So normally I don't even bother to say why it took me so long, because they are always taken as 'just another excuse' but this time I feel justified in my answer. I was destracted as all of you were, by the holidays and festivities and family and such. But that was not was de-railed me. I found out, just before leaving for break that a friend of mine has cancer, a growth in her lungs. That's why this took me so long.
I hope you guys understand and please enjoy this chapter!
THANK YOU TO Assassin's Grrrl FOR BETA-ING THIS CHAPTER!
There are many stories that pass from mouth to mind of the seafaring man, many stories that come from many places just as the men who tell them. Some hail from Spain, others from England, a rare few journey all the way from Africa and breach the sea that would not otherwise hear them, and some come from the natives in the new land called America.
Did her favorite story come from one of these lands? No. Her favorite story hailed from the lips of an assassin, who in turn had hailed from a land (one she could never hope to see anywhere but her dreams) called Egypt.
It was the story of the Dawn Treader.
She had only just joined the guild and was already a prodigy among peers all many years her senior. She was a lithe and skinny little thing, and as a boy she would claim to be (on a good day) thirteen, yet the girl inside had seen five and ten years on this earth. She was surprisingly strong for someone her age, fierce as a wolverine, and where her stamina lacked (and lack it did) she made up for it in leaps and bounds with speed. Still, her greatest weapon was not her deceptive appearance, however great the advantage that granted her, but her mind. Her mind was a honed, sharp sword, almost as quick as the tongue which had oft times earned her the name 'silver tongue'.
She remembered having done well that day, not particularly what it was she had done well at – she tries not to recall the specifics – but that she had done well, and so Ah Tabai had released her to the island's only tavern to seek what happiness she could. Whether it be from the taste of music or rum or whores, it mattered not, as there was not much happiness to be found in the life of an assassin.
She had pestered a man, who by rights had pestered her first, asking and prodding as to what such a child was doing in the company of assassins. She was not flustered, no, but Ah Tabai had forbade her from snapping, from being anything short of stone, from defending herself in such a way with words like liquid fire, and she would not go against his word for the grand master of the Assassin Order had eyes and ears everywhere. He would be sure to hear, and would be sure to see to it that she be punished properly.
For any brother of the Assassins, 'punishment' described something along the lines of taking a mission that nobody else wanted, or rather a lot of them. Though for one such as herself, who had not yet passed her rights of initiation and thus was no brother yet, punishment translated into something closer to torture. If you were not yet a brother in the creed, you might as well have been a slave, and she had the torn, ugly scars of an impudent lad past to prove it.
So she, in her haste to provide the means to her pestering, had blurted the first thing that came to mind. "How does it rise?" she struggled not to stumble on the words, and to keep the flush of embarrassment from staining her cheeks pink and her pride black. "The sun?"
The man fixed her with a strange and questioning look, but his eyes twinkled and so she supposed that maybe her foolishness had amused him. Although, she did not know if such a question was foolish to ask, as she had not had any sort of proper schooling since she was barely five years old.
"The sun?" He asked and took another drink of rum.
She wrinkled her nose a bit. "Yes. The sun."
The man –who's name she did not yet know- had leaned close in to her, with a frightening, almost electric grin and the smell of blood and rum thick on his breath.
" In Egypt – this is the land from whence I came – we have a story about the sun and how it rises every morning and slips to the shadows every night. It is said, that the sun god, Ra, travels each day across the sky in his sun boat, the Dawn Treader." He takes another swig of rum, swirls the remains about his glass with a vague interest, and then clinks it down. "It is a cycle though, a daily rebirth. Each day dawn sees the rise of the newborn sun god in his massive vessel, and each afternoon welcomed him as man, mature and strong. By sunset he is old again, ready for death and thus begins his journey through the underworld where he will emerge by morning as a babe once more. The dawn is a celebration, child, it heralds the return, the victory of life over the forces of death and darkness. It celebrates the return of Ra and his Dawn Treader every new morning." He finishes off the rum, regards the glass once more before in turn regarding her. "That is how the sun rises."
She sat; slack jawed with a hand curled loosely around her own untouched bottle of rum because she had not expected him to actually have an answer for her. She sat there, in the haze of her mind where she is captain bestride this great Dawn Treader, until she was drawn out by the barely there scrape of his stool across the driftwood floor.
"Wait!" She called, the words slipping from her tongue without consent.
The man halted, old grizzled hands still on his hood, and grinned at her from the shadows of his coat. He did not speak, only raised a single eyebrow, and Mary heard the soft hiss of metal as his hidden blade slide slowly from its sheath. A warning shot.
She swallowed, but was not afraid. "What is your name?"
It was a bold question, considering it was taboo to ask another assassin of their name. Or rather, to expect them to answer honestly and without the aid of metal. A name was more often than not, all these men had to them. Nothing more nothing less.
So when he answered her in his gruff, sand scratched voice she was nothing short of surprised. "Haytham." He barked and turned to face her full. "My name is Haytham lass. Young Eagle, in the language of my home."
She recoiled violently, almost as if struck and hissed at the insinuation-however correct it may have been. "I'm no lass!" she snarled, although she knew she was not fooling anyone, at least not him.
The man – Haytham – smirked at her and she read a thousand year of history on his dry and cracking lips. "Of course. You are no lass, there is a curiosity in you – a stubbornness too- I think is only born of whippings and the kind of bastardly company that only boys scrounge up." He chuckled and she took the time to school her face because she would not react to that word. "You are no lass. No. If I am an eagle, then you are a ġurāb." She frowned at him, unfamiliar with the word and he countered with a strange, off smile. "Do not take that as a tiding of ill will, ġurāb, as your kind are shape shifters are they not?" And the way his deep yellow eyes twinkled in the darkness did remind her of an eagle, or a snake but snakes had eyes that did not twinkle even in the sun. "So know that the fates may change ġurāb, and you may yet become something more than the eagle ever was."
And then he was gone.
And she was left with the story of the sun and a cryptic message.
The Dawn Treader comes on the wings of a crow that ghosts through the sky unseen, on the sails of a ship that slithers through the dark, inky shadows that are cast upon the harbor. There are no stars that glitter on the murky waters of Cagaway bay, only shadows and a single sly ship.
Though Ra is brought from the underworld, riding on the black, black wings of a dark, dark crow, who's feather's whisper of dark evil things and the witching hour, the dawn that comes with him paints the sky in smears of reds and yellows and pinks that sing and make the crow itch for the shadows that it lurks so comfortably in.
The darkness, those smothering shadows that made her comfortable also made her bold, and Mary had been bold in a place where she could be seen and for this she paid. The light that came with the dawn does not cloak her actions, and she cannot hide everything she does in shadows that are scattered far and few beneath the sun.
She'd fouled up her chance at Hatley, who had been waddling about the docks like the fat duck he might eat for dinner if she couldn't get her shit together and dispatch him before sundown. He'd been perusing the harbor, taking account of ships that she is positive he has probably never seen, and for whatever reason he was out it matters not because he was vulnerable. But she had messed up.
That was the understatement of the century.
She'd royally fucked up.
Mary wondered for a moment why it was that Ah Tabai had sent her to get rid of Hatley, for if memory served her well, and it always had (maybe a little too well) then the Maroon faction of the Caribbean Assassin's was located in Port Royal, Jamaica. Precisely where Hatley had decided to set up shop and carry out the rest of his lazy, Templar funded days, living off of the broken backs and mangled fingers of the slaves who toiled for him. For a moment Mary drifted, and suddenly she saw Adéwalé, broken beat and whipped like some asinine bull, and the thought sickened her, almost to a degree, which frightened her. She had never been fond of the slave trade, yes, and she had come to understand that Adéwalé was a grand man who thought clearly and brought his actions to be judged in the court of heart and mind before he entertained them. Even still, the gross, angry helplessness that the whole idea of slaves brought gnawing in her stomach was no welcome sentiment and she would do well to banish it soon.
Obviously Hatley had power, and while he was certainly no Julien du Casse it was power nonetheless, and such things often brought about thieves and traitors, and assassins. He had power that he would no doubt abuse and use to become grotesquely wealthy, and after he had garnered enough coin upon which to rest his meaty laurels, it would be on to bigger and better things. Mary liked to think that this was where all the piggish Templars traced their roots back too, that they all were slave driving monopolizing brutes who lived and drew pleasure at the expense of others but in her heart of hearts she knew this to be false. That those thoughts belonged to the naïve girl, hardly an adult, who still fought and lived in a simple world of black and white. Her world was not black and white, it was quite colorful and what Hatley planned to do would lead to nothing short of the ground at his feet, smattered red with the blood of those who dared oppose him.
He would be dangerous, he wasn't truly a threat now but he would be soon, and the Assassin's were anything if not proactive so to Mary it made sense that an entire chapter of highly trained assassin's might be assigned to eliminate him before he could embrace his true potential. Yet, Ah Tabai did not send the Maroon faction after Simon Hatley, who would be draped and decorated with guards and militia and all sorts of hired protection. The man was not stupid; as she'd like to believe, and he knew as well as she did that he had a bounty to his head.
Her thoughts distracted her.
So why in the name of Davey Jones did mentor send me?
The carryout message at the end of the day would end up being that Hatley would have guards, and that she could not be stupid or inattentive or any other brand of foolery that might get her caught. Some how that message seemed to be lost on her. Thus, it should have come as no surprise to her when Hatley noticed her, crouched like a leopard in the branches of a tree, and squealed "Assassin!" like the pig he is. Yet still it did. Suddenly there had been some ten or twenty guards around her and no sign of Hatley, and Mary had only just managed to fight her way through the writhing mass of swords and guns and deadly metal before slipping away to lick what few wounds she had in the cover of the shadows. He would run, of that she was certain. He had wasted no time and beat a hasty retreat within the walls of the military fortress that called itself a plantation, but even so he would try and escape now that he was aware of her presence, and she could not let that happen. She would not fail
She could not fail.
Mary clenched her fists tightly, relishing in the sting of her nails as they bit into the calloused flesh of her palms and drew blood because she deserved it. She had been reckless and stupid and had not taken the care to focus on the task at hand. She was getting bold in her age, too confident, and in her line of work bold was synonymous with stupid, and for that matter with dead. She should have known that someone of Hatley's status, especially when regarding the Templars, would have had more guard and that he would have been looking for someone to kill him. That there was no way that she could have just waltzed in, and slit his throat and have been done with it.
That would have been too easy. It was never that easy, not for her at least.
But she was eighteen, and even for all of her smooth, sly trickery, even after nigh on three years of training from the Assassins and a lifetime of lessons beaten into her blood by a deplorable world she was still inherently brash, bold and a cocktail of other things that made her out to be nothing more than just another hot-shot, instinctive and acting upon whatever efficient plan she conjured up first – regardless of the consequences. And she was stupid, she realized. She was made stupid, blinded by anger, by loss, by grief, by a self-loathing born because Damnit- she could have done something! She could have done something and he would not be rotting at the bottom of the sea right now.
She grinned an acrid, poisonous smile and thought bitterly that Kenway wasn't even here to jack up her kill this time. No. She'd screwed up more than enough on her own to account for his absence.
Why are you even thinking about him? Startled, she realized that she was at it again. It was a sort of bad habit she'd seemed to pick up recently, though where exactly she didn't know. Nearly everything she did somehow ended up with him. Kenway, Kenway, Kenway. He's nothing but trouble for you Mary, an' you know better! It was true. Such thoughts were – no matter the innocence – unforgivable among those in the Assassin's Order. One had to be willing to give themselves up - all of themselves - body and soul, to the creed and the cause and Mary knew this. She'd practically had it beaten into her for the last three years.
So why won't I stop thinking about him?
The crunch of dry dead leaves underfoot drew her attention, and Mary shoved the blame of Edward's constant presence off and onto her still-aching shoulder, told herself that the festering had made her delirious, so that she might shush the chatter of her nagging conscience. Inside she knew that the excuse was poor, and absolute rubbish. Mary had been graced with a silver tongue that could trick kings and queens and fool even a master of lies if need be, but she could not lie to herself. Still, the excuse would serve its purpose and allow her to think clearly. If only for a little while.
Your goin' to need all the focus you can get. She thought, and made to dart from the thicket where she crouched to the whispered safety of the shadows just across the way. But the sudden heavy thud of boots on the dirt paths and the clink of a musket forced her back into hiding. She snarled, and tracked with burning eyes the guards that kept her from getting to her ship.
There were four guards. Two very large guards, and two very small ones who were patrolling her particular area with the diligence of a bloodhound. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue for her, nothing more than child's play at best. But the six guard towers and four (she had stopped counting after that) alarm bells complicated her situation a bit. She could not give them any more reason to call for more troops, and seeing as she hadn't had the best of luck that day she could not risk being seen by some lucky sentinel. Not today.
But she also did not have the time to stealth her way back to the Sea Crow, for every minute she squandered trying to tip toe around the hundred or so hired-brutes that patrolled the area, was another knot of speed that Hatley's ship gained in his getaway. Mary did not know how fast his ship was, what kind of ship it was, how many he had, or if they were stronger than hers. She had failed to stalk Hatley and watch him and learn everything there was to know about him and now she paid for it. There were too many variables; too many chances for her mind to gather and she could not take that chance and let him get away. She feared that her hidden blades might be on the line if he did.
She had to act now.
And so she did. Mary bared her teeth at nothing in particular, lips curled back to reveal glinting canines as she reached behind her – quiet as a shadow – and drew the smooth, bamboo blowgun from her back. Her fingers rummaged for a moment in the pouch at her hip and from it she drew a tiny dart, fletched with red feathers and coated in a dank brown poison.
A small frown graced her face as Mary noted her dwindling supply of darts; she favored the weapon as it enabled her to be a truly silent killer, but due to the increasing attacks on Assassin bases their stores had dwindled and now she was limited to but a few on each mission. The frown twisted just as her focus did and suddenly it was a daring grin as Mary wet the tip of the dart with her tongue. The poison was unbearably bitter, and had she not built immunity to it many summers ago even the small amount on her tongue would have caused her to go mad with pain. She slipped the dart into the gun, picked the biggest, strongest looking brute she could find, took aim and fired.
She heard the cries of several guards go up, like the fracas of crows, and watched the man stumble. For a moment her breath caught and her blood thundered in her ears. If it killed him, she would be impossibly more screwed than she already was. It would do no good for him to die, as a dead body on the ground would give them all the reason they needed to squawk and ring the bells.
But the guard caught himself, and Mary's hawkish eyes followed his hand as he reached up and swatted at the poisonous dart in his neck as if it were no more than some harmless, nibbling gnat. The dart fell harmlessly into a thrush of sugarcane, but the damage was already done. She grinned and strapped the long, bamboo dart gun back into place, making sure it sat securely in its thong before looking back up.
"Oi mate! What's gotten on abou-"
She fought the urge to wince. Ouch. A man, not quite so hulking as the first, had approached the writhing form of his partner, hands on the pistol in his pocket rather than out in front where they should have been, and had gotten a nasty surprise for it. The first guard, no doubt already berserk with the poison from the dart, had stood up, roared all crazed like a bear, and rounded on his partner with the blunt end of his axe so hard that Mary was sure she could hear the man's skull crack from where she sat.
She certainly felt it. She'd been on the receiving end of the steely, unforgiving kiss of an axe enough times to feel some margin of pity, never mind how small, for that guard. He'd be more than lucky if he had most of his teeth, or his life she thought offhandedly, by the time Ra had made another circuit in the sky.
Mary shook her head, clearing it and when more squawking guards rushed like so many mindless chickens to investigate the chaos, and all but one of the tower's sentry was more than content to turn their backs and sate their rising curiosity Mary saw an opening and took it. The blowgun came out again, this time loaded with a tiny, innocent blue fletched dart, soaked in enough poison to make an elephant lethargic. She wasted no time and shot the lone guard who was foolish enough to still march and search and retain some sense of occupational dignity. He fell from the tower like a sack of potatoes, and landed with such a sickening crack on the hard packed earth that Mary worried his fellow guards might have heard. A quick glance told her otherwise, that the men had neither seen nor heard their brother in arms. So, like the sly cats that freely roamed those jungles they were in, she crept over to a bush, prickly and nearest to where the guard fell, now no more than a boneless heap of flesh and blood, and snagged his body like a carcass before dragging it into the bush. Her blade slipped out from its hiding spot with a grated chink before she shoved the warm smooth metal up between his ribs and twisted it around in one fluid motion. The body heaved, and when she withdrew her blade with a sickening squelch the warm rush of blood followed. She was almost certain that the fall had snapped his neck, but Mary would rather be safe than sorry and it never hurt to hide the evidence.
After sheathing her blade, Mary spared one last guarded glance back at the ruckus, her hands busied by the task of wiping what sticky blood she could off of them and onto her dirty breeches made stiff by the salt and sea. The guards – having no doubt come to the conclusion their brother was a lost cause- appeared to be making sport of the crazed man. She sniffed, and narrowed her eyes at them. The lack of drive, the sloth and laze that these men oozed made a mockery of the soldiers they were supposed to be. It baffled, and disgusted her. Although Mary could not live life without a purpose, and did not ever claim understand those who could, she was not so biased that un-driven individuals would repulse her –usually. What made her vision bleed red around the edges was the utter discord these men seemed to drive at. She had served in an army under a king at one point too, and this was not the way they went about doing it.
Mary, who was not about to give up her cover just to beat the baying hounds in the yard, simply wrinkled up her nose, and turned away, disappearing among the shadows once again.
When at last she had stealthed her way to the rocky cliffs, it could not have been more than an hour or two shy of high noon. The sun already sat in the sky, heavy, cast of molten gold and so glaringly hot that Mary scowled and cursed at it as she baked in the leather oven she called her jacket. Below her Port Royal buzzed with a certain claustrophobic business as people bustled about. Old women haggled for the early mornings catch at smelly fish stalls, whores dressed in a rainbow of colored silks danced and swayed at their posts, while others crooned and drooled over too-expensive beads from china and other similarly useless baubles. The first bar fights would come soon, the sailors who had brought those smelly fish to their equally smelly stalls would lead the day's conquests at the bar. The fat captain might be the first to pass out, drunk at noon. His best mate the first to throw his hard-earned pay at a whore and bed her before any of the usual crowd even came stumbling through the door. And finally the fisherman, their bloated empty bellies pumped full of cheap Jamaican rum would have the honor of starting the first bar fight of the day, firing poorly aimed punches and sloppy insults until one or the other passed out.
She had seen it all so many times before, like some monotonous, conducted orchestra, and knew that if she had not been taken up by Samuel then there was probably nothing she could have done to escape dancing in those silks as well. She tried not to think about her mother, as it hard as it was, who had told her just the very same. The life of a whore was no kind of life, not for her. Her mom had also told her she was horrible at dancing, well traditionally of course.
She smiled. I can dance real well now Mum. She thought. I am a master in fact, a master at the dance of death.
Mary smirked to herself, pleased with the analogy as she scaled the smooth and gnarled branches of a Copperwood tree. Next time I see Bellamy I'll have to tell him he is quite the dancer. She thought before turning her gaze to the bay so she might find her Sea Crow.
There was no familiar schooner sitting pretty in the harbor for her, no sassy call of "How goes it young master Kidd?" from her equally sassy quartermaster, no hurrah from the drunken band of merry men she called her crew. No. There were only the calm still waters of the bay and a few boats that bobbed on its surface like bottles out at sea.
For a moment she just stood there, fingers grappled so tightly around the branch that her knuckles turned white. The roar of the Kingston market was dull to her ears and the hot muggy breeze struggled to make even the slightest whistle as it blew by. Mary heard neither the breeze nor the crowds, only the roar of embarrassment and treachery.
He don't have that much saltwater in that empty skull o' his do he? She wondered, the feverish burn of incredulity slowly seeping through her ears as she looked out over the clear bay. After a moment nothing changed, and frustrated she squinted harder, as if that would change something, and by her side, her free hand flexed and fisted in a sorry attempt to quell some of her anger. Her jaw worked, grinding and wearing against her teeth so hard she would not have been surprised if one cracked.
Her internal steaming was interrupted by the all too familiar caw of a crow overhead, and Mary, suddenly more interested in one crow than another, craned her neck against the harsh, beating sun to see the black bird preening on a branch not so far above her.
She didn't know what to think. Why is it still here? She wondered watching as the bird pulled a disheveled feather from its brothers, and dropped it carelessly. It floated for a moment, blue-green's glinting in the sun, riding on the gentle tug and pull of a breeze off the sea before drifting just by her and Mary leaned out to catch it.
She stared long and hard at the feather, fingering the touch silky strands as she watched the light play off of it and turn the feather blue and green and purple all at once. The bird lived on her ship, all too ironically in the crow's nest, and she knew that if her ship were really gone then the bird would be as well. The edges of her mouth crept up as relief flooded through her body, and Mary slipped the feather beneath one of the bands in her hair. A new addition to the collection, that was all.
She turned to the crow, to say goodbye and thank you because she was allowed to be a little crazy, only when she did the bird squawked and took to the skies in a rush of feathers and beating wings. It looked as if it was fleeing.
Mary suddenly jerked, pulled from her musings when self-preservation screamed it's bloody head off at her and her body suddenly launched from the tree branch she was perching on. She crashed to the ground moments later, landing with catlike agility in the woody, damp underbrush only to tuck and roll, the whistle of grapeshot shrieking by her ears.
Her arms came up around her head, protecting it as she duly registered the thud of shrapnel against the same heavy coat she had been ready to tear up only moments before, only she was suddenly thankful for the way it shielded her from the burning shot. One bullet, aimed just right managed to tear through her coat and she felt the burning metal lick a trail of wildfire along her back before it too fell away. Mary hissed, and resisted the urge to reach back and touch the thin trail of blood, lest her head be the next victim of a lucky shot.
Another round of grapeshot tore through the jungle growth, but Mary jumped to her feet regardless. She wasn't in any immediate danger of direct hits, and that was going to have to do. Her hawkish eyes immediately scanned the horizon and within mere moments she zeroed in on the large marque ship that was tearing through the bay, a frothy foam bubbling around her base and wind fattening her sails. Her eyes narrowed, and she could see the white, cloudy smoke that hissed from the cannon's and gave away the owner of the fire.
She didn't not know the ship, has never seen it in her life.
If it were Nassau, the graze of cannon fire on shore would not be cause for anyone to bat an eyelash. But this was not Nassau, it was Port Royal under Spanish control and that was no Spanish ship. Mary's eyes widened and just as the thought that maybe her Sea Crow had something to do with this danced across her mind the sky went dark.
The sun disappeared from the sky, eclipsed by the heavy cloth sails of a ship as it barreled by her. She saw the crow again, watched as it settled down on the wooden cage of the crows nest before squawking at her and she grinned a brave and dangerous thing.
The bandana tightened around her forehead, eyes blazing like the sun above, and Mary charged forward through the jungle brush towards the edge of the cliff and the sea. Her feet left the ground, and she was flying.