The wicked heroine, p.45
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.45

           Jasmine Giacomo
 

  Chapter Nineteen

  The mayor of Fernwall was not happy.

  “But she’s a Sea Pirate!” he protested to Geret, pacing in his small office.

  “She is under my protection, Mayor. And she was in no way attacking Fernwall, but was in fact the victim of an unprovoked attack herself,” Geret said, glowering. “Now, if you prefer, we can simply leave tonight, take our coin, and shake Fernwall’s dust from our wheels. If we do this, however, not only will you be out any further profit from us for this festival, but no Vinten caravans will be stopping here in Fernwall, ever again.”

  The mayor’s jowls wobbled once as he clenched his jaw. He eyed the Vinten prince coolly. “I see you have a point,” he agreed. “Such actions should not be allowed without punishment. I will see the man is dealt with accordingly.”

  Geret raised one corner of his mouth in what might have passed for a smile. “You and I likely have differing opinions on what passes for ‘accordingly’, Mayor. Throw in a small fine, and I think we can come to an accord.”

  “How small are we talking?” the man asked, rubbing his upper lip.

  “I’d say two hundred gipp should cover it.”

  The mayor’s eyes bugged. “Two hundred? Surely, my good prince meant to say one hundred gipp.”

  “Perhaps I did, perhaps I did,” Geret conceded, and the mayor relaxed. “But since I accidentally said two hundred, I think we should stick with that figure. I’ll take it now, from your coffers, Mayor, and you can get your reimbursement from Mahal when you punish him.”

  The mayor met Geret’s dark eyes for a long moment, and realized he had no other recourse. “In the long term,” he said with only a small grimace, “I’m sure this will benefit both our nations.” He waved forward a servant with a coffer.

  “Well said,” Geret murmured, as he watched the mayor count out the fine.

  The caravan pulled out earlier than usual the next morning, abuzz with rumors. Geret recalled Meena’s final words to him late last night as he trudged back into camp after the meeting with the mayor. “She doesn’t know about me, Geret. Please keep it that way for now.”

  Angry, exhausted, frustrated, Geret had merely nodded and gone to his tent.

  Now, with Fernwall an hour behind them, he rode over to Meena and asked her to explain about her last comment. She looked at him for a long moment, then wheeled her horse around and rode back to the wagons. Geret followed. Thoughts of the mythical Shanallar having children filled his imagination. He’d never thought of it before. Why, there could be hundreds!

  But Meena dashed that wild thought. “I managed to barter my way onto a Clan Agonbloom ship to escape a threat here in Kirth,” she began. “And no, it wasn’t their raid-in-progress, but that’s another tale.

  “The Agonbloom were in a position to destabilize Southern Sea piracy if they began challenging other Clans for raiding rights. That served my purposes at the time, so I stayed with them for several years, encouraging them. Because I stayed so long, there were…social pressures. I had a daughter with Hawill, the brother of the Clan’s Prime. I named her Jaeci. She was my second and last child.” Meena’s expression turned melancholy. “A life this long is a curse; who would ever wish to outlive their own children? After I stepped ashore, I swore I’d never have any more.”

  Such bitter loneliness was beyond Geret’s understanding. He decided not to ask after her other child. “So your daughter Jaeci is Rhona’s mother?”

  “Actually, no. There are a few extra generations in there. It’s been too long for Jaeci to be her mother.”

  “You didn’t keep track?” Geret asked in surprise.

  Meena gave him an impatient look. “The scope of my life, oh mortal princeling, is so beyond that of my daughter’s, all her offspring’s, and yours as well, that it does not even compare.” She sighed. “And it never does any good trying to explain. Just accept that I had more important things to be doing, for longer than she even lived.”

  Geret recalled his own mother, so loving, yet taken from him too soon. “More important than even–”

  “Yes,” Meena hissed. “Yes, Geret, more important than my family. Your lives are too short to see the overarching themes that weave themselves through the world. Only I can see them, and only I can do anything about them, to ensure they turn out best for the most people. To ensure that certain evils are kept hidden.

  “Your history, Geret Branbrey Valan, is my doing, and you should thank me for it. I could have Sanych write a dozen volumes on what might have been, and the stories in them would make you scream in the night. Do not pester me about what you think I should have done differently. It’s too late. Even I can’t go back and change the past, else I would have stayed far away from the Cult of Dzur i’Oth.”

  “The what?” Geret asked, despite feeling rather small and childish in the face of Meena’s diatribe.

  Geret could have sworn that the look that passed over Meena’s face was fear. It was quickly replaced by her usual cynicism, and she replied, “That, princeling, is a story for a more dangerous moment.”

  He blinked. “A…what?”

  Meena smiled, imbuing Geret with the frustration that Sanych so often felt in the Shanallar’s presence.

  “So, you’re just going to let your living flesh and blood leave when we reach Yaren Fel, and never tell her who you are?” he asked. “That seems harsh, even for you.” He urged his horse back to the front of the caravan, leaving Meena behind.

  As he rode, he looked around at the wagons and the road ahead, thinking back to the small wooden quest models on the giant map back in the palace. Were all endeavors, even this one, merely pawns for Meena to move about on some grand map in her mind? What of her desire for the outcome of this quest? Could he, in the end, truly pit himself against a legend and win? Was this Dire Tome one of her “overarching themes” in the world, where she could see more clearly than he? If he, like Meena, ended up having to do the right thing for the most people, would that mean sacrificing his cousin’s life?

 
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