“Emma…Lyne,” I said breathlessly. “Stop…making this…so…difficult!” I growled, dodging a surprisingly well-placed kicked. Her cottage was in shambles currently; the clay vase shattered on the floor, the iron pot overturned, the thick blanket from her bed strewn over the wooden boards. She reached for the candelabra, stretching on her stomach, her toes seeking purchase from the rough ground. I gripped her ankle and yanked her back as she whirled on me, wielding the tarnished metal. The candle flew from its holder and bounced across the floor before it rolled away.
I caught the cold metal before it connected with my head. I could only smile at her tenacious spirit; I found myself even more attracted to her now, white hot anger clear in her usually innocent eyes. In the few days since the raid, it seemed her contempt for me had grown. I felt it was misplaced; she was clearly in turmoil as her life fell apart, and she needed someone to blame for it. I tried to be understanding. When I’d told her we must attend the feast tonight, she’d begun flinging things at my face. Murdoc and Rollo watched from the window, laughing their asses off.
I threw the candelabra aside, pulling her to me as she continued to struggle, her attempts feeble when it came to my strength. I clamped my arms around her torso, setting her on my lap as I leaned against the wall and caught my breath. She continued to seethe and writhe.
“Calm yerself, ye damn faerie.” I said. She stilled a bit. Being this close to her was no good for my already thin resolve. Even if she hated me in this moment, part of me felt relief at being near someone.
“Ye have to go, or Agnar will find a way to come and get ye.” I explained. Her movements ceased altogether at the mention of his name. I knew who it was that plagued her nightmares every time she slept, having to hear her cry out. She shook her head quickly back and forth, then unleashed her watery gaze on me, her bottom lip quivering. My heart shattered in an instant.
“Hush now,” I said, attempting to comfort her. “Ye will stick with me, eh? Remember my promise?”
She nodded, her eyes not leaving mine.
“Good.” I said. I released my hold on her, and she scooted away, her eyes darting to mine.
“I don’t…” she began. I quirked an eyebrow, listening patiently. She hadn’t spoken much since the first night.
“I don’t want to see…anyone, anyone I know…” she muttered, her eyes falling to her lap.
“And why not?” I asked, curious.
“Because…they will…they will think me…unclean.” She whispered. I let my head fall back against the wall.
“Emmelyne,” I said, unsure of how to break the news to her. “At this point, all the men are dead and the women who have survived have been claimed and their children enslaved. No one will think ye unclean.”
“Why do you people do this?” She whispered, tears thick in her voice. It was an astute question, one I had no answer for.
“I had no choice. I was born into this,” I said. “My mother died when I was four. This is all I’ve known, though I’ve vowed to never be evil like most of the men here. If I ever desert, they’d kill me.”
“What about the people you saved by…by claiming me?” She asked. My heart felt pierced. I hadn’t thought she’d understood that.
“Aye, that’s a big part of why I stay. They need me, need the wealth I steal to keep them alive.”
“So you’re good, then?” She said, glancing up at me once more. I smirked.
“I s’pose.” I shrugged, thinking of my own questions.
“Why do ye live here alone?” I asked, my brow furrowing. She looked at me as though it were obvious.
“Because I’m an orphan.” She said. I felt the confusion on my face. She blushed as I stared at her, squirming under my gaze. I reached for her again, not letting her slip away this easily. Her face soured, but she stayed rooted to her spot on the floor.
“My parents were…killed, long ago…and I found…well I found my way here, and they took me in and raised me and taught me…taught me how to behave.”
“Mmm,” I said, nodding. “And how did they teach ye to behave?” I gathered these people were a bit insane with their rules. She fiddled with her hands nervously.
“I’m…I’m not supposed to touch a man…until I’m wed…and I can’t…can’t look them in the eye. And I must…must do what he asks…” The blush in her cheeks deepened as I hid my smile.
“So these people—your people—worship men?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she nodded seriously. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and gag. Men (and humans in general) deserved no worship in my eyes. Not even these gods other clans claimed to follow deserved the things people did to please them. It was all folly.
“Seems I’ve done ye a wee bit of a favor, then.” I said. Her brows gathered together in confusion.
“Well, I’ve proven I’ll no force myself on ye, and I can promise ye that as soon as ye were married, that’s all that would ha’ happened.”
Her blue eyes widened like a doe’s.
“And I’ll let ye do as ye please, when it’s the two o’ us. You’ll no be my slave.”
“But…but we’re not…married.” She whispered the word as if her gods would overhear and smite us. I snorted.
“So…we…we can die, be punished, for…for staying together, for touching.”
“I don’t know what gods ye were taught to worship, but nothing but another human or illness or even a wild animal could kill ye.”
She only stared back at me, her heartbeat rapid, pulsing heavily in her neck. I felt sickened, that these people had brainwashed her so severely, but I was curious all the same.
“Who was yer leader?” I asked.
“Elijah.” She whispered, a small shudder running through her. I sensed her dread as she spoke his name.
“And he taught ye all this rubbish?” I asked. She cast her eyes down quickly, though I had already noticed the blush rising in her cheeks. She nodded, squirming to be free of my gaze again. I held fast to my questions, concerned and curious.
“What else did he teach ye?” I said. She only shrugged.
“Do you…do you think he’s dead?” She whispered. I sensed she hated this man for whatever reason.
“Aye, the Brotherhood does their best to kill ’em all off.”
I watched as she relaxed, causing me to feel a deep happiness.
“What did he do to ye?” I asked, my voice low.
“It…it wasn’t just me,” she said. “He took all us girls…when we…well when we turned sixteen.”
I waited in silence, anger simmering just below the surface.
“He…he explained our duties…what they would be as wives…how to make our husbands happy. He showed us, and blessed us—”
“Blessed ye?” I scoffed, sensing where this was going. She nodded.
“It…it felt wrong, I knew it was bad…that we shouldn’t be doing those things for him…”
I felt rage shiver up my spine.
“He’s lucky he’s dead.” I ground out.
“Why?” She whispered, fear etched into her features at my words.
“Because if he were alive, I can only imagine the things I’d do to him.”