The wicked heroine, p.80
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.80

           Jasmine Giacomo


  Inside the caliph’s large rose-marble receiving room, Runcan, using the caliph’s one Versal translator, explained choice details of their situation, and asked permission of the Hyndi ruler to remain in his city until a ship arrived that could convey them back across the Middle Sea. The caliph agreed, insisting they stay at the palace as his welcome guests.

  Many guests and petitioners milled at the back half of the room. Some were being helped by lesser officials, while others waited for their turn to do the same. Sanych noted one of the caliph’s advisors, a woman in a silvery dress, staring at her on more than one occasion. She looked across the room later to discover the woman had disappeared.

  As a courteous guide in matching burgundy robes and turban arrived at the bronzed entryway to escort them to their quarters, a group of six silver-clad women strode into the room. Everyone else seemed to know who they were, stepping aside for them. Even the caliph ceased his conversation and paid full attention to the women.

  Sanych’s stomach turned over. She knew they were here about her. What did they want? She put a hand on Runcan’s arm.

  The short conversation between the caliph and the women in silver dresses was amicable, and soon they approached Sanych and Runcan, the Versal translator in tow, his eyes wide.

  “Miss Sanych, is it?” he began. When she nodded, he continued, “These women are of the Silver Hand. It is the females’ compound within the Navel of the World, Salience’s mystical center at the other end of the Grand Boulevard. They have, er, requested that you be housed with them during your stay.” He dry-washed his hands, keeping his focus on her, away from the intimidating women beside him.

  “I see,” she managed to reply in an even tone. “Did they say why I’ve received such an…honor?” The women were watching her as if she were a curious new addition to a zoological garden.

  “The caliph’s advisor sensed something in you. They wish to help you feel more comfortable. You are virtually alone, far from home. They have many distractions for the learned mind, whether painting, studying the constellations, researching in the library–”

  “They have a library?” Sanych interrupted. The Silver Hand women smiled at her eagerness.

  “Yes, the Great Library of Hynd is right next to the Navel of the World.”

  Sanych met Runcan’s eyes, anticipation spilling from her gaze. He smiled. “Go on, then. But send a message if you need anything,” he said, in his best avuncular tone.

  “Thank you,” she said.

  The Silver Hand didn’t wait for her verbal agreement; they gathered her in among themselves and began jabbering away in Hyndi, walking out the door.

  By the time their carriages pulled up in the drive before the domed building at the other end of the boulevard, Sanych had learned a few Hyndi phrases, and repeated them, to the delight of her carriage-mates. One of them, Shashei Cheriya, nodded and looked as if she’d expected nothing less.

  Sanych realized she had no idea what went on in a mystical center. As far as anyone in Vint believed, magic was a myth. She was both nervous and excited. Then she recalled that she’d seen this building before. Had she been inside? When had she been in Salience before?

  And why couldn’t she remember?

  That was the most disturbing thought of all.

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