She was too flustered to return to the inn, so she wandered around the crowded streets until night fell, her mind racing. What was she afraid of? That Greyson might be at the inn—or that he might not be at the inn? That he might want to talk to her—or that she might want to talk to him?
Could she control herself around him from now on?
She forced herself to calm down, to breathe more slowly, to think rationally. Of course she could control herself. It was a mistake—nothing more. She wouldn’t let it happen again, and she wouldn’t give Greyson any false ideas. She was a warrior, she reminded herself. And not just any warrior: she was the only female warrior in all of Miltinoth—perhaps in all the world. She would not renounce that title for some smithy she’d gotten stuck with on the road.
The festivities were winding down as the townsfolk remembered they had to get back to work the next day. Ayalah continued to pace the streets until she was the only one left, and finally she returned to the inn just before daybreak. Greyson was sleeping on his side of the curtain: perfect. She gathered her things in the dark, changed back into her warrior leathers, and slipped out of the room without disturbing him. Their ship would be leaving in just a few hours; might as well get there early to ensure a timely departure.
The mood on the ship on their return journey was a somber one. To begin with, Ayalah wasn’t the only one who’d had perhaps a little too much fun during the celebration. Many of the sailors turned up looking sick and exhausted, and a few even looked a bit depressed. To make matters worse, things had turned awkward between Ayalah and Greyson. She wasn’t embarrassed to admit that she was avoiding him, and, when they did run into each other, he couldn’t even meet her eyes. As with their previous trip, Ayalah spent her time leaning over the edge of the ship, watching the sea, and Greyson spent his time belowdeck.
She typically preferred to pace when agitated, but she found that the sea was a welcome substitution to help soothe her nerves and steady her thoughts. The smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves lulled her into a kind of trance she could maintain for hours, and it was with relief that she let her mind take a break and stop thinking about prophecies and kisses and wizards.
She had been enjoying her solitude for almost a week before Greyson approached her. It was nighttime, and though she couldn’t see much of the water in the dark, still she stood at the prow of the ship, listening and watching. She heard him approach, though he did it quietly—she could identify him by his gait alone. He stood beside her and waited until she looked at him to speak.
“Can we talk?”
She shrugged warily. “Sure.”
“Look, I don’t know what to think about—”
“Don’t.” She held up a hand to silence him. “It was nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
He had been leaning against the railing; now he turned to face her directly. “Ayalah, ignoring this is not a good solution.”
She opened her mouth to respond, but a snicker behind her alerted her to an on-duty sailor behind them. She whirled on the man.
“Is something funny, sailor?” she hissed.
He was holding a broom, ostensibly cleaning, but she didn’t believe that for a moment. It was obvious he’d been eavesdropping.
“No, no,” he said, palms up in apparent surrender. Then he smirked. “Ayalah.”
Before he could even think to run, she had drawn her knife and slashed him across the face. He gasped and flinched back, his hands clinging to his bleeding cheek, the broom forgotten on the ground.
“Call me that ever again,” she said through clenched teeth, inching closer to the man, “or tell another living soul my name, and I’ll give you another cut to match that one. On your neck. Do you understand me?”
The sailor nodded and backed up another step. He was at least a head taller than her, but lanky and lean: no match for her in a fight. He hesitated a moment, apparently figuring this out for himself, and then scampered across the deck.
She turned back to Greyson. “How dare you?” She’d meant it to come out as an accusation, angry and pointed, but instead it came out as a mortifying whisper, barely audible.
“I—I didn’t mean—I’m really sorry, I just—”
Her eyes welled with involuntary tears. How was it possible that, after all these years of hard work to establish herself as a credible, fearsome warrior, one man could go and ruin it so easily? Her knife was still in one hand, but it didn’t even occur to her to use it on Greyson. She didn’t know what else to do, so she did what she’d seen dozens of outraged women do on the streets of Miltinoth: she slapped him.
Then she ran belowdeck to her tiny cabin to cry in private.