This story belongs to me and only me. I will slice you three thousand times before letting you die if you try to steal my story.

A/N: You probably won't hear from me much in the future. But here are some quick comments. I rated this 'R' for a reason. There will be violence, a lot of it, and maybe some other stuff, not sure yet. I can be sadistic sometimes and it will show in my writing. If you don't like it, I'd rather you not review me at all than flame me. I would like to know what you think. Italics can't seem to show up on so I will do around the things that should be italicized, such as names of ships. Also, this story is based on the old definition of romance, not the new one.

The girl watched the sailors shrewdly. She needed a boat to get home, but she knew none would take a girl onboard for fear of bad luck. She shook her head in disgust. Dacian sailors, Dacian men, Dacian shit. She never liked Dacians. The men always treated their womenfolk like crap, which was one reason she wanted to get home. Her mission was done. There was nothing left for her here now.

She saw a merchant trying to sell pieces of clothing. She walked up to him. The merchant's eyes narrowed when he saw her. No doubt wondering where her menfolk were. Probably thinking that I must be an easy girl to fool with no men to protect me, the girl thought. Think again.

"Ah, miss, you have an excellent eye. Look at my wares. All of them are the finest of their kind. You see this. Very beautiful isn't it?" the merchant said, holding up a long silk scarf. The girl barely glanced at it. She had plenty of those back home. What she was looking for something a little more rough. Something that wouldn't attract attention. Her eyes spotted a pair of black trousers and a white homespun shirt.

"I'll take that," she said, pointing to the articles of clothing.

The merchant frowned. "That? That's men's clothing. Why would a girl want men's clothing?"

"My brother's going to become a sailor," the girl explained. "I don't have time to make clothing for him because . . . I'm going to be married soon." The girl blushed delicately. This is too easy, the girl thought as she saw the merchant nod his head in agreement, taking the bait.

"How much is it?"

"Well, normally it's two silvers for three trousers and two shirts but for you, I'll make it one silver and ten coppers."

"Oh, thank you so much!" the girl gushed, but inside she was seething. He was cheating her and she couldn't do anything about it because she knew that if she haggled, she would attract attention since she was a girl, even more so since she was had only sixteen years and looked her age. If she had been an old woman then it would have been a different story.

She shifted the small bundle she carried and took out the coins to pay the man. Then she looked for a place to change. Ah, a tailor's store. She walked in like she had a purpose. The tailor paid her no mind because she was a girl. That was one thing good about Dacia. Girls can go unnoticed most of the time. She saw a doorway with a cloth hanging down. The dressing room. She raised the cloth and entered, then lowered the cloth behind her to ensure privacy.

She took off her clothes. She bound her breast with a few pieces of cloth in her bundle and quickly changed into the clothes that she bought. There was a bronze mirror in the room so she used it to her advantage. Then she took a deep breath. Her hair. She took out a knife and started cutting. She had plenty of practice, so when she was finished, she looked like a boy. She also attached a bandana to her head so that she'd look coarser, rougher. She attached the knife to her belt, as was the custom for here for men to all have at least on weapon on oneself.

She gathered her stuff and walked out. The tailor looked up surprised. She flipped a gold coin to him. He caught it. Their eyes met. He looked away first. She walked out confident that he would not betray her. In Darcia, it was common for girls dressed as men when they wanted to go out in the world without men to look over their shoulders. It was a thing everyone knew of but pretended not to see anything. For her to come out of the dressing room as a man was no real interesting fact, but just to be safe, the coin was to buy his silence.

The girl adjusted her bundle on her shoulder and walked up to the dock. She asked a several captains if they were going to Xian but they all shook their heads, saying Xian was much too dangerous. Just when she was about to give it up for the day, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She spun around, her hand on her dagger by her belt. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

The man who tapped her raised both his hands, showing her that she was unarmed. She relaxed slightly though she was still wary.

"What do you want?" she asked, making her voice slightly deeper so that she'd sound like a man.

"I heard you wanted to get to Xian. My boat's going there. We need a cook though. Can you cook? I'll pay you five silvers a fortnight."

"Yes," the girl said, tilting her head studying the man before her. He was beautiful with great muscles that moved under his bronze skin. He looked almost like a god, a sea god. "You're the captain?" she asked raising her eyebrow.

"Yep," he said smiling. "That's me. I'm Nathan, by the way."

"A little young, aren't you?" she asked.

"Some say so but I have one of the best boat and crews you'll ever find. Take it or leave it."

"I'll take it. You can call me Aiden," the girl said, offering her hand to shake. Nathan took it.

"You carry a weapon," Nathan remarked as they walked toward the , Nathan's ship.

"I carry it just for show. It is better to go armed than to have nothing. Do you have a problem with that?" Aiden said defensively. She didn't like him asking so many questions.

"No, no. Just that some of my people onboard are dangerous and might take a fancy to your knife. I just hope you know how to use it. It looks high quality."

Aiden said nothing. The reached the boat and got on. The was a beauty. Unlike most ships, it was clean and looked new. Although Aiden didn't know much about ships, she did know that it was a good one.

Aiden noticed that all of the men aboard were young, about the age of eighteen to thirty. They were all strong with plenty of muscle and bronze skin. Several of the men were bare-chested. Aiden averted her eyes.

"Dom," Nathan called. A blacked-haired boy looked up. "Come here."

"Who's he?" Dom asked, coming over. "He looks like a girl. There's hardly any muscle on him. Why is he here?"

Aiden kept her face carefully blank. She was good at not revealing her emotions. She had plenty of practice. Instead, she studied Dom. He was tall and beautiful, rather than handsome. "I could say the same about you," Aiden replied.

"Ooohh. Girly boy bites," Dom said.

"Dom," Nathan warned. "He's our new cook. You better be careful or he might poison you in your food."

"Forgive this poor sailor's ignorance, oh heavenly cook," Dom mocked, bowing. "I have no wish to be poisoned." Aiden felt her lips tug into a smile.

"Well, Aiden. This is Dom, my second in command. He may look young but he is very skilled. If you have any questions, ask him." Nathan winked at her and left.

Aiden turned her attention to Dom who was waiting patiently. He led her down to the galley, her new room, his room, the captain's cabin, and the other sailor's rooms.

Aiden noticed that all the other sailors had to share rooms except for Dom, her, and the Nathan. She asked about it.

"Captain believes that the cook is very important so you also get a separate room. After all, without the cook we'll all be starving. None of us know how to cook, you see," Dom said sheepishly. "You will forgive my rudeness, won't you? I mean, I didn't know you would be the cook. Most of the people Nathan takes are big and strong. No offense," he quickly added.

"None taken," Aiden assured him. "So how many people am I going to cook for?"

"Twenty-two, including yourself." Aiden nodded thoughtfully.

"I better go. We're about to set sail soon. You better start cooking. Supper will be here soon and you don't want to make the captain angry. He doesn't like it when his food is late."

Aiden watched as he left and then went to her room and put her things away, along with her knife, which had been attached to her belt. The metal might rust in the sea air, and it was better not to attract attention to herself. A high quality knife would do exactly that. When she finished storing her belongings, she looked around the room one last time. It wasn't much of one, more like a closet. But it was better than sleeping in the same room with several men. Satisfied, she then went back to the galley so that she could start to cook.

The was well supplied. She found there were salted meat, turnips, potatoes, onions, rice, some fish that was freshly caught, several caskets of wine, and many dried mushrooms, fruits, and figs. There were also a number of bags that she had not opened but she decided that for now, this was enough. Soon the galley was filled with the delicious smell of fish soup, cooked rice, and fried potatoes. Many of the sailors stopped working when they smelled the heavenly aroma. They had spent the day loading supplies and crates and they had set sail two hours ago so they were hungry. Even the captain was not immune.

Nathan walked down to check on Aiden, as well as hoping for a few bites to eat. He found Aiden scattering some onion into her fish soup. He watched as she lifted the ladle to her lips and tasted it thoughtfully, and then added some salt. Thank the Goddess, he thought. I finally have a fine cook. Not like the scumbag last time that almost poisoned us.

Aiden had felt him watching her even before he had stopped by the doorway. She now raised her eyes to meet his. Nathan smiled hopefully. Aiden knew what it was he wanted.

"Go away," she said. "It's not done yet. You have to wait like everyone else."

"But I'm the captain," Nathan pointed out. "You should obey me. After all, I'm the one who hired you."

"And I'm the cook. If you want to eat, then get out. It's not fair to others that their captain would get to eat first."

Nathan looked mournfully at the pot of soup. He turned and started to leave.

"Captain," Aiden said. He turned around. An apple came flying in his direction. He caught it and stared at it stupidly.

"What the fuck am I suppose to do with an apple?"

"Eat it," Aiden said and went back to her cooking. Nathan looked at the apple and bit into it defiantly, glaring at Aiden who was ignoring him.

Dom came down a while later and found Nathan still glaring at Aiden. He looked at the apple in the captain's hand and smiled. The captain never ate fruits. Dom found it amusing that a small black-haired pale-skinned boy could make his captain eat an apple.

"Captain," Dom said. The captain turned and faced his second in command.


"It's supper time."

"You hear that? It's supper time," Nathan yelled at Aiden, who just shrugged.

"I'm finished. Might as well feed them now." Dom helped Aiden carry the food to the stateroom where the sailors gathered eagerly awaiting their supper. The captain followed behind.

There was a loud cheer as they entered the room. Aiden was surprised by their enthusiasm and looked curiously at Dom.

"Our last cook was terrible," he explained. Then he joined the others in ferociously taking in as much food as he could. The captain had no need to seize any food nor worry about others taking his food since he was the captain. The captain had his own tray of food that belonged to him only. Aiden watched them eat, half disgusted, half fascinated. She found that she no longer had any appetite left at all. Dom was the first who saw that Aiden was not eating. He walked up to her.

"What's wrong?" he asked, his eyes falling on her soup, which was still half full.

"Nothing," Aiden replied.

"Then may I have the rest of your supper?" he asked hopefully. Aiden pushed it toward him. He ate the rest of it enthusiastically.

By this time most of the sailors had finished their supper and was curiously about the new cook. They all crowded around her. Aiden soon found herself surrounded by huge, strong, muscled men on all sides, all of them taller than her. She did not like to be cornered and that was exactly what the men were doing. Dom must have seen something on her face because he told them to give her a little space to breath.

Aiden relaxed. She found that she had been stroking the place where her dagger had been attached to her belt. She jerked her hand away. Luckily, no one else seemed to have noticed.

"I'm Witt, what's yours?" a tall raven-haired handsome man asked. He was bronzed with huge muscles, very masculine. There was not a hint of softness in his face but neither was it cruel. It gave an impression of someone very strong in both mind and body.

"Aiden," she said. She was fascinated by the dragon tattoo on his arm.

"He's staring at your tattoo, Witt," one sailor said.

"Let him stare. It's a beauty. The ones who don't stare are idiots," Witt said laughingly. The others agreed. Aiden noticed that although they joked around with Witt, they also seemed to be wary of him as well.

"So where are you from?" Witt asked, staring intently at her.

"Xian. That's why I'm on this ship."

"Why is a Xianian doing in Darcia?"

"Family business," Aiden replied, her face blank. Why was he asking so many damn questions?

But that answer seemed to satisfy him. Several other sailors came and introduced them to her and invited her to play cards with them some time. Aiden thanked them for their offer and looked for Dom to get her out of here. Dom, sensing her discomfort, shooed the sailors away.

"Move out of the way. Cooky's tired. He needs to rest if you want to have nice meals tomorrow too." Dom helped Aiden up out of her seat. The sailors reluctantly moved out of the way.

"I need to wash the dishes," Aiden said.

"I'll get them for you. You just stay in the galley." Dom said as he left. He soon came back with his arms loaded with dishes. He also got a bucket of seawater for her to wash the dishes in.

He watched as Aiden sat down on a stool with a towel in her hand and a dish in the other with the bucket underneath them. Aiden felt his eyes on her as she watched. She felt herself tense up; the hair on her back started to rise. Finally she got tired of pretending she didn't notice he was watching her. She raised her eyes and met his.

"Is there a problem?" she asked.

"You were uncomfortable with them, weren't you?"

"A little."

"I know they can be a little intimidating at first but you'll get use to it. Be careful around Witt. He's dangerous. He used to be a mercenary, but I heard he once killed the person who hired him and now no one wants him anymore."

"Except Nathan," Aiden said.

"Except Nathan," Dom agreed. "He can read the stars real well and he knows several of the places we visit like the back of his hand. That's why Captain will hire him."

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." With that, Dom was satisfied and left.

Aiden finished washing the dishes and decided to go out for a breath of fresh air. She went up to the deck and leaned against the rail of the ship, enjoying the wind as it blew against her. She took her bandana off because it was about to be blown away if she didn't. The night sky was beautiful. The stars were shining brightly against the dark black background. Aiden realized it had been years since she last admired the night sky. This thought brought on a wave of regret but that was quickly pushed aside.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" a soft voice said from behind her.

"Yes, it is," Aiden said.

"You sound sad," the voice said.

"I had forgotten how to enjoy the night sky." Witt came and leaned against the rail beside her.

"I'll teach you," he said.

Aiden shook her head. "The constellations I know, but the wonder of it, I lost long ago. Now it is simply something beautiful but no longer is there awe when I look at it." Aiden turned her head to look at him and their eyes met with understanding.

"You're not a commoner, are you?" he stated, as if it was a fact.

"No," Aiden said simply. He asked no more.

"Are you afraid of me?" Witt asked.


"Why not? I'm sure you have heard Dom say that I killed the last person who hired me. He probably painted me as a ruthless mercenary."

Her lips tugged upwards slightly. "I'm sure you have a good reason for killing him."

"And if I say no?"

She shrugged. "It makes no difference to me."

He laughed. "No one has ever said that to me." Then he sobered. "You're right. I did have a good reason for killing him. He refused to pay me after I had done a job for him."

"Ahhh." Aiden nodded understandingly.

"You don't seem shocked."

"Should I be?" Aiden asked, raising her eyebrow.

"Most people would have been."

"But we have already established the fact that I am not most people."

They were both quiet for a while. Then Aiden decided it was late and got up and left for her cabin. Witt watched after her. He noticed that she had dropped something. Her red bandana. He picked it up and held it to his nose. It smelled faintly of lavender.