The wicked heroine, p.71
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.71

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Thirty-one

  The great hulk of the once-proud Kazhak limped away with a distinct list to port as the night passed overhead. The fires were quickly put out, and the bilge pumps were manned day and night. The fourth mast was cut down from the rigging of the fifth, and its components used for emergency repairs elsewhere, as were the remains of the other broken masts. Several cargo holds had been at least momentarily flooded, and nearly all cargo had been damaged or ruined by seawater, including the freshwater casks that were for everyday use aboard the ship. Once they were flushed, clean drinkable water slowly filtered in from the sea filters, but everyone was on half-rations or worse for the first day after the attack.

  Galanishav instructed his crew to fashion a makeshift rudder from pieces of the broken masts, and managed to regain some steering capability, but he insisted to Geret that it would not withstand a transoceanic journey, nor would the ship itself, without extensive repairs. Many sails on the remaining six masts had to be taken down, though, to prevent excess speed overwhelming the bilge pumps with water. The Kazhak’s progress across the Middle Sea slowed to a crawl, and Galanishav steered toward the easiest landfall, which, according to his charts, was only a few days away.

  Once the water was pumped out of the brig and lower holds, the ship righted itself and the decks were once again level. The cleanup crew found all the guards and prisoners dead. Most had drowned in their cells, some clearly in a panic, by the contortions of their bodies. The Counts of Vint, however, had each chosen a single book from their trunk and held it to their chests in their final moments.

  When a ship’s officer informed Geret of the loss of the two Counts and wondered aloud about the books, Geret explained, with mixed emotions, that it was a tradition of Vint to be buried with a book in one’s grasp, to represent the eternal Vinten dedication to learning, knowledge and wisdom. The officer nodded, impressed that two prisoners had accepted their fates so willingly, but Geret felt a stab of regret. If he had managed to keep his mouth shut, they wouldn’t have been down in the brig in the first place. Their crimes against Vint were real, and carried the death penalty, but in his heart of hearts, Geret didn’t believe the death they’d received was the way things were supposed to go.

  Geret, Salvor and Sanych, as well as the dozens of sailors who had helped them fight off the sea monster on deck, had found it impossible to wash off the monstrous cephalopod’s glowing goo. Their skin, where the chemicals had seeped into it, glowed in the dimness below decks and remained pale yellow even in direct sunlight. Salvor’s comment that at least it hadn’t been poisonous didn’t even get a smile from Sanych, and she showed no interest in considering the possible chemical makeup of the substance.

  She spent the next day in a state of near-silent depression. When she could be coaxed to talk, she said that she continued to hold out hope for Meena’s return. Then her eyes would unfocus, and she relived the moment when she had watched her dear friend get eaten alive, and she subsided again into silence.

  Geret gathered the remnants of his quest members together the day after the attack and told them of Meena’s bravery and sacrifice, and that during the attack, a critical piece of the quest had been lost, and they’d have to return home as soon as they could find a way. Afterward, he pulled Runcan aside.

  “Where were you during everything?” he asked. “I thought maybe you’d…” But Geret couldn’t finish the thought.

  “I stayed in my room. I got tossed about something fierce in there, but with the cushions and blankets from the bed, I didn’t fare too badly in my cocoon. Moving about seemed to invite peril,” he added, seeing Geret’s puzzled look. “I thought it best to stay in one spot. Either my room was going to survive the attack, or it wasn’t. I had my book, just in case.” He smiled gently.

  “You heard,” Geret said quietly.

  Runcan laid an understanding hand on his prince’s shoulder. “Yes. They made their peace, and I can do no more than accept that.”

  All thoughts of questing were put aside. Everyone lent their hand where it was needed most.

  The cannons fired every twenty minutes, all night, every night.

  Six days later, the Kazhak sighted land.


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