By Tom Foster
She was different, that was all there was to say. Caylin trudged along with the leather strap of a bucket of slops in one hand and her other balled into a fist. For a girl her age and her size the bucket should have been exceedingly heavy, perhaps even too much so, but she handled it just fine without spilling any over the sides. The bucket might as well have been filled with feathers for all she felt the weight. At the current moment her mind was more upon the latest round of insults that had been tossed her way by the other children of the village just yesterday. At eight years of age Caylin had tried to grow out of the furious temper she had inherited from a distant relative, or so she was told, but she found it was simply too difficult. Little William Mclatchey had been deserving of the black eye and missing tooth she’d given him, the little bugger had thrown a ripe apple at her and bruised up her eye! Of course it had healed before the next day dawned, but that didn’t matter to Caylin. Unfortunately it mattered to the rest of the village.
The Mclatchey’s, William’s father Wallace in particular, had not seen the innocence of his boy being brutalized for such a small slight. Her own father had tried his best to placate the man, telling him that of course she would seek to defend herself, but that of course had only infuriated Wallace all the more. From that point on William had not had any more dealings with Caylin, one more individual she was not allowed to converse with in any manner. The number of children she spoke to within the village could be counted on one hand, and even they weren’t encouraged to speak more than a few words to her.
She had only two girls her age that could be considered friends, but they too were watched over carefully by their parents, who often scolded the girls for speaking to her. Caylin’s heritage as far as anyone knew was unquestionable. Many among the village had heard of the birth and a few had even been in attendance, which should have dispelled any rumors that had come from the strange appearance from her eyes. Aside from this she looked just like anyone else, blonde of hair and slight of build as was normal for her family. Her siblings, three brothers and four sisters, had no visible defects as she did, nor did they seem to care about her eyes. Her parents on the other hand were a different matter.
Caylin had heard more than once that her father had debated throwing her into the river once she’d opened her eyes, but her mother had refrained from such thoughts. She didn’t want to believe this, thinking it was only the cruel taunts of the children that had been told to shun her. When she chanced to look in her father’s eyes every now and then however Caylin saw something there, some absence of parental concern, or even love, that made such a rumor far easier to believe, and it broke her young heart. Her parents tried to love her, but she was far too different from her siblings, no matter that she was still their daughter.
Her siblings had stuck up for her more than once, though after eight years of such abuse, catcalls and jeers from the other children of the village Caylin had grown far too tough to have to hide behind her older siblings. She’d told them more than once that she could take care of herself, which was true in fact. At a young age each child within the village was taught the hard lessons of life, though many would not fully understand until they reached adolescence at the very least. At eight years old Caylin had learned far more than she’d wanted to, though it had toughened her in ways she still did not wish for.
She was far tougher than any would give her credit for, except maybe William Mclatchey of course. Caylin had the strength of a grown man already at her young age, as the bucket of slops in her left hand proving as much as she held it so easily. With her other fist she was prepared for anything, any slight or hurled object that came her way, granted if she could see it of course. She’d grown use to the abuse and cruel ways of the other children, no matter how terrible they became. Caylin knew somehow that she could be far worse.
Trudging slowly through the village square on her way home Caylin recalled the latest dream she’d had, one of many that had began to plague her once she had turned the tender age of four years old. She’d woke screaming in the middle of the night several times until her father had threatened that she’d sleep with the pigs if she didn’t stop. While this hadn’t frightened her, the man’s callousness had been ample warning for her. Caylin had been comforted by her elder siblings time and time again, but not once by her parents. Her brothers and sisters accepted her, but the two that had given birth to her would not, making her life that much more difficult, and thereby making the dreams all that much harder to withstand.
In her dreams she was always standing upon a vast gray expanse of sand, she could actually feel the soft texture of the landscape beneath her bare feet. The view she’d been afforded in the dreams was such that she appeared to be much taller than she was now, a disorienting experience that had only added to her terror. Waves rolled into shore within her dream, pounding hard against the soft sands as she watched, darkening a full half of the beach she stood upon. Winds whipped the gray landscape along in gentle ribbons of motion, brushing by her feet and ankles as she watched.
Caylin had at first thought the dream was something wonderful, a peace of mind she’d not been afforded in her own life. The sweet smell of the salt air coming in off of the water had filled her nostrils, causing her to close her eyes in absolute pleasure. This had been the beginning of the dream, the pleasant feel that she somehow belonged here, that this was more of a home than her parents’ home had ever been. Here she had felt at home, at peace, with no one to tell her she was unwanted, no one to tell her she was different. Here she had felt as though she was just right.
And then the dream had changed. Shadows had plunged the entire world within her mind into darkness, disgorging wave after wave of sickening, leering things that had snapped and clawed at her, seeking to drag her away to the dark where they would tear her apart and consume her. With the surety of all children Caylin knew that this was what the hissing, snapping things had wanted. They’d wanted to take her back to whatever hells they’d come from, where they would devour her just as all children knew would happen. But that had not happened.
A gleaming sword, far larger than any she’d seen within her village, had appeared suddenly in her hands, her grown-up hands, hacking and slashing with such precision and terrible might that the darkness had wavered and broken around her. Caylin had not understood what was happening, nor had she been comforted as her strange weapon had cleaved aside the dark and horrifying creatures. That had been when she had awoken screaming more often than not, drenched in sweat and with sore muscles that felt as though she’d been carrying about stacks of rocks for days on end. Her siblings had comforted her, urging her back to sleep, but Caylin had never been able to fall back into slumber after such episodes, always remaining awake until the day finally dawned. What was even stranger was that she never felt drained after such sleepless nights, waking with her family to trudge through another day.
“Hey there she is!” Caylin heard the young voice of William Mclatchey, though she ignored him for the time being. She was just passing the cooper’s dwelling as she continued to make her way through the village, intent on one more stop before she would begin the trek back home. Her family lived on their homestead nearly three leagues away, a good trek for anyone be they adult or child. She’d been sent into the village on her own today, her siblings were tending to the farm and her parents had tasks of their own to do. That she wouldn’t even be allowed one person to come with her just reminded Caylin of her place in life, that of a disappointment and something to be used not unlike a beast of burden. It was her life, no matter how much she detested it.
The sound of several running feet caught her attention as she kept walking, her right fist tightening just a little as she made her way along. She knew what was coming, or at least could suspect, but she didn’t want to turn around.
“Devil’s whore, devil’s whore, sat around and asked fer more!” Laughter followed William Mclatchey’s words as he and several other children came closer and closer, closing the distance between themselves and Caylin as she fully expected a rock or some other hard object to come hurtling at her any moment now. It was the cruelty of children that they could say and do such things without fear of going to hell, no matter that as adults they would fear such dire consequences. She’d learned the hard way though that at this age, anything was fair game.
“You mind yer tongue now Mclatchey, lest yer father hear o’ yer foul words!” Caylin didn’t even look up to see who had defended her, knowing full well that the adult in question had not done so for her sake. It was not considered proper for children to speak thusly in front of adults, and Mclatchey’s father would no doubt hear of his transgression anyway. Caylin wondered though if William would be smiling during the hiding his father would give him, content that he’d said what he felt was right.
Whatever response William gave the man who’d spoken out against him was lost on Caylin as she continued to trudge forward, fully intent on the blacksmith’s forge that lay only a short distance ahead. She was to pick up the new shoes that the rotund man, a kind enough soul named Marcus, had crafted for their draft horses back on the farm. Of all the village folk the big man was the most kind to her, in fact he was always glad to see Caylin, as though he didn’t mind her presence at all. Caylin could admit to liking the man, he always treated her nice and never gave her the wary glances that all others seemed so inclined to reserve just for her.
Perhaps it was because Marcus was, or at least had been, an outsider for much of his life within the village. His skills with the anvil, hammer, and forge had more than earned him a place here, but his undeniable heritage had placed him apart from the others for longer than Caylin had been alive. The big man was darker of skin that any of the other folk, though he was not completely dark like some of the few strangers that Caylin had seen roaming the countryside. Her father had called such men “darkies” on account of their skin color, but to date Caylin had never known the strangers to exhibit the strange and terrible behaviors that her parents had whispered about when they’d thought their children weren’t listening. Marcus was a gentle man, but she could tell from the corded muscles of his arms and shoulders that he could no doubt snap a man in two if he were so inclined.
“She canna talk e’en!” William’s cruel, laughing voice, “The devil musta really choked ‘er out lads!” There was more laughter that followed the boy’s words as they came closer, their footfalls perhaps only a few paces away as Caylin looked up, seeing that Marcus’s forge was only a few dozen strides away. If she kept going, didn’t look up and didn’t give the boys reason to continue their cruel fun then maybe she could make it.
As a hand reached out to snag her bucket however Caylin knew already that it was too late. Caylin felt the boy tug hard on the bucket of slops, so she tugged back just as hard, denying him any easy opportunity to wrest the bucket from her. The wooden bucket did tip however, spilling out a healthy portion of the foul gunk that her parents had sent her in to retrieve for the pigs. The sound of the foul remnants splatting against the hard dirt ground angered Caylin even as she turned around, scowling heavily as she saw how many children had decided to join in William Mclatchey’s latest bit of fun.
“Whatcha got in the bucket demon-witch?” William asked, his voice taunting as she could see it was him that had grabbed at her load. Caylin yanked it back before he could secure his hold, taking a step backward as she nearly stumbled over a loose stone. The boy smiled crookedly at her, showing the missing gap in his teeth she had caused. The flesh around his left eye was still black and blue, though it had not closed so badly that he couldn’t see out of it. She couldn’t help but think that she should have hit him again and again, maybe shattering more teeth and blackening both of his eyes. Of course that would have only worked even further against her.
As she looked closer however at the boy she noticed something else, a curious black spot that marred the boy’s skin just beneath his bruises. Caylin thought little of it though as William stepped forward, his cruel smile reaching all the way to his brown eyes as he reached for her again.
“Ye just let me alone William Mclatchey!” she yelled at him, backing away another step. The boy kept advancing however, followed closely by the five friends he’d brought with him. It was a travesty really that those within the village square would do nothing. Oh they would holler and shout at the boys to leave off, but other than that they would do nothing until she happened to defend herself, as it was becoming apparent she might have to do. Then it would be her fault, it would be Caylin that could not hold her temper, there would be little if any mention of the boys that had attempted to gang up on her. That part would cease to matter, because she was the devil’s-touched child, she was responsible for everything. No one would dare say this aloud, but she knew it was what they thought. Everyone except Marcus thankfully.
“Or what devil-whore?” William asked menacingly, balling his own fists as he approached her, “What’ll ye do to me this time witch?” His voice was low and husky as he leered at her. Caylin didn’t like that look, it made her more than a little uncomfortable and what was worse, she’d seen other men look at women that way. Her father had been honest with her concerning what it meant, and to see it on the face of someone so young was less than pleasant. It was a look that promised dire things to come, a look that was meant to scare and did far too good a job of it.
She knew that Marcus’s forge was growing closer with each passing step, but perhaps that was why William was advancing upon her with each passing breath. He had to know that the big man was protective of her, hells the entire village knew this. Marcus’s business had faltered just a bit when this had been discovered, but those who knew the big man well enough only warned him against associating with her, they did not stop coming to him for his wares altogether.
“Come on witch, we just want t’play is all.” William said through his cruel smile. Caylin could just guess what type of “play” the boy was speaking of. She’d not be going home with anything less than a mouth full of broken teeth and perhaps a broken bone or two if the boy had his way. She didn’t want to lash out at the boy again, she’d had enough trouble over his simple arse, but in that moment Caylin wanted nothing more than to bash William over the head with her bucket and keep on until the boy’s face was nothing but a bloody pulp. Her anger was such that she could feel her right fist beginning to hurt from clenching so hard. She could knock the boy down with one hit, she’d done it before, but this time she feared that she might not stop.
“Here now, what are you boys doing? Unless your father’s sent you here specifically be gone from my stoop and leave the girl alone.” The deep, rich bass of Marcus’s voice was like sweet music to Caylin’s ears as she saw William tense, his smile fading away like a wisp of cloud as he looked up and then back to her. His cruel veneer melted almost instantly as William looked upon the massive form of the blacksmith. Marcus was an imposing figure to even the adults of the village, so it was that he seemed as a giant to children, a fact that Caylin was rather grateful for.
“We weren’t doin’ nothin’ blackie!” William protested, his eyes widening as Caylin could only guess at the look on Marcus’s face. The blacksmith was indeed a much darker shade than anyone else within the village, but he didn’t like being reminded of this by children or adults. As Caylin turned to regard the man she could see him standing behind her with one large hand wrapped around the haft of his hammer and the other held loose at his side. His fingers were larger than two of hers and thick, so thick that it was hard to believe he was dexterous enough to be one of the finest blacksmiths within the land. He’d been commissioned by more folks than Caylin believed existed outside of her little world, he’d even told her so.
Marcus was not a prideful man, but he did fully enjoy his trade and the joy it brought others. When he crafted a weapon, a tool or even a simple horseshoe it was a matter of joy to him. The man lived for his profession, though from the stories he’d told Caylin there was reason for this that he had already professed not to treasure, a cause for his joy with the forge that he would not divulge to any, not even her. It was a secret that he seemed intent to take to his grave, a secret that Caylin could not help but respect. She liked the big man, that was enough.
“Here now Caylin, inside.” Marcus stepped aside just enough so that she could move by, but not before casting a hateful glance back to William Mclatchey before she disappeared into the dark, comforting recesses of the forge. Marcus’s abode was little more than a cot and a wash basin set a good enough distance from the forge at which he plied his trade. The heat within the domicile never truly faded, though now it was just comfortable enough. As she made her way to the room’s only other seat Caylin bowed her head out of habit to the image of Jesus Christ that was nailed to one of the mud-brick walls of the dwelling. A massive chimney dominated the far right corner of the hut, allowing the poisonous smoke that resulted from the forge’s use to billow up and outside, allowing the room to remain safe for others. The far right of the room was left open, looking out upon the east portion of the village square so that both light and customers could enter the space without feeling too confined.
“We’ll be waitin’ devil’s whore!” William called, glaring up at Marcus as he did. The blacksmith did not advance on the boy, but neither did he move aside.
“You’ll do no such thing boy, lest your father forgets just who mends his blades and tools when fools such as his sons break them.” Marcus’s voice was heavy and extremely judgmental, though Caylin knew he would never dare refuse business to those who had proven to be good enough to pay on time for his services.
Though she couldn’t see him Caylin imagined William puffing up as he shouted, “Ye’d do better to speak t’me as ye should blackie! Me father’ll gladly go t’find another blacksmith what doesn’t consort with the likes o’ her!”
“Be gone now you little cur, lest my hammer find your tender backside.” There were laughs from the other boys at Marcus’s insult, though Caylin knew William wouldn’t let such a thing slide easily. As though to prove this she heard the boy yell again, though this time it was a wonder that Marcus didn’t simply plant William on his pert little arse.
“Go mount her then blackie! Tell the devil what he’s missin’! Me father’ll be hearin’ o’ how ye liken t’ children then!” The sound of the boys retreating after this reached her ears as Caylin felt her cheeks flush, the shame of having to retreat before such a foul little grub like William causing her no end of humiliation.
The sound of Marcus returning to his forge reached her ears as she sat with her eyes closed, her cheeks flushed in shame and her lank blonde locks hanging around her face. The blacksmith didn’t come to her directly, though he never did really. He always gave Caylin her space, as though to stand too close would be to encourage the foul words that William spoke so often.
“So then, your father has sent you to fetch the horseshoes he needed, correct?” Caylin managed to open her eyes as she met Marcus’s gaze, noting that the man had hunched over so that he could look her in the eye. As always his dark brown gaze was warm, comforting and completely accepting. Not even her parents could look at her with the respect that this man showed, could not make her feel accepted as Marcus did. Maybe it was because he too was an outsider, so he understood what it was like to be looked at differently.
Nodding once she managed a weak smile as the man smiled in return. Rising to his feet with a mild groan, she could hear joints popping and crackling within the mountainous man, Marcus strode over to his forge, settling his hammer down carefully upon the edge of the waist-high stone that ringed the fiery pit. Or at least it was waist-high to him, which meant it was well over Caylin’s head.
“You’d be better off just punching that foul boy like you did last time little one,” Marcus spoke, laughing lightly as he did, “The trouble you’d find for such an act would be far less than the satisfaction gained.” Caylin’s smile grew a bit as she rose to her feet, warming as she always did to Marcus’s kind words. It would have felt good to hit William she agreed, but in the long run it would have made things worse for her family.
As she approached the big man she saw something she couldn’t identify on his left arm, a sort of blotch on his skin that she was sure she hadn’t seen before. Marcus hardly wore anything to cover his arms despite the intense heat of the metal he worked with, claiming that it was more stifling than protective. He’d earned a few scars along his long life, these stood out as livid patches of darkness along his heavily muscles arms. But Caylin knew those, she’d even touched a few of them after asking his permission once or twice. The scar tissue had been thick and quite smooth to the touch, far unlike the normal, toughened skin of his arms. As she looked closer thought she could see that the dark blotch was not raised as the scars were, it seemed almost sunken into his skin, not unlike a blemish of some sort.
Looking up to meet his gaze Caylin saw Marcus watching her, a sad look coming to his eyes as he noted what she’d been looking at. Caylin dropped her gaze almost immediately, unsure of what to say as she took a step away. The blotch was somewhat akin to the one she’d seen upon William’s eye, though it was far larger. She didn’t want to say anything, but it looked far too like something she’d seen before, something that had very nearly been the doom of her father nearly three winters past. It looked like plague.
* * *
Eight years and many lives later Caylin didn’t have to worry about William Mclatchey or any of his cronies. The black spots she’d noticed upon both the cruel boy and her friend Marcus had spread throughout the whole of the village with a speed that had been uncanny, though none had felt the true effects of the plague until several months after their appearance. When the first person had succumbed to the plague, for that was what it had been dubbed, she had of course been blamed.
The villagers had shunned her, not allowing Caylin to interact with any of them, not even their children. In the passing years between her childhood and her adolescence even the two girls that had been her only tentative friends her age had avoided her. She’d been left alone, not even William Mclatchey and his friends would dare to approach her, fearful that she would kill them outright. Only Marcus had still welcomed her into his presence, his weakening smile still warm enough to tell Caylin that he accepted her.
During his final days Marcus had taken to speaking often with her when she’d ventured away from home, desperate to find someone who would still talk to her. Caylin’s siblings, who had all been affected by the plague, had ceased speaking to her or even standing up for her, treating Caylin much the same way as everyone else did. That she hadn’t been driven out of the province yet was simple, the villagers and those who’d heard rumors were far too concerned over what she would do to them if they harmed her or in any way stood against her. She was seen as the plague-bringer, the right hand of the devil as it were, and as such was granted an immunity to their physical retribution that was hard to believe.
Only Marcus still accepted her, though his business had suffered. He was forced to forage for his own food, to eke out a living taking commissions for those who did not hold to the same beliefs as the villagers that had in effect shunned him as well. There were still those that had admired his work enough to disregard the superstitions of others, thereby giving him at least something to live on.
“You are no devil,” he’d told her more than once, between the coughing fits that had gripped him once the plague had swept its devastating way into his body fully. “You are a unique creature Caylin, but one of both beauty and mystery, not of evil.” Caylin had shook her head against these words, trying to deny what Marcus said, but the large man had not accepted her denial. He’d known he was dying, that the plague was rotting him away from the inside out, but he hadn’t cared it seemed.
“We all die,” he’d told her, “But only those are afraid of death will cling to life.” Caylin had felt tears rolling down her cheeks more than once as she’d spoken to Marcus, she hadn’t wanted to lose the big man, not when he was her only true friend, the only reason she had for remaining in this unforgiving land.
Marcus had talked with her far more than before as he’d grown ever sicker, his words coming slower and thicker as the plague had progressed. He had spoken of his life, of his past, which Caylin had known not to interrupt. The man had spoken of things in delirium that he might well have kept secret had he been in his right mind, but she had not stopped him. Somehow the young girl she’d been had known to let Marcus speak, to allow his sins and his soul to become bared as he had continued, telling her of what had come before the life he’d led within the village, of the things he’d done before coming to this land.
Caylin had listened intently as Marcus had spoken of his life upon the harsh and demanding plains of his homeland, a desert region where only the strongest had been fit to survive. He’d been a warrior among his people, a fierce and respected figure of power that had dominated all that lay before him. There had been in his life a woman, a fierce beauty he had spoken of with such fondness that it had nearly made Caylin’s heart break. She knew her father loved her mother, but the passion and intensity that Marcus spoke with had forced Caylin to realize that the emotions between her parents were far more utilitarian than anything, a means to an end, a way to keep the Mcullough line strong and flowing, nothing more. What Marcus spoke of, his feelings for this lost woman, Taegan her name had been, was so much more, a fire that had never quite been extinguished as she’d listened.
The name of his love had meant “fierce one” as he had described, a fitting name for a woman who had followed him through hells unlike Caylin had ever heard. Marcus had ruled over his people with a kind but iron fist, seeing to their needs and yet demanding much of them. The people had loved him so he said, they had followed him just as Taegan had, but in the end they too had been gripped by the same disease that even now darkened his skin in black, unhealthy blotches. Taegan had succumbed as well, he’d told her tearfully, suffering far worse than any warrior should ever have to.
It was a far better fate to die in battle, so his people had believed, than to be taken by sickness. It was a dishonor that the gods would not look favorably upon, a disgrace that could not be forgotten. Marcus had closed his eyes as he had told Caylin how much she reminded him of his long lost love. There had been nothing save respect in his voice as he had said this, none of the feelings that a man had for a woman, only a deep and well-earned understanding that she had felt.
It was thus as Marcus had breathed his last that Caylin had made her decision. Soon she would quit this place, she would find her own path, and she would make sure that his memory would never die. Of course, eight years later here she was, still promising herself that she would leave, that she would pick up and go. Caylin had secretly taken only two of Marcus’s possessions, those she had known the large man would have wanted to keep from being destroyed along with his dwelling. The villagers had done so to many homes after the plague had swept through their province, figuring that the fire would no doubt cleanse away the filth that had spread from home to home. Caylin did not know if this was true, but the two items she had taken from Marcus’s home would be forever with her.
Her siblings were dead, eight years gone and still she took the blame for their passing. Caylin’s parents had allowed her stay within their home still, but she was like a ghost. They did not speak to her, did not interact with her unless it was absolutely necessary and treated her much like a stranger. Caylin didn’t mind so much, it was better this way, especially considering that she was going to be leaving soon.
She’d finally come to the courage that she’d felt upon Marcus’s passing, finding the spark within her heart that had finally allowed her to decide that this was no longer her place. It hadn’t been for many years, though now it was far more so. She did not belong here, no matter that it was where she’d been born. Her place was within the wider world, somewhere she could not imagine but knew she belonged. Where that place might be she still couldn’t imagine, but Caylin knew in her heart that she would find it someday.
Her parents wouldn’t miss her, Caylin was sure of this. Ever since the death of her siblings they’d retreated into themselves, no doubt figuring that they would have been better off not having her. She couldn’t guess as to why none of her other siblings had been afflicted with the qualities that set her apart from other people, but Caylin knew that her parents were tired of trying any longer. The village they’d belonged to had barely anything to do with them any longer, leaving the Mculloughs to fend for themselves. Her father had done much of the foraging and had even learned how to make do with his tools when they’d broken or become beyond repair. It was a much harder life, but they’d adapted.
Caylin could no longer adapt here, she had to leave. Things were changing within the land, she could sense it as much as anyone. It was time for her to go.
* * *
Leaning idly against the port rail of the latest ship she’d decided to crew upon, Caylin, no Taegan, her name was Taegan now, stared out upon the vast blue waters of the rolling ocean that lay in front of her. The salt air breezed in gently to shore, tousling the blonde locks she’d left unbound beneath her large, floppy-brimmed hat. She’d acquired the head covering only a year before on her trek eastward, purchasing it for several coins, more than she’d cared to part with, at a bazaar within eastern Egypt. It was a small thing really that did little to hide her pale skin and unusual heritage, but it worked more often than not. It was enough that she was far lighter in skin tone than many of those who called these regions home, but her eyes marked her as something far worse than a foreigner, something she had grown rather tired of ever since leaving home.
She’d taken the name of Taegan to honor both her friend and the woman he had loved so dearly, finding that it fit her quite well. Caylin had done her best to live up to the ideals that Marcus had taught her each day, though the first few years had been the hardest. Now though, she was confident in both herself as well as her abilities, assured that she would be okay.
Fourteen years had passed and still she thought of home, though never with anything less than contempt. The only fond memory of that place had been her one and only friend, the large black man named Marcus that had taught her so much. Were that he here now, perhaps then she would not be forced to fight each and every day to make others realize that she was not the frail woman she appeared as. Garbed in heavy robes of dark material, with her floppy-brim hiding her eyes and the many secrets that lay behind them, Taegan found that she still could not escape the past she had run from. There was nothing dark about it, nothing that she’d done to earn her self-imposed exile, but she felt the shame just the same.
She’d traveled first to the borders of Ireland, making her way upon the first ship she’d managed to stow away upon. Only a few days into the journey she’d been found and nearly tossed overboard, but the captain, a good and honorable man, had taken pity on her. It had occurred to Taegan to offer scorn for such treatment, but her rumbling stomach and parched lips had been unable to agree. Thus she had taken the captain’s good graces, accepting his aid in finding her a place upon the vessel he’d commanded. It was there that she’d learned to sail and to earn her keep as a deckhand. It was also there that she’d learned how to fight.
The short-handled spear and hard, knob-ended club that she’d taken from Marcus’s dwelling were still with her, kept close by leather thongs she’d tied to each of their grips. She’d learned how to fight, how to defend and how to win even more so than her first teacher, the good captain who’d taken her as one of his crew, had taught her. Taegan had been through many battles within the past fourteen years, some simply to survive, others to satisfy the pride of bored nobles and their like who thought themselves better because of their birth into rich homes.
Taegan had no patience or love for those of noble blood, nor did she particularly care for those who’d had life handed to them. She was more a rough and tumble woman, given to drunken brawls, which were rare for her, and the company of men who took what they wanted when they could. She was no pirate, but neither was she a completely law-abiding citizen. That was perhaps why she was aboard a pirate vessel at this moment, and no doubt why she was considered one of the deadliest crewman that Captain Al-Assid had ever accepted on his vessel.
The corsair had a reputation among the many ports of what she’d learned was called the Middle East as being a hard and extremely violent man. That they’d berthed his ship, the Sea Tiger, within a port such as Mohka was hard to fathom, but the captain’s word was not to be questioned, not even by his deadliest fighter. So she accepted that they were within a peaceful port, no doubt one that was friendly with local authorities. She’d picked up tidbits here and there about certain ports, cities and neighboring communities where the locals did not care for such as those she traveled with now, though Taegan didn’t much care. If she were forced to fight her way to freedom it wouldn’t be the first time, nor would it be the last she was sure.
She didn’t get along with her shipmates, but each one of them knew to leave her alone, as did the captain. Their relationship was based on money and a mutual respect, nothing more. That she was tolerated among the crew was more than enough for her, Taegan knew that she would be moving on again soon enough. She’d not found her place within the world as of yet, though after well over a decade she was beginning to wonder if there was a place for her at all.
Marcus had told her there was, and that was all Taegan needed to remember. The man had told her honestly and without hesitation that she was not like others, that she’d been born for a different purpose. What that might not even he had been able to guess, but the big man had always been straight with her, always telling Caylin exactly what he thought. As Taegan sighed wistfully she felt the weight of the weapons she’d carried from his dwelling swing just a bit upon their cords, thumping against her legs as she straightened up. Maybe it was time to move on once more, and maybe Mohka was as good a place as any to do it. As she turned about to gaze at the ramp descending from the ship to the docks she made her choice. It was time.