Happy Friday, Aledans! As you know from yesterday’s update, I finally started writing the sequel to Aleda’s Story: Faye and Tarrin. You’ll finally get to see what happens to the baby Changelings as they grow up 🙂 The next several weeks are dedicated to Aleda’s Story, and today she’s going back to Gaerlom despite the danger. You can catch up on her story here.
Aleda reached Gaerlom before nightfall. It was disconcerting how quickly a person without a group of children could travel from the mountains to the sea, and she knew Carrick was right. They couldn’t stay where they were for long.
She hid in the trees until dark and the stillness of sleep overtook the village, then pulled her hood up and walked to her hut when she was sure no one was out. It was dark inside without the constant glow of the hearth fire, but Aleda knew the hut as well as she knew the weight of Carrick’s arms around her stomach as they slept. She knelt next to their cot and reached under it for a bowl to boil water in. Her hand grasped air. She swept her arm the length of the cot and it didn’t hit any of the things she had stored under it.
Aleda pulled back the door flap to let in the moonlight and her heart sank. Everything had been looted. The hearthstones and cots were the only things left.
She dropped the flap as someone began crying in a tent nearby and darkness closed in on her again, mirroring the feeling growing inside her. There had to be something left.
There was an unfinished hood that she had dropped behind the cot and forgotten, and a bone knife in the ashes of the hearth. She couldn’t carry the cots out, but she used the knife to cut away the leather and folded it up to take with her.
The crying continued—a muffled sound that put Aleda on edge. Carrick kept a small bundle of emergency supplies in a nearby cove, so she waited in the dark hut until she was reasonably sure no one was out, cut down the door flap, and bundled it into her arms as she left the village and headed back into the trees. She would stay in their cover until she was closer to the cove.
The moon was just past full and it was easy to see, otherwise she wouldn’t have spotted the man leaving the cove until she had left the cover of the trees. Aleda crouched as he passed. She couldn’t tell who it was, but his hands were empty and he walked with a tired step and slumped shoulders. He wasn’t coming from a long day of fishing.
When she was sure he was gone she crept to the edge of the cliff where the path was and looked down. There was no one in the cove, but he had left something in the sand near the water. Something that would be swallowed by the sea at high tide. An offering to Awena? If so Aleda wouldn’t steal it—she didn’t need the wrath of the Mother against her.
The small pack of emergency supplies were tucked in a fissure in the rock, wrapped in a waterproof silkie skin. Aleda reached her arm in until her shoulder pressed into the wall, her fingertips grazing the package. She tried to find a place to grab it but her arm was shorter than Carrick’s.
A sob escaped her as she leaned her forehead against the wet rock. How were they supposed to survive in a strange land, with no supplies and a dozen children? She told Lisel that Awena would provide, but how could she believe that? Aleda had said it more for her own ears, because she couldn’t imagine a mother—any Mother—giving up her children. But as Coyle said, these children weren’t of Awena. They were Mountain’s. And she had seen the father’s of her tribe give up on their own children. Who was to say Mountain wouldn’t give up on them also?
Aleda pulled her arm from the rock as a gull cried behind her. Wiping away her tears, she watched it hop over the sand to the offering and hang back, head cocked to the side. Was even the gull too scared to upset an offering to the Mother? No. He hopped closer and pecked at the middle of it.
The offering cried. In a distinctly human voice.