Chapter Twenty Four
I awoke early the next morning, my body refusing to be lulled back to sleep by the gentle swaying of the docked ship. Turning my head, I saw that Lydia wasn’t asleep in her cot. After what Carter had told me last night, I had declined the security of sleeping in his locked study. I figured if I was with Lydia, Stone wouldn’t dare allow anyone near us.
Not seeing her there was very strange. She usually wasn’t up before the sun sat in the middle of the sky. I frowned and threw my covers off, softly padding up to the deck.
It wasn’t very often that the ship was this quiet. The sky was painted a beautiful purple as the sun was slowly making its way above the horizon. The entire crew was still asleep, and the only sound was the soft creaking of the ship and frustrated grunting coming from the center of the deck where Stone was sparring with Carter, his sword held awkwardly in his left hand.
“Relax your shoulders,” Carter instructed as he easily batted Stone’s blade away with his own.
“Bit difficult to do that when they’ve been burned worse than a block of wood, mate. I am relaxed as possible,” Stone snarled as he jabbed again, Carter sidestepping him.
“You don’t seem relaxed,” Lydia put in helpfully from where she sat on top of a box off to the side, swinging her feet.
He turned to glare at her and she shrugged innocently. Carter took that moment to slap Stone’s arm with the flat side of his sword. Stone whipped his head back with a scowl.
“Again,” Carter ordered.
Stone weighed the weapon in his hand as they squared off. This time, he waited for Carter to strike first, but it didn’t make much of a difference; Stone’s sword clanged to the floor all the same.
He gave an enraged cry, ripping his bandana off his head. “It’s no use!” he shouted. “I’d had years of practice with my right. I am not even sure my left hand is apart of my body with the way it struggles to do even the most mundane tasks.”
“That is your problem,” Carter said. “In order to fight, your blade must become an extension—"
“Of myself. I know. I am not a child. Though I am as untrained as one.” His gaze dropped to his arm in the sling.
“Pitying yourself is not going to make you any better of a fighter.” Carter readied his sword. “Again.”
“I can’t do it.” His voice was low as his gaze moved to glare at his sword where it still lay at his feet. Shaking his head, he yelled, “I can’t do it!” Stone kicked his sword, sending it flying to the other side of the deck, stopping only when it hit a wall of crates. “That’s it. I’m done.” He turned his back on his captain and trudged to the other end of the ship, his head down and bandana clenched in his fist.
Lydia gave Carter an apologetic look as she hopped down from her seat. “Don’t take his stubbornness too harshly.”
“He’s being childish,” Carter snapped after Stone. “We’ve only been at this a few hours.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Perhaps a bit more understanding from you would help him cope better.”
He actually looked offended. “Understanding—"
“In case you’ve forgotten, your closest—and possibly only—friend has lost a limb. And his back…” She shook her head as she looked over her shoulder to see Stone cringe as he leaned against the railing, the stance pulling at his wounded skin. “He has suffered unimaginable pain. I am sure sympathy from his captain and friend would help to ease it.”
Carter gazed down at the sword in his hand, the muscle in his jaw ticking rhythmically, not speaking for a moment. When he did, he said, “I am not the sort of person—"
“Oh, don’t you dare,” Lydia said sharply. “Do not dare hide behind that statement again.”
“I do not hide.”
“But you do,” she said, her eyes burning with anger as she glared at him. I often forgot how small Lydia was, but as she stood there facing off with the captain, I was reminded that she had to hardly be over five feet tall. And yet she didn’t back down. “You hide from everyone, all the time. And you always use that ridiculous excuse.”
His eyes glinted dangerously and I knew he was really making an effort to reign in his anger. “Do not pretend to know what I have endured—"
“But you see, that’s the difference, Pirate,” Lydia cut him off. “We have all suffered. Each and every human being, living or dead, has gone through trials that have left them broken and scarred, that have left them feeling smaller than useless pieces of glass in a shattered mirror, that have left them nothing more than a balled up rag on the floor, that have felt like they have plummeted over the side of a bloody mountain! We all know that fall, Carter. I know that fall. But every day I have worked to open my eyes and stare up at that mountain, to snap my broken bones back into place, to struggle to my feet and start walking. That, Carter, that is enduring.” She began backing away, speaking to him over her shoulder as she went to join Stone. “You want the world to believe you are strong. Give it a reason to.”
Carter stared after her like he couldn’t believe she had just said that to him, his jaw clenched but eyes wide. His chest inflated as he took a deep breath, his hair falling over his forehead as he dropped his head to look at his sword.
Broken. That’s what he had called himself. Standing there, sweating from his time sparring with Stone, shoulders curved forward as he studied the weapon in his hand, the gleam in his eyes dull, I believed it.
“If you have something to say,” Carter said, “then you might as well come out with it.” He looked up and his hazel gaze locked with mine from where I was peering from my hiding place.
Instinctively, I ducked behind a wall of crates, though I knew it was pointless. He had already seen me. Taking a deep breath, I rose and came around the crates, stopping several feet away from him.
He stared at me expectantly. “Well? Are you going to keep me waiting in suspense or are you going to speak?”
I ignored his rude remark and said, “Why did you want me to find that journal?”
He laughed without humor, sheathing his sword. “Do I have to have a reason for the things I do?”
“Everyone else does.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You mentioned a she. Who is she?”
He grabbed a long coat that had been tossed on the floor, putting his arms through it jerkily. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I want to know.”
“Too bloody bad.”
“Why do you do that?” I demanded.
“Try to make me hate you.”
He smiled. “I do not try, Elizabeth. It’s a natural gift.”
“We were friends, Carter,” I said, and he froze. “When we were children, we were always together. You trained me to fence and made me my favorite dessert and you knew my favorite flower and you were always there for me. You were kind and gentle and my best friend. What happened to you to make you this way?”
He didn’t say anything right away and I could see the questions flying through his gaze about how I could possibly know any of that. But he didn’t ask. Instead, he answered, “Life happened, Liz.”
He started toward the helm of the ship, about to brush past me. I wasn’t exactly sure what made me do it, but something forced my feet to step sideways and block his route, leaving him no choice but to meet my gaze as I asked, “Why was your name on that list?”
He didn’t speak, his hazel eyes unflinching, his face as stoic as ever. Though he didn’t say a word, I could see the answer in his expression, in the way he had to clench his hands to prevent me from seeing the shaking, in the way his entire body tensed, in the way his Adam’s apple bobbed before he was able to speak past the obvious lump in his throat. His voice was hoarse as he said, “You best get ready. Gretchen’s ball is tonight.” His shoulder bumped mine as he moved past me.