The arrangements were made, money was exchanged (a very large amount, Ayalah noted with some degree of satisfaction), and Punjick arrived a few weeks later to escort her to the ship. Jagdar, along with a number of other local ship builders, built his ships on the south shore, but Punjick took Ayalah to the north shore for boarding. Whereas at the southern docks boarding was brisk and efficient, at the northern docks passengers boarded with reluctance, waving goodbye to their loved ones and pausing frequently to look back. The air was punctuated with sniffs and sobs, women clutching one another desperately as their husbands or sons went off to war.
Punjick led Ayalah to a ship she recognized as being one of Jagdar’s—so this was where they sailed to so urgently!—and spoke to a man near the boarding ramp, who appeared to be checking off a list of names. The man looked at her and curled his lip, but then Punjick said something that caused the man to raise his eyebrows and hide the disgust on his face. He bowed to Punjick and turned to Ayalah, speaking quickly. She shook her head to show that she didn’t understand.
“He wants you to confirm your name,” Punjick translated.
“Crissa Montesteed,” she supplied.
The man put a check next to her name and waved her ahead to the ship.
“Crissa,” Punjick said as they approached the ramp. “I appreciate that you’re willing to fight for me. I realize that I may never see you again, so I would like to thank you in advance.”
“Master Punjick,” she said, bemused at his sincerity despite her now being his slave, “I am a trained warrior. By letting me use my skills and do what I enjoy, you have done me a great service.”
He nodded, and the furrow between his brows smoothed out. “That may be so.”
“Goodbye, Master Punjick.” She bowed and boarded the ship.
Up on the deck of the ship, men were being divided into groups and shown to their rooms below. Ayalah waited her turn, noting the looks of confusion and disdain afforded her by the surrounding men; she wondered with amusement if they would give her a room to herself just because she was a woman.
All at once, the men before her were cleared away, directed to their respective quarters, and she found herself face to face with the man in charge. She wished she could say something biting, or at least sneer at him, but she found that she was so shocked, all she could do was stare.
“Crissa Montesteed,” Greyson read from the parchment he held. He looked up at her and met her eyes.
She didn’t know what to do, what to say. He had lost weight since she’d last seen him; he looked—not quite gaunt, but leaner, especially in his face. Her inclination at seeing him was to punch him square in the nose, to demand explanations, to call him a traitor. But his thinness, and the look in his eyes—was that fear? worry? she wished she could read people better—stopped her.
She wasn’t sure how long they stood there, silently looking at each other. But then someone behind her cleared his throat, and abruptly Greyson looked back down at his list, then back up at her. He barked something she didn’t understand, and a slave beckoned for her to follow him down toward the cabins. She followed the slave and did not look back.
They did, in fact, give her a cabin all to herself, and even though it meant that the other men had to squeeze that much closer together, they didn’t begrudge it of her. They all seemed to be frightened of her—or of her presence on the ship. She caught a few of them making a curious gesture across their bodies when she walked by, and once a man threw salt at her, which she’d seen Jagdar do when warding off evil spirits from his granddaughter’s room at night. So they thought she was an evil spirit: fine. If it meant she got to enjoy the privacy of her own tiny room each night, so be it.
She was not treated as one of the slaves, but rather as one of the warriors, although her own equipment, which had been confiscated when she was first taken prisoner, was not returned to her. The days were filled with training for the men, most of whom were clearly not warriors, the nights with drinking and carousing for everyone but Ayalah, who largely spent her nights brooding or training some more, for lack of anything better to do. It was nice, for a change, to have no one to wait on, no tea to serve, no orders to obey.
Greyson seemed to be avoiding her, which was just as well. Once her initial concern for him had worn off, she’d been left with nothing but impotent fury. She wasn’t sure what his position was, but it was clear that he was some sort of authority on the ship. He didn’t participate in the training, so he wasn’t one of the warriors, but he wasn’t a slave driver, either. She couldn’t tell what his role was; but in any case, it was clear to her that while she’d been a slave all winter, forced to wait on other people and prostrate herself to fools whose necks she could have sliced at any moment, he’d been living as a free man, with no concern for her or for helping her get out of her situation.
The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. And the angrier she felt, the more vivid her dreams were. Each night on the ship brought the same nightmare: she would fall asleep in her cabin only to find herself waking up in a different cabin, one that looked familiar but that she couldn’t quite recognize. She would stand up and look down to discover that she was fully dressed in her old Miltinian leathers with the red stripes down the sides of her arms and legs, sword strapped to her waist. A shout, in her dream, would catch her attention, and she would fling open the door, run up the stairs to the deck, and find the ship silent, deserted, but littered with bodies: Gavin’s, Lumi’s, Rin’s, Roran’s, and others she couldn’t make out through the fog on the ship. She would scream and cry, unsure whose body to go to first, too late to save any of them and also unsure who to blame.
The feeling of helplessness stayed with her, even when she awoke. Sometimes she woke to find herself sobbing.
During the first week on the ship, she’d gone back to sleep after she woke up. But she’d found herself struggling through more nightmares, these involving Greyson. She would be kissing him, lost in urgent, heated sensations, feeling his fingers in her hair, when suddenly his hands would be around her neck, choking her. She would open her eyes to find him mercilessly pressing his hands into her neck harder, pinning her down, not a trace of regret in his eyes, willing her to die—
And she would wake once more to find herself gasping for breath, the sobs coming from deep in her chest.
She gave up: clearly sleep would not come easy on this journey. She took to pacing the deck in the crisp night air, the sword in her hand soothing, lulling her heartbeat back to normal.