Toseru's intelligence and planning seriously irritated Lyetaën. He had been hoping the raevyn would overlook something. One tiny detail would have been all he needed to get a message to someone and orchestrate the rescue of himself and his sister. But Toseru had proved to be as cunning a raevyn as any that existed in the stories.
He had been sent north, to the small trading post known as Twinj. The streets were busy and overcrowded as he had known they would be, but Lyetaën dared not speak to anyone. He clenched his hands into fists at his side as he tried not to think about the heavy pendant necklace that hung around his neck. Toseru was watching him through that pendant. It was a complicated spell, but somehow Toseru had pulled it off in only a night.
Lyetaën had been hoping that he at least would not be able to pull off anything so complicated in such a short amount of time, but Toseru had proved resourceful. With the heavy sack of coin that hung on his hip he could have fled and escaped the rebels, but Toseru still held Paia, and the pendant made certain he wouldn't try to get any help while in town. The only thing he was permitted to do was what he had been told.
The pendant basically allowed Toseru to ride Lyetaën's senses, and although he could not read Lyetaën's thoughts, he would feel the changes in body temperature or heart rate that came with deceit as surely as Lyetaën would.
While his mind still searched for a way out, his eyes searched among the ships docked at the harbour. There were many bars near the water where Lyetaën knew he would find the ship captains, drinking and dicing and enjoying the few hours they at port before they would head off again. Lyetaën was no stranger to sea-faring men, and he knew how to talk to them, how to bargain. Still, he was nervous. What if they caught onto him? Would Toseru hurt Paia?
He couldn't think about that now. If he did he would surely tense up and ruin everything. The task was simple enough. All he had to do was hire a ship to take them back to Milkaas... and get hijacked by rebels along the way. He groaned to himself and pushed his nerves to the back of his mind so he could deal with them later. First, a ship.
Lyetaën selected a sailor's bar at random and pushed his way inside. The common rooms was overcrowded and the air was thick with smoke. His nose curled up at the stench. Sailor's bars always smelled of fish and salt and sweat, blanketed by thick tobacco smoke. Those sailors that did not smoke tobacco chewed it, and if anything it was even more disgusting. Grizzled old draygons in loose shirts and bare feet spit into buckets that littered the floor. Lyetaën caught a glimpse of one as he walked past, and nearly lost his lunch right there. The spittoon was full of thick black liquid with foam floating on top. Lyetaën shuddered and forced himself to look elsewhere. The sooner he could get out of this place, the better.
Lyetaën chose a fellow sitting in a corner to begin his search. He was obviously a sailor, and didn't yet look too drunk to answer a few questions. Trying not to let his nerves show through, Lyetaën approached the man's table. He was stooped around his mug on the table and didn't even look up when Lyetaën's shadow fell over him. Lyetaën stood for a moment, pondering how to get the man's attention. Eventually, he cleared his throat awkwardly. There was still no response. Growing annoyed, Lyetaën kicked the leg of his chair and nearly knocked him to the ground. That seemed to get his attention.
The man surged up to his feet, his face twisted into an angry snarl. "What is yer problem?"
Lyetaën stood his ground and tried to ignore the fishy smell on the man's breath. "Pardon me, but might you point me in the direction of your captain?"
The man swayed drunkenly and belched loudly. "I'm gonna mess up yer face, pretty boy!"
Pretty boy? Lyetaën wasn't sure what to make of that, but it seemed like this sailor was gearing up for a fight. Well. after days tied to a post Lyetaën was itching to work his muscles a little bit. He smiled at the man and made a show of cracking his knuckles. Toseru may have something to say about his methods when he got back, but until then it was up to him how exactly he went about hiring a ship.
The drunken sailor hardly waited for Lyetaën to finish intimidating him. He roared and swung in fist in a wide arch, catching Lyetaën off guard and sending him reeling back into a table. Lyetaën knocked the table over and sent the two men sitting there dashing to their feet, trying to catch their mugs before they spilled on the floor. Lyetaën didn't wait around to apologize. He put his head down and charged the drunken man, sending them both to the floor.
Around the bar, the other patrons cleared out of the way of the brawl, but remained in a closely packed circle to watch and cheer them on.
"Kill him, Gar'Ish!" Someone screamed, raising his mug high. His sentiment was met with a chorus of "Yeah! Get him!" It seemed that his opponent, Gar'Ish, was somewhat popular in this particular bar.
Gar'Ish was stronger than he looked, and even with all of Lyetaën's weight on him, him managed to push himself back up to his feet, gripping Lyetaën's shirt collar in his short claws. Well, Lyetaën wasn't about to let this foul-smelling fishmonger push him around. He grabbed Gar'Ish by his arms and swung him around, tossing him headfirst into the crowd.
Lyetaën stepped back and allowed the crowd to catch Gar'Ish and push him back into the fight. Gar'Ish's face was dark with fury as he wiped a streak of blood away from his mouth. His eyes were practically flashing red. Gar'Ish pointed himself in Lyetaën's direction, and Lyetaën braced himself for a charge.
Gar'Ish came barrelling across the room faster than Lyetaën had expected. He barely had time to grab the man as he came close. Somehow he managed it, and he swung the man again, this time following his momentum and pushing him up against the wall. Lyetaën grabbed his by his shirt and lifted him off the ground with one hand, and pulled the other back to slam it into Gar'Ish's ugly face. He was going to enjoy this-
"Oy! What's going on here?" The bar suddenly went silent and the crowd parted to allow a grizzled old draygon through. He walked with a limp and seemed to be missing an eye, but his aura was one that commanded respect. Well, either that or the width of his shoulders. The man was as large as a horse. He cast his one eyed gaze at Lyetaën and scowled, "You, boy, what's your business?"
Boy? What was with these sailors and the things they called him? Lyetaën decided to ignore it for now. "I was only asking this man to direct me to his captain."
"What do you need his captain for?"
"I mean to hire a ship."
The old man snorted and spit a wad of black spit and tobacco onto the floor. He hadn't even tried to hit the bucket. Lyetaën resisted the urge to shudder. "You're in luck, then. I'm that fool's captain."
Lyetaën smiled, "Well, why don't we have a drink and talk, then?" He put Gar'Ish back on his feet. He was half worried that he would try to attack him again, but it seemed the old man's presence was keeping him in line.
"Name's Jyris, Captain Jyris to you." The man growled as he showed Lyetaën to a seat.
"Lyetaën. Tell me captain, how soon can you be ready to leave?"
Ri'Tai sat quietly in on mossy rock, watching as Rayk, Luran, and Toseru went over their plans one last time. They'd gone over it so many times that even Paia had it memorized. Everyone knew exactly what they had to do, but Rayk had shown a tendency for perfectionism that she'd never seen before. He obsessed about every little detail, and was constantly calling over Toseru or Luran to go over something he thought they may have overlooked. At first she'd found it endearing, but now it was starting to get on people's nerves. Ri'Tai eventually decided that she would have mercy on the others and draw Rayk's attention away so everyone could get on with the plan.
"Rayk," She called to him as she straightened up from her rock. It was difficult for most of the others to stand up straight, but Ri'Tai was short enough to manage it. Nearly invisible paths had been hacked through the nadri copse where they were hiding. The nadri trees were so dense and thick that the path seemed more like a tunnel, carved through the trees and with dark leaves and thick, twisted limbs for walls. The rebels had hacked an entire network of tunnels through the trees, and had managed to hide the entire group inside. The nadri even pressed in so close to the river that the branches folded over the top of the water, almost completely hiding it from sight. Several rowboats were tied to the trees, rocking gently, waiting for the signal that would tell them the draygons were coming.
Rayk glanced back at her and quickly finished what he was saying before standing up to meet her. Well, almost standing. He was one of those that had to crouch, or else get his head tangled in the gnarled nadri branches. Behind him, Toseru had a tight-lipped smile on his face. Even the raevyn was getting irritated.
"What is it, Ri'Tai? Is there a problem?"
Ri'Tai smiled and shook her head. "No, I only want to ask... what are we going to do once we get the boat? Will we sail directly back to Milkaas?"
This seemed to make Rayk smile, "Actually, I was talking to Toseru about that earlier. He doesn't want to send any humans there, in case someone sees us with the crest. Luran and the fellins will go back to Milkaas."
Ri'Tai wrinkled her nose in confusion, "Then where will we go?"
Rayk grinned and opened his mouth to answer, but another voice cut him off. "Why, to Yisosayi Island, of course. To wait for our feline friends to complete their mission and then meet us there."
Rayk shot a glare at the raevyn, but Ri'Tai was too stunned to notice. Yisosayi was her home island. It was too much to hope for. To finally go home, back to her island, to her village! She squealed with delight and threw herself into Rayk's arms. "Home! Are we really going home Rayk?"
"Yes, we're really going home. I wanted to be the one to tell you but... well, are you happy?"
Ri'Tai answered by planting her lips firmly on his. She was dimly aware of Toseru standing behind them, watching. It made her a little uncomfortable, so she pulled away quickly. "Was there something else, Toseru?"
Toseru tilted his head in an eerily birdlike manner. "I was only wondering, Ri'Tai, that collar you wear..."
Ri'Tai jerked away from Rayk, her hand flying involuntarily to the collar around her neck. That humiliating item that kept her tied to her draygon masters more surely than even a chain could. The magic in it made it impossible for her to take it off, and Lyetaën could find her anywhere she went. She looked away, embarrassed. She didn't want to see the curiosity in Rayk's eyes. How could she explain to him what it was?
"It is a draygon artifact, is it not? Perhaps put on you by your masters?"
Ri'Tai cringed to think that she had masters at all, but she nodded.
"I see. I apologize for not enquiring sooner. Might you need assistance in getting it off?"
Ri'tai's head snapped up. "You can do that?"
"Then please! This thing... I haven't thought about it much since I found you, but I can't stand it!"
Toseru nodded and stepped forward. "Turn around then, child, I will help you with it."
Ri'Tai's caught Rayk's eye as she turned to allow Toseru to inspect the clasp on the back of the collar. He looked angry, so she tried to give him a reassuring smile, but it faltered when Toseru's scaly hands fell on her neck and pushed her long hair out of the way.
"Hold still," Toseru said to her. She could feel his hot breath on her neck. It gave her goosebumps, but as long as he was releasing her from that collar, she could put up with it. Toseru pulled and prodded at the collar for several minutes, with Ri'Tai attempting to stay as still as possible and Rayk scowling like a petulant child. At last, Ri'Tai felt something go over her, like a cold breeze that chilled right to the bones and the clasp fell open. Carefully, Toseru removed it from her neck and held it up to show her.
"Thank you," she said. "You can't know how much I hated that thing."
"I can only imagine," Toseru agreed with a bow. "I will dispose of this for you."
"Thank you," She said again. She felt her neck where the collar used to be, feeling strangely naked. It must have been because she was wearing it for so long. But with that feeling came the feeling of freedom that she had never felt before. Even after finding Rayk she still felt like she was being held back, like Lyetaën still had a hold on her. Now there was nothing left to tie her to the draygons. She was completely free! Ri'Tai couldn't stop herself from grinning, and it seemed her good mood was rubbing off on Rayk as well. His face lightened up and his frown cracked. The corners of his mouth turned up until he was smiling back at her.
Before she could say anything, a series of loud bird calls echoed though the forest. Ri'Tai recognized the call. Someone had spotted the boat on water, coming down the coast towards them. It was time to put the plan into action.
She looked at Rayk and nodded at him. There would be time for celebrating later. For now, they had work to do. She joined the scrambling rebels in finding her place. She climbed on board a small dinghy manned by a single oarsman. She recognized a few of the others on board, all human rebels, though she hadn't had much chance to talk with them. Still, she nodded to them as she took her place in the boat. After a moment she saw Vives emerge from the copse and climb into another boat. She tried to catch her friend's eye, but Vives was already too focused on her tasks. Ri'Tai figured that was a good attitude, so she fixed her eyes down the river and waited for the second signal. A different bird call would let them know to head out to meet the ship. Ri'Tai waited, as tense as a coiled spring, her ears straining to catch the sound.
She needn't have bother with straining herself, though. When she finally heard the signal, it was so loud it could have come from the man sitting next to her. The man at the stern of her boat waved his arm and the oarsmen started rowing. It was time.
Captain Jyris had a strong hold on his crew. By midday there were already loading up their ship, the Sea Queen, with needed supplies, and Jyris promised him they could be underway by that evening. It had to be good enough for Toseru. It had to be. Paia would be safe.
He stood on the deck of the ship, watching the coastline while the crew hustled around behind him. Even Gar'Ish seemed too busy to bother with him. Normally he found the salt air refreshing, but today it made him feel sick. What he was doing was an absolute betrayal of his people. If anyone found out how he was involved, he would certainly be labelled a traitor. His fingers dug into the soft wood of the rail. Damn that bird!
Lyetaën's eyes scanned the shoreline, wondering how much farther down the rebels were waiting for them. The coastline outside Twinj was a dangerous area. Twinj hosted some of the highest tides in the world, and the fastest, limiting when boats could leave port. Every sailor had a story of a time when he had been stranded among the rocks at Twinj, waiting for the next high tide. Even during high tide, sharp, craggy rocks jutted out of the waves, with white spray crashing upwards high enough to reach the lookout, hanging off the mast high above. Along the coast were dozens of inlets, rivers and deltas with high reeds and low, dense copses of trees known as nadri trees. A copse of nadri was actually one tree that spread its roots over miles, with shoots that appeared to be squat, thick trees with dark green leaves shaped like spearheads. A nadri copse was almost completely impassable, but made excellent hiding places for pirates.
It was in one of those copses that the rebels waited. Lyetaën couldn't quite recall which one, they all looked the same from the boat, but every time they came up on one his breath caught in his throat. For twenty minutes they sailed without incident. The lookouts kept a careful eye on the nadri thickets, of course, but there was no sign of movement. Lyetaën began to feel anxious. Had something gone wrong? Had the rebels abandoned him and taken Paia somewhere far off? The waiting was killing him!
Finally, a noisy bird call broke the silence. Lyetaën jumped as if someone had blown a horn right in his ear, but the sailors took no notice of it. It was the call of a bird common to the area, the striped-billed stork, but it made three calls in a distinct pattern that Lyetaën recognized as the first signal. The rebels would be getting into their boats and into position, ready to emerge and swarm the draygon boat.
Sure enough, he saw the familiar dark green smudge ahead that was a nadri copse. He started to casually walk towards the helmsman, holding the huge wheel that controlled the tiller and listening to instructions from captain Jyris. He did his best not to look suspicious, but wasn't sure how well he pulled it off. He kept his eyes on the water so as not to seem too interested in the men.
He had finally made his way behind the two draygons, to a spot where they could not see him approach, when he heard the bird again. This call was not a native species. He'd heard Rayk suggest the call of something called a yellow warbler, apparently an island bird. It's call was distinct, and when they heard it the captain and his helmsman paused in the conversation. Lyetaën quickly rushed forward and knocked their heads together hard enough to send them both to the ground. "My apologies, captain." Lyetaën mumbled.
His attack on the captain had not gone unnoticed by the crew. Men were pulling their swords from their belts, or belt knives where no sword was available. A sailor's blade was a vicious thing, with a hooked tip and a thick blade that curved upwards and was thicker near the tip than the base. Lyetaën definitely didn't want to face those swords along.
"Kill him!" Someone screamed. The other men of the crew bellowed their assent, and rushed towards him, swords waving. Lyetaën ripped the sword out of the captain's belt and prepared to defend himself.
Luckily for him, the rebels were right on time with their attack. The sailors were so distracted with him that they didn't notice the quick, silent little boats swarming their vessel. The rebels tossed their ropes up and began to climb aboard.
The two draygons closest to Lyetaën engaged him, but the others turned back when grappling hooks began to clatter against the deck and pull tight to the rails. If they were surprised to see humans and fellins together climbing aboard their ship, it didn't stop them for long. It was a short but bloody battle.
Lyetaën faced his two opponents. He met the first swing with his own and stopped the blade cold, but the other man swung at his ribs and he was forced to disengage and jump away. The two sailors spread out to flank him on either side. They were experienced fighters, used to defending their vessel against pirates and matching swords on the swaying deck of a ship. They would not go down easily.
The taller draygon lunged forward, stabbing towards Lyetaën's middle. When he tried to avoid it, the other slashed at him and caught his wing. Lyetaën jerked with pain and swung around. The shorter man attacked again, but this time Lyetaën surged forward as well, meeting blade to blade. He knocked the other sword aside and spun around the short man, trying to get his back to the rail so at least he wouldn't be flanked anymore. The tall man made a low swing as he moved and managed to cut Lyetaën's leg near the knee, though not deeply. Lyetaën stumbled his last steps and fell against the rail. He could feel the blood running down his leg. The wound stung painfully and seemed to tear open at the smallest movement. It would bring him down, and soon. He had to finish this fight quickly.
Lyetaën slid along the rail towards a corner, keeping his sword ready to deflect attacks. His opponents did not waste any time or energy bandying words. They worked well together, when one moved in the other lunged for the places Lyetaën left open. When Lyetaën tried to keep on the defensive, they pressed him until he had no choice but to attack in the hope of pushing them back, and then they were on his open spot again. It already felt like he'd been at it for hours, though probably only a few minutes had passed.
Lyetaën took another cut, this time to his wrist. He was forced to use his off hand. His main hand would no longer grip the sword. None of the rebels were coming to help him. Of course, they would not. His usefulness was at an end. He had led the ship into their ambush, and now they wouldn't care if he lived or died. If even he survived this battle, they would likely kill him after.
Paia would be all alone, then. The thought made him furious. Roaring with rage, he put in one last ditch effort to defeat the two men facing him. They seemed surprised by his renewed vigor. No doubt they thought they had already won. Lyetaën was not ready to give up and die just yet. He caught the short one by surprise, and his furious swing knocked his sword out of his hand and kept on going. He made a long gash across the short one's chest. As he reeled back, Lyetaën turned his attention on the taller man. Without even a pause for breath, Lyetaën was hacking at the tall man with all his strength. He was limping terribly and his swings were wild and poorly controlled, but he pressed on. The tall man was caught off balance and pressed back until he was stopped against the opposite rail. With one final surge, Lyetaën swung low and when the man tried to dodge, Lyetaën put his shoulder into him and tossed him over the rail. The tall man tried to flap his wings uselessly, but the drop was too short to get any air, and he met the rough sea with a splash. Immediately he was feathered by a half dozen rebel arrows. The short man was slumped on the deck behind him, bleeding out.
The battle for the ship was almost over. Most of the crew was dead, or tossed overboard. Those that tried to fly made easy targets for the rebel archers, who had remained behind on the boats for that very purpose. The crew was overwhelmed by sheer numbers and already things were quieting down. The captain and the helmsman were beginning to stir, but a rebel human came by and tied them tightly with chains.
Across the deck, Lyetaën saw Ri'Tai standing in a tight circle with Rayk and Vives. He didn't see Paia anywhere. Behind him, the captain and helmsman were being dragged to the small group at the centre of the boat, as well as a few others of the crew who seemed to have survived the fight. He started down to demand to know where she was when he was stopped by the one-eyed fellin, Luran. "No more walking free for you," Luran hissed. He held a long knife in his hand. Lyetaën could barely stand up straight. If it came to a fight now Lyetaën didn't think he would win.
"Bring him over here," Rayk called to Luran suddenly. Lyetaën was certain only a second longer and Luran would have cut his throat right there. Growling in annoyance, Luran did as he was told and roughly shoved Lyetaën towards Rayk. He was lined up with the other draygons, awaiting judgement, or so it seemed to him.
Ri'Tai spoke then, but Lyetaën still couldn't understand her when she spoke the human language. Rayk answered her shortly, and Ri'Tai was quickly protesting. Lyetaën blinked and tried to make sense of it all. Soon Vives had added her voice to the mix, waving her hands wildly and all three were shouting at once.
Rayk pointed at him angrily, and Ri'Tai brought a hand to her throat. It was then that Lyetaën noticed she was no longer wearing his collar. Someone had taken it off for her; probably Toseru. Where was that damnable bird anyway, and where was Paia. He hated it when they talked over his head like this!
"Ri'Tai," Lyetaën interrupted their argument roughly, "Where is Paia?
Ri'Tai glanced at him and opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted.
"Your sister is safe, here with me." Toseru had climbed aboard, and he had Paia behind him, standing nervously behind him. Lyetaën moved towards her, but Luran stopped him with a sharp punch to his gut. Lyetaën doubled over, Paia cried out and ran to him. Toseru let her go.
"Lye, are you okay?" She asked desperately. "You're bleeding everywhere!"
"They were arguing about whether or not to kill you." Toseru explained casually, "Rayk wants to cut all your throats and toss you overboard right now. Vives would prefer to wait until we find the whirlpools. It seems only your pet protests. I would not have expected that."
"I am a pet no longer," Ri'Tai growled at him in the draygon tongue, "And the battle is now over. There is no need to kill them."
"We can't very well let them go. For our plan to work we must vanish silently into the night, and make sure no one knows anything is amiss for as long as possible."
"I'm sure you can find a use for them. How much does anyone here know of sailing these waters?"
Toseru paused and then smiled at Ri'Tai as if he had discovered something, "As you say, the sailors at least will be useful. But what about when we arrive at Yisosayi? And what about your... former master?" He looked pointedly at Lyetaën.
"No!" Paia shrieked. "You can't kill him! Tell him Ri'Tai!"
Ri`Tai`s hesitation was brief, but it was there. "When we arrive at Yisosayi, we will turn them over to the Queen for her judgement. All of them. I will not execute prisoners once the battle is done. It is not my right. It isn't yours either."
Toseru seemed amused, but he bowed to Ri'Tai and said "As you say." He continued with a few lines in the human tongue that made Ri'Tai's eyes widen, and then avert her gaze to the ground. Toseru breezed past her and went to speak to the others. Probably explaining what was to be done with them.
Paia was crying quietly beside him, her arms wrapped around his neck, but her face was turned towards Ri'Tai. "Lye is hurt badly. He needs help." He voice barely wavered at all. Lyetaën was proud of her.
That seemed to snap Ri'Tai out of whatever reverie she was trapped in. "Right," she answered, "I will find someone who knows healing to help him." She turned and hurried away, leaving Lyetaën and Paia to watch her go and wonder.