Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Bacchante awoke in darkness. As the lady's eyes flickered open, the only light that met them came from the faint, white glow of a fluorescent light, somewhere in her periphery. In a wave her memory returned - finding Nuala, the winter forest, the pain of the arrow and the Prince, falling at her side. Wildly in the blackness she lifted herself from her back, feeling for the familiar pull of restraints or a gag, silencing her – but there were none; only the graze of coarse linen under her fingertips and the velvet scent of saltwater. With agonizing slowness the Siren's eyes adjusted to the dim light, and she made out the shadows of interlaced iron, like the weavings of a trellis, and then the grim realization that she was once again in a prison.
Her cell was not large; on three sides it was bordered by bars of cross-hatched iron, on the fourth, a wall of solid steel. Its only contents were a small desk and chair made from rough-hewn wood and the cot on which she sat. The light, she divined, came from outside the prison, through the crack of an open door beyond the bars.
Bacchante rose to her feet, wincing in pain at the wound in her side – pain enough that she could not stand unaided for long. It was only then, when she tried to stand that she noticed the rocking, the gentle sway of a boat on water. A small porthole was cut above her bed and she managed to get to her knees to see through it. She was on a ship, without a doubt – and it was night, for the sea was black as pitch, save for the shimmer of stars on the crests of the incoming tide.
"So you're alive." A man's voice pierced the stillness of the brig – too coarse to be Nuada's. With a start Bacchante turned from the window to the source of it – silhouetted in a corridor, a man passed through a lamp-lit doorway and stepped toward her cell. "I didn't think you'd make it." He was human. Shadowed by the light from the hall, Bacchante saw the man had a face lined with deep scars and a week's worth of stubble. He could be as old as 50, she thought, or as young as 30 if he'd seen combat.
"Where am I?" Bacchante uttered this in a harsh whisper, eyeing him warily from her cell.
"The F/V Dodson-May." The man paused a moment, leaning against the iron bars, "'Used to be a crab boat out on the Bering Sea. After the war started and the fisheries went under, we sailed her out through the Northwest Passage. She's a retrofit merchant ship now." He recounted this story with the saucy guile and solemn regret that so often mingled in the hearts of sailors. He was of an old breed, and Bacchante knew his kind well.
"And what is it you trade?" Whether from the caustic edge or lingering fear that marred the Siren's words, her captor uttered a laugh like gravel on concrete,
"We're not slave traders if that's what you think. 'Weapons mostly, ammunition if we can find it." Bacchante uttered a sharp laugh – a scoff to hide her panic and fear. She wanted to believe him, truly, but she doubted now that she could ever trust the promises or intentions of his race. He was a seaman - that much was obvious; his kind were ruthless from the start, but with that hardness came a reverence for the wild, and even a sense of boyish adventure. Doubtless, he had seen horrors – and now the Siren wondered if he had kept his soul. She waited a moment, looking into the fisherman all she could before she pressed further – as if this careful perusal could uncover the nature of his spirit,
"There was another, a man, an Elven warrior-" The sailor silenced her with a gesture,
"To your right."
In the dim light the Siren hadn't thought to look to the cells neighbouring hers, but even in the darkness she could see a silhouette lying on the prison's bed, arrows sticking from its back like spines.
"The pointy-eared bastard gave us quite a fight. We hire out mercenaries for when we come to port, see? 'Guess he killed three of 'em. The rest got him though."
Bacchante was hardly listening. The sight wrenched her gut, catching her breath in her throat like a sob, but on the heels of love's pity was morality's prudence. All he had done, this Prince of the Netherworld – and all he would do, if he ever returned to his Kingdom beneath the earth…
There would be no peace so long as Nuada Silverlance lived. The gravity and weight of the revelation stung her, as did all that it implied; would she truly let him die, to save what was left of the earth he'd tried to protect? She loved him, but what did the love of one person matter – who was she to choose herself over all creatures? And if he died, so would his sister – but perhaps this was a kinder fate than life as her brother's captive. Yet, who was she? Who, then, was she to choose if he lived or died, to weigh his heart against a feather?
"Please," the word escaped her lips in a half-whisper, "Let me treat his wounds. He'll die if I don't." She couldn't see the old sailor well in the darkness, but she felt him shift his weight uneasily upon her request. "You… you've no reason to trust me, but as you can see I could not fight you and win. Please…" Bacchante's plea was first met with silence, then the metallic jangle of rusted keys followed by the harsh scraping of the heavy iron door against the ship's hull.
"Make it quick."
With all her strength, Bacchante willed herself to rise – to fight the pain burning in her side and walk – and she did. She stepped to the cell door on uncertain feet, and by the time she reached it the grizzled merchant sailor had unlocked Nuada's prison. Carefully, the Siren braced her hand against the cold metal bars for a moment longer as her captor swung open the heavy gate.
"I'll need surgical thread and antiseptic-" Bacchante's request was cut short by the old sailor's scathing laughter.
"This ain't a hospital, miss. I can find you some fishing line and whiskey-"
"No. No alcohol." Bacchante did not look back at her captor as she answered, but made her way into Nuada's cell, bracing herself on prison bars and old furniture.
"Who is he to you?" The Siren did not answer. Slowly, she made her way to the Prince's bed, falling to her knees at his side. "Lovers, aren't you?" At this, the lady turned to face him, her eyes dark with indignation,
From the corner of her eye she watched the sailor leave, his shadow retreating down the fluorescent-lit corridor.
Safely alone in darkened stillness, Bacchante let her eyes fall on the Prince's wounds. The bleeding had stopped, she thought, but the arrows had struck deep and true - an insight that made the Siren stifle a cry. Gently, she let her hand fall to the Prince's shoulder. His spear was gone, yet still he wore the black and red robes of his Elven kindred; through them, she could feel the warmth of his skin, and the rise and fall of his breath. He would live, she thought, closing her eyes and shutting out the sounding sea, so that all she could see or feel was his pulse, his life beneath her fingertips. He would live, even if his life was spent on destruction, and his legacy writ in blood.
Without warning, Bacchante's melancholy reverie was broken by the harsh click of the prison's deadbolt giving way. Hearing the sound, the Siren turned to it, her eyes flashing fear.
"I won't hurt you, or him," the sailor placated, seeing her unhidden fright. Quickly, the seaman placed a spool of thin fishing line and a silver needle on the cell's wooden table and turned to leave, pausing briefly at the brig's barred door. "Listen… you should know the mercenaries are baying for blood." He gestured to the Prince, "They want to kill him. But, it's not their boat, so."
Bacchante turned to her captor, watching as he turned the key to Nuada's cell, locking them inside.
"Why did you let me help him?"
The old sailor laughed softly to himself,
"Kindred spirit, I guess. Truth is your man there put up one hell of a fight. None of the boys we hired could've taken him one for one, see? I respect that. A man like that, he shouldn't die getting shot in the back. I don't care whose side he's on." Bacchante's lips almost curved into a cynical smile. If he knew… if this man, this sailor knew that the wounded Elf who lay before him was the Prince of Bethmora, the dreaded monarch who'd ordered the massacre of the sailor's kin and laid the earth to waste, the lady wondered if she and Nuada Silverlance wouldn't be murdered in a heartbeat. They'd be shot through the prison bars with the cold precision of an execution, and all the fisherman's talk of honour and morals would be nothing more than pretty hypocrisy.
Bacchante tilted her head at his explanation, but did not answer it as her captor's footfalls grew distant, then faded to silence as he stepped away down the fishing vessel's corridor.
As soon as he had gone, the Siren moved to gather the makeshift medical supplies the man had brought. Whether from fatigue or pain or the old, familiar fear the fisherman had re-awoken in her, Bacchante was too weak to stand. On hands and knees the Siren crawled to the wooden table and dragged it across the cell floor, old wood groaning and creaking against the ship's hull.
Weakly, she leaned her side against the Prince's bed, positioning herself to reach both the fishing line she would use as stitching, and the arrows that impaled Nuada's back.
He slept still, or was unconscious, from pain or shock or blood loss she did not know. Still, there was disease in his repose – restlessness – and for a brief moment the Siren forgot all the evil he had done and saw not the murderer-Prince of Bethmora, but merely an Elven warrior, the last of a dying breed.
"Nuada Silverlance," the Siren whispered, pity and pain weaving together in her heart. Gently, the lady raised her hand to his face and lifted away a stray lock of golden hair. Idly, her fingers brushed the cool skin of his forehead, and at her touch Nuada's eyes flew open.
Bacchante gasped, flinching under his piercing gaze. Before she could move the ancient creature took her wrist in his hand, his golden eyes fixed on hers as he rifled through her memory. He did not stop when he saw what she had seen in the forest with his sister, but pushed through deeper, through the memories of Nuala's stone casket and the Alchemist's fountain, stopping only after he made the Siren relive in visceral detail the memory of the night he took her.
When he released her, Bacchante pulled her hand from him and held it to her body, coiled upon herself like a wounded snake. She did not look him in the eye.
"The mortal men shot you with arrows-"
"I recall." His voice was ice.
Bacchante breathed slowly, daring to look up from the floor,
"I have to take them out."
"Then what are you waiting for?" It wasn't a question. Silently, the lady neared the Prince once again, pulling herself up onto the bed. She braced one hand on his back around the base of an arrow, and wrapped the other around its sheath. Without preface or pause, Bacchante drew it from his flesh.
Nuada Silverlance did not cry out, and he did not flinch. Blood flowed from the open wound, and the Siren quickly tore a piece of fabric from the frills of her dress and pressed it against his flesh. Crimson bloomed through the blue satin, staining it black – and eventually stopped. The lady continued her work in silence, laying the bloodied arrows on the table as she drew them from his back. The Prince said nothing as she did this, even as his flesh was ravaged, his ebony shirt wet-black with blood.
"I should stitch the wounds closed," Bacchante murmured after the final arrow had been removed, hesitating a moment before she touched him again. Nuada gave neither consent nor objection, and with trembling hands the Siren pulled the Prince's shirt from his shoulders, revealing the flayed flesh beneath. His wounds were deep, as she had thought, and the blood that flowed from them had streaked his golden skin with burgundy.
The Siren lifted a hand to her mouth, holding back a sob of sorrow, rue and rage. Doubtless, he had endured worse even than this in his long life – his body itself was evidence in the myriad of scars it bore. The arrow wounds would heal and scar, and add to the others that marred his golden skin. Even in this knowledge, Bacchant wished that she could be the wounded one – that his suffering would be her suffering and that his scars would mar her flesh. Solemnly, the lady threaded the sailor's silver needle, and began the work of sealing the Prince's wounds.
In this, Nuada felt the wave of Bacchante's grief wash over him through her touch, and for a moment, the Siren's pity silenced the Prince.
"Thank you," he said calmly, after Bacchante placed the final stitch. The Siren nodded once, but did not look at him. Carefully, she braced one hand on the top of the cell's wooden table and tried to push herself up from the floor – as soon as she tried she cried out in pain, clutching her side. In an instant Prince Nuada rose from the cell bed and lithely stepped down to the floor, kneeling in front of the Siren. He cocked his head, gently resting his fingertips under her chin as he looked over her features, usually soft and serene, now taunt and sharp with lingering pain.
"You've been injured also," he mentioned finally, softer now. His rage at her betrayal had ebbed, overwritten with concern, and familiar pangs of guilt.
"You're wounded far worse than I; you shouldn't–"
Silently, the Ancient Royal carefully took Bacchante in his arms and rose to his feet, laying her down on the prison bed. For an instant he met her eyes, darkened with pain, and silently asked permission to continue. Bacchante nodded solemnly; she did not protest as the Elven Prince untied the lacing of her corset, undoing her dress to reveal the wounded flesh beneath. His touch was cool against her ribcage and as his fingers moved deftly against her skin, sealing the arrow wound with practiced ease.
Nuada Silverlance had saved her life, now a second time. He welcomed her into his Kingdom, showed her nothing but kindness and even, perhaps, love – even now, after she ran from him in fear and loathing, after she betrayed all that he had given her. And yet, even as the Prince tended to her wounds, Bacchante could not forget Nuala's fate. Even as the Siren tried to understand what he had done, she wondered selfishly if she, too, would someday meet a similar end. Was anything beyond him? The Siren remembered the ice in the Prince's voice when he first awakened, and the fury that laced his features when he had looked upon her, and she feared him.
"Have I offended you so, Siren?" The Prince asked, reading her thoughts.
"She was your sister." Her voice wavered as she spoke, frail without delicacy. Nuada scoffed, tying off the thread.
"You can forgive the annihilation of a race, but to confine my twin to a life of sleep is beyond redemption? Your sentimentality is foolish."
"Foolish?" Bacchante propped herself up on her elbows, turning to the Prince, "I've seen what you're capable of; I bore witness to your genocide, and I accepted the ruthless precision of it, the brutal science of your human massacre. Perhaps the mortal men deserve death, but your sister has done nothing to earn the prison you confined her to. She's your own living flesh and blood –"
"Nuala is no more alive than the men you sing to!" Nuada countered, his voice harsh, unyielding, "Do not pretend that before the humans took you from your home you did not sing thousands of innocent men to their deaths. It is your nature, all that you are!" Bacchante turned her head from him, but did not protest. "I have looked into my sister's eyes and saw nothing but shadows. She is gone; what remains is only a shell, unliving."
"And you are so convinced that your sister is beyond saving that you do not even try?"
"You know not how I have tried!" The ancient creature's golden eyes flashed, and smouldered with rage, "I watched her fade. I watched as my obsession slowly killed her! It was not my war that drove my sister to madness, but my passion for it. We are of one heart, she and I. Our souls are linked; my lust for vengeance corrupted her. The guilt I feel for that is greater than any for my human genocide. Her madness was my doing – a poison borne of my soul. This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine."
Bacchante did not speak. A moment of uneasy silence passed in the dark cell, and then without explanation, the Prince rose from the Siren's side, turning his head to the prison's door. His black tunic still lay discarded on the prison cot and Nuada's muscled back was tense and taut, his wounds seemingly forgotten. For an instant Bacchante wanted to inquire, to ask if he had heard or seen something she had not when she, too, heard the jingling of rusted keys that marked the return of her boorish captor.
"Oh no…" she whispered, more to herself than Prince Nuada, but before she could speak again the human entered the steel brig, his heavy footfalls echoing against the floor. The sailor sidled up to the cell's locked door, fumbling with his keys. He didn't look up, and didn't see the Elvish Royal's seething glare from beyond the bars.
"Alright, that's enough missy," he began, voice terse and mocking at once, "You'd best be coming with me-"
In an instant the Elvish Prince was at the cell door. He shot his arm through the bars before his captor could move, clutching the man's throat hard enough to take his breath.
"Try to take her from me and I will kill you," Nuada growled, his teeth inches from the sailor's face.
"Please-" Bacchante begged, never rising from the prison's bed, "He has been nothing but kind to me."
"Kind, you say?" The Prince scoffed, half-looking over his shoulder at her words, "His race knows not of kindness." He paused for a moment, holding fast the fisherman's throat. With a derisive scowl Nuada Silverlance let the sailor go, turning back into the cell. The seaman doubled over, coughing hoarsely with his throat in his hands.
"You fucking albino bastard," He wheezed, glaring at the creature, "I could kill you right now-"
"Then kill me." A pause. "No? Your threats are hollow." Nuada eyed the human with revilement, "Leave us."
For a moment the brig was still as death, like sunlight after a storm. The Prince's voice had commanded such authority, such effortless absolution that the Siren wondered if the human, proud as he was, dare defy him. Finally, the sailor straightened, glowering back at the Elvish Prince. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead the sailor turned, slamming the door to the brig as he left and shrouding the row of iron cells in darkness.
Nuada Silverlance smirked, his golden features gleaming in the pale moonlight. He turned back into the cell and looked at Bacchante, and, to her horror, laughed.
It was not a laugh of merriment or even triumph, but a low laugh of maniacal satisfaction – a mad bark that sent shivers down the lady's spine.
"Don't tell me you're frightened," the Prince said, grinning maliciously as he looked at her, and then out the small porthole cut above the bed. "I have been in far worse predicaments than this, I assure you. These… captors of ours are cowards, and will be quickly and easily beaten." He turned to her once again, this time with a slightly less menacing smile, "It's only a shame he didn't drop the keys."
Bacchante swallowed hard,
"But you… you couldn't… possibly… defeat them all? Unarmed?" Bacchante glanced back at the brig door. Without the crack of lamplight shining through it, the prison of the F/V Dodson-May seemed colder and more ominous still.
"Just watch me."
Author's Note: OH MY GOD! I'm so, so sorry for not updating this in, oh, gee, more than A YEAR. -_-'
Now that I'm through the toughest classes in Engineering, I should be able to write more. I have a pretty clear idea of where I want this story to go, so the only thing left for me to do is write it. To those people who've stuck with me this long, thank you, so, so much. The support of my readers gives me motivation to keep writing, if only so I can let you all know how this story ends.
Also, I really hope someone laughs at the fact that they're stuck on a crab boat. I'll admit it, I'm a Deadliest Catch fan. You've found me.