On the sixth morning, Rowan sat against the aft railing and looked up to the sun over the port side of the ship. She still couldn’t quite believe it wasn’t all some cruel dream or a new form of torture that the Silent Sisters had devised. Even so, she could not deny how real the warm light felt or how it filled her with hope. There was too much detail for it to be a fabrication, too many things that she hadn’t known before. She took solace in that thought.
“I’m gonna have so much that I need to do when we land,” she mumbled to herself. No matter how she looked at it, she was spoiled for choice. It was almost overwhelming. Tehri, Tyris and her father were all waiting for her. What would they say when they saw here? Were they safe? Well? Rowan both feared and craved the answers as well as what was bound to happen after.
Not wanting to dwell on it any longer, she got up to see if Seres was awake, only to be greeted by Ashlin and Alena.
“Good morning, Rowan,” said Ashlin with a friendly smile.
“Good morning?” Rowan responded, somewhat confused. She wasn’t expecting them to just approach her after what she had said yesterday.
“Don’t be like that. We just wanted to talk to you and maybe offer an invitation.”
Rowan responded again with the same note of confusion. “You want to do what?”
“Talk, silly,” laughed Ashlin. “Is it really so surprising?”
“Yes? I did just say how I was going to kill your father when we spoke yesterday.”
“And you have every reason to. But that is between you and him. My business is not my father’s, nor is his, mine.”
Rowan was not expecting that answer and wasn’t sure how she was supposed to respond.
“I think you might have spooked her,” Alena opined.
“I’m fine. Lady Ashlin just caught me a little off guard.”
Ashlin smiled warmly at her. “Just Ashlin is fine. I wouldn’t feel right holding my title over you after everything you’ve been through.”
Another unexpected response. “Thanks,” Rowan smiled back awkwardly. “Was there anything in particular that you wanted to talk about?” she asked.
“Well,” Alena answered, “did you know that the ship has a cabin dedicated to washing? They call it a rain room.”
“I think Seres mentioned something like that,” Rowan responded, recalling the tour she has been given the day before.
“Well we were about to make use of it and were wondering if you wanted to join us,” Alena explained before adding, “It beats a washcloth any day.”
Not sure how else to respond, Rowan asked, “Why?”
“Because you deserve something nice for a change,” Ashlin answered.
“The captain has made sure that everyone from the caves has had a chance to use the rain room at least once if they so desire,” Alena added.
“We invited Seres as well if that makes you feel better. She accepted right away.”
“I guess I can’t exactly refuse in that case,” Rowan sighed.
“Of course you can. Its an offer, not a request or a demand. If you want, you could go at a different time without us or not at all.”
“Well in that case, I want to accept.”
“Excellent!” Ashlin exclaimed loudly. “I would offer you some clothes as well, but I don’t think I have anything that would fit you.”
Looking at the two girls before her, Rowan didn’t doubt them. Ashlin was at least half a foot taller than she was and had a completely different, even if still slender, build. Alena on the other hand was far too short, perhaps even shorter than Seres. She also had notably fuller hips than Rowan.
“I think I can manage with what I’ve got for now,” responded Rowan with an awkward smile. “Should we be going now or?”
Instead of answering with words, they stepped forwards and linked arms with Rowan before taking her below decks to the rain room. They found Seres waiting in the changing room, already naked except for the towel that she had wrapped around her. Not wanting to waste any time, Ashlin and Alena promptly started stripping Rowan down before helping each other out of their notably more fiddly dresses.
Alena went pale at the sight of Rowan’s scarred body. At first it was just the scars around her arms: superficial cuts for most part, as well as a pair of faded burns on her wrists, and the subtle code on her forearms. Next was her abdomen and the telltale signs of where the raider had stabbed her five years prior. Her legs were much the same as arms, except for the more regular cuts on her hip that she had carved to anchor herself to the present. What truly shocked Alena, and Ashlin for that matter, was the terrible brand on her back, interlaced with the pale scars from countless lashings.
“What happened down there?” asked Alena.
“What do you mean?” Rowan asked back, not quite sure what Alena was referring to.
“The scars. Your back!”
“Oh. That. Well.”
“It was a ritual to ensure our will would become theirs if they ever broke us,” Seres answered. “There are also elements to make us more receptive to torture but also less likely to die.”
“It looks almost like someone chained the Eyes of the Goddess,” muttered Ashlin quietly.
“Can you please stop staring?” pleaded Rowan.
“Sorry, it’s just…” Instead of finishing her sentence, Alena hugged Rowan gently. Rowan felt Alena’s soft body press against her bony figure. In a moment quite unlike, yet remarkably similar to the time she and Kiriin shared their first kiss, Rowan felt her Gift invigorate. Then everyone started blushing for a reason only Seres could fathom.
“This is all very touching,” Seres interrupted before things started to get a bit awkward, “but don’t you think we should continue this inside? It’s a bit too chilly to be standing around naked when a nice warm shower awaits.”
Rowan jumped away from Alena with an awkward laugh and a face as red as her hair. Meanwhile Ashlin responded to Seres while fanning her face. “Yes, let’s,” she said.
The rain room wasn’t quite what Rowan expected, even from Seres referring to it as a shower. It was a square cabin with a wall lined with knobs and crystals. Apart from that, it was rather unassuming. Then Ashlin started to move about the crystals and turn the knobs. In seconds it literally started raining. Rowan couldn’t believe it. There was actually rain indoors on a perfectly clear day. She was no stranger to plumbing, but this was a marvel beyond compared. Everyone else, however, was acting like it was completely mundane.
Seres laughed as Rowan opened and closed her mouth in amazement while Ashlin turned to Alena. “You know, I think that face just made my day,” she announced brightly.
“I’m sure it did,” Alena teased. “But do you know what will make my day?”
As her answer, Alena turned one of the knobs and the gentle shower became a torrential downpour, soaking everyone to the bone. The three unsuspecting girls screamed in response before letting loose silvery peals of laughter, much to the concern of the seaman who had been assigned to watch over Seres from the shadows.
After only a couple of minutes, they set the downpour back to its original intensity and started lathering each other up in soap. All the while, Ashlin and Alena engaged Rowan and Seres in casual conversation, being careful not to overwhelm either of them. As such, they avoided going into much detail on the state of Llen Fær, not least because neither of them were experts on Midiran politics.
After the shower, Ashlin and Alena kept their promise and brushed Rowan and Seres’ hair. All in all, it was the best experience she had had in years and it gave her the strength to face what was coming next.
Later that afternoon, Rowan went looking for Amran. She had to make sure that he was okay, but she had been putting it off after learning about his condition from Seres. She was scared to see the truth of it all. Unlike everyone else, he was being kept in a cabin as opposed to a curtained off section of the hold. After the ship’s medic gave her clearance, she stepped inside.
The cabin was barren for most part, housing only a bed and some medical supplies. Amran was lying down in the bed which, after years of seeing his default position being a cross-legged lotus for meditation, just seemed weird. His left leg was suspended in air and wrapped in a cloth covering interlaced with crystals. He also looked extremely fed up, which is to say he had a slightly disgruntled expression accented by a poignant frown.
“Hello?” said Rowan, announcing herself as she walked in.
Amran responded with a muted dryness. “I see you’re finally awake. Nice of you to stop by.”
“I actually woke up yesterday.”
“You dinnae need to sound quite so bitter.”
“My apologies, but you would not believe how vexing it is to be unable to move for so long.”
“Believe me, I can. Not to mention, I’ve seen you stay completely still for hours at a time, only stopping because the wardens made you.”
“That was always a choice and never without purpose. This is just waiting around with a crippled ankle being kept in status with the vain hope that there is something salvageable. I am no fool, Rowan. I know my foot is lost and I am content with that sacrifice. What I am not content with is waiting for it to happen.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you be quite so expressive for such a long and continuous stream of words,” Rowan remarked.
“Consider yourself lucky.”
“Wow. Deadpan snark is one thing, but I didn’t know you could bite as well.”
“A certain Ardent must be rubbing off on me. That’s a droll idea, a Stoic with the tongue of an Ardent.”
Rowan rolled her eye at that before going into an idea she had just had. “Well if you are so bored, perhaps a certain Ardent can disrupt the monotony of your day with some games. I’m sure the medic will approve of it.”
“That isn’t actually a terrible idea. Maybe with you around we can return to a proper Ardent/Stoic equilibrium and I can stop being so expressive.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing.”
Following her reunion with Amran, she kept true to her promise of breaking up his day with some simple games. They were nothing major and could all be played on pen and paper. She also spent much of her time with Seres, who was becoming increasingly more anxious about finally returning home, and a couple more of the former prisoners, namely Maro.
In a turn of events that Rowan hadn’t expected, she also started spending a fair bit of time talking with Ædarik, Ashlin, and Alena, along with Davra and Deilin to a lesser extent. At first, she wasn’t sure what to think about it, but she certainly wasn’t complaining. The fact that they were inclusive of Seres certainly helped. She also couldn’t deny that attraction played a large part. After all, Ashlin and Alena were both extremely attractive and Ædarik was no slouch either. There was also Davra who was also very beautiful, though in a mature and sultry fashion. Deilin also had her own charm and a dark, silky voice that would make Rowan swoon if she sounded more confident, even if she was a bit too tall for Rowan’s tastes.
Last of all, with exception of tending to necessities, Rowan spent the rest of the trip regaining her strength as well as climbing and swinging from the rigging, much to the amusement of the crew. On the tenth day, Rowan climbed to the the crow’s nest in time to for the lookout to point out the city of Midiris in the distance. It was only a tiny speck on the horizon, but they were almost “home”.
With glorious exultation, she shouted out to the deck below. “Port on the horizon!” Then taking hold of a rope, she leapt down with a giant smile on her face.
Author’s Notes: Editing this chapter was an interesting experience. I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and then I had to do the editing on my phone in a café. I’ve also decided to formally shift the Monday release to Tuesday. It will make things significantly less stressful for me and I’ve been told Tuesday is a slow day in general. Lastly, I’m getting my first COVID jab tomorrow so there is no promises that I’ll have a chapter ready on Friday. I’ll do my best, but it depends on how I handle it.