Viviane awoke to a shout from Rose, who’d sat up so quickly from her sleep that she’d forgotten the height of the bunk and banged her head on the wood. Cursing, Rose rubbed her head vigorously and glanced at Viviane before falling back to the bed in relief.
The vision, Viviane remembered. She’d seen her in some trouble on deck at night. Viviane had tossed and turned, sweating in the stale cabin air, stomach heaving with the contents of the small chunks of bread she’d eaten for dinner. She’s wanted fresh air so badly, could taste the salt air that leaked in so excruciatingly slightly from the small porthole above their heads. She could imagine the relief she’d feel gulping air, driving away the stink of the old wood boards, the damp wool blanket, and her own bile that seemed to sit at the back of her throat.
But she’d stayed. Even when she wanted to unbolt the door and jump into the sea from the misery of it. The fear she’d seen in Rose’s eyes only rivaled the fear she’d seen in them when she described her visions to the Shepherdess. It wasn’t a suggestion. Rose knew it to be her fate if she crossed that threshold in the dark of the night. Viviane wanted to prove that her visions weren’t set in stone, that she had free will and she would save herself by heeding the warning. Nothing would drag Viviane outside, no matter how ill she felt. At least not until the sun rose and she could find relief safely.
They made themselves as presentable as possible, no mirror available in the small space. Viviane dressed Rose’s hair and refused Rose’s offer to do that same for her. She opted to braid her hair in a long braid that she kept draped over her shoulder, partially obscuring the mask that was sure to draw attention and superstitious interest.
Smoothing their ruffled gowns, they unlocked the door and stepped out. The hallway was dim. A ladder led them up into the bright sunshine on the deck. They squinted into the light, covering their eyes with their hands as they sought out Christian among the men scurrying over the ship’s deck, engaged with predetermined chores. One short man with a frazzled beard streaked with gray-barked at them to move as he stomped past with a thick rope slung over his shoulder. He ran towards the mast, jumping up and clinging to it before scurrying up as deftly as a squirrel.
“Wow,” Rose breathed. “I did not think a creature like that could move in such a way.” Viviane covered her mouth, stifling a giggle. They moved to the railing and Viviane raised her head to the wind, breathing in deeply and exhaling all the stale air from below deck from her lungs. It felt like magic, the effect of the crisp, damp breeze blowing over her face and filling her chest.
The sea, a slim channel of water compared to the stories of seemingly unending water of the oceans, seemed like it could stretch on to eternity. It was dark blue in the bright light of day, capped with white waves that made the ship vibrate when they collided. But watching the static horizon in the distance, Viviane did not feel sick at the jolting movements. She felt a little like she was flying, standing there with only the wood banister pressed into her stomach, no obstructions in her line of sight. They crested a wave, and the ship sailed up and then dipped, and she allowed herself a laugh at the thrill it gave her.
Rose, by contrast, had turned a little green at the sight and clung to the rail. She obviously would prefer to return to their cabin below, safe in the hollows of their bunks. But Viviane could not imagine returning to the interior of the ship with the view spread before her.
Viviane thought, if she could never return home, perhaps she could turn pirate and explore the sea, maybe even take to the open ocean. Pirates were allowed eye patches and such, so maybe her mask wouldn’t seem so out of place among them.
Remembering the thin wooden shell belatedly, she grasped it, ensuring it was firmly tied in place despite the gusting winds and jolting deck. As she felt it, she noticed the attention they were getting. The sailors moved slower as they passed, sizing the girls up. Their cloudy red eyes lingered on Viviane though, on the mask and they frowned. Some made signs to ward against evil. Viviane felt her joy dissipate and her shoulders curled in again, trying to make herself smaller.
“Good morning, Mademoiselles!” Christian greeted them cheerfully as he raced to meet them on deck. He was panting, covered in a sheen of sweat already from the morning’s labors. But he was grinning broadly and seemed unperturbed by his promised assistance.
Viviane thought it was odd, that a nobleman’s son would so willingly commit to physical labor. He had trained with the King and his soldiers, she knew. But that was different. That was considered honorable by others in their circle, almost a sport. This kind of labor was backbreaking and grueling and humbling. The established hierarchy placing him firmly at the bottom, a grunt to be bossed around by men who couldn’t even read.
But he seemed so alive in spite of it. Happy even, to be working with the sailors. For the sailors. Viviane corrected as one barked an order at him and he scurried away to complete the task, throwing a grin and promise to meet them for breakfast back over his shoulder.
“It isn’t normal, no,” Rose answered her unspoken question. “Eden would never allow sailors to boss him so. But he is a little more petted it would seem. That’s probably my fault, and Father’s.” Rose laughed.
Viviane laughed too. She couldn’t picture Eden in the same situation, sleeves rolled up and sweat dripping from his temples. He was a royal, half-child as he was. He was a full-blooded dandy.
“I miss him,” Rose continued. “I wonder if he made it back to the castle safely. And if anyone noticed his disappearance so close to ours.”
“I wonder what they will do when they notice ours,” Viviane added. Would they question her mother? No doubt they would. And the miller, perhaps. Others knew of the escape route, they would know where it led. Could he deceive them into thinking he knew nothing of them?
Perhaps not. Viviane sent up a prayer that the miller would avoid imprisonment and punishment for their flight. The Princess didn’t need another’s fate lying heavy on her conscious.
“Hopefully we will hear something when we reach land and find asylum,” Rose answered. If Eden was able to return unnoticed. If he could get a letter out. If that letter found its way to wherever they were headed.
There were so many ifs. Viviane felt a little hopeless as the questions and conditions piled up.
Christian returned, noting their concerned expressions. He reached for their hands, taking one of their in each of his. “We will make it,” he promised, his face set with determination. “We will change this vision, save your family,” he nodded at Rose. “And you will return home to your mother,” he nodded at Viviane, squeezing her fingers gently, allowing his thumb to stroke her palm in secret.
Viviane flushed but met his gaze. She nodded back, gulping to keep the tears from escaping.
Christian, Viviane, and Rose ate breakfast with Captain Ashe who, despite his grizzled appearance, was educated and soft-spoken. He could tell they were not telling the truth of their identities, could see the excellent breeding in Rose and Christian, their expensive educations, their health that marked a lifetime of always having enough to eat and a warm bed.
He noted Viviane’s mask with the same suspicious glances as the sailors but said nothing, directing most of his conversation to Rose and Christian who were trained diplomats in any case, Viviane was relieved by his inattention and ate her breakfast heartily, empty from the scant dinner and her nighttime seasickness. Breakfast consisted of thick porridge and cured ham. Viviane was not complaining as she gulped down the steaming spoonful, feeling her belly fill pleasantly. The meat was precious, in short supply for the servants of their castle and usually disguised with gravy in stews that could be stretched to accommodate them for more extended periods of time.
It was well-preserved and flavorful. Viviane savored the salty taste on her tongue, before swallowing. She was enjoying the food so much she did not hear herself addressed until Rose nudged her foot beneath the table.
“Captain Ashe wanted to know if you were enjoying your breakfast?” Rose repeated, smothering a laugh with a cloth napkin.
Viviane flushed and nodded vigorously trying not to choke as she swallowed the mouthful she’d been appreciating.
“I can see you get a pretty simple fare where you are from as well,” he said to her directly. His tone was not accusing, and she relaxed as she swallowed finally and could speak.
“Yes, our chef does his best but the winter seasons are always a little difficult,” Viviane replied.
“The Lady has a chef?” The captain asked, eyebrows raised at Rose. She’d explained their positions in no great detail to the captain while Viviane had been devouring her meal.
“My family does, yes.” She replied.
“But you choose to travel quite simply.” He pressed, gesturing to the cargo ship’s hold. Even the captain’s quarters where they ate was a plain room, the wood rough-hewn and pieced together without thought for ornamentation or polish. “Your family could not afford to place you on one of the passenger ships?” His eyes jumped to Christian who had worked out the details of their passage, fully aware of his bargain to pay their way through his own labor.
“Honestly,” Rose began.
Viviane felt her spine tingle, and her blood ran cold. Would she tell him the truth so quickly?
“My family doesn’t approve of my journey.” Rose lied, but not quite lied, smoothly. “They would prefer I stayed home but told me if I could find some way to procure my own passage I would travel to the continent. I seek training from a master, you see.”
“What sort of master?” The captain asked, his tone switching from wary to conversational.
“A master of magic,” Rose replied.
Viviane started at that. That was the truth. And a dangerous fact.
The captain only stared at her, swirling a glass of brandy in one hand. The liquid was thick and clung to the sides of the glass.
“Magic,” he did not sound surprised. Or confused. Captain Ashe merely studied her, tasting the word on his lips.
“Why do you seek a Master of Magic?” he asked finally.
Rose grinned back at him, charming and pretty. Poised as a Queen and very nearly one.
“To learn it.” She admitted.
Still, the captain was not shocked. He did stand though, moving slowly, almost lazy.
He closed the door to his cabin which had been left open to catch the fresh ocean air, barking an order at an errant sailor before closing it slowly. Intentionally.
He turned to face the small band, studying them. They were young and inexperienced travelers. It was apparent how vulnerable they were, especially shut in Captain Ashe’s quarters, surrounded by men loyal to him, surrounded beyond that by miles of sea.
Viviane gripped Rose’s hand under the table. She squeezed her fingers back, in reassurance or realization of their predicament, Viviane could not tell.
“I knew you were one of us,” he said, sitting back down in his chair and scooting forward to rest his elbows on the table before him. Again, he was casual, unhurried.
“What?” Viviane was the one stunned.
Captain Ashe turned striking purple eyes on her. “A witch,” he clarified. “Or wizard in my case,” he chuckled, waving away the issue of semantics.
Christian and Viviane were dumbstruck, sitting silently and wondering how they had ended up here, face to face with a ship captain wizard.
Rose leaned forward too, propping her elbows on the table and placing her chin in her hand, observing him coolly. She seemed unfazed by his revelation.
“I know you knew. I felt the same. I felt that you possessed magic. Strong magic, from the scent of it.” Rose’s nose twitched as she noticeably sniffed the air around them. Viviane flushed, trying to surreptitiously sniff the air as well. All she could smell was the ham, the grease all that remained in a golden-brown smear on her plate.
“You can smell it?” Christian asked in amazement.
“Kind of,” Rose said to him. “I can smell something, and I only now realized what it was, thanks to a vision.”
“You had another vision?” Viviane asked. She hadn’t even noticed. It had been nothing like her unusual behavior the night before, the panic, the undiluted fear of what she’d seen.
Rose nodded. “Of Captain Ashe, his powers, and how people with magic identify each other.” With a knowing look at Viviane, she added, “And how he should sleep with a dagger under his pillow tonight to avoid an attempt at mutiny.”