I spun on my heels and gaped at the imposing form of a large man looming above me. My eyes began to water from the strong mix of foul odors seeping from his skin. Before I could scramble away, a meaty hand reached out and caught a handful of my hair. With a sharp tug, he pulled me to my feet and breathed his sour breath into my face.
“Looks like it’s my lucky night.”
His free hand began to work its way under the hem of my clinging shirt. I struggled but was no match for the sailor’s grip.
“Leave her alone!”
The sailor paused long enough to glance down at the man in chains.
“Friend of yours eh? Won’t this be fun.”
“I said leave her alone.” The man in chains repeated.
The sailor’s eyes narrowed and I watched his tongue move in his closed mouth, then he tipped his head forward and spit through the grate near my feet. The sailor watched for a moment then, satisfied, turned his attention back to me.
A sick feeling churned in my gut. Chains rattled as I continued to struggle but it was painfully clear who would win in a test of strength.
“Langley, what’s going on here?”
My assailant froze mid grope and I saw movement from the corner of my eyes.
“Found her on the deck Captain, soakin’ wet and pullin’ on the hatch. Must be some peasant girl come to rescue our new addition.”
One hand was still twined in my hair, but the other had returned to his side.
“Let me see,” said the Captain.
Langley stepped aside and moved his hand from my hair to my arm.
The Captain stood before me now. Dark weather-worn skin stretched over sharp bones, clear cold eyes looked me up and down.
He lifted a strand of my wet hair and it caught the moonlight then reflected it back. I was thankful that it did not glow on land. Callused fingers pinched my arm, and then my leg. He pushed my lips apart with those same fingers and leaned in, inspecting my teeth.
“She’ll fetch a good price, unsullied.” The Captain gave Langley a hard look. “Put her with the others.”
A slow tilt of the Captain’s head cut off whatever else the sailor planned to say.
With one over-large hand Langley lifted the grate on its hinge. He opened it just wide enough to shove down the hole with a frustrated grunt.
The distance was no greater than the length of my body and though I twisted I could not avoid landing on the man in chains. One foot caught him in the ribs and I heard his grunt of pain. I dropped and rolled in an attempt to remove my weight, but I didn’t make it far before my back collided with another body.
Sitting up slowly, I glanced around and saw dozens of eyes staring at me in the dark hold.
“Are you alright?”
I turned back to the man in chains, his voice came out in a strained whisper.
“Yes, I’m fine.” I whispered back. “Are you alright?”
“I’ve been better,” he replied. “Who are you?”
“Elisande,” I said.
“Elisande,” he repeated softly. “I don’t remember you from the fort. Where do you live?”
“Um, not far,” I replied, then quickly changed the subject. “What is your name?”
“Gavin,” he replied. “Gavin Jonas Reed.”
He said his full name as if reminding himself of who he was.
“Gavin,” I said softly, “I am so sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry for what?”
I didn’t answer. Instead I reached out and placed one hand on his back. He sucked a breath through his teeth, and I could feel the heat of his wounds spreading. I concentrated, focusing my energy feeling power flow through my hand. The skin on his back knit slowly back together, covering the bleeding stripes.
When it was done I pulled my hand away.
I felt the eyes surrounding us, watching me, bodies leaned forward from the shadows.
The whites of Gavin’s eyes stood out in the dark.
“Who are you?” He asked again.
I took a deep breath and then I began to tell him, to tell all of them, a story of a young woman who wanted desperately to help her people.
Tears made tracks down my cheeks as I spoke.
How would I help them now?