Ravaged Bonds Chapter 9: Removing the Cowl

"The most ironic truth of all is that true serenity comes late to the peaceful and early to those who crave war."

—Ye Tsang of Xi'an, Village Elder

Upon the morning bell, Avdotya arose as if the past week had never happened. No unsettling dreams haunted her sleep, and no clawing headaches pained her during the night. It was as if knowing of Wolfe's safety was enough to stave off her inner demons in the hours of darkness.

She stared out of her window during her morning toilette for a long while, hoping to find the monk outside it, but nothing except the wind-tossed dust occupied the pathways. Mildly disheartened she finished washing, switched her nightclothes for one of her favoured red dresses, and sauntered out the bedroom door.

The smell of freshly baked almonds and strawberries struck Av in a wave of air as she closed the door, inviting her to step down the staircase to peek at Emery's progress. Like cordiality, cooking never became one of the maidservant's best attributes over the years, yet she had enough genius moments to have complete freedom in the kitchen. However, it was not Emery who was cooking. It was her mother.

Irina whisked a bowlful of batter in the kitchen, but everything about her was strange. Stiff movements, disheveled hair, puffy eyelids—she appeared more like a bent tree on the verge of collapse rather than a human being, and that was surprising for someone who slept as heavily as she did and dutifully prettied herself every morning. Av took a sharp breath to calm the worry in her throat, rounded the corner completely, and walked into the room.

"Hey, Mom," she said and, after waiting for a response, she continued. "Didn't sleep well last night, I take it?"

Her mother glanced in her direction before whisking anew.

"Yes, you could say that."

"Then can I do anything to help? You look like you could use a moment or two to lie down."

"I can handle it," Irina curtly responded, leaving the batter on the counter to rush to the other end of the kitchen.

Avvie sighed and braced herself against the doorframe, watching her mother ignore her even after she checked the brick oven. Sometimes she glanced over to the nearby counter, eying the array of mixing bowls, wooden spoons, and other items which littered its surface, and while some were used a number were still clean and waiting to be put away, collectively another sign that something was off.

"Is something bothering you?" she queried, unable to stand the noiseless moment any longer. "You're acting a little different today."

"And you're acting the same as always," Irina spat back as she returned to the batter and continued stirring.

If Avdotya were a dog, her neck would have bristled in irritation.

"Listen, if you are still angry at me about yesterday, then go ahead and say it. I can take whatever you can throw, Mother."

The mixing bowl was slammed onto the counter, dashing its contents along its sides and over the lip, and an icy stare was launched in her direction. Avdotya pursed her lips. Like most moments in her life, she wished she clamped her mouth shut instead of speaking her mind.

"Did I hear you correctly?" Irina asked with an ugly glower. "What else has that murderous lout taught you besides those words?"

"My brother taught me well enough, thank you very much!" Av returned, leaning against the jamb of the door.

"How infuriating! He killed that redheaded girl and assaulted your father. That waste of life left him dying on the floor, yet you still consider him a brother and brood over him in your room! I cannot and will not accept this. I won't allow you to care for a savage like him over your real family!"

"He is no less family to me than you are! Even if we are not connected by birth, and even if he did either of those things, he will always be my little brother, and I will care for him because you and everyone else won't!"

Surprise and rage locked Irina's face into a heavy frown, but no words exploded from her mouth because her gaze expressed them distinctively: "Get out of here, if you know what's good for you!" She gladly did.

Avdotya walked out without another word, snagging a heavy cloak from a coat hanger as she approached the heavy doors at the entrance and pulling it on. Defying the lockdown, she slipped into her walking boots, unlocked the doors, and departed with a heavy slam that echoed through the lobby.

The dress clung to her damp skin as she reclined against the grove's eldest apple tree, the thick wool of her cloak and the silk of her dress easily yielding to a thicker blanket of yesternight's rain. The cold made her shiver until Sol raised his scepter above the world, warming it with his benevolent rays. The wet sensation lingered still, but it allowed memories of the events that had taken place there to flow with ease as if they happened a day ago, not five.

She evoked the conversation beneath the wizened maple many times, feeling that, if she did not, she may lose her sanity and believe Wolfe truly committed the crimes of which he stood convicted. She remembered the tone of his voice, the honesty in his gaze, and the secrets he had revealed to her and her alone, and each time she was newly assured of his innocence.

Amid her thoughts, she scanned the roads in search of him. The more she pondered about the monk from yesterday, the more she was certain it was Wolfe hidden behind the cowl. Who else would glance up toward her bedroom window? Who else would walk with timorous pace, fearful of being discovered? There was no other viable conclusion, she thought to herself. It had to be Wolfe, and she was going to wait in that very spot until he came.

Time only mildly eroded her patience as she spied upon the roads, contrary to her active nature. Ox-drawn logging carts rolled past, carrying with it the aromas of pine and spruce wood, and Palmarian Knights patrolled the main road. Brawny Tarjus and his apprentice also trotted past, the elderly man whistling a merry tune while little Jacoby happily followed with a crate of metal supplies in his arms.

Not even two hours had passed before she was startled from her thoughts by the slaps of sandals against the road. She turned toward the road leading to town and distinguished the familiar habit of a Healer fluttering in a passing breeze. Her heart leapt within her throat. Now was her chance.

Av waited for him to swerve onto the less beaten path before she attempted to intercept. The monk did not appear to notice her approach, the cowl drawn too low to catch his eyes, but once she made a misstep he froze in surprise.

"Wolfe, hold; it's me," she spoke, her words hasty with excitement. The gaunt chin jutting out from the cowl's reach was unbearded, and the moment of hesitation further exposed him as an imposter and her brother. Even the height was the same and strengthened her conviction

Avvie could sense the tension in the air as her brother remained immobile other than a lift of his head. Why did he not welcome her with a smile and open arms? Was he worried that someone else was watching him?

"Relax, Wolfe," she again tried to coax. "Nobody else is around. I made sure of that as I waited here for you."

"Sorry, Miss Rind, but I'm not Wolfe."

Each word carried with it the candid vocal patterns of an experienced sailor, and the man's jaw moved with a rigidity that struck her as unfamiliar. Horrorstruck, she stepped back a pace and brought her right hand between them, her left reaching for a blade hilt that was not there.

The imposter laughed without interest and followed with a step of his own, a blocky physique momentarily showing through the brightly coloured robes, but he did not make a motion for a concealed weapon either. Av recognised this as an ambiguous sign, one which could potentially lead to her death.

"Who sent you? You have the build of an assassin! Were you purposed to lure me out and kill me?!" she spat quickly, hoping that it would buy her enough time to flee for the house.

"Assassin?" the man inquired without inflection, his hooded head locked in place as if the word held little meaning. "Aren't we high and mighty to think we're worthy of assassination. I'm here about Wolfe, not killing you. Pheh, honestly."

There was something familiar about the way he spoke and the shifting smile on his lips, but no matter how long she stared at the man it was impossible to distinguish his face. She switched tactics.

"If you really aren't an assassin, let me see your face. How can I trust someone who is afraid to show his face?"

He chuckled lightly, something else she found familiar, and said, "You honestly don't recognise me? Fine. I'll humour you."

The cowl was withdrawn, revealing a tanned face decked with bleached blond hair so long and spiked that she wondered how he managed to pull on the hood in the first place. Laugh lines streaked across the lower half of the man's face, yet deep within his blue eyes was a calculating menace of which she had been wary for a long time and recognised immediately.

"You . . . you're the ferryman!" she asked incredulously, her voice dropped to a low whisper.

"The one and only," he answered with a redoubled smile. "Well, around these here parts, that is. Now will you listen to what I have to say?"

Avdotya slowly nodded, restraining the urge to diligently interrogate the ferryman. He nodded back, swept his eyes about to ensure they were still alone, and continued.

"What I now say are for your ears and nobody else's. Hours after the first Beacon, Wolfe banged on my door. He looked exhausted as if he ran from your family's lovely estate over there"—he made a gesture to the manor—"but he did not allow himself to stay very long. Before he slipped out he told me many things, one of them being a request."

The ferryman's hand fumbled around within his monk habit, pulled out what appeared to be a crumbled ball of paper, and held it out at an arm's length.

"This here," he said, "is a letter I promised to keep between you two. Wolfe told me to discreetly toss this into the lone window facing this path—your window, I reckon—but I don't think he'd care how I give it to you now."

Avvie licked her lips and approached, grabbing the wad cautiously before peeling back the paper. Several sheets of paper were wrapped around a rounded roc, and once she withdrew the final sheet she read its contents without hesitation:


"You must think lowly of me. Your father was harmed by my hand, and nothing I can say would turn back the clock to correct this mess. However, please believe me when I say this happened out of self-defence, not rage. I never meant to hurt him, and I hope he's mending well for both our sakes.

"I have so many regrets about the suffering I caused you. Brothers are supposed to look after their sisters, and I gave you more harm and worry than anything I can think of. I'm sorry. Sorry for everything.

"By the time you read this, I will be safe on Angara, hoping that I can someday keep that promise to you.

"Live for the both of us, Sis, and marry someone who can make you happy.

"I know I've never said this before, and I hope it doesn't sound gushy, but I love you.


She found herself crying in the end, tears staining the crinkled brown paper before she pressed the letter to her heart. The ferryman offered a handkerchief and was readily accepted.

"I don't know what was said, but you two must have been very close," the man commented with a smile. "If only I shared such a relationship with my brothers." The expression did not last long, she realised, before he replaced the hood over his features and looked about a second time. "I should go before I'm suspected, but a chat with you would be most welcome if you've the time."

Managing a nod, she dried the final tears from her eyes, handed back the cloth, and replied as soon as she found her voice, "Trust me . . . I have nothing but time at the moment."

The ferryman smiled kindly toward her and nodded toward town.

"I know just the place where we can talk freely. Follow me, Miss Rind, and quickly if you please. My boat must be ready to sail in two hours, and I have a feeling that every wasted minute would hurt us later."

"Well, here it is," spoke the ferryman upon reaching his hut and opening the door, a whimsical grin revealed from underneath his hood. "Pardon the mess, but rest assured there's no better place to talk."

"Apparently," she commented, smiling as well. "You really value your privacy, don't you?"

"Yes, and for good reason. Imagine navigating with forty or fifty people babbling behind you. While I enjoy conversation, I need to get away from people between voyages, but sometimes I like to strike a conversation of my own."

"I . . . never thought of it like that before," Avvie admitted.

"Not many do. Now, are you going to stand outside all day or come in like a civilised islander?"

She almost jumped at the gruff tone of his voice, but the grin remained and ensured he was joking. Disgruntled, she walked in and allowed him to close the door behind them.

Her eyes adjusting to the darkness within the room, Av caught the faintest outlines of chairs, barrels, and the polished surface of a small table located around the room, all poorly lit by windows facing the east and west. She groped her way to the closest object she could find and braced herself against the back of a chair.

"As my honoured guest," the man spoke as he brushed past, "I would allow you the right to choose whether to eat or talk first. I have some clam stew in the icebox and a tubful of hardtacks, but precious little else is readily available. Oh, I also have some salted sardines, if you'd like, but only three."

"Can you light the room first before we talk about eating?" she suggested, particularly annoyed by the dimness.

"Absolutely," was his reply, and a matchstick was swiftly struck against an unoccupied chair.

Light poured across the room like a diffused flood, brightened with every candle the man set aflame. The room was quaint in size, smaller than she had anticipated from the outside, but the massive amount of furniture in the room could have been the reason. Stools, barrels, and chairs littered the room, but not nearly as much as the leaflets scattered across the floor and the table in the centre of the room.

"I see I left the window open," the man sighed, snatching a few pages from the floor. He waved the rest off, huffed another sigh, and brushed back his cowl. "On second thought, that is something to do later. Just brush the table off and watch your step. Now, can I get you something to eat?"

"If you don't mind, I'd rather talk about my brother."

"Ah yes, you were anxious to see him, weren't you?" The ferryman sat across the table and folded his hands on the edge. "So eager that you snuck out of your house to talk to him, is that it?"

Av huffed as she revolved the chair she stood behind and sat.

"I did not sneak out of my house, but I am very eager to see him again."

"Even if he were a scoundrel and a murderer?"

"Even so!" she spat instinctively, her brow heavily furrowed. "Listen, did you invite me to a conversation just to probe and insult my brother with these . . . these questions?! And here I thought you and Wolfe were on good terms!"

"And why would you think anything like that?" he inquired with a mischievous smile, brushing a spiked mass of hair from his eyes. "They were harmless questions, nothing more."

"Harmless indeed! Wolfe is innocent! You must believe so too if you aided him."

"Must I?" the ferryman replied with that same smile.

She opened her mouth to shout anew, but he gestured for her to keep quiet. She just barely complied, and her hands balled into fists underneath the tabletop.

"It seems I was right about you two," he continued. "You and Wolfe are truly like family, and, like myself, never would you believe that he would kill that lovely red-pated girl."

Briefly did a worm of guilt gnaw on the inside of her stomach. Previously, she was unsure if she truly never believed he was Isha's murderer, especially when she thought back to that moment where she feared that Wolfe would kill himself. She nodded regardless, hiding whatever uncertainty behind a mask of stone.

"If you wanted to know that, you had your work cut out for you from the start."

"True, but it's fun messing with people," the man retorted without a gram of compunction. "I feel I can truly trust you with this information now, but I must have your solemn pledge you will safeguard it from everyone."

"I promise," she answered without hesitation.

"Very good! So where shall I start? Ah yes. My history with Wolfe goes back thirty or so years when I first shepherded the Timbres across the sea. Back then, the Isles did not have those breathless babblers they politely call tourists nowadays, and every mark which stepped on my boat was engraved into my memory. His parents—a young couple, divines bless them—were the kind of people who travelled overseas often, and over time we became friends.

"We continued to be such over the years. They ventured off the isle less and less, but they visited my cottage five or six times a year. One of those times, I found out that Dawn was with child. She was ecstatic, as was her husband, and she had promised to visit more often with her young ones now that she had no further reason to step off Palmarian soil. They were settling down, staying here to care for their children.

"I watched Wolfe and his brother Caspian grow from babes into promising striplings. He was a cute kid, a reckless troublemaker when paired with his brother, but a cute kid all the same. Isha and his father brought out the best of him in those days, but . . . those days have long come to pass."

Avdotya listened in silence, almost unaware that she had to periodically breathe in a new cycle of air. Wolfe's past remained a mystery to her over the many years she knew him, and whenever she tried to bring the topic up around him he grew pensive and quiet. Now was the perfect opportunity to divulge what he had previously kept hidden, and yet she wondered if she should.

"What were his parents like around him? I never had the chance to meet them," she asked, perhaps too abruptly.

"Devoted and doubly cautious," he replied, his mouth slowly turning into a smile again. "While Colin was always the busybody and hardly visited me once he had settled into Palmarian matters, he came home every day to take care of Wolfe and Caspian. Dawn was probably too doting for her wellbeing. She followed them nonstop and constantly fretted for their safety, especially Wolfe's. It made our talks difficult because she always had her head turned until Wolfe started playing with his little girlfriend."

"G-girlfriend?" Av asked again, her jaw dropped and leaving her visibly shocked.

The man laughed and answered, "That's what his mother called her: Wolfe's little girlfriend. I found it fitting, true or not, and all I knew about the two was either heard through my conversations with Dawn or seen from my ferry." He sighed and relapsed into a frown, eyes focused elsewhere than the girl to which he was speaking. "Those were the good old days. Now I've nothing left to look forward to, and while little joys spring out of the ground they never last. Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock, change one thing in the past to remedy everything I keep thinking about, but that is just a stillborn dream of a man old enough to be a grandfather."

It took effort for Avvie to speak, her trachea seizing itself in apprehension.

"Are you talking about the windstorm . . . ?"

"I am indeed. You know the story from Wolfe, I am certain. The entire house collapsed under a freak storm, and it took hours for us to find him and pry him free from the rubble. He was lucky to be alive, but the Dawn, Colin, and little Caspian . . . they weren't. I can't imagine what life was like for him. I lost two friends in one blow, but he lost his family."

Av hung her head low, knowing that she too could not fully comprehend what Wolfe felt. To have the world stripped from her feet is an experience she did not yet and hoped she never would discover.

"Let's switch topics," the man offered. "I'm sure that you wanted to know more about Wolfe's present condition rather than his past."

She nodded dourly and forced a small smile.

"That is true, thank you. I know that Wolfe managed to escape offshore because of the letter, but he didn't mention anything else. What was he like when he visited you five nights back? Please don't leave out a single detail, as I, well . . . I'm extremely worried for him."

"That makes two of us," he said with a frown. "I told you before that your adopted brother was fearful when he visited my doorstep, always looking over his shoulder as if he were hounded by a werebeast, but that wasn't the first thing I noticed about him. He was exhausted, blood dripping from the side of his mouth, no doubt due to his crushed chest and battered back.

"I pulled him in without thinking—who could do anything else at the time?—and told him to lie down on my yonder bed as I wrapped bandages around his injuries. He thanked me, but he refused to have me fetch a Healer for his wounds, saying that he was fine. Miss Rind, none of his wounds were 'fine.' I would have considered them mortal had he not lived long enough to make it to my door. I do not know how to explain it."

Silence ensued. The ferryman opened his mouth to speak a couple times, but promptly closed it as if he wanted to continue but could not.

"What is it?" Avvie spoke, on edge.

"Have you ever experienced something completely unorthodox? A two-headed dog, perhaps, or a child who could list numbers endlessly that hold meaning only to men of science?"

"You mean . . . anomalies without explanation?" she queried, lifting her eyes to the ceiling as she thought back. "I have seen a few of them, but nothing as odd as those two."

"Well, it was like that for me, and I think I've seen the strangest of all. I believe your brother to be an Adept."

Av tensed uncontrollably and glanced at the man in confusion. He gazed piercingly into her eyes, the latent feel of menace replaced by an inquisitiveness she did not appreciate.

"What makes you say such a thing?" she demanded. "Even if it is true, how would my brother be an anomaly? There are hundreds or thousands of Adepts out there, aren't there? What would make him so special?"

"Because his mother and father weren't Adepts at all, yet I saw him mouthing a chant in their tongue when he thought I wasn't looking."

She stared wide-eyed, piercing his eyes this time and inspiring a nervous chuckle from the ferryman.

"Let me explain. Lineage is very important to Adepthood. While one can gain an powers through other means, he was never around a source. These sources are incredibly rare, phenomenally even, according to a scholarly friend of mine, and the nearest one lies in Vale. I have never ferried him outside of Palmaria, so the only logical explanation is if he were the son of an Adept, and yet this is not so."

"Why wouldn't it be . . . ?" Av questioned.

"Dawn never showed any sign of the gift, be it through the hue of her hair or her temperament. Colin had blond hair, a commonality between Wind and Earth Adepts, but he underwent a grueling sieving before he became a Knight and passed. You probably know from your father how rigorous they are about Adepts, worried that some new threat would try to attack the Isles from the inside, but he passed without failing a single test, or so he told me."

She sat in silence, pondering over everything she saw and heard. If what the ferryman said was true, Wolfe really was an anomaly, but there had to be some sense behind his odd legacy.

"Miss Rind," he continued, breaking her from her trance, "I'm not a fibber . . . well, much, but I know what I saw. He was chanting. That is why I ask you to assure all my suspicions by answering one little question: was Wolfe one of these Adepts?"

Avdotya ascended and placed her back to the man, her head drooped toward the floor. Wolfe trusted the man enough to treat his wounds and keep him safe, but if he did not profess his ability openly neither was she.

"I don't know . . ." she lied. "I knew there were many strange things about him, but . . . this is all so far-fetched. First Isha came back and died in the next few days, then he went to your hut wounded to flee. And now you call him an Adept? It's so fantastic that it just can't be real."

The ferryman groaned along with his chair as he shifted.

"I believe I know what you mean. The world isn't making much sense to me anymore, and I cannot make heads or tails of a coin thrown into the air like this. Thank you for answering, though. Wolfe never gave me a reply, but he could merely find their tongue interesting like me. Let's move on, shall we, or are you feeling hungry? Come, let me fix us a hearty meal before we continue. I'm famished."

Before she could say yes or no, he rose from his seat, plucked a pair of bowls and a few hardtacks from a nearby barrel, and placed them on the table. She stared at the closest biscuit confusedly, wondering if she should take a nibble to sate her hunger, but the man stopped her before she could snare it.

"Hardtacks aren't for immediate eating unless you want every one of your teeth chipped," he warned, taking up his biscuit and hammering it against his plate. Not a crumb fell from its adamant surface. "These are so sturdy they need to be soaked in something hot before they are eaten. Luckily, I've just the thing, but it will take some time before it is warmed."

He slipped around her again and continued to collect whatever he thought food was, but Av did not even bother to watch. Instead, her eyes were glued onto the strange bread in front of her, and she pondered if Wolfe, his parents, or anyone else was unlucky enough to be invited to dine with him.

A brief chill swept through the air as an icebox swung open and closed, and the man stepped by a third time to place a pot over the fireplace. Within the minute, a fire was given life within the narrow brick walls, the dry wood and crumbled papers piled in the middle devoured by a lit match. He smiled in satisfaction and returned to his seat.

"Sorry to keep you, but rest assured that we shall only be interrupted now by a hot lunch. Is anything else on your mind?"

"Just one other thing," she replied. "Wolfe said in his letter that he was going to be safe in Angara. Did you ferry him anywhere specifically?"

"Not exactly," the man answered with his widespread grin and a chuckle. "It was too risky to bring him anywhere on something as public as my ferry, so I sent him asea in one of my private boats. He could be at any one of the three nearby seabound towns, though my best guess is that he wants to move further inland, far away from whatever monster it was that injured him, whether man or beast. You aren't thinking about sending him a letter, are you? If so, I know an investigative pair who could find anyone on the mainland for the right cost. All they need is the right amount of information like what he was wearing and how he looks."

"They sound like they are the best in the business to work with only that information, but I must decline. I do not have much money of my own, and I'm afraid to borrow money from my parents so close to my. . . ."

She paused, almost ashamed to mention her eighteenth birthday so quickly, but the man appeared to understand what she was about to say.

"Ah, I had forgotten about that!" the ferryman exclaimed. "You may not know it, but the entire town is abuzz over your coming-of-age. There aren't many young folk on the island, and the closest one of age besides you is that lanky idiot Jacoby. I don't know what Tarjus sees in the fellow. But, in any case, I understand. I want to send a letter to him someday, and I don't have the funds. Why else would I resort to hardtacks and stew?"

That brought a smile to her face as she looked down, but she rapidly regained her seriousness.

"It's been a while since I last looked upon a map. Which is the closest town on Angara again?"

He chuckled at her spontaneity and knew what she meant by her question, saying: "As the harpy flies, Puando, but Xi'an is the nearest along the route I advised him to follow. He is a stubborn oaf at times, that Wolfe, so incredibly stubborn, but he might have listened to me."

"Would you mind letting me borrow one of your remaining boats, then?"

He gave her a confused stare and commented afterward, "Normally I wouldn't, but remember your upcoming ceremony. You are going to be wed in a few days and the trip to anywhere along the Angaran Coast is a rounded trip of three days. You'd never make it back to your own wedding."

"Ah, right. How foolish of me. . . ."

She sighed dejectedly. Once again, she felt the noose of her family's blind obedience to tradition constricting around her neck, slowly asphyxiating her, and she rose from her seat as if to catch breath.

"I'm sorry," he spoke with a slow nod, "truly I am, but whatever travelling business you have in mind is best left until you are eighteen. Besides, a few days of waiting is nothing at all compared to the blessings of marriage, or so I hear. I've never married, so that's easy to say for me."

She smirked, partly because the change in topic calmed her down but mostly because she forced herself to do so.

"I suppose you are right, though I am still a little anxious about picking a husband. Some of them I don't know, and the others . . . the others—"

"You'll do fine. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders, and you certainly won't make a mistake on your wedding day. Now, please, sit. Your meal will be ready shortly."

Av felt her cheeks burn when she seated herself and was thankful he turned to stir the pot's contents. Her eyes were glued hungrily to the hardtack in front of her, sinking her gaze into its hard surface like the claws of a wildcat.

"I could tell you didn't have a breakfast this morning," the man stated as he looked back at her, grinning when she flinched. "That's the problem with young folk nowadays—always on the move and never eating as much as they should, especially you teenagers. Getting back to the topic at hand, we have one last thing to discuss, but if you feel uncomfortable about answering it you need only tell me."

She launched a stare in his direction before she bobbed her head in understanding, and he turned to stir the soup again.

"I was hoping that you might have some insight about how and why Wolfe came to me those many nights ago," he explained. "He was so strangely quiet and earnest to get off the island that I did not question him about his motives, but I feel that justice must still be served upon whatever did this to him, or maybe someone. Did you ever come across anyone bullying him?"

"Yes . . ." she spoke quietly and hesitantly, "but I quickly put a stop to it when I got the chance. Why do you ask?"

"Let's put that aside for later," he spoke with a wave of his hand. "Do you know who it was that bullied him?"


"And will you give me a name?"

Fear surged within her throat and threatened to deaden her voice, but she still managed a "no."

The man sighed lowly and kept stirring the broth, saying, "My apologies; I must have overstepped my bounds. I will respect your answer for the time being, but do not doubt that justice waits for no man, and that whoever left Wolfe so close to death will be brought low. I will see to it myself."

Av swallowed quietly and sat in silence, waves of thought crashing against her mind as if they were lapping the beach outside. There was always the chance that the ferryman was lying about Wolfe's injuries or was falsely accusing her father of causing them, she speculated inwardly, but what if he was entirely right? What if her father wounded Wolfe as much as he was? What if Wolfe was lying in his letter? Was her brother unable to tolerate Maurus's bullying and struck back?

Everything was possible, frighteningly so, even, but it was too much for her to bear. She needed truth. She needed answers. She stood, walked over to the door, and pulled it open with a wide arc.

"Huh? Wait, where are you going, Miss Rind? Don't you want your meal? Hey, stop, please!" he called out after her, but it was too late. She had fastened shut the door before he could finish and was running frienziedly back home.