The wicked heroine, p.36
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.36

           Jasmine Giacomo
 

  ~~~

  “I have to say, Geret,” Meena said, as they rode back to the raised road, “you’ve got a pair of the finest cheeks I’ve ever seen.”

  “I asked you not to look,” Geret said, his voice low with embarrassment.

  “I know you did,” Meena said, smirking. “How was your dip in the ocean?”

  “It wasn’t too bad, really,” he replied. “After we ran naked through three or four miles of sand, I was glad to rinse off the grains that stuck, and the water wasn’t cold at all.” The four guards murmured their agreement with Geret’s summation.

  “Well, I didn’t look,” Sanych felt compelled to state.

  “Thank you, Sanych,” Geret said.

  Meena tsked. “You missed out, girl.”

  “I was being polite!” Sanych insisted.

  “How many times do you get a chance to see a prince’s backside?” Meena asked her with a grin.

  “Wh–well, it’s not really on my list of life goals, now, is it?” Sanych countered.

  “More’s the pity,” Meena said, prodding her with a finger. “You could have had it crossed off by now.”

  “I’m right here, you know. I can hear you,” Geret interjected.

  Meena ignored him. “Really, Sanych, if you’re going to be out and about on this quest, you should consider stepping outside of your boundaries a bit more.”

  “Just, not into others’ boundaries,” Geret added ruefully.

  “Point well taken, Geret,” Sanych acknowledged. “But you’re right too, Meena. Kirth shares a border with Vint, yet we’re already meeting people whose culture is completely foreign.” Her light eyes sparkled in the sun, and she smiled. “This’ll make a great story.”

  “Don’t you go writing about my backside,” Geret warned.

  “My prince,” Sanych protested, “how am I to portray this quest, if not truthfully?”

  Meena barked a laugh, then broke into earnest giggles when she realized Sanych was completely serious.

  Just as Sanych was about to ask Meena why she didn’t speak to the Al-beyhan women as soon as she recognized them, the road came into view, and everyone exclaimed in relief. The party of delayed adventurers climbed the gentle slope to the raised road. A lone caravan guard waited for them.

  “Prince Geret,” he said, “we were becoming worried. Several of the guards have been searching the dunes for you for nearly half an hour.”

  Sanych looked to Geret worriedly, and he knew what she was thinking. “Call them back at once,” he ordered.

  The guard’s hand opened the flap on his saddlebag. “My prince, is there danger?”

  “Hopefully just delay. Call them back.”

  “Yes, my lord.” The guard pulled out a palm-sized black ball with a long bit of wick sticking out, a flint, and a large slingshot. He dismounted with an easy leap and sparked the wick alight off his dagger, then placed the round ball in his slingshot and fired it up into the sky over toward the dunes. A loud bang erupted and the black ball was destroyed in a puff of black smoke.

  “Will they hear that, over the wind?” asked Sanych.

  “We’ll see,” answered Geret. They waited a few minutes, and the first of the guards rode back in from the dunes. In another fifteen minutes every guard was accounted for, and none reported stumbling onto the red tent.

  “Well, there you go: happy ending, happy tale,” proclaimed Meena, turning her horse toward the caravan.

  “It was rather fun, overall, wasn’t it?” Sanych smiled.

  “Says the one who didn’t have to cut himself and run to the ocean naked,” grimaced Geret.

  “What was that, my lord?” inquired one of the guards.

  “Nothing,” Geret said quickly.

  By the time the group caught up with the caravan it was nearly night. Geret was hailed loudly by the rear guard of the caravan, and the news spread faster than they could ride, so that by the time they reached the front of the caravan, Master Brem and the Counts already knew that Geret had returned safely.

  “The Great One returns, unkilled by the treacherous sirens,” Salvor greeted Geret, as the prince and his companions rode up into their customary places.

  “No thanks to you, Salvor,” Geret returned coolly.

  “Actually, it was Salvor who sent the extra guards to look for you,” Runcan said.

  Salvor grinned at the expression on Geret’s face. “Can’t have our lord and master dying this early in the quest, can we?” he said.

  Geret exhaled through his nostrils. Meena glanced between him and Salvor.

  “That’s not all I did in your absence, though, Geret,” Salvor continued, hazel eyes confident.

  “What?”

  All eyes turned to Salvor, who said, “Since you deprived us of your illustrious, commanding presence for hours on end today, and the Counts had legitimate business to attend to, someone had to make the decisions. I stepped up.”

  Geret’s brows lowered. “And what decision did you make?”

  “Yes, Salvor,” Count Armala said, cocking his head. “What’s happened in our absence?”

  Salvor gave the Count a placatory look, then turned his attention back to Geret. “We’ve picked up a couple of new questers. They weren’t keen on riding horseback yet, so you likely passed right by them as they rode on one of the wagons.”

  “New questers? For our quest?” Geret couldn’t help but ask.

  “No; they’re on a quest of their own. I’ll let them explain it to you. I’m sure I’ve quite forgotten the details already,” Salvor said, waving a hand in dismissal.

  “Were they Vinten or Kirthan?”

  Salvor’s grin exuded superiority. “Neither. They’re Sea Pirates.”

 

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