Fourteen

Sulma let the earth settle. For days now, she had had been hiding away in her tent. The camp would have seemed dead without her busywork, but with those from the northern settlement made refugees, there were new noises, new lives filling the space she left. That had distracted Baultu’u at first, but he finally began to wonder what had happened. The last he had seen her was at the river, where she was gently stirring the water into small eddies, disturbing the silt from the bed and watching it rise in cloud-like blooms.

After that–nothing. Not a sound was heard from her, even as the other shamans had become consumed with divining the location of the deserter.

Baultu’u gave no warning, peeled the flap of her tent back, and thrust his head into the dim shelter. Some embers in the pit cast a feeble light, just enough for Sulma to sit and read her books. As the scorching white of the outside ripped into the tent, she fussed at Baultu’u and tossed one of her manuscripts at his blockface.

“What do you think you’re doing, you dunce?”

“Weren’t for the little bit of smoke seepin’ out your seams, woulda thought you died.”

“I ain’t dead, and I ain’t wanna be bothered, so shoo.”

“Sulma…what’s going on?” He moved the rest of the way in, letting the flap blot the sun out again. He dropped to his haunches and sat by the fire. “Why you disappeared on us?”

She looked at her book, but Baultu’u could tell she wasn’t reading. “Just ain’t felt like goin’ out.”

“You wanna look at me?”

She shook her head.

Baultu’u pushed the book down and met her eyes. “Sulma…we’re friends.”

“That’s why I’m hiding.”

“Don’t you think I could use a friend right now?”

“That’s why I’m hiding,” she said again, reopening her book.

“What’d you see in the water, Sulma?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Dammit, Sulma. Stop all this.”

“What do you think I saw?” She looked up, her eyes now wet with tears.

“You saw her, didn’t you?”

She nodded. “Clear as the sky, I saw her. I know where she is, Baultu’u. And they’re going to ask. They’ll do what they have to to tear it out of me. But I won’t let them. I just gotta lay low. The others’ll muddle through. Probably see something murky. Let ‘em send the Retriever out on a hunch. She’ll stand a chance that way.” She leaned forward and put her hand on his heavy shoulder, and held her other up to his heavy heart, which beat sluggishly through his chest. “I’ll keep your daughter safe, Baultu’u.”

He squeezed her hand and whispered “thank you.”

“But it’s best if you just leave me be, and make sure the others leave me be, too. Tell ‘em I’m sick. Tell ‘em whatever you need to.”

“Sulma…tell me. Where–wh…” he trailed off.

The air was dense with his silent question. “I know, I know,” she said. “But isn’t it enough that you know she’s alive?” She felt his sturdy frame shrink in her grasp and she sighed. “Of course it’s not, love. Of course it’s not. I understand.” She pulled him close, cradling him. “The water showed me. I watched it tumble and swirl, and I could feel that she watched it do the same. She saw it, too. It turned against the rocks,

                                                                 one after another, the waves turned against the rocks. As they crested, they would change from azure to white and then crash against the edge of the continent and shatter into a million glinting, translucent drops. The sea here worked a strange alchemy, transmuting cobalt to diamond with every turn.

“It’s…beautiful,” Akura’a said.

“Aye,” Haveraul agreed. There was a childlike sincerity in her tone he found infectious. As they stood on the cliff watching the sea lather itself, he was tickled to witness it through new eyes again.

Suddenly, the lights of the city nestled into the cliffside were fireflies and the facades of the colorful houses like multi-faceted gems jutting from the rock. The whole scene breathed; it’s oxygen was intoxicating. It pumped their blood into a pleasing froth, like the waves on the coast. “Aye,” he said again, exhaling.

“I’d only ever seen Mere Amaury.”

“Don’t s’pose many orcs get out to Deepvale. Seen a few refugees, like you, in the Far-flungs, but never in Arukadia.”

“I’m not a refugee.”

He nodded, said nothing.

“You two done gawkin’?” Laterra said. She waved them back to their wagon impatiently. “Inn’ll be booked up if we don’t get a move on.”

“C’mon.” He tapped her on the elbow–about as high as he could reach. “Let’s go. It’s even prettier up close. I promise.”

Akura’a hopped into the back of the too-small wagon and her stomach gurgled. “I’m starving.”

Haveraul whipped the reins and the horses began a measured trot down an incline leading toward the city. “Make a mean grilled squid ‘round these parts. Ever had squid?”

“Never heard of it.”

“Oh, well…it’s a sort of…well, it’s kinda hard to describe.”

“Is it meat?”

“‘Course.”

“Then I’ll like it.”

“Little squiggly and squishy.”

She shrugged. “Everything’s squishy to an orc.”

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