Her head was thumping. The pain throbbed in her temples, pounding behind her eyes. Outside, she could hear the boy talking. Relief washed over her as she heard them ride away, as she listened to the sounds of hooves growing steadily distant.
He had protected her, and she had no idea why.
Perhaps it was the same something that had directed her, guided her when she had seen him. She had known, on sight, that he was the man she needed, and the words tumbling out of her mouth...
Even now, she had no idea where they had come from.
"I would not have been able to stop them, if they had decided to search the tent."
She stepped out, wrapping her arms around herself as she looked at him. There was something about him, something so pure, even with his scar and the undeniably haunted look in his eyes. She had no idea why they were headed to Dyls, or what they would find there, but she hoped Jackson could get home sooner rather than later.
She sat near him when he gestured for her to do so. Her eyes remained fixed on him, as her fingers twitched.
"Now, seeing as I just saved your life, I feel you have some explaining to do."
She nodded, holding out her hand and concentrating. It seemed to be coming easier, but she still struggled without the herb. He watched her hand, looking disinterested as he waited for something to happen.
Jackson scrambled up and back as fire appeared in her palm. It disappeared quickly, and she found herself shaking her hand as the ache stretched across it.
"Sorry," she muttered. "Didn't mean to scare you."
"You can't," he stuttered, shaking his head. "You...magic..it's evil."
"Unless used by the priests and priestesses," she said, her voice matter of fact. She glanced at him, and this time she was the one to indicate for him to sit. "I know. Of course I know. You can't imagine how scared I was when it...when it started happening." She hated how her voice cracked, hated how he was making her want to explain, want him to not think any bad of her.
Did he have that effect on everyone?
When she had been with Thom, she had felt she could be herself, could relax. With Jackson, it was different. Jackson made her want to be anyone but herself.
He lowered himself beside her, eyes fixed on her face before he nodded for her to carry on.
"Magic marks me out as different. And I don't know where it comes from. I have heard stories of the tribes using magic, hundreds of years ago. They were trained by their tribe's healer, did you know that?"
He shook his head.
"But now...now, if any child shows signs of...of being like me, they take them to the nearest city. They find the nearest temple and the child starts a long and hard journey to discover what it means to be close to the gods." She scoffed. "And not our gods. The gods of Sharn or Tarka, your gods. Their life is chosen for them." She bowed her head, wrapping her arms around herself and staring into the fire. "Usually, they are taken around the age of six, maybe later. Sometimes they are ten years old before they show any signs."
"Did you show any?"
"It was never mentioned. I may have. For all I know, my parents were planning to take me to a city as soon as they could." Slowly, she lifted her gaze, staring hard at Jackson. "But they never mentioned it to my uncle, if they were. Or he's very good at keeping secrets. We were the only two from the tribe to survive."
"You're part of the Ares tribe."
"The demise is legendary, isn't it?"
He dipped his head, staring into the fire. "It was around the same time my father was killed."
"As am I. For you. So why did you go to the priestess?"
"They are more accepting of magic. I...someone taught me how to control it, and I thought the High Priestess would be able to point me in a direction that didn't involve marrying into another tribe and breeding."
"She did, didn't she?"
Rayne smiled. "She did. But it's more...complicated than I thought it would be."
They fell silent for a few moments, before Jackson broke it and asked her name.
"It's a nice name."
She shrugged. "I never really thought about it. It's just...my name. How often do you linger on your own name?"
"You should get some sleep. I'll keep watch."
"Night, Rayne," he said, as he headed for the tent.
"Goodnight, Jackson. May the gods fill your dreams with pleasant things."
A small smile flickered across his face as he gazed at her, before turning and heading into the tent.
X X X
They didn't talk much more of the way to Dyls, and didn't stop again. By the time they reached the edge of the port town, Jackson's head was falling forward as he tried not to fall asleep. Rayne had discarded the robes, and now wore her own clothes again.
"We're here!" she called, grinning as Jackson's head jerked up and he blinked, staring at the town. Houses lined streets, but as they came down the hill they could see the port in the distance. A number of different ships sat in the docks, some clearly merchant ships but a few war ships, too.
"Why do you think the war ships are out?" Jackson asked, rubbing the back of his neck. Rayne shrugged, before urging her horse to go faster. Daybreak had broken over an hour ago, and both of them were eager to find an inn and rest.
It had been three days since they had left the temple, and the lack of sleep was starting to take its toll. Jackson was feeling it worse, however. Rayne was used to riding through the night, to resisting sleep's call. She flashed Jackson a quick smile.
"We can rest soon," she said. "Very soon."
He nodded, before copying her movements and driving his horse on.
They dismounted close to the buildings, and led the horses on. The town itself was busy, with people rushing to and fro. They passed through the market, where merchants from all over were selling their wares. Jackson gazed around with wide eyes, but Rayne focused on finding an inn. She'd seen similar scenes in the desert cities, had seen dark skinned merchants selling rare items, had seen dancers trying to entice men to part with coins.
At the docks, their roles reversed. Jackson turned away from the ships, focusing on the buildings lining the docks, while Rayne stared open-mouthed at the ships.
"Haven't you ever seen ships before?" Jackson asked, laughter in his voice.
"Haven't you ever seen a market?" she snapped.
He blushed, shaking his head. "Not one like that."
"Well then. And no, I haven't seen ships. Boats, small ones, a few times. But I lived in the desert, Jackson, and I crossed the desert to get to the High Priestess."
He reached out, squeezing her shoulder. "They're not as amazing as they look."
Even so, as Rayne's eyes darted from ship to ship, his gaze roamed slowly over them. Eventually, Rayne gestured down a street. The pair headed down, coming to a stop outside an inn. The sign outside showed a mermaid, hair flowing around her face and eyes wide. The inn's name was simple; The Mermaid.
"What do you think?" Rayne muttered, glancing up and down the street. "Think we can stay here?"
"We need somewhere for the horses."
She nodded, before passing him the reign of her horse and heading inside. Jackson opened his mouth to say something, closing it as she disappeared through the door.
Rayne didn't think it looked too bad inside. A fireplace sat in one wall, while stairs beside the bar led up. It was quiet, probably because it was further back from the docks than most other places. Only a few of the tables were full, mostly with men sitting either in deep conversation or playing cards. None of them glanced at her. Quickly she headed to the bar, behind which stood a tall man with a thick beard.
His gaze landed on her.
"I need two rooms," she said. "I don't know how long for."
"How much you got?" His voice was gruff, but his eyes – green – sparkled.
He laughed, shaking his head. "Come on, little girl, I don't need horses. I need money."
"So sell them."
"Here?" His mouth twisted into a grin. "You do know where you are, right? This place is full of sailors. Not the kind who are interested in crossing land."
"Then sell them to the merchants."
"They got their own horses to sell, and a lot more than two. Two silver pieces, per night. That includes food, by the way. You ain't got that, you ain't got a room. Sorry, little girl. I got a business to run."
Huffing and puffing, she returned to Jackson. He glanced at her, before looking quickly away.
"Come on," she grunted, grabbing her horse's reigns and leading it towards the docks. Her hands gripped tightly, her knuckles turning white as she tried to think. She had never tried to sell a horse before. It just wasn't done; her people kept their horses, bred them themselves. It was unthinkable to sell something you had nurtured and loved for years. But the horse she led wasn't hers, and they needed to get rid of them both. They needed rooms, too.
She had thought someone would jump at the chance to buy a horse; surely they were valuable?
"What's the plan?" Jackson asked, as she stopped on the street, glancing at the ships.
"Can you tell which ones are merchant ships?"
He shook his head.
"Right, well, useful." People moved all around them, heading back and forth from the ships to the shops lining the docks, the taverns and some heading for the market slightly further in the town. Rayne took a deep breath, watching as sailors greeted each other, clapping backs and laughing as they swapped stories. "We need somewhere to stay," she said, frowning as she tried to think. "We also need to get on a ship."
She sighed. "I have no idea."
"You weren't told?"
"No. She said once I got here I would know. That doesn't seem to be happening, does it?"
They stood there, glancing at each other and at the hustle and bustle around them. There were few women around. Every so often, Rayne would spot another female, some were dressed as sailors, others in richer clothes. Once more, she passed the reign to Jackson.
Rayne headed off, moving towards the ships. At the first one she came to, there were two men standing at the end of the walkway, leaning against the rails. She stopped in front of them.
"I need to sell two horses," she said. "And I need a good price."
She had the same reaction as the innkeeper had given her. The one man, with long, greasy brown hair, laughed.
"Good luck with that."
Something about the way the other leered at her pushed her over the edge. She dove forward, slamming the greasy haired man against the railing. Her fingers clutched his shirt as she pushed her face against his. The men who had been leering stepped forward, reaching for the sword at his side, but stopped when she held out her palm.
"Tell me where to go to sell two horses."
"Gajner," the man panted. "He's a merchant. He'll be in The Drowned Sailor. I don't know if he will and he don't like to be bothered..."
The leery man was staring at her hand, as if only now realising there really was nothing she could do. She let go of the greasy haired one, and stepped back, wiping her palms on her top. She flashed them both a wide smile, thanking Ares for the effect shock had.
She turned, walking back to Jackson with a newfound spring in her step. He raised an eyebrow, before shaking his head and handing the reign back to her.
"The Drowned Sailor, no idea if we'll get what we want but it's a start."
Jackson glanced at the men by the boat. "Maybe I should go in, this time."
She shrugged. "You can if you want, but if there's trouble, I have a weapon up my sleeve." She flexed her fingers, grinning as Jackson nodded.
"Right. Okay. Well, let's find this place then."
A/N: As always, feedback is appreciated and very much loved. Especially in terms of plot, characterisations and if you notice any mistakes that I've missed. I live off critique, basically. Next chapter returns to Arrow, so any thoughts about what you're expecting there would be interesting, too. There is a poll on my profile page regarding what to write next, so please, please have a look and cast your vote. Ta!