From the sequel to The Hordes of Chanakra.
Kaila stared out over the sea until the sun sank beneath the waves before them. Several times, someone brought her a cup of water which she drank before handing the cub behind her, not even looking to see who had brought the cup. Once Keven asked her if she wished to eat. She merely shook her head.
As darkness descended, leaving only the light of the larger moon shrouding the sea in gray, she shook her head and stepped back from the stempost. She turned. Crewmembers stopped what they were doing and stared at her for a moment before hastily averting their eyes and returning to their tasks. She walked to the rear of the ship, stepping over cordage, sidling around casks and tools, obstacles she had scarce noticed before.
As she crossed the length of the ship she let her eyes turn from side to side to inspect the crew. While they did their tasks with alacrity, they kept casting fearful glances at the dark sea around them.
In the stern, Kaila found Marek using a cord to measure the height of stars. Shillond stood next to him, his eyes wide but his attention turned inward. Kaila knew the signs.
“The crew are fearful,” she said. “Not of us but–” she tossed her head. “–out there.”
Marek nodded. “The sea at night is a frightening thing. They expected to pull up on shore overnight.”
Kaila looked back over her shoulder. “A frightening thing indeed. Who knows what it can steal from you.”
Shillond blinked, his attention turned outward once again. “Kaila…”
Kaila raised a hand. “No, father. Kreg and I both knew that death could claim one of us and not the other. I only wish we had…more time.”
Kaila closed her eyes. She felt the grief well up in her again. She gathered the grief and squeezed it into a hard, tight ball, then pushed it down deep inside her. When she opened her eyes, they were dry. She felt the muscles of her face settle into the expression she had worn too often in her life, hard and stern. Only since…she pushed that thought away. She would be what her king needed, what she has always been, a fearless knight, ready to die at his command.
“Kaila?” Shillond’s voice held concern.
Kaila shook her head. She turned her face to the king and bowed. “What is our course, Your Majesty?”
“We shall sail…four days I think before we turn north and seek the coast and thence on west to Trevanta.”
“How may I serve?”
Marek smiled. “My strong right arm, as always. Keven has confiscated the crew’s weapons. Choose from among them as best suits you, then rest. Your watch shall come later.”
“As my King commands.” Kaila bowed again and backed away before turning and finding the hatch that led to the interior of the ship.
A single oil lamp dimly lit the passageway to the officer’s cabins in the rear of the ship. Kaila kicked aside a piece of the shattered doorway as she returned to the cabin from which she and the others had escaped.
Keven sat on the room’s bunk, a motley collection of swords arranged on the floor in front of him. Two oil lamps lit the room in a ruddy glow.
While Kaila stood in the doorway he picked up one of the swords and inspected the edge.
“The King said I was to choose weapons,” Kaila said.
Keven waved a hand over the swords and knives on the floor. “There is little enough to choose from. Some, I think, were fine blades once but years of salt and…”
Kaila held up a hand. Something tugged at her head. No, not her head. Her heart. She turned and frowned at the door on the opposite side of the narrow passage.
“What is through that door?”
Keven stood up. “That would be the purser’s quarters. I had planned to search it next, but we needed weapons before we needed gold.”
Kaila knew that Keven spoke true. But something…something called to her. She laid her hand on the latch. The door opened at her touch. She stepped into the doorway but only blackness met her gaze.
Kaila held her hand out behind her.
“If it please, Your Highness. A lamp.”
She felt the weight of an oil lamp fill her palm. She brought the lamp around and held it as high as the ceiling would permit.
A modest room with a single bunk. A sea bag lay on the bunk. A desk filled the forward part of the room, with a large strongbox underneath it.
But the desk did not call to her. She turned to the aft end of the room. She took another step, only dimly noting Keven following her into the room. Kaila ran her hand over the wood. Something…something was there. Did that plank move?
She worried at the plank, shoving it this way and that, trying to get it to slide aside, or to slide out. Her movements became increasingly frantic. A low growl escaped from her throat.
She drew back her right hand, clenching her fist. Before she could strike, Keven caught her wrist. Surprised, Kaila looked back, her hand opening of its own accord.
Smiling, Keven pressed the handle of a small throwing hatchet into her hand and took the lamp from her other.
Kaila nodded her thanks then turned back to the plank. She chopped. Again and again. Wood chips flew. Her breath came in ragged gasps as tears ran down her face. She continued to hack until finally, with the head of the hatchet wedged into the wood, she twisted and the plank cracked, falling away from the wall in two pieces.
The falling plank revealed a false wall, with a space barely a hand wide. In the shadows of that space, something gleamed.
At Kaila’s gesture, Keven brought the lamp closer.
Swords, two swords concealed within the false wall. Not just any swords but shashyn, the Great Swords of Aerioch, both with scabbards and belts.
Kaila’s eyes widened as she recognized the swords. One she knew as well as her own hand. It was the sword she had carried since first she took up arms, the sword her mother had carried in her last battle. And the other. That one too she knew, the sword chance found at a bladesmith’s in Trevanta, the sword that had suited Kreg so well.
Kaila drew the swords from the wall. She pressed the hilts of the two swords to her bowed forehead. Tears dripped from her eyes.
“What?” Keven’s voice seemed to come from far away. “Is that…your sword?”
Kaila drew a deep breath and lowered the swords.
“I had wondered how this ship chanced upon us,” she said.
“They were sent after us,” Keven said. “A spell. We questioned the captain.”
Kaila nodded. “For such a spell they would need something bound to us. And as the spell drew them to us, it also drew me to…” She held up her sword. Her hand tightened around Kreg’s sword for a moment, and then she sighed again. “If only…” She shook her head. “Keven, Kreg’s sword is long for you, but would suit better than any of this crew’s ill forged ironmongery.”
She held out the sword. “And I think Kreg would be honored if you would use it in his name.”
Keven nodded and took the sword. “Shall we see what else we may find?”
Kaila buckled her sword around her waist so that it hung at her right hip. She smiled a smile she did not yet feel but knew that, in time, she would.
“Yes, let us.”
Strangely, the weight of the sword at her waist seemed to relieve one in her heart. Perhaps the time would come when she would laugh again. Perhaps.