Davitts tried his best to keep Zie occupied. During the day, this was easier. The general tasks that came with making camp anywhere kept them busy. Gathering tubers and berries. Searching the island for firewood. Doing a little sling hunting. Fishing, though one could only eat so many of the same lake fish.
None of it was enough to distract Zie from his anxious thoughts. He chewed on his claws and was incapable of sitting still for more than a few minutes. At night, he wandered the haunted ruins, and came back to Davitts wide-eyed and shivering. What he’d seen and heard, he wouldn’t say.
That evening, they’d set up their cookfire on the beach and Zie had made a stew of the fisher bird Davitts had gotten with a lucky shot that afternoon. Full and as content as two worried people could be, Davitts sat with his back against a fallen log and Zie between his thighs, snuggled back against his chest, for once mostly still.
“Was Essenin a terrible child?” Zie asked as he traced lines on Davitts’ forearm.
“You don’t know?”
Davitts chuckled. “I didn’t know them well as a child. We grew up in the same town and our families certainly had dealings with each other, but we lived at Mama’s shop in town and Ess lived with their family nearer the harbor. Different friend groups. Different learning creches. But I imagine they were a handful. Into everyone’s business. Probably hard to keep their attention on one thing.”
“Easy to picture. And you?”
“I was a good child, for the most part. Eager to help. Reliable. Maybe not always the quickest or the brightest.”
Zie turned in his arms, frowning. “I’m sure you do yourself a disservice.”
“Maybe. But unlike Ess, I was rarely in trouble. Not until I got older and became more interested in weapons than in the family mercantile business. Mama didn’t approve of that.” Davitts wrapped his arms around Zie and gave him a squeeze. The little mahk was obviously trying to distract himself and the last thing Davitts wanted to do was ask questions about his childhood. “Weapons. That’s where I got to know Ess.”
Zie turned to lean against Davitt’s raised knee. “What does that mean?”
“We both attended Rakon’s. That’s the training house in town. Classes for all manner of combat.” Davitts blew out a slow breath as he recalled the volcanic argument his wanting to attend had set off. “Ess’s family sponsored them without question. It’s what they wanted. My Da convinced my mother that she had enough children for the business, and it would do no good to keep the few whose passions lay elsewhere. His words.”
“But they, ah, sponsored you?” Zie asked, giving the impression that he had no idea what sponsoring meant in that context.
“A couple of my aunties actually did the sponsoring. Mama wasn’t throwing money away so I could die violently. Her words.” Davitts loved his mother, but the years he’d spent training, things had been tense between them. “Ess and I were already taller than most of the other kids, so we were paired up for things like sword class.”
“But you don’t carry a sword.”
“It’s not my weapon of choice, but I can use one. Ess is better, though again, not their favorite.” Davitts couldn’t help a smile, remembering Ess huffing and swearing through fencing drills all those years ago. “Anyway, that’s how we became friends. Smacking each other with practice blades.”
Zie actually snickered, the happiest sound from him in days. “I’m sad to have missed it.”
“We can try to recreate it for you sometime—” Davitts cut off when Zie bolted straight up and stumbled toward the shoreline. The chill in his heart told him the answer, but he still asked, “Zie? Sweetheart, what is it?”
“They’re here.” Zie’s voice came out a strangled whisper. “Across the water. In the trees. They’ve come for me. And Ess is out there still.”
In the fading light, Davitts struggled to make out anything in the trees besides a dark mass of branches. He pulled out his spyglass and searched the treetops, noting how the trees bent with the breeze off the lake. Except some of the trees bent in the wrong direction, disturbed, jostled. There.. Dark shadows moving independent of any object, moving toward the lake.
“Come on.” Davitts gripped Zie’s shoulder and gave him a little shake. “We have to get on top of the tower and light our beacon. Ess will know what it means and I won’t have those things surprising them when they get here.”
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.