Black eyes. All I could feel are those black eyes boring into me, unblinking.
Small trembling hands cover the sides of my face and shield my ears from the cacophony of piercing cries. Foggy morning dew melts onto my skin and my mouth is left agape as I look up. Embers and ash, fresh, dance in the air.
Gritty rain seeps into my mouth and I hold my breath before spitting out gray water. Cloaked masses sway and jolt and my small body floats adrift like a raft lost at sea.
Finally a hand grabs at me and I'm wedged in between two shivering bodies: My sisters. The one on my right, nearly an adult, is voiceless and nearly motionless in her state of shock. Her black curls peek out from her hood while one of her hands digs deeply into the sockets of my shoulders.
The other on my left is not much older than myself. She reaches for my hand with tears in her eyes, intertwining her ice-cold fingers with mine. The three of us are now a small rowboat with no oars, fighting against the clashing waves of bodies.
Despite all the jostling and pushing, I could see a cloaked figure screaming out in low muffled moans. She reaches out with her trembling hands to the platform before us, but her palms are quickly crushed under the chaos of heavy steps.
The shoving against my body is so violent that it causes my wool shawl to scratch my skin. The sensation burns.
The sky now hails torrents onto us. My eyes squint to follow the path of a glowing white butterfly, flying haphazardly against the rain to land on a cold surface of white skin.
I blink once. I stare wordlessly into the black eyes of a decapitated head.
I jolt up. My heart beats rapidly like a caged bird desperate to escape.The crisp and cool summer air shocks my body when it’s relieved from its wool covers.
I look over my shoulder and a pair of bright blue eyes anchor onto me: Alan Arius, my covey brother. He gets up from his seat on a log and makes his way towards me.
“Evey, are you alright?”
My head turns away from him, towards the campfire, and I rub my temples. My voice is quaking and barely audible.
“Must’ve been another nightmare.”
Alan reaches for me and gently touches my shoulder. As I try to settle myself, I see two other bundled bodies near by blanketed by the night’s darkness. I shift my body lightly, trying to wrap myself, but my hands are still shaking.
He tucks in the covers at my sides. His voice is soothing and sweet.
“Don’t worry, you didn’t wake them.”
“What about you? Burning the midnight oil?”
Alan offers a warm smile.
“I have my books. If that gets boring, I could always work on my almanac.”
I stare blankly at the other two wrapped bodies near us. The silence runs on long enough to prompt Alan into question.
“Evey? You alright? You look troubled.”
I scrunch and ball up the blanket in my fists.
"It was just…"
How do I even begin? Dreams and nightmares were confusing enough as they were. I couldn’t burden him with them, so I divert the thought and mention our sleeping companions instead.
"I'm just a bit jealous at how those two could sleep so well.”
Alan chuckles lightly, his voice still low as to not wake the others. One is snoring loudly like a wild boar.
“Well, you all get a little fitful on long journeys. Here...let me help you…"
Alan slips off one of his leather gloves and reaches over to me. His eyes seem brighter, a cerulean blue, against the quiet crackling campfire. His warm palm finds its place on my forehead and he begins ghosting his fingers over my face.
I hear a soft note, a humming lullaby, beautiful and light. It soothes me back to sleep while his fingertips gently brush against my eyelids, lips, and chin.
My breath softens and lengthens as I enter a dreamless rest.
My eyes flutter open to the sounds of summer cicadas and early morning birds. The sun climbs slowly against the blue sky, painting streaks of orange in its wake.
I turn my head lightly to a side. I see two young men dressed in gray uniforms, stuffing their bedrolls tightly into leather saddle bags. One catches sight of my movement and turns his head of strawberry blond hair to me while busily tying the white cravat around his neck.
His pale silvery eyes give me a swift once-over before he speaks.
“Ah, Commander. Had enough rest?"
Thomas Rayner: my second in-command. I nod lightly.
He completes the second knot in his necktie.
“Breakfasts’ ready. Should get to it while it’s hot.”
My hands slide down my sides as I sit up, skin brushing against the worn woolen threads of my blanket. Itchy wool. I hate wool.
As I rise from my bedroll, the other two young men join Alan closer to the fire. A cast metal pot hangs in the middle with a stew of field vegetables and freshly caught game meat. Alan ladles the food into large tin plates. A pleasant and inviting aroma creeps into my nostrils.
I don’t rush getting up, but I go through the heavily rehearsed motions with efficiency. It’s not long before my linen saddle bag is ready and my mess plate is filled with the breakfast stew.
As I’m blowing onto the steaming contents and sipping quietly from a wide wooden spoon, my eyes flicker at the three young men before me seated on a log. The largest man, with a complexion deep and rich as cocoa, scrapes the last bits of his food with his spoon. Alan reaches out to him.
“Would you like another serving, Gilbert?”
His appearance is unlike the rest of us-an appearance indicative of people from the East-though I would say that such features are exquisite and striking no less.
Meanwhile, Thomas throws his head back and nearly downs his plate’s contents in one gulp. He sighs aloud and wipes his mouth with the backside of a hand. He juts his empty plate to Alan.
“Speaking of which, Alan, more stew-”
Gilbert places a hand on Alan’s arm and shakes his head at Thomas.
“Saying ‘please’ won’t discount your atrocious manners, Thomas.”
“Why would they matter when we’re out here?"
Gilbert’s dark and distinct eyebrows lift as his eyes glance over to me.
“It would do you some good to be tidier, Rayner, if not more considerate."
“Evey, don’t take my fun away. Alan knows that I appreciate him.”
I suppress a smile.