Gray – Seven

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Song Suggestion: Dream On by Rockabye Baby

 

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Seven

The platform swayed and creaked under Gray. He blinked out at the other platforms and the lines connecting them like the web of some insane spider. This had begun as just a few old logs bound together by rope. Nobody was sure it would even hold them up; the trees had a bad habit of collapsing when someone pushed too hard against one. Eventually, they had anchored the trees using more rope. But that first night, huddled together, waiting to see if the weavers would track them down or the trees would buckle, no one got much sleep.

Gray could remember how every sound from the forest had made him jump and strain his ears for footsteps or voices. Angelica’s father had told them a story about the elves, who built their homes in the trees, and many of the smaller children had been excited to find themselves sleeping like the elves. But not Gray or Angelica. They didn’t care about elves. They just wanted to stay alive.

The platform was supposed to just be a temporary perch for a pack of orphaned kids and one clever man. They had gone deep into the cloud forest, close enough to Aerie falls that the weavers might not be able to track them, but far enough away that the hunting cats that lived there would not come after them. Even though it was the very heart of winter, it felt like a soft spring night; the warmth the mossy earth gave off was constant and had nothing to do with the sun.

Angelica’s father had tried to explain why the forest was always warm, that it was nature, rather than magic, but Gray never really understood it. The forest canopy was warm, that was all he needed to know. They had talked about trying to live in the caverns below the trees, but the ground was always shifting and unstable. So they took to the trees while Angelica’s father planned an escape from Iviradelle with his pack of orphans. It looked like their forest home hadn’t been so temporary as he had intended, but Gray didn’t think even the smallest child had actually believed they would escape the weavers for good and go live with the elves in the east. It had just been a lovely story to keep them from panic and ruin.

“Ty’s ready to leave,” Angelica said. “He can get impatient and I would not expect him to wait for you.”

“He’s a good kid,” Gray said. “Bit of a hero, though.”

“He is,” Angelica said. “Like his father.”

“So he isn’t….”

Angelica shook her head. “No. Though he probably ought to thank you for being born. I was upset when you left. I let my guard down. And you know how old Alonsus was. Always popping up with a handful of half dead flowers, ready to run whatever errands I had for him.”

Gran laughed. “He was in love with you from the moment you gave him that first chunk of stale bread.”

“Well, I went and married him.” She smiled. “Papa was pleased. And, you know, he was a good man. A good husband. I was never sorry that I’d finally given in and let him court me. I miss him every day.”

“So he died?” Gran asked.

“The same night as Papa. He went back for him. Damn fool was always trying to save people. He never understood that being a hero comes at a price.” She bowed her head and he looked away out of respect; she didn’t want him to see her crying and it wasn’t fair to watch.

“You’ve lost so much. Too much.” He looked down at the people, children and adults, scurrying about. In the beginning, there had only been eight of them. Angelica’s father had been the only adult. Even so, most of them bore the injuries of battle. By the time the first morning had dawned, they had been down to five.

“We have all lost too much,” she said. “So I know you will understand the favor I’ve come to ask. I’d really appreciate it if you’d bring my boy back to me.” He looked up and saw that she was desperate. “I should have sent him away. Smuggled him out of Iviradelle, if I could have managed it. I just couldn’t bear to part with him. Papa always spoke of leaving. But he thought it would be too risky. There are too many of us and he could not see a way that everyone could get away without attracting attention. But I’m not so noble. I’d settle for just knowing my boy is safe somewhere else. Sildess, perhaps.”

“I’ll do my best to bring him back,” Gray said. “But you might want to ask the boy what he wants before you go trying to send him away. I think he’s more like your father than is healthy.” He stood, closing his eyes to feel the platform swaying under him. Of all the small things he’d been surprised to discover he missed when he walked away from the camp, this was the one he’d thought of most often; the swaying had rocked him to sleep at night, like a babe lying against his mother’s breast. When he opened his eyes, he was surprised to see something glowing softly in the forest, near where Blossom Town ought to be. It had a pale, bluish cast to it. “That doesn’t look like fire,” he said.

Angelica dropped down to stand beside him. “It isn’t. The weavers are back and that is their newest tactic to try and retake the city. It’s some sort of barrier. It keeps the air from the forest away. They’re trying to freeze the Enforcers out.”

“Do you think it will work?” Gray asked.

Angelica shrugged. “So far, the only ones freezing are the orphans and the other homeless folk. But Ty says the Enforcers aren’t happy. They don’t like the cold, he says.”

“I thought they’d given up on ever getting it back,” Gray said.

“They did,” Angelica said. “This started about a week ago. The weavers set up a camp near the King Tree. They burnt a bunch of farms in the area first, about a month ago, but we don’t know why; they weren’t giving supplies to Blossom Town. The Enforcers have turned bandit. Some of their biggest will ride out and steal whatever they want, but, mostly, they just stop caravans rather than riding to the farms.”

Gray stood for a moment, listening to his own thoughts. “It’s the boy,” he said at last.

“Do you really think so?” Angelica asked.

“I do,” Gray said. “But why is he so important? And why would he run to the city if he belonged to one of the farmers? What could possibly be so special about him? If the weavers haven’t come for any of the other children, why this one?” He touched the pouch of stones in his pocket and the small, thick square sewn into his cloak. In other lands, he’d be a wealthy man, now, and unlikely to need to steal anything ever again. The weavers could not stop him from walking out, either. They had given him a king’s ransom to go after this child, yet they did not trust he would manage it. They were hedging their bets. Which meant he must be important enough to warrant such desperate actions.

“I’ve no idea why they want this one so bad,” Angelica said. “But it makes me half wish you wouldn’t turn him over. Anything the weavers want this desperately can’t be good for the rest of us.” Gray locked eyes with her. They both knew what it meant to steal from weavers. He couldn’t imagine the torture he’d face if he took one of their children, one they were willing to trade powerful relics and barter their pride to find. Unlike Alonsus, he was no hero. He would get to the boy and, if he was still alive, he would turn him over. But that didn’t mean Gray was happy about it.

He told himself the kid would be safe; the weavers might not chase most of the talented children, but those they did take were well treated. He told himself he wouldn’t hand the boy over if that wasn’t true. However, there was a small part of Gray that said he’d have given the weavers the boy no matter what fate had planned for him. That made Gray feel both disgusted and exhausted. He did not want to be a hero, but every once in a while, he wished he could be, if only because he was so tired of saving himself by sacrificing others. 

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