"You brought a criminal onto my ship?" Arman roared, pinning Cael against the side of the ship The wind blew and the ship lurched on the waves like a drunken man. Cael backed as far away from his angry face as he could, leaning back over the edge.
"She's not a criminal, she's innocent!" Cael shouted back, more to carry his voice over the wind then out of anger. Arman released Cael and threw his arms in the air.
"And how am I suppose to believe that? I don't know you. I don't know her, especially!" he shouted. Cael nodded.
"I understand that completely," he said as people began to stare.
"Do you? I don't think you do," Arman said. "What will my crew think of their captain when he is arrested for harbouring a criminal? I'm not a smuggler, Cael," he said. Cael's face turned red and he was speechless.
"Have you not heard the story?" Talia said, as she stepped out of her hiding place. "I could help but overhear, in fact, the whole ship couldn't help," Talia said loudly over the wind. Her hair blew in her face and she tucked it behind her ears. Arman spun around.
"What story?" Arman asked, and Cael raised his eyebrows at Talia's boldness over Arman's shoulder.
"The story of Fern Greenhill. She's the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Duinhale, the capital."
"I know what Duinhale is," Arman barked.
"She died," Talia said. "I witnessed her murder. I think over time, His and Her Grace went crazy. They needed someone to blame for their mistake- that's what her death was, a mistake. So they blamed me," Talia explained. Arman nodded, his eyes narrowed against the vicious, biting wind.
"I was framed," Talia said. "And I am innocent. I was about to be put to death when Cael saved me. You can believe me or not," said she, "but that is the whole truth." Arman blinked a few times, then released his grip on Cael's wrist.
"The girl may stay," Arman said. "Although I'm tempted to throw you overboard." Arman eyes glinted in the afternoon sun.
"Well, I suppose then I should be knowing you're real name, Ilua. It makes sense that the one you gave us would have been false." Talia blushed.
"My name is Talia," she said. "You speak the language of the women?" she asked, and Arman nodded.
"I would like you to tell Marie, Joan, Rhea, and Anna-Maria my real name. I have given them my alias. Please explain what happened?" she asked. Arman began to laugh.
"I see you have met my family. Marie is my wife, Anna-Marie my daughter. But yes, I shall tell them. I daresay they are difficult to understand," said he, and then turned. Before he disappeared around the corner, he paused, and turned again.
"Join us for supper? We all eat together downstairs."
Talia wondered how on earth Arman's entire crew and all of their wives could possibly fit into the small kitchen.
The noise that a dozen sailors and their wives made was shocking. They all ate in a second room Talia had not seen. The dining hall ran the length of the ship, and contained tables, chairs, drawers with dishes, and a sink for washing dishes. At one end there were a few barrels of ale, and at the other a large empty area with a few bags still resting in the corner. Talia decided this was where they kept their stock while they were travelling. She smiled as she spooned soup into her mouth, not caring if it scalded her insides.
Arman's wooden chair grated loudly as he stood up.
"A toast!" he said. Talia looked up at him, and grabbed her cup of ale with everyone else.
"To runaway killers!" he said with a grin, having already told Talia's story to his men and them to their wives. Talia laughed as everyone toasted her, and drank, nearly thirty cups slamming back down onto the table. Talia watched the soup in her bowl rock from side to side with the gentle motion of the docked ship. The wind seemed to have died down slightly during the afternoon, and for that Talia was very thankful. Cael nudged Talia's leg under the table with his foot and gestured subtle with an incline of his head. Talia's followed his eyes down the table where Anna-Maria was sitting with her father Arman and tugged his sleeving, animatedly describing Talia's red hair with her hands, making various odd gestures around her head. Arman glanced in Talia's direction and smiled and Talia shrugged, returning the smile.
"Cute," she said into Cael's ear.
"You are," he said back, and Talia laughed.
"I don't know about that," she said. "I feel like a bear, I'm wearing so much fur." Cael laughed, taking a ravenous bite of his bread roll. Talia pushed her empty soup bowl away and forked a piece of meat onto her plate. The woman beside her leaned over to her.
"Don't expect food like this the entire journey," she said, and Talia was surprised to have understood the language she was speaking.
"No?" Talia asked. The woman shook her head, heavy black braids falling to her waist.
"No," said she. "We eat this well when we dock somewhere. Arman gets paid for his stock, and treats everyone with a feast," she said, and then began to shovel potatoes into her mouth at an alarming rate. Talia grinned and bit into the meat, finding it chewier than the meat from before, and more salty, but equally tasteful. Suddenly, the ship rocked, and jerked back to the other side as it caught the rope. Talia looked up, alarmed, but no one else seemed to have noticed. The noise carried on as usual, not dampened, intensified if anything. She looked over at Cael.
"They're used to it," he said. "Remember they just travelled through a month long storm?" Cael said with a chuckle. Talia's knuckles were white where they gripped the table.
"Relax, we'll be fine," Cael said. "The storm is gone, this is just the end bits."
"I sure hope so," Talia asked, her face pale. "I don't feel so great…" she said suddenly, nausea overwhelming her. She took a few deep breaths though, and it passed. Cael put a comforting hand on her leg.
"Are you alright?" he asked as her face cleared. She nodded.
"Yes, it was just a spell," she said.
"How long with the journey take?" Talia asked, the entirety of what they were about to do hitting her. She felt a rush of anxiety, and uncertainty. Never before had she felt this uncertain about her life before, never before had she not known where she was going to be the next day.
"I think about a month. I know it seems long," Cael said sympathetically, "but from what I hear it passes by quickly."
"I hope so, because I know it doesn't for the people on land," Talia said, her face darkening.
"What do you mean?" Cael asked, frowning.
"My parents," Talia said. "My father was a sailing merchant, the same as Arman." Cael nodded slowly. "It was hard, for Camie and me. Sometimes even, my mother went with him, leaving us to take care of ourselves mostly, or stay with Beck," she said.
"Does it help to know we have no one waiting for us?" Cael said with a laugh. Talia shook her head.
"Not really," she said, laughing too.
"We'll be your family now," said Cael. "Maybe we'll stay with Arman and be dirty sailors, or be land gypsies," he said, wonder in his eyes. Talia rolled her eyes.
"I don't think I'm really the gypsy sort," she said. Cael wiggled his eyebrows.
"Sure you are. You could be dark and mysterious, and sexy, too," he said. Talia hit him in the arm.
Arman stood up.
"To bed," he said, his voice strong. There was a loud grating sound as thirty chairs were pushed back, and people began to move, leaving up either of the two staircases to their respective places. "Up early tomorrow, we need to get ahead of the weather," he said as the last few people disappeared. Talia kissed Cael on the shoulder and trotted to catch up with the rest of the women.
She tiptoed into her room and found the young girl lying already in her bed. She nodded and motioned Talia forward.
"You stay here, not enough bed," Anna-Maria said, and pushed the covers aside. Shivering, Talia pulled off her thick wool outer-clothes and slipped into bed in just her shift. She could feel the girls warmth beside her, and when she looked over, Anna-Maria was asleep, her dark eyelashes brushing her cheekbones. Talia smiled and pulled the wool blankets and heavy furs over her, tucking her head into her shoulder against the cold.
Wind lashed at the sides of the ship, whistling through the sides. The sound was awful, and Talia did not sleep. As the night wore on, the wind got worse and worse, beating against the sides of the ship so hard that she could hear the wood groaning. She had a faint sensation of lying on her back and floating on top of water as she lay in bed and the ship tilted back and forth. She closed her eyes, though the darkness was so complete is was almost unnecessary. Instead of sweet dreams, her waking mind concocted visions of ships tossed in waves and wrecked against the beach. Talia cringed and tried to lay still though her body was telling her to move to a better position so she might fall asleep.
Around what Talia guessed was one in the morning, the sounds of rain began above her head. By a minute later the rain was as loud as claps of thunder, rolling back and forth across the ships deck. Talia looked over at her sleeping companion and saw that Anna-Maria was still asleep. She groaned, head thudding back onto the pillow as sleep continued to evade her. She could not hear her own breathing over the sound of the rain, and she cupped her hands over her ears, burring her head in the pillow and swallowing down her fear.
My parents died like this… she thought, the thoughts circling her brain again and again like a merry-go-round. Talia tried to block out the thoughts with thoughts of anything else. She tried to think of where they were going, where she would live. She thought of Emma, and Ilua, and Sara, she thought of Nenna's smiling face, she thought of her first encounter with Rachael, the knife wielding cook- but none of these familiar feelings could shake the dread. She curled up into a smaller ball, tucking her knees into the chest as the wind and rain rattled on. In the room beside her she could hear the sounds of something on the dresser sliding back and forth with each time the ship rocked. At one point, she thought she heard a glass smash at the far end of the hall.
Some time in the night the temperature plunged and the rain turned to hail, hammering on the roof so hard Talia feared that in the morning she would find little holes in the surface of the wood. Anna-Maria rolled over in her sleep, moaning something about a puppy. Talia laughed and banged her head against her pillow. Fatigue was swallowing her up, but still she could not sleep.
She wondered if there was a point when exhaustion would over take her and her body would force itself to sleep. She hoped.
Finally, as she could see the first cracks of dawn light in the hallway through the open door, she fell asleep.
Talia slept soundly, not moving at all, her breathing deep and steady. When she woke in the morning Anna-Maria was gone from beside her, being the earliest riser of them all. She groaned, watching for a moment the sun's slow, slow progression across the floor in the hall way. She stood carefully, and instantly felt the chill of the night.
"Shit," she muttered, and quickly pulled on her wool clothing, and threw her shawl of furs around herself. She looked around the room, wishing that it was the familiar surroundings of her home, or even of her room with Emma in the palace.
Talia tucked her cold fingers into the sleeve of her shirt and walked slowly up the stairs and onto the deck. She was surprised that no one was there, and though Anna-Maria was awake, she was no where to be seen. The sun was glittering off of the frozen deck like diamonds, so bright Talia had to protect her eyes against the glare.
She walked around the deck a few times, looking at the other ships bobbing on the surface of the water. One the starboard side she saw one man, young, his face red from the wind and cold who smiled and waved at her. She waved back and turned the corner towards the area where the men slept when suddenly she was caught by another wave of nausea. She hurried to the edge of the ship and threw up, emptying her stomach into the water below. She quickly pushed her long hair out of the way and wiped the spit from her mouth. Talia leaned hard against the rails and closed her eyes for a moment, until she felt sickness overtake her again. For nearly a half hour she carried on in this manner, until her stomach was empty. Talia collapsed against the side of the ship, dizzy and faint. She held her head in her hands, rubbing her temple with one hand. She closed her eyes and breathed in sync with the gentle, hardly noticeable rocking of the ship.
Tears began to flow. Talia let her self slump over onto the icy dock, her face pressed into the furs. For a while, she was not sure why she was crying, but still the tears flowed. A thought crept into her head, slowly, uncalled for.
It should have been you… The voice whispered.
"It's so unfair…" she whispered to herself between sobs. Why did Fern die… How did she deserve that? I should have done something…
After what seemed like so long, Talia's unconscious was finally allowing her to feel the effects of Fern's death. Until now, it hadn't really sunk in. Talia was dimly aware of footsteps approaching her, coming up the stairs.
"Talia?" a voice called, and then she was being pulled to a stand, supported in Cael's arms. Sobs still shook her body, tearing slipping down her cheeks.
"Talia? Talia what's wrong?" Cael asked, his face twisted with concern. Talia shook her head, biting her lip to keep it from quivering. Cael took a few steps back when Talia could hold herself upright, and stared at her again.
"Something's wrong. You're sick, I heard you," Cael said, brushing Talia's stray hair out of her face. She nodded and held her stomach.
"Oh, yes. Sea-sickness. The waves," she said, imitating the motion of the waves with her hand. Cael nodded and came to sand beside her.
"Are you sure there's nothing else?" Cael asked. Talia shook her head again, staring across the ship at the ocean on the other side. She watched the water rise and fall with the motion of the boat. A single white gull floated on the water, bobbing each time a wave swelled and crested. She burst out suddenly:
"It's not fair!" Her face flushed red and she struck out at the side of the ship. The wood splintered under her hand, her knuckles raw and bleeding.
"What's not fair?" Cael asked, pulling Talia's hand away and examining the cuts. She reluctantly let him.
"Everything!" she shouted. "Fern's death, this stupid ship… Cael, people I loved were going to kill me," she said, her voice falling to a whisper.
"It's not your fault, Talia. Things happen that we can't do anything about," he said, returning Talia's hand to her.
"But I feel so responsible! I watched Savarin abuse people twice, and both times I just stood by and did nothing! I let someone die Cael," Talia said, her voice weak.
"What happened to Fern was horrible, yes, but it wasn't your fault! You did nothing!" Cael's eyes were furious, with more stormy-grey intensity than Talia had ever seen.
"I know! That's the problem, I did nothing. I could have saved a life. I feel responsible somehow. She was so perfect, she never hurt anyone," Talia whispered, biting her lip as tears rolled down her face.
"She hurt you," Cael said pointedly. Talia shook her head, flaming hair falling in a mess around her face.
"Not intentionally. I doubt she meant for any of this to happen either."
"Do we ever mean for bad things to happen?" Cael asked, placing his hands on Talia's shoulders. She sighed and let her head fall down onto his shoulder.
"I suppose not, but it's just so unfair. She was innocent! It's so cruel that things like this can happen!" Talia cried bitterly.
"It is. But that's the thing, Tal. It's already happened. You can't change that now no matter how much you want to." His eyes were grey, knowledgeable and calm. Cael kissed her forehead gently, running his fingers through her hair and resting his head on hers.
"I-" Talia began to say something, then stopped, breathing in the scent of Cael and not moving, after awhile hardly even breathing. She backed up slowly, peering up at him through her long lashes. She looked down again, placing a hand on her abdomen. Talia opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again. She breathed out slowly and wiped away another tear that spilled over her flushed cheeks.
"Cael, I'm pregnant," Talia spluttered out, forcing herself to look up at him.
A flurry of emotions crossed Cael's face, and for a moment Talia was afraid. For a moment, she felt incredibly alone peering out towards the vast ocean. What if he abandoned her? He forced her chin up, gazing into her eyes.
"When? How long? Who?" He gripped her shoulders stronger again.
"About, about a month, I think. It's yours, Cael." She looked up at him, and saw fear in his eyes. Talia backed up a step, her back hitting the edge of the ship's rail. She wanted to run. This is wrong, she thought frantically, licking her lips and looking out over the water again.
"Your..." Cael was at a loss for words. Talia thought he was going to hit her. With one hand raised, he was frozen. But then he pulled her against him, eyes wide with shock. He placed his hand over hers, almost imagining he could feel a young heart beating beneath their fingers. Talia choked out tears again, then laughed. Then they were both laughing, uncontrollably and holding onto each other, caught up in a whirlwind of emotion.
"But where will we go now?" Cael asked. "Where are we sailing to?"
"I think it's time... to go visit Millicent," Talia said.
"My lady?" Talia looked up, wiping her eyes, grinning.
"Yes?" She asked, sniffing gently.
"We're leaving now. Are you ready?" She paused for a moment, feeling more certain than she thought she ever had in her life, even though her life was hurtling towards an unknown land, and she wasn't even moving yet. She had a purpose, a place, something to work for. Herself. Cael. Her child. Talia breathed in slowly and took Cael's hand in hers, looking back at the shore as he pulled her back against him so they both faced towards the beach. The sand was glimmering in the sunset, the rope that anchored the small ship tied to the beach. Something so simple, and so weak was holding something so strong from breaking and floating away.
Talia's skirts blew around her, and her hair tangled in the wind as she wrapped his arms around her against the cool night air.
"For anything," she whispered, more to herself than anyone else as with a heave and the sigh of the water the ship glided away from the beach and out towards the dark, welcoming horizon.