Chapter 16 – Late
Ashen’s Age: 10 Years Old
As Chesney and I finish our extended training-he insisted on continuing well into the dusk in preparation for next week-we head inside for supper.
Strange, Ashen is still not back.
I am getting a bit worried now.
She has come back late before, but never this late. The sun has almost set. There is a full moon out tonight, so that provides some light, but what if she is out alone in the dark?
No, Ashen is a magician. She can create light at a whim. She’ll never be alone in the dark.
But if she ventured into the forest, though…
She was especially upset today. Maybe she did wander in to take her mind off things? Or maybe hunt magic beasts to prove her strength to herself?
I am worried.
Uncharacteristically, Chesney is not calm as well. He watches me, and is sitting silently, but his leg is twitching as if he is antsy.
“Maybe we should go look for her?” asks Chesney. “It is about time for the last of the hunters to be leaving the forest. We may hear some news from them if there is something wrong. What is with that look?”
“No, I just didn’t expect you to be concerned for Ashen.”
“Of course I am concerned. She is still the daughter of my teacher, and my sparing partner, however inept she may be.”
“That sounds more like you.”
“Oy, what is that supposed to mean.”
“Just what it sounds like!”
I am getting agitated. I really must be getting worried. I never expected this of myself growing up. I always saw myself as detached. Though Amelia would disagree.
“Chesney, go get Amelia. We’re moving out to the forest.”
Uncharacteristically, Chesney doesn’t argue, and runs upstairs to get Amelia.
I follow, run to my room, and start grabbing my equipment.
I grab my boots, and my jerkin. I tie my hair in a pony tail behind my head.
I grab my twin swords. They are magic swords which an element of fire and ice when mana is poured through them. That act also repairs and reinforces them, and keeps them sharp. To the point where I feel like that is their primary purpose.
I stow them in my scabbards at my waste, and go downstairs to find Amelia and Chesney ready with a rapier at her belt, and a broadsword at his. Amelia is wearing a black naval suit, the one she always wore at sea. Chesney is still in his training outfit.
“Whats with the dress up, Amelia?”
“It’s been a while since we’ve done anything like this. I wanted to get back in the mood.”
“Ashen is missing, it’s not a trip for fun! Most likely, nothing will happen anyways.”
“Then why have you brought out the twin swords, huh?”
“Just… just in case…”
I look away. She kind of guessed it. I’ve been so bored these past few years that I am gearing for any chance of a fight.
“Shouldn’t we get a move on? The pip-Ashen might be in trouble.” says Chesney, correcting himself mid insult. Yeah, that’s the Chesney I know.
I walk out the door and through the court yard. Past the fountain in the courtyard and through the front gate.
I head down the path towards the village at a quick pace. I don’t really want to deal with them if I do not have to. At worst, I’ll have to deal with the hunters as they com home. I don’t do well with the villagers.
I tried visiting the village when I first moved here. It was right after my marriage and the incorporation of The Fleet into the royal navy. In The Fleet, we controlled much of the coastal towns. But we didn’t have influence of towns this far inland. As such, upon entering the village, all I would hear were chatter and rumors about how The Fleet had been defeated. None of the nuance of what actually happened. And of course, vicious rumors and remarks about the pirate queen, who weaseled herself into the royal family and who may become their new lord.
I mean, what the hell? Sure, part of what happened did happen because Sander was a prince and thus could broker the deal in the first place. But I married him because he was the Sander of my memories, of my childhood, the one who always stood by me. Not because he was royal, or because I wanted to be related at all to the royal family. It was because he had power over me via the control rod of my slave crest, but relinquished that to me rather than hold it over my head. He could have made me do whatever he wanted. Instead, he gave me the choice. I just chose to stay with him.
While I was musing in my head, we came to the fork in the road between the village and the forest. Naturally, we took a turn and went towards the forest.
The other two are chatting behind me, but I don’t join in with them. I am too preoccupied with my own thoughts.
After a ways, Amelia places her hand on my shoulder.
“Look ahead, it seems something is happening.”
I take my mind off my thoughts, and look ahead towards the forest. In front of the trees, there are a large gathering of men with swords and bows. They are ambling around and seem restless, waiting for something.
Amelia glances at me, then jogs on ahead.
“Hey! What’s going on?”
“Ah, hey there. We’re all just gathering. There is someone lost in the forest.”
“Who is it?”
“Ah” says another hunter, “It’s this little girl. We see her around here a lot, but no one’s seen her come back yet. She usually wanders the forest path, and then returns. But this time, we think she may have gone of the path.”
Another hunter pipes up.
“I saw her move off the path a bit, but then there was a roar and a commotion. Moon bears, if I had to guess it. I tried to get over where it was coming from, but I Was blocked by a boggart. I can’t get past one of those on my own, so I called for help. It’s the least we can do to go help her out. She could be wounded, or lost. For all she’s done for us… we just can’t give up.”
“All she’s done for you? Do you know who she is? What has she done?” I ask, having caught up.
“She’s just a local girl. I don’t know her name. But whenever we”re out hunting, we can see her watching us. She think’s she’s being clever and out of view, but I mean, we’re hunters, we’re used to tracking the unseen, right? Anyway, the little miss is a magician, whenever we get in trouble or bite off more than we can chew, she’s there from the shadows helping us. Saved us from quite a few jams, if I do say so myself. But she never asks for a reward, or even a portion of the hunt. Kind of a silent protector. So we keep an eye on her as much as we can and keep her out of trouble.”
“And since no one’s seen her leave the forest, we’ve gathered here after the hunt.”
“Who are you guys, anyways. We don’t see you around here. How did you hear about this?”
I pause for a second.
“I’m the girls mother.”
“You are? Well nice to meet ya, er-”
“Blue. You can call me Blue.”
“Blue, hah, you wouldn’t be the great Testarossa” he says, mockingly.
“As a matter of fact.” I draw my swords, “Yes. Yes I am.”
The men take a step back.
Amelia gets between us.
“Hey, come now. Don’t fight. We’re here for the same purpose.”
“No, er… I mean… I am sorry if I have offend… You are the mother of our guardian angel, of course we should treat you well…er…” mutters one of the hunters.
A voice rings out from the entrance of the forest.
“Okay everyone, get together. We’re going in.”
Everyone starts heading towards the forest.
“Break into two parties. Party one, take the western entrance and the second party take the east. We’ll meet in the middle of the path. If you see a break in the path where the missy may have gone off the path.”
I turn to Amelia and Chesney.
“Chesney, you and Amelia go with the western group. I’ll head in with the eastern group.”
“Are you sure? You’ll be fine on your own?”
“Are you doubting my abilities?”
“I am doubting your state of mind. You might not have noticed, but you’re pretty on edge. And I do not think it is because of Ashen.”
She is right. I am on edge. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back with the populace. At least it is better than with the nobles.
“It’s better than being with the nobles. I can handle it. If need be, I’ll just run ahead and find her myself.”
“That is what I am talking about! Treat them like you’re back in the fleet. They’re your comrades, and they’re trying to find your daughter. Out of goodwill too!”
“I know that. I know that.” I mutter. “Let’s just do this. Find Ashen, and beat the shit out of some moon bears.”
“As long as it is just the moon bears you beat the shit out of.”
We separate from each other, and I head towards the hunters on the eastern side. I can see them already muttering and looking at me. Some are even gesturing towards me. They must now know who I am from our earlier conversation. Hopefully this will end well.
We enter the forest in search of Ashen, torches alight, and in single file, with myself at the rear.