The wicked heroine, p.56
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.56

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Weeks of crossing the Southern Sea finally brought the Kazhak to the island nation of Ha’Hril. The day before land was visible, everyone who cared to glance westward could still pinpoint its location over the horizon, from the white plume of steam that reached high into the atmosphere. The volcano that had formed the land that became Ha’Hril was rumbling a bit, and it was a subject of speculation among the passengers, as to whether it was going to erupt soon or not.

  Sanych said it wasn’t likely. The mountain known to the Hrillians as Heren Garil Sa had had three eruptions in recorded history, every five to seven hundred years. It hadn’t yet been four hundred years since the last eruption, which had blanketed the island with ash and nearly destroyed the toothspice industry.

  The dock for the Sea Gods at Ha’Hril’s port city of Ha’Lakkon was not nearly as long as the Yaren Fel dock since the sea was deeper near shore. Refugees and Vintens alike gathered on the upper deck to look out at the city as they drew nearer and nearer.

  The enormous ship began its docking turn, angling to glide in against the dock with the help of several dozen dockworkers. The refugees abandoned the top deck, going below to gather their meager belongings. As he watched them, Geret silently wished them well in their next journeys; he had enjoyed meeting most of them during their transoceanic voyage.

  About an hour before sunset, the ship was finally made fast. The refugees disembarked as soon as they could, leaving the few remaining regular passengers, including the Vinten expedition, on board.

  Sanych lamented that there wasn’t enough daylight to go into the city and learn much tonight; she decided to get an early start tomorrow. She invited Salvor to go along with her, and to her surprise, he agreed with alacrity.

  The next morning, a sky island of clouds surrounded Heren Garil Sa. The mountain’s steam plume was tinted pink with sunrise when Sanych and Salvor disembarked to explore the city. Ha’Lakkon angled gradually from the sea to the lowest slopes of the volcano, promising to give their legs some proper exercise.

  The night before, Captain Galanishav had announced that they would be there for a day and a half for restocking supplies and trading, then the Kazhak would depart for Hynd and points northwest, sailing ultimately to Shanal. Knowing she had only one day to learn the secret of the toothspice and any other mysteries that Ha’Hril might hold, Sanych was determined to wring as much from the day as she could.

  She visited the markets, the library, and the city hall complex, presenting her credentials. She listened to various experts detail the life cycle of the toothspice plant, its harvesting, and the process of creating the chewy ginger-colored confection known the world over as toothspice, chewspice, and sweet lockjaw. Nearly all of Ha’Hril’s arable land was covered in crops of succulent toothspice plants.

  Sanych wondered aloud to the Minister of Agriculture, within his large ashbrick office, why it was that the plant grew nowhere else in the world, and he seemed to consider for a few moments before answering.

  “It’s the soil, Archivist,” he said in a quiet voice, his thick Versal accent not readily understandable. He eyed Salvor idling in the background as if he expected the man to run outside and begin shouting this information.

  Sanych frowned in concentration. “What’s in the soil?” she asked.

  “We’re not sure, to be honest. We have tried to grow the plants in secretly imported volcanic soils from other places, to no avail. There is something specific, some certain mineral, we believe, that is inherent in only our native soil.”

  Rather than being disappointed, this fact cheered the Archivist. She thanked the Minister and left with Salvor. They’d rounded a corner and were passing a public fountain when she noted he’d left his recently purchased sun hat inside the Minister’s office. Chagrined, he patted his black hair, feeling the heat of the sun again, and excused himself, returning to retrieve it.

  Once he had his styleless woven hat on again, they toured the city’s sights together, making their way through the international crowds and eating at street side cafes, where they hid from the tropical sun under wide blue-and-yellow tabletop parasols and large-leaved, potted palms. Multi-level ceramic planters sat on many street corners and around fountains across the city, sprouting ferns and climbing vines and gigantic fragrant tropical blooms in gorgeous, multicolored welcoming arrays.

  Sanych declared she’d not had as much fun since she and Meena won their bet aboard the Ondanta. As they grabbed a bite to eat in mid-afternoon, Salvor asked her to tell him that story, and between bites of a baked spinach-and-cheese-stuffed roll, Sanych obliged. Salvor, however, didn’t seem entirely focused on her story; his eyes wandered around the enormous downtown square as if vaguely searching for something.

  In fact, now that she thought about it, he’d been acting that way all day.

  “Are you looking for something in particular?” Sanych asked, interrupting the end of her story and following his gaze around the fanciful, pale ashbrick architecture of the Hrillians.

  “I’m sorry; I am a bit distracted, aren’t I?” Salvor grinned. “Come, let’s walk,” he said, holding out his hand for hers, pulling her to her feet with a warm smile.

  They meandered the rest of the afternoon, hand in hand, down the steepest scenic walks, the quietest business streets and the most crowded, widest central avenues. When he pulled her onto his lap on a secluded bench beneath a rustling palm and kissed her with thorough tenderness, all thoughts of his earlier distraction fled.

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