Wings of Sorrow and Bone (13 page)

BOOK: Wings of Sorrow and Bone
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“Octavia!” Alonzo's voice was sharp. “Hurry!”

She released both reins and dashed for the buzzer. It was a one-­seater. Alonzo had wedged himself as far forward as possible into the cockpit, hunched over the small dashboard. She tossed him his bag, and then, hiking up her skirts, she climbed in behind him.

Thank the Lady my medician uniform utilizes trousers, not just bloomers.

Even so, it was an intimate fit. She drew the restraining strap across her chest. Her satchel bulged over the lip of the cockpit, her attached parasol jutting out at an awkward angle. Alonzo shoved his bag back to her and she somehow managed to wedge it beneath her right leg. Her knees hitched up near Alonzo's shoulder blades. She frowned. The seat felt warm.
Blood. Of course.
It was quiet now, cooled and apart from its body.

Alonzo's body shifted as he worked the controls. She squeaked as the buzzer bounced in place.

“Never flown these newer models,” he yelled.

“That's hardly a comfort. Do you have a restraining strap?”

“No.”

Being packed as tight as sardines should keep him secure enough. It had better.

“Oh Lady,” she muttered as the craft lurched upward. Her stomach threatened to rise higher than the rest of her body. Vibrations shivered through her, making her teeth chatter, the motions far more immediate and violent than the engine of any train or airship. She couldn't help but clench Alonzo with both knees as they rose to treetop level and higher.

The green, gray, and white horizon tipped drunkenly. Alonzo had donned the dead pilot's hat and goggles. His hair and the helmet's leather straps whipped her in the face, so she leaned close enough to rest a cheek on his back, which also cut out some of the biting wind. She was no nesh to complain of the chill—­the army encampment at the northern pass had many a soldier freeze to death on duty overnight—­but sweet Lady, it was cold.

The buzzer leveled out and turned. The dome of the sky reminded her of the swirls in a polished stone. She had a glimpse of the black dot of the other buzzer and then they angled south. She only knew this because of the massive ravine. It was just as well they had a buzzer, as there was still no bridge in sight. She glanced down, awed at the ravine's depth.

We're out of Caskentia.
Under different circumstances, she might have felt relieved.

She pictured the continent she knew from maps and matched it with the topography below. Caskentia, a long valley tucked against the western coast. This ravine formed the southern border. Here, the land of Tamarania tapered in a jagged peninsula with the collective southern nations at the tip. To the far north of Caskentia lay Frengia, a country known for its endless forests and bitter cold. The high peaks of the Pinnacles formed Caskentia's natural eastern border, though Caskentia had for centuries claimed ownership of the sprawling plains beyond the mountains: the Waste.

Many centuries ago, the Waste had been known as the Dallows. Then something changed—­according to the Wasters, Caskentia had laid a magicked curse on the land. Whatever the reason, it became an inhospitable wasteland. Only in the past hundred years had the terrain been settled again—­and half of the time since had been devoted to a near-­constant war for independence from Caskentia.

War is all we know, all we've known since my grandparents' time. No wonder Caskentia thinks it's best to kill me. It's their easiest solution for any problem.

Alonzo yelled something that was lost against the wind and engine. She leaned forward. Even with the bite and clarity of the air, he exuded that particular masculine ripeness that couldn't be helped after over a week without baths.

“Watch that buzzer!” He had to yell it three more times before she discerned what he was saying.

Octavia craned around in the seat to check. “Far away! Staying on Caskentia side!” she yelled right into his ear. Alonzo nodded.

“More military, then!”

Caskentia knew they were alive. Knew where they were. The buzzer might not cross in their pursuit, but plenty more threats awaited them on the ground.

Oh Lady. I'm a medician. I want a quiet cottage with an ­atelier, a garden, and woods for gleaning. I don't want any of this attention.
The icy wind blasted tears from her eyes and dried them upon her cheeks. The warmth of the dead man's blood was utterly gone. Her warded uniform had absorbed it.

Tall steam plumes stroked the gray sky up ahead. Alonzo aimed directly for them. Some civilization might be a good thing. Perhaps they could buy horses. There was still a good bit of wilderness to travel until they reached the city-­states.

The buzzer dipped. Octavia yelped and flung an arm out to protect her satchel. Snow-­crested pines crowded the ground below.

Trees.
A realization struck her like a slap to the face. The blessed branch of the Lady's Tree. She had left it tied to her mare's saddle.

Octavia moaned and pressed her forehead to Alonzo's back. Of all the stupid, foolish things. A holy icon, something that had actively assisted in saving their lives, and she'd left it behind. Lost it. Over the past week, she had toyed with the thought of planting it in the ground again to harvest more leaves, but it had never happened. She was always too bone-­tired after each long day in the saddle, and more than that, she was afraid of what might happen. The tree had been vicious before. It killed men. It had tried to physically grab her and force her to the safety of its branches. It was an aspect of the Lady, but nothing like the Lady, whom Octavia thought she understood and worshipped.
The grieving mother. The protector of the lost. The balm for any ill. The entity whose vines ripped the leg from a living Waster and dragged the limb across the dirt, like a dog toying with a bone.

Now the branch was gone. The only other one she knew of was in the palace vault in Caskentia, protected behind blood-­magicked wards that only the true royal bloodline could penetrate.

Then there was the actual Tree, hidden somewhere in the Waste.

She worked a hand to Alonzo's ribs and clutched him as tightly as she could, as if she were able to siphon his strength. The buzzer bobbed again.

“ . . . problem!” he yelled.

“What?”

“First bullet—­maybe did not miss.”

It took her a few seconds to decode what he meant. The buzzer dropped. Something shifted in its high, obnoxious whine. Oh Lady, they were going to crash.

She held on to him tighter for a whole new reason. The old fears flowed over her again.
Fire. The crash of the
Alexandria
. My parents. The village. The screams of blood, bodies, horses. Me, twelve years of age, utterly alone.

She countered her fear with reality—­the gas tank of the buzzer was small and would most likely sear their lower bodies, as it had burned her would-­be assassin in a buzzer crash the week before. He had survived, though in agony.

Besides, from here it looked far more likely they'd crash straight into the woods.
Ah yes. That's much preferable to immolation.

Alonzo's elbow angled back and he laid his hand atop hers, briefly, before taking full grip of the controls again. She breathed through her terror as she did in her Al Cala meditations. Alonzo's father had created the buzzer. Alonzo had experience in piloting. He could do this.

He guided them lower and lower. Growls and odd hiccups interrupted the steady buzz. He wound them between several massive pines, so close she could hear the life thrum of startled birds, and then they were in the open. She gasped in relief. A meadow stretched before them, factories beyond. She almost closed her eyes but couldn't.

With a final, desperate wheeze, the engine stopped completely.

This was no airship with momentum behind it. The rotor seized. They dropped in the space of a gasp.

Metal met dirt with a violent crunch. The impact jarred through her legs and spine. Her head snapped back against the seat. Alonzo's body followed, crushing her like meat in a pressed sandwich. She listened. She knew the terror in his heart, the rush of adrenaline, how the force and pressure of gravity roiled through his body. But he was well. As well as she was, in any case.

Then she heard something more—­the trickling of liquid.

“Petrol!” Alonzo shoved himself off of her.

Octavia didn't need further motivation. Her trembling hands managed to unlatch the restraints. Alonzo already had hold of his bag and leaped out. He pivoted to give her a helping hand. Her black coat snagged on debris and ripped, but that didn't slow her exit in the slightest. She stumbled into a run, gasping for breath. The saturated grassland sloshed underfoot. Her satchel slapped against her hip. Alonzo led her halfway across the meadow before he dropped to his knees on a dry rise. She fell beside him. His eyes grazed over her, worried, and she offered him a nod. His blue eyes crinkled in relief.

“Well, then!” Alonzo sat up, hands on his hips as he panted heavily. “Welcome to Tamarania and the southern nations.”

E
ven though Caskentia had done its utmost to kill her, it still somewhat unnerved Octavia to be in a different country for the first time, and for it to be Tamarania of all places. Everyone spoke of the southern nations in such glowing terms: cities where ­people didn't starve, libraries abounded, and every child was guaranteed free schooling until age twelve. Plus, the region was known for its importation of cocoa and its numerous chocolatiers. If not for the threat of imminent death or capture, she could have played tourist.

Alonzo led the way toward the nearest factory. She felt the old familiar pressure in her chest—­a life debt to Alonzo. It was the Lady's way of thanking those who directly saved the lives of her magi. It was regarded as a rare event among medicians, but the feeling had lingered on her every day of their journey. It was comforting and unsettling to know the Lady kept such a watch on her.

“Alonzo.” He paused, and she rested her hand on his bristled jaw.

“Another blessing?” He looked discomfited by the attention, as he always did.

“For preserving the life of her medician, the Lady blesses you.” The bothersome pressure dissipated. “Well, you do have a knack for saving my life.”

New vigor carried through his stride as he continued. The blessing would enable him to heal faster and sleep more soundly, and spared her from hearing an aggravating repetition of
debt
in the back of her brain that was reminiscent of a colicky baby's cries.

“ 'Tis a mutual thing.”

“True. I suppose you need a patron to bless me in turn,” she said. Alonzo chuckled. “How far are we from the cities now?” This late in the year, the veiled sun already leaned toward the western horizon. She dreaded nightfall. Their extra blankets had been abandoned with their packhorse.

“A few days of walking, I think, though other options may be available. I believe I saw a rail line from above.”

“A train! A train would be wonderful.” Walking felt strange after so long in the saddle. She had some iodine for doctoring their tender feet, but not enough for extended days on foot.

“Octavia, I must urge you to act with special caution. I know on the
Argus
you intended to travel incognito. Here, 'tis essential. The southern nations do not look kindly upon magic. To them 'tis an antiquated practice, regarded with revulsion.”

“The Wexlers on the ship acted like that. I've known others as well.”

“This is a full culture with such an attitude, nor do they look kindly upon Caskentians.” He grimaced.

“Your father. Was he . . . disowned because he moved north?” There seemed no delicate way to broach the subject of Solomon Garret. He had been a general in Caskentia, regarded as a hero when she was a girl. He was also the reason her parents were dead. He'd piloted a buzzer against a Waster airship over her village. The ensuing crash caused a conflagration that left Octavia as the sole survivor—­all because she'd been a silly git and run off to the woods in search of herbs.

When she first met Alonzo, she had been appalled to learn his last name. Now she understood that he was likely the only other person who comprehended the terrible grief of that night.

“According to my mother, my father was regarded with bewilderment by other Tamarans, as someone who stepped down from paradise to muck in with the commoners. I have never ventured to Tamarania. The few kin I have met came to visit our estate in Mercia.”

Estate.
A keen reminder of how Alonzo was raised among the elite in Mercia, though the inelegant manner of Solomon Garret's death had caused a significant fall in status.

“You said before that your mother maintains a household in the south.”

“Yes. She lives part of the year in a flat that overlooks a blue fountain on the plaza. A cozy abode, I am sure, but we cannot go there. 'Tis the first place any Dagger would look for us.”

“The gilly coins Mrs. Stout gave me. What value will they carry here?” Octavia felt the small purse as a heavy lump in her brassiere.

“Their value is not as it would be in Caskentia, but gold is gold.” He frowned. “Is the Lady's branch squeezed inside your satchel?”

She flinched and looked away. “No. I—­in the rush to grab everything, I left it on the saddlebag.”

“Oh. I am so sorry, Octavia.”

“Sorry” is such an inadequate word. I think I would have rather lost part of my leg, like Alonzo, than that blessed branch, that proof of the Lady.

They reached a stand of trees. Beyond that lay a field of tree stumps—­a graveyard of mighty pines—­with the log-­hewn factory on the far side. It looked some five stories in height, chimneys reaching far higher. A trestle stood just beyond. A train idled there. White steam drifted upward, some men in black milling about.

BOOK: Wings of Sorrow and Bone
5.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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