Altair stood in the doorway, watching his wife play with the son of one of the Assassins. She was kneeled in front of the toddler, talking in a childish falsetto and waving a toy in the air. The boy stood there, giggling, hanging onto every word that fell from Maria's mouth. The Assassins who strolled the library looked on with mild amusement, casting occasional glances at the two. Maria blew in the boy's face, lifting his fine dark hair, and he burst into a fit of giggles so loud that nearly every Assassin paused in his work to smile at the child and his playmate.
A hand touched Altair's shoulder gently, and he turned his to look into the face of none other than Malik. The Dai had a smile on his face as he gazed at Maria and the boy.
"She will make a remarkable mother someday," he said lightly. The wind billowed his long Dai robes around him, and both of them turned to look at the sky behind them. A dark, looming mass of black clouds was quickly approaching from the horizon. Rain wasn't common in Masyaf, but when it rained, it poured as though Allah saw fit to dump an entire ocean upon the fortress and the village below.
"That was actually my reason for coming, Altair. I'm here to send the novices and anyone with half sense to their homes around the fortress. This particular storm looks to be a very strong one." A gust of wind blew then, causing Altair to stumble with it's force, as though it were backing up Malik's words. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and in his peripheral vision Altair saw Maria and the child freeze in their play.
"I agree," he said to Malik, nodding. "Tell the ones here and I will send some to warn the others. If it as bad as you expect, we must be prepared."
Malik nodded. "Attention, please!" he called into the library. The low buzz of conversation halted and all eyes turned to the one-armed rafiq. "A storm is coming! Go to your homes, and be with your families! Novices, stick together as you travel!" He turned to Altair as the conversation started anew and Assassins began to leave for their respective homes, the novices traveling in groups of three or more.
"Safety and peace, Altair," he said. "I hope you and Maria are spared any destruction."
"Safety and peace to you as well, Malik. I hope you and the bureau are untouched." With that the two parted ways, Malik towards the rising storm, Altair towards his wife. She was trying to send the toddler, who looked terrified, with an Assassin.
"Go, Kashif. Ramir will take you to your father. It will all be alright. We can play again tomorrow." She took the boy's hand and placed in Ramir's, who looked stunned for a moment. "Take him to Kumar Al-Jaheed. He needs to be with his father." Ramir nodded and lead the frightened boy from Maria. Maria sighed.
"Oh, I hope he makes it there before the storm breaks. He's so small." Outside the sky was growing blacker and blacker, and Altair wondered just how right Malik was going to be.
"He will be fine," said the Grand Master, wrapping his arms around Maria. They were alone in the library now, the Grand Master's study empty. Thunder boomed almost overhead, and Maria shuddered. Altair looked down at her.
"Maria? What's the matter?" he asked, concerned. She shook her head and took a deep breath before answering.
"I don't like storms, especially powerful ones," she said quietly. "They've scared me ever since I can remember." Altair looked at his wife in wonder; she could face an Assassin with ease, defy the Templar Order without hesitation, run into battle fearlessly, yet she feared a storm? Lightening flashed in the sky, followed quickly by a loud boom of thunder, and she seemed to shrink into Altair's robes in an attempt to hide.
"You truly fear storms?" he asked. She turned in his arms to stand facing him.
"Yes, I do. They're awful. The thunder is too loud and too sudden and the lightening-" Lightening illuminated the sky, thunder ripped through the sky, and Maria buried her face into Altair's chest, trembling. Altair held her tighter and stroked her hair soothingly.
"It's alright. I am here, habibti. I will keep you safe." The wind gusted outside as the first drops of rain began to fall. Maria maintained her death grip on Altair's robes for a bit longer before her hands relaxed enough to allow him movement. He took her small, trembling hand in his and lead her farther into the castle, towards their bedroom.
"Altair, what are we doing?" she asked. She hesitated at the doorway but continued on at his insistence.
"Would you rather face an enemy directly or would you close your eyes for battle?"
Maria looked at him in disbelief. "I would face my enemy directly, of course. I would be foolish and suicidal to do otherwise. Why?"
Altair brought her to their bed and sat down, pulling his wife onto his lap. "These storms, they are an enemy, yes?" Maria eyed her husband with confusion.
"If you wanted to call them as such, I suppose. Altair, where are you going with this?"
Altair motioned towards the window on the far wall. "Perhaps if you were to watch the storm, you would not be so frightened? Think of it as being a prisoner: you can close you eyes and listen to the footsteps and hope your captors stay away, or you can open them and watch your captors and know where they are." Maria looked at him.
"If you think it would help…" Maria stood and crossed the room to stand before the curtained window. Altair watched her draw a deep sigh before moving the curtain enough to see outside. Beyond the window, rain pelted down in waves and the wind whipped everything violently.
"Altair, I'm not sure-" Lightening struck, alarmingly close, followed instantaneously by an explosion of thunder loud enough to rattle the window. Maria cried out and stumbled back from the window, tripping and landing on her back side.
"Maria!" Altair yelped. He hurried to his wife to help her up, but as soon as his fingers touched her hand she snatched it to her chest and burst into tears.
"No!" she cried, like a scared small child would. "I don't want to look out there again!"
"Maria!" Altair said, afraid. Maria never cried, never. "Maria, no, don't cry. It was a bad idea, I'm sorry. So sorry. I would never ask you to do it again, I swear it. Hush, please, do not cry; I am here." He wrapped his arms around her, and she curled into a ball and rested on his chest, still crying. It broke his heart to see his strong, fearless wife crying in his arms. He felt horridly guilty for telling her to watch the storm; he had honestly thought it would help, but it had only made things worse. Now his brave wife sat on the floor, sobbing as only small children and terrified women could do. He wondered how she had reacted as a child, before she was so brave and trained and strong.
Wait… Storms had scared her, even as a child…
"Maria," he said gently, stroking her soft hair, "what did you do as a child?" He heard her struggle to gather her composure before she answered.
"What do you mean?" Her voice still wavered with her tears. Altair kissed the top of her head.
"When it stormed, what did your mother do to calm you?"
"S-she…" Maria sniffed and tried again. "She read me fairytales. Stories like Snow White." Altair nodded and stood, leaving Maria on the floor.
"Altair, no!" she cried, reaching for him, but he was gone. She wrapped her arms around her legs and sobbed quietly into her knees. Dear God, she hated storms. They brought her to knees emotionally, they terrified her more than anything. She hoped with everything in her being that this didn't happen often in Masyaf. Dear God, if it did-
Footsteps came down the hallway. Maria looked up as Altair appeared in the doorway, a small stack of books in his arms. She smiled at him, teary, before another explosion of thunder rattled the windows. She buried her face into her knees and wrapped her arms around her head, crying anew. Altair sat down next to her and wrapped one arm around her shoulders; with the other arm he opened the top book and flipped to the text.
" 'The Fisherman and the Jinni,' " he read. " 'It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that there was a fisherman well stricken in years who had a wife and three children, and withal was of poor condition. Now it was his custom to cast his net every day four times, and no more. On a day he went forth about noontide to the seashore…' " He knew this story from his childhood, but knew also that Maria would not. Maria listened to his deep voice transform the words on the page. Altair kept half of his attention on the book, half on his wife. He noticed when she slowly relaxed into a ball and placed her head on his chest, when she stopped jumping at every flash of lightening, stopped shrinking into him at every clap of thunder. When he laid that book down and picked up The Three Apples, she stirred only to look at the title.
" 'They relate, O king of the age and lord of the time and of these days, that the Caliph Harun al-Rashid summoned his Wazir Ja'afar one night…" Altair continued his reading for only a few pages before he heard a soft snore come from the woman in his arms. Pausing, he looked down at her. Her breathing was deep and even, and Altair smiled. She was finally resting.
Setting his book aside, Altair gently scooped Maria into his arms. Her only reaction was to snuggle closer and hold a handful of his robes in her right fist. He carried her to their bed and laid her down, draping the blanket over her. He straightened-
Or not. Maria's hand had yet to release its hold on hid robes. When he tried to slowly pry her fingers away, she frowned and whined in her sleep. He sighed, then smiled. Thanking Allah that he hadn't worn his weapons or his full robes, Altair scooted his wife farther onto the bed and crawled in with his sleeping woman who feared storms more than anything.
Outside, the sky was clearing, returning to it's blazingly azure hue.