27. Home at Last

Chapter 27

Home at Last

When I pulled myself up on the ship, I immediately put Gisette, Jasco, Pao and Fiet in a line and scolded them. It was a task that needed to be done even though I could have waited at a later time to rip them a new one. They were still recovering from their illness, and were likely too shaken and embarrassed over what happened. But I was too agitated and needed to take my anger out on someone. I wasn’t at a massive level of anger anymore, but I wasn’t pleased either.

I went down the line, starting with Gisette, of whom received the shortest speech because she technically did nothing wrong. She had tried to stay out of the mess, but got caught in the net. If I scolded her for abandoning brothers in arms, then it would make my rant for Jasco and Pao contradictory. I gave only a stern suggestion to attend the annual meeting and socialize more with me and the other pirates.

I berated Pao for flying off the handle and seeking revenge for Fiet before he really understood the situation. Had he stayed back and investigated, he could have sensed the trap and planned the rescue better. Jasco received a similar speech, except he did plan ahead, unlike Pao. His only problem was that he went in with only his ship when he needed help from others.

“In me defense, Granny, ah had no idea Bardam was hidin’ that arsenal. He wasn’t that strong before. How would ah have known that ah needed ta wait fer ye or gather a group?” the elder captain reasoned, interrupting my agitated thoughts.

I sighed as I realized he was right. Times were changing and the land dwellers were getting stronger. How could Jasco predict that he needed more people to aid him when it wasn’t a necessity before?

“Aye, yer right,” I muttered grudgingly, “Me words ta ye are more out o’ concern than anger. Coupled wit’ the firesquatter problems in Naia, ah have a lot on me plate. Ah can’t stay here in Elati ta protect ye when ah’m needed ’round the world. Ye four were lucky ah was home ta save ye. We got ta think o’ a way ta protect yerselves while ah’m out in other waters.”

“Ah thought ye were the protector o’ all pirates. Why can’t ye do yer job?” Gisette asked boldly. First she believed I was an old woman, now she thought I was an all powerful god?

I grinned faintly. “Ah can’t be in five places at once, lass. And it’s not like yer weak. Why must ye all depend so heavily on me? Ah should just be yer last resort fer problems beyond yer control. …Right Fiet?” I snarled in the tall Erudian’s direction.

The man in question flinched but he hid his fear behind an obnoxious smirk. Not only did he ask for help when he was severely behind in his dragon offerings, but I recently learned that he used me twice in raids he could have handled on his own. That wasn’t to say I didn’t want to help him at all, but I couldn’t keep holding his hand. I wanted the reassurance that he could take care of himself.

“Come on, Granny! Ah really did need yer help in the past,” he protested teasingly.

I gave him a dark grin. “Ah overheard ye before they fired, Fiet. Ye conned me into two jobs an’ ah don’t work fer free. An’ there’s the fact that ye were the one who got caught in a trap. It ain’t lookin’ so good fer ye.”

I crossed my arms and widened my smile and said tauntingly, “Bet ye wish ah didn’t save ye, huh?”

The tall Erudian shifted uncomfortably. “Wot will ye do ta me?” he inquired nervously. Jasco and Pao watched intently, grinning, as they waited for the punishment.

“Yer gonna pay me back in entertainment. Ah will make sure ye attend the next annual meetin’ an’ ye’ll be wearing the prettiest dress ah can find fer yer size. Yer gonna be a prettied up, an’ ah’ll even let ye keep yer beard,” I replied, earning snickers from the other two men. I glanced over to them briefly. “Don’t laugh. Ye will have ta dance wit’ him.”

I was satisfied to hear their protests. Fiet seemed relieved with my decision. He sighed, hunching his form, and mumbled, “That’s it? Ah thought ye were goin’ ta maroon me.”

The easy acceptance of his punishment surprised me, but he did have a legitimate fear. If I was as cold blooded as some pirates out there, I would have sentenced him to death for his trickery against me. Maybe I was rather lenient with him. There were other crueler punishments I could have meted that wouldn’t send him to his death. Still, I couldn’t deny that seeing him in a dress would amuse me to no end…

Gisette tried to cough back her laughter but failed miserably. “Ah might jus’ attend ta see that alone,” she muttered against her fist.

It pleased me to hear her words. I liked how she was enjoying our company. Hearing her laugh was a good sign that she could grow to like us. What I didn’t like, however, was her insinuation that she wouldn’t attend without the side show.

“Aye, but speaking o’ the meetin’, ah think we should bring up this incident an’ come up wit’ a new defense strategy. We might have ta go the way o’ the navies an’ sail in groups wit’ one admiral leadin’ it. The more o’ us there are, the better protected,” I said grimly.

While a ship could hold so many men, the number of crew didn’t seem to make a difference on the sea anymore. If there were more ships sailing together, it would make it easier for pirates to surround enemies and make it harder to be boarded or captured. In fact, the idea might even help reduce ambushes by firesquatters. Since they work in small groups it would be near impossible for them to conquer several ships with their tricks.

The four looked at me doubtfully.

“Ah can see where yer goin’ wit’ this, but who would be the leader? If we four sailed together, ah guarantee we’ll ne’er agree ta who would be the one in charge,” Jasco said, bringing up one of my concerns. A successful pirate captain was proud and territorial; having them share authority was unheard of.

“Ah’m sure if ye four sailed together, ye’d work somethin’ out. Yer good friends, after all,” I pointed out. “An’ there are a number o’ ways ta decide. Mebbe hold a competition, or ye take turns bein’ adm’ral. Jus’ think o’ ideas an’ help me brainstorm at the meetin’. E’ery pirate in e’ery sea should think ’bout teamin’ up ‘gainst the landlubbers.”

They still weren’t sold on the idea, but it was all I could do to put it in their minds. If I had more time, I could have listed how beneficial it would be, offering ideas on how they could work it out. Besides, it wasn’t just the leadership that was the problem; each ship had a different dragon to serve. Our treasure hunting wasn’t always for our own pockets.

“Jus’ think ’bout it an’ hear me out when ah bring it up at the meetin’,” I requested. For now it was enough to receive reluctant nods from them, even though I knew they wouldn’t make an effort to remember.

“Right…” I muttered after a few beats of silence. “Ah’m done chewin’ ye out. Let’s regain a course an’ start sailin’. It might be a while before Satel gets here ta take us ta the enclave.”

Though I couldn’t convince them to like my idea of changing our ways, I didn’t lose my authority. Gisette was quick to assert herself as temporary quartermaster and ordered the men around the ship. No one challenged me as I headed for the helm and claimed the role of captain. Maybe they didn’t always agree with me, but they knew better to than to fight me. This was why I wasn’t ‘king’ of pirates. I may have had the power to force them to do whatever I wanted, but I allowed them the freedom to think for themselves.

What I had wasn’t their fear, but their respect. …Well, I couldn’t be too sure what Fiet thought of me, given how I was always threatening him. Besides, I wasn’t in the right state of mind to convince them to do anything other than maintain the ship. I already had a lot to think about. There was more to the problem than the issue of pirate protection; I was still concerned with what happened back in Barcilica.

What I heard as I stood among the citizens disturbed me greatly. Hearing landlubbers insult seafarers was nothing new; it was a hobby of theirs that was decades old. No, what I heard was leaning dangerously close to master and slave talk. Satel had warned me that some kingdoms and falucite clans were trying to establish authority over the coastal regions, but I didn’t really think much of it.

While coastal regions did sit within the borders of land kingdoms, they were not considered under the rule of the king. They did not have to pay taxes, nor was the royal family responsible for their protection. For time immemorial they lived peacefully, sharing the same continent and maintaining friendly trade and transportation. There was always a level of respect even though we all had degrading remarks to say about one another.

It never once occurred to me that landlubbers would get so greedy that they would seize the Sands of Elit and those who live upon it. Maybe the land dwellers were just talking now, but perhaps one day they might over step their bounds and try to force seafarers to serve them, just like how Bardam wanted.

But surely this was a short phase, one that would quickly die off once Satel began ‘convincing’ the other clans to back off from Elit’s domain. After so many centuries of co-habitation, I couldn’t fathom why the trend would suddenly change.

…Unless Elati’s chaos theory was at work. Could the land dwellers be experiencing too much peace that they have to start a war? Perhaps I should focus less on bothering fellow seafarers and start raiding land locked cities. Clearly they weren’t as afraid of me as they should be, since Bardam had the nerve to toy with me.

I frowned as I held the wheel. I needed more information to create a plan. Once I had those, I could reorganize the pirate structure so we won’t be snuffed out easily. Then I could start focusing on the rest of the seafaring world. For now I just had to wait for my mate and get everyone home.

Because of my troubled thoughts, I missed watching Gisette order around the well known pirate captains. She treated them like corsairs, and it had probably been many years since they’ve been ordered like that. Every captain knew how to maintain a ship, but it was rare for them to have to perform the tasks with their own hands. It was also rare for a group of captains to come together as a forged crew on a stolen ship.

Something told me that if I didn’t have magicks, Gisette would’ve tried to usurp me and become captain. Not that I would let her if she did try, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with her ability to command captains tougher-looking than her. We really were alike.

The men seemed winded by the time they finished getting the ship in perfect sailing condition. They sat themselves by the main mast, likely muttering mutinous vows towards Gisette. The red haired woman seemed eager to come up on the tiny quarterdeck to stand by me. It wasn’t long before she began to fidget and covertly stare at me.

“Problem?” I asked, making her jump.

“No…”

Maybe she didn’t have a ‘problem’, but there was clearly something on her mind. I was about to prod her into speaking, but she beat me to it by blurting, “Ye ain’t wot ah imagined.”

I smiled. “Ah’m almost afraid ta know wot ye were envisioning, since ye thought ah was an old woman.”

“Aye, ah was expectin’ a shriveled ol’ bat bein’ pushed ’round in a chair, an’ ye had the ability ta set people on fire jus’ by lookin’ at them,” she said, chuckling a little.

“Ah’m a seafarer, damn it. Why would ah need fire?” I asked lightly, trying to act offended, but failing. It was an amusing image, and imagining Bardam being the one I set on fire made it even more hilarious.

“Sorry, Granny,” she muttered, falling flat of a genuine apologetic tone.

“Come ta think o’ it, Satel told me that ye used ta explore the fire islands wit’ yer pappy. Ah suppose that experience poisoned ye ta think o’ fire instead o’ water,” I commented, noting how her eyes widened. Did she forget that I knew Satel?

Gisette lowered her head and glared at me warily. I wanted to ask what her deal was, but I decided to keep silent and let her speak her mind when she felt like it.

“Them firesquatters ye mentioned… are ye talkin’ ’bout the Tau?” she inquired hesitantly.

“Aye. Wot ’bout them?”

She paused, and then said, “Wot was yer impression o’ them?”

I had a feeling I was being tested, and that any trust she might give would depend on my answer. Either way, I wasn’t afraid to give my opinion on those firesquatter bastards.

“They irritate the hell out o’ me. First they come on me ship, tell me that ah don’t belong on the sea, an’ then laugh in me face when ah tell them ta surrender. Ah had no qualms wit’ smackin’ them ’round an’ puttin’ them in their place. An’ because o’ them, me good friend had ta give custody o’ his daughter ta me so that the bastards wouldn’t take her,” I replied, expressing my frustration. But then a particular memory came to me and I mellowed down. “But it did disturb me that the one man who took me seriously killed himself so that ah couldn’t keep him as a prisoner.”

Gisette was eerily quiet and it made me wonder if she was somehow on their side. Did she not trust me because she was afraid that I would destroy the Tau?

“Aye, that’s how they work,” she said sadly. “They can’t afford ta have others learn their secrets, so they’d rather take ’em ta the grave.”

I tried to keep my face neutral, but I couldn’t stop my eyes from narrowing. She knew an awful lot about them. Did she pick up this information when she sailed with her father? Or was she merely a firesquatter sympathizer? It couldn’t be the latter seeing as she didn’t like men. …Or maybe she didn’t like our men because they weren’t like the Tau.

My thoughts were dispelled when she spoke.

“Truth be told… ah was a captive o’ theirs fer two years. They said ah had no business on the sea, even as an explorer’s daughter, an’ took me from me pappy. Ah ne’er saw him since, an’ ah have no clue wot’s become o’ him,” she said, shocking me greatly.

I didn’t expect to hear that. It didn’t occur to me that her knowledge came from the inside. All this time, she was my resource for the information I needed about the Tau. Damn her for not coming forward sooner!

But my anger didn’t come to the surface as I quickly pieced together the clues and applied them to her current mood. I realized that it took her a lot of courage to tell me this much. Those questions of hers were to see if I truly hated them as much as she did, though it baffled me that she couldn’t figure that out without inquiring. Regardless of what she thought of me as a woman, there was no way I would agree to their esoteric ways.

Lioa once told me of people who were so damaged that they couldn’t trust anyone. I was once like that, and Gisette had no idea how bad off I used to be when I hated humanity. If those firesquatter bastards treated her like how the people of Port Sibest did to me, then I was more than happy to help her destroy them all.

“So it’s because o’ them that ye hate men,” I stated, wanting her confirmation. She glanced away; her silence said it all. But I couldn’t let the subject end there. “We ain’t them, lass, an’ we ne’er will be. That’s why we don’t push ye away as a pirate- yer the one pushin’ us away.”

“Ah know that now,” she admitted softly and then shook her head. “But ye don’t understand wot they’re like. They treat us kindly an’ act as though we’re precious treasure. They protect, cook, an’ clean fer us. They make sure we want fer nothin’…”

“But?” I prodded, knowing that couldn’t be all. She wouldn’t have run away if life there was perfect. I was stunned to hear that they treated women like how the falucite did. Satel once said members of his race were exiled there, so maybe there was a connection.

Once again Gisette hesitated, this time her face looking pained. “They’ve ne’er once struck us, but they did hurt us in other ways. They robbed us o’ our personalities an’ discouraged our opinions. We weren’t allowed ta do anythin’, an’ if we tried ta insist, they’d insult us. Aye, it was mostly words they used against us, but it wore us down an’ made us feel worthless.

“Ah couldn’t live that life. The seafarer in me wanted independence an’ ah wasn’t made ta do nothin’ all day. They tried hard, but they couldn’t kill off wot made me meself. It took me two years o’ plannin’, but ah was able ta make me escape, takin’ wit’ me several women in the same predicament. Some were natives, others captives like me. They still make up half o’ me crew ta this day.”

Sometime during our talk, the men grew curious and crawled as close to the quarterdeck as they could without being seen. They weren’t very sneaky about it, and had Gisette not been so distracted she would have noticed too. I was tempted to stop her so I could call them out, but I decided against it since they weren’t sniggering over her ordeal.

Maybe they weren’t women, but as seafarers they wouldn’t agree to the psychological abuse she went through. To take away oneself and be provided for wasn’t living. The quote ‘no pirate would sacrifice their freedom for riches’ applied here. Gisette was one of us now, so naturally we were all going to be angry alongside her. That was because we could easily imagine ourselves in her place. …Though the boys would have to imagine a little harder to look past the discrimination against women part.

It was wrong of me to let them listen in on what was a personal confession, but it might do her some good to learn that they wouldn’t turn against her. I could see the top of Jasco’s head as he shook it in what was likely disbelief. I didn’t know if they were going to reveal themselves to show support, but just knowing about it helped them understand her better.

It helped me understand a lot too. I could only imagine how broken one might become under those conditions, so seeing her crew so lively spoke volumes. She raised their self-confidence and gave them freedom. It actually made sense for her to forbid men on her ship. The mere presence of one could damage everything she built and revert the women back into their broken states.

However, there was something else that bothered me. “Ah commend ye fer not givin’ up an’ savin’ fellow captives, but how have ye avoided them all this time? Ah can’t see them givin’ up their women, an’ they don’t seem ta have a hard time getting on ships,” I pointed out, wondering how she managed it. If I could learn her secrets, then the problem with Savage and Rosie was solved.

Gisette smirked proudly as she fingered the scarf around her neck. “Ah know how ta keep them at bay. They didn’t expect me ta learn their tricks an’ how ta counter them. They thought ah was too stupid ta understand,” she replied smugly, confirming what I needed to know. The fact that she was touching the scarf meant that it had the same purpose as the ones my crew wore.

“Well then, ah guess we’ll be seein’ a lot o’ each other because ah need to learn yer secret. Ah ain’t gonna sit back an’ watch the firesquatter bastards make fools out o’ us. It’s high time they learn ta keep their culture ta themselves an’ leave us alone,” I said loudly, causing the other three to come out of hiding to join in.

Gisette looked surprised, but then relaxed when she heard the overwhelming support.

“Aye, lass, teach me as well an’ ah’ll fight them firesquatters by yer side,” Jasco vowed before he was shoved to the side by Fiet.

“Damn it old man, ah wanted ta say that,” he grumbled.

Pao laughed and pushed the taller man. “Hah, ye jus’ want ta impress the lass. Jus’ let Jasco an’ ah take care o’ it. We’re actually in this fer pirate honor, not ta get in a lass’ skirt,” he declared mockingly.

“Oh ah see how it is,” I called out to them teasingly. “Ye’ll rush ta aid the new lass, but Elit forbid ah ask a favor from ye an’ get an enthusiastic reply.”

I wasn’t really put out by their behavior, but I was a little annoyed that they were more moved with her story than inspired by my recent ideas. There wasn’t much difference in fighting by an ally’s side and sailing together in a protective formation. However, their response meant more to Gisette, as she apparently didn’t think we would help her at all. They weren’t going to treat her like an expensive toy like the Tau did; they were going to stand by her as equals, as all pirates should.

“Tch! As if ye four would have any trouble sailin’ together as a unit,” I scoffed, earning mischievous grins from the men. Seeing their expressions made me wonder if they were being deliberately uncooperative just to get a rise out of me. Surely they knew how well they worked together, regardless of a chosen leader. Sometimes they acted more like brats than feared pirates. Or perhaps they acted this way only around me, since I knew them all when they were brats.

Despite the red patches and boils on her skin, Gisette looked happy. I’ve never seen her outside of the Bardam incident, but something told me this was probably the first time in a while she smiled like that. Her eyes were tired, and her stance was defeated, but relief was in her smile. I wondered if that was how I looked when Cegil adopted me?

Those cheerful expressions faded as they simultaneously turned, their eyes focused on something behind me. They almost seemed horrified, but I couldn’t pick up the sense of danger. It wasn’t until two arms encircled my body, one going to the top of my chest and the other around my belly, when I figured out the reason for their distress.

I recognized the feel of the body behind me instantly; it was just Satel trying to scare me. He was damn lucky I didn’t react like the last time. I recalled almost decking him after throwing him off me. But in my defense, I had reason to be jumpy and unable to identify my mate back then.

Immediately Gisette’s features turned into a scowl. Oh right, she wasn’t too fond of Satel after that first meeting of theirs.

“Ye done with that twat already?” I asked in a bored voice, trying to dispel the tense mood. Knowing him, he was probably casting smug glances over to the others, flaunting the fact that he could touch me like this. Then again, he might be taunting Gisette with a mischievous look, promising more torment if she opened her mouth. As long as I didn’t react to his affectionate hugs and remained calm, the others would relax and stop viewing him as a threat. Not that Jasco, Pao, or Fiet were that threatened unless they did something wrong; this was more for Gisette’s benefit.

“Aye. He was no match fer me. Ah even toyed wit’ him a little,” he declared proudly while rubbing his cheek against the top of my head.

“Huh. Yer like a completely different creature when ’round her,” the lady pirate remarked.

“Ah’m not always mean. Jus’ don’t piss me off an’ ah won’t have ta punish ye,” my mate replied sweetly. I had a feeling he would be speaking in a different tone if he heard her story. I couldn’t fault him for his bully tactics at the moment, but I needed to end it quickly before the fragile trust Gisette had given me was shattered.

“That’s too bad because yer goin’ ta have ta behave yerself ’round her fer a while,” I said.

Fiet, the oaf, chortled before he shouted. “Aye, ye behave yerself or else Granny won’t have sex wit’ ye anymore!”

Satel coolly responded to that by flicking a ball of wind magicks to him, knocking the tall man flat on his back. One would think my mate would find a kindred spirit in that idiot. They both had the same problem of running their mouths…

“Now ah’m confused ‘Tia-dear. Explain ta me why ah have ta play nice wit’ a human?” he asked calmly.

“Because Gisette knows more ’bout the firesquatters than ye do, an’ ah’d like ta keep a healthy alliance wit’ her,” I replied.

His reaction was instantaneous. He released me, but before he could storm over to the lady pirate, I grabbed his ascot. “Ye wit’held information from me?” he demanded furiously. Gisette looked at him warily.

I hadn’t expected him to hold enough of a grudge to where such a small infraction would irritate him. Of course, he was already annoyed with Fiet’s disrespectful words (hence why he attacked instead of ignoring him), and there was no guarantee that he fully cooled down from his encounter with Delar. He was probably a few words away from a temper tantrum if I wasn’t careful.

“Down lad,” I ordered teasingly. He probably didn’t appreciate me doing that in front of others, but I had to get his attention somehow. “Ah’ll explain the situation later, so please forgive her this time. Instead, let’s focus on gettin’ home. Do ye need some rest or can ye do it now?”

Satel scoffed, glaring at the poor girl while she returned his stare with equal disdain. Thankfully he listened, and his expression changed when he faced me again. He smiled lovingly as he cupped the side of my face with his hand.

“We can leave right now if ah’m takin’ the humans. But ah’ll need some rest if ye want the ship ta come wit’ us,” he answered while tracing his thumb across my lips.

I shook my head to free myself. “We don’t need the ship, but…” I turned to face the others, “there’s no point in leavin’ behind anythin’ useful. Go ahead an’ gather up wot ye want.”

There was no telling Fiet and Pao twice. They were already running off before I finished my sentence. Jasco left at a slower pace, but it took a little more prodding to get Gisette to leave. She only did so hesitantly, refusing to show her back to Satel. It seemed it would take a while before they could get along. My mate did have a habit of leaving lasting bad impressions.

We probably could have left without a raid, but I wanted at least a few minutes alone with Satel. I had a few urgent topics to discuss with him, but before I could start, I found myself in a lip lock the moment we were alone.

He pressed me against the wheel and captured my hands in his. I didn’t resist at all. I was just as glad to see him and I was in the mood for a little romance. Well, more of the ‘physical’ romance than the sweet and innocent kind. Destroying Bardam’s kingdom and squaring off against a tough adversary was enough to awaken that primal need in me.

When we broke apart, his mouth found my ear and he feverishly whispered, “Jus’ wait ’til we get home. We goin’ ta bed the second ye say yer goodbyes.”

I smirked as I kissed his stubbly jaw. So I wasn’t the only one in the mood. I had to wonder if this was a Lord of the Sea trait, or if men naturally felt this way after a strenuous battle. I made a promise to mate when this was over, so we didn’t need a reason. Thank Elit he wasn’t insisting right this second.

“Wot’s the story wit’ the lass? Ah thought ye were goin’ ta hate her once ye got ta know her,” he asked between short kisses down my neck.

I found it amusing that he thought I would hate her. There were only a few slight differences between us, but for the most part Gisette was a lot like me.

“The lass is not much different from me. How could ah hate meself?” I countered teasingly. Once upon a time I hated myself, but I learned better thanks to Lioa.

Satel instantly stopped his movements so he could push me back, his hands firmly on my shoulders. His mismatched eyes bore into mine as he said sternly, “She is nothin’ like ye. Ye care ’bout yer family; she does not.”

I shook my head and smiled. “She cares ’bout her family, an’ she jus’ recently learned ta care ’bout her family in the other ships, too. It’s a long story that ah’ll have ta tell ye later though,” I replied before I pulled him down for an open mouthed kiss. He responded eagerly, conversation forgotten.

However, I forced myself to stop and focus so I could ask my own questions. “Enough ’bout me end. Wot ’bout ye? Did ye kill him?”

It wasn’t so much that I cared about Delar, but I was a little worried that Satel might have gone too far. Despite his being an assassin for most of his falciehood, he never had to kill his own kind before. No matter how furious the man made him, even he would regret killing one of his race.

“Ah should have, but ah spared him an’ made him a messenger,” he told me and added smugly, “Though ah left a gapin’ hole in his shoulder before leavin’.”

I was relieved to hear his words, but I had mixed feelings with Delar still alive. He was very close to knowing our secret. For now he believed I was mated to someone else in Satel’s clan, but how long would that keep us safe?

He caught the look of concern on my features and quickly deduced my thoughts. “No need ta worry ’bout him, me sirsa, let him believe wot he wants. He can’t learn the truth from anyone. His elders will know better than ta endorse his meddlin’, an’ our elders will not say a word. It ain’t in Delar’s right ta know who is mated ta whom.”

I suppose once Delar’s elders discover how badly their clan member was wounded, they wouldn’t dare cross Satel or risk sending Delar to an early grave. I also knew I could trust our clan not to betray us. But it still unnerved me that someone knew I had a deeper connection with the falucite beyond a master and pet relationship. That alone might rouse suspicion with the other clans. The Daedeleth clan worried me the most.

“We should still be more careful- at least ’til ye master yer powers,” I muttered as I moved closer to press my cheek against his chest.

“Even though we’re together fer eternity, ah ain’t goin’ ta let anythin’ happen ta us,” he promised, hugging me tightly.

I believed him. Not only did he have more power and Elati’s backing, he had his future sorted out. He knew exactly what he wanted and what to do about it. Of course as a mate and mother I would always worry. But I had confidence that Satel would never feel lost or confused about his purpose again. The fact that it should reduce his angry moods was a bonus.

“Get a room!” a voice shouted down on the main deck. It was male, but I couldn’t pinpoint whose voice it was out of the three. I could only assume it was Fiet since he was always disrespectful. I decided to ignore him and maintained my hug until I heard footsteps climbing the short set of stairs.

Once everyone was ready, I held out my hand for everyone to touch so that Satel could teleport us. We were finally on our way home.

********************

Though Satel and I wanted to dismiss ourselves early and enjoy each other’s company, we had to wait. It wasn’t any surprise that everyone was waiting for us, ready to throw a victory party in our honor. Unfortunately, we were still in the enclave, and Cyirlie was not too pleased when they started to make noise. To fix that – and save many lives – I had the four ships follow me to our island settlement.

Apparently I wasn’t very clear with my words as a few uninvited ships also followed. They were welcomed to stay as long as they kept to the beach only and provided something for the celebrations. Since Cegil and his family should be mostly moved in by now, I didn’t want anyone to explore and run across them.

With the kegs of ale and some foodstuffs supplied by the various chefs of each ship, there wasn’t much chance of anyone wandering that far off. Just in case, Satel warned Cegil so he could create a barrier if he wanted.

The four were welcomed back with their respective crews and were reestablished as their captains once again, including Jasco. I had worried he wouldn’t be welcomed back because he was so close to retirement anyway, but his successor seemed relieved to have him back. Ordinarily if a captain was foolish enough to be captured, they would be deemed unsuited to lead.

In this case, the situation was different. The entire ship had been captured and they were spared because of the captain’s sacrifice. The only ones who didn’t agree with it was Fiet’s ship, but all the tall oaf had to do was challenge and beat the man who took over. He was made captain again within seconds. A barbarian crew for a barbarian captain… not that I was against that.

I had a long discussion with Gisette about Rosie. Since the lady captain had information that would help me combat the Tau, Savage’s daughter didn’t need to stay with her. However, we agreed that the lass would benefit if she did, considering Gisette was an average pirate. Overall, she was a better role model for Rosie. Staying with Gisette would allow her to get firsthand knowledge of how to defend the ship from firesquatters.

Once we were done, I took a good look around the beach. It had been a while since I was last here. I had visited this place only two times. The first was when I fought Seikram all those years ago, and once again when Satel and I were seeking potential land to settle on. Unlike Satel, my memories of the distant past were a little blurry, but I could still remember the general area where the fighting ring had been set up. No traces of it remained; all that was left was the memory.

It was a nice memory, even though it involved me getting over a long time grievance with a man who murdered my father. I didn’t feel animosity over it anymore. What was more important was the aftermath where I not only forgave the bastard, but I decided to take on the responsibility of becoming captain of The Cruel Whore.

My moment of solitude was brief because Rutan quickly noticed I was missing and pulled me back into the heart of the party. Hours later, when the sun had set, everyone began to calm down and sit around the many campfires. It seemed they planned to stay the night and set sail at first light. It was a good time for Satel and I to sneak off and finally work off the heat that built up between us since we’ve returned, but we had one more obstacle to overcome.

“Ma! Tell me how ye kicked the landlubber prince’s ass again!” Rutan requested excitedly, still wide awake despite the hour.

“Come now lad. Ah told it ta ye more than ten times already,” I said in amusement. I was about to suggest that he could hear it again as a bedtime story if he went to bed, but he immediately went for Satel before I could speak.

“Pappy! Tell me how ye kicked the landlubber falucite’s ass!”

The boy had been switching between Satel and I, asking for the same story over and over again. No matter how many times we told him, his eyes would light up in excitement and he’d smile widely every time. It would probably be a few years before he would tire of either story.

Satel chuckled before he picked Rutan up and settled him on his shoulders. “All right lad, one more time. But after this one, we’ll have ta sing an’ ye will have ta go ta bed.”

“Aw!” our son groaned at the thought of bedtime, but couldn’t refuse hearing one more story. I smirked knowingly when his small hands picked up the über hat from the crown of Satel’s head and placed it on his own. The hat was way too big for the boy as it covered half of his head, the rim coming to below his nose. I, too, loved that hat, so I knew how hard it was to resist grabbing and putting it on.

My mate didn’t mind and continued to walk down the beach while reciting his tale yet again. I stood up, brushed the sand from my clothes, and watched them as they left. Satel hadn’t carried Rutan like that since the first one’s childhood. Not only was he ready to be a father, he already proved to be a great one. He was almost better than my pappy, but I was probably too biased to give that sort of opinion.

I eventually followed them when I realized he was heading for the ship. Once the story was over, we sang our dedications, and escorted Rutan to his cabin to tuck him in. He protested having to go to bed when he wasn’t sleepy, as usual, but Satel fixed that with his magicks. We smirked as the boy yawned and rubbed at his eyelids. He was sleeping before we could head out the door.

Once we were in the hall, Satel instantly turned and swept me into his arms, carrying me bridal-style.

“Since we’re here, ah might as well carry ye ta where our home will be,” he murmured near my ear. He was calling on a falucite tradition that heavily resembled the human one where the husband carried the wife into the new home.

For humans, the gesture was some superstitious nonsense to help the family and the animal guardians recognize the new addition. But for falucite it was a logical way to acquaint the soon-to-be mate with her new living quarters, because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to find it without her partner showing it to her once. At least, this was true for falucite women; humans and demons had to rely on their mates to get them to and from their bedchambers in the homestead.

I was badly injured the night we mated so he didn’t get the chance to play upon the tradition then. But since our future home was a place I could reach with my own power, it seemed far more appropriate to try it now, even though we were already mated. He knew I didn’t like to be carried like a damsel in distress, but there was no harm in letting him do this once in a while.

Besides, he spared me from the humiliation of being seen by teleporting to our destination. We blinked to the top of a cliff overlooking the beach. In his arms, Satel walked over to the edge overlooking the lights and shadows of the pirates down below. We were far enough that no one would be able to see us in the dark.

I gazed at our surroundings. I only had moonlight to illuminate the area, but I was able to make out the carefully cleared ground and the organized stones that marked the plans for the future home. I couldn’t tell the size of the plans in the dark, but I liked the location. I wanted a place that overlooked the beach and sea.

“Ah like it,” I said softly with a smile.

“Ah’m glad,” he replied in a whisper, leaning down to rub noses with me.

“Ye can put me down now,” I said, earning a mischievous grin from him.

“No, ah earned the right ta carry ye fer as long as ah want, an’ ah have no intentions o’ lettin’ ye go ’til mornin’,” he responded cheekily as he turned and walked toward the marked house plans.

I was about to playfully ask how he ‘earned the right’, but I let him have the victory. He really did earn it by overcoming his fears and eliminating the problem we had with a particular falucite clan. This probably wasn’t the last time we’d hear from them, but at least all ideas of me marrying the idiot prince were officially over.

However, I protested when he laid me down on the ground and pinned me in place with a hand between my breasts.

“This is where our bedroom will be,” he answered when he saw my questioning look.

He removed his long jacket before reaching to unclasp my corset. “We ain’t matin’ out here in the open,” I told him sternly. Sure, I’d let him carry me around like a dainty wife for a night, but this was where I drew the line. Maybe we were away from the crowd but there was no guarantee someone – or even Cegil and his family – might walk by and see us.

A dark smirk came to Satel’s face, bringing instant heat to my lower belly. He used his magicks to quickly blast the clasps of my corset and the buttons of his shirt and vest open. I was a still more covered than he was as he straddled my legs and hovered over me.

“Don’t worry me’aosirsa. No one will see us- ah’ll make sure o’ it,” he promised, lowering more to cover my body. I was sure he intended to use illusions to mask us, but that usually didn’t reassure me. He could lose control of it during the throes of passion.

And yet seeing that look on his face made me forget my anxiety and embrace what he was offering. He just had a way to make me feel safe no matter where we were.

Everything was right in my world. Satel was in control of his life once again and everyone was safe and sound. And, for the time being, my enemies were defeated and their ambitions crushed.

As with the end of every battle, a new day began, and I was ready to keep going as Lord of the Sea. And it was even better now that I had someone by my side bearing the same title. …Though we still needed to think of another name for him.

While our battle was over for now, there was another one brewing. It would be years before we had to worry about it, but it was the most challenging we ever had to face. It was the final battle for our right to exist. Winning it would win the war. Losing just wasn’t an option.

To be continued in Fatesbane: Full Circle

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