The place stank. But it always stank. So instead of having the effect of making her cringe, it just served to comfort her with it’s familiarity and pleasant associated memories.
Seth was clearing out horse shit when she found him.
His broad back was sweating in the midday sun, with little jewels of perspiration trickling their way down over the many muscles he'd developed through his laborious work.
The sun had kissed his skin since they were little and he was a bronzed colour, matching his ruddy brown hair, which flopped in all different directions, even when he decided he should run a comb through it. Which was as rare as an eclipse.
Arianna always argued with him that he was wasted tending to horses. He should have joined their hunting party or at least the army. Everything he possessed was designed perfectly to kill a man. Except he'd never killed a man, not even come close to it.
Arianna had explained what it felt like to him once and he'd puked up so badly that she never mentioned anything like that again.
No, Seth was a knife with a blunt edge.
But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t practice with her.
She picked up a pebble on the ground. Readying herself, she flicked it up into the air and caught it three times. Sized up the target, took into consideration the movements he was making as he scooped up the shit and flicked it over into his bucket. When she was satisfied she could hit where she wanted, she threw the pebble.
One. Two. three.
“Hey!” Seth squealed.
“What have I told you about leaving your back exposed?”
Seth tried to rub the spot where the pebble had connected with his back, using an arm thrown over his shoulder. But he had never been the most flexible person in the world and so he ended up looking like he was trying to impersonate a crazed hen.
Arianna couldn’t help it, she felt laughter bubble up inside of her.
“What do you want, Arianna?” he asked. There was no irritation in his tone, just a simple question. One of the reasons why she liked spending her free time with Seth. There was never any hidden meaning or agenda that she needed to figure out. What he meant, he said, and what he said, he meant. You always knew where you stood with him.
“I want to spar.”
His round eyes lit up. Muscles twitched in his hands, giving away that he too was keen to clash metal with her.
“Let me dump this,” he said, referring to the horse shit. “And we can do it.”
The suns, although gradually getting lower in the sky, were still two blazing balls projecting their heat down onto the earth. So Arianna was sweating under her tunic before they even drew arms.
Yet once they were into the swing of things, both of them slipped seamlessly back into that rhythm they’d developed over the years, ignorant of anything other than each other.
As one stepped forward, the other stepped back, or side skirted them. The clash of metal was the melody as they danced the entire afternoon. Neither of them spoke, although there was a conversation passing through their eyes.
Seth was heavy footed. He had more strength than her, stored in those bulging arms of his. But she was quicker. She darted all around him in a blur. Seth always said that he reminded her of wild fire, made entirely of flickering flames that you were drawn to but could never quite grasp. And would burn if you let your fingers linger for too long. Arianna liked that description, but she also feared it.
Having someone know something about her when she knew so very little, made her uncomfortable.
Which is why she'd felt so uncomfortable with the search the woman seemed to be acting on her.
Her secrets were labyrinths with high stone walls that no-one could scale. Not even her. She had no clue about her past before she had been brought to the ship by he tiger lord. Amnesia, they'd explained to her. Which meant you couldn't access memories. She'd asked whether they'd ever come back, but the ship's physician couldn't say either way. It was a wait. And so far, nothing. Only an opaque past, with horrific nightmares to show for it.
So it was not the woman's place to try and see who Arianna was.
Thinking about her made Arianna’s heart pump even harder. There was that anger again, flooding her veins like water bursting through a dam.
Her distrust of the woman didnt negate the fact that the tiger lord's brother had acted harshly with her. The brother was a monster when it came to his actions against all things magic. Yet Arianna often wondered how he could hate magic so much when he’d never even come across it?
No-one had. It had died out the day the King and Queen of Elvance had shut their doors. The human and fae kingdoms had forever been at war. And on the back of their last major battle, which ended as they all did with neither side being victorious, they built a magical wall to keep the humans out. In the beginning humans went to test the wall, but none returned. That was almost ten years ago now. And not a single speck of magic had been reported in the southern continent. For most, the northern continent, home to the Fae, was of little consequence. They kept to themselves, and the humans kept to their business.
There were rumours that the reason behind the magical wall was to do with the loss of a family member of the Fae royalty. But there was no one to confirm it, considering all the majority of men that had fought in the war had died, and the rest had retreated long before the spell was cast.
So the brother was just on a power trip.
And how dare he threaten her, like she was some common pig farmer that he could scare into submission. He was as huge as an ox but she could take him, gut him where he stood if she really wanted to.
Arianna burned with that power. The power she knew was within her and how, at times, it threatened to blast out of her. If it blasted around the brother, he wouldn’t make it out alive.
This threat had made her one of the ship's hunting party's top trainees, and now fully fledged member. Yet the brother had always singled her out as his scolding victim. Given her the menial jobs like digging the hole for excretion on hunting trips, or washing the other men's clothes in the streams.
When she was younger she’d done it, but now, she argued until they almost came to blows, at which point, someone else would do it to stop there being bloodshed.
But the way he called her girl.
It infuriated her. Just the sound of him saying that, hearing it in her head, made her mad-
She focused on Seth.
His arm was covered in red streams. She followed the streams up to see a dark gash near his elbow.
“Did I do that?”
He frowned. “Where were you?”
She knew he meant mentally.
“I-I don’t know,” she stuttered. “I lost concentration for a second and…let me look at it.”
He whipped his arm away. “It’s okay. It’s a surface wound, looks worse than it is.”
“Seth, I didn’t mean it.”
“I know,” he shrugged, and went over to the barn to wash his arm in a pale of water. With a ragged cloth he pressed down on the wound until he felt confident it had stopped bleeding.
Although it wasn’t deep, it would still scar, Arianna saw.
Her cheeks flushed with shame.
She wanted to make it right and grabbed his arm to examine the wound, to see where she could help. Except that, as she lay her hand over his, there was a sudden, sharp jolt of electricity that exploded between their skin.
"What was that?" They both gasped in unison.
Arianna felt intense heat, to the point where she was sure they'd burn each other if they kept contact. So she released Seth's arm. She marvelled at the centre of her palm where she could have sworn she felt the electric jolt originate from. Although it could have just as easily originated from him.
Static energy. A large amount built up throughout their swordplay. It was probably the explanation.
"That's weird," he said
"What is?" Arianna asked, looking up at him.
"It's not bleeding anymore."
She examined the cut, or rather, where the cut should have been, and sure enough the spot was that glassy pink of newly healed skin.
“You were probably right about it being just a shallow cut,” she said as she returned his arm.
They didn't mention it again.
The event, coupled with the drama in the chamber earlier, had drained her and she succumbed to exhaustion.
She flopped down onto a pile of hay.
Seth sat next to her.
Neither one of them spoke. For the first time ever, it was an uncomfortable silence. Arianna wondered what was going through Seth’s mind, where usually, she could guess at his thoughts with ease. There was still a slight charge to the air. Or was she imagining that? It was likely just paranoia left over from her encounter with the woman, where all this strangeness had seemed to start from. Seth’s large frame made the air both charged, and tight around her. She needed to breathe.
"I have to go," she announced.
He was startled by her suddenly jumping to her feet. She wouldn't offer an explanation, but neither would Seth ask for one either. That was who he was.
Seth did insist however that he walk her out.