Sage stole a glance at her bunk. She was invisible beneath her blanket, but he could hear her gentle sighs as she slept, interspersed with the occasional snuffle and snort. It seemed the only time she was at peace now was when she slept, and even then she often woke, sweaty and tearstained, from nightmares.
Sage had forgotten to ask Briar to marry them. And during the Siege of the Arbour, when Cain the Mad invaded the Nation’s last safe haven, Keelin had been escorting a group of five year olds—the Arbour’s youngest students—and Sage’s three children to safety. In the confusion of battle, she had been killed—and Siras, heartbroken and devastated, had blamed Sage.
He stood and trudged to his bed. Siras has spoken little since the Siege, and smiled and laughed even less. There was no real indication she had forgiven him, but none that she hadn’t, either. He looked at her once more as he shed his shirt and crawled beneath his thin quilt. Her face was relaxed in slumber, but not peaceful; it could never be so, drenched and marred as it was with scars and sorrow.
Once the cabin was dark and the only sounds were Siras’ breaths and the creaks and thuds of the ship around them, Sage shut his eyes and began the process of taking inventory. Stride had suggested it, partway through their voyage, as a means for Sage to sleep. It didn’t often work, but the habit was ingrained into him now.
Not one for praying—a habit he found rather ridiculous, but wisely kept quiet when the subject was approached by his more religiously-inclined companions—he simply went through a mental list of those he loved and wished them well wherever they might be. Stride had told him it was similar to a prayer when he suggested it, only the thoughts weren’t directed at any deity. And that suited Sage just fine.
First and foremost was his family. Maia, Ash, and Isobel, back at the Arbour—how big would Ash be now? How much had Bella’s vocabulary grown? And Flynn, somewhere in this scattering of verdant islands, afraid and alone.
His father, Stride, and mother, Carol; Galvyn, former Master of the Arbour, the paternal grandfather he hadn’t known was his until after the old man was murdered.
Briar, across the hall. Siras, sleeping less than a metre away. And with a small pang of regret and loss—Keelin, murdered by mistake.
The professors at the Arbour. General Shal, Commander Ren, Countess Elin, Knight-Commander Vian; his allies during the Revolution.
He sighed and opened his eyes, exhausted but unable to sleep. He was exhausting his list, but there were still a few more names and faces he could use; maybe by then, his body and mind would be tricked into slumber.
His heart clenched as he began the next segment of his habit. The image of a young man, with tousled blonde hair and warm brown eyes, and fingers picked and chewed to nothing; one of his oldest friends, his own firstborn’s namesake, and Maia’s elder brother: Ash. He had been murdered many years ago, at the dawn of the Revolution, for his involvement in an expulsion during their final year at the Arbour—but it had been much more than that, hadn’t it? They hadn’t realized it at the time, but…
Sage rubbed his face and fidgeted, trying to get comfortable on the hard bunk. There was one name left on his list—one that he often touched on in passing, coming to him at random times during the day. It wasn’t unpleasant, but he would rather the ghosts of the past leave him alone, literally and figuratively.
Once upon a time, King Cain the Mad had been a brilliant student—albeit with anger issues—studying at the Arbour alongside Sage. They had never been friends, but their many altercations had been memorable. It had only been at the end, however, with Sage’s dagger buried in Cain’s chest, that all that lay between them had been set aside; because of it, Sage could truly mourn his loss.
He glared into the shadows above his berth and grumbled, “Why can’t you just leave me alone, Cain? I did nothing to you that you didn’t deserve.”
The night passed slowly. Sage lay awake, listening to the wooden creaks of the ship and the sea sloshing against the hull, and the snorts and sighs of the sailors in cabins around them, all peacefully lost in slumber—something that seemed especially determined to elude Sage.