Blackbird Flies: Chapter Fifteen

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Senara woke the next morning to find a new set of clothing on the dresser where the trousers had been. The smell of cooking meat reached her nose and her stomach rumbled loudly. She let out a satisfied laugh and hurried to get dressed, pausing when she reached for her slippers to find them gone. In their place stood a pair of boots, worn looking, but in good shape. A pair of thick, soft socks sat beside them. Senara pulled both on, relishing how much more comfortable they felt than the vanished slippers.

She pushed back the curtain and found Eryl standing at the stove, cooking strips of bacon and some eggs. He glanced over his shoulder and grinned at her. “Good morning! Do the clothes fit all right?”

“They do,” she confirmed, “thank you.” He’d taken inspiration from her archery clothes, and she could have kissed him for it. The woolen leggings and tunic were plain but comfortable, with an actual belt. She picked up Hakon’s tunic and scarf and carried them to the fireplace, tossing them in. “Good riddance,” she said, watching as they caught flame. “Where in the world did you find me new clothes, Eryl?”

“I had to get up with the sun to feed the horse,” he answered, handing her a food-laden plate. “I thought you might sleep in, so I went to the village to pick up supplies for our journey. We’ll head out after we eat.” He nodded to the table, which held her sack and another folded garment. “Your sack seemed all right, but I got you another cloak, too.”

“Right,” Senara said, biting her lip. Of course she should wear a different cloak. Enyon’s was far too fine, but she couldn’t bear the thought of parting with it. She wouldn’t, she decided, she’d just put it in the bottom of her sack as a reminder of where she was from. She sat at the table and tucked into breakfast. Eryl joined her. “I hope this wasn’t too much of your coin,” she said, gesturing to the clothes.

“Well, as it happens, it was your coin,” he laughed, “but I got a good deal. None of it’s new–clean though!” he hurried to assure her.

“Better than what I had,” she acknowledged, adding, “no sour memories,” when he wrinkled his brow in surprise.

“Ah.”

“Speaking of coin,” Senara said, getting up and retrieving her purses from the dresser, “I think I’ll give you charge of these.” She handed him the purses as she retook her seat.

“Are you sure, your–are you sure?” He stared at the purses, his eyes wide.

“I am,” Senara said, pushing them closer to him. “I think you’re more likely to understand the actual value of anything we might need along the road. I’ve never really bought anything more than trinkets, and I don’t doubt those were at inflated prices. Even when I was learning how to run the palace staff, the finances were left to the bursar.” She sighed. “I think you have a better chance of stretching our funds to see us through to Isola.”

Eryl considered this, then glanced up, coming to some decision. “If you’re really serious about leaving your position behind,” he paused, waiting for her to nod her acknowledgment, “you’ll need to understand the value of things as well. I’ll teach you. Besides, if we’re pooling our coin, I think it’s only fair that we all have an equal say in how it’s spent.”

Senara’s eyes lit up. It hadn’t occurred to her that starting a new life would mean a chance to learn new things. “Deal! I’d wager that learning how to manage coin won’t be the only thing I need to figure out.”

“I’m sure it won’t,” Eryl agreed, laughing a little.

“Will you help me learn?”

He paused, surprised, but then nodded. “All right. Deal,” he echoed her, extending a hand. She took it and they shook. Eryl’s smile widened to a grin. “With that in mind, Senara, why don’t you come learn how to wash dishes and load a cart?” He stood, picking up his plate, and gestured for her to do the same.

Senara blinked, then laughed at herself. “I walked right into that, didn’t I?”

“You did.”

“Well, then,” she laughed again and rose, “teach away.”

~~~

It did not take long for Senara’s amusement for learning new things to wane. She’d often wished for a tent and a fire, with blankets and cooked meals while making her way to join her companions. But she’d never realized that setting up and tearing down camp were so much work. It was even more so because they were trying to avoid leaving a trail for her father to follow. Even as her feet grew used to the road, her hands had blisters and then callouses of their own, not to mention scrapes and scratches, from doing the washing, collecting firewood, cooking, pitching a tent, and more. Eryl was patient, and would show her again how to do something when she asked, but he never offered more instruction unless she asked. It was so embarrassing to think she’d done something properly only to have him come back behind and do it again the right way. He was polite about it, but it still rankled. He also continued to have a hard time letting his guard down around her, which was going to drive her mad. Blaze was a decent conversationalist, but there was only so much for the two of them to talk about, ancestral memories of dragons or not. Blaze was just as new to this world as Senara.

They were also fast growing too big for the cart. Blaze disliked being covered by the blankets all day, unable to move and cramped in one position. They had energy to burn and as a result, kept everyone up far too late into the evenings wanting to talk and play and hunt. She would have expected that with two companions and actual travel gear, she would rest easier along the road than on the first leg of her journey. But before, whenever she’d stopped, she’d slept out of sheer exhaustion. Now, she had restless nights of tossing and turning, ticking off their progress on the map and counting the days until she could be sure they were out of her father’s reach.

After a week on the road, Eryl sat across from Senara at the fire while Blaze climbed trees and chased a pair of owls. “We should reach a town a little after midmorning tomorrow. I think it’s time to sell the cart and horse and start moving at night. We can keep on after town until we find a good place to make camp and sleep until moonrise, then be on our way.”

“All right,” Senara pushed down the dread she felt at the idea of going on foot again. Eryl had been on foot this whole time. They wouldn’t be going any slower, but they were still at least two weeks from Radia’s border, and another week from there to the coast.

“We agreed that as soon as they got too big–“

“I know!” Senara snapped. She drew a breath to compose her temper, pressing her fingers to her nose, chiding herself for losing control. “I know,” she repeated, in a calmer voice. “I was just thinking of how far we still have to go.”

How far do we have? Blaze asked, coming to join them at the fire. They picked at their teeth with a claw, dislodging several gray feathers.

“At least three weeks to the coast, by my count,” Eryl answered, glancing at Senara to see if she concurred. “Then however long it takes to reach Isola.”

Senara picked up one of the feathers, smoothing it over her knee. Seeing it was clean of gore, she slipped it into the purse at her waist to join the red feather. “How are we going to get to Isola?” Senara asked, frowning as she considered this detail. “I was thinking we’d take a ship, but that won’t work with Blaze, will it?” She glanced at the dragon.

Blaze gave their tail a slow swish, which Senara deciphered as the dragon equivalent of a shrug. I’m not sure. Hopefully we can find someone from Isola and convince them to take us back with them.

“Hopefully?” Senara felt the blood drain from her face as she stared at the young dragon. “What do you mean, hopefully? Will there be people from Isola in Radia or not?”

I assume so. Another swish of the tail. I know the Isols trade with the southern coast sometimes.

Sometimes?”

“Senara–“

“No!” She turned to Eryl. “Did you know this? That we have no plan for how to reach our destination?” She pinned him with her eyes, and his wince was answer enough. “Are we really risking our lives on ‘sometimes’ and ‘hopefully’?” Turning on Blaze, she demanded, “Why didn’t you tell us before that you weren’t sure about how to get to the island?”

Blazed wrapped their tail around their body, pulling their neck back and tucking their head between their front feet. I didn’t think it mattered.

“Didn’t matter?” Senara stared. “Blaze, that’s a pretty important step in the process! Do you know where the Isols trade in Radia? Which part of the coast we should be heading for? What do they trade? What do they look like?”

I don’t know. The dragon’s thoughts sounded upset. We don’t know much about them. My kind exiled the Isol dragons and they don’t really like to talk about them. I just know they live with humans and that seemed like a good place for us.

Senara felt close to crying. “But if we can’t get there, how–“

“Leave them alone,” Eryl said, his voice quiet but firm. “You’re not helping.”

Senara bit the inside of her cheek. Eryl was right. Blaze had curled themself into a ball, trying to be as small as possible, and their eyes watched her with clear apprehension. Before she could apologize, the dragon stood and said, I’m going to see if there are any more owls, excuse me. They turned and slunk back into the trees.

“What is the matter with you?” Eryl asked, still in that low, hard voice.

“I just thought we had an actual plan,” she replied.

“No.” Eryl shook his head, moving closer and lowering his voice. “Something else is going on. The first day or two, you seemed like yourself. But now you pout and you snap and you aren’t holding up your share of the chores–“

“That’s not fair! I’m trying!”

“Are you?” He looked skeptical. “Then why do I have to redo half of your work? If you don’t want to put up your tent you can just say so, you know.”

“Because you don’t tell me when I’m doing it wrong!”

“I showed you the right way–“

“Once! Then you expected me to understand it and not need any more help. Eryl, this is all completely new to me, do you understand that? I’m not going to grasp it all on the first try!”

“Then why don’t you ask for help?” He furrowed his brow.

“Why don’t you offer it? Did you just assume I don’t want to do it so I don’t bother trying?”

He winced and she realized her accusation hit close to home. That stung. But he didn’t apologize. Instead he held her gaze. “Did you give me reason to think otherwise? I’ve been your guard for two years, Senara. You ask for help with your archery. You ask for help with your flute. Why shouldn’t I expect you to ask for help from me if you really wanted to learn?”

“I know what to ask for those things! I’ve been doing them for years, and I can tell when it’s not right. But here, I don’t know until you come in and fix it. You don’t even bother to say anything to me about it, you just do it yourself. You’re a terrible teacher, Eryl!” It was the worst insult she could think of in the moment. But it just made him blink.

“Maybe,” he said after a moment. He squeezed the bridge of his nose. “Or maybe I need to remember that this is new territory for both of us. Look,” he held out a hand, “I promise to check in if I see that you’re not getting something, but I need you to promise to ask for help if you’re struggling. Also, if there’s a chore you really don’t like, speak up and we can try redistribute duties. I’d rather you complain so we can find a solution than just mope about it and be miserable. Deal?”

Senara surprised herself by laughing. “Are you saying I’m actually allowed to complain? This really is new territory.”

“Well, I mean, not all the time. But yeah, I want you to feel comfortable enough to speak up.”

“What about you?”

He tilted his head. “What about me?”

“Are you comfortable enough to speak up? Is that why you’re so hesitant to correct me, because you still think of yourself as my guard?”

“I–,” he frowned and dropped his hand. “Maybe?” He was quiet for a few moments, and Senara waited. “I suppose,” he said at last, “it’s difficult for me to step out of that role. I wasn’t ever supposed to talk to you, unless you asked me a question. I guess I’m having a hard time figuring out how to adjust.” He looked up, meeting her eyes. “You’re still the princess.”

“Except that I’m not,” she said, reaching a hand out to his shoulder. “I don’t know what I am, but I know I can’t be her anymore. It’s going to take time for me to figure out who to be now that no one is making the decisions for me, but I do know I’d like whoever I become to be your friend. Do you think that’s possible?”

“Yeah.” He gave her a shy smile. “I guess I didn’t think about it like that. I get to just be me starting over somewhere else. I really didn’t think that you’ve got a whole new life to figure out. I’m sorry.”

“Please don’t apologize. You’re right, I should ask for help or let you know what’s on my mind. Maybe that’s something we both need to work on?”

“Agreed. All right, then, Senara. Friends?” He held his hand out again.

“Friends,” she agreed, lowering hers to take it. The movement shifted her sleeve, and it fell back to reveal the healing rope burn on her wrist.

Eryl’s grip tightened and he pulled her hand closer. “What’s this?”

“Nothing. It’s nothing.” She pushed her sleeve back in place and tried to pull her hand back, but Eryl refused to let it go.

“We just finished agreeing to be better about communicating with each other, Senara. This looks like you were tied up.”

Someone tied you up? Why? They both jumped at the dragon’s thoughts, turning to find Blaze sitting at the edge of the fire. Blaze cringed a little but then sat up and said, You stopped feeling angry so I thought I’d see if it was all right to come back.

“Blaze, I’m so sorry about earlier,” Senara said, gesturing for the dragon to join them. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you, and it’s not fair for me to have assumed you would know everything. You’re just as new to all of this as we are.”

It’s all right, Blaze assured her. They hurried over and pressed against her leg, then stretched their neck to peer at her wrist. What happened?

“I really don’t–” Senara tried.

“Senara,” Eryl prompted, voice gentle. He squeezed her hand and dropped it. “Please tell us.”

So she did. She started with telling her mother she wanted to call off the marriage and then explained about going to Hakon, hoping to reason with him. “I’d almost given up,” she admitted, staring at her lap in shame, “then Blaze found me and reminded me that I had to at least try.”

“He had you tied up in his wagon for two days?” Eryl asked, and Senara winced at the anger in his voice.

“I know I should have tried to get away sooner, I just–“

“Where were Annalise and Roger?”

Senara looked up, confused. “Who?”

“Your guards. They never should have let you out of their sight for that long!”

“Hakon told them I was ill.”

“That shouldn’t have mattered.” He stood and ran a hand through his hair, pulling his plait loose in his frustration. “They don’t take orders from Hakon. They should have insisted on checking on you, or gone to the senior guard.”

“Maybe they did,” Senara shrugged. “My father was so set on securing the alliance he might have ordered them to leave it be to avoid angering Hakon.”

“I never should have left you,” Eryl growled. “I can’t believe that bastard was able to–“

“Eryl, I’m all right!” She stood and went to him, placing a hand on his arm. “You had to go, we both know that. There are a million things either one of us could have done differently and there’s still no way to say it would have changed anything. I’m here now, we’re all safe. Well,” she amended, “as safe as we can be, given the circumstances. It’s all right.”

“It’s really not,” he protested. “That should never have happened.”

“No,” she agreed, “it shouldn’t have. But we can’t change it. All we can do it move forward, right?”

He drew a steadying breath and met her eyes, nodding. “Right.”

“So,” she said, leading him back to the fire and sitting down beside Blaze. She glanced at each of them and smiled. “Let’s discuss what we’re going to do when we reach Radia, shall we?”

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