The storm finally dissipated, though our relief was tenuous. Men from the Brotherhood began to make their way through town, its inhabitants sheltering from the cold as well as the passerby. I knew it was time to leave.
Emmelyne stood in front of me in her new outfit; a snug, black bodice and black skirts that were almost silver as they swished with her movements. The elderly seamstress stood behind her, ringing her hands, apprehensive for my approval. In complete honesty, Emmelyne’s beauty would never be diminished by what she wore, only enhanced. And now, she took my breath away. I nodded to the woman, holding out two gems for her troubles and fast-pace. Her eyes widened in gratitude. Emmy could only stare at me, glaring, her false bravado already beginning to fade. She’d known I was right, about her empty feelings of hatred toward me, but I knew she’d have to come to that conclusion on her own.
In the meantime, I’d still have to dole out my punishment to her. She needed to understand the severity of her actions. Once we were back on Brotherhood lands, every choice she made had the potential to be her last.
I watched as she pulled on her sturdy riding gloves, and I was thankful, knowing she’d be warm in the coming days. My heart nearly convinced my head to let her off the hook just this once, until her eyes snapped to mine, and she narrowed them even more. I smirked at her, falling for her tenacious and defiant spirit.
“Best be on our way, little faerie.” I said, turning to leave. I’d already had the seamstress tuck away her two other outfits; one a bit more casual for everyday wear, the other much lighter for the summer months. My mind idly wandered to Maeve, her family. I’d have to make a trip to see them soon, to check up on their well-being. My heart was utterly conflicted at the thought, so I buried it deep down and focused on getting home.
Rollo adjusted himself, settling into the saddle across his massive ebony warhorse. Emmelyne refused to meet anyone’s eyes, her hands clasped, her cheeks pink. The bruise under her eye seemed to have reached its peak of discoloration; black in the center, fading outward to purple, then to blue. I clenched my aching fist tight, wishing I could pummel that man again.
Rollo smirked down at us, his eyes glinting playfully. At least her bruise would make others think I’d done my duty and beat her.
“Haven’t got all day to freeze my balls off,” he said, reaching his gloved hand down. The snow had ceased, but the air still felt heavy as a new storm began to circulate above. I hoped we’d at least make it to the next town before it hit. I pulled Emmelyne in front of me, our bodies flush for a moment. I could feel her steady shaking. I gripped her hips, helping her up. My gut twisted as Rollo reached around her, grasping the reins.
“Remember to whom she belongs.” I warned. Rollo chuckled and dipped his head my way before giving the leather reins a flick. I swung up onto my horse, following suit. She’d not leave my eyesight.
We set up camp near a river as dusk fell. Emmelyne stiffly made her way to me, eyes still trained on the snowy ground. I held the tent open for her, ready for sleep. Her head snapped up, her icy glare now perfected. She stalked past, choosing to instead sit on a log near the fire. I snorted. Murdoc watched her with weary eyes, glancing to me and raising his brows. I knew where his thoughts were leading him. I smirked and shrugged, knowing she’d relent as night fell.
When I awoke at dawn, Emmy was curled up next to me, facing away. I had to give her some credit at her stealthiness. I sighed, throwing my blanket over her. I dragged my hands along my face, ready to relent once more, to have her back in my arms and good graces. I knew, though, that this small test would ensure her trust and respect toward me in the end.
Each day was the same. She’d glare, ride all day with a joyous Rollo, and sneak into my tent at night after I’d fallen asleep. I never worried as she sat by the fire, knowing Murdoc rarely slept on the road. Each night, she’d wake screaming, sweating despite the chill. She’d let me hold her hand for a brief moment before she turned away, the sound of her soft cries meeting my ears. By the sixth day, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Rollo reached down, and a red-eyed Emmelyne didn’t hesitate to make her way to him. I caught her arm, jerking my chin at him.
“We need some…privacy today.” I smirked, knowing where Rollo’s thoughts would go. He chuckled darkly.
“Aye, with an arse like hers, I can see why!” he clicked his tongue, turning and trotting down the narrow road. Murdoc eyed me for a moment.
“Ride on and get us a room for the night.” I said. He rolled his eyes, lips pressed thin, falling into line behind Rollo. We waited until the Brotherhood had completely evacuated. Emmelyne moved to my horse, but I smirked down at her.
“Today, we walk.” I instructed. Her eyes widened, but she set her jaw and began walking ahead down the snow covered road. It was rather comical, watching her traipse through calf-high, powdery snow, her skirts tangling on unseen brambles hidden beneath the pillowy blanket. The parade of horses before us did nothing to stamp down enough snow to make it any easier. I was surprised and impressed at her endurance; I hadn’t thought she’d last past half a mile. We made it nearly two before she stopped, face red as a beet, hair sticking to her sweaty forehead.
I pulled up beside her, feeling as though another outburst was forthcoming.
“Still hate me?” I quirked an eyebrow at her, halting Ari. She turned her head to me, her eyes holding within their depths a thousand emotions and thoughts I’d never know.
“Yes.” She said. My heart clenched.
“Mmph,” I answered. “Ye understand why I had to do it, though?” I asked. She seemed to find the snowy ground more interesting than my face. I became impatient.
“Emmy?” I said.
“You love someone else, deeply,” she said, her eyes reaching mine. My heart stopped, gazing upon her confused and curious face. I sputtered for a moment, wondering if I’d somehow mentioned Maeve by accident.
“I…I did.” I corrected. “She died, long ago.”
Emmelyne chewed her lip, nodding slightly, still confused. I was just as perplexed.
“Did Murdoc tell ye?” I asked. She shook her head.
“No, I just…I saw it.” She shrugged. I felt my hands go limp at her words, premonition tingling up my spine.
“Saw it?” I said, seeing my breath cloud in front of my face.
“What is it, to love?” She furrowed her brow, crossing her arms. It was nearly impossible to keep pace with her rampant thoughts. Something was seriously wrong with her.
“Emmelyne,” I said, pinching the bridge of my nose. “How did you know about me loving someone else?”
She cast her eyes down again, shrugging as she kicked at the dirty snow with the toe of her boot.
“I’m not supposed to see those things.” She whispered.
“What things?” I grappled for a real answer.
“Elijah said it was wrong, evil.” She said.
“What was?” I growled, my frustration peaking.
“To see what others have done.”
I felt my breath leave my chest as the reality of her words settled into my gut, churning my insides unpleasantly.
“Ye see the past?”
“I don’t know when it is, I just see people.” She glanced at me from under her lashes. Of all things, this seemed to be on the forefront of her mind.
“I’m sorry, for leaving the room.” She whispered. Tears pooled in her eyes, causing my heart to fall, making me forget her prophetic words.
“I forgive ye, of course,” I said, feeling hollow as a dead tree inside.
“You knew I didn’t like him.” She said quietly, barely able to meet my eye again.
“Rollo?” I asked. She nodded. I understood what point she was getting at before she had to say it aloud; what I’d done was cruel, intentional or not. I could have made her ride with Murdoc instead, but a darker part of me wanted her to suffer.
“Can ye forgive me for that?” I asked, humbling myself instantly at this revelation. Again, she nodded. I still felt completely unsettled at her other words.
“Yer right, I was in love. Her name was Maeve.” I offered, feeling the deep sorrow I’d buried resurface. Emmelyne stared at me, though a strange look passed across her face. I remembered her question of what exactly love was. I cleared the tightness from my throat.
“Love is…a choice. Ye choose to always put another before yerself. Ye feel vulnerable and invincible at the same time, when yer with them…” I attempted to explain what my view of love was. She bit her bottom lip.
“You…don’t love her anymore.” Her words weren’t a question, and they pierced me deeply.
“She’s gone, and I need to move on.”
“You’re angry with her, because she didn’t love you the same.” She surmised. I felt as though I were going insane, having Emmelyne somehow read my innermost thoughts and secrets. I felt anger towards her, white hot as it flashed through me. She recognized it, backing up a step, flinching. I was flummoxed by her actions, having never struck her.
“Emmelyne, I’ll no hurt ye,” I said, reaching out to her, feeling calmer the closer I came to her. She shook her head.
“I’m sorry, I know people don’t like it when I tell them things—”
“He beat ye for it, then? Yer leader?” I asked. Her eyes were wide and startled. She was shocked that I could read her, too. She bit her cheek, not wanting to defame the dead. I took a deep breath, unsure of how to proceed. I was treading new waters, nearly drowning in my attempt. I knew things between us would have to change; we’d have to learn to trust one another in our own way, or we’d both risk our lives. I prayed she couldn’t truly read my thoughts, see how often I dreamed of her and I together. I never intended to love another, not that I loved Emmelyne. But it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to fight my growing feelings forever. I’d have two choices when I reached that point, and I knew which choice I preferred already. I sighed, throwing my face to the cloudy, grey sky.
“We’ll make a deal,” I said, clenching my jaw. I turned my gaze back down to her. She seemed open and willing to listen. Again, my heart stirred at the sight of her, as though these gods people prayed to had carved her out just for me.
“You’ll no disobey my orders, because they are simply for yer protection,” I started. She remained stoic.
“When it’s just the two o’ us, ye can say what ye want and do what ye please. This is dangerous, where we are goin’, and I…all I want is to keep ye safe.” I said. Her brows furrowed.
“You don’t expect me to…to…” her cheeks deepened shades of red, contrasted more so by the whiteness surrounding us. I smirked at her innocence.
“I’ve told ye before, and I’ll say it again: no. I’m no that kind of man.” Her wide blue eyes flashed up to me, and I could tell she was warring with herself. I worried instantly that she had seen my dreams, had guessed at my desire for her. I’d never act on those selfish desires, though. To me, she was a free woman with a mind of her own, and she could choose me or not. I’d never persuade her either way.
“Ye look confused,” I said, crossing my arms, a chill setting in now that we’d stopped for a while. The sweat along my back cooled quickly, evaporating and leaving behind a clammy coldness. She blushed even deeper.
“Did ye have some vision?” I teased lightly, though it was a true concern of mine. She shook her head quickly, her lips parted.
“Then what?” I asked, bewildered. I wished I could read this damn woman’s mind.
“Just…I…Rollo said something to me…about you…” she whispered, her voice always lowering when she spoke of something that embarrassed her.
“And?” I prodded. She swallowed audibly, shaking her head. I chuckled.
“Have ye forgotten that I claimed ye, that I’ve seen ye nude, and that nothin’ can embarrass me?” I teased, loving to watch her flounder for answers when she was this sheepish. Her innocence was rather endearing, instead of a hurdle. She twisted her hands together, reaching for the end of her braid and fiddling with that as well.
“I didn’t…understand the meaning…of what I heard…” she said. I quirked an eyebrow, suppressing my smile as I waited. She sighed harshly.
“He asked how I was able to walk to the feast after the raid.” She said in a rush, her cheeks crimson now. I tilted my head back and laughed, which only served to make her more uncomfortable.
“Oh, he was just teasin’ ye, and trust me…ye will hear much worse than that, once we get home.” I explained. I wiped at the tears in my eyes. She stared pointedly at me, and I missed the fact that she wanted an explanation. It was my turn to redden, not from self-consciousness, but because of her own unawareness.
“Come on,” I said, reaching for her. “We can talk and ride, so we don’t freeze.” I smiled. She shuffled closer within my reach. I wound my arm around her waist, hearing her breath hitch at our contact. I hoisted her off the ground and into the saddle, swinging up behind her. Feeling her between my arms once again brought me a deep relief that seemed to satiate my desire for her.
“Rollo only meant that…well, I’m rather well endowed, and after intercourse, it can make physical pursuits such as walking a strain for the woman the next day.”
She let out an audible gasp, her neck flushing hotly as I laughed loud enough for the sound to echo through the valley. How I wished I could see her face.