4045 words (16 minute read)

Chapters Five & Six


It was a long night for Darian. He had agreed to have Eithne along on the mission, and was already regretting his decision. The men would disapprove, and he could possibly lose some respect from them. Though, deep down, he couldn’t help feeling that it was the right thing to do. Eithne had been so overjoyed when he said she could come, and he even thought he heard a happy “whoop” as he left the docks. Darian hoped that she would be as valuable an addition to his party as she seemed to think she would. He smiled to himself thinking of her stalwart determination. With that kind of attitude, she would make herself useful if it killed her. He also liked the idea of being able to keep an eye on her and bring her back home. The mission they were on was dangerous. Darian was certain that they were not the only ones after what he was looking for. His main concern was getting to it quickly, and hopefully retrieving the item before anyone else managed to get to it.

Darian sat for a long while on the bed in his room thinking things through. The sword that Eithne had stolen from the training fields rested on his lap. He ran his thumb down the edge of the blade. It was very worn and dull, not at all something a warrior should be carrying. Eithne probably didn’t even realize that the blade was practically useless in a fight. She would do better using it as a club. He was glad that he had taken it from her. Darian gave a heavy sigh and stood from his bed. Then, he went to his pack, got out his sword sharpening stone, and went to work on Eithne’s blade. She would at least need a decent weapon if she were ever going to hold her own out there.

Eithne was waiting at the dock before sunrise. The air was much more damp by the sea, and she felt the cold chill more acutely. She rubbed her arms vigorously to warm herself. She had been glad when Darian mentioned the Southern continent yesterday, for it meant they would be traveling into a milder climate, at least in theory. Nothing was guaranteed anymore when it came to the weather patterns of Raashan. Eithne had not slept very well the night before, and had arrived early as a function of that. She had found some very cheap accommodation at a boarding house on the east side of Tomak. It had not been a pleasant experience. The room she stayed in had been crammed full of beds and people. There was barely any space to breath. She had felt very uncomfortable on the old lumpy mattress, and slept holding her belongings close to her chest. Eithne would not stay in such a place again if she could help it. She had also felt completely exposed without a weapon. She still did not understand why Darian had asked for her sword, but she knew he must have had a good reason.

At last, the morning sun began to rise exposing a grayish morning mist over the docks. After a few moments, sailors and other dock workers arrived to start their day of work. Eithne knew that she must look very out of place. There she was, an elf woman dressed as a man just standing around on the dock with a horse in the early hours of the morning. Nonetheless, the workers didn’t even seem to take notice of her presence, and went about their business as usual. Eithne was feeling anxious about the journey. The sun had only just begun to rise, but doubts were streaming through her mind. What if Darian wasn’t going to show? What if he and his party had already departed and were now laughing over leaving her waiting here like a fool? Eithne shook her head to clear it. Those were ridiculous notions. The ship Darian had chartered was clearly present, and he would not be so cruel. No matter what he thought of her, he was a man of his word. She took a deep breath of cold air into her lungs and exhaled it slowly. She closed her eyes and had a small moment of soothing, personal meditation to quiet her nerves.

“Not much of a morning person, are you?”

Eithne’s eyes flew open to find Darian standing in front of her. The rest of the party was not with him, and it seemed there was something different about his demeanor this morning. There was a little smile on his lips. He actually looked happy to see her. Even his remark was almost playful. She found this change in him welcome and decided to go with it.

“You’re unusually happy in the morning.” Eithne returned, smiling back at him.

Darian looked perplexed. “Am I not usually happy?”

Eithne laughed. “Not really. It’s just that whenever I see you, you seem so serious and in charge. I’m not used to this side of you.”

He answered her with a thoughtful “Hmmmm” and studied her for a few seconds. “Are you ready to leave?” Darian resumed his authoritative tone, and his smile faded.

Eithne nodded and held up her small pack. She was sad that his playfulness was short-lived.

“Then let’s get you on board the ship. The rest of the party will be here soon.” Darian went past her and walked up the ramp to the ship. Eithne fell into step behind him, and led her horse up with her. She was outwardly calm, but her stomach as all fluttering with butterflies. She could barely contain her excitement. Eithne wondered if Darian noticed that she was so nervous. If he did, he didn’t acknowledge it, but simply led her onward silently. Darian took her below deck into an area where horses and other animals were kept. There, she tethered her horse in the far corner where it wouldn’t be easily seen. Darian turned and walked again, expecting her to obediently follow. She did. He took her to the cargo haul. It was dark and full of crates, barrels, and other various things, and felt cramped. Though, it wasn’t terrible. The cargo haul seemed relatively clean, and didn’t smell as badly as some places on board probably did.

“This is where you will stay until I come and get you.” Darian stated shortly, and started to leave.

“Should I hide anywhere in particular?” Eithne called after him irritably. She was annoyed with his shortness.

Darian could not help but to smirk at her attitude as he turned to look back at her. Eithne may become a fair fighter, but she would always have that feisty disposition. “Just make yourself comfortable. If you hear anyone coming, then get out of site.” He was about to walk away again, when he remembered something. “I almost forgot.” Darian unbuckled a sword from his belt and held it out to her hilt first. “Your sword, as I promised.”

Eithne stepped forward and took her weapon gladly. “Thank you.”

“I cleaned and sharpened it for you. It was so dull that it was nearly useless. It will serve you much better now.”

Eithne was filled with gratitude. She didn’t know what to say to him. She had no idea that her sword was in desperate need of cleaning and sharpening. She supposed that was her utter lack of experience coming through. He had probably glanced at the sword once and realized how lame it was. “I…um…thank you. That was very kind of you.” She stammered.

Darian smiled and nodded. “I’m supposed to return you alive and healthy, right? From now on, keeping your weapon fit for combat is your responsibility.”

He turned and left Eithne in the dark cargo haul clutching her sword. She very much wanted to look at the newly cleaned and sharpened weapon in the light. She had known that her sword was not in the best condition, but had no idea how bad it really was. Once again, she found herself in Darian’s debt. Eithne wondered if she would ever be able to repay him for all of his kindness. She made herself as comfortable as she could on one of the larger crates, and decided to try and get some more sleep. She purposefully laid down in a place that she would not be seen from the entrance to the haul.

Eithne was not dozing long when she was awakened by muffled voices and the boards creaking above her. The party must be boarding the ship. She wondered how long it would be before Darian told them that she was now going with them on the mission. They would not take it well. Darian would probably wait until they were well on the way before telling the party. At least far enough along so that no one could demand that they turn back and leave her in Tomak. She would probably be down in the cargo haul for hours. Eithne wondered if the ship’s crew was aware of her presence. She suspected that they did know. Darian probably asked the captain’s permission to have her down here. Still, it was probably best not to show herself to anyone but Darian. With that in mind, Eithne looked around to make sure she was in the most inconspicuous place. She moved deeper into the cargo haul behind some of the larger crates, and lay down using her pack as a pillow. She allowed herself to drift off to sleep, ushered by the rhythmic rocking of the ship.


The men were unhappy. Very unhappy. Darian had just told them that Eithne was coming with them on the mission. At first, they only gave him hard disgruntled stares. It was an awful feeling. No one had ever looked at him like that before, especially his men. They just kept starring for what seemed like an eternity. Outwardly, Darian did his best to stand proudly with his shoulders back and his head high, but he wondered if they saw the nervous clenching of his jaw muscle as he waited for one of them to speak.

Finally, Proithen broke the silence: “Sir, I have never questioned a decision you have made, or one of your orders before now. So, I know there must be a good reason why you would allow that freakish woman to come along. I would like to know that reason, Sir.”

Darian relaxed and breathed an internal sigh of relief, but still maintained his outward stoic demeanor. This was the reaction he had been hoping for. He was also glad to hear it voiced from Proithen, who was one of the most experienced soldiers in the group. They had gone on many campaigns together in the past. The rest of the party was likely to follow Proithen’s lead on this matter. He scanned the rest of the men before responding. Most were patiently waiting to hear his reason before passing judgment. However, Finnis and Dal seemed to be less inclined to listen. Darian didn’t think anything of it. Perhaps they would be swayed after hearing what he had to say.

Darian had his answer prepared: “The Lady Eithne is trying to run away from home. I greatly respect her family, and believe they deserve to have their youngest daughter returned to them. I feel responsible for her welfare. I do not condone her running away and following us. I tried to dissuade her on several occasions. She is quite stubborn to say the least. Her family is unaware of her whereabouts, and probably extremely distraught by her absence. My intention in allowing her to travel with us is to be certain of her returning home safely, nothing more. She is under my protection in the meantime.”

The men grumbled amongst themselves for a moment. It was a perfectly rational answer, but none of them liked the idea of having a female travelling with them.

“Will she be allowed to carry a weapon?” One of the men asked.

Darian nodded affirmatively.

This answer caused a bit of an uproar. Several of them spoke out at once against Eithne being allowed a weapon. It was against the ancient laws of their culture! Tribal elf women had never wielded weapons in all of their known history. Besides, they did not realize that Eithne actually knew how to use a sword. The men all presumed that she had no idea how to fight in the first place, therefore it was ridiculous for her to have a weapon anyway.

Darian held up his hand for silence, and the men quieted. “As I stated before, my goal is to keep her safe until I can return her to her family. In the event that we are attacked I cannot be certain of my ability to stay between her and possible danger. I will not have her defenseless against an enemy.”

“She probably doesn’t even know how to hold a sword!” Finnis grumbled loudly. He wanted everyone to hear him.

Darian spoke with more force in response to the chide. “Do not make the mistake of assuming that Eithne is a witless female who doesn’t know the sharp end of a blade. She has made it this far on her own, and will pull her weight on the journey. She is skilled with medicinal herbs and ways of healing. I have instructed her to only use her weapon in self-defense as needed.” He looked at his men and gaged their reaction. They were quiet, somber and stiff. Some of them still looked angry. Darian decided to try and lighten the mood: “Besides, why should any of you be concerned that she’s carrying a sword? I can’t believe that any of you are worried about her using on you.”

A few of the men chuckled at the notion of Eithne successfully using a sword against them. Others seemed to become less tense, but there were no smiles. Darian wasn’t expecting anyone to smile, but it would have been nice if they had. At least he managed to alleviate some of the tension. Now might be the best time to retrieve Eithne from the cargo haul. He was about to go and get her when another one of the men spoke up.

“What if we are simply unwilling to travel with a law-breaker?” It was Croel who voiced the concern. He was a little older then the others, and very pig-headed, but a good warrior. A few of the other men mumbled in agreement, which concerned Darian. He had hoped to avoid this particular conflict by making it seemingly impossible to turn back. They couldn’t even see Tomak anymore. The coast of the Northern continent was a hazy dark line on the horizon.

“This is not your decision, it is mine. I bear the responsibility for Eithne’s presence.” Darian returned firmly. He hoped that by taking full responsibility, he could avoid further argument.

“No matter whose decision it is, we’re still being forced to travel with some crazy she-elf who thinks she’s a man!” Croel shot back. He was getting angrier. Several of the other men grumbled in support of him.

Darian drew himself up to his full height, and fixed Croel with a hard look. “You don’t have to acknowledge her presence if you don’t want to, but my decision is final. Eithne stays with me until she is safely home.”

Croel and Darian exchanged glares for a long moment. Neither of them was the sort to give in, but Croel was at a distinct disadvantage since Darian out-ranked him.

Finally, Croel broke the silence, but not the stare. “Fine then. I’ll just be returning home. Anyone else who can’t stand this absolute heresy is welcome to come with me. I won’t travel with some insolent female who’s just going to get herself, or one of us killed!” That said, Croel turned on his heel and stomped off. He had made his own decision. After a few seconds pause, one of the other men got up and followed him. Darian had just lost two good fighters. It stung him deeply. He had never had a problem with dissention in the ranks before now.

Trying his best not to show his own upset, Darian scanned the remaining members of his party. “Anyone else want to leave in light of the new development?” His question rang out clearly. His tone made it clear that now was the time for them to make their final determination.

No one moved.

“Alright then. We will be at the Southern continent by early tomorrow morning. I would suggest the rest of you use this time wisely. So, see to your weapons and get some sleep.” Darian did not offer any further time for argument. He turned and stormed off below deck.

The men stood on the rocking deck of the ship for several moments, unsure of how to proceed after such a scene. Eventually, Proithen heaved a sigh and mumbled that he was going to go sharpen his blade. The rest of them dispensed from there to do similar tasks.

Eithne found herself being gruffly shaken awake. She opened her eyes to see the rather unpleasant site of Darian’s angry face. It was frightening, and, just for a second, she thought he might strike her.

“You just cost me two good warriors.” He stated darkly.

Eithne sat up slowly as she woke up and digested his statement. How could she have done anything? She had been asleep here the whole time, doing as she had been instructed. She was confused and still groggy. “What do you mean I cost you two warriors?”

“Exactly what I said.” Darian snapped back. “Now, come up to the deck.” He turned and left without waiting for her. Eithne scrambled to her feet and clumsily grabbed her pack, hurrying after him. She hated that he was in such a sour mood. He had been so pleasant this morning. The men must have taken the news badly.

In her haste to catch up with Darian, Eithne practically stumbled out onto the main deck. Everyone immediately starred at her, and it wasn’t at all friendly. As if on cue a cold sea breeze blew over the ship, causing the chill in the air to be felt more acutely. Eithne starred back for a moment and took in all the dread. This was not going to be as nice as she had hoped. Darian was the only one who wasn’t starring. His broad back was facing her. It felt worse to see his back then the other’s eyes. Eithne managed to drop her gaze, and tried to make herself as inconspicuous as possible. She tried to shuffle off to a corner somewhere, but they all followed her steadily with their glaring eyes.
It was the most awful feeling she had ever felt. It only made it worse that it was her actions that caused the feeling in the first place. There was nothing she could say or do to make it better, and Darian was angry at her. He could offer no small expression of comfort. Only his back.

Eithne went to sit by some barrels and brought her knees up to her chest, trying to make herself as small and invisible as she could. It was going to be a very long rest of the day. She was glad to have napped through the first half of it.

Eithne did not move from her hiding place for some time. She did not know what else to do. There was no work for her to do, and certainly no one wanted to talk with her, so she just sat. Even the excitement of being on a ship for the first time was doused by everyone’s disgust over her. Under other circumstances she would have sought out Darian, but that would only serve to make things worse right now. So, she sat there for the rest of the day, looking through the railing posts at the sea churning as the ship cut through it. It was peaceful, and very nice to look at something that didn’t scowl back at her. Her body was numb to the freezing wind and sea spray that washed over her.

When darkness began to fall, the wind became more persistent and colder. Eithne realized through her haze of self-loathing that she needed to go below deck to sleep if she didn’t want to freeze to death. She did not want to be in the same space as the rest of the party. They may not even allow it. She thought it would be best if she secluded herself in the cargo haul for the night. Crates and barrels didn’t hold grudges at least. Eithne stood up, and found that her limbs were chilled stiff and stung from the movement. She had been exposed too long already. It was hard to believe that, according to the calendar, it was supposed to be late summer or early autumn. It felt like the dead of winter. She made her way below deck and headed for the cargo haul. To her surprise, she found Darian standing at the entrance with his arms crossed in an imposing fashion. He still looked mad.

“I thought you might try to hide in here again.” Darian stated bitterly. “If you want to be a part of the group, then you need to stay with the group.”

That said, Darian grabbed Eithne’s arm roughly and escorted her to the sleeping quarters. Every instinct told her to run as he dragged her into the sleeping quarters. She could see that the men did not want her there, but no one would challenge Darian’s authority. He yanked her to stand next to one of the available hammocks by the wall. Then, Darian claimed the hammock next to hers, and began getting ready to sleep. Eithne was still as stone, clutching her pack and sword to her chest while the eyes of everyone in the room bore into her. It was terrifying. She shook her head to come out of her daze, and quickly, if not clumsily, climbed into her hammock trying to ignore the stares. She realized with resignation that she wouldn’t get much sleep tonight either.

Next Chapter: Chapters seven - ten