Author: Paul aka Darth Pacula
"She's afraid of ye," Mockery slowly repeated, before shrugging carelessly. "No offense, Cap'n ... but so what?"
"Huh? What'da ya mean, so what?!" protested Willow, her voice rising in pitch. "I don't want her to be afraid of me!"
Grinning personably, Mockery agreed. "No, ye don't. Ye wanna bed the lass, right?"
Willow exploded into fervent denial "What! No! I don't! She's ... she's like a child. She's been abused for ... the Gods know how long now!"
Mockery acknowledged Willow's point with a lazy nod. "Aye, which is why ye won't bed her, not yet at least. But that don't change the fact that ye want to lie with the wee lass."
To deny that would be a lie, and it was one Willow couldn't bring herself to speak. Not to mention that Mockery knew her well enough to see through any such attempt. So Willow had to content herself with scowling, and kicking impotently at the deck.
"Oh, don't scowl so, Cap'n. Ain't naught wrong with it."
"Yes, there is," Willow stubbornly insisted. "This girl ... Tara ... is under my protection. It wouldn't be right to take advantage of her."
"Aye, and some people would say it ain't right ta deal in stolen merchandise and the like," countered Mockery. "Some people might say that smuggling itself ain't right, but it's what we do."
"So what, you reckon I should just march back in there and ravish her? Is that it? Is that the full weight of your wisdom?" Willow angrily snapped.
"Well ... only if ya really want to," replied Mockery, straight faced. "My point was this, Cap'n; ye only care that the lass is afraid of ye because ye wanna bed her, and ye won't bed her because of what's been done to her. So the whole point is moot, innit. Her fear don't matter."
"It does matter," Willow insisted stubbornly, and a curious expression stole across Mockery's face.
"If I didn't know better, Cap'n, I'd think ye were falling for her."
Brow furrowing, Willow's face darkened like a storm-wracked sky. "Don't be daft, Mockery. Just ... just get her out of my cabin." That final declaration delivered, the redhead stormed out, slamming the door shut behind her.
Tara shrugged her dress back into place, the rough cotton itchy against her nakedness. Reaching down, she plucked her tattered slippers from the floor and regarded them miserably. The flimsy soles were torn to shreds, and stained with Tara's own blood. Still, Tara slipped them back on. They weren't hers after all; Tara had not a single possession in the world. Even the clothes she wore belonged to her master or mistress, in much the same fashion as she herself did.
Perhaps the mistress will allow me some new slippers? she thought hopefully. Though I doubt it, I seem to displease her at every step. Judging by her tattoo, she is a worshiper of Sappho, so my being a woman can't be an issue. She just ... must not want me.
Tara felt both confused and conflicted. For a great many years now, her only worth as a person had been defined by her talents in the bedchamber. Deep-down, in the part of her soul where the last sparks of her unbroken spirit remained, it sickened Tara to judge herself as little more than a toy for the amusement of her owners, but more than a decade of brutal conditioning left her little choice in the matter.
And now, her new mistress refused her advances, and told her she was free. It left Tara feeling .... adrift. If she wasn't desired, then what was she? And free ... She wasn't free, she'd never be free. She was a slave; she was a slave in her heart, she was a slave in her mind, she was a slave deep in her soul. Even set free, Tara was a captive of the cage slavery had built in her mind.
The door opened behind her, and Tara turned, dropping to her knees, head bowed, hands in her lap. A pair of bare feet, sun-browned and tough as leather moved into her field of vision. Not the mistress then.
"C'mon then, lass," spoke a gruff voice. "Let's get ye out of the Cap'n's way."
A hand beckoned Tara onwards, and she obediently rose and followed Mockery out the door into the small antechamber that led out onto the open deck. To one side was a hatch and a ladder leading down into the bowels of the Wild Rose.
Deigning to use the ladder's steps, Mockery slid straight down the railing, and waved for Tara to do likewise. Moving at a much more sedate and cautious pace, Tara began to clamber down after him. The ship rolled again, and Tara's feet, slick with blood from the reopened wounds on her feet, slipped from the rungs. Her grip on the railings was tenuous in this unfamiliar setting, and Tara found herself toppling backwards with a startled yelp.
A pair of strong arms caught her, and unceremoniously dropped Tara back on her feet. Mockery looked down at the bloody footprints Tara was leaving upon the otherwise pristine deck.
"You're foulin' the Cap'n's deck, lass," he gruffly declared, spinning on his heel. "Best be doin' something about that."
Tara followed the sailor down a narrow corridor, limping slightly and staggering with ship's motion, while Mockery moved easily with a bow-legged gait. Yanking open a door, he ushered Tara inside and ordered her to sit on the room's sole stool.
Filling a brass bowl with water from a chipped pitcher, Mockery dumped it on the deck at Tara's feet and began rummaging through his sea chest. Emerging with a handful of linen bandages, he squatted beside the bowl and began to clean and dress her wounded feet.
Moving with surprising gentleness, Mockery looked up every now and then to study his patient with open curiosity. Each time, he found Tara's head bowed, face hidden behind the curtain of her golden hair, but the faint gleam of her eyes betrayed her alertness. Her limbs were limp and pliable, but he sensed a constant undercurrent of tension running through her at his touch.
His task finished, Mockery settled back on his haunches and jerked his head in the direction of his hammock. "Go sleep now, lass. We'll see ye fed in the mornin'."
Tara bobbed her head obediently, and Mockery rose, turning to leave. He turned back, and glared at her. "And don't be thieving any o' my blades, lass. Or I'll strip your hide ta ribbons."
Tara nodded her understanding once more, but when she looked up, Mockery was gone.
Several hours later, Mockery eased open the door to his cabin and peaked his head in. Finding the hammock unoccupied, he nearly let loose a blistering oath. But then he noticed the figure beneath the hammock, huddled up tightly in a ball in the corner.
"Sweet mercy, lass," muttered Mockery. Bare feet silent on the deck, he crept inside and gently laid a blanket atop Tara's sleeping form. "What are we gonna do with ye?"
Odda the tavern keeper came awake with a snort, blinking myopically in the obscuring darkness. The candle atop the battered table beside his bed had been snuffed out when he retired, and the small window inset in one wall was tightly shuttered, so the room was pitch black.
Even still, Odda could see enough to vaguely make out a dark form looming over him, straddling his torso. "Danae?" he mumbled, the name of the serving wench who currently shared his bed. Something cold and terribly sharp pressed up against against his throat.
A small flame flared into existence, burning upon the end of a small metal cylinder. The small circle of light cast revealed a second figure, lolling comfortably in the chair Odda kept near the door to his bedchamber. Leaning over, this figure touched the lit end of the cylinder to the wick of another candle, this one sitting on a rickety desk beside the chair.
Once lit, the candle revealed more details of the two intruders. The one sitting in the chair was a man with pitch-black skin and a golden smile, clad in garb of silk and velvet. Obviously not the usual sort to associate at Odda's level of social strata.
The second intruder, the one straddling Odda's torso and holding a razor-sharp dagger to his throat, was a woman with long, curly raven locks spilling from beneath a leather hood. Odda couldn't make out her face, hidden in shadow as it was, but the press of her lithe body against his own was most pleasant. The kiss of steel against the tender flesh of his throat was less so.
Odda was smart enough not to speak, instead waiting for his 'guests' to make their intentions known.
"I have to admire a man who knows when to keep his mouth shut," Trick began conversationally.
If not for the knife blade at his throat, Odda would have shrugged. "Given my current situation, it seems the smart thing to do," he admitted.
Trick chuckled dryly. "I just hope you also know when it's in your best interests to speak."
Licking his lips, Odda chanced an abbreviated nod, and Trick's sly grin grew wider. "Excellent. I understand there was something of a disturbance in your tavern earlier tonight?"
"Yeah ..." replied Odda slowly. Normally, he would be reluctant to discuss his business, for his clientèle tended to be the kind of people who valued their privacy. But a knife to the throat proved remarkably effective at loosing his tongue.
"There was a certain captain involved ... a woman as I understand it. You are going to tell me about her, tell me everything you know."
"I can't ..." began Odda, but the press of Faith's dagger against his throat silenced his refusal.
"You were saying?" said Trick, one eyebrow curving slyly.
Odda tried again, gulping. "I can't tell you much, because I don't know much. She's a smuggler, this captain of yours, by the name of Willow. Slender, red hair, sharp tongue."
"Yes, yes. Her ship is the Wild Rose. She's well regarded within the smuggler brethren. And she's a beauty, if somewhat rough spun, and a Sapphite to boot. All of this we already knew. Tell us something we don't know, or your usefulness will have come to an end." This final statement was flavored by a tone of subtle, but unmistakable threat, and Odda's eyes widened.
The innkeeper stammered uncontrollably as he desperately racked his memory. "She's based in the Starfall Isles!" he finally blurted.
The affectation of casual boredom Trick maintained was swept away by a wave of ... something else, something intently focused and more than a touch angry. "Are you sure of this? Her home port is in the Starfall Isles?"
"Aye," confirmed Odda eagerly, encouraged by Trick's reaction. "Northport, ta be exact."
"And this is where's she's heading?" Trick demanded, leaning forward in his seat.
"I ... I dunno. Might be. All I know is that she had a spot of business with the Arkady lads."
Trick glanced at Faith. "They're a local criminal syndicate," she supplied, without looking away from her prisoner. "Dealing mostly with thievery and fencing. A smuggler would likely be moving cargo for them."
Trick's smiled then; it wasn't a pleasant expression. "Excellent. Are there any more nuggets of information lurking away inside your head, my good fellow?"
"Umm ... no?"
"Well then!" Trick clapped his hands together, the resulting slap echoing uncomfortably in the otherwise quiet night. "We'll be on our way, and trouble you no more." Rising from his chair, Trick walked towards the door.
Odda let go of the breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, and it escaped his lips in a shuddering exhalation. Pausing with one hand on the door latch, Trick tossed one final command idly over his shoulder.
"Faith, my dear ... no witnesses."
"What? No ..." Odda babbled.
Faith's dagger sliced down, hard and fast.
Willow sat backwards, straddling the Wild Rose's bowsprit, and stared angrily up at a star strewn sky. The firmament was especially beautiful tonight, a vast, cloudless expanse of inky darkness decorated with the pinpricks of uncountable stars, worshiping before the silver majesty of the twin moons, one waxing, the other waning. But Willow was untouched by the sight of nature's bounty.
She didn't see it, not really. Her eyes physically beheld the vista before her eyes, and her brain was automatically mapping out the constellations that guided the Wild Rose's course. But none of it penetrated any further than the furthest fringes of Willow's thoughts. Because those thoughts were trapped in a maze, a maze wrought in the shape of a certain blonde. And it was pissing Willow off.
Ever since her mother's death, Willow had been building a wall around her heart. As the years passed, that wall had grown ever higher, ever thicker, ever more fortified. And now, a woman that Willow had known for not even half a day had somehow found a weakness in Willow's defenses.
Somehow, Tara had gotten inside, and Willow didn't even know her. And she didn't want to. Willow didn't want to care, she didn't want to feel sorry for this sad, tragic girl. Physical attraction she could deal with, but to Willow emotions were uncharted territory. To Willow, a lover was someone you used, someone who used you, someone who made you gasp, made you shudder, made you moan. And then you left them in your wake, their purpose served.
At first, Willow had tried to be made of ice, but that hadn't worked. Her nature was too fiery, her passions ran too fast and too deep. So when a woman caught her fancy, Willow had learned to let her passion have it's way ... but to never let her partners touch her heart.
And then this ... this ... slave-girl, who was little more than a painted doll, dancing upon a string for her masters amusement, had found a chink in Willow's hard-won armor. Willow didn't know what it was that she felt for this girl she didn't even know. It wasn't simple physical infatuation, Willow only wished it were that simple. It wasn't love either, Willow was sure of that. In her opinion, love was a lie, a trick that people played on themselves.
But whatever it was that Willow felt for this girl, this Tara ... she didn't like it. Not one bit.
The chiming ring of the ship's bell intruded upon her musings, signaling the end of the dogs watch. Dawn would soon be breaking. On the forecastle deck above her, Xander strolled into view, yawning massively and knuckling at the small of his back with one hand.
Studying the horizon, just now beginning to glimmer with the promise of dawn, he glanced down at Willow and grinned. "Morning' Will. Looks like it's gonna be a beautiful day, doesn't it?"
Willow glared sullenly at her first mate before angrily stalking away, tossing her irritated reply over her shoulder like food scraps thrown overboard for the shrieking gulls. "Oh, shut up, Xander."