The blustering wind whipped my fiery hair into a frenzy as I leaned precariously over the deck’s railing and stared at the frothing water below. My stomach lurched, clearly hating me for forcing it on this escapade. Against my will and much to my chagrin, I vomited yet again. The crew’s laughter was audible behind me. I plotted ways to make them suffer as the cool wind caressed my sweaty face. But my stomach wasn’t as ready for revenge on them as my mind, and I hurled again. At least there was nothing left in my gut to retch, but gagging was just as exhausting and disgusting.
I felt Jon’s sturdy hand on the small of my back, but I refused to look at him. He didn’t need to see me like this. He’d healed swiftly in the two weeks we’d stayed at port, able to give Fletcher an earful about not keeping a close enough watch on me. The entire crew seemed to know I’d killed a man, and at first they looked upon me with suspicious awe. Now, they laughed at me with irreverence.
“I’ll stab them all,” I said without much conviction, resting my head on my arms. Jon rubbed my back, chuckling. The ship heaved and creaked below our feet.
“I don’t doubt ye.” He said. The weather had turned drastically warmer in Reyka, though I was warned that the further north we went, the colder it would get. I didn’t mind the cold; I only hated the wind and how it caused the sea to beat against us and rock the ship to and fro. I sighed as the sun peeked out from behind the rolling gray clouds. The warmth seemed to settle my stomach for a brief moment. I stood straight, staring out into the vast expanse before me. It was a sight one could never fully become used to. I felt smaller than I’d ever felt in my entire life, as insignificant as a speck of dirt.
“The Rån Sea,” Fletcher spoke from behind us. The name sounded ancient and mysterious and altogether deadly. I turned to glare at the pirate. His crew held an obvious and profound respect for the man and extended the same curtesy to Jon. I had to remind myself I was a woman, and a Mountain woman at that. They were bound to have their misgivings and superstitions. I still hadn’t fully forgiven him for running off to bed with Coral the night we’d been attacked. I knew Jon hadn’t, either. In a way, I had been thankful; I now knew I could defend myself without a rescuer coming to my aid every time I needed help.
Jon wrapped an arm around my shoulders, drawing me close and squeezing my arm. I crossed mine.
“We’ll be passin’ by a sight to behold, Mountain woman, if ye care to see.” he smiled, his skin crinkling around the scar. His beard fluttered in the constant breeze. I wondered what sight he meant. As of now, we were utterly surrounded by the sea with no end on the horizon. I shrugged.
“I suppose,” I said. He lumbered off as Jon released me. I stared up at him, his curls wild about his face. The swelling and ghastly bruising had faded, though he still walked a bit timidly at times.
“Why are ye lookin’ at me like that?” he smiled one sidedly. He’d mistaken the look on my face for some emotion. I turned back to the rail just in time to gag once more.
I stared in awe at the massive mountain, seeming to jut up straight out of the sea itself. I’d never been able to get a true glimpse of Mount Tier after my fall, so I’d never known what a real mountain looked like from the outside. This one was snow capped, clouds surrounding its rockier base. I was told by Fletcher it had once been inhabited, long ago, even before Mount Tier. Its people had perished through war and disease, and now they told of ghosts haunting the empty tomb and surrounding forest. Its true name had been lost in time, though now it had been dubbed Phantom Peak.
As we passed the mass of rock and snow, men stood silent and unmoving, a hand over their heart in respect, lest an evil spirit attach to them. I noticed Jon didn’t share in the superstition, gaining him evil glares from the crew. Rolling his eyes, he placed his hand over his heart. I followed suit.
Fletcher yelled from the deck above us, and the crew scrambled back to work. The sails were dropped, fluffing out like rounded clouds, snapping tight in the icy wind. The ship lurched to the right, and we veered away from any sight of land. Black storm clouds swirled out at sea to greet us. I felt a pit in my stomach.
“Time to hunker down.” Jon said from behind me. I glanced back once more on Phantom Peak before I descended into the darkness.
Jon smiled above me, bending his neck to kiss my forehead. Privacy was hard to come by on this ship full of men, but Fletcher had been coerced into giving up his captain’s quarters. Repayment, Jon had called it, for nearly getting me killed.
We lay swathed in blankets and furs on a feather bed, concealed with each other against the cold. The newness of our relationship had yet to fade, and we found moments during the day to sneak off and enjoy being married. It also helped that I’d finally gotten over the wretched sea sickness.
Jon rolled off me, pulling me tight to his chest. I traced the new scars from his most recent attack, unease growing in my stomach.
“Jon,” I said.
“Hmm?” he responded lazily, tracing circles on my back.
“Aren’t you afraid at all about seeing my family?” This question had been running about my head since he’d told me we were leaving Macdara.
“No.” he said simply. But the twinge in his voice told me otherwise. I propped myself up on my elbow to stare at him. He stared back, his eyes black in the cavernous, creaking room.
“You’re lying.” I said flatly. He smirked.
“Gods I hate ye sometimes,” his smile quirked up. He was hiding something from me. I could tell.
“Why are we really going back?” I asked, my eyes scrutinizing his face. He glared at me, turning at once into the merciless mercenary.
“Because we have to.”
“I don’t believe that.” I countered. He sighed in frustration, standing from the bed. The shock of his scarred legs made me want to back down, but I couldn’t now. He gripped the vanity table and stared at himself in the mirror.
“Ye must go home, Elise.” he whispered. Home?
“I thought my home was with you, that I was part of your people now.” Panic rose in my throat. What was he saying? He was about to ruin everything. He turned to face me.
“While I was away, and Thran married ye, we caught up with some other clans. Word had spread that my brother had married the Mountain Princess and was aligning himself with Mount Tier. He cut off valuable ties with other clans, made many enemies. There was talk of war.” his eyes flashed to me through the darkened room. Wind raged against the ship outside. My mind jumped around, trying desperately to process this news.
“But then you married me.” I whispered. He smiled.
“Aye, because tradition forced me, and because I selfishly wanted to. I knew what it meant. That I’d be in command of the most powerful and hated clan. And that our allies would be in danger. And most importantly, you’d be in danger.” he swayed with the rocking of the ship. An emotion swelled within me, a new one that hurt more than anything before. It felt as though my heart would explode.
“Elise,” he continued softly. “I…dammit, I love ye.” he growled, pulling a hand through his dark curls. “I never counted on loving ye like this, and I must keep ye safe, and if that means taking ye home during a time of war then so be it.”
I stood from the shelter of the warm bed in a heat of anger, balling my fists.
“My home is with you.” I growled. There was a flash of pain in his eyes.
“Elise, ye can’t love me. I’m no a good man for ye. My life is nothin’ but danger and destruction, and my selfishness will kill ye.”
“I’m not leaving.” I crossed my arms.
“Oh?” he quirked an eyebrow.
“If you take me back to that damn mountain and try and force me to stay, I’ll just find a way out again.” I threatened. He tried to hide his smile. It only angered me more.
“Elise, I didna’ say I wanted to do any of this, only that it would keep ye safe.” I glared at him, trying to figure out a way around this issue. I needed to outsmart him. An idea struck me, and I knew it would be a low threat, but I wasn’t above that anymore.
“Fine. If you take me back and force me to stay, then you’ll stay there with me.”
His brow furrowed in confusion.
“Elise, I can’t stay with ye—“
“You won’t have a choice once I tell my father to hold you prisoner.”
His eyes bulged, his frame trembled.
“You—“ he seethed in anger. I moved to him, gripping his forearm tightly.
“Now you see how I feel, being forced into a decision with no say.” I glared up at him. He shook with anger. I could see the murder in his eyes. I didn’t back down. Slowly, piece by piece, he calmed.
“Damn you woman.” he growled. I smirked, knowing I’d won this small victory. He grabbed my face roughly in both his warm hands, planting a furious kiss on my lips. His hands wound tight into my fiery hair, pulling my face up so he could stare down at me.
“You’ll no defy my decisions anymore, if I let ye stay with me.” he commanded. His whole demeanor had changed into a man possessed. Possessed by me. He tugged my hair, snapping my attention back to him. I smiled.
He growled and flipped me around, hugging me tight to him from behind. I gasped.
“Jon,” I breathed before he took me.
“What?” he growled into my neck.
“I love you, too.” The wind outside continued to rage.