Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Under the Moon's Eyes

The second the men are out of sight, I leave my seat near the campfire. I wasn’t lying when I told them I hadn’t seen the young woman they’re looking for, but I did fail to mention that my beloved crow familiars had seen someone I assume is her. How many pale-haired runaway brides can one section of forest hold?
According to the men's testimony, the woman is barefoot and dressed only in a shift, which prompts my second in command to hand me her cloak and another soldier to hold out a pair of shoes. We always carry spares of basic uniform items because our ranks expand so frequently. The women don’t always stay with us, but they need clothing while we get them to safety.
Magred, the eldest of my three crows and their leader, caws for me to hurry up and I give her a half-heart sush. “We don’t want them to hear you and wonder what you’re excited about,” I whisper to her. Really, though, I think the odds of these particular men figuring out something like that are slender, for they truly weren’t the brightest examples of humanity I’ve seen. That combined with the way they looked at my soldiers not as the warriors they are but as objects of lust is part of what kept me from helping them. The way they phrased their search was the rest of it. They made it very clear that even though one claimed to be a father and the other a husband, the woman they’re looking for isn’t loved by either one of them. They’re looking for a lost possession; not a person.
I follow my crows as they lead me down the path the men had come up and then down an embankment to a stream. There’s a footprint on this side, but none on the other. I’d think she had decided to walk in the stream to through off trackers where it not for my feathered spies. Millicent taps my shoulder to make sure she has my attention, then flies up into a nearby tree.
“Clever girl,” I mutter under my breath as I look up into the branches. Even expecting her to be there, it’s hard to see the woman cowering by the trunk.
“Are you cold?” I call up to the runaway. “I have an extra cloak and some shoes that may or may not fit.”
There’s no response, like she’s hoping that if she stays still I’ll go away.
“You don’t have to come with me,” I tell her. “But if you do, there’s food, clothing, transportation to somewhere far away, and combat training, if you want it. And those dingus brutes looking for you won’t be able to find you. I swear by the Moon.”
A chilly breeze ruffles by. “Are they your crows?” she asks.
“They are.”
She moves, looking down at me from her perch. “Are you Crow Moonsdaughter?”
My lips curl. “They’ve given me that name, yes.”
“Then I’m to tell you that Rabbit says hello.” She begins to climb down. Even from here, I can see the dress is torn and bloodied.
“Good old Rabbit.” I smile fondly as I think about my brother. We weren’t named Crow and Rabbit as children, but we adopted the names after being rescued by the spirit of the moon. We could just as easily be Reclamation and Retribution. I help victims reclaim themselves while he punishes those who victimize. The men who hurt this woman may well be dead already, and most certainly aren't going to make it home if they're not.
I let the woman make her way down without help, then hold out the cloak for her to slide into as I try not to glare at the burgeoning bruise on her cheek. She's shaking, either from cold or from nerves. “I’m not a goddess,” I tell her. “I’m not even really a demigoddess. Sure, the Moon is my father, but he’s adopted.”
From how wide her eyes are, I don’t think she takes much comfort in that. But that’s alright; the awe will wear off eventually. For now, I lead her back to camp and her new family.

Above image is "Prayer" by Amanda Clark (For sale here)
It was a prompt given to my Wording Wednesday writing group on MeWe in response to the random words despair, kismet, and blue.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What the Cats Saw

Ship’s cats are very important, although, perhaps, somewhat less important than they think they are. Sir Night the Knight and Her Ladyship Snow are from the same litter and I’ve sailed with them for their entire lives. Their mum, Queen of the Storm, is a tuxedo, equal parts black and white, but it struck me as an odd omen when one was born pure white and the other unadulterated black. I just never figured out what it was an omen of.

Tonight they’ve left the ship and are exploring the dock. I watch them as I sip a bit of rum, that beloved standard of seafaring folk. The vessel beside us appears to be hosting a party. A band plays on deck, their songs just loud enough for me to make out the words, and a steady string of persons have come and gone over the last few hours, but I’m not drunk enough to consider joining them. I am, after all, on watch, all that stands between The Duchess of the Swift Winds and those who would try to plunder her hulls. She’s riding high, and normally that would indicate she’s low on cargo, but she just pulled in from the Zekly Isles, so what it actually implies is that her hull is full, just not of mundane items. You’d think with all the spells and enchantments onboard, Captain Bladebearer could have spared a guardian charm, but it’s not my job to question her any more than it’s my job to get keelhauled.

Thinking of the Captain, I tuck my flask into my belt. She doesn’t mind a little drinking on the job, but she’ll have my liver cut out if she catches me inebriated. Would probably feed it to the cats, too.

Thinking of my feline crewmates, I look away from the party goers and back to them. There’s something odd in the way the cats move, something suspicious. Snow keeps looking out at the harbor, like she’s tracking someone approaching. But there’s nothing out there; the night is clear enough and the moon bright enough that I’d see if there were.

Night looks back at me and even though I couldn’t possibly hear a snort over the distance, I could swear I hear him snort at me. It’s derisive, a dismissive sort of sound, and if I didn’t know any better I’d tell you he accompanied it with a sneer.

I look away from the cats, looking toward town. There’s a tavern near the end of the dock, and most of the crew is there now, drinking and feasting and spending the money they promised to send home to their families. Just not me. Luck of the short straw. And not the Captain, who never sets foot in Chepton Province. It’s inconvenient since the most profitable ports in the kingdom are here, but we all have our peculiarities, and since her wife is our second-in-command, she can be trusted to act in the Captain’s favor.

A hiss draws my attention back to the cats. Both stare at a point in the water a few measures away. I roll my eyes and plan on looking away again, but as I start, my attention catches on ripples in the water. It looks just like a ship drawing into dock.

“Captain!” I call.

“It’s alright,” she says from just behind me. How she snuck up without me noticing, I couldn’t say. She’s stealthy like that; always has been. “They’re not here for us.”

“They?” I ask dimly.

The captain hands me a pair of far-seer lenses. “Just some friends I made in the Zeklies.” She puts her hands on the rail and leans over. “Snow! Night! It’s alright! Get back here!”

And they come, because the cats always do as the Captain says, same as the rest of us.

Trembling before I even get the glasses to my closed eyes, I assure myself that if the Captain says I’m safe, then I’m safe. I get the lenses in place and force my eyes open. Then it’s all I can do to keep from dropping what I’m certain is a very expensive pair of glasses into the water. They’re not farseers; nothing is bigger than it would be to the naked eye. But they show things I couldn’t see before. “What are they?” I whisper as monsters the likes of which I can’t even describe begin to pour off their boat and onto the dock.

The Captain laughs. “LIke I said, they’re friends of mine.”

The glasses drop to my side as I turn to stare at her. How does one make friends with nightmares? I don’t ask.

The Captain smiles as the cats make it on board. She reaches down to pet them in turn, then turns to lead them to her cabin.

“Captain!” I call.

She pauses, turns. “Yes?”

“What about the crew?”

Her head tilts to the side. “What about them?”

I swallow. “Are your friends their friends?”

She laughs. “You think I’d sacrifice my crew?”

I shiver. I would never have had such a thought before, but watching her nonchalance as these creatures invite themselves onto the ship beside us and begin to do things to make the partygoers scream in terror, I’m not so sure. “Of course not.”

Her sigh tells me she’s disappointed in the answer. “Any who are loyal to me will be spared.”

Her eyes lock with mine. “Anyone merely pretending to be will not.”

My mouth is dry, but I send my tongue to flick across my lips in an attempt to moisten them anyway. “Noted, sir.”

The Captain shakes her head, but she’s smiling. “I’m messing with you, Galeborn. They’re here for Kambert’s people and only Kambert’s people.”

Kambert, the governor of the provence. Known for corruption, malice, and violent acts against women. There’s been some speculation amongst the crew that the Captain knows him, but no one has any idea how.

“Why?” I hear myself ask, even knowing I should mind my own business.

The captain’s smile turns cold. “Because it’s high time my father paid for his deeds. Him and everyone who’s helped him stay in power.”

Her father… I look down the dock at the party ship. It’s quieting down over there already, but I see several people staggering away. Pulling the glasses back to my face, I see the monsters are still there, but they’re letting most folks through.

“The monsters are harmless,” the Captain says. “To anyone who isn’t a monster themselves.”

I hand the glasses back to her and pull out my flask. “Permission to drink, sir?”

She nods. “Go ahead.” And with a weary glance toward land, she retreats to her quarters with the cats.

There isn’t enough rum in the world to make all of this seem normal or good, but if a tenth of the things I’ve heard about Kambert are true, he deserves everything that’s coming to him. And, yes, the province is going to be launched into anarchy, but maybe that’s a reasonable price to pay for allowing monsters to hold power.

I lean against the rail and feel a brushing against my leg. Looking down, I see Queen of the Storm regarding me with large yellow eyes. And despite everything, I smile as she jumps onto the rail beside me and meows for attention. I scratch behind her ears and things seems just a little less awful. Yes, ships cats are very important things.

Image is The Cats' Rendezvous by Manet.

If you are on the social network MeWe, I invite you to join my writing prompt group Wording Wednesday. This was our first prompt, so I was very happy when the random word generator included "cat" in the list of things to put into image search.