Good Sunday Morning! We are sitting here waiting for Irene to come on shore...category one for the shore here in Connecticut...but I'm inland so am only expecting a tropical storm. However, there's always the chance of losing power like thousands in the sate already have, so here is my sample!
Last week, Haley overheard Tuggin receive orders to do her in, but she's alone on Eyidora and history has proven that Tuggin is pretty hard to escape from. So she decides to play along, leave with him from Given Hall, try to get him to trust her, and then jet at the first opportunity.
I squealed and tumbled out of bed like I’d been caught doing something naughty when there was a knock on the door. I rubbed my eyes and blinked at the morning light invading my room.
“Yeah?” I croaked.
Adrana’s voice came from the other side. “It is time to depart, yes?”
“Yup. Just a sec, I’ll be right out.”
I threw my clothes on, packed my stuff, and scooted into the hallway. I’d have to act normal around Tuggin, pretend that I was a team player, pretend that I liked him. Enja said I could be distracting. I wrinkled my nose. Somehow I didn’t think flirting would work on Snarky Boy. It would take an emotional earthquake to crack that stony exterior.
Adrana chattered like an excited squirrel; I responded like a robot, saying “uh huh” or “hmm” whenever she paused. It seemed to work. When we passed the Great Room doors, the guards glowered at me.
“Aren’t we going out the front door?”
I pursed my lips. It had never occurred to me to find another way out of here. At the end of the Great Room, Adrana plucked a torch from the wall, and I tread down a winding staircase behind her, the air getting colder and damper. I’d lost count of the number of stairs by the time we’d reached the bottom.
I gasped. “Oh!”
We were in an underground cave. A lake rippled in the torchlight, and row boats bobbed in a line along the rocky beach. It was too dark to see the other side, but water crashed in the distance and echoed off the walls.
“What’s that noise?”
“The falls. They enter Given Hall, filling our water cistern.”
A hunchbacked man limped up to us. “Greetings, Adrana.”
“Greetings. We may have a boat, yes? My mother waits at the orchards.”
“Ah, Enja and that man, Tuggin, they passed this way earlier. That Tuggin, he has a sour look about him, does he not?”
I silently agreed, but Adrana laughed. “Tuggin is not sour! Surely you tease me, boat-keeper.”
A sinking feeling wrenched my gut. Adrana and Tuggin could fall in love, get married, and fly to any one of the ridiculous moons on this globe. I could care less.
The old man chuckled, stepped into the water, and pulled a boat closer to shore. “Step in, ladies, yes? I will give you a proper shove.”
He held the boat steady when I stumbled over a rope and fell onto a narrow bench. I straightened myself out, and Adrana sat on the bench across from me. She picked up the oars and the boat-keeper pushed us off.
“I am grateful, boat-keeper,” Adrana called as we drifted away from the shore.
“Should I help?” I asked, rubbing my bruised knee.
Adrana didn’t pause in her rowing. “Non.”
A metal lantern hung from a pole. It wasn’t very bright, and it was impossible to see anything beyond the little circle of light. The water looked dark and cold. The air was, too. It sounded as though the waterfalls crashed all around us.
We hit the opposite shore with a little bump, the bottom of the boat scraping the ground. Two other boats were parked along the beach. A torch bobbed through the dark, and a guy about my age waded into the water and pulled our boat to the shore.
“Greetings, Adrana,” he said, giving her the torch and taking her free hand.
He held his hand out to me, so I took it and let him lead me to solid ground. When I tried to twist my fingers away from his, he held me tight.
“This is the strange one, Adrana, yes?”
Adrana clucked. “Mind your tongue! Haley is a guest of Given Hall, is she not?”
“Please my forgiveness,” the guy mumbled. Then he couldn’t seem to help himself as he said to me, “It is true, yes? You can change your eye color? Do it now.”
“No!” I jerked my hand away.
“Silence!” Adrana ordered.
“Please my forgiveness,” he repeated, but I didn’t think he sounded sorry at all while he checked me over with bright eyes. “Your mother awaits you.”
“I am grateful.”
Adrana strode away from the lake, and I hurried to catch up with her. I looked over my shoulder to find the guy staring after us, so I stuck my tongue out at him before turning a corner. Adrana’s torch light danced on a staircase.
I didn’t know how long we’d been climbing before my legs went numb. “Give me a minute.” I plopped down on a cold step. “How much further?”
Adrana waited on the step above me. She dipped her head and drew her hair over her face. “We are almost to the top, are we not?” After a moment she asked, “You are ready to continue?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
I grabbed the wooden handrail, using it to haul myself up when my legs quivered. I had no clue what Adrana was talking about…we were nowhere near the top. I had to make her stop three more times before finally getting there.
Adrana pushed open a door and we were outside near the orchard. Farther ahead, the rolling hills turned empty and dirt-colored. Behind us was a lake, and a forest on the other side stretched to a mountain. Even from this far away I could see the river’s dirt bottom as it leapt the edge into the lake below.
“Is this lake the same as the underground one?” I asked.
“Non. This is Lake Anala. The water cistern below catches the run-off from the waters above, yes?”
“I see.” I turned and looked back over the hills.
“You see the Du Kesan, or the Dry Hills, yes?” Adrana swept her arm. “The hills run from the east, turning here to continue south, marking the territory of the Fire Eyid. It is very flat and dry on the other side, yes? With much sand.”
“Like a desert?”
“We don’t have to go through there, do we?”
“You will travel the Du Kesan for a short while, but you will then go north, yes?”
“How long will it take?”
Adrana shrugged. “I believe you should arrive at your home on the seventh day.”
A week. Excitement tickled my nerve ending at the thought of being alone with Tuggin for a whole week. I clenched my teeth. Bad Haley. I was escaping Snarky Boy the first chance I got.
I had no idea I’d been frowning until Adrana said, “Do not concern. Tuggin will find you safe passage through the Fire Eyid’s territory.”
I smiled, but I really had to work at it. Adrana apparently wasn’t in on the whole let’s-neutralize-Haley deal.
Tuggin and Enja led two curly-haired horses our way. I blinked and counted again. One, two, three, four, five…eight legs? First mutant talking birds, now mutant eight-legged horses.
Tuggin adjusted a strap on a gray horse. “You are able to ride?” he asked without looking at me.
“I’ve ridden horses.”
Tuggin didn’t respond.
The dark brown one gazed at me with pale blue eyes. I decided that it looked tame enough, especially when Adrana slipped the animal what looked like a lump of sugar and it gave a happy little snort.
“His name is Sorrel. He is one of my favorites.”
“What are they?” I stroked Sorrel’s neck, and he nudged me with his nose. He acted just like a horse, except with a few extra legs. I thought I could deal.
“They are sleipnir, do you see? They travel great distances by sea, land, or air.”
“Oh, please. Horses can't fly.”
Adrana tickled the sleipnir’s shoulder. Feathery wings fluttered for a moment before settling back on its sides.
My mouth made a small “O” of surprise. “Cool!”
“It is quite warm for the cooling season, is it not?” Adrana asked. “Do not worry. You ride a sleipnir as you would a horse, only sometimes not across the ground.” She lifted her chin toward the sky.
“Oh.” I looked up.
“I trust you to care for him, yes?”
“Sorrel shall be safe within my care, Adrana,” Tuggin said.
I scowled. She was talking to me, not him. And had he said Adrana’s name with a note of tenderness?
“I shall return the sleipnir,” he said.
It felt like my bladder was going to give out. Did this mean he thought I wouldn’t be around to bring Sorrel back? “We both will,” I added.
Adrana smiled and gave me a hug. “Safe journey.”
I nodded. “Thanks.”
Adrana went to stand next to her mom. The wind tugged Enja’s hair away from her face; she had a beaded earring, just like Tuggin, including that little black bead. Maybe it was a symbol of that Eny thing. Maybe the Eny was their club, but what kind of club? A club that sounded like it didn’t want Haley around, that was for damn sure.
Enja dipped her head. “Safe journey.”
I grabbed Sorrel’s reins and we mounted our sleipnir.
Tuggin held his right fist to his left shoulder. “Unity to the Eny.”
I nudged Sorrel with my heels, waved to Adrana, and set off after Tuggin. It took me two seconds to discover that sleipnir were not comfortable to ride. Sorrel’s choppy stride made it feel like my eyes were jiggling in my head. I tried to relax enough to flow with the rhythm, which was impossible because there was no rhythm. I pressed my lips together and hoped I wouldn’t bite my tongue.
We walked through orchards of apples, pears, and strange banana-shaped purple things. People climbed ladders with bags slung across their shoulders, picking fruit. After a while, we left the fruit trees behind and hit fields of corn and wheat. Birds raced the clouds across the blue sky, calling to each other, diving and wheeling while they did their bird things. I kept an eye on them, hoping none of them planned on giving me another present from Nomer.
After leaving the fields behind, the land dipped steeply. It was rocky, so we had to let the sleipnir take their time, picking their way. When we stopped for a break, Tuggin tied rope between the sleipnirs’ front legs. They hobbled around, sticking their noses in the brown grass. Holding his personal Haley hobble, Tuggin glanced sharply around him before resting his gaze on me.
“I’m not going to run,” I said, trying not to use a snarky tone. “Trust me.”
“It would be wise not to attempt so.” Tuggin rested his hand on his knife as if to seal the threat.
“I won’t. I promise.”
I sat cross-legged on the ground with the cheese and bread Tuggin gave me. I didn’t talk while we ate, figuring it was best not to annoy him.
He stretched out on the grass, using one of the packs as a pillow. I leaned back on my elbows and studied him. He really was beautiful, especially when he was relaxed and not scowling. I hated using that word—beautiful—for a guy, but it fit in this case. Uncomfortable with the direction of my thoughts, I checked out the landscape.
I pointed to a mountain range ahead of us. “What’s that?”
Tuggin opened one eye. “The Aerie Mountains,” he said, closing his eye again. “Our destination lies in its northern peaks.”
Encouraged by Tuggin’s good mood and needing to score some points, I asked, “That’s in the air region, a laka something, right?”
“Yes. Lak ‘Nurr.”
Drawing my legs to my chest, I rested my chin on my knees and gazed at the northern point of the distant mountains. The highest peaks were covered in snow, which stretched so high they seemed to poke the bottom of the sky. It looked cold.
Sabina was in those mountains. Home. They seemed remote to me, distant. Should I feel something? I squinted, holding my breath as I focused on the mountain. Nothing happened; I didn’t feel a thing.
I looked back the way we’d come. “What’s that mountain?”
Tuggin sighed and sat up. “Mount Xenia.”
I flinched. “Did you say Xenia?”
Tuggin watched me. “Yes. What means this to you?”
“Nothing.” I bit my lip. It was easier to lie when I wasn’t looking at him. “If I’m from the Aerie Mountains, how come the gateway I came through isn’t there?”
“Mount Xenia. Home of the gateway.”
“There’s only one?”
“What were you doing there, if you’re from Sabina?”
“Mentas go there to meditate.”
“The dudes who can brain wash people?”
Tuggin’s gaze sharpened. “Where have you come by this knowledge?”
I wasn’t about to admit Nala had mentioned Mentas and their mind tricks. “Can’t remember. Adrana maybe?”
Tuggin’s gaze didn’t weaken.
I hurdled on. “What exactly do these Mentas do? Go around bewitching people?”
Tuggin’s lip curled. “You are ignorant, tenya. Mentas have a task of great importance.”
“And what’s that?”
“They protect and enforce.”
I plucked a blade of grass and chewed on it. “Are you a Menta?”
Without answering, Tuggin picked up the pack he’d been using for a pillow and strapped it onto his sleipnir.
I sighed. My plan to get on his good side wasn’t off to a good start. Tearing my gaze away from him, I shaded my eyes and looked at the Aerie Mountains. I wondered what my home was like…and if I would ever live to see it.
We didn’t stop again until the sun was about to set. I slid off Sorrell with a groan. I took off his saddle then limped with my packs toward the stack Tuggin had piled up.
“Your feet have pain again?” he asked.
“Not this time.” I rubbed my butt and picked up my saddle. “Ooh!”
“I must say,” Tuggin said, lips pressed together as though he were trying not to laugh, “you do not surrender. Perhaps Eyidoran blood runs through your veins after all.”
A glow warmed me from the inside and spread to my cheeks. Tuggin winced, and rubbing his temple, turned to unsaddle his sleipnir without another word.
After dinner, I stretched on my blanket. Stars twinkled around the two strange moons, one white, and the other red. Tuggin hadn’t tried hobbling me yet, though he watched me like a highly trained guard dog. I shivered when he moved toward his pack.
“Please, don’t tie me.” I sat up and waved toward the dark horizon. “I promise I won’t try to run.”
Tuggin paused before squatting beside me. He held my gaze for a very long moment, and I couldn’t look anywhere but the depths of his blue eyes, as though my gaze had been welded to his. His sultry scent pulled me toward him.
His gaze flicked very briefly to my lips before tracking back to my eyes. “Do not let me regret trusting you. I do not forgive easily.”
I swallowed, nodded, and lay back down. Clamping my eyelids closed, I squeezed the image of Tuggin from sight and let Ian’s face fill my thoughts, same as they did almost every night. I slipped into my usual daydream, the one where Ian held my hand as we walked through the halls, stopping at my locker to give me a spine-tingling kiss before I skipped off to class…
Ian’s hotty green eyes were replaced by a pair of cool blue ones. Yikes! How’d Tuggin get into my daydream? I shot a glance at him, and our gazes met across the campfire. I rolled over and sent my thoughts into safer territory.
Thinking about Mom was safer, but depressing. I hoped she was all right. If she’d forgotten me, as Tuggin said, then she wasn’t feeling what I was feeling. What really sucked was that I didn’t have a picture of her. What if I forgot what she looked like?
I shuddered, intending to focus on my escape plan. I had to admit, Tuggin had his nice moments, and I thought that, given the chance, he might not be such a tool. The thought that I could be happy on Eyidora slipped into my mind. As my eyelids drifted closed I reminded myself to be careful. I almost found myself liking Tuggin, for crying out loud.
Dangerous, beautiful Tuggin.