The wicked heroine, p.50
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.50

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Twenty-two

  The sun rose behind the Kazhak’s stern and set before her bow, day after day. The continual wind blew them westward, and they made good time across the water’s deep blue surface. The ship, so enormous upon the face of the sea, had only a slow side-to-side roll that took nearly a minute to complete. Sanych compared it favorably to the pitching of the Ondanta across the Bay of Whales. She didn’t even find herself remotely seasick.

  She noticed that the ship’s heading was further south than she expected, so she asked one of the navigation crew about it. He responded that the Kazhak had left Yaren Fel with insufficient supplies to sail northwest directly, as they had originally planned. The Sea God would resupply at the Port of Ha’Lakkon in Ha’Hril, an island nation off eastern Eirant and a trading hub for the entire Southern Sea. Most of the refugees planned to disembark there as well.

  Salvor enjoyed drawing the young Archivist’s attention to a game of chance the sailors played, called Shut the Lid. It involved a box with a lid, and nine numbered tiles anchored on pivots inside, as well as the inevitable pair of dice. Salvor confessed that he played it because anything involving a wager was irresistible to him. Sanych joined him for his pleasurable company as well as the game itself; although the rules were simple, the outcome of each game was seemingly random, and that randomness fascinated her.

  The Counts spent the first week at sea bemoaning the loss of every item that had been abandoned at the Yaren Fel dock. Once they’d gotten that out of their systems, they became very focused on trying to construct a new timeline for the quest. They invited Meena to join them often, and she gave them what detail she could about the locations they would be traveling to.

  One of the ship’s officers, unaware of the rivalry between Geret and Salvor, suggested one day that they might wish to have a mock sword duel to while away their boredom. Geret scowled immediately, and that caused Salvor to laugh aloud.

  “He’s afraid I’d beat him if he had to play fair,” Salvor said.

  Geret looked back at Salvor and replied, “One match by your rules, and one by mine, then.”

  Many of those who had spent time around the two young lords of Vint had begun to realize they did not get on, and there was an enormous crowd on the upper deck the afternoon of their first duel. Outfitted in practice armor and long blunted swords from the Kazhak’s standing armory, they saluted and began the duel, agreeing to stay strictly to the proper dueling rules of Vint.

  Salvor advanced immediately, and Geret recognized his short, direct stabs from the last duel they’d fought. There was no hesitation, no wasted motion. Geret found himself backing up, parrying madly. He wished he had a dagger at the least, but in Vint, proper duels were done with a single sword, and nothing else. He decided to change up his style instead.

  Ducking quickly to the left, he exposed his chest to Salvor’s blade for a moment, and Salvor lunged, forcing Geret into a forward tumble. The crowd oohed and cheered. He rolled away from Salvor, then spun to meet his oncoming blade. Their hilts met, and Geret used his height to force Salvor to a standstill.

  However, Salvor also recalled their last duel, and he feinted forward, getting Geret to commit his weight, then pulled away. Geret lost his balance and stumbled heavily, and the crowd gasped.

  Salvor darted after him, forcing Geret to turn and defend himself. During the split-second before his sword came to bear, Salvor slipped his practice blade in and tagged him directly over his heart, and Geret staggered back a step before catching his balance.

  “You’re mine, trickster,” Salvor hissed, eyes bright with triumph.

  Geret held his hands out wide in agreement. “You seem to be right,” he admitted, grinning. “But now we get to play by my rules, to the same goal.”

  Salvor sniffed and stepped back a pace, readying for the salute that would mark the next duel. “And what are your rules, my prince?” he asked formally.

  Geret’s eyes found their way to Sanych in the crowd, next to Meena. Her brows were drawn together in a small vee of interest. He looked back at Salvor and hoped Sanych would forgive him.

  “There aren’t any,” he said, lunging at Salvor, tackling him around the waist.

  “What–oof!” Salvor exhaled sharply as Geret’s shoulder drove him into the deck boards. He kicked Geret off and rolled to his right, entering a low ready stance, sword held wide.

  Geret clambered to his feet as well. They circled each other warily for several moments, and Geret kept his feet mobile, eyes on his opponent’s torso. He flicked his sword toward Salvor’s left side, and while Salvor batted away the blade, Geret dropped low and swept Salvor’s leg with his foot, making him fall and crack his head. Salvor groaned and stayed limp for a moment.

  Geret rose to one knee and whacked Salvor on his biceps with the metal practice blade. His opponent cried out as the muscle spasmed. Geret stamped onto Salvor’s blade, pinning it, then poked Salvor in the chest with his sword, thus technically winning the duel. He leaned on it as he rose to stand, breathing heavily. Salvor wheezed under Geret’s weight.

  The crowd stood silently for a moment, not having expected the fight to go this way, or be over so quickly. And then they began to cheer, albeit hesitantly.

  Salvor muttered under his breath and recovered enough to bat the jabbing blade from his padded armor. Sanych ran from the crowd of onlookers and knelt by him, asking if he was all right. Geret stepped back, his sword held loosely. As Sanych helped Salvor to his feet and wrapped his arm onto her shoulders, the Vinten lord gave Geret a sly, triumphant look. Geret glared at him, feeling that he’d somehow been bested twice.

  As the crowd broke up, Meena ambled over to Geret, a wry look in her dark green eyes. The sunlight caught the red growth of her hair, making her crown look as if it were glowing with heat.

  “Not very princely, was it?” Geret said, shoulders slumping.

  “Look on the bright side,” Meena said, pretending to console him, “you got the crowd to cheer for you anyway.”

  Geret frowned in thought. “I could have sworn, after I bested Salvor, that he said, ‘The things I do for Vint’. I can’t figure what he meant.”

  Meena’s eyebrows shot up, and she looked thoughtful. “Well, whatever he meant, I think I deserve a congratulatory drink for your win. You can have one too,” she said with a smug grin, leading him toward the stairs that led below decks.

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