Part Four: A Returning Heart
Halfway to the pier to meet with Captain Cafiero, Tio pulled her horse under the shade. She lifted off the saddletrunks, one containing provisions and equipment, the other a fortune of rescued goods. She paused as her fingers moved to unfasten the bag with her lunch. They moved past it, as if magicked to move without her will--but this was a haunting pull, and she let it guide her to the box again, to the chain wrapped around its lock. It hadn't been part of the description of the wooden crate, a box marked with a simple family crest.
Time was hers as she'd gotten the box faster than expected. Time enough to examine this phenomenon closer. Tio stroked her fingers over the delicate coil. Obsidian. She recognized it now, and knew it didn't belong with the contents within. More likely, the guard had found it a convenient place to keep it from falling between the other goods he'd stolen from unsuspecting travelers and innocent Janas. She squinted at it, trying to understand why it both drew her close and made her stomach pitch and lurch like an unmoored craft. Finally, she shrugged, and disentangled it from where it had been wound.
Tumbling loose, the obsidian chain and a pendant of the same material fell into her hands. Her fingers snapped closed around it in an instant, dulled spikes from the pendant pressed hard against her palm. A sudden, but indiscernible memory washed through her head. It was more emotion than scene, as if she'd found herself abruptly underwater. On the heels of the confusing jumble came a certainty:
This, she would not give to the Captain.
This necklace was hers. She would never be parted from it again.
It baffled her. There was only the hum of the rock it was made from, a hum weakened by her half-Janas blood. Nothing affixed to it should cause such an extreme reaction. Tio sighed. Hers, huh? Well, it was now. Though she had no recollection of owning such a thing, she lifted the chain up and draped it around her neck, tucking it between the laces of her shirt collar. The weight of it seemed to sink into her bones, not heavy but...comfortable.
Somehow, it reminded her of home.
A foolish thought.
Tio had no home.
Tucking the box away and finally tackling her lunch, Tio shoved the threatening tide of emotions and non-memory memories back behind her mindwall. She'd deliver the goods and then head inland, maybe do some riding in the forest. Clear her head outside of city walls for a while.
Hours later the Captain accepted the box, a smile barely visible under his dark brown beard. "They'll be pleased to have this back, and the goods you found hocked at market." A tip of his hat.
She nodded and turned away, but he wasn't done.
"You know..." he started, and she threw a startled look over her shoulder. Captain Cafiero looked almost as startled as she did, fumbling through the words. "We all have our stories. You've done right by these people, right by me, without expectation of any more payment than food on the table. I offered you a journey to anywhere you wished, and I know you turned down that reward too, but..."
Tio faced him fully, crossing her arms. Would he just get to the point? she bristled inwardly.
"Join my crew. It's not a reward, it's work. But you're resourceful, patient, and your ability to find things can help so many others. I can vouch for you." The sunbeaten corners of his eyes crinkled with humor. "Not that you need it. But having someone aboard to give my ship a good name? That'd be good for business--for both of us."
Even as he made the offer, her gut spun into a maelstrom of refusal. Interesting, that. She couldn't explain her revulsion to the idea of getting on the ship, and any time Tio felt fear, she knew it was a path she needed to take. To conquer.
"Your horse can come too. I've a couple small stalls below."
What if she went? Her whole body clenched, and Tio had her answer. Fear had no place in her life now, and she'd prove it once more. One short nod from her, and he was leading the way below decks, where the mare who'd been her companion for years now got settled in for the ride.
By the time they docked at Pau, Tio thought herself cured of her fear. Though she'd never once spoken, she'd become accustomed to cards with the crew, keeping food down despite the lurch of the sea. She'd even once let her emotions slide, laughing silently at one crewmate's attempt to tell bawdy jokes that he thought were so dirty he whispered them as he told them. Truly, he must never have set foot in a tavern.
The Captain set out to find the family he'd been contracted by, and Tio's knees buckled, threatening to drop her on her butt. Quickly, she broke into a long stride. She'd thought the fear conquered, that damn near ever-present sensation of hatred toward the ship a distant squeeze of her lungs. Had she been wrong?
Her feet carried her to colored tents in lines, a market of jewelers and other sellers. Tio stopped cold as the wall in her mind bent outward, not threatening only to fall, but to Break. Open. Wide.
All around her were goods of obsidian.
As pure as her necklace.
And approaching her from the other end of this street was a Janas, willowy and dark, a woman with her eyes glued to the star pendant peeking between the ties of Tio's shirt. Her dark eyes widened, and as she came into range, Tio's arms reached out to wrap her in an embrace that blew her mental wall to pieces. Emotions tumbled out in a torrent, and it was all she could do to cling to the other woman and simply trust that her knees wouldn't give out.
"Tiadora," the Janas breathed. "It's truly you."
She was Tiadora a lifetime ago, but this...this was...Alèssia. This was Alèssia. Alèssia, who pulled back and gently touched the obsidian star that she'd once given a tiny Fadados.
"It worked. It brought you home," Alèssia whispered.
Tio looked the other woman in the eyes. Friend. Sister. It seemed impossible, but in Alèssia's eyes she saw only truth. After years of believing otherwise...
Tio was Home.