Leila swallowed hard and tried to breathe. There was no other way. She tried to find a smile for the Captain; the woman was risking her ship in doing this, after all.
Captain Saros shook her head. “Make no mistake, these next two days are going to be bad. But it’s only two days. Your alternative is a lifetime.”
Leila bit her lip and squeezed her eyes closed against the tears. She had no choice. Not really.
She stepped into the tiny space. Enough room to stand, or sit if she curled her legs in, with three buckets, with firmly latched covers, sitting along one wall.
Captain Saros pointed to each in turn. “Food, water and empty, for you to use when necessary.”
She quirked a grim smile. “Don’t muddle them up. Especially after you’ve started filling the last one.”
Leila nodded, then wriggled down to sit as the false wall hiding her nook was lifted and nailed back into place.
Her little bundle of things too practical or too precious to part with was tucked between her chest and knees, she wondered if she should dig out her lap loom and find out if it was possible for her to weave without light.
Too late to find out, the opening was gone and it would be too easy to lose precious (loud, rattling) coins by fumbling in the blackness.
As she waited, she silently sang every song her mother ever taught her, then her father’s songs, even the ugly, tuneless ones she’d had to sing at school. She was starting on the tavern ones, only half-known, overheard as she’d run errands for her parents, when her room bumped and swayed.
There were shouts from overhead and she tensed. The shouts were repeated, then settled into a steady, chanting song. She stayed silent, but let the tears fall. It was the song the sailors used when raising the sails, they had cast off.
She’d made it another step. Another step away from the Temple, and another step closer to a new life in an unknown place.
Eventually, impossibly, she slept, lulled by the gentle rock of her hidey hole.
She was woken, stiff, cold and sore, by more shouting from above. These shouts were different. They were urgent, even panicked. She hugged her bag of treasures closer and tried to hear what was going on. A thunderclap shuddered through every timber in the ship and she bit down on a whimper.
Her room pitched sideways, the three buckets flying into her. She heaved a sigh of relief as the lids stayed on.
As the ship bucked and rolled, she grabbed on to the buckets. Holding them as best she could with arms, legs and curved body. She had to keep them safe and silent, she had to keep them closed.
Captain Saros had warned her, there was a group of Temple priests aboard. They could not risk opening her hiding place until every passenger had left the ship in Port Watch. What she had with her now, needed to last until then. She wondered if the storm was pushing them off course, and if so, how far. How long would she need to make these provisions last?
She had no idea how long it was she clung and braced and prayed to deities she no longer believed in. Finally, after forever, the rolling and smashing eased and risked a change in position.
A mistake. The ship jerked and tipped. One of the buckets flew free. It slammed into a surface, she’d lost track of walls, floors and ceilings, then banged into her, thudding and banging between her and the wood.
She desperately tried to grab it back, while keeping hold of the other two. She had to stay quiet. Please don’t let the lid come off. It came hurtling back, catching her in the ribs, she hooked an elbow over it and held it to her side, gritting her teeth against the pain. They were only bruises; it would have been worse if she’d stayed in Carra.
Leila rolled a little sideways, wedging the bucket between her side and the wall, the other two she kept mashed against the bundle digging into her chest. She didn’t dare move any further.
Her lips were dry and parched, she longed to drink a little of the water she could hear sloshing in one of the buckets. But the ship was still moving, still thrashing and tossing, it would have to wait. Once again, she took refuge in her silent songs.
As the ship’s movement seemed to calm once more, she rearranged her grip on everything, not daring to let go of anything completely, but finally able to ease the bruises on her ribs.
As the sway continued to slow and flow, she chanced the water bucket. Easing the lid open a fraction, dipping her fingers in and scooping little sips of water onto her dry tongue.
Food she could do without for longer, and she needed to hold off as long as possible on using that third bucket.
The ship lurched and her water sloshed, wetting the front of her dress. Not much, thankfully, but she re-latched the lid, then tangled herself around it and the others, waiting for more.
It didn’t come and she slowly fell into a half haze of waking sleep, weaving fantastic cloth on imaginary looms as her parents watched and directed, except they were wrong and she had to follow the path of the music dancing across the threads. Must stay silent.
She needed to use the third bucket. How she managed, she didn’t, and didn’t want to, know. But she did, and cried silent, dry sobs at the thought of getting them wrong now.
Time wound on. She drank as little as possible, ate as little as possible, and yet the third bucket slowly filled and the other two slowly emptied.
She woke from a dream of a cloth of night clouds and stars. Something was different. She sat up. Her room was still. Were they becalmed? The whimper escaped before she could stop it.
As she sat in the blackness, straining for sound, a rhythmic pounding rattled the boards around her? What now?
Voices. “Gods and all the maidens, get this thing open.”
That was Captain Saros. That sound had been boots on floorboards, people running. Light smashed into her space, she shrank back in terror.
Then the Captain was at the opening.
Leila squinted through streaming eyes. “Are we dead?”
“Get her out of there, and find the physician, I doubt she’s strong enough to walk. No, child, we’re safe, we’ve made it to Port Watch. But you’ve been inside that nook for five days thanks to the storm. You’ll be staying aboard until you’re well enough to leave.”
As she was speaking, one of her crew reached in and carefully lifted her out of her safe space. She whimpered again.
The Captain grabbed it. “Right here.”
As they left, the third crew member retrieved the buckets. “She still has water left.”
Captain Saros shook her head. “You’re too strong for Temple service, girl. Time for you to start a new life, and I think Port Watch will be the place you need.”