The sound of hard work was everywhere. It went nicely with all the shanty-singing, it gave it pace and rhythm. Some of the mercenaries and pirates were washing leather armour or making new swords or practice-fighting. There was lots of cooking going on too.
Mary reckoned that the pirates and the mercenaries were competing against each other to sing better. Instead of the annoying cacophony one would expect as a result from this, the harmonies of the old ballads melted into each other – distorting the words but increasing the beauty of the beat and rhythm (no matter how aggressively it was meant).
Now, more than ever, Mary wanted to go home.
She wished she had, actually, when she’d been told to. She wanted to forget about the elvish realm, about the fact that her mother was some crazy tyrant who was probably trying to take over an entire world, about the possibility that Mariqah might want to get rid of her niece.
Mary hadn’t seen her aunt in days.
She had been avoiding her. But it was only a matter of time… only a matter of time until Mariqah found her.
“Of all the money,” her aunt’s voice rang around her. Mary looked frantically around, “that e’er I had – I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that e’er I’ve done – alas it was to none, but me.
And all I’ve done for want of wit: to mem’ry now I can’t recall…
So fill to me, the parting glass:
Good-night and joy be with you all.”
Mary stood up and looked around, her nerves steadying a little. She knew The Parting Glass well. Very well, actually. Mariqah used to sing it to Mary, before she went to sleep – until, of course, Mary reckoned she was too old to be sung to sleep. She hadn’t realised how much she missed it.
Mary turned around, and looked at her feet, “You’re like a ninja, you know,” she mumbled.
Mariqah tilted her head to a side and hugged her niece. Mary couldn’t help herself, she cried into the older woman’s shoulder while Mariqah stroked her hair and finished her song. Mariqah sat down, taking Mary with her and rubbed her younger girl’s back.
You are not your mother, Mary, Mariqah told her.
Mary sniffed, “But Uncle Khadir is right. I’ll probably give you away!”
Uncle Khadir is insensitive to eavesdroppers. He really doesn’t like them.
Mary looked up at her aunt, “Can’t you be serious? Just this once? He’s right!”
No, he’s not. I know he’s not.
“But he’s always right.”
I believe you’re confusing Uncle Khadir with me.
Mary laughed despite herself, “Aunt Mariqah…” she pulled away and rubbed her eyes, “I wish you just… hadn’t told me about my parents. Maybe then this wouldn’t be happening! Maybe then… you could trust me.”
And suppose Britney were to recognise you, Mary? When we went to attack her and she called you out as her daughter? And you would ask me regarding it? In the very thick of things? What would have happened then?
Huge anti-climax, that. Like Star Wars-style. Even more so if she happened to kill me. ‘You killed my mother!’, and then, ‘No, Mary, I am your mother!’ You really want to be part of that cliché?
Mary scoffed, “I hate it when you have a lecture prepared for everything.”
That’s just the thing, Mary. I didn’t tell you about your parents because I wanted to undermine you, or single you out as not-my-child. I did it so you’d be prepared. So you’d know what’s coming for you. I knew your mother was alive… Mariqah paused thoughtfully, And I had an inkling that maybe she’d come looking for you. It’s taken me by surprise that she’s wreaking havoc around here, though.
“But… I’m of her, Aunt Mariqah. The evil witch that tortured you mercilessly in a dank prison is my mother. Doesn’t… doesn’t that faze you at all?”
I love you all the same, Mary. There are mercenaries in our ranks born of worse filth and scum. And I’ll admit… Mariqah hesitated.
Mariqah sighed deeply, There’s a reason why Darim could love you… more than I could, Mary. When I look at you… Mariqah held Mary’s face, brushing a thumb over her brows, I see your father’s eyes, his forehead, his nose. I see your mother’s lips, the curve of her jaw, her luxuriant hair. And, for a second, I’d see them; and I’d wonder and remember and bathe in the luxury of self-pity for a minute or so. And then… just sadness.
“Because…” Mary looked away, “you think that, maybe, I could turn out like them?”
Well… yes. It’s a stupid thought though. Evil isn’t an inherited trait. Just goes to show even I can be an idiot at times – you only found out that Britney was your mother a couple of months ago: how on earth would you, Mary, be able to turn into her?
“That’s not entirely true…” Mary shifted uneasily.
Mary… I couldn’t hate you if I wanted to. I couldn’t mistrust you, either. You’ve proven to me that you’re worth my trust.
“I have?” said Mary, raising her brows a little and smiling slightly, “Then why do you, like, treat me like a kid. All the time?”
You are a kid to me, Mary. All the time. You’re more than forty years younger than me.
Mary paused, and sighed deeply.
You know, people say life doesn’t get more real when you’re fighting for it.
“People like you say things like that, Aunt Mariqah,” Mary laughed.
Mariqah ignored her, It’s not true.
Life doesn’t get any realer when everything you do, you do to your utmost capability; and all of it turns to shite and vomit and a river of tears at your feet. You can see it, you can smell it, you can feel it – sometimes you can taste and hear it too. It’s horrible. It’s disgusting. And, I daresay, at times it’s quite un-dignifying. And you know what? You can’t take the easy way out and murder the culprit simply because: when she smiles, everything changes.
“I’m… I’m not getting it.”
You, Mary. Your smile, your laugh and the way you said my name, as a little kid, was a complete game-changer. I… I had never considered how much I’d missed mothering you.
“I was that annoying?”
Mariqah laughed, Don’t look so glum. We all were. Well, except me, of course.
Mary scoffed, “Wait, what?”
Me. I was the most awesome baby to have. I was fat, cute and I shut up most of the time.
“There’s no possible way you could know that.”
You continue to underestimate me, my dear niece.
Mary laughed and then let out a long sigh, “Why… why do you think she left me?”
I told you, she was running for her life.
“But she left me with people… people who hated her. People who wanted to kill me. What kind of mother does that?”
Don’t judge your mother, Mary. You couldn’t possibly know the circumstance, the emotions, etc. There are some things we can never know, Mariqah leaned forward, This is one of those things.
“You? You’re telling me not to judge the woman who almost killed you?”
Mariqah made a sour face, She didn’t almost kill me. She just tortured me some.
Mary rolled her eyes, when another thought struck her, “Do you believe… do you believe she loved me?”
Well, she’d be blind and dumb not to.
I… I don’t know. I guess we can’t, really… She didn’t have much time with you.
“I thought mothers were supposed to be unconditional in their love. Undying and that… You know, like everyone says. And, yet… it’s possible that mine never loved me? She just had me because of my dad – because he was powerful or something,” Mary looked away, “I can’t say I love her much either.”
If it makes you feel any better… Mariqah sighed, I’ve never felt the myth of unconditional motherly love. When Mary made a face, Mariqah continued, I was the oldest child, so it’s possible that my mother did love me – but I never felt it and I was never shown it. Affection tends to play keep-away with you when you lead a violent life.
“But, you grew up in a normal family.”
Mariqah smiled, And who told you that?
“Well… Uncle Darim…”
We all define ‘normal’ differently. And, I am telling you now: my family and my life were anything but normal. People aren’t born killers, they’re made into them. But we’re making this about me.
“So… you trust me, then?”
“And I’ll be in on any plans you have for the attack on Skye?”
Mary frowned, “But…”
Mary… Mariqah paused, We’re going on a mission to kill your mother. And horribly so. Do you really want to be a part of that?
“I never considered her to be my mother. I don’t even remember her.”
That is not an answer to my question, Mary.
“You know what my answer is.”
Mary… Blood is still thicker than water. Killing your own mother – knowing her or not – is better said than done. Because, when it happens, it won’t be like any other kill, I’m assuming. Good or bad, she’s still your mum, Mary. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life. You’ll probably regret it for just as long too, Mariqah patted the younger woman’s shoulder, I think… I think it’s better if you don’t come.
“But…” Mary looked at Mariqah, “But I want to help.”
I know, Mariqah smiled, You always do. I admire than in you. But… how about you do something more… on the side-lines, hmm?
“I want to be on the front-line!”
Mary pouted, “Fine. I’ll do whatever… chore it is you have lined up for me.”
I’ve nothing lined up for you, at the moment. But you’ll be happy to know that you’re not the only one I’ve talked out of war.
Go find Tostig. He’s quite sore with my decision for him to stay behind.