On the fifth day of travel, they entered the Straights of Fire and Rowan woke up. She was finally lucid. Her body ached all over and she could barely remember a thing following their escape. She was not, however, hungry. Seres had made sure to wake her up occasionally so that she could eat. It was a strange feeling, being properly satiated for the first time in years. It would still take time to reverse the damage that had been done to her weight, but it was a start.
She rolled off of the cot in the curtained off quarters they had been provided with. Before she could find her feet, the floor rolled beneath her and she fell like a crashing wave. As Rowan struggled to her feet, unable to find her balance, a Ferran girl peaked inside.
“Seres, is that you?” asked Rowan.
“Ah, no…” the girl responded timidly.
Now seeing a tawny haired girl that she didn’t recognise, Rowan immediately guarded herself. “Who are you then?”
“Alena. I’m with Arik. Please don’t hurt me. ” The girl was terrified from the sudden show of aggression.
“Arik?” muttered Rowan quietly to herself in a somewhat confused tone. “Oh! The lord who thought himself a hero.” Feeling slightly appeased by that realisation, Rowan lowered her guard, but she didn’t drop it completely.
“Should I leave? I just heard a loud noise as I was passing by and wanted to make sure you were okay but I can go if you want me to.” Alena was speaking very quickly as she did her best to not seem threatening.
The response came with a predatory note that sent a shiver down Alena’s tail. “You don’t need to do that. Not yet at least.”
“Are you sure?” Alena replied hesitantly.
“I just need to make sure you aren’t with them first.”
“The people who enslaved us. If you were, I’d have to kill you.”
Alena went pale. Half because of the threat and half because of the implication. “By the Goddess, no!” she exclaimed. “I couldn’t. Even thinking of what must have happened to you all down there makes me sick and angry and riddled with despair.”
Rowan took a sigh of relief; Alena sounded genuine. “Then I’m sorry for scaring you. Cannae be too careful. Not yet at least. Is there a bucket nearby?”
Not expecting the last sentence, Alena fumbled around in an attempt to fulfil the request. When she eventually found a bucket, Rowan promptly threw up inside it.
“Wow. It feels like forever since I’ve had enough in my stomach to throw up. Thanks for the bucket.”
“No problem,” responded Alena, slightly unnerved by Rowan’s sudden change in mood. “Are you okay?”
“Just a little vertigo,” Rowan smiled, “The ground feels like an Alyren raindrop.”
“That’s probably because we’re on a ship to Midiris.”
“Oh right. I think I remember Seres saying something about that. Or was it Amran? How long has it been?”
“Five days. Should I find Seres? We haven’t spoken but I know what she looks like. You’re Rowan, correct?”
“I am and you don’t need to do that. I should probably be up and moving.”
“In which case, I have something that might help with the nausea while you get used to the swaying of the ship.”
In response, Alena pulled back her sleeves to reveal a pair of bands on her wrists. “These help a lot. I’ve got some spare so let me just go get them.”
Alena shuffled out of the ‘room’ with her ears perked up and her tail swishing behind her. Rowan’s heart fluttered at the sight. “Dammit Rowan!” she chastised herself, “This is not the time to be getting the hots for a complete stranger.”
Alena returned after only five minutes and presented Rowan with a pair of bands, each with a glass bead on the inside. “The bead goes here,” Alena explained, pointing at her own wrist. “The pressure helps for some reason.”
“Thank you,” responded Rowan quietly. She was blushing softly as she put the bands on. Kindness really was attractive and Alena had a cute smile. In an attempt to hide her blush, Rowan slapped her cheeks, making Alena jump. “Right! Time to get moving.”
It took a while for Rowan to find her balance. This was, after all, her first time being out at sea while fully conscious. Alena kept an eye on her to make sure that she didn’t fall. After twenty or so minutes of walking around the hold Rowan was doing rather well. Then something clattered behind her. She turned to see what happened when someone barrelled into her. Rowan looked down to see Seres snivelling into her shirt.
“Um, hello, Seres.”
“You’re awake!” Seres cried, “Like really awake.”
“I really am,” Rowan laughed.
“The medic said you just needed rest, but I was scared you pushed yourself too hard.”
“I’m just going to excuse myself,” Alena interrupted awkwardly.
“Sorry, Alena,” Rowan apologised, “Seres is always like this when I’ve been gone for a while.”
“I am not!” Seres protested.
“Still, I’ve been away from my friends for too long. I was only going to get a book when you fell and then I got somewhat distracted making sure you were okay.”
“Okay then,” Rowan responded. “Tell Arik I need to speak to him later.”
Alena retreated back to her friends, hopping over some apples that Seres had dropped. “She’s adorable, isn’t she?” Rowan asked Seres.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You’re hopeless,” laughed Rowan.
“Well excuse me,” Seres huffed.
“I’m glad you’re safe. I think you’ve started gaining weight.”
The two girls laughed at that.
“Is Amran okay?” Rowan asked after a moment, remembering the injuries he has sustained in the escape.
“Not good. His ankle was completely crushed and he isn’t healing as fast as you. The medic said that he might lose the foot.”
Rowan immediately felt guilty. If she hadn’t gone after Lord Fein, Amran wouldn’t have been injured. It started to weigh in on her and her surroundings.
She was snapped out of it when Seres started squirming. “Sorry,” she apologised
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Rowan,” Seres replied when the pressure eased up. “Amran doesn’t blame you and neither should you. Now let’s get you something to eat and then I’ll show you around the ship. The captain is a retired vice-admiral from the Midiran Navy. I think you’ll like him.”
After that, the girls had a lunch of apples, cheese, ham, bread, and hot butter. It took a long time for Rowan to finish; she had to eat slowly so that she didn’t strain her stomach. It was also delicious. In comparison to years of trite food they had been given in the caves, the simple lunch that they ate now was gourmet cuisine. Rowan wanted to wolf it down, but she also wanted to savour it for an eternity. The fear of throwing up again convinced her to show restraint. When she was finally finished and the meal had been given the chance to settle, Seres gave her a tour of the ship. By the end of it, she was treated to her first look at the sun as a truly free woman. It was breathtaking.
Her gawking was soon interrupted by a towering man with ruddy hair and an elaborately braided beard. “You must be Rowan,” he boomed. “Captain Dralik at your service.”
“Um, hello,” she replied at what should have been a normal volume, yet compared to Dralik, it was a whisper.
“You can do better than that, lass. Her Highness here tells me that you were a hero down in those caves.”
Rowan squirmed. “I wasn’t that much of a hero.”
“Tell that to the girl who was saved from five years of unimaginable torment. You have my gratitude.”
Rowan was surprised at how much Seres had told him. “Um, thank you. I mean, you’re welcome. No, thank you still works.”
Dralik laughed as Rowan stumbled over her words. “You’re an interesting one, lass, the complete opposite of my daughter.”
“You have a daughter?” Seres interjected.
“Aye. My replacement back home “
“In the navy?”
“That’s right. She’s the second youngest vice-admiral currently in service. I’m so proud.” The rambunctious captain beamed as he sung his daughter’s praises.
“Um, Captain Dralik?” Rowan interrupted, having realised a perfect opportunity.
“When did you retire?”
“Did Her Highness not mention it?”
“Well I retired four years ago. Right after the final blow to the raiders that plagued Llen Fær.”
“Then do you know my brother, Tyris Naliir? He would have been a junior captain back then.”
“Naliir? Yes, I believe do. He was one of the first volunteers in the crusade against the raiders. I was in a few joint operations with his squadron.”
“Is he alive?”
“He was last time I checked. He might even be a rear admiral now.”
“Thank the Goddess.”
“You’ll be able to thank Her double in another five or so days when we arrive in Midiris.”
“I will, thank you.” Rowan beamed at him, aided by the light of hope.
Dralik nodded and took his leave. They were going home.
Later that evening, Rowan went looking for Ædarik. She found him talking with his friends below deck. Not want to disturb them, she waited for a natural break in conversation when the one with golden hair and a bodacious figure noticed her. “Well don’t just stand there,” she beckoned with a voice like velvet, drawing everyone’s attention to Rowan.
“Rowan, sorry,” said Ædarik, “I was going to come find you earlier, but…”
“It’s fine,” she responded. “I’m not interrupting anything am I?”
“Nothing major,” the girl with the voice like velvet replied. “We were just telling Ashlin here about life in Særis. The city that is. I’m Davra by the way.”
“Rowan, but you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“Arik did sort of announce it for all to hear,” Alena laughed.
“Sorry about that,” Ædarik apologised. “Seeing as they’re here, I may as well introduce everyone. You’ve already met Alena and Davra just introduced herself. The person she pointed at with the magenta hair is Lady Ashlin Takiir. Next to her is Lady Deilin.”
Rowan greeted each one and they responded in kind. “How much do they know?” she asked.
“As much as I,” Ædarik admitted. “I tried to do what you requested without them knowing, but I couldn’t just disappear.”
“He was successful for the most part,” Ashlin opined quietly. “We thought you were just refugees, but then we heard the captain talking to the princess.”
“You know who she is?” Rowan asked, readying her mental guard.
“Only after the conversation she had with Captain Dralik,” Alena clarified, “He isn’t exactly quiet. Or subtle for that matter.”
Rowan breathed easy at that. “I think that’s an understatement,” she laughed. “Anyway, I wanted to thank you for doing what I asked and then some, Arik, even if it didn’t go quite how I expected.”
“I made a promise and I’m not one to forswear his oaths.”
Rowan smiled. “Good to know. Well, I think I’ve said what I need to so I’m going to take my leave.”
Before she could walk away, Ashlin, who had been fidgeting the entire time, spoke up. “Um, Rowan. Before you go, I wanted to apologise.”
“Why?” Rowan responded, somewhat confused.
“Because my father had something to do with those caves and all of you being kept prisoner,” Ashlin answered with her head bowed in shame.
“Did you know?”
“No, I swear I didn’t.”
“Then you have nothing to apologise for, assuming you don’t plan on aiding him in the future or getting in my way.”
“No, of course not. I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Rowan gave Ashlin and the others a serious look. “Good. Now you seem like a nice girl, so I’m gonna give you some forewarning.”
“Okay?” Ashlin replied hesitantly.
“Your father will die for what he has done. By my own hand if I can help it.”
Ashlin went pale at the declaration. So did everyone else. “I’m sorry?”
“I made an oath on the Goddess’ true name that I would destroy the operation that enslaved us and that I would see every lord involved with it dead,” Rowan explained. “They took everything from us, hoping we would break so that they could forge us into a weaponised force of Ardents and Stoics. I don’t know why, but no reason in all the realms of damnation could justify what they did.”
Everyone was speechless as Rowan stopped speaking. What could they say to that?
“I’m sorry we couldn’t have met under different circumstances,” Rowan sighed, “You all seem like nice people. The kind that I wouldn’t mind being friends with, but I kinda ruined any chances of that, didn’t I?” Before anyone could respond, she fled, leaving everyone in a state of bewilderment. Ashlin was especially shell-shocked.
“She was not what I expected,” Deilin stated after a moment of awkward silence.
“You can say that again,” Davra agreed.
“Don’t hold it against her,” Ædarik sighed, “She’s been through a lot.”
“We won’t,” Alena said quietly.
The others nodded and Ashlin looked up. “I’m going to make her eat her final words,” she declared. “I will do my best to be friends with her. Maybe then I can lessen the shame that I feel.”
“You shouldn’t try to be friends with someone because you feel obligated to, “ Davra chided.
“Then I’ll do it because I want to. Who’s with me?”
“I’m in,” Ædarik laughed.
After a moment of Ashlin looking around, Alena timidly raised her hand. “Me too,” she added.
“I’m not sure,” Deilin admitted after some consideration. “She might be a bit too intense for me. I won’t turn my nose or anything at her, but she scares me.”
“I also won’t be going out of my way to be friends with her, but if it happens naturally, I’ll be fine with it,” Davra responded. “Though I am somewhat curious as to what she’ll be like when she’s all cleaned up and in some nice clothing.
Author’s Note: Hello everyone. I was a very clever girl and accidentally deleted my working draft of this release which is why it is so late. Recovering it was a nightmare and I nearly had a panic attack thinking that I would need to rewrite it. Thankfully I didn’t need to. Hope you enjoy it, considering how much trouble it caused me.