The sea was calm but the ship was heavy and it’s passage threw waves and spray with exceptional force. There was a shadow behind it, but it was not the ship’s own. It was not yet dawn and the moon was new. There was no light to cast the ship’s shadow, but there was a shadow none the less. It kept pace with the vessel, occasionally causing a whitecap of it’s own. A lithe creature moved through the rigging. Barely visible. A liquid drop of ink hiding behind letters. It glided over masts, slipped down ropes, through partially filled sails. In the pre-dawn mist, it tricked the eye into doubting. Was it there? Liquid black dropped to the rail of the ship, silent and smooth, then it was gone. Over the edge to towards the shadow in the water.
Clinging to the side of the ship, the small black spot drew a short sword from a sheath along its back. It struck the side of the ship three times quickly with the pommel of the sword. From below the water line, three hollow echos answered. The spot struck twice more, slightly lower. Two echos followed. Once more pommel on wood, once more a deep echo. The hulking shadow in the water drew closer. White caps formed as a giant’s head broke the surface of the water.
“You should be resting, my little monkey.” The voice was deep and resonant like the sea itself was speaking.
“Land.” Small and musical like the sky was answering. “Can I swim with you?”
“Not today. You should be getting ready.” Regret and responsibility carried the words from sea to sky.
“I am ready.” The sky was confident and fearless.
“Oh.” Could the sea be hurt by the sky? “You should wake him.”
“He’s already up. There’s time yet.” Even when whispering a plea, the voice held a command. How could they not swim together today? The giant began to protest. “Keed, no. Wait!”
“Catch me, Shade!” With a giggle and a splash, the spot leapt form the side of the ship.
They were pulling into port at Marseilles. She watched the sailors on the other ships through the windows of the captain’s chamber. The busy customs agents rowing to and fro with their manifests and inventories. The first and second mates calling orders to the crews. How she longed to be among them in her breeches and bare feet. She could feel the rough hemp fibers in her hands, the sway of the ship in her legs, the salt spray on her skin. When they were at sea, Waverly was part of the crew. She had to be. It was usually just the three of them. Waverly dressed in clothing that was functional so she could climb rigging and set sails. The Count drilled her in the sword, the Giant in hand to hand combat and cooking. She did not want things to change.
“Lady? Are you dressed?” The Count yelled from the deck above. “The Agents are about.” The long established code: We’re in the World again. Act the part. “Lady?”
“Aye!” She yelled towards the ceiling. “As dressed as I can be.” She added to her reflection.
Waverly sat on a stool, pouting. The dress was too big and she hated it. It had been made for her mother. She only saw it once, three years ago, on a form in the tailor’s shop in Milan. She tried to hug it. It was nothing like her mother, but the familiarity of the shape was too much for her heart to pass up. Her longing was mistaken for approval by the men and the dress was purchased. The Count assured her she would fit in it properly once she was older. She was a child then. She did grow a bit over three years, but not in the way they’d expected. Certainly not in a way that would help her fit this dress. The bodice was too tight at the waist and too loose in the chest. It flopped awkwardly forward, it’s perky bows mocking her from the mirror. She turned away from the mirror and got her sulk going.
She was just too small. This was never going to work. Waverly gathered her self pity about her like petulant armor. She worried the ends of her braids, some still damp from her swim with Shade. She had been so confident only a few hours ago. In the darkness, she was one with the ship, with the sea, with the sky. How could she breathe without the wind? How could she find her way without the stars? How could she live without the sea? It was too much to think about. Her sadness consumed her. So she pouted. She and her mother had that in common. (So she’d been told.) They were champions of sulk.
Sitting on the stool, the skirt pooled on the floor at her feet catching the rays of late afternoon sunlight. So much pink and lace! She’d been trapped in quicksand once. Wearing this dress was a similar experience. She couldn’t move properly. She was surprised by the weight of it. It looked delicate but it pulled on her, all of her, with ever increasing pressure. A clever prison devised by a sadistic mind. She flopped her arms dejectedly. The dress puffing absurdly giving her the appearance of sinking into pink quicksand.
She felt a wind at her back. She knew this wind. She felt eyes on her. Someone watching her. The air was suddenly closing on her, she could feel the space between. For a moment, a heartbeat, she felt the space. She let the hostility push at her skin, wake every hair to standing, she felt the decision to attack on the air.
Her movements were sloppy but she was quick. She shifted her weight slightly from the seat of the stool to balls of her feet in an awkward crouch. In the small chamber, it would be a close fight, hampering the long sword moving towards her. She kicked the stool from under her. It shot from beneath her as she lunged towards the Captain’s table where her weapons lay. She heard wood sound with steel as the stool was deflected. She recognized the song the steel sang. She knew this sword and the wind that held it. Waverly sprang to the desk, short sword in her right hand, dagger in her left. She spun to face him. Steel flashed and sang. Her heart swelled. He stepped on the hem of her dress, trapping her mid-spin squatting on the desk. His sword baring down from above. Her weapons crossed above her head, catching his, creating a new harmony. The song of steel on steel. It filled her, leaving no room for sulk.
“You are slow this morning, My Lady.” His eyes sparkled as they met hers.
“And you are cautious, My Lord. Caution will get you killed.” Her smile came at him then was gone in a burst of pain as her forehead smashed his nose. Copper on the wind, first blood. Her melancholy armor slid from her, she had no need of it now.
She sprang from the desk to the bed, slipped on pink and found herself flat on her back. She rolled and deflected a rather sloppy attack. The Count blocked the door. She jumped atop the Captain’s table. Damn dress! She kicked and swiped low across the desk to free one of her feet. Papers and maps scattered. An old dinner plate crashed to the floor. They exchanged a few slashes and parries, all arms and torsos and blades. She kicked him in the chest. As he fell backward, he planted his dagger through the dress and into the wood below.
She was trapped. She stood with all her strength, hoping to free herself of the pink prison, but there was too much. She spun and dodged and parried, becoming more and more tangled in the fabric. He weaved and bent and slashed. The song of their swords filled the small chamber, echoing off the wood and leaded glass. She was coiled in pink satin. He was pressing her to yield. She slashed wildly with her short sword and deftly swiped at her own midsection with her dagger. At the same time, she stood up with all her might.
The skirt fell free. With a triumphant yell, Waverly fell backward out the window.
She was in the water, cold and alive. She used the dagger to cut the dress free and kicked for the surface.
“Now we will have to buy another dress, Lady!” The Count bellowed like the wind from the window of his chamber. He wiped the blood from his nose with the sleeve of his tunic. The twin scars on his cheeks barely visible next to his smile.
She was dry and dressed again. This time in a simple wool country dress. Her traveling cloak was warm and inky blue, indigo, a parting gift from Shade. It had clever pockets through out and was lined with a portion of his old cloak. “To keep us close, always.” The sea cried, and so did the sky. Her hair was still a tangle of braids, though the Count had somehow pinned it to her head in a way that made her look more like a human girl than a beached mermaid. His gifts were the twin daggers in her boots. Small, perfectly balanced blades, sharp enough to split a hair. “Do not hesitate!” The wind cried, so did the sky.
Waverly looked around her small cabin. It was empty now. All of her possessions packed neatly in two trunks. The space had been filled with her for seven years. Now it was empty. She had her daisho at her back, The Count in her boots, Shade on her shoulders, three stones from her mother around her neck and her father’s mask tied like a scarf over her hair. She was a package of fate. It was time to leave.
The great black carriage was waiting on the shore.
Aruj Shade was in the carriage, which accounted for the size. Edmund, the Count, alighted the driver’s seat as Waverly climbed inside. She didn’t look back at the ship. She looked at Shade. He held out his hand and then pulled her into an embrace. “Don’t cry, it hurts so much.” He wiped a tear from his face. “You will do just fine.”
“Only if I can drink some WINE.”
“No, no. Some other TIME.” Waverly felt Aruj’s pulse slow, rhyming always soothed him. She was too old to sleep over the giant’s heart but she still wanted to. When she was 6, the Count tried to move her while they slept to prove the giant was spoiling her. He waited until they were both in a deep sleep. He deftly plucked tiny Waverly from her perch on the giant’s chest. One inch, two inches. Waverly started to whine. The giant started to grumble. Three inches, four inches. Waverly started to squirm. Aruj started to fidget. Edmund lowered Waverly (four, three) and they both settled. He raised her up (three, four), Waverly whined, Aruj grumbled. Inconceivable! Five inches. At six inches from the giant’s chest, Waverly’s mouth opened and let loose a primal cry. Aruj’s eye’s shot open as he growled, menacingly. The Count placed Waverly on Aruj’s chest. Silence. They were both still asleep. The impending loss of her Shade was overwhelming for them both.
“I can’t remember what mom looks like.” Waverly snuggled down into his side, cradled in his enormous arm. Aruj’s didn’t know what to say. What do you say to that? Aruj could not remember what his mother looked like either. He didn’t answer and they rode in silence for a while. “What was she like?” Waverly asked softly. “She was like you.” They both cried silently for a few minutes. The road was well traveled but poorly maintained. The carriage was built to carry a giant, so the ride was smooth. The rhythm of the horses clippity clopping along lulled Waverly.
They reached Villa Faria near midnight. Waverly stabled the horses. The Giant and The Count went inside.
“She is too young, Inigo. One more year.”
“No, Fezzik, we must stick to the plan. We are already behind schedule. She has only two years. I am sorry my friend.”
Inigo was up at dawn. He waited in the courtyard. Waverly, stepped from the kitchen, holding a mug of coffee.
“Could we just have breakfast for a change?” Waverly, dressed all in black, leaned against the door frame and stifled a yawn.
“You are not prepared, My Lady.” He moved to the right, drawing his sword.
“You know, breakfast? Eggs? Toast? Light conversation. How did you sleep, child? Bit restless…could use a bit of a lie in.” Waverly groused over her mug.
“I do not think you are taking this seriously. I am standing here, waiting to kill you.” A dagger flew from his hand, thunking into the door frame where Waverly’s head had been. Waverly stepped forward into the courtyard, crossing directly over to Inigo. He could not attack her, she was unarmed. “You trust too much in my caution!” He bellowed at her. “Caution…”
Waverly was suddenly behind him, her knees at a pressure point in his lower back. Inigo fell to his knees, her lithe arm around his neck holding a small dagger to his throat. “…Caution gets you killed.” she whispered. She didn’t even spill her coffee.
“Now, I have won. For my prize I choose breakfast with my Lord Father.” She stated. She let him free and gave him a deep mock curtsy. Inigo was still shocked at her speed. Where had the dagger come from? She did not sleep well?
“You did not sleep well?” He called after her. He caught the smell of bacon from the kitchen. Fezzik had already started breakfast.
“Who can sleep? Everything’s so still.” Waverly complained.
“That doesn’t mean you have to be a PILL.” Fezzik chided her from the stove. He was prodding bacon away from the eggs frying next to them. Waverly giggled at the rhyme. “Sword work is important. We won’t be around…”
“She bested me, Fezzik.” Inigo interrupted. Fezzik stiffened. “We will meet no more for morning DRILL.”
Waverly and Inigo watched Fezzik’s back. Fezzik sighed. Waverly sobbed, then sighed happily as she grabbed Inigo’s hand. After thirteen years, Inigo was frighten by the strength of Waverly and Fezzik’s connection. They shared one another’s highs and lows. Inigo knew how deeply they both struggled with being alone. Fezzik moved some food from the hot pan to the waiting plate.
“Then we celebrate by eating until we’ve had our FILL.” He bravely rhymed.
Waverly got to her knees and reached across the table for the plate of hash. “When do I meet the tailor? Can I chose the style? How will I know what is the right style?” She spat all her questions at the room in general.
“First, you must bathe.” Inigo pinched his nose and made a face. Leaning away from her.
“I bathed yesterday on ship!” She protested.
“Falling in the water is not bathing.” Inigo returned.
“You must bathe and wash your hair.” Fezzik had one hand gesturing in circles above his head as he placed the rest of the eggs and bacon on the table.
“Wash my hair!? Oh come on!” Waverly was almost kneeling on the table now piling food onto her plate. Inigo grabbed the end of a slice of bacon Waverly had just picked up. They tugged briefly. Inigo pulling it free when Fezzik pushed Waverly’s knee out of the bread basket.
“At some point, you will have to stop eating like that.” Inigo gestured to Waverly’s current state with his bacon.
“I eat fine.” She spat around a mouthful of meat.
“You eat like a pirate.” Fezzik chided.
“You eat like a giant.” Waverly retorted. “If you can take my food, so be it. Until then I’ll eat how I want.” She commanded. She stood on her chair, sword drawn, fist full of bacon at her hip. Inigo kicked the chair from under her as Fezzik swiped her plate from the table and held it above his head. Waverly tumbled from the chair, deftly catching herself before falling to her ass. Neither Fezzik nor Inigo paused in their dining. Waverly stood, indignant, stamping her foot with all of her 13 years. “Hey!”
“You must bathe and wash your hair.“ Inigo said into his papers.
“You need to wear a dress today. The tailor will talk. They are terrible gossips.” Fezzik stared into Waverly’s pout. She stamped her foot again, sheathed her sword, and righted her chair. She slumped down into it. Fezzik continued to hold her plate above his head, far out of her reach.
Waverly took a huge mouthful of bacon from the clutch in her hand. She never broke eye contact with Fezzik. She chewed with her mouth open. Several bits of partially masticated meat fell to her lap. She swallowed. Fezzik raised an eyebrow. “Fine!” Waverly relented, slapping the rest of her bacon on the table, “I’ll wear a dress. gawd.” Fezzik set her plate in front of her. “You’re a terrible gossip.” she muttered into her hash.