The wicked heroine, p.28
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.28
 

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Eleven

  The group inside the Quest Room stood for a moment, processing the encounter they’d just had.

  “Well, that was interesting,” drawled Salvor. “If she’s going to kill us all, I hope she starts with me.” He flicked his eyebrows suggestively.

  Geret let out a breath of disgust at the young lord. Then he recalled the Archivist. She had been young and nervous, but apparently, she’d traveled all by herself to find that Shanallar woman. That in itself was amazing to him; he’d never managed to get across any of Vint’s borders. He could use her; in fact, he’d intended to use her all along, but in the strange and short meeting they’d just had, he’d completely forgotten to invite her to join the expedition.

  “Uncle, give me a moment,” Geret said, heading for the door to catch up with Sanych. “We need to make sure that Archivist knows she’s to come with us.”

  “That little girl?” Salvor asked, his tone condescending. “Yes, I’m sure she’ll be a great help.”

  Geret spun around and walked right into Salvor’s personal space, glaring down at the older nobleman. He narrowed his eyes and said, “This is my expedition. Be grateful I respect your father and let you come.” He turned away just as quickly and left the room, keeping the guards on their toes with their well-timed door-opening.

  He caught sight of the ladies and strode down the hall after them. They seemed to be arguing. Geret frowned, but he didn’t slow down. The women reached the far door and opened it, and Geret called out to get their attention. They stopped to look up the hall at him, and the Shanallar murmured something to her companion and exited, leaving only the Archivist waiting for him. He reached her in seconds.

  “I apologize for the Shanallar, Lord Geret,” the small Archivist murmured, not meeting his eyes. “I will be more than happy to pass on any messages you have for her.”

  A tremor in her voice caught Geret’s attention, and he realized she was near tears. Confusion stopped his voice, and he cast about for a proper reaction.

  Sanych swallowed a lump in her throat, took a deep breath, and only then raised her head to meet his eyes.

  He was much closer to her than last time, and the action caused her headdress to fall off, exposing her pale blonde hair. “Oh!” she gasped, reaching for the hat, but it fell directly behind her, pulling its attached scarf tight across her throat with its weight.

  Geret lunged around to the Archivist’s left and caught the headdress in his long arms before it hit the ground. He stood back up and handed her the odd cylindrical hat, and she wrapped her arms around it, embarrassed.

  “Actually,” he said, a bit embarrassed himself that his height had caused this problem in the first place, “I wanted to talk to you, Archivist.”

  She blinked. “Oh. All right.”

  “Must I call you ‘Archivist’? Is that a rule? Or can I call you something else?” he asked first, feeling awkward using such a prominent title on a girl who was clearly younger than he was.

  That got a smile out of her, making her light blue eyes crinkle at the corners. “My name is Sanych. Sanych elTiera.”

  “Sanych, then. And please drop the ‘lord’ bit. It makes me think you’re talking to someone else with my name. Just Geret is fine.”

  “Fair enough, Geret. What did you want to talk to me about?”

  “In all the discussion back there, I forgot to invite you on the expedition with us. We’ll need your expertise, and we’ve been planning for someone from the Temple to accompany us. I think it should be you.”

  “Wha–me?” Sanych blurted. “Why?”

  Geret glanced down at the pale cream floor tiles. “Well, partially because I’m jealous.”

  Sanych raised an eyebrow. “What could the nephew of the Magister possibly envy about a young Archivist who rarely sees the light of day?”

  Geret barked a laugh. “It’s that bad, is it? Well actually, it’s when you did see the light of day that’s got me all envious. You’ve already been on a quest, and you came back successfully. Would you believe, with all the diplomatic travel my father does, that I’ve never even left the country?”

  “And they put you in charge?” Sanych asked disbelievingly, before she could stop herself.

  “Exactly,” Geret said, grinning. “I figure I’ve read enough books by now to muddle by. But you tell me: is muddling by enough?”

  Sanych opened her mouth, recalling the difference in her journeys to and from Meena’s cave. She said, “It’s enough to get you there, but it’s not enough to make for a very memorable tale.”

  “Ah, I thought not,” Geret grinned. “And that is precisely why I need you. You’ve got the unique combination of skills I’m looking for: previous quest experience, and lots of background knowledge from your time in the Temple. You have to come on the quest with us.”

  Sanych looked up at Geret; he was literally bouncing on his toes. “But what about Meena?”

  “Who?”

  “Oh, I’m sorry. The Shanallar is just her title. Her name, at least right now, is Meena. Unless you’re Hyndi, in which case it’s Nurstei.”

  “What?” Geret was confused.

  Sanych sighed. Too much information again. “Just call her Meena,” she clarified. “I originally quested to find her specifically to have her advise the Magister about retrieving the book, and until I knew she didn’t want it found, I assumed she’d go with you. How am I any sort of substitute for her?”

  “You’re not; I intended for both of you to join us. Your places have been assigned in the caravan since my uncle found out you were looking for the Shanallar.”

  “They have?”

  “Of course. The more the merrier, right?” Geret grinned down at her. “Don’t you want to go? I assumed you’d be leaping at the opportunity. Of course, I assumed that about Meena too,” he added ruefully.

  “Well…” Sanych thought about it. Her original quest had only been to retrieve the Shanallar. She’d never considered going on the larger quest; that was for the Shanallar to do–or, as it turned out, to advise against doing.

  But–and here a traitorous thought wormed its way into Sanych’s heart–what if she did go, against Meena’s advice? Not to find the book, because Meena had warned that it was evil and not to be found, let alone used. But–Sanych smiled–she might logically accompany the expedition as its recorder. Meena herself had suggested that there were stories yet to be written. This quest had all the makings of a true epic.

  Not to mention the fact that if the quest participants were truly in danger, it felt wrong to let them ride off unaware. Maybe she could help them understand what little she knew of Meena’s reasons. Maybe…maybe her presence would draw the Shanallar back.

  Shaking off the shreds of arrogance, doubt and betrayal that clouded her mind, Sanych answered, “I would love to join you on the quest, Geret.”

  “You would? Superb. Wisdom’s smiling on the quest today.” Geret’s grin was exuberant. “You’ll need to order your traveling trunks over to the departure arena tomorrow evening at the latest; we’re leaving early on the equinox.”

  “No problem,” Sanych smiled back, feeling like she’d grasped her own destiny with both hands, and found it thick and woven, like a new Kirthan rug. It was a heady sensation.

  “And, please, if you can convince the Shanallar to change her mind, she’ll be invaluable to us on our trip, especially once we get out beyond Kirth. We could really use her.” A hint of desperation mixed with longing entered his dark eyes. Sanych realized he’d been quite thrilled to meet Meena, and equally as disappointed to learn she was not even remotely interested in letting the quest find the Dire Tome.

  “So you say, but I warn you; she’s best taken in small doses.”

  “You survived nine weeks with her,” Geret pointed out.

  “I’ve built up an immunity, I think. It was either that or go mad.”

  Geret let out a quiet laugh. “Well if she really won’t change her mind, I hope you’ll be wil
ling to tell me the tale of your journeys with her, once we’re away. She must have told you the most fascinating things!”

  Sanych noted with amusement that Geret was bouncing on his toes again. “I can do that.”

  Geret smiled and relaxed; he’d accomplished all he’d come out here for, and more. “Well I won’t keep you. I’ll see you on the equinox, then, if not before. You’ll be riding up front with us–the Dictat and such, I mean.”

  Sanych’s eyebrows raised in pleasure and she smiled, hugging her headdress again. “Thank you, Geret. I’ll see you later.” She gave him a small bow, keeping her eyes on his for a moment, then she turned and left the corridor, stepping out into the main West Wing.

  Geret headed back to the Quest Room. As he walked, he remembered again how good it had felt to put the older Salvor in his place. He hoped things between them didn’t escalate, though. Geret wasn’t one for enjoying discipline, and he suspected Salvor wouldn’t be either, if Geret was the one handing it out.

 
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