Ko walked down to the ferry, the mud squelching under her feet, pulling at them when she went to take the next step, as if the ground didn’t want her to leave.
The man who’d stopped her merely watched her board, watched her father skulk away in the pouring rain, soon lost even to his sight.
He took note that Ko never turned to watch him go.
She stood with her back to him, saying nothing, her hat her only real protection, and her hands bunched up her clothes as she swaddled herself, trying to keep in what little warmth remained.
A weight fell across her shoulders, a shimmer of color, and she realized the man had given her his own robe, a bit too long, but warm with his own heat, and a tinge of something between musk and mandarin, not unpleasant….but not her father.
She murmured a ‘thank you’ over her shoulder, still not moving.
He gave the order to move, and the ferry creaked and groaned and listed slightly.
Ko grabbed the rail for balance, and stumbled a bit as she got used to the motion.
The current seized the boat, and it swerved, then straightened, and glided across the water as if there were no rain at all.
Realizing what happened, and not wishing to know, Ko watched the river water spackled with fat raindrops rush past them.
“You are using magic to make the ship resist the current.”
“No, Ko. Magic is in another realm; I am using power.”
She turned that over a moment, then told him the truth.
“I don’t understand.”
“That is why you are here.”
“I am here,” she sighed, “because my father is a poor fisherman.”
He chuckled, to her surprise.
“That is a level-headed conclusion, but not entirely the truth; I sought you out, Ko.”
She turned then, watched him, though he was still looking out over the stern of the ferry.
“Sought me out?”
He turned and walked toward her; he was slender, but strong, and moved with confidence on the wet deck.
His face was kind, but authoritative; he was handsome, in a way the men of her homeland were not. His skin was darker, and age had stamped a seal of authenticity to it that he would probably die at sea.
His facial hair framed the lower part of his face, neatly trimmed, and tinged with gray.
His eyes had radiance to them, not natural, but a soft light seemed to emanate in the whites of his eyes. Ko couldn’t be sure if it was real or her imagination.
“There is much to explain, but the journey is not long; take your ease under the awning, and think on your questions. I will answer them all.
“You have nothing to fear, Ko, not from me, or any man on this ship, or where we are going.
“Do you believe me?”
She sensed this was some type of test, and knew what he wanted her to say, but she decided not to say anything anyone wanted to hear; she was the victim, after all.
“No, I don’t.”
He said nothing, but inclined his head, looking at her in a new way.
A small smile flashed across his lips, and he went back to looking over the stern, as she went underneath the awning.
Sitting down, she watched him watching the past, his bare torso pelted by the rain, as she sat shivering, not entirely from the cold, under the awning, and wondered what her future held.