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Shenin’s Blessing

The Trails of Exasia

Chapter 1 – Shenin’s Blessing


Sunlight kissed the low ceiling, washing her vision with light.  She blinked the room into clarity.  A young woman busied herself over a fish, her black curls straying in a breeze from the window.  The sea glistened beyond, competing blues with the sky.  The rhythm of breaking waves set a pulse to the woman’s practiced movements, her hands deftly gliding and swaying as to a dance.

She’d been somewhere else; somewhere far away.  A memory surfaced of faces, darkness, waves…  she sat up and gasped.  The woman rushed to her, shushing her worries away and eased her back into the pillows.

“Rest, rest.”

“No,” she argued, struggling to rise again.  “Where – where am I…”  The room seemed to dim and tilt, and she was coaxed down again, watching meekly while the woman twisted water from a cloth into a wooden bowl and hurried it to her forehead.

“How many were with you?” asked the woman.

She strained to remember.  Everything felt so distant.  “I’m not sure.  I… I don’t know.”

“What shall I call you?”

She shook her head and water stung her eyes.  “I don’t know,” she whimpered.

“Shu, shu now,” cooed the woman, refreshing the cloth, “don’t worry over it, you’ve been through a time.  Rest.  It’ll come.”

The girl submitted fitfully to sleep.  When she awoke, evening reds painted the window and a man drifted around the kitchen with the woman, helping set the table for supper.  They spoke quietly.

“It’s a miracle she’s alive,” he said.  “Rona’s checking Aelang, but all I found today was more wood.  No one’s seen a storm like that for generations.  They didn’t stand a chance.”

“Protect us, Shenin,” whispered the woman reflexively.  Both the man and woman tapped their heads in unison and opened their palms toward the sea.


~ ~ ~


“You look better this morning,” smiled the woman, holding a bowl of broth to her lips.  “This will give you strength.”

It tasted of salt and fish, and she drank heartily.  “Have you remembered anything?” asked the woman.  She shook her head.  There had been a dream, but it withdrew the moment she woke, leaving only the sense that she desperately needed to remember.

“Call me Mina,” the woman continued.  “My husband is Lith.  He’s searching for other survivors.  All the fishermen are.  They sent word to Nalfloren as soon as we found you.”

“Who’s Nalfloren?”  She wished she could remember.

“Why, you are,” answered Mina.  “You have Nalfloren eyes.”  She sat back on her chair and studied the girl.  “What shall we call you?  It should be something Nalfloren.  How about Ivis?  No, you don’t look like an Ivis.  Yech?  No, Gistich.  I’ve never liked Gistich.”  She sighed.  “To tell you the truth, I’ve never liked any Nalfloren names much.  I’m sure yours is lovely, though” she added quickly.  “I know, I’ll call you Shenneth, for Shenin’s blessing.”

“I like that,” said Shenneth, and so she had a name.  Shenneth rose from bed and assisted Mina in spurts, resting when her energy ran out, which was often.

Lith returned after nightfall.  Shenneth had thought Lith and Mina spoke quietly before to spare her sleep, but realized now that they always spoke this way, like the murmur of a calm ocean lapping at sand.

During supper, Lith pointed to Shenneth’s neck.  “Do you remember that?” he asked.

Shenneth touched her throat and winced.  It was sore.  For a moment, a sea of ghastly faces jeered from behind her eyes.  Her heart thudding against her lungs, she shook her head mutely, suddenly unsure that she could swallow past the lump that had taken residence in her throat.  Lith studied her.  It was clear he saw that something had disturbed her, but he turned to Mina and complimented the meal.  He finished quickly and mumbled something about checking knots on his way out the door.  Mina watched the empty threshold for a while before resuming her supper.

Shenneth could barely touch her food after what she’d seen.  Her mind was ablaze.  What sort of past had she escaped?  She couldn’t imagine what dealings she’d had with the beastly creatures in her memory.  She smiled weakly at Mina and did her best to finish the food on her plate, her heart still tremulous within her chest.


~ ~ ~


Shouts from the beach awakened the household.  At first she couldn’t tell if the voices were residual from her dream, but then she heard them again.  The night was tar black, the quieted waves the only assurance that the beach still existed under the starless sky.  She’d dreamed of friends, though she could scarcely remember their faces once her eyes opened.  It was loud where they were, making the men’s voices outside difficult at first to untangle.

Her hosts rushed out to meet two lights bobbing in the black.  After a short conversation, a couple of leathery men followed them in with lanterns.  Each cast a quick glance toward Shenneth‘s makeshift bed before settling around the kitchen table.  Shenneth pulled herself upright to see, but Mina swished a thick wall of seashells between them, and they whispered on the other side.  Shenneth shuffled across the room and pushed through the rippling wall.  Mina instantly leapt up and guided her back to bed while the men tracked their progress in silence.

“I want to know,” cried Shenneth, “I want to know what’s happened.  Have they found anyone else?  Do they know who I am?”  Mina rocked her, humming a lullaby into her hair while the men filed into the darkness to complete their conversation.  “What’s happened?” hiccupped Shenneth.

“Hush now, dear, hush.”

“No!”  Shenneth pushed Mina away and instantly felt a pang of remorse.  There was so much pain in Mina’s wide eyes.  “Please, just tell me,” she pressed.

“Poor child,” Mina clucked, spilling a tear.  “Poor child.”  She sighed heavily.  “Whatever your charge, it couldn’t have been a terrible crime.  Surely not a girl as sweet as you.”

“What are you talking about?  What charge?  What crime?”

Lith emerged through the shell screen still finishing his whispered conversation with the strangers.  “In Nalfloren,” he accused, “children are only hanged for crimes of violence.  Like murder.”  His eyes were wild with fear.  Shenneth blinked at her hosts at a loss for words.  She felt as if she had awakened on the wrong side of sanity.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Shenneth stammered.

“I think you do,” snapped Lith, and Shenneth realized what her silence at dinner had cost.  No amount of argument in the world was going to erase the suspicion from his gaze.

“Nalfloren responded,” added Mina coolly, withdrawing to her husband’s side.  “They’re demanding that you be returned to them to receive your punishment.”

“No, I don’t understand!”  But her words bounced off their receding backs as the shells hissed together behind them.  She slumped into her bed in frustration, but after a minute, rose and made her way to the shell curtain again.

“They want her held at Aelang until the prison ship arrives,” said one of the men.  “Shruck’s offering two-twenty for reward.”

She slid her fingers between two rows, hoping to make as little noise as possible.  Rough hands lunged through the shells and latched onto her wrists.  She shrieked and tried to jump back, but the man’s grip was like shark jaws.  She writhed and screamed as the visitors dragged her from the house to the water and rowed away with her screaming at their feet, her shouts the only evidence of terror under the cover of the inky night.


~ ~ ~


The men rowed in mechanical apathy for seemingly endless hours, deaf to her pleas. She curled into a ball between them finally and wept into sleep.  When she awoke, a patchwork of rays from the rising sun decorated the small boat as it jostled against a dock.  Her captors discussed terms with uniformed men in murmurs.  Finally, she was heaved like a sack of grain from one massive shoulder to the next and carried to a wooden cart with bars.  She could see the leathery men divvying their sum as the dock receded from her vantage in the rattling cart.

Open buildings leaned against each other in rotting distress, street after sandy street, as her grim chariot jolted away from the fresh ocean air.  They stopped finally before a solemn stone building on a cobbled street lined with scrunched upscale shops.  Two giant stone lizards framed the front entrance of the building, their jaws agape in permanent aggression.

The men hauled her through stuffy rooms and down a flight of stairs to a small balding man at a rusted metal desk.  He didn’t look up.  A tiny lizard skittered up the wall and no one beyond Shenneth took notice.  The man flipped a page and held up a finger as if she had tried to interrupt him.  The finger hovered a full minute before he wetted it and turned another page.  He cleared his throat and raised his eyes to her at last, quickly disguising an initial startle.

“The Nalfloren child,” he murmured, “interesting.  What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Shenneth replied.

He nodded as if he’d expected the answer and went back to his reading.  Shenneth wondered briefly whether she’d been forgotten.

“Everyone claims to be innocent,” he sang, not bothering to raise his attention again.  “No one ever is.”

“There’s been a mistake.  I survived a shipwreck, and…”

“Place her in a cell until the Nalflorens arrive,” he interrupted.  One of the guards advanced.  “Oh,” he added, “if they ask us to deal with it, I recommend her for Arelil.”  The guard paused and nodded solemnly.  “That will be all,” the man drawled, already immersed in his reading.

Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com.  This is a preview of the upcoming novel, THE TRAILS OF EXASIA.  Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure.  Thanks!