“How did she deal with her descent?”
“Like everyone else.”
Day four of travelling
The Night Thief
She was different after.
After she killed two people. Became a murderer. Became someone she had never been before. However you would like to put it. She was different after.
He would have liked to say that he watched her, comforted her in the fragile moments after and told her what it meant to be the person she now was. But he didn’t. He was reckless in his cover-up, tossing the bodies onto the other ship and burning it into ashes. He was ruthless in his celebration, favouring drinking and dancing while he knew that she would be crying and blaming herself down below. He would have liked to say that was not what he did. But he did those things. That couldn’t be changed.
He watched her after his ruthlessness and his recklessness.
She was confusing. Yeah. Confusing. That’s the word to describe Turow. A small island girl who was far from learning the things he and his crew knew, young enough to still be innocent and childlike, yet with enough passion and dignity and enthusiasm to do everything he asked of her.
He was hungover, a hammer in his head when he first watched her. She was knelt over a basin washing her hands for what could have been the tenth or the twentieth time. He knew what she saw. It was the colour that wouldn’t go away. It was the colour of her breath as the realisation kicked in. It was the colour that pierced the air as her ragged breath was one inhale from a lung burning scream. It was the fading colour of her heart sinking further down into her chest. He knew that she could still see the red blood on her hands from her actions.
Avery knew what she needed. She needed a night to wallow, a night to mull it all over. So he didn’t alert her to his presence in her doorway, he didn’t call for her to do any work the next day, he told his crew to leave her alone even Tommen. It took him a while to argue with himself that what he was doing was just another excuse to avoid his problems.
Once that was over, once he knew that she had had time to reflect on what she had done, he got her drunk.
“Won’t you be considered a drunkard if you drink that?” She was of course referring to the previous celebrations but he shrugged it off.
“I won’t get drunk too quickly if you drink it with me,” he replied to her, shaking the fine bottle of scotch in her direction.
He watched as she struggled with herself, torn between accepting the liquid that would make her forget and the guilt that drinking it would cause later. Her fingers tapped her thighs gently and relentlessly, a pattern of nerves. Drinking wouldn’t be the ultimate cure, it never was, but it was a short term fix for one night only. God, she needed that.
In fact, he drunk little that night, while she drank plenty. He could tell that she hadn’t drunk scotch before, the surprised cough after the first gulp was enough to tell him that. Turow was a quiet drunk at first, although happy she was content to keep her thoughts to herself and relax, but then she changed.
“I killed someone Captain.”
“Is that all you’re going to say?” She took another swig in her anger. She was alight again, no longer the dulled vessel she once was. Alcohol was a stupid thing, an addictive demon but it did wonderful things at first.
So he told her how it would get easier to not feel the way she did. He told her how that can be seen as a bad thing but it could also be seen as something good. If she hadn’t killed then she would have been the one lying on that burnt sunk ship. Her adventure would have been finished before it had begun.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, Turow,” he relaxed and closed his eyes. He knew that she would be watching how his throat contracted as he gulped down his excuses, how he tried to beat down the truth.
They were murderers. But they were survivalists.
“This was not what I was looking for,” she whispered, her words made faint indentations in the air between them.
“Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one. This is not a mistake, or a failure and this will not affect your soul. The universe can be cruel sometimes but it puts in place tests to improve yourself. This might not be where you want to end up, but it will aid you on where you’re heading.”
He wondered if his comforts fell on deafened ears. From personal experience he knew they did.
“Where are you heading anyway?” He asked her as a gameplay for distraction.
“The biggest mainland you have closest to you, a place where a small island girl will change and find herself.”
They lapsed into a small, warm silence. It was brief and safe. Turow smiled and allowed herself a time of verbal explosion in which she described her life on the island to her captain. They laughed and they joked. The label of being a murderer was forgotten for a while.
The third step to his plan was this: The Distraction of Something New.
He had planned his night of drinking, tailored it to the night before they would dock on the island they were heading to. Roche was an island bigger than any of those in the eight quadrants in the eastern seas, their last stop before a mainland. It was always a trader’s most favourite stop. Known for its bustling market, Roche held every item just about possible, both legal and illegal.
She emerged with a groan and a half-hearted slap as he dragged her up from her cabin. Swears constantly on her lips she hated him as he gleefully pushed her off of the ship. Although, her feelings changed when he gave her a mixture that kept the headache away from her poor skull.
Turow looked around, taking in the trading town. A summer heat made air and ground sway with exhaustion, it was almost lulling to anyone not used to it. Nothing about it screamed anything. Except that Roche was a mystery, a secret wrapped within every object capable to be sold.
“And what, pray tell, are we doing here?” She asked him, as the sound of their boots echoed through the wooden dock.
“Money, why else would I be here?”
As they entered the town together, he shot her a coy smile, and she felt herself smiling too. All she could see was what could only be described as a classic market, it was exactly what you would picture, all rows of tables and tents pitched to the side. People were milling around everywhere, attracted by different smells and sights. Sellers shouted out briberies to the buyers, advertising their products the only way they knew would make the most profit for their bodies and their souls. Avery turned to face her, propping his hand lightly on her shoulder.
“How old are you anyway?” He had never asked the question before, he probably should have done before getting her drunk.
Huh, only four years younger than himself, and still so innocent.
His expression lifted to one of more relief than joy, “Good! Then you are free to do whatever you please here, just be back at the ship by the times the sun falls.” His hand left her shoulder as he strode forwards ready to do what he came here for, “Oh, and don’t do anything dishonourable, well anything that I wouldn’t do!” He shouted over his shoulder.
He didn’t even have to look back to see the scowl now positioned across her face. But he did not hear her mumble that everything he did was near dishonourable.
Alone, the market rose up and around her, sudden and vast beyond anything she had heard of. Most of the things on display seemed innocuous, hats and shoes or fruit and armour. Her eyes moved quicker than her amble pace as she searched for something to buy. It was not the usual items she would suspect, not a weapon or a book or trinket, but the shocking image of another. The stall at the end of the row held a vast array of art, there were many sketches but only one painted portrait. There was no vendor there, just Cassiopeia and the cruel face looking back at her. It was a man, his eyes dark and arrogant, his hair fair and tied back from his face, his smile crude and sly. But it was the furrow in between the man’s brows like a ravine straddling a river, which was the main feature.
She had no idea who he was. Someone important perhaps, otherwise he wouldn’t have been the only detailed face staring back at her. Facing the painting, she could see that it was layer after layer of shades of paint stacked up on each other, like piles of multi coloured rocks.
She felt a warm tingle ripple through her fingers, and she looked up to see her hand grazing the man’s forehead. Odd, she didn’t realise she had reached out. Withdrawing her hand back, the multi coloured pigments transferred onto her hands, staining them with dotted patterns. Cassiopeia’s eyes caught the paintings angry face, contrary to her own.
“It’s called the Scowling Man,” A voice came from behind her, it was a mere child, a young boy maybe a few years shy from adolescence.
“Where’s the vendor?”
The boy chose not to answer. “For years no one knew who painted it,” he spoke in slow ribbons through his heavily accented tongue, “It was only after his story circled a few times that we were all able to figure it out.”
“There’s a story behind this face, want to hear it?”
She nodded acutely. What she had learned from embarking on her journey, was that stories helped a great deal to not only progress the adventure but the mind of the listener also.
“On the other side of the island there is a grand house surrounded by all sides by infinite gardens – flowers, trees, terraces and statues.” He deftly reached into the stall and placed a stubbornly tied sketchbook into her hands. Opening the pages for her, she was graced with the presence of drawings of the garden the boy spoke of, an array of fast drawn flowers and wonders. “A man used to live there, he was kind and deserving of his story.”
“You don’t know his name?”
“He never told anyone,” the boy answered, “He encouraged the children to sneak in through the walls and play in the gardens. He never interfered with their games or berated them and he always left some food out on the terrace come sundown. Few children ever saw him but they thanked him by up keeping the gardens as much as they could and not ruining anything. Those who did, always found him in the library surrounded by books and drawings, every time they saw him he was always painting the same thing.”
“The painting of the Scowling Man,” she replied for him, knowing enough to fill in the blanks of his story.
“He said that he had been trying to get it right from when he was just starting to be a man, painting it from his own reflection in the mirror beyond the canvas. They asked why it was different from the sketches of plants or bodies and he replied that it was something light to the dark acts he had done when he was younger.” The boy stopped for a moment, surveying the sketched garden before them. “One day they couldn’t find the man in the house and instead found the completed painting. There was no record or answer as to where he could have gone, whether he had disappeared or died. In favour of him, the children to this day see that the gardens are as beautiful as they were when he was there.”
“He must have meant a lot to the children,”
“We have been trying to sell his studies and his memories on, to spread his life to more than just us. It hasn’t worked for the near twenty odd sun cycles. People believe that the dark deeds he once committed has cursed everything he touched. I tell this story to most of the people who swarm through here, they aren’t as patient to listening to it.”
She continually flicked through the sketchbook, each page different from the one before it. The book itself was a mixture of landscape drawings, plant exploration and anatomic studies. With more pages added in the bindings, straining the covers beyond wanting to remain shut.
“Was the man a doctor before a painter?” She pondered verbally as she stared at the drawing of a man’s torso and back.
She ignored the thought train provoked by that answer.
“I’ll buy this from you, and I’ll tell the story of the Scowling Man to others I meet on my travels,” Cassiopeia dropped a handful of coins into the boys clutches, her experience had told her that this stall was ran by children however unorthodox that was.
“You promise?” His eyes a series of glazed galaxies as she stared up at her in wonder. The innocence of a child was something more precious than any jewel or amount of money; few knew of it.
The smile on the boy’s was as blinding as the sun, “My name is Hunter,” he offered her instead of a verbal example of gratitude. Avery had told her that in some circles names were powerful, more powerful than a language.
“Mine is Cassiopeia.”
Walking away from the stall, she could sense Hunter’s stare on her back almost as warm as the sun itself. The story Hunter had told and the sketchbook taught a lesson only the children ever truly understood. The decisions the Scowling Man had made to recover from past dark deeds were remembered and rewarded more than a tarnished memory.
Choosing to sit on a wall facing The Night Thief, she sat and poured over the stack of drawings. On the very back page, there were two shaken outlines of the human body labelled only with the words ‘front’ and ‘back’ respectively.
She was lucky that all those in the eight quadrants spoke the same language.
The only colour were smudged patches of blue placed on the eyes, nose, throat, and kneecaps on the ‘front’ diagram, and the head, neck, elbows and just above the feet on the ‘back’ drawing. No explanation for the splotches were given.
“Is that all you bought?”
The voice shocked her enough that she went tumbling, allowing the sketchbook to stumble out of her hands as she collapsed ungracefully into a heap of tangled limbs.
“Honestly, this was the woman who killed two people,” Avery inwardly winced by the hurtful look she had on her face, “You bought a book?”
“It’s a sketchbook and I only killed those people because of dumb luck, not because I wanted to.” Cassiopeia took the offered hand from her Captain and picked herself up, then collecting the sketchbook making the quicker option of not tying it back up again. “What were you doing anyway?”
“Oh you know, this and that,” Avery deliberately held it back from her, “Was there anything else you wanted from the market?”
“You’re deflecting and I want something but it’s not on this island I don’t think.”
Her Captain arched an eyebrow up in response. His curiosity was almost palpable in the fading heat.
“I want to learn how to fight.”
“Let’s do it.” There was no hesitation, he knew that she was capable as long as she was given time. Time was something he could very well give her.
Together they walked back to the ship. Stage Three of the plan was complete.
The last stage was acceptance. He didn’t quite know how long it would take, or if it would be fulfilled by the time they reached a mainland and she departed from his ship. But he was willing to try.
Acceptance could only be gained by one person alone. Anything he told her would be useless at this stage. He had done all he could for her and would continue doing so until she left his crew.
The stage was made up of many parts, ones which he couldn't figure out. However, the first part was made entirely on her own, when she pulled out an unread, rather oblong letter from her father and basked in who and what gave her a backbone on which to stand: