The wicked heroine, p.11
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.11

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Four

  The wind had not abated much in the time Sanych had been inside Meena’s cave. Stepping outside and closing her front door firmly, Meena fiddled with something in the dark. Sanych eyed the snow, swirling a few feet away, from the safety of Meena’s porch nook.

  “What are you doing?” she asked. First the hurry to pack, now a delay. She fought an urge to yawn. Meena’s healing might have cured her soreness and frostbite, but it didn’t seem to fully conquer ten weeks of exhaustion.

  “Locking the door. I’ve got important stuff in here.” Meena slung her bow across her back and picked up her knapsack and duffel. “You have horses down in the tree line?” she asked, her voice brisk.

  “Er,” said Sanych.

  “Tell me you don’t expect me to walk to Vint.”

  “I had a horse,” Sanych said, her tone defensive. “I sold it to buy passage across the Bay of Whales. The first ship I asked for a berth took my money, then didn’t let me board. When I did make my way across the bay, I didn’t have enough money left to afford both a horse and passage back across for both of us.”

  Meena growled low in her throat. “All right. I’ll see what I can do.”

  The pair traveled down the nearly obliterated path to the nearby timberline. Sanych could easily see how she might have slid down the slope instead of tumbling against Meena’s door, and it made her shiver in a way that had nothing to do with the cold.

  Once they were among the trees, only a few hundred paces from Meena’s door, Sanych called a question over the wind that whistled through the needlepines. “Are you really the only Shanallar?”

  Meena did not turn around or seem to acknowledge the question in any way.

  “Because you’re not what my theories told me you’d be. If you’re really four hundred years old, why do you look so young?”

  Meena stopped suddenly and turned around. Even standing a step down the hill, she loomed over Sanych by a handsbreadth, and the tip of her bow stave rose higher still. Her eyes held a cool expression.

  “Impertinent child. Don’t you know it’s rude to question a woman about her age?”

  Sanych spluttered. No one was rude to her; she was the journeyman savant of the Temple of Knowledge. “But I want to know where my theory failed. I don’t understand why you look so young, and I want to.”

  “Good luck with those scholarly pursuits,” Meena said with a smirk. “Me, I’m busy.” She started walking again.

  “Where’s your torc, then?” Sanych asked, pressing after her. “It seems odd that you’d set it aside after so many centuries.”

  Meena halted, back stiff, and Sanych slowed, approaching her with caution. The older woman’s eyes held a distant look, and her fingers rose to her throat for a moment. “I gave it away,” she said, her voice quiet.

  “To whom?” Maybe I can track it down.

  “The Shanallar gives as the Shanallar wills,” Meena snapped, chin raised. “Do you presume to question her will, little one?” She stalked off down the hill once more, not waiting for an answer.

  Sanych realized, belatedly, that she was speaking to someone who had a more important place in history than she did; that had never happened to her before. For a moment she remained behind, confused. Then she realized Meena was walking swiftly into the shadows, and she hurried after her, not wanting to get lost twice in one night.

  She caught up, saying, “Meena, I’m sorry. I’m just not used to talking to people outside the Temple. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

  “Apology accepted,” clipped Meena, not slowing down.

  “Why are we in such a hurry? It’s the middle of the night. And I’ve been up all day already–climbing up here, I might add.”

  “You might have been followed. I want to be far and away by the time the sun rises. If your Magister wants the book for one thing, perhaps someone else has stumbled upon your research, and they want it for themselves.”

  Sanych stopped dead in the path.

  Meena halted as well, turning. In the dark, Sanych couldn’t see her expression, but she heard the Shanallar’s smile in her voice.

  “You didn’t think of that, did you? Books hold no candle to experience. Now get moving. I want to be off the mountain and on a horse by dawn.” Meena turned and strode away again.

  Sanych groaned and hurried after her. “So, will you please help me to understand why your appearance is as it is?” she finished diplomatically.

  Meena didn’t glance back as she said, “Ask me about that later.” Her tone indicated that she was done answering silly questions for the night, and Sanych should consider waiting until she had grandchildren before bringing it up again.

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