I awakened to the sound of heavy footsteps directly above me, and I realized straight away, that I was below deck on some kind of ship. The uneasy feeling of motion sickness swept over me, as the vessel sailed through rough water.
I blinked my eyes and made an attempt to stand, only to realize that my wrists and ankles were bound together by ropes. I tried to struggle free, but the binds had been tied too tight. The more I struggled, the more the rope bit into my skin.
I managed to sit upright and shuffled myself over towards a porthole. The only light source was from the moon. I couldn't make out the land from the ocean, it was that dark outside. All I could hear was the crashing of the waves.
I heard a murmur from somewhere beside me, but I couldn't see anything. There was no light whatsoever in the room, but I could hazard a fairly good guess that I wasn't the only captive being held down here. The sound of soft snores could be heard all around me.
I leaned back, resting my head against the wood, feeling awash with hopelessness. I was under the impression that I had agreed to this of my own free will, not to be held as a captive.
I was terrified, but despite my situation, all I could think about was Petr. I wasn't concerned for my own well being. I knew what I had to do, I just wasn't sure how I was supposed to achieve it.
The only thing I could focus on was that Sister Mary Agnes would keep to her word. That she would use the gold to get Petr the help he needed. I had to trust that she hadn't just lured me into a trap, just to reap the benefits for herself.
I had been raised to see the best in people. I knew I was far too trusting, and that made me vulnerable and naïve. We were taught to invest all our faith in the hands of the lord. And I knew that if I were to survive this ordeal, I'd need to have faith in myself.
My heart leapt into my throat as the door swung open unexpectedly. A dark, hulking figure stepped into the room, holding a lantern.
My teeth chattered as my body shook.
"Who's there?" My fragile voice was barely audible.
The figure crept closer, holding the lantern up to a beam, where he secured it onto a hook. The room filled with a dim yellow glow, and I could finally take in my surroundings.
There were others like me, but they were lying on the floor, bound and unconscious. I counted eleven other women. There wasn't much else, apart from a few wooden crates.
My gaze snapped up towards the figure, only to realize that it was a young man, and not a beast, at all. His raven hair hung past his shoulders and his grey eyes creased as he smiled. He towered over me, well over six feet tall, and his godly physique looked as if he'd been sculpted from granite.
He was dressed in leathers and animal skins, like a warrior of some sort. I couldn't determine his age but I could hazard a fairly good guess that he was still in his teenage years, if only by a year or two.
"You're awake early," he sounded surprised. His voice was as smooth as velvet and soothingly pleasant.
"Why am I bound?" I asked, lifting my wrists as evidence.
The person standing before me didn't look as dangerously intimidating as the creature who came to collect me from the orphanage.
"Precautions, I'm afraid. You tried to struggle, and then you fainted. I carried you to the ship, and then you were bound like the rest of the maidens. It is for your own protection, you see. Women in the past, have tried to jump from the ship and have almost drowned," he replied, seeming compassionate.
I frowned, making sense of that information.
"You carried me?" I quizzed. "There was a beast, a monstrous beast. Where did it go? Is it here amongst us?" I asked, glancing around.
The thought of it being on board the ship, a few feet away from me, filled me with fear.
The young man's loud, booming laugh filled the cabin. His entire face lit up as if I had said something highly amusing.
"A monstrous beast, you say?" He grinned wildly at me.
"Who are you? Are you hired by the Lycanthropes, to escort females back to the island?" I asked, wondering who he was, and what part he had to play in all of this.
His pleasant attitude had put me at ease, and I found myself able to relax around him.
"My name is Konrad, and no, I'm not hired by the Lycan's. I am a Lycan. This is my human form. And now that I've given you my name, it's only fair that you offer me yours?"
I managed a weak smile, in spite of the situation. It was as if his laughter was contagious.
"Amarante, but people call me, Amara. So, you're a Lycan? Does that mean that you will be entering the Labyrinth, too?" I asked him out of curiosity.
He seemed pleasant. Nothing in comparison to the Lycan who greeted me earlier, although, it had crossed my mind that I could be holding a conversation with the exact same one. He had found my comments rather amusing, after all, but I was relieved that no offence was taken, at least.
His features relaxed into a more serious expression, as soon as I'd asked my question.
"No, I'm not yet worthy. It is my brothers turn to enter the labyrinth tonight. Who knows what fate may have in store for you, Amara? Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to count you as my family by sunrise," he spoke with warmth and sincerity.
As he smiled it reached his eyes. I saw kindness in them, and an abundance of strength.
"I have no intentions of remaining on the island, Konrad. I mean to solve the labyrinth and return back to the mainland, with haste. My brother is sick and he needs me. There's no way I would forget him and leave him behind. Even if I have to swim the entire length of the Mediterranean, I will return to my brother. I made him a promise, which I fully intend to keep." I pledged, solidifying my commitment.
I swallowed as I held his analysing gaze. I was filled with determination and adamant to fulfil my vow. I saw his eyes soften as if they held an air of sadness, perhaps even pity. It didn't matter. I knew what I had to do, and I had nothing left to lose.
There was a noise from the top deck above us, and Konrad hurried to leave the room. He hesitated as he reached the door and spoke in a comforting tone.
"In the words of my mother, let us hope that fate is feeling generous. Good luck, Amara," he spoke reverently, before closing the door behind him.
At least he left behind the lantern. I was able to pull at the binds with my teeth, managing to loosen them slightly. Finally, they slackened enough for me to remove them. I then began to untie the ones at my ankles.
Once I was free, I approached the female who was lying closest to me and attempted to wake her up. I tried doing the same to another, and then another, but it was no use. They appeared to have been drugged in order to make them sleep through the journey, leaving me angered as to why it was necessary to bind them.
I heard the lock on the door click as the handle turned. The sound caused me to freeze to the spot. It was too late to pretend. No sooner had the door opened, I was immediately caught standing there, having untied myself. The male who entered the room this time advanced towards me and made an attempt to restrain me.
"Please, don't! I'll co-operate!" I pleaded, holding my palms up in front of me.
More men entered the room and their eyes narrowed as they stalked towards me. I backed away slowly until I felt my back hit the wall.
"Please!" I repeated desperately, as one gripped me by the wrist.
"I will escort her to the castle." I heard a voice speak over the commotion in the room.
His voice was commanding and full of authority. Each one immediately backed away from me. I rubbed my wrist as soon as it was released. Once the crowd parted, I was able to see who had given the order. Konrad walked confidently through the middle of them and held out a hand for me to take.
"It's quite alright, Amara," he assured.
I accepted, grasping hold of his hand. He led me out of the room and up a set of wooden stairs. We stepped out onto the deck, where I immediately smelled the ocean. I held onto Konrad for support as I walked unsteadily. The motion of the vessel combined with the rough open sea made it difficult not to stumble.
The salty spray of the ocean dampened my skin, as I looked over the side of the ship at the rough, choppy water. I had never seen anything so magnificent in my life. I had never ventured far from the convent grounds before. The furthest I'd ever been was to the market to buy groceries. I'd never visited the port, or marvelled at the ships that came in to dock there.
It was at this moment that I realized that I hadn't lived. I had only ever read the small selection of approved books that the sisters permitted us to read.
I had always wondered what it would be like to experience an adventure of my own, just like the characters in the storybooks I read. Now I was! I would have something extraordinary to tell Petr when I returned.
Konrad handed me a cloak to put around my shoulders. I gratefully accepted it and wrapped it around myself, shivering as I stood there in my thin, cotton nightdress and bare feet. The chilly breeze was unpleasant and teamed with the ocean spray, it left a trail of gooseflesh along my skin.
"Those women down there... are they drugged?" I asked Konrad.
I was staring straight ahead, yet I could see him out of the corner of my eye standing beside me. With one hand, I reached out and gripped the side of the ship to steady myself. With the other, I clutched the cloak around me. The soft fabric flapped wildly in the wind.
"Yes," he answered.
He swallowed before continuing. "I don't agree with the methods. It is unusual for a woman to wake as early as you have. But then again, it's also unheard of to volunteer one's self of their own free will. The women we take are usually brought here against their wishes. They are sought out by their scent, and then they are exchanged for gold. We only accept the ones who we feel are destined to be Lycan brides. We're not monsters, Amara. In time, you will discover that for yourself."
"I won't be here long enough to find out," I replied, maintaining my gaze upon the distorted horizon.
My eyes narrowed, making out the wide stretch of land. As we approached, it seemed as though there were torches burning along the beach. The closer we got, the clearer it all became. There in the distance, was a magnificent stone fortress. As daunting as it was, the sight of it almost took my breath away.
"We're here," Konrad announced, beside me.