Chapter 1: Caged
Cannon fire rattled everything, even the massive stone walls of the enormous fort and the great wooden beams high in the ceiling. There was shouting, soldiers outside barking out orders and commands, another soldier screaming sharply nearby as the crack of wood thundered and something heavy fell. Metal, swords and armor, clattered and clanked as the approaching enemy breached the land.
You could only imagine the turmoil, could hardly picture the atrocities that beseeched the army outside. It was hard to care about the events outside. Not in your current situation. You huddled alone in your prison, holding yourself against the intense draft in the room. You could only think about the rank smell, mold and musk thickening the air. And the endless whimpers of the women in the other cages became an irritating background noise, more of a nuisance than anything else.
You weren't afraid, not really. Fear was reserved for the hopeful. And you had little hope left in you. Whoever was attacking would either do two things with you: kill you or use you. And those two things would have happened even if they hadn't attacked the fort. You were a slave, a pet, a thing.
The cannon fire submitted, an unsettling silence fell heavily in the room. Even the whimpers beside you hushed, their ears straining for even the smallest of clues. The wooden door to the bedroom was shoved open, cracking against the stone wall, eliciting screams from the other women. His boots pounded as he raced inside and then threw the wooden door closed behind him.
Your body went rigid. You thought perhaps he had returned to collect you, your jailor and abductor, your master and slave owner. A victorious battle required a proper reward, of course. Or so he would convince himself of such. You would convince you as well, one way or another.
But there was something different in him as he searched frantically through drawers and chests. He was breathing hard, a mixture of emotions overwhelming him. He was no longer the confident and arrogant man who led his army with callous orders. He was no longer the fierce master you recalled him to be. He was a frightened rabbit, predator turned into prey.
Something riled itself inside of you. Seeing him skittish and frightened evoked a sense of hunger in you, the instincts of a hunter. He was weak and the weak did not survive. He had taught you as much. And it was almost poetic seeing him cower.
The wooden door splintered, flying open and bashing into the wall again. Unfamiliar faces came into view, their scrutiny causing your heart to leap and your instincts to overwhelm you. They seemed to halt in their advance, an expression of disgust and horror washing over them as they realized what sort of scene they were looking upon. Your master's chambers, his excessively large bed surrounded on either side by various cages: small ones gathered near the bed, single person ones hanging from the ceiling, a large one where many of the women were gathered.
"Captain," one the soldiers shouted over his shoulder towards the doorway.
"The fort commander's in here," added the head of the group, an accent upon his tongue. His steps wavered when the sounds of a low growl hit his ears. Your growl. He looked through each of the cages until his eyes met with yours, something unruly shivering down his spine. "And... slaves, it would seem."
"I can give them to you," he muttered weakly, your jailor reduced to selling his most prized possessions. He was backing up towards your cage, fingers flittering anxiously through the air. You had been his greatest prize, a trophy that he showed off at parties, a puppet that he dressed up for amusement on rare occassions. "In exchange for my life. Even vital information, I can give it."
"Liam?" Another approached from behind the group, circling around where he could get a better view of the room's contents. "What was this I hear about slaves?" His brows pinched as he looked about, eyeing the chains and shackles posted against the walls.
"Yours," your master blurted. "All of them are yours." He was nearing your cage, likely seeking out the lock in a desperate attempt to release you. He would either use you as leverage or an escape goat. All he had to do was state the command and you would kill whoever he wanted. But even for you there were too many and you would die so that your jailor might escape.
The Captain didn't seem pleased. His brows dove down together in a bit of irritation. His accent thickened with his anger, "You think the Order wants your slaves?" He confidently marched towards him and your master cowered away. "You think that I would want them?"
You master didn't reach your cage in time and there was nowhere for him to run to. The killing blow was quick, so quick that you weren't even sure that it happened. A blade, one you hadn't caught eye of, pierced his throat. He dropped to his knees, mouth wide like a dying fish, before toppling over. His eyes grew lifeless, void of all things, a petty corpse.
"I see at least eight women..." Liam never pulled his eyes away from you, they were locked with yours, watching as you gritted your teeth. You weren't angry, not truly. He had been your master and you had served him as loyally as any slave could but you weren't phased. People died. He had also taught you that.
The captain waved over a few men. "We should let them out then. We can stop by Boston along the way. Find them a good place to recover."
"Hold on, Shay." Liam snapped hold of the man's arm. "Let's think about this for a moment."
Shay's brows arched under confusion, his eyes narrowing. He jerked his arm away and approached the cages. "What's gotten into you, Liam? You aren't thinking of keeping them for yourself, are you?"
"Of course not," he hissed, insulted it was even thought of.
Shay joined the few men that were brave enough to approach near your cage. They helped to smash off the locks on the cage doors in the corner and the large one near yours. "These women are frightened and need a good meal." He pulled open the door, metal whining creakily.
One of the girls reached out and snagged hold of Shay's lapels. She whispered under her breath, her eyes sweeping to the edge of your cage but couldn't go any further. "Not her. She's been here the longest..." She cowered into the captain when your nails curled against the floor, scratching harshly across the stone. "She's completely mad. He turned her into a... mindless animal."
Animal. It was a fair analogy.
Shay flicked his attention to you. Even he hesitated for a moment. But he stood up, helping the girl into the arms of one of his crew. "Get her on the ship, aye?" He sauntered around towards your cage, keeping his distance as he looked over your physical state. You couldn't have known what you looked like. You couldn't remember, not after all of these years being a slave.
"Shay," warned Liam. "She growled earlier."
One of the men reluctantly gave him a hammer and watched as Shay bashed off the lock with a few good hits. The remaining girls in the room whimpered, hurrying as quickly as they could to escape whatever was about to happen. But even this didn't deter the ship's captain from opening the door.
You didn't know this man. You didn't know who or what he was. You pressed yourself deeper into the corner of the cage, your lips pulled back and your teeth bared. But this didn't seem to bother him either, not even when Liam shuffled forward to defend him.
"Captain," one of the men stated wearily. "Perhaps we should listen--"
"Nonsense." He glowered over at the man.He kneeled down at the mouth of the cage, hand only slightly held out to you. "My name's Shay. I'm the captain of the Morrigan. Can I ask you your name, lass?"
You remained where you were, clinging to the thin metal of the cage, your palm nearly slicing against it. You raised your chin, eyes never wavering from his, in hopes to look more aggressive. You pleaded that he would leave, that he would simply leave the door open and walk away. You wanted nothing more than to run away from every fierce glare in the room, every rough human hand, every warm body.
Shay scooted forward, reached in a bit further.
You pulled your legs tighter against your chest.
"Shay, enough." Liam marched forward, a tugging hand on his shoulder.
"It's alright, Liam. She's just a tad frightened, is all." His fingers curled, nudging you to come closer but you weren't foolish. He would either kill you or harm you. There was no in between. "It's alright, love. Come on and we'll get you new clothes and a warm bed."
Your brain kept shouting it: kill you or harm you, kill you or harm you. Fight or flight. Fight or flight. But there was no where else to run. The cage offered you no escape. There was no choice, no fight or flight, only fight.
So when Shay finally reached in all the way, the tips of his fingers touching the soft flesh of your palm, you couldn't stop yourself from lunging at him. Your teeth were aimed for his throat, your claws for his eyes, but he was quicker than you expected. You had underestimated him as he wrangled with you, until you were both writhing on the floor and your low growls turned into seethed panting.
His voice remained leveled, an attempt to stay calm, "We're not here to hurt you."
You struggled against him, nearly slipping skillfully from his grasp, when hooked an arm around your throat. His other arm grappled your waist until your spine was pressed against him. The moment you were relaxed Shay let you go and silently watched as you scurried backwards against the stone wall.
"See. We've no need to hurt each other."
"Christ, Shay, she's a rabid beast." Liam stalked forward and jerked the other man up onto his feet. "Look at her. She doesn't need to be on a ship. She needs... mercy. Put her out of her misery and be done with it."
"Liam." He tugged his jacket out of his clutches.
"I'm sorry, Shay, but there's no other place for her."
"I'm disappointed in you. She's a little frightening, yes, but that's no reason to kill her."
Kill or harm, your thoughts shouted and it took everything in you not to attack again. You wanted to scream and plead that they leave you. You wanted to be left alone. You didn't want their hands to touch you or their eyes to meet yours. Every movement they made felt threatening and vile. You wanted to cry, to wrap your arms around yourself and shrink smaller and smaller but you had been taught rather painfully that doing so made you weaker. You weren't allowed to be weak. You were supposed to be aggressive, to fight in defense of your master.
"Shay, I'm not even sure she knows what we're saying." Liam didn't look at you. He tried his damndest to look at anything but you. "Her mind left her long ago. At least leave her be."
One of the men in the background, huddling near the walls, griped irritably to the others, "She can fend for herself with teeth like that. Let her hunt the woods."
Another added plainly, "Bet she'd take down a wolf with her bare hands."
Shay tossed an annoyed glance over his shoulder, shifted his weight from one leg to the next, before settling his gaze on you again. "I'm not just going to leave her, Liam. She's not some beast. And she's not mindless, neither."
He rubbed a hand up across his shaved scalp. "And what exactly do you plan to do with her then?"
"Leave me alone with her." He tossed his attention to his men. "I'll get her calmed down."
"Damn it, Shay." Liam spat and turned to the others. He waved them out of the room, pushing and shoving them. He then posted himself at the door like a sentinel. He folded his arms over his chest, his gaze barely meeting with yours, as if he knew how aggressive it would make you.
Shay squatted down and held out his hand again. "We've a warm bed on the ship, love. Enough food to sate your hunger, too. I know you must be hungry. And you'll need a good wash, won't you?"
You leaned towards the cage next to you, curling your fingers over the cold metal. You didn't want to leave. You couldn't remember what it even looked like out there in the world. You couldn't remember the last time you left a cage without the beckonings of your jailor. You'd been taught to never do anything without his orders. His orders were law. His orders were axiom. Nothing else mattered. But your attention jolted to his corpse, remembering that his orders were nothing but dust and ash, faded and distorted memories.
There was nothing now. You were nothing now.
Shay glanced over his shoulder towards the dead commander. "He can't hurt you now, lass." He returned his gaze back to you, a softness in his eyes and a sympathy on the curve of his brow. Shay reached out to you a bit further, the back of his fingers caressing along the palm of your hand. You allowed him to take it and watched as he slowly rose up onto his feet. "Come on, love. It's alright." He stepped back, ever so slightly tugging at your hand.
You stood up on shaky legs, leaning against the cold metal cage for some form of comfort. You flicked your glance between the dead slaver and Shay then briefly to Liam. You focused on his hand around yours. His hold was soft, gentle enough that you could have pulled away from him.
"You've a name, lass?" He tilted his head, peering through the curtain of your mussed hair.
You jerked your hand away, pressing it to your chest. If you had a name, it was taken from you long ago.
Shay stepped back in an attempt to give you some space. "You're hungry, I'm sure." He nudged his head towards the vigilant Liam. "I can gather together a proper meal for you."
You had nowhere else to go, no orders to follow and no task to accomplish. You stepped forward, slow and weary, your attention jolting to Liam. You feared he might take your actions as an attack. He seemed unmoved if not rigid.
Shay slowly strolled towards the door, stepping over the cooling corpse as if it were just an item lying on the floor. "Liam, tell the men to make a clear path for us. No need to spook her anymore than she already is."
Liam shoved off of the doorframe and stalked out into the bright white light of day.
"Don't mind, Liam. He's just concerned." He looked over his shoulder, smile wide and soothing. There wasn't an ounce of hatred in him. There wasn't a single suggestion in his stance that told you he would harm you. But instincts spoke louder and you kept your distance as the two of you left the shadow of the building.
Crisp winter snow hit your senses, a fresh scent and an intense light of the sun reflecting off of its surface. You curled your fingers into your palm, warming them against the cold. Your feet slushed into the trampled, icy puddle where snow had been gathered. It stung against your skin and you only wiggled your toes in it, relishing in the strange twinge of pain.
"Awe, come now, lass. We don't want to you get frostbit." He reached out towards your hand but paused. "Let's hurry and get you some clean clothes. Shoes, too." His fingers were slow, slipping under your palm and carefully grasping.
You walked forward with him, water and ice thinly layered across the skin of your feet. You looked ahead, the fort in shambles from the onslaught. Wood was splintered and stone was scattered. The dead littered the ground, blood seeping into the cracks in the stone floor. There was no sign of the men nearby, not a sailor or a soldier made a single noise as you moved through the large courtyard.
"The Morrigan's a fine ship." Shay nudged his chin towards the vessel, bobbing impatiently in the water like an eager horse ready for the long ride. He grinned, proud and pleased. "My ship. She's small looking but she can take down some of the best."
You both moved closer to the sleek vessel, stepping across the plank of wood to step on board. The ship swayed beneath your legs, rattling your nerves and your bones. You quickened your steps, shoulder shoving into Shay's then jolting away from him. He only grinned, no harsh comment or irritated fury. He pushed open a set of doors and walked into the small cabin. He waited patiently for you to follow. And wait he certainly did as you glanced about the space from the doorway, anxious about what would occur in the room if you stepped inside.
It was a decent room, a few tables and chairs, scattered nautical tools, and cluttered papers. You shuffled past Shay, cringing when he slid the door shut behind you. You glowered from the corner of your eye as he strolled deeper into the room, expecting a harsh exchange of words or assault.
"You can stay here, lass. None of the men will bother you so long as you're in here." He opened a drawer and pulled out a small square cloth then hooked his arm around a washbasin. "Let's clean you up first. Get all that dirt and grime off of you."
You stayed where you were, watching as he placed the items onto the table near the bed. Your heart rate quickened. Kill or harm, you considered again, wondering if he would use you the same way your previous jailor had. It was to be expected, after all. You were a slave. Slaves were tools and tools needed to serve.
You sauntered over, passing tables and shelves, and sat down onto the bed.
"We're going to be in Boston soon." He dipped the cloth into the water, dampening it before scrubbing it across your arm. "You've any family? Maybe we can take you back home." He looked up at you, eyes hopefully like a puppy eager to please. "You can tell me your name. No need to be afraid of me. I've no need to hurt you." When he saw you weren't going to reply he cleaned off the rest of your arm and moved on to the next. He moved to your legs and feet, the water in the basin darkening until unusable.
Shay stood up, your body flinching, but he turned away. He moved to the other side of the room with the bowl of dirty water, dumping it out the window before pouring more from the tin pitcher. "No worries, lass, we'll have you cleaned up soon. Bastard never let you, from the looks of it." He returned with fresh water and a clean cloth. He sat down then looked at you, hesitating for a moment. He dipped the cloth into the water and hovered it over your cheek. "I'll get you back to normal in no time." He carefully smoothed the water across your face, over cheekbones and under jawlines.
You watched his expression, vigilant and uncertain. He was peaceful, calm, and he showed no sign of brutality as you had seen in others. You eyes met with his but you shifted them away, waiting to see what his response would be. Anger? Lust?
Shay placed the cloth into the water and sighed. "Listen, lass. You think you can clean the rest of you?" He eyed you for an answer but you didn't have one. It wasn't that you couldn't clean your body. You simply didn't care to. What would be the point? You'd only get dirty again.
He tossed a hand towards your tattered clothes. "Once you get cleaned off, I can spare some clothes for you." He waited for another moment, allowing you to either reply or object. He gave a weary nod and a regretful toss of his head. He took hold of the hem of your shirt and, without taking his eyes from yours, he began to lift it. But something in your expression must have jolted him because he stood up sharply. "You take off your clothes, lass. I'll, uh, go grab those new ones for you."
You weren't sure if it was an order or not but it sounded like one and that was enough for you. You lifted your shirt up and over, tossing it aside with your pants. You laid back onto the bed, waiting for the usual scenario to occur but when Shay returned with a bundle of attire in his arms he turned sharply on his heel away from you.
"Lass..." He placed the clothes into his chair nearby. He threw his fingers into his hair, raking them furiously, before turning around. He seemed angry about something, the first sign of bitterness you'd seen in him since he killed your master. You thought for a moment that you'd done something to displease him. "Alright, lass, that's... that's not what I meant. Sit up and let's wash off that dirt."
You sat up, eyeing him with uncertainty as he stiffly sat back down. You didn't understand his need for you to be so clean. But you allowed him to wipe the washcloth across the rest of your skin, his hands trembling a few times and his breath held in his chest until he finally tossed it aside.
"You've so many scars..." He inhaled sharply, face reddening, and snatched up the pile of clothes. "Can't imagine what you've been through." He started with the shirt, hurriedly pulling it over your head. He tried to work the pants onto your legs and up over your hips but you didn't bother budging. He hadn't exactly ordered you to get dressed and you weren't about to do anything unless it was an order.
Shay dropped his face into his hands. "Come now, lass. Don't be stubborn about this. Just stand up and get the breeches on."
You did as he asked, pulling them to your waist and holding them there. They didn't exactly fit well, a larger size for a larger person. But you didn't care if they fit. So long as Shay was pleased, so long as your slaver was pleased.
Shay reached out, fumbling fingers tugging at the lacings and pulling them tight. He tied them quickly and leaned back. They would hold to waist so long as no one tugged at them. He gave a sigh, hand rubbing upwards across his face. "I'll go fetch us some dinner. You go ahead and lie down for a bit."
You took the same position as from before, spine into the firm mattress, lifeless and pliant to whatever his next orders would be.
"No, now, hold on, lass." Shay leaned forward. "You don't think that I..." He swallowed his pulse, pieces fitting together rather slowly but they were fitting. "I'm no slaver and you're no slave. You don't take orders from noone on this ship. Do you understand, lass?" He gave a rougher, annoyed sigh when you remained unmoved. He stood up and shuffled to the other side of the room, hand on the door handle as he hesitated. "You're free. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise." Shay left the room, the door clattering roughly closed behind him.
You tried to process his words. It wasn't an order. Was it? You couldn't remember any other life than that of a slave. Whatever life you had before was gone. You were a pet, an obedient dog that followed its master's orders. That was what he taught you. So, for Shay to order you to be free, to order you to not be a slave... It was contradictory.
Your fingers curled into the bed, clawed against the blankets. You didn't understand. How could you possibly understand? A sudden fear washed over you. Your body flushed with heat, your skin dampening in a cold sweat, tears burning your eyes. You felt suddenly exposed on the bed. You sat up, knees to your chest and eyes searching wildly for a safer place to hide. You scurried to the corner of the room, placing yourself between the wall and the side of a desk. It felt safe, like the bars of the cage. The small cramped space provided some form of comfort, like the arms of a mother hugging her child protectively.
Free. What did that even entail?
Chapter 2: Spoken
You must have fallen asleep, your small little nook having allowed you that much. A nightmare assaulted your senses, the darkness of the room and the clattering of iron shackles. The rank and tart scent of blood bit your nose and coated your mouth. But his familiar voice, soothing and gentle as it was, woke you. Your heart leapt into your throat, a sharp pain in your chest as fear overwhelmed you, a need to escape. You growled, instinct taking over as you threw your hands out like claws.
He snapped hold of your wrist, loosening his grip as you fluttered open your eyes. Your anger melted when you saw his sorrow, the dark hues of amber and gold, the gentleness that adorned his eyes. A calmness settled itself inside of you, soothing and relaxing. He had no need to harm you. He hadn't shown you even an ounce of anger. He was gentle. He was good.
Shay let go of your wrist, his hand falling away. "What're you doing sleeping on the floor, lass? I know my bed's not the best I've ever slept on but..." He stood up and waltzed over towards the centered table in the room. "Certainly much softer than a wall." Shay lifted up a wooden plate with food stacked upon it. "I know you're hungry. I doubt that smug bastard fed you much. You're too bony for him to have done that much."
He made his way back over with the plate, kneeling down some distance away. "Come on, now. Out of the corner." He set the plate onto the floor, thickly sliced meats and a chunk of bread gathered onto it.
You eyed the plate for a moment, eyed your jailor, before slowly crawling towards it. You grabbed a slice of meat, hesitating to bring it to your mouth. You still weren't certain how your new keeper would react to your behaviors. What mannerisms did he expect? Were you supposed to thank him in some way? Were you supposed to beg his forgiveness for taking some of his supplies? You were last master would have demanded such.
He released a heavy breath. "When we get to Boston, we can find you some better clothes than that." He sat down and scooted until his back could lean into the leg of a table. "Won't you talk to me, lass? Surely you know how to speak."
You knew how, although it had been a great deal of time since you'd done so. You weren't even sure what your voice sounded like anymore. And what words could you possibly offer him? What words would console your master? What did he even want to hear?
He watched you nibble upon the meat, a brow rising. "Good, is it?"
Of course it was. Wasn't it obvious? Why else would you have eaten it? Why did he care if it tasted good to you? You were a slave... You were a pet...
"Bit salty, I always thought." He shifted his weight onto his arm, bent a knee so that he might drape his other across it. "When we get home, I'll be sure to cook you up something with more flavor. Maybe we'll stop by a pub on the way? Grab a pint and a hot meal." Shay focused on his hand, examining the wrinkles and scars when he half-heartedly muttered, "What am I to do with you? I can't simply leave you in Boston. Not on your own. And the boys think you're mad."
The first few nibbles had flared your hunger, your stomach cringing with a sudden need. You ate down the rest of the meat in larger bites before snatching up the chunk of bread. You bit down onto the dry and hard bread, roughly prying off a mouthful.
"Take your time, lass." Shay sat up, his hand wavered to reach out to you but he stopped himself in time. "Don't want you to choke on it, now do we?" He cautiously got up onto his feet, his gaze lingering on you in case his movements made you uncomfortable. "I'm going to help Liam at the wheel. You get some sleep on the bed." He looked at you squarely now, chin lowered and eyes narrowed. "You'll not be sleeping in the corner again, aye?"
You tilted your head away, the last few chews of your meal dryly sliding down your throat.
He seemed to sigh again, a soft groan when you didn't reply, the heel of his hand rubbing at his eyes. Shay ambled out of the room, boots clomping in rhythmic succession until the door clattered shut again.
You glowered over at the bed. He couldn't have known that you hadn't slept on one in years and the only time you were ever forced onto one was when your jailor desired something of you. You didn't follow his order, not entirely, and you'd accept whatever punishment he would deal out to you.
You cautiously moved about the room, stuffing yourself between barrels and a bookshelf, the perfect spot to hide away from anyone who might try to hurt you. You tried to sleep again, to rest for a moment, but the ship jostled and the wooden beams creaked. You could hear the waves splash and slap against the walls, unnerving something in you. You were surrounded by water, trapped more than you'd ever been. Your stomach clenched from both anxiety and having eaten too much, the most you'd consumed in a while.
You forced yourself out of your hiding spot, glancing at and observing every item in the room. You didn't dare touch anything, didn't run your hands across the worn maps or the fabrics of the sloppily folded clothes. No, you turned away from everything to approach the double doors. You turned the knob, cautiously enough that it didn't make a sound. It was painfully slow to open, your eyes never wavering from the widening space. You caught a glimpse of a passing sailor in the distance but otherwise the deck was clear.
You snuck out, closing the door just as stealthily. It was night, the moon a thin sliver in a dark but star clustered sky. The ocean, vast and unending, was a mass of roiling black. The moonlight occasionally sparked on the edges of a passing wave. The air was chilly and frigid, tingling deep into your lungs with each breath you took down.
You weren't planning on leaving. What would have been the point? You were on the ocean and even if you weren't in the middle of a great expanse of water, you had no desire to run. You wanted only to stand near Shay, bask in the calm energy he held. You looked about for that familiar face, the comforting and soothing expression that he always seemed to adorn. You heard him instead, his voice above you on the upper floor, the lilt of his pleasant accent.
You moved along the wall, staying close to it even when you reached the bottom of the steps. No one had caught sight of you yet, your movements too slow and your steps too quiet. You weren't trying to sneak up on them, despite your cautious uncertainty. You simply didn't want to appear aggressive or angry. You didn't want your sudden presence to cause a fight.
Shay was speaking with Liam, a warm-hearted laugh following his words. Even the grouchy other man managed a laugh, causing you to wonder what sort of person he truly was when you weren't around.
"Shay," warned Liam at the sight of you, his body rigid as he stepped towards the captain.
You froze in your advance, Liam looking as if he might draw his gun on you.
"It's alright, Liam." Shay turned to face you, his arm reaching out to barricade the aggression of his friend. "Glad to see you're out here, lass. Don't worry. Liam's all bark and no bite."
Liam scoffed. "Wish we could say the same of her."
It was a bad idea seeking him out. You thought it best to leave, to avoid the situation, to avoid Liam. But when you shuffled back towards the stairs, Shay was quickly snapping up your hand. You jerked, fear from the sudden gesture, but you didn't pull away from him. Shay stepped backwards, leading you towards Liam, smile wide upon his face. And that smile alone soothed whatever worries that would have plagued you.
"You've ever been on a ship, lass?" He motioned towards the large wheel, setting your hand down on it. "I can teach you the basics of sailing if you like."
Liam gave out a heavy sigh but he kept his words to himself.
You lifted your hand up off of the smooth, lacquered surface. Shay however was determined, placing his hand on top of yours and wrapping it around one of the handles. He turned the wheel ever so slightly, pointing up towards the sails above, allowing you to watch the minute changes that occurred.
"Captain." Heavy footsteps clamoured onto the stairs.
You snapped your hand away from Shay, ducking behind him as the stranger approached. He must have caught sight of you, his steps wavering where they were, his eyes locked onto Shay's torso.
Shay chuckled, "Quit cowering and get up here."
He clenched his jaws, daring himself into taking the last few stairs. "We've went through and organized the supplies from the fort. Would you like Liam or yourself to look at them, sir?"
Shay peeked over his shoulder at you.
"I'll take care of it." Liam patted the frightened sailor onto the arm and walked him down the steps. "Have you managed to write a list or will I need to do that for you?"
"We have one already, sir."
Shay turned his body, prying you out from behind him. His hands roughly settled down onto your arms, gripping until you boldly looked up at him. "The crew won't harm you. Liam won't harm you. And I won't harm you."
You gave a slow and hesitant nod.
Shay smiled widely, a smile that was so contagious that even your own lips began to tug momentarily. He returned his attention back towards the helm, keeping the ship steady under a light and gentle touch. "We've another day until we reach Boston. And then home." He almost sighed that word: home. You couldn't quite remember what that even felt like but hearing Shay say it... You wanted that feeling, too. "After a new set of clothes..." His eyes roved over you as he returned his attention to the wheel. "After a proper set, you'll fit right in with the crew."
You sneaked a glance out over the ship. You could barely make out the shadows of the few men that lingered on deck. The lantern light was just barely enough to chase back the darkness. You looked back towards Shay, taking in the way the sea breeze ruffled his messy long hair as he looked out towards the horizon.
His gaze quickly swept to you, not giving you enough time to look away. He grinned, sweet eyes glistening when the moonlight them hit at the perfect angle. "Thinking of anything in particular, lass?"
You ducked your head away. You peered over at his boots, dusted with dirt and blood. You wanted to thank him, to mutter those small pathetic words but you hadn't spoken in such a long time that you weren't even sure if you could. It was easier to stand there, speechless and statuesque. But he deserved much more than that, didn't he?
Shay, whether you truly understood it or not, had rescued you. Your brain couldn't comprehend it, not yet. Your thoughts were still too programmed and trained to think of it but Shay offered you freedom. He was giving you the opportunity to start a new life. You didn't quite care for a new life yet but you did care for Shay. He had helped you. And you would in turn help him. You owed him your life.
"There's nothing quite like being out at sea." He lifted his chin, eyes slipping closed as the breeze caressed his skin. "Something about being out here on the water that makes things seem so much more distant."
You slipped your eyes closed, feeling the same cool breeze as Shay. Your worries melted, your thoughts softening until you realized how exhausted you truly were. You could have slept standing there, Shay's warmth just a few mere centimeters away. Your entire body sighed, head bowing as a soft sleep fell over you.
Shay chuckled, jostling hold of your attention. "Don't fall asleep on me now, lass. Head down to the cabin for a bit if you're tired."
You stood a bit straighter, determined to stay where you were.
"Enough of that." His fingers pushed playfully into your shoulder. "Either you go down and sleep or you at least talk to me. I think I'm getting tired of talking to myself here."
You huffed, tossing your head away from him, focusing on the crisp waves.
"Oh, fine." His voice was still just as cheery, melodic even. "I'll just start singing a little shanty then."
You turned to him, lips parted, words on the tip of your tongue.
But Shay's eyes were up on the sails, glancing over the masts before turning towards the moon. He began to sing it, curl on the edge of his lips, wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, "Oh, don't you hear the old man say? Goodbye, fare-ye-well. Goodbye, fare-ye-well."
You swallowed your words, still uncertain what you even would have said to him. You focused on the ship instead, admiring the way the massive thing could slice through the ocean and the dark of night.
"Oh, don't you hear the old man say? Hoor-raw my boys, we're homeward bound." Shay grinned, tossing his attention over towards you. "Nothing yet? Not even pleased we're heading home?"
You forced yourself to face him but your head ducked away, an old habit that you couldn't shake yourself from. You swallowed the sickening anxiety and murmured under your breath, "Thank you."
Shay was silent, his breath passing roughly over his lips. "You don't worry yourself, lass. I only did the right thing." His hands reached out for a second, fingers curled as if he wanted to brush them along your arm but he dropped them back at his side. "And I'm glad to finally hear that voice of yours. Sounds angelic if you ask me."
You clenched your jaws and stalked forwards towards the bannister which drew a laugh from Shay. It was strange to hear such pleasant comments, ones of a sweeter and kinder nature. It was difficult for you to respond to them, wavering in how to reply or what to do. Physical things were always expected by your previous jailor but Shay wasn't a jailor... He was... You didn't know. You didn't understand any of it.
You growled, angry and bitter, too confused to comprehend what was happening now. What was he? What were you? Why did he bother saving you? What reason did he have for killing your previous jailor?
You spun sharply on your heel, eyes filled with rage.
Shay reached out a trembling hand, brows bending under sincere concern. "Did I say something to upset you?"
You rushed him, your hands snatching hold of his lapels, but the moment you did you felt regret and remorse. Your words were low, tangled in your throat, "What is it you want?"
Shay took his time replying, his arms wavering as they hovered around you. He was too afraid to hold you but he wanted so desperately to comfort you. "Nothing. Lass. I want nothing from you."
Your anger twisted into a deep rooted sorrow, your fingers quivering in their furious grip around his jacket. You bit down into the corner of your lip, teeth sinking into flesh until you tasted the tart twinge of blood.
Liam's weary voice broke the subtle silence. "Shay."
"It's alright, Liam." He gathered your hands into his, prying them from his jacket and letting them fall to your side.
You bowed your head away, allowing your anger to dissipate.
"You take the wheel tonight and I'll take over in the morn." Shay shuffled a step back then carefully waltzed with you towards the stairs and down into the captain's cabin. He closed the doors and guided you over to the bed. He pulled the covers down and patted a hand upon it. "Go on, lass. Get some sleep."
You wavered, shifting your weight ever so slightly between your feet. You nearly looked at him, nearly met his gaze but you stopped yourself. Your eyes burned, warm tears moistening your cheeks.
Shay tried to reach out again, to hold you but he stopped himself. His hand gripped your shoulder, bringing you closer to the bed and easing to you sit on its edge. "Rest, now. I'll stay close by. No one'll get in here." He moved over towards the round table in the center of the room, busying himself with his belts and weaponry.
You laid down on your side, not bothering to sleep under the blankets. But you felt too vulnerable, even with Shay watching over you. You scooted back and pressed your spine into the wall. You stared a hole into the floor across the room, burrowing your gaze into every fine grain.
Shay glanced over his shoulder, mouth in a hard-pressed frown. "You frightened, lass?" He turned around to face you, shuffling a bit towards the bed. "Is that why you won't sleep?"
You whispered it, too afraid to speak any louder, "Yes."
He patted the mattress before sitting down. "I'll be right here." He shifted his weight until he could lay out on his back, head thrown onto the pillow. He reached a hand up, fluffing the pillow beneath his head and left it there. "Not the best of beds but... better than nothing." He closed his eyes and draped his arm across his stomach. He was laying on the very edge, giving you enough space if you needed it.
Your tongue licked at the cut on the inside of your mouth, regretting that you had hurt not only yourself but Shay as well. You were so full of anger and rage and you weren't certain how to handle it. You knew now that you wanted to protect Shay. He wasn't your jailor but he was something. He was someone you wanted to serve. He had saved you and you were going to do everything in your power to help him in return.
Chapter 3: Choices
You're slowly beginning to make the Morrigan your home
During the night you kept waking, the creak of wood or the stomp of a foot outside would jostle you from a faint dream. You slowly moved closer to him each time you woke, relishing in the warmth that he provided against the cold draft in the room. It was still dark out, the window across the room providing you the barest of glimpses. It was a softening darkness, though, the approach of dawn almost soothing what fears you held.
You stared at Shay's face, memorizing the curves and bends of his profile. Shay shifted in his sleep, chest rising from a sharp breath. You curled against him and pressed your cheek into the rough fabric of his jacket. You took down a deep breath, sweat and gunpowder clung to his skin. There was an underlying scent, like fresh ice and snow.
He repositioned his head on the pillow, eyes still slipped closed. "Almost morning, love?" His arm curled up around your back, fingertips sliding upwards across your arm. "We've a bit more time together before I leave..."
Your body went rigid, breath held tightly in your lungs, as Shay slipped his hand beneath the thin cloth of your shirt. You curled your fingers into a fist, nails daggering into the softness of your palm. You still your expression, hardening into neutrality.
"If you're up for it." Shay rolled onto his side, his other arm gathering you against his warmth. He dipped his head down, eyes slipping open just enough to see your face. Shay sat up sharply, half-falling out of bed as he scurried up onto his feet. "Lass." He swallowed hard and raked his hair back out of his face. "I didn't mean to... I didn't realize..." He tugged at his clothes, locking his eyes on his attire and then towards the belts he'd laid out last night. He put his back to you, ashamed and trembling. "I think it's best if I head up and help Liam at the wheel. You, uh, get some rest, aye?"
You watched every skittish movement that he made before pushing yourself into a sitting position. "I did something?"
He threw you a quick look. "What?" He starred, wordless and undetermined. Shay slowly walked back towards the bed and sat down. "No, lass. It was I that did something."
You glowered, still trying to observe his expression, to gauge what he was feeling.
"It's not right of me to have..." He took down a deep breath and released it in a heavy sigh. "I thought you were... someone else and I..."
You laid back down on your side, head pressed against your curled arm.
"Listen when I tell you that you're not expected to do that sort of thing." Shay leaned closer, trying to encourage you to peer up at him. "It's not right, what that bastard did to you. And the other girls. That's not what you're for."
You glanced at him, his brows pinched together and his eyes narrowed. You knew he was desperate for an answer and for you to accept his words. "I understand."
Shay laid back down onto his side, giving you plenty of space between your two bodies. His voice softened, the sound of a soothing lullaby, "Can you tell me your name now, lass? Now that you're talking."
"No." Your voice felt methodical and lifeless compared to his. Your vision lowered to the buttons and fastenings of his attire, focusing on those instead of Shay's concerned gaze. "I don't know it."
He was quiet for a moment, his fingertips running over the fabric of the bed, smoothing out wrinkles and creases. "What about family? Anyone out there that might be looking for you?"
You clenched your teeth. You suddenly regretted ever having spoken. You regretted Shay's probing questions. You wanted to remember and yet you desperately wanted to forget. You were afraid that if you tried to remember who you were then you would also remember all of the terrible things that were done to you, things better off forgotten.
You didn't know who you were. And it didn't matter. That person died long ago. You barely knew who you were in that moment let alone who you had been years ago. You were still gathering together your thoughts and feelings with clumsy hands, trying to piece together some form of reality.
Shay slowly sat up again. "Don't worry about then. Let's go up and check on Liam. He's in need of some sleep, I'm sure." He tilted his head a bit, that same delightful smile on his lips again. You'd give anything to make sure that smile never faded. "You can be my quartermaster while he's gone."
"Quartermaster?" You didn't want to sound too intrigued but it was an interesting idea.
"Aye. You'll help me should I need it. Maybe bark out orders to the men, if you like." He jumped up onto his feet and snatched up his gear. He fastened everything into place while waltzing over towards the cabin doors but his steps halted. He glanced over when he realize you hadn’t moved. "Lass? You coming with me?"
Your chest tightened, heart swelling. You eagerly got to your feet, more than happy to help him with any task no matter what it was. It felt good to have a purpose but not just any purpose. It felt good to repay his kindness when so few others dared to show it to you. It felt good to have a noble goal, an honorable goal. So, you followed at his heels like an eager pup.
You hadn’t considered in the least that daytime would mean more sailors out on deck, rushing about to finish their laborious tasks. You cringed for a moment, wary of your next move, eyes searching frantically from one face to the next. You settled on Shay as he strode towards the stairs, choosing to follow him rather than hide.
If Shay wanted your help then you would give it no matter the consequences.
He hardly missed a beat, leaping up the stairs with his weapons jostling on his waist. He gave Liam a wide smile, clapping the man on his back. "Anything to report, Liam?"
"Nothing as of yet. It was a calm night." Liam eyed you for a moment then returned his attention ahead, allowing you to walk forward without hesitation. "We should reach Boston's port by noon."
"The winds must have been in our favor, then." Shay looked out over the deck and onwards towards the thin horizon, a wide endless sea of dark blue meeting with a cyan sky. "We should stop and take the ladies to the closest church. Those clerics’ll get them back on their feet."
"They will, yes." Liam stepped away from the helm, allowing Shay to take his place. He strolled across the quarterdeck before finally facing him. "I'll have someone trustworthy escort them there safely. The lass there... Will she be joining them?"
Shay shrugged his shoulder. "If she so chooses. Otherwise, she can go where she pleases. Stay with us, if she likes."
He tucked his hands behind his back, pacing forward leisurely. He was being calm, barely acknowledging you but not in a fearful sort of way. He was calm so that you might feel calm as well. "And what is the name of our prospect crewmate?"
"She can't remember it." Shay peered over his shoulder at the man, barely touching the wheel, then rested his attention on you, soft and endearing. "Can you, lass?"
You tilted your head away, focusing on the pattern that the ropes made along the banister. It was easier to look away. Hold eye contact required so much effort, so much energy.
"Surely she was called something." Liam's boots waltzed across the wooden deck, each step precise and determined. You flicked a glance at him, finding that he was giving you his full attention. "What did your master call you then?"
Your jaws clenched.
"Don't call him that. He’s not her master." Shay shook his head slightly, brows flat over his eyes. "And she's no slave."
"She was at one point." Liam tried to peer past what emotions decorated your expression. He was observant, working cautiously to solve a well guarded puzzle. "Did he ever call you a name?"
It took everything in you not to growl, to not speak your anger or to show your anger through action. You barely managed the word, barely able to speak it through your grinding teeth. "Dog."
Liam took down a breath and closed his eyes. "I see..."
"Enough of that. She doesn’t need a name. She can pick her own name if she feels it." Shay waved his hand as if to push away whatever words were spoken. "We're nearly to Boston, anyhow. One task at a time."
He gave a nod in agreement. "We need to speak with the harbormaster about our hull."
"And what's wrong with our hull, Liam?" Shay stepped away from the wheel a bit, turning towards the conversation.
"You heard Chevalier." He approached him, pacing towards the stairs. "The Morrigan needs a few upgrades. She's a small ship. If we plan on--"
"I heard him, aye." Shay's tone turned a bit sour. He rested both hands on the helm, flicking his attention to you instead. He didn't say anything, only smiled a bit as if he were pleased about something.
Liam seemed to groan a bit about Shay’s attitude. "I shall head in, for now." His boot clomped down the steps. "Wake me when we arrive."
Shay motioned you over, his hand beginning to reach out. "You take over for a bit."
You eyed the wheel and then his outreached hand. You stepped forward, even though you were uncertain and afraid. You settled your hand in his, allowing him to help place yours onto the shining wood. You wanted to at least try, to try for him.
"Just a little bit to the left." He lifted his hands from yours, allowing you full control.
You held your breath, feet pressed firmly into the floor as you began to turn the massive thing, surprised as how fluidly the contraption rolled.
"Just a little now, lass." Shay chuckled a bit, placing his hands on yours to keep you from turning too far. "She needs a gentler kind of touch. Someone who will treat her right."
You leaned back into his warmth. You used his presence to steady your weight onto your feet and to pace your breathing with his. The air was cold, nearly bone brittling, but with the wind in your hair you felt a true sense of freedom. You lifted your chin a bit higher, your eyes focused on the sea and nothing else. Free, Shay had said. You were free to choose.
"Your mighty good at sailing, lass." Shay stepped back and moved towards the bannister, leaving your back to bare the brutal cold. He leaned his elbows out on it, gazing out over the scattered crewmen. "Keep the sun on that shoulder and we'll reach port soon enough."
You swept your attention between Shay and the horizon, pleading that he would move a bit closer. Your grip tightened, your confidence draining out of you until you were trembling. "Shay," you muttered it, a pitiful squeak.
He rose a brow at you. He got to his feet when he realized your fear, rushing to your side. "Don't you worry, lass. You can handle her just fine." He nudged his chin towards the sea, urging you to keep focus.
You took down a sharp breath but did as he requested. You kept him in the corner of your eye, desperate to have a piece of him in sight. You needed him. You needed Shay to give you confidence. You didn’t want to leave his side.
You ducked your head away, peeking over at him through your hair. "Will I go to the church?"
Shay jolted a bit, as if he'd been entranced by the silence. "The church?" He stepped towards the bannister then leaned back against it. He stood close enough for you to see him which settled your fears well enough. "Is that something you might want, lass?"
You couldn't decide on how to answer. You didn't want him to know how much you needed him. That felt like too much of a weakness. And yet, you didn't want to leave either. "No. It isn't."
Shay tilted his head a bit, glancing at you before settling on the deck. "Is there somewhere else you need to go, then?"
You shifted your weight nervously on your feet. Was Shay telling you to leave? Did he not want you to stay afterall? If Shay wanted you to leave you would have nothing else. There would be nothing. Your heart began racing until it pounded in your ears. Fear and anxiety seized your body until it was near to collapsing.
Shay jolted towards you. He rushed to be an anchor behind your wavering form, his hands steadying the wheel. Your body quaked, hands slipping away from the wheel, with Shay's warm chest at your back. Your knuckles were white from clenching onto it.
The sailors looked on in concern, the ship having been jostled out from underneath their feet, before busying themselves with work once more.
Shay gave a slow sigh. "You go where you want, lass. You can stay here if you like. I won't make you." He stepped off to the side, a hand on the center of your back as he peered down at you. "You're a free woman, now. You make your own choices."
You couldn't look at him, it required too much effort to look into people's eyes and you had so little energy left. But you gathered what courage you could and faced him. "I choose to stay."
Shay gave a short, breathy laugh. "We better get you new clothes then. Can't have you up here without proper gear." He curled a finger under your chin and forced you to tilt your head higher. "You're no slave. Not anymore."
You flicked a quick glimpse of his expression, noting the slight smirk and the gentleness in each of his features. Shay wasn't angry with you. Your body sighed, each muscle releasing its bottled tension. You nearly leaned into him. You wanted so desperately to hold him, to be held by him, to feel that comfort all around you. You stood close to him instead, taking what warmth you could feel from the slight contact. For now, that was all you needed.
Chapter 4: A Wolf
You arrive in Boston with Shay and Liam, still trying to find out who you are now.
Boston was loud. It was cluttered with people, horses, and carriages. It smelled of earthy dirt and mud, of pungent sweat and musk. You stayed close behind Shay, cautiously peering up at people's faces as they passed by.
Liam was next to him and every once in awhile he would glance over his shoulder at you as if he were making sure you hadn't disappeared or attacked anyone. But you felt that it was the first because Liam had taken a kinder approach to you, as best as he could manage. He still didn't fully trust your state of mind but he wasn't quite as harsh.
You tried to look the harbormaster in the eye as he spoke to Shay. There was an exchange of coin, Liam adding a few extra thoughts as they headed back to the bustling streets. Not a slave, you tried to remember. A free woman, you considered, glancing about the tall buildings and the pigeons that fluttered overhead, the sun that gleamed and the wisps of clouds that dotted the evening sky.
Pale pinks, you considered, against a baby blue sky.
"You been listening, lass?" Shay pressed the tips of his fingers into your arm, drawing your attention back to the pair of them, back down to the grays and browns of the city. "Go on inside the shop and grab some new clothes. I’ve the coin."
You pulled your attention from him to the building he nudged his head at. You treaded between Shay and Liam towards the wooden door and into the slight darkness of the shop. The glass windows barely let any sunlight in to see the merchant at the far end of the long room. You stepped just barely inside and hesitated in your next steps. You were far enough away from Shay but close enough to hear Liam’s complaints.
"You can't bring her with us, Shay." Liam snapped a hand around his shoulder, forcing the man to peer at him. "The Order can not risk her temper."
"What temper? She hasn't done anything wrong since the fort." Shay jerked away from him and joined you inside the doorway. He settled a hand on the curve of your back. "Go on, lass. Let's find you something that fits."
You took a few reluctant steps further inside. You waited for Shay to take the lead but it was obvious that he was waiting on you. You looked back at him for answers, for some show of support that you were doing the right thing.
He chuckled and approached the man in the back of the store, that cheerful grin on his lips. "Morning. My friend here's in need of a set of clothes. You wouldn't by chance sell her any."
The clerk bobbed his head, attention weaving between the two people in view and Liam standing in the doorway. "Let me take some measurements. I'll see what I've got in stock for her. Don’t sell too many dresses, I’m afraid.”
Shay’s laugh rolled sweetly from him. “I think she’d rather prefer something more fitting for a sailor than a lady. Ain't the right, lass?”
He seemed to jolt slightly but he kept his opinions quiet. He moved around the counter and began the tedious task of measuring your arm length, your body rigid as he moved around you. It was only Shay’s encouraging smile that kept you from growling and hissing. You made little to no fuss, only jerking away from him when he made an attempt to measure your chest and waist.
When it was finally over the clerk moved about the store, grabbing up a shirt and trousers, fetching a jacket from one of the shelves in the back. He set a pair of boots with the garments on the counter and gave Shay a confirming nod. “Everything should fit her just fine. She can try them on and I’ll make adjustments if need be.”
Shay swept his eyes over to you. He nodded his encouragement, motioning for you to go over and grab your things. You stood your ground, glaring back at him until he muttered, “Go on now, lass. They’re your things not mine.”
You shuffled forward and gathered the bundle into your arms. You carried them towards the backroom and dropped them onto a cluttered desk. It wasn’t that you weren’t pleased to have new clothes. And it wasn’t that you didn’t want them. You simply didn’t understand how Shay could give something to you without asking for anything in return. Surely he would want payment of some kind.
You tossed off the baggy garments and pulled on each new article of clothing. Everything fit rather finely, hugging gently where needed and feeling almost comforting. You grabbed the old clothes and carried them to the main section of the building, finding that Liam and Shay were once again debating about something. But their words ceased before you could hear the rest.
“We can toss those old rags aside,” Shay said, taking them and handing them over to the clerk. “Now why don’t we head down to have a drink with the rest of the men.”
Liam groaned, obviously displeased. “She should be nowhere near a bunch of rambunctious lads and their drink.”
Shay wasn’t having it. He’d already left the shop with you in tow. “The lass has no need to be afraid.” He flicked a gentle glance at you, the dark pools of his eyes endless. “She has us and that’ll keep her calm. Aye, lass?”
You believed his words even if Liam didn’t. The quartermaster said nothing further but his expression stated his doubt clearly enough.
Inside of the pub was a delectable warmth, a heat that sunk into your skin and bones, releasing the frozen ache in your fingers. You tried to stay close to Shay but the crowds of people made your steps slower than his. Without his presence you froze, your eyes flicking to each face in search of his. You saw many of the sailors from his crew and you thought perhaps you caught a glimpse of Liam. But there was so much noise and too many people...
A soldier approached, the buttons of his uniform glinting in the candlelight, the rank scent of whiskey on him as he leaned forward. "Looking for a bit of company, sweetheart? Pretty thing like yourself... You look like you need a right a tussle with someone who knows how."
Your fear strangled you, collapsed your throat until words were ash and dust in your lungs. He smelled like the fort, smelled like the commander. Worst of all, he looked like the commander. His large and rough hand along your arm jolted you back into a memory, the room where you were nothing but an object existing only to be utilized by another. So easily did you return to being a slave, ready for the next order.
A hand pushed him away, Shay's body coming between you and the soldier. "The lass here's not for your entertainment. I'd go along your way or else you might do something you'll regret."
You took down a refreshing breath, cold and tingling to the lungs, a burst of revival. Shay's presence gave you renewed strength and courage. You bruisingly sank your teeth into your bottom lip. An anger was swelling inside of you. To hurt you was a trivial matter. But to hurt Shay… If needed you would defend him. You couldn't stand the idea that someone might hurt the very same good person who had rescued you.
The soldier grimaced, bitter that he'd been interrupted and too drunk to know what he was doing. "I'm a solider, Irishman. That lady and I were conversing. She can tell me herself--"
Shay gave a sharp tilt of his head as if he were trying to weigh his choices. The brutal punch followed quickly behind, knocking the soldier backwards until he stumbled into a chair and table. The building grew eerily quiet.
Shay spoke calmly despite his anger, "You might want to reconsider this. I've my entire crew in here with me."
He pulled his lips back as his hand rubbed the sore spot along his jaw. "You stupid fuck."
The crew stood up, sensing what was about to happen.
The soldier shoved himself off of the table, ready to make a foolish attack.
You didn't think. You only acted. Shay was yours to protect. You didn't care about yourself. Shay would never know harm so long as you were around. You rushed forward, moving between your captain and the soldier. A growl ripped through your throat and your hands clutched hold of his jacket. You let your anger consume you. You made sure he knew it as you forced him back against the table.
He flinched away, sobering enough to understand.
Shay's hands gently tugged your arms, encouraging you to let go. "Come now, lass."
You bit back the rest of your fury. Your hands fell away, the anger dissipating as you glowered at the soldier. You allowed Shay to lead you through the weary and silent crowd, towards a few of the gathered crew, Liam standing at the head of them.
The moment you stood before the wordlessly men, Shay spun you around and roughly gripped your shoulders. "What were you thinking? He could have killed you!"
"A rabid dog," one of the crew muttered into his mug.
“That rabid dog protected your captain,” reminded Liam.
You clenched your teeth but Shay's expression twisted your irritation into guilt. You bowed your head away, ashamed that you had upset him somehow. You had only tried to help. It was the only thing you were good at, protecting and serving your master. It was your only skill. The only one you remembered anyway.
Shay released a heavy sigh. "I'll handle it myself next time, lass." He pulled you forward, arms grappling around you. “You’ve no idea how to fight or defend yourself…”
He was holding you, the thought scattered across your mind.
Your breath was caught in your lungs with shock at having his arms around you. You thought fear would overwhelm you. You thought that having someone hold you again would make you remember all of those awful nights at the fort but... Shay felt like home. Your eyes burned, tears stinging them as you swallowed the painful lump in your throat. You pressed your face into his jacket, breathing in his delectable scent.
He let go too quickly, his attention turning towards the gawking men. "Well then? Where's our mugs? Don't tell me no one got me one?"
Liam gave a low chuckle. "I'll go and grab some for us."
You ducked your head away, messy hair falling forward as you batted your eyes until you thought the tears were gone. You joined Shay at the table, awkwardly sitting down next to him. You swept your eyes over the weary crew as they took their seats. You focused on the grains of the table instead.
Liam took his spot on the other side, sliding the mugs over. "It'll be good to be home again. To have a proper meal and a quiet night's rest."
"Quiet," chuckled Shay. "We need a night of celebration. Full of ladies and drink."
Liam gave a chiding shake of his head. "Of course that'd be what you'd want, Shay."
“Doesn’t everyone?” Shay lifted his mug, taking down a few large gulps.
Liam crossed his arms onto the table, leaning forward ever so slightly. “You better have your night of fun whilst we’re here then. The moment we reach the homestead you’ve work to do.”
He groaned and shoved the mug away, tossing his weight back. “When aren't we working?”
Liam raised his hands and tossed his attention about the pub, looking around at the shouting men and the rising songs. “What do you think we’re doing right now, Shay?” He pressed his elbows into the firm surface of the table and pointed a finger at him. “You can’t always have fun and enjoy the finer things. Sometimes you have to work as well.”
Shay snatched up his mug again, ready to take another sip before he glanced over at you. You’d been watching them silently, analyzing their behaviors towards each other. They seemed like such good friends and yet they seemed to argue a great deal as well.
Shay pushed one of the silver tin flagons to you. “Go on now, lass. I’m sure you’re no doubt thirsty.”
You looked down into the dark liquid, seeing the faint reflection of your face in it. You leaned back in your seat to avoid your own features then glanced up to them. You took the cold metal in hand and sipped upon the harsh drink, feeling it sizzle slightly across your tongue and throat. It wasn’t the worst thing you’d ever drunk. You were certain you’d had worse.
Shay grinned proudly before returning his attention to Liam and then the crew. They were caught up in telling stories and shouting over the chaos of the crowd. He finally settled on Liam, his words cheerful, “I think I fancy myself a night with one of the ladies before we leave then. Can you make sure the lass gets back to the ship?”
Liam’s hard pressed stare didn’t soften in the slightest but he gave a nod. “I’ll get her back to the ship. But you best return in the early morning. We set sail the moment the sun rises.”
Shay knocked back the last of his drink and stood. He pressed a hand onto your shoulder when you tried to stand as well. “Go with Liam, lass. He’ll take you back when you’re ready.”
Your brows pinched, eyes narrowing. He was leaving you alone and as much as you wanted to argue with him… you didn’t. You watched him disappear into the crowded tavern and it took you a moment to process that he was gone. He wasn't planning on returning from what you could tell.
“Lass.” Liam’s voice tried to sound soft and gentle but it still held its hard edge. “Shay can handle himself. Finish your drink and we’ll head back.”
You turned your attention back to him and the tin mug. You never lifted your eyes to look at anyone else at the table. Rarely did you sip on the drink, taking only a few swallows just to keep yourself busy. You hadn’t barely moved until Liam got to his feet, drawing your attention as well as the crew’s.
“Night gentlemen.” Liam stepped away from the table. “We set sail the morning so make sure your arses are back on the ship before then.”
A few of the men jeered, shouting their complaints and empty promises.
You stood up and followed at his heels. Even when you left the heat of the tavern for the chill of the wintry night, you stayed close behind him. You didn’t stop until Liam did, watching him turn and face you. He silently examined you for a moment, his eyes never wavering even when others walked by. Your eyes darted about the street, never quite looking at Liam for too long.
“You stood up for Shay back there.” He shifted his weight between his feet, still analyzing you for clues. “Why didn’t you stand up for yourself?”
You lowered your head, finding that the grit of sand on the dirt path was more interesting than Liam’s stare.
“Dog,” he stated. “That’s what your master called you? Why? Because you were a pet? Or was it because you were his bodyguard?” He stepped closer, just barely, because he understood your need for distance. “Those others slaves told me how vicious he made you. You’ve killed people for him.”
You rolled your eyes up to Liam. You expected anger or perhaps even disgust but you saw instead worry and concern. You didn’t know how to reply to his questions. There were so many at once and you barely remembered them. You didn't desire thinking of the answers, either.
He opened his mouth to speak but decided against it. Liam began to walk the path once more, following it back through the city. It was the same city but the night had brought a peaceful calm with it. There were fewer people and less noise and you lost yourself in your thoughts enjoying such peacefulness. You felt your guard lower, your fear soften as you strolled behind the quartermaster.
You reached the docks, your boots clamoring onto the creaking wooden beams, the sails of the ship slapping in the light wind. You could hear the sailors working in the night, their words soft as they spoke.
“Lass.” Liam nearly reached out to take your hand but he decided against it. “Head into the cabin and get some sleep. I’ll be below deck should you need me.” He waited patiently for you to step onto the gangway and further onto the ship.
You shuffled towards the captain's cabin, Liam’s boot falling hard onto the deck behind you. You glanced back at him and he gave an encouraging nod. You opened the cabin door then looked back to see Liam disappear into the decks underbelly. You slipped inside the cabin and shut the door, your spine pressed into cold wood and glass.
The small room felt empty and dark, colder than you remembered. Without Shay there to bring you some form of confidence, you felt an overwhelming uneasiness sink into your stomach.
You jerked the door open and stomped towards the direction Liam had gone. You didn’t want to sleep. You didn’t want to be alone. You didn’t want Shay to leave, either. Especially that. You wanted to follow Shay, to make sure he was safe and to stand in the protection of his shadow.
To protect and be protected, you thought with determination.
Your feet halted beneath you when the darkness of the ship’s belly surrounded you. Your eyes fell onto the scowls of a few crew members. You tried to hold their gaze, torn between being the slave and the free woman. You found yourself scowling in return, your anger being the easiest emotion to hold on to. It had always been the easiest one: anger, rage, fighting. They were all easy.
“Something the matter,” growled one of the men as he got to his feet. “Little pup lost its way? Maybe we should show it to the docks and tell it to never come back.”
“Captain’s lost his mind,” muttered another.
Before you could do anything, whether it was flight or fight, Liam stepped into view. He shouted relentlessly, “She is part of your crew now. You’ve a mind to leave this ship then so be it. But bear in mind who it was that saved your life from the British army. It was Shay that released you, saved you from a life of imprisonment. You owe him your allegiance.”
“I owe Shay,” spat one of them as he got to his feet. “I don’t owe her a thing.”
“Shay trusts her and so do I.” Liam moved to your side, arm guiding you around towards the way you’d come. He walked with you towards the steps. “What are you doing, lass? Surely you don’t need help so soon already. I only just left.”
You couldn’t tell him the truth. You couldn’t tell him that you were afraid or that the idea of being alone unsettled you. The words fumbled plainly, “Where is Shay?”
Liam jolted a bit, surprised perhaps that you’d spoken. “He can handle himself, lass, I told you as much. You can’t follow him around like a lost pup. You need to stand on your own once in awhile.”
You walked with him back onto the deck and towards the captain’s cabin. Your steps slowed, not quite ready to return to the confinement of the room. You lowered your eyes when Liam turned around to see what the problem was.
“You can not stand in his shadow. You’re not his pet nor anyone’s.” Liam’s steps were calm and practiced, silent almost. “You’re not a dog. You’re a wolf. Remember that.”
A wolf, you thought, trying to see yourself as anything but a mongrel.
“Look at me,” he ordered, spoke it as if you were one of his sailors. “Wolves don't cower.”
You flicked your eyes up at him but some of your hair hid away your face, making it easier to keep your eyes on his. You never quite looked at his eyes though. His mouth, you focused on that.
“Lift that chin, girl. You’re no one's pet.” He reached out this time, not an ounce of hesitation, as his finger curled beneath your chin and shoved it upwards. “You want to help Shay? He needs a sailor not a slave.”
You tried to keep your chin high even when Liam’s hand fell away. You clenched your jaws and straightened your spine. A wolf, you thought, imagining the great beast as it stood down its enemy. You thought of its sharp canines, the jaggedness of its teeth.
Liam gave a nod of approval before swaggering past towards the stairway. You watched him disappear again, watched another leave you to stand alone. You looked about the ship, finding that the deck was empty and above you the sails and ropes clattered and whipped together. The wind, as refreshing and cool as it was, felt bitter against your prickling skin.
You looked towards the city with hopes that Shay would return soon but… He had told you to go with Liam. He told you to return to the ship. So you would wait for him. Not as a dog or a pet but as a wolf waiting for its pack.
Chapter 5: Home
You pressed your spine against the firm wood at your back. The layers of your clothes chased away the chill but your fingers felt numb as you curled them into your palm. A warmth cupped the side of your face, a gentle caress that caused you to nuzzle against it, to breathe deep the dry icy air.
“What is it with you and sleeping all over the place?” Shay’s melodic voice was a delight to the ears, pulling you out of your fading sleep. “Why here of all places, lass? Surely there was better?”
You peered up at him, the sun beaming at his back and casting most of his features in shadow as he kneeled down before you. You slid your eyes closed, the sun too bright and the air too cold. You already knew where you were anyway. Last night, you laid down on the quarterdeck beneath the helm’s wheel. You knew Shay would return there eventually to steer the ship and at the time it seemed like a logical idea. Now, in the icy mist of morning, you were frozen down to the marrow of your bones.
You eased yourself up off of the ground, sitting groggily before him.
Shay gave a slightly disheartened sigh, the shake of his head despite his grin. “Come on, lass. We’ll need to get you warmed up.” He rose to his feet and offered you his hand, waiting for you to take it. When you finally placed it in his grasp, Shay eased you up onto your feet with a deep frown. “Your hands are ice, lass. What were you thinking?”
You carefully pulled your hand away from him, pressed it against your chest with mild uncertainty. You were never certain if your actions would cause anger or sorrow. You didn’t want to cause either in Shay. You wanted only his approval.
“Back to not talking again, I see.” He started towards the stairs, taking them one at a time, always checking over his shoulder to make sure you were at his heels. “Shouldn’t have left you alone… Liam should have stayed with you, kept an eye on you. You’re like having a child, I swear.”
You remembered Liam’s words. He said Shay needed a sailor. He needed someone who could help run a ship, who could follow orders and take care of themself. A sailor, not a slave. A wolf, not a dog. So when Shay opened the cabin door and looked over his shoulder, you tried to raise your head a bit higher.
He gave a heavy sigh, the irritation softening considerably. “I didn’t mean to lecture you. I’m sure you’ve heard enough lecturing to last your lifetime.”
You gave a slow nod of your head, your eyes resting on his mouth. “I will… take better care of myself.”
The corner of his mouth lifted into a pleased smirk. “First you’ll need to get those fingers of yours warmed up. Go on. I’ll be on deck if you need me.”
You hesitated, suddenly regretting the loss of his company. You wish you hadn’t spoken up. You wish you’d kept quiet and allowed him to help you a little longer. But Liam had been right. Shay needed a sailor and none of his men were doted on so childishly. None of them slept out in the cold winter night nearly catching a cold.
You walked past him into the dim light of the cabin, feigning confidence as best you could. A wolf, you kept reminding yourself. Wolves don’t cower. But the moment the door slid shut behind you, your back stiffened and your breath stilled. You couldn’t afford to be weak. You knew that once long ago you were stronger but… those memories felt distant and clouded by more painful memories.
Shay wanted you warmed up before you returned to deck so you snatched up a pair of gloves. You slipped them on before gathering the blankets from the bed. You wrapped yourself in them and pressed your nose against the subtle scents of leather, sweat, and tar. They were the scents of a sailor, of a man who worked hard and kept his crew in line.
When you couldn’t wait a moment longer, you tossed aside the blankets and trudged through the cabin. You stepped outside into the bright light of day and climbed the stairs as patiently as you could. Shay was standing tall, muttering his ideas to Liam who looked more amused than displeased. They both caught sight of you and it took everything in you not to flinch.
“Finally warm, lass?” Shay smiled toothily, his dark hair being messed by the wind.
You gave a firm nod, trying to look more confident than you felt.
Liam spoke plainly, a need to return to business, “When we arrive, we’ll need to speak with Achilles. He’ll want to know about our mission. And I’m sure he’ll want to hear about our new… crew member.”
He tossed you a wink. “With enough training, I bet she’d make a fine Assassin.”
“Shay.” Liam’s brows fell flat over his eyes, lips pressed hard. “She needs stability before she can train for anything. Learning the Creed is the last thing she needs.”
“Now come on, Liam.” Shay let the man’s comment roll past him. Nothing ever seemed to ruffle Shay, not that you’d seen. “The lass might gain a purpose from the Order.”
Liam folded his arm over his chest, his jaw flexing as he bit back his comments. His eyes were firmly on you. You could feel the weight of his stare even without looking. “Speak to Achilles first, Shay. Then you can think about bringing her into the Order.”
He gave a nudge of his chin, words sweet as he spoke, “And there she is. Home.”
You jerked your attention towards the front of the ship. You could see the docks, a few clusters of people, and in the distance a mansion on the hill. You released a slow breath, chest caving as you fought back the trembles. Home, he had said, and a craving swept over you. You wanted that word to roll from your tongue the same way it had for him.
The ship pulled into dock, sailors shouting over the wind as they worked together in setting the sails. Shay steered the large vessel against wind and water until it teetered next to the long row of planks, an impatient steed ready to return to sea.
Liam was already making his way across the deck and along the gangway. Shay gave a few last orders before following his quartermaster, a glance over his shoulder to ensure you were still with him. You weren’t quite as eager as they were. This place was home to them. For you it was another building filled with more strangers.
“Let me speak with Achilles first.” Liam tossed a glance over his shoulder, his gaze barely skimming over yours. “The two of you should get some food and drink for now. Rest a bit before the meeting.”
Shay gave a light hearted chuckle as he slowed his steps and scooped his arm around your shoulders. “A good warm meal. Maybe some hot tea while we’re at it.”
“Stay out of trouble,” Liam warned before stalking off up the grassy hill.
Shay huffed and tossed you a wicked grin. “Trouble? Always the pessimist. I just suggested some tea.”
Your uncertainty seemed to soften but your hands fumbled together all the same. They seemed to be knotting together anxiety rather than calming you down. But the further the two of you walked towards the mansion, the more at peace you became. The woods were serene, rustling of leaves and the chirps of birds. The shadows and beams of sunlight cast by the canopy calmed you even.
You whispered, not entirely sure he’d hear it, “Shay.”
He jolted in surprise, brows raised. “Aye, lass?”
You forced yourself to hold his gaze and perhaps it was the new found peace or the gentleness that Shay provided but you confidently stated, “I want to be a sailor.”
His hand reached over and patted the space between your shoulders. “We’ve no time to lose then. I know just the place to train.”
He followed a path that didn’t lead towards the mansion but instead skirted along the area between it and the woods. He steps slowed into a gentle stroll upon approaching the training ring, grass pounded away to reveal the dusty earth, a space large enough for sparring in.
“Take these, lass.” He pulled two daggers from his belt, twisted them in his fingers before finally hold them out to you. “Liam doesn’t need to know I taught you anything now does he?”
You eyed the daggers before cautiously taking them. You were certain you’d never held such weapons before. But their weight felt familiar, the way the leather scuffed across your calloused fingers. Your hold on them loosened while testing their weight curiously. Yes, these were a fine set of blades. You didn’t understand how you knew but… you just did.
Shay grinned and shoved a playful hand into your shoulder. “Feels fine, aye?”
You ducked your head away, corner of your mouth quivering into a smile.
“Before we start training, there are some things you’ll need to know.” Shay moved along the dirt patch, shoes kicking at the loose dirt. “It’ll hurt. Fighting with a weapon like that… you should expect sore muscles and a few bruises.” He stopped on the other side of the area and faced you.
“Cabbage farmer!” His accent was thick, words both acidic and hateful. He was a bull charging across the field towards Shay, anger bristling across his jagged movements. “You irresponsible and arrogant salaud! Your mission was to sneak into the fortress--”
Your captain raised his palms but he was just as annoyed. “Come down, Chevalier. If you’d let me explain--”
“You risked everything especially the Order.” He threw the punch before you even had a chance to rush to Shay’s side. He began muttering his hatred so quickly and with foreign words that you could only assume he was cursing Shay.
You didn’t think about your actions. You were already racing across the small training area, your heel kicking out his knee from under him. His arm flung back to defend himself from your attack but you dodged his. He tried to draw his sword, a brief moment of shock slowing him down long enough for your daggers to press against his throat.
He hissed through clenched teeth, his eyes rolling up to glare at you. “What is the meaning of this?”
You snarled when he dared to snatch at your hands, your blades pressing harder against his throat.
His brows pinched, jaw flexing under the pressure. “Let me go this instant or I swear I’ll kill you myself.”
“Hold on, lass.” Shay straightened his stance, a hand lifted towards you while the other brushed across his busted lip.
Your eyes rolled up to Shay, waiting for further orders like a soldier rather than a sailor.
“Let Chevalier go. The man’s a prick but he’s not our enemy.”
Your gaze rolled down to peer at the other man’s anger. You relinquished your hold on him and stepped away. Chevalier got to his feet in one quick move and drew his sword. You would fight him if you had to, if it protected Shay.
“Chevalier, no!” Shay rushed to stand between the two of you, gaze weaving back and forth between your stares. “She was defending me. She doesn’t realize what she’s done.”
“Achilles wants to see you,” he snarled, shoving his sword back into its sheath and stepping away. “Keep your pet under control, cabbage farmer, or she’s dead next time.”
Liam marched over just as the other man was stomping away. “Shay! You gave her a weapon? She nearly killed Chevalier.” His hand reached up and snatched the lapel of his jacket and your instincts made you twitch towards them. “What were you thinking, Shay?”
Shay lifted a palm towards you, pleading with you to calm down. “How’s I to know she’d be an expert? She used those blades like…”
“We’ll discuss this later.” Liam shoved away from the man and stalked towards the mansion. “Come. Achilles needs to speak with you.”
Shay followed after him, a glance thrown over his shoulder at you.
Liam did the same and lifted a finger towards you. “No. Return to the ship. After that display--”
Shay stepped in front of you, words daggering from his tongue, “Chevalier threw the first punch. She was just doing what she thought was right. She wouldn’t have killed him, Liam.”
He tossed his head, fingers curling into a clutched fist. “She stays on the ship ‘til after the meeting. And then, she’s not to be alone. Understood, Shay?”
The captain gave a weak nod, shoulders taut until the other turned away. His hand pressed against his face before carefully reaching back and motioning you to follow. “Where’d you learn to fight like that, lass? You took on Chevalier like it was nothing.”
You gripped the daggers tighter. “I do not know.”
Shay glanced at Liam before coming to a stop. He gripped your arms for a moment, wanting to say something but he kept silent. He gave a nod and grabbed the daggers from you. He sheathed them before removing the belt and wrapping it around your waist. “We’ll continue your training next time. Although, not too sure you need it anymore.”
The belt embracing your waist, the weight of the daggers at your hips, felt familiar as well. It was comforting if not frightening. You must have learned to fight somewhere doing something. But you were too afraid to dredge up the memory, if you could even remember it at all.
You paced the deck of the ship, ignoring the occasional stare from the sailors still on board. They tried to continue their duties, to clean this and oil that, but your relentless impatience was even beginning to fluster them. You followed the gangway back onto the docks, the wooden planks back to the grassy area. You weren’t certain how much longer you could wait for them, debating whether or not you’d sneak your way to the mansion.
Liam was the first to return, brows pinching when he saw you approach. “You were supposed to stay on the ship.”
Your lips thinned, their edges tugging but you kept composure as best you could.
“And what were you thinking? Putting a blade to an Assassin’s throat?” His steps were heavier, movements thrown behind his rage. “You can not go around attacking everything. We can not afford your recklessness.”
“You told me to be a wolf.” Your fists clenched, heat blooming across your face and neck. “So I was a wolf.”
His brows pressed flat across his eyes, the muscles in his neck coiling. “I told you to be a wolf not a rabid beast.”
You sucked down a breath of air, bottling up the rest of your rage as best you could. You turned sharply away from Liam, marching back towards the docks.
“Wolves are smart and clever creatures,” he shouted as he stomped after you. “They aren’t mindless hunters. What you did--”
“I was defending Shay!” You grabbed the closest thing, a crate heavy with supplies and threw it in a wild rage. The wood splintered and cracked against the earth. Your eyes were locked on the destruction, albeit small it was just another sign to prove your recklessness.
Liam was silent for a moment, taking a cautious step away when he realized how overwhelming he was being. “Shay… can defend himself. If you’d worry less about Shay and more about yourself...” He huffed, plodding past you to take the gangway back onto the ship.
You took down heated breaths through clenched teeth, the cold air burning your throat and lungs. You flexed your fingers, trying to shake away the anger that seared through you but it was impossible until his hand enveloped your shoulder. Your eyes darted to his, worry pinching his brows and parting his lips.
But Shay quickly pressed aside his worry and smiled sweetly. “I reckon you’re hungry, aye? We should go cook something up to eat. I bet Kesegowaase would be willing to teach you how to hunt. If you’re up for it.”
You stared into the ground, a sigh slipping past your lips.
“Don’t worry so much. Chevalier had it coming.” He chuckled, slipping his arm around your shoulder and waltzing with you towards the ship. “We’ll grab ourselves a hot meal after we check the map. I need to see how long it’ll take us to get to Albany.”
You followed him across the ship’s deck and into the captain’s cabin. You watched him round his desk and roll out the worn maps, searching through them until he found the one he was looking for. You muttered it weakly at first, cautious to hearing your own words aloud, “There is a hunter.” You walked around the edge of the table, Shay's eyes fixated on you. “He stumbles onto a wolf that is wounded. And the hunter takes pity on the creature. He takes the wolf home and nurses it back to health.”
He seemed slightly mesmerized, never having heard your voice spoken in such a tone or so many words all together at once. He mindlessly set the map down onto the table and gave you his full attention, those deep amber eyes soothingly upon you.
“The wolf is grateful. It tries to help the hunter. It tries to be tame.” You placed yourself on the other side the table, watching the oil lamp’s flame flicker light across his features. “But the wolf is still a wolf. It wants to be both dog and wolf but it doesn’t know how.”
Shay tilted his head, eyes peering down at the table for answers. “And why would this wolf want to be a dog?”
You narrowed your eyes. “Dogs serve a master. Wolves do not.”
He gave a few nods, fingers fumbling with the edge of the map. “I’m not certain I can follow this story, lass. I don’t understand what wolves and hunters have to do with anything.”
“Liam said I should… be like a wolf.”
“A wolf?” Shay snorted, shaking his head as he smoothed out the map across the desk. He leaned forward and examined its details. “And why’d he tell you a thing like that? You just ignore him, lass. You’re no wolf.”
You leaned forward as well, desperate for an answer. “Then what?”
“What?” He jolted his attention up at you, baffled by what it was you were asking.
“If not a wolf then what should I be?”
Shay’s hands slid down across the table as he straightened his spine. “You shouldn’t be anything, lass. You’re not a dog or a wolf. You’re just… you.”
You swallowed painfully the tightness in your throat. You stepped away from the table and sauntered across the room. “I don’t… know what I am.”
“I do.” He grinned widely before sitting down in his chair. “She’s always changing. Every day she’s different. First she didn’t say anything. Today she says more.” He tossed his shoulders into a careless shrug. “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. That’s the Assassin’s Creed.”
“So… I should be an Assassin.”
He laughed, light hearted and warm. “Not wolf or Assassin. Just you.” When he saw your frustration he slowly stood up and stowed the map away. “Do what you want, lass. Liam nor I have right to say otherwise.”
You wanted to stay. You wanted to be useful. You wanted to protect him. You wanted to make a place feel like home, the same way Shay felt this place was home.
Shay sashayed forward, his hand pressing into your lower back. “Shall we go eat then?”
Chapter 6: Fire
Shay snored loudly in his sleep, every now and then his snores became soft breaths and whimpers. You had grown used to the nightly chorus. You may have even found yourself liking it. You pressed yourself into the warm side of his body, the firm muscle and bone. Shay instinctively slipped his arm around you, pulling your form tighter until your two shapes meshed.
He was breathing soft, lips parted to let the hushed snores escape. You pressed your chin onto his chest and memorized. Shay had such hard cut features, his hair such a mess and his beard needing another shave. Your slowly and cautiously reached up to let your fingertips take in the coarse hairs along his jawline.
There was something about Shay, something you couldn’t put words to yet. He was comfort. He was safety. He was… You sighed, pulling your fingers away from his face, allowing your palm to rest on the tight muscles of his chest.
Shay gave a long moan. He shifted abruptly onto his side, arms grappling tightly around your bony frame. His scent overwhelmed you. He was an intoxicating mixture of salty musk, whiskey, and gunpowder. You hurried your face into his neck and took in a deeper breath.
But Shay’s hold vanished, the words blurting off his tongue, “Ah, shit.” He was sitting up, covers held firmly around his waist, face reddening. “Lass, you can’t…” He roughly rubbed his palm across his face. “I, uh, you just stay here and get some more shut eye. I’ve gotta meet Liam for another meeting.”
You sat up just as he was reaching over to the table for his gear, still clinging to the bed sheets. “You are angry? Did I do something?”
He tossed his head. “No, lass. You did nothing wrong. It’s just hard a man to sleep when there’s…” He groaned, twisting his body away from you until all you could see was his back. “Get some rest, love. I’ll be back in a bit.” Shay was hurrying to the door while he rushed to get his belts and guns into place.
You sat there for a moment. You weren't sure why but without Shay it was impossible to sleep. Certainly, he knew that by now. Being in that small room by yourself was unbearable. It felt as if your shield and armor had been stripped away and you were back there in the cage, huddle on the floor shivering like a wet dog.
The walls groaned and the metal hanging from the ceiling clattered. You felt fear crawl up your spine. An anxiety that loomed over you after the years of being caged. Metal shackles clattering with the groans of tortured victims began echoing in the corners of the room. A heavy and drowning darkness began to swarm around your vision. You couldn’t breathe. The air was too thick.
You raced out of the cabin and onto deck. You sucked down a deep shuddered breath. The cold salt-coated air soothed your clammy skin, frosted the sweat that gathered along your spine. The sky was distant and there was plenty more room to breathe than there had been in the cabin.
The shouts of the crew grabbed your attention. They were all huddled together out by the docks, cheering about something. You should have stayed on the ship. Shay and Liam both would have wanted you to stay put. They would have lectured that being on the ship was the only place for you.
Your were a sailor. Not a slave, you reminded. What better way to learn to be a sailor than to be around them?
You cautiously walked the gangway and followed the dock’s trail towards the massive crowd. You understood now. It was a fighting pit, sailor against sailor in an all out brawl. You think you may have seen one once. Bets were made, blood was spilled… Perhaps, you had even been in one… But it was such a distant faded thought, a long forgotten dream.
A fight ended and the members of the crowd either cheered their win or complained their loss. Sweat and dirt bit sharply into your nose, the tartness of blood ever so subtly hiding beneath it all.
“Guard Dog,” someone shouted over the crowd, silencing quite a few. He was sitting down on the crates, towering above the gathered sailors. “What say you get in the ring… Make some coin and fame for yourself?”
One of the men chortled and raised up his chin. “No one would be brave enough for that fight. If she even wanted to…”
He leaned forward, elbow pressed into his knee. “Oh, she'll fight. I know a killer when I see one.” He stared into your eyes without an ounce of fear, the unwavering stare of a hunter. “She’s a true dog if I ever saw one.”
You bowed your head away. You were torn between wanting to slip away and wanting to feel the rush of adrenaline. Always back to fight or flight… And you were always so much better at fighting, so much happier to fight. Liam told you not to be rabid, not to be wild. Shay told you to be yourself. The only self you knew was the anger, the viciousness that boiled in you, the fear that twisted into rage.
You clenched your jaw and stepped forward. The crowd avoided you, parting to make way as you entered the ring. There was a brief moment of stunned silence and then a wave of cheers. Bets were already being shouted and an opponent was being chosen.
You walked the circle, eyeing the man they sent to its center. He was heavier in weight that you. A challenge but not impossible to take down. He favored his right when he walked, left knee giving him trouble. An old wound, you consider, a sailor's life never being easy. In those brief few moments you knew the man better than you knew most.
He goaded you, suddenly growing nervous as you circled him like a predator hunting prey. But his words rolled passed you. He finally leapt forward, a tense fist swinging out across the air. You ducked down, a growl ripping from your throat and your leg swept out and buckled his knee from under him.
Once his back slammed into the dirt, the wind was knocked out of his lungs. You didn’t waste time, crushing the bottom of your boots into his throat and your knee to his shoulder. Your fist drew back for the punch. The bones of your knuckles connected to his jaw but it opened you up to the grappling hold of his legs. You were thrown off of him, into the dirt, his body rolling into the attack.
It was a writhing battle, two snakes trying to subdue the other. You weren’t sure how many punches were thrown, how many connected or missed. All that mattered was the moments that were coming in succession. Each breath, each heartbeat, led to the next until finally you were straddled on top of him swinging the last few harsh punches that blurred his vision.
You didn’t hear the crowd around you until you took a step back, your eyes sweeping up to the impressed smirk of the man who had called you into the fight to begin with. You cocked your head at him and then the excited uproars of the crowd. A delight swelled inside of you. You felt a strange sense of accomplishment in knowing you had bested another but also having been caught in the rushing surges of adrenaline. The moment felt so familiar, felt so overwhelmingly powerful.
But then the cheers of the sailors softened into silence. The group parted until Liam’s heavy stare pressed into you and then the others. His jaw flexed before looking up at the ring leader. “This was your idea?” He looked out over the crowd. “We’re leaving for Albany soon and this… this is what you’re doing with your time?”
“Ship’s all ready,” he replied, tossing a hand out towards the docks. “We was just waiting for the orders to head out.”
Liam stepped forward and suddenly you felt like the prey rather than the predator you were mere moments before. He was inches from you now, voice lowered by his anger, “You were ordered to stay on this ship.”
You weren’t wavered by Liam. You still felt somewhat energize by the battle so his words meant nothing. It wasn’t until you saw Shay stepping into view that your eyes dipped towards the earth. Your stomach felt knotted again, skin layering in a thin sheen of sweat.
He rushed forward, hands enveloping your face until you were forced to look up at him. His eyes roved over the wounds you had and you knew there was plenty by the heat that swelled along your skin. “What happened?”
“I stepped into the ring…” You voice felt so small admitting it.
Shay’s lips pulled back as he spun around towards the gawking group. “You let her do this? You let her step into a fight? Have you forgotten she was a slave only but a week ago?”
You tried to speak up, to throw the heat off of them, “I challenged them.”
He threw his eyes back to you, a soft gasp in his throat. “You what?”
You slid the tip of your tongue along heat on your lips, a throbbing heat that told you there were a few cuts. “I wanted to fight. That is what I am…” You couldn’t look at him anymore, too ashamed of yourself. “I know it's what I am.”
“Liam…” He swallowed, choking on his words. “Take the lass back to the ship.”
You stared into the dirt, almost able to count the grains of sand, but Liam shoved your shoulder. You shuffled away from Shay. You couldn’t find any words. You didn’t have any real excuse.
“I want the truth…” Liam took a quick glance at your expression. “They goaded you, didn’t they?”
You didn’t reply, you couldn’t.
Liam gave gravely huff.
You spoke so softly you weren’t even sure he heard you, “Anger is like firewood.” You kept your head low. You weren’t used to Liam like you were with Shay. “People will do things to harm you. They will try to anger you. They try to give you the firewood. They hand it off to lessen their own anger. You must decide if you will take it and throw it on the fire at your feet or set it aside and walk away.”
Liam narrowed his eyes at you, as if your words had been in a foreign language. His feet slowed to a stop as he reached the end of the wooden docks. He tilted his head a bit before muttering cautiously, "And where did you hear words such as this?"
Your brows rose a bit, bending beneath mild uncertainty. You stood next to him but your attention kept swaying between him and the ship. "In my thoughts…”
"You say these words and yet..." His scrutiny swept over every inch of your face. "Yet you do not live by these words. You let people control your anger."
You took your time to reply, seeking the truest answer you could find. "The fire keeps me warm." It was true. You had enjoyed the fight. You had been forced to fight for the slaver but you think you may have been a fighter before that. Somewhere in your past you had thrived off of the heat of battle but you couldn’t be sure.
Liam seemed stunned, frightened even. He was hesitant but dismissive, “Go. Stay in the cabin until…” Liam sighed then walked off. “Just get on the ship.”
You stood there and watched the quartermaster march onto land and straight towards Shay. They were arguing again. They were arguing about you. But you didn’t stay to watch. You boarded the ship as the sailors began to make their way back over, back to their duties. You hid behind the cabin door with your pulse hammering in your ears.
You weren’t sure why but your eyes began to water. Maybe it was the immense anger in your chest or the grief you shouldered because Shay was disappointed and forced to defend you against Liam’s annoyance once again. You buckled over, the sickness in your stomach finally growing to be too much. Your knees pressed into hard floor, bone into wood, and then your skull.
You were failing Shay. You were supposed to help him but you were failing him.
Boots clattered towards the cabin door. Your instincts kicked in. Flight, this time. You scurried into the corner and pressed yourself behind the barrels. You couldn’t face him yet. Not today, you thought, you could endure his disappointment later but not today.
Shay slipped into the room, hesitation slowing his steps. “Lass? You in here?” You listened to him pace about the room, searching in every corner until a sigh slipped past his lips. “On your feet, lass. No more hiding. You’re no slave, remember?”
You didn't budge, you couldn’t.
Shay instead squeezed into the space and kneeled down. His eyes leveled with your own. His lips parted to speak but then he couldn’t think of what to say. So his mouth closed, lips in a hard line, and his eyes rolling away. “At this point I’m not even sure what to say to you… The crew, aye, but…”
You didn’t look him in the eye. It was easier to keep your focus on analyzing the way the corners of his lips tugged downwards or the way his fingers pinched the bridge of his nose.
“That’s it then? Not speaking anymore, is that it?” He was bordering on bitter annoyance. Shay had always been patient with you but something about your actions truly upset him this time. “Not even to me?”
You leaned your head into the wall. Instead of words you breathed a sigh.
Shay pressed his face into his hand. “I just want to help you, lass.”
“Anger…” The rest of your sentenced faltered when he jolted his attention to you. You brought your knees closer, wishing you were smaller and the corner more enclosed. “Anger is easy.”
“So you’ll let them goad you into fights for…” He rolled his eyes, a shake of his head. “‘Cause you’re angry?”
You suddenly felt your body curl into itself. “I was scared.” Your arms slithered around your body, fingernails curling into arms. “You left and I was scared and… anger is easier. Anger is… it feels better.” You could feel the same sickness returning, the tight swelling in the back of your throat.
Shay’s lips pressed thin but not out of annoyance. He was pressing back a sob. His hands grabbed hold of your jacket and jerked you out of the corner and into his arms. “Damn it, lass.”
You shuddered down a breath, a spark of fear that was quelled by the wetness of Shay’s tears. He pressed his cheek into the side of your skull. Your fear was easily replaced by need, your arms grappling around him and fingers clawing. You needed him to be closer. You needed a stronger connection with him. You just wanted him happy and to be happy yourself. Why was it so difficult?
You couldn’t cry. You couldn’t let yourself cry. “I’m sorry,” you muttered, trying to swallow the thickening grief and to hold back the tears.
“You shouldn’t be sorry.” Shay pulled out of the hug, firm hands on your shoulders. “But listen to me. Being frightened is nothing to be ashamed of. But you can’t go turning to anger.” His palm moved to your cheek, thumb delicately careening over the swollen skin near your eye. “That’s a poor way to handle things.”
You nodded your head, a weak show of agreement.
“Promise me, aye?”
The word left your lips quietly, “Promise.”
“We’re setting sail…” He got to his feet, coaxing you up onto yours as well. When you were standing before him, a cowering and uncertain child, he gave the best grin he could manage in the situation. “That’ll mean I’ll need help steering, lass. Care for another lesson?”
You eagerly peered up at him, briefly taking in his eyes before giving a nod.
Chapter 7: Lighthouses
Albany. It was a city just as similar as the last. You wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference from the two cities. They were full of busy people and the streets were dampened in mud and snow. Even the smells were the same, the musk of sweat and dirt. You followed close at Shay’s heels. He led the way through bustling crowds without missing a beat. But he always made sure you weren’t lost in the shuffle.
You didn’t pay much attention to the conversation between Shay and Liam. You wouldn’t have understood it even if you had been listening. They talked about Templars and Wardrop and a manuscript. None of it made any sense but you didn’t care about their business. All you cared about was keeping Shay safe.
“You should leave the girl with me,” Liam stated, finally paying you attention. “She’ll only be a danger to the mission.”
You jolted your attention to Shay. You silently pleaded with him that he wouldn’t leave you alone again. You wouldn’t have necessarily been alone since Liam would be around but… Liam wasn’t Shay. Liam didn’t bring confidence or stability. He provided only lectures and judgement.
Shay sighed. He gently grabbed hold of your arms and urged you to keep eye contact. “Listen, lass. Where I’m going… it’s best if you stay with Liam for a bit.”
Your lips parted, an argument just beginning to form but he was already making his way further into the streets. Watching him disappear left your heart hammering, anxiety pulsing through your veins. You glanced at Liam, hoping there was a way to escape his guardianship to hunt down Shay.
“We’re going to go meet Hope.” He easily corralled you down a dirt path through the city, an alley leading to other alleys. “Shay’s mission is too important for you to follow after. The Order can’t risk it.”
There were so many things you wanted to say. You wanted to argue and refute his claims but… Shay had left on his own accord. He had made the choice to leave you behind, again.
Liam came to a sudden halt, hardly even realizing that you hadn’t heard a word of his latest lecture. But then his palm curled around the back of your neck, like he had done to many of the men on his cred. His eyes sought out your own. “You can’t be his shadow. You’ve got to be your own strength, your own person.”
It wasn’t that you were incapable of being on your own. It was just easier to rely on Shay, to find comfort in his presence than seek out the darkness of the world. You preferred to be at Shay's side. Was it no different than Liam serving on the ship as his quartermaster?
You pulled away from his touch with a clenched jaw. You didn't want anyone touching you, not unless it was Shay. You slid your eyes to the grains of dirt along the path, hoping Liam wasn't insulted again.
“You’re all bite and rage. We need someone who actually thinks about their actions. Shay’s already reckless on his own. He doesn’t need you adding to it.”
Liam was getting used to your constant silence. He released a sigh and led you the rest of the way to meet with Hope. He didn’t look back to see if you were following. Perhaps he knew you were there without needing to look. But he wasn’t as doting as Shay. He didn’t think you needed to be doted on.
“Hope,” he greeted, a slight nod of his head.
“Liam,” she cooed, folding her arms and throwing her waist onto her hip. “Where is Shay? Hunting down Wardrop? And… who is this? She’s not one of us.”
Liam raised a hand to introduce you but he couldn’t find the words. He didn’t have a name to give her or really any information about you at all. “The lass is… a charge under Shay. She’s... trustworthy.” He didn’t sound so sure he meant that or not. How could he trust you when you yourself didn’t know?
You watched them from a distance as they whispered to each other, the same rhetoric you heard him share with Shay earlier. From what you could gather Templars were their enemies. Both orders were searching for some ancient artifact; a map and a box. They didn’t seem so different than the last group of power hungry men you served under… But Shay was different and that was the only reason you needed to stay with them.
Hope and Liam left you alone in the courtyard for some time. They were dealing with a new variable to their plan, a man named Benjamin Franklin. They hadn’t expected the stranger to hold such an important part to their scheme. The longer they were gone the more impatient you became.
Shay should have returned by then. It must have been hours since you had last seen him. And the mission seemed dangerous so surely Shay would perhaps need your help. Your impatience was slipping into anger as you paced back and forth through the courtyard. The intense chill on the wind wasn’t helping. It stung your face, nipping at the tip of your nose and along your cheekbones.
If Shay didn’t show up soon you were determined to go and hunt him down.
“He’ll be here,” Liam bit coldly, sauntering across the area until he was nearly to the courtyard’s archway. “All that pacing you're doing won’t get him here faster.”
You clenched your jaw. Your furious glower slid away and you searched for a way to explain to Liam how you felt. It was hard talking to the man. It was hard talking to anyone.
“You’re your own woman.” Liam folded his arms stiffly and pressed his shoulder into the ragged brick. “You can’t be his shadow forever.”
“Why not?” you blurted, having lost your patience hours ago.
Liam set his hard stare on you. He hardly believed what he heard. “So you’ll what? Follow him around like a lost puppy? Hide in his shadow like some scared little girl? You gonna follow at his heels and beg for scraps when you can take what you want for yourself?”
You tried to stand taller, to raise your head as he stomped towards you.
But his anger stopped short. He gave a slight shake of his head then walked out of the archway towards Shay as he approached. You were certain there would be another argument between them. Liam sounded stern but calm. Shay grinned with giddy delight as he sauntered into the courtyard towards you. Your anger wasn’t so easily lost as Liam’s. You tightened your hands into fists. When Shay spoke to you the words weren’t processed. You only gave a nod here and there until he was walking past. Liam went with him. And once again you were alone.
You were so filled with rage, a choking rage perched beneath your chin that twisted and knotted itself. You tried to swallow it down as best you could but it clung there, eager to leap out into a scream.
Shay’s chuckle drew your attention. You heaved down a few ragged breaths. You needed to go to him, to wrap your arms around him and hope that his hold could take the pain away. Liam gave you a glance, however, and any ideas of being Shay’s puppy vanished… you didn’t want to be a puppy or a dog. You wanted to be a Wolf. You wanted to be stronger. Liam was right. For all his lecturing, he was right.
So when Shay told you he was going to be gone the whole night, you only stood there and gave a firm nod. Shay’s hand wrapped around your shoulder and squeezed. You wanted more than anything to submit and beg that his arms squeeze your whole body but he stated firmly, “You’ll do fine. I’ve a personal matter to take care of then I’ll be back by morn.”
You gave another firm nod and watched Shay saunter out of the courtyard. It took a great deal of energy to pull your eyes away and glance to Liam.
“I’ve business here,” Liam stated firmly. “Business with the Order. I need you to stay in this area until I’m done speaking with Hope. You can stand here or come inside... If it starts raining, don't stand out here in it.” He didn’t wait for a reply. He walked into the house and slammed the door shut.
You looked back to where Shay had left off to and the dark storm clouds that were beginning to roll in. You hadn’t exactly agreed to Liam’s request. Sailor’s followed orders but… You hadn’t technically been ordered to do anything. Everything had technically been a request.
The Wolf in you took over. You began your quiet hunt for Shay, catching up to him easily. You kept your eyes on the man while passing through the crowded and bustling streets. You ignored any peddlers that reached out for your attention, hoping to barter their goods to you. By focusing on Shay, you were able to push aside any fears that tried to surface. You could easily ignore their grabbing hands.
He slipped inside a large building and you only just glimpsed the people inside. The scent was sharp. It was the burn of ale and rum tangled with the ice of winter. You made your way over to the alley, scaling the worn and weathered walls until you were carefully perched on the roof and out of sight. The chatter of men and women all blurred into a single sound, a cacophony of laughter and shouts. Drinks were poured and tin mugs were slammed onto the surface of tables. You focused your attention on the one voice you wanted above all others.
“Fuck, love,” Shay rasped, a chuckle rolling out of his throat. The more you focused on him, the easier it was to determine his location. “You really know what you want.”
She chuckled her reply and you swore you could see their energies. Shay was brighter than her, his form pushed against the wall as the other pinned him there. Your instincts flared. You thought for certain he was being attacked. You leapt down onto the balcony below, ready to open the door, but then she grabbed hold of his hands and led him into the room.
“You aren’t scared of me, are you?” she teased.
He laughed breathily. “No, love, I’ve just never seen a girl so eager…”
“I’ve got a thing for ship captains.” She shoved him onto the bed then confidently saddled his waist. “Now. Stop talking and let me get those breeches of yours open.” She tugged at the lacing but Shay snapped up her hands.
His lips parted, eyes sliding shut. “Damn it… maybe, I, uh…”
She pressed her hands into the bed on either side of him. “Let me guess… you’ve got a girl back somewhere in some city… It’s alright, darling, you’re not the first looking for a little comfort after missing their sweetheart.”
“It’s not like that… she’s…” Shay tried to sit up but the woman didn’t budge.
She began wrapping her arms around his neck, voice lowered and rough, “You can call me their name if you like… pretend I’m her.”
“I don’t really know her name...” Shay shook his head in dismay.
“Don't know her name? A girl you've been eyeing from afar then? Some merchant's daughter I bet... Close your eyes, darling.” Her hips began rocking against his lap.
Your face burned, a fire searing your skin as you ducked your head away. You didn’t want to see anymore. You tried to focus on something else. It wasn’t the first time you’d seen two people have sex. Your master had been keen on it, in fact. But to see Shay…
Liam jumped down onto the balcony next to you, lips pulled into a hard frown. “You should have stayed where I told you.” He peered over at the windows then settled his eyes on you. You were too embarrassed to speak and he knew it. “Go on back to the ship,” he ordered. “You’re a sailor and the ship needs its sailors. Let the boys know we’ll set sail early morning. That's an order.”
You gave a quick nod then began the awkward descent down the side of the building. You started your way down the alley but you looked back, catching sight of Liam as he pushed open the balcony door. You listened in, Liam’s shout rising above the rest of the brothel.
“Leave us. Now!” He waited as she huffed in appallment and slammed the bedroom door. “Shay, you can’t keep the lass on the crew. She’s--”
“You came here just to say that?”
“She followed you here, Shay.” Liam was desperate now, pleading, and you never imagined to hear the man sound such a way. “Lord knows what she saw and heard. She’s been through enough. If you want her to be safe, fine. Let her go with Hope. She could learn from her.”
“The lass was…” Shay sounded like he was scrambling to his feet. “She was here?”
Your stomach knotted, twisting until you thought for certain you would keel over in agony. You rushed forward down the alleyway. You didn’t want to see Shay. Not yet. Not after seeing him with a woman. You couldn’t explain it but having seen the two of them together… A part of you had hoped that perhaps Shay… would look at you that way. No, you silenced those thoughts quickly. How could he ever look at you that way when you were a snarling and mindless beast.
You began quickening your pace. Suddenly, you were running. You ran even when the rain came down hard and lightning flashed across the heavens. You ran despite the loud cracks of thunder, a sound that reminded you of the cannons that went off back at the fort. The memory was sharp, cannon fire and smoke, the heat of a burning ship and the cries of a dying crew. You instinctively dodged the next loud shattering light across the sky.
You were racing so frantically through alleys and streets that you weren’t even sure where you were going anymore. All you could think about was escaping. Your boot slipped over the sleekness of a puddle and you just barely caught yourself. You stumbled to a stop, chest heaving in an attempt to keep up with your rapid breaths.
Someone grabbed hold of your arm. He stood too close to you. His hand was radiating with intense heat. “Hey, there, sweet lady. It’s alright.” His unfamiliar voice sent chills down your spine. He shoved you around to face him. He was scraggly looking and his clothes were splotched with mud.
“Let go of me!” You tugged at your arm, trying to get out of his acidic grasp.
“You’ll be alright. I've got you now. I’ll take care of you.”
You tried to pull away and when he didn’t let go… your daggers were out of their sheaths too fast. The metal spun upwards through soft flesh and cracked hard bone. You released a long shout, anger and fear tangle as one, hot blood spilling around your fingers.
His eyes widened and his breath remained stuck in his throat. When his hold on your arms vanished, your thoughts became clear. You gasped and let go of the blades. You watched the man drop to his knees, fingers trembling across the blood pouring from his gut. He looked shocked. He didn't understand what had happened.
Your glistening hands were quaking too much. You were too frightened to help him, too frightened to know if the daggers could be removed. “I’m…” Your apology became a whimper. You backed away from him and let the stuttering sobs break free. You scurried out of the alley, running harder until you thought your legs might snap beneath the hard force.
Each flash of lightning glistened the dark blood that stained your hands. You tried to turn a sharp corner but the mud was too slick. Your legs slipped out beneath you. You kneeled down and let the cry rip from your throat. You had killed a man simply out of fear. You couldn’t be certain he was going to attack you. What if he truly had been concerned? He had seen a young woman in frenzied disarray and thought to help her.
You wrapped your hands over your mouth, holding the sob in as best you could. You killed a man for being kind. You were the mindless beast they said you were. Liam had been right about you, after all. You couldn’t be part of Shay’s world or anyone’s world.
You crawled into the closest form of shelter, a rickety wooden shed cluttered with tools and supplies. You curled into yourself with hope you would eventually become smaller until there was nothing left of you in existence. You pressed your fingertips against your clenched and throbbing eyes, the tears hot against the chilled rain that layered your skin.
You thought you could hear your name being called but the thunder and the rain drowned it out. You didn’t want them to find you anyway. You were a murderer. You had killed countless times before at the orders of your slaver. But this… this was different.
“Lass,” he whispered in pure relief. Shay carefully pried you out of your hiding place before hugging you tightly against his chest. “Thank god, I found you… Let’s get out of this downpour, aye?” He tried dragging you to your feet but it took a great deal strength to hold yourself.
You sunk to your knees. You bowed your head down and hoped your tears were hidden well by the rain. “I can’t…” You shook your head, incapable of explaining what you had done.
Shay kneeled down and grabbed your arm. His fingers curled beneath your chin and forced you to look at him. “Lass… I’m here now. You’re safe. Let’s get back to the ship and…”
Your brows pinched with grief, a heavy and unbearable weight against your chest. You couldn’t look him in the eye. Only watched as his lips tugged downwards into a painful grimace. A sob jolted from your throat and you quickly buried your face into his neck. You couldn’t bare the thought of his pain, pain you may have caused.
Shay released a long sigh before gathering you into his chest and pulling you up onto your feet. He led you through the endless deluge of rain. Your eyes stayed locked on your boots and the reflections gleaming off the surface of the watery streets.
Shay only slowed down when Liam approached him in the middle of the docks. The ship’s captain wasn’t having it though. He walked past the other man without a word. You looked backed at Liam, truly looked at him. He was down-trodden. He must have been concerned, just as concerned as Shay.
The quartermaster looked worried, his voice breathy, “Is she alright?”
Shay pushed open the cabin door with Liam following wearily behind. He set to work on getting dry clothes and something to wring your soaked hair with. Shay grouched abruptly, “You never should have let her go off on her own. She wasn’t ready for that.”
“And you should stop treating her like some child. She wouldn’t have been out there had she not been following you like some lost pup. She needs a stable environment and proper training… especially if she keeps those daggers you--” He tossed a hand towards you but when he saw the weapons absent from your belt, he hesitated.
Shay charged him like a wild bull, a hand shoving at the man’s chest until he was stumbling backwards out of the room. “I’ve no patience to talk with you, Liam. You’ve filled her head with enough of your lectures to last a lifetime.”
“I lecture because you’re incapable of doing it yourself. The moment you found her you’ve done nothing but keep her around like a pet following at your heels and doing your bidding.”
Shay’s muscles tensed, his arm jolting as if he were about to throw the first punch. But then he grabbed the door instead and slammed it shut. He stood there grabbing and pulling at the long mussed, drenched strands of his hair. He quickly wiped away the rain from his face and trudged across the room.
You spoke so softly that even your own ears could barely hear. “Are you angry with me?”
“What were you thinking?” He snatched up one of his shirts and brought it over. When he realized how harsh he sounded, his voice lowered to a husk whisper. “No, lass. I’m angry with myself. Should’ve made sure you got back to the ship before I left.” He set down on the side of the bed, clutching the shirt in his hands. “Maybe I shouldn’t have left…” His gaze jolted to you. “Lass, how much of that did you hear?”
You shook your head timidly. You couldn’t admit that you had seen plenty and equally heard enough. You weren’t able to speak and Shay only nodded a few times before standing.
He held out the shirt. “Put this on. We’ll have to hang your clothes to dry.”
You reached up to peel away your jacket but you couldn’t. The heat of tears began stinging your eyes. You muttered inaudibly, “I’m a monster.”
“No.” He took a long step forward, grabbing your arms and squeezing tenderly. “What nonsense. You’re no monster.”
“I killed someone.”
Shay was silent for the longest time before sighing. “It’s not your fault, lass. What he did… whatever happened… You shouldn’t have been on your own like that.”
You peeked up at his expression, the way his brows arched and his eyes softened. “You knew?”
“Found your blades… it doesn’t matter though. It won’t happen again. I won’t let it.” His lips thinned and his jaw flexed beneath a sudden spark of determination. “I won’t leave you again I swear.”
You eyes fluttered and you ducked your head away. “Could you… get me something warm to drink? I’m cold…”
Shay was caught off guard by the request. “Yes… course I can.” He hesitated for a moment then sauntered out of the cabin.
You stood there a moment longer, listening to the storm outside and the shouts of crewmen as they readied the ship. They were preparing for the strong winds and the starless night ahead. When you finally pulled yourself from your thoughts, you tossed aside the icy garments and slipped into the cold shirt Shay provided.
Shay quietly slipped inside and shook the rain out of his hair. “This weather...” He tossed aside his own drenched coat then held out the battered tin mug.
You didn't make any efforts to grab the drink. Your hands fumbled with the worn threads of your shirt. Shay's shirt. He was too forgiving. You couldn't allow such forgiveness after what you had done. You had taken a life. Liam was right to lecture.
“Talk to me, lass… what are your thoughts right now?”
You muttered at first but the more you spoke the more confident you became, "There is a ship... sailing in the night. There is heavy rain brought by dark storm clouds. There are no stars or moon. It sails onward, blindly across the water until it sees a light in the distance."
Shay watched you pace across the room, his brows pinching.
"The ship sails towards it. Finds that it is a lighthouse. The ship anchors itself beneath its light and waits for the storm to pass.The lighthouse provides hope. It provides harbor. But when the storm finally does pass… the ship does not leave. It is too afraid to leave. It worries that another storm will come and the lighthouse will be too far away to find again."
Shay’s vision swept downwards, his mind still processing your words as he set the mug aside. “You think… if you leave…” He stared into the table, leaning forward a bit as he pressed his weight into his palms. “You’re saying I’m a lighthouse and you’re a ship?”
You tilted your head away, hardly knowing any other way to explain it.
He pushed off of the table and waltzed across the room. “There are plenty of lighthouses out there, lass.” Shay finally settled his attention on you, finally confident enough to do so. “You don’t have to stay here with me. Sure, there’ll be storms. The ocean’s full of storms. But a ship can’t say in port forever. Ships are meant to sail.”
You began to consider it all. Liam’s suggestion that staying with Shay wasn’t healthy for you. Shay telling you it was good to leave… then maybe learning to sail again wasn’t such a terrible thing.
Your shoulders hunched up and you shuffled towards the captain. “I’m… tired. Could we sleep now?”
Shay gave a deep and hearty laugh. He gathered you against his chest and eagerly stood there for a moment. “Whatever it is you need, lass, I’ll make sure you get it.”
Chapter 8: Stay
Nights were filled with sweat drenched nightmares. You couldn’t close your eyes without hearing the clash of thunder and feel the heat of blood on your hands. The nightmares always felt real, memories dredging up darker memories. You realized how many people you had killed and how many times your soul died while imprisoned as a slave.
Shay did what he could for you. He used a cold damp cloth to wipe your forehead and ease you back to bed. But once you woke screaming there could be no rest. You stared at the ceiling until dawn. The only comfort you had was Shay’s shoulder pressing into yours, reminding you that you were safe in his company.
You didn’t speak about the nightmares or really anything. You kept yourself busy. You helped where you could, even taking time to help some of the other sailors with their chores. They were weary of you. You were still a strange and monstrous anomaly to them and you never spoke a word which unnerved them even more.
Upon arriving at the homestead, Shay went to another meeting with Liam. This time you went with them. Their leader was present, eyes scrutinizing every move you made. Achilles looked like an imposing man and the rest of the Assassins seemed to respect him.
They were sending Shay off to another part of the world and for a moment you thought you were going with him. You delighted at the idea. A long voyage across a foreign sea to a foreign land.
But then Liam squeezed your shoulder and nodded at you encouragingly. “Achilles… this is the young woman I spoke to you about.”
Your vision swept from Shay to Achilles, your heart rate quickening to a sickening rhythm. You knew in the long run this would be better. You couldn’t very well be a useful sailor to Shay until you were capable of thinking and acting in a controlled manner. And for the first time, Liam looked at you like a human being rather than a frightening beast.
You couldn’t reply. Your eyes lowered and you gave a respectful bow of your head.
Achilles took that as reply enough. “If Liam speaks highly of you… then there must be something of worth. I imagine, under his guidance you will learn a great deal from him.”
Shay quickly chimed in, “The lass’ll be loyal… and she knows how to fight already.”
“Welcome then,” his voice soothed. He walked past the group, hands tucked behind his back. “In the meantime, Shay, I must speak with you about your upcoming mission.”
Shay gave you a sweet smile and a tender pat on the shoulder. He followed behind the older man but you couldn’t determine where they were going. Liam was eager to begin training, eager to show you around the homestead. He was leading you through the house and out the door, too busy talking about your upcoming lessons that he didn’t notice you weren’t listening.
Your mind was reeling at the notion that you would be on your own and Shay would be crossing the great expanse of ocean to another country. He would be gone for months. What if he didn’t return? What if somehow during the mission he was hurt? Liam wouldn’t be there to help him. You wouldn’t be there.
Liam released a heavy sigh. His fingers grabbed hold of your elbow, eyes staring attentively. “This is why you have to stay behind. You can’t be someone’s shadow. You’ve got to be your own person now. Shay’s got to carry his own weight without your adding to it.”
Not a dog, you reminded yourself. A wolf. You needed to be a clever and confident wolf. And one day, perhaps a sailor under Shay’s command. But already you were missing his presence. How would you sleep at night if Shay weren’t there to offer his warmth and gentle hold?
Liam gave a disappointed groan. His palm curled tenderly around your cheek, guiding your eyes to meet his. “I can’t read your thoughts. You’ll have to start talking more. I need to know what's going on in that mind of yours.”
You sucked down a breath and slowly released it. But when you went to speak, you simply couldn’t find any words to describe what you felt. God, you couldn't understand why it was so hard to speak. What were you so afraid of? Disapproval? Embarrassment?
Liam wasn’t patient enough to wait. He gave a nod and walked away. He was leading you out into the vast woodlands where the others were waiting. You briefly met Hope in Albany so you recognized her right away. The other, however, appeared standoffish to say the least.
“Hope,” Liam greeted first. “You met the young lass already.” He looked back at you and held his hand out towards the other man. “This is Kesegowaase. He has a great deal to teach about self-reliance and patience.”
His eyes narrowed, criticizing at first, but then he stepped forward with a widening grin. His voice was deep and mellow as he greeted you, “Welcome, sister. It is rare that Liam takes someone under his charge…”
Hope scoffed. “Unless they’re hot headed and impulsive…”
Liam stiffened at her words, almost protective. He stepped closer to you and spoke firmly, “She’s been through a great deal. I expect my Assassin family to be accepting and understanding of that.”
You peered over at Liam. It was strange seeing him act that way. Perhaps recent events had put things in perspective for him. You weren’t sure what sparked the change but it was a relief to say the least. You even felt a wave of calm sweep over you. Perhaps, things wouldn’t turn for the worse like you feared.
Kesegowaase’s laugh was hearty. “I’ve a good feeling about her.” He reached out and grabbed both of your shoulders. His attire was decorated with bones and animal furs, the hood casting his already dark skin in shadow. “I swear that I have seen you someplace once…”
“She remembers nothing,” Liam casually added. “She’s speaks even less. She’s skilled though. And if we can train her skills… she’ll be a loyal asset.” The corner of his mouth just barely smirked at you. It was almost as if he were proud of you.
Kesegowaase hummed in consideration, as if he wasn’t quite sure what to think of you yet. “I’ll begin her training in navigating the land. She must learn to find her way before we can teach her to hunt.”
Liam barely spoke above a whisper, “Hope… please.”
She seemed to sigh, a smile finally appearing. “Very well. I’ll teach her everything I know…” Hope sashayed forward, her arms folded sternly and her gaze sweeping across your form. “She’s already far more attentive and calm than Shay ever was.”
Shay’s familiar laugh sent your heart jolting. You eagerly spun towards the sound and the wide smile on his lips. “Hey, now. I learned exactly what I needed, didn’t I?”
Liam’s hand wrapped over your shoulder until you finally looked over at him. His eyes were hard pressed and his lips thin. He didn’t need to say anything. You were already aware of it.
Your eyes swept down to your trembling hands, remembering the blood that covered them when you killed the stranger back in the alley… You clenched your jaw. You had to become better, to become a Wolf instead of a scared beast. You ignored Shay and Hope’s banter. You forced your attention on Kesegowaase. You memorized the stitches in the leather of his jacket and the markings along his tan skin.
“Lass,” Shay finally said, stepping towards you. His hesitant silence was proof enough that he wasn’t sure what to say or do. “Take care of yourself, lass. I know you’ll do fine. I'll be back before you can miss me.”
You shouldn’t have looked at his expression. He walked away so quickly but you saw it plainly in the hard corners of his mouth and half-lidded eyes. He was having a hard time with it just as much as you were. You wanted to run after him and plead with him to let you go on the trip. You were almost afraid that Shay wouldn't let you. That he had also come to terms with your need to stay under the order’s guidance.
Liam pressed a flat hand between your shoulders and guided you through the homestead. “We’ll grab something to eat before we start. You’ll need your energy.”
Hope and Kesegowaase followed casually behind. They were holding their own conversation but you weren’t listening. All you could think about was Shay journeying across the ocean on his own. He didn’t have Liam or you to help. He had his crew but… would that be enough?
The first month you trained under Liam. You followed him on missions in the nearby cities. They were mostly errands at first. But then every mission became more intense than the last. From infiltration to assassinating targets, you did it all with Liam’s assistance.
The two of you shared every meal and spent most nights huddled around a campfire. Liam did most of the talking, sharing stories and thoughts and hopes for the Assassin brotherhood. Every now and then you would contribute your own stories to his. Sometimes, Liam would even ask you for a tale, seemingly fond of your imagination.
Whenever you returned to the homestead, Kesegowaase spent the rest of the time training you. He taught you the lay of the land and what herbs were safe, what animals were easiest to catch during certain times of the year. He taught you how to distribute your weight and move the pads of your feet across the earth until you were a silent ghost.
Hope had her own missions to tend to. She was absent for most of your training but when she did make an appearance, she gave brief lessons on how to distract and quietly take down a target. You were already skilled at discreetly taking a life but Hope always had an easier, more elegant way of doing it.
However, no matter who trained you or what you learned during those months, you found yourself at Liam’s side. He was your Mentor. He had become a diligent and caring friend… if the word friend was possible for you.
You were skilled and advanced in everything but Liam still wasn’t satisfied. You were still obedient and quiet, still dependent on someone else. You didn’t sleep in the same bed as Liam but you couldn’t stop yourself from sleeping in the same room as him. And whenever you were on missions, you found yourself overly protective of the man. You had more than once put your blade to someone’s throat because they had gotten too close to him.
It’s why Liam’s latest lecture wasn’t too surprising. He was annoyed, his accent thickening when he wasn’t happy about something, “You can’t keep putting yourself in danger like that.” He was following a steep path into the homestead hillside, putting a great deal of strength behind each arduous step. “I’m your mentor. It’s me who should be concerned about you. Not the other way around.”
You could have argued. You had plenty to say about it. But you followed silently behind him until reaching a small flat clearing amid the trees. “I was only doing what I was taught to do.”
Liam pressed his hands onto his hips and surveyed the grassy area. “You were being an obedient pet, again. You’re not a bodyguard or some brute.” He looked over his shoulder at you, expression minutely softening. His eyes lingered with yours, not the weary disgust you saw upon first meeting the man. He had grown softer, more caring.
“Your life was in danger.”
He scoffed. A smirk began to curl on his lips. “We’ll set up camp here.”
Your brows pinched before looking back down the path. “We’re only a days walk from the mansion.”
“Gather wood for a fire. I’ll set up a shelter for us.” Liam stalked off without further explanation.
But you weren’t having it. Not this time around. You followed at his heels. “I have done everything you asked of me. I have learned to control my anger and I have spoken up more.”
Liam went to work on cleaning the ground of rocks and sticks that might make sleep uncomfortable. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? You’ve followed all of my orders. Every single one of them. Without question.” He finally stood up and faced you, rubbing his hands clean of the dirt that clung to them. “You still can’t think for yourself. You're still in the mindset of a slave.”
You curled your hands into fists, fingernails digging into your palms. Your anger was swelling, nearly choking you.
He must have seen your distraught. Liam strode forward, his hand curling around your neck, his other hand grabbing your fist. He tried to soften your anger. “You’ve made progress. Don’t dismiss that. This is the last step and…” His thumb pressed along your jaw, encouraging you to look him in the eye. “I want you to be independent. I want you to think for yourself. I don’t want you following someone’s lead when you’re so capable of leading yourself. I want…” He swallowed and licked his lips. “An Assassin.”
You knew Liam was looking out for you. You appreciated his help the last month, nearly two months now. “What do you need of me?”
Liam’s hand fell away and he stepped back into the clearing. “I’ll stay here with you tonight but… I leave in the morning. The others have been told to stay clear of the area. I want you to be on your own for a few weeks. You need to find out who you are without anyone’s influence.”
“Liam,” you muttered.
He grinned slightly then tossed a hand towards the woods. “Go on, now. We need that firewood if we plan on staying warm tonight.”
You followed his order, trudging into the woods in search of decent firewood and tinder. Liam was right, though. For the past few months, or had it been three, you were an obedient subordinate. It was what you thought was expected of you. You were under the impression that being cool headed and skilled was the real reason you stayed behind. When in fact, you were still acting like the slave who killed when ordered to.
When nightfall came around, the fire was blazing brilliantly and the meager shelter Liam built kept off the cold mountain winds. He handed you some of the dried meat he had brought, eager to eat his own meal for the night. “Any new thoughts, storyteller?”
You turned the jerky between your fingers. You sat down on a stump near the corner of the shelter and leaned towards the delightful heat of the fire. “None tonight.” You settled your gaze on the red flame, the way sparks flurried into the dark night.
Liam glowered over at you, scrutinizing as always. “It’ll only be a short time.”
“A month,” you stated, taking a bite from the jerky. “Give me a month.”
He leaned back in the shelter. He stretched his legs and let the fire nip at the soles of his feet. He couldn’t argue with your request. Although, you could tell he wasn’t sure about it. A month was a long time to be on your own in the wilderness.
You added calmly, “Kesegowaase taught me to survive. It is time I use his lessons.”
Liam took a large bite into his mouth and chewed on it. Finally, he replied, “If you need me, I’ll be at the homestead.”
“I won’t.” You weren’t sure your words sounded convincing. You weren’t convinced. You thought for certain the first night you would climb down the mountain and sneak into Liam’s room.
But he left early morning like he said he would and when they next day came to a close, you slept wide eyed in the tent on your own. Your ears strained to hear every rustling leaf and shuffle of hooves. You could hear the wolves howling somewhere in the night and the scream of a mountain lion high up on the hillside.
But you didn’t run. You stayed.
Chapter 9: Betrayed
A month rolled by. Every day you kept yourself busy with setting traps and better fortifying your new home. The animals you killed for food were skinned and cooked. You carved some of the bones into trinkets just like Kesegowaase had taught you once on a hunting trip. You had enough skins by the end of the month that you used them to fashion a proper and comfortable bed.
Nights were getting easier to sleep through. The nightmares came and went. Some nights were harder than others. Some days, too. The nightmares brought on by the events from that night in the alley, led to different nightmares. And half the time you couldn’t decipher whether they were dreams or memories...
You’d been so occupied with being alone that you hadn’t realized your month was over until Liam’s footsteps thrashed through the underbrush. He climbed the last of the path and into the clearing, breathy and exhausted. The space had changed since he’d last been there and you could tell he was somewhat surprised. His eyes skimmed over the tanning rack and the fish smoking by the campfire.
He straightened out his jacket and shirt, a palm careening across his scalp. “You’ve done well on your own…” He strolled through your camp before giving you an approving look.
“It was relaxing.” You watched him approach, the way his arms reached out to pull you into a gentle hug. It was good to have Liam’s presence after the long days alone. It was good to have a friend.
He gave a deep chested laugh. “You didn’t need someone to give you orders, after all.” He pulled from the hug but his hands remained on your arms. “I brought us some food. Let’s eat before we head back.”
You weakly smiled in return and stepped towards the tree stump. You grabbed the cup of water and handed it off to him, knowing well the hike must have been draining.
“You’ve no one to talk to for a month…” Liam gave you his pack before taking the cup and drinking a deep swallow. “I would have thought you’d be eager to talk.”
You grinned teasingly and sat down in the grass, using a fallen log to press your back against. “Perhaps I enjoyed the silence.” You pulled the salted meat and soft bread out before setting some aside for him.
“Well, I didn’t.” Liam sat down beside you and gave you his full attention. “It was strange not having you around. Missed having that good eye of yours out on missions.”
You tilted your head and watched his gaze avert down to the cup turning in his grasp. You hesitated but forced yourself to admit your thoughts about everything, “I missed that too…”
Liam set the cup aside and you thought for a moment he would focus on eating. But he leaned forward, his hand taking hold of yours and his weight pressed closer. “Now that you’re… thinking on your own and…” He swallowed painfully, a hesitation halting his words.
“I was planning to remain on my own. I’ve no reason to go back…”
His brows rose high, arching under an emotion you couldn’t place. It took him a moment to absorb what you had just said, a breathiness weighing on his lungs. “You've gotten your mind. You’ve no reason to remain alone.” Liam gently squeezed your hand. “I want you to return with me. I’ve… grown to care for you and...”
You turned your head away, seeking words that would make the situation better. You weren’t practiced enough. You pulled your hands out of his grasp, words roughly spoken across your tongue, “I can’t… go back.”
Liam sucked a harsh breath in through his teeth, “Here? You’re just… going to live here?”
“I’m planning to travel.”
“You’re leaving? After all that I’ve taught you and all that you’ve seen… you’re simply walking away? What about…” He got to his feet, palm rubbing irritably along his mouth. “The order needs someone like you.”
You huffed. “The order has you.” You stood as well, pleading that he would understand. “I need to seek out answers about my past… I need to know who I was before...” Your lips thinned. “Before I was taken away from the life I had.”
Liam tossed his attention out to the vast woodlands then down the hill towards the path to the homestead. “If you won’t stay for me… will you at least stay for Shay?”
“I stayed long enough to say goodbye to you. I will stay long enough to say goodbye to him as well.” You stepped towards Liam, your hand gripping the tense muscle in his arm. “I need to do this for myself… You asked me to be alone to find out who I am.”
He pulled his arm from your grasp and paced away. “This isn’t what I wanted…”
“What did you expect when you told the wolf to return to the wild?”
“I expected a wolf eager to be part of a pack… not a lone hunter.” Liam sharply faced you, tone returning to its typical lectures. “Not for her to run off and become some reclusive hermit.”
“Then perhaps I am not a wolf.” Your voice hardened, chin rising the more confident you grew. “Perhaps it is not in my nature to have a pack.”
Liam’s jaw clenched irritably. He couldn’t look at you with the rage boiling in his blood.
“I’ll gather my things… then meet you back home.”
“You certain you can still call it home…” He took long strides down the hill, vanishing into the thickening woods. Liam’s annoyance wasn’t surprising. Part of you hoped he would be happy that you were seeking out your past. But you also knew that Liam wanted you to become an Assassin, a valued member of the brotherhood.
It was saying goodbye to Shay that would hurt the most. You considered avoiding it. That perhaps you would go out into the world and return to Shay when you felt you were ready. But then you knew he deserved better. He had been the man to rescue you from the hell you were living in. He had cared for you, taken you under his wing, and showed you that you were stronger.
It had been months since you’d last seen him though. Would he even be the same? Would he even feel the same about you? And admittedly, you missed him dearly. You wanted to slip your arms around him and stay there, never to leave him again. You missed those nights falling asleep next to him. You missed listening to his long, drawn out stories about his travels.
You missed Shay.
It took a few hours to pack up camp and to eat some of the food Liam had brought. You rolled most of what you owned into the furred, leather bed you’d made. What you didn’t need was left behind for whoever else might stumble into the area.
It was near nightfall by the time you started the long trek downhill. You only knew the mansion was close from the torches littering the darkness. Thankfully, the night wasn’t completely pitch black. The moon burned brightly, casting the woodlands in a heavenly glow and sparking across the flakes of snow that fluttered to the ground.
The air stilled. You held your breath as your ears strained to hear the shouting in the distance. Something was wrong, the homestead in disarray. Your steps quicked while you tossed aside your belongings. You raced towards the shouting. You used all the skills you learned to make your way across the rugged landscape, leaping over fallen trees and dodging around the thickest parts of the woods.
You heard Liam’s voice and then Achilles’s annoyed protest. Shay argued in return, his words darting across his tongue in rage. You hurried as quickly as humanly possible. The winter air burned against your lungs like crystal shards. Your feet nearly tripped over themselves as you raced towards the cliffs where countless Assassins had gathered. You pushed past a few Assassins before your eyes caught sight of Shay standing at the cliff’s edge. But you couldn’t get to him fast enough. The gunshot reverberated, a hollow echo hitting your eardrum.
Shay’s body was already stumbling backwards over the edge of the cliff. You screamed, shoving everyone out of your way and racing forward. Someone snatched hold of your hand and pulled you back. Your heated gaze turned to Liam’s wide-eyes. He went to speak but the only thing you could think about was the gun in his hands.
A fury swelled inside of your throat. Your lips pulled back as you jerked your hand away from him. “Murderer!” You twisted towards the cliff and shoved past Achilles who had watched the whole scene.
“Wait, you don’t understand!” Liam tried chasing after you but you were quicker.
Your feet pushed hard off the edge of the earth and dove into the swelling darkness below. Your eyes clenched shut. The black ocean closed around you, it’s ravenous mouth sucking you deeper into it’s freezing depths. The breath in your lungs jutted free. You clenched your teeth in fear you might swallow the water and drown. You clawed desperately towards the moonlight, fighting against the rage of the sea.
When you broke through the surface, you gasped down a quick breath. The cold breeze gnawed the skin along your nose and cheeks. Your chest heaved and eyes fluttered to take in your surroundings. The current must have carried you a great distance because the cliffs were dark shadows on the horizon and Liam’s voice just barely made it over the howling of the wind.
“Shay,” you rasped, teeth clattering as the icy waters burrowed into your bones. You twisted around in the water, looking for any sign of him. “Shay!” It was difficult to make out anything among the pulsing waves. Beneath the white light of the moon, the ocean almost looked like a writhing beast, eager to consume its next meal.
You heaved down a trembling breath, his name sputtering across your lips. But then, you couldn't be certain, you swore you could see the white of his jacket. You swam forward, desperately cutting through the swollen waves.
You had to reach him before the darkness swallowed him up again. It took all your strength to swim the short distance, to fight against the larger beastly ocean. “Shay,” you pleaded. You grabbed hold of his jacket before the current could steal him away. You weakly hugged his cold form to your chest.
He was unconscious, his arms and legs floating lifelessly beside him. The ocean was the only thing keeping him afloat. Your eyes scanned the long stretch of darkness. Somehow the waves carried you so far away you couldn't see the land anymore. You tried to remember which way the cliffs had been earlier.
Your heart was hammering now. It drummed against your ears until it was the only thing you could hear. The surges of adrenaline were the only reason you were still bobbing the surface. You had to find a way to survive for Shay’s sake. Your gaze swept up to the moon. Yes, you remembered. You thought back on the teachings Kesegowaase shared about navigating the land.
Your fingers stiffly curled around the collar of his jacket. You began the arduous swim towards what you hoped would be the shore. But his weight made the swim awkward. The freezing waters turned your muscles into ice, your bones into hollow crystal. Your fingers burned before they went numb.
You were losing your grip on Shay, his jacket slipping out of your grasp. As quickly as you could, you hurried towards him and linked arms. You were losing strength by the second. If you didn’t get him to shore soon… you would both die out there in the wintry assault. You couldn’t kick your legs anymore. You couldn’t feel your fingers.
You rolled onto your back and wrapped your arms around his chest. You eyes slid shut. For just a moment, you reasoned. You just needed a second to regain your strength. But you must have passed out. When you managed to gain consciousness, you were alone. You were face down in the sand, a wave pushing you further up onto frigid shore.
You sucked down a dry dusty breath. The sand and salt gritted between your lips and teeth. “Shay.” You coughed out the awful taste in your throat, your hands pushing you off of the ground. “Shay!” It took everything in you to lift your head. The sun pierced your eyes, the world smearing into varying hues of white. You couldn’t see him or anything.
You cursed yourself for falling asleep. You cursed yourself for having let go of him during the night. No, you never should have left him alone in the first place. You should have sailed with him to Lisbon. You had trusted Liam… only to be betrayed by him
You staggered up onto your feet and shouted in aggravation. You screamed until your throat felt raw. Your legs trembled with each step. Every now and then you lost your balance during the slow walk across the beach. You stumbled over the mounds of rocks and driftwood. Your eyes were bleary, from either the harsh sun or the pain tightening in your chest.
You had to find him. Shay could be hurt… or still lost out at sea… He could be bleeding out somewhere… or perhaps he was already dead...
Just as your eyes slammed shut in hopes to seek a moment of relief, you saw the dark messy hair among the white sand. Your breath fluttered past your cracked lips. Your eyes winced open. You could see someone in the distance on horseback. Your hands reached up to shade your vision, trying to make out the scene in better detail.
You rushed forward, stumbling and scurrying through the cold sand until you were kneeling over Shay. “Wake up!” You grabbed his jacket weakly, tugging at it. “Wake up, please!”
The horse slowed to a trot. It restlessly kicked at the sand while it's rider hesitated to get closer. “Hello, there! Are you in need of assistance?”
You drew your dagger. Your lips pulled back to reveal your teeth as you shouted, “We do not need your help!”
Everything Liam had taught you was gone. You didn’t care about the Assassins or their teachings. You didn’t care if you looked like a mad beast. So long as it kept Shay alive, you would do whatever it took. If you had to, you would kill a man to keep Shay alive.
He dismounted his horse and raised his palms in surrender. “Your friend is hurt and bleeding… I know a doctor nearby who can help…”
Your energy wavered, a sickness lurching to life. Your body swayed and you feared you would lose consciousness again. You pressed a palm into Shay’s chest, leaning over his form in hopes to defend him. “G-go,” you sputtered, bile hitting the back of your throat.
The soldier cautiously moved closer, analyzing you just as much as you were analyzing him. “I mean either of you no harm.”
Your skull felt as if it were fracturing. You're eyes slammed shut against the harsh light, the stars bursting along your vision. “Go I said!”
The stranger took that moment to leap forward, grabbing hold of your wrist and then the dagger. You winced at the pain wracking your bones. You forced your eyes open to glare up at him, to take in the apology in his expression.
“I am here to help…” He set the weapon aside. “My name is General Monro.”
Your eyes swept down to Shay’s lifeless features. “He’s hurt…”
He gave a slow nod then eased Shay up into a sitting position. “An interesting story you must have. Did your ship wreck?” Monro clumsily pulled the rest of Shay’s body into his arms and struggled to get to his feet.
You didn’t bother replying. You couldn’t tell him the truth and you didn’t care to. You tried to help the general with Shay’s weight as best you could. You struggled with your own weight and probably got in his way more than helped. But Shay’s body awkwardly made it over the horse’s saddle before Monro turned his efforts to you.
He helped put your foot through the stirrups and pushed you the rest of the way until you could sit comfortably. “Hold on a bit longer. It’s not far from here.” He grabbed the reins and led the mare through the sand back the way he had ridden.
You didn’t entirely trust the man but… he was helping Shay and that seemed like enough for you. He hadn’t killed either of you yet and perhaps that meant the general wasn’t entirely evil. But your past was a good reminder that people in uniform were just as cruel if not more.