The storm had passed, but he still felt the aftereffects in the pit of his stomach. He drained the last of his wine, revelling in how the fruity, rich red wine quenched his thirst and ran into his beard. He wrapped his furs around his shoulders, stared out at the ocean, in awe at how it could toss him from side to side like a child with a toy one second then become glacial and calm within a matter of hours. It was the first peace he had known in a long time.
The journey had taken four days and it was on the dawn of the fifth that he saw the castle on the shore. He held no truck with the gods of his people, but habit brought a prayer of thanks to his lips that he had sight of land again. He began to prepare for landing, rigging the sails and securing his meagre belongings for easy departure and transit.
He was forged by circumstance and purpose into a rough blade with an edge that could splice a hair in two, which was why he had been able to afford the ship in the first instance. He had left behind that reputation, and that identity with a quiet sense of relief. He picked up a package, a book wrapped in oilcloth, it’s loose pages bound with twine.The book represented his true self, and he guarded it with a ruthlessness that left unwary thieves in no doubt as to their fate if they dared to take it from him. He checked that it was undamaged by the storm, and breathed a sigh of relief that it remained unmarked.
He checked the blades that he kept on his person. A pitted, black blade, more like a cleaver than a shortsword, carved from black volcanic glass and kept sharp enough to slice through bone and flesh like silk hung from his right hip. Up his left sleeve, in a scabbard that laid flush along his forearm was a dagger that could be in his hand with a turn of his wrist and in someone’s belly with the same haste. In terms of anything else, he was a man who liked to work with his hands.
The ocean rippled on his starboard side and he studied the motion. It was in defiance of the tides and he kept the flutter of anticipation that started from his stomach from appearing on his face.
‘I know it’s you.’ he said.
His voice had the rusted, gruff quality that came from a long period of disuse but it carried from deep within his broad chest. His soft, caramel eyes shone with a light of hopeful expectation.
She arose from the water, auburn hair plastered to her scalp and her smile lifted his spirits to a height that almost took the top of his head off, such was the velocity of his joy. She giggled and it took a concerted effort for him not to dive into the water there and then. Her tail broke through the surface of the water and propelled her up so that she clung to the side of his boat. He knelt down in front of her and reached with a trembling hand, to touch her face.
‘I thought you were going to meet me on the docks.’ he said.
She grinned and rolled her eyes.
‘You know I’ve no patience for that sort of thing.’
He laughed, showing his white teeth and pulled her into the boat. He crushed her in his arms, pressing her against him with a boldness that took her breath away. His hands wandered over the slick, smooth skin of her back and downwards. The scales were already absorbing into skin, and he registered the final elements of her transformation by a sudden, welcome burst of warmth and space where her tail had been. She wrapped her strong thighs around him and slipped her warm, questing tongue into his mouth.
Need made the coupling quick and urgent. Her soft, warm fingers plucked at his belt and she mounted him with all haste. It was over within a few moments, her just before him but his release was ushered into being with a hearty yell and his thick, rough fingers pinching her nipples as she ground down in order not to miss a single drop.
They laid there, until the breeze raised goosepimples and he brought his fur cloak around them both rather than part. She rested her head against his chest and nestled against him. He breathed her in, deep into his lungs. All that he had endured, the rewards of a life apart from her, in service to men with a need for violence ordered but not carried out, had been worth it.
They whispered and shivered together as one, as the boat drifted into the dock.
The world waited to embrace them with the silence of certainty.