The wicked heroine, p.42
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.42

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Seventeen

  The caravan was halfway to Yaren Fel from where Rhona and Ruel had joined up with it, and Rhona was elbow-deep in a warm tub of water, scrubbing Geret’s socks against a washboard. The humidity kinked her loose curls into frizzy masses, and the long-since dirty lace at her sleeve cuffs was drenched. Her shoulders were not happy in this hunched position, and her stomach was empty and growling, since she’d been with the horses during suppertime.

  Through the tent flap, she could hear laughter and see the flickering light of the prince’s campfire. The Archivist and the guide were with him, as were Salvor and the other lords of Vint. She distinctly heard Ruel’s laughter in the mix. She’d seen Salvor escorting him around the caravan and the small towns they passed, encouraging him to see the world, and specifically women, through the eyes of a nobleman. Rhona rolled her eyes and blew a frizzy strand out of her face. That train of thought was nothing but trouble for Ruel if he took it back home with him, but he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself at the moment.

  If only my quest would have turned out so easy—

  “Rhona!” A hand on her wet forearm made her jump and drop the end of the washboard into the tub, causing soapy water to splash all over her once-white shirt. She decided she’d need to trade away some more jewelry for another one tonight, as she looked around to see who had surprised her.

  It was Geret; he was crouching by her, looking into her eyes. “Wisdom, didn’t you hear me the first two times?” he asked.

  And now I’m going deaf. Rhona wryly shook her head at him.

  Geret let go of her arm and wiped the soapy water off on his pant leg. “I came in to tell you that I’ve been hearing great things about you from the hostlers and the scouts. You’ve impressed me, to my surprise. I’m lifting your prohibition on speaking. Feel free to talk to anyone you like.”

  Rhona raised her eyebrows as she contemplated this change.

  “Sanych says the next town along the road is having a Springfest. We’ll stop there tomorrow night,” Geret added. “Looks like the last sock, there. Why don’t you come on out and get some food?” He stood with a genuine smile and invited her out with a tip of his head.

  Rhona exited the tent, breathing in the cool tropical air of the Kirthan evening.

  “…and they tossed me back down the gangplank, arse over crown, shouting, ‘Weatherhag!’ at me,” Sanych concluded, to the hearty laughter of Salvor and Ruel.

  “Who called you that?” Rhona asked, causing everyone gathered around the fire to look over in surprise. She joined them, sitting next to Geret on a vacant stool and accepting a bowl of spicy rice from Ruel.

  “The script on their hull was Byarric,” Sanych responded.

  Rhona snorted through her mouthful of food and began to speak, but then changed her mind. She looked at Ruel and nodded her head in Sanych’s direction as she continued chewing.

  Ruel looked pleasantly surprised, and turned to Sanych to say, “If you’d demanded passage, they would have given it to you anyway. The fools are superstitiously fearful of those who can command weather. They probably took you for a true weather witch, and were afraid of making you angry while you sailed with them.” He seemed tentative about insulting the Byarrans, but Salvor looked over at him with approval.

  Sanych had stopped chewing in fascination. “Really?” she asked through her food, looking at the young pirate.

  He chuckled at her. “Yes, really. They’re dead fast with their boats, it’s true, but that’s because they’re afraid of most things on or under the sea.” He and Salvor laughed, and even Rhona chuckled.

  “Anyone would be, if they knew what was down there,” Meena interjected wryly.

  “And how would you know?” Rhona asked, before she could catch herself. She pinned her lips shut and looked at the dark earth beneath her boots.

  Meena paused a moment, then answered, “‘Hearken well, and you will hear, a tale to grip your soul in fear. A tale once told, and ne’er forgot, of evil seen, but never sought.’”

  Rhona and Ruel’s eyes widened. “An Auld Fable?” they chorused in disbelief.

  “How do you know of those, Meena?” Rhona asked.

  Meena shifted on her tricorner stool. “Sit still and hear, my children,” she said, grinning wickedly and tilting her face up from the fire for maximum shadowing. “And pray thanks to gods above and below that you sleep on solid earth this night. For the brightness of the full moon–” Meena gestured grandly to the sky above, “–draws upward the gargantuan, poison-skinned horror that rules over every Deep One in the black. The red-eyed monstrosity rises only to feed upon the unwary. Listen well, children, to the dark, disturbing tales…of Nethermaw.”

  Even Sanych shuddered, and when Meena’s tale was completed, in the dark of the cool night, she cursed for the first time her ability to remember every single detail.

  Her dreams were very disturbing that night.

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