Crossed Eagle

Chapter 17

Selah had no way of knowing how much time had passed. Only that her sleep was heavy. Her body had no desire to remove itself from its slumber. Was this what she was like before, when she had first been captured?

Selah’s thoughts were broken when she suddenly felt something brushing against her cheek. Her mind must have been trying to piece itself together, because suddenly the sensation of unknown hands touching her coursed through her. Selah jerked awake, driving Haytham’s hand away. The man looked startled for a moment from her violent awakening, but his expression quickly went solemn and he returned his arm to his lap. Selah was simply blinking with disorientation as she desperately tried to recognize where she was. Haytham’s bedroom?

The girl tried to talk, only for slurred gibberish to roll off her tongue.

“Shh,” Haytham immediately hushed. “You’re safe now.”

Selah gave up and let her head fall back to the pillow, closing her eyes as she waited for the spinning in her head to stop. It felt like eternity before she registered clear thoughts coursing through her mind. She couldn’t tell if she had fallen back to sleep or not. The teenager reopened her eyes to see she was in fact in Haytham’s quarters, the Grandmaster sitting on the edge of the bed next to her stomach. His cloak and hat were off, exposing the man’s dark eyes and fallen face from exhaustion. Finally Selah’s tongue moved and solid words came from her mouth.

“W-what happened?” she demanded through a strained groan.

Haytham glanced at her from where it looked like he was about to fall asleep. Instead of answering her, he asked, “What do you remember?”

Selah blinked in confusion only a couple times before memories from the night before came flooding into her mind. The raid, the Assassin, the drunks. Quincent… She swore her words lost strength, going back to timid slurs.

“I remember being attacked…” the teenager confessed.

Haytham nodded, but his face was stone. Selah looked into his cold eyes.

“Quincent, he’s dead, isn’t he?” she asked.

Another nod. “Yes. I did the deed myself. He won’t pester anyone ever again.”

Selah caught the thin layer of fury in his tone. She realized if Haytham wasn’t concerned with protecting her, he would have given Quincent a much more painful death. Suddenly a pound came from the girl’s skull, causing her to moan and place her fingers on her forehead. Immediately her heart skipped when she felt the rough cloth of bandages.

Her eyes must have widened, because Haytham explained carefully, “Your skull was cracked. We had to stop the bleeding.”

Not the teenager’s heart almost stopped. Cracked? The Assassin struck her that hard? Suddenly she flinched when she remembered the encounter.

“Th-there was an Assassin,” she mumbled.

“Weeks informed me what happened,” Haytham told her.

The Assassin cut him off before he had any chance to continue. “He… tried to kill me.”

The Templar only stared at her a moment before nodding slowly. Selah gritted her teeth and shut her eyes, burying her face in the pillow. A brother had tried to kill her. She knew she should say it was a misunderstanding, that he confused her as a Templar, but the apprentice had no desire to excuse it. She had told the man her identity, something that no one would lie about, but he had dismissed her. And even if, the Assassins were taught to kill efficiently. Cracking a teenager’s skull and laughing over them was not efficient…

Haytham watched as the traumatized girl curled her fingers around the sheets. She had been slipping in and out semi-consciousness all night. A few times she had opened her eyes, only for them to be glazed and her speech to be too slurred to be proper English. This seemed to be the most coherent state she had been in. The Grandmaster’s grip tightened on his knee in rage as he remembered what had transpired.

Thank God he had bothered to check in on a recently built Templar stronghold, which just happened to be close to the former gang-controlled warehouse. Weeks had sent a message that Selah had gone missing after the compound was raided by Assassins, and Haytham did not hesitate to go out to look for her. After hours of wandering the streets and roaming the rooftops with his Eagle Vision, Haytham found the girl only to be molested by thugs. Fury was the least Haytham had felt when he sliced his blade into every single one of them…

The Templar didn’t hesitate to carry to wounded and unconscious teenager to the nearest doctor. Despite the fact a bleeding and abused girl was presented to him, it took Haytham a considerable amount of bribes and threats for the physician to treat her properly. They had found almost her entire body was covered in bruises and gashes, along with a broken rib and skull. The doctor warned it would take time for her to heal, and to have her take it easy for the next several days.

Haytham was removed from his thoughts as he registered Selah shivering beside him. He didn’t know if it was from being cold or from fear, but he simply pulled the sheets back over her shoulders. He stroked her arm reassuringly, but the teenager didn’t seem to notice. Cautiously, the man brought his hand back to her face, this time instead of caressing her cheek, he brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes, tucking it behind her ear. Instead of pulling away, he continued to stroke her hair in a comfortable rhythm. It wasn’t very long at all before Selah began to still with a sigh.

Haytham continued for a few more minutes until the teenager was once again deathly still. Judging she was asleep, he carefully removed his hand and made to move off the bed. However his movement immediately reawakened her.

Selah snapped her eyes open as she felt Haytham shifting away from her. Body moving on its own, the girl reached out and snatched his hand. The Grandmaster flinched mildly, but it was more from being startled than dislike of the touch. Selah didn’t care.

“Please,” she begged, “stay with me.”

Haytham stared at her for several moments. Finally he nodded. Selah released her firm hold as the Templar made his way to the other side of the bed. The frame creaked and the mattress dipped as he laid down, shifting closer to her. The teenager rolled over to face him. Instead of staying a respectful distance from each other as they usually did, Selah crawled into his arms, burying her face in his chest. Haytham didn’t mind, instead scratching her back and stroking her hair. Selah closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep, only for memories of what occurred to continue to flash through her mind. The Assassin shuddered.

Selah whimpered as she recalled Quincent on top of her, hands pinning her arms painfully and his lips hovering over hers. Another shudder. The teenager was unable to stop her eyes from watering and the tears that escaped. Haytham’s embrace tightened as her shivers and whines increased, burying his nose into her dark hair. Selah cried into his chest.

Selah was confined to her bed for the next several days. Or, Haytham’s bed, rather. She had insisted on returning to her room, not wanting to be an intrusion, but Haytham refused. Meanwhile Ann fussed over any chance she had, coming with trays of food and doing anything to guarantee that the girl was comfortable. At some point at time, Selah may have disliked the treatment, but she only chuckled humbly. The Assassin apprentice spent most of her time sleeping or with Ann or Haytham when they visited. However, they couldn’t take up the hours Selah laid awake, her mind wandering and repeating over and over. She knew it was unhealthy. Especially since she thought of the Assassins.

Now she rethought everything she knew of the Brotherhood, trying to find answers to calm her confused mind, only to recall more questionable means, used by the Master Assassins themselves. Kesegowaase’s raids against towns within the frontier, Hope Jensen’s indiscriminate poisoning, Captain La Chevalier’s eagerness for sea battle, and Liam O’Brien’s brutal assassinations. The Assassins were supposed to protect to innocent, but they only attacked whoever stood in their way. They were supposed to promote peace, but they only cared for violence. They were supposed to be discreet, but they raised their banners and flags and called against their enemies whenever they wished. Was this why Shay left?

Selah realized with a shudder that he was the one who assassinated the top members of the Order. Maybe he had a reason to. But why? He was Achilles’s favorite student! Second only to O’Brien to become the heir of the Brotherhood. What had happened? What occurred to make Shay turn against his brothers, and to join the Templars no less? All Selah could remember was hearing of some “disaster.” But of what?

Selah groaned and shut her eyes, trying to banish her thoughts. She tried replacing with them with evils of the Templar Order she had heard. She had been told by older members of the Assassins telling her how the Templars had slaughtered their family or burned their friends alive. But now that the apprentice thought about it, was the Brotherhood any different?

The teenager was pulled from her dark thoughts as a knock came from the door. Selah blinked her eyes open and hoped she didn’t look as depressed as she felt. Thinking it was Haytham, she gave the person permission to enter. However the figure was much shorter. Robert.

Selah immediately shifted into a sitting position. The boy’s gaze was downcast and he shifted timidly as always, but the girl was never so happy to see him, glad to finally see a “new” face. However, the Assassin apprentice didn’t fail to notice he held his arms behind his back, making a failed attempt of subtly hiding something from her. Now the teenager was curious.

“What are you doing here?” Selah asked gently.

“Father told me you weren’t feeling well,” Robert explained in his small voice, but spoke honestly to his older friend.

“So you came to see me?”

Robert froze for a moment before nodding slowly. It made Selah smile. She could tell by his tone that he was not coerced into coming here at all, instead genuinely concerned for her welfare. What a sweetheart. However, she noticed he still owned failing nerves, remaining motionless with no sign of shifting his self-bound arms.

“What do you need?” Selah asked curiously.

Her friendly question only made the poor boy redden and start rigidly, but he quickly overcame it as he spoke up again. “I th-thought since you weren’t feeling good, you might like a present. Father said you would like it.”

Now the teenager’s curiosity was peaking. Very slowly and careful to avoid the pounding in her skull (or a stab of pain in her chest, apparently) to return, Selah sat upright and hung her legs over the side of the bed.

“Can I see it?” she asked.

Finally Robert’s body remembered how to move, the young boy crossing over to her cautiously. He paused for a split-second before slowly unbounding his arms to hold them out in front of him. Selah’s eyes immediately locked on to the item cradled in his hands.

It was a dagger. The sheath was made of fine, dark brown leather of calfskin, looking sturdy. The hilt was made of a similar leather wrapped around a gold skeleton. Hand moving on its own, Selah carefully plucked the weapon from Robert to hold it. Instincts now in control, Selah was immediately taken back to the Davenport Homestead as she pulled the hilt to unsheathe the blade to reveal glinting, razor-sharp steel.

“It’s a hunting knife,” Robert identified. “Master Kenway told me you would quite enjoy it.”

Selah re-sheathed the knife and balanced it in her arms. Never had she held a weapon that already felt so fitting. It had been ages since she held a real weapon; the closest thing that had come to one was when she tossed kitchen knives with Robert. The memory made Selah smile. A few months ago she was berated for exposing the boy to knives, and now he was giving her one as a gift. The irony. But it made Selah fill with warmth.

The teenager placed the knife on the bed and turned back to Robert. She opened her arms. “Come here.”

The two embraced.

Selah would never forget Robert’s kindness and refused to let the knife leave her side, but her second gift would place her in gratitude for the rest of her life. Another week had gone by of her recovery, and the Assassin finally recovered enough to return to her own quarters and wander around the manor. However she still had the occasional headache and even limped from the soreness in her chest, having it forbidden to engage in taxing activities. She passed the time by finally reading again, but she could only do so for so long before her still-bruised brain could no longer focus.

That said, she gave up on her current reading session, returning her most recent volume back to Haytham’s shelves. She left to go back up the stairs, but heard a call from the Grandmaster’s study.

“Selah, come in here for a moment,” Haytham called.

Selah cocked an eyebrow curiously, wondering what the man could want from her. Nevertheless she obeyed and entered the room. Haytham was in his usually spot on his overpriced chair, skimming over documents on his desk. Selah immediately noticed the wooden box on the countertop, Haytham’s fingers even drumming on its surface. The teenager tried to suppress her building curiosity.

“What is it?”

Haytham gestured with his fingers for her to near. “Come around.”

Selah obeyed by coming around the desk to stand beside him. Haytham turned to chair to face her.

“How have you been feeling?” the Templar started.

“Better,” the Assassin assured.

The Grandmaster gave a nod of approval. Then suddenly his face turned serious. “I hope you know I won’t come to your rescue every time you get yourself in trouble.”

Selah tried not to frown as she immediately understood he was referring to her attack. Some shame and guilt returned, but she played a calm face as she listened as he went on.

“That considered, I believe it’s a reasonable request if I ask you to defend yourself. You have proved yourself more than capable. However, I understand that can be quite difficult without the proper necessities. Which it is why—” He pushed the box towards her direction. “—I am giving you this.”

Selah only glanced at the box the dumbly, unsure what to do. Haytham simply nodded towards it, giving her permission to go on. Selah cautiously took a step over closer, fingertips brushing the lid to remove it. After a small pause of hesitation, the Assassin slid the top off. All her breath was taken away from her.

Nestled within a red velvet blanket, neatly placed and treated with great gentleness, was a pair of hidden blades.

But not just any hidden blades. Her hidden blades. The same ones James had personally crafted for her and gave her on her sixteenth birthday. She really wasn’t supposed to have them until she became an official Assassin, but with the Brotherhood running short on staff and James having faith in her, she had gained her own. The flashback flickered across Selah’s vision before she continued to stare at them in a wide-eyed trance.

She hadn’t seen them since the Purge. They looked nothing like they had on that night. The steel of the blade and its sheath was shiny and clean, all traces of blood erased. The thin, light leather was polished and sheened. It looked like a brand new set, but having worn these as long as she had, Selah knew with every fiber of existence they were hers. But how? It was then the teenager briefly remembered she had worn them when she was first captured. Haytham had kept them all this time?

The Grandmaster’s smile grew as he watched the girl’s growing fascination, looking like she thought she was in a dream. The man opened his mouth to say something, but he never got the chance.

Selah flung herself at him, falling on his chest and wrapping her arms around his neck in a violent embrace. The teenager buried her face in his shoulder.

“Thank you, Haytham!” the girl exclaimed. “Thank you!”

Selah swore tears from joy were forming in her eyes. Haytham’s smirk grew larger with an amused snort. He gently returned the gesture, wrapping his arms around her sides and hands on her back.

“You’re quite welcome, my dear.”

Another week passed. By now Selah had regained almost all of her independence and she wasn’t so cautious of random migraines. She was also in a much better mood with her newfound gifts, even if she still sometimes had nightmares of her demons. At first Selah considered to keep them on her person like she once did, but Haytham requested that she didn’t hold her weapons on his manor. She obliged, noticing that the only weapons he kept were his hidden blades, which were concealed at all times. So that left her storing her new weapons in a trunk, tucked safely under her bed. The Assassin felt a little remorse for leaving the brand-new objects to collect dust, but she knew once she got back to training, they would fulfill their purpose.

For now, Robert entertained her. For the past two weeks, the boy had come to visit her to give her company. Instead of throwing knives in Haytham’s backyard, they instead spent their time talking and reading books to one another. They had learned a great deal about each other. Selah told the boy about her days on the Homestead, telling less-detailed stories of her training and adventures in the frontier. Robert in kind told her he wished to follow his father’s footsteps to join the military, but instead of becoming a marine, he wished to join the Royal Navy. It turned out the boy had a passion for the seas, wanting to sail the open ocean and find new discoveries for His Majesty.

Now they were settled in the living room comfortably, engrossed in their own books. Haytham had left for Fort George, promising to return by nightfall with Pitcairn whom would retrieve his son. Selah was pulled from her current passage as Robert shut his book with a huff.

“This one is boring,” the boy whined.

“What one is it?”

Romeo and Juliet.”

Selah snickered. She could already tell Robert was not the romantic type. The teenager remembered the tale was actually one of James’s favorites, who adored Shakespeare. However knowing both she and the boy did not share the same love, Selah quickly thought of another he might enjoy.

“I believe we have a copy of Gulliver’s Travels,” she reported. “Go check the library.”

Robert’s face lit up, showing the novel was more his taste. Tossing his current read aside, he bounced off the couch and scurried to the library. Selah continued her read with a smile. A few minutes later, Robert returned.

“I can’t find it,” he reported.

“Oh? Check that drawer over there, then.”

With a shrug, the boy crossed over to where she had gestured. He opened the drawer and fished through it, even pulling a handful of forgotten documents out. The child made a face.

“It’s not here,” he complained.

Oh,” Selah exclaimed, exaggerating her tone. Robert turned around to face her as she tilted the cover towards his direction. “You mean this one?”

On the cover read Gulliver’s Travels. Robert’s face changed again when he realized he had been deceived. Selah’s grin grew to a devilish length.

“Bye,” she piped.

Giggling, Selah threw down the book and ran into the corridor to escape the child’s wrath as she already knew he was chasing her. The Assassin’s chuckle grew to a light laugh. Laugh. She couldn’t remember the last time she had done so. Nor let herself enjoy any fun.

Selah charged for the front door to escape, only to ram face-first in a solid, unmoving object. The girl wheezed before ricocheting back, clutching her nose in discomfort. What the—? At first Selah was confused, wandering what she had ran into, but quickly registered from the object’s softness it was probably a person. Most likely Haytham coming home early.

Selah opened her eyes and looked up, opening her mouth to apologize. She never got the chance as all her breath was caught in her throat.

It was Shay Cormac.

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