Perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps too much freedom had dug thorn-strewn grooves into the heart of who we were, allowing room for sinister things to grow.
Spying a dock falling piece by piece into the sea, I pressed my heels into Van’s flanks and leaned forward.
He dropped down, wingtips skirting the water and spraying. I nudged him again, cursing as water droplets smacked into my face.
He grunted and righted himself.
“There.” I pointed at where a tiny farmhouse hid among a field of wheat.
We landed with a jolt that caused my teeth to clack. “Let’s be quick,” I said once we’d dismounted.
Well, once I’d dismounted.
Mintale had his foot stuck in the stirrup, and I sighed, waiting for him to get untangled. He didn’t.
“Gah,” he bellowed, arms pinwheeling as he fell backward to the ground. His mare turned to stare at him, then turned away and tore a large chunk of wheat from the ground.
My eyes closed momentarily, then I stomped over and yanked him up by the collar of his tunic.
“Hurry up,” I said, glancing at the full moon taking shape in the sky.
No one would dare touch a furbane that belonged to the royal court, or otherwise, but in times like these, it would be wise not to draw too much attention to ourselves. Especially in a land filled with criminals and desperate souls.
A bell rang from the north, and I cursed, trudging through the field with an urgency that would have been embarrassing if I had the time to care, of which I did not.
Mintale struggled to keep up. He was five hundred and twenty years old, and it was definitely starting to show.
“How are we going to take him?”
Mintale pondered that. “Bind his hands?”
I didn’t bother answering and rechecked the flow of the sea, heading north once we’d reached the dirt road.
The day’s end didn’t mean much to those in this district. Eyes peeked through venetians, cracks in the rotting wooden housing, or stared blatantly from porch steps as we turned onto the main street of town and spied the ramshackle church at the opposite end.
My skin started to itch, and it took considerable effort not to rub my arms, which felt as though they’d been layered in a film of dust. I was wearing long sleeves, but I could still feel it—sticking, cloying, and suffocating. “It’s so dirty here,” I said between my teeth as Mintale waved like a fool at a few passersby openly ogling us.
Some dropped into a bow once their sight adjusted and they realized who was marching past them, but others were too busy gaping to react fast enough.
“It’s the mines.” Mintale winced. “I loathe to think what it’s like inside them.”
I lifted my gaze to the volcanic looking mountain to the left, then shrugged.
“Majesty!” A woman raced out in front of me with a babe pressed to her bosom. “May I please ask for your blessing?” Her lips wobbled as her soiled hand patted the babe’s back. “My daughter, she be sick, coughing like that of an Ergin.”
I glanced at her smudged brown face, my lip curling as my hand twitched and sent her stumbling back over the dirt. “The cursed do not bless,” I said as her infant wailed.
Whimpering and muttering about the devil, she scrambled away.
We continued—thankfully uninterrupted—until we could see the closed church doors. Stopping, we studied the worn structure for a moment. The doors appeared to be locked from the inside.
“It would seem their god does not wish you to enter.”
Rain began spraying the earth in soft pelts, heightening the scent of filth and grime, and casting a strange gloom across the air.
For a fleeting moment, I almost felt bad that he’d been forced to live here. Almost.
Of course, Mintale did not shut up. “They say rain on your vow day is good luck.”
I skirted around a mutt chasing a tisk. “There’s no such thing as luck.”
Nearly stumbling over the mutt as it lunged for the insect’s wings, Mintale hurried after me. “You know how humans can be. Always needing to believe in something greater than their dismal existence.”
I scoffed, done with hearing such fanciful crud.
“Especially when something does not go as they’d hoped it would,” Mintale continued, and by that point, I didn’t want to open my mouth to tell him to shut up for fear of what I’d ingest.
We ascended the crumbling steps, and of course, he took my silence as a sign to continue rambling. “Majesty, might I ask what it is you have faith in?”
Pausing outside the flimsy wooden barriers, I curled my lips. “Me.”
Then I sent a gust of wind hurtling at the doors.
Wood splintered and groaned.
Screams and gasps lifted my smile as the remains of the doors crumbled in scraps to the pews and concrete floor.
I paid the attendees no mind and marched straight for the altar.