Ithiel awoke with a start. He sat up trying to regain full consciousness, smoothing his sunstone colored tunic. Someone grabbed him, he was sure of it. He looked around for the person that grabbed him, but as nausea came back, he remembered he was on a boat – it seemed like forever. He took a swig of water from his jug and a bite of bread. He forced both down, rubbing his hands on his clay-colored pants, hoping that all of the food would stay. The old sailor who’d given him the boat warned him not to give in to his seasickness on such a long journey or he’d would die from dehydration. At the moment, that sounded better than living another day on the seas. An urge to vomit came over Ithiel. He crawled out of the passenger seat, thankful for guidance systems, and made his way to the edge. Despite the expert craftsmanship, which failed to impress Ithiel, the white walls and polished wooden boards were in danger of being splattered with the contents of his stomach.
After a few wretches, Ithiel managed to suppress the urge to vomit, and shrank away from the edge of the boat. Brown hands rubbed his curly black beard, feeling the tight skin around his chapped lips. Using seawater to rinse off bits of food left in his beard turned out to be a mistake; his dried skin stung. He rubbed the scar on his face that ran the length from his eyebrow to the bottom of his jaw; it seemed mostly healed. The Urcanis had nearly killed him when it mauled him in the Niran forest but stopped short of a killing bite. He could still smell the rotten breath, feel the strong paws pushing him around like a small stone in a stream. His arm was still sore, but at least it was whole. He had learned two things that day. He could run faster than he ever thought possible. And that if the Ancient of Days commanded you to accomplish a task, running away was not an option – even nature would turn against you.
Images formed in Ithiel’s mind – Gethin a heap on his desk. Gethin being lowered into an open grave, arms flailing at the last minute, grasping the side of the dirt walls. Ithiel sat up, exhaled, only realizing after that he had been holding his breath.
“Gethin is dying,” Ithiel said, shaking his head. Ithiel leaned back, looking at the stars. After taking a deep breath and tracing his scar again, he closed his eyes to pray. “They never listen. He probably ate the poisoned food to spite me. I told him death would come for him,” Ithiel said under his breath more to himself. Then he started entreating the Ancient properly. “Ancient of Days, please rescue Gethin, be merciful and allow him to avoid death tonight.”
Ithiel opened his eyes, scanning the boat. He was sure there was an Anakim nearby, directing his thoughts, but he couldn’t see it. Ithiel was skilled at unleashing the power of his soul ember to use his gifts of Hearing and Faith, which allowed him to hear from spirits and produce a shield similar to an Anakim’s weapon. Despite that prowess, he desperately wanted to See into the spirit world. Unfortunately, the Ancient had not thought it necessary for him to have the gift of Sight.
Ithiel took a small leather pouch off of his belt, stained from years of use as well as the blood from his near death urcanis attack, and spilled the contents out into his palm. Seven pebbles fell out. He rummaged through the collection until he found the stone he was looking for. It was a dark brown stone, rough on the outside with a small chip near the center – the one that he chose to represent Gethin. Ithiel turned it over in his hand, allowing light from the two moons to bounce off of the small rock.
“Six more to go,” Ithiel said. He flung the rock into the water as far as he could, straining to hear the stone break the surface of the water.
Ithiel jumbled the rest of the rocks in his hand, looking for another stone. This one was white and almost entirely round. He admired it, then placed it and the other stones back in the pouch. “I hope Regent Hakan receives my news better than Regent Gethin did.”
He scratched his head, fingers raking through dry curls. After taking another sip of water, he positioned himself on the cushions of the passenger seat to stare at the stars. Once his pouch was empty, he could return to his life in peace. He was tired of being hunted by his countrymen, reviled by those who blamed his religion for the sins his father committed. He’d been alive close to thirty-two seasons – twenty of them he spent running from destiny – it was enough to weary even the most stalwart followers of the Way.
Ithiel closed his eyes, singing a lullaby his mother used to sing to him as a child. The words to the song flowed as smoothly as the melody. He sang of sun-kissed dreams and the slow descent into a warm embrace. His deep baritone reached across the water, mixing with the waves in a primal rhythm until his voice faded, and his words became a buzzing in his throat. He hummed until sleep took him once more, the song wholly contained in his mind, images of his family dancing.