The pirate captain, Garr Finlayson, had apparently been running this racket for a while. Fencing goods stolen from the well to do and the nobles in the upper bluffs of Dowry. He'd land in other cities to sell his wares; Pallidus, in particular, which was a good ways South. The loss of his men and his boat was, as he said, a minor setback for him, but with his experience helming a ship, Sig thought he might be able to give him a legitimate job with decent pay.
The now ex-pirate captain moved on with us for a time, but ended up paying a local farmer to lay low for a bit while we continued our journey back to Dowry.
The sun touched the horizon and the light was quickly fading.
"There's no point in continuing, we'll have to stay the night." Floki had slowed and allowed the group to catch up.
Tenner sat by his feet, sniffing at the air while listening to the evolving conversation.
"I can take first watch." Floki announced.
"Ooh, I can watch with him." Silah said, provoking an unmasked look of horror from Floki.
I shook my head. Silah's tirelessness was both a benefit and a curse. At this moment, it seemed to be a curse. The watches were eventually decided and we settled on the warm earth deciding to camp without a fire.
What felt like moments later, I was jostled awake by Floki. My eyes snapped open and I sat forward quickly as he shook his head at me.
"She. Doesn't. Stop. Talking." He whispered to me, drawing each word out deliberately. "I'm not sure if I should be angry or just feel sorry for you."
I rubbed my eyes, as I watched him curl up under his blanket. Just now catching on to what he was saying. I shook my head.
I'd understand both. I thought to myself.
I stood near the edge of the camp, looking over the moon and star lit plains. The terrain varied up and down, rocky at points but consistently thick with scrub. Tall standing trees were few and far between. It seemed the persistent wind would keep press on them, twisting them low to the ground.
Who knows, there may have been plentiful trees in the past. Leonid and Danja had alluded to such when their kin, the Kellas, had ruled the land East. Kellas House was named after them, but definitely not built for them.
"So, this is what it's like watching with you." Silah moved close, keeping her voice low.
I was surprised at her consideration, being normally completely unaware of the fact that others had to sleep.
"And what's that like?" I asked, running my hand along her shoulders and pulling her close.
She shrugged as she leaned into me, taking in the night sky flowing over the plains.
"Well, the first time, you offended me. Thereafter, you've put me away." She talked as she rested her head on me, "And this time? You've let me wander. This isn't very much like watching, though. This is quiet talking and staring off into space—which you're very good at, by the way."
I grimaced at her intentional backhanded compliment.
"Flek shushed me endlessly. But I had to ask why he was doing what he did." Silah said absently.
"See, that's what they call watching." I said simply, "Watching doesn't imply a lot of talking. I think we're safe enough out here, but that's usually when you should be most wary."
I continued, "Fortunately, I can see better than others, so I like to stay on my feet and keep moving to stay alert. But that means that I'm easier to see."
"We're going to walk for your watch?" She asked, looking up at me, a glint of the moon reflected in her eyes.
"We'll walk, you that way, me this way. Then come back and report everything, and I want detail." I smiled at her.
"Detail. Like what?" Her little brow furrowed.
"Anything and everything. I'm not going to tell you, just know that, for this first time around, I want to hear about everything." I said looking out of the landscape.
She humphed at the command as I moved away. She was confused at what I was looking for which was exactly what I was hoping for. There were some things you can't learn until you have some experience at trying.
I circled the camp easily, hearing little more than an animal scurrying through the bushes. I grinned as Silah had also gotten caught up in the underbrush and hissed out some words. Members of the group stirred with her commotion, but no one woke.
I moved back to the perch where we started. Silah showed up a short time later.
"So, first, what did you learn?" I asked, gazing out over the landscape toward where I assumed Dowry was.
"I don't like watching when I can't see." Silah muttered working a tangled twig roughly from her hair.
"Then, what's your report?" I asked quietly.
"There are trees over there that might eat you?" She looked off where she had gone. "Bugs are noisy? There's actually nothing out there. Not for miles."
I nodded with her words.
"But how do you know?" I asked.
She shrugged and thought to herself. I reached down and took her hand and pushed all of my senses to her and described everything I saw, the things that stood out, the things that weren't there, the sounds and how they changed as I turned my head, the smell of the ocean and the direction of the warm winds.
"Smell?" She looked bewildered.
"Yes, smell can let you know if something is close by. More for me than the others." I tapped on my nose with the pointer finger my free hand. "A gift from my ancestors."
"Do that again!" She asked, her eyes widening.
I looked at her, slowly raising my hand to tap my nose, giving her a bewildered look.
"No, not that! Smell!" Silah said fervently.
I breathed in, focused on the medley of the sweet smelling soil mixed with the brine of the sea. I could smell the others faintly in the camp beyond and scent that Sig still had the scent of pipeweed on his person. I could smell the vermin that had been shifting around in the bushes close by.
"That's what smell is?" She started drawing her breath in through her nose. "Why can't I do that?"
"I'm not sure." I whispered. "But I'll gladly share the experience."
The remainder of the watch was between moving around in the darkness and having Silah hand me things that she wished to smell. At first, I thought she would resent her form because of this omission, but she seemed to find tremendous joy with experiencing something new.
I could feel sleep tugging at me and I jostled Tagaern from his rest. He awoke with a wide-eyed start. There was more panic in him than I expected. He had said in the past that his dreams sometimes got the better of him.
I curled up on the ground while Silah sidled up next to Tagaern and began to talk to him in a low voice. He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow.
"Now we watch." He said quietly, interrupting her talking.
There was a moment of silence then Silah began to draw breath to speak again.
"We don't talk during watch. We watch during watch." I heard him say.
Tagaern's response brought a strangled noise from Silah. I could imagine the look she was giving him, but she, surprisingly, held her peace. I closed my eyes and began to drift away, smiling to myself
The warmth of the sun woke me. Danin sat close by, unwrapping some trail rations as his breakfast. I rooted through my rucksack and pulled out my waterskin and Silah approached me and folded her legs under her as she sat next to me.
"Good morning." I said to her, leaning back to take a drink.
"Yes, it is." She said casually, looking toward the rising sun.
It was a curious response, but I shrugged it off. Perhaps an artifact of staying up all night?
I yawned, looking around at the others who were starting to go about their business. Some off into the bushes, others focused on a book. Tagaern still slept.
"You wore the poor man out," I gave a subtle elbow to Silah with the comment.
"He's a hard sort. I couldn't get any information out of him." She said with a furrowed brow.
"Not to diminish your abilities, but I think he's more apt to share with a fellow soldier over a drink." I said with a smile.
Silah frowned at the comment which widened my smile.
"What about the most gentlemanly man you've ever met?" I nodded to Danin with the words.
She looked at me, maintaining her frown.
"A girl doesn't kiss and tell." She said, incredulous.
I smirked, but felt a pang of jealousy at the same moment.
"We're breaking camp in a few moments, everyone." Floki announced after returning from a short walk, he leaned over the slumbering old soldier and raised his voice, "That means you, too, old man."
Tagaern barely stirred but to grab a handful of dirt and toss it blindly toward Floki.
After breaking camp, we settled into a rhythm that brought us to Pike's Pier as early evening set in. There was a tension in the air as we descended into the city as the dirt trail turned to cobblestone. Across the way there was a considerable amount of movement high on the bluff at the top of Cutridge Road.
I saw well-to-do families handing over bags of gold to anyone with a boat while personal goods, and luggage were pushed into every cranny of cargo space. My heart sunk as I saw the panic, but also the banners from standing forces that were moving their way up the road, the princesses banner hung among them.
My heart sunk with the implications.
"What's going on?" Sig pulled aside one of the dock workers.
"The princess and her men are standing against orcs and giants! Word is, they plan to attack the city!" The man bellowed over the chaos while carrying a crate to the boat. "I'm getting out of here as soon as we're loaded."
Sig nodded at the man as he continued his rush.
"I'm heading into Butterwicks." Bromm announced, "Whatever is ahead, we're going to need to be fresh for it."
His hand was tucked into an inside pocket in his dark longcoat. No doubt, the coin from Kols was likely between his fingers as he spoke.
I nodded, feeling my throat choke with anxiousness. I wasn't going to be sleeping well tonight, regardless.
Duncan was out there. I thought, fraught with worry.
I hoped the old fool was far enough away to be left alone, but the thought didn't resonate. They'd already attacked once before. I took a deep breath at the thought. Perhaps the massing of the princesses army would keep the enemy from exposing their flank.
I put a hand on Silah to steady myself.
Tagaern had a similar expression, but seemed to steel himself against it while it rolled over me readily.
"I need something to drink." I heard him mutter.
"I'm heading to Widdowborn in a bit." Sig said, looking around the group. "I'd rather not go alone."
Tagaern and Danin readily accepted and Floki followed suit.
"Let's get settled at Butterwicks, first. I bet we could get a good deal with everyone leaving." Sig said with a sly smile.
I leaned into walking, feeling my strength ebbing as worry consumed me. Silah looked at me with some scrutiny, sorting through what she was feeling from me. Her concern mixed readily with confusion as we moved toward the Inn.
"You feel wounded." Silah echoed in my head, appearing close and looking on me with her glowing eyes. "I'm not sure I understand. Everything hurts, but there's no physical reason why anything should?"
I sighed and pressed on, feeling that the effort to explain would be far too great a task.
I listened, feeling hollow, as Sig debated with the pale man at the counter. His normally cheery countenance sunk with the emerging situation and how it was affecting his bottom line. Sig remedied that, to a degree, filling the rooms at a lower price.
Sig and the others set out to Widdowborn and I looked on Bromm who returned the same pained expression I felt. I shook my head and swallowed hard, leaning on Silah.
"This isn't going to end well, is it?" I asked him, already knowing the answer.
Bromm's hand reached back into his pocket and he pulled out the coin.
"No. It isn't." He said grimly.
(Get to know Akeron.)