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Authors: Callie Kanno

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BOOK: The Threshold Child
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“What idea, my son?”

L’on’s noble brow was lined with the habitual concern he felt
these days. These lines of worry deepened as he turned his eyes to his father.
“The idea of having our Protectors trained like Shimat. I know it is important
to know one’s enemy, but it is equally important not to become like them.”

King L’unn’s expression became more serious. “I do not believe we
are descending to the level of the Shimat by incorporating the techniques given
to us by Adesina. We are taking what is valuable, and leaving what is dark.”

A brief pause followed, where both were deep in thought. The
silence was broken by a hesitant question posed by the young man.

“And what you said about Adesina…?”

“I mean every word,” affirmed the king solidly. “She has my
complete confidence—in both the matter of training our soldiers and in the
mission she now undertakes.”

This brought a heavier silence as they both thought of the group
of L’avan making their way to the far south. L’on wondered about the risk they
were taking.

“How many can they save?” he asked quietly.

His father sighed. “We cannot be sure. Many L’avan have gone
missing over the years, but that does not necessarily mean that they were
captured by the Shimat.”

“Do you-” the prince cut himself off abruptly.

He was going to ask if his father considered the whole thing worth
the risk, but decided against it. The king would not have sent them if he did
not think it a worthy cause, nor if he did not think they had a good chance of
succeeding.

King L’unn seemed to know what his son had been about to ask and
gave him an understanding glance. “Every life saved makes it worthwhile, L’on.”

“What of the lives lost?”

This very question had haunted the king ever since the others had
set off. He thought of his younger son, who was still learning and growing as a
warrior. He thought of his daughter, who had run away to follow her brother.
They had all placed their hopes in the young Shimat woman, who appeared to be
the one spoken of in prophesy. That is why he allowed them to set off on such a
dangerous journey with so little planning. He shook off his fears and answered
with the reassurance that he wished to have himself.

“They have Adesina to guide them, and the aid of the Rashad prince—not
to mention the skills of each individual. They could not be better equipped if
I had sent an entire army with them.”

L’on was not convinced, but tried to keep it from his face. He
knew his father had enough to worry about as it was. “I suppose you are right.”

The king turned his eyes to the trees beyond the training soldiers
and soundlessly prayed that he was.

 

***

 

The traveling L’avan came to a small patch of trees just large
enough to hide their group. There were still a few hours before dawn, for they
had taken to traveling at night to hide their presence from any onlookers, but
Adesina ordered them to stop and set up camp early. She did not explain her
reasoning until they had all gathered around the small campfire—which had been
built in a hole they had dug, so as to hide the light from any strangers that
might pass by.

“We are less than a day away from the fortress now.”

The tension in the air was palpable. The strain on each face was
exaggerated by the flickering light of the fire, but it seemed appropriate for
how they all felt.

“We are going to have to split up from here, so I will go over
what will be needed in order for us to succeed.”

Everyone in the group looked alarmed.

“We are splitting up?” asked E’nes.

“I do not think that is a good idea, Adesina,” added L’iam.

She held up a hand to quiet their protests. “It is necessary.”

Without further explanation, she held out a small bag and
indicated that they were to draw something out of it. She offered it first to
E’nes, who pulled out a black pebble; then to Sa’jan, who pulled out another
black pebble; and finally to L’iam, who pulled out a white pebble.

“What about me?” asked L’era.

“And me?” included Aleron.

Adesina looked at both of them sternly. “You two are going to stay
here while we enter the fortress.”

They both stared at her in disbelief.

“What!”

She cut them off before they had a chance to really argue. “This
is not a discussion. Neither of you are trained for what is ahead, and we need
someone to protect our means of escape.”

“Adesina-” began L’era.

“You promised to obey the orders given to you,” she reminded her
sharply.

L’era looked around the circle, trying to find a sympathetic eye.
When she found none, she folded her arms and scowled into the campfire. It was
clear that Aleron didn’t like being left behind either, but he kept his peace.

Adesina turned back to the others and indicated to the pebbles in
their hands. “E’nes and Sa’jan will be in one group, L’iam and I will be in
another. With Ravi, of course,” she added, glancing at her guardian.

E’nes was already shaking his head. “I am not leaving you alone,
Adesina.”

Her expression was stubbornly set. “I will not be alone. L’iam
will be with me.”

“But-”

“Please, do not argue with me anymore,” she said, her voice tight
with tension. “I have given this a lot of thought, and you all need to trust
me.”

When she saw that there were no more protests, she picked up a
stick and began drawing in the dirt next to the fire. “There are only two
entrances to the fortress: the main entrance, which is heavily guarded, and the
coastal entrance, which is primarily only used by the merchant ships who
resupply the fortress, but is also guarded. Other than these two entrances,
there is no way into the fortress. L’iam, Ravi and I will go by the main gate,
while E’nes and Sa’jan will go by the coastal entrance.”

There were dozens of unasked questions gleaming in the eyes of her
companions, so she hurried to continue with her explanation. She drew a line
along the far side of her sketches in the dirt.

“From our camp you must ride directly east until you reach the
ocean. Then you can follow the coast southward, which will gradually turn into
cliffs. Among those cliffs, about three miles to the south of the fortress, you
will find a small cave that actually leads to the lower levels. It is well
hidden, and easy to overlook,” she warned.

“You said it was guarded?” asked Sa’jan.

She nodded. “Yes. There were two Shimat stationed there when I
went through. That was about a year ago, though, so things may have changed.”
After casting a thoughtful glance at the sky, she added, “We will enter the
fortress at midnight, and that will give us five hours to search for the
prisoners before the morning bell tolls.”

Adesina continued drawing in the dirt, illustrating as she
explained their portion of the mission. “There are two possibilities of where
the L’avan could be held: the lower levels or the towers. E’nes and Sa’jan, you
are to search the lower levels. You will take whomever you find to the stables
located here,” she pointed to the section of her map that led back to the
coast. “That is where we will all meet up and make our escape.”

She continued to detail all of the information that her mother had
helped her to gather on the layout of the fortress. She created an intricate
map, showing them the most likely places that they were to search, quick
escapes in case of discovery, and so forth. She also gave them a multitude of
tips on what to do in various situations—certain gestures that would send
servants scurrying, the best tactics for self-defense, how to react if they
were discovered, when to fight and when to run, and so forth.

“Wear your cloaks with the cowls up around your face, and do not
make any noise unless it cannot be avoided.”

E’nes frowned unhappily, cutting of her stream of advice. “What
will you be doing while we search the lower levels?”

His sister took a breath. “We will start from the top and work our
way down. I doubt that any L’avan are kept in the towers, but I must check to
make sure.”

His expression became suspicious. “Will there not be large groups
of Shimat walking around the upper levels?”

“Yes.” She braced herself for the outbreak of protests, and was
not disappointed.

“You cannot be serious!”

“That is madness!”

“It is absolutely out of the question!”

“How do you expect us to pull this off?” asked L’iam.

Adesina tried to appear as confident as possible. “I can still
pass myself off as a Shimat, and Ravi has the ability to become invisible.”

“What about me?” he asked quietly.

She hesitated a bit. “That will be a little more tricky. We will
have to try and pass you off as my servant.”

Ravi cleared his throat. “There are a lot of risks in this plan,
Ma’eve.”

“I know,” she admitted, “but it is our best chance to succeed. The
more complicated we make the plan, the more possibilities there are of
something going wrong. I wanted to keep it simple and clear. If the Shimat are
expecting us, they will not anticipate such a bold approach.”

A heavy silence followed this statement. None of them were feeling
very hopeful of success.

“What are
we
to do?” inquired Aleron, gesturing to himself
and the sulking princess.

“You two are to stay here, hidden in the trees. We will get some
horses for the rescued L’avan from the Shimat stables and ride back here as
quickly as possible. From here we will have to go as fast as we can to get away
from pursuing Shimat.”

L’era was still scowling into the flames. “Are you so sure that
you will be followed?”

Adesina’s face was grim. “I will be very surprised if we are not.”

Several minutes passed while they all stared either into the
campfire or the darkness of night that surrounded them.

Finally Sa’jan shifted in his seat. “Well, I suppose we should get
what sleep we can before tomorrow night.”

The others agreed and rolled up in their blankets, all except for
Adesina and Ravi. It was Adesina’s turn to keep watch, and Ravi always insisted
on keeping her company. For a long time neither of them spoke. Ravi hummed
softly, calming the general anxiety and helping the others to drift off to
sleep.

The deep, even breathing of her comrades indicated that Adesina
was finally free to speak to her guardian. She switched to the language of the
Shimat, just in case someone was still awake.

“Well?”

Ravi turned his golden eyes on her purple ones. “Well what,
Ma’eve?”

“I want to know what you think.”

“Of?”

She made a noise of exasperation. “Of the plan, Ravi. What do you
think of the mission we are about to embark upon?”

He sighed. “It is difficult to see, even when my Dreams are not
clouded as they have been these past weeks.”

This comment brought something else to the forefront of her mind.

“The Dream, Ravi,” she whispered in a tortured voice. “The Dream
of the destruction of all we love. What if I am bringing it to pass?”

There was a pregnant pause. “I do not know, dear one. You are
standing at a fork in the road of your destiny, and only you can choose which
path to take.”

“What if I choose wrong?” she wondered, her voice weighed down
with despair.

He laid his velvety head in her lap, trying to comfort her. “Then
you will live with that decision. Whether you choose to take this risk and try
to find your father, or if you choose to return to Pevothem—either way you will
have to live with that choice. Choose the one you can live with most easily.”

Adesina shook her head. “I cannot abandon him now. Not after all I
have done.”

Her guardian remained silent, letting her battle through this
dilemma on her own. Deep down, she knew that she could not live with herself if
she turned back now, but she knew the odds of success were small. She hated the
idea of putting others at risk, and a part of her knew that not all of them
would come out of this alive.

He sat up and looked at her directly, repeating the question she
had given him. “Well?”

“Well what?” she gave a brief smile at the role reversal.

“What have you decided?”

Adesina set her jaw and took a deep breath.

“We go forward.”

Chapter
Forty-five: Midnight
 

L’era opened her eyes to see that it was late afternoon. She sat
up and glanced around, seeing that she was the last to rise. The others were
either helping prepare the cold meal of bread and dried meat or speaking to
each other in quiet voices.

There was a fresh determination that buoyed up her youthful
spirit, but she did her best to keep it from her face. She knew that her
brother would be suspicious if she showed anything but disappointment.

BOOK: The Threshold Child
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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