Of all the ways Ifan ben-Mezd thought that he would get locked up, being herded like cattle onto a ship was not one of them.
The hold of the ship is dirty, dingy, dim, but most importantly, crowded. Mothers, fathers, children -- humans, dwarves, lizards, elves. All packed together, trying to make room for one another. The magisters have been sending them up from the equally dreary laboratory one by one. He’s watched them all come in, save for the two that were ahead of him. Almost a hundred people like himself thus far: collared like dogs, dressed in rags. Prisoners being sent to the infamous Fort Joy for trying to live their lives.
Ifan, at least, has something to accomplish at Fort Joy, beyond rotting there for the rest of his days. The normal runner Wilde -- an 8 year old boy with a penchant for hanging out with all the wrong types of adults and making money off of it -- paid him an expertly quiet visit the night before he was sent off and left him a gift: a contract. A contract to kill Bishop Alexander, the son of Lucian the Divine, the bastard in charge of rounding up sourcerers and bringing shame upon his father’s name.
Kill him he will. Contract or otherwise.
He does what he can for those who don’t have the luxury of something to look forward to. Nods, occasional smiles at particularly scared children, adjusting collars to make them not so uncomfortable. Some respond well, others brush him off. He doesn’t mind either way; they’re all strangers to one another. Mistrust and fear is expected.
He’s just finished fixing a particularly fidgety child’s collar when the next person arrives from below deck. As she catches his eye, the world feels as if it has come to a stop.
The first thing he notices is her hair: reddish blond, loose, wavy ringlets. The second: willowy limbs and a slender waist. The third: almond shaped, moss colored eyes that he can’t help but fixate on.
He doesn’t realize he’s staring until the elf’s gaze shifts to him. And as their eyes connect, something tightens in his chest.
Suddenly sheepish, he goes to look back at the child in front of him. Said child is long gone -- he spots her running towards a woman with deep red hair and a white streak, chanting the name “Lohse” over and over again.
Ifan chances a look at the newcomer again. She too has moved, though closer rather than farther away. She’s approaching someone -- another elven woman, dark haired and dark mannered. She was one of the people ahead of Ifan. Sebille, she’d said curtly.
Ifan takes a deep breath through his nose and out through his mouth. This isn’t the first time he’s seen a beautiful woman, especially not an elven woman, and he needs to stop acting like it. And if he even wanted to pursue her, it’d still be out of the question. He’s got a job to do when he gets to the Joy. Besides, he already had a woman to himself last night in that shitty jail -- Saelani, an elf with a short boyish haircut and a shorter fuse when it comes to anger and sex. He should be satisfied with that still.
He goes to get a shitty mug of watered down wine by the center of the hold (a pathetic excuse for a “canteen”) to distract him when she steals his gaze again. She’s still talking to Sebille, wincing as she tugs on her collar with both hands.
The seven be damned.
Ifan waits for her to break off conversation with Sebille. And once she does he approaches, beckoning.
She doesn’t move. She just stares at him, eyes distrusting.
Guilt stabs him in the gut.
He doesn’t blame her for looking at him like that. Human and elf relations were never the best, and after the death fog -- the deathfog he failed to save the elves from, to save his family from -- he expects as much.
Sebille looks up at her as she drops a set of dice on a barrel and says something he cannot hear over the ship’s moaning and the quiet chatter of other prisoners. The woman nods and, with a guarded expression, walks towards him.
Her voice catches him off guard. It’s not as delicate as the rest of her, not as elven. As if she’s been away from other elves for some time.
He gestures to her collar. “Pinches, right?”
“Yeah, and what about it?”
“I can fix it."
Hands held out, he silently asks permission to enter her personal space for a brief moment.
“Anythin’ to breathe a little better. Go for it.”
Ifan leans forward. Up close, she’s just as beautiful. A bit more disheveled -- hair matted, skin smudge with dirt -- but he supposes she might’ve spent the night in a far worse cell. It takes far more effort than he’d like to look away, but he manages and forces his attention onto the collar and its back heavy balance. Like all the others he’s adjusted, the front portion to presses and chafes against her neck. With a swift, firm tug, it rests evenly on her shoulders.
He winks. “Better, right?”
“When you said you could fix it, I thought you were going to take it off. But this works for now,” she quips, winking in return. Her eyes are still guarded. “And you are?”
Does he even bother? Will it matter in the end? He’s not here to make friends. He’s here to kill someone. He doesn’t need people slowing him down.
But what does it hurt for her to know?
“Ifan. And yourself?”
“Name’s Soleil. Thanks for the fix.”
Soleil -- an elven word for the sun. He smiles.
She glances around at their fellow shipmates, and then back to him.
“So, what gotcha thrown on a ship like this?”
Ah, yes. The what. He’s not particularly keen on regalling the tale of how he got too high, had a hallucination of being attacked, and summoned his source wolf for aid. Far too embarrassing for a first time conversation.
“That’s a story for another time. Maybe in the Joy,” he says with a chuckle. “We shouldn’t be too far off. We’ve been at sea for about a little more than half a day. We should be there by the evening or early morning.”
“What, you got other business?” She cocks an eyebrow, and then gives a small, teasing smile. “Fine. Keep your secrets.”
She brushes past him, headed towards Lohse and the gaggle of children surrounding her.
“See ya in hell -- er, the Joy, then,” she tosses over her shoulder.
He gives a small laugh and puts two fingers to his temple and salutes her.
Seven be damned. It’s not fair -- she’s not fair.
He goes to get his drink and to get her off his mind. For now, he has work to think of. Maybe once that’s all done, maybe he can talk to her again some other time.
Saelani comes up about an hour later, groggy and angry.
When he looks at her, it’s not the same.