When the Tourmaline Seas docked in Atalya, Raelin expected a normal port of call: trade, exploration, loading cargo.
What she got was a stunning offer, threats from the Delbhana and an unexpected need to step into her elder’s shoes.
The rest of the trip home to Aingeal raised the stakes for Raelin and her beloved ship as the lives of everyone on board rested in Raelin’s unprepared hands.
Facing the Storm
By Meyari McFarland
21. Kyna City
Azar felt civilized. Raelin looked around the port as she waited for Captain Vevina to emerge from her cabin. Unlike the entirety of their trip north of the equator, Azar had solid buildings that looked much like home with brick facades where the bricks were yellowish instead of red, fabric draping the windows and smoothly cobbled streets that allowed carts to roll without trouble.
The buildings were squat, square things that had inner courtyards with trees and gardens, yes, but they were still brick buildings that reminded Raelin of home. She tried to remember the last time she’d seen a port that felt like home and realized that it was Nasrin, when they’d set off on their voyage north. Nearly a year now.
Even the wharfs felt more civilized, not floating docks or wobbly pilings as they’d found in most of the other ports along the way other than the more organized countries around the equator. Kyna City’s port had the best wharfs that Raelin had seen outside of Aingeal city, long and sturdy with heavy boulders supporting thick pilings that looked as though they could stand up against back to back hurricanes along with storm surges the Morrigan herself would run from. Which made sense as Azar spent the entire summer with hurricanes rolling over their heads.
The clothes were different, of course. Where Aingeal fashion favored knee breeches and embroidered tail coats with high collars that rubbed against your chin, Azar’s fashion had shifted towards softly draped tunics over billowing pants since the last time Raelin visited a two years ago. It looked considerably more comfortable than Raelin’s new shirt and breeches, sewn by Bahb and Dallas after Raelin realized that she’d outgrown her most comfortable pair.
It smelled nothing like home though. Despite the familiar sea salt and port stinks that came from dumping sewage into the sea for the tide to sweep away and then back again, Kyna City smelled of grass. When Raelin closed her eyes, the Tourmaline Seas gently rocking underneath her, she could almost imagine that she was outside of Aingeal City in the park the Delbhana had built back when Raelin was a child. Grass and flowers and the smell of wool from the highland sheep filled her nose.
When she opened her eyes Raelin grinned as dock workers hauled bales of wool to a local ship a quarter the Tourmaline’s size just up the wharf from the Tourmaline. That explained the smell. And there was Captain Vevina, dressed in her full finery, including the formal hat with its swooping brim and extravagant horse feather in all the colors of a rainbow.
“They’re not even here,” Raelin said as Captain Vevina strode over. “I didn’t think that we needed to worry about problems with the Delbhana.”
“You don’t,” Captain Vevina said. “I have a dinner planned with the Harbor Mistress. Don’t wait up. I’ll handle the paperwork in Kyna City.”
Raelin blinked, stared, and then grinned as Captain Vevina’s left eyebrow slid higher and her lips twitched with amusement. “Well, enjoy yourself then, Captain. I’ll go shopping with Bahb and Dallas.”
She passed over the folio with their paperwork. Raelin managed not to laugh until after Captain Vevina was out of earshot. That was a surprise. She’d never realized that Captain Vevina had a sweetheart in Kyna, not that she’d paid that much attention to Captain Vevina as a person before this trip.
Vevina the woman hadn’t existed in Raelin’s mind. She wasn’t a person with hopes or fears. All there had been was the Captain, stern woman who held power over Raelin’s future, determining whether or not Raelin would get to sail on the Tourmaline, whether she’d someday get to be a ship’s captain as she’d always dreamed.
“Learn something every day,” Raelin murmured.
“What did you learn?” Dallas asked as she ran over and then right into the rail, just like the child she actually was.
“Nothing important,” Raelin said, fluffing Dallas’ smooth fine hair. “Just that I need to learn to see people more clearly.”
“That makes me curious,” Bahb said as she joined them at a much more leisurely stroll. “You’ll have to tell me about it later.”
“I can tell you now,” Raelin said. She grinned at Bahb’s surprised look. “Captain Vevina took the paperwork. She’s, ah, having dinner with the Harbor Mistress.”
Bahb’s eyes widened and then she laughed, a low, dirty chuckle that made Dallas frown at both of them. Thankfully, Dallas didn’t seem to understand what was so funny about Captain Vevina having a dinner date. Raelin certainly wasn’t going to explain it. She’d had to explain sex to her little cousin Glenna the last time she was in Aingeal and that had gone badly enough that Raelin had no intentions of doing it ever again. Or at least until her sisters Treva and Erlina were old enough for the talk.
“What?” Dallas asked.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Raelin declared. “I want sweets. Do you think that they have those wonderful soft candies, the fruit flavored ones that are covered in sugar?”
“We can find out,” Bahb replied. “Let’s go see.”
Dallas huffed at them both, trailing behind them as they left the Tourmaline and headed up the wharf into town. She growled but, like the smart sailor she was growing to be, she didn’t ask. Once they got back to the Tourmaline Dallas would probably run off to question Cessair in detail but that was all right. Better Cessair give Dallas the sex talk than Raelin. At least Cessair had experience with doing it right, having done it for Raelin after she joined the Tourmaline.
It felt strange to wander off into Kyna City without paperwork in a folder and Captain Vevina at her shoulder. Stranger still was the lack of worry about encountering Delbhana sailors while they were out. They’d spent so much of the trip so far on guard against encountering Golden Wind sailors, especially Fallon and Sinead, that Raelin found herself watching despite herself.
Bahb did it, too, her eyes intent and face serious as they walked. Dallas, bless the child, stared at everything and exclaimed every time she saw something new or different from other ports they’d visited. She didn’t seem that worried about anything other than finding the market so that they could shop.
Instead of one market, Kyna City was large enough to have four markets. The biggest one was the wool market. Raelin thought about suggesting a trip there to look for yarn for Aravel but she decided against it after a moment. The one time Raelin had bought yarn for Aravel he’d gotten that sickly smile that said he was horrified by what he’d just gotten. He’d said thank you but Raelin had never seen anything knitted out of that yarn and Aravel would knit almost any sort of yarn if given half a chance, no matter how stiff and scratchy it was.
There had been a new, very stiff, pillow on the window seat a few days later. Raelin suspected that the yarn had quietly become stuffing. She wasn’t about to ask what was wrong with the yarn she bought because then she’d have to endure one of Aravel’s rambling lectures about yarn that included descriptions of the sorts of things you made with each sort of yarn and how much you needed for various projects.
Anwyn listened to things like that with every sign of interest. Let her be the one to buy yarn for Aravel. Raelin would get him silly hats instead.
So they went to the second largest market instead, the one where the locals sold food. Dallas gasped every time they passed a vendor with meat roasting on a spit. It did smell good but having just eaten on board, Raelin and Bahb vetoed her requests to buy some. After the third time she started pointing out the roasting meat with a huge grin, just to watch Raelin and Bahb groan dramatically.
Dallas gasped again, pointing urgently. “Oh!”
“No meat,” Raelin said, rolling her eyes.
“No, candy!” Dallas squealed. “Piles and piles of candy!”
“Oh, well, that’s different,” Raelin said while Bahb laughed at them both.
Raelin followed Dallas, licking her lips when she spotted the stall that Dallas had discovered. It wasn’t really a stall. None of the vendors in this area had stalls. Instead they spread their wares on a blanket and suspended another blanket over their heads to protect against the heat of the sun. This vendor truly did have a stall though, created by arranging barrels of fruit along each side of the blanket like barriers and then putting her candy in baskets arrayed on a low table.
The stall was crowded with children clutching coins, most with a father in black veils standing behind them. Raelin grinned as Dallas peered over the children’s shoulders, bouncing on her toes as if she couldn’t contain her excitement. Honestly, Raelin was nearly as excited. The vendor had hard candies in many colors, soft chewy caramel, complicated little sculptures made of sugar, and even the wonderful soft candies that Raelin craved.
“No!” the vendor snapped in heavily accented Aingealese, pointing at Raelin, Bahb and Dallas. “No fighting. Not you.”
“No Delbhana in port,” Raelin answered in Azarian with a grin that was hopefully less startled and more encouraging. “No need for fighting.”
“Really?” the vendor asked. Her accent was still thick in her own language, heavy with the up-country clipped vowels and rolled r’s that made Azarian such a challenge to understand at times.
Her eyes narrowed at Raelin, turning them into narrow ice-green slits in a burnt umber face. The woman had blond hair that radiated out from her head in a halo of curls that was nearly Dana. It took Raelin a moment to realize that the woman assumed that Raelin’s injuries came from a brawl instead of from Fallon targeting her and attacking her. It was logical given the Dana family reputation.
“Really,” Raelin said. “This? Coral.”
Even the little kids winced as they stared at Raelin’s cheek and sling. The vendor nodded slowly, looked to Bahb who nodded solemn confirmation and then Dallas who all but quivered as she clasped her hands in front of her face.
“Well, some then,” the vendor said. “Not buy all. These are not for trade.”
“No,” Raelin agreed, amused. “They’re for eating. Preferably now.”
That earned Raelin a wave of laughter from the fathers lurking behind them. The vendor snorted and grinned, exposing a mouth devoid of teeth on the right side even though the teeth on the left side were perfect, straight and white. Finally, the vendor nodded that they could choose candy to buy. Raelin, of course, picked a small basket with four of the soft fruit chews, sighing happily as she ate the first one right away. Bahb shook her head and picked a little pouch full of lemon drops which meant that she wanted something special from Cessair. Everyone on board the ship knew how much Cessair loved lemon drops.
“I can’t choose,” Dallas groaned after dithering over which candy would be better.
“How much money do you have?” Raelin asked.
“Not enough to buy some of everything,” Dallas said with such a pout that one of the little boys standing next to her, no more than four years old, patted her elbow with a serious, sad expression on his little face. “Thank you. It is very sad.”
“It is,” the little boy agreed. “Those are good.”
He pointed towards one of the candies that looked like bland little buttons, pale pink, pale green, a few creamy white. Dallas blinked at them, shrugged and then bought a tiny little pouch of them. As they started to walk away, Dallas tried one. She immediately turned around and went back to buy a much bigger pouch, one that took all of the pay she had in her pouch.
“They can’t be that good,” Raelin said around her second bite of candy.
“They are,” Dallas declared. “You’ll see. You can try some later. After we have some of the roasted meat.”
Her grin made Raelin laugh while Bahb groaned. They wandered onwards through the market, angling towards the third market with its carefully bound blank books and scrolls of paper that the natives of Azar used for sacred documents. Maybe Raelin would pick up a new journal while they were there. She could always use another one to record what happened while she was at sea. This trip had certainly come close to filling her current journal, even with her injuries right now.
Having a record of every encounter with the Golden Wind seemed like a very good idea to Raelin, especially given that she was sure that this stop was going to be the aberration in their long trip home.
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