The captain breached the waterfall, returning to the lake’s shore and never-night skyline within the dense forest. She staggered back into the tree line as her limbs weakened, her blood no longer dancing, her adrenaline waning. Before long she collapsed, dropping Amir to the ground. She retained enough strength to roll her face from the mud before even her reserves left her. She looked up, to a fading careless cloud drifting by.
* * * *
Idiot crunching, munching, chomping grated at her nerves until finally irritated enough she opened her eyes. She turned her head to the injured farmer chewing on berries beside her. He offered his hand. She scoffed, pushing up off her elbow until it slipped, nearly dropping her back into the mud. The farmer caught her shoulder, and helped her up.
“Do not ever touch us, peasant,” the captain spat as she elbowed him away. Amir shrugged apologetically, offering berries in recompense. She glared at him, before her own stomach, tumultuous and growing louder by the minute, broke her demeanor. She rubbed her forehead as she sighed. “Fine, farmer. Do your job.” The captain grudgingly extended her hand. Amir poured a small contingent of berries in to her palm, and did a thing most queer for a person in his situation: he smiled.
The captain cocked an eyebrow as she spoke, her voice resolute as timber. “Ever the optimist, are you?” she scoffed. “You’ve reason enough, we suppose. You should be dead. There’s not enough dragonfire here to sustain you. Your body should’ve already broken down. Even—” she hesitated, “…even our own royal personage has trouble this far out after a time.”
Amir shrugged and continued munching his berries. “You don’t care in the least, do you? Only concerned for your brother. So much so you risked death.” The captain slurped the berries from her palm. “We can see you’ve committed no malicious offense toward the crown, and the trespass has been amended. We shall consider enslavement rather than execution.” Amir looked up, wide-eyed. “It is the best offer a king’s thief shall receive. Do not protest and we may release the caustic as well. As a slave you may not leave the castle to see him, but he may live, if caustics can be said to do that. He’s done no crime.”
Amir leapt across, hugging the captain with tears in his eyes. She shoved him back, smushing her remaining berries into his chest. “Off, cur! Do not presume familiarity with us!” Amir looked down with glee to his berry-stained chest, and offered the captain his share of the berries. She canted her head, watching him suspiciously. She watched on as Amir ate one of the berries. She raised her head, accepting the remaining food. “You may make a good pet.” She chuckled.
Having their fill of water and berries, the captain rose to her feet and turned to Amir. “Must we restrain you?” Amir shook his head. The captain glanced back just once, to a will-o’-the-wisp dancing near the waterfall. She snorted, turning away. She marched her way out of the forest with Amir close behind.
They reached the outskirts of the Sticks, to the shanty hovels where the Sick devoured the caustic like carrion gifted unto maggots. The filth of their suffering permeated the air. Though she had ignored it before, the captain could not deny the wretched taste on the wind as it drifted about her. She diverted away from the Sticks to a side trail along the Cliffs.
Ambling near to where they had fallen before, Amir stumbled, his side still weak from the boar tusk. The captain sighed, finding a spot to sit while Amir rested. Her back against the same cliff-face she’d found the farmer not much earlier, her eyes moved to the never-setting sun resting on the horizon. It burned a dull topaz, and yet simply remained in place like a lost child looking for its mother. A gentle breeze carried songbird melodies to her, and for once, the captain did not mind. The crashing of the waves below was not inconsequential, but simply life.
A loud snoring started to reverberate from the farmer resting beside her. As far as she could tell he wasn’t dead, though why that was the case she could surmise no answer. She glanced back to the faint scarlet-light haze drifting from the base of the cliff, but there was no need to investigate at this very moment. The dragonfire within the ocean would have to do for the time being, and without an expedition she wouldn’t accomplish much against a stonewall. She drew a deep breath, the all-too-familiar sensation of losing herself imminent. Her senses grew dim as a vision became her.
The stone cliff possessed fewer crags. She was near where she had been, although it was much before. Crawling, injured, aching veins. The body not-her-body was dying, starved for something. The essence? It drew close to a fountain within a cave. The body tried to drink from it, blood seeping from its wounds. He choked as the well spring turned the color of damned dandelions, bubbling and burning in his veins. Burning, but not dead.
The captain gasped as she regained herself. Catching her breath, she jumped as she found the scraggly farmer’s head upon her shoulder, still asleep. Her hand instinctively moved for her dagger before her other hand caught it. The two battled it out to see whether the farmer would live. The docile hand succeeded, and the farmer’s life was spared.
The captain shook Amir off, dropping his head to the ground. Glancing into his sleepy eyes, she drew her blade. Amir looked up, muddled. She directed her weapon toward the top of cliff, to the bastion standing over the great sea.
“Up, farmer. Emaro—” she scoffed as she rolled her eyes. “The Dominion of Dragonfire. Your brother awaits at the Stockade.”