Kelsandra, Chapter 6

18 years previous

1307 AE

 

Kelsandra itched for her father and brother to return home; the winter especially harsh this year, they’d been staying out later and later on their fishing trips, and she spent most of her days bundled up on her bed reading the same book and trying not to think of her growling stomach.

She heard the familiar thumping of her father’s heavy boots and sprang up into a sitting position. Just as he was opening the door, Kelly bounded into the main room, the thick quilt swallowing her tiny form. He smiled and nodded, then closed the door and took off his many layers. She stood behind him, bouncing on the balls of her feet, waiting for the hug he’d give her once his soaked, cold coats were off.

“Where is Gavin?” she asked. The men had gone out together that morning, and Kelly imagined that it’d be dangerous or at least less preferable to separate.

Her father paused, then turned to look at her expression. “He’s staying just upriver with his friends.”

Friends? As far as she’d known, their house was the one of the only places habitable for humans near Timberline Falls, and she certainly hadn’t seen anyone even passing through.

With a sigh, he bundled up the third and last coat on the dining table and lowered himself to one knee. She stared at the pale, thin, unshaven man before her and smiled with narrowed eyes in a comically sly way. After a few seconds, he held out his arms and Kelly ran into his chest. They embraced silently. Then he pulled away and stood to put on a robe before unwrapping the fish he’d caught.

“When will he be back?” she asked.

“Few days.”

“Why so long?”

“There may be a storm, may not be.”

Kelly pulled her blanket closer to herself and sat on a chair to watch him light the range. When her brother was around, she was extremely talkative, but her father rarely spoke more than a short sentence, no matter what he was responding to, and acted like he didn’t want anything to respond to anyway.

She brought her knees up to her chest and itched, as she had so many times before, to leave. “Has Mother sent anything?”

“Too early in the year.”

She smelled the fish as he put it on the pan and suddenly lost her appetite. It was almost always the same thing, every day, for half of the year when it was too rough outside to buy or catch anything else.

“What if I’m not hungry?” she asked.

“You are hungry.”

Kelly wondered if there were rabbits outside, or bears. She couldn’t imagine either Gavin or her dad handling a bear, though. Or chasing a rabbit in those big coats.

“Do you think I could catch us something for dinner?”

“You’re too young.”

“I’m almost seven,” she said proudly.

Her father was about to flip the fish, but stopped to glance back at her. Kelly stared right back at him, registering that his look was very odd and unlike any expression he’d ever shot at her before. His brow furrowed but eyes wide, like he’d just found out a terrible secret.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?”

He turned back and flipped the fish. After a few seconds, “Nothing. Almost done.”

When he put the fish in the middle of the table in front of her, she couldn’t help but scrunch her nose in disgust, which didn’t go unnoticed.

“Will Gavin bring different food back?”

“No,” he said, shoveling down his half. “Quick, it’s still hot.”

“I don’t like the bones.”

“I’ll pick out the bones.” He put down his knife and fork and used his fingers to pick rest of the fish apart.

“I don’t like fish.” She looked at him meekly, wondering if he’d be angry.

His expression didn’t change, but his silence worried her, and she dutifully ate the food.

That night, she wore one of Gavin’s coats, missing him, and wished she could sleep in her father’s bed, but she still remembered his aggressive refusal when she tried to climb into it a year ago. The weather had calmed, but a chilly, snowless wind still blew through the cracks, as usual. Kelly was thinking about how much she hated the taste of dinner when there was a rough knocking on the door.

Her heart jumped. She was terrified, especially since Gavin wasn’t here to protect her, but…what if it was her brother?

She took a deep breath and then ran out of the room and to the door.

Kelly opened it and smiled. A lanky, twenty year-old man stood there, shivering, holding a large, black wooden box, and very shocked to see his little sister answer his knocks.

“Kelsandra, what are you doing up?” he asked, very concerned.

Kelly giggled and stepped back. Gavin walked inside and put the box on the table before closing the door behind him. He didn’t take his gloves off, however, and still held his worried expression.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“I brought food,” he said, smiling down at her, with manic eyes. Then he bent down and hugged her. He kept her close as he explained:

“I’ll be going away for a long time, but I left you some things. One of these things is very delicate, nothing like you’ve seen before.”

Her eyes widened. “A present?”

Gavin put a finger to her lips. “Things are alright now, but when it gets colder, put the box near the stove and have Dad keep it on low heat. You need to keep it immersed in water. The water can be cold, but it can’t freeze. Do you understand?”

She nodded excitedly, itching to know what it was.

“I was planning on explaining this to Dad,” he said, standing up. His gloved hands were shaking, though it was much warmer inside the house. “But I think you’ll remember. I trust you. Tell him too, just in case.”

Kelly stared at the metal box he slowly lifted out of the bigger box, but then had a sinking feeling. “Did you say you were going away?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about that. Please just focus on this.” he put the metal box on a chair and she stared as he opened it to give her a glimpse of the large egg inside.

 

 

1325 AE

Present day

 

Sterjin abruptly sped up, running ahead of them.

“He knows we’re close,” said Valgar. Kelly walked faster and motioned for Valgar to do the same. He reluctantly complied.

“Doesn’t that mean there’ll be centaurs? Or pirates?” she asked. As they went into a jog, she whipped her head around to check.

“You’re underestimating my navigation skills. This area should be safe.”

Then, at the top of a hill, they saw Viathan Lake and most of its borders. She sighed in relief as Sterj dove into the water. They had been walking for a night and almost a full day, refusing to stop before they reached the Lake.

She lifted her hand to untie her mask, but something caught Valgar’s eye, and he used one hand to push her to the ground, at the same moment that an arrow shot from their right. It was a ship of pirates just arrived from the southern part of the lake, and they were hungry for action. A few of them jumped off onto the sand and pulled out swords. Kel grabbed her new bow and, because of the distance, arched her arrow’s trajectory upwards, aiming for the archer who stood on the deck of the ship. The pirate stopped aiming at her to look up, and Kelly took the opportunity to run down the hill at the swordsman, woman, and charr. With gritted teeth, she shot arrow after arrow in succession, though not quickly. The archer ran inside the ship, calling for backup.

The woman reached her first, the arrows only having slowed her down, and swung the sword widely at her. Kelly rolled sideways and, by impulse, swung her leg and the pirate fell on her rear.

Kelly pulled out the gun and pointed it at her. Breathing heavily, she said, “Stand down. I can’t—“

With a grunting yell, the male pirate pulled Kelly’s hair from behind, kicked the gun out of her hand, and pushed her down. She dropped her bow as she fell, and she backed up as the woman recovered herself and smirked, playfully spinning the large sword. In the background, Valgar triumphed over the charr with the help of Sterj, who’d left the water at the first sign of trouble.

The man looked to Sterj, then Kelly, and back and forth again before putting a hand on the woman’s shoulder. She backed down, looking sideways at him.

Sterj was running, exhausted, to help Kelly, but stopped at her side to observe the pirates’ intent. They were unmoving as the man stared at the two of them on the ground.

“Kelsandra?” he asked.

Kelly collapsed on her back and looked up at him. “Gods,” she breathed, “why didn’t you become a fisherman?”

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