Sisters of Westwinter
The First Law of Atla
Chapter Two V: Premonition Hour
Chapter Two, Part Four: Sisters of Westwinter – Chapter One VIII: Loyalty to the Hunter
Her arrival back at The Camps was quiet. No one greeted her, nether Frans nor Haim were out in the creeping of the evening. Where the children once had gathered around a drowned lump of disregarded meat in the gutter, there was nothing. Only the running water remained.
Sekhenna made her way through the gate and nodded to a family, recently moved into the place, with a solemn look about them. Likely having freshly turned to the slums after the destruction of their neighborhood months prior. She lowered her head and fiddled with the gauntlet, still on her hand as she stepped through the narrow, lantern lit streets.
Her mind absorbed in the coming days, she barely noticed Dhama leaning against the side of the stone supporting wall that protected Godspine from the south. She passed by without seeing her friend close her book and set it to the side.
Wrapped in her thoughts, Sekhenna wondered how the coming days would spiral out of control, like the rest of the plans she’d ever made. Certain that her desire to break her friend free from Icehold was the only option she’d have, she allowed herself a gentle sigh and passed into her own tent.
The tent was small and lightly decorated. Most of the ornaments that hung around the supporting beams were made by the children in The Camps and offered to her for holidays, or birthdays, one particular bundle of sticks tied with yarn in the shape of a person hung above her bed. The young one who’d offered it to her bore the same stiff, hard skin that covered Jundal’s body. A mark that both of them came from the Isles. The girl, Serre, had disappeared years before. Sekhenna searched high and low for her for months, knowing that the guards would likely be of little assistance. Still, whatever had happened to Serre had eluded her and the rest of the guardians at the Camps for years. Eventually they began to give up, one by one, until Sekhenna and Dhama were the only remaining members of the search party.
Serre wasn’t the first child to go missing in Godspine, and neither was she the last. Two more months passed before Dhama, too, gave up. Sekhenna refused until the end of the following year. Two years had passed before Sekhenna had fallen from the course. Not that she’d made the decision to give up, but rather, that she’d skipped a day of searching. Her own life had grown busy, and she couldn’t tend to the needs of a single girl each night when so many children in the Camps needed her. One day became two, and before she realized it, a season passed since she’d last gone out.
Serre was never found.
Sekhenna plucked at the doll with her uncovered hand as she remembered the sparkle of the child’s eyes. Serre reminded her even then of the Limawood Trees that grew in dense patches on the Isles. Tall, thin trunks and long branches that held wavy green leaves. Some of the branches so long and heavy they’d bent back down to touch the earth. Serre was tall too, like the Limawood. Her arms had grown faster than the rest of her and for a season, it was the cause of much uncertainty in the girl. Though, Sekhenna had spent hours talking her out of her silliness.
“We are all different, little one.”
The girl looked up at her, eyes full of tears.
“But what if I’m so different, no one will want to be with me when I’m old?”
“I’ll always be with you, Serre.”
Sekhenna shook her head and knelt onto her bed mat. A shadow hung in her doorway, feminine, taller than her with long braided hair that hung to her waist.
“Evening, lady.” Dhama’s voice peeled through the dim light of the tent.
Sekhenna rolled onto her side and glanced to the shape of her friend.
“Up late herding the youth again?”
Dhama stepped into the tent and the dim light from the overhead lantern bathed her cheeks, flushed and pickled in the cold air.
“You’ve got big plans, and you want to do right by the Camps, Khenna.” Her friend took a seat on her knees across the tent, a gentle smile on her face. “Regardless, I am worried for you.”
“Since the night of the fires, and Jundal’s arrest, you’ve been tense. There is something different about you. I can’t tell if it’s your worry for him or something else, and to say this isn’t my place.”
Sekhenna offered a gentle smile, in an attempt to reassure her friend.
“If you only knew.” The voice that was not Sekhenna’s ribbed her mind.
“I am sorry, truly.” She ignored the voice and lowered her head to her friend.
“I don’t know that you are. I am worried regardless. This vendetta you are on, I support it so long as you don’t lose yourself in an attempt to accomplish it. Godspine has been terrible to us, but it isn’t everyone.”
“Everyone that speaks to us does so as if they’d been faced with the choices we have, as if they’ve lived through winter in a tent and eaten scraps of food from the gutter, seasonings washed away by runoff.” She shook her head. “I have no sympathy for anyone outside of our walls.”
“I believe that is part of the problem, Khenna.” Dhama adjusted, and let her thing ankles out from beneath her knees, relaxing. She was a beautiful woman. Sekhenna had always been fond of her. Even when she’d first arrived to Godspine with her kin, Dhama had caught her eye. A tall woman, strong, but with a gentleness that she longed to capture for herself. Dhama was to her, in many ways, what Sekhenna had always wanted to be. She knew the root of her fondness, and thinking it selfish had never voiced it aloud to anyone but Jundal.
“I appreciate your concern, dear, but please don’t worry yourself on my behalf. I am just as well adjusted as I’ve always been.”
“You are Ven’alhim. You owe no one your fear.” She paused.
“You are also not as well adjusted as you claim.”
Sekhenna’s heart skipped a beat. Every time she heard that word it sent a shock of excitement through her. Ven’alhim. The Bonded People. If she could show Dhama what that really meant, the name would lose its air of fear. It was not the Bonded that were the frightening, but the Bonders. To escape was more than a death sentence. It was to be unmade.
“Your feel it, do you not?” The voice inside of her chimed in before she could reply. “That upwelling within you.”
She ignored the voice.
“Khenna, we are worried about you. Not just me. Haim’s mother, and Frans. They both asked what has been bothering you. I know that you miss Jundal, but it is not worth risking your life.”
“It is worth risking anything. My father freed us all, at the threat of his life. What is our freedom worth if Jundal is immediately placed back into servitude?”
She rolled onto her other side and faced away from her friend, a familiar sting prodded her eyes.
“You could hurt her.”
“I don’t believe that putting yourself in danger is the wisest course of action, dear.” Dhama leaned against the tent and sent a wave of motion through it that rattled the dim, nearly empty lantern that hung above them.
“She is threatening our position. To give up now means you will lose this power forever. You will betray your friends, your family. Everything you know.”
A tear slid down her cheek as Dhama continued.
“It is not my place, and should you find it in yourself to reprimand me, I will bear it. Sekhenna, Jundal and the others aren’t worth losing you too. Whatever you’re planning, some of the others told me they saw you slinking around with one of the Icehold guards this afternoon. I worry for you.”
“I am not to be worried for.” She shot back through the lump that had begun to form in her throat.
It wasn’t fear or sorrow that wrought the uncertainty. If it she had simply been afraid or upset, she would have pushed it away deep down within her, like she did in her youth. No, the feeling that overwhelmed her and kept her up at night was not that of being incomplete, or considering the unknown. She knew her enemies and she knew what they wanted. It was not fear, but anger that rested within her and brought her into contact with the gauntlet that still wrapped itself, cold around her hand. Dhama wanted to bring her words of comfort, she knew, but she could not be comforted. Only enraged.
“Dhama doesn’t understand your life, or who you were created to be. Skehenna you are a weapon and that is all. Do you want to be bound to another so soon after your chains have been broken?”
The voice crooned inside of her, and she hated it.
She hated that it was right.
“Dhama, I appreciate your concern, but there is nothing that I could tell you that would allow you to understand. This is deeper than familial connection or the bond of friendship. The way Godspine treats us, is not right. Someone must do something.”
Drama sighed in the failing lamp light.
“Someone has, and someone else will continue. No one gets out of Icehold, Sekhenna. It is secure, and deadly. To risk anything with Jundal or another of your friends is suicide.”
Skehenna let her tears fall freely.
“I have already died. I don’t need to worry what might happen should I die again.”
“You have a long way to fall, yet.”
“If you believe as such, I support you.”
The words from her friend clashed with the voice inside of her mind. She expected another long tirade from the caretaker about the value of staying uninvolved, that the members of the Camps survive with their heads low. She expected Dhama to tell her it would be foolish to let the nobles know her real name. Yet, she didn’t.
“I intend to free him and return here. When I do, we will make our way south to Bastrion. There is nothing left for me in Godspine.”
Behind her, Dhama inhaled a short, quick breath. It was quiet, so quiet that if she were a natural born she wouldn’t have noticed and yet, she was as she had been called. Ven’alhim. The Bonded.
“You don’t mean that, do you girl?”
The voice creaked. Dhama stood.
“It is best, I believe, if you get some rest. I will see to you in the morning if you are still here.” Her soft, bare footfalls tapped out of the tent and the open flaps bumped against one another long after her absence. Sekhenna remained there in silence until they no longer offered the gentle tap of their brushing.
She closed her eyes and let what few tears she’d had fall, and began to fall asleep.
“Sekhenna.” The voice in her mind jolted her from the precipice of a dream.
“What?” She shot back quietly.
“The nursemaid is correct. This plan is foolish. I have been thinking.”
“I have found it is deadly when you think.”
“If you free Jundal, what is your plan? Do you have one?”
She rolled onto her back and reached for the clasp of the gauntlet. She’d rarely slept with it on her hand. The closeness of the voice had interrupted her rest each time, but lately she’d begun to feel… lost without it.
“I am going to free him and we are going to use the Under Channels to reach the shoreline, after that we will make due.”
“What happens if there is a change to your plan?”
Sekhenna placed her fingers on the buckle that held the gauntlet onto her and pressed. Immediately, the voice shot back.
“Take off the glove and I will sever your hand from your wrist.”
She froze. The growl of the voice chilled her spine. She released the buckle.
“Unbecoming of you, glove.”
“I am no mere decoration, Sekhenna Fliss. I am your salvation.”
She let her hand fall limp and stared at the wall of the tent.
“What is it you might have me do, then, glove?”
“When you free Jundal, there is someone else I want you to release.”
She nodded, and felt a pressure build around her wrist. Pinpoints of pain shot through her forearm. She reached down in a panic and released the buckle, but it was too late. The pressure warped into a sting as needles emerged from the wrist of the glove and pierced her flesh. She felt the blood swell from beneath her skin immediately. She shot up and wrapped her fingers around the gauntlet to tear it free, but it didn’t budge. In her hand, the metal filigree warped and changed once more. Each previous time she’d worn it, it arranged itself in a delicate, thin filigree. An ornamental piece with long barbed nails at each end. As she stared in the fading light of her tent she watched it reform into interlocking plates that completely covered her hand. She pried against it but it refused to budge.
“Silly little one. I won’t let you rid of me so easily.”
“Why?” Tears erupted from her face again. Her mind flashed with memories of her childhood. Of powerful winds and oaken sticks snapped across her back and shoulders. Dark stormy nights and violent flames erupted from the depths of her memory. Above it all, the sillouette of a spined dragon loomed in the darkness.
“Because, I am Farrakha, better known to your kind as the Bondmother.”
Sekhenna’s heart ran cold as she shot up. The fading flame of her lantern finally flickered out and left her alone, in the darkness.
“I have missed you, child.”
“You couldn’t have sent a dreg to find us in your place?”
“You found me, don’t you remember?”
In the darkness, outside of her tent, she heard Dhama’s footsteps leaving. Likely eavesdropping on her conversation with the voice. The pattern of her friend’s footfalls disappeared into the night as she stared at the tent wall. Finally alone in the darkness, the voice, Farrakha, commanded her.
“Ven’alhim, release Emry Windsholm from Icehold or bear your own destruction at my hand.”
Chapter Two, Part Six: Sisters of Westwinter Chapter One X: Scales & Keys
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