Scarblade's Pearl: Forgive and Regret - Part Four
Rai leaned on the railing in the same spot he had a few nights ago, when Nira had still been on the ship. It was dark like then, too. The ocean seemed blacker than before. It might have been because the moon was no longer full, or maybe it just looked blacker to Rai's despairing eyes. He still couldn't believe the story he'd heard. Nira, in prison! At first, he had been inclined to blame Garin. But after his initial shock had faded, he had seen the nonsense in such a thing. It had been Nira's idea to go to Maraqua. Garin only helped where he could. She'd have gone even without his support.
His head hit the rail with a light thump. Life just wasn't fair! Nira had gone to repent for her sins, and what had she received in return? A furious refusal and a jail cell. Didn't it count for anything that she regretted what she had done? Rai sighed and lifted his head, just enough to gaze at the water again. It looked so cool, so welcoming. It would feel good to have it wash over him. Maybe he could forget his troubles, just for a little while.
He was thinking the idea over when a head poked above the waves. He gasped, then covered his mouth with one paw. In the water below, gazing up at the ship in wonder, was the most beautiful Maraquan he'd ever seen.
Alia gazed up at the Black Pawkeet, eyes wide. She'd always heard stories of how its crew had aided Maraqua in the war against Scarblade, but she'd never seen it for herself. Now all those stories truly came to life as she stared wonderingly. She couldn't even see Rai, huddled as he was against the rail. He was just an oddly shaped shadow, no less oddly shaped than the rest of the ship.
Alright, she'd found them. After a whole day of searching, she'd found who she was looking for. Now what? Garin wasn't likely to give her a warm welcome after their last encounter. And not only that, but how in the world was she supposed to get their attention? Splashing wouldn't work very well. Shouting might, but who would hear her in the middle of the night? Besides, she wasn't very good at shouting. Her voice was much too quiet for it to carry very far.
She was about to put a hand to her chin but it brushed against the ocarina resting on her chest. Alia looked down at it suddenly, an idea forming. Of course! She could play a song on the ocarina! Though the instrument wasn't painfully loud, its sound could carry for long distances much better than her voice. It would sound less hostile than a bunch of shouting, too.
Carefully, she lifted the instrument to her lips and played a song her mother had sung to her, years and years ago.
Rai's ears pricked as he heard the sound of music. It was beautiful, serene and soft, gently as the lapping of a wave. He blinked and stared at the Maraquan Kyrii. She was the source! He found her to be even more stunning with the instrument in her hands. Without meaning to, he started to sway in time with the music. All his worries, all his troubles just melted away. There was just Alia, Rai, and the beautiful music.
Rai started at the thumping of footsteps. Other crewmen were waking to the sound of the music and racing to see where it came from. Garin and Jacques were some of the first to the side of the ship. Together, they peered down at the Kyrii with utter disbelief. Garin especially looked surprised. He turned and said something to Jacques (which Rai couldn't catch, being up on the forecastle) then moved away from the rail. Jacques followed, and the two of them lowered one of the row boats into the water. The song ended just as the boat touched the waves.
Alia looked up from her instrument, heart pounding, hoping they would at least hear her out. Garin's face looked like it had been carved from jagged pieces of ice. Jacques' face was hard as stone. The crew above gazed at her ruefully, though she didn't understand why. Had they all heard the story of what she'd done?
"What do you want?" Garin asked, his words cutting deeper than any cutlass. Alia winced visibly, her eyes falling to her hands. She opened her mouth to answer, but the words seemed lodged in her throat.
"Answer me!" Garin demanded, venomously. Alia practically jumped out of the water.
"I-I came to help!" she stuttered, head still bowed.
"Haven't you helped enough!?" Garin slammed a fist into the side of the ship to punctuate the stinging words.
"I don't want to hear it! Nira begged on her knees for your forgiveness! ON HER KNEES! If you have any pride in you, you must know how hard it is to reduce one's self to such a thing! How DARE you come back here after what you did!!"
"Garin," Jacques warned quietly, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. Garin shook him off angrily.
"You're the reason she's in prison! You're the reason she might die!!" he shouted.
"Garin!" Jacques now took hold of Garin's arms, as the Usul was trying to rise to his feet.
"Let me go!" Garin cried.
"Not until you calm down," Jacques replied. Garin struggled a bit more, but it was halfhearted. After a few moments, he sat again. Jacques released him, and he buried his head in his hands.
Alia looked terrified, but she forced herself not to flee.
"She's... she's really in prison?" she squeaked.
"Where else did you expect them to take her? Faerieland?" Jacques asked bitterly. He shook his head slowly and sighed.
"Yes, she's in prison. And who knows what Kelpbeard might do to her," he muttered.
Alia felt her hands go to her mouth.
"But... he wouldn't..." she couldn't say it. Jacques fixed her with a hard stare.
"He might. We just don't know."
Alia bite her lip and looked away.
"What have I done?" she breathed, tears coming to her eyes.
"A little late to feel sorry," Garin spat. Alia looked at him through the tears, scowling.
"Well, at least I feel sorry at all! I just came to try to help!" she burst out.
"And what are you going to do to help? Swim right up to the palace and demand Kelpbeard set Nira free?!"
"I... I don't... don't know..." she muttered. She slammed balled fists against the surface of the water.
"I just wanted to help!" she exclaimed. Garin was still glaring, but Jacques was looking thoughtful.
"Hey, Garin... Didn't Isca say something about Alia being granted free roam of the palace when she came to the main city?" he asked, turning to the Usul. Garin stopped a moment to think, then nodded his head in agreement.
"Yeah, I think so. That true?" Garin turned to Alia as he spoke the question. Alia swallowed and nodded, unable to speak. Garin was looking thoughtful as well, now.
"Maybe..." he said quietly.
"We could..." Jacques replied, equally quiet and thoughtful.
"But what if...?"
Alia watched the exchange in utter confusion. She didn't understand anything they were saying one bit. Then suddenly, matching grins spread across their faces.
"Think it'll work?" Jacques asked. Garin chuckled.
"Of course it'll work. Have I ever been wrong?"
"What? What will work?" Alia exclaimed.
Garin and Jacques gave her matching smiles.
"Looks like you can help after all, miss," Jacques answered.
Nira hadn't moved an inch since they'd left her there. She hadn't even reacted when they brought her food. The guard who'd been assigned to watch her specifically, a Maraquan Skeith, frowned as he came over to her cell. In his hand he held a tray with a single seaweed sandwich. He knelt and slid the tray under the bars toward the Shoyru.
"Come on, miss," he said, eyes sad. "Aren't ya hungry?"
Nira didn't move, didn't blink. The only sign that she was still alive with the slow movement of her chest, signaling that she was still breathing. The Skeith sighed heavily.
"I know the stories, miss. I know why you're here. But... I don't think I can agree with the king." The Skeith winced as he said this, glancing around quickly to be sure none of the other guards were around. To speak such things would be considered mutinous. Seeing no one else was around, he sighed in relief and continued.
"If I could, I would get ya outta here. I mean it, miss. But I know I'd get caught for certain, and then we'd both be in a heap of trouble."
Nira heard the words, but didn't react. She was still as stone. The Skeith sighed again, this time sadly, and sat on a bench facing Nira's cell.
"Poor girl..." he muttered.
Alia swam as swiftly as she could through the castle without looking suspicious. So far, she hadn't been challenged. So far, the plan was working. But then again, that was only so far. The dungeon wasn't long off, now. She only hoped she could get through without any mistakes. Swiftly and quietly, she slipped past the dozing guard and into the dungeon. Good. First obstacle cleared. Now for the harder part. There was a tunnel that lead from the dungeon entrance to a bend. No one on the other side of that bend could see her from here.
Hoping no one was looking her way, Alia chanced a glance. There was only one guard inside, sitting on a bench facing one of the cells. He didn't look as sleepy as the other guard had been. He was quite big, too, even for a Maraquan Skeith. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Alia began to whisper quietly.
To be continued...