Kent was the largest town on the coast, not quite large enough to be considered a city though the mayor proclaimed it 'the City of Kent' in all his speeches. It sat at sea level on a peninsula between the sea and the Mermanke river, a stone city, paved with cobblestones from the river and built from granite cut from the nearby Windy Cliffs.
Ryshel watched the boy throw on his cloak, sling his pack on his shoulder and head out the door, with a short glance back at her. Her irritation flared and she sat up quickly, wincing at the jarring pain in her shoulder, though it had significantly improved over the month sitting cooped up in the cabin avoiding everyone. The idiot boy had spent most of the time somewhere else, which was okay with her. When he wasn't glaring at her he looked like a deer in a hunter's sights. She wasn't sure which look made her angrier. All her clothes and supplies were miles away. Back where she had hidden them before the troll attack what felt like years ago. She looked down again at the makeshift dress she wore that idiot had put on her after stripping her naked and doing God knows what to her. She had no money, no food and only her cloak for warmth. Plus, she hated the breezy feeling of nakedness under the robe but there was no sign of her pants and she wasn't going to give that moronic bastard the satisfaction of asking him. At least the bed sores and nasty rash on her… upper thighs had healed.
She grabbed her cloak and threw it on, her irritation rising further when it gently settled on her shoulders. Her strength had returned at least and she no longer felt like fainting when she stood. A fleeting guilty niggling thought of gratitude to the boy for bringing her food was quickly suppressed. It wasn't like she was incapable of looking after herself. How dare he treat her like some weak invalid! She decided to skip her morning exercises and headed for the deck. She saw the tall boy immediately, standing by the railing his attention engrossed in the water gate opening ponderously as the dockhands hauled on its ropes. 'So it is Kent,' she thought staring at the back of the boy's head, willing it to catch fire.
The city sat back from the sea and river surrounded by a high wall that extended to the mouth of a man-made waterway and the floodgate now opening to let them through.
Three to four months of the year, during the flooding season it was impossible to reach Kent by water. And for about a month the city was completely cut off from the rest of the world. It's walls completely surrounded by water. Though the gate had vents to regulate the water flow which wound its way to the city and looped back to a second gate that directly ran off to the sea. River boats never saw use of that gate, they returned back through Rivergate. Just like the sea voyaging vessels only used Seagate.
The boy seemed to feel her stare and looked back. His eyes widened in recognition and he quickly turned back around, his back stiff, staring intently as the ship slid past the gate and headed on its way toward the city, as the dockhands scrambled to lash and secure the gate ready for the day's traffic. Beyond her ability to summon the Scythe, Sword and Atalya and the handy dispersal trick, there were times she really wished that just once her burning wish to reduce something or someone to ashes would come true but she would never wield magic. 'As I was born to do,' her traitor mind whispered.
"Shut up," she hissed, realising she had said it aloud when the boy gave her another worried glance.
She glared back defiantly but he had already turned back around, which irritated her even more.
As the ship came up to the docks and the sailors threw the ropes to the dockhands the boy left the side of the ship and made for the Captain. The stupid bastard cringed back and glanced at her, like she would care if the man gutted the idiot where he stood. The boy reached into his robe and pulled out two gold coins and held them out to the man.
"As promised," he said.
The captain's greed overcame his fear for a moment and he snatched the coins.
"Get off my ship," he growled. "And take her with you," he still sounded angry but there was a slight pleading note to his tone.
But the boy was already on his way to the gangway to disembark.
"I hate everyone," Ryshel grumbled to herself as she stalked to the gangway and off the ship, keeping the boy in sight as he wound his way through the crowded docks.
Paying such an exorbitant price for passage means he must have plenty of money stashed in that pack of his somewhere and he owed her after what he put her through. After he had stopped, looked around and rubbed his hair in confusion for the seventh time she was starting to lose patience. Maybe she should just confront him now. She had been hoping for him to head down a street with no people but he was sticking to the main thoroughfare.
An hour later, he stopped at a fountain and slumped down on the edge. The area wasn't deserted but there were far less people so she should be able to get him to give her her due before anybody nearby realised what was going on. There were some perks to everyone being afraid of you, not many, but some.
The boy was looking at his feet so she made a beeline for him. She was just a few feet from him when a hand clamped on her shoulder and she felt a point to her back as the hand moved to a vice-like grip on her arm twisting it up painfully behind her. The injury to her shoulder made her cry out involuntarily.
The boy looked up at the sound and his eyes widened.
"You know this girl… Thayne, isn't it?" a smooth voice said near her ear, so close it made her skin crawl.
"Yes, er… who are you?"
"We were told you were coming. We are here to take you where you need to go," the man said, ignoring Thayne's question.
Ryshel watched as the idiot accepted completely what the man said and stood as he asked, "We?"
There was a heavy step from behind Ryshel and she watched the tall boy's eyes widen as he looked up and up at some towering hulk Ryshel couldn't see. Ryshel jerked on her arm and instantly regretted it as she almost screamed from the pain in her shoulder and all it did was draw the man's attention back to her.
"Who's this?" he asked shaking her arm.
Considering there was still a knife to her back, Ryshel resisted the strong urge to jam her elbow down into his groin.
Ryshel watched him run through the options in his head before inexplicably landing on,
The pressure from the knife disappeared but the man didn't release her. Instead he put the knife away and shifted his grip so he held her in front of him by both her forearms. The top of her head came to just under his chin. If he was just a bit shorter or she a bit taller she would have headbutted him.
"We'll bring her for now. He can sort out what to do with her."
A twinge of fear passed through her. She had somehow got herself caught up in something and she was sure she didn't want to know who 'he' was.
"If you don't let me go, I'll scream. You-"
Whatever the man did, it was too quick for Thayne to see but suddenly the woman was slumped against the man's chest unconscious.
"There, that's better. Ox," he handed her to the huge man with a smile that did not reach his eyes.
The man had shoulder-length dark, almost black hair slicked back and tied with a thong at the nape of his neck and a trimmed neat beard. His breeches, jerkin, shirt, coat and even his soft leather boots were a muted grey. The knives at his belt had black handles.
His huge partner fit his name perfectly. Ox was solidly built at least seven-foot tall and muscular. His head was shaved bald and his face and bare arms were scarred from past battles. There was an eye patch over his left eye and he wore an armoured vest of studded leather and matching greaves over his trousers. A studded leather helm was attached to his belt and rested against the side of his thigh. A huge battle-axe was strapped to his back and his left arm showed heavy use of a shield, though Ox did not carry it now.
They seemed unusual companions but they had to be Kailim's men. How else would they know his name and that he would be there waiting?
Ox gathered the Gatherer gently in his arms and not wanting to cause a scene, as though there were few people around they were drawing attention, Thayne gestured with a flourish and said,
"Lead the way." Picking up his pack from the ground at his feet where he had rested it as he sat by the fountain.
The smaller man nodded and started to stride off down a narrow alley. Thayne followed, with Ox bringing up the rear. They walked up and down streets taking seemingly random turns and doubling back until finally they stood at a place the city wall and the buildings came together with just a narrow road between them. There were no doors or windows. No people. Thayne suddenly felt nervous as the man pulled out one of his knives and tapped a rhythm on the wall of one of the stone buildings.
"err, what?" an elderly, disembodied voice called. Thayne looked around unable to tell where it was coming from as it continued, "Oh, good. You found him. Marvellous! Er… which one is it? Ah, yes! Door's open."
The man put his knife away and turned to Thayne his grin and the twinkle in his eye did nothing to put him at ease as the man grasped his shoulders.
"Watch your step," he said and shoved Thayne hard backwards into the city wall.
A/N: Next chapter - Thayne meets Kailim and a look in the Inquisitors' Tower