Excerpt for Running From the Storm by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Running Before the Storm

By Meyari McFarland


Other Matriarchies of Muirin Stories:


In Reading Order:

The City of the Ladies

Fight Smarter

Hide and Seek

Stormy Arrival

Repair and Rebuild

Storm Over Archaelaos

Facing the Storm

Tea and Knives

Luck of the Dana

Homecoming

Delicate Introduction

Following the Beacon

Coming Together

The Solace of Her Clan

Fitting In


You can find these and many other books at www.MDR_Publishing.com.






Copyright ©2017 by Mary Raichle


Cover image


© Ulkan120 | Dreamstime.com - Old Papers And Books On A Wooden Table Photo


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.


Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be emailed to publisher@mdr-publishing.com.


This book is also available in TPB format from all major retailers.


Dedication:


This story is dedicated to my very practical mother, my husband and my friends for all their support. I never would have gotten this far without their support, advice and love.



Table of Contents

1. Storm Front

2. First Drops

3. Rising Tide

4. Shifting Shoals

5. Hidden Reefs

6. Prices Paid

7. Delbhana Demands

8. Odd Questions

9. Secrets Shared

10. Private Hearing

11. Silent Streets

12. Street Battle

13. Surprise Truths

14. Food Lines

15. Secret Debts

16. Hard Choices

17. Passing Ships

18. Personal Discoveries

19. Potential Alliance

20. Explosive Breakthrough

21. Passing Clouds

Excerpt: Facing the Storm

Afterword



1. Storm Front

Raelin shifted, blankets warm and heavy over her. Muzzy, she smiled, rubbing her cheek against the pillow. Such a nice thing, warm and comfy. Heavy and safe and cinnamon drifting on the air.

Cinnamon.

Raelin frowned, kicking her leg and then grumbling when it didn't shift under her properly. Bed. This was her bunk. Not her hammock on the Tourmaline Seas. She rolled over entirely, pulling her pillow around her head because no, no waking up. Not yet.

Pain screamed through her the instant she put weight on her shoulder.

Raelin jerked upright, clutching her shoulder.

Damn it.

One of these days she'd be able to roll over and not wake right up but today was obviously not that day. Sweat beaded her shoulder as Raelin panted through gritted teeth. Fifty-three days wasn't enough. She slowly eased back down into bed, covers pooled around her waist even though the sweat on her chest and throat felt like ice.

Delbhana Fallon had a lot to answer for. Grown woman, twice Raelin's size, throwing a fifteen-year-old girl into a coral wall to deliberately maim her? With the intent to kill her? Yeah, she had a lot that Raelin would like to punish her for. The scars on Raelin's face still hurt but they were healing well enough that she could eat and sleep and touch her cheek without flinching.

The hip still hurt. Raelin had been torn open from shoulder to hip, her entire right side cut to ribbons by the coral blocks. Which had then gotten infected after a secondary injury during the freak hurricane and taken longer than it should to heal.

Especially her shoulder. Sure, the hip bothered Raelin when she walked or worked, made her limp a little, but it was healing and pretty soon she'd be back to normal there. The stupid shoulder was a much different proposition.

"I wonder if I'll ever regain full usage of my arm?" Raelin whispered, staring at the ceiling of her bunk. The whitewashed boards blurred a little as tears welled up in her eyes.

The scars were worst on her shoulder. She'd hit the coral wall shoulder first, then cheek, arm and hip. Raelin didn't really need the sling anymore but that didn't mean that she could put on a shirt easily. Or raise her right arm over shoulder height. Even getting to shoulder height hurt like stepping into the Morrigan's Hells.

And taking pain medication was not something Raelin was willing to do. That stuff was far too addictive, especially the poppy milk Doctor Bernice had offered her. Raelin knew what that did to you and she was not going to risk getting dragged down by that particular lure. She'd sink right to the bottom and never make her way back up. Even if Father did get a little pinched around the mouth when she obviously flinched in pain and Caddie looked heartbroken when he saw her face.

They'd survive.

So would she.

At least Annie was safely away from the city. Off on the Azure Shell to sail around the world to Yaffa, Amadi and Chinwendu for a year or so. By the time she made her way back to Aingeal City the plot would have long since been dealt with and the volcano at the entrance to Aingeal Bay would have either crested the waves or have subsided into simmering silence once more.

"Still don't know how the Delbhana could blame Anwyn for that volcano," Raelin muttered as she sat up and carefully clambered down out of her bunk. Hard to do with one good arm but Raelin had gotten better at things like that on board the Tourmaline Seas.

She shucked off her sleep pants and pulled on real pants. The socks were a bother. Tugging at them made Raelin's shoulder scream at her. And putting on her shirt made her break out in a cold sweat again. She sat on Anwyn's empty bunk, panting, as she buttoned the shirt one handed.

"Oh, you are up," Andros said from the doorway. He frowned at her with adorable seven-year-old intensity. "Shoulder hurts?"

"Yeah, I rolled over onto it," Raelin said. "Woke me right up, let me tell you."

He grinned at her causal tone, coming over to smack her hands away and redo the buttons. Because of course she'd gotten them off. Once it was done he looked at Raelin's hair and shook his head sadly. Lips twitching with amusement, the little scamp. Raelin sighed dramatically and gestured towards her hair with her good hand, begging him to fix it just like he always did when she was in port.

"Let me get my brush and some hair oil!" Andros exclaimed, dashing out of the girls' bunk room with a delighted laugh.

Gavin, her oldest brother, looked and then laughed outright so her hair must be extra curly and unmanageable today. "Definitely let him help today, Rae. You're a mess."

"Slept well up until that last roll over," Raelin said. "What's for breakfast?"

"Cinnamon buns and poached seal eggs," Gavin said. "Father managed to get a small clutch of summer eggs. They're little but quite rich."

"Sounds good," Raelin said.

Getting her hair to stop being ridiculously curly, the sort of curl that radiated out from your head in tiny ringlets the size of a pencil, took Andros a good fifteen minutes. When Raelin ran her good hand over her hair it felt wavy, not full of kinks, so he'd obviously done a good job.

"Feels much better, Andros," Raelin said. "Thanks."

"You look better," Andros said. "Come have breakfast. It's good!"

He ran off again, leaving Raelin to follow at her own pace. Which was slow this morning. The ache in her shoulder seemed to have woken the ache in her hip again. Or maybe that was just because she'd slept in the same position all night instead of moving around a lot like she normally did.

The big dining table in the great room was only half full. With Aravel and Anwyn gone on voyages, that left Gavin who looked to have already eaten and gone down to work in the warehouse, Gwen, who seemed to have decided not to have breakfast this morning, Raelin, Caddie, Andros and Treva. Caddie was tiny for his thirteen years so he took up almost no space despite the mass of petticoats belling out his kilt. Andros was still running around taking care of everyone. And Treva was sitting in her high chair, mashing her poached egg in to happy oblivion like the enthusiastic four-year-old she was.

"Morning, Rae," Father said as he passed her a plate with a poached egg and a lovely cinnamon bun covered with a sugar glaze. "Eat. Your mother wants to talk to you once you're decent."

"Don't tell me the storm clouds have already hit," Raelin sighed.

Saying outright that there was yet another Delbhana plot against the family would upset Caddie and Andros so no. Storms were frequent enough that both Caddie and Andros ignored her comment.

"Mmm-hmm," Father murmured. He kissed her forehead and pushed her towards the table. "Eat. Get your shoes on. Your mother's down with Uncle Jarmon. Don't dawdle."

Raelin at quickly. The bun was good, nothing special, and filling. The egg was rich but Father'd cooked it just right so the white was delicate and the yolk was perfectly runny. She soaked up the yolk with bits of her bun and then washed up before hurrying, as much as she dared, downstairs.

Fastest way to get to Great-Uncle Jarmon's office was down the ship's ladder crammed between the upper warehouse and the records office but Raelin didn't trust her right arm to hold her going down it, or her hip this morning, so she went by the big formal staircase in the front of the Clan house.

It was farther, officially, but Raelin didn't care. The steps were less steep and they were carpeted so she wouldn't hurt herself as much if her leg and arm gave way unexpectedly. Of course, that meant dealing with the gaudiness. That much gold leaf in one place was always going to be tacky but it impressed the Delbhana so they had to do it.

"Rae!" Gwen called as Raelin slowly made her way down the stairs. "Didn't expect them to send you."

Raelin frowned. Gwen looked entirely too relieved to see her but hey, she was dealing with Delbhana Siobhan, the worst and most obnoxious of the Delbhana women their age. Gwen's age, seventeen. Who'd only gotten worse since getting engaged to Prince Toryn. Poor man.

"I expected to have Dana Anwyn delivered for her crimes," Siobhan snapped.

"What crimes?" Raelin asked as if she had no clue. Really. Stupidest plot yet. "Besides, Anwyn's not in the country. She's off on the Azure Shell, headed to Chinwendu. Back in a year or so, baring disasters at sea."

Both Gwen and Siobhan stared at her. Gwen's eyes were only a little wide but Siobhan gaped outright. Her guards, all big burly women dressed in the crimson and gold of the Delbhana Guard, relaxed a little as if they were hugely relieved that they weren't going to be called upon to go into battle.

They would have if Anwyn was there. Even though Anwyn was only thirteen, she was the worst brawler of the whole family. Annie would have gladly done battle with every single one of them just for the chance to climb Siobhan's six-foot frame to punch her in the face.

"You're not serious!" Siobhan exclaimed. "We would have heard."

"Nah, we learned ages ago not to tell anyone when Anwyn was going places," Raelin said with a dismissive wave of her good hand. "You Delbhana start plotting and it's annoying. Annie gets all wrapped up in the rigging and we have to calm her down. Just not worth the fuss. We don't even tell her until it's time to pack."

"Could have told me," Gwen grumbled. She crossed her arms over her chest only to go bright red when Raelin wagged a finger at her.

"You're almost as bad as Annie," Raelin said. "Nothing doing. Why do you think you never get warning of trips out? You make a bigger fuss and get Caddie upset. No one wants Caddie upset."

The guards had their lips pressed together, shoulders shaking, while Siobhan was frowning at her. At least the humor of the situation got through to other people, if not Siobhan. Raelin turned to her and shrugged. Flinched and rubbed her shoulder. Damn it. Stupid shoulder.

"She is actually gone," Siobhan said but her frown made it into a question even if her tone didn't.

"Yes," Raelin said. "Mother got her onto the ship first hour of the morning today. I slept. No reason to get up and listen to her complain. So. Sorry. Can't give you Annie. You could punch Gwen, I suppose. But then I'd have to punch you and frankly my shoulder hurts today so no, no punching."

The offer to let Siobhan punch Gwen finally got through to Siobhan who snorted a laugh. Gwen huffed and glared at Raelin but she didn't say anything. Thank the Tripartite Goddesses for that. At least Gwen wasn't letting her temper get the better of her.

"We still have many questions about that volcano and why your ship was the only one to encounter it," Siobhan said, stiff and formal despite the amusement in her eyes as she watched Gwen glower at Raelin.

"I can probably answer that," Raelin said. "Beyond the obvious 'we're Dana and we push things way too close to shore to cut time to port'. There a hearing on it? If it's not today I can gather some data, do some sketches, present some findings. Mistress Chie's starting work on the Drifting Cloud now. I went by when I came in yesterday to check on her and it's a mess. Another of our ships with holes in the hull. Really, we need to go more than a decade with ships taking holes. This time it's a bare six years and we're paying to rebuild another ship."

And that, finally, put Siobhan's mood out of the angry and accusatory and into the triumphantly superior. Good. She was easier to deal with when she'd decided that she was better than everyone around her. Much easier to manipulate.

"There will be hearings," Siobhan said, smirking at Raelin and then curling her lip at Gwen. "You will receive a summons."

She swept out, her guards on her heels. One of the guards graced Raelin with a worried look but the rest just followed. Gwen waited until the door shut before rounding on Raelin with a horrified look on her face.

"What did you just do?" Gwen demanded.

"Took it out of the realm of arrests and put it into the realm of big formal hearings that don't accomplish anything besides wasting time," Raelin said. She grinned when Gwen opened her mouth to say something only to stop and blink rapidly at Raelin. "She came here to arrest someone. She left feeling smug and superior about getting us to talk at hearings. How many hearings has Mother been to? What have those hearings accomplished?"

Gwen sighed and rubbed her hands over her face. "Nothing besides wasting Delbhana money and a little of our time. Damn it, Rae. You're going to have to take the helm on this, you know. And you're not doing well. Don't try and lie to me. I can tell you're hurting."

She gestured towards Raelin's face, her shoulder, worry in her eyes. Raelin shook her head, patted Gwen's shoulder. Yes, it hurt. But it was new. She'd be all right as her shoulder continued to heal.

"That's my line to haul, Gwen," Raelin said. "Don't fuss over it. I'll heal up. I'm not heading out for at least a month, maybe a month and a half. Great-Uncle Jarmon said so when he told me to get Annie ready for her trip. That's forty to sixty days just of talking, listening to the Delbhana rant and healing. Better me than you. My temper can handle it. Yours can't. I'll be fine."

"I hope so," Gwen said. She bit her lip. "I think you're underestimating that this is all about but I hope you're right."



2. First Drops


Mother was, in fact, in Great-Uncle Jarmon's office. Standing and swaying with little Erlina fussing in her arms. More yelling than fussing. For a three day old baby, Erlina had some very strong longs and a very strong opinion of where she should be.

"Didn't wear an old tar-stained shirt today?" Raelin asked Mother.

"Didn't work," Mother said before thrusting Erlina towards Raelin. "Take her. Walk around with her. Come back. I have to finish this and we can't think for her yells. And do come back. There's things you need to… do."

Raelin pressed Erlina against her good shoulder, held her there with her good arm and patted her little bottom with her right hand. Hurt a bit to reach that high. Erlina was tiny, even for a Dana baby. But Raelin could handle it.

Especially when Erlina huffed and then fell asleep, exhausted, against Raelin's shoulder.

"Don't ask me," Raelin said. "Maybe she likes the smell of the hair oil Andros used on my today. Father said you wanted to talk to me. Oh, and Siobhan was here. I agreed to go talk at some hearings she's setting up on the volcano and why we found it instead of someone else."

"Because our ships cut closer to shore than anyone else?" Great-Uncle Jarmon said with a facetious little snort.

"That's my thought," Raelin said. "But I'm grounded anyway so I might as well go. I can keep my temper."

Mother nodded at that. So did Great-Uncle Jarmon. They waved her out of the office in unison so Raelin slowly strolled out to the dock where the Tourmaline Seas was being stripped of her sails. Erlina started snoring just about the time Raelin reached the gangplank, responding to the sway of Raelin's walk and the smell of the sea, maybe. Or just tired out by all the crying.

Probably tired out.

"Your newest sister?" Captain Vevina asked once Raelin made her way up onto the poop deck.

"Mm-hmm," Raelin said. "She's one of the fussy ones that wants to be held all the time. And apparently she's got sea water in her veins because she's quietest out here. Pitches a fit about being inside the Clan House."

"The Delbhana have been by six times this morning looking for Anwyn," Captain Vevina murmured, her voice quiet enough that it wouldn't carry over the sound of the crew working on the sails. "There were accusations and threats made."

"Mm-hmm." Raelin sighed. "I know. Delbhana Siobhan was at the formal entrance demanding Anwyn be arrested. But she left on the tide, shipped out on the Azure Shell. I'm going to be doing hearings on the volcano and why we smacked into it when no one else did."

"Because our ships are faster and more capable of cutting close to shore," Captain Vevina said only to laugh when Raelin rolled her eyes. "I suppose that will not suit them."

"Nah," Raelin said. "Know where Captain Finnin Nia ended up?"

"I believe that she is in the Clan House," Captain Vevina said. Her lips twitched into a flash of a smile before her normal stern mask of an expression returned. "Last I heard, she was cursing about her broken leg."

"Can't blame her for that," Raelin said.

Captain Vevina's eyes flicked to Raelin's face and then away again. Rather than stay and chat while the sails came down, Raelin left the Tourmaline Seas, sauntering down the dock and back into the Clan House to see if Mother was done with her meeting. She was. Finally. But she definitely didn't look like she wanted to take Erlina back so Raelin kept on holding her little sister.

"All right," Mother said, rubbing her face as she slouched back in her chair in front of Great-Uncle Jarmon's messy desk. "Gwen came by. You actually meant formal hearings. You're going to testify at formal hearings for the Delbhana."

"Better than them arresting someone," Raelin said with a grimace instead of a shrug. Still hurt to pull her cheek that way but not as bad as moving her poor shoulder. "Or Gwen punching Siobhan again. They looked like they were a half second away from beating each other bloody and you know that never goes well."

Great-Uncle Jarmon sighed and sagged just like Mother, both of them looking far too exhausted. Though yes, they had reason. New babies, threats from the Delbhana, two ships coming in at once and a trade delegation running around somewhere. At least Raelin thought the Affrica Clan had sent people in. They were supposed to show up around this time of the summer last Raelin heard.

All that on top of the normal daily business of running the Dana Clan's many businesses. No wonder they both looked like they could use a nap.

"So yes, I more or less volunteered to take care of any Delbhana problems while I'm in port," Raelin said. She grinned at Mother's suspicious stare. "You have a new baby, Mother. No one expects you to go. Honestly, you should be in bed resting. I can smell blood."

"She's right," Great-Uncle Jarmon said far too mildly for even Mother to ignore the reproach.

His gentle scoldings were always worse than the harsh ones. It was that so worried about you expression coupled with the disappointed downturn of his lips. Add in drooping shoulders and a soulful look and Mother growled at them both.

"Fine," Mother snarled at them both. "I'll go back upstairs. And rest."

"I can carry Erlina around until she needs to eat," Raelin told Mother when she reached out for Erlina. "Seriously. You need to rest and anyone can carry her while she sleeps. If worst comes to worse, I can even find a bottle for her to eat from. Might need some help screwing the top on. One arm that's aching doesn't do very well for complicated tasks. But there's uncles a-plenty and even cousins to do it."

Mother smiled, really smiled. She looked so very tired as she hauled herself back to her feet. There really was a scent of blood in the air, not much but enough for Raelin to know that Mother needed to go change, lie down, sleep for a while. Really. Getting up and working when she'd given birth just yesterday was ridiculous, even for her.

"Thanks, Rae," Mother said. "You take it easy, too. I can tell you're hurting."

"Eh, strolling around asking questions while carrying a baby isn't that much work," Raelin said. She wrinkled her nose in a grin at Mother's rolled eyes. "Though I will take the sling. Make it a lot easier to do things like take notes on the answers."

Which prompted Great-Uncle Jarmon to come help transfer Mother's sling over to Raelin. That necessitated lengthening the straps just a little bit. Erlina fussed at being transferred into the sling but only for a moment.

"Likes you," Mother murmured. "I'm off. Don't hurt yourself, Rae."

"You either, Mother," Raelin replied.

She shook her head once Mother was gone, settling into the chair Mother had vacated. Great-Uncle Jarmon sat as well, starting to sort the masses of paperwork on his desk. It looked to Raelin as though he wasn't seeing what he sorted but even so she could tell that he was doing it perfectly. Forty years of practice was apparently good for something.

"So what is happening with the Delbhana?" Raelin asked. She kept patting Erlina until her little sister calmed down and started snoring again.

"You've got the route charted already," Great-Uncle Jarmon said. His eyes wrinkled dramatically when she glared at him. Anyone who said that he had no sense of humor was a liar. It was just a very sly sense of humor.

"Tell me." Raelin huffed at his nonchalant little shrug. "I'm going to be hit by all the plots at once as soon as these hearings get started."

"True enough," Great-Uncle Jarmon agreed. "Well, you know about the volcano one. That's… pointless as far as I can see. There's more to it, probably another effort to get the Ladies outlawed entirely."

As if any human or government could do anything to the Ladies. Raelin had never figured out the point of the Delbhana's efforts to outlaw all mentions and depictions of the Ladies. It likely annoyed the Ladies who could make water as hard as stone and make a hurricane go away at will. It offended the priestesses and the church's followers. And it only made the general populace angry.

"Good luck to them on that," Raelin said.

Great-Uncle Jarmon nodded. He finished his stacks and then tugged his plaid Dana blue vest down over his kilt. In the light from the lantern on his desk, the pale blue stripes looked white and the dark blue nearly black.

"In addition to that," Great-Uncle Jarmon said with a tired little sigh, "the plot against you is still limping along. Delbhana Fallon's hip is not healing well. At least that was the last claim I heard. She wants to press charges against you for that."

"I didn't break her hip," Raelin said, anger bubbling up. "I was bleeding to death on the floor when the Minooan Traveling Judge broke her hip. And I was bleeding because of Fallon. She brought that on her own head."

"Agreed," Great-Uncle Jarmon said. He raised a hand and Raelin subsided, not willing to yell at him or to wake Erlina up. "Even the Delbhana are unwilling to side with her. They will seek to twist any testimony you give, Raelin."

Raelin shrugged. "That's normal. I plan on taking statements from the crew. Probably starting with Captain Nia. She's here, right?"

"Cranky about her broken leg but yes, she is," Great-Uncle Jarmon said. He extracted a file from his stack on the desk, passing it to Raelin. "This is what information we have so far. It's a good place to start. Do keep me updated."

"I will," Raelin said. "Saw Mistress Chie yesterday. She said that, well."

Raelin paused, blushing a little. Then a lot as Great-Uncle Jarmon raised an eyebrow. The whole visit to Mistress Chie's drydock had been nothing more than Mistress Chie trying to warn Raelin that the Delbhana were plotting against the Dana again.

But she'd said something else, something that had stuck in Raelin's mind over the night. All morning, too.

"She said that I take after Great-Grandfather," Raelin said, quiet and embarrassed. "That I'm hard as ironwood and twice as unyielding, just like him. That like him, I can tailor myself to fit whatever situation I find myself in."

Great-Uncle Jarmon's eyebrows went up and up until his forehead was a morass of startled wrinkles and his eyes were wide as saucers. After a moment, he laughed, low and deep as he leaned on his desk, hands loosely clasped in front of him.

"You are, Rae," Great-Uncle Jarmon said. "You're quite a lot like him for all that you look nothing alike. There's only a couple members of the family that take after Father. You're one. Only one in your generation, frankly. I'm hopeful there will be more. We need your level head and strong sense of right and wrong around here. Too many hot-heads."

Raelin nodded, her ears burning along with her cheeks. "I guess. I just end the fights, Great-Uncle Jarmon. That's all."

"That's what we need, Raelin," he replied, smiling like an improbable male saint of the Tripartite Goddesses. "Let me know what plots you uncover. Ask any questions you have along the way. And do tell your mother if you figure out why Erlina calms down for you, please. She spent all her time complaining about it this morning and not working."

Raelin grinned, just barely keeping from barking a belly laugh that would certainly wake Erlina up. "Yes, sir! I still think it's that she's born for the sea, just like me."

"That you are, Rae," Great-Uncle Jarmon said, waving for her to leave.

He turned back to his files, dismissing Raelin from his mind. She stood, careful both of her arm and waking Erlina. A slow stroll didn't wake Erlina so Raelin smiled and kept to that pace.

So. Plots and problems and everyone was stretched thin. Raelin wasn't sure what to think about everyone seeing her as just like Great-Grandfather. Everyone remembered Great-Grandmother Anwyn. Practically no one thought about Great-Grandfather.

Or at least no one mentioned him very much. Raelin knew that he'd been a sailor on Great-Grandmother's ship, that he was from Ntombi's western shore. So he'd been relatively pale skinned though not compared to Aingeal natives. That was about all she knew. Except his name: Tau.

There were no pictures of him, few descriptions, and his children rarely spoke of him except to say how good he was at redirecting Great-Grandmother Anwyn's wilder ideas. Even the grandchildren, Raelin's mother's generation, rarely talked about him.

How odd to be his apparent heir.

But it made a certain sort of sense. The whole Clan wouldn't have been created if it hadn't been for him. He'd been the one who convinced Great-Grandmother Anwyn to stop pirating. He'd been the one to convince her to buy the warehouse and start shipping things. He'd taught Great-Uncle Jarmon and all his siblings, ruled the house with an iron hand until his death.

"Wonder what he was really like," Raelin murmured to Erlina who shuffled but didn't wake. "Not that it matters. I've got things to do and a cute baby to carry. That's enough for now."

Because Raelin knew that more would be coming very soon. That was just the way things worked with the Delbhana.



3. Rising Tide


Captain Nia was near six feet tall with deep black hair trimmed short. There was just enough length to cover her scalp in fuzz and not a bit more. From the way she dragged her hands over it while glaring at Raelin, she'd have been happier if it were all shaved off. Despite the irritation, Captain Nia was a handsome woman. Well, other than the heavy cast wrapped around her left leg from fragile looking toes on up to her knee.

She looked profoundly out of place in a skirt, right leg bare from the knee down but for a thick sock that looked distinctly like something Raelin's twin brother Aravel knitted. No idea how she would have gotten some of Aravel's socks, but Raelin already knew just how impossible it was to get pants over a cast like that. Annie's broken leg a few years back had taught everyone that. Strong jaw, broad shoulders and hips, trim waist. She'd apparently never had children.

Given how wary she was of little Erlina in the sling over Raelin's chest, it was probably a good thing. Raelin wouldn't even think about leaving a baby in Captain Nia's hands, not for one second.

Thankfully, she didn't need to.

"I don't understand why you're asking questions, too," Captain Nia said, voice sharp and angry despite keeping her tone low out of respect for Erlina. "I answered all the questions already."

"I know," Raelin said, smiling blandly at her. "But I'm the one who has to report to the Delbhana. They're going to hold hearings. So, you can tell me what I want to know or I can call you to testify with me. If you want?"

Captain Nia went bone-pale, as pale as if Raelin had just smacked her broken leg hard as she possibly could. Frankly, it was just about that painful of a hit but Raelin wasn't about to put up with snippy behavior from an employee of the Clan. Bad enough that the Drifting Cloud had a hole in her. Having her crew insubordinate, from the captain on down, would be worse still.

And Raelin had no doubts that the whole crew was a bit out of line. Maybe a lot out of line. She'd read over Gwen's report of the investigation that had found the volcano. Gwen being Gwen, there were some very pointed comments about how hard it'd been to get anyone on the crew to actually talk to her and the Dock Investigator. One quick question to one of the dock workers who'd been on duty yesterday had revealed that Gwen had nearly put the Second Mate's head through a crate when she wouldn't talk to Gwen.

Discipline issues for sure. Lovely thing to have to report back to the Delbhana. But not all that surprising in the middle of a crisis. Nor was Raelin surprised that Captain Nia was cranky. Her leg was broken, after all.

"What did you want to know?" Captain Nia asked, one lip curled in a snarl that reminded Raelin of a mouse snarling at the cat about to eat it. Too much fear in her eyes for a truly fearsome snarl.

"What path did you take into port?" Raelin asked. "Wasn't reported. Was it close? One or two degrees off the point of cliffs or further out?"

"Ah, close," Captain Nia said, blinking at Raelin in surprise. "I always cut it close. The Drifting Cloud has a shallow keel. She's a bit of a wallowing pig, honestly, but she does well enough for short journeys. Not like your ship."

"Yeah, well, they can't all be the Tourmaline," Raelin said with a proud little grin that made Captain Nia snort a laugh. "I wouldn't call the Cloud a pig though. Definitely designed for shallower seas and shorter hauls. She is getting repaired, just so you know. Checked in with Mistress Chie and they'll have to replace most of the starboard bow, tear out all the insulation and put in Dana fiber instead. Wasn't there to start with, more's the pity. I really do think she'll be better off once Mistress Chie's done. Though still shallow beamed."

The sheer relief in Captain Nia's eyes matched the way her shoulders sagged as she drooped back into her armchair. Yeah, Raelin understood that one. She'd probably been afraid that her ship was dead, sunk, never to sail the seas again. Even if she wasn't as dedicated to sailing as Raelin, well, it hurt to have your ship damaged.

"Good to know," Captain Nia said. She looked towards the ceiling, hands charting her path against an imaginary map in her lap. "We came a bit wide as we followed the coast. Lots of birds about. Too many fish. Noticed that but didn't think anything of it, really. I thought there must have been something recently killed under the surface. A big seal or whale or something. A meal for the fish to eat."

"Valid idea," Raelin agreed, nodding to encourage her to continue. Captain Nia didn't seem to notice.

"It was about fourth hour of the afternoon," Captain Nia continued. She tapped her thigh and then winced as it jarred her broken leg. "Not yet dusk but the sun was approaching the hills. You know how the hills make the sea go dark as you approach the bay?"

Raelin nodded. Northern Aingeal was steep, hills climbing towards the sky. Pretty much all you could grow along the coast was pine trees and scrawny ironwood that wasn't good for anything but fireplaces or smoking meat. Most of the rock was volcanic. The whole area was full of black rock and sand. When she went to sea the first time, Raelin had thought that the hills rose as straight up into the air as the pine trees did.

So yes, as evening approached darkness fell first right along the beaches. The mountains would shield the sun, leaving great shadowed patches of sea close to the cliffs and brilliantly shimmering waves beyond.

"Took to the shadows because it was easier to see?" Raelin asked.

"That I did," Captain Nia said. Her smile was both appreciative that someone understood and wry for the result it'd given her. "Mistake there, I think. I had no idea what happened, you know. We were sailing free and clear, no problems. There was fog coming off the sea but none of us thought a thing for it. Figured it was a warm day, night falling. Not a problem."

"And then a volcano reached up and smacked a hole in the hull," Raelin said. She grinned as Captain Nia started to laugh only to clap a hand over her mouth at Erlina's cranky whine. "Which of my relatives was representative on board?"

"Bridget," Captain Nia said and then grinned because there were too many Bridget's in the family and all Raelin could do was shake her head in confusion. "Your Great-Aunt Gail's daughter. Married to that boy who came in, Donny. No children."

"Oh, okay, now I know who it is," Raelin said. "She get in many fights on the trip?"

"About six too many," Captain Nia grumbled. She shook her head. "Would have preferred your Aunt Colleen."

"Everyone wants Aunt Colleen," Raelin said, barely keeping from laughing. "We want Aunt Colleen. Best damn person for Minoo paperwork there is."

They both sighed over that. It really was a problem, the paperwork. But few of Raelin's relatives bothered to do it perfectly day by day the way she'd learned to, the way Aunt Colleen did, so they always had trouble with Minoo, then with Great-Uncle Jarmon and the Delbhana when they got home.

But if it was Aunt Bridget on the Drifting Cloud then Raelin knew pretty much without doubt how they'd made it back home to the port. Not that she could tell the Delbhana that when the hearings came around. Telling the truth would get them all killed.

People talked openly about the Dana luck: unbelievably good or incredibly bad, no in-between. No one talked about the fact that the Dana got more than luck when Great-Grandmother Anwyn walked out to the City of the Ladies and made some sort of deal. She'd gotten so much, none of which was talked about outside of the direct family. They rarely even said a word to people who'd married in.

Talking to the Ladies, hearing them and getting their help: that was known and the Delbhana hated it. But only Great-Grandmother Anwyn and Annie could do that. Raelin had gotten the opportunity to get that ability back in Atalya, back before Delbhana Fallon tore her face and shoulder up with a coral wall, but she'd turned it down flat. The price was too high for Raelin.

And for the family.

But they all had some other gifts, ones that didn't get mentioned. An affinity for the sea that went beyond what the most seasoned sailors had. Her first voyage out, before she'd even learned how to properly haul line or work the sails, Raelin had been able to read the waves and… well, feel the currents under the surface. She'd had a sense of the water against the hull of the ship, an awareness of the air, how wet or dry or hot or electric it was.

Every single one of her relatives had that, too. They didn't say it, not openly, but they all felt it. Even Caddie with his hatred of going anywhere but to his favorite tailor's shop. The damage to the Tourmaline Seas had shown Raelin another way that the Dana had been gifted.

That sense of the water against the hull could, and did in a crisis, enable a Dana woman to pray with all her heart for the ship not to sink. And then the water stayed out, at least mostly. You limped into port, the ship wallowed and sank at the dock and there you go. Holes in hulls didn't sink Dana ships, at least not as long as a Dana was on board praying to the Tripartite Goddess, the Ladies and everything else that it wouldn't.

"What was in the forward hold?" Raelin asked, patting Erlina's bottom because she'd started to fuss.

"We had heavy seas predicted," Captain Nia said, her smile going so wry that Raelin started grinning without even knowing what Captain Nia was about to say, "so we put all the heavy goods in the front. Ore and wood and as much well-packed pottery as we could fit. Weigh the front down and sometimes she takes heavy waves better. Put the lighter goods to the middle and then the rest in the rear. Worked fairly well. We didn't hit as heavy of seas as we feared but we fared pretty well with those we did hit."

"Good planning," Raelin said. "Had them all pressed up against the bulkhead?"

Captain Nia blinked, nodded slowly. "Very much so. The whole ship cracked and shuddered as we unloaded. I could have sworn that the goods were actually keeping the damaged portion in place."

That sent Raelin's eyebrows straight up. An interesting idea and a theory that the Delbhana might, might, actually buy. Raelin was going to have to sell it hard, talk to Mistress Chie to get her opinion of if that was even possible, but if there had been iron bars set against the forward bulkhead, right where the break was, it could actually make sense.

"Pottery," Raelin said slowly, lifting Erlina and shifting her to her shoulder because yeah, time to start moving again. The fussing was getting worse. "What was it wrapped in?"

"Dana fiber, rough, mixed with cotton and sawdust," Captain Nia said. "Fiber around the outside to hold it all in, then cotton, then sawdust. The crates poured water as we lifted them from the hold."

Raelin nodded, stood and then grinned as Erlina huffed and snuffled and baby-smacked her fist into Raelin's neck. "Time for me to get my little sister taken care of. Did you or the First Mate or hey, even Aunt Bridget, map out where everything was in the holds?"

"I believe the Mate did," Captain Nia said. She leaded further and further back into her chair, an expression of dread on her face. "You can check with her."

"Thank you," Raelin replied, grinning despite everything. "Keep the leg up, stay off it. Trust me. You'll heal faster. Don't act like Annie. She prolonged her healing by weeks by not staying in bed and resting when she should have."

"I've little enough to do," Captain Nia said, wry and horrified by Erlina's whimpers and grateful to see Raelin walking towards the door. "I think I can manage that. Good luck with… all of that."

Raelin laughed once she was in the hallway. Felt like a messy diaper so she'd head off to do that. Then find the First Mate, get her hold map, and then go see Mistress Chie for her professional opinion.

Weaving a tale for the Delbhana wasn't going to be easy but if the forward hold really had been filed with heavy things it might let Raelin craft a tale that left out Dana gifts entirely. Wouldn't be good at all for the Clan if she had to acknowledge them. Especially with future Queen Siobhan leading the charge to get the Dana broken up, arrested and killed.



4. Shifting Shoals


Raelin gingerly worked her shoulder as she hunted down the First Mate of the Drifting Cloud. Her magic touch with Erlina seemed to have worn off about the time Raelin changed Erlina's diaper. She tried everything that'd worked before and nope, Erlina wouldn't stop wailing. Wouldn't even stop long enough to take a bottle. So Raelin had brought her back to Mother and Father who had both sighed.

Then she'd escaped back out into the warehouse. Whatever Erlina became when she grew up, she was going to have amazingly strong lungs. Raelin's ears were still ringing.

Or maybe that was the hammering going on in the warehouse.

She followed the sound and then snorted at finding First Mate Carmody Eadan glowering ferociously as she hammered nails into crates. The whole place rang with the sound of her angry hammer. At least she was accurate with the strikes. No breaking boards or denting the crate.

"Need to steal you for a bit," Raelin called as Eadan stopped hammering for just long enough to grab more nails.

"I'm busy," Eadan snarled.

"You're also looking to lose your job with an attitude like that," Raelin said and didn't flinch at the startled looks she got from the warehouse workers around her. Even Gavin, off counting crates in the corner, gave her a startled look. "First you avoid answering Gwen, push her off on the Second, and now me? Not a good thing and just what we can't accept with the Delbhana looking at hearings on the volcano. Which, I might add, you piloted the Drifting Cloud straight into."

"How was I supposed to know it was there?" Eadan shouted. Ah, temper like a Dana. Lovely. "That path's always been safe. We're such a swallow beam that we shouldn't have run into anything even skirting a few yards from the shore."

Raelin nodded. "Still not happy with the attitude. Pull it back or I will see that you're out on your ear."

She stared up into Eadan's furious brown eyes, staying as calm and still as she could. No rising up on the toes the way some of the warehouse workers were and definitely no fists like Gavin. Who really should know better. Punching was not one of his skills, even after Mari gave him lessons so he wouldn't break his wrist on someone's face again.

Eadan was a tall woman, five eight or nine, with a riot of sun-streaked brown curls that she'd pulled back into a messy bun on the back of her head. Rail thin, flat chested, the sort of rawness that said she worked too hard and ate too little. Relevant? Maybe. Raelin wasn't sure. But she was going to make Eadan sit down and eat with her if the woman would ever calm down.

Took a solid two minutes before Eadan finally hissed between her teeth and turned away. She passed, not tossed, the hammer to one of the warehouse workers, a short woman who had all the curves that Eadan was missing. Did drop the nails back into their bucket but that was all right. At least she didn't miss the target.

"Fine, ma'am," Eadan said, jaw working. Still angry but hopefully she'd have it under control. "What did you need?"

"You do a map of how the holds were loaded?" Raelin asked with a gesture for Eadan to follow her. "I'm going to have to testify for the Delbhana and I'm working on a theory of how you made it to port. Looking right now like you loaded things just the right way to keep the damage from springing loose into the hold."

Eadan frowned down at Raelin. "I have a map, yes. It's rough. Just a sketch. But it told us where everything was. Your Aunt Bridget said it was required for the records so I gave her the clean copy for the official files."

"Ah, good," Raelin said. "At least Aunt Bridget got that right. How many fights she get into on the trip?"

That got Eadan to roll her eyes and groan. Also relaxed those tense shoulders a good bit so that was an improvement. Eadan had her sketch in her borrowed employee bunk, messy as could be, not that Raelin cared. She trailed along behind Raelin as she went to one of the kitchens and pulled out food.

"I'm hungry," Raelin said. "You?"

"I could eat," Eadan replied. A moment later, Eadan snorted and pushed Raelin towards the bench along the big trestle table. "Sit down. You're obviously still hurting. What happened to you?"

"Eh, thrown into a coral wall in Azar," Raelin said, grateful for the chance to sit again if not sure that Eadan had the cooking skills. But then sandwiches from cold pre-sliced meat and bits of lettuce weren't hard. Even Raelin could do that. "Delbhana Fallon wanted me dead. Came close to succeeding. The face is mostly healed. So is my hip. It's the shoulder giving me fits but that had a second injury when I took piece of flying debris during a freak hurricane in the sea of Azar."

"Never been that far," Eadan said, far more respectfully now that she realized Raelin wasn't… what? A brawler? A land-lubber? Raelin wasn't sure. "I've only ever sailed on the Drifting Cloud."

Another one who was worried about losing her ship. Not good. Raelin would have to remind Gavin that he needed to tell the crew that they weren't fired. That the ship would be fixed. Or, maybe she'd remind him after checking in again with Mistress Chie. Who knew? She might have found more damage.

Not that Raelin could imagine Mother scrapping a ship that was a solid work-horse for the fleet.

"Far trips are exciting," Raelin said, "but you're away a lot. I like to mix them up, close and far, but it all depends on where the family needs the Tourmaline Seas to go next."

Eadan sat with two sandwiches, both thick with meat, slathered with nice spicy mustard. Light on the lettuce but Raelin could live without lots of greens. She suspected that if it'd been up to Eadan there wouldn't have been any green at all from the way Eadan glowered at the bit of lettuce poking out of her sandwich.

"So explain this map to me," Raelin said as she started eating. "It's pretty sketchy even for a sketch."

Caught Eadan with a mouth of meat but Eadan swallowed down a laugh, shrugging as she chewed and swallowed. "Told you it was rough. We had iron bars, ore that'd been smelted but not properly forged, which I hope got dried off promptly so they won't rust, crates of pottery and some fine wood slabs from Idoya wedged between them. Had the front as tight as we could get it, starboard to port. The port master in Nasrin warned us that we should expect heavy seas and, sorry, the Drifting Cloud wallows like a pig in heavy seas. She's so broad that the waves nearly capsize us. Load the front and we can hit the waves hard, push through them instead of getting battered around."

"Logical," Raelin said with a nod. She ate another bite, frowning at the sketch. "How sturdy were the crates of pottery?"

"Damn solid," Eadan replied with an amused snort. "They weighed almost as much as the iron. Not your usual crates with gaps between the boards. They double-layered the boards, two rounds, with no spaces vertically. Packed it with Dana fiber between and then inside as well. Fine porcelain from Chinwendu's heart."

"Ah," Raelin said, nodding. "Got it. Those things are indestructible. And heavy. No wonder you pushed them to the bow."

That approval finally got Eadan to calm down. Her shoulders relaxed at last, and she started eating a lot more seriously. No more little bites, careful chewing so she didn't look greedy. She took big bites, chewed hard and fast, like a sailor in a rush to get back up topside before the next wave hit. Raelin would have done the same if her face didn't hurt when she did that. Instead she waved for Eadan to make herself a second sandwich. The woman could clearly do with more food in her belly.

"Thanks," Eadan said. Her second sandwich had no lettuce at all, much to Raelin's amusement. "It's good meat. And bread."

"Agreed," Raelin said. "And if my face didn't hurt when I chew I'd get a second one, too. Only just got the point where I could chew on the scarred side."

Eadan shook her head at that, scarfing down the second sandwich and then looking like she could eat a third. Which Raelin waved for her to go ahead and do while making a mental note that she needed to check on the food consumption on the Drifting Cloud. It could just be that Eadan had a bottomless pit for a stomach but the woman was so thin that Raelin doubted it.

"You sure?" Eadan asked.

"Yeah," Raelin said. She sighed and gingerly rubbed her shoulder. "I'm just not hungry like I should be. Tired all the time and sore today."

"It shows," Eadan replied.

Damn it. Maybe Raelin should take some of the poppy milk but then she wouldn't get anything done. They chatted about the seas between Nasrin and Aingeal City, which stretches of coast Eadan liked best (which were the same ones Raelin had always loved), and Eadan finally slowed down on her third sandwich.

"Nice to get so much," Eadan murmured, low enough that it was nearly a whisper. She glanced over her shoulder, eyes dark and troubled. "Wasn't sure it would be okay."

"Why?" Raelin asked and then stuffed the last bite of her sandwich into her mouth so she wouldn't ask any leading questions. No 'the cook starving you?' or 'the captain mean?' or anything. Better to get Eadan's real answer than what she decided Raelin wanted to hear.

"The Delbhana," Eadan whispered. She ducked her head and then leaned close as Raelin swallowed her last bite of sandwich. "They're aiming to destroy the Dana, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Raelin said with a little wave at her face. "Trust me, I know."

"No, no, not that," Eadan whispered. She caught Raelin's wrist, holding it tight in a grip that Raelin would have a hard time fighting free of even if she weren't injured. Eadan was seriously strong.

"Then what?" Keeping her wrist still wasn't easy but Raelin did her best. No reason to scare Eadan away after coaxing her into talking at last.

"I head it on the docks in Nasrin," Eadan whispered. She looked over her shoulder again. "Everyone kept telling me I needed to jump ship. The Delbhana are looking to divest the Dana of their ships. Some new law that one Clan can't have so many ships, take so many resources. They've got something planned, some way to pin the Dana with crimes against nature, whatever that means. Then they'll take the Dana ships, distribute them amongst their allies, strip the clan of everything."

Raelin's breath caught. Now that was a plausible plot. One that might actually work. Except for all the ways that it wouldn't. She nodded slowly, thoughtfully, out of respect for the fear in Eadan's eyes.

"They try it and we'll just pick up everything and abandon Aingeal," Raelin said. She grinned at the way that Eadan jerked back. "Not even kidding. Great-Grandmother Anwyn was Aingealese, yeah, but Great-Grandfather wasn't. He was Ntombian. We got contacts in every country there is. We'd just move and take our wealth with us. And our crews. Which includes you, Eadan, and the Drifting Cloud's crew."

Eadan's mouth opened but no noise came out. She let go of Raelin's wrist, shuddered and looked over her shoulder again. When she met Raelin's eyes again she looked a lot calmer. More reasonable. Most of the anger was gone. Must have been driven by the fear.

Which would explain a lot of the insubordination that the crew had displayed since coming back to Aingeal City.

If you thought your entire life was about to be destroyed, home, job, marriages, everything, sure, you'd be cranky and difficult to deal with too. Raelin stood, gathered up their plates and then laughed when Eadan insisted on washing them for her.

"Let's go talk to Gavin," Raelin suggested. "He needs to take a few minutes to talk to your crew anyway. I know they've got plans for you while you're stuck in port. They have plans for me and I'm injured. Might as well get all that straight so that you can tell the crew. And Captain Nia who looked like she was about to claw the paint off the walls when I talked to her."

That got a booming belly laugh. Finally. Eadan straightened up and nodded, relief shining in her eyes. Couldn't be tears. Women like Eadan didn't cry. Even when they wanted to. Raelin laughed, quieter because it shook her shoulder and that just wasn't good. Maybe she should have worn her sling today. Might have helped.

"Let's," Eadan said. "And then you can go lie down. Seriously, you look like you're about to fall down."

"I'm fine," Raelin protested, well aware that the words came out as whiny as Cadfael when he was tired and sick and hungry. "I don't need a nap."

"Uh-huh," Eadan said, shaking her head as she pushed Raelin out of the kitchen with her sketchy map firmly clutched in her hand. "And the sea doesn't rise with the tides."

Raelin let that go. No reason to fight that battle when she had to admit, privately, that Eadan was right. Besides, there were more important things to consider like plots to steal all the Dana ships and to break up the Clan.

Yeah, she'd been right to chase this trail. Raelin didn't know yet how the Delbhana would do it or who they'd focus on, other than Anwyn of course, but she could see this being a real threat against the Clan.

Best to get more information before she took a break.

That apparently she needed far more than she was willing to admit.

Damn it.



5. Hidden Reefs


The storage rooms in the warehouse were dim, quiet. Raelin had always loved them. Where else in the world could you find goods from all over the world? Cinnamon from Idoya, fine porcelain and spider silks from Chinwendu, luxurious wool carpets from Azar and a thousand other items.

She shut her eyes and breathed deep. Dust and pepper mingled with paper in this nook of the storage rooms. Been a while since she'd been back here. Raelin had forgotten that they'd packed tiny firkin barrels of peppers in on the shelves between boxes of paperwork kept as a record of past deals.

Gavin muttered as he rooted through one box on the bottom shelf. Nothing that made sense, letters and numbers and general sounds of annoyance. Must be a box that someone else had packed for Great-Uncle Jarmon before Gavin had taken over as his heir. Gavin's boxes of files were always perfectly organized. Other people's, not so much.

"You're sure you need this?" Gavin asked.


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