Sorcha huddled in her cloak, watching for any sign of land as the ship glided through the choppy sea. There was nothing but mist in every direction. She reached up and clasped the medallion around her neck and sent a silent prayer to the Goddess, asking for a sign to lead them to their new home.
“You shouldn’t put your trust in the gods, little sister.” Sorcha looked over at her brother. Eamon crouched near her, a hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. He never released it unless he slept, and even then there was a blade close to him. He didn’t trust anyone, not since their village had been attacked by the Emperor’s Chosen.
Sorcha didn’t know what made the Emperor send his elite soldiers against her village. They’d had little warning; only the sounds of the hooves of the horses told them something was coming. It was enough to send the women and children running into the forest while the men prepared to defend their home.
Bandits were common in the areas where the Palenkiri had their villages, so the women expected it to be nothing more than another incursion. The men would fight them off and come and get them. They waited, well hidden in trees and under bushes, the youngest children kept silent by sweets or being allowed to suckle their mother’s breasts.
When the men didn’t come, the women grew worried. A few whispered that they should go back to the village and see what had happened, but the elders among them overrode that and they continued hiding. Finally, at sunset, a small handful of men – no more than ten – staggered into the forest. They called the women out.
Several of the women and children remained hidden while the elders slipped out of their spots and approached them. The men collapsed and bolts of energy struck the women, incinerating them. Men in blood colored uniforms flooded the forest, stabbing swords into the underbrush. Men and women in robes embroidered with strange designs set the forest ablaze.
Still, several women and children escaped to meet up with a straggling band of injured men who’d played dead until the soldiers had gone after the rest of them. They fled to the nearby coast and bought passage on the first ship they could find leaving Lytharia. It was setting off, at the Emperor’s desire, to put settlers on an island that had recently been discovered. The survivors all agreed it was far enough away to hide them from his wrath.
“Let her keep her faith, Eamon,” Gerrick said. “It’s probably the only thing keeping her going right now.” He put a hand on Sorcha’s shoulder. “We’ll be there soon, Sorcha.”
Sorcha nodded, and sent another prayer to the Goddess as the ship bucked again. She steadied herself by bracing against the cargo she leaned against. Suddenly, the wind, which had been swirling around them and holding the fog in place, changed direction. The sails billowed out and the fog was blown away.
Several people cried out. Before them, an island jutted out of the sea. Snow topped the mountains, but the lower areas were green and full of trees. They could dimly see something that looked to be a shimmering snake, which those knowledgeable took to be a river. “There’s our new home,” Eamon said.
“Home,” Sorcha said breathlessly. Months of fear and uncertainty melted away. She felt her medallion warm under her chilled fingers. “We’re home.”