Chapter 3 of
by Lauren Stinton
“Good night, girls,” Mrs. Semos said. “I’ll be next door if you need me. Remember—no talking. I want you to go right to sleep tonight because we have an early day tomorrow. We’re going to tour the outpost.”
“Mrs. Semos?” a girl named Farra asked. She was a weathermaker.
Farra’s voice dropped into a whisper. “Will they make us visit the dungeon?”
Radiance could clearly see Mrs. Semos’s smile in the firelight.
“Don’t worry, Farra. The tour will be quite safe.”
“And if it’s not safe, we have healers,” a girl named Ama said wisely. She was a jeweler, and no matter what was going on, she could always say something that made sense.
“Good night, girls,” Mrs. Semos said again. “Now go to sleep.” She stepped from the room and quietly closed the door behind her.
For a moment the room was perfectly still, save for the fire crackling and talking on the hearth. Even though she slept on a pallet all the way over by the door, Radiance could feel the heat tugging on her skin. On any other night, she would wish to be closer to the flames.
But not tonight. She had plans.
Despite what Mrs. Semos had said, the talking soon began.
“I want to see the dungeon,” Ama announced. “My da was a guard at Southpost. I remember him telling me all about the dungeon there, and Aunt Mirum told him to hush because I was too young for such things.” Ama was the oldest one in the room at ten.
“I don’t like dark places,” Farra breathed. She was nine. “Do you think all of us will have to visit the dungeon?”
“You just don’t like rats,” Ama said. “The outpost will have cats that chase the rats away. Don’t worry.”
“But are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Nearly an hour later, it was decided in whispered voices that the dungeon might be scary, but Ama would hold Farra’s hand and Farra would hold Elaina’s hand, and everyone would be all right.
Radiance waited until the last voice drifted away into sleep. She counted to one hundred very slowly, and when no one else spoke or moved, she climbed from her pallet and changed back into her daytime clothes. She felt around for her sandals and found them kicked up against the wall. Somehow her shoes always ended up in strange places.
Easing the door open, she slipped out into the hall then crept down the stairs, through the main entrance, and out into the night.
The clouds had run away sometime during the evening, and now the moon was out, shining pale and ghostly light across the street. Radiance saw only two people as she slinked around buildings and tired-looking streetlamps. One was a little old man who was standing in his doorway with a lantern hanging from his hand. He seemed to be waiting for someone. The other was a man walking with a dog down a side street. Otherwise, the whole town seemed to be sleeping.
Mrs. Semos said the city of King’s Bay was so large that dozens of patrols guarded the streets at night, passing by every half hour. But this—thankfully—wasn’t the city. It was a small town outside the city wall. There weren’t any nighttime patrols out here—and no walls to keep Radiance from the sea.
At the end of the street was a little park filled with damas trees. The path to the sea led in and out around the skinny trunks. It took her all the way down to the pavilion, where Mrs. Semos had told them pirate stories that morning. The moonlight was more than enough light to see by. Radiance walked right past the pavilion and kept going, following the trail as it twisted down the rocks and finally—nearly a mile later—brought her right to the beach.
The waves gleamed silver, and she stopped at the end of the path and just stared.
The sea at night. All of it, just for her.
She started pulling off her sandals.
The right sandal came off before her first step into the sand. The left came off on the second hopping step, and she threw it as far as she could and didn’t even look to see where it landed. The sand filled in around her bare toes. The air smelled of salt and water and all things beautiful.
She crept up to the edge of the froth that clung to the sand. The sea spilled across her toes and she stiffened up, breath held, as it touched her. The sea. Everything in her body felt like it was just about to melt.
This was lovely. All of this…lovely.
She took three big steps into the waves and just sat down, right in the water. Salt filled her clothes. Silty water lapped over the tops of her knees, and it was like the sea knew all her words. For the first time, maybe in her entire life, she felt like someone knew who she was and liked her, really liked her. It didn’t matter that it was the sea and not a person. The ache in her heart grew just a little bit less.
“This is my first time,” she told the water and then looked up and down the shore quickly, to check again that she was actually alone.
She was wonderfully alone. The moonlight turned the sand and the waves into the best kind of mystery, and no one was there to disturb it anywhere on the beach.
She let her breath out in a little sigh and kept talking. “I’ve never been here before. You see, my…my parents died when I was very little. And they were traveling—from somewhere else. So no one knew where I came from, and they didn’t know where to send me. So I grew up in Marble Town. You probably don’t know where that is because it isn’t anywhere close to the sea. It’s a small place. There are a lot of dogs but not many people. They have a school there for children who don’t have parents.”
With both hands, she reached out and ran her fingers through the water. “I don’t have any parents, you see. And I don’t like where I live. I always feel tired there.”
But she didn’t feel tired tonight, even though the hour was late, and the moon was staring at the top of her head, and all the stars were out.
She splashed the water around until she’d soaked the shoulders of her dress and even some of her hair. Then scooting back a little ways, she lay down on the sand and folded her arms under her head, so she could stare up at the stars and the waves would roll all around her.
This was what she wanted—the sea and the salt and the stars.
The house where she lived in Marble Town had pretty curtains, but that was the only thing she liked about it. There was very little water at Marble Town, just one well and then a river a quarter mile away from the town center. Mostly there were only fields and trees and dogs, and none of it was as interesting as this.
If she were a grower like Mr. Liam, maybe she would like Marble Town more, but she was a flamemaker who wanted the sea.
“Radiance?” Her name spoken close by.
She jerked upright, flinging water.
The man who didn’t like flamemakers stood behind her on the beach.
– R –
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Copyright notice: © 2019 by Lauren Stinton. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.