Crossed Eagle

Chapter 28

A Templar. A Templar. Selah was still trying to wrap her head around the notion. She still felt like it was an absurd dream that she could wake up from at any moment. She probably would have she stared at her ring until she was convinced it was real. However, she was offered no such luxury or even a celebration.

Instead, Haytham dragged her to the other side of the villa in a blur and handed her off to a band of maids. He ordered her to prepare for tonight and disappeared without a trace.

The next thing Selah remembered were her clothes being stripped away and practically being thrown in a tub of steaming hot water. The girl had to stifle a cry with hisses. Damn, it was hot. First she had to deal with too cold of water, and now this! She swore her skin was burned but it didn’t seem much of a concern to the maids.

They got to work scrubbing away any filth, hard enough to rub away her skin. She wasn’t that filthy. Selah took pains to stay clean upon the Morrigan and at the towns they visited. Shame she couldn’t say the same for some sailors… The girl couldn’t even have complained if she wanted to, the servants chattering rapidly in Spanish. Selah could only catch a couple words but they weren’t all the helpful. The women only spoke sparse English to her only to give her orders.

When her caregivers finally judged she was shining with cleanliness enough, Selah swore she lost several layers of skin. She was removed from her boiling pot into biting cool air. Her hisses were replaced by winces and squeaks as they began to pluck at her fur all over her body. Although Selah never thought anything of it, the Spanish women analyzing her clucked disapprovingly. The girl’s cheeks reddened. Her embarrassment was replaced by pain and desperation as her protective hair was ripped from her skin. Selah cried and tried to flee several times, only for the servants to stop her in her tracks and hold her down. This made no sense! No one was going to see her skin anyway! Who was sane enough to go through this?

Far too long had gone by before the last strand was plucked, leaving Selah’s burned skin stinging. The teenager was then plopped onto a finely decorated chair, but once again she couldn’t see much of her surroundings. All she could tell was that the room was made of polished marble. Her thoughts were interrupted when an older servant observed her nails.

Madre mia! You could leave us some nails to work with!” the woman exclaimed.

Selah could only smile to hide her self-consciousness. It was a bad habit she had, to bite her nails when she was extremely nervous. Sometimes she would rip them apart when she was bored. James had tried several attempts to get her to stop, but of no avail. Besides, long nails weren’t the most sufficient in combat. The maid clucked again before continuing her work.

By now Selah had surrendered. Even though, she felt a strange sense of her pride being threatened. All her life she was treated like an independent warrior, and she was like a doll to be dressed in a foreign land. It wasn’t like the teenager failed to upkeep her hygiene. In fact, James stressed it greatly with her, as he was the most neat and proper Assassin in the village. And then there was the badgering she would receive on the Kenway manor. Even though, personal upkeep wasn’t one of her highest priorities, especially since she spent the last few months at sea.

Selah tried to relax, but failed as each servant worked on a different part of her body: her nails, her hair, or anything else left untended. The girl winced whenever a stubborn knot in her hair was pulled. Finally when the maids were satisfied with whatever they had done, Selah was pulled from her spot. She was dragged to stand on a small box. She felt particularly exposed, even though a silken robe wrapped around her (which she had no idea where it came from). A servant handed her undergarments which she quickly slipped on before her protective robe was ripped away from her.

“So what now?” she asked tentatively.

“Why the dress, pajarito!” a servant exclaimed.

The teenager tried not to groan. She had expected as such and she had worn several in life, but she would choose her alternative clothes any day. That was especially true as a leather bodice was slipped over her head and two maids immediately began pulling at the strings. Selah gasped in pain as her breath was squeezed out of her. The teenager tried to rip away, but other servants snatched and pulled her back in place. She winced in pain and tried a mischievous trick to expand her belly, but a maid noticed and gave her a disciplining slap. Selah rolled her eyes and tried to gasp for more air. Her gasping turned into winces as pressuring agony tugged at her ribs. How could women wear this every day?

Finally the girl was able to observe her caretakers to realize most of them were young, only a few years older than her. She even saw a pair that looked even younger, watching her misfortune with giggles. Sadists… Finally by the time Selah’s body was squeezed to the width of a stick, all of her breath was sucked away. She could only make pathetic squeaks. She really hoped she wouldn’t have to talk much…

She vision was covered by fabric, quickly disappearing as a cocoon of silk was wrapped around her. Selah hissed as that too was tightened around her. Several minutes was spent as the dress was adjusted on her body. There was no mirror and the teenager was instructed to look ahead, so she didn’t know what it really looked like. As long as it wasn’t one of those dresses that expanded twice its wearer’s size and made her look like a mushroom.

Once it was secure, Selah was returned to her chair, being instructed to hold still. She quickly realized why when a tray of maquillages was placed in front of her. Immediately defiance coursed through the teenager. She would not stand for her face to be painted like some canvas! She would not look like one of those ridiculous white-washed faces from Europe! Once again Selah attempted escape, but by now the maids had anticipated her antics and were holding in place.

“Hold still! This will stain your dress if you do not!” a woman cried when Selah gave a sudden flail.

The girl hissed and could only contain her trembling as the face paint was applied. She kept her eyes closed, not wanting to powder to get in her eyes or a brush to damage her. Her muscles were straining from stiffness some time later when suddenly excited whispers coursed around her.

Hecho!”

Selah slowly opened her eyes, but didn’t move, not knowing it was safe or not.

“Erm, is there a mirror?” she requested.

The English-speaking maids nodded vigorously and pulled her up. They escorted her out her little prison and to another room full of furniture where a full-body mirror waited. When Selah was placed in front of it and she observed the girl in the mirror, her breath was taken away, but not from her suffocating bodice.

Instead of a fearful, hardened warrior pulled from forest, she looked like royal blood. No longer dull, her hair was healthy and full. She half-expected it to be made up to look more like a hat than human hair, but instead it was pulled into a long braid that fell across her shoulder. Her face wasn’t as ridiculous, either, looking more natural. It was noticeably paler, but enough it didn’t look foolish. The dress itself was gorgeous.

It clung tightly to her curves in a complimentary way and the skirt wrapped closely to her body. It was a perfect mix of gold and emerald: gold layering was exposed upon her chest and skirt, but a dark green that reminded her of the lush forest of the valley of her village lay over it. Her arms were covered by long-sleeves of the sage fabric, loosening around her wrists. The dress exposed her collarbone, but did in a modest way and hid away her cleavage.

Selah was so transfixed on her transformation she barely heard heavy footsteps nearing her.

“You’re beautiful…” Haytham breathed.

The new Templar turned at his voice to see the Grandmaster. She blushed in modesty.

“You don’t think it’s too much?” Selah asked timidly.

“I would have you no other way.” He offered her a gentleman’s hand. “Come. The party should be starting soon.”

The girl glanced out the window to see the scarlet hue of the dying sun. It took that long? She accepted Haytham’s hand and allowed him to escort her out of the room. He guided her through the hallways, were aligned with décor more expensive than Haytham’s and relics from Spain. Selah swore almost everything was made of marble. How this place put the Davenport manor to shame. As they traveled further, the teenager heard the distant sound of classical music playing and the voices of multiple conversations. She couldn’t help the butterflies in her stomach. As usual, Haytham noticed.

“You’ve been to a party before, yes?” he questioned.

“Yes. They’re not my favorite event, but I can tolerate,” Selah assured.

The Templar smiled. “This one shouldn’t be too dreadful. Just behave yourself.”

The teenager nodded obediently. However before the pair could travel any further, a servant materialized.

“Master Kenway, your audience has been requested,” the man reported.

Immediately there was a frown on the Templar’s face. “I thought everything was settled.”

His tone said he wasn’t much in the mood for an impromptu meeting, but the servant could only shift uncomfortably. Finally Haytham gave in with an exasperated sigh.

“Very well, I’ll be there in a moment,” he growled.

The servant bowed and scurried away. The Grandmaster looked to Selah.

“My apologies. I’ll only be a moment,” he said.

“It’s fine,” Selah assured. “I’ll wait.”

Haytham nodded before striding off. However the teenager only had to wait a couple minutes before a familiar voice greeted her.

Eres muy bonita, señorita.

God, even in Spanish his accent was thick. Selah glanced over her should to see Shay, groomed as well. His greasy hair was now glossy and his face was smooth from shaving. Instead of his black uniform, the man had a regal brown cloak decorated with elegant designs. It was securely bound around an ocean-blue waistcoat and a tied collar around his neck. Tall brown boots of a similar design of the cloak swallowed up his black trousers. Instead of an Assassin Hunter or a seasoned pirate, Shay looked like a nobleman of the upper class, awaiting audience with the King. Selah smiled.

Gracias, señor,” she replied.

Shay returned her smile with warmth and neared her, offering an arm. Selah took it, hooking her arm around his and a hand on his forearm. She allowed him to usher her towards the noise of the awaiting gathering. The girl spotted the first few guests that strayed from the party, lounging in the manor in hushed conversations. The true gathering was outside in the gardens. She wasn’t surprised to find a team of servants standing sentry, one of them opening the door for the pair.

The last minute work paid off. The gardens were filled with vibrant colors of exotic floral, trimmed to a fault and some plants were shaped into artistic statutes. There was a clear view of the ocean, still sparkling from the dying sun with pink and scarlet shades lighting the sky. Guests filled every spare inch, almost as diverse as the greens around them. Women wore dresses in all kinds in all colors, hair done up in extravagant ways intertwined with pearls, jewelry, beads, feathers… it was truly endless. The men stayed in coats, but they too were in all shades with explicit patterns matching ones of paintings. As Selah adjusted to the blinding sea of colors, she eyed the guests closely to find several crosses. Pins, subtle designs, chains, jewelry. Almost all of them were Templars.

The strange feeling in her stomach returned and Selah found herself pressing closer to Shay. The older Templar smiled at her sympathetically.

“You’re one of us now, Selah,” he assured. “You will be taken care of.”

His words were a comfort and the young Templar found courage to push off of him. Shay’s smile broadened and he escorted deeper into the party.

“Do you want to dance?” her escort suddenly asked.

Immediately Selah’s cheeks reddened. “I-I don’t know how.”

Shay chuckled. “I’m no good, either.”

The girl squeaked as she was pulled onto the dancefloor and twisted to face Shay, hand on his shoulder and the other wrapped around his hand. Meanwhile Shay’s other hand was wrapped around her waist, holding her steady.

“Do what I do,” he instructed.

He stepped back, large enough that Selah had to step forward to follow. He then gently pushed her back to step behind her, this time the Irishman following. They repeated the process several times until there was enough confidence to step to the side and in small twirls. Selah knew for a fact they were off form, but neither really cared. She could only assume Shay was like her, always putting combat stances before ones of dance. However, this couldn’t have been his first Templar gathering and the girl guessed he picked it up from observation. Finally a British voice interrupted.

“May I have her?” Haytham requested, appearing from the crowd.

“Why of course, Sir,” Shay replied.

He handed Selah off to the Grandmaster before giving a respectful bow and slipping away. Now Selah faced Haytham with the man leading her.

“I’ll show you how it’s properly done,” he whispered.

Instead of Shay’s half-attempts, the British noble lead her in careful and controlled steps. Selah tried to follow along, accidently looked down at her feet. Immediately Haytham’s touched her chin and tilted head to look into his eyes.

“Look at me,” he corrected.

Selah nodded, only for her form to stumble as she stepped on his foot. Her face turned a fierce scarlet and she whined an apology, her skin burning. Haytham only chuckled.

“It’s alright,” he reassured.

They continued on without any more incidents, Selah adjusting to the new movements. Soon the violins in the background lulled into silence, signaling the end of the dance. Guests stepped away from their partners and applauded, some bowing and curtsying. This included Selah and Haytham, dipping their heads respectfully.

“Master Kenway, I wasn’t aware you had a daughter,” a voice gasped.

Selah tried to shove away that annoyance as she glanced towards the direction of the source. Did they not look anything alike? The Templar was introduced to a proper woman in an elegant scarlet dress. Her spruced up hair was almost just as red with an array of flowers protruding from it. The teenager was able to notice foxglove among them. The woman’s face was ghostly pale with too red of lips, starkly contrasting Selah’s natural makeup. She was covered head-to-toe with gemstones and jewelry, mostly rubies forming crosses. While Selah was bristling from her mistake, Haytham only chuckled easily.

“I’m afraid she’s only a student, Mistress L’Isle,” he corrected calmly.

The woman’s eyes lit up with understanding. “Oh, a protégé, then?”

“Of a sort.” Haytham gestured from Selah to the guest, who was obviously a Templar. “This is Selah. Selah, this is Mistress Madeleine de L’Isle.”

“A pleasure, madam,” Selah greeted, playing her role as she curtsied obediently.

Madeleine gasped. “Oh, what a proper girl she is! You taught her well, Haytham!”

“I’m afraid I didn’t do much,” the Grandmaster chuckled.

“If only my stepdaughter could be as such. A clever girl, but I fear she’s too adventurous for a noble. She has great potential, though. I am confident she will serve our Order sufficiently.”

“Then we shall welcome her with open arms.”

During the two Grandmasters’ conversation, Selah observed Madeleine with growing suspicion. The woman reminded her of a snake. Especially with her sharp, piercing eyes and how she curled her lip made Selah think that a forked tongue was about to spit out. She pitied whoever her stepdaughter was. Finally the noblewoman seemed to grow bored.

“It appears I must take my leave,” Madeleine proclaimed. “I must discuss some business transactions with Ferrer. I wish you the best of fortune.”

Haytham nodded his head politely. The two gave their farewells before the mistress slipped away. Selah wanted slip away herself to avoid any more unwanted encounters, but Haytham wrapped his arm around hers and ushered her to the other side of the party.

“Come. There is someone I want you to meet,” he told her.

Selah followed along until they made it through to the edge of the gardens. It was a stone’s throw away from the ocean, a small wall as the only barrier. Waiting for them was a man speaking with a guest, balancing a glass of alcohol in his hand. The man was obviously Spanish, with his darker-toned skin and black eyes. A short, well-trimmed beard covered most of his face. As for the man’s clothing, he wore black trousers swallowed up by tall, heeled boots that almost came to his knee. A dignified gold waistcoat protected his chest with a crimson, almost blood-red coat decorated with unique patterns. The outline of the Templar Cross was sewn onto his coat and a pin of the insignia held his collar.

“Grandmaster,” Haytham greeted.

The Spaniard immediately dropped his current conversation to regard the other Templar.

“Ah, Master Kenway, I was wondering where you were,” the man exclaimed in an accent. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“Quite well, thank you kindly.”

Immediately the man’s eyes fell upon Selah and she had to fight the urge not to hide from the interest in his gaze.

“And who is this?”

“Selah. My student,” Haytham introduced. He glanced back and forth from Selah to the man. “And this is Alonso de Ojeda. He is the Grandmaster here and tonight’s host.”

Selah played again. “Mucho gusto.

El gusto es mio,” Ojeda purred, not hesitating to steal Selah’s hand and kiss her knuckles.

The girl tried not to make a face at the ripple of disgust. Although this man seemed to act kindly enough, he bode ill to Selah. She found an uneasy feeling standing near him, like with Madeleine. However, she wouldn’t exactly describe him as a snake.

“Selah is the newest member of my Order,” Haytham explained.

“Ah! Welcome to our fold, then, hermana,” Alonso beamed. “This celebration is yours.”

The young Templar was somehow able to mask her illness and force a modest smile. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

“Do not be so modest! Enjoy yourself! This night belongs to all of us!” The Grandmaster raised his glass, but only slightly since his guests were empty-handed. “May the Father of Understanding guide us to a New World of peace and prosperity.”

“May the Father of Understanding guide us,” Haytham echoed.

The Colonial Templars took their leave then, traveling to a more secluded area. Immediately Selah’s misgivings faded as the distance increased from Ojeda. A tug on her arm from Haytham pulled her from her thoughts. The lesser Templar glanced at him for the Grandmaster to lean into her ear.

“A small warning,” he whispered. “Ojeda owns no good will towards the Assassins. He must not know of you and Shay’s former allegiance.”

Selah nodded, but her stomach twisted again. He hated Assassins that much? Haytham straightened, but continued to speak in a low voice.

“If you are asked, you are my student sent to me by a colleague from Europe. But do not say such otherwise.”

“Yes, Grandmaster,” Selah hummed.

With that, Haytham seemed satisfied, escorting her to a neglected table set up for lounging guests. A servant brought them a tray of food, which the pair began nibbling on delicately.

“I hope you are enjoying tonight?” Haytham prompted.

“Yes, thank you, Haytham,” Selah replied sincerely.

“That is good to hear.”

Selah observed the party as she ate, watching the colors of the guests intermingle and twirl as light music played. She truly wasn’t surprised to find Shay and the other sailors had already found the stockpile of alcohol and were already helping themselves to it. She rolled her eyes while Haytham noticed Shay as well. He gained his subordinate’s attention.

“Shay!” The Templar looked over. “Come.”

Immediately the captain escaped from his company and made his way over, joining them at the table. Although there was no telling how much Shay had consumed (Selah believed she really didn’t want to know), he still seemed sober, owning no sway or lost look.

“Enjoying yourself, I see?” Haytham teased.

“A bit,” Shay replied. “It was a long time at sea, after all.”

“As if you could grow tired of the ocean.”

The Templar sailor grinned. “I never said that.”

Haytham sipped his wine he had ordered for. “As traveled as much as you have, you have had your handful of adventures. Tell us some, Shay.”

Selah could tell it was unusual for Haytham to have a friendly conversation, for lack of better terms, but it seemed he was taking Ojeda’s advice to enjoy himself. Either drunk or in the same state of mind, Shay relented to his request, describing his adventures at sea. He was a fair storyteller, though, Selah being engrossed in most of his stories. Although she did not favor his stories of hunting and whaling, telling how he ripped open a polar bear or harpooned a narwhal in the eye.

Even though, Selah found herself relaxed and content. She enjoyed the company of the older Templars, knowing they all shared the same ring.


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