Inda by Sherwood Smith

  “Joret.” He croaked her name. At least he didn’t bleat.

  She looked up, lips parted. Those lips, how he longed to taste them, to press his own in those shadowy corners.

  “A kiss. War,” he managed.

  She kissed her own fingers, and then touched his hand, the briefest touch. “Give this,” she said, “to Tanrid.”

  He couldn’t flush any hotter, he was already as red as fire. Her touch flamed through him. “For me?”

  She looked up then, those blue, blue eyes, not angry, not passionate, just calm, as calm as when she stood down in the parade ground shooting fire arrows with the rest of the girls, straight to the center of the target. “I told you, Sierlaef-Dal, I don’t dally. It is not in my nature.”

  It was true. The others her age, even Hadand very recently, had all been to the pleasure houses. He had made sure he found out who and where, because he had the power to do so. Joret’s name was never among them.

  He took up the scroll, his arm brushing against her shoulder, and he leaned down and sniffed the scent of her hair. Desire made him tremble.

  They walked in silence, which was a relief in a way, because though he longed for her to talk to him, at least he didn’t have to talk back. When they reached the archive, she indicated the place where the scroll should go. When he turned around she was gone, leaving him reflecting on her beauty, her perfection, her qualities, one of which was loyalty. He just had to win that loyalty for himself.

  Chapter Six

  IN her aunt’s round house on the north shore of Parayid Harbor, Jeje sa Jeje rose to sunlight brightening the latticework of clay-colored tile roofs climbing eastward up the hill. Jeje didn’t need to stick her head out the window to know that the wind had shifted at last, and at most she and the crew of the Pim Ryala had a day to finish their liberty.

  Jeje clambered down the ladder from the loft, finding the family at breakfast. “Wind shifted,” she said as a greeting. The others made various gestures of assent. They knew it, and also what it meant.

  She picked up a hunk of rye bread from the table, dug her finger into the soft center and pressed some crumbly cheese into it, then sank her teeth into it as she ran outside.

  Everyone else was aware of the wind change. People seemed to be moving faster, with intent. She bent her head, toiling uphill to Hilltop Row where the rich lived. In the midst of them was the Golden Butterfly, the pleasure house owned by Tau’s mother.

  Already the world seemed a little brighter, the light and air cleaner and prettier. How did they do that? Jeje did not define “they,” just snuffled in the scent of fresh-baked butter rolls as she eased in the back way, where the deliveries were made. She never thought much about her appearance (in fact, it would be safe to say she never had thought about it at all) until the first day she arrived here to meet the others, and caught sight of herself in one of the many gold-framed, candle-lit mirrors, a small, black-browed barrel with short legs and arms, standing between the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen, more beautiful than stories and songs, and that beautiful woman’s beautiful son.

  Though the Butterfly, as the locals called her, had been kind and welcoming, Jeje felt too shy to go inside. She preferred to wait until the others emerged, so they could wander over the harbor, counting incoming ships, and listening to gossip about pirates and rumors of war in the north.

  Even here in back everything was charming, with ivy vines and flowering trees in pots around the edges of the warm brick court. Several workers stood near the door to the kitchen, laughing at something, mugs of sweet coffee in their hands.

  Jeje sidled toward the main door, listening for the voices of her shipmates. The rooms right off this door were where Inda and the rest stayed, she knew. Not upstairs, where the adults all paid to go.

  The first rat she found was pale, black-haired, flat-footed Yan, the displaced Chwahir. He perched on a branch of the flowering tree that blocked the unsightly view of the alley, eating fresh-baked spiced peach tarts. Jeje’s mouth watered, though she’d just finished the bread and cheese.

  Silently he held out his last tart, and she took it.

  “I’ll get some more. They’re packing up their dunnage,” Yan said in Dock Talk, his Chwahir accent flat. “First we’ll go see if Kodl or Fassun left any messages for us at the harbor master’s.” He jumped down and loped inside.

  Overhead, one of the casements opened, the little diamond-shaped panes of glass acting like prisms in the bright morning light, throwing sparkling reflections across the courtyard and up the climbing roses against the far wall, swifter than a flock of starlings.

  “But my dear,” said Saris Eland, gazing skyward. “My darling Taumad is a romantic.” Her voice was so sweet, so lovely, reminding Jeje of one of those silver flutes they had in the east. But her eyes, Jeje remembered those dark-fringed golden eyes that seemed to see all the way through your skull to the back of your head. “Or he’d not speak so cynically.”

  Another woman’s voice, fainter—from farther inside— said, “That is convoluted even for you, Saris.” Saris. So close to Sarias. Wasn’t that the word for queen in Sartoran?

  “Oh, no! Don’t you see, my love? A true cynic expects all that is base in human motivation. Thus the cynic stays calm and unperturbed. My dear boy has always sought heroes, even when he was quite, quite small.”

  Sarias, queen. Elend, grace. It was Tau who’d taught Jeje that, though until they arrived here she never knew why. Those were the original words behind the Iascan sarasa land, the golden butterfly sometimes called queenwings up north.

  “How very fragrant the morning is, is it not?” The pretty voice was right overhead. Jeje hunched up her shoulders, knowing she shouldn’t be listening, feeling embarrassed but fascinated. No one else heard; the workers were laughing over something in one of the carts, and across the little court someone else, humming softly, was cutting climbing rose blooms to take inside. “It was why he left, though he has had my training since he could walk and talk. Oh, my dear, my spirits would be quite low were I to reflect on how much we should have prospered had he stayed! Alas, it is not to be. He loves the sea. He will take all my expertise to his ships, and everywhere he goes he will meet with desire, and his face and his skills will grant him any bed he wishes.”

  The other voice came faintly over the sound of Inda and Tau and Dasta inside, approaching rapidly. “You speak, dear Saris, as if that were a tragedy.”

  “Ah, but it is, do you not see? For a romantic, it is a tragedy. A romantic strives to win what is worth winning. To surround a romantic with greed, passion, the very desire to possess him, is to close his heart and lock it against you.”

  “There’s Jeje,” Inda said cheerily, bounding through the door. “Come on, let’s go find out how much liberty is left.”

  Overhead the casement shut again.

  Yan, comfortably unaware, handed Jeje three fresh tarts, still warm. She looked down at them and realized that her stomach had closed.

  Faura snatched them from her hand. “If her majesty doesn’t like them, I am not so picky.” As usual she turned her long-lashed eyes upward to see if Tau was listening; then her hand pounced, mouselike, and caressed his arm. These furtive, possessive touches, every one of which Jeje noticed, never failed to make Tau go stiff.

  But he said nothing. He never said anything, as long as she didn’t grab him or punch him, like Norsh did, and Jeje thought, Can’t you see how much he hates being touched?

  “Let’s go.” Faura turned the caress into a coy poke.

  Inda peered into Jeje’s face, and though he didn’t say anything nosy—he never did—he looked so concerned she forced herself to smile.

  Past the ironwork gates, vine shapes with dancing butterflies along the top, and out into the alley they moved as a group.

  The upper casement opened again, and Saris Eland leaned there on her elbows, smiling at the fall of the lace of her bedgown away from her wrists, then lifting her gaze to catch a last sight of
those bobbing heads before they disappeared down the next turning.

  “I am a good woman,” she said, turning her eyes westward, toward where she could just see the ocean above the rooftops of the houses built along the street below hers. There it was, placid and blue with winking splashes of reflected sunlight.

  “A very good woman,” she repeated, whirling away to face the amusement of her chief confidante, the short, red-haired Rainbird, who specialized in first timers.

  Rainbird dropped into a chair, layers of lace mostly hiding her charmingly rounded form. “To not charge your own son for coming to me all these nights?”

  “To pretend I did not see it,” Saris Elend said. “My dear Tau is so very unaccountable! But then seventeen, no, eighteen, is so very unaccountable an age. I remember.” A brief, secret smile. Rainbird knew it was one of the rare references to the Butterfly’s unknown life under another name, somewhere else. Somewhere with money and influence—her education had been too good for her to be the child of stonecutters or shepherds—but no one knew who, or where. The Butterfly could talk for days, but never say a thing about her true beginnings; she made up stories that changed, as did her taste in clothing. “I trust Taumad has not importuned you with his moods.”

  Rainbird poured out fresh steeped leaf, brought in straight from Sartor just the week before. Spring scents filled the slowly stirring air, banishing the residue of perfume and heat and physical endeavor. “Not at all. Nothing private, no confidences, no passionate vows of love. Sex is a game for him, one he plays very well.”

  “Of course. I lectured him very carefully for years on what to expect, and what others would expect,” Saris Eland said, and at the friendly quirk of the eyebrow Rainbird gave her, she added less loftily, “It is a relief to discover that he does listen. As did that poor dear child in the courtyard just now, what is her name? Jolly? Jasa?”

  Rainbird shook her head and spread her hands. “I can’t tell those children one from another. They were here too seldom when I was awake. You don’t mean the pretty dark-haired one? She’s trouble brewing.”

  “Oh, Faura’s just spoiled, having always had her way. She’ll learn or she’ll refuse to learn. No, the one who wrings my heart is the little toad-shaped one with the bull-calf voice that will be rough and ravishing one day, though she doesn’t know it. Jeyna? Jeje! She already wants my dear boy, though she’s at least a year or two off from discovering why, or what she’d wish to do with him. Oh dear, I did try to warn her, but she probably will not remember my words past midday. I do not pretend to omniscience.”

  “Yes, you do,” Rainbird contradicted, pushing a fine blue-and-gold porcelain cup toward her.

  “True, but I don’t expect them to remember it. Ah, How difficult it is to be a mother. Taumad and I must have one last talk, I think, before he leaves. I must impress upon him that to wear the clothing of the young is absurd. It’s been at least a year since he could make that claim. Longer. One’s true defense when everyone wants one is to take them first. Go to sleep, my dear. You have earned it.”

  Rainbird saluted her with a wry gesture.

  Saris Eland studied her expression and laughed suddenly. “He’s that good? Or is it merely his lovely face?”

  Rainbird just shook her head, still smiling wryly.

  The next morning the Butterfly kissed Taumad and his companions, wishing them a pleasant journey and handing each an expensive basket packed with delicacies. Inda spoke polite words of thanks, though in his heart he faced the northeast, where Tenthen Castle lay, and bade them an inward farewell.

  He could not know that his father was scarcely half a day’s ride inland, overseeing a dispute about road repair; that his brother was not on his way to the academy at all, but riding northward at the head of a mighty force in company with the Sierlaef, his Sier-Danas, and the king’s brother, who was no longer a mere Sirandael but Harskialdna at last.

  He could not know that while he and Tau and Dasta and the rest shouldered their gear and started the long march down to the jolly boat, their baskets of good things bumping against their legs, at that same moment, Ranet, personal Runner to Ndara-Harandviar, was riding a tired horse into the courtyard of Tenthen Castle.

  Tdor was down in the courtyard, organizing the girls for bow drill. She saw the mud-spattered woman in blue ride in. By the time she’d turned the girls over to the arms mistress and run upstairs, the news had already been spoken.

  “Inda is alive,” the Iofre whispered, tears in her eyes.

  Tdor gasped. Joy was so sudden, so intense, it hurt.

  Fareas-Iofre, ever mindful of others, rose and with her own hands pulled Ranet to one of the great wingback chairs. “Sit. I will summon food, and you must rest.” She dashed her sleeve across her eyes.

  Ranet smiled tiredly; she had hurried the faster, knowing how welcome her news would be.

  Fareas said to Tdor, “Captain Sindan put him on a ship.”

  “A ship?” That was Chelis, standing with her back to the door so it could not be accidentally opened.

  Tdor rejoiced. Oh, Inda, you are still in the world.

  Fareas turned to Ranet. “It does seem strange that he is put to sea, yet no one knows. My husband was there, he agreed to his being taken away, yet he did not know to where.” And he cannot know now, she thought, and saw concurrence in the other’s countenance.

  Aloud, Ranet murmured, “No one did, only Captain Sindan.”

  Fareas understood. It was the only way the king could circumvent his brother’s seemingly unaccountable behavior, whatever the king thought of the Harskialdna’s reasons. He sent a boy into exile; he started a war.

  The Harskialdna saw my Inda’s potential for greatness, and was afraid, Fareas thought.

  Tdor stood silently, blind, deaf to the others in the room. Inda is still alive.

  The world was right again. And she needed it to be right, because in two weeks she would depart for Marth-Davan, for her last visit, and after that she would go to the royal city to begin her two years of training with the Queen’s Guard. For she was now fifteen.

  Chapter Seven

  SPRING warmed into summer as the Pim Ryala and its two consorts sailed down the strait toward the east. One day, when the winds were particularly timid, most of the merchant traffic (and there was plenty of it) lightened sail, to the relief of crews. Strings of signal flags were hauled up, various captains inviting other captains for ship visiting.

  High on the mainmast, Inda watched Niz the Delf sling his arm around a brace without pausing once in his speech about the intricacies of square sails.

  Niz liked this new mid, who seemed to want to learn his trade, instead of shirk duty like some young sparks he could name. “No. With them topgallants, you sheets home to weather-side first.”

  Inda, standing on a boom nearby, nodded respectfully. “That’s better than running the lee sheet almost all the way out before homing the weather sheet, and then the lee sheet?”

  “Three moves,” Niz said, raising three gnarled fingers as he bobbed his head, his high bridged, sharp nose poking forward just like a bird pecking seeds. “That’s three, and three takes longer than two. Sure as fire, boy, sure as fire. With them topgallants, which is tricksy sails, you know—”

  “Sail hai,” came the call from the mizzen lookout. “Brig. Comin’ up fast on the weather quarter.”

  Inda groaned, hoping it was no one the captain knew. But moments later, sure enough, “Pass the word for flags!”

  Inda heard the words relayed from aft forward by various voices, in a variety of accents. He sighed. Lesson obviously over. “Thanks, Niz.”

  He slid down the backstay. Tau handed him the glass.

  Tau studied Inda, who looked so ordinary—brown of skin, hair, and eyes, sturdy, his unruly hair escaping a sloppy sailor’s braid. “Why d’you set that old fart on about sails we’ll never fly?”

  “You don’t want to know how Venn ships rig?” Inda asked.

  Tau snorted. “No. I won’
t ever hire out on anything but merches, and comfortable merches at that. Nothing ever to do with those damn square-sailed Venn. The only thing I think about, and I admit it’s a comforting thought, is those Venn aloft, handling what looks like a hundred lines per sail, in winter ice.” He waved a hand at their familiar triangular sails, which only required four ropes: a halyard to raise it, a tack to control the weather corner, and a sheet on each side to set it right to the wind.

  Inda shook his head. He could still hear Gand’s voice from his days as an academy scrub. Master the details. If you know ’em well enough, you don’t have to think about ’em. And you won’t be riding blind into a bog.

  While he thought, Tau watched him, and sure enough, Inda got that sightless look again. Jeje called it listening to voices no one else heard, but then she’d been raised singing sea songs, and Tau was impatient with the hyperbole of poesy. He’d decided that Inda, though he wasn’t yet fourteen, looked back in memory. Bad memory, if his lowered gaze and thinned mouth were any sign—bad memory, yet he was no coward, no liar, no thief; he fought better than most grown men, and he could read not just Sartoran, but the ancient stuff.

  “You think I’m a fool.” Tau tried to tease out the truth.


  Tau loved poking at this mystery. “So I’m right.”

  “No.” Inda held one hand out. “If I have to spend the rest of my life on ships, it just makes sense to learn everything about them I can.”

  “Ah, so next cruise you plan to sign onto a Venn ship?”

  Inda looked away, then back at Tau, whose teasing was never cruel. “I just know that what you want and what you get can be two vastly different things,” Inda said.

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