The wicked heroine, p.51
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.51

           Jasmine Giacomo


  Sanych spent endless hours with the Counts, poring over the details found in the few books that had successfully been loaded on board the Kazhak. During the voyage, she found time to read every one of them. Runcan, Armala and Sengril listened to her summations and estimates as if she spoke the foreseen truth, and worked her to the point of exhaustion with possible scenarios.

  Often, Salvor came in to take her to a meal and get a break from their constant brainstorming. He learned which tea Sanych preferred, and began asking ahead for it to be ready when he escorted her to the dining hall. They would sit and talk quietly, eventually moving to the upper deck for a bit of exercise, weather permitting.

  “She must be seeing something in him that I don’t,” complained Geret, as he watched Salvor guide Sanych through the main dining hall doors.

  Meena looked at him with a smirk. “She is smarter than you; you’re probably right.”

  Geret was stung. “What do you see in him?”

  “I see that he’s more like you than either of you want to admit. It’s why you two don’t get along: you’re two sides to the same coin.”

  Geret stood aghast. “Me, like him? That’s ridiculous.”

  “Oh yes, I’ve never seen two young men at odds before,” she said with a knowing smile.

  He pursed his lips and sighed through his nose. “What can I do? I can’t stand him, and we’re only nine weeks into this quest! I swear, I might end up killing him just to save my sanity. It feels like we’ve been stuck together forever.”

  She raised her eyebrows and looked at him, and he lifted his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Sorry. I’ve only had eighteen years to your four hundred. Nine weeks is a lot more of my lifetime than it is of yours.”

  Meena smiled. “Salvor must surely be a worthy foe, for you to spend so much time disliking him.”

  Geret refrained from denial. “Well, I suppose. He is better than me with a sword. And he’s not a complete fool.”

  “The Tarnic people have a saying: ‘Embrace your friends with one arm and your enemies with two.’”

  “Aren’t those the same people who say ‘Halla hablah ‘anna ‘lah’? The ones with more than one meaning to everything?”

  “Yes.” Meena smiled in approval. “Not only is it good to keep a closer watch on your enemies, but being that much closer, you’re poised for a preemptive strike.”

  Geret looked thoughtful. “I wouldn’t say no to that idea, if I find out he’s taking advantage of Sanych. Something about him…I just can’t put my finger on it.”

  Meena leaned onto the table with her elbows, choosing not to comment on Geret’s concern for the young Archivist. “That’s for you to figure out. I’m not saying you’re wrong. But perhaps a prince of the realm should withhold judgment until both sides have been heard, if he wants to be fair.”

  He clenched his teeth and sighed. “All right.”

  Later that day, Geret found Salvor and asked him if he’d like a rematch. Salvor scoffed that if he wanted to get beaten up by a thug, he could ask one of the ship’s merchants to lend him a security officer. He didn’t need to pester his prince. Geret replied that he’d go easy on Salvor, if it would make him feel better. To which Salvor retorted that he had no intention of going easy on Geret.

  Again they gathered on the upper deck, and again Salvor trounced Geret. This time, however, Geret was not so much trying to defend against Salvor as learn his techniques. The man was lightning-quick, and his aggression was unrelenting.

  As Geret picked himself up off the deck boards, listening to the crowd cheer for Salvor, he rubbed his chest through the padding and remarked, “Whew. You’ve got to be the best swordsman I’ve ever known, let alone dueled.”

  Salvor raised his dark eyebrows and paused in his strutting. “Well, you’re slightly less of a fool than I took you for, my prince,” he said quietly.

  “I wonder,” Geret replied, “which of us could master the other’s technique faster.”

  Salvor’s gave Geret his full attention, and a smile came to his full lips. Eyes full of dark promise, he said, “Let’s find out, shall we?”

  Geret flicked his sword hand in a few circles, loosening his wrist again for the next round, which would be by his rules, and sank back into a ready stance. An eager grin came over his face.

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