The Journey of Emeline: Chapter Eight
“Josef, you take Dain, he’s comfortable with you, and Aleida you will be with me.” Hadrian had spent most of his life being in charge, and in situations like this, he couldn’t help but take the reigns. The two boys went off towards the forest to avoid the Fekete lodging area. There may have been other people who were looking for him, and if they knew where they lived, then they knew who the two were. Dain was quiet and slow. He took his time walking over every fallen tree branch and rock. By this speed, the two wouldn’t reach the horses until it was dawn. Josef had been patient with Dain before though, in a situation that was not ideal as well. It was when Dain first came to the port. One of the Fishers in charge brought him and another older boy to the docks, and made them pick up the dead fish that drifted in and landed on the beach. Josef couldn’t help but see how hard the young boy worked, never stopping to rest like the other boy did. It wasn’t too long before Josef asked the Elder if he didn’t mind him pairing up with Dain and showing him how to fish. Clearly Dain had never been on a boat, and the first few weeks were painstakingly difficult for the boy. As time went on, they began to make up silly stories, and they talked about what was below their boat, lurking and living in the deep waters.
Josef decided he would do what he had done before. He would not give up on Dain just because this was difficult for him. He would not leave him here just because there was danger that could reach them. Josef stopped and took off his pack. He knelt down in the soft mud, and motioned for Dain to get onto his back. Hesitant at first, Dain held on and Josef stood and ran like he knew their lives depended on it.
“Put this cloak on, and hold on to my arm.” Hadrian and Aleida decided they would walk through the camp center, scoping out if any people rushed towards the cabin. Hadrian needed them to appear like they belonged there together, like they were taking a simple stroll. This meant they would be walking a lot slower, but there was a straight path towards the horses if they did. Aleida kept her head low, and leaned against Hadrian like he said, but mostly because her legs were still weak. They passed an overflowing pub, that was brightly lit with hundreds of candles, some blowing out from the wind and rain. The noise coming from the drunks drowned out much else, and they continued on by. Ahead they saw two men, in dark clothes walking together, looking in houses, stopping other passerbys. Aleida’s heart sank, and she knew they would be stopped next.
“Aleida, those men are going to come our way, and when I say run, you head straight until you find Josef and Dain.” Aleida’s knees almost buckled at Hadrian’s words, but she gripped him arm tight, and prepared herself. The men walked up to them and reached out their hands to demand them to stop.
“Where are you two off to this late?” A man with long, coiled hair spoke in an accent similar to the ones who came into the cabin. He was wearing an all black cloak and beneath it she could see the unmistakable shine of a sword.
Aleida didn’t wait for Hadrian to tell her to run, she had ran enough. Swinging her right foot and connecting it with the back of one of the men’s knees, Aleida knocked him to the ground. Hadrian almost stood in shock, but followed quickly and kicked the other man square in his chest, knocking the wind from him. Hadrian motioned for them to start running and as Aleida turned, the man she had just knocked over, grabbed her ankle. She felt it twist and she yelled out in pain. Hadrian grabbed ahold of Aleida and pulled her up, helping her run the remaining half mile to their meeting point.
Out of breath, Josef made it back to Pomoz and let Dain off his back. There was still no sight of Hadrian and Aleida and he knew they couldn’t wait. Josef undid Pomoz’ ties and hoisted himself up into the saddle. He reached down his hand and pulled Dain up behind him. Just as he was ready to leave he saw two figured running up the hill towards them. At first he thought it was trouble, but then he caught a glimpse of curly hair and he knew it was Aleida. Behind them a few hundred paces was two angry men. Josef knew what he had to do. He jumped off the horse, demanded Dain to hold on, and gave Pomoz a firm hit on the backside, she jerked into action and ran towards the direction of the house. Josef took no extra time to untie Torek’s lead and set her in position. Josef yelled to them to hurry, they were only a few more steps from him. Hadrian arrived first and methodically mounted Torek, with Aleida behind. Josef grabbed her and nearly threw her up onto the horse.
“Josef what are you doing? Where’s Pomoz or Dain?” Hadrian was out of breath and Josef knew there was no time to explain.
“Meet me at the house, now go!” He smacked Torek and the two sprinted off towards the high hills of Gazdag. Josef faced the two, armed men. He had to draw them away, or riding off into safety would just be another trap. Josef braced himself, and prepared for the fight or flight of his life.
The entire trip home Aleida kept her eyes closed, weeping tremendously painful tears into the back of Hadrian’s cloak. The two began to slow and finally Hadrian spoke, softly, “Okay, we are safe. I am going to let you get off her first. Just be steady, she is a wonderful horse.” Aleida thought he was speaking to her, but when she raised her head she saw that Dain was still perched on top of Pomoz. They were in a stable, and while it was only lit by the moonlight coming in through the slats of the walls, it looked nicer than her house in Boldog. Dain slowly got off of Pomoz and even stroked her mane a little and the side of her cheek. Hadrian helped her off, making sure that her injured foot never touched the ground. He pulled a small, three legged stool to her to sit while he went into the house to grab two maids to help her inside. She quickly got up and hobbled over to Dain, hugging him and kissing the top of his head. They stayed like that until Hadrian came back with two worried maids dressed in their Night clothes. It must be nearly past the middle of the night, Aleida thought about how much she just wanted to sleep.
“It’s alright if we go inside. We’ve got maids that used to help out during the war, and they can take a look at the both of you.” Hadrian led them inside, looking both ways to make sure they were safe and weren’t followed. Once they were inside Aleida couldn’t help but be amazed. The manor had tall ceilings with multiple chandeliers with candles that lit up the hall. There was even a staircase that went up, made entirely of stone. She instantly felt much warmer, and noticed a large stone fireplace nearby, giving off heat and more light. They were led away from Hadrian, into seperate rooms to be looked at and bandaged up. The maids were nice enough, and after checking that Dain was without injury, one of them took him to a spare bedroom. Aleida was promised that she could see him after she was done being stitched up. She had a good amount of mud in her wound, so they ran her a warm bath. Her foot hurt a lot less after she had it wrapped and Aleida even told them about some mixture that could be concocted to relieve the swelling. It was one of her mother’s tricks. They said they’d go fetch those things in the morning. The warm bath most pleasant things that Aleida had ever experienced. It wasn’t that she had never had a warm bath, it had just been a long time.
As Aleida was being helped out and dressed she heard a commotion downstairs. She thought that surely those men had found them, and slowly to the staircase and peaked down through the balusters. To her amazement, it was Josef. Aleida made her way carefully down the stairs, wincing at the pain after ever step. Her new nightgown floating behind her, Josef turned and saw her. He took a step towards her and held her in his arms, feeling her damp hair against his cheek. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he knew that she took was crying.
“How did you manage to get away from them?” Aleida hiccuped after every word, looking at Josef like she expected to never see him again. She noticed Hadrian standing a few paces away, and felt embarrassed, but then saw that he was smiling at them. He walked past them, squeezed Josef’s shoulder, and made his way upstairs.
“I was just about to surrender, when this black fox came out of nowhere again and attacked one of the men. That gave me enough time to tackle the other guy and get his weapon. I ran off down a few alleyways and when I knew no one followed me, I came back home.”
Nothing added up for Aleida. She had no longer than a few seconds known about this horse that Dain had, when three people came through her door looking for it. Then a strange fox jumped in to save their lives, but also Josef and Hadrian. The whole night was a blur, yet it kept playing in her head as clear as day. Aleida and Josef sat on the floor near the fireplace, and she explained the whole evening to him, sometimes on the verge of tears, other times feeling completely numb of any emotions. Josef held her hand the whole time and when Aleida nearly fell asleep while talking, he helped her stand and the two headed up the stairs. Off to the left, at the end of a hallway was Dain’s room. Aleida went in and sat on the edge of the bed, stroking his hair, and whispering a soft song to him. Josef couldn’t hear what she was saying, but couldn’t help but notice the love that the two shared. One of the maids was stationed outside Dain’s room and was to find Aleida if anything happened to him. Across the hall there was a bedroom setup with a few of her things. The room was the size of her cabin, with a terrace off to one side. A cool breeze came into the room and the curtains wavered. There was a smaller fireplace burning and made enough light for Aleida to see the beautiful stitched patterns on the bedspread.
They talked for a while longer until Aleida nearly fell asleep again. Josef helped her into bed and tucked the bed sheets carefully around her, and making sure the doors were safely locked and secured. He let her know that he would stay in the house tonight instead of going back to his cabin. If she needed him, he’d be just downstairs. With that, he brushed her cheek with his thumb and turned and shut the door behind him. Through the cracking and popping of the fireplace, she could hear him mumbling words to the maid. The maid was not to leave the door until the morning came, and if anything happened she was to come to him directly. She couldn’t her the maid reply, but heard Josef’s footsteps fade down the stairs.
When Aleida knew that Josef was out of earshot, she sprung up from the bed and walked over to her cloak. Sewn on the inside of the cloak was a small pocket, big enough for her hand to fit in and she pulled out the small bag that had been inside the horse. Kneeling in front of the fading fireplace, Aleida emptied the contents of the bag onto the hardwood floorboards. Seven shiny diamonds twinkled and spun as they landed randomly.
Where in the world had Dain gotten this?
The next morning
The window in Hadrian’s room had been left open and a cool wind had blown in overnight. The fire that had been burning for most of the night was now ash. He had barely gotten any sleep, but sat up in his bed, turning the box over and over in his hands. Hadrian got up with stiff legs, and walked to the chest that sat in the corner of the room. The floors felt like ice underneath his bare feet, and he hurried to stand on the knotted savonnerie rug. He opened the chest lock, and placed the box safely inside. It was Emeline’s most prized possession, and even though he was sure that Aleida and Dain were her family, he didn’t know how to tell them that she had left without them, again.
Hadrian walked over to the window and looked out towards the city. It was still early and only the people going to work were out and about. With Low Ground under seige of yet another travesty, The Great Awakening, as Emeline put it, business for Hadrian had slowed. It wasn’t safe for anyone on the other side of the Mazas, and thus he hadn’t heard from his correspondence on any work. This usually meant that his job would be to oversee other exports, like he did the other day. It was a profession that Hadrian had inherited from his father. His fists clenched and he shut the window. Whenever he remembered his duty to the High King, he felt a sickness wash over him. It should have been an honor to serve in the footsteps of his father, but honor had been stripped from this family years ago. Exiting his room, Hadrian walked down the hallway, lit by candles on each side. His footsteps were soft on the narrow carpet and he almost frightened his mother as she came out from her own private room.
“Good morning, nai.” Hadrian greeted his mother in the Tronos language, and kiss on the cheek before escorting her down to the Breakfast Room. It was the morning after Valto and most of their staff were off for the day. Hadrian found a loaf of fresh bread and brought it to the table. He talked back and forth with his mother about last evening, explaining to her the two new guests that had joined them, and how he felt they may be Emeline’s family. Hadrian talked openly with his mother while making the two some morning tea. She loved and worried about all her children, but she was always welcoming to those who weren’t family. Her name was Dareema, but hardly anyone who knew her called her that. They called her nai. This meant “mother.” She was from a small scatter of islands north of High Ground called the Troncocas Islands. Dareema had lived there since she was a young girl. Her and their father met when he was overseeing an export and got lost in the island. From what Hadrian’s father told him, she saved him from a large snake that fell from a tree and nearly killed him. Dareema was from a long line of royalty in the Troncocas, but she left it behind for High Ground.
Since their father’s passing, it felt as though the Islands were calling nai. The warm breeze that rustled through thick green forest. The ocean was as clear as the sky, and there you could see the fish swim around your ankles. The docks were not a place that Dareema traveled to. It was almost a place of mourning, a graver perhaps, for her. There was no delight in the murky ocean waters at Fekete, and any swimming fish there were caught and taken to market. The many rituals of her people were still just underneath her fingertips, but Gazdag had no place for these. Hadrian knew she longed for her home, and that this house was no longer a sanctuary, but a prison. Sometimes, during the middle of the night, he could hear soft footsteps walking towards their fathers library. Old worn maps were rolled open, and then a soft singing of a Tronos wedding song:
“meu querido anxo
Non hai lugar máis doce
que a nosa casa
entre a area
entre o mar
así que busque estas cousas
my dear angel
there is no place sweeter
than our home
amongst the sand
amongst the sea
so find these things
and you’ll find me”
He knew that it was his mother, looking at her Islands, the ones that she could be ruling, living in, and that she was mourning their disappearance too. For months before this, whenever he had the time and was back home, he would studied the maps and the export routes. He was hoping that he could find a correlation that showed there was a ship going to or around the Troncocas but all the records showed that boats hadn’t been that way in years. It scared Hadrian, and he kept the findings to himself, but now that he wasn’t traveling, maybe he had more time to figure it out.
They finished their bread and tea, and Dareema returned to her room to pray and read like she did most mornings. Hadrian sat at the breakfast table for a few moments longer, staring at the bottom of the empty cup, the only things left was a few grounded leaves. He stood and walked back through the house, pulling on his boots and a warm overcoat. Outside the air had started to warm up, and the sun was glistening as if last nights horror had never happened. The stables were tucked back behind the manor and though the family had stable boys, it was a pleasant duty that Hadrian had to brush and keep his horse in good health. The large wooden door to the barn was heavy, but he pushed it open with ease. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he walked to the furthest stable door that held Torek.
Hadrian was nearly finished cleaning Toreks hooves when he heard shuffling in the main room outside of the stall. He straightened himself and saw Aleida looking into Pomoz’ stall. He didn’t want to startle her, so he began softly whistling to himself, continuing to finish cleaning the mud from the hooves. Aleida began to slowly walk out of the barn but Hadrian called out to her.
“ How’s your foot this morning.” He saw her stop and turn, looking embarrassed, but intrigued. Aleida walked slowly over to where Hadrian was standing, her dark cloak was dragging behind it strands of hay. She reached out her hand and gently touched the muzzle of the horse.
“It stings, but I can’t be cooped up in that room any longer.” Though speaking to Hadrian, her attention was on the horse.
“He’s beautiful. Makes me miss our horse back home.” Aleida walked further into the stall and began stroking his mane, and then running her hands over the shoulders and back of the horse. Torek was pitch black, with a white spot on his left back leg. He was well mannered but loved to run, fast. Hadrian sat on an overturned wooden bucket and studied Aleida. Her hair was put into a braid but small curls still came untucked around her face. She had dark eyes and a golden brown complexion. She was young, but only a few years younger than himself. Just from the small interactions that he had with her, Aleida was intelligent. Just like her sister, he thought.
“You’re not from High Ground then, are you?” She answered without turning towards him, her facial expression hidden.
“No, I am not. From a small town south of the mountains.” When she did turn the Hadrian, he couldn’t read her. She looked tired, but he didn’t look any different he assumed.
“Is Dain your only family?” Hadrian didn’t want to come out and ask about Emeline, but he was starting to think these questions seemed ominous to her. She turned from him again and began walking towards the stall door. She turned and there was an expression on her face that he’d seen before. She nodded her head and exited the barn.
In that moment Hadrian knew what it was. It was grief. She was in mourning. He stood and followed her, grabbing her arm gently before she made it outside. In the middle of the dusty and cold barn, Hadrian looked Aleida in her brown eyes. He too, felt grief before. He knew it when he saw it, because he had seen it on the faces of those he loved for years.
“Emeline is alive, and she was here.”
Aleida sank to the floor.