“Where on the Goddess’ green earth did you learn how to do that?”
“Of what do you speak?” Arduno asked, directly before sliding down a rope and hanging upside down directly in front of Magdella Solarim. “Patching the hole in the mast? You’ll have to forgive me, I haven’t had time to teach this group the basics of cloudship maintenance. I couldn’t get my seniors to do extra credit when their finals are so soon.”
The wind was strong at the helm, where Magdela held the wheel at the helm, as she held herself in place more than she kept the cloudship from straying off its path. She looked at the death defying cloudship instructor with a new respect for him.
“You walk about the ‘lines’ as you call them as if they were stable footing, ignoring the wind and pitch of the cloudship. Your skill is unnatural. Where did you learn such a feat?”
Arduno flipped and landed on the deck beside her, and then shouted up at his student above him, who pulled the line back up, tightening where Arduno had loosened to drop down before her.
“T’was not on Her green earth, m’lady,” Arduno said with a half grin. “Quite the opposite, I learned in Her blue skies among the clouds.”
Magdela caught her breath as he walked up to the helm, and placed his hands on the wheel above hers. She slid her hands of, sliding against him as she pulled back. He held the ship with one hand and turned to face her.
“So you learned aboard a cloudship, then.”
Magdela found prying information from Arduno’s lips a tiring exercise normally, but with nothing else to do on their trip to the site of his choosing for their farce of a date, it became a game to her. He was not the most adept liar, often looking to the sky when drawing for an answer comprised of clouds, rather than earth.
A chill overtook her momentarily, and she spoke the word, “Calor.” A warmth of magic filled her, giving her goose bumps as the feeling started in her toes and moved upward, filling her middle, and then moved to her head. She felt her cheeks burn. A moment later, she realized this effect caught Arduno’s notice, causing her cheeks to glow more.
“At the point of a musket, I am afraid,” Arduno confessed, his eyes straight forward, staring directly into hers. “My mentors were not the kindest of teachers. They made a game of teaching the deck swab the skills of a cloud-fairer. Many a dirty pirate lost wages due to my continued survival.”
She saw it in the truth of his words in his eyes, and heard the sincerity in his voice, in addition to the unresolved past of a former cloudship pirate. The gates to the truth of his past was open, and she would use this “date” to pry any and all information she could from this scoundrel, if for no other reason than there was no better company aboard a vessel of students and the two of them.
“I suppose that explains your balance, but what of your swordplay? I have nary seen a man fight as you do, but for Zeon, and he is a trained weaponmaster. I have not heard of anything in your past that would suggest more than a course pirate’s skill with a blade, yet you both possess the skill of a fencer and the blade of one as well.”
Magdela knew she breached a sensitive topic when he turned towards the helm, taking it with both of his hands. He usually was the one that maintained uncomfortable stares, and open and communicative body language. Now he withdrew to the safety of his ship. She would have to use a more subtle tactic to draw the knowledge from him.
“I’m sorry if I seem like I’m prying, Mr. Boliviar, but I thought I would use this chance to get to know you better.”
She watched him turn back to her, nodding, his stance less guarded than before.
“It is just not the most comfortable of topics,” he told her, locking the wheel in place. “I learned fencing from my father, as he did his father before him. I was not a cloud-fairer then, but rather the son of a nobleman. I learned language and art as well, although I found them much less interesting than fencing and cloud-fairing. I wished to become a naval officer, or a daring adventurer, but my father had plans for me to succeed him.”
Magdela held her tongue as Arduno confessed the truth of his history. She had heard many a tale from his lips before, but none had the truer ring of honesty than the ones he spoke now.
“I only survive today because of my skill with a blade,” Arduno stated. “Fate is a cruel mistress, teaching me the skills that would save me at the same time it proved my undoing.”
Magdela stood beside him for a time as he piloted his ship to the mountain range north of Hiboredia on its border with Cazedor. She was still in the dark to where the rogue was flying her. Could this be a pirate treasure, or a lost city in the mountains? She had heard of fanciful tales about pirates and hidden pirate cities as a child. Perhaps he took her to one such now?
“We’re almost there,” Arduno informed her, pointing towards a mountain peak. She followed his gaze to the snow capped mountains. “That is our destination.”
“What exactly are we going to be doing there? Play with yetis?” The sarcasm covered her timid heart. She hated the depth of thought he seemed to be showing this outing, having half expected him earlier to take her to a pub for darts and drinks.
“I already said, it’s a surprise,” he whispered, barely over the sound of the wind. “You’ll see very soon.”
“I don’t like surprises,” she replied, hoping to squeeze the information out of him.
“You will this one,” he said with one of his easy smiles. “There is a place of which few know beyond the Jel’dain mountains. I discovered it accidentally while looking for a place to hide.”
She wondered wow many stories would it take to truly hear the entirety of his story. He drew her in with the truths behind his facade, his lady killer looks the mask with a childlike heart. She had overheard his boisterous Matadorian tales of heroism and barbarism before. This was the way of a Matadorian, to stand tall and bright and bellow the loudest, like beautiful but foolish rooster. She despised him before she had even met him, when the headmaster had brought the troubled youth into the academy, into her home.
What part of him was the pirate, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, surviving at the whims of brutal men with nothing but spirits and cruelty in them? Then, what part of him was the child of his father, learning the ways of Matadorian nobility, also cruel in its own way, and as cut throat as any pirate business? She could see all of these pieces fitting together like puzzle pieces, but there were missing ones. There was a great compassion in his life of which she knew nothing.
“Hold fast, Mags!” Arduno exclaimed, holding his hand out to her suddenly.
She had no time to react the ship began to shutter and shake. As Arduno’s hand grabbed her forearm, she felt the ship quake so hard, it caused her to lose her footing. His grip was tight on her arm, pulling her into him as the shaking continued. Her head collided with his chest, the soft, leather doublet and his muscles softening what could have been a dangerous fall.
The ship steadied as its Captain steadied the cloudship with his strong arms. She began to pull back, and then noticed something she had not seen before, or had chosen not to notice. A small pendant came loose from between his breasts and hung outside of his doublet. The shape was interesting — a cross of the Goddess of Mercy, with a serpent coiled around it, the arch of its back looping above the cross to give the entire shape new meaning, creating the symbol of the ankh, and ancient symbol of power. She sensed magic from it briefly as her eyes beheld it, as its power reached out to her, it’s powerful enchantments the magical equivalent of quicksand.
She could not pull back from the pendant, but instead whispered a spell, “Libera me a malum,” causing the thickening enchantment from affecting her. Arduno must have sensed something, as he released her, yet still maintaining an arm on her shoulder.
“Thank you, Arduno,” she whispered. She tried to think of a more suitable segue to the topic of his necklace, but could not. “Where did you get that amulet?” She tried to keep accusation out of her voice, as he had proven previously to not have a deep understanding of magic.
His eyes widened with momentary surprise as he released her to push the small ankh back into his doublet.
“T’is not but a trinket,” he said, his eyes no longer able to meet hers. “Nothing more.”
“Arduno, this is important,” she replied, putting her hand on the arm maintaining the steering of the ship. “There is a powerful enchantment on that small item, one that can bespell its victims to do whatever its maker intended.”
He turned to her with concern on his furrowed brow. “Truly?”
“Truly,” she intoned. “I would not say such a thing lightly.”
He held silent for a moment yet, his eyes on her hand holding onto his arm.
“It was my mother’s,” he confessed, bringing it out again with his free hand. “I never fancied it, but she said for me to have it, despite my father’s wishes. She said it would protect me as she had when I was a child, that through it she would find me and grant me pleasant dreams. Though I know this a story for a child, I still cannot deny my mother’s wish for me to wear it always.”
Magdela’s attention changed as the ship approached a dock on the southern side of the mountain. In a matter of minutes, Arduno has the ship anchored against the mountain dock. Even his first year crew with a couple second years as supervisors seem to have everything under control with minimal input from their teacher.
“You have impressive control over your crew, Mr. Boliviar.” Magdela tried not to look too impressed as she delivered her compliment.
“The scallywags merely do not wish to walk the plank,” Arduno said to her with a grin. “This is our destination. Shall we be off?”
The two makes their way down a gangplank that the crew dropped down tot the dock.