The Broken Throne: Chapter 1

 September 5th, 1453

The sun shone brightly in the late summer sky, its rays penetrating through the thick and leafy forest roof of Raven's Grove. There was a pleasant stillness in the desolate forest. Animals grazing kept alert for any possible intruders.

Suddenly, a rabbit perked its long ears at the whoosh of an arrow gliding through the trunks. The steel tip embedded itself a few centimeters next to the animal. The creature did not have to think twice as it ran for its life through the foliage, moss, and bushes of the forest floor. It gained speed as yet another arrow whooshed past it; closer this time.

The vibrations of hooves awakened more creatures in the woods as two riders rushed to catch the animal. One rider strung his last arrow, letting go of his reins mid-canter. His seating was secure as he held onto the eager stallion with strong thighs. He took a deep breath, keen eyes looking at the back of the rabbit as he aimed the weapon. The arrow released with his breath, gliding forward in an elegant arch as it caught its prey. The rabbit was dead as soon as the metal head had burrowed into its skin and flesh, tearing through its innards.

The horses took both riders to the dead animal. One man got down and put it in a bag.

"Did you see that shot, Magnus?" he exclaimed, gleefully pointing at the bow he held in his hand.

The other man—much younger—scoffed but could not help a grin spreading on his lips as he saw the proud look in his older brother's eyes.

"What I saw, Philip, was you recklessly letting go of your horse mid-canter to catch a mere rabbit," he teased. The dark eyes gleamed mischievously as he watched his brother sigh at him while he got back on the horse.

"Cocky now, are we? I guess you will continue giving me snarky comments until I take down a deer as well today?" Philip defended as he mounted. His steely gray eyes could not uphold his serious countenance as he arrogantly raised an eyebrow, something that had turned into a trademark gesture for the king.

"A deer or a hog, at least," Magnus continued. "But I fear your dumb horse has scared them all away with his insistent neighing."

The black stallion stretched his neck and let out a roaring neigh, pleased when his master patted his side. Philip's eyes wandered from the horse to Magnus for a few moments before he let out a burst of roaring laughter. The midnight black locks fell into his eyes and gave him a roguish air.

"I think Hannibal disagrees, Magnus," he chuckled while urging the stallion forward.

They continued their quipping as they continued scouring the forest. Somewhere in the distance, hounds had been released to help the other noblemen in the area locate prey as well. However, they never made any effort to shoot the larger animals they found. Instead, they would send a servant to inform the location to the king. Alas, no matter how many servants they sent, Philip never paid them any heed.

As the day progressed and the gentle winds stirred the forest roof, the woodland creatures picked up the scent of the humans who had invaded the green woods. After having taken down a pheasant, Philip decided that it was enough for one day. The young monarch longed to return to Adelton Hall.

They exited the thick foliage with the train of noblemen, hounds, and servants that had accompanied the two royals. All the way to the gleaming white castle raised high on its cliff, Philip and Magnus kept talking and joking with each other.

Philip Fell looked at Adelton Hall and took in its beauty. The fairy tale castle was outlined against the Durun Mountains where in a few months snow would paint the tops. Green forests surrounded it except for the front where a luscious green meadow with soft grass and white flowers rolled. A narrow road snaked through it to the town of Hayes. The yellow and orange rays of the now-setting sun bathed the castle in their colors, making it take on a golden sheen.

"I can never get over how beautiful it is here," Magnus breathed as he took in the surreal landscape.

Philip looked at the scene in front of him. Angloa blossomed like a flower in May.

"The mountains, the forest, the hills — everything has a power over me that I cannot explain. Whenever I am here, I feel at peace," Philip said as he turned to his brother, at least fifteen years his junior.

"To think you were crowned king four years ago. Time passes quickly when in such a place."

"Time passes quickly when one is happy," Philip mused. His lips parted a sliver, his face contorted into a mischievous look that soon overtook his handsome features. Philip stared at the castle in the distance. A dangerous gleam shone in his eyes as he turned to his brother.

"I will race you to the gatehouse!" Philip yelled, not giving Magnus time to react as he spurred Hannibal into a wild gallop. Magnus was soon behind, yelling curse words at his brother as the other laughed loudly.

February 23rd, 1520

The foul stench of fish and waste would not go away as her tired body lay sprawled on the messy bed. Christine found that she had no energy to move away from it. The dirty sheets surrounded her like a suffocating blanket, and she stared emptily at the dark interior wall of the ship.

Her mind was dull by now. She had spent too much time crying, and the tears had dried up. She only found a wrecking emptiness inside her as the waves of the Mediterranean rocked the galleon like a mother would rock the cradle of her child.

Braun locked her door these days. He had assured her several times that no harm would come to her as he had rushed her and his men to the docks. But Christine had never believed him, not as she had watched him shoot Mrs. Rochester. She had tried in vain to take the men down as they set to rape the younger maids in her townhouse. When she closed her eyes, she could still hear the raw cries claw at the walls of her mind as several of Braun's men took turns with the young women.

Christine had also not believed Braun's reassuring words as they bribed the merchant to take them to Cadiz. The merchant had sealed his own doom when Braun's men took over the ship, killing most onboard. However, the more seasoned sailors were allowed to join the ranks of the disgraced duke.

Christine had finally damned him when one of his men found her the first night, hidden in the small chamber provided for her.

Braun had gotten to her in time before any extended harm could be done. Even so, she really wondered if the blackguard had not damaged her, just a little. Yet another piece of her soul was stripped away since the loss of her father.

Her aggressor had been killed, of course. But what he had done to her could never be undone. Braun had professed his deepest apologies, but they mattered not to her. He had put a lock on her door and promised such a thing would never happen again.

Christine had cried for the first hours after having been touched by that disgusting man, horrified at what had been done to her body. She could feel the filthy hands running over her, tearing the gown, and pinning her down on the floor. She could feel the splinters of the dirty floor ride into her back as he mounted her, fumbling with his dirty hoses. It hurt. Not just in her body, but in her soul as rough hands forced her limbs still.

Christine had cried harder after, feeling dirty, soiled, and broken. He had never managed to fully take her, but he had been close enough for it to feel real.

She had never known much about making love, only that it was a necessary process to conceive children. But now that she saw a glimpse of what it might entail, she abhorred it.

After a few days of constant crying, she found herself exhausted. There were no more tears; only emptiness. She still wore the torn dress, and her back was still scraped and ridden with thick and painful splinters.

That was how Braun found her. She cared little for modesty as he walked in, not bothering to cover up her bare legs or naked back as he closed the door behind him. Braun could not ignore the twinge of guilt that ran through him at the sight of her. It was first when he neared her bed that she made any movement to get away from him.

Christine's wide eyes looked at him. Pain and despair filled them, but the frown and hatred soon overwon her fear. Braun put up his hands as a gesture of well-meaning.

"I will not touch you, nor will I hurt you. I swear it on my life," he said as truthfully as he could. It caused Christine to sneer. She pushed the dirty locks away from her face.

"Your words mean little to me," she growled, her voice still shaking. She ignored the pain in her back. The splinters had grown inflamed and Braun eyed them with concern. "As does your word of honor. I would never trust a traitor," she laced every word with venom, biting back the pain coursing through her back. Braun disregarded her words and continued looking at the red wounds.

"At least let me have someone tend to your wounds before they get worse," he coaxed.

She turned from him.

"Like you had that man of yours tend to me a few days back?" Christine tried to ignore the memory of him and shut her eyes. He said nothing.

"I will send someone over, whether you like it or not," Braun said haughtily.

He turned to walk out of the room, not keen on being in her presence for too long. Braun knew he had made a rash decision in taking Christine Vega with him like that. He had been infuriated at the moment, only wanting to hurt Hawthorne. But now he saw that it had been a foolish mistake.

"Tristan will find me." The words stung him more than they should have. Braun was surprised by the fire they held. He grew unnerved by the raging fire shooting out of her glassy eyes.

"I hope he slaughters all of you when he comes." She ignored the hypocrisy in her words. To think that only days earlier she had stopped her fiancé from killing Alistair and now Christine wished for nothing more than to see blood spilled.

Braun could not hide the smirk as he turned to face her. He had to bend down so as not to hit any of the beams in the low ceiling.

"Hawthorne is dead, I killed him myself," he said with a satisfied smile.

Her expression froze before it turned cold. Christine’s throat clenched up as she registered Braun's words.

"That is not possible," she whispered in disbelief. Yet a small part of her questioned herself. "If you killed him, it means you managed to overthrow James…" she trailed off. "And you wouldn't be running from Angloa."

"He sent for Lucius Chaeld to come with an army to the gates of Wessport. I had to flee, but I managed to slice him open before I did so," Braun lied.

Christine paled further as her hopes of being saved slowly vanished.

"I do not know if you ever got to see his face but if you didn't, be glad for it. I understand why he hid it now," Braun continued, the coldness in his voice sent shivers through Christine as she came to terms with her new reality.

February 22nd – Málaga

The morning sprung alive in the Spanish port as many ships from all over Europe arrived at the harbor. Although it was February, the sky was clear, the temperature pleasant yet chilly, and the sun warm. Its rays stretched far and wide, heating the bustling streets by the docks.

As they sailed in on the merchant ship, Lucius and Joseph watched in awe when the Alcázaba came in sight. The palatial fortification appeared so foreign and exotic to them. It stood on a hill, in the center of the city, overlooking the harbor — visible from the port itself. Trees surrounded the grand Moorish building, and it stood out like a rare jewel amongst the other buildings in the city.

Here seagulls cried out as they searched for fish that had been thrown out of the stalls. They would occasionally dive to steal some smaller fish when the vendors weren't looking.

The merchant ship docked and both Lucius and Joseph could not help but stare in awe at the unfamiliar sights and smells. Here trading ships unloaded their cargo to be sold to the highest bidder. Herbs, spices, metals, precious gems, fabrics, hides, and so on were packaged, inspected, and placed on carts.

They walked down to their quarters where they'd spent the last week as the ship had taken them from Wessport to the Iberian Peninsula. Lucius knocked softly on the door while Joseph waited outside.

"Come in," a weak voice said. Lucius opened the door, closing it behind him as he walked into the modest space.

On a small bed, Tristan Hawthorne rested in a thin cotton shirt and dark trousers, sweating profusely through his clothes. Even though the Mediterranean temperature was much milder than the cold, unfeeling winds of a snow-ridden Angloa, the air still held a chill to it.

"We have arrived," Lucius said as he went to sit beside the bed.

Tristan turned to face him. The whites of his eyes had a red tinge to them. The mask did not show how the rest of his face looked, but Lucius could see — from the little skin showing around his eyes and mouth — that he was pale. His lips had a purple tint, and he was clammy. Tristan's breath was shallower than Lucius would have liked.

"Good," Tristan mumbled with difficulty. He had not even the strength to lift his head from the pillow to stare out the small glass window that offered a view of the Spanish port.

Lucius stared at him for a while, his lips in a thin line. "How is the wound?" he asked, looking at Tristan's shoulder. It was bandaged tightly. However, even though Braun's knife had been thin and small, it had left a deep wound. It had festered during the journey. The second night, it had started to look red and irritated. Despite Tristan trying to keep it clean, the tainted air on the ship did little to help. On the third day, it became inflamed, swelling up, and turning into a painful obstacle for Tristan. He couldn't move his arm on the fourth day and on the sixth, puss started seeping from it. Joseph and Lucius grew worried. If it was left untreated, the infection would surely claim their friend.

"It's fine," Tristan lied, the usually strong and assertive voice was now a mere rasp. He made no effort to confirm his words. His left hand still lay unmoving by his side and the fever had not gone down.

"It is not fine, Tristan," Lucius said as he voiced his concern. His baritone voice turned grave. "As soon as we dock, we must get you to a physician, they will—"

"You may buy some herbs in one of the merchant's stalls that I will apply myself," Tristan argued weakly.

"I will do no such thing. I will take you to someone myself if I must," Lucius said.

"I do not trust the physicians here," Tristan argued. "We must take the next ship to Rome, lest we lose track of Christine and Braun," he said. In a delirious state, Tristan moved his arm. A heartbreaking cry of pain escaped him as the wound was moved as well; the puss leaking through the bandage. Lucius remained silent at the evident discomfort of the other. He sent his friend a reprimanding glance.

"We will help you off the boat and find a place where you can rest. You cannot go after Christine like this. You need all your strength and wits about you if we are going to outsmart Braun," Lucius argued. Tristan's eyes flashed with contained anger, but he had no strength to argue back.

After docking, the ramps to the ship were laid so the people onboard could descend. Joseph and Lucius supported Tristan. They placed a long cape around him with a deep hood to shield his integrity and deter curious onlookers.

When the three had descended, they stood in the middle of the harbor. The men and women bustled around them as they took care of their affairs. Neither Lucius nor Joseph spoke the local language. They had also never been outside of Angloa and found themselves lost in the foreign city.

"Perhaps we should try to find an inn?" asked Joseph as they looked around askance.

"I do not see an inn here," Lucius sighed as he supported most of Tristan's weight. He was crumbling under the size of the wounded man that leaned against him.

"We'll ask around." Joseph tried to remain positive, but the situation felt direr by the minute.

"Ask for a posada or a taberna," came a grunt from under the hood. Their concealed friend bit back the fatigue and pain, fighting through the dizziness that followed.

Joseph built up the courage and went asking around. He did not understand the answers he was given. But after a lot of patience and hand gestures the three of them wandered toward the center of the city until they found their destination.

The posada was situated on a busy and narrow street with whitewashed houses. Inside, people sat eating food and drinking the local wine while they spoke in loud voices. Joseph and Lucius kept widening their eyes at every turn, amazed by every new thing they saw. The innkeeper started speaking Spanish with them at an alarming speed that sent their minds spinning. All words became intangible as he kept sounding them out. He was shorter than them with black curly hair—not bothering to shave the small beard that was growing on his wide face. The nose was hooked and protruded from his face. It was proud, passionate, and arrogant; like both men perceived the Spaniards to be.

Tristan managed some words in Spanish and the innkeeper quickly showed them to a room with two beds and a thin mattress on the hay-covered floor. He required immediate pay and kept glancing at the hooded man as he was lowered down on the bed, resting his heavy head against the pillows. When the innkeeper left, Joseph and Lucius looked just as lost as they had before.

"What now?" whispered Joseph to Lucius.

They stared around the dark room. The wooden beams in the roof were old and the oak was dark. One corner held a small chair and table with a metal bowl. Outside they heard the busy pedestrians going about their business. Tristan's chest moved with effort as his breaths became shallower.

"We have to find someone who can help him," Joseph insisted. Lucius agreed with a silent nod. But which physician could help with such a wound? Not even a king's doctor would be able to do much. Lucius knew well that those dedicated to healing often did more damage than good.

"There is a family here that I knew long ago," Tristan's faint voice spoke after a moment's silence. The sudden sound broke through the stillness in the chamber. Both men lent him their ears as he caught their attention.

"You lived here?" Lucius asked in disbelief.

Tristan ignored him and continued. "The father had some experience in medicine. I trust him."


"On the outskirts of the city," he trailed off. The large form gulped for air under the cape and hood, his head and arm thumping in the same rhythm. The sweat had soaked through his shirt and standing close they could feel the heat radiate from him. Lucius and Joseph exchanged worried glances. There was no doubt that the small move from the ship to the inn had endangered his situation. If he did not get help before the day was over, they were worried they'd have to search for a priest instead of a physician.

"I will go. You keep an eye on him," Lucius said as he patted Joseph on the shoulder. Joseph removed his cape and placed it over a shivering Tristan.

By the door, Lucius glanced back at his friends. The directions he had gotten were barely enough to go on as Tristan lost lucidity. He would have to try as hard as he could, though.

Lucius started searching for the road that led to the outskirts of the city — to the old quarters. It took him a while and a lot of patience. He received some strange looks as he tried his best to ask for directions. Hand gestures got him around good enough.

The blond Angloan arrived at a section of the city where fewer people frequented. The air was different as well, more loaded than before. The space between the houses stood narrower, to keep the rays of the sun away during summer, no doubt. As he wandered the streets, he asked people if any of them knew Tristan. After what seemed like hours, Lucius was giving up hope.

He found a small fountain in a little plaza where he sat down. Somewhere a church bell rang, and the town seemed to have settled down as the afternoon progressed. He guessed it was time for supper.

Lucius placed his head in his hands, staring in defeat at the cobblestones. How could they go after Christine when Tristan lay like an invalid on his deathbed? Lucius started imagining the worst possible scenarios in his mind. He had always known himself to be pessimistic and now was no different.

While his occupied mind wandered, a boy came running after a kitten who tried to escape him. The boy couldn't have been older than twelve or thirteen and he was as thin as a twig. His skin was a shade darker compared to other Spaniards that Lucius had seen around town. It had a faint olive tone to it. The black tresses were a mess and his eyes widened as he saw the strange blond man stare back at him by the fountain. Lucius thought he had nothing to lose and tried to ask the boy.

At first, the youngling kept away as he thought Lucius to be very strange. He had seen few foreigners before, thus, having someone so close was unnerving for the young Spaniard. Lucius started growing impatient. The sun was already lowering on the sky, the once blue heavens now took an orange tint as the yellow orb dipped beneath the horizon — taking its warmth with it.

But when he mentioned Tristan's name, the boy suddenly lit up with recognition. Lucius could not explain more for he did not speak the language. The young boy took his hand and guided him through the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways until they stopped in front of a door. As he let himself be guided by the foreign boy, Lucius’ heart sped up with anticipation.

The houses of this street had a faded white tinge to the walls, the red brick that lay underneath had started showing through at some parts. The entry was a horseshoe arch made up of different colored bricks in faded reds and beiges. The material of the door was of delicate cedar, once probably strong and robust, now as faded as the rest of the doors in that part of town. He could see some windows higher up in the structure with intricate details carved into the stone around them. The patterns that made up the window above him were destroyed in some parts. Yet, he saw a lantern hanging by it, lit now that the sun was descending.

The boy knocked hard on the wood and waited patiently. A small section of the door opened, and a woman peeked through — a red veil covering her face, only allowing a view of dark enigmatic eyes. The boy said something and mentioned Tristan's name. The woman looked from the boy to Lucius, and he saw a delicate black eyebrow raise on her tan forehead. She ushered him inside quickly and looked around the street, making sure no one had seen them.

Lucius walked into what he could only describe as the most ornate and exquisite courtyard he had ever seen. Whoever had lived in this house had once been rich and perhaps even an important person in Malaguenian society. Alas, the riches of the house and courtyard had faded, merely a whisper of what they used to be.

In the middle of the rectangular courtyard, there was a rectangular reflecting pool. On the bottom of the pool, tiles, and mosaics in intricate mathematical patterns could be seen through the clear water. Opposite them was a gallery organized by poly-lobed arches — something Lucius had never seen before. The symmetric arches had carvings in the light stone as well. He could see faded paint lining the lower part of the columns, extending to the pillars that supported them. Beyond the gallery, a stairway of stone led to the second level. By the stairway, a horseshoe-arched doorway opened to another room bathed in light. There was much greenery in the courtyard. Blooming flowers lined the columns and the pool even though they were at the end of February. The walls parallel to the pool held windows, and he saw some curious faces look through them and hastily retreat when he met their gazes.

The woman stared long at him. In the light of the evening sun, Lucius could see the uncovered face of the cautious woman. She wore a dress in muted blues and reds, hugging her midsection and covering her arms and shoulders. A thin veil with fine embroidery was draped across her hair. The woman wore the graying hair away from her defined face. She looked Lucius up and down, frowning at his presence but tolerating it, nonetheless. Her severe voice spoke to the boy in a language that did not sound at all like Spanish. Her words were enough to send the boy away. She motioned for Lucius to follow her as she led him to the door at the end of the courtyard.

The room was high in roof; the interior sported the same style as the courtyard. Reds, yellows, blues, and copper were incorporated into the rich design. A low table was placed in the middle and soft cushions in red with detailed silk embroidery had to be the makeshift chairs, Lucius surmised. He sat down on one of them, surprised at the commodity they offered. He could sense the faint perfume of spices and oranges wafting through the house. In one corner of the room, stood a lonely orange tree in a big ceramic pot. The branches held small green fruits that would eventually mature into big, juicy oranges.

Suddenly, he heard steps and the woman reappeared from the courtyard, followed by another woman. She wore similar clothes but was much younger. Her dark hair peeked through the veil in soft glossy curls. She had the same olive tone to her tan skin. It looked soft and inviting. Her eyes were what really intrigued him though. They were like nothing he had ever seen. She never dropped eye contact as she sat down opposite him on a cushion by the table. He stared into the dark depths. At first, he thought they were as black as the older woman's eyes. But, in the light of the many oil lamps that hung from the ceiling — suspended by thin chains — he saw a hint of green in them. Even from a distance, he could smell her sweet scent; spices, orange blossoms, and something else he could not quite place. The woman frowned when it was clear that Lucius was staring at the younger woman, who could not have been over twenty.

"We bid you welcome to our house, sir." Her voice sounded more mature than she looked. Her accent was soft and welcoming, flowing like a sweet tune from her plump lips.

"You speak English?" was all Lucius could say after a pregnant pause. The question made her raise an inquisitive eyebrow.

"Of course," she answered matter-of-factly. She took the initiative when Lucius made no effort to continue the conversation. He was still a stranger to the two women in front of him, forgetting why he had come.

"I am Zoráida, this is my mother, Hala. The young boy you met was my brother, Ashiq," she drawled in her accent. Lucius had never before heard of such names. Slowly the wheels in his mind started turning. They were north of the city, still close to the center but it was clear that the Spaniards did not frequent this area. The people in front of him were not Christians he realized then — or they were newly converted. It should have been evident from the start, but Lucius had been too preoccupied with admiring the surroundings to ever take note.

"Well met, my ladies," Lucius said awkwardly as he nodded to both women. Hala continued to frown at him.

"My brother said you spoke of Tristan Hawthorne," she said, pronouncing Tristan's name with a Spanish accent.

"I am. He is here, in Malaga," Lucius explained. Zoráida's eyes lit up at the mention of Tristan's presence.

"Oh, then he must come for it has been very long since we last saw him," she said, smiling for the first time. Lucius's heart jumped a beat at her smile as it lit up her face. It did not seem as strict as it had before. It became softer, more feminine.

"Tristan is wounded and he sent me here because he believes you can help him… heal him," he continued. The truth was that Lucius had no idea how any of these women would be able to help. But then again, Tristan had been here before—he knew of the country and its ways.

Zoráida's smile faded as a painful memory seemed to surface. Hala noticed her daughter grow subdued by Lucius’ words. She asked her what they were talking about. When Zoráida explained, Hala recalled the same painful memory.

"Tristan must have been speaking of my father, for he was indeed a great healer," Zoráida began. "But he cannot help him now." Her words were stiff and short as if she did not wish to remember.

"Why not?" Lucius asked urgently. "Tristan has an infected wound on his shoulder that needs care now or he will not last the night, I am certain of it."

The young woman's dark eyes stared right into Lucius's clear ones, cutting into his very soul. It was almost as if she held a spell over him.

"My father is dead," she said, the tension rising with each ticking second. With those words, the hope of helping Tristan seemed less and less likely. She noticed how the foreigner in front of her despaired at her words. "But worry not, I learned much from my father before he passed. I will come with you and help Tristan."

"You?" Lucius could not help himself as the words escaped his mouth. Zoráida eyed him defiantly. The dark greens in her endless eyes seemed to gleam dangerously as she stuck her chin out, challenging him to question her again.

"You will show me to Tristan," she said. She exchanged some brief words with her mother who shook her head and raised her voice in disagreement. Zoráida ignored her.

"Very well," Lucius agreed. He hoped the girl knew what she was doing. A small part of him wondered if Zoráida might use more than herbs and ointments to heal. The prejudice of a woman healer being tied to witchcraft briefly touched his mind. But Tristan had little time and Lucius had nowhere else to turn.

The women guided him out to the courtyard again. He watched as it was bathed in the dying rays of the sun and transformed the space. The pool reflected the orange heavens just like the walls with strange inscriptions running along their edges.

Hala grimaced at Lucius the whole time he stood contemplating the alien courtyard. Even though faded, now drifted back with the sands of time, Lucius thought it vastly more impressive than what he had seen in Angloa. Perhaps it was the style of the architecture, its novelty, that inspired him so.

"My brother, Ashiq, will accompany us," Zoráida said, sneaking up behind him. The sudden nearness of the young woman made Lucius jump. The boy stood waiting by the cedar door with a serious look plastered over his face. Zoráida carried a small green sack that rested diagonally across her concealed frame.

"Fair enough," Lucius agreed. It would be safer to have the boy walk the girl home after she was done with Tristan.

Zoráida said her goodbyes to her mother and they were off to the inn. The siblings remained silent the whole way there. They would occasionally pass people coming back from the fields or the harbor as the day came to an end. Both the girl and boy cast their gazes to the ground, avoiding eye contact as much as possible. They had stepped out of their protected home and walked into another world. Although the boy could have passed for just any other boy on the street, Zoráida drew more attention with her deep eyes, slightly darker skin, and style of clothing.

They arrived at the inn while the first darkness of the night wrapped tightly over Málaga. Torches had been lit on the streets and she ordered him in a hushed voice to sneak her and her brother in through the back.

Lucius looked around for a back door in the dark, growing nervous as he feared being discovered at any time. For some reason, he felt like he was sneaking a lover into his home while avoiding his parents.

The inside was lively as more and more people streamed in to get some wine or beer after a hard day's work. The innkeeper was too busy serving his patrons to notice as the trio came in through the back and quietly walked up the stairs. Lucius blocked the view of the siblings if anyone chanced to look up at the stairs at that moment.

Joseph was pacing back and forth in the small space as he kept sending worried glances Tristan's way. The fever had kept rising since Lucius had left and there were moments when Tristan’s breath would stop briefly until it returned, uneven and shallow.

A soft knock sounded on the door — someone checked to see if it was unlocked. Joseph pushed his ear against it and was thankful when he heard Lucius on the other side. He unlocked the heavy door and three people rushed in.

Joseph's eyes widened at the sight of Zoráida and Ashiq. He sent Lucius a questioning glance, an eyebrow rising high on his forehead but he never questioned the peculiar siblings directly.

The young girl's eyes searched the poorly lit room until she found Tristan's large form sprawled on the bed. She cast away the shawl and rushed to his side, kneeling by his left shoulder, and carefully taking his gloved hand in hers. A pained expression expanded on her face as she took note of his state.

"Tristan?" she called with a soft voice, another hand sneaked up to his face and caressed it carefully. Tristan stirred at the touch and opened his eyes. It took him a while to gain focus his gaze. A face he could not place hovered above him, outlined by the dim light in the crowded room.

"Zoráida…" he trailed off, the voice merely an echo of what it used to be. He smiled as he recognized her. His right hand came to take her own, and he squeezed it gently.

"I see you haven't changed," she said as she scolded him, her eyes gliding over his weary form. It coaxed an involuntary chuckle from him which he immediately regretted as pain seared through his shoulder.

"Your English has gotten better," he murmured after he recovered. She began digging in the green sack, letting go of his hands.

"I had a good teacher," Zoráida said as she kept digging. She placed several clean bandages and various packets of herbs, bottles of foreign liquids, and metal instruments on the nightstand next to him. The young woman took some small scissors and cut open the soaked white shirt to better access the wound.

"Where is Musa?" he asked as he looked around the room, not finding who he sought. A shadow stretched over Zoráida's face as she gently plied the bandage away from the wound, grimacing at the puss. Joseph and Lucius sat down by the other bed in the room, silently watching them in the dim light. Ashiq looked away at the mention of his father's name.

"He died," she said, her full lips pressing together. Zoráida cleaned the wound, trying to keep herself occupied. The news sent Tristan's mind spinning.

"What happened when Sofia and I left?" he asked, raising his head as the urgency in his voice grew. From lack of strength, plopped right back down. He clenched his right fist as she touched the wound. Zoráida never answered his question. Instead, she motioned for Lucius and Joseph to come to their side.

"Hold him down." Zoráida placed them each on one side of Tristan. Lucius put a hand against Tristan's right shoulder and arm while Joseph stood by Tristan's left side, holding him down by his left arm and chest — mindful of not touching the open cut.

"I want you to bite down on this, lest you injure yourself more," Zoráida said as she gave him a small piece of wood. Tristan did as she bade, knowing very well what would follow. Zoráida needed to clean the cut as she had seen her father do many times before — by pouring alcohol over it. He knew the pain would be unbearable, and he only hoped it would be over quickly. She sent him an apologetic look as she uncorked the flask with the clear liquid.

"Make sure he doesn't move, or it will aggravate the wound," Zoráida instructed, receiving stiff nods from both men as they looked down at their friend.

Zoráida let the alcohol flow freely. Time moved slower as the liquid escaped the bottle, making its way to the irritated shoulder. When the first drop made contact with the infected skin, Tristan felt as if his flesh was burning off. Against his will, he tensed while the alcohol bore deep into the wound, cleaning and cleansing his shoulder. Joseph and Lucius had to put all their weight on his limbs. Even though he was weak, Tristan put up quite the resistance. He bit down as hard as he could on the wood, trying to fight the pain. But the more she poured into the wound, the more he lost grip over himself.

When she had finished cleaning the wound — removing the puss with a clean cloth soaked in more alcohol — she proceeded to place herbs that would lessen the infection. She could not yet sew it shut. They would have to wait until the next day and see how it healed. She bandaged it in white linen strips washed in vinegar. Now they had to wait. Tristan let out a weak breath as the worst part was over. She removed the piece of wood.

"Drink this," Zoráida said as she uncorked another flask with a dark amber liquid in it. He grimaced at it, for he had tasted the very same medicine years earlier from Musa. He knew how vile it tasted. "Tristan, you will drink it, or I will force you to drink it," she ordered angrily as she recognized the look in his eyes. Joseph and Lucius forced their lips from turning into smiles. He opened his mouth and closed his eyes, grimacing through the mask as the medicine slid down his throat.

"Will he be alright?" asked Joseph after she sat next to the bed. Even though the wound still stung, Tristan could feel the invasive herbs taking effect. He still had a fever, but he knew the medicine would take care of it.

"We will have to wait until the morning. If the infection goes down, I will sew the wound shut," Zoráida explained. "After that, it is up to Tristan." She glanced over, giving him a knowing glance.

"How did Musa pass away?" came the question again. He looked at her with his deep blue eyes, catching her sorrowful countenance. She sighed. Ashiq looked down the window, observing the lively street outside of the inn. He listened to the brawls and tune of a spontaneous guitar as laughter escaped the confinements of the sala where the customers drank and ate away. The merriment did not seem to fit the gloomy air that now expanded throughout their little room.

"The Inquisition took him," Zoráida said silently after a while.

"They took Hakim too," Ashiq added silently in Spanish by the window — his English only limited to some simple form of understanding.

Tristan grew cold at the words. Both Musa, father of Zoráida, and Hakim, her older brother, had been good friends when he had lived briefly in southern Spain for some years. Sofia and he had even lived with the family for a few weeks upon their arrival in Málaga.

"But you converted."

"It doesn't matter if we did or not, to the inquisition we were still Mudéjares; still Moors. We were never baptized either. We represent the past and they will use any excuse to cast us all out. It doesn't matter if we convert, they call us Moriscos now. We will never be one of them, even if our family has lived on these lands for centuries," Zoráida said heatedly.

Zoráida looked back at Tristan, taking one gloved hand in hers, squeezing it gently. Despite their situation, she was glad to see him again.

"You will have to rest in this bed for at least a few days more and then rest your left shoulder and arm for another few weeks. When you start using it again, you must be wary. The wound was deep and if you put too much weight on it, it could easily reopen and get infected again," she explained.

"Tomorrow, you will sew it shut and then we take the next ship to Rome," Tristan said, determined to not waste any more time than necessary.

Zoráida frowned at his words while she packed away her equipment.

"Why do you wish to sail for Rome?"

Tristan's lips turned into a thin line, not too keen on answering her.

"His fiancée has been kidnapped and we have set out to rescue her," Joseph explained, oblivious to the rising tension in the room.

"Fiancée, eh?" Zoráida mumbled. There was a moment of uncertainty — of how she would react. However, a sad smile touched her lips, her eyes locking with his. "If you manage to save her, I wish to meet her. It would be interesting to see the woman who managed to ensnare the heart of Tristan Hawthorne."