"What?" Estelle demanded. She recoiled from Jason's touch. "What did you say?"
"I asked why your aunt and uncle wanted you dead," he repeated. Estelle stared.
"How dare you?" she finally managed to ask. "They're probably dead themselves...that's ridiculous!"
"Is it?" Jason leaned back now. He raised his hand and, one by one, ticked off points on his fingers. "One. Callan, your cousin, came to you to ask about your safety. You said he seemed nervous...like, say, if he'd overheard or was part of his parents' plans to kill you. Two: your aunt and uncle run one of the largest weapons industries in Nurem. What benefit to them from peace between the rivals for the Iron Sea?"
"That doesn't mean-"
"Three," Jason continued. "You yourself said Aurora and Ward brought additional guards aboard. I wonder if they were there for your safety, or if they were handpicked men who would do what their masters commanded even if it involved killing a princess and blaming it on the Clans? Four. You are the youngest daughter of the house Marona - you are expendable. That was exactly the logic that sent you to the MacTavish holdings in the first place. Five: you said Callan was very commanding as he hauled you out of your room."
"I was a different person, and he was making sure I followed him," Estelle protested. Jason tilted his head, and she swallowed as she found herself wondering if the man had a point.
"Or, Estelle," Jason asked, "was he putting on a show of being the one to take you to Aurora and Ward? He didn't seem awfully concerned about rescuing his own parents from the ship."
"No. No, that can't be what happened." Estelle clutched her head. "They...she's family..."
"Six." Jason wouldn't stop. "Aurora and Ward didn't need to come with you. But this way, they could be witnesses to the foul Clan assault on the ship that they barely managed to survive and escape, and unfortunately they couldn't save you - but the nerve of those Highland animals! This means war!" He shook his head. "We have contact with the outside world, Estelle. That's exactly the story Aurora and Ward spun upon their return to Nurem. I originally thought they were simply covering their rears for losing you overboard in a storm - plus firing up their weapons business - but given what you've said..."
"I don't believe it." Estelle swallowed. "I don't...I can't..." She took a breath. "If that was the case, why did Uncle Ward take me back to my room? Why didn't he trick me into coming somewhere they could get at me, and imprison me until his chosen assassin-"
"Why did he lock you in, Estelle?"
A seven-word question that cut right through her protests. Estelle's jaw worked for a moment as she relived that night in all its horror.
"Now just stay the night here," Uncle Ward said as he opened the door for her. He held her steady as the ship lurched and she did too. "Here, you'll be safe as houses. I'll send someone for you once things clear up on deck."
"Of course, Uncle Ward." Estelle smiled. "You take care in the storm, too."
"I'm very good at taking care of myself," he replied, winking at her overtop his thick mustache. A moment later, he pulled the door shut behind him, and Estelle turned for her bed and took a seat as the lock clicked...
"He...he wanted to be sure I...I didn't come back on deck..." it sounded weak, even to her own ears. Estelle stared vacantly into the night, listening to that remembered click that she hadn't thought anything of at the time...
"Bastard!" She lunged - right at Jason. "You bastard!"
"Estelle!" He wove to the side in a flash, but didn't strike back. "Your anger-"
Estelle screamed at him. There were no words, there was no meaning, just sheer unadulterated rage, and she didn't know who it was really directed at. Her fists clenched and she drove herself forward, throwing wild, berserk punches and kicks at her trainer.
Jason caught her arm. Estelle didn't care. She headbutted him, right on his nose. As he recoiled, she spun into a vicious kick that doubled him over.
"That's enough, Estelle!" Jason caught her next strike, and this time, he didn't ignore her. She staggered as he practically flung her past him, barely keeping her footing. "Your anger won't change anything, and certainly not if you waste it on me-"
"This is your fault!" Estelle knew that wasn't at all true even as she said it, but all she knew was pain. "If you'd left me alone-"
"Then you'd be wasting away in a cave hunting lizards and fishing for subsistence," Jason soothed, his voice firm but calm. "You'd never know what happened. And that's if you survived the bandits' attack." He extended his hands. "Estelle, calm yourself. Let's talk-"
She kicked him again. He ducked backward, and instantly she was on the offensive, elbows and fists flying, empowered by her rage. It burned through her like fire, and she screamed her pain at the man who'd made her aware of it.
"Estelle, enough-" he caught her arms and yanked her in close. "This isn't going to-"
She bit his arm. Her knee came up and she got him right on the thigh. She jabbed her thumbs into his ribs and-
"That's enough!" Suddenly she was in the air, and then she crashed down on the hard stones on the mountaintop. She cried out as stars exploded behind her eyes, but then Jason was on top of her, pinning her down. In a flash, he had her trapped, and try and scream as she might, she couldn't resume her offensive.
"Those two...they..." She let out an anguished, wordless cry.
"Breathe," Jason ordered in a low voice.
"Breathe?" Estelle glared at him. "Breathe! That's your advice? They were family! I trusted them!"
"It feels like a knife's sticking out of your back," Jason said. Estelle laughed at him.
"How would you know?"
"Because the one who killed my wife and child...was my wife," Jason said. Estelle abruptly stopped laughing.
"You...what?" she asked.
Jason clambered upright wordlessly. Estelle took a moment to breathe and massage the back of her head...and then she noticed him offering his hand. Slowly, she took it.
"I'm sorry," she muttered. "It's not your fault. I just..."
"I know how you feel," Jason said. "Someone you trust with your life, someone you would go to Hell with..." He took a breath. "She drowned our son. Because she didn't like him. I found her laughing and..." He broke off. "When she found out I didn't approve - that's a gentle way of putting it - she drowned herself too. I tried to help her but...when someone doesn't want to be saved..."
"Why did she do it?" Estelle asked.
"Someone drove her mad, somehow," Jason said. "A spell, it must have been. I lashed out, went hunting for any magician I could find...and thankfully for me, the Guiding Light found me before I did any real damage to anyone."
Estelle was quiet. "Did...you ever find the man who did it?"
"Oh, yes." Jason's face was very hard. "I did what needed doing."
Estelle stared into his eyes. "Did...did it help? With the pain?"
"A little." Jason shrugged. "Not much. Not enough. Healing was on me, and revenge and healing are entirely different animals."
"But I want vengeance," Estelle muttered. "For Callan. For what happened to me. For all the people who would die if this did start a war - who might have already."
"Then take it," Jason said. "Chase it. Find it. Avenge yourself. But don't lose yourself in the process, or you'll be no better than Aurora and Ward themselves. It has to be for something more than your own self-gratification."
They stared into each others' eyes. Estelle swallowed.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I couldn't...I lost control of myself. Here you've been nothing but kind and helpful and..."
"You don't owe me anything," Jason said. He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm here to help. With whatever you need."
"Even revenge?" Estelle whispered.
"Especially revenge," Jason said. He smiled a little. "You can't fight a war on your own, can you?"
"No, you can't, I suppose," Estelle said, softly. She admired the fire and moonlight reflecting in Jason's eyes, tinted emerald.
She lifted her hand and put it overtop his.
"What are you doing?" Jason asked. Estelle inhaled deeply.
"I...you..." Words were hard. Action was easier...slightly. She mustered her courage and reached out, claiming the man's other shoulder and pulling herself toward him, her lips aiming for his-
His hand stopped her, planting itself gently but firmly on her chest.
"What are you doing?" he repeated, voice quieter.
"I'm...Jason, I think you're..." Estelle took another breath. "Just let me show you-"
That one word was like a gunshot. She recoiled. "What? But...why?"
Jason was silent. Estelle swallowed.
"I'm...I'm sorry," she whispered. "I just...the moment seemed-"
"You're my student." The way Jason said it was ironclad but...under the surface, Estelle heard something she could only classify as desire, with the iron holding it in check. "I can't, Estelle, for that reason and no other."
And no other. Those three words echoed in Estelle's head.
"So...if I weren't your student..."
"Maybe." Jason shook his head. "That...we could answer when the day came. I hope you understand me...you're a rare woman. A remarkable one. But as long as I'm your trainer...it simply wouldn't be right. At least, not in my view." He looked down. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Estelle whispered. She found herself nodding. "I get it. It..." She hesitated, unsure of whether she felt rejected or not. "It's...honorable."
"I'm glad you feel that way," Jason said. He glanced up at the sky. "Another time?"
Estelle managed a smile despite her confusion over whether she was elated at being recognized, upset at being deferred, or smitten still further by Jason's knight-like adherence to his moral code. Maybe all three? "Count on it."