I allowed us a two night’s stay at the inn, giving Emmelyne some time to herself. I expected the waters between us to be murky, and I wasn’t wrong. There were moments when all felt normal between us, when she’d smile and allow me to hold her. But there were other, more torturous moments that made the distance between us seem insurmountable. I was constantly patient, as difficult as it was for me to be so. This was new territory, and I’d give Emmelyne whatever her heart desired.
In town, I’d gathered some supplies to help make the journey a bit easier. I’d found another book to give as a gift, along with a few delicacies from more foreign regions. I stared at the bright pastry in my hand, wondering why it had cost me so much. If it made Emmy smile, though, then it was worth it.
I knocked on the door in our secret way, so she’d know it was me approaching. She unlocked it, peeking through the crack. It was impossible to read her face anymore. She moved aside, allowing me to enter. I held the fruit tart behind my back, smiling.
“I brought ye a few wee gifts.” I said. She glanced at me nervously.
“What for?” Her brows pulled together. My heart sank.
“I s’pose there doesna’ need to be a reason, other than I love ye,” I said, measuring her reaction. She smiled timidly, nodding a bit. I brought the pastry around proudly. Her smile broadened, releasing the tension in my chest. It was a step in the right direction.
We rode on, our travels slowed exponentially by the onslaught of rain and the muddy roads. It was miserable, the constant cold and wet. It didn’t help that we were no longer taking a direct route, either. Considering everything that had happened, Murdoc and I thought it best to skirt along above the mountain range, before turning south to Macdara. If anyone was following, they’d assume we were making our way to a port town. It was adding many unnecessary miles to our journey, but it was a precaution I had to take. When the time was right, Murdoc, Puck and Ama would make their way south as well to join us. Worry gnawed at me like a dog incessantly chewing a bone.
I was silently grateful, as well, for Emmelyne’s new sour attitude. I hoped it was her monthly hormones. If not, there was no telling who’s child she would bear. I felt sick at the very thought. We set up camp for the night, finding dry shelter under an outcropping of rocks. The small fire blazed to warm us, and I’d been fortunate enough to snare a rabbit. Emmy’s mood improved as she ate. I reached for my flask of whisky, having been told by Ama what signs to look out for as far as poison or laudanum. Clean water was hard to come by on the road.
I gave my flask a shake, realizing how little I had left. I held the opening to my eye, peeking inside and seeing for myself the low level. I sat, trying to remember the last time I’d drank. It had been two nights ago, and it was only a sip at that. I glanced at Emmelyne across the fire. Her cheeks were a bit rosier than usual. I squinted at her, setting my whisky aside.
“I’m exhausted, wee one.” I said. Her eyes snapped to mine, a glossy look to them. The little devil. She nodded. I made myself comfortable, reclining against a log, pretending to fall asleep. In her drunken state, she was far from stealthy. It only took thirty or so minutes for her to be convinced of my ruse. I could hear the shuffle of her body against the forest floor, could picture in my mind exactly when she’d be reaching for my whisky. I pounced, catching her in the act, my hand firm around her wrist. In her grasp was the damming evidence.
Though her reaction was muddled by drink, her eyes still widened in fear before she glared at me.
“Seems I have a wee thief on my hands,” I said sternly, glaring right back at her. Getting drunk wouldn’t solve her problems.
I let her go. She threw the flask in the dirt in a petty manner, turning away from me and crossing her arms. It was hard not to laugh.
“Ye know I’d have shared if ye’d asked.” I said. She only shrugged in response.
“Why are ye drinkin’, Emmelyne?” I asked softly. It took a moment, but I could hear her sniffling. I expected her recovery to take months, even years and then some. But I wouldn’t allow her to go about it the wrong way. I loved her too much.
“I…” she sniffed. “I just want to forget, for a while.” She whispered.
“Come ’ere.” I said. She turned, her eyes swollen with tears, but she moved to me and allowed herself to be held. I kissed the top of her head as I encircled my arms about her tiny frame.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help ye, but ye canna drown yer emotions like that.” I said with conviction. She cried into my shoulder as I rocked her, running my fingers over her braid. My heart shattered again and again, feeling more irreparable each time. She quieted for a moment, leaning back to stare at me.
“I…I saw what you…did.” She whispered. I felt the air leave my lungs.
“Wha’?” I asked.
“To…to him.” She said. I felt queasy. Of course she had seen, I thought bitterly.
“Ahh,” I said, shifting uncomfortably, wiping my hand across the back of my neck. My hair was getting wildly out of control out here. I found I liked it, though, because it was something I’d never had control over before.
“And…how do ye…feel? About that?” I asked cautiously. Her brow furrowed as she fought through her drunkenness. Her lips pursed. I tried to hide my smile.
“Part of me feels…happy.” She said. I nodded, waiting for the rest. The wind sent sparks into the cloudy night sky.
“But…” she shook her head as if to clear her thoughts. “I don’t know that I’ll ever feel…justice…”
I gently cupped her face, forcing her eyes to mine.
“There is no consequence for those men that will give ye justice, Emmelyne.” I said. My eyes flicked between hers.
“But I swore to protect ye, and if that means killin’ an entire army, an entire clan of people, then so be it.”
Her eyes welled with more tears as her bottom lip trembled.
“I miss you,” she breathed. My heart felt torn in two. I knew of what she meant. Intimacy. Our shared moments had been savagely and barbarically stolen from us. I knew there would no longer be just the two of us when we laid together, not for some time.
“I miss ye too, wee one, but yer no’ ready for that. Ye owe yerself some time to…to think, to figure out what this all means to ye. And like I promised before, I’ll be there for ye when yer ready,” I bent, placing a kiss atop her forehead. She curled herself into my embrace, sighing in contentment. If anything, Emmelyne had found a bit of courage at the bottom of the flask.
The days on the road became easier, though the rain continued. We’d been gone nearly a month with no word from the Brotherhood. I made it a habit to sit and listen to the chatter at the inns and taverns. Most men focused on talk of war, of Mount Tier and Borthwick making an alliance. Some mentioned the Brotherhood, though most seemed to think their numbers were weak in comparison to the forces amassed by the other two leaders. That news gave me some comfort, knowing that not all people feared the Brotherhood. There were always bigger problems, I supposed.
Although Emmy had been coming around, the last two days had brought with it another round of distance. I would catch her shooting confused glances at me. I wondered what was on her mind, but I’d decided to leave her be. She needed to learn to communicate on her own terms. I left her to bathe while I sat in the cramped, musty tavern, sipping bitter ale. The men of this town were quiet, whispering amongst themselves in clumps of two or three, often casting wary glances my way.
I pushed the mushy peas around my plate, straining to catch any news that would benefit me. The rain pounded the roof, the shutters flapping in the blustery spring wind. The door to the tavern slammed open, the breeze causing papers behind the bar to flutter to the ground. Everyone turned to glare at the newcomer with annoyance in their eyes. He was hooded, wearing black from head to toe, mud coating the lower extremity of his body. He was tall and built, but otherwise hidden from our stares.
I scooped a spoonful of peas into my mouth, swallowing them whole, hating the taste, though knowing my body needed the nourishment of some form of vegetables. I followed the peas with a swig of ale, coughing at the taste. The group of men nearest me chuckled and shook their heads. I glared.
The chair next to me scraped against the floor as it was pulled out. I sat back, staring in confusion at a harried Emmelyne. Her hair was still damp, her cheeks flushed from the hot bath water. I opened my mouth to speak, but she beat me to it, her face contorted in worry and apprehension.
“Killian, I have to tell you something, now.” She said with urgency. I felt as though I were about to barf up those mushy peas. She was pregnant. That had to be it.
“Are ye wi’ child?” I asked quickly, closing my mouth against the bile rising in my throat. I felt myself pale with the onslaught of nausea, my hands trembling, my body breaking out in a cold sweat.
“What? No.” She said dismissively. I exhaled in sudden relief, though I was put on edge once more because of the brevity of her answer. The men nearby chuckled again. A question like that would have normally made her blush and stammer with embarrassment, but she was quickly swatting it away. Something more important was about to spew from her lips. I steeled myself.
“Killian, I had a…vision…” she began nervously, her eyes begging me to believe her, to stay silent and listen. I waited as my blood pumped hot through my veins.
“I saw…I saw you meeting a man, someone who was or is or will be very important to you…and…and…” she struggled, wringing her hands together. My heart dropped. She’d discovered it, then. My vision of Jon, the leader of Macdara. I still had no idea who he was to either of us, but I knew he was deeply bound and connected in some way.
Before she could continue, a shadow fell over our table. I glanced quickly at the muddied traveler, paying him no mind in this tense situation. I glanced back at Emmelyne, who was stuck gaping up at the man. I followed her gaze, my heart leaping into my throat.
He was bald, though he had a thick, greying beard, a wide-set mouth, and a strong nose. His blue eyes were cold, as cold as I remembered them. He stood with his arms crossed, smirking down at me. I stood in a flash, my hand itching for my dagger as the chair fell behind me. Emmelyne stood, too, placing her hand on my arm, her nails biting into my flesh.
I was seeing a ghost, that was all. Just a ghost, an apparition. My mind had been overworked lately, and those peas and that ale had done me in. But his next words rooted me back to reality, his voice as deep and melodic and menacing as I remembered. A thousand images flashed before my eyes, of him yelling at me to fight harder, to do better, to be the best. His smirk widened.
“’Tis been a while, son.”