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The silver siren, p.8
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       The Silver Siren, p.8

           Chanda Hahn
 

  And you’ve been awfully noisy in your thoughts. Maybe less talk and more eating would solve more of your problems.

  Food won’t solve these kind of problems, I remarked.

  You’d be surprised what it can solve.

  I found his saddle and began to prepare Faraway to leave. He wasn’t in any hurry to leave his shelter and full feed trough.

  I heard a noise behind me and spun around to see that the same SwordBrother that had led me to my horse was gathering a pack full of supplies. He walked over and handed me a leather knapsack.

  “Thank you,” I said meekly.

  “No, thank you,” he answered back. He touched his chest and gazed at me with earnest eyes. He looked to be about my father’s age, which in SwordBrother years could be…who knows, four hundred? “It’s been a while since I felt a stirring here,” he tapped his chest. “I think you leave us with many things to think about.”

  I sighed in weariness, dreading the question I needed to ask. “Am I even going to be allowed to leave? Or is your clan going to kill me as soon as my back is turned?”

  His eyes crinkled up in the corners. “I think you know that answer already. The knife that kills you has a double edge.”

  I dropped Faraway’s reigns and leaned my head against his furred neck. Of course they couldn’t kill me. How could I have forgotten already?

  “So I’ll be allowed to leave?”

  “If that is your wish, then no one will stop you.”

  “Yes, I want to leave now. Coming here was a mistake. All I’ve done is lost time when I should have been tracking the Septori.”

  It wasn’t long before I was saddled and on the road headed out of the village, leaving Kael behind. Any moment, they could come after me and detain me, try to imprison me again. They probably should. If I were them, I would lock me away in a cell and throw away the key.

  But before I made it to the edge of the village, Alba stopped me. This time she was wearing a lavender robe covered with the same silver bells. She had a small velvet bag in her hands.

  “Here. To remember me by.” She held up the bag, and I had to lean down quite far to reach it. I opened the pouch and pulled out a single round bell on a string.

  “Thanks,” I said, feeling disheartened and sad.

  “No, look closer.”

  I turned the bell over and noticed that there was a small indent in the bottom of the bell, where someone had pried open a leaf of the bell and removed the silver ball. The reason her bells didn’t make a sound was because she removed all of the clappers. I looked at her and raised an eyebrow. It was something I would have done.

  “I’m too old for tests, and my arthritic hands were making them constantly jingle and drive me batty. But I wanted to give it to you as a reminder of your choice with the tea. Like me, you find your own solutions to the problems around you. You will find the Septori; you will find the answers you seek. And sometimes, what you gain on your journey is more valuable than the prize at the end.”

  “And what about Kael?” I asked.

  “What about him?” she shrugged her shoulders offhandedly.

  I swallowed and my stomach churned with uncertain feelings. “Will he be all right?”

  “Of course, he will be all right. He’s the first to be bonded since we left Sinnendor. Granted, it didn’t work out the way any of us expected it to, but his name will never be forgotten.”

  “But he’s forced to give up his freedom.”

  “Ask yourself what he is gaining by being bonded to you.”

  “Not much. I’m trouble. I’ve been nothing but trouble for him, since he’s met me.” I looked down at the ground, breaking eye contact.

  “So what? A SwordBrother’s been forced to do his duty and protect his charge. I’m sure he was furious at first and quite demanding, but I can tell you that secretly, he’s feeling more alive than ever. Truly, he will come around. There is no greater honor for a SwordBrother than protecting their sworn one until death.”

  “Which will be short,” I snapped out, “with my luck.”

  “Which will be filled with more action, battle, and love than any of us have seen in years. So don’t be reckless and spout off about things you don’t know.”

  “I know the Septori, and they won’t stop until they either capture me or kill me,” I grumbled after a moment.

  “Well then, maybe it is a good thing that Kael must protect you. As long as you live, he is invincible. He is the best fighter there is.”

  “I thought Alek was the better fighter. That’s what Kael said.”

  Alba shook her head. “No one’s better than Kael. I’ve watched them. Kael fights with all the fury and anger he holds from losing his father so young. He’s better than Lake ever was. He doesn’t know it, but he holds himself back when he spars with his brother. He fears that he will kill him and then he will be all alone. He has quite a few feelings to work through. For example, what he’ll feel when he finds that you left without him.”

  “He’ll forget about me. He’s already reconciling with Gwen.” I said waving off her words.

  Alba snorted. “Oil and water those two. She’s much more fitted for Alek’s temperament anyway. Let the girl say her apologies to Kael and that will be it. She’s been beating herself up about it for months. But you young one—you are like oil and Kael is fire. Careful, because the two of you can destroy the world with your passion.”

  My cheeks heated and I stuttered a bit. “If-if we don’t destroy each other first,” I choked out.

  “That too,” she agreed. “But the sooner you leave, the sooner he’ll feel the bond moving and he’ll abandon Gwen to come after you.” Alba came over and ran her hands over Faraway, noticing the small but significant swirl upon his chest. The mark startled her and she studied it wide-eyed. Few noticed it for what it was.

  “I also wouldn’t count yourself short, if I were you. It seems that there is something special about you that attracts even the Guardians. She rubbed her hands over Faraway’s nose and looked deeply into his eyes. “Isn’t that right?” She gently blew into his face. He relaxed and pushed his large head into her chest. I heard him mentally sigh.

  “You know what he is?” I asked stunned.

  “Of course. The Guardians only appear in time of great need. When you are as old as me, you’ve seen enough times of trouble to recognize one. They say the Great One gives them to us to guide us and help us during our trial. Their time on our land is short and purpose-driven. One day Thalia, you will awaken and he will be gone.”

  When Alba spoke those words, Faraway started and took off up the path that led to the caves, trying to put some distance between him and the woman who had just brought the truth to light. The truth that Faraway had clearly been avoiding.

  I pulled on the reigns but he ignored me and started to trot. Feeling guilty at my sudden departure, I looked over my shoulder to where Alba was standing, but she was gone.

  We were already on our way out of the Sanctuary, and I wanted to ask Alba more questions, but it seemed like Faraway didn’t want me to know anything else.

  Why didn’t you tell me? I spoke directly to Faraway accusingly.

  Anything I would have told you would only upset you or worry you unnecessarily.

  Of course I’m upset. You are going to leave me. My heart felt burdened with the thought of not having him near me. You can’t leave me.

  Not yet, he answered. Until the time when I must fulfill my destiny, I will always be yours.

  Promise.

  Yes. Now let’s go back and find the others. I’m in the mood for a cookie.

  Chapter 12

  Faraway and I traveled quickly and all through the night. By the next day I was tired of traveling and grateful when I saw a small town come into view. Even coming at it from a different direction, I recognized it. I couldn’t remember the name of the town, but when I passed the small inn, I couldn’t help but recognize the two-story Ginger Dragon Inn. Knowing Joss and Darren, they
would have stopped here on their way to Haven. I was exhausted and would pay the extra money to stay the night and get a good night’s rest. Faraway headed around back and to the stables. Three other horses were already there.

  The same young boy from a year ago came and took Faraway into an empty stall and started to brush him down. He was taller and leaner, but I recognized the innkeeper Bran’s oldest son.

  “Lad, do you happen to know if Darren and Joss came through here?”

  Suspicious green eyes looked me over. “Maybe.”

  I reached into my coin purse, pulled out a copper, and flipped it toward him. His hand snatched it midair.

  “They came by to purchase food and speak to Mum and Pop, but they didn’t stay the night.” He walked over to the side of the stable and put two scoops of feed into a bucket and carried it back into Faraway’s stall.

  “When was this? How many nights ago?” The boy refused to answer.

  I sighed loudly. Opening my pouch again, I pulled out another copper, but he held up two fingers. I pulled out two coins which quickly disappeared into his pocket.

  “They came by five days ago. Bought enough bread to feed an army. My sister cried when they refused to stay. She likes him, ya know. She’s been in a fit ever since, thinking he doesn’t like her.” The words flew out of the boy’s mouth in one breath. His eyes kept flickering to the front of the stable nervously the whole time he talked. As if he were waiting for something or someone. He finally stopped and looked at me carefully. “Hey, I remember you. You were here last time, with them. You were awfully scrawny and dirty. I thought you were a boy, until mum said otherwise.”

  My cheeks grew warm in embarrassment.

  Want me to knock him over? Faraway asked.

  No, it’s fine. He’s right. I probably did look terrible the last time I came. I had just escaped out of the prison then. Besides, he’s just a boy.

  With no manners. He snuffed and threw his head back, startling the young stable boy who promptly fell on his rump.

  Stop! Don’t do anything. I’ll be fine. I heard Faraway nicker in laughter as I headed to the inn’s entrance. My goal was to get in, get a meal and a room, and do it without a fuss. I didn’t really want it advertised that I was traveling alone.

  As soon as I entered the inn, moppy brown-haired Bran was there to greet me once again.

  “Hello, welcome to the Ginger Dragon, are you here for the fare, or a fair sleep? We serve both.” He flashed me a toothy grin, and I couldn’t help but smile back at his odd sense of humor.

  My eyes wandered the room, and I immediately saw the beautiful Vienna serving a meal to a full table of people sitting at a corner table. Her hands flew as she talked, and I could hear her giggle all the way to the front of the room.

  “Both please,” I answered Bran softly. Trying not to draw attention to myself. “Food first, then a room.”

  Bran went over to a register book and opened it up. He pulled out a quill and began to write in the day’s date. I was about to hand over my money when I heard my name from across the room. There was no mistaking the warm tone of Joss’s voice.

  My head snapped up faster than lightening as I zeroed in on him. He was sitting in the back of the room at the table, talking to Vienna. The inn door opened with the jingle of a bell, and the floor rumbled as someone large dropped a very heavy item to the floor.

  Bran’s mouth opening in a silent oh was the only warning I had before I was scooped up from behind and wrapped in a very furry leather-bound bear hug from Hemi.

  “Ahh, I’ve found you Li’l Wolf. Now I can keep my head and my home!” Hemi’s deep voice boomed throughout the inn.

  “He-He-Hemi, put me down!” I squealed out in delight, my feet dangling in the air.

  “Not until I see that you are all right. That you have all yer fingers and toes,” he challenged back.

  I was allowed back to the ground, and Hemi placed his large hands on my shoulders, studying me, head to toe. His serious eyes missed nothing—the scrapes, bruises, and cracked lip that had mostly healed from my fight with Gwen in the pits. His hands reached for my face, but I gently knocked them away.

  “Hemi, I’m fine. What are you doing here? Where’s Mona? Where are the others?” No sooner had I won my freedom from Hemi, I was wrapped up in the warm embrace of Joss’s arms.

  “You’re safe?” he asked in disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re safe.” He leaned back and looked at me but startled.

  I had forgotten about my eye and the eerie change. Joss and Hemi had not seen it yet. I dropped my eyes to the ground.

  “Thalia, what happened?” Joss said. His voice dripped with worry. I raised my head again and met his eyes.

  “It’s been like that since I lost control of my power in the barn.”

  “It’s…it’s…I don’t know…” Joss spoke, turning my head from right to left trying to see it better in the inn’s dim lighting.

  “It’s different,” I shrugged and pulled away from him. I was a little disappointed by his reaction. It was so different from Kael’s. I turned and faced Hemi, so he could see me for the first time.

  Hemi took one good look at me and made a sign to ward off evil spirits. I punched Hemi and he eventually smiled, though it took a while. He too, lifted my chin to stare into my eye.

  “That’s my girl. Still the same…right?” Hemi asked.

  “Yeah, just with a very bad temper from being jostled around.”

  Just then, the inn door opened again, and the young boy from the stable walked in, giving me a sheepish look.

  I put my hands on my hips and gazed sternly at him.

  “So I may have forgot to mention they came back. You would have found them eventually, and now I’m three coppers richer.” I moved closer to him and he squeaked and ran up the closest set of stairs to escape my ire.

  Joss looked impatient. He took my hand and pulled me over the table he had just vacated. Hemi followed closely, not willing to lose sight of me again. Vienna sniffed at Joss’s change in mood, but she went to fetch me a bowl of soup and bread.

  Joss continued his story. “We made it to Haven and took Mona to the Queen’s Palace. We told them everything, and immediately we set back off to look for you. Darren and Fanny went west; others from the Citadel volunteered as well. But there’s more, Thalia. More have gone missing. This time right from the Citadel.”

  “How can the Septori be so bold?” I gasped.

  “They snuck in once; they will do it again.”

  Hemi shook his head. “It’s not right, children being taken. Not right! Doesn’t matter which clan they are from.”

  Over dinner, I told him the shortened version of the last few days, leaving out that I was blood-bonded with Kael. That information was too valuable for anyone—even those I trusted—toknow. Hemi was astonished that I’d actually seen the Sanctuary of the SwordBrothers.

  “Yes, I did,” I said uncomfortably, hoping they wouldn’t press me for more information.

  “Where was it?” Joss asked. He was on the edge of his seat with excitement.

  “Far away,” I mumbled.

  “South? East? West? How many days did you say you traveled on horseback to get there?”

  “Joss, I’m sorry. Kael blindfolded me. I really don’t remember and I was so exhausted I didn’t pay attention when I left either,” I lied.

  “Where is he? Where’s Kael and how could he not come with you?”

  “He was injured when I left. I’m sure he will be following soon,” I reached out, trying to distract him from his questions with my hand on his. It worked. Joss reached over and placed his on top of mine and squeezed.

  Hemi, who had been a silent observer, slammed his glass of mead down loudly on the table making me jump. He pulled out a very long knife that he used to pick at piece of dirt under his nail. His warning for Joss to back off was clear as day. I couldn’t help but wonder at the change in his mood. Was it because Fanny wasn’t around that Hemi was only now more o
bservant? Or since we were no longer pretending to be a couple, he wanted distance between us?

  I rolled my eyes and pulled my hand away from Joss’s. “Well, now that I am safe and sound we can head back to the Citadel tomorrow. Maybe we can call in the volunteers that went out looking for me and send them out looking for Tenya.”

  Joss suddenly became quiet. “They already did, but any extra help is worth it. I feel like it’s been too long—that we’re too late. I can feel it here, in my gut.”

  “Don’t give up so easily Joss. We’ll find your sister.” I tried to put as much reassurance into my voice as possible, though I was beginning to lose hope as well.

  “And if we don’t, Thalia? What if we never find her? What are you going to do?”

  The thought hadn’t occurred to me. When the search ended, would I go back to my own clan? Just the thought sent a shiver of unease down my spine. “I don’t know, Joss. I guess I would go home.”

  “You can’t go home, Thalia. You belong with me at the Citadel. You know I would just come after you again.” I could tell he meant it.

  “Joss, I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to go back to the Citadel. I tried to glance at Hemi and gauge his reaction, but since Joss had backed off, he’d put the knife away and sat back in the chair. Now his eyes were closed, and he rested his head on his chest feigning sleep. I knew better. I swore I could see his ears twitch with interest. My stomach growled and I began to dip the bread into my now cold but still delicious soup.

  “Thalia, there’s something I would like to ask you.” Joss wrapped his hands around his mug and stared at its half empty contents for a few seconds. He took a deep breath, pushed the mug away, and looked up at me with a guarded expression. “Are you in love with Kael?”

  The question startled me and the soft bread became like a stone. I couldn’t swallow it. I coughed loudly, reaching desperately for the cider to wash down the bread before it killed me.

  Joss leaned over to try and give me a reassuring pat on the back.

  During this whole horrid scene, Hemi still hadn’t moved.

 
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