At last the first snow came. It came at nightfall, having Selah awaken to a white, glistening wonderland. However, it came at a price when it allowed temperatures to drop dramatically. Almost every fireplace on the Kenway manor was constantly lit and no one was particularly eager to step outside. Even Haytham was reluctant to go to the fort, but it had to be done for the Templar Order and Selah’s training. Selah was just glad she had her coat.
It fit perfectly and was a complimented her outfit well. The darker shade mixed with her light jacket. Even Haytham complimented it. Selah didn’t fret too much of the style more than the extra warmth it provided her. But the teenager was not at all comfortable with the price of receiving it.
Her encounter with Ellen continued to burn in her mind, even finding places in her nightmares. Leaving a woman at the mercy of a monster left a sickening taste in her mouth and a crippling illness in her stomach. But what could she do?! She had intervened only to put Ellen in more danger, and the woman made it clear she didn’t want help of any kind. Selah considered telling Haytham, since as a Grandmaster he could have anything done, but soon dismissed the idea. She couldn’t see the man actually taking the time to deal with a domestic problem when he had so little of it. What would she say, anyway? The Assassin then pondered the possibly of killing the man, but knew that wasn’t the way of the Assassins. They didn’t let kill whoever they pleased. At least they weren’t supposed to…
Thinking about her encounter resurfaced a memory that the teenager nearly forgotten, and it came back with a vengeance.
“Hey! Stop!” Selah roared.
She looked down from the rooftops to see several gang members surrounding a young boy, the bag of groceries for his mother tossed away. Its contents were spilled over the clearing, a gangster hunched over it as he hungrily tore through it. Even at her yell, a gang member savagely kicked the boy’s side, provoking a loud wheeze.
Selah’s fury poured into her veins. She had come by to rendezvous with the local gang to receive orders for her next mission, only to find several of its members harassing a civilian. The Assassins tolerated no such thing. The apprentice leaped from her perch to land directly behind them. The gangsters immediately whirled around, startled.
“I said leave him alone,” Selah hissed darkly.
“Who are you to give us orders, little girl?” a gang member sneered.
Selah had her hood down, wanting to feel the rush of wind in her hair during her freerunning. At the moment she knew despite her stunt, she looked too plain to the gangsters. Knowing the gang answered to the Assassins, she opened her mouth to tell him of her identity, but another member cut her off.
“This ain’t your business, gurl,” the man snarled. “Bugger off.”
Before the Assassin could react, he grabbed her harshly and threw her to the ground. The gangsters only laughed at the spectacle. Selah’s attacker turned back around to his previous victim, not noticing the teenager jumping back to her feet. She gave him a violent shove, sending him slamming onto the dirt ground face-first. The gangsters yelled in surprise while the man quickly glared back up at her.
“That was a mistake, gurl,” he snarled.
Suddenly the group of men was upon her, almost all of them armed. The next several moments went by in a blur as Selah battled the thugs, defending against their attacks and sending them away with her own. Without warning a sharp pain came from her shoulder, making her cry. She glanced at it to see a river of blood staining her robes, a red slice reaching to her collarbone. The gang member’s knife glistened with her blood, sneering maniacally while his goons cackled behind him. Selah braced to twitch her wrist to return the favor.
Immediately the fighters froze mid-stance, allowing a tall, dark shadow to fall from the buildings. James.
Seeing this man did have a hood, the gangsters stumbled away from him as if he was Satan himself. Instead the Master Assassin stormed to his apprentice, wrapping a protective arm around her. Selah only stood and blinked, trying to return to reality.
“This girl is an Assassin and my apprentice,” James informed in an unforgiving tone. “You will not lay a hand on her.”
The man quickly snapped Selah’s hood over her head, proving her position. Immediately it appeared all the gang members were experiencing a heart attack, their faces paling and bodies becoming rigid. They may as well have.
“Forgive us, sir!” a panic-stricken gangster wailed. “We had no idea!”
“You do now,” James retorted. He jerked his head. “Be gone.”
The gang members vanished. Selah was forced to follow along as James spun her around, leading her away with his grip never leaving her. The teenager glanced over her shoulder, catching of a glimpse of the bleeding and bruised little boy curled into a ball, whose uncontrollable sobbing loudly reached her ears.
Selah had quickly brushed off the encounter, but now for some reason they were burning into her thoughts over and over, scorching her sanity. It was another instance where she had tried to practice her teachings, only for it to be fruitless. What was the point, then? Why had she received all of this training and still for it to be useless? But now that she rethought of the memory over and over, another aspect came to mind she never considered before.
James had defended only her, not the boy, who had started the entire quarrel. The boy was clearly an innocent—whom the Assassin sworn to protect—and it was clear he was being harassed by the Assassins’ footmen. Shouldn’t James have disciplined his subordinates that they were going against the Brotherhood’s wishes? But the Master Assassin hadn’t even spared the victim a glance, or even seemed to care. Why?
The teenager still tried to shoo her dark thinking away. Not only was it damaging her sanity, it was distracting her. Lately the Assassin had been holding her own against Haytham during their duels, but today she failed to follow through her forms. After chiding her multiple times, the Templar caught on to her glazed vision and took pity on her. Now the girl wandered to the outside courtyard, hoping the crisp, cold air would clear her head. It was a tragic mistake.
“Does being the Grandmaster’s whore please you, Assassin?” Eleanor’s voice came.
Selah glanced over her shoulder to see the other girl storming towards her, looking deadly. Even though the insult stung, the Assassin decided to ignore the redcoat by continuing on. She was in no mood for the wretch, especially now when a memory of James congratulating Liam O’Brien for disemboweling a British colonel and leaving him to burn flashing across her vison.
“Hey!” Eleanor snapped. “Look at me when I speak to you!”
“I don’t take orders from you,” Selah muttered.
“You insolent little—”
The redcoat’s hand fell on the Assassin’s shoulder. Immediately Selah’s reflexes kicked in, having her reach up and snatch the intruder in a harsh grip. Eleanor gave a sharp gasp in surprise. Instead of breaking the Templar’s fingers, Selah tossed the hand away. The Assassin spun around and leaped away. Now the two teenagers faced each other like two bristling cats.
“What is wrong with you?” Selah demanded.
Eleanor’s gaze was burning. “You! I can’t stand it, you prancing around like some giddy deer! You are nothing more than a rat—a pest!”
“Apparently not all you Templars share the same opinion.”
Selah’s kept her tone dull, but nervousness was quickly building in her chest. She had been hearing rumors from the Templars—mostly from Hickey and Johnson—that the Templar girl had been gossiping. Saying she was outraged an Assassin was receiving special treatment. Haytham overheard and guessed Eleanor was envious, considering the girl spent most of her time trying to keep her rank or gain her father’s attention. When the frequency of the rumors only increased and Selah saw a red-faced Eleanor more and more, the Assassin dreaded a storm was coming. And that storm was about to break.
The girl glanced around the courtyard anxiously, looking for who would be her savior this time. For the first time since the Purge, Selah wished Shay was around and he came back from his trip. But she knew that wasn’t the case. The Assassin suddenly saw a flicker of movement, only for her hopes to be dashed. She spotted a glimpse of young Robert staring at the teenagers with wide eyes before scurrying away. Selah couldn’t think of it though before her attention was drawn back to Eleanor.
The teenager’s eyes went red with fury. “And that’s what I can’t stand the most! You are nothing but the Grand Master’s plaything! An Assassin! And why is Cormac your guard dog when he’s supposed to be putting you down?”
Selah narrowed her eyes. So Shay was watching her before. And for some reason that irritated the Templar even more. Most likely because she was still humiliated that he had scolded her. Selah wanted to point out that the Irishman was gone, so he didn’t own that position, but quickly thought better of it. Eleanor would be looking for any excuse to erupt. But the fact the redcoat still believed Haytham was taking advantage of her irked Selah to no end.
“Just go fuck yourself, Eleanor,” the Assassin snapped.
The redcoat’s eyes dilated. Without warning the other girl grabbed her harshly and threw her to the ground with surprising strength. Selah slammed the ground with a wheeze. She sensed Eleanor nearing to attack her, but the Assassin rolled over, wrapping her legs around the other girl’s. The Templar fell with a yell. With swift agility, Selah leaped to her feet. By some miracle laid by God, there was an abandoned sword on a crate of cargo, probably left by some lazy soldier. But the Assassin was never so grateful in her life, not even caring about the weapon’s weight.
Eleanor scrambled to her own feet, drawing her own sword. Immediately the weapons clashed. This time Selah was the stronger one, able to throw Eleanor’s sword away. But the redcoat was quick, bringing back the blade in a blink of an eye. Selah blocked it with her sword and kept it in place. Little did she know that Eleanor fought dirty.
Before the Assassin could react, the Templar sent a violent kick to her kneecap. Selah crumbled with a yell, allowing Eleanor to shove the sword away. The soldier swung to slice the teenager’s neck, but Selah had the sense to roll away. Eleanor gave a growl of frustration while the Assassin climbed to her feet. She sent another strike at the redcoat, only for the Templar to parry it. The duo sent attacks back and forth, never breaking the other’s defenses and always expertly parrying any attack.
Finally Selah forced Eleanor’s sword downwards, the scraping of metal splitting her ears. Before Eleanor could react, the Assassin elbowed her jugular, sending the Templar backwards. The teenager then twisted the blade to shove Eleanor to the ground, tossing her weapon away. Adrenaline and fighting instincts still racing through her veins, Selah thrust her sword towards her opponent—
Selah’s blade stopped an inch from Eleanor’s chest. Instead of the materializing shadow of James, Selah glanced over to see Haytham on the edge of the courtyard. Captain Pitcairn was by his shoulder with his son clinging to his leg. Major Mallow was lurking behind them. While the older men wore somber masks, including Haytham’s stone-like expression, Robert wore a look of fear. It took several moments for Selah’s racing mind to process that the young boy had gone to retrieve the adults for help.
The two teenagers heaved for breath and a fine layer of sweat covered them both. Selah’s eyes were lost in a haze, oblivious to Eleanor’s shock and fear directed towards the sword floating over her. Although that quickly changed to controlled fury and humiliation. She knew who had won.
Selah flinched away when without warning Haytham stormed towards her, even dropping her sword. However the Grandmaster stopped short of her, wedged between her and Eleanor. The tall man still towered over her, making the girl want to shrink and she tried not to squirm under his analyzing gaze. Suddenly the Templar’s eyes fell on something and he grumbled.
Selah followed his gaze to glance down at her forearm. A thick trail of blood poured from a slit from her sleeve. The Assassin blinked. When did she even get that? She didn’t even feel pain. She looked back up when Haytham grumbled again.
Apparently judging his coat was too valuable for destruction, Haytham found a handful of Selah’s undershirt and ripped a piece of fabric off with a single tug. Selah winced, but didn’t dare say a word as the Templar used the makeshift bandage to wrap around the bleeding wound.
“Keep a better eye on your child, Master Mallow,” Haytham hissed as he worked. Selah blinked. He was angry at his subordinate?
Mallow’s jaw clenched while he stared directly ahead. After a long moment, he affirmed through gritted teeth, “Yes, sir.” However the commander immediately glared at his daughter, making the redcoat flinch. Selah knew he was not pleased with the humiliation, and there would be a long talk ahead for Eleanor. And apparently there was one in store for Selah, as well.
Haytham gently gripped her arm and turned her around, but his voice was stern with little patience. “Come.”
“So my training isn’t excitable enough for you?” Haytham demanded.
“She attacked me!” Selah retorted.
“And you almost killed her!”
“It was for defense!”
Must they have another argument? Over another thing that was so fruitless? Especially this? Selah knew she was in the right. Everyone in the fort knew how dreadful Eleanor was! But Haytham just glared at her with fury, obviously not pleased. Now what?
“Would you have killed her?” the Grandmaster wanted to know.
Selah raised her chin. “I suppose we’ll never know.”
Haytham’s gaze only narrowed at the retort and his tone lowered to a dangerous tone. “Do not play smart with me.”
“And don’t scold me for being in the right. We both know if Shay was here, he would have done the same, and he would be spared of punishment.”
“What does Shay have to do with anything?”
Selah narrowed her eyes. “Eleanor told me you had him watch me before.”
“I still fail to see how that relevant, but yes, I requested Shay to keep an eye on you. And from what I’m told, he did quite well.”
“Then did he tell you about what Eleanor tried to do before?”
Haytham’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “He only mentioned some girls were giving you trouble.”
“Your girls. Eleanor and Gillian.”
The Templar raised an eyebrow. “I had nothing to do with that.”
“I know you didn’t. They insulted you, after all.”
Immediately Haytham’s eyes widened and Selah clenched her jaw shut. She didn’t mean to mention that.
“Oh? And what did they say of me?” Haytham drawled, his voice filled with fake interest.
Selah had no desire to tell him. If he was angered at his subordinate for lack of control, she didn’t want to see his reaction to his footmen gossiping about him. And the comments were more for the purpose to mock her, which the Assassin could take. Dammit, why did she have to bring it up?
The girl looked away and mumbled, trying to undo her mistake. “Never mind. It’s nothing.”
Suddenly her head was being tilted upwards to look into Haytham’s stern gaze, his fingers under her chin. “Tell me, Selah.”
The teenager swallowed, realizing she had no choice. She tried to keep her voice above a mutter. “T-they said I was just a trophy to you—a plaything.” She could feel his muscles tensing just with his fingertips. A muscle in his jaw clenched, but he tried very hard to hide it. “That was the only reason you didn’t have me killed.”
“Do you believe them?”
“At first I did. But not anymore, even when Major Mallow said I shouldn’t had lived.”
“He threatened you?”
Now the Grandmaster’s voice was lined with strict annoyance. Selah knew she was sailing into deadly waters, but learned a very long time ago that lying and refraining information from Haytham did no good. But she didn’t dare say a word as she nodded slowly.
Haytham cursed. “Mallow…” The man glared at an interesting spot on the wall. “I will speak with him.”
“Haytham, no!” Selah protested.
“He cannot get away with this. And I’m not pleased with his daughter, either.”
“You will only give them more fuel to use against me. And if they insulted you just for showing mercy, what will they say when the Grandmaster abuses his subordinates over a prisoner?”
“As long as I am Grandmaster, they will have no say. And for the thousandth time, y—”
“I know, Haytham,” Selah interjected. “But to the other Templars I still am.”
“Then we’ll have to remedy that, won’t we?”
Selah shook her head. “You can’t defend me, Haytham. It will do nothing. I was trained to take care of myself—and I can do that.”
Finally a smirk curled Haytham’s lips. “Is that why you’re starting fights? To prove that to me?”
“Then why did you throw around a poor man on the street a few days ago?”
Although Haytham had asked it curiously, Selah’s heart stopped as if it had been stabbed. “H-how did you?”
The teenager couldn’t finish her sentence, but the Templar understood her meaning. He answered calmly, “I have numerous sources all over the Colonies. Nothing passes me.”
“Y-you didn’t tell me you knew.”
Haytham shrugged. “He was described to be a drunk. I assumed he was pestering you. I didn’t want to wound your pride, and as you say, you proved yourself independent.”
“It wasn’t me he was pestering…”
Haytham raised an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”
Suddenly Selah felt
uncomfortable. Haytham had mentioned the incident to point out her
disobedience, but the teenager had only felt horror. She looked straight at the
ground, no words forming on her tongue and body refusing to obey her. Even
though, she sensed Haytham shift and narrow his eyes at her.
“In fact, this was while you were running my ‘errand’ for me. I thought we agreed you would stay out of trouble.” There was a pause as the man shifted closer. “What happened, Selah?”
Finally words came out of Selah’s sputtering mouth. “H-his wife.”
Haytham raised an eyebrow, signaling for her to continue.
“The man was attacking his wife.”
Immediately the man’s eyes narrowed. “What?” It came out as a dangerous growl.
“I turned him away, but Ellen said there was no end to his violence.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Selah sputtered again. She looked back at her feet, trying to hide her shame. She did very poorly. Instead of feeling the brush of Haytham’s fingertips on her chin, she felt his soft skin against her cheek and his palm pressing against her face.
“Selah,” he whispered softly.
The girl trembled. “I-I didn’t want to be burden to you.”
“Because that’s all I have been. I was a burden to the Assassins—which is why they are dead. Now am I the same to you.”
“You really think this is all your fault?”
Selah gritted her teeth, trying to fight the water forming in her eyes. She failed to stop a tear from escaping and the pathetic whine that followed. “I could have saved them. James is dead because of me.”
If she had been stronger, braver, she could have made a difference. Instead she ran away. Now she was doing the same thing—being a weak little girl who was trying to hide her problems. She could barely hold her own. She didn’t deserve to be called an Assassin.
Her thoughts were cut off as suddenly she body lurched forward, her face buried into the cloth of Haytham’s coat. His strong arms were tightly wrapped around her back in a stubborn embrace. Selah had to wrap her arms around Haytham’s sides for support, but felt no haste to remove them. She felt his chin resting on her hair.
“You’re more foolish that I thought,” he scolded in a sassy tone, though it was quickly replaced by the gentle voice of a parent. “You did nothing wrong. You are here, now, alive. And I will keep it that way.” Selah said nothing, only closing her eyes and absorbing the man’s rare warmth. “I will speak with Mallow. And although domestic affairs were more Monro’s specialty, I have plenty of resources to handle a miscreant on the streets.” The Templar’s hand stroked Selah’s back. “I’ll take care of it, my dear.”
How he said it sounded nothing like he originally did. Perhaps at first he kept her at an emotional distance, but now he had no such luxury. He had opened his Order and his home to her. Now he had opened his heart. Selah’s tightened her grip around him, not wanting to let go or ruin this rare affection. She too failed to keep her defenses walled during their time together.
However the girl pulled back, but only slightly so she could talk without it being muffled. “Even if you speak with Mallow, it won’t fix anything.”
She felt him smirk with a soft snort. “I suppose I’ll have you run a few more errands, then. Maybe Mallow will warm up to you if you prove yourself more useful.”