The wicked heroine, p.4
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.4

           Jasmine Giacomo


  It was high summer, and his father’s castle, along the Eastern March of Vint, had just received a shipment of rare ice from the Shatterglass River, high in the Ribbon Mountains. The ridges where the ice accumulated were so worn down, they looked like hills, and only their massive height let the ice remain frozen all year round.

  That precious, temporary commodity was going to be wasted on a visit from the Magister and his son, Prince Addan. Little slivers of frozen heaven, wasted in good wine. Probably in everyday well water also, just to show off. And the weather was beastly hot. Geret knew something must be done about such a travesty.

  He stole the seneschal’s key ring–again–and late at night he snuck into the ice chamber, deep under the castle. Once the door was open, he could feel the cold air rushing past his feet. His tiny lantern barely illuminated the mounds of sawdust that had been shoveled over the ice to slow its melting before it could be used. There were enough giant blocks of it that Geret imagined he could build a large fort out of them. He walked over to one of the nearest blocks and scraped away the sawdust in handfuls until he could feel the cold bite of the ice itself. He laid his palm on it, letting the frozen water numb his skin.

  This ice had come all the way from the mountains. Far higher than his home here in the foothills, far away from all the people in the whole world. Up there where only snow and rock and sky existed. And maybe other, more mysterious things! Geret’s breathing quickened at the thought.

  And then, before his hand became completely useless, Geret pulled out his chisel and hammer–also ‘borrowed’–and hacked the ice blocks into as many chunks as he could carry. He wrapped them each individually, with some of the sawdust packing, in linen cloths. Then he tied all the packaged chunks together in a huge swath of material that he lifted to his shoulder with care. Hefting the weight into a comfortable place, Geret staggered a bit under the load, but safely made his escape.

  The next day, the Magister, his son, and several members of the Dictat were scheduled to arrive. Geret had a plan to greet them properly, Valan-style.

  He made his preparations carefully, not finishing for another two hours, and not until he had also woken several of his father’s young wards and bribed them to assist him. Finally, he crawled tiredly into his bed, eagerly awaiting the morrow.

  When the sun rose, mere hours after Geret had gone to sleep, its rays were already hot. Geret kept a close eye on the road up to the castle, knowing that the Magister’s entourage would not be showing up in any sudden manner; once he knew they were here, his final preparations could take place.

  In the extreme heat of the day, a faint line of dust on the road proclaimed the Magister’s imminent arrival. Geret ducked into the stables. He heard the stable boys bustling around as they made sure they had clear access to the stalls for the visiting horses. He grabbed a few of his bundles and sidled out to the watering troughs just outside the stable entrance to the main castle courtyard, where he wiped off the sawdust with the linen wraps and set his prizes gingerly afloat. Then he hurried to the kitchens, where he barked a few orders at the already-busy serving girls, getting them to do his bidding instead of the cook’s.

  In the minutes it took them to comply, he dashed across the courtyard, up to the second story of the outer bailey stairs, then onto the wall itself, where he would have an excellent view of the arriving guests as they rode in underneath him. The guards stationed there eyed him suspiciously, and with good reason, but even they could not have stopped his plan now.

  The Magister and his entourage arrived in full pomp and style, wearing white cotton clothes to help combat the heat. As they stepped out below to be greeted in the great courtyard by Geret’s father, the serving girls brought out platters of wine for the honored guests and buckets of water for their liveried servants. Geret watched eagerly, anticipating the first drinks by the servants the most.

  He was not disappointed. Their expressions of delight at discovering that their own water was chilled with precious ice could be heard even up here on the wall. Geret bounced excitedly on his toes and grabbed the wooden rail on the inner edge of the wall. The beginnings of a frown were likely starting on his father’s forehead, but he couldn’t tell from where he was.

  The stable boys were escorting the tired horses a distance away and rubbing them down. Some of the horse boys that had come with the entourage went along to assist them. The next stop was the troughs, before the animals were led into the cool shade of the stables to get some sweet hay, and Geret watched with a grin as the visiting horse boys exclaimed in awe at the chill of even the horse-trough water. Such an amazing man Geret’s father was, to share his rare bounty of ice with not only his guests, and not only every last one of their servants, but the very horses that had brought them as well!

  Geret’s father’s expression was now clear even at this distance. His entire body posture spoke volumes.

  Geret couldn’t hold it in any longer; he fell to his knees, letting his laughter bubble out through his lips. He rested his forehead against the wooden handrail he still clutched, helpless with mirth. It was too much; he’d truly outdone himself this time, but it was not over yet. Bracing himself for the final act of his performance, knowing full well it would push his father too far, he stood and threw his arms wide and called out in a loud voice that echoed around the courtyard. “Welcome, great Magister, honored members of the Dictat! Welcome, all you other hot, thirsty people, to my father’s generous castle! In order that you be fully refreshed from your journey, I have arranged for the sky to open and a cooling rain to fall upon you, even here in the blazing heat of summer!” Geret tipped his head up toward the sky and bellowed at the top of his lungs, “Sky! Give us rain!”

  For a second, nothing happened but some distant thuds. The entire population in the courtyard was staring up, either at Geret, or, more credulously, at the blue summer sky.

  And then Geret caught the flash of the sun on drops of water. They fell all over the courtyard, on the people and the horses. And it was indeed a cooling rain. The people below jumped in surprise, and a few yelped. Others covered their heads with their arms and cringed, unsure what exactly was going on.

  Geret was nearly beside himself with glee. It had worked! He lifted his fists into the air in triumph, and did not mind at all when one of his rooftop helpers catapulted the last bucketful of icy meltwater onto his head. It was a fitting finale to his amazing performance, and it made him whoop with pure joy.

  Then the guards had grabbed his arms and dragged him to the seneschal’s office. His laughter, even then, muffled out the curses of his father in the courtyard below.

  Geret had sat in the seneschal’s office for three hours, with a guard at the door, before the man had come in to see him. He hadn’t been allowed to see the guests, nor eat or drink at the feast with them, but he didn’t really mind. This had been much more memorable.

  When the seneschal finally came in, he pushed Geret’s boots off his desk corner with a tired air and collapsed into his chair. Geret narrowed his eyes in fiendish pleasure. He knew he was likely responsible for the state of the seneschal’s balding and graying head. Served him right for being so strict all the time.

  Geret lounged, awaiting the inevitably boring punishment. But the seneschal had not come to punish him, it turned out. The first words out of his mouth made Geret sit up straight in a panic, protesting that he didn’t deserve such a harsh handling, that it wasn’t fair at all.

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