(Author's note: This chapter has been updated/modified with minor changes from it's original entry. PLEASE REVIEW!)
Glenavana, the Swampy West
The Thieves of Basintown
Although the ordeal through the devil's forest was exhausting, it only lasted ten days. Ten days that I did not want to remember. It would have only taken eight, but we spent two trying to find the wolf blade again. By the night we escaped, the devil had called off his creatures and Eliah and I made it to the edge of the ocean in near-peace.
My stomach, however, still hurt from all of the… whatever they were, in my stomach. Eliah noticed. "Bear no unnecessary pain, petter. We need you at full strength." He ran off into the bushes and found me a plant. It had thin, silvery stems and broad green leaves with red veins. "Eat this. It will dispel the leeches from your stomach."
Eating straight vegetation was still strange to me. I nibbled a bit, but the red in the veins seeped out. "What is this, Eliah?"
"Yes. The leeches will have to let go to suck it down, and then they'll escape."
I didn't want to know how they would escape, but at the leaves by the dozen after that.
Eliah then found me something to wear besides my skin — for his own comfort, as well as mine — before we trudged onto the shores where men dared to walk. "His creatures may still lurk outside of his forest. That's what they were created to do. Don't lose that diamond in the water, girl, or it'll be your head." I didn't dare tell him that my own was resting at the bottom of the ocean. What would he do if he knew?
We found a small boat that belonged to a man; he spoke a strange language, but I was able to translate it slowly. The man liked my earrings, the ones Kajaheil had given me, and I eagerly bartered them for passage across the ocean.
"Tell him they're ours until we reach the other side," Eliah whispered.
I told the man and his face saddened. He slunk on the boat to get it started. "Why not give them to him now? I don't want them anywhere near me."
"Men like him are thieves. He'd take them and kill us off, then sell them for his own profit. Make as much money with as little labor as possible, that's how they survive. Do not let him find the diamond. It would make his life a comfortable one and many would die trying to take it from him. Besides, I would really rather not die now."
"But the earrings can't be worth that much."
"I'm sure they aren't, but he doesn't know that. Just make sure you don't wear them anymore. He might rip them out while you sleep."
I pinched my ears in foreboding pain and he helped me climb aboard.
The man paddled us through the blackened, reddened sea along the shore. "It'll take us forever to get there with him rowing this slow," I whispered.
"He's sure to be picking up a crew."
"Men, to man the ship. He'll have a bigger one, out at sea. The rocks here below the water are too treacherous to come any closer, so men use smaller boats to get back and forth. But without a crew, all we can do is paddle."
"I'm not so sure I like the idea of being trapped on a boat with a bunch of men… I won't know them."
"We'll share a room, you and I. Those earrings are more than enough to cover the cost of a cabin, he owes it to us. Besides," he grinned, "these men think I'm just a dumb animal. Dumb animals have a tendency to bite."
"For being a not-dumb animal, you've sure snapped at me a lot."
The dark-skinned man rowed to a noisy town, leaving us on the outskirts. "Personally, I say we ditch him and find another way across, but there's not likely to be one any better than him out here. Come, I feel like going into town."
He leapt off the side of the ship onto the sand. The thief leapt back as if Eliah would attack, but Eliah stood waiting for me. "I-I think we're coming with you!" I told the man. He nodded and shied away from Eliah again.
"Come, petter girl, ignore this ignorant. I'm craving raw meat, and if I don't get it in town, I'll take it from you."
I chased him into town, staying close. There were hundreds of big, darkened men with broad shoulders, sharp blades, and strange piercings. I didn't like the way they looked at me, and neither did Eliah, yet all he had to do was growl and they backed away from us.
He went right to a tavern. Kardnal had mentioned such a place once. Said they were vicious and of not-so-good character, but that's where Eliah was so I went in after him. Two big men were blocking the entrance, just inside. Eliah growled, but they had big knives and weren't afraid. "This your dog, girl?"
"Y-Yes, he is." Eliah growled again.
"No animals allowed unless they're dead or entertainment."
Eliah growled deeper. Animals for entertainment? Did they go around letting people pet them while they ate? That would have been nice back in Tynsford…
"Get this thing out or he'll be on the menu. He's bothering the customers."
I looked around. There were only four tables filled, but each were full of men with at least one lady on each of their knees. I tugged Eliah at the neck and tried to pull him back. He only snarled harder.
"What are you doing?"
He snapped and almost took the man's arm off. The blade dropped to the floor and blood spilled out.
"Now you've done it," I cringed.
"Get on my back."
He turned, ran under me, and ran outside. Three of the men — the biggest ones — chased out after us with their blades. Eliah ran to the harbor, but we passed a large butcher's shop on the way. He leapt inside the door flaps and grabbed hold of a large dead animal in his mouth before we continued.
"That's stealing, Eliah."
He chomped smugly.
"As if they deserve it more than me," he growled. "Probably stole it, themselves, anyway."
"And what if they didn't?"
"Then you don't know these people very well." He tore a large chunk of meat off the animal's hind leg.
"That's disgusting, Eliah. Can't you at least cook it first?"
"Yes, I'll be sure to make a fire with my thumb-less paws and skewer this on nice, clean sticks to roast evenly. There's only so much I can do — and so much I care to." He eyed the animal affectionately and dove his snout into its chest, pulling back an organ. "For you, girl. Eat, it'll make you smarter!" he laughed. I turned away and preferred to starve, although my appetite had returned without the leeches inside me.
By nightfall, I had my earrings and the diamond safely hidden. Eliah came by, carting thick, long clothes in his mouth. "Wear these."
"Did you steal them?"
"It's better to wear stolen clothes than none at all, especially for a girl your age around men like the crew will be. Just put them on, we'll both feel more comfortable." He nudged them to me again and laid down to block the door. "Go ahead, I'm not looking."
I grumbled under my breath, but tugged them on over my head. "There, happy? I'm a… vagabond."
He laughed heartily and shook his head. "Yes, I'm sure you are. Before those men come back, I want you to know something: men like them don't believe in talking animals or magic. They won't care that your diamond is going to help them, they only know that diamonds are rare and therefore valuable. On this trip, we have nothing but the clothes on your back and your earrings, and I am only a dumb animal, understand?"
Only a few minutes later, the 'crew' appeared. The man with the boat led the way, fourteen other men following. I shivered. They reminded me too much of the men who Eliah had snapped at, but he was calm and I didn't remember what they looked like specifically, so I could only assume they were different people.
"That's a lot of them," Eliah whispered. "You had better be prepared, petter, there's more than likely to be a mutiny with this many."
"What's a mutiny?"
"Just stay close to me. I'll protect you."
Two men stopped in front of me instead of listening to the 'captain': one was a large, dark man and the other a thin pale one, wrapped in decorative white and red robes. You could only see his face when he looked up to the sky.
The big one crossed his arms. "That is a big dog, miss, uh…?"
"I'm Kravis." He held out his hand to me. "Just Kravis," he said proudly.
I looked for a sign from Eliah before shaking his hand. Eliah nodded. Kravis laughed at how small my hand was compared to his. "Delicate touch you have, miss. Haven't seem a girl your age in many years." He seemed friendly enough.
The pale one walked past me and down into the quarters below. There were three rooms: mine, the captain's, and the crew deck. I hoped he didn't go into mine, especially with the diamond there.
The appointed vice-captain began snapping orders and the men shuffled about no deck. "Don't they have things to put away?"
"These men live day to day, hour to hour. If they get a job, it means than can eat. If they don't, it means they starve. They'll wear the clothes on their back until they return home, if they have a real home to return to."
"Yes, tragic," he yawned. "Are we turning in soon or should we stay up here and roast?"
"It's not that hot."
He sighed and slunk down into a big, dark mass of fur on the deck. We tried to stay out of the way, but once the sails opened and the men were working, we had to go downstairs to really be out of their way. Eliah was glad he got his way and curled up on the bed. "You don't mind, do you, petter?"
"I guess not." I crawled over him and slept between him and the wall. "Just don't roll over and squish me."
The vice-captain was a horrible, shrewd man who never took his eyes off me when I was on deck. Eliah tried never to leave me alone with him, but didn't trust the rest of the crew to keep me any safer. He wanted me to stay down below, but that was the most boring thing in the world. I'd finally gotten over my seasickness and even had my 'sea legs,' and he wanted me to stay cooped up? The room wasn't very big and I was feeling claustrophobic. Eliah was calmly resting, constantly. It amazed me that animals could be so lethargic, and yet so big.
It was estimated that we would be in Alengeyla in eighteen days. My earrings must have been worth a lot because these men were all eager to work for their promised money, which would only be coming out of the earrings.
Four days into our eighteen day trip, I couldn't stay inside any longer. I went out on deck to take in the sunshine. It was stronger than I remembered, and the water only reflected it brighter.
I'd had to sneak out over Eliah to get there, so I sat where he would have to look for me if he came out angry: right on the peak of the deck. The horrid vice-captain was by the wheel, barking orders to the wheel-man, so I tried to stay out of his way.
Then he came over, squatting beside me. "Cabin fever?"
"How do you… enjoy your cabin, with the dog?"
"He takes up most of the bed. I usually sleep on the floor."
"On the floor while the dog enjoys the bed? If you're that eager for a restful night, you could always join me. There's plenty of room in the captain's quarters, and the bed is soft." He ran his hand down my shoulder.
I eyed him over carefully. "No, thanks. I prefer fur."
His horrid, toothy grin dropped to a sneer and he turned away, barking orders louder than before. Eliah would be proud, I took care of that myself.
Six more days passed. The crew began to get angry with each other. There were fights up on deck. After a few punches were thrown, I stopped spending time up there. Eliah moved the bed in front of the door to make sure I didn't.
Two days later, four men were dropped into the waters, dead. They'd fought and killed each other with their blades. I absolutely refused to come up onto deck now. Eliah was glad I finally had some 'sense.'
Four more days passed. I noticed the food the captain brought for me was slowly thinning out and that the water didn't taste as good.
Two more days passed. I'd been counting on the wall with chalk. It was day eighteen, yet we were still at sea. The wind wasn't blowing as it should have and we were technically still on day twelve, according to our pace.
"I don't like this," Eliah muttered. "It's been too long, and they didn't bring enough food."
"Then we'll… starve?"
"What else is there?"
"There's plenty more men on board. I know at least a few of the crew members would rather eat their own than go hungry — myself included."
I shuddered and clung to him that night, just in case they chose us to eat, first. Kardnal once said I was tough. These men wouldn't eat tough meat like me, right?
Six more days passed and three more people died. They weren't tossed overboard this time, I noticed. Kravis was one of them. He'd been killed because another man wanted a necklace charm he kept around his neck. It was sentimental to him, valuable to others.
I found his pale friend on the deck that night, the hooded one, while everyone else was asleep. The food had tasted bad and I went up to vomit. Hoods were beginning to worry me, but his was down and I could see his face. He didn't look like a monster at all. He had soft, almost white hair, long, tied loosely behind his neck. Now that I thought about it, I hadn't seen him since the day he came aboard. Did he have below-deck duties?
He spotted me and brought a small white rock to me. "It's candy. It'll settle your stomach," he said softly.
I took it carefully, but recognized the taste. Peppermint, just like Kardnal's tea. "Thank you."
"My name is Les. We haven't been properly introduced."
I held out my hand, but he shied back. "I'm sorry, but no."
He pulled off a glove from his right hand. His hand was made of wood. "Lost it, when I was young. Didn't want to startle you. You look so pale, I think you must be startled all the time."
"I guess I am, with all that's happened. You were friends with Kravis?"
"Yes. He was like a father to me." He sat beside me against the railing. "Took me in when my parents threw me out. They didn't want a crippled son. Kravis raised me."
"I'm sorry for what happened."
He reached into his shirt and pulled out a necklace. "This is what they were after. It was the captain, I saw him, but I couldn't stop him. By then, it was too late."
"I killed him," he whispered. "I've never killed anyone before — Kravis always looked after me — but I don't know what's going to happen now."
"What's that necklace for?"
"It's called a locket. It opens and you can keep pictures inside." He struggled, only having one hand, but I opened it for him. Inside were two pictures, one of a young girl and one of a woman. "This was his daughter, she died about when I was born. This was his wife, she died twelve years later."
"He didn't have much to live for. I almost envy him, finally finding death. It's peaceful there, I hear."
"I don't. Poor man. I hope he didn't go to hell."
"You believe in heaven, then?"
"Hell is for the souls of those who have been wicked. Heaven is for the souls of those who have been good."
"Then yes, I do believe in heaven."
He smiled softly back at me. "Then you're a good girl."
The vice-captain came up, strict and stern-faced. "Have you two seen the captain?"
"Not since last night," Les said.
The man saw us together, turned up his pointed nose, and stomped back down to check the quarters again.
"It's going to get cold tonight, Jade. You should sleep inside, where it's warm."
"You should, too."
"There is no comfort down below. Not with those men."
"Then you had better keep warm up here."
He agreed and I went down a few steps to the quarters. There was a splash, like when a body was dumped overboard. I ran back up.
Les was gone, the deck empty. The locket was tied to the railing, knocking against the wood when the swell rocked the boat. I felt my heart drop and took the locket, before any of the other men found it.
"…Goodbye, Les," I whispered, and went back downstairs.
Another week passed. By then, there was only the vice-captain, four crew members, Eliah, and myself. The crew wanted us gone, but they wanted my earrings more. I was more than willing to give them up, but then there would be no reason to keep us alive.
The moment land was in sight, I got ready to give them the earrings. I was handing them over when Eliah jumped and killed the crew. He only left one, who cowered in the corner.
"Eliah!" I gasped.
"They never would have let us live. It's better this way."
"It can talk!" the man cried.
"Better for who? What if they had families?"
"So what if they did? Men like them don't care if they have families. They look out for themselves." He glared at the final man, who cowered away, whimpering.
I didn't agree, but we were so close now, I didn't feel like arguing. We got in a small boat, the single crewman rowing us toward the docks. He was still whimpering, Eliah growling to make him go faster.
"Be happy," Eliah growled, "in the end, you'll be the only one to share in the profit of the payment."
That made the man work harder than just growling had.
And then, on the shore, I spotted a wonderful sight. Kay walking along the dock. He was carrying a box onto a ship. I almost fell overboard as I leapt up. "KAY!!" I shouted.
"Sit down," Eliah snapped.
Kay looked up, but was searching the docks for who had called him. Not seeing anyone, he kept walking.
"KAY, I'M OVER HEEERRRRRE!!"
He turned toward me slowly, scanning the horizon. The he saw us. He stared as if he couldn't tell who it was, and then his face lit up.
I leapt off the side of the boat and swam the last twenty feet, right into Kay's arms. He pulled me up the pier and didn't let go for a long time. Eliah stayed on the boat until he made it to the dock, and handed the happy thief the earrings. Keeping up his 'dog' ruse, he barked and wagged his tail.
"Good earth, Jade, I thought you'd died."
"Oh, I've missed you so much!"
"I'm never letting go of you — ever, ever again!"
(Author's note: Please review! I really want to know what you think about the story!)