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Spirit's Shadow Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1

In thirty–two years, Aethan had built up something of an ironclad stomach. Whether it was blood flowing on the green, corpses rotting on a battlefield, or the stuff that passed for food in Brazelton’s mercenary guildhall, none of it turned his stomach. However, the lurching and rocking of The Shining Star made him reach for his bucket again.

It was Jarren who booked Logan and Aethan’s passage to Kenaz aboard the only merchant vessel daring enough to sail with the first favorable winds of the season. And if it had been up to Aethan, they would have waited until later spring when the sea was calmer. Then, it appeared Sayan did not suffer from seasickness, only unfortunate men better suited to the saddle than a makeshift cabin on a forty-eight gun glorified rowboat.

It wasn’t that the ship was too small for its crew and goods, he thought, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, just that it was being tossed mercilessly by the rough waves, and he seemed the only man on board to take notice. In a most unpleasant way.

He swept sweaty blonde locks out of his eyes and leaned back, hanging limply, half-supported by his net hammock. Logan would return shortly from his dinner, and Aethan hoped to be asleep when he did.

While the smug werewolf made a perfectly capable companion, if Aethan had to hear one more sea shanty in Logan’s haunting tenor voice, he might well hang himself from the yardarm; if he dared at all to go above.

The Shining Star was loaded with silk, silver, and wine from Brazelton, and grain, spices and pearls from the Marks. Her crew had been at sea for more than two months before their stop in Brazelton to take on their passengers and fresh supplies, and it was beginning to show in their moods.

Logan commandeered a battered old lute one night from an aged seaman and plucked it on the deck, but when the dour moods of the other sailors caused a stir, and the officers turned up to keep the crew in line, Logan was relegated to singing in their cabin. The lute still leaned against the wall where he had left it. Obviously, it was not well received by the sailing men even before it had found its new owner.

The door creaked, but Aethan didn’t open his eyes.

“I brought you a trencher,” Logan said, entering. The dull thud of wood against wood sounded on the table.

Aethan raised his head. “I already had my dinner,” he said. “It’s in the bucket on the floor.”

“I’ll just empty that then while you eat,” Logan said, making to leave again.

“I’m not hungry,” Aethan groaned, struggling to sit up in his flimsy bed.

Logan lifted a dark eyebrow and said, “That may be, but I’d reckon you’ve lost a stone or more on this trip, and trust me, weak and shaky isn’t the way you want to feel when you come face to face with a dragon.”

Pulling his unbuttoned shirt off, Aethan staggered to the basin upon the table. He splashed cool water on his face as Logan left the cabin again.

The smell of boiled beans and rice from the trencher before him assaulted his fragile senses. He pushed it away, standing and taking his shirt off the chair. Sailors, it seemed, didn’t eat better than soldiers did.

A knock sounded at the door. “Sir? I’ve come to clean your room.”

“It’s open," Aethan called, drying his face with his shirt.

A boy in his teens entered. His floppy blonde hair partially obscured his eyes, but he had the look of the northern people, like the Kenaz traders Aethan knew in his youth. The boy carried a cloth sack and bucket with two dirty rags.

“I’ll be out of your way in a moment, sir.”

Aethan sat on a small bench while the boy wiped down the table. When the ship rocked again, Aethan lurched with it, grabbing the wall for support.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“Fine,” Aethan muttered, closing his eyes. If he survived the journey, he would have to remember to thank Jarren for insisting they leave before the spring storms had passed, a fist in the face ought to do nicely.

“You don’t look well, sir,” the boy said.

In no mood to hear how he appeared, Aethan pulled his shirt back over his shoulders and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. “Are you finished yet?”

“Aye, sir. Just about done.”

When the boy turned to leave, Aethan said, “Leave the bucket, would you, lad?”

His mouth a slight frown, the boy obeyed and closed the door behind him.

Yeah, definitely a punch in the face, Aethan thought, and Logan too, damn him.

Later that evening, while Logan strummed the newly tuned lute, Aethan sat at the table turning a polished sword over in his hands, its engraved symbols illuminated by the light of the lamp.

“I feel nervous traveling with this thing now, you know,” Aethan said. “I’ve had it for four years, but now I want it as far away from me as possible.”

Logan, from behind Aethan’s back, said, “You’re lucky it didn’t kill you. Four years is a long time to hold a curse in your hands.”

“And to think, my father had it for a decade or more. I wonder where it came from.”

Logan shrugged. “There are lost relics all over this world, sometimes you find them in hidden crypts, and sometimes in the hand of your friend.”

As Aethan slid the palm of his hand along the blade, someone rapped upon the door.

He placed the sword back into its sheath and rose. After a telling glance back to Logan, he answered the door.

The same young man who had come in earlier stood in the narrow hallway that separated Aethan’s cabin from the others.

“Can I help you?”

He glanced up, much shorter than Aethan was. “I came to see how you were feeling, sir.”

It seemed odd, but Aethan didn’t want to appear unkind. “I had a nap earlier and am feeling somewhat better. Thanks for your concern.”

The boy extended is hand, where in it was clasped a leather drinking mug. “I brought you this. It’s ginger tea.”

“Tea?”

“Even the hardiest sailing men get sick now and again. We already have our sea legs, but use ginger tea for the times when they fail.”

Aethan felt the corners of his mouth twitch at the thought of the young man comparing himself to a hardy sailor. However, he was touched the boy had brought him a remedy, though he doubted it would help.

“That is kind of you,” he said, accepting the offering. “So this is supposed to work to settle my stomach?”

“It can help sometimes, sir. It’s better to take it early, with the first symptoms, but I put some sugar in it for you since you probably didn’t eat.”

Aethan sipped the tea, memories from what felt a lifetime ago flooding back to him. Ginger wasn’t a common spice in Andruain, his homeland, but native to Goronmark, far to the southeast. Before Ilysia died, she used to flavor cookies and cakes with it, especially for the holidays. The spicy fragrant tea almost brought him back to a time long ago forgotten, a place that no longer existed.

Aethan handed the boy back the empty mug and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Rad, sir.”

“Rad?” Aethan narrowed his eyes. “Well met.”

The youth looked uncomfortable, Aethan thought. He stood rather awkwardly and peered into the cabin, glancing nervously at Logan and his silly lute.

“I’m turning in, sir. If you need more tea, I can sneak it from the ship doc, just let me know.”

After the boy left, Aethan closed the door and found his own hammock. At least Logan’s singing was good for something, it hid the creaks and groans that reminded Aethan that he was stuck miles from a shoreline, where the only thing keeping him from drowning was a bunch of timbers holding back the sea.

When Aethan awoke, the cabin was dark. With only one small window, he couldn’t tell if it was dawn or a cloudy noon.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Rad said, setting down a trencher and picking up the waste bucket.

“It’s okay.” Aethan rose from his hammock. “Come here.” He stepped carefully to avoid walking too quickly and dizzying himself again, over to one of their leather bags on the floor.

The youth didn’t move, instead standing frozen and wide-eyed.

Aethan laughed. “I’m not going to hurt, you.” He opened the pack and pulled out a paper-
wrapped parcel that he tossed to the boy.

“What’s your real name? Aethan asked. “I can’t tell whether you’re from Andruain or Kenaz, so many of your kinsmen now live in my homeland, and your accent is barely noticeable.”

The youth held aloft the parcel. “What’s this?”

“Sweets from Brazelton. I brought them in case I couldn’t eat anything else.” Aethan closed the bag and set it back against the wall. “I want you to have it for looking after me. That’s a sign of a leader, Rad, looking after others. I appreciate your concern.”

“Radulfr,” the boy said. “I’m from Kenaz.”

“I’m Aethan, nice to meet you.”

The boy tucked the parcel into his pocket.

“You look young to be a sailor,” Aethan said. “It is a dangerous job for a boy.”

“I’m fifteen,” Rad said, standing straighter, as if to prove his adulthood. “They hire young men to work aboard the ships, but I’m almost sixteen and they’ll train me to work the rigging and guns.”

“Where’s your father?”

Rad averted his eyes.

Aethan saw shame on his face.

“My father is a landowner, a jarl.”

Aethan saw he was making the boy uncomfortable, so he switched tactics. “My father was a powerful man too. They’re big shoes to fill, aren’t they?”

The boy smiled. “Aye. My father is head of our clan and not a man to be trifled with. My older brother and I left a year ago to make our own fortune. I signed up with a company of traders from Kenaz and am returning home now.”

“Sea life not for you then?”

“No, sir. I want to go home to my brother.”

Aethan stuck out his hand. “Well, best wishes on your journey. I too am on my way home, and I’ve been gone longer than a year, so I understand the longing in your heart.”

The boy smiled and grasped Aethan’s forearm, as the north men did. “I’d best be off now. I still have duties before I find my bed. I will check on you tomorrow, sir. We’re about to leave the peninsula for open waters and it’s going to be a rougher ride before we reach my homeland.”

Taking back his hand, Aethan sighed. “I’ll be glad to leave this vessel behind, if only for a few weeks. I am not cut out for this mode of transport.”

“The secret is to not lock your knees,” the boy said. “Just lean with the boat. That’s how we do it. And spend some time above, the fresh air can help, but keep your eyes fixed on the distance rather than the rocking gunwales.”

“I’ll do that,” Aethan said. “Rest well.”

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Author
Caged Maiden
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8 min read
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