The Amulet Saga, Volume Three
The Silver Shores
What Came Before:
The woman walked quickly, without stopping for anyone. The crowd parted in front of her, a wave that closed in again almost as soon as it opened. Reith stumbled along behind, pushing to stay close enough to keep the cuff around his ankle from burning.
Little by little, the woman drew away, until Reith had to shove his way past passersby, dodging stray dogs, horse carts, urchins, and merchants in his quest to follow the woman.
She disappeared and the cuff began to burn. Reith pushed past a cart carrying boxes of pottery. The man driving the cart cursed at him in the native tongue, but Reith ignored him.
The burning crawled up his leg, more intense now. He must be going the wrong way. Getting further from the woman.
He ran another direction, and the pain grew worse, so he dodged back the way he’d come. The heat inched up his leg into his belly, and the churning nausea began. He limped along as fast as he could, first one way, then another, trying to find a direction that eased the pain and sickness instead of making it worse.
There, at a slight angle from the direction he’d been traveling, the pain seemed a little less intense. He hobbled that way. The intensity of the burning seemed to stay steady for awhile, so he kept on in the same direction until it worked its way up his abdomen to his chest.
The tendrils of fire wrapped around his heart and lungs. He could scarcely breathe. Gasping, he leaned against the wall of a building. Clutching his stomach, he started to bend over to retch, but quickly straightened. No. He would not give in. This was a test of some sort. She hadn’t paid the absurd amount of money she’d paid for him only to let him die in an alleyway. She’d come back to rescue him eventually. But he didn’t need to be rescued. He might have no choice about being her slave, but he would not give in to whatever plan she had to break him.
He took a deep breath and shoved off the wall, continuing to walk in the direction he’d been heading. Every step burned more than the last, and the pain tightened around his chest, but he pushed forward, walking in the direction of relief, sometimes taking wrong turns and having to go back, weaving in and out of streets and alleys, slowly, but steadily.
He turned down an alleyway, and the pressure on his chest eased slightly, enough for him to catch a deep breath. He paused to inhale a few times, steadied himself against the wall, and limped onward. Little by little, the burning eased. He must be getting close.
One step, then another, then…
The alley ended in a wall twice his height and bordered with sharp spikes. Reith groaned and leaned against the bricks. They burned his skin, hot as they were from baking in the sun, but that was nothing compared to the despair that threatened to overtake him. Buildings towered on either side of him, sheer faces of the same type of silver material that formed the wall in the ocean. No handholds, nothing to use for leverage, and no way around.
Relief lay just the other side of the wall. He could feel it. Even here, though, the burning and nausea were strong enough to afford him no rest. He had to get to the other side of the wall. And the only way was back down the alley, to find a gate or some other way around.
He looked up. The end of the alley was so far away. So many steps.
She would find him. Of course she would. He could collapse here and just wait.
No. He was so close. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of hunting him down like a stray.
He took a deep breath and stepped away from the wall. Needle-like pain shot through his leg, spreading through every inch of his body.
He took another step. More burning pain, even more intense than before, as though the cuff knew he was going the wrong direction and was trying to send him back.
Another step. Nausea overwhelmed him and he vomited all over himself.
Another step, and another, each one more painful than the last, until at last he reached the entrance to the alley. He paused against a building and vomited again.
A portly woman stood by the door to the building beating a rug. She chuckled at him. “You’ll get worse than that if your mistress has to come find you. You’d best go on home.”
He grunted and heaved himself up again. I’m trying, he wanted to say, but he had no strength for words. Only the single-minded goal of taking the next step.
The building seemed to stretch on for an eternity, broken occasionally by doorways to shops, though Reith didn’t pay much attention to what kinds of shops. At last, he came to another alley. This time he paused long enough to look all the way down.
Another wall. He couldn’t get through this way, either. He passed another building, and another, before the street opened up onto a wide vista. The road he was on led down into a vale dotted with what seemed to be small farms. That wasn’t the way he needed to go, however. The pull of the magic in his cuff came from the side. A smaller, though still well-worn road led to his right, up to a tall brick wall. A gate stood open, welcoming him. He trudged up the path. Beyond the gate, the road wound around a stand of trees and up a hill to a sprawling manor house easily as big as the palace where he grew up.
There. In that house was relief.
Despite the pain and nausea starting to fade, Reith could hardly move. His body ached and his strength had left a long time ago. By about halfway up the hill to the house, he could no longer walk. But he refused to quit. Not now. Not when he’d almost made it. Dropping to his hands and knees, he crawled up the path. Small stones scraped his skin, but he wouldn’t stop.
At last, he made it to the wide stone steps and pulled himself up, across the terrace, to the tall, intricately carved oak door. Gasping, he pulled himself up to a seated position, reclining against the door.
He lifted his hand just enough to rap twice. The knock was so weak he wasn’t sure if anyone could hear it, but he couldn’t summon the strength to try again. He just sat, breathing the humid air, trying to stay awake.
A few moments later, the door opened and he fell back, onto the marble floor of a huge entryway.
He stared up at a bare-chested man in a slave’s tight breeches. The man stared down at him, silent. Soft footfalls, accompanied by the swish of silk, came from somewhere down the hall.
Reith blinked and stared up into the face of the woman who’d purchased him. Her face remained expressionless, but there was a twinkle of something like fascination in her eyes. “You made it here. Interesting.”
Interesting? Why interesting? What did she mean?
“You may rest for today. Tomorrow, you will be given your instructions.” The woman turned to the other slave. “Revat, take him to the dormitory. Give him broth.”
The slave nodded, scooped Reith up like an infant, and carried him down a long hallway toward the back of the house. Reith would’ve liked to protest, but he could scarcely move his head, let alone walk.
They exited the house, crossed a small courtyard, and entered a smaller building. Revat set Reith on the middle bunk of a three-tiered bed built against the wall and draped a thin blanket over him. Reith fell asleep before Revat even made it out of the building.