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Spirit's Shadow Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

With Logan’s concerns, and those of his own hanging over his head, Aethan spent the next day with Logan planning their journey through Kenaz.

“What is this terrain like?” Logan asked.

“How should I know? Doesn’t the map have a legend?”

“It doesn’t denote what these squiggly lines are. Are they mountains or swamp?”

“What do you want me to do, guess? I’m no cartographer.” A thought occurred to Aethan then. “We could ask Rad. He’s from Kenaz.”

“So are half the men on this ship,” Logan said. “I wouldn’t trust a one of them. We’d do well to keep the details of our journey to ourselves.”

“In that case, your guess is as good as mine. I’d say it looks like a swamp.”

Logan squinted lower, poring over the worn document.

“Actually,” Aethan mused, “I don’t remember there being a whole lot of wetland in Kenaz. They manufacture gunpowder from peat, I believe, and I think it’s a rare commodity.”

“They are armed with guns?”

“Yes, of the same variety the hill people of the wastes carried.” Aethan pulled his own pistol from his leather bag. “This was a gift from one of the jarls to my father about two decades ago.” He wiped his hand over the scratched barrel. “Andruain doesn’t manufacture powder, though, so to my knowledge, Kenaz is the only country to trade it.”

“This ship certainly has enough on board to supply an army.”

Muffled yelling outside the cabin wall caused Logan to stand and Aethan stuffed his gun back into the leather bag. He buttoned up his shirt and headed above.

Crewmen hauled on ropes, fighting against the wind in the rigging. Dark clouds rolled and grew, blocking what remained of the sun’s light.

Officer uniforms blended with the dingy linen shirts of the sailors, as men ran along the deck with ropes in their hands. Most of the second watch appeared to be working to mitigate the damages to the sails. Rad was on second watch.

Aethan scanned the deck for his friend, and found the boy in what could only described as a rather intimate scene with the lieutenant.

The officer leaned in, pressing the boy against the railing. Rad leaned away, noticeably uncomfortable from their proximity. The older man brought his hand up to caress Rad’s cheek. The boy shied away.

A great gust of wind caught in the sails, rocking the Shining Star mercilessly. The sea started getting choppy, dark waves with white caps forming.

Amidst the confusion of the sailors, Logan appeared beside Aethan, saying, “Come on now, it’s going to be a rough night by the look of those clouds.

Logan guided Aethan by the shoulder toward the steps. “You’ll feel less movement in the cabin.”

Aethan pulled away. “Where’s Rad?”

“Probably finding some shelter from this coming storm.”

Aethan didn’t want to disclose what he’d witnessed, but the feeling that crept over him made a rage rise up in him that he wouldn’t be able to suppress. If the lieutenant had plans for the boy of a less than noble nature, Aethan felt honor bound to step in.

“I need to find him,” Aethan said, pushing past Logan.

“I thought I told you to mind your own business.”

Aethan wheeled on his friend. “He had rope burns on his wrists. Tell me, how does a boy get them if he’s not allowed to touch the rigging?”

Logan kept his eyes fixed steadily on Aethan. “What are you saying?”

“He has an admirer, and I don’t think he harbors the same feelings.”

Logan frowned. “If you intervene ineffectively, you will endanger him and us.”

“Good thing I’m never ineffective,” Aethan said, turning and heading for the officers’ quarters.

With the chaos outside, most of the officers were among the sailors, taking down the sails and tying everything down with ropes to weather the storm, so Aethan tried doors until he found one that was locked. He rapped on the door. “Rad?”

A muffled yelp sounded from within and Aethan called again. “Are you in there?”

“Go away,” shouted the deep voice of the lieutenant.

“Open this door now, or so help me, I’ll break it in.”

The door opened a moment later, and the lieutenant stood in the doorway, leveling a pistol in Aethan’s face.

“I think you’re lost, sir,” the officer said, showing teeth. “The galley is down that other hall.”

The door wasn’t open far enough to glimpse Rad, but Aethan could hear the boy whimpering. “I’ve come for the boy.”

“Oh have you? Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You have no business here, now leave.”

Aethan took a step closer, until the barrel of the pistol was past the side of his neck. The officer wore no powder horn. “You’d better make that first shot count,” he growled. “You can’t reload it.”

The officer cracked a smile. “I only need one bullet to bring a man down.” He repositioned the pistol, trying to take aim at Aethan again.

With reflexes like the trained war horses of Andruain, Aethan ducked under the barrel and threw his weight forward, knocking the officer backwards on his rump.

Unfortunately, the pistol was still in the man’s grasp, so Aethan scrambled atop his prey to neutralize the weapon, taking a fist in the gut in the process.

With his weight-loss taking a small toll, Aethan struggled, trying to roll the man over, but failing. He dodged another fist, but had to let go of the gun arm.

The wooden handle of the pistol came up, smacking him in the jaw, but he landed a good fist of his own, breaking the nose of the officer.

With his adversary momentarily gargling on his own blood, Aethan grabbed for the gun again and wrenched it from the slackening grip.

Wiping blood from his split lip, Aethan stood, pointing the gun at its owner lying on the floor.

Rad knelt limply in the corner of the room, his wrists tied to his ankles.

Aethan saw the officer’s belt on a nearby table, so he took a dagger from its sheath. “Come on, Rad,” he said, as he cut the ropes. “Let’s get out of here.”

The officer gagged and sat up. “You’re going to pay in the worst way for this,” he said. “You’re not leaving this ship alive.”

As he ushered Rad out the door, Aethan stopped to hover over the bleeding lieutenant. “If you touch this boy again, I’ll make sure it’s the last thing you ever lay a hand on. I’m no man to trifle with, and you would do well to remember it.”

He pushed the silent boy down the hall until they reached the deck. Aethan threw the pistol into the sea and turned to the boy. “Come on, we need to tell the captain what has been happening on this boat.”

As Aethan turned for the captain’s quarters, Rad caught his arm. “He knows.”

“The captain knows this officer has been abusing you? And nothing has been done about it?”

“Captain Clifton will not stop it, because the only thing standing between him and mutiny are the officers like Lieutenant Pascal.”

Aethan ground his teeth. “Then you can stay in our cabin tonight. We are almost at port.”

To say that Logan was unimpressed with another roommate would have been a drastic understatement. He was furious when Aethan turned up with the boy, but soon enough relented to Aethan’s will. It didn’t even take a thorough explanation, which made it that much easier on Aethan. He hated the thought of people abusing children, and though not many things made him feel murderous, the sight of Rad tied up like that had near been enough.

For two days Rad stayed in the cabin, the best part being that they together figured out what the squiggly lines were.

“Those are foothills,” the boy said with a laugh.

“Not wetlands?” Logan asked.

“No, these two areas are wetlands, Hrafnirgung and Firnaljur.”

“And what is travel like through these regions?” Logan asked, pointing to the path he’d selected as the most likely course they would travel.

“This is a pass through the foothills,” Rad explained. “And this shaded area is a forest. There’s a village right on the road here,” he pointed, “called Thorvaldheim. If you’re taking the pass, you will want to refresh your supplies there. I wonder why it isn’t on the map.”

“And what is this area?” Aethan asked, pointing to the mountains where the dragon was said to dwell.

“A vast desolate wasteland. High mountain peaks and deep canyons. There is little alive in that region. It’s a cursed land called Fehrune, from long ago when our ancestors lived there and used the island’s magic to the aid of all our people.”

He looked sad. “Now the north and south are divided in civil war, and the land of Fehrune is the border that no one crosses for fear of the age-old curse that has fallen upon it. Even the ravens don’t fly there anymore.”

“What is the nature of the curse?” Logan asked.

“I have heard that men go mad up there,” the boy said gravely. “First their bodies grows weak, then soon their minds hallucinate all manner of strange visions.”

“You’ve seen men so affected?” Aethan asked.

“No, but I’ve been to a camp near that small lake, and there were men who told tales of it.”

Aethan caught Logan’s glance and knew they were both wondering the same thing, could the magic of a shadow dragon be responsible for those kinds of symptoms?

The cries of men from outside drew their attention from the map.

“Stations! One voice shouted.

“That’s the admiral,” Rad said, rising from the table.

“What’s going on?” Aethan asked.

“If he’s calling men to their stations, I’d guess he’s spotted something, perhaps another ship.”

“Pirates?” Logan asked.

“These waters are full of pirates,” the boy said, going pale. “And they come to fight, not take prisoners.”

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Caged Maiden
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