It was the smell of the sea that surprised her. It hit her once they entered the port town, before they’d even gotten to the dock; she had looked at Greyson in wonder, unsure what it could be. Even now, after a week on this trading vessel heading toward Olekoth, Ayalah couldn’t get used to the smell. It was refreshing, at once salty and tangy, unlike anything she had experienced on land. She breathed it in greedily and let it out reluctantly.
The sailors swarmed around her, tugging on ropes, letting out and reigning in sails, rowing, shouting—she had lost interest in observing their routines days ago. They were gigantic, surly men, the lot of them, with massive muscles and leathery, tanned skin, and she’d caught them ogling her time and again. Luckily, her warrior stripes had kept them at bay; and if she was a bit bored and starved of human contact—Greyson mostly spent his time belowdeck, so they’d exchanged only a few sentences since boarding the ship—she nonetheless was happy to encourage their wariness to gain a bit of privacy.
Somehow the vast blue expanse of the sea never grew dull. Sometimes she caught a glimpse of a porpoise or a large fish below the surface of the water, and once she caught sight of something enormous, far off in the distance, that the sailors had called Big White. One more week, and she’d get her first glimpse of Olekoth.
She supposed it made sense that the fabled wizard who first split the prophecy long ago would have put parts of it on different continents; it certainly made it more complicated and time consuming to solve the riddle. Still, she thought, it was awfully frustrating. Greyson’s clue had been so vague; all it told them was where to go, not how to find the next clue holder once they were there. It wasn’t as if she and Greyson could walk around asking people to dredge up bits of rhyming lines here and there in their memories. They’d have to explore the city as much as possible, she thought with a sigh, and hope they found something by chance.
A tap on her shoulder startled her. She didn’t know how long she’d been standing there, lost in thought, but the sky was already turning a deep pink, with flecks of orange standing out on the horizon as the sun went down.
“Sorry to sneak up on you,” Greyson said with a chuckle.
She shrugged, trying not to feel annoyed. In truth, it was a bit of a relief to speak to someone else. “No problem.”
He stood next to her, and the two of them stared over the edge of the ship for some time. From here, Ayalah thought, the world seemed so peaceful and beautiful, like nothing could ever go wrong. She breathed deeply, happily.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Greyson said.
She arched an eyebrow at him. “I hadn’t thought you appreciated it. You’ve spent the entire week in that stifling cabin of yours.”
He grinned. “I wasn’t in my cabin. I was at the forges; I made something for you.” He held up a thick metallic band Ayalah hadn’t noticed he’d been holding.
“What is it?”
“It goes around your wrist. Here, hold out your arm.” She obeyed warily, and he snapped it into place on her forearm. “It’s a bracelet of sorts,” he said, “with two uses. It can be used as a shield, to block a sword thrust” —he demonstrated the technique— “and also to store medicine in.”
Ayalah stared at him. “But what possessed you to make me such a gift?”
He shrugged. “I came up with the idea after you told me about the herbs in Olekoth. There’s a tiny amount of medicine hidden in the bracelet—within this section on the inside of your arm, do you see? You unscrew the stopper to get to it.”
She nodded, stunned. The bracelet was a bit heavy, and it was certainly clunky—the wide swath of metal covered nearly half her forearm—but the thought behind it was touching, and the final product was surprisingly clever and useful, kind of like portable armor.
She smiled. “It’s wonderful. Thank you, Greyson.” Maybe having the smithy around wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.