Pacing through the garden, Lydia Abraham stopped to touch the silky petals of her mother’s surviving roses. There had been a time when those flowers meant everything to her mother. She could remember the garden in full bloom, her mother standing in the center of it, smiling broadly. Both the land and her mother had been so alive. That seemed so long ago. So much had changed.
They were both dying. Her mother had taken to her bed. The garden lay in weeds.
She could still picture her mother standing in the garden, her long skirts covered in dirt, smiling. Nothing made her happier than her roses—nothing except her two daughters.
Her mother wouldn’t approve of the garden now—or of the plans her daughters made there. Lydia wanted to flee from the garden, but she had to wait for her sister. Perhaps Emily would return with good news.
Staring down at the mess of weeds, she felt an urge to fight back. She couldn’t stop the disease that was killing her mother’s body, but she could stop the weeds that were killing her garden.
“Mortis,” she whispered under her breath, and watched the weeds turn to dust, lost on the light breeze.
“Having fun?” Emily asked, stepping out of the shadows and smiling at her.
“I was practicing,” Lydia told her.
Emily laughed. “You don’t need to practice. Your powers are stunning. Mother always said you were the charmed one.”
“We’re both charmed,” Lydia said.
In truth, Lydia was the stronger witch. Her powers had been stronger from birth. She had even demonstrated signs of magic as infant. However, Emily was gifted, as well. She too, was a very capable witch.
“Mother was a great witch,” Emily said. “She could see your power. I feel no shame being second to you.”
“How was Mother this evening?” Emily asked, after a moment of silence.
“The same,” Lydia replied. “After a few bites of dinner, she returned to sleep. If we don’t get her help soon, she’ll die. How did it go tonight?”
A wide smile came to Emily’s mouth. “It went well.”
“Meaning?” Lydia pressed.
“Meaning, Eli is ready. He wants to leave tomorrow night.” She clapped her hands and danced with excitement.
Lydia did not share in her sister’s enthusiasm. She knew this day was coming. They had planned it all out. But deep down, she hoped it wouldn’t happen. She hoped Eli would come to his senses and disappear into the night.
“Aren’t you happy?” Emily asked. “This is it. He has a huge treasure stowed away for our married life. We’re going to be rich. We can finally afford to get Mother to a doctor.”
“Em, he’s a pirate,” Lydia told her, sighing loudly. “He’s dangerous. He could hurt you.”
Emily laughed. “We’re witches. He’s not going to hurt me. He doesn’t want to hurt me. He’s madly in love with me. Remember, he wants to give up his life at sea to settle down with me.”
“What if you give yourself away?” Lydia demanded. “He could kill you before you have a chance to contact me.”
“I may not be as powerful as you, but I’m still a witch,” she snapped. “I’m also a woman. I know how to lead a man on. I’ve been leading him on for months. Waiting here, while he rushes off to sea, trying to plunder enough for us to be together. He trusts me. I can fool him awhile longer.”
“No buts,” Emily interrupted. “I’ll go with him to retrieve the treasure. Once the treasure is recovered and we’re back on solid ground, I’ll send you a letter with the details. I’ll tell you the night for the spell, and that will be that. We’ll both do the spell. Eli will die, and the treasure will be ours.”
There was a hint of something in Emily’s voice that Lydia didn’t recognize. It made her uncomfortable. Was Emily keeping something from her? No, that was ridiculous. The sisters had shared everything all their lives. Emily wouldn’t lie now. Not when their mother so desperately needed their help.
They returned to the house together. Both lost in their thoughts about what would occur the following night.
The music was loud and the whisky was cold. Eli Black saw no reason to complain as he sat in the local tavern. Several men were having a loud argument, but they did little to divert his attention. He had better things to think about than the latest bar fight. After all, he was soon to be a married man.
He scoffed at the idea. Him married! Highly unlikely. Clearly, the young and beautiful Emily Abraham was not as smart as she thought.
He emptied his glass. Sitting it down, he turned to see the bartender, eyeing him suspiciously. Honestly, he was a little offended. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. What about the man who brought a pig in with him?
The stern look from the bartender only deepened when he motioned for another drink. Eventually, the man turned his back, pretending he hadn’t seen Eli at all.
The service was always poor in small towns. Only the locals were allowed to loiter all night and bring pigs as guests. As an outsider, they were simply waiting for him to leave.
Under normal circumstances, he would’ve put up a fight. After all, he was a pirate. He carried a really big sword and an attitude to match. However, that night he didn’t want to end up in the local jailhouse. He needed to be on his best behavior to ensure that his well laid plans were not destroyed.
So instead of his normal tantrum, he quietly sat his glass down and slipped unnoticed from the tavern. At least, he had managed to avoid paying his tab.
Stumbling into the night, his legs no longer seemed to take orders from his mind. He walked into the side of a building and fell to the hard ground. He hadn’t been drunk enough to lose his balance in weeks.
It was all Emily’s fault. He was bored. He had planned to leave that very night, anxious to put this behind him. But Emily had to have a final night with her family. Probably spending the night with her sister, putting the finishing touches on their plan to kill him.
He knew exactly what they were up to. He had listened in the dark and concealing woods surrounding the dead rose garden. They never knew he was there. As they made their plans, he listened intently, making plans of his own.
No woman would make a fool of Eli Black—not even a witch.
His initial response had been to sail the seven seas, never thinking of the wench again. She was pretty, but nothing special. He thought she’d be easy enough to forget.
He was wrong. As he sailed and plundered, he thought of little else. Not because he was a fool. Not because he had fallen in love with her or he felt sorry for her ill mother. No, he thought of her because of her power. The power of a witch—a true sorcerer. She had powers that he had never seen before, and he had seen much in his life.
His days were filled with pointless journeys. He no longer thrived on the hunt or the kill. Not money, nor drink, nor pleasurable company could fulfill him any longer. His nights consisted of vivid dreams. Dreams of Emily. Dreams of power.
He was left with no choice. He had to return to the girl. He would return to her or go mad.
When he rolled back into her tiny town she wasn’t at all suspicious. She seemed to be expecting him. As if she truly believed her looks were enough to chain him to her for life. She’d be disappointed when she learned the real reason he returned to her.
The weeks turned to months and he would always return. Spending random evenings with Emily. The time he spent with her somehow became dear to him. He was growing to care about her, and he knew that was bad. It could cost him everything.
Even the nights he spent skulking in the woods, he found himself staring at her longer than he needed to. However, despite his staring her started to learn to ways of witches.
He also learned that Emily was the weakest link in her family of witches. She was the perfect first target.
As he traveled the seas, he searched for a way to make their powers his own. Being the resourceful and persuasive man he was, he found a way.
And now that he was finally ready to put his plan into action, he was being forced to wait. Giving him more time to dwell on the nastiness ahead of him. Did she really need to run home to warn her big sister that it was time for their ingenious plan to begin? Couldn’t she just use telepathy?
Sighing loudly, he pulled himself off the ground, noticing that wetness had seeped through his pants. He had resigned himself to spending another night in the uneventful town. It was unavoidable.
He stumbled down the street, searching for a place to spend the night.
With his head spinning, he wandered out of town and into the familiar woods masking the home of his fiancée. He trampled through the trees, his legs being whipped with branches and becoming ensnared by weeds. In his drunken state, he was almost convinced that the forest was trying to devour him, perhaps a spell from the Abraham sisters.
Finally, the deadened rose garden came into view and Eli fell to the ground. A branch cut his face as he plummeted, but the woods offered no further attack. All thoughts of a pre-wedding curse left his mind. After all, the sisters needed him alive until they had his treasure.
Sparing a glance into the garden, he saw nothing but spinning wilderness images. The garden was void of life. The sisters must’ve gone to bed for the night. He wouldn’t gain any additional knowledge that night. Not that his mind would’ve been able to absorb it in his current condition anyway.
Lying on the rough ground, he closed his eyes, preparing for sleep. Small stones protruded into his back and his clothes absorbed the dampness from the soil. Still these were hardly the worst accommodations he’d ever had. He was no stranger to roughing it. Living at sea, one learns how to handle hardship.
As he began to doze, Eli hardly noticed the cold wind that had chilled Lydia earlier in the night. Instead of thinking about the cold, he fell asleep contemplating the power he would acquire the following night. His dreams were sweet, completely unaffected by the bugs that chose his body as a bed.
He slept through the night and day. When he finally awoke it was dark once again. He had managed to sleep away his hangover as well as a useless day. Feeling proud of himself, he rose from the ground, stretching his stiff muscles.
Staring at the black sky, he realized it must be late. Emily was probably waiting for him in the small graveyard behind the church. That had become their usual meeting place. And as they both plotted to kill each other before their marriage, the irony of their special place was not lost on him.
Trudging through the dark night, Eli was relieved to see that his senses had returned to normal. He had seen the eventual effects of too much drink and dreaded the day those effects would befall him.
He didn’t rush towards the meeting point. He still had his pride. There was no way he would leave Emily believing that he was that anxious to be with her. She could wait. And of course, she would wait. After all, he was to become her unwitting financial backer.
When he arrived at the cemetery he stopped at the gate, watching her. A full moon cast light down on her. She stood in a white gown, surrounding by protruding gravestones—surrounded by death. Even from the distance, her beauty was clear. Even with the poor lighting, her hair managed to shine as it blew in the light breeze. Her beauty impressed him, but he would not allow it to control him. He knew what had to be done. It was the only way to possess her power and save his life.
Slowly, he began to approach her. Leaves crunched under his feet, announcing his presence. She turned with a bright smile, a smile which he knew to be fake. Holding her dress up, she ran to him, kissing him on the cheek. He could feel her power in her touch.
“Eli,” she breathed into his ear. “I can’t believe it is finally time for us to be together.”
He pulled her into his arms. As always, it felt nice to have her there.
“You’re already in your wedding gown,” he said as he released her.
“I don’t own many fine things,” she replied, “and I wanted to look nice when we met tonight. You’re not superstitious, are you?”
He almost laughed. Of course, he had heard that seeing the bride before the wedding was bad luck. However, he couldn’t imagine how their fictional marriage could be anymore unlucky. They were both potential murderers, preparing to kill the other. The dress would make little difference in the overall success of a marriage that would never come to pass.
“Not at all, my dear,” he told her, stroking her delicate face. “I think you’re beautiful.”
She pulled away to smile up at him. She was so tiny and angelic. He wanted to touch her, hold her, but he couldn’t. She had only one purpose, and it didn’t involve warming his bed. If only she hadn’t plotted against him, he might have granted her mercy; but she had proven that she could never be trusted.
“We should go,” she said, taking his hand. “We don’t want to be seen here. It’s not proper for a lady to be out this time of night, especially with a man. If someone were to see us, we could be delayed.”
But you’re no lady, he thought. You’re a witch.
“Of course,” he said aloud. “My ship is at dock, waiting to take us to our fortune. I assure you, there is enough money for us to live comfortably for a very long time. I wouldn’t ask you to leave with me if I couldn’t take care of you.”
“I know that,” she replied, squeezing his hand. “I trust you.”
He almost laughed in her face, but was able to control himself. Trusting him was a mistake. He was playing her, just as she was playing him. There was no fortune waiting for her, only death.
Throwing her into his arms, he carried her from the cemetery.
“Is this your first time on a ship?” he asked.
Giggling, she nodded. “This is so exciting. I’ve led a very sheltered life.”
He knew her words were not meant to be misleading. In many ways, she had led a sheltered life. Trapped by the bounds of a small town with its small beliefs. Never being able to see the world. He could scarcely imagine someone who had never been on a ship. Nearly his entire life had been spent at sea. He knew nothing else.
Then again, she wasn’t entirely sheltered from the world beyond her tiny town. After all, she was a witch, still studying her craft. That must have offered a certain amount of excitement and enlightenment.
“You’ll love the sea,” he promised, pulling her close. Her hair gave off the sweet smell of lilacs. He meant his words. The sea was captivating, hard to leave behind. It was the only place that ever felt like home to him, and held a special place in his heart. Even thinking of the blue waves brushing against the side of a fine ship caused him to relax. He hoped the sea would have the same effect on Emily. He wanted her last moments to be happy ones.
“I’ll love it because it’s part of you,” she whispered, closing her eyes and resting her head on his shoulder.
Her words chilled him. She was good at her role. Had he not overheard her conversations with her sister, he’d be convinced that she loved him. Even with that knowledge, he was beginning to feel something for her.
When she spoke his heart jumped to his throat. He was a fearsome pirate. He had taken many lives. But he was still a man. A man who was reacting to the tenderness of a beautiful woman.
He was glad it would be over soon. If this went on much longer, he wouldn’t be able to do what had to be done. Then his life would be the one to come to an end.
“Eli,” she said, pulling away from his shoulder to meet his eyes.
“Yes?” he asked, trying to sound light.
“Is something wrong?” Her eyes filled with concern that shouldn’t have been possible when pulling a con. “You seem distant. Are you having second thoughts?”
His mind was focused on what had to be done. During their other meetings he had been able to let loose, enjoy himself. But that night, he couldn’t allow himself to forget how the story had to end.
“I would never have second thoughts,” he told her, forcing a smile. His words tasted bitter. He was having second thoughts. He didn’t want to hurt her. He didn’t want to go through with it, not even for the power. Slowly, the power was meaning less and less to him. Just as she was meaning more and more. He would put an end to his plan in that instant if only it wouldn’t cost him his life.
“I love you,” she told him, returning her head to his shoulder.
“I love you, too,” he replied, wondering if the words had somehow become true.
Eli slowed his pace as the ship came into view. Feeling the change in speed, Emily raised her head and looked around. She gasped as her eyes landed on the ship.
“It’s beautiful,” she gushed.
He sat her on the ground and she rushed for the ship, already taken in by its beauty. It was a shame she hadn’t grown up at sea. He sensed it would have been a more fitting upbringing for her. A witch wasn’t meant to be a proper lady, living in a tiny town.
Shaking his head, he boarded the ship behind her. Why did he keep thinking about what was best for her? He really shouldn’t care. He couldn’t afford to let himself care.
He found Emily holding the wheel in her hands. Tossing his hat on her head, she looked like a proper pirate.
“Will you teach me to sail, Eli?”
He was taken aback by the question. Emily didn’t plan to keep him around long enough to learn anything. She really was a good actress.
“I’d love to,” he told her, and it wasn’t a lie. Had the circumstances been different, he would’ve loved to teach her everything he knew.
She let go of the wheel and threw her arms around him. “I’ve never felt like this before. So free. I want this night to last forever.”
The idea held a certain appeal for Eli, as well. Except, he would prefer if this moment would last forever. The rest of the night promised to be far less enjoyable.
“Let’s go,” Emily said, pulling out of his arms and racing across the deck to peer over the rail at the ocean. “Take me sailing. I want to smell the salt water and feel the ocean’s breeze on my face. I have read about sailing many times, but never thought I would have a chance to experience it.”
He smiled at her childlike excitement, unable to help himself. She really was something special. He hated what he was about to do to her. It was so much easier to live with the idea when it was in the far distant future. It was much harder to except when it was only a mere boat ride away.
Backing away from the railing, Emily stared into his eyes as he took the wheel.
“Something is bothering you,” she said. “You look so sad. Have I done something?”
It was a hard question to answer honestly. She had done a lot. She planned to kill him, and yet she still managed to make him feel for her. But he couldn’t tell her that.
“Not at all,” he replied. “I’m just lost in thought tonight.”
He moved to hoist the anker and set sail.
“There’s a lot to think about,” Emily replied, leaning against the railing again. “We’re both making some huge changes.”
“Do you have regrets?” he asked, returning to the wheel and pulling away from dock. He wasn’t sure why he asked. Perhaps he was just curious how she’d answer such a question.
“I’ll miss my family,” she replied, as though she truly never planned to see them again. “It feels selfish to abandon Lydia with mother so ill. They both need me and I’m running away. I regret what I’m doing to them, but I don’t regret being with you. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”
Staring at her, he nearly forgot how to sail. Her words sounded so heart-felt and true. But he knew they couldn’t be. He’d heard her plans. How could she talk of abandoning her family and her great love for him? The girl was an amazing con. He had to admit, she would make a damn good pirate. He was a damn good pirate, and he was struggling not to fall for her act.
“Do you have regrets?” she asked. “Won’t you miss the open sea?”
“The sea has been my home all of my life,” he admitted, looking out on the sparking water. “The thought of leaving it behind is sad, but I have always been one to move on to bigger and better things.”
Emily smiled, squeezing his arm.
The wind picked up, tossing her hair in his face. They both laughed, the tension magically broken. Perhaps she had cast a spell designed to put them at ease. Then again, with the sea air in his lungs and the water lapping gently beneath the boat, he couldn’t help but feel relaxed. No spell was needed. He was home. Focusing on the sea and the warm body in his arms, he was finally able to forget what he had to do when the boat docked.
The remainder of the trip was unexpectedly pleasant. As always, Eli enjoyed being at sea. He also enjoyed having a woman in his arms.
When the tiny island of El Marto came into view, Emily looked excited. She leaned over the rail, pointing. “Is that where we’re going?”
“Indeed it is,” he told her. “The island is uninhabited and small. The only visitors it sees are young couples seeking some alone time. It’s a wonderful place for buried treasure.”
Emily’s eyes lit up. Perhaps her true nature was beginning to surface.
As the ship hit the sand, a dragging sound cut through the silence of the night. Emily didn’t even seem to notice it. Being a first time sailor, he expected it to startle her. However, she was too busy jumping up and down to be startled by anything.
“I can’t believe this,” she gushed, taking his hand and pulling him off the boat and onto the island. “This is our future, Eli. We’re really doing this. This is so exciting.”
An emotion filled the air, but it wasn’t excitement. At least, it wasn’t excitement radiating from Eli. He expected to be excited. With the power so close, he expected to be elated. However, he felt nothing but indifference towards a power that would soon be his. He felt only regret for what he would have to do to get it.
Letting go of his hand, Emily danced around the beach, spinning in circles. Again, he was struck by the freedom of her childlike ways. This was probably the furthest she had ever been from her town.
“I love this,” she cried. “The fresh air. The sound of the water. I could never imagine why anyone would want to live their life at sea. I thought it would be so lonely. But the sea is company enough.”
A few hours at sea and she was already beginning to sound like a pirate. They really could’ve been a match. If only… No, he couldn’t let himself think about that. Things were the way they were. No amount of wishful thinking would change them.
He offered her a small smile for her enthusiasm. He wasn’t capable of anything more. He could no longer force the truth from his mind. He was haunted by what he had to do.
It was insane. How could be haunted by the concept of murder? He was a pirate. He had killed many times, never with the slightest regard for his victims. Women and children had both fallen under his blade. Not once had he felt a thing for any of them. But something about this witch had truly made him lose his senses.
“Come on,” Emily coaxed. “Let’s get our treasure and get out of here. I can’t wait to get back on the sea.”
If Emily knew what would happen to her when they went for the treasure, she would not be hurrying the moment along. Eli had no desire to hurry it. He wanted a few more precious moments with her. He couldn’t believe what was happening to his cold interior. Had she really managed to melt him?
As she tugged on his arm, staring at him with anxious eyes, he knew it couldn’t be put off any longer. He had to do it. Soon he would have the power—a power that no longer meant anything to him.
Closing his eyes, he quickly gained as much strength as possible. He then took Emily’s hand and led her across the beach and behind a large boulder. There was no treasure waiting for him there. Any loot he had buried was left in the Caribbean. The only thing behind the boulder was the elder wood required for the ritual.
As they approached the boulder he reached into his pocket, producing a small flask. He stopped Emily and handed it to her.
“Drink,” he told her, taking another, carefully marked, flask from his pocket. “We must have a toast before we go any further. It’s traditional and brings great luck.”
Smiling, she accepted the proffered flask. For a brief second, he was tempted to switch with her, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. It was too late to back out.
“To us,” she announced, clicking her flask against his and quickly draining the tainted whisky inside.
The drug started to work within seconds. She dropped the flask, staring at him with a confused expression. Finally, she grabbed her head and fell to the ground, unconscious.
As she crumpled to the ground, he tried to forget the expression on her face. Of course, she was confused. She thought she was running the show. She couldn’t believe he wasn’t her love slave.
He carried her around the boulder and tied her feet and arms together. The elder wood lay only a few feet away. He had no intention of using a stake for the burning. It would only take longer, causing them both more pain. He wanted this over as quickly as possible. He would sit her directly on the wood and begin the ceremony as soon as she awoke. He couldn’t allow her time to mess with his mind. He had to remember that she was a witch, with great powers.
He sat her unconscious body atop the wood, marveling at how light she was. She must have lived in complete poverty to weigh so little. One would think a witch could conjure herself a better life. He planned to do just that when he was a warlock.
As he sat in the sand, staring at the tiny girl, he thought about the quest he had endured to obtain the wood. Finding elder wood was hardly a chore, but preparing it for the ritual was a different matter entirely. He was lucky to have been born with such excellent persuasion skills. He was also lucky to have been born with the ability to hide bodies.
Pulling a book of matches from his pocket, he began to burn through them, staring at the mesmerizing flicker of the flame. If he spent the time staring at Emily, he surely would have lost all resolve and untied her.
The whole thing would’ve been easier if he could’ve just performed the ceremony while she was unconscious. She’d never know what happened and he’d never have to hear him scream. However, the shaman he visited was very specific. The witch had to be awake during the burning. Her power was absorbed through her screams, just as it was absorbed through the smoke left behind. It was not meant to be a pleasant experience for the witch or her usurper.
Time seemed to pass in an odd haze. The sun didn’t rise, so he knew only a few hours could have passed, but it felt like days. He wasted half the matches before realizing he could need more than one to get the fire ablaze. Why wouldn’t she wake? Had he given her too much of the drug? Had he already killed her?
Panic began to cease him. What if he had already killed her? Then it would all be for nothing. She would be gone, and her power lost forever. Of course, he would be alive, but only until her sister could track him down. With no power of his own, Lydia would find and kill him. She was the strong witch. She didn’t need her sister’s assistance.
Just as he was about to approach and feel for a pulse, Emily groaned loudly. He almost sighed with relief, but then her eyes flew opened, staring right at him. She looked so tiny and hurt. After all the nights they spent together, it really felt like they were involved.
“Eli,” she said, her voice hardly legible. “What happened? Why am I down here?”
Tears began to stream down her face, and he looked away. How could he tell her what he was going to do to her?
“Eli,” she repeated. “Help me.”
“I can’t,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, Emily. I never expected to be sorry for this, but I am. Still, it doesn’t change anything. I know what you had planned for me. I know what you are. I will not die at your hand, witch.”
“Eli,” she cried, both panic and pain clear in her voice. “Please, I don’t know how you found out about that, but it doesn’t matter—”
“Doesn’t matter?” he cut her off, staring at her with true fury in his eyes. “You were going to steal my money and kill me. That might not matter to you, but it sure as hell matters to me.”
“Eli, no,” she started, tears streaming freely. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Just shut up, Emily,” he snapped. “It’s too late. You can’t talk your way out of this. You can’t magic your way out of this. You must know what kind of wood that is beneath you.”
She didn’t answer, simply closed her eyes and sobbed.
He looked away, refusing to be sucked in.
“It’s elder wood,” he told her, “but not just any elder wood. This elder wood was harvested by the blade of a nobleman and blessed by a priest. I trust you know what that means.”
“Eli, please, don’t do this,” she pleaded. “You don’t understand.”
“I understand,” he told her, looking away, searching for the matches in his pocket. “I wish I didn’t. I wish I didn’t have to do this.”
“You don’t,” she cried.
His fingers grazed the matches. She continued to plead, but mercifully he was able to tone her out. Finally, he was going into pirate mode. He no longer saw her as a victim, but as an obstacle that had to be removed.
He lit the match and tossed it onto the wood. It lit right away. He had dried the wood before brining it here, wanting this to be as quick as possible.
Due to her position directly on the wood, it didn’t take long for the fire to reach Emily’s beautiful wedding gown. She was beyond pleading by then. All she could do was scream.
Moving closer, he began to inhale the smoke, feeling the power surge through him. The shaman had told him the sensation would be strong, but he was still unprepared. He became light-headed and felt as if he were floating above his body. Emily continued to scream, but the sound seemed to be coming from far away, possibly from some distant universe.
He could feel his heart beating and the blood pumping through his veins, which was odd, considering he didn’t feel particularly attached to his body. Her power burned through him. It was like nothing he ever could have imagined.
As her last scream died out, he fell to the ground, exhaustion taking over. The strange sensations left his body and the world faded to black.
When he came to his head throbbed. He could no longer feel the power, but he knew it was there. He could command the sun to rise and it would follow his orders. However, at that moment, he was more interested in the horrid stench carried over the breeze than the sunrise.
Rolling over, his eyes landed on the remains of Emily and the source of the stench. Rolling away from the sight, he vomited. There were no remnants of the wood that destroyed her, but Emily’s charcoaled corpse remained. Her blackened bones would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Rising to his feet, he tried to flee the scene. However, he found that his feet had lost their desire to support him. He tripped twice, vomiting once more, but eventually he made it to the ship, collapsing on the deck, enjoying the fresh breeze coming off the water.
More than anything, he wished it could be over, but he knew there was more to be done. If he didn’t fight her, Lydia would track him down and kill him. She’d know something was wrong when Emily didn’t contact her, and she’d never allow her sister’s murder to go unavengened. His only hope with the stronger sister was the element of surprise. She wouldn’t be expecting him to arrive at her home, endowed with Emily’s powers.
Forcing himself to his feet, he took deep breaths. The familiar sea air helped to calm his nerves and reminded him of what had to be done. He pulled up the anker and stumbled towards the helm.
Pulling away from the dock, he turned the ship back the way it had come. He would return to Emily’s small town and face her sister. Then, hopefully with the power of both witches, he would return to the seas and learn to use his new craft, while forcing himself to forget how he obtained it.
Back on the mainland, his footsteps echoed through the silent night. He really did hate this town. He couldn’t imagine a place that became so deserted. He was used to towns where the taverns were opened all night and the streets were filled with drunkards. The silence unnerved him.
Finally, he stepped into the forest surrounding the precious rose garden Emily had spoken of so frequently. It was sad she would never see it again.
As he walked he was, once again, attacked by the forest. He didn’t like nature. He would never be a woodsman. The forest closed around him, making him feel like a prisoner. He would take the peace and liberty of the sea over the encompassing darkness of the forest any day.
A light flickered ahead, telling him he was not alone. Someone else was actually moving about at that hour. Someone who was most likely in the precious rose garden. Lydia, perhaps? Would she really make his job so easy? If he didn’t have to go to the house, he was much less likely to attract the attention of her drunken father.
He slowed his approach, trying to be stealthy. The forest did not co-operate with his plans. Dead leaves insisted on crunching beneath his feet, announcing his presence.
As he drew closer, Lydia was looking around, trying to identify the intruder. He stared at her silhouette, outlined in the moonlight. She was bent slightly, as though she had just retrieved something from the ground.
“Who’s there?” she called, standing straight. “I know you’re out there. I heard you.” Her voice was scratchy, as though she’d been crying.
He didn’t respond.
“Who are you?” Lydia called again.
Eli stepped into sight. Making no further moves.
Lydia squinted, trying to get a clear picture of him in the dark. She had spied on several of his dates with Emily, so there was a good chance she would recognize him.
“Eli?” she asked, stepping closer. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be with Emily.”
“So the two of you can rob and murder me?” he asked, also moving closer, feeling his new power surge within him.
“Emily told you?” Lydia asked. She clutched something in her hand. Looking down, Eli saw that it was a rose. Probably the only one that had survived the garden of weeds.
“Of course, she didn’t tell me,” he said. “She’s not that foolish.”
“I—I don’t understand,” Lydia stammered. “Where is she? She should be with you. She wanted to be with you.”
“Wanted to be with me?” Eli spat. “She wanted to kill me. You both did.”
“I did,” Lydia admitted, with no remorse or regret. “My concern lies with my family, not a pirate. However, Emily felt differently.”
“What are you talking about?” Eli demanded.
“Didn’t she tell you?” Lydia asked. “She fell in love with you. She didn’t even tell me. She left a note saying that she couldn’t kill you. It said she wasn’t coming back. My sister left me for you—a pirate.”
Pain thrashed through his body.
The words made no sense. Emily didn’t love him. She plotted against him. He killed her because she was going to kill him. He felt for her, but his feelings weren’t returned. Were they?
“Where is she?” Lydia demanded, tears streaming down her face. “Where is my treacherous sister? Why has she sent you to do her bidding?”
It was really true. Emily had planned to run away with him. She loved him. He could have left with her that night and lived happily ever after.
“Well?” Lydia demanded. “Are you going to answer me?”
He couldn’t tell her the truth. She would kill him on the spot. He couldn’t hurt her. Not knowing the truth. He’d hurt Emily enough.
“Emily is waiting for me,” he lied. “She’s upset. It’s hard for her to leave, but she isn’t abandoning you. We’ll help with your mother. We’ll send money.”
He meant the words. He would send money. Helping Emily’s mother was the only thing he could do to make amends for what he had done to her.
“My mother and I don’t need your money, pirate,” she snarled. “Leave here, and don’t ever return. You’re not welcome here and neither is your whore.”
Dropping the rose on the ground, Lydia stomped towards the house, without glancing back.
Eli grabbed the rose, cradling it in his arms. The rose that had grown from weeds. Just like Emily was the only good thing to survive this town, it was the only good thing to survive this garden. He tossed the rose back to the ground, stomping it under his boots. He’d destroyed them both. There seemed to be some justice in that.
A single tear slid down his cheek as he turned to leave the garden. He would return to the island and give his rose a proper burial. There was nothing more he could do. He would spend the rest of his life with her power inside him, remembering how it got there and longing for her touch.
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