Chapter 10: Ravenglass

The town came into sight just over the crest of a hill the next day. It was vast in a way that only a town skirting the edges of the desert could be, it had no boundaries. It wasn’t overbearing or underwhelming. It was a town that made you relieved, and cautious, to have found it.

The group entered through the small rusted iron gate. Each door was held open by desert sands that sifted over and between the bottom iron work. Upon entering, the town came to life. There were beings of various races walking about – a vast array of life found in a small pocket of the world. Some were peddling goods, others shopped and haggled, children ran and played in the streets, and the smell of fresh baked goods hit the nose around almost every turn – the town was overflowing with energy.

The whole town felt like a dream. It was so far removed from the dangers that the people  of Aggramon faced everyday.

The group stood in awe.

A woman sauntered up to them with her breasts pushed sky high, her skirts shifting about her long legs and her eyes sparkling with mischief. “Hey there strangers,” she said eyeing the men up and down. Her eyes moved over Freya’s body and she smiled. “Welcome to Ravenglass,” she winked at Freya.

Freya could see the layers to the gesture and picked out the subtle hints of flirtation to it. Her cheeks instantly became flushed and she looked away embarrassed.

“Might you be able to show us to an inn?” James interjected.

The woman took a step closer and placed her hand on his arm. Her eyes lit up as her arm snaked around his bicep. “Well from your attire I’d say you’ve had a very long journey. I’d be happy to show you, darling,” she said leaning in with a smile. “I was just headed there myself.”

It was James’s turn to blush.

“Now this is a place I can get used to!” Aikos said as he jumped down from the wagon. He moved over to the woman. “Hello there, I’m Aikos Durandal,” he took one of her hands gently touching his lips to the back of it. He smiled up at her with all of his devilish charm.

She smoothly detached herself from James’s side. “Well Aikos, I’m Sarah.” She took his outstretched arm and started to whisper into his ear. They both laughed as he placed his hand on her lower back.

“Well follow me,” she said to the others with a slight giggle in her voice. “I’ll take you to the best place in town.” She smiled over her shoulder, “They’ll be something there for all of you by the looks.” Arm in arm with Aikos, Sarah started down the small street.

“Come on you fools!” Aikos shouted back.

The rest of the group followed, Freya and James exchanged a small smile as Samson moved to catch up with Sarah. He and Aikos started vying for her attention.

They made their way to the only inn and tavern there was in town. As they entered, the sounds of laughter and song cascaded over everyone. The tavern was close to bursting there were so many people inside. There were people dancing, drinking, eating, and a small band played on the stage.

“Welcome everyone,” Sarah gestured to the bar. “If you see the bartender she can help you with lodging and a place for your horses.” She pulled Aikos and Samson to a table by the dance floor where a few other women were already sitting. They were all similarly dressed to Sarah.

“Well then, I’ll be right back,” James said as he went off towards the bar.

Not too long after they had arrived the group was drinking and laughing along with the other patrons. They had acquired rooms, the horses were stabled, and they had even been able to gather some information.

Every week, once a week, on the same evening there were red glowing lights to the west of the town. No one, yet, had gone to investigate. In two days time the lights would be back and the group decided to head out to find the source. It could be something important to do with the rift.

But, for now they were all enjoying a tavern that was not being swallowed by depression and grief. They were enjoying a town that was not riddled with death.

Tonight they were happy.

“Alright, alright,” Aikos said as Sarah sat comfortably in his lap, both of them with drinks in their hands. Aikos leaned down again in front of Gobtok, who was standing on his chair holding a mug that was clearly too big for him. “Now, try it again.”

Gobtok straightened up as best he could, raised his mug with both hands, and in a very broken voice stated simply, “Beer.”

Everyone around the table burst into cheers and laughter, there was clapping and Gobtok was picked up onto shoulders and spun around.

As the cheers died down an upbeat song started to play. Aikos immediately scooped up Sarah and went to the dance floor. Samson, who also had a companion on his lap – a woman whose name Freya could not remember – got up and started towards the dance floor as well.

Another woman from the table got up and made her way over to James. James had changed once they had grabbed a room. He was looking good in his simple white shirt, trousers and black boots. There was no mistaking that he was a handsome man, and many women had come up to him throughout the evening.

“Care for a dance?” She asked with her hand extended.

“Thank you but I must, unfortunately, decline,” James stated simply.

The woman walked away disappointed, a pout on her lips.

“Don’t feel like dancing?” Freya asked from the seat next to James. She eyed him over her mug.

He stared at her. She looked beautiful. Freya was also dressed casually this evening with a burgundy blouse and layered skirts. She gestured towards the crowd.

“It looks,” Freya tried to search for the right word. “Fun.”

James looked out towards the crowd that had now gathered in front of the stage. They were dancing and laughing, even Gobtok was on top of someone’s shoulders grinning from ear to ear.

“You’re right,” he slid his chair back and pulled her up from hers in a smooth motion. “It does look fun.” Before she had a chance to think he swung her over his shoulder. He laughed as she objected and slammed her fist into his back to no avail.

He let her down onto the floor. He spun her out quickly and when he pulled her back in he dipped her, cradling her in his arms.

“You’re an ass,” Freya said through a smile. She started laughing as he pulled her back up onto her feet.

“I truly have no idea what you’re talking about,” James said as he gracefully moved the two of them around the dance floor.

“Of course you don’t,” Freya countered.

The two of them laughed as the music picked up and they glided along the dance floor. The whole group became lost in the music and there was not one amongst them that wasn’t wearing a smile. The tune subtly changed into a jig and, despite the variety among the crowd, it was a tune that the whole tavern seemed to recognize.

Immediately the crowd split itself, the men in a line on one side, the women on the other. On the upbeat both sides raised their hands to their left and clapped three times.

James and Freya were at the end of the line. James winked at her, she in turn winked back. Both of them happy to be the last couple to go.

The first couple went down between the rows of people, it was a portly man and his curvy wife. Their feet moved in time with the drums and they flirted with each other and the crowd as they went. The lines clapped and cheered as they did. Once they made it to the end they rushed their way back to the top of the lines. The man stood behind the woman, his arms around her middle, as her hands rested upon his and they swayed to the music.

The next couple down the line was none other than Aikos and his new ‘friend’ Sarah. They moved a few steps down the middle when Aikos stopped. Sarah, without missing a beat, moved in front of him kicking her leg up high as he swept her off the floor in one smooth motion. She landed lightly, and he twirled her further down the aisle, both of them graceful as cats.

The crowd cheered.

Freya looked over to James. He had a twinkle in his eye, a mischievous smile on his lips. It matched hers.

Aikos and Sarah made their way next to the first couple in a similar pose.

Once everyone had gone there would be an outer circle made up of men and an inner circle made up of women. This particular song had two parts.

The next couple went down between the rows.

And this was how it went. Couple by couple came down the aisle of people, dancing and drinking, eventually making their way to the circles that formed around the dwindling aisle in the middle. Some of the couples were very talented. Some did flips while others did hand springs. Everyone cheered, everyone laughed and clapped along as they went. Glasses clinked and the ale flowed.

Eventually it was time for Freya and James to go.

Many didn’t enjoy being last. You were in the open circle of people and all eyes were on you. On top of that honor, the music was at it’s fastest before the switch, so if you were last then you had better keep up with the tempo. Many a drunk had tried in the past, to mixed reviews.

But having grown up together the two had danced in many a bar as a pair. James was a strong lead and Freya had the energy and spirit to compliment his movements. They had won a coin or two in years past.

The song started to pick up as Freya and James went around the circle, getting the audience to clap and cheer as loud as they could.

As the song shifted, the tempo swinging upward, Freya and James met in the middle. They went into a traditional stance, his hand at the small of her back and framing her, as her left hand came to rest on his shoulder. The two immediately started to jig. Freya’s foot went between his feet as he went from side to side with his own. Each of them making an overlapping rythme to the music, each on the beat and moving fast. Their feet danced around the other person, and somehow with them.

The crowd broke in an uproar of shouts and cheers that filled the air. The music itself was almost drowned out.

Freya and James kept in perfect time.

He smiled at her. A true smile, warm, happy, and full of life.

She smiled back with the same emotion, free in a moment together.

The song was a well known one throughout the region and as the beat changed yet again the two split apart and stood side by side. Both mirrored each other, their steps the complete same, as their feet hit the floor boards and the crowd cheered.

Freya stopped as James took the lead. His movements were strong and sure. He stomped and tapped, his arms framing him at points and then clapping to get the crowd going again at others.

He finished a tap solo and pointed towards Freya.

Not missing a beat she jumped in front of him landing with flare and kicking her heels behind her as if she were kicking dirt on him. The crowd laughed as she transitioned into a jig of her own. The jig was fast and there were many twirls. Each one was better than the last as she twisted around him, her feet moving in many directions as her body remained still.

He caught her by the hand and the two went right back to the beginning of the dance. They started to shout out towards the crowd, both trying to win favor, yelling about who was better.

The crowd laughed but also cheered at the appropriate moments. Despite their jeers at each other they were clearly a very strong couple.

As the final notes played James lightly lifted Freya, spinning her, as she did a split. When she landed he spun her outward and guided her into a dip.

The music stopped.

They were stone still, eye to eye for what seemed like eternity, both just gazing at the other. Freya found herself smiling at him and he was in turn smiling back.

The crowd broke into cheers. It was so loud and everyone rushed at them.

There were so many voices talking at once that they both barely caught anything that was said other than the occasional ‘Amazing!’, or ‘Incredible!’, and even a few ‘Can you teach me how to dance like that?’

Both were smiling as they took drinks and spoke with a few patrons.

The musicians, who had taken a brief pause in awe of the two unknown dancers, started to play a few chords. It was the beginning to the second half of the song. Everyone reformed the two circles, the women as the inner circle and the men as the outer.

Slowly the simple melody flooded over everyone as the women moved to their left and the men to the right. It was tradition that when the music paused you danced with the person across from you.

Everyone continued to dance as the music kept playing. Freya couldn’t help but look for James’ eye. She caught it a few times, him smiling at her.

Was he looking for her as well? Had something just happened between them that she believed never could again?

She shook her head. Surely she was imagining things.

And yet, she kept finding her gaze searching for his.

The music paused.

She had been so distracted that she hadn’t realized until someone’s arms were around her.

“Hello love,” Samson smiled devilishly down at her.

She laughed – excited and caught off guard, a touch of alcohol would do that to a person. “Well hello, love.” She smiled back.

“Might I say that you are looking very fine this evening,” he said as they started to slow dance. Each couple moved about the dance floor now. The music not entirely slow but not as upbeat as the previous one had been.

“You may. You clean up very nicely Samson,” she said as he spun her.

“Don’t let that fool you, I’m still a bastard at heart!” He said as he grazed her ass ever so slightly with his hand.

Her eyes narrowed.

“Come now, I meant no harm!” He exclaimed as he twirled her again.

“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” She asked as her eyes scanned the room for James.

“Nope!” He said as he pulled her in closer. “Nor can you, love.”

“What does that mean?”

“He keeps looking over here too, if it makes you feel better,” Samson said as he dipped her.

She glared up at him. She was not about to lie to Samson, he seemed to know her all too well after the weeks they had spent traveling together. Instead she said nothing as her face flushed with embarrassment.

He pulled her back up into his arms as they continued across the floor. “No need to be ashamed, love. He clearly cares for you too.”

“He cares for me as a friend, nothing more,” she said plainly.

“For someone with such keen eyes you sure are blind, woman!” He spun her out and pulled her back in so she was facing away from him. She saw James immediately across the way. He was dancing with the old woman who had gone first in the dance with her husband. They were talking and joking.

Freya couldn’t help the happiness that lit through her. It was selfish, but there was a part of her that was so relieved that he was dancing with the old woman and not a young beauty.

“So?” She said trying to sound uninterested.

“Since you missed it, that was not who he started this dance with.” James subtly pointed to a couple not that far away. It was the woman James had refused to dance with. She was now dancing with a man who was clearly having a better time than she was. The woman feigned interest in his conversation as she stared over at James longingly.

“That doesn’t prove anything,” she stated as he spun her back around.

“You make my head hurt, love. And I’ve been drinking!” Samson dipped her low as his eyes locked on hers. “Stop lying to yourself. You should tell him.” Before she could respond he swept her back up and they glided along the floor.

There was a long pause between them.

“He is better off without me,” Freya said as she watched James laughing with the old woman. She felt a pain in her chest as she said it. But it was true, most of his suffering was because of her. She was tired of causing him pain.

“You are so full of shit.”

“I beg your pardon?” Freya’s temper flared up and she tried to step away from him. Samson held tight and moved them further along the dance floor as he waved to a couple that went by, so as not to raise alarm.

“You know that he is who he is because of you.”

“All I do is cause him pain,” Freya tore her gaze from James just as he started to look over. She placed Samson in between her line of sight. What was she doing even entertaining the idea?

“Please, he causes himself pain – the same as you. You both torture yourselves over and over again, never believing that you should be forgiven,” Samson waved to someone else that Freya couldn’t see. “The truth is you’re both afraid of what will happen if you just let go of the control you pretend to have.”

“You don’t know what…” But Freya didn’t get a chance to finish as Samson cut her off.

“I know plenty, love,” Samson’s voice took on a very serious tone. “If you wait too long you’ll regret it. Forever.” The word left his lips with weight behind it. She saw pain in his eyes, a depth she hadn’t seen before. “You have saved many people, myself included. But that is not your only role to play. Don’t waste your own life.”

She looked over to James and her breath caught, he was staring at her. Thankfully the song was moving her and Samson along and James was shortly out of view.

“Stop waiting, you don’t want to look at him with someone else. It will haunt you forever, trust me.” He moved a hand under her chin, lifting her face so he could look at her, “Despite what we tell ourselves – despite the lies we let ourselves believe – we are worth it.”

Freya was grateful that Samson was in front of her so she could take a steadying breath. “Everyone that cares about me dies Samson,” she looked up at him. “Everyone. I’m tired of that pain.”

“Life is pain, as is love. But it’s worth it,” he twirled her one final time as the music finished, bringing her close he whispered in her ear, “if you’re strong enough.” He kissed her cheek lightly.

She turned and looked at him then. There was something happening with him. She couldn’t place her finger on it, but something in the past few weeks had been slowly changing in him. She also saw the loss in his eyes. It was raw and vulnerable.

“Who are you talking about?” She asked softly as she placed a hand on his.

For a brief moment Samson looked swallowed in sadness. Freya started to reach a hand to his face in comfort. But Samson gently grabbed her wrist and cleared his throat, shook his head as if he had been in a fog, and in the blink of an eye was donning his devilish smile once more.

In a flash he grabbed the waist of the woman walking by. It was the woman who been sitting at the table with him. She giggled and pretended to struggle.

Freya still couldn’t remember her name.

“Just be like me darling, forget everything else I told you,” he said as he threw the woman over his shoulder. She squealed and laughed as he smacked her ass. “It’s just your life afterall. Best not to make it too complicated!” He chuckled as he walked away, grabbing a mug of ale from a barmaid and singing merrily.

Freya stared after him, unsure of what had just happened. Either he was wiser than anyone knew or he was more foolish than a king’s jester.

She couldn’t decide which.

“What was that all about?” James whispered as he came up behind her.

“Nothing,” Freya turned to face him, “he’s drunk.” James chuckled at that. “So I’m glad you haven’t lost all of your skills. I was worried for a little bit there.” She smiled up at him.

He smiled back and her heart skipped, “You should know better than to doubt me.” He led her over to a table. As they sat he caught the eye of a barmaid and held up two fingers.

“Of course Captain, how could I even have entertained the thought!” She placed one hand over her heart, a mock look of shock on her face.

“Oh shut it,” he chuckled.

The barmaid came by and put down two mugs of ale. James slipped her some coins.

“So that there is no confusion,” James leaned in, his voice a whisper against her ear. “If we had been dancing for coin I would have made more, just so that you know,” James took a swig from his mug to hide his smile.

“Like hell!” Freya moved her chair back enough so that she could face him straight on. “You were slowing down in the middle section, no wonder you handed off to me! You can’t keep up anymore can you?” Freya laughed as James narrowed his eyes at her.

“I was on point! The only flaw in our dance were your twirls, I mean I know that you were never known as graceful when we were younger, but by the Gods woman! Were you drunk?”

Freya took a long draw from her mug, “Ahhhhh, so refreshing!” She exclaimed as she narrowed her eyes towards him mockingly. “Let’s just face it Captain, you can’t stand the fact that I was better than you were tonight. Admit it!”

“You must live in a state of delusion. If by ‘better’ you mean ‘sloppy’ than yes you are better.” James winked at her as he took a sip of ale.

“You ass! Fine. There is only one thing to do, we can’t go further without knowing who is best!” Freya stood up on her chair and whistled. It echoed through the tavern. Everyone became quiet, the band stopped playing, and all eyes went to Freya.

“It seems that the Captain here,” Freya gestured down to James who held his mug up confidently,  “and I have a score to settle!”

There were some shouts and jeers from the crowd.

Freya moved her hands up and down to quiet them. “I know, I know! You are curious how a refined woman such as myself,” there was laughter, Aikos the loudest amongst them, “and a scoundrel such as he,” she pointed to James and there was some booing and laughter from the crowd, “could ever even compare!” The crowd laughed and jeered at them both.

Freya smiled. The crowd was all cued up.

“But I tell you all here and now that there can only be one, yes one, of us that can be crowned the greatest, nay the champion!” The crowd broke into cheers, most had been drinking and Freya was good with crowds. “So, I stand before you all to issue a challenge! Upon my good name,” Freya said it through a laugh pausing as the crowd joined her. “Yes! Upon my good name, I challenge Captain James Highwater, to a game to determine, right here and right now, once and for all, who is the best!” Her voice echoed out through the tavern as the crowd became an uproar of cheers, stomping feet, and ale mugs hitting tables.

Freya slowly turned towards James with her hands on her hips, a smile on her face, and a sparkle in her eye.

It was now James’s turn to hush the crowd. “Alright, alright! What is to be the game?”

Freya waited for the crowd to settle some more, some patrons shouting out suggestions. “The game,” Freya’s voice became low, dripping like honey, and everyone got quiet to hear her. “The game, dear heart, is Quoits!”

The crowd turned to James and waited for an answer, but all seemed excited.

James stood up from his chair, smoothed back his hair, and looked Freya in the eyes. “I accept!”

Everyone started to make their way outside, the tavern quickly became empty as the patrons, the band, and even the staff made their way into the cool night.

The field of play was quickly set up. As there were no posts to be placed into the ground, two small baskets were placed at opposite sides of the open street. The baskets sat about 25 paces from each other. Freya and James were given three stones each, these would represent their quoits. As the traditional game was two posts and three rings each this was the next best thing. Getting a quoit in the basket was the goal. Doing so was worth two points. If you were close to the basket or right against it that was worth one point. Anything beyond that was worthless.

Freya started to eye the basket across from her. The gap at the top was small. It would be hard to get the quoit in, but not impossible. James was doing something similar on the other end of the playing field.

The folks around them were all a buzz. Some took bets, others were drinking, and some were dancing to the band that was now playing outside.

“Alright, alright!” Aikos’s voice bellowed out into the night. “Now, you all know the rules. I will be judging this event. First to five points shall be our champion! Agreed?” Aikos asked as he looked at Freya.

Freya nodded, “Agreed.”

“Agreed?” Aikos asked James.

James also nodded, “Agreed.”

“Beer!” Gobtok’s voice cut through the silence as he slightly wobbled next to Aikos.

Everyone raised their glasses and shouted, “Huzzah!”

There was laughter and music in the air as Aikos shouted for them to begin.

“Gentlemen let the lady go first,” James said with a bow.

Freya started to line up her first shot.

James quickly stepped up, “But since I’m a scoundrel!” He let his quoit fly. It sailed through the air, hit the lip of the opening and fell. It came to rest against the basket.

The crowd laughed, some cheered, and Freya looked at him as if disappointed.

“Well now, let me see if I can do better,” she curtsied and James laughed along with the rest of the onlookers.

Freya took her time, lined up her shot, and released her quoit. It arced up quickly and then slowly made the journey downward. It landed in the basket.

The crowd cheered, hooting and hollering as Freya did another curtsy.

It went back and forth a few times, there were times when Freya thought her quoit was headed straight into the basket and then it would land beyond it. The same happened for James, one almost taking out a drunk onlooker.

The score stood at four to four.

Freya lined up for a shot. If she could even just get near the basket then she would win. She took a deep breath, and on the exhale let loose the quoit.

It seemed to glide through the air. It hit the basket and rolled down the side of it.

Everyone held their breath. Freya bit her lower lip as she watched the stone roll down the side. She started to bounce up and down. Surely it would land in the sand and stay against the basket!

As the rock hit the sand it made a thunk sound as it hit a rock that had already been thrown. It rolled, end over end, away from the basket.

Freya’s exclamation of “Noooooo!” was accompanied by gasps and a chorus made of a disappointed ‘awwww’.

James stepped up to his line. He took aim and with a wink at Freya let the quoit go. Freya stuck out her tongue at James as it flew through the air. The nerve he had!

It remained airborne for what seemed like eternity. No one blinked and all noise stopped as the stone flew towards Freya’s basket.

With a resounding swish the stone entered the basket opening.

The crowd erupted in cheers and many rushed at James. Freya hung her head in defeat.

Eventually Freya made her way over to him carrying two mugs of ale after her condolences and his congratulations were over.

“Well played sir,” Freya handed him a mug. She clinked their glasses together.

“You as well,” James said as they both took a swig.

Aikos came over and handed James a pouch of coins. “I believe this belongs to you, Champion,” Aikos said the word mockingly as he stared at Freya.

Freya hit James on the shoulder, “You bet against me?”

“Can you blame him, love?” Samson placed another small pouch in James’s hand. “For the record I didn’t bet against you, but I didn’t bet for you either. I was just the one collecting the coin.” Samson smiled wide as he led his lady friend away before Freya could say anything.

“Beer!” Gobtok yelled up as he held out a hand with another pouch in it.

“What?” Freya shouted.

Aikos saw the anger bubbling up on Freya’s face and he started to walk away, picking up Gobtok as he went.

“No like beer?” Gobtok asked Freya, confused and drunk.

Aikos hurried them away.

Boom glided slowly up to James and stopped. He too produced a pouch of coin and held it out towards James.

James took it with a nod, “Thank you Boom.”

Boom nodded back in return saying nothing. He turned and glided silently away.

As soon as everyone had left them, and were once again distracted, Freya leaned in towards James and whispered, “So how much do you think we made?”

James felt the coin pouches, tossed them up a bit one by one, “Better than the last time we did this!”

“Well that was years ago, when we were younger. I’m surprised you even went with it. Remember, you are a Captain after all,” Freya curtsied.

“That doesn’t mean that I forget where I came from,” James said with a smile. “I forgot how much fun that is.” He chuckled to himself as he pocketed the coin.

“Glad I could help remind you,” Freya said as they watched the crowd. The town really was enjoying themselves. Others were now playing Quoits, the dancing continued, and the drinks were flowing.

The silence stretched between them. The woman who had been trying to get James’s attention all evening came up to them.

“You were amazing!” She exclaimed as she latched onto James’s arm.

“Why thank you,” James said with a polite smile.

“Can you show me how to play?” She started to pull him back towards the playing area.

Freya could feel the tension in her body, poised like a knife. “I’ll leave you to it.”

James was about to say something when Freya nodded and in a way of goodbye simply said, “Captain.” She didn’t want him to ask her to leave, not that he would – he was too much the gentleman. And he wouldn’t ignore the other woman, he was too kind for that. If anything he would suggest that Freya join them, and that would have been unbearable.

So Freya had made the decision for him.

Freya started walking, unsure of where she was headed. She just wanted to get as far away as possible.

Suddenly there was a man in front of her. He was handsome in a very exotic way. His face was very angular and he had bright blue eyes, gold rings, and a ruby stud in his left ear. His brown hair swept across his brow. “Well hello beautiful,” his voice was like silk. He had charm, Freya could tell, but there was something hidden just beneath the surface.

“Hello,” Freya said as she tried to go around him. He got in her way to stop her. “Can I help you?”

“I’m a local business owner, of sorts, here in town. I couldn’t help but notice you this evening. You put on quite the show.” His eyes seemed to sparkle like a cat.

“Thank you,” Freya said with a smile as she tried once again to go around him.

He slid into her path. “You know, if you were at all interested I could make you a very wealthy woman.” He looked her up and down, “A woman of your talents I wouldn’t even let the regulars near. I’d reserve you for the best clientele. You seem sturdy with the right amount of give.” He smiled and that was when she saw it. The layer she had missed at first. This was a man who used women.

“You want me in your brothel?” Her shock and anger were clear as her jaw fell open. Despite everything she had ever been through she had never been asked this before. She was infuriated.

“Well, you are alone are you not? No attachments? That makes for messy business,” he straightened his sleeves and brushed at his hair.

Freya’s voice got louder as she moved into his space, “I’ll show you messy business!” She had two boot knives on her but instead pulled back her fist to punch him.

It would be more satisfying to see a bloody broken nose.

As her hand went back someone grabbed her wrist, spun her around, and dipped her. Her other hand, already balled up, went to strike out at what she assumed was this guy’s lackey. She just caught sight of James right before her fist was about to connect and, countering her own movement, wrapped her arms around his neck instead.

“There you are, darling,” the words were a whisper as his lips brushed up against hers. Her body pulsed with adrenaline and her nerves were on fire. She melted into his embrace without thought. The kiss was everything all at once – warm and welcoming, passionate and exotic, sweet and simple, but also chaos and longing, with storm clouds and thunder. Freya couldn’t move she was so lost in it.

James didn’t pull away, his grip on her tightened. It became almost greedy.

Freya held tighter to him.

The man standing near them coughed, loudly.

James, reluctantly it seemed, pulled her back onto her feet. His grip loosened as his lips left hers.

He faced the man, his eyes leaving Freya’s, but he still had his arms around her. She kept her hands around his neck. “Sorry friend, didn’t see you there.” James smiled and extended his hand to the man. “Captain James Highwater.”

“Charmed,” was all the man said. The look of disappointment was clear. He didn’t extend his hand. “Good evening,” he stated, bored, as he started to walk away.

“Pleasure,” James said with a slight hint of anger. He turned away and silently led Freya back towards the tavern.

They remained in silence on the way there, neither sure of what to say.

But as they walked they held hands, their fingers entwined.