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datatime: 2022-09-26 21:50:28 Author:MKSOobSA

I don't care, she said, but the look on Gan Itai's face touched her: the sea-watcher could think of no other way to help. She reached out her hand for the mirror. The hilt of Aspitis' dagger, which had been covered in the folds of blanket, caught in her sleeve and clattered onto the floor. Both Miriamele and the old Niskie stared at it for a moment. Suddenly, chillingly, Miriamele saw her one door of escape closing. She leaped from the bed to grab it, but Gan Itai had bent first. The Niskie held it up to the light, a look of surprise in her gold-flecked eyes.

Miriamele covered her eyes with her hands, trying to keep out the light. Has the wind come up?

Time was running short. Miriamele sat on the floor, full of a dreadful, cold hatred. Perhaps it would be easiest just to slip up on deck and throw herself into the ocean. It was hours until dawn; no one would know where she had gone until it was too late to stop her. But she thought of the kilpa, patiently waiting, and could not imagine joining them in the black seas.

Because if we can't get there, he can't marry me, Miriamele whispered.

Miriamele was crawling under her blanket when she suddenly understood the significance of the white robe. In her oddly detached state, this realization was only one more tally added to the earl's overloaded account, but it helped to stiffen her resolve. She lay unmoving, breathing quietly, waiting for Aspitis' return, her mind set on her course so firmly that she would not allow any thoughts to distract her-not memories of her childhood and her friends, not regrets about the places she would never see. Her ears brought her every creak of the ship's timbers and every slap of the waves on the hull, but as the trudging hours passed, his booted footsteps never sounded in the passageway. Her door did not creak open. Aspitis did not come.

Miriamele opened her eyes. I would rather be dead.

Gan Itai gazed at the silver osprey carved so that it seemed to be alighting on the dagger's pommel. This is the earl's knife.

Gan Itai's voice was puzzled. No, we are still becalmed. Why do you ask such a strange question?

But if the life that stretched before her was so unbearable that death seemed preferable, then she need be afraid no longer. She could do anything.

Girl, wake up

The chest was, as she had seen, full of bags of money. The coins were mostly silver, but each sack contained more than a few gold Imperators as well. It was a small fortune, but Miriamele knew that Aspitis and his family were the possessors of a very large fortune beside which this was a mere handful. She carefully lifted out a few of the sacks, trying to keep them from jingling, noting with some interest that her hands, which should have been shaking, were as steady as stone. Hidden beneath the top row of sacks was a leather-bound ledger. It contained lists in Aspitis1 surprisingly fastidious handwriting of places the Eadne Cloud had stopped-Vinitta and Grenamman, as well as other names that Miriamele decided must have been ports visited on other voyages; beside each entry was a line of cryptic markings. Miriamele could make no sense of it, and after a moment's impatient study she put it aside. Beneath the ledger, rolled into a bundle, was a hooded robe of coarse white cloth-but this was not what she was looking for either. The trunk contained no further secrets, so she repacked it as well as she could, then pushed it back beneath the bed.

Give it to me, said Miriamele.

She felt the hands that shook her, and heard the quiet voice, but her mind did not want to return to the waking world.

Miriamele covered her eyes with her hands, trying to keep out the light. Has the wind come up?

But if the life that stretched before her was so unbearable that death seemed preferable, then she need be afraid no longer. She could do anything.

In the dark, Miriamele made a small noise. Slowly, as if approaching a dangerous animal, she considered this last idea for a moment-it was stunning in its power, even as an unvoiced thought. She had promised herself that she could outlast anything, that she could float with any tide and lie happily beneath the sun on whatever beach received her-but was it true? Could she even marry Aspitis, who had made her his whore, who had aided in murdering her uncle and was a willing catspaw of Pryrates? How could a girl-no, a woman now, she reflected ruefully-how could a woman with the blood of Prester John in her veins allow such a thing to happen to her?

Do you not wish to brush your hair straight? the Niskie asked. It looks rumpled and windblown, and that is not how you like it, I think.

Miriamele climbed the ladder as quietly as she could, lifting her head above the hatchway just far enough to make sure that Aspitis was still talking to the helmsman. They seemed to be having a very animated discussion, waving their lamps so that the flaming wicks left streaks across the black sky. Miriamele dropped down to the passageway as quickly as she could. A kind of cold cleverness had come over her along with her new resolution, and she moved quietly and surely along the corridor to Aspitis' doorway. When she had slipped through the door and closed it behind her, she took the hood off her lamp.

Gan Itai gazed at the silver osprey carved so that it seemed to be alighting on the dagger's pommel. This is the earl's knife.

Time was running short. Miriamele sat on the floor, full of a dreadful, cold hatred. Perhaps it would be easiest just to slip up on deck and throw herself into the ocean. It was hours until dawn; no one would know where she had gone until it was too late to stop her. But she thought of the kilpa, patiently waiting, and could not imagine joining them in the black seas.

In the dark, Miriamele made a small noise. Slowly, as if approaching a dangerous animal, she considered this last idea for a moment-it was stunning in its power, even as an unvoiced thought. She had promised herself that she could outlast anything, that she could float with any tide and lie happily beneath the sun on whatever beach received her-but was it true? Could she even marry Aspitis, who had made her his whore, who had aided in murdering her uncle and was a willing catspaw of Pryrates? How could a girl-no, a woman now, she reflected ruefully-how could a woman with the blood of Prester John in her veins allow such a thing to happen to her?

When she had finished, Miriamele stared around the cabin in frustration, unwilling to believe that she could simply fail. Abruptly, she remembered the chest into which she had seen Aspitis pushing bags of money. Where had that gone? She dropped down onto her knees and pushed aside the bed's hanging coverlet. The chest was there, draped by Aspitis' second-best cloak. Certain that any moment the Earl of Eadne and Drina would walk through the door, Miriamele forced herself under the bed and dragged it out into the light, wincing at the loud scraping as its metal corners cut into the plank floor.

Gan Itai made a little humming noise of dismay. She helped Miriamele to get her feet out of bed and onto the floor, then brought over the small mirror that Aspitis had given to Miriamele when he had still been pretending kindness.

Gan Itai gazed at the silver osprey carved so that it seemed to be alighting on the dagger's pommel. This is the earl's knife.

But if the life that stretched before her was so unbearable that death seemed preferable, then she need be afraid no longer. She could do anything.

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