Home > The Second Blind Son (The Chronicles of Saylok)(3)

The Second Blind Son (The Chronicles of Saylok)(3)
Author: Amy Harmon

The Highest Keeper, with a flick of his sharp nail, took blood from the tip of his own finger and drew slumber on the boy’s brow. The child immediately began to nod in his mother’s arms. It would make the rest easier.

“He will sleep now. And I will bless him,” Ivo explained. The child would need to be still, and he would not understand the sting of the runes on his skin.

He traced the tiny runes on the boy’s right hand with the needled edge of his nail, and blood welled in the crevices.

His mother gasped, not comprehending the offering and uneasy at the sight of her son’s blood.

“He will hear, smell, and sense far more than others do,” Ivo said, completing the task. He curled the boy’s bleeding fingers over his tiny palm. “Now take him away.”

The mother lifted the sleeping child in her arms, her strength restored.

“Thank you, Highest Keeper. Thank you,” she whispered. She stooped and swung her satchel over her shoulder and repositioned the child in her arms before turning toward the sanctum doors.

The fates screamed in Ivo’s head, and he relented, throwing up his hands in surrender.

“Woman?”

She turned.

“You cannot stay here, on the temple mount . . . but I know a place where the child . . . can go,” he said.

 

 

PART ONE

 

 

1

AND ONLY

Ghisla could no longer hear the shouts of the men on the ship or the screams of the women and children who’d been huddled below deck, trying to outlast the storm. She could only hear the howling of the skies and the crash of the waves, battling the tempest as they tossed her up and down. She had climbed up the ladder, opened the hatch, and thrown herself overboard into the water. No one had tried to stop her. The chaos had served as a perfect diversion.

Ghisla wanted to die. She wanted to end her suffering and her loneliness, to end the fear. She wanted that more than anything, but when a small barrel bobbed along beside her, she clung to it, hoisting herself over it, arms and legs wrapped around it like a babe on its mother.

Death would have to wait a bit; she had lost her courage.

The storm raged and Ghisla raged back, singing the songs her mother had taught her, trying to find that courage again. There were songs for planting and songs for harvesting. Songs for supping and songs for sleeping. There were even songs for death and songs to ward it off, but she knew no songs to welcome it. So she sang the song they’d sung at the end of each day before they’d closed their eyes to sleep. Hers had been a family of singers, in a village of singers, in a land of singers.

“Open up the heavens. Open up the earth. Open up the hearts of men, close the wounds and hurt. Hear my voice and hold my hand, help me rise and work again,” she sang. “Mother, Father, Gilly,” she wailed, throwing her voice into the gale. “Help me find you. I want to be with you.”

“Your voice will open the heavens, Ghisla,” her mother had always said. “Odin himself could not deny you, should you call him.” But Odin did not seem to hear, though she begged him to come retrieve her.

“I will sing for you, Allfather, every day. If you will let me come and stay,” she sang, her arms trembling around the cask. She could not let it go. She had no desire to live, yet . . . she could not let go. So she sang, harmonizing with the wind and the waves until exhaustion took her voice and her consciousness.

 

She awoke to light and warmth and a presence in the shadows.

“Am I dead?” she asked. She’d fallen to sleep cold and wet, bobbing on a forever sea, throat raw with salt and singing. She’d closed her eyes and succumbed to the darkness, beyond caring whether she lived, and here she was. But she didn’t know where she was.

“No.” The voice was young and newly deep. It reminded her of her brother, Gilly. His voice had sounded like that, cracking and quivering between man and boy. She tried to see the owner of the voice, but her lids were too heavy and sleep too sweet.

When she woke again, the warmth had changed, the light too, and the sun beat down on her cheeks, and something tickled her bare foot. She kicked at it, coming awake, frightened that a creature would scurry up her skirts or nibble at her toes. She peered down at the offending touch.

The creature was a boy, squatting on his haunches by her feet, silhouetted by the sun.

“Are you awake?”

She nodded, tucking her feet beneath her skirts, but he tipped his head to the side, listening, and asked her again.

“Are you awake?”

“Yes.” Her tongue was heavy and her lips fat. She sat up, suddenly so parched she was desperate. He seemed to know, for he held a water flask in his hand and extended it toward her slightly, shaking it a little.

“Are you thirsty?”

Ghisla nodded again, but he simply waited, as though he expected her to take it from him. She did, grasping it before widening the distance between them. Then she uncorked the flask and drank until there was nothing left. She wiped at her mouth and wished for more, wished she had left a little to rinse the salt from her eyes. Her face stung.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drink it all.” She tried to hand the flask back to him, but he didn’t take it. He waited until she nudged him with it before accepting it. Then he stood, still silhouetted by the sun at his back, and she shaded her eyes so she could stare up at him, though the glare made picking out the details difficult.

He was tall and thin, his shoulders broad but bony and draped in drab brown. His dark hair was cut close to his skull like a newly shorn sheep, and his eyes were averted, clinging to the distance, and she couldn’t make out their color or intent.

“I can get you more . . . but we’ll have to walk a little ways. Can you walk?” he asked. He had a long staff that pointed up at the sky, and he kept his hands wrapped around it as he waited for her to rise.

She took stock of her condition. She was sore and her dress was stiff with salt, but she was dry, and she was unharmed. She rose to her feet and shook out her thin skirts, brushing the sand from her sleeves and wiping the grit from her cheeks. The top of her head did not quite reach the boy’s shoulders, and he reached out tentatively with one hand, his palm downward, and set his hand atop her head as though marking her size.

She jerked away from him, and his hand fell. He kept his eyes averted, looking at nothing. Now that she was standing, his body blocking the sun, she could see him better. His eyes were the color of the moss that clung to the stones, but they were coated in a white haze and they had no centers . . . or if they did, the milky white obscured them. She stepped back, wanting to run, but she had nowhere to go. The sea stretched out in front of her, cliffs and hills rose up behind her, and sand extended on each side. There was only this boy and this beach. And her.

“I heard you . . . singing in the darkness. Last night. I thought you were a nixie. But nixies are not so small,” he said gently. “I was surprised by your height.”

“A nixie?” she asked.

“A fish-tailed woman who sings and draws the sailors from their ships down into the depths of the sea.”

“I don’t have a fish tail.”

“No. You don’t.” His teeth flashed, straight and white, but his eyes did not smile. “I tickled your feet, remember?”

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