Kaedti paced restlessly by her window, skirt swishing quietly over the stones. She could see a ship being unloaded on the docks, and was waiting for some of the sailors to pass by her window. Vedek might be able to keep her inside her house, but he could not keep her from speaking to those who passed by her window. She had heard nothing of her father since he was sent away over two years ago, but she expected an Ersan fleet to come into the harbor any day.
Finally, she noted, the sailors were hoisting their bags onto their shoulders and making their way up into the town. She waited until they were close, and waved a red cloth out of the window. Well acquainted with this routine by now, the sailors glanced around to check for guards, and stood outside the upper story window.
“Any news from abroad, gentlemen? Tell me what you’ve seen and heard lately.”
“Nothing so beautiful as you, lady,” one of them shouted, and the others laughed. Kaedti reigned in her impatience, and forced a laugh, tossing a small gold coin to the sailor. “Now, tell me something I haven’t heard before!”
“There was a riot in the marketplace on Selni last week. The monks demanded a higher tax on the merchants than they were willing to pay. Five stall keepers were killed, but they got two monks, so all those who protested were taken to the prison.”
“There is an envoy from Kedon that arrived in the outer islands in the west last month. They are hoping to establish a better trade route, and perhaps send an ambassador to one of the islands.”
“There was a goat on Leji that had a kid with two heads!” The other sailor turned to look at the one who had mentioned this odd fact, and he shrugged. “I thought it was interesting.”
Kaedti smiled, and handed the man a gold coin, and gave one to each of the others who had told their news. One young sailor in the back of the crowd stepped forward, and she acknowleged him.
“My lady, I am a sailor on a ship that follows the currents into the central islands. We often make stops at the islands we know to be uninhabited for fresh water. When we were on our way back from our latest vvoyage, we made our usual stop, but found that the island was no longer uninhabited. Three people lived in solitude there; a young man and his wife, expecting their first child, and a young woman about your own age. She kept her face and head covered, but her eyes were the brightest purple I have ever seen. After I assured the young wife that I would tell no-one about their presence on the island, lest it get back to the monks, she told me that they had come to the island to escape the dominance of the Temaltans, and to practice their religion in peace. I do not believe that that was the entire reason for their presence there, but I did not feel that I should press them further.”
Leaning out of her window, Kaedti pressed several coins into the man’s hand. “But tell me, if you gave them your word that you would let no-one know of their presence on the island, why have you told me?”
The man smiled, his white teeth striking a brilliant contrast with his skin; “Lady, just before I left to return to my ship with the supplies we needed, the woman with the purple eyes pulled me aside. She asked if I knew of the island of Mei, and I assured her that it was one of the stops on our voyage. She then inquired if I knew of the daughter of the Ersan ambassador, and again I told her that I knew of you. I told her a little of what had happened in recent years, and she seemed disturbed by the news. She asked me to tell you that she is safe, and that you should not worry.”
Kaedti was breathing quickly, heart racing; Tsuda and Mede safe, and hidden in the central islands! Her mind raced, invernting and discarding a hundred plots for escape to the island.
“The rest of you may go, and thank you for your information, it is much appreciated!” She signed to the sailor who had mentioned the island to stay behind. She waved to the men as they set out on the roaqd again, and turned back to the sailor.
“You know where the island is? You can find it again?”
“Oh, most assuredly. It is one of our common stops.”
“When will your ship set sail next?”
He thought for a moment. “We must take on new supplies and a new cargo, as well as make some necessary repairs. Perhaps in a month?”
“If I can contrive to get out of these walls, can you smuggle me aboard your ship, and let me off at the island? I can give your captain whatever price he wants to pay for my passage.”
The sailor looked dubious, but replied that he thought he could.
“Good. When I am ready with my plan, I will hang this green cloth outside my window. If you are walking by and see that cloth, please come to the window.” She tossed down a small leather bag of coins, and he caught it deftly. He tossed the small bag lightly in his hand, listening to the jangle of the coins, and grinned. “Very well, lady! I will watch for the green, and we will get you out of that tower yet!”
Kaedti turned back to the small room with a determined look on her face. It would require all of her skills to escape, but it just might be possible now. She set about making her plans, heart racing with misgivings, worries, and hopes.
“This trunk is to go down to the docks tomorrow morning,” Kaedti told the monk who stood outside her door. “I am packing some things to send to the new Kedonese ambassador in the western islands, as a gesture of good faith from Ersa. Make sure that it arrives there before the ship sails at noon.”
The monk looked at her with a hint of suspicion in his eyes. “Which ship does it go on?”
“The only one bound for the western islands tomorrow, of course. It will be wooden, and have large sails made of cloth,” she remarked wryly. “Will that help? If you cannot find it from that information, then you are as foolish as my father always said.”
The monk snorted, and turned away. “The trunk will arrive at the docks on time, never fear.” She shut the door to her room, and turned to her maid. “Laedi, it’s almost time. I am afraid that they will question you when I’m gone. Please, try to get away if you can. See if they will let you go to the market when they deliver the trunk to the docks.”
The girl nodded, and smiled bravely. “I know the risks of what I am doing. I will not tell anyone how you got out.”
The rest of the night was spent preparing, and in the early hours of the morning, Kaedti curled herself up tightly into the trunk, giving thanks for her petite size. Laedi arranged a pile of rich fabrics in the space at the top of the trunk, and closed the lid. She took a large chunk of sealing wax and, melting it with a candle, applied generous daubs to the front of the trunk, and sealed it with Kaedti’s personal seal, as well as the Ersan seal that the ambassador’s daughter had left in her room.
A moment later, there came a knock at the door, and two of the monks entered the room.
“Do not enter before my lady bids you,” scolded Laedi, scurrying the draw the curtains around the bed, which she had arranged to make it look as if Kaedti was still asleep. “You will wake her! Just take the trunk and be gone with you.” She grabbed a basket and made for the doorway, until one of the monks blocked her way. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To the market! My lady is not feeling well, and she needs an herbal tea. I do not have the plants that she needs here, so I am going to get some.”
“We will walk with you. The market is on the way to the docks, and you can make sure that we don’t upset your mistress in any way.” The man’s voice dripped sarcasm as he picked up one end of the trunk. He grunted, and motioned to his companion to pick up the other end.
The strange trio made their way slowly to the market, where Laedi selected some simple herbs from the vendor and stowed them in her basket. She turned as if to proceed back to the house, but was stopped by the monks again.
“You’re coming down to the docks with us. Master Vedek would not like you to be running around Mei nby yourself.”
“But my mistress needs-“
“Your mistress needs to learn her place in the world, is what she needs,” grumbled one of the monks, picking up his end of the trunk again. The strange procession slowly moved down towards the docks, where they found the ship preparing to leave for the western islands. The captain glanced quickly at his first mate, who nodded slightly. “Is this the goods from the lady Kaedti? She told us that she had an important shipment to take to the new delegation in the western islands.”
“Yes, this is it. But I think we shall open it and inspect it before we leave; we want to make sure that the lady gives a correct and appropriate representation of this island.” The monk drew his knife to cut through the wax seals, but the first mate stepped between the monk and his ccargo.
“I’m afraid we cannot allow that. Lady Kaedti has paid us well to take care of her gift, and I do not think that she would care to send it to the Kedonese with the seals broken open.”
The younger of the two monks made a motion to draw his sword, but the other placed a hand on his chest. “Leave it,” he muttered under his breath. “At worst she has smuggled out some messages, but we can deal with that. After all, we have keep the sinking of her father’s ship a secret from her for two years, we can silence any message she might try to send.”
Inside the chest, Kaedti’s heart seemed to stop as she heard the muttered words. She blinked back angry tears, and strengthened her resolve to escape. She felt herself lifted onto the ship, and the trunk stacked with other boxes and cargo to be loaded, then carried down into the hold. A few moments later, the lid cracked open, and the dark face of the first mate peered in. “Are you alright in there? I was worried that you wouldn’t have enough air.”
Kaedti’s face and neck were beaded with sweat, and she took a deep breath of the cooler air in the hold. “Yes, I’m fine, thank you. Will you let me know when you’re under way? I don’t want to come out until we are well away from the shore.”
The first mate nodded, and closed the lid of the trunk again.
Back on the shore, the two monks turned to go back to the ambassador’s house. “Where is that maid?” one of them asked, looking around.
“I don’t know, she was here a moment ago. She must have left while you were wasting time arguing with the sailor. No doubt she is off on a tryst with a stable hand from the market, and will be back in a few hours.”
Kaedti stood by the railing of the ship, and looked up into the stars as they slowly wheeled past the mast. The first moon had risen, and turned the sails into sheets of ice, gleaming slightly in the blue light.
“How many days until we reach the island?” she asked of the first mate as he walked by, checking the sails.
“We must make our regular port stops; this is still a business trip, even if you have paid the captain for passage. You’ll want to stay below during those times. I think we will probably reach the island in two weeks, perhaps three.”
“Can’t we get there faster? I can pay the captain more if he can take me directly to the island. It cannot be more than a week’s direct sailing.”
The first mate roared with laughter, shaking his head. “Even if you could pay enough for the missed business, it wouldn’t be enough. The merchants on the islands trust us to appear on time. Lost time is lost reputation, lost reputation is lost business. I do not think you have enough money with you to pay for our good name.” Seeing Kaedti’s downcast expression, he smiled, and added, “Besides all that, lady, if our ship were to make such a strange trip, to an uninhabited island, someone would surely hear of it, and a report might reach those from whom you are feeling. That is the last thing you want, so let us go about our regular business, and no-one will think anything of it.”
Kaedti nodded, and the first mate went on, checking the sails and rigging.