When they burst free of the hold, Sage was surprised to see that the sun had barely risen over the horizon. The sky was murky grey, with pale rose and orange sorbet streaking the edge of the earth. The tranquil sea emulated the slate sky, and the Bloated Boar was calm and repaired from the previous day’s storm. Everything was peaceful and relaxed, and at first he couldn’t tell what had Kymbry so…
He frowned and looked at her. She had spent the whole night awake, judging from her frazzled curls and salt-stained clothes from yesterday. Exhaustion lined her face and circled her eyes in blackness. So what had done it?
Then she lifted a trembling arm and pointed to the eastward sky, where the most vibrant colour stained the greyness. East, the rising sun. East, their destination.
Sage’s heart clenched, hopped up into his throat, then plummeted into his gut.
Clearly silhouetted against the early morning were dozens—no, hundreds—of lush green islands, with jagged mountains that pierced the heavens and trees that grew endlessly. White stone blotches speckled the verdant greenness, but none stood near the mountainous islands; all remained near the water that surrounded them. The islands stretched out along the horizon, seeming endless, and the beautiful realization of it hit him like a hammer.
The Kingdoms of Skye.
He cursed under his breath, which seemed to amuse Kymbry. She laughed and leaned against his arm; he stood still, awestruck at the sight before them, and was happy to be her solid pillar for the moment.
“I can’t even…”
“Words can’t really do them justice,” she whispered, and he felt her smile on his arm. “We have some words in the dialects of Skye that help, but the Hands and rulers know god words that are so beautiful one can only see the islands and hear the words and weep with the splendour of it all.”
Sage smiled, wishing this moment—standing on a ship deck at dawn, watching the slow approach of a fabled kingdom—could last forever. He freed his arm and she sighed, instead leaning against his chest, and he draped his arm around her shoulders, suddenly feeling both elated and weighed down with exhaustion. He thought her words summed it up as best as they could.
She pressed her forehead into his ribs. “If you think seeing a scattering of islands from this distance is beautiful, wait until you see the cities. People of the Nation who have returned mad with delusions of grand white cities—and those like me, who have been expelled from their kingdom—are the only ones who can truly appreciate the beauty.”
Her voice trembled, and he felt a small shudder ripple through her; he could only imagine the thoughts that must be swirling through her mind. They were a day away from her home, which she had been away from for thirteen excruciating years. She had been exiled, doomed to sail alone to her death; exiled for thievery, and by her own sister. Yet despite the obvious bitterness and contempt she harboured, she still thought of Skye as her home, its people her own. She never missed a chance to tell anyone who would listen how pitiful the Nation was compared to each of Skye’s five kingdoms.
Sage gave an internal sigh and watched the too-green hills and too-white buildings, waiting as if they would change before his eyes.
He was surrounded by more women than men in his life, and he knew from her stillness and silence that he should comfort her. But what could he say? “Maybe your evil-queen sister forgot what you did?” “Don’t worry; I bet everyone will have forgiven you, and nothing has changed.”
Sage would always be welcome at his home. Unable to really comprehend what she must be experiencing, he remained silent, and the expanding gulf between them was almost corporeal.
Finally, Kymbry pulled away and left his side without a word. He watched, concern roiling in his gut like snakes, as she approached Malachi and led him away, likely to speak in private. Sage suspected theirs was a marriage of convenience, but Malachi knew her better than anyone else, and she could freely share with him her fears and hopes of Skye.