Fifteeen Years Ago
Fingal had been sick plenty as a child. Seldom had he hurled up his guts as he had aboard the ferry rolling the choppy seas on the two-day journey to Lairts’cre, on the southern tip of the Drahticht Isle.
He rolled on to his side and tried to keep the meager bread he’d just consumed down. Brendan, lying below Fingal on the bottom bunk, groaned in equal misery. Fingal couldn’t wait to get to the part of his life when he wasn’t dragged from one part of the continent to another, sleeping in forests, inns, and boats, and traveling to find or complete work. He didn’t want that for himself, and he certainly didn’t want that for the girl.
Before they’d left Ashdown, Nora had protested, begged Fingal to leave Riona with her. After all, she’d argued, Fingal and Brendan were going to the Isle to look for work—would it not be an inconvenience to care for the girl as well? Nora had married Donnoch Donmagh, son of a wealthy, entrepreneurial Islander family whose business held opportunities on the Isle for former Brigaders like Fingal and Brendan. Although momentarily sad to leave his sister Nora and her husband’s family, Brendan had embraced the exceptionally long trek from Ashdown—the small hamlet in the southern half of the continent—up to the port town of Drahway, to catch the ferry to Lairts’cre on the Isle. Fingal was happy for the excuse to leave with Riona in tow. Nora’s wails had little effect. So early the following morning, Fingal, Brendan, and young Riona had escaped Ashdown—and the ever-constant scrutiny of Captain Galen Stovel, the Imperial guard who had his suspicions about Fingal and the girl.
For the first few days, Fingal breathed easier than he had in a while, ever since Riona’s mother had forced Riona upon him on Liberation Day, in the castle. Brendan didn’t know Riona’s real name or her mother’s tyrannous heritage, but that was a lighter set of secrets to carry compared to her large, violet wings. They seemed to grow larger and wispier each day, along with her confidence to hover just out of his grasp. Every night, he coaxed her to the forest floor to sleep, afraid he would wake to find her stuck in the trees...
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