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Authors: Christine Grey

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BOOK: Echoes
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Chapte
r
6

 

“Has there been any word from the king?” Royce asked. He had gathered a handful of stones and was trying to skip them across the water.

The waves lapped gently against the shore. Royce tossed another stone into the water. Even on the relatively smooth surface, it wasn’t as easy to get as good a skip as it would have been at the lake.

Zusia was perched on a log watching the birds dive repeatedly into the water in search of food. She didn’t look up when Royce asked his question, but her eyes darted to Phillip, and she waited for his response.

Phillip stood a little to one side and threw a stick for Reo to chase after. The wolf seemed to like chasing the stick, but bringing it back was another story. Once he took it between his teeth, he would carry his prize to an out of the way spot where he would chew it to splinters before trotting back and waiting for Phillip to throw another.

“It’s only been a couple of weeks,” Phillip said, searching the shore for another stick. “Give them time.”

“How much time do they need?” Royce let the stones tumble from his hand and sat next to Zusia on the log. We’ve been home over a month, which means the Breken have had three months of planning already, while we sit on our hands. By the time the king, and everyone else, decides if there even is a threat, the Breken will be here.”

“Royce has a point, Phillip. Is your sister in charge, or what? Why doesn’t she go see the king herself instead of sending messengers? For that matter, why don’t we all go? We can’t just stay here, right? She should start evacuating the island now, then the king will have no choice but to pay attention. If all of Maj shows up at the capital, that would get his attention.”

“Calm down, Zuzu,” Phillip said. “It doesn’t work like that. Dearra swore an oath to protect the island. All the adults did. They can’t just leave, not unless the king gives his permission. Dearra’s doing the best she can. Father’s death was hard on her.”

Zusia stood and began to pace, kicking aside a piece of driftwood that dared to be in her way. “He was your father, too, and
you
recovered well enough.”

Phillip winced, but didn’t respond. Zusia continued her pacing.

“When the Breken come, they will come by the thousands. It will be a bloodbath. There aren’t enough of you to make a stand.”

“Stop pacing, Zusia, it’s not helping. Phillip knows that, and so does Dearra. We have to do this the right way,” Royce said. He patted the log beside him trying to encourage Zusia to sit down. “You’re my sister now, which means you’re Maj. You have to learn to do things the Maj way. We work together to find the best solution, and then we see it through—together.”

“Great. That’s just great. And while the adults sit and wring their hands and argue amongst themselves over the best course of action, the Breken will come and descend on our little island of group harmony and we can all die, but it’s okay, because we will die together.”

“I don’t think it will come to that, Zuzu,” Phillip said, tossing another stick for Reo. “The king may be stubborn and set in his ways, but he’s no fool. Dearra and Daniel will make him see reason.”

“And if they don’t? What we need is a motivator,” Zusia said resuming her pacing. She ignored the scowl on Royce’s face. He would get over it, and she thought better when she paced.

“A motivator?” Phillip asked.

“Yeah. We need something that will get the king’s attention, something that he can’t ignore.”

“Like what? Dearra sent a messenger. What else can we do but wait?” Royce shook his head, unsure of what Zusia could mean by a motivator, not really sure he wanted to know. Her ideas tended to be a little on the crazy side. She was too used to doing things the Breken way, and the Breken way was often brutal and cutthroat.

“I don’t know what, but we better think of something!” Zusia kicked another chunk of wood for emphasis.

Reo stopped his chewing and scampered toward the waves. The three children followed his line of site and as one, they froze and stared. Three ships were approaching. Their sails were full, even though there wasn’t more than a slight breeze. They were the strangest ships any of them had ever seen. The sails looked filmy and delicate, yet they held strong. More than anything else, it wasn’t the sails that caught their attention, but the masts. The sails had been tethered to what appeared to be living trees. The roots of the trees twisted together and formed the railing, mast, stern, and bow of the ship. Instead of planks that had been overlapped to form the hull and then sealed to prevent leaking, the hull of
these
ships appeared to be solid, almost like a dugout. None of them could imagine the size of the tree that would be required to create a ship that big, let alone to create three of them.

They raced toward the docks, as if they had all became unstuck at the exact same moment. When they got there, they learned they were not alone in their desire to see who or what was making its way toward their shores. Dozens of spectators lined the beach, shielding their eyes from the sun as they tried to get a better look at their visitors. 

There was some activity on the nearest ship. A sling had been lowered into the hold and was now being pulled back up.

Though the ship was still some ways away from the docks, the people of Maj took a collective step back when the largest horse they had ever seen was lifted onto the deck of the ship. The straps and sling were removed, and the animal reared before settling back on all four hooves.

“Kahn!” Carly screamed, pushing her way to the front of the crowd, which by that time had doubled in size.

The horse lifted its head at the sound of her voice, and in one magnificent leap, he cleared the side of the ship and splashed into the water below.

Royce couldn’t help but smile at the stunned reactions around him. They had encountered Breken war horses in the past, but this giant was beyond their experience.

Carly worked her way into the water. Daniel put a hand on her sleeve, but she pulled roughly away and dove head-first into the oncoming wave. She popped up a few feet later and struck out with sure strokes in the direction of the horse, who was making its way toward her at a much faster pace. When she reached the stallion, she slid her leg over his back and twisted her fingers into his mane. He emerged from the surf and pranced sideways for a few steps before bolting ahead at full speed.

The people of Maj gaped at Carly as she and the huge horse raced out of sight. Before they could collect themselves, the odd ships neared the docks. Ropes were tossed over the side. Instead of waiting for help, two very tiny females approached the rails and stepped into thin air. They drifted gently down toward the dock like leaves on a breeze.

Zusia turned to face Royce and Phillip. She swept her arm in the direction of the fairy ships and smiled triumphantly before saying, “That! We need something exactly like that!”

Chapter 7

 

Brin! Why didn’t you tell me the fairies were coming?
Dearra asked.

I was hoping I was just having a nightmare.

Don’t pout now. This is wonderful news. We need their help and three ships! I never dared hope they would send so many.
 

“Aesri!” Dearra strode forward when she recognized the diminutive woman floating down from the deck of the ship.

Aesri wrapped Dearra in a warm embrace. “I am sorry that it took us so long to get here. It took more convincing than I thought, and then I could only get about one hundred to come with me.”

“One hundred is marvelous, Aesri. How many Etrafarians are there now?”

“We do not talk about that, Dearra. I am sorry. I
can
tell you that there are many fewer than there used to be.”

“It’s okay, Aesri. I don’t need the details. I’m just so relieved you have come. Everything is a mess. We’ve had no response from the king, my father’s funeral was a difficult time for me, and Carly has been ill. I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“We will work it out together, but perhaps somewhere a bit more private?” Aesri nodded at the people who still stood gaping.

“I think you’re right.” Dearra turned to face the assembled crowd and smiled warmly, trying to make everyone relax and take a breath.

“Everyone, this is Aesri. She is an Etrafarian, and she and her friends will be staying with us for a while. We met while in Parsaia. Aesri was instrumental in helping us to gain Pip’s freedom.”

“Fairies? Did she say fairies?”

“Thought they were a myth.”

“Are they to be trusted?”

“What did she say the name was? Did you hear the name?”

“Why are they here?”

Dearra’s smile slipped. The whispered questions and grumbled comments were not what she’d expected. Guests were always welcome on Maj—why was everyone acting so suspicious?

“Come, Dearra,” Aesri said. “Do not worry about it. It took you a little time to get used to Etrafarians as well, if you will remember. They will come around as they get to know us.”

“I suppose, but—”

“Really, all will be well. We will stay aboard our ships. That way we will be out of the way and the good people of Maj will not be overwhelmed. Come, show me your home, and we will find somewhere to talk.”

***

Aesri used a velvet covered footstool to climb up on the chair Darius had pulled out for her. She lowered the hood of her cape and smoothed the gown she wore before looking about the cozy space.

“What a lovely room, Dearra. It is so warm and inviting. The fire is a bit low, perhaps, but really, it is a
very
lovely room.”

“Let me add some wood to the fire.” Darius started toward the fire, but Aesri stopped him with a wave of her hand.

“No, leave it, Darius. I have become too used to the Breken desert. I need to become accustomed to the cooler climate. We will be spending quite a lot of our time out of doors, and I had best start adjusting now.”

Darius stood beside Dearra’s chair, and Aesri did not miss the way he hovered protectively. Darius set his hand on Dearra’s shoulder and caressed a lock of her hair between his thumb and forefinger. Dearra seemed completely focused on Aesri, but she leaned her face into Darius’s hand and rubbed her cheek against his fingers for just a moment.

“Well, then,” Aesri said. “Where are we with the preparations? Has your king assembled his army yet? Why are there so many people still on the island? I would have thought there would have been no more than a handful remaining by now.”

“I have sent a messenger to the king,” Dearra said. “He has not returned. He should have been back long ago. It’s not a great distance to the capital.”

“I do not understand. A messenger? You did not go yourself? Madness! This is no time to play diplomatic games.” Aesri made a fist and struck it into the palm of her other hand. Action is called for.”

Darius leaped in defense of Dearra. “It doesn’t work that way here, Aesri. Dearra is lord of the island. Her place is here, unless the king himself commands her otherwise. It would be considered treason for her to abandon her post. She did as she should. We have no choice but to wait for the king’s response.”

“Peace, young Breken,” Aesri soothed. “I was not trying to attack Dearra. I should have realized the customs of Maj would be different than our own.”

“She’s right, Darius. I should have gone. My father did not ask permission to leave Maj when he went in search of Pip. There was a need, and he acted. It would only be treason if the king specifically ordered or forbade something, and I acted against those instructions.”

Aesri waved her hand again. “It is all irrelevant at this point. Dearra chose her course based on the information she had. We will go on from here. As I told Dearra earlier, I was only able to bring one hundred with me. It is not what I had hoped for, but my people, it seems, can be as stubborn as yours. I did, however, manage to convince some men. Fire and earth added to wind and water should be helpful when the time for battle comes.”

“We don’t even know for sure that the Breken
are
coming,” Dearra said. She looked up at Darius, but he shook his head at her optimism.

“They
are
coming.” Aesri paused. She leaned forward and reached out a hand to Dearra.

Dearra couldn’t help but shudder a little at the words, remembering when her father had said the same thing over a year ago. She clasped Aesri’s hand in hers.

“Now, what is this about Carly being sick? Is it the magic? Is she having trouble controlling it?”

“To be honest, I don’t know.” Dearra blushed at the admission. “I was wrapped up in my own grieving for a long time, and then I was so busy with my duties that I have hardly spoken to her in weeks.”

“What does Brin’du Drak’Tir say?”

“Uh, well, I asked him, but he didn’t really say much.”

Aesri tapped her foot in midair and crossed her arms across her chest. “Young lady, the first thing a leader must do is be responsible for the well-being and safety of her people. The second thing she must do is to use all of her resources, skills, and experience in pursuit of her first objective. You have failed. I see that I have arrived just in time.”

Now just one minute! Who does this fairy think she is? We were doing just fine. Don’t pay any attention to her, Dearra. Of all the pushy, conceited—

Brin! Aesri is trying to help.
Darius was annoyed. Dearra needed to think about these things, but she wasn’t likely to take the advice as easily from any of them. If Aesri could help, Darius wished Brin would shut up and let her.

I don’t care what she’s trying to do, Darius! She can’t just come in here and take over. Etrafarians always think they know best. We should ask Rah how many times they get it wrong.

“Stop it, Brin!” Dearra told him.

Stop it, Brin? I’m sticking up for you, Fuzzy. Why are you defending her?

“Because she’s right. I have been making a mess of things. And it needs to stop.”

Aesri smiled. “If you can say that, Dearra, then there is hope for you yet.”

BOOK: Echoes
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ads

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