Running Before the Storm
By Meyari McFarland
Matriarchies of Muirin Stories:
City of the Ladies
of the Dana
Solace of Her Clan
can find these and many other books at www.MDR_Publishing.com.
©2017 by Mary Raichle
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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
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.
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
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.
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.
So would she.
At least Annie was safely
away from the city. Off on the Azure
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
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
"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."
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.
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.
murmured. He kissed her forehead and pushed her towards the table.
"Eat. Get your shoes on. Your mother's down with Uncle Jarmon.
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
"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?"
"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
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.
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…
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
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
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
Probably tired out.
"Your newest sister?"
Captain Vevina asked once Raelin made her way up onto the poop deck.
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."
sighed. "I know. Delbhana Siobhan was at the formal entrance
demanding Anwyn be arrested. But she left on the tide, shipped out on
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."
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
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.
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
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."
Great-Uncle Jarmon said far too mildly for even Mother to ignore the
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
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.
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.
Mother murmured. "I'm off. Don't hurt yourself, Rae."
"You either, Mother,"
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."
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
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
"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."
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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?"
Captain Nia said, blinking at Raelin in surprise. "I always cut
it close. The Drifting
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."
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?"
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
"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
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
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
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
"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."
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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.
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
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
"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
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
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."
said with a nod. She ate another bite, frowning at the sketch. "How
sturdy were the crates of pottery?"
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.
said. Her second sandwich had no lettuce at all, much to Raelin's
amusement. "It's good meat. And bread."
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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.