‘Lera. Wake dearest.’ said the Captain as he gently touched her cheek, sitting at the edge of their bed in his cabin.
He watched on as her eyes slowly fluttered open. They met his own while she made sense of her surrounds. She looked past him to the makeshift cot with Sialin settled in it.
‘Sialin?’ asked Selera.
‘Still sleeping, she is unchanged as yet.’ he said, his voice deep and caring, ‘I am not surprised in her inability to wake. She had only just formed a blood contract with Ven, to have him stolen away like that. You heard the last words she said.’
‘He lives.’ Selera said, looking into his eyes.
‘We will find them, ‘Lera.’ he said reassuringly.
She reached up, grabbing at his hand, ‘How can you be so sure?’
He looked at her, his grey eyes soft but certain, ‘You need to ask?’
Selera looked at him for a moment and shook her head before she rubbed at her eyes, ‘What time is it?’
‘It is still before dawn, and we have clear skies above.’
She looked at him again, ‘The repairs?’
‘So far, successful. We will return to the open water just after dawn.’
He helped her as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat. She watched him in the dim light, his face softening.
‘You did not wake me to tell me that we were not taking on water.’
He shook his head slowly and stood, ‘Come, Lera.’
Selera quickly dressed, pulling a cloak over her shoulders, the early mornings relatively chill compared to the daylight hours on land. She quietly stepped over to Sialin, checking on her, standing on the exact spot that that her siblings disappeared, leaving a perfectly cut hole a day earlier. The repairs to the ship did not stop with the planking on the hull, the Captain’s cabin had also been set right. Waiting at the door, her husband opened it, letting her through and then following her out and onto the main deck. It was always a sight that brought calm to her, the ship anchored at night in the middle of nowhere in the early hours of morning. It was quiet, only the watch on duty while the rest of the crew slept. Lanterns set at intervals, warm pools of amber light, a romantic vision at the best of times.
He took her hand in his, holding it as they walked quietly alone, the stars above, bright in the cloudless sky. The day before had been hectic, a race against time as the crew repaired the damage to the hull. They worked like a well-oiled machine, elves and dwarves alike bending their skills and collective will to the task. Shaping and fitting the replacement planking, tarring the inner and outer of the repair that ran almost the full length of the hull, among other repairs. He was genuinely surprised when he returned on deck to find a few of the crew correcting his cabin. The door had been refitted, spare panes of glass replacing those that had been smashed and that hole in the floor, now just a clean circle of fresh timber. It was that circle that brought a lump to his throat and made him salute the crew in respect. They had carved the mariner’s symbol of safe passage with both Groyven and Tiffaniel’s names etched within its design that took up most of the circle. A charm that many had on their person, either as a coin, necklace or some other accessory. When Selera had seen it, it had been completed, the carved tracks filled with black wood and sanded smooth. He had watched her sink to her knees before it, running her hands over it as she choked back tears.
Mid-afternoon the Fiddle was ready to be righted, the crew working in teams in the oppressive heat to dig out a new trench. Even Illias, now mended from his encounter with Sialin, putting hand to spade and digging alongside the others. Gradually the Fiddle rolled upright as the sand was taken out from under it, its keel now in the sandy shallow water of the trench, awaiting the rising water of the high tide to free it. Occasionally he had checked on Selera as she attacked the pages of research with a renewed vigour. After the Fiddle was righted, he had turned to find that she was gone, taking a short break from searching. He had perused the notes himself, lingering over the designs and blueprints in particular. He could not place it, but something caught his eye. Six sheets with varying designs of components. He had seen this before, somewhere.
As soon as the tide started to rise, most of the crew boarded the ship while the water poured into the bay, filling it and rising the water level until the Fiddle started to shift in the sand. And as night fell, the fire of sunset giving way to lilac shades that spread out like a blush on the heavens, the Fiddle broke free of her resting place. Before the night sky was filled with stars they had turned the ship, anchoring it in the deeper water in the middle of the small bay. What was not customary was the lack of joviality; a sombre mood was over the crew, a purposeful intent. The two youngest, were not among them, each and every man and woman aboard had been touched by the twins, the children a welcome distraction.
After tending to Sialin, Selera had retired early, burnt out from researching all day. He sat at his desk in a pool of light and poured over the designs he had found curious earlier. As midnight neared, he walked the ship in pensive silence. But when he returned to his desk, what he was missing presented itself to him. He held up the diagrams and smiled, it was right in front of them. He watched Selera as she slept, the discovery could wait until later, it would not deliver the twins to them, but it might provide some unknown insight. He tended to Sialin before resting, taking a cloak out, rolling it into a makeshift cushion and laying on the floor as not to disturb Selera as she slept sprawled across the bed.
He smiled to himself, leading Selera to the forecastle, mounting the steps, her hand still in his. She smiled, in the privacy of night and in the quiet he was going to hold her under the stars, the closest you could feel to being alone on board the vessel. It was something they both desperately needed, especially now. She followed him down the ladder to Sialin’s customary position and as she stepped to him he embraced her, lifting her and holding her close, cradling her in his strong arms. Selera reached up, touching his face, the stars reflected in her eyes.
‘Can I?’ she asked gently.
He looked into her eyes.
‘I just haven’t said it in so long.’
‘I have almost forgotten what it sounds like coming from your lips.’ he said quietly.
He smiled gently as she said his name, his features softening.
‘We will find them, Selera.’
She nodded, her features calm as he sat, resting his back against the wall of the forecastle while still cradling her.
He spoke quietly, ‘I hope Sialin wakes soon.’
Selera looked at him, ‘I just wish he would come, their seal, have you felt the heat coming off it?’
Alletair nodded, ‘He has his reasons, Lera. She accepted his request, she knew what it meant.’ he looked at her as she moved to talk, ‘And I know you don’t agree.’
He sat silently, thinking, ‘Years ago, at home. I found her outside, sitting in the forest, snow all about, singing. She told me of him, and the events surrounding when they met, she let slip some details that I found curious. Even though she has refused to tell us his name, for a while I have had a suspicion to who it may be. If it is he, then know he has a very good reason for the delay, he must have been considering her safety and her age when they met.’
She looked at her husband, the set expression on his face that told her not to ask why he had not said anything earlier.
Alletair nodded pensively, meeting her eyes after a long moment.
‘His name?’ she looked at him expectantly.
‘I do not know his name, just what he is known as. Her description matches the rumour. He has close ties with one known to me.’
‘You are telling me now that you could have met him, I would have told…’ she stopped as he looked at her, ‘That is why you did not tell me.’ she said with a smile.
‘My guess, her chosen is the Crimson Demon of Aldaliss.’
He watched her eyes grew wide as he continued, ‘I also believe that he is one of your line, a distant cousin or relative of blood. Her sigil of destiny bears the trident.’
‘The Crimson Demon?’ she said breathlessly, ‘But, he is…’
‘He is associated with the Academy of Spires. Where both you and Sialin studied. And he keeps council with the matron of the city.’
‘He is the spear of… by the will of the dragon gods of old!’ she looked at him, her expression serious, ‘Him?’
Alletair nodded, looking up at the night sky, ‘Yes.’
‘What made you suspect him?’
He looked at her, ‘Had Sialin ever mentioned that her chosen had markings on his body, maybe tattoos?’
She glanced at him, ‘Yes, but.’
‘She did not speak to you of the design?’
Selera shook her head, understanding his track of thought.
He spoke again, ‘She described one in particular, if I knew its meaning.’
‘Why would she ask you of one in particular?’ she asked, now curious.
Alletair grew silent, his eyes slightly unfocused as he thought.
He met her eyes, ‘Because it is the same crest that brands me.’
Selera frowned, her eyes narrowed. ‘The same? The one on your shoulder blade?’
‘Or similar. If that is the case, then I trust there is good reason for his distance.’
She nodded, not pursuing the line of questioning.
‘Selera, when we return home, I know you have questions. I know you have been patient with me. I will have to tell you of my past. I can conceal it no longer. To find Groyven and Tiffaniel I will need to re-enter the world that I turned my back to.’
She looked at him, only nodding as she saw the pain behind his eyes. She reached up and touched his cheek, raising herself and kissing him.
‘When you are ready, Alletair.’
He nodded as she rested her head against his chest.
‘Gods, the Crimson Demon.’ she exclaimed to herself.
He sighed, looking up at the edge of the cliff surrounding the cove, some of the stars growing dim as sunrise approached. Their time of privacy drawing to a close.
‘I have been studying those designs while you slept. I came across something.’ he said.
Selera did not move, ‘What was it?’
‘Those crosses in the corners. They are used to line up the pages, so you can look through them with light behind. The dwarven plans for the Fiddle’s cannons and ballista have the same marks.’
She tensed up, ‘Those designs are meant to be layered together?’
‘Yes. From what I can tell, there are two or three combinations with the sheets you have. It may not be worth anything.’
She sat up, ‘There are notes across the pages, but they don’t seem to relate to each other. Though if the pages are layered…’ her voice grew silent as she thought.
She kissed his cheek and stood. ‘I need to see for myself.’
He nodded with a smile. Slowly getting to his feet and standing, looking down, meeting her eyes.
‘We make the run for the Enclave today. Tomorrow morn, we dock. And as we planned, we unload the cargo and re-rig the Fiddle while you speak with the Chancellor. If there is no help coming, or clues to follow, we leave for home and start the search.’
Selera nodded, hugging him, her head resting on his chest.
‘Lera, they can not stop us.’ he said, the first stirrings of the crew heard on the deck above them.