Caleb was halfway through his second bowl of stew when he realised that the conversation around him had died down. He looked up.
Tam was on her feet on the other side of the fire, hand raised for silence. There was an odd look in her eyes – somewhere between nervous determination and a strange, wild sort of hope – and, despite the warmth of the flames, she was shaking slightly. She waited, hand still raised, until all eyes were on her.
Then she cleared her throat and said, quietly: “The Captain says I can talk about this now, so I guess that means it’s up to me to tell you. We think we know a way to cure her.”
Caleb had expected an outpouring of sound at this pronouncement – instead, the company stayed silent, eyes fixed on Tam’s face.
She continued: “This is going to sound stupid, and I know that. But the Captain thinks it’ll work, and Ariane thinks it’ll work, so if you don’t trust my judgement, you could at least trust them.”
A few murmurs, quickly fading back into silence again.
“You know the- It’s- We thought-” She bit her lip, closed her eyes. “We’re going after the Heart of Ishara.”
And now the explosion of voices that Caleb had been expecting – questions, exclamations, a few swearwords he was pretty certain shouldn’t have been being said in earshot of a small child, and at least one ‘you’re joking, right?’
Tam winced, but stayed standing, raising her hand again and waiting until the uproar had faded.
“I know it sounds daft. But think about it. We’ve all been having that dream, ever since we crossed the border. And the Heart would work – we know it would, it’s what it’s made for. And-” She took a breath, opened her eyes again. “-we know where it is.”
Ariane winced slightly. “We think we know where it is.” She stood, brushing breadcrumbs off her shimmering green gown. “I was doing some research into that book we were hired to retrieve back in Goltzstadt, and I came across a reference to something which I believe to be a coded term for the Heart. If my read of the information is correct – and it was very heavily metaphorical, so it may well not be entirely-”
“You’re rambling, my love,” Dana interjected, though there was a warm joking undertone to her comment. “You can tell me about the details later – tell everyone what you found out first.” She looked around. “Before Kala literally explodes with anticipation.”
Kala stuck her tongue out at the older woman and wriggled closer to the fire, elbowing her brother accidentally-on-purpose in the ribs as she did so. “C’mon, Ari. Spill!”
“Very well.” She brushed a strand of dark hair back behind her ear, and looked around the fire, lowering her voice. “The Heart’s very probably in the mountains some way to the north of here.”
Caleb nearly choked on his stew. The Heart of Ishara – the legendary artifact, the mythical treasure which held almost untold power – was in the mountains not three month’s journey from his parents’ farm? That didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem reasonable. And yet, if Ariane and the others were telling the truth…
“-then it won’t be easy to obtain,” Ariane was saying, neat brows drawn down into a slight frown. “I don’t have accurate information on what might be guarding it, or what wards are in place, and it’s a good bet that there’s a reason we’ve never heard any rumours of it being anywhere near there. But it’s the only thing I can think of that might save her.”
Tam nodded. “We’re not asking the rest of you to come with if you don’t want to. It’s going to be dangerous. Possibly fatal.” She looked across at Rethan, sitting a little way back from the fire. “If you wanted to take Kitten and leave, none of us’d fault you for it.”
He started to say something in response, then stopped as Kitten detached herself from Caleb’s side, stood up, and began to sign, her small face grave.
Tam waited until she’d finished, then nodded briefly. “As long as your father agrees.”
This time Rethan nodded, signing something briefly back to his daughter before getting to his feet and walking to join Tam and Ariane. “You are our family. We’ll neither of us abandon you. No matter how hard the road gets.”
Dana grinned. “Do we have to get up?” But she was already scrambling to her feet. “Where Ariane goes, I go. And you’re not the only members of this little gang who want to see our Captain up and on her feet again.”
“Someone has to patch you up when you inevitably manage to get yourselves injured.” Talan’s spectacles glinted in the firelight as they pulled themselves upright, leaning on their staff. “And besides, there will likely be more interesting plants and herbs in the mountains. And I’ll need people to gather them.”
Kala was already on her feet, Alak by her side. “You’d have to tie us up if you wanted us not to come with.”
Her brother laughed. “A chance to steal the greatest treasure of the age?”
“You couldn’t keep us away with a ten-foot pole.”
“Two ten-foot poles.”
“We get the point,” Tam said, grinning.
Which left Caleb the only one still seated. He put his bowl down and got to his feet, wincing as his ribs protested the movement. “I don’t know all of you properly yet. And I don’t know what happened to your- to the Captain. And I’m not a proper mercenary yet, I know that, even if you’re all being kind enough to treat me like one of you. But if you’ll have me, then I’m with you.”
It wasn’t the kind of grand speech he’d imagined making when he dreamed of adventures and running away to seek his fortune. It wasn’t even a particularly good speech, all things considered. But the smiles that greeted it made it feel like the best thing he could possible have said.
“Captain?” Tam said, her voice low and heavy with emotion. “We’re decided. We’ll do it.” She looked around the group. “All of us.”
Thank you. The Captain’s voice, echoing in that way that meant she was speaking to the whole company mind-to-mind. From the depths of my heart, thank you. There was a strange twist in her voice, as though she was fighting back tears. I could not ask for a better company. And I could not ask for better friends.
“Save your thanks ’til we’ve found the bloody bauble,” Dana commented, dropping back down onto the blankets. “But aye, we’re in.” She picked up her discarded stew, taking another hearty mouthful. “Question is, where do we start looking?”
Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.
2 thoughts on “Seventh Son: Chapter 11”