The wicked heroine, p.84
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.84

           Jasmine Giacomo
 

  Chapter Thirty-six

  “Archivist Sanych?” Cheriya folded her hands together, excitement tensing her arms.

  Sanych, standing by one of the library’s bookshelves, looked up from her reading. “Yes?”

  “You have a visitor this evening,” the woman said. “He is quite handsome.”

  Sanych placed a bookmark in the book and returned it to the shelf. “And does this handsome man have any identifying characteristics?”

  “His Hyndi is terrible–he speaks as if he were taught by a toothless whore–but he is clean and uses a respectful volume in the library,” Cheriya teased.

  Sanych stepped over to the tall, dark woman. “Fine, be that way. Just tell me where he is.”

  Cheriya gestured to the wide door. “He is waiting in the rotunda. From what he asked me, if I understood his terrible accent, he wishes to speak to you in a more private place.”

  More private than an enormous, sparsely-visited library? Sanych wondered. “Thank you, Shashei Cheriya.” She nodded in farewell, then turned and strode out as fast as her short legs could carry her.

  It was Salvor who awaited her, looking clean and groomed in a black tunic and trousers that put Sanych in mind of the Hyndi Shadow Stalkers. Where did he find such attire? she wondered. His family sword hung at his hip; he would appear incomplete to her without it.

  She smiled happily to see him, but his return smile was muted, and he looked tired.

  “Walk with me,” he said quietly, lifting her long, wide silk scarf from her shoulders to cover her head against the cooler night air.

  They strolled and chatted, and Sanych idly tracked their progress through the city on the map in her head, until the city walls came to a rounded point a few dozen paces ahead of them, with only one structure between them and the wall.

  Far overhead, the Night Beacon burned with a deep, thrumming hiss, warning any ships in range that the massive cliff jutted into the sea below.

  “Oh, that’s impressive,” Sanych murmured.

  Salvor led her to the raised stone viewing platform, which had been built high enough so those upon it could see over the city wall. It stretched a dozen paces in all directions from the massive fire tower, which dominated the entire end of the city with its two hundred foot height. As they ascended the stairs to the raised level, Sanych realized they were not alone here; several couples talked quietly or giggled to themselves, while others, so close as to form one silhouette, were engaged in less verbal forms of communication. She found herself blushing, unable to help imagining what they were doing, and why Salvor had brought her here.

  Salvor seemed irritated by their presence. “Silly woman. Told me this would be private.”

  He led her to a curved wooden bench that gave a glorious view of the seascape. No one else was sitting on it; they were busy viewing much closer things. Sanych sat and snuggled next to Salvor for warmth against the cool evening breeze. He idly placed an arm around her shoulders and looked down at her, cuddled next to him.

  She gazed up at him. It had been wonderful, Sanych remembered, being with Salvor by the freshwater spring. He had been so sweet, his kisses so warm, and his voice had softened to a low rumble, very different from his usual tone. So much had happened since then, and so abruptly, that she hadn’t had time to think about her feelings for him.

  “I’ve missed you, Salvor,” she said, turning toward him and pushing her long silk scarf down to her shoulders. He grinned, and she cupped his face in her slender fingers and kissed him.

  I’m a better teacher than I thought, Salvor realized, smiling beneath her kiss. He slid both arms around her and pulled her into his lap as the kiss continued, and she twined her arms around his neck, playing with his thick black braid.

  “Sanych,” he murmured a few minutes later, “I think it’s time I trusted you with something.”

  “What’s that?” she asked, smiling.

  He shifted her a bit, fingering one of the many long blonde braids that tumbled from the top of her turban. After a moment of introspection, he lifted his chin and met her gaze. “When we first left Highnave,” he began, “I sought you out, to give you a yellow prairie rose.”

  “I remember,” she said, fondling his ear.

  “I waited for half an hour, trailing you, searching for just the right moment. I needed to make sure that, when I gave it to you, it would make the best possible impression.”

  “Your timing was perfect,” Sanych said, recalling how off-balance she had been after exiting Geret’s tent, and how appreciated she felt after Salvor had spoken to her for those brief moments.

  “I needed it to be. I needed to persuade you to be my ally on the quest. I thought that pretending to be attracted to you would be my best bet. And you know how I like wagers.”

  “Pretending?” she said, stiffening under his hands.

  “Surely you can understand why I had to do it,” Salvor said, his tone urging her to see his side.

  Sanych couldn’t help it; her mind leaped to analyze. Her eyes flicked back and forth for a few moments, and she looked at him, a layer of hurt dawning in her eyes. “I was your way of staying with the quest, if Geret ever got too angry at you,” she said faintly. “You knew that if you got the prince’s Temple advisor to care for you, she’d stand up for you, even to the prince himself.”

  Salvor nodded, silent.

  “So you pursued me, and you were successful.” Her tone became detached, as if reporting; only a hint of sadness flavored her words. “I was furious at Geret for how he treated you, on more than one occasion. One word from you and I would have spoken my mind to him, and angrily so. But,” she frowned, “when your hand was forced and you revealed your allegiance to Geret in Ha’Lakkon, why didn’t you simply stop your games with me?”

  Salvor shrugged a shoulder. “Just habit. A spy can’t suddenly change his routine without risk of drawing unwanted attention. Plus, the quest was still on. I didn’t want to jeopardize it in any way. Easier to just go with the flow.”

  “I…see.”

  “Look, Sanych, I don’t want to have secrets from you,” he said. “I know it must seem strange that I pursued you without being interested in you. It was all part of my duty to Geret. Keeping him alive and unharmed is, sadly, paramount in that duty.” He shook his head as if to say, What can you do about such things?

  “Well…” she paused and licked her lips. “Well, I don’t want to distract you from your duties. I know how seriously you take them.”

  “Oh, no, Sanych,” he replied, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “I’m not saying that I don’t want to see you anymore. I’d be more than happy to keep visiting you up here. I bet you could even swing me a bath at the Navel of the World, and maybe a clean shirt every week? Real food, too. That would be superb.” He grinned and added, “And I certainly won’t say no to more of your attentions. Nothing focuses the mind like a bit of that sort of stress relief. What do you say? Shall we make it a business arrangement?”

  Sanych’s eyes sparked with blue fire. She slid off his lap and stepped back from him a pace, breathing through flared nostrils. “I’m sorry; I won’t ever be available for that sort of arrangement, Salvor. If you don’t love me, then don’t see me.” The murmuring conversations closest to them stilled.

  He unfolded himself from the bench, towering over her, and she lifted her trembling chin and looked him in the eyes. A long moment passed. Finally he rested his hand on his sword hilt in resignation and sighed.

  “All right, Sanych, we’ll do it your way,” he said, shrugging. “If you change your mind, though, let me know. You’re a quick study.” He raised an eyebrow at her and grinned.

  “Folly,” Sanych cursed, breathing rapidly. “Geret was right about you all along.”

  “It’s not impossible; he does have his moments. I’m here now, aren’t I?”

  “What do you mean?” she asked, gritting her teeth. Tears threatened to spill over her cheeks; her hyperventilation was beginning to make her
feel lightheaded.

  “As my prince commands, so I must do,” Salvor replied, holding his arms out helplessly.

  “He wouldn’t—”

  “Not in so many words. But the boy doesn’t think very far ahead sometimes. Keep that in mind when next you see our beloved prince.”

  Tears began to spill down Sanych’s cheeks, and she squeezed her eyes shut, making them all fall at once, as her beloved’s callousness stabbed deep into her undefended heart. “You can go now, Salvor,” Sanych gritted, beginning to shake. She bit her lower lip, trying to hold onto her composure, her dignity. The last thing she needed was him mocking her weeping.

  Salvor watched her tears fall and checked his next statement. After a moment, he gave her a courtly bow and said, “As the Archivist commands. Good night, Sanych.” He turned and stalked away, his black hair and clothing quickly blending into the warm, humid night.

  His sudden absence was the trigger that broke Sanych’s emotional dam, and she sank into a crouch by the rail, her long scarf puddling around her. Behind the braided curtain of her hair, she began to sob.

 
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