The wicked heroine, p.54
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.54
 

           Jasmine Giacomo

  ~~~

  Marela m’Kora, her dark red hair bound into thick braids at her nape, looked down at her daughter, visible on the main deck through the spokes of the ship’s wheel. The young woman below her stood by the rail, gazing eastward.

  The warm waters of the spring-flooded Southern Sea below Marela’s ship, the galleon Harbinger, swirled counter-clockwise, reflecting the turquoise sky and her daughter’s eyes. The ship had entered the Gyre at Westward Deeps yesterday, and soon other Clan vessels would arrive from all directions for Spring Trading.

  Marela tipped her head up and took a deep breath, letting her eyes play over the bright white streamers atop her triple masts. Skulls with long tangled hair still attached also clustered at the base of each streamer. The effect was quite intimidating to Marela’s targets, though the heads belonged mostly to Clanswomen who had perished in battle. Those of the Clan who lost their lives early were kept close by the Prime, that they might still prove their worth even in death.

  She loved Spring Trading. It had always been her favorite Clan holiday, and when she became Prime of Agonbloom, she extended its length from four to six weeks. The more relaxed atmosphere loosened her Clansmen’s swag-hold covers a bit more, and there were more inter-ship crew transfers as well. Some became permanent, coupling up and remaining together, at least until the next Spring Trading, and the Clan was stronger for it.

  Now that Rhona was a full-fledged adult among the Clansfolk, Marela knew it was a mere matter of time until she challenged her Prime for the right to lead. Rhona and Ruel had transferred to the Harbinger just in time to make Spring Trading, and Marela fully expected Rhona to make full use of its many opportunities to seek support for herself against her mother.

  Until she overheard her daughter talking to Ruel that night.

  The pale blue lanterns of other Agonbloom vessels, tinged and shaped to match the deadly jellyfish their Clan was named after, winked around them on the horizon, offering the comfort and power of numbers. No other clan would dare make an aggressive move during First Clan’s Spring Trading. The evening breeze was warm and gentle, and the low creak and stretch of the rigging and spars overhead, even the faint knocking of the skulls in the high distance, were comforting in their familiarity.

  Marela opened her cabin door as a prelude to exiting onto the main deck, and caught Rhona’s hushed voice. Squinting, hoping to learn of Rhona’s plotting against her, she eased the door nearly shut and put her ear to the crack.

  “You don’t think of them?” Rhona asked her cousin.

  “Not much,” Ruel answered, his guarded voice as low as hers.

  “I do.” Her daughter sighed, and Marela’s eyes shifted at the wistful sound. “It just feels like we didn’t finish properly. They were headed across three oceans, and we didn’t even set boots to planks with them.”

  “He said we’re done. That’s enough for me.” Ruel’s voice was diffident.

  “Of course it is,” Rhona murmured, a thread of envy in her voice. “All you ever have to do is take orders.”

  “And all you ever have to do is give them,” he countered.

  There was a pause. Marela imagined her daughter’s turquoise glare piercing Ruel, pinning him to the wall.

  “You don’t understand,” she finally said, dismissing him. “You’re just a man.”

  Ruel laughed, his voice humorless. “Is your prince just a man, too?”

  “Don’t be daft, Ruel; he saved my life. Besides, you were taught to finish a chore just like I was. It doesn’t feel finished, no matter what that dirtwalker says.”

 
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