Chapter 12 – A New Family
“Ross! Are you in there, lad?” Master Monroe’s voice rang out in the dark, still room.
“I’m here,” he called back, choking on a piece of ash. He wiped the trail of tears still clinging to his face and stood.
“Are you hurt? Well… more hurt than you were?” Master Monroe asked.
“No. Stay where you are. I’ll come to you.”
With a grunt of pain, Azroth rose to his feet and pressed his hand back to the wound on his belly. After the rush of the Firespark, Azroth’s body trembled from cold in its abscence. However, he’d never felt more alive. Imogen lived, he’d spoken to Wesley, and if Master Monroe’s offer still stood, he had a chance to get out of Lambswell in a way that didn’t include a burial box.
Lighting a small flame on his free hand, Azroth made his way to Master Monroe. The man’s wide eyes almost glowed in the dark.
“How did you do that?” he asked when Azroth got close enough. “How did you put out the flames? It shouldn’t have been possible. Then he glanced down at Azroth’s hand and shied away.
“I came from Ballitus. Nearly every person there can manipulate fire to some extent.”
“I thought the people of Ballitus didn’t like Tellidus,” Master Monroe hedged.
“It’s mostly just the king. And I want nothing to do with what that king desires,” Azroth said.
“What about the streets?” Master Monroe asked. His shock seemed to be fading. “Do you still want to stay there?”
“If the offer of an apprenticeship still stands, I will accept it wholeheartedly. I’m done with the streets.”
Master Monroe considered him. “Why did you try to steal from me?”
Azroth gave a half smile. “A pair of women who like shiny objects and all things that glitter blackmailed me into stealing that gem after finding out that I’d been lurking around here. They were going to kill my friends if I didn’t cooperate, and then they’d sent the rival gang after us to ensure we delivered the prize. I’d never have stolen from you willingly, but neither would I allow my friends to die because of me.”
“You’ve got honor, boy, I’ll give you that,” Master Monroe said with a cough, waving away the smoke drifting near.
Monroe took his arm and slung it around his shoulders again to help Azroth down the stairs. Soldiers were running frantically when they arrived out in the yard. The woman from the other night rushed over to them once she’d spotted them.
“Frank! Frank! Are you all right? I saw flames coming from the attic, and they told me you were still up there—oh!”
She paused midstep when she saw Ross dangling off of Frank’s shoulders. “Ross?” Turning to Frank, she asked, “Was he in there when the fire started? Were the thieves who broke in the ones that started it?”
Questions continued to fly at them until Frank held up a hand to stay the tide. “Jenna, dear. The poor boy is hurt, and hurt badly. We need to get him to a healer. I’ll answer questions later, but right now, we need to ensure Ross lives.”
Frank let Azroth down carefully, and one of the soldiers ran over.
“Master Monroe! Are you all right? Is the gem safe? I saw three street kids run out of the building and back into the night after the fire started. We couldn’t catch up to them, but Jeppson hauled out the body of a fourth. Do you know if that was all of them? Who is this boy?” The soldier gestured at Azroth, now lying on the ground.
“Wilks, this is my new apprentice, Ross Galbraith. He’d been working on the cathedral at night.”
Jenna gave a small gasp, but Wilks didn’t seem to notice.
“He was working tonight when the thieves broke in,” Frank continued. “He protected me from the thief Jeppson hauled out. Without his aid, it would have been me that was carried out of there. The thief, however, stabbed Ross. We need to get him to a healer as soon as possible.”
Ross groaned inwardly. Frank was making him out to be some sort of hero. Despite the fog in his mind, he didn’t miss that Frank had called him his apprentice. Maybe Wesley had been right. Maybe he could have a chance for a better life yet.
“I’ll ask Wellerman about a healer. He grew up here in Lambswell,” Wilks said.
Bet he was a street kid before I came around, Azroth thought.
“Ross, dear, are you still with us?” Jenna’s small hands pressed into his cheek, and his eyes flitted open. When had they closed?
“I’m here,” he whispered. Ross. Not Fen. Not Fire Drake. Ross.
A warmth spread through him.
Behind Jenna, Ross could see Wesley standing with a soft smile on his face.
You’re safe now. Be strong, my son. Be a man worth knowing.
Thank you, Wes. For everything, Ross thought to him.
Wesley dipped his head before his shadowy form disappeared.
The next few days were a blur for Ross. The apartment the Monroe’s lived in during the construction was five times bigger than the shack the kids of the Haggis lived in. It had large rooms with bright windows, and soft beds.
Jenna fussed over him like a mother hen while the healer came and went. Frank would check on him often, and the day Ross could sit up without blacking out, he was invited to the cathedral to see the progress. The crews had worked overtime to repair the attic floor and scrub all the soot from the stone.
The structure had always impressed him when he visited it at night, but today, seeing it in the sunshine and walking around it with full permission, brought him such joy that he couldn’t speak as Frank showed him around, introducing him to all the crew members. They even allowed Ross to help add some of the stained glass panels.
While he worked, he’d catch glimpses of Ariel’s dark hair, but never more. He wondered what she’d do now that Gabe was injured, and he had left the life of those in the Haggis. When the image of her kissing Riddick full on the mouth would float through his memories, he’d grind his teeth and think she’d gotten what she deserved. His conscience; however, got the best of him on his final day when Ariel appeared hiding in the shadows of a nearby building.
He excused himself from Frank for a moment and walked to the edge of the construction site. Ariel lingered in the shadows, watching him.
“You look well for a dead man. We thought Riddick had killed you,” Ariel said.
“He tried, but it was his body that was hauled out. Not mine.” Ross’s arms ached to hold her again. He stuck his hands into his trouser pockets. “How’s Gabe?”
“He’s healing. We still had some of that medicine you’d bought a while back, so no infection.” Ariel’s voice was subdued. “He asked me to ask you to come back. We need you, Fen.”
He gave a small smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m not coming back Ariel. I told you I was leaving Lambswell, and I mean to see it done. I’ve become an apprentice. Once we finish today, I’m going north to Solomon.”
“What can I do to convince you to stay?” Ariel asked, coming forward into the sunshine for the first time.
Ross gripped her shoulders gently and placed a kiss on her brow before stepping back. “I’m leaving Ariel, and there is nothing you can do to keep me here.”
The sound of coins clinking against one another drew her attention as he pulled a small leather pouch from his inner vest pocket and placed it in her palm.
“Here is the money I’d saved for you to come with me. Use it to get more of the medicine Gabe needs and keep some for food and other things you all need. Keep Brewster going to the markets and you shouldn’t run out of food. With luck, the butcher will apprentice him, and you lot can have a steady supply of meat.”
“What about you and I, Fen?” Ariel was almost begging now.
“There is no us,” he said coolly. “You made your choice. You chose Riddick, and kept me around for convenience, Or more likely, the Vixens kept me around for my skills, and you were the draw.”
“I did love you,” Ariel said, moving toward him again.
He stopped her hands before they could get around his waist. Hurt and embarrassment showed in the pink tinge of her face.
“I’m sure you loved me in your way. But I’m done Ariel. To you, the Vixens, and everyone in Lambswell, I am just as dead as Riddick. The streets should be safer with two fewer crime lords roaming the city.”
He could feel Frank’s concerned gaze on his back. It was time to go.
Ariel clutched the back of coins to her chest, her eyes brimming with tears. Though he never saw one drop as she turned to go.
“I hope you get the life you want, Fen. I hope you find a girl who treats you the way you deserve.” With that, she disappeared around the corner of a building.
Ross watched her go before returning to Frank and the rest of the crew.
“Everything OK?” Frank asked, clapping him on the shoulder.
“All is well,” he said, with a smile. “Just some final business to take care of before we leave tomorrow.”
Frank nodded. “We’re ready to place the Sapphire Star into its casing.”
Ross’s eyes lit up. “Let’s not waste another moment.”
The pair entered the cathedral and watched as one of Frank’s crew members expertly placed the gem in its housing about the stained glass in the chapel. A soft blue light fell among the pews as the last of the mortar was set.
Ross admired the star glinting in the sunlight, frowning slightly as Frank cleared his throat, seeming bothered by something.
“Ross, lad.” Frank rubbed his arm and shrugged one of his shoulders. “Jenna and I were talking last night about something.”
“What about?” Ross asked. Had he done something to upset them? He’d tried to be a good guest, but maybe the years he’d spent on the streets had ruined his manners.
Frank gave an embarrassed smile. “I know you’re practically a man now and well on your way to becoming a fine one, despite your struggles…”
Ross couldn’t fathom where this was going.
“If you have any desire to have a family, well, uh… What would you say to becoming part of… What I mean to say is, Ross, my boy…”
Ross’s breath caught. Was Frank trying to say what he thought?
“Jenna should have been here. She’s better at this than me.” Frank ran a large hand through his stubbly hair.
“Good thing I decided to come,” Jenna said from behind them. “I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to get the words out.”
Jenna gave her husband a kind look before turning to Ross. “Frank is trying to say that we’d like you to become part of our family. You need a home, and we need a son.”
Ross’s gaze flicked between the couple. “You don’t have any children?” he asked.
Jenna’s beautiful face filled with lines. “It wasn’t our lot to have children, despite how often I felt certain we’d have a son.”
Ross’s heart railed against his chest. His vision from the attic of Imogen and Wesley standing in place of Frank a Jenna flashed in his mind. Was this really happening?
“Then you walked into our lives, or rather, crept in.” The lines vanished from her face again and her gaze sought him. “If you’ll have us, we’d like to adopt you into our family.”
Frank cleared his throat again. “Now, this won’t come without responsibilities. I expect you to learn the family trade and become a leader in masonry. We––“
Frank’s words were cut off as Ross wrapped his arms around both of them and buried his face in the space between the couple. “I want a home. I want to have a family. A real family, and I want to use my hands to help others, not hurt them.”
Jenna’s arms joined Frank’s as they encircled Ross.
“I have one request, however,” he said, pulling away.
“I’d like to keep my name, Ross Galbraith. My father was a strong and courageous man. He died defending what he knew to be right. My mother was also the most compassionate person I know. Their name and legacy is what I wish to carry forward.”
“I think we can work with that,” Frank said. “Your father sounds like a good man, and your mother of the best sort.”
The shadowy form of Wesley watched on with approval when Ross spotted him in the corner.
“He was a great man,” he said.
“As will you be,” Jenna said, hugging him tighter and tears of joy overwhelmed her.
Wesley caught Ross’s eye over Jenna’s head and smiled. As will you.
Thank you for joining me on this journey to explore Ross’s backstory. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please consider signing up for my newsletter so you don’t miss out on the newest stories and goodies.