William pushed his hair out of his face, grinning as he tied off his final line. He waved toward the Capitan. “Julio! I’m going to go! I’ll see you later!”
Julio laughed. “Say hi to Lile for me.”
William waved again and snatched his bag, and the box next to it, from by the gangplank as he left. He smelled the lily he’d gotten for her; his terzo regalo. She’d finally asked for it when she gave him the ring. He grinned as he thought about it, shifting his gear around himself to make it more comfortable.
“William!” came a friendly call from behind him.
Laughing, William turned. “Slaine MacAlister, what are you doing out here?”
“What, I can’t come see the Sea Beggar make its triumphant return?”
William rolled his eyes. “What do you want Slaine?”
His friend put his hand on William’s shoulder, smiling. “Conor and Malmuira are making a big meal tonight to celebrate, why don’t you and Lile come?”
“I suppose we should,” he laughed. “Since we’ve skipped the last few.”
“That’s not your fault, you’ve been travelling a bunch. How many are you at now?”
William smiled. “I don’t keep track. Not enough until we can fix the whole issue.”
Slaine shook his head. “You’ve helped a lot of people William. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.”
Laughing, William shook his head as well. “Why do you think I’m trying to get back to Lile.”
Slaine grinned and patted his shoulder again. “I’ll see you later.”
Craigellachie was beautiful in the fall. William took a deep breath as he walked through the town. He waved to a few people he knew as he went. It’d been nearly three years since he’d come to Dunland. He’d never thought he’d fall in love, not with the city or with Lile. Something was different in the air that day. Maybe it was that he’d been away a couple of weeks, maybe it was that he was going to see Lile again. He smiled as he thought about Saoirse, the girl he’d taken to Port Melandir, who reminded him so much of Lile. But there really was something different on the air. He sniffed it again. There was the smell of fire on the wind. He frowned. Was there a fire somewhere? There was no smoke on the horizon. Leaving the city boundaries, he kept walking toward the Tiarnan family farm, still thinking about the fire. It didn’t smell like a cooking fire, nor really a bonfire. He shook his head. It seemed too much for that.
William stopped on the corner of their farm, hands growing weak as he saw the stake rising from next to their house. He dropped the box in his hands and sprinted toward the building, dropping his bag when it got in his way. There was the pyre, burnt out on the yard. There was the stake, still standing from the charcoal. He paused there, looking at it. Who had been burned? What had happened here? A moment passed and he tore himself away. He pushed open the door. “Lile!?” he called.
Llwyn, her brother, was standing next to their crying mother. He turned to William with fire in his eyes and ran forward to meet him, then slammed his fist into his jaw.
William collapsed against the doorframe, eyes wild and hand to his cheek.
“It’s your fault, you bastard!” Llwyn yelled in his face.
William shook his head, not understanding. Then his eyes grew wide and he staggered back out of the building, back toward the pyre. “Lile!?” he cried out again as he pushed through what was left of the pyre. His palms were tearing open on the rough wood as he cleared the wood. He found a bone, carbonized flesh fused to it. He cradled it and screamed out.
He didn’t know how long he sat in the pyre, ash coating his skin. When he came back to himself, it was raining. His exposed skin was burning under the ash, but it didn’t matter. His heart was broken. What had happened? He began to cry, probably not for the first time. He slowly began to stand, pulling what bones he could find from the pyre. He pulled his blanket shawl off himself and wrapped up the bones. He walked up to the house, but Lwyn stood at the door.
“You’re not welcome here anymore.”
William didn’t say anything, he just stared.
He glared at William. “They said she was a witch. She was screaming about ‘just wanting a child’ as they burned her.”
William still didn’t respond.
“Get out of here. You’re not welcome here,” he said again.
After a moment, William turned and walked back toward the pyre. He stopped, tears still streaming down his face. He bent down and picked up the little tressertag bracelet he’d given her months before.
He walked to the pyre and paused again, then pushed past it. He kept going, stopping only to take his bag before he continued back to his ship. He left the lily behind, wilting in the mud.