“Will you be warm enough? Here, take this,” I unwound my shawl from my shoulders, throwing it over Remi’s. She smiled up at me. I could feel Meleryn rolling here eyes behind me. A majority of our hope now rested with little Remi and Fletcher’s guard, Mac. If they survived the journey back to Macdara unscathed, I silently promised to worship the gods of Jon’s ancestors. Mac was seated astride my horse, Remi needing assistance to swing up into Angus’ saddle. Mel leaned on the outer wall of the Inn, cleaning her grimy, chipped nails with her dagger. I envied her nonchalance during this serious moment.
“I’ll find him.” her cheeks dimpled. The ominous black clouds were heavy with rain in the distance.
“I know you will. Stay safe, and thank you for everything.” I gripped her hand, feeling her squeeze back. Mac shifted in his saddle.
“Best be on our way, little one,” he said. He was an older man, with long black hair adorned with strands of silver. His face seemed permanently dirty, but his blue eyes were sincere. Fletcher had said this man’s daughter had been a victim of Hector. I could see in Mac’s eyes the love of a father as he looked upon Remi. My eyes watered with a fresh wave of emotion. They spurred the horses and trotted down the cobblestone path.
“Weel, best be gettin’ on with our part of the plan.” Mel sheathed her dagger and pushed herself from the wall.
“Yes, I suppose so.” We turned to head back into the tavern.
“What was it my brother and ye were fightin’ about before the storm?” she asked, stopping me mid stride. Her face showed no trace of mockery, only curiosity. I sighed.
“His whole plan was to take me home, to force me to stay. He says there’s about to be a war.”
She nodded, chewing her cheek.
“Aye, we can all feel it. Damn Thran, so power hungry. I love both o’ my brothers, but he lost his way after our father died. Set things in motion that we all knew would be a disaster.”
The thought of Thran made me sick.
“I guess everything worked out a bit better then, after he died.” I said. She studied my face, nodding slowly.
“What did Jon say, after ye argued?” she squinted at me. I felt I was being interrogated.
“He agreed to let me stay with him, and attempt to persuade my father into an alliance. That’s all he told me, anyway.” I shrugged. The wind whipped through the streets, causing flecks of rain from the roof to hit my face. She snorted.
“Told ye that ye held his balls in yer hand.”
I laughed, blushing at the memory of Jon holding me close the night before the storm. My chest ached. I missed him.
We made our way back up to the room to collect our belongings and begin our trek down the coast, into dangerous territory. There was a large clan called Borthwick, named for their fearsome leader’s lineage. They’d been enemies of Mount Tier and clan Macdara for centuries. They well outnumbered any clan, and were hellish warriors. Meleryn had warned me each day of how dangerous this trek would be.
“If ye think yer family is evil for what they did to Jon, it’s nothing compared to what these people are capable of.” she had told me.
Mel closed the door behind us. The room was stifling as the fire blazed. I pulled off my coat, setting it on the chair. Something felt strange. Mel and I glanced at each other, then around the room. Bear was gone. I heard the scuff of a boot on the wood floors behind me. I whipped around, hearing Mel pull her dagger from its sheath. A tall, dirty blond young man stood in front of the door, smiling down at us. His face was weathered, with a thin scar running from his temple to the corner of his blue eye. He wore his hair fastened snug at the nape of his neck, though a few strands escaped. Although I hadn’t seen the face of the hooded man last night, I knew this was him. He’d been following us.
“I’d leave if ye treasure yer manhood.” Mel hissed. He smirked playfully. My heart clenched. He reeked of fish and the sea port. He had to be a pirate.
“I’ll leave ye two she-wolfs be, once I get what I came here for.” his eyes fell to me now.
“What do you want.” I growled, feeling bile rise in my throat again. He gave me a curious look.
“Where’s yer husband?”
“He was lost at sea.” I said, Meleryn grabbing my arm.
“Elise!” she scolded. For some reason, this man did not frighten me. He nodded, silent in thought.
“But ye think he may have lived? That’s why the search party?” he questioned. Ignoring Meleryn’s tugs, I nodded.
“You know him.” I said. He smiled, showing off blunt, white teeth.
“Aye, Jon knows me well. Thaniel Johnathan Smith, my lady,” he gave a grand bow, almost in a mocking manner.
“How do you know him?” I pressed, ignoring his introduction.
“Ahh, weel ye see, I owe him a great debt for sparing my life. I’ve come to repay that debt with information he was seeking. I was told about ye.” he smiled. There was something hidden in that grin. Something I knew I couldn’t fully trust, but I wanted answers.
“What information?” I asked. He clucked his tongue.
“If there’s a chance he’s still alive, I won’t be tellin’ ye. I’ll have to wait here for him to be raised from the dead.” he chuckled.
“I think yer lying.” Meleryn spat, stepping forward.
“Ye must be his sister, the warrior.” his words made her stop cold. “Tis true, though. Jon spared my life in a duel, bloody good fighter he is. ’Cept he made me promise to be at his service, should he ever need it. I may not be an honorable man, but perhaps I can make up for it with him.” he placed a hand over his heart.
We both stood, unsure of what our next move should be. Meleryn moved forward before I could speak.
“You’ll help us find him.” she said. He shrugged.
“I suppose, but I ain’t helpin’ ye after that.”
“Fine.” she said. His eyes glinted playfully.
“Jon did choose a looker,”
I blushed deeply. Thaniel was handsome, but paled in comparison to Jon’s looks and overall demeanor. Again, my heart sank, longing to be with him once more.
“When were ye plannin’ on tellin’ him ye were with child?”
The room stilled for a moment as I tried to gather exactly what he was implying.
“What?” I breathed. He scoffed.
“Please, ye can’t hide it from anyone.”
“What are ye talkin’ about?” Meleryn’s voice raised. Thaniel’s face fell.
“Seriously? A man has to tell a woman she’s pregnant?” he burst out in laughter. “My crew will never believe this!”
Mel crossed the room in two long strides, gripping his manhood in her grasp, a malicious sneer on her face.
“Ye won’t be tellin’ anyone anythin’.”
Thaniel leered down at her.
“Am I?” I asked quietly. I wracked my brain for memories of Freyja’s symptoms. She was so far along it was easy for everyone to tell. I glanced at my flat belly. How could he know? I looked back to him. He rolled his eyes, giving Mel a pointed look. She removed her hand.
“I’ve been followin’ ye since ye set foot on dry land. She’s been sick the entire time,” he held a hand out, indicating me.
“She’s probably sick from the ship, that’s all.” Mel defended. He crossed his arms.
“And yer mangey mutt has been followin’ ye around like a bee follows honey.”
I gripped the bed post, trying to remember any other signs of pregnancy. One was glaringly obvious all of a sudden. Color drained from my face.
“That damn dog loves her, that’s all.” Meleryn argued.
“When I found him in here, he was rifling through her clothes. Dogs sense these things,” he tapped his temple. I placed a hand protectively over my stomach, reaching for Meleryn. I remembered Freyja explaining her sickness, her wild emotions, the overall way she felt. And I felt the same. I’d just been too preoccupied with everything to keep track or even care. Three months. Our wedding, or soon after.
“I think he’s right.” I whispered to her. He laughed in triumph. Meleryn’s face drained of color now, too.
“We must be sure, send for a midwife!” she commanded Thaniel. He glared at her.
“I am not here to do yer bidding, even if yer Jon’s sister.”
“Please,” I begged. “I have to know." He sighed.
“Fine, but once we find Jon, he owes me.”