Almost Three Hundred Years Ago
He stood looking down upon the deck, feeling the wind change direction slightly as the darkness descended till the horizon. He hoped the wind did not change much for he would have to steer the ship through another route. He did not want to do that after being so close. They had been en route for two moons now, and he was getting more and more impatient to reach the port and see for himself if it was real. They were half a moon away, by his estimate, and he did not want to wait for longer than he absolutely had to.
The shout from below caught his attention and he turned to see the carpenter point to the sea.
"There's a wench in the water," he shouted again.
Narrowing his eyes, the Captain walked to the edge of the ship and looked down, seeing all the men gather around the railing to look over. There indeed was a wench floating in the water on a log of wood, her dark hair a halo around her face.
"Get her up," he ordered to the men below and watched as two of them jumped down, and swam to where she was floating almost ethereally.
"She breathes," one of them called back and the Captain motioned for her to be brought up on the board. After a little maneuvering, they did and he descended the steps to stand beside the wench.
"Looks like a lady, Captain," his first mate observed.
Indeed she did. Her gown itself was made from the finest of velvet. He touched her hand and felt the cold, clammy skin.
"Take her to my chamber and leave her," he ordered the two men who had gotten her up. They exchanged a look but nodded and picked her, scurrying into the bowels of the ship to his huge, spacious chambers.
"I don't want to seem too forward but why not just leave her, Captain?" the first mate asked as the other men got back to their stations.
The Captain considered the question and thought upon it. "She may yet fetch a handsome ransom."
Exchanging orders, he went towards his chambers and entered, dismissing the other two men as they lay her on his huge bed in the center, locking the door behind him and examining her with his eyes coolly.
He looked down upon the unconscious woman, her body sopping wet and her hair tangled around her face, her skin pale where he suspected she would have color.
Pursing his mouth, he took out his dagger and cut away through her fine gown, removing it and leaving her in nothing but her thin shift that hardly hid anything from his ravenous eyes. He had been without a woman too long. But since she was unconscious, he put her under the soft blankets, letting her body warm and sat on the stool in the corner, just watching her.
Her dark hair was tangled around her face, wet. Her brows were arched and her form small. Her face itself was young. She was way younger than he was. This woman was not the kind of ladies he associated with. And he had seen, and bedded women way more beautiful than she. Yet, something about her quiet, unassuming face held his eyes upon her form.
He let her sleep, slowly seeing the color seep into her faded skin and thought of what he would do when she woke, and more importantly, what he would tell his men. Having a woman on board would not sit well with them, for too many reasons to count.
She had woken up, confused and blinked at him with the brightest blue eyes he had seen that had stunned him for a moment. Then she had realized she was practically naked and thrown a fit of rage he had not thought her tiny body had been capable of carrying, picking up the dagger he had used to cut her dress open and wielding it against him. It had surprised him. Very few things surprised him.
She had told him over dinner how she had been returning to her home from visiting her sister when pirates had attacked their ship and she had lost consciousness in the water. Then, she had thanked him for rescuing her and bluntly asked what he intended to do with her. He had chewed and considered. She had fidgeted. And he had told her he would make port at her home first, before continuing on his journey since it was in his way anyways. It had not been. He would have to travel east to reach her home when he was supposed to go west. She had nodded gratefully and that night, in longer than he could remember, he had surprised himself.
He gave her leeway to do as she pleased in the day. He was the one who brought her meals everyday and she dined with him. He was the one who gave her his own clothes to wear since she had none of her own and he had no cloth to let her sew them. He did only admit to himself that he liked the way the clothes hung on her small frame, drowning her.
She talked a lot. Once she had grown comfortable with him, enough to know that he did not wish to harm her and would deliver her safely to shore, she started talking to him.
And for the first time since he was a babe, he found himself talking to someone about things he never spoke about. He talked to her of his life and his adventures, sparing her senses the gory details, watching her face light up when he spoke something she liked and see her brows crinkle when he offended her. He offended her a lot. Only to see the flush that took over her face every time he did. And she talked a lot. About the sister she had been visiting, about her mother, everyone. She never spoke of her father and he reasoned she must have been ashamed of something. He would later realize how wrong he had been.
His men never saw her. He did not want them to.
One time he remembered coming inside the chamber in a rage at two of his men, who had called her his whore. They had no reason to assume otherwise but he remembered the way his blood had burned and his hands had fisted hearing them talk about her like that. He had gone ahead and knocked their heads together, about to draw out his sword when his first mate had stepped in and stopped him, reminding him that he needed the crew and they could not find any in the middle of the sea. Spitting away, he had strode back to his chamber and slammed the door shut, jarring her from the book she had been reading.
She could read. That itself had surprised him when she had expressed a desire to see the books in his chest his mother had left him. He had had no time for such things but she did so he had handed them over to her, watching her eyes delight. He had realized he liked getting that look in her eyes.
But that day, when he had thrown a chair against the chamber wall, splintering it to pieces in his anger, he had expected her to look at him with wide eyes and cower like every woman did before his temper. That was the day she had surprised him yet again, something she had taken to doing frequently.
She had blinked at him for a while before calmly walking up to him and she had taken the his right hand into hers, her thumb soothingly rubbing his wrist, over and over again, till he had felt the anger diminish completely. She had just stood there, barely reaching his neck and in silence she had rubbed where his heart throbbed in his hand, calming him like no one ever had before her. That was the first time she had touched him.
After that, the little touches had begun. She always touched him on that spot, seeking his beating heart in his blood, sometimes to soothe him, sometimes to soothe herself. She sometimes did it completely clueless, forgetting that she still had a hold of his hand. He had never stopped her on such times, cherishing the feel of her small fingers on his big wrist.
He, on the other hand, had taken a small liberty too. He had seen the way she liked to pull on her ear when she was uncertain or angry. He started doing that for her- rubbing her ear softly to soothe her while she sought his wrist to soothe him. It had become their touch, so much so that he would rub her ear each morning before going up on the deck and she would rub his wrist each night before sleeping.
She smiled a lot too. And laughed, not like the delicate way ladies did, but boisterously, unashamed of her own pealing sound, her eyes crinkling at the corners. She laughed at him and laughed at herself.
Her laugh had started making him smile. He had been long enough in her company to not be surprised anymore.
In all their time together, they never asked each other their names. She told him she did not want to know for if she was ever caught, she did not want to lie about who had rescued her because she was an awful liar, and the authorities had a price on his head. It had been sensible. He had wanted to know but had refrained from asking, at first because she had not, and later, as they grew closer, because he knew he would seek her out if he knew her name. It would be best for both of them to just become fond memories and ships passing in the night.
A moon had passed since she had come on board. A moon had passed since his men had been told by him not to lay a single finger on her if they wanted their arms attached to their bodies in the morning. A moon had passed since she had made home in his chambers and he had slept on the floor. Why he had done that, he did not understand. He was notorious for being free with the women and the last woman he had had had been before leaving land. By all means, he should have already taken her and been done with her. But he could not. The mere thought of being callous to her grated him.
For someone who had one of the most dangerous reputations in his business, he certainly had a soft spot right for her. She had weaved her way into his heart with her soft voice and long babbles and pink flushes. Just with her presence. And he had known that it would come to an end the moment they reached shore. He had begun to dread it, his impatience to reach land from before forgotten.
A moon had passed and he had not known who she was yet he knew her better than she did. He knew what made her smile and what made her angry and what made her melt.
A moon had passed and in the morning, they were making port.
A moon had passed and he had realized, on that last night as she rubbed his wrist and he rubbed her ear, that he was not ready.
She had told him about her home in great detail- about the people, the place, the views, the neighbors. She had told him about her sisters and brothers and she had told him how, since her home was close to shore, she would escape from chores to walk upon the sand and stare at the sea for hours. She had the sea in her blood too.
So, the moment they had landed, the sun high in the sky, she had stepped off the board and he had stepped off with her, willing to show his face to escort her home safely after telling his men he would return shortly. She had brought out the gentleman out of the pirate in him. They could have taken a carriage but he had suggested they walk the short distance, prolonging his time with her.
And so they were both silent, walking and he felt a heaviness settle in his gut that he was unfamiliar with but one that had been festering inside him for days. It gripped his cold heart and the pang he felt just looking sideways at her was making his stomach drop. But he remained silent and walked with her, not seeing anything but following where she led him, each step making his feet heavier and his pace slower.
But he did not stop and the distance was covered too soon, too quickly. He saw a small settlement of cottages up ahead the small cliff and his lungs seized momentarily.
He was not ready to let her walk away, never to see her again. And he knew he never would, not if he let her go.
He could not let her go.
His arm shot out before he could command it not to and he tugged her back, the surprise vivid on her face. He stood, gazing down upon that face, that face that one moon ago had seemed quietly beautiful to him. He had been wrong. Her face had been so radiant, glowing, so bright that it had blinded him to her real beauty. He memorized that face-from the pink in her cheeks to the arch of her brows over bright, intelligent blue eyes to the soft, lush mouth and the pert nose to the dark waves of hair she had tied back with a leather cord, the line of her neck visible to his eyes. His eyes brushed over her features, feeling a kind of desperation he did not understand, had never wanted to.
His other hand coming up of its own accord, his rough fingers brushing over her cheek, feeling the warm, soft skin on the way to her lobe, taking a hold of her ear for the last time, feeling the texture under his rough fingers as he rubbed the flesh.
Her gaze softened on his and her hand came up to hold his wrist, rubbing his pulse with her thumb for the last time and he knew he could not let go. He was not strong enough. In such a short span of time, she had become an inevitability.
Moisture pooled in her luminous, blue eyes and he looked down into her face, the thought of not seeing her again making him ache so acutely as though a limb had been severed off his body. And that ache made him do what no gentleman would have done. He was no gentleman by any stretch of the imagination.
He slowly, softly, took a hold of her mouth with his, swallowing her gasp of surprise, and kissed her like he had wanted to for so long, like his blood had demanded for so long.
"Don't go," he muttered softly and she blinked up at him.
"And what will you do if I don't?" she asked equally softly.
He did not have an answer. He did not know what he would do. They could not continue like they had and he could not marry her. But the thought of letting her walk back into her world, never to hear her laugh again, never to hear her curse at him, was not something he could live with either. That was what he should have done. He should have let her go to her house and live her life, marry a man she deserved and become a mother to many children. His gut knotted and a sour taste filled his mouth.
She smiled softly at him, like she always did, squeezing his wrist. "Thank you for everything."
No. No. No. No.
He had to keep her. He had to keep her just a little longer. Till he was ready.
He kissed her soft lips again and she let him, tentatively kissing him back before the fever in their bloods dictated their mouths, making them devour each other, meshing together like they were meant to. Kissing her was his sip of elixir. He tasted the little sounds she made, and he knew, right there, that she would not be going. He would do whatever he had to to keep her.
Just as he was about to delve in again, he heard a loud shout coming from his front.
"How dare you!"
Pulling back, he quickly shoved her behind him, his hand coming up swiftly to the hilt of his sword when he felt an odd, cold sensation throughout his body. Confused, he tried to take the sword out and felt his blood run cold when he could not move. He could not move. Not a little. Nothing. He was frozen, his muscles locking in place completely, that cold sensation still in his body, his heart thumping with the need to fight, to protect her.
Looking at the group of five people coming towards them with their dark robes flapping with each step, his eyes settled upon the old man in the center, carrying a long, detailed gold stick, as long as his arm, which was pointed at the two of them. The old man had so much hatred in his eyes that it was almost tangible.
He tried to shift and get the sword out again but his body refused to cooperate, not budging even slightly. Frustration, and something akin to fear, filled him.
"Father..." he heard her speak softly from behind him and realization dawned upon him like a bucket of water. The old man was her father, the father she had never spoken of, the father who was somehow responsible for rendering him immovable, wielding that gold stick.
"Quiet!" the old man roared, coming to a stop in front of them, the other four men, dressed in similar robes stopping behind him.
Her father's eyes cut to him, the disgust in them acute and he looked back, unable to do anything, and getting frustrated at his inability to move.
"Albatross," her father began, addressing him and he heard her sharp intake of breath at his common name. His gut clenched knowing the way her mind must be wandering, remembering all the horrific stories about him, having heard all the monstrous tales. He did not want her to think him a monster, even if he were so. Not her.
"You have ruined my daughter," the old man spit out, enraged.
He opened his mouth but his tongue was stuck, frozen like the rest of his body, and he could not speak. Defending himself was less important than defending her.
He felt her step out from behind him, her fingers gripping his wrist for strength as she faced the older man.
"That is untrue, father," she began and the man roared again, livid, his hand striking the side of her face loudly, the gold stick swinging away.
The moment the stick moved, he felt movement rush back to his limbs and he stepped in front of her again, pulling her close to his side, furious at the man for laying a hand on her.
"She has not been touched," he stated firmly to his audience, feeling the slight tremble in her body and her cheek swelling where her father had struck her. His anger swelled as he looked at the mark.
Before he could do anything though, the old man pointed the gold stick at him again, making him completely immobile and stepped forward. The sun shone on his back, the heat intensifying as he looked straight at the old man, hatred filling him.
"You really think me a fool?" he started, keeping the stick pointed at him. "A man like you, of you reputation, keeps my daughter on his ship for days and you wish me to believe she is untouched?"
"Father," she began again.
"You disgrace!" he grit out at her. "Do not call me your father!"
"He rescued me. He did not touch me. Please let him go," she begged and he felt his teeth grind, wanting to stop her and take her back to his ship, away from the people who loathed her so, who rendered her to grovel for him. She deserved better.
The old man did not reply but instead gazed back at her in sudden silence. The quiet between the two only made him look closely at them, mainly at her.
He saw understanding dawn upon her face and her eyes widen at whatever she read in her father's face and she started to shake her head frantically at him, paling.
"No, father!" she shouted, rushing forward a step. "Please. Do not. I beg of you. Please."
He did not understand as he stood rooted to the spot but the palpable fear in her voice made chills run over his body, her grip on his wrist almost painful now.
Turning his gaze back to the old man, he saw his wrinkled, leathery face blank of all expression before he raised his cold, dark eyes to her. He saw the old man's eyes move to the place where she was gripping him, then at his face, the chill in his blood intensifying at the look in his eyes.
"You have disgraced me, daughter," her father spoke in a firm, stoic voice. "Now bear the consequences of your actions."
He saw the old man raise his other hand, palm out, towards her and suddenly, he felt her grip on his wrist go lax. He swung his gaze to her, his heart beating faster and faster, as he saw her knees give away, her body collapsing on the rocky ground, immovable like him, in a mass of limbs with no movement but just blinking up at him.
His pulse was pounding and blood rushing to his ears as he stood looking down, his gaze locked on hers, everything inside him trying to reach for her but unable to even twitch.
The old man turned to him then, his eyes hard and lips pursed, his wrinkled skin tanned and impenetrable.
"I will let her go painlessly for she was coerced, but you," her father spoke, pointing his gold stick at the wrist she had been holding. "You vile monster, you are going to suffer for your deeds. You are going to suffer endlessly and feel this pain for as long as you will live, every time that you will live."
His heart pounding, he saw through his eyes as the gold stick inched forward, getting closer and closer to his skin, the man chanting something in a different language, his eyes closed and head thrown back, his voice getting louder and louder. He saw that gold come closer and closer and he could feel it in his bones that the moment it touched, it would reign destruction.
His jaw hurt from clenching it so tightly and inevitably, the gold touched his wrist, exactly where her thumb had been, and the breath left his body in a rush, his knees crumpling, making him fall to the rocky ground hard on his side. He still could not move.
After a moment of chanting, the old man touched the stick to his heart as he lay then turned away. He heard them leave, their footsteps fading away as his eyes went to her.
She blinked at him, her face slowly paling as the sun beat on their backs and the only sounds those of waves crashing against the rocks, hitting them then retreating.
Swallowing down his parched throat, he just started to speak, at least tried to, to alleviate the fear he saw in her gaze, the fear that was more a punch in the gut to him than anything else that had happened, when the spot on his wrist slowly started to grow uncomfortable, the skin on the spot getting mottled, turning hotter, before it began to burn from the inside out. Searing pain consumed him as the inside out burn assaulted his body, inflaming his entire body, the sun that had been warm a moment ago becoming a furnace that blazed his blood. He was burning alive, the scream from the pain trapped in his throat, feeling his skin slowly char under the sun.
His pained eyes found hers just in time to see a tear trickle down into her hair. He saw her inhale deeply and push herself to a crawl, reaching for him.
His skin was completely burnt now, and he knew whatever was happening to him would not be hasty. He would not die quickly.
The fire burned him from the inside, and he felt a sharp pain shoot up both his sides, his legs already feeling severed. Everything was pain. And burn. Raw flesh. Agony.
He saw through his agonized eyes as she managed to move forward slightly and extended her hand, trying to reach for his, her entire body straining and he just lay there on his side, his arm out, burning alive.
The tears never left her eyes. The mouth he had kissed moments ago trembling as she strained, her whole body shaking. That mouth had been his one slice of heaven. Only one.
He did not dare blink lest he miss one movement from her, his own mouth starting to shake as the inevitability of what was happening thrust upon him.
Her fingers passed his, and he watched, every muscle cringing in silent agony as she slowly touched her fingers to his wrist. His wrist.
A tear escaped his own eyes as she watched him, keeping a hold of that burning flesh, giving him another glimpse of heaven in the fires of his hell.
He should never have brought her here. He should have taken her with him and made her his. He should have kissed her every moment and every chance he had gotten and let go of. He should have told her so many things.
But now he could not. Now he could only watch as she struggled for breaths, gasping silently and watch as her eyes shut close. Her eyes closed and brute desperation kicked inside him. No. No. No. He could not accept it. This was never supposed to be her end. She was supposed to live a happy life. She was supposed to read books and laugh and soothe. Her eyes were not supposed to close.
The desperation in him managed to make his wrist just twitch slightly, but enough that she opened her eyes. She blinked once, softly, like she did when she just woke up in the morning and kept her gaze on him. And he watched, his jaw trembling and tears threatening to burst, slowly, as the life seeped out of her face, the light finally leaving her eyes with one last tear.
His insides tore open and he opened his mouth on a silent scream that wouldn't come, his chest howling in pain that was not from the burns, tears leaving him as he just looked at her open eyes, dead eyes. She did not deserve this. She had never deserved this.
He howled in the hollow of his heart, everything inside him cracking and shattering to pieces.
And he lay there on his side, slowly burning to his death, the scent of burning flesh permeating the air around him, his own body his inferno.
He lay there on his side, fading away in torment, unable to writhe or scream or groan in pain.
He lay there on his side as the sun sank away in the sky and darkness descended but the burn did not leave his flesh, charring it to the rock.
He lay on his side, going through that agony, anchoring himself to her eyes that stared blankly at him, the tears dried on her face.
He lay there on his side, feeling the pain become white noise, the pain become tolerable, his flesh growing numb as he felt the life seep out of him too, his eyes finally letting go of hers, nothing left for him anymore.
And till his last breath, he felt her fingers, still wrapped around his wrist.