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datatime: 2022-10-05 17:32:46 Author:uhwECzTw

As she stood, she saw it at last. It had been hanging on a hook behind the door all along. She took it down and slipped it into her belt beneath her cloak, then stepped into the doorway. When she was certain that no one was coming, she hooded her lamp and made her way back to her own cabin.

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 slipped from the bed. After dressing quickly. she edged out into the narrow passageway.

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?

A quick examination of Aspitis' room turned up nothing useful. The earl's sword lay across his bed like some heathen wedding token, a slim, beautifully wrought blade with a hilt in the shape of a spread-winged seahawk. It was the earl's favorite possession-except perhaps for her, Miriamele thought grimly-but it was not what she sought. She began to investigate a little more thoroughly, checking the folds of all his clothing, rummaging through the caskets in which he kept his jewelry and gaming-dice. Although she knew that time was growing ever shorter, she forced herself to refold each garment and lay it back where it had been. It would do her cause no good to alert Aspitis.

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.

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?

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.

The Niskie shook her head. By the Uncharted, then it is true Oh, girl, this is not what you want, is it?

Go away, she told the Niskie. She tried to push her head back under the blanket, but Gan Itai's strong hands clutched her and pulled her upright.

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

Miriamele slipped from the bed. After dressing quickly. she edged out into the narrow passageway.

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

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

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.

He left it here, she lied. Give it to me.

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

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.

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.

The Niskie turned to her, solemn-faced. He did not leave it here. He only wears this with his best clothes, and I saw how he was dressed when he came on deck in the night. In any case, he was wearing his other dagger on his belt.

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.

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

The Niskie shook her head. By the Uncharted, then it is true Oh, girl, this is not what you want, is it?

At last, as dawn was glimmering in the sky above-decks, she fell into a heavy, muddy sleep with the earl's dagger still clutched in her fist.

At last, as dawn was glimmering in the sky above-decks, she fell into a heavy, muddy sleep with the earl's dagger still clutched in her fist.

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