn’t help the surprised look that covered my shocked face. Kael did not have a singer’s voice. The humming was terribly off-key. I “That sounds like cat’s howling in pain. It’s disturbing,” I whispered. The noise from inside stopped.

  “Exactly!” Alek said. “He never hummed before he left.”

  Kael pushed the white curtain aside and spoke up as he stepped out onto the porch fully dressed, “I do not sound like a cat in pain. Dog, maybe. Cat no.”

  My face flushed with embarrassment and I opened my mouth to apologize, but Gwen came back and asked to speak with Kael alone. He agreed and followed her down the hallway, down the wooden steps, and into street so they could talk in private. Alek and I walked slowly behind, giving them privacy. It was hard to not let jealous anger consume my thoughts as I watched them move out of earshot.

  “It doesn’t matter. Can we reverse what was done? I don’t want to be bonded to him anymore.” I spoke my mind, since Kael could no longer overhear me. I rubbed my arms worriedly and couldn’t help but wonder when Kael would be done talking so we could leave here. I didn’t want to stay any longer than necessary. “Can you reverse it? Take it off, make it go away.” My hands felt clammy, and I started to wipe at them as if I could wipe away the bond.

  Alek shook his head. “The only way to break it is by your death. We are still a very young clan, Thalia. Most of us with the knowledge of bonding died when Lake killed the king. We are all too young to remember. It’s why the art of bonding is gone. It’s a mystery to us as it is to you. But maybe with time, if you stayed with us, we could relearn, reevaluate, and retest some theories. Maybe over time we could—”

  “No! I won’t stay here.” I glanced down the street, but Kael and Gwen were gone.

  I had to calm my nerves at the thought of being poked and prodded with needles. I stepped just outside of the building into the street with no clear direction in mind. I had no idea where Kael had run off too. He was home, near the woman he used to love. My body was tense, so I began to pace and think over everything I had just learned. I needed to escape, to get out of here and fast.

  Alek gently touched my arm. “We need you. We have no way of understanding what exactly was done without you. You are the other piece of this puzzle. Kael was reckless in his decision-making when he left our sanctuary and it came after a very emotional time for him. He was feeling trapped and betrayed—justly so.”

  “So you are justifying his actions?” I steamed.

  “No, it’s in our blood—a desire to be bonded and to protect the weak. Now we are but a shadow of what we once were. We have all at one time or another wished for the glory of the old days and being bonded. He left and his journey has brought him to you. Now he is the first to be bonded in many years.” He shrugged his shoulders and I stared at him.

  “What about me? I have no desire to be a part of this. And when I do come here what do you do? You attack me, imprison me, trick me, and throw me in a pit. Now you want me to stay?” I scoffed.

  Alek blinked. I had momentarily stunned him. He stepped forward and tried to reason with me. “We are not the enemy, Thalia. It’s been a very long time since we’ve had outsiders in our camp.”

  My anger didn’t diffuse at his words, but built up in power like a volcano about to explode. He was about to witness the full fury of the Valdyrstal Clan.

  “You’re right. You are not the enemy, but there is a far greater enemy out there.” I pointed beyond the hills, toward what I hoped was the city of Haven. “Instead of hiding away dreaming of days of old and acts of honor, how about protecting those that can’t protect themselves? The innocents.”

  People overheard me and a crowd began to gather around the infirmary. I didn’t care. I actually raised my voice even more. “The Septori are out there. They are a plague, an evil that preys on the unsuspecting. They live in the darkness and walk among us in the light of day. And we can’t find them. They are the ones that did this to Kael and me. True acts of honor don’t limit themselves to time of action and war, or to kings and queens, but become greatest when the need is the greatest.”

  Alek looked taken aback. But I didn’t let that stop me. I turned to address the crowd of people walking by.

  “I know about the creed, about how you are bound by oath to die protecting those you have sworn an oath to protect. But what about now, when you refuse to lend your sword to a crown? What about the innocents? The children, the poor, the people, whether of Calandry or Sinnendor? Thi
s country that you have lived in peacefully for generations—you don’t think they deserve help when help is due? When there is a common enemy that has struck out at one of your own, you do nothing. How can you even call yourselves SwordBrothers?”

  I stared down the crowd and watched in amazement as more than a few eyes looked away from me in apparent shame. A few shuffled their feet nervously, but the ones I studied were the men and women who showed no emotion at all. There were quite a few. These were the trained SwordBrothers. Like Kael, they hid their thoughts from me. A discussion started among the crowd about what was going on in Calandry. Alek stepped forward and answered some of their questions as best as he could relay from what he’d learned from Kael. I used this short distraction to let Alek clean up the heated mess I had caused.

  My eyes caught movement by the steps, and I looked up to see Kael and Gwen walking farther down the street, their heads almost touching as they leaned into each other. I felt a bubble of apprehension surface, and I could feel myself becoming lightheaded. I couldn’t handle either the thought of being an experiment or the idea of a lovesick reunion between Kael and Gwen. It was time to see myself out…of the sanctuary.

  I turned to leave and ran into a wall of broad chests covered in black—more SwordBrothers. “Move please,” I lashed out. Surprisingly they moved out of my way. I stopped, looking up and down crowded street, unsure which way to go.

  “Your horse is this way.” A SwordBrother waved me over and I followed him to a stable, keeping a careful distance. His hair was peppered with gray, his face tanned, and I could see faint scarring across his knuckles from years of working with weapons. He opened the door and pointed to the back.

  Sure enough Faraway was there, happily munching away on feed. He was groomed and fed. His leg was even bandaged from his scrape on the fall. Though I was reluctant to give the clan any respect, they sure knew how to take care of animals.

  You’ve been awfully quiet, I accused. Faraway had been decidedly absent from helping me lately and I had to wonder if once again, he knew more than he let on. Was this his way of helping me learn to not rely on his strength and power so much?

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