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
“Sold!” the auctioneer shouted, waving her iron-wood club towards one of the locals at the far left end of the line. “Next, Lot three!”
The winner shouted, waving a fist up the line while grinning triumphantly. Raelin didn’t join in the general waving of fists or cursing in her direction. Sinead made one rude gesture but otherwise ignored it as well. They all shifted position as the winner wrestled her barrel of cinnamon branches off the platform and onto a small cart that her second pushed to the front.
Raelin frowned, turning to look over her shoulder at Cessair. “How big is your lot?”
“Not that big,” Cessair said, rolling her eyes as if Raelin was being dramatic. “Don’t need that much for the ship’s stores. Turn around, girl, do your job.”
When Raelin growled, Fallon smirked. That was good, anyway. It was a relief to know that Raelin wasn’t going to have to wrestle a barrel bigger than she was, too. Sinead snickered once Raelin faced front again, as did the bidder to Raelin’s right.
“You’ve never done this before,” Sinead commented quietly as the auctioneer brought on one heavy branch of cinnamon twice as long as Raelin was high and nearly as big around as Raelin’s bicep.
“Not even once,” Raelin agreed. “Teach me to complain about paperwork.”
Sinead swallowed a laugh that she didn’t cover with one hand as would be normal back in Aingeal. The auctioneer looked, made sure they were all in line, and then raised her club to start the bidding. Shouted bids echoed all up and down the line, startling Raelin badly enough that she jumped.
The bidding on this lot was much more furious than before, with every single woman other than Sinead and Raelin bellowing, waving their arms, and jumping up and down to make sure that their bid was the one heard by the auctioneer. Raelin stared, turned to Sinead, and jerked her chin towards the platform.
“They’re used for carving religious articles,” Sinead said just barely loud enough for Raelin to hear her. “It’s very rare for one that size to be offered for auction.”
“Oh,” Raelin said, nodding. “That makes sense then.”
They waited out the bidding war, Raelin with her hands firmly clasped behind her back. There was no possibility of her accidentally getting into a religious bidding war, especially given that the monitors had moved through the gap between the women bidding and their seconds, iron wood clubs at the ready.
When one woman stepped out of position, face red and hands in fists that she’d been counterbid, the monitors knocked her flat, one from either side of her head, and then dragged her away by her heels. Blood dripped down her cheek.
“I am so glad Gwen and Annie aren’t here,” Raelin murmured during the lull in the bidding process.
“They’d be dead,” Sinead agreed. “Aunt Fallon can’t bid either. She gets too… caught up.”
“Passion is good, just not all the time,” Raelin replied. “Some people can’t stop.”
The bidding picked up again, drowning out Sinead before she could say more than a word or two. It was louder, more fierce than before, with the prices bid going up in a spiral of cost that made Raelin stare and then wince every time a woman was outbid. Eventually, twenty-three bids later, silence fell.
Raelin waited, heart beating entirely too fast, as the woman on her right quivered.
“Sold!” The auctioneer shouted. “Next, Lot Four!”
A sudden hug enveloped Raelin. Her face pressed against the woman’s sweaty neck for an instant and then Raelin was loose as the woman sauntered up to the platform and took her branch with hands that shook. She pressed a kiss against the branch and then marched off out of the market with her second, both of them singing in a dialect that Raelin didn’t recognize.
“Huh,” Raelin said, rubbing her face with her hands. “Remind me to be very polite about religion here.”
Sinead laughed. “Always wise. Hm, good quality.”
She nodded towards a basket full of rolls of cinnamon bark about as big as Raelin’s head. It looked very much like the stuff that Father preferred to use when making spiced cider. Even from where Raelin stood she could smell the heady scent of the cinnamon over the background wash of spice that had nearly deadened her nose.
“Does look good,” Raelin said. “Not the lot I’m aiming for.”
Sinead glanced over her shoulder, raised an eyebrow and then snorted. When she spoke it was a bare murmur that Raelin could hardly hear over the bids, not shouted but definitely not spoken in a quiet tone of voice, form the other women.
“She’s Danica’s mother,” Sinead murmured.
“Oh,” Raelin breathed, not daring to look or smile or even twitch. “It’s personal.”
“Very,” Sinead agreed. “She considers the offers to sire Danica’s child outside of wedlock to be an insult. But then everything Dana is insulting to Aunt Fallon.”
“Great.” Raelin didn’t let herself groan though the temptation was so strong. “Gotta take the time to learn your family tree.”
“No, thank you,” Sinead said with a snort of amusement that the bidding on lot four had already died down to two women rather desultorily counterbidding by one coin increments. “Your family is too complicated for me.”
“Me, too,” Raelin replied, grinning at the way Sinead’s eyes shut and her lips pressed together so that she wouldn’t openly smile. “Should make yours easy to understand.”
They went silent as the Auctioneer awarded the lot to an older woman, hair gone iron grey at the temples. The woman passed the basket to her second and then stayed in place, unlike the previous winners. Raelin tensed. There was still so much more she needed to learn but this was the lot that she and Sinead had to battle over. Raelin needed to make it good and she needed to make sure that Sinead won, not one of the locals, if it was going to satisfy Fallon enough for further interaction to happen.
Sinead tensed too. A wave of murmurs went up and down the line of bidders as lot five, Cessair’s lot of cinnamon was brought out. It wasn’t terribly impressive, just another basket with rolls of cinnamon bark in it. The scent wasn’t as powerful, either, though there was a sort of muskiness to the scent that made Raelin rub her nose briefly.
Raelin’s heart pounded as she realized that she had no clue what to offer for the stuff. Cessair hadn’t said and the auctioneer didn’t offer an initial bid. When Raelin glanced Sinead’s way, Sinead frowned at her. A moment later her eyes lit up as she seemed to realize that Raelin was completely adrift now that it came down to it. Sinead shut her eyes, her lips pressed together to suppress the laughter that shook her shoulders.
“Shut up,” Raelin muttered as the auctioneer raised her club.
“Five!” Sinead shouted, her arm shaking with laughter as she waved to claim the first bit.
“Six!” Raelin countered.
Her cheeks went blazingly red as ‘seven’, ‘nine’ and ‘eleven’ echoed up the line. Maybe you were supposed to bid in odd numbers only? But no, Sinead countered with a fierce ‘twelve’ which prompted Raelin to counter with ‘thirteen’, jumping up and down so that she’d be noticed.
The auctioneer waved her club towards Raelin as a lull swept over them. Sinead frowned, licked her lips while fingering the purse.
“Thirteen,” Sinead said and no, that wasn’t a shout at all.
None of the other women bid. They looked at the basket of cinnamon, looked at the two of them. Raelin glanced over her shoulder at Cessair despite the threatening gesture from the monitor standing behind her. Cessair growled, glared at Fallon who smirked, and then nodded once.
“Fourteen,” Raelin said.
Sinead turned to stare over her shoulder for a moment only to turn back rolling her eyes. She shook her head sadly as she said “Fifteen.”
This time when Raelin glanced back Cessair crossed her arms over her chest and glowered at Fallon. There was no nod. Raelin put her hands behind her back, shaking her head when the auctioneer cocked her chin in Raelin’s direction.
“Sold!” the auctioneer shouted. “Lot six!”
“I have no idea why you wanted it so much,” Sinead murmured as she took the basket of cinnamon bark from the auctioneer’s assistant.
“No clue,” Raelin said. “I think Cessair wanted to one-up your cook.”
“Won’t do it with these,” Sinead said and then froze as Cessair hissed and tossed a second purse to Raelin.
“Get lot six, girl,” Cessair said. “Since you missed my lot.”
“Fine,” Raelin said with an appropriately dramatic roll of her eyes. “Lot six it is.”
This time Sinead just stood, still holding the basket of cinnamon bark. Raelin bid against four other women, all of whom seemed quite determined to deprive Raelin of that particular basket of cinnamon bark. It was even smaller than Sinead’s basket, the bark a finer texture with a paler orange color. Raelin had to bid all the way up to twenty-nine before the other women backed off. Even then she got a counter bid of thirty at the last second that Raelin countered with a defiant ‘thirty-two’.
That won her the lot. Raelin took the basket, stepped out of line with it, and then passed it to Cessair who grumbled while sorting through the coils of bark. When the clerk responsible for payment came to her, the lot’s price emptied the first purse plus half the second one that Cessair had tossed to her.
“It’ll do,” Cessair said. “You’re a piss poor bidder, though.”
“I’ve never done it before!” Raelin snapped at her. “Don’t blame me when you didn’t even tell me what to start bidding at or how the whole process works.”
“Eh,” Cessair said, stomping towards the exit of the market with her basket against her hip. “Bidding is bidding. It’s an auction. Not that hard to figure out.”
Raelin glared at her back, at least until Fallon walked past laughing. She held her basket of cinnamon as if it was the most precious thing ever. Sinead followed her, shaking her head. When Sinead looked sidelong at Raelin, holding back so that Captain Vevina could precede them, Raelin paused, too.
“It’s low quality cinnamon,” Sinead murmured to Raelin. “Not for eating. Scents, certainly, but not cooking.”
“Your lot?” Raelin asked.
“Mmm-hmm,” Sinead murmured. They followed the others more slowly, letting the adults get ahead of them. “Yours is… odd but a better quality than mine.”
“Then yes, she is playing a trick on Fallon and on your cook,” Raelin sighed. “Through me. Lovely. I’m sure your aunt will blame it all on me.”
Sinead nodded. They stepped from of the cinnamon tents into the heat of the sun outside. It was hotter but cooler at the same time because a wonderful breeze swept over them both. After the sweltering heat of the cinnamon tents Raelin felt as though she’d just jumped into the ocean. It was that much cooler.
“It’s not a plot,” Raelin murmured. She paused before heading down the stairs after Cessair and Captain Vevina. “She’s just out to make me look as bad as possible, isn’t she?”
“No,” Sinead said, her eyes on Fallon’s stiff back as she tried to outpace Cessair on the stairs down to the vegetable market.
She didn’t say anything until the moment she started down the stairs, too. Her face stayed the same. So did her shoulders which were tight but not obviously hunched. If anything, Sinead looked as though she was just overheated, not stressed by this entire situation.
“She doesn’t want to embarrass you,” Sinead murmured. “She wants you dead.”
Then she was gone, trotting down the stairs after her aunt. Raelin stared after her for a long moment. Mother always warned Raelin and her siblings not to trust the Delbhana. She couldn’t count how many times Mother had said that the Delbhana wanted nothing more than to kill every single Dana, to wipe them off the face of the planet.
But the warnings weren’t the same as hearing that someone actually wanted to kill Raelin, personally. She shuddered as she started down the stairs. This was bigger than she’d thought, bigger than even Captain Vevina thought.
There weren’t too many ways that Fallon could kill Raelin without facing consequences back in Aingeal but they did exist. And most of them were between Eguzki City and Minoo, the heart of the journey ahead of them.
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