I slept almost the entire ride into Civitavecchia Port. Remnants of strange dreams haunted my subconscious and we unloaded our bags from the train and prepared to board the ship. The face of that brunette nun smiling at me, her mouth stretching wider and wider until it ripped her face in half exposing her bloody skull. I gasped at the image and dropped my suitcase.
“Romi, are you alright?”Aric’s worried voice hovered somewhere near my ear.
My eyes were shut tight and I clamped my arms around my stomach in an effort to quell my rising nausea. “I’m just a little…nervous about the ship ride. The open ocean frightens me.”
I felt his knuckles smooth over my sweat-covered forehead. “You’re a tough cookie, Romi, I’m sure you’ll get your sea legs in no time.”
Aric called a deckhand over to help with my bag and grabbed me around my waist to help me aboard. I hated to seem weak, especially so early in the mission, but I’d never experienced such lingering fear from a nightmare before. I wondered briefly if all Guardians were haunted by the things they’d seen, or if I was just soft. Either way I needed to get a grip on the issue if I was to be any good to Aric once we got to England.
The Santana was one of the many modified freighters that the Order used for international travel—airplanes simply weren’t their style. From the outside it looked like your ordinary cargo ship passing goods between the coasts, but there were several comfortable cabins on the inside for stowaway purposes. The vessel’s captain, Jonathon Monroe, was more than accepting of the less than legal arrangement as he was compensated handsomely for it.
“Mr. Doyle, long time no see!” said the captain, clapping Aric hard on the shoulder once we were on Santana’s main deck. “You’re a great deal taller than the last time. Who might your little lady be? She looks a bit green around the gills.”
I shoved my hand into Captain Monroe’s outstretched one. “My name is Romia Orsatti, and I’m not his little lady. I am a Guardian of the Order—pleasure making you acquaintance.”
The captain laughed and clapped Aric on the shoulder again and I noticed his face was slowly turning red. “I like her, she’s definitely a keeper. You two make yourselves comfortable below deck and if you have to take a breather I implore you to do so under cover of night. There are a lot of patrol boats in the Italian waters today and I’d like very much not to go to prison. In 24 hours time we will be in England.”
“Thank you, Captain Monroe, it’s always a pleasure,” said Aric, shaking the captain’s hand.
We dragged our belongings downstairs into a beautifully decorated cabin with two silk hammocks hanging from the ceiling instead of beds. I’d never shared a room with anyone of the opposite gender, but I knew it was something I was going to have to get used to.
In the time we took to unpack our weapons and spread the notes out on the table in the cabin, The Santana was well underway. I was admiring a particularly lovely rosary with pink marble beads when Aric spoke up.
“Romi…I’m not trying to accuse you, or upset you, but I know you weren’t telling me the truth earlier. What was it really that had you feeling so sick?”
I was ready to launch a rude verbal attack at him, but the look on his face put me back in my proper place. “I had a bad dream. I’ve had plenty nightmares in my life but this one felt so real, almost like a warning of what’s to come.”
“I wish you wouldn’t keep these things from me,” he said in mild anguish. “I don’t know how I can prove to you that I’m on your side and yours alone. I knew when I was only a child that you would be my future and I have no issues whatsoever with placing my trust implicitly in you.”
I was taken aback by his emotional pronouncement, never really having considered his feelings in this situation. I had taken vows after all to obey the laws of the Order, and one such law was to find solace, guidance, and strength from no earthly being but the elders and my Familiar.
“It’s difficult for me, Aric. The only family I really have is my adoptive father, Bishop Orsatti, and you know how hard it is to gain counsel with the Most High…even for me. My biological family abandoned me when I was a baby and I’ve been alone for so long it’s strange to have someone else around.”
Aric walked over and took my hands in his. “My mother dropped me off at an orphanage property in Ireland that was owned by the Order when I was small. After that my whole life became the mission that the church laid before me. I know it’s going to take some time for you to get used to it, but from here on out we have only each other to rely on.”
Slowly I nodded and squeezed Aric’s hand in what I hoped was a reassuring gesture. Maybe if I let him in, the nightmares would stop.
“So, you’re from Ireland?” I asked, hoping to diffuse some of the emotional tension.
“That I am.” Aric grinned and made himself comfortable in one of the hammocks. “Would you like to hear a tale about faeries? That’s usually what people think of when they envision Ireland.”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I sat cross-legged on the floor beside him with our mission notes in my lap. “Knock yourself out, tiger.”
Aric fell asleep muttering about changelings and kappas when I realized that the entire time I’d been asleep on the train, Aric stood watch over me. As a sign of faith in honoring our new bond, I returned the favor.