The wicked heroine, p.19
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.19

           Jasmine Giacomo


  Sanych made a wager with the bigoted Daskan first mate–a man named Hmol–that the Ondanta would arrive ahead of schedule their first night at sea, while they joined the captain at his table for dinner. The man had started goading her soon after she and Meena boarded, saying that women being able to read was barbaric, and Sanych had had enough.

  When the man demanded that she narrow her prediction to within an ebb tide either way, and she still didn’t back down, Meena added all the gipp she had to Sanych’s bet. The crew buzzed with the topic for days, poking fun at the little girl who thought she could read the future, or at the first mate who might get his arse handed to him by a little girl.

  Iben, a Kirthan deckhand, was Sanych’s strongest public supporter, aside from Meena. The crew warned the Temple journeyman in teasing tones that Iben was looking for a bride; she’d better sleep with a dagger. Sanych began to avoid the tanned young man, fleeing the deck entirely when she had to. Meena kept him from entering their cabin with sweet persuasions on his lips, though she laughed as much as the sailors at the expressions that flitted over Sanych’s face.

  By day nine, Meena was beginning to cast worried looks toward their money pouch. The way the crew sniggered every time someone mentioned anything relating to their progress toward Braltre, she knew they were far behind the schedule Sanych had predicted they would follow.

  But the journeyman remained optimistic. In fact, after the noon meal, she had become positively excited. Pointing behind the ship, she indicated the low, swiftly moving bank of clouds.

  “There’s our speed, Meena. Just as I predicted.”

  “I don’t remember you predicting a storm on day nine, Sanych,” said Meena, squinting one eye at her.

  “Not out loud, no. That might have made them throw me overboard.”

  “Well,” said Meena, approval in her tone, “I guess you have learned a thing or two out here.”

  “Er,” said Sanych. She declined to mention how she had been tossed back down the gangway of the first ship she had approached for passage south across the Bay of Whales, followed by shouts of “witch” and “weatherhag,” and a few moldy apples. She’d learned that the best way to approach a superstitious crew of Byarrans did not involve running up to the second mate and urging that they immediately put to sea–with her aboard–because the weather patterns were going to be optimal for the next six days, followed by two small storms of no consequence, allowing them to reach Miln before a severe rainstorm crossed their route. She had been more circumspect with Captain Verri.

  But Meena, seeing the approaching storm, was content with Sanych’s prediction again, and began to smirk back at the sailors as they too eyed the approaching storm.

  The storm caught them just after nightfall. Tucked safe and dry in their cabin, Sanych and Meena listened to the thumping of sailors’ feet on the deck above as they hurried about, following the captain’s shouted orders.

  “He has to order the ship to run before the wind,” commented Meena, gazing up at the ceiling as if she could see through the heavy wooden timbers.

  “Yes. With the direction of the wind and the storm’s path, any other option would be too dangerous for him to consider. He’s got cargo to deliver, after all.”

  Meena lowered her eyes to Sanych’s young face. “I figured, when we made this bet, why not? It didn’t really matter to me if we won or lost. You knew what you thought, and I figured you were probably right. But this is really uncanny, Sanych. Predicting weather? That’s dark magic to some cultures. You have a book somewhere in your Temple on predicting weather in the Bay of Whales?”

  “We have books from several cultures, written by their sages, their philosophers, even astronomers who complained the weather got in the way of their planet gazing. I’ve read them all—” Sanych paused. Tilting her head forward slightly, she interrupted herself. “I’m not sure you understand what it means when I say I have read a book, Meena.”

  Meena smirked. “I do know how to read, Sanych. In several languages, some very old.”

  “That’s not what I meant. My special talent is that I read something once, and I can remember it. Word for word. All of it, every page. Forever.”

  Meena’s brow furrowed. She did not speak for several moments, staring at Sanych. Then she said, “What is the first thing you ever read?”

  Sanych recited, “One bunny, two bunny, three bunny, four bunny. Can I buy a carrot, sir? I’ll give you all my money.”

  Meena could not restrain her snort of amusement.

  “I was two years old; what did you expect? I remember reading it by the light of a great lantern of some kind, far outside our window.”

  Meena’s face sobered. “That’s…impressive. Maybe you’ll be the world’s next great hero; take my place. I can retire, find a nice little cave on a mountainside.”

  Sanych wasn’t sure if Meena was kidding or not. An odd strain seemed to have come between them; Sanych was reminded of her mentor’s words when she first was assigned to study at the Temple: “There is a difference between giving someone the whole truth and giving them enough truth for the moment.” Sanych had figured Meena, being unique, would automatically accept Sanych’s amazing talent. Perhaps the great Shanallar was only human after all.

  But the next morning, Meena was her old, cynical self again; Sanych wasn’t convinced she had felt that hint of strain after all. Maybe it was nothing. She set it aside and focused on not throwing up as the ship heaved about in the rolling seas and fled before the shrieking winds.

  Time lost meaning. Meals became large bowls with tight-fitting lids, insulated in a wool wrap, delivered to their quarters. The food was not quite the quality they had become used to at the captain’s table, but it was still very edible. When Sanych had an appetite. When she did not, Meena happily polished off her food as well as her own, then usually belched contentedly. More often than not, this caused Sanych to reach for her spew bucket. And occasionally, over the sound of splattering liquefied food, Sanych thought she heard a low, rich chuckle.

  Life was not fair.

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