Read Wintercraft: Legacy Online

Authors: Jenna Burtenshaw

Wintercraft: Legacy (3 page)

BOOK: Wintercraft: Legacy
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‘Why not?’ asked Kate.

‘Because she is dead.’ Dalliah said the words as coolly as if she were commenting on the weather. It was statement, given without a hint of real interest or emotion.

‘What happened to her?’

‘A student who cannot defend her own life is of no use
to me,’ said Dalliah. ‘The details are not important. Da’ru had her chance. It took fifteen years to teach her what she knew. You have only a few days. Do not waste time by lying to me again.’

She turned away from the sea and spoke to an officer who was standing at the top of the staircase leading down to the main deck. The officer glanced at Kate and nodded firmly before heading that way to gather a group of his men. Kate looked down across the deck and watched the Blackwatch work. Some were lowering a small boat over the side of the ship, while others pulled in the sails, bringing the huge vessel to a steady stop.

Ahead of them, a tower reached up from the rocks like a ghost swathed in icy air. The small cove nearest the ship appeared deserted, yet Kate’s eyes were drawn immediately to a shallow cave worn into the side of the cliff. Something about the darkness drew her in. There was a presence inside: something neither fully dead nor fully alive, waiting in the dark.

‘We will go to the shore together,’ said Dalliah. ‘Do you have the book?’

Kate rested her hand on a small lump underneath her coat pocket. Even without her memories, she felt protective towards the book that was concealed inside. Dalliah had warned her not to open it until they reached Albion’s capital city, but Kate had defied her and secretly flicked through its pages during her time alone in the cabin. The words inside looked familiar and she found that she did not have to read everything to know what was written there; the slightest reminder was all it took
for her mind to fill in the gaps. She had read that book before. It felt like a vital part of her that she had to guard at all costs.

‘Do not allow anyone to take that from you,’ Dalliah said. ‘Keep it safe.’

Kate nodded her agreement. She would keep it safe . . . even from Dalliah. She followed Dalliah down the short staircase to the main deck, where the Blackwatch were already lowering the boat.

‘Your assistance has been appreciated,’ Dalliah said to the man in charge, as she unhooked a small travelling bag from the side of the deck. ‘I have no doubt your military plans will run just as smoothly, when the time comes.’

‘We are prepared,’ said the officer. ‘Three of my men will row you to shore and I have already sent word for horses to be readied for your arrival. You and the girl will be escorted to Fume, as we agreed.’

‘And the city gates?’

‘Entry has been arranged,’ said the officer. ‘My men will get you inside. They have procured the item you asked for. Beyond those gates, the city is yours.’

Dalliah nodded her head in thanks and the officer backed away. ‘Climb down quickly,’ she said to Kate. ‘Fume is two days on horseback. We will need time to work before the Continental army begin rattling their swords outside the capital.’

Kate descended a long rope ladder leading down into the waiting boat. The tiny vessel was barely big enough for a handful of people and its rear half was covered by a wooden roof raised on posts, allowing passengers to see
out and the wind to surge in. Two officers were already seated near the middle, each manning an oar. Kate took her seat on a small bench under the roof and Dalliah sat beside her, followed by another man who knelt at the front of the boat, sweeping a spyglass across the cove, searching for any signs of life. Once he gave the all clear, the boat’s tether was released and the officers worked the oars steadily towards the shore.

The rhythmic sound of wood upon water accompanied them across the choppy sea. The small group travelled in silence, leaving the great black ship behind them, but before they had rowed very far Kate heard a fluttering sound nearby. She looked back and spotted a shadow moving among the ship’s sails: something too small to be one of the crew and too large to be one of its resident rats.

A bedraggled crow had settled in the rigging with its wings hunched up, glaring directly down at her. Its inky feathers completely absorbed the light from the rising sun, making it look like a shadow except for a bright streak of white feathers that slashed across its chest.

‘Kate.’

Dalliah’s voice made her look away, not wanting to draw attention to the bird.

‘You will carry this.’ Dalliah slid her travelling bag from her shoulder and dropped it at Kate’s feet. Its upper flap had folded open, revealing a collection of old books and loosely rolled scrolls packed neatly together. Most of them were written in a language Kate did not know, but a few of the symbols she spotted were familiar: an open eye, a wolf, a sword . . . As she agreed to take care of the
bag, the crow skittered out of sight behind the ship’s sails. When she looked up again it was gone.

The officers rowed together, steering the boat into the cove. The watchtower’s point of land blocked the coast further north from view, while the cliffs turned inwards to the south, leaving nothing but a vast expanse of sea. Crags of dark rock loomed high above the travellers, their upper edges glistening with frost.

Dalliah’s hand rested upon Kate’s and Kate felt a wash of calm creep over her. Her thoughts threatened to retreat again into a distant part of her memory, ready to be locked away, barely remembered, as Dalliah continued to keep her mind under control, but Kate had no intention of allowing herself to be subdued like a child. Tiny flickers of memory had begun to return. She did not want to forget them again. This time, she resisted.

A flurry of hailstones rattled hard upon the boat’s roof and stabbed into the waters around them. Kate barely felt the chill of the ice as it swirled in around her. Instead of deadening her senses, Dalliah’s interference had only made her more determined to hold on to everything she did not want the older woman to know. She focused upon the soft grey light gathered at the edges of her vision and was certain she saw movement there, close to the boat, drifting upon the water. Shades of the dead were not restricted to moving upon land. They could drift freely within the confines of the veil; separate from the living world, but still reflected within it to those whose eyes could see them there, as shimmering mists and points of soft white light.

Dalliah moved her hand from Kate as the veil drew more powerfully towards them. She had been away for a long time. The veil’s influence did not spread very far beyond Albion soil and Dalliah had been forced to struggle and experiment to connect with it while living so far away. Now that she was heading into the very heart of its energy, her face filled with relief.

Enthralled as she was by the veil, it soon looked as if she was no longer aware of anyone else in the boat with her. Kate was glad of it. The last thing she wanted was to hold Dalliah’s attention for too long. The clearer her thoughts became, the more her instincts screamed at her to get away from the woman as soon as possible.

The rowers landed the boat on the sand with a smooth grating bump. The scrape of the hull distracted Dalliah. The two rowers climbed out and dragged the boat further up on to the sandy shore, where Dalliah stood up and stepped on to dry land, letting her long dress trail through the wet sand.

‘The first step towards a new world,’ she said. ‘The veil is falling, Kate. You can feel it here. The land feels it. We will show our people the truth they refuse to see. We will educate them, and they will have no choice but to listen to us.’

One of the Blackwatch officers held his hand over the side of the boat but Kate ignored it, preferring to climb out herself.

‘Where are the horses?’ Dalliah’s voice was sharp and impatient as she strode through the hail.

A tiny light flickered from the cliff top.

‘They are here. Waiting above us,’ said one of the officers.

A small shadow swept over the boat as the crow from the ship flew directly over them, heading for the cliff. It perched upon a rocky crag, looking down at the people below.

‘Kate,’ said Dalliah. ‘Come with me.’

Kate grabbed the bag and glanced once towards the darkened cave. Blackwatch officers flanked her on both sides and the third stayed next to the boat as she followed Dalliah towards a tunnel mouth and into the very heart of the cliff.

‘Let’s go,’ said Edgar, peering out of the cave once the group was out of sight. ‘You can take on three Blackwatch. Let’s get Kate and get out of here.’

Silas ignored him.

‘She’s right there!’ insisted Edgar.

‘There are Blackwatch officers above us, two at Kate’s side and one posted as a lookout,’ said Silas. ‘The moment we attack, that lookout will send a signal to the crew. You would be dead within moments and I could not guarantee Kate’s safety. We would be squandering our only advantage.’

Silas kept a close eye upon the lookout, while flurries of ice blew around the boat. It was not long before the two officers who had accompanied Kate and Dalliah returned to the shore without them. The three men pushed the vessel back into the water and boarded it quickly, rowing back towards the ship that sat like a scar upon the grey waters.

Silas moved out into the open with Edgar following closely behind. The hail provided some cover against anyone watching from the ship, making it hard to distinguish two moving figures from the dark backdrop of the rocks. There was no way of knowing how many Blackwatch were above them, but with the ship on the move at least they would not have any reinforcements. He could dispatch them at will.

Silas headed for the hidden staircase and listened for signs of any movement above. He climbed the steps up to a hatch, but there was no sound of any horses. No one talking. No one moving. He clicked the latch and pushed the trapdoor open. The crumbling buildings on the cliff top looked completely deserted. Dalliah Grey had no reason to remain there any longer than was necessary. Getting Kate to the capital city was all that mattered to her.

Edgar reached the top of the staircase and hugged his stolen coat around himself against the bitter wind. ‘Where did they go?’

Silas climbed out and assessed his surroundings. The wild weather made it hard to tell how many animals had been brought there recently. He doubted Dalliah would risk transporting Kate alone, but the Blackwatch would not have dedicated too many men to honour an arrangement with the woman when they had greater plans at work in Albion. Two, perhaps three officers would be enough. They would travel swiftly, taking minimal rest and avoiding any settlements along the way, preferring the wilds over any place where they could be identified as
the enemy. The weather would be against them. That would force them to stay on open paths and prevent them from taking risks. Silas, however, had no such constraints.

‘We must reach the city before them,’ he said, as Edgar stood beside him.

‘You can’t just walk back into Fume. The wardens are still looking for you. They think you are a traitor.’

‘They are wrong.’

‘I know that. But if they catch you, they’ll bury you.’

Silas glared down at him.

Nuggets of hail peppered Edgar’s hair. ‘I still say we should have taken our chances at the cove,’ he said quietly.

Silas saw movement along the cliff to the north, and spotted a crow gliding towards them, carried upon the sea breeze. The bird circled over a clutch of abandoned houses and fluttered down on to Silas’ raised wrist. Its feathers were damp and it shook itself dry before climbing up on to Silas’ shoulder where it stood pecking at its claws.

Silas allowed his senses to shift briefly into the veil, searching for the crow’s memories that would be waiting for him there. The half-life fell over his consciousness like smoke as he closed his mind to everything except what he was there to find. He could not risk alerting Dalliah to his presence by reaching out to Kate directly, but the crow’s spirit shone brightly and his thoughts connected with it, allowing him to see what it had seen.

‘Kate is starting to remember,’ he said, witnessing the memories as a single thought.

‘The crow told you that?’ asked Edgar.

‘It earns its place beside me. Unlike some.’

During his time on the Continent, Silas had learned that Dalliah Grey’s only goal was to bring down the veil across Albion, allowing the souls of the half-life to roam freely across the living world. Kate was the key that would help her complete centuries of work, so long as she could keep the girl under control. No matter what it took, Silas could not let her succeed.

‘They won’t want to be seen,’ said Edgar, ignoring his comment. ‘They will avoid settlements, maybe even ride round them. That will slow them down. Not much help since we’re on foot and they’re on . . .’ He stared at Silas, determined to prove himself more useful than a bird. ‘That man you killed. He didn’t walk here, did he? What if he had a horse? The Blackwatch wouldn’t have taken it. They brought plenty of their own. There has to be a horse here somewhere!’

Edgar’s freezing body warmed with a sudden rush of hope. He set off between the abandoned buildings and soon spotted something moving among the driving hail. ‘There!’ He headed towards it, glad to do anything that did not involve standing still and freezing to death, and found a grey horse sheltering beneath a half-fallen roof, tethered to a tree. ‘I was right!’ he shouted back at Silas. ‘Look!’ He reached out a hand to pat the horse’s muzzle, but it shied away from him, whinnying and pinning its ears against its skull.

‘Stay back,’ said Silas, walking towards the beast. ‘This is an old battlehorse. It can smell the blood on you.’

Edgar spotted the dark curling brand on the animal’s flank that marked it as a soldier’s battlehorse and
immediately backed away. They were strong and well trained, but dangerous in the wrong hands.

The horse stamped as Silas approached.

‘Few of these are found outside active service,’ said Silas. He whispered something to the horse and slowly it began to settle. ‘It may not be the fastest beast, but it is sturdy enough.’

Silas climbed up into the saddle and Edgar kept his distance, trying not to think about the dead man’s blood still staining his coat. The last time he had been on a horse he had been close to death and he was not keen on reliving the experience.

BOOK: Wintercraft: Legacy
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