The Broken Throne: Chapter 3

 March 30th, 1461 – Cadherra

Philip sat in the Throne Room. He watched as young and old men from far and wide presented themselves, eager to form part of his new assembly. To further oust Lord Flannigan from enacting influence over his court, a great cleanse would have to be made. It had taken Philip many twists and turns, but most of Flannigan’s old allies were shunned back to their estates in the country.

Now Philip wanted new men with new ideas, ready to break with the tedious traditions that seemed so embedded into their foundations. If Angloa was to grow and improve, other men would have to do it.

Out of the hundreds of applicants presented at court for the last few days, only a dozen stood out. There was one last man who would come to stand in front of him.

A young man with a proud bearing stepped forward. He dressed in dark hoses and a green doublet with puffed upper arms, lined in silver. The young man had his fair hair cropped close to his shoulders and a fringe, in keeping with the fashion.

Philip didn't bother to ask his name; a dandy would serve him no good.

"From where might you be?" he asked, as he had asked all the others. The tone in his voice was flat, revealing his irritation and fatigue.

"From the island of Cantabria, Your Majesty," the lad said, confused that the king would not have his name first.

"Ah, yes, Cantabria. And what brings you here," Philip continued, lacing his voice with boredom.

"Well, I thought I'd come and offer you some advice. God knows you are in need of it, Your Majesty," the young man continued. The daring words arched more than a few brows in the room, but it piqued Philip’s interest. He took a good look at the younger man before him and saw two deep-set gray eyes, staring fearlessly into his own. The man looked to be in his twenties, but there was a wisdom written on his face that spoke beyond his years.

"And what advice would that be?" Philip said in an amused tone.

"Well," the Cantabrian continued. His commanding voice settled into a pleasant tone as he started explaining. "I think Your Majesty made an excellent choice when retiring most of Lord Flannigan’s brood and look beyond the confinements of Cadherra for fresh opinions. Now I am certain that you are more perceptive to the faults in your kingdom."

Philip leaned forward. "Continue," he said.

"You have done little else but listen to your old advisors, sire. I understand these things can be complicated, and I have little experience in the matter. But I do understand one thing, that listening to the people is the most important thing any king can do, and you have been turning a deaf ear to them," the man continued.

While an insolent statement, Philip silently agreed. Ever since he had been crowned, he had been so occupied with making sure the most basic things worked, that he had paid little heed to anything else.

"And what do the people say?" he asked.

"Well, they starve, Your Majesty. They are heavily taxed by your brother and other lords who feel they can do whatever they please as you do not seem to be paying attention." Previously arched eyebrows had now worked into frowns around the room.

"How impertinent!" a nobleman exclaimed, seemingly offended on the king's behalf.

Philip liked what he heard. He saw truth, laced with some arrogance. In some senses, the man reminded him of himself when he was younger. He liked the truthfulness of his words, but also how his formulations packed a punch. It was brutally honest but refreshing.

He leaned back in his chair and looked at the young man. "What is your name?"

"Thomas Athar, Your Majesty," the young man answered.

"Thomas Athar," Philip repeated as if saying the words would help him decide. He eyed the man once more. "Are you the son of some lord? I swear I have heard that name before," the king said.

"No, sire, I am no lord's son. My grandfather was a mercenary, he fought in the war of independence many years ago, before your or my time, and he won many battles. He was knighted by one of the three on the battlefield of Sorossa," Thomas explained. Philip snapped his fingers.

"Of course!" he said, delighted to hear the words. "Even though you are not of noble birth, your words and convictions are reminiscent of a true nobleman. Perhaps you are more so than some of my lords in here," he chuckled, looking around. Some lords pressed their lips together in silent disproval but refrained from speaking.

"I am glad to hear it, sire. I wish to prove that I can live up to these expectations you have of me and more," Athar answered haughtily. It provoked yet another lighthearted chuckle in the king, an arrogant eyebrow rose as he contemplated the young man. It did not take long for Philip to decide.

"Indeed," he said. "Then so be it, Thomas Athar. I shall have you for my council and have you at my side. I hope you will not disappoint me," Philip smiled enigmatically.

Athar bowed deeply, never imagining that he — the grandson of a lowly knight — had just come to be a royal advisor, by his own merit.

May 3rd, 1461 – Cadherra

"These are alarming reports, Your Majesty, and they are growing in number."

A man around Philip's age stood before him. Worry creased his sunburnt face as he fiddled with the parchment in his hand. They sat in the assembly room of Adelton Hall. His new and old advisors listened attentively. The man continued skimming through the words on the parchment that had been handed to him during the early hours of the morning.

"We cannot shut the people out when they need us, now more than ever," the king said, ignoring Lord Flannigan snickering at him when he thought himself unobserved. Athar agreed as he silently nodded along with the king.

"If the plague spreads, it could wipe out half of the country. Then who would there be left to govern?" asked a young snarky lord, his slanted eyes turned into two malicious slits as he cast a glance in Athar's direction. The new addition of Athar and some other men had not been welcomed by the others. The older generations would often talk of the young newcomers, meaning they poisoned the mind of the arrogant king.

"And if we remain quietly seated on our arses the plague will indeed get worse!" Philip cried, outraged with the lord. "It is indeed easy to withdraw into your castle and wait out the storm, but not that many people are as lucky. We need physicians to care for the sick, we need people to remove the bodies from the streets. But most of all, we need to distribute food, for those households that have already lost their laboring relatives."

His talks with his new advisors had opened his eyes to the needs of his people.

"The physicians do not know how to cure this disease," spat another lord.

"No, Lord Raleigh, but they can ease the pain or the suffering," scolded Athar. "The least we can do is show compassion for the suffering and help with what we can," he continued. His narrowing eyes managed to silence the arrogant lord whose jaw clenched, and nostrils flared.

"And who will pay for all of this? I am certain that few people will remove rotting bodies on the streets for free, just as the physicians will not willingly risk their lives tending to the sick for free," commented Flannigan.

"The crown will cover what it can, and the rest I will pay out of my own pocket," growled Philip, wishing for the old crow to be silent for once. Flannigan did not speak out against Philip, but his displeasure was evident in his frown. The wrinkles grew deeper in his forehead — if such a thing was possible. The white tufts on the balding head flew with him as he quietly shook his head.

Magnus, also present at the assembly, had scarcely spoken. He had been reprimanded by his brother a few weeks earlier. Having been assigned with keeping up the royal treasury, his greedy wife, Rebecca Trienne, had seen it as an opportunity. She had managed to persuade him to put a few coins in his own pocket, to add to their own wealth. Magnus had been swayed by her innocent expression as she patted her ever-growing belly and he could not help himself. He had been ashamed, feeling his heartbeat as he filled a small purse with gold coins, grinding his teeth as the coins weighed down his belt.

It had been easier the third and fourth times. By the tenth or so he did not even think about it. But he had swiftly been unmasked by a young lad who, after having gone through the records, had found something amiss. Soon whispers that the brother of the king stole money from the crown floated through the small streets of Hayes. They spread to Coldwick and up north, even reaching New London. Thomas Athar had been the one to muster up enough courage to openly speak against Magnus.

And Philip had listened.

Magnus looked down at his feet. His brother had never expressed it in words, but he knew that he had lost some of his trust. It was a hard blow to the prince who looked up to Philip in so many ways. He had failed him with such dishonorable conduct. Philip had hushed the whole thing down, but the damage was already done.

"I will pay from my own pocket as well," Magnus spoke after having gathered enough courage. All faces turned to meet his. Philip seemed surprised at first, but then a genuine smile spread across his features as his brother tried to redeem himself.

"Thank you, brother. Your generosity will surely inspire others to do likewise," Philip encouraged in a grateful manner, taking a quick look around the room. Some other lords voiced their willingness to contribute. Within a few minutes, Philip had enough funds to care for the whole country, in case the plague spread.

"Lord Vega," the king said, turning to a man at the end of the table. His large chocolate-brown eyes met those of the king. "You will take charge of this new project," the king commanded. Enrique Vega, of Spanish descent, gave a small nod. He had been added to the king's council at the same time as Athar had. The Spaniard had married a local Angloan lady, and he had decided to settle down on the island—as was his wife's wish.

"I will, Your Majesty," he answered in a soft rolling accent.

"Good. Then I declare this session ended."

February 27th, 1520 - Málaga

He watched with a sinking heart as yet another door closed in front of his face. No one was willing to help him despite the money he offered. Antoine stared at the purse filled with gold coins. These people might not be as greedy as he had thought.

While he asked around, he found that there had been a man who used to help people like him; Musa the physician, living north of the city. Musa himself was dead, but his daughter had learned her father's trade and would come to the aid of those who asked — if she deemed them worthy.

The Frenchman wasted no time as he slowly trailed the path to Musa's house. The stench of the city was not as prevalent here. Incense and floral perfumes wafted heavily through the air, masking the foul smells of waste that the newer quarters saw.

He arrived at a horseshoe door, the bright cedar wood was faded, not as contrasting against the bright walls as it used to be. He knocked — the sound drumming in his ears as he prepared for yet another rejection. Antoine heard cautious steps from behind the door and someone opening the small panel at eye level.

"Yes?" came a weary voice as two dark eyes looked out from behind the door.

"I seek Zoráida," Antoine said in his accented Spanish. He tried hard to mask the tiredness in his voice from having walked around for so many hours. The sun was still high in the sky, burning at him despite the chilly February air.

The eyes of the woman flashed. "You will not find what you seek here. Good day!” she hissed, slamming the panel shut. Antoine heard mutters as the woman moved away from the door.

"I can pay," Antoine exclaimed in desperation. The girl Zoráida was his last hope. Antoine was hopeful that she and her family would be desperate enough for money to accept his offer. The woman still moved away, but now a new voice arrived. It was softer, younger, and spoke a language Antoine did not understand. A heated discussion emerged from the two women as he stood there, clutching the bag of money. He knew how it looked; he, a complete stranger, asking for a young woman to come with him.

A sigh sounded and the cedar door glinted open. Someone sneaked out from behind it. Antoine's eyebrows reached his hairline as he caught sight of the young beauty before him. Her enigmatic eyes drilled holes into his soul as an air of indifference extended around her.

"I am Zoráida, who asks for me?"

"My master, an Angloan. His… erm… fiancée took a bad fall on deck when we came here and her back scraped across the wood. It became infested with splinters that have now infected the whole area. We hope that you could take a look at it," he explained. When she made no move to answer him, Antoine whisked forth the heavy leather purse, clinking it in his hand. "My lord would be very generous," he added, hoping she would accept. However, the action seemed to have insulted the young woman.

"I do not so readily accept an offer because of money. Who knows what would happen to me if I followed you," she said, wrinkling her nose.

"I give you my word that no harm shall befall you, señorita— "

"I am certain you would believe that," she muttered. But, instead of thinking of the money, Zoráida thought of the wounded woman. "How badly hurt is she?"

"The barber who removed the splinters says it's beyond his reach to treat her."

"You removed the splinters?"

"Yes," Antoine said, hesitating as her tone turned grave.

"It could have worsened the wound if you did not do it properly," Zoráida reprimanded, thinking of how Tristan had looked when he had come to her. She wouldn't be surprised if the woman's wounds were in a similar state. Zoráida squared her jaw as she started weighing her options. It did not take long for the young woman to decide.

"Where is she?"

"On my master's ship in the harbor. It is the only Angloan ship in port. You will recognize it by its flag," he said. The knot in his stomach lessened as he realized that she was considering going with him.

"Very well, I shall go. But before I do I need my supplies and friends accompanying me. I cannot afford to trust blindly in strangers," she said, wary of the Frenchman before her. "There are many that trade in slavery these days. I do not wish to become one." Antoine grew offended at the remark.

"Señorita, I would never—"

Zoráida shook her head. "It does not matter how honorable you say you are. I will not be taken from my family. I shall meet you at the ship in two hours. I will bring my father's friends with me," she finished, ignoring Antoine's offended expression. She took in his appearance; he could indeed be working on a trade ship, one of those who took women as slaves and brought them to the other end of the Mediterranean. The market for such goods was rewarding and many favors could be bought trading with human lives.

Antoine held his tongue, knowing he could not afford to lose the last person that might help him. He bowed stiffly and set out back to the ship. If the two hours had passed and Zoráida had not yet come, he would ask a small group of men to come with him and bring her by force. Or he would threaten her with the Inquisition. He knew how afraid the Moriscos were of them.

Seagulls flew over Málaga. It was crowded by the harbor as the tide rose. Many were ready to sail to new lands across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Tristan stood on deck, his cape clinging to his body, his hood down, letting the salty winds caress his face. Now that he was better, he could finally enjoy what he had missed so much; the sea.

There was something magical about the far ocean where the never-ending waters met the broad horizon. He stared at the line that would never come close no matter how fast he sailed toward it. The crewmen on board the ship, most from the Italian peninsula or the Spanish coastal town, ran around, preparing the boat.

"I cannot say I will enjoy this trip," Lucius muttered, walking up beside him.

Tristan turned to ask his friend why he had uttered such words. He grew silent when he saw Lucius had grown paler and clammy. Tristan hoped he would at least be able to contain his breakfast before they set out on the open waters.

"Did you have a similar reaction on the ship from Angloa?"

There was a hint of amusement in his voice that irked Lucius.

"You know I did," Lucius muttered back, gritting his teeth. "Blasted ship and the men who invented sailing."

Trustan chuckled despite himself. Heads from the Italians and Spaniards turned, their eyes growing wide — who knew the masked stranger could laugh? He seemed like a menacing giant in his dark attire and always obscured features. The ship's captain had almost not allowed him as a passenger the previous day. But some coaxing from Tristan and a few gold coins had been enough to persuade the stout man.

"Let us hope all goes smoothly," Tristan said, turning grim. "Roads may have highwaymen and bandits, but the seas have storms and pirates."

"Storms and pirates?" came another voice. It was Joseph, joining them after having explored the ship. "The captain should pay us for being on this ship. If we were attacked, I doubt very much that most of the sailors here could defend themselves," Joseph said hotheadedly, resting his hand on his sword.

"You would not want to meet the pirates of the Mediterranean," Tristan cautioned. He glanced at Joseph from the side of his eyes. "Ghastly men, blackguards of the worst sort," he continued, concealing a faint smile as the younger man's casual demeanor gave way to worry.

"I have heard some pirates are cannibals, that they eat their victims," Lucius joined in. Teasing Joseph helped him ignore the stirrings in his stomach.

"You snicker like brothers; the strangest brothers I have ever seen!" a soft accent traveled their way that they could not place.

A tall, middle-aged man with curly raven locks and black eyes walked over to them. He bore a short, shaggy beard that hinted at a goatee underneath it, alas it had probably been weeks since its last trimming. He looked roguish as he had one ear cut off. He dressed in Venetian clothes and kept a small, ornate pistol tied next to his hip. It was the captain of the ship.

"If we are brothers, they treat me like the youngest," Joseph snickered.

"That is because you are the youngest," Lucius retorted, crossing his arms.

Joseph looked at Tristan, pointing at him in disbelief. "Are you certain?"

"I can assure you, you are the youngest, Joseph," Tristan deadpanned.

The look on Joseph's face provoked a hearty laugh in the captain.

"I was against having you on board, but it seems you three shall provide me with much entertainment on this long journey. Come, my friends, I will show you to your quarters."

"We are much obliged, Captain…?"

"Juán Mejías, at your service."

The three of them started following Juán under the deck when something caught Tristan's eye.

"Is that not an Angloan flag?" he stated out loud. Juán turned around and followed Tristan's gaze to look at the ship he stared at.

"You have a good eye, señor. It arrived earlier today — some merchant ship. Apparently, one of the men on board was wounded. It must have been the captain or the second in command because they sent out someone to search for a physician."

"I see information spreads fast here," Lucius said.

"But of course, señor. I always make it my business to know everyone else's business." Juán blinked, flashing a charming grin. "Now, come with me so that I might show you where you can rest. We sail shortly, the tide is almost ready.”

The three men followed him, but Tristan's eyes kept wandering to the Angloan ship. Something about it seemed strange to him. A shiver went through his spine and his sore muscles tensed. It could be Braun's ship, but Braun had set out a few hours before them. They had also spent a few nights in Málaga, making it impossible for Braun to arrive just now. No, it could not be Braun, and therefore Christine could not be on board that ship.

It had started to get dark when the small group made its way through the lit streets of Málaga. Most of them dressed to blend in, even Zoráida. She knew that it was better that way. Her father's friends had given it no second thought when her brother had run around their neighborhood, rallying them to her side. They had accepted a small pay to escort her safely to the ship and back to her home. This time it was not Tristan Hawthorne who sought her aid, but an unknown stranger on an unknown ship. She would not make the same foolish decision she had done when she followed Lucius, only accompanied by her brother. This time she would play it safe.

There, at the docks, they noted the Angloan ship. The group cautiously neared it. By the ramp leading up on deck, she saw the Frenchman from before; Antoine. He looked around, worried that Zoráida would not show. But then he saw her shouldered by many fearsome men — dressed like common Christians, almost blending into the masses.

"You are late." Antoine frowned as she neared him. A green bag was thrown over her shoulder. Her dark eyes pierced into his in a moment of hesitance.

"But I am here," she said in a tone just as enigmatic as her stare. It made the Frenchman seize with his reprimand. He knew she was right; it was better that she showed up late than never showing up at all.

Zoráida looked up at the ship. A few of the sailors were on deck. The newcomers did get a few curious glances cast their as they worked hard to prepare for their next voyage.

"Come, I will show you to her," Antoine said, motioning for her to follow him.

Zoráida stepped on the ramp. She was hesitant at first, but when her father's friends made a move to follow her, she breathed out. She was safe in their company. Antoine made no move to stop them, she had requested their presence after all.

Antoine showed them to the door leading to the main chambers below deck. The broad-shouldered men had trouble getting through the small door and some had to go sideways as they squeezed through. After followed a series of narrow wooden corridors until they came to a shut door. Antoine knocked on it and received a terse response. But before he entered, he turned to the group behind him.

"This is her ladyship's chambers. I suspect she will not want a group of unknown men to be allowed entry. I must, therefore, ask that the rest of you stay here and only allow the girl access," he explained to the men. But they did not understand him as they did not speak English. Zoráida translated what Antoine had said in a language that was not Spanish, probably some form of mozárabe or perhaps even Arabic. Her words did not please them.

"We cannot protect you if you go in there alone," one of them said to her.

"You will be right here, outside of the door, and if I should shout, you will hear me. Trust in that, I beg of you," she said in a sweet voice. She did not need them to become agitated — in turn making the inhabitants of the ship wary of them. A squabble was not what they needed now. They nodded after having whispered amongst themselves in unison.

"I will go in alone, but my friends will stay right here, just in case," she said haughtily. Antoine agreed, opening the door for her.

Zoráida stepped into the chamber, trying to ignore the slight twinge of nervousness that ignited in her being as she was left to fend for herself. The young Morisco girl swallowed deeply before she took in the surroundings.

The chamber was small. Directly in front of her, the main part of the wall was made up of windows, giving an impressive view of the horizon. The sun had started to go down, but it was still light out. The colors had turned a shade deeper, a hint of orange now emerged in the distance.

Next to the door, a little part away from it was a grand bed suited to hold at least two people. Sprawled on it lay the still form of a woman. Her golden locks covered her face and her back was bared, the bandages removed, showing the red and irritated skin where blisters had formed from the removed splinters. White covers had been brought up to just above her hips, giving her some modesty. Next to the bed, on the other side, sat a man in a chair deep in thought, staring out at the horizon. He was older than the girl. Zoráida guessed he was around fifteen or twenty years her senior. His brown hair had started thinning at the temples and his goatee gave his angular face an even more angular look that did not do him any favors. His face turned to meet hers and something in his dark eyes made Zoráida wish she were somewhere else. She had always trusted her intuition; it told her not to trust this man.

"Ah, I see the physician has finally arrived," he drawled in an irritated tone. The man stood up, walking over to her in heavy steps. "I could not believe it when Antoine told me it was a woman that had agreed to help my Christine," he continued.

The remark made Zoráida raise a delicate eyebrow and scoff.

"Yet, here I am. You agreed to get my help," she pointed out.

"I hope we made the right choice," the man said, a thin smile spreading on his lips. Everything about him felt false and unnerving to her.

"Well then, Señor…?"

"I am Lord Oscar Braun and this here is my fiancée. We were on our way back from Venice when she took a bad fall and hurt her back," Braun explained.

Zoráida looked at the back. Those were wounds sustained from more than a bad fall. She eyed him again but did not voice her thoughts. Instead, she went over to the young woman, still not having shown any signs of lucidity. Zoráida sat down on the bed and her hands went to touch the arm of the blonde.

"My lady," she said in her accented English. Christine turned to face her and Zoráida took in the soft features of the woman before her.

"I will request that you leave me alone with the patient, my lord," Zoráida said as she started emptying the contents of the bag on the vast bed next to her.

Braun frowned at the words.

"I'd rather be near my intended," he demanded, moving to sit down on the chair again.

Zoráida stood. A contained anger over her features. "I mean to remove the covers of this woman to examine for more wounds. You will have to leave if you have any respect for her modesty," she snickered.

Braun's mouth turned into a thin line.

"I will be standing right outside," he finally said after a pregnant pause.

When the door had closed, Zoráida let out a breath and checked on her patient. Slowly, working out of habit, she started treating the wounds as gently as she could. First, she disinfected them, and washed them with alcohol, taking great care not to hurt the young woman too much. She checked for any more splinters that the barber might have missed. Zoráida took some sterilized pincers and set out to pluck them from the irritated flesh. It was a monotonous task, and the minutes went by in silence.

"You will not scar, not too much," she finally said to the woman she was treating.

Zoráida received no answer.

"Did your fiancé do this to you?" Zoráida asked after a while.

"He is not my fiancé," came the reply. The voice which answered was rough, as if she were getting over a sore throat. Hatred laced the Angloan's voice as she turned her head to face Zoráida. The response did not surprise the latter.

"That much is obvious," Zoráida responded. She continued plucking small pieces of wood that had embedded itself deep within the skin of the fair woman.

"He did not do this to me, but he might as well have," Christine continued. She stifled back a hiss of discomfort. Tears of pain streamed down her face as the pincers dug into her open flesh.

They both said little after that. Christine felt herself relax at the delicate touch of the unknown woman that tended to her. She let her mind wander as the last of the splinters were removed. Zoráida started applying a herbal paste to the wounds, letting it seep into the open skin, to heal it faster. After, she started putting on sterilized bandages, washed in vinegar, taking care to do so slowly.

"I have a group of my father's friends with me, here outside. I am certain that if I asked, they could get you out of here and we could hide you at our home," Zoráida offered. It was spontaneous on her part. She had not thought it through. But seeing the subdued suffering in the foreigner sparked something within her. Perhaps it was pity or a sense of solidarity.

Her words inspired hope in Christine, there was a chance she might escape Braun. She turned to look at Zoráida. "How many men?" Her words were barely a whisper.

"Five — seven counting me and my youngest brother," she said.

The hope lit inside of Christine was snuffed out like a candle in the wind. Five men would not stand a chance. Between Braun and Antoine out in the hallway, half of them would perish, even more: Braun was an experienced swordsman after all.

"It is not enough," she said, feeling her voice tremble. "They will kill all of you before we make it to port. If we made it off the ship and ran to Málaga, Braun would stop at nothing to get to me. I am part of a personal hatred he held for someone," she said distantly.

"Someone you love?"

"It is complicated," Christine trailed off. All she received was a smile.

"Sometimes revealing our pains will help us deal with them," Zoráida offered.

The trembling sigh revealed more than Christine cared to admit. "He killed the man I was to marry."

"I am sorry," Zoráida said distantly. She felt Christine's pain. She had not lost a lover, but she had lost a father and a brother. She knew the pain that death of someone close brought on. "I wish I could help you." They both sat there for a while in silence, enjoying each other's company.

She had bound the bandages a long while ago, but yet the Morisco girl lingered. Zoráida took Christine's hands in her own and stared deeply into her eyes. Her emerald irises glowed in the absence of daylight as the sun started sinking deeper and deeper on the horizon. A brief connection of understanding passed between both strangers.

Zoráida reached for something in her bag of tools and herbs. Christine’s eyes widened as a small curved knife with a soft leather sheath in white was placed into her hands. Zoráida closed Christine's hands around it and looked back into the depths of the woman she could not save. Zoráida usually carried such daggers with her as protection — against whatever might come. But it was Christine who needed it more now.

"Hide this. Maybe someday it will become useful to you," she whispered.

Christine gripped the strange knife tightly — as if it were her only lifeline, her only comfort in the world.

"Thank you," she said, a pained expression flashed across her face. She promptly hid the knife under the pillows she had been resting on.

Zoráida fixed the last of the bandages in place although they needed no fussing over. Something in the young Morisco girl worked against her as she finally stood up. She did not want to leave Christine, broken as she was. Zoráida had caught something in the depths of her lavender eyes, a small fire, a sleeping tiger, ready to be awakened at the right time. She hoped it would be sooner than later.

She monotonously gathered her things. Their exchange had been a brief one, but a meaningful one. Zoráida bowed deeply before going to the door, a gesture of respect.

February 28th

When morning dawned on the last day of the month, Braun went to inspect a sleeping Christine. She was dressed in a thin, white dress. Its back was cut open, revealing the bandages, sullied by the herbal paste that the Morisco girl had placed on her the previous evening.

A door shutting slowly woke her from her slumber. Zoráida had given her something to drink the previous night, which had sent Christine into a dreamless sleep. She had not rested so well in weeks. She looked out the window and saw that they were out at sea once more.

"It seems that the Morisco girl worked wonders on you," Braun said in a merry tone as he sat on the chair next to the bed. Christine felt the blade under her pillows, gently clutching it.

"She did."

"She left some more of that paste and clean bandages for me to change," he continued.

"I'd rather Antoine do it," Christine snapped, her voice short and stern.

"I'm trying, Christine—"

"I am Miss Vega to you," she spat.

"It seems the good night's rest has also given you your spirit back," he murmured, something in his voice unsettled her.

"Get out," she hissed, turning to face him, letting go of the knife that was stored under her pillow.

When Christine sat up she got a clear view of his face and did her best to hide her disgust at him. A hint of lust shone through his dark depths. Without hiding it, he let his gaze trail over her form, taking in every little curve of her body. But there was something else she saw there, something she had seen before. It was a look she had welcomed in Tristan but abhorred in Braun. It was worry. For what, she didn’t know.

Christine settled back in the pillows when he did not make a move to leave. She faked a painful hiss — as if the movement had aggravated the wound. Braun squared his jaw while his eyes drifted to her back.

"I can send for Antoine, but I do not know where he is. It could take some time, and I see that you are clearly in discomfort," he said. “The sooner I tend to you, the less are the chances you will scar.”

"Very well," Christine said, lacing her voice with pain. "I will let you change the bandages, but only this time. Then I want you gone."

She glared at him from the corner of her eye. She saw a twitch in his lips which caused her stomach to turn in an unpleasant way.

Braun sat next to her on the bed and gently put aside her golden locks. A flush spread up his throat and to his ears as he stared at her bandaged back. When Christine made no move to push him away, he carefully removed the bandages, one by one, revealing the skin beneath. He cleaned away the paste with fresh seawater, satisfied that the redness had died down and that the blisters were smaller. He cleaned his own hands and started rubbing the paste on her back. He did it slowly, slower than he had to.

Christine had to fight hard not to take the knife from beneath the pillow and plunge it deep into his heart. She could hear his breath quicken above her and tried in vain to shut him out. Every touch on her skin made her want to vomit. Her hand slipped once more under the pillow and Christine touched the knife that lay hidden.