“You know, I met somebody from the Honor In Arms once years ago and they said it was a modest mercenary company. But just going off this ship alone, I’d say they’ve come a long way,” Wylie grinned down at us. The wind fluttered through his hair while his body slightly swayed with the rope ladder he was descending from. Landing on the deck with a thump, he took in a deep breath of the salty air.
He was right, it was by no means a dingy, rotten in ship most modest mercenary companies had. It was big enough to hold about 300 passengers, but not in cramp, dirty corridors at that. It was the kind of ship I had seen the more kind-hearted noble houses have for their personal ventures.
The sails were made from high quality linens from the Mraga Isle, with their crest, a warrior riding a bear, painted on it. The ship was made of red cedar, likely from the abundant mountains of Natandre. The ship was probably crafted by the people of Dworin Island, known for their exceptional navigational and shipwright skills. Every country in Voyia had honed in several areas of expertise as part of their plans to assert their dominance, yet hopefully avoid more civil wars. Most noble families wished to not go back to those impoverished times for themselves.
“I remember that guy. I think he was one of those types who puts on airs of humility to try to downplay his condescending attitude,” Lyle said as he folded his hands behind his head and leaned back against the railing.
I suppressed my sigh while I dug my fingers a bit into the smooth, leather-bound journal I held. Lyle had been like this the whole time. Continuously making backhanded or snide remarks about the Honor In Arms or Fletcher. Except with the later he did it right out to his face every opportunity he got. I was surprised Fletcher hadn’t pummeled him yet, given he seemed to have such a short temper. My guess was Lyle being my brother protected him.
“Lyle, I think that guy was being honest. Everyone we have met here has been warm and hospitable, so I don’t think there is any reason to suggest such things,” Wylie gave his brother a slight grin. He sat down next to me, opposite of Lyle. His warm, calloused hand gave my shoulder a squeeze. Oh Wylie, it was great that you tried to correct him, but at the same time you had to stop treating him like he was five.
Lyle went to make a remark, but Wylie cut him off, “So, Evelyn, what are your impressions of Fletcher? He seems a pretty reliable guy I’d say,”
My grip tightened on the journal. I pursed my lips. I felt Lyle’s eyes boring into my head while I kept mine fixed on my journal. Footsteps could be heard approaching our secluded area at the rear of the ship. I wanted to be honest with Wylie, but a vague answer would be the better route with a moody Lyle and potential members of the company nearby. “Back on the Mraga Isle he definitely was reliable, but I am still trying to figure him out,”
“If he was so reliable then why did you end up infected?”
I slowly raised my head and I glowered at Lyle. The journal twisting in my hands. “Lyle, you’re a grown man, not a child anymore, so these little tantrums are unacceptable. I have tolerated them because that is the approach Wylie wished to take, but no more, especially after that last comment. That was completely uncalled for. It was a desperate situation we were in and Fletcher didn’t know anything about the monster. My father and I were likely the only ones in that arena who did. So, if you want to blame someone, then blame me for not informing him,”
Lyle’s eyes which had gone big during my speech started to narrow while a frown graced his lips. He again went to say something, but got cut off again by a completely different person.
“As I mentioned before Evelyn, the nobles who planned that whole competition are the ones to blame,”
All of our heads whipped over to the owner. Fletcher stood above all of us. Hands buried in the deep pockets of his fairly loose pants. A blank expression on his oval face. A few loose strands of his hair swayed across his face due to the wind. Now I was really glad I had given a vague answer.
“Fletcher, what are you doing here?” I dropped my journal into my lap, not wanting to ruin it any further.
“I was hoping to talk to you, but you’re with your brothers, so could we talk after dinner?”
Before I could respond, Wylie sprang to his feet and grabbed Lyle by the arm. Dragging his brother up and towards Fletcher, Wylie flashed us a sweeping grin. “We have been meaning to take Timen up on his offer to spar, so you two go ahead and talk now,”
Lyle went to object, but Wylie subtly twisted his arm and continued to yank him past Fletcher. Wylie wiggled his eyebrows at me. I sighed. The one hated him and the other one was trying to set us up. There was never a middle ground with these two.
“Ok?” Fletcher looked over his shoulder at them, catching Wylie’s gesture. Wylie gave a hardy chuckle before they disappeared around the corner.
Fletcher raised any eyebrow while pushed his hair out of his face. “He’s a…interesting one,”
I laughed. “That is Wylie, but I love him for how light-hearted and silly he is,”
Fletcher gave a half-smile as he walked the rest of the way over to me. “I’m glad at least one of them doesn’t hate me. Or does he just know how to hide it?”
“Neither one is good at faking or hiding their feelings. It’s one of the few ways they are similar. So yes, Wylie doesn’t hate you, if anything I think he kind of likes you,”
He nodded his head as sat down beside me. His knees were up and he rested his arms on top of them. He loosely laced his finger together. His scent of steel that I had become accustomed to was replaced by one of honeyed-brandy. It had been awhile since I had smelled soap made with alcohol. People thought they proved more effective at cleaning the body. He didn’t seem the type to concerned about such things though. “Why do you use alcohol soap?”
He turned to look at me and gave a small grin. “Most people just confuse it for berries, but I guess this would be the refined sense of smell of a former noble for you,”
“And you just completely ignored my question,”
He sighed and looked out at the horizon. He narrowed his eyes, trying to decide whether he should answer it or not. Was he embarrassed about the fact that he used such an item? It would be really amusing to see him embarrassed about something, considering getting under his skin was becoming one of my favorite things.
“My little brother’s lower right arm was crippled from birth. My mother was very uptight about it and went overboard on trying to make sure he didn’t get worse. Had my dad buy all sorts of things to keep him safe. One item was this supposedly magical silver cuff, which she never allowed him to take off because she feared it would become worse. Weird herbal concoctions, ‘healing’ light stones, and alcohol soap. She made all us use it, so we wouldn’t pass anything on to him. So, I guess I still use it out of habit,” His grasp on his own fingers had tightened. With each word his tone had gotten quieter. His eyes looked vacant, the lids drooping a bit more than usual over them.
I started to reach my hand out to him, but paused. Would he want me to try to comfort him or was I misreading the situation? Was I mistaking sadness for possible resentment?
Somehow seeming to sense that I wanted to ask him about it, he quickly led the conversation in another direction. “Is there something going on between you and Lyle?”
I blinked my eyes. My outstretched arm fell limply at my side. Where had that question come from? Of all the things to talk about instead of his little brother, he picked that? I shook my head a little to regain focus. “No, is this what you originally came here to talk about?”
He pushed his hair out of his face and let his hand slide all the way to the back of his head before it came back down to his side. “No, I obviously caught part of your conversation and I’m really sick of him just not straight out telling me what his issue is. And I’ve noticed that when it come to you, he acts completely different then with anyone else, especially towards me. Like he’s more protective and a bit jealous,”
I snorted. Fletcher, you were being very generous with just a bit jealous. “He’s extremely jealous. He, he’s in love with me, but not in the way you love your siblings like Wylie and me or the kind of love I have towards him. So, he blames you for that because you are my soulmate and I was always more preoccupied by that to notice him. But really that’s just how he perceives it because I’m just not meant to love him as more than a brother. There was three years for it to happen and it didn’t, so I don’t really know what other proof he needs to accept the realty of the situation,”
“Nothing good will ever come from constantly lying to yourself like that,”
“You’re right, there is nothing I can do though. I’ve told him several times that it will never happen and he just keeps refusing to accept it.
“Then you’ve done all you can do,”
“I imagine you’re right again,” I let out a heavy sigh. I wish he would just accept it. Couldn’t he see how unhappy he had become? Wasn’t what had happened to me with Fletcher proof enough to him how crushing and destructive such false hopes and dream were? I just prayed that he would eventually be able to see all that.
“I guess I should just get to what I originally wanted to ask you. What is your teacher like?”
I smiled. “Caleb is the most incredible person I have ever met. He’s hard to understand, yet the most well-intentioned person I will probably ever meet,”
“Say, little lady, that man who just passed was Mr. Rathais,” The stall keeper titled her head to the east as she counted out the coins she had just made during the mid-evening rush.
I scooted myself to the end of the barrel I sat on and craned my neck out past the glassware stall beside us. My eyes spotted three men. One who was dressed in an elaborate silk rope, designed for the hotter climate Amoria Isle had. The second one was bald with fish from his catch of the day slung across his back. And the last one had long, fiery hair, dressed in a worn, yet neat beige tunic.
My head snapped back to the older woman. Her hair that had been tied up in a fuchsia scarf was falling into her face as her boney fingers scribbled down the numbers in a worn, rabbit hide journal. “Which one is he mam? There are three men down the East Marketway,”
“The one with that darn red hair, you’d have to be a twat to lose him little lady, but best hurry along after him anyway. Despite his hair that man can still disappear into the shadow like he’s made of smoke,”
Leaping off the barrel, I smiled so big one could probably see the pink of my gums. Folding my left arm neatly behind my back, I extended my right arm away from my body while lifting the hem of my light blue skirt. Keeping the rest of my body perfectly straight, I gave her a deep bow. “Thank you for your help mam and for letting me occupy your barrel for the past four months,” I took exactly three steps back before ending my bow, but I kept my right arm out. Bringing my left arm forward, I placed my left hand on my heart and then partially extended my open left palm towards her. This was the traditional bow of the nobles. They saw it as a gesture of offering something sincerely from the heart. Whether it be love, compassion, hatred or contempt, they thought any of it could be a gift for the receiver of such a bow. I didn’t believe such things could be conveyed through such a stupid gesture, but it was the only thing I could offer this woman to represent my gratitude.
She shook her head, causing more of her peppered curls to slip out, but smiled. Her dark, almond-shaped eyes met mine as she made a swatting gesture at me with her left hand. “Didn’t I just warn you not to be a twat, little lady? Now off with ya,”
I closed my eyes and waved goodbye to her. Spinning on my heel, I sprinted after the red-haired man who was now nearing the end of the market. The various scents of fish, bakery glazed with honey, smoking wood, and roses, along with the various sounds of chimes, boisterous women, and drums filled the market and made for a different atmosphere around each stall that I passed.
In total I had been on Amoria Isle for about five months. My first week had been spent finally revealing the initials on my mate scar and the next three had been spent figuring out where Caleb Rathais lived on the Isle. And finally, he had come back! I could truly begin the search for my soulmate now. Between my time growing up in noble society and with my adoptive brothers, I had tried to track down scraps of information about my soulmate. But all that time I dwelled in the country of Natandre, one country of twelve. Twelve other possible places for my soulmate to be.
Rathais took the right path out of the market that led into a sloped, grassy knoll. I followed shortly behind him. Once we were a few feet away from the market and into the tall grass, I relaxed my pace. My breath came out in short huffs as I dabbed at the sweat on my face with my skirt.
The sun beat down on us without the shade of the stalls and buildings. A breeze ghosted by, carrying the distant salty smelling air of the sea with it. Doing nothing to ease the heat. I twisted my thick hair onto my head, then fanned my face with my hands. The grass tickled my exposed skin through my sandals while I picked up my pace, so I trailed about a body length behind him.
Stopping, I called out, “Sir Rathais, may I please share a request with you?”
The tall, lean man stopped. Angling his body slight towards me, he let out a soft hum with a raised eyebrow and small smile on his lips. “Ah, you must be the little noble lady that the fishermen told me has been waiting for my return,”
I smiled back. Not surprising that he had already heard about me, I probably had pestered half the people on the Isle about him. “Yes sir, my name is Evelyn. Will you please let me share my request?”
“As I’m sure anyone on the Isle could tell you the information I collect doesn’t pertain to such trivial matters as soulmates, so I am afraid I am of no help to you,” He started to turn forward again.
“With all respect sir, you have been very presumptuous about my request,”
He paused and this time turned fully towards me. A wide grin on his face. “Oh?’
“Yes, I am looking to find my soulmate, but I desire you to make me your apprentice. I have been disowned from my noble family for some years now and I know nothing of the status of my soulmate. As you can imagine, I need some way to earn a living. I am very skilled in combat, but that is not how I want to make my wages. I wish to see the world of Voyia and truly come to know it, while having opportunities to find my soulmate. So, would you fulfill my request,” I bowed to him in the same way I had the stall keeper, Gertrude. Praying that he would fulfill my request. He was the only option I had to achieve all my goals.
His studied me for a few minutes as the wind brushed through his red bangs, causing them occasionally to cast out the blue of his eyes. His face was long, with a sharp chin and a strong nose. He was handsome, but not the in the traditional way nobles deemed a man to be. If anything, that made him even more handsome. He chuckled. “My apologizes, my lady, I certainly was very presumptuous, yet I cannot answer you request just yet. Walk a ways with me first,”
“Gladly,” I strode over to his left side and we picked up a casual stroll up the hill. “Sir, what do I have to do to make you fulfill my request?”
He softly chuckled and glanced down at me. “You don’t like to waste time, do you?”
“Not when it comes such important matters as my future,”
He nodded his head as he cast his gaze across the field, towards the direction of the sea. You could barely make out the piercing blue of it. “Tell me, do you understand what it is I strive to do?”
“You wish to help keep the peace of Voyia and you believe that this is best achieved by understanding the different countries, people, and creatures of it. You seek to gather information on this world, in hopes that this knowledge can be used to bring the people and creatures together in beneficial ways,”
He looked back towards me out of the corner of his eye. A small smile on his lips again. One I was told he always kept on his lips. I wondered why he did that? Was he just that pleasant of a person as people judged him to be? Or was it to hide something? A possible disdain maybe?
“Also, you claimed earlier and to various people on this Isle that you won’t assist people with ‘trivial matters’, but I’d say that is a very blatant lie sir,”
“Oh?” He turned his face more towards me, watching me intently.
“Yes, you’ll helped various people in the East Marketway alone with what you would deem ‘trivial matters’. You brought Vera back the seeds for the red moon mist flowers that grow in the caves of Griznel. You give all the young fishermen apprentices new books when you return, so they can live out the adventures their status will not afford them. Also, you were the one that found Gertrude’s soulmate for her?”
His eyes widen slightly as he halted his movements. I stopped a few steps in front of him and watched him standstill. He threw his head back and let out a loud, rowdy laugh. He held his stomach as he hunched forward a bit after it ended. “You got Gertrude to tell you her name in only five months? It took me six years to get her to finally tell it to me,”
I clasped my hands behind my back. I stood up taller, puffing out my chest a bit. A smirk on my lips. “She doesn’t know that I know it. I was able to figure out who her husband was and asked him about it,”
A massive grin curled its way on his lips, his eyes alight, seeming to be a more brilliant blue then before. “Maybe you could be my apprentice,”