To None But Me

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Uphill Battles

Brigid’s crossing from Ireland to France had been short, the ship small and consisting of passengers and cargo. They’d had fair weather the entire time, and everything had passed without much incidence. As she boarded the ship La Belle, however, she was struck anew with anxiety. It’s sheer size hinted at the rough seas they were sure to encounter, and hundreds of sailors shouted over one another as they prepared for imminent departure.

Erik kept his hold on her, and for the moment she didn’t mind; he was the one thing she was the slightest bit familiar with amidst the chaos. They followed the Duke and the captain across the main deck, Brigid tripping every few steps, in part because of her large shoes, but also because she couldn’t keep her eyes off the main mast, its height making her head swim.

Soon engulfed by a dim hallway, her thoughts returned to this new predicament. The Duke knew them both, and was helping them, but she sensed there was something going on behind their masks. Why was he doing this, she wondered? What did he stand to gain from giving them a cabin before shipping them off to an uncivilized colony?

“This is the best I can do. Door bolts from both sides. I’ll expect you to report to my first mate in an hour,” the captain said, nodding to both men before trudging off. With a smirk, the Duke slid the bolt and opened the door to the quaint cabin. Brigid peered around Erik, surprised at the ample amount of space.

“After you,” he said, allowing the pair inside. Erik released Brigid as they entered, and she took the opportunity to shuffle away from the men, standing in the corner as she searched her surroundings, her back protected by the polished wood wall. One bed, a vanity, a chair, and one circular window that offered a rather substantial amount of light—all was theirs for the impending journey.

“Thank you, again,” Erik’s deep voice said. Brigid watched their exchange with wary eyes, fingers gripping the bed frame as fear began to take root in her gut. The Duke grinned, tilting his head to a trunk in the corner.

“I took the liberty of having your possessions brought here. There are a few items for your bride as well—I believe my niece is near the same size. I hope this eases your journey a trifle.”

Brigid felt her eyes widen, but her shock was replaced by a quiet fury. She didn’t want this man’s help, no matter how kind he seemed. His damn nephew had been the one to send her to the hospital in the first place.

“I must again apologize to you, miss. Given the circumstances, this was the best I could do.”

Erik glanced down at Brigid, apprehension in his gaze. He seemed worried she’d spout off to the man attempting to help them, and though she wanted to, she bit her tongue and nodded. Her fear of retribution from her new husband was growing with every passing moment, choking her.

The men shook hands, saying their goodbyes, and with a tilt of his head, the Duke disappeared. Left alone, Brigid felt the walls closing in around them. Would it be now? Would he wait until tonight? She gripped her fingers, wringing them until they were numb as Erik rifled through the trunk, his sturdy back to her.

After a moment of searching, he sat on the wooden chair, throwing off his slim shoes and tugging on a pair of wool stockings and sturdy boots before tying his dark blond hair into a strange style—half up in a bun with the rest still hanging across his broad shoulders. With a sigh, he stood, towering over her and engulfing the light from the window. Brigid cowered, backing up until she hit the wall. He frowned.

“I’ll be back by dark, liten. I’ll bring food,” he said, waiting for any reaction. She attempted to glare at the name he once again called her, but her heart was about to beat out of her ribcage.

“Stay put. There’s not a man on this vessel I trust,” he said, icy blue eyes staring into her soul, it seemed. Without another word, he turned and disappeared, as though this were his natural habitat.

***

Brigid took her time in front of the vanity mirror, scrubbing her face until it was a bright pink, scrubbing her hair until no scent of her cell clung to her, scrubbing her body as though she could cleanse herself of her late husband’s incessant attacks. She shook the entire time, the water in the basin cold, turning black before she was satisfied. Tears streaked down her face as she rubbed her nose, berating herself for this weakness she was allowing to seep forth.

The only thing on her mind was what lay ahead. She’d never known the love of a man. She’d never known pleasure. Just pain, emptiness. She had been nothing more than a whore to her husband, one he’d paid handsomely for.

And here she was again, awaiting the unknown.

Every time footsteps sounded down the hall, she would erupt in shivers, clutching the fabric of the shift she’d found in the trunk. Her hair was dry by the time the sun began to set, and she’d paced the space enough times to have memorized how many steps it took, which boards groaned under her weight.

Night fell, and Erik had yet to return. She lit the candles as a steady wind picked up outside, still unable to coax herself into calmness. The door rattled, her heart leaping into her throat. Erik stomped his way in, carrying a tray of food and a flagon of wine. He shoved the door shut with his foot, eyes searching for Brigid, a small smile forming on his lips when he found her.

“Dinner,” he said, raising the tray before setting it on the vanity. Brigid said nothing, just stood near the bed as she had earlier, twisting her fingers. He sat, glancing at the dirty water in the basin, and Brigid panicked. Would he be angered she hadn’t retrieved fresh water? Would he beat her for using it before he’d had the chance?

He tugged off his boots, tossing them aside, before leveling her with a stare.

“Do you prefer to stand and eat?” he asked, face serious enough, but with a hint of humor to his tone. She was perplexed by this, frozen to her spot still. He stood, and Brigid jumped back.

“I’m sorry!” she yelped. Erik stopped his advance, feeling rather confused.

“I’ll…go fetch clean water…” she said. He chuckled, shaking his head.

“Go on and eat, liten. I’ll leave you be and fetch the water myself.”

He left as quiet as he’d come, and Brigid felt his absence this time. Dread still plucked at her, but her growling stomach propelled her forward to the tray. She ate her fill, shoveling the grapes and bread and cheese into her mouth with abandon.

Erik stood on the other side of the door, watching her devour her first full meal in a month, a heaviness settling upon his shoulders. He’d seen that look in her eyes before, that frightened, timid stare. She was brave until she couldn’t be anymore. It was clear she’d been abused, but by whom or for how long, he wasn’t sure.

All he could do now was show her that he wouldn’t be the same monster, and he knew this battle was just beginning.

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