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
26. Sailing South
Raelin rocked with the Tourmaline Seas as they sailed south from Azar towards their next port of call in Minotapa. Six days on antibiotic pills from home had worked wonders for Raelin’s infected shoulder. For her whole body, really. She didn’t feel faint or sick or even weak anymore. The exhaustion that had dragged at her ever since the fight with Fallon was fading. In its place, Raelin’s normal energy was slowly returning.
It felt good.
Everything felt good this morning. The skies weren’t clear. They had high overcast with banks of clouds flitting by overhead, scudded across the sky by the strong winds that made the Tourmaline dance across the surface of the ocean. Well, not ‘surface’ exactly. They charged up one wave and then dashed down the next, always moving, always shifting with the power of the sea herself.
She stood outside her cabin’s door, back faintly brushing against the polished wood. The smell of the spray, the feeling of dampness across her cheeks, even the pull of constant movement to adjust for the deck’s pitch and roll felt so very right after spending so long off balance.
The visit to Gulbahar had been boring in its normalcy. Not one Delbhana sailor caused problems, even after Cessair tried to pick a fight with her rival from the Golden Wind. Even Captain Geileis had only nodded politely to Raelin when they’d passed each other on the way into, and out of for Captain Geileis, the one import office on the entire island of Gulbahar.
“You’re smiling,” Captain Vevina commented as she strolled up to Raelin’s side. When Raelin glanced at the wheel, Theneva stood with her hands on it, watching the sea and the sails for the need to shift direction.
“I feel better,” Raelin said.
“I’m glad that the antibiotics worked,” Captain Vevina said with enough emotion that Raelin really looked at her.
Raelin grinned at the way Captain Vevina’s cheeks went red. “You do know that Mother wouldn’t blame you if I’d died. Infections aren’t something that you can control. And I really should have known not to get into a fight with Fallon.”
“You can tell yourself that if you like, Dana,” Captain Vevina said with a snort that was anything but amused. “That doesn’t make it true. Paperwork done?”
“Oh yeah,” Raelin said. “Got that done before I came out. Not that there was much to do. Or am I just getting better at it?”
Captain Vevina laughed, drawing looks from Dallas up in the shrouds where she was taking a lesson on reefing from Binne and from Bahb up by the bow where she was swabbing the deck. The look Captain Vevina leveled at Raelin was strange, one that Raelin hadn’t seen out of her before. There was the covert fear, something that Raelin suspected never left Captain Vevina’s heart. But there was pride, too, and confidence and a sort of amusement that was so different than when Captain Vevina smiled at Dallas’ questions.
“You’re better at it, Dana,” Captain Vevina said. “And you’ve grown up a lot on this journey. You’re not a little girl anymore.”
“Certainly don’t look it anymore,” Raelin muttered, her good hand going to cup her elbow even though she wanted to cover her blushing cheeks.
Captain Vevina shook her head and walked on up the deck to inspect Bahb’s cleaning. No point in interfering with that. Raelin stayed put.
She had grown over the last few months. None of the clothes that Raelin had brought along fit anymore. Just yesterday she’d given Dallas most of her cast offs and then donated the rest to Cessair for rags. Honestly, she should be in her cabin stitching a new pair of pants and another shirt right now. But the air felt good on Raelin’s skin and she just couldn’t stand the thought of staying inside any longer.
Far to the rear, at the edge of visibility, a bright white sail with the flash of a golden hull glimmered behind them. Raelin smiled at that. Sinead had kept the Golden Wind in port when the Tourmaline left.
That said so much about how things had changed on the Golden Wind. Good things. Things about the crew realizing just how unbalanced Fallon was. Things about how stable Sinead was. Things about pride in their ship, in their skills, in their future as a trading ship sailing the same seas as the Tourmaline.
Hopefully Sinead had finally convinced the crew that they didn’t need to follow the Dana’s lead. The Delbhana could sail to their own ports, take their own chances and make their own deals. There was no need for the two ships, or the two clans, to feud.
Even if their families back home in Aingeal thought that they did.
“Someday the feud will end,” Raelin murmured as Captain Vevina finished her lecture and left Bahb to swab one section of the deck again. “Someday things will get better at home.”
Raelin wasn’t sure she’d live to see it. She hoped that she would but with so few Delbhana interested in peace it didn’t look likely. If there were more Delbhana like Sinead then maybe it would be sooner. But Fallon seemed the more common type.
At least Fallon and her feud-loving sisters and cousins seemed to have power in the Delbhana Clan. They had the throne through Siobhan’s marriage to the prince so their power would, logically, keep on growing. If they were very lucky then Sinead and her allies would slowly gain power but Raelin couldn’t believe that it would happen. Sinead had honour that Fallon and her ilk lacked.
“Now you’re looking grim,” Bahb commented as she moved her mop bucket and started swabbing the area around Raelin’s cabin. “What shifted the wind in your sails?”
“Oh, just thinking about that stupid feud,” Raelin said. “Have I changed?”
“Yes,” Bahb said as if that was the stupidest question she’d ever heard.
Bahb stopped and leaned on her mop handle while peering at Raelin. She shook her head and laughed as Raelin frowned and then blushed at Bahb’s snickers. Really, Raelin didn’t know what was so funny about the question. It was actually fairly serious.
“You’ve grown up, Rae,” Bahb said. “When we started out you were as green as Dallas, all earnest desire to learn and improve and no sense at all. You’ve settled. Calmed. Hell, if I didn’t know better I’d think you’d gotten a baby along the way. You’re responsible.”
Raelin groaned. “I am not! I’m still me. Where would I get a child anyway? I haven’t let a man touch me ever.”
“My point,” Bahb said as she went back to swabbing the deck. “You know what it’s like when a girl gets her first child, the way her behavior changes. Well, you’ve done the same thing, just not for a baby. I think…”
She paused and stared at the starboard rail that was missing. They’d gotten bamboo and cobbled together replacements, nothing that would last for the long term. It would suffice until they got back to Aingeal and could have Mistress Chie work her magic on the Tourmaline again.
Bahb’s expression was far too serious when she turned back to Raelin. It was uncomfortably like having Bahb stare straight through her. Raelin straightened up and squared her shoulders despite the ache in her injured arm.
“I think you grew up for the ship, Rae,” Bahb said finally. “You realized that we needed a Dana representative and you became what we needed. Not what you wanted, true, but you did it. And you’ve done it well. Putting the needs of the ship ahead of your wants and desires? That’s maturity. That’s what you’ve done.”
Raelin thought about kicking Bahb’s mop bucket but Bahb would just whack her with the mop so she didn’t. Her cheeks burned at the sheer idea that she’d somehow changed that much. Maybe it seemed that way to other people but Raelin was still Raelin. Everything she’d done was what had needed to be done. Looking back, Raelin couldn’t see a single thing that she could have done differently.
Other than let the Ladies give her a Gift.
But no, she couldn’t see doing that differently either. The price for the Ladies’ gifts was just too high. Raelin didn’t want to pay it. She didn’t want to hear them, to see them clearly. And yes, maybe she had grown up a bit and certainly, she’d learned a lot about what her aunts did when they came to sea. That was certainly true.
“I still want to be Captain someday,” Raelin said.
“Be surprised if you didn’t,” Bahb replied. She went back to swabbing the deck. “As long as I’ve known you, that’s all you talk about. Well, until this trip anyway.”
“Not like I had a choice,” Raelin complained. “If Fallon would have left us alone I wouldn’t have done any of it. Still wouldn’t if my arm was healed up.”
Bahb snorted, her lips twitching. “Give it another month. You’ll be fine, Rae. Looks like your cheek’s going to be a sight, though.”
“Eh, I’m a girl,” Raelin said. “No one cares if girls look pretty. That’s for boys.”
Bahb nodded because that was true enough that there really wasn’t much else to say. Dallas finally scrambled down the shrouds and ran towards the hold. She slipped at the edge of Bahb’s work zone, sliding while wind-milling her arms. Bahb grabbed for her but missed. Raelin caught Dallas’ shirt and whirled the two of them around so that Dallas ended up pressed against the door to her cabin without running into it face first.
“That’s why you don’t run all the time,” Bahb huffed.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Dallas whined. She rubbed the palms of her hands together and then shook them. “Ow. That hurt a little.”
Raelin chuckled. “Come on, Dallas. Let’s head down and have Cessair check you out.”
“You know she’s going to examine your shoulder, too,” Bahb said.
Raelin shrugged and smiled just as a ray of brilliant sunshine broke through the clouds. It lanced down and hit the sails, turning the entire deck of the Tourmaline Seas pale blue, just like the blue of the ocean around them. The Tourmaline climbed a slightly bigger wave than normal, cresting in a splash of spray and the smack of the wave against the hull.
It felt as though the Tourmaline was a part of Raelin, as if she was a part of it. She could have sworn that she felt the Tourmaline’s joy at sailing with them all. In the background, very far away, Raelin thought that she heard the Ladies singing but it was distant, so distant that it was certainly just her imagination.
The moment broke and they slid down the wave into the next trough. Overhead, the wind snapped the sails and Theneva shouted out an order to the mizzenmast crew, having them tighten their lines and shift the boom.
“I know,” Raelin said to Bahb. “It’s good. Don’t take all day with the deck. You don’t want the Captain to yell at you for lollygagging.”
Bahb laughed and swiped a hand in Raelin’s general direction without any attempt to actually connect. “Or the Dana representative? I hear she’s pretty strict.”
Dallas spluttered a laugh, both of her hands over her mouth. Raelin grinned at Dallas, wrinkled her nose at Bahb and then winked.
“Absolutely,” Raelin said as laughter bubbled under her breastbone, threatening to spill out at any second. “The strictest there is!”
She headed down into the hold with Dallas, laughter spilling over as both Bahb and Dallas laughed at her, for her, with her. Maybe she had grown up a bit but, Raelin decided, that was a good thing. She had another skill that would let her sail with the Tourmaline for the rest of her life, all the Goddesses and the Ladies willing.
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