My beautiful friends! Again, I took another break to focus on the last few weeks of schooling. Breaks like these are hard for me, but they are needed and after doing well with all my exams, I am so excited to be posting this next chapter! None of you will probably ever know how wonderful it is to see that people are listening and enjoying my content! I hope you enjoy this longer chapter!
The Journey of Emeline: Chapter 7
It was later in the day than usual, and the sun was beating down with serious force. Sweat beaded and fell down Aleida’s smooth skin as she methodically pulled in boats, tying them to the docks, and swiftly moving to the next. She hardly noticed anything different about the day: the same old smell of fish, fishermen, and the salty sea. Aleida was usually eager to bring in Dain and and Josef’s boat, but after a few days ago she could hardly bear to look at him. As much as she wanted to ignore Josef, she needed to be there for her brother. It’s what Emeline would’ve wanted. Would want. Aleida had no way of knowing where her sister was and if she was alive. At night Aleida would close her eyes and try to connect with her sister.
Growing up, the two hardly got along. Emeline was always outside, hunting or practicing with their father. All the kids in Boldog thought Emeline was so intriguing and of course Aleida stood in her shadow. None of that mattered now, because Emeline could be dead, along with everyone else on the other side of the Mazas. Tears stung in Aleida’s eyes and she stopped for a moment to wipe them away. Josef and Dain had made it in and she began to tie them up. Dain seemed his happy self, and hugged Aleida before walking his net of fish over to the wooden carts that would be taken back into the middle of the market. Aleida lingered, hoping she’d find the courage to say something to break the uncomfortable air between the two.
She began to speak but was interrupted by Josef first.
“I am worried about Dain.” Josef spoke softly, and it caught Aleida off guard. Her brows furrowed and her heart began to beat faster. What had happened? Everything had seemed fine this morning.
“Sorry I don’t mean to frighten you. I am worried that this job is too much for a young kid like him. He shouldn’t be out here.”
Still unable to figure out where this was coming from, Aleida took a step backwards, gathering her thoughts. Had she really messed up this much? Nothing had really been spoken between the two, but it felt like things had changed.
“Did Dain do something wrong? His portions of the catch always seem to match up with what other boys his age are pulling in.” Aleida wished she hadn’t lingered.
“No, it’s nothing like that. I look at him like a younger brother.” Josef stopped, pausing as if to study what he had just said. “I see his spirit and being out on these boats day in and day out isn’t what’s best for him.”
Aleida had heard enough. “This isn’t a choice that we get to make, Josef.” Aleida lowered her voice as if she was in a hushed room and not in the loud and boisterous Fekete port. “We are Low Grounders. We’re running from something that most people here don’t believe exists. When Dain and I first came here we had to beg for food.” The two of them stared at each other, Josef fully acknowledging her heartbreak. Noticing how scared she really seemed, he wished he’d never said anything. This job was something that Josef himself chose ,to get away, but that was not the case for most.
“ What if I told you that I could get something better for him? The summer months are calm out on the sea, but you haven’t been here to experience the cold, windy weather of winter. Can I try and help you and your brother?”
Just then the final bell rang, which sent all of the fish, crabs, shrimp, and all to the markets in one large caravan. This meant that the workers could get home, and that the Port would be cleared. Aleida shook her head and began walking back towards their lodging. She told Josef that they’d discuss it later after she spoke with Dain. Aleida had made it this far without help, but how far could she go?
At Hadrian’s home
Emeline reached Hadrian’s family home before anyone returned from their daily errands. The house was quiet, except for Emeline, who was frantically pacing the upstairs room. Her thoughts went back to her brother and sister. The last time she saw them, she was still on the other side of the mountain. She had lost and gained so many things in such a short amount of time. Could she stand to lose them again if she returned to the Mazas. Emeline didn’t even know if there was something there for her. Oga had told her a long tale about it, the note she had and the map weren’t there for nothing, but she didn’t have time to solve these riddles.
She had made up her mind. The map was still in her pack, and if she didn’t try to figure out what it meant, it could cost her more than she could possibly know. Emeline began packing her things, quickly folding her belongings back up into a less than tidy pile. She removed the soft slippers and dress that had been lent to her by Hadrian’s sister. She pulled on the familiar dress and cloak that she had gotten from the tailor that Oga knew. The outfit was loose on her, and she felt the weight heavier on her shoulders than before. It was far too warm in this part of High Ground for Emeline to be wearing fur boots, but where she was going, this would suffice. All of a sudden Emeline could hear Hadrian calling for her. He had managed to catch up to her. Her plan was to slip out before anyone got back. She knew that he could talk her into staying, or into him coming along. She’d already put enough people into harm’s way, and it was time to make this journey alone. Except for her fox.
Emeline looked around the room and noticed that he was nowhere to be found. Footsteps were coming up the stairs. Emeline made the choice then and there that she would truly go at this alone. She stepped outside, quietly on to the terrace. Night had come over the town and this gave Emeline the cover she needed. She shut the doors behind her, walked over to the edge of the wall, and dropped her pack over the side. Emeline didn’t dare take one more second to think about the choice she was making. She hoisted herself over the side, positioned herself, and leg go of the side of the wall, falling down into the darkness.
For just a few seconds, it felt like Emeline was frozen in the air. The whoosh of her body through the air was like a hush through the night. Emelines cloak and dress folded around her and the wind flowed through her curly hair, lifting the tendrils above her head in an unnatural fashion. She could’ve stay like that forever. Floating, drifting no further than the space between the terrace and the flower beds below. Her brown eyes were wide open, but in that moment she could’ve just as easily closed them, feeling the cool night air touch her rosy cheeks. But as things happen in our lives, reality hits us hard. Emeline heard the worried voice of Hadrian coming from inside the bedroom she exited moments ago. What was but a moment of bliss, turned into Emeline hitting the dirt and lying flat on her back. Her once free-flowing hair was now tangled in soil and rose bushes. The fall was quiet enough, but in her haste, she had not managed to clear herself of the beautiful rose bush she had encounter the day before. She stayed still, wondering if he had heard her landing. Hadrian kept calling her name, softly at first, but she could hear the strain in his voice to stay calm. The french doors opened and Emeline knew she needed to move fast. Pulling herself out of the bush, she grabbed her belongings and shuffled silently around the side of the villa, running towards the cobbled paths of the heart of Gazdag. Tonight she would leave her family again. Without her fox, her brother and sister, or Hadrian, Emeline was determined to stay in those mountains until she found what she needed. About three streets down, Emeline turned one last time towards Hadrian’s family home. In the darkness, the tears were nothing but a feeling, sliding down her face. Her whole body trembled and her hands ached from the rose thorns that had cut into her as she braced herself. If she wasn’t mistaken, she could hear Hadrian yelling her name now, a broken sound caught in his throat. The moon was her only companion now. The mountain peaks, her compass.
Hadrian paced the bedroom that Emeline had just left a few minutes ago. He picked up the blue satin gown she had been dressed in during their sailing adventure. The slippers she had worn were set off the side. With clenched fists, Hadrian threw the dress down and gritted his teeth before going out towards the terrace again. He stood at the end of the stone wall that faced South towards the mountains. Emeline hadn’t possibly had proper preparation time to be heading out there again. She had just gotten the ability to walk without getting dizzy. It was dark, and even though the house was set up on a hill, there was no visibility like during the day. Slumping down against the cool wall, Hadrian tried to be rational. All her belongings were gone, but maybe she had planned to stay somewhere else in the city. He thought back to the day they had. It was good enough, but maybe things hadn’t gone the way he had planned. There had been problems with the unloading and it was minute details that needed to be handled. He saw her leaving the boat, and she looked distressed, but he thought he could catch up to her. He placed his hand down on the stone floor of the terrace and as he did, he felt a small box, the size of his palm, maybe bigger. In that moment, his heart sank. It was Emeline’s Box of Memories. Or maybe it was her Recollection box. He couldn’t remember but he knew this meant she had fled Gazdag. He stood up suddenly, Box of Recollection in hand, and hurried down the spiral staircase, out the door, and around the side of the house to the rose bush. The ground here had been disturbed, with boot prints leading away. He had just missed her and by the looks of it, she headed towards the outskirts of town. A flurry of emotions swirled and made his head dizzy. He reached out his hand to steady himself against the first floor wall. He wanted to scream, he wanted to go look for her, and he wanted to find her and tell her that she was the strongest person he’d ever met but that she didn’t need to do this alone. Maybe he loved her but maybe it was too late.
After while, Hadrian began to walk back inside, carefully holding the small box that she left behind. As he walked in he saw his brother coming up the curved pathway of the home. Josef hardly ever made it back home after fishing. He lived in a small, house just off of Fekete and he enjoyed the time alone. This home had too many painful memories for all of them, but Josef was more haunted than any of them. Hadrian stopped and waiting for him to approach.
“ What brings you hear this late?” Hadrian was too exhausted to be playful with his younger brother.
“Hadrian, I need help.” Josef seemed tense, fidgeting with the gloves on his hands, nearly tearing at the seams from years of use. “I take my rounds everyday down at the docks with this young boy. I didn’t think anything of it, I figured like most he would pass through. Not many Low-Grounds want to stay, they usually travel further North after the warm months.”
“I don’t understand how this is a problem.” Hadrian could sense there was more to this because Josef had plenty of fishing partners over the years, all who had come and gone, some who had moved on to other boats.
“Well, the young boy has a sister. She’s nearly my age and I’m afraid that I’ve ignored too much of what has been happening between other High-Grounders and Low. Sometimes she has bruises, other times I feel like the heat has almost gotten to her but she would never dare quit working. I know they live in the lodging barracks, but I’m, starting to think it isn’t safe for them.”
Josef went on explaining in a hushed voice that tonight he was planning on going down there and getting them out. Like with Emeline, Hadrian had to shuffle her into the city under the cover of disguise and nightfall. The two stood there in silence as the crickets started their encore. Josef was going to do this without him, and if he got caught, it would be even worse for the two young kids. Hadrian turned and walked inside, while Josef stood in the darkness outside. Just as Josef was ready to give up and leave to get them alone, he saw the lights in the house go out one by one. Then, Hadrian quietly came from around the outside of the house carrying a bag in one hand and guiding Josef’s horse in the other.
“I think you’ll need Pomoz for this.” Josef’s face showed its first signs of hopefulness as Hadrian handed him the reigns. While Hadrian ran back to get his horse, Torek, Josef mounted and stroked her long mane. It had been awhile, but it felt natural and foreign at the same time.
The two rode off down towards Fekete. The streets were nearly empty, but the pubs off the side into the alleys were filled, and a few drunks sat slumped over near the entrance. As they drew nearer, the two slowed down and tried to stay as quiet as possible. They didn’t want to seem like there was anything going on. Now they could see the lights burning in the small lodging houses and they saw the cover of trees fade. Josef got off first and led Pomoz to a tree off to the side a few paces before a small sign wrote “Fekete Lodging.” He tied her up and unbuckled the pack from her side. Hadrian did the same and they began to walk into the camp, hoping to find the right cabin.
In Aleida’s Lodge
Aleida was still reeling from her conversation with Josef. It kept running through her head and every other time she felt wrong, and sometimes she felt justified. Mostly, she just felt unsure of what the right choice was. The Fekete Lodging wasn’t so bad, but recently it had gotten worse. The camp consisted of two rows of 8 cabins all beside each other. They were made from wood that had darkened, no doubt, over the years and years that it sat in this spot.
Their cabin was located at the farthest end away from the camp entrance. It was in the second row and Aleida didn’t mind it so much because that meant it was always quiet. Before all of this, Aleida enjoyed spending her time weaving baskets out of rope. After she had made as many as she could without her hands becoming raw, her father would pack them into his cart before he headed off into the market. He always came back with an empty cart and gave Aleida what she had earned. He was a fair man, never taking from their family, always giving. Aleida tried to have that same outlook now, but she didn’t have much to give these days.
Dain sat on the edge of his bed, playing with a wooden carved horse. It fit in his small hands, but it was big enough that he would barely put his whole fist around the belly of the horse. It was a new trinket, one that Aleida had never seen before. There were embellishments on the small saddle and the closer she got the more she could tell that this was not something that Dain was given.
“Where did you get that?” Aleida used a sharp tone, but she was more worried than angry as to how he got the small horse. Dain was slow to answer, noticing that he might be in trouble if he were honest with her.
Aleida tried again, “Dain, can you please tell me where you got that? It’s so beautiful, I’d like to see it.” His expression changed and he handed it over to her, and he scooted back against the wall, further from her. Dain used to be an energetic boy, always running around the woods, the streets, up and around the house. But these days, Dain would come home after port, and he would sit just at the edge of the woods, as quiet as rain hitting sand. Aleida turned the horse over, and saw that there was an opening to the horse, covered up by a piece of what she assumed to be wax. It was positioned right in the middle of the horse’s belly. Aleida turned her back to Dain and began to peel at the ebony seal. With some prying, it opened and inside the hollow horse she could see a small wrapped bag. Using her point finger and thumb, Aleida was able to reach the bag and pull it it, holding it in her hand. Her heart began to race, and a feeling of dread came over her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Dain looking at her with a shameful expression. Setting the horse on the side of the bed, Aleida pulled the bag opened and looked inside.
Just then the door burst open and three angry men came through it, drenched in rain and shouting accusations at the two. They were speaking a language that Aleida recognized, but couldn’t understand. Within seconds they were in front of her, grabbing her arm and throwing her against the wall. One of them picked up the horse and continued to yell and point at it. Dain was crying and cowering in the corner, the cotton blanket was half draped off the bed, clutched in his hands. They were rummaging through the small cabin, turning up the other bed, looking through her small dresser that had held neatly folded clothes for her and Dain. Aleida tried to explain to them that she didn’t know where the horse came from but it just made them angrier. The biggest man, the first to run through the door, began to lunge for Dain but Aleida jumped in front of him, managing to hit him over the head with the water bucket nearby. He went stumbling backwards, but now all three of the men were locked in on them. They began to walk towards the two, sneering and laughing as they closed in. Aleida started screaming for help, closing her eyes, and sheltering her weeping brother.
By some magic, luck, or whatever may be, Aleida heard growling coming from behind the men. Between their legs she could see a large, black, fox. The fox’s front legs were bent, ready to leap, and he did just that. The bigger man tried to shoo the fox, but as he was motioning with his hand, the fox grabbed ahold of his arm and bit. The commotion gave Aleida a split second to grab the bucket again, swinging it at the back of the closest mans head. He went down and fell against the small wooden table in the open space of their cabin, smashing it to pieces. By this time the fox had let go of the man’s arm and had managed to get behind the two, positioning himself between Aleida and Dain, and the threat. With an already bad temper and a wounded arm, the intruder pulled out a knife. It was at that point that Aleida was sure there was nothing else in this cabin that could save her. Her voice was hoarse from screaming, and all she could now was fight the two men with her bare fists, and a fox.
“How are we going to find her cabin, Josef?” Hadrian and his brother had been walking around the camp for quite some time, cautiously looking into windows and using the process of elimination to find this girl and her brother. All Hadrian could think about was how every moment he spent looking for these random strangers, Emeline was wandering further and further into the mountains.
“We just have to keep looking. If anyone questions us, we’ll just pretend to be lost.” Josef seemed to have done a minimal amount of thinking on this, but Hadrian was too wet and cold to press him further. In the distant, to the Northwest of them, they could hear screams. It was hard to know exactly where they were coming from because tonight, of all nights, was the Night of the Valto. It was the night that symbolized the change from summer seas to winter seas. Fishers and sailors all alike came together and had large gatherings to symbolize the rough days ahead. Valto was the ancient word used to describe this change. Even though it was mostly celebrated amongst the Fekete people, it was really a city wide tradition. The two followed the screams, thinking there may be a bar fight. As they neared, they knew it was no fight amongst two drunkards, but that it was coming from a housing lodge near the edge of the forest. Josef looked in the window and saw three men, one lying on the floor, and two that were the corner of the room. One of them bent over to pick up what appeared to be a small horse, and it was in that moment that Josef saw Aleida. She had a cut on the side of head and the arm of her dress had been ripped off at the seam. Rage filled Josef, and without thinking, he ran around the side of the house and entered in. The guy holding the horse turned to Josef, but before he could make a sound, Josef swung and his fist landed a hard hit right between his eyes. He went stumbling back and trip over the bed, landing hard on the other side. Hadrian had followed behind Josef, and managed to see two men slumped on the floor, and one huge angry man still left standing. But behind that man was a familiar black fox. Hadrian stood motionless in the doorway of the cabin. It was Emelines fox, and he’d recognize him anywhere. The fox was growling, protecting the two people in the corner. Hadrian almost couldn’t believe what he was seeing. If he didn’t know better, this was Emeline’s brother and sister.
Josef yelled from the other side of the room, “Hadrian are you going to help me or stand there like a tree?” Hadrian immediately charged the tall man, dodged his left hook, and pushed the man against the wall. Josef landed another punch, and kept swinging for good measure. The man slumped down beside the other intruder and laid still. The men were all still alive, though unconscious, and still a threat. Hadrian was catching his breath, but noticed that Josef was already over by the girls side, checking both of them for any other bruises.
“How’d did any of this happen, Aleida?” She could barely speak, but explained that Dain found a wooden horse, and they just burst through the door, wanting it back.
“I…” she stammered, but continued, “I would’ve given them the horse back, I would’ve given them everything I had but it seemed like they wanted more than the horse.
Hadrian looked around at the three men and then at the damage they had caused, but what he didn’t see was Emeline’s fox. He spoke for the first time since they’d all gotten there, “We need to get out of here. This isn’t safe, there could be more men coming your way. We need to split up, and stay low. Grab your things.”
Josef looked at the two, and nodded his head. Aleida got up and started to pack all of Dain’s favorite things, paying no mind to her own items she was leaving behind. Josef had Dain out from the corner and Hadrian had picked up the horse, stuffing it in the pack that they had brought along. With candles blown out, and the door shut tightly behind them, the four walked out into the night, into the rain, into a whole new life.