No. No no no no no. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Samson should have been there. He should have been directly in charge of this. Forget the meeting he’d spent the last four hours forcing himself through. He should have been there. No one else was going to do it right.
The sound of boots slamming against wood rang out as he sprinted up the stairs. Reaching the top deck, the salt air stung his face, but he ran nonetheless. His body came to an abrupt stop just before the door to his quarters. The shaking of his hands persisted even as he forced the tension from his muscles and quiver from his breath. Approaching like a madman would only make this worse.
Paying no mind to the multitude of eyes upon him, Samson placed a hand on the doorknob and entered.
Before him, a man sat on an ornate desk chair, absolutely radiant. Strands of ebony hair fell messily from a loose ponytail and his round glasses were askew. On his own, even slightly unkempt, he was beautiful. The entire scene, however, was a nightmare. The man’s mouth was stuffed with a roughly knotted cloth, his wrists secured to the arms of the chair.
Samson stepped forward, kneeling before him. The man’s voice was muffled, but the panic in his eyes and voice was perfectly apparent. He squirmed, doing his best to pull away from Samson. Right. Of course he would be afraid. This wasn’t how this was meant to go. Samson raised a hand, and for just a moment, the man’s movement halted. Samson reached forward, rising to place his hands on the tie of the cloth around the man’s mouth. He loosened it, careful not to pinch any hair in the process, and pulled it away.
Samson expected anger. He expected the man to scream, to immediately berate him. Perhaps he would begin to beg for his life, to plead to be let free. He had not considered the possibility that the man before him would remain silent, averting his gaze to focus on something along the furthest wall from them.
This was so much worse.
He opened his mouth to speak, and found that the words caught somewhere in his throat, unable to push past his lips. Samson hadn’t expected to be able to speak, but he had hoped. Under other circumstances, he would have been prepared for this. He could have had a letter waiting with greetings and information, easily available for the prince before him to read and assuage his fears. Instead, all he had was a desperation in his eyes as he raised a hand to capture the man’s attention. Samson moved his hands slowly, forming words carefully.
“Your Highness, do you still know how to read sign?”
The man blinked, long eyelashes batting against sharp cheekbones, and then nodded.
“Good. My apologies. This is how I will need to speak with you. You may speak aloud.” It wasn’t as though he would be able to move his hands to sign in response.
The man didn’t say anything. He didn’t sign, didn’t move to open his mouth. He just stared blankly ahead, his eyes on Samson but not looking at him. It was haunting.
“Are you in any pain?”
“I will untie you. I am sorry. You were not meant to be bound.” Samson reached up, his fingers finding the course material of the rope. The man was tied tightly, and with how rough the material was under Samson’s fingers, it mustn’t have felt good. Something in Samson’s chest tightened, heat pooling at his heart, as the rope fell away to reveal the raw, darkened line of irritation. Whoever had made the decision to do this was dead.
The prince didn’t move his hand away, instead keeping it in place. His body was stiff, as if fear kept him in place.
“I’m going to move past you so I may deal with your other wrist,” he warned, before slowly pushing himself between the desk and chair to kneel at the proper angle so as to attend to the other binding. It was a vulnerable position. If the prince kicked out, it would knock him hard into the desk. Still, the man made no attempt to move, watching languidly as Samson made quick work of the knot on his wrist.
“I should have a salve for the discomfort. Would you like to rest?”
“May I leave?” The way he asked made it clear he hadn't processed a word Samson had signed moments ago.
“Not yet. I’m sorry. It isn’t safe for you to be on the deck now. You are free to make yourself comfortable in this cabin.” Samson rose, maneuvering himself around the desk and chair so as not to touch the man. The last thing he wanted was to make him more uncomfortable than he already must be.
“What ship is this?”
“You are Captain Samson Graves?”
The name was so strange from those lips. Samson hadn’t heard that voice in so long, and it had changed so much it was almost jarring. Of course, his name had been different back then, but it still hit him with that same weight.
There was some spark of recognition, but it was the same that he saw across anyone who had heard the stories of his crew. There was no sudden realization, no further understanding. That was alright. It had been so long since he had seen Elias. If he couldn’t remember him, that made sense. A prince had bigger things to consider than some boy he’d known in his youth. Elias opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it.
“Are you alright, Your Highness?”
Elias blinked. “I… No.”
Samson swallowed. It was difficult to know what to do with those words. He had done this. He had caused his prince harm. Still, this was necessary if worse was to be avoided. Knowing that didn’t make it easier to reconcile the guilt making a home in the hollow of his chest. “You are safe here,” Samson signed, catching the prince’s gaze with the motion of his hand.
“I’ve been kidnapped. I… know your reputation. I know you won’t harm me. But you kidnapped me.” For the first time, his voice seemed to gain strength, a fire building in his words.
“I am so sorry.” The words, had they been there, would have caught in his throat. Instead, his hands were almost jerky in their motions, hesitant to grant him the fluidity he needed to sign. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He knew it wouldn’t, but sometimes he still tried to force it. “Your Highness. Know that I would not have done this if there were another option.”
Previously, Elias had watched Samson’s hands carefully, but now he met his eyes. The gaze burned holes into him, straight to his heart. “I need to rest.”
Samson nodded, and glanced toward the bed. Carefully, he extended a hand to offer assistance out of the chair. The attempt was answered with a jerk backward so sudden that it caused Samson to return the motion, stepping backward, thighs crashing against his desk.
“I– Please. Please don’t touch me. I can’t stand it.” His voice shook when he spoke, and he averted his eyes completely.
Samson didn’t bother to sign, just stepping away to allow more room for the man to move. Elias’s steps toward the bed were quick and rushed. He kicked off his boots quickly, and then paused.
Samson reached inside the small wardrobe across from the bed, and retrieved a pair of pajamas. They were nicer than those he personally slept in, made of fine silks. He placed them on the bed, and then turned away, holding his hand over his eyes. He couldn’t exit completely, not right now. He was to remain in the cabin with their guest until his first mate gave him an all clear.
At the sound of blankets rustling, he turned. Elias lay in his bed, blanket pulled tight against his chest. His back was turned toward Samson. Like this, if Samson tried to sign to him, it would be impossible for the man to see. That was alright. If Elias needed anything, surely he’d say. Samson moved to his desk, finding the seat still warm. Something in his stomach churned. Elias never should have been there. He should have been brought aboard carefully, gently, and the situation should have been explained.
The entire scheme had been stupid from the start. All they needed was to capture the attention of the Queen to ensure they could meet regarding their contract. Sure, she hadn’t responded to letters in weeks, but this drastic a measure wasn’t needed. The crew had voted on plans, though, and this was the solution that won out. It was easy. The prince had been making public appearances during the summer festivals in coastal towns and it was so simple to retrieve him. Those towns were safe– as King’s Sentinel made it so– and there would be minimal guarding.
With the rumors that he would soon be betrothed to a neighboring princess, it was obvious the tour through the nation was meant as a final visit through the kingdom’s major cities before the formal engagement announcement. If he were to disappear now, it would make a statement. If he was missing from the tour, it might be suspected that he was ill, but if he was missing from the engagement, it could cause tension between kingdoms. This placed an urgent time limit on a response. It couldn’t be ignored as so many letters had.
Even if it wasn’t what he’d wanted, it should have gone better than this. There were ways he could have made this better. He should have been the one to retrieve Elias. He should have had the time to prepare a letter so that all of the important information would be readily available for him. No one should have touched him. No one should have tied him to a chair or gagged him.
When Samson found out who made that choice… His hand curled into a fist, nails digging into the heel of his palm. He had never harmed a member of his crew. To be honest, he had never cared to cause harm to anyone. King’s Sentinel wasn’t exactly known for their rampant fighting. Quite the opposite, really. Samson had spent years making delicate and intricate alliances with the others. The fighting had been minimal.
It was those exact deals that had forced him to be absent for Elias’s capture. He so rarely met with Karim, and if he was going to keep this alliance, he needed to accept any invitation offered. If they were at the same port, he couldn’t refuse to meet. Samson had run from the meeting as quickly as he could, but he couldn’t have made it in time.
In the quiet of the cabin, with the deck empty for the night and Elias’s soft breathing the only sound inside, the weight of it all struck him. Prince Elias was captive, pulled from his carriage and afraid, in his room. The meeting, while successful enough, had left Samson exhausted. He was a poor host, distracted by his panic and the lingering ache from dealing with Karim. All of this pressed on his shoulders, and his eyes ached.
Samson folded his arms, laying his head upon them. In the morning, he could handle this.