Peregrine may not have been as large as the massive cargo carracks that formed the bulk of the Senshall fleet, but at over a hundred and fifty feet long, and thirty feet across at her widest point, she was still a big ship. And busy, too. Corec had to wait his turn to ascend the ramp from the pier to the main deck, while the sailors ahead of him rolled a heavy barrel up the incline.
When he made it to the deck, he greeted Boktar, who was crossing items off a checklist.
“There was nothing left to haul, so I took the mules back to the stable,” Corec said. “We’re paid up four months in advance, and Treya left extra coin with Renny Senshall to pay the stablemaster more if we’re gone longer.” The group had pooled their money together to stable their animals in Tyrsall, since that wasn’t included in the expenses Senshall was paying for.
The dwarf nodded. “Then I think we can cast off as soon as the crew is finished loading whatever it is they’re loading.”
A large swell passed below, a wave on its way to the shore. The ship rocked just slightly. Corec closed his eyes and grasped the railing, trying to keep his stomach steady. They hadn’t even set sail yet, and it was already starting. Normally he could ignore the smell of the ocean, but now that he was on board, all it did was make him think of how sick he was about to get.
“Are you all right?” Boktar asked.
“I don’t like boats.”
The other man laughed. “And you’re coming with us? We’re going to be at sea for almost a month.”
“I’ll probably spend the first week below decks trying to keep from getting sick. Is everyone on board?”
“Our people are. Captain Valen is keeping track of his crew and the Senshall folks, but I think most of them are here.”
“Who’s that?” Corec asked, eyeing a woman who was helping Marco tally up crates of food before the sailors hauled them below. “I thought the crew were all men.” The woman had the bronze skin and dark eyes of a Sanvarite. Her black hair was long, falling to the middle of her back, and she wore a modest white dress with a high neckline, and sleeves that covered her arms to the wrist.
“That’s Leena, our new cook. I hired her yesterday. To be honest, I doubt she’s done much campfire cooking, but I love Sanvari food. Plus, we didn’t have a lot of choice—nobody else wanted to sign on at cook’s wages for a trip across the sea without knowing when they’d return.”
“Can she cook at all?”
“She said all the right things, I just got the impression she hasn’t spent much time living rough. She seems a bit too…cultured. Oh, and she doesn’t speak Eastern. Just trade tongue, Western, and her own language.”
Corec nodded. They usually spoke trade tongue anyway, since Shavala’s Eastern wasn’t strong. He wasn’t sure if Sarette spoke Eastern either.
Another large swell passed by and he steadied himself again, his head feeling funny. Could he really handle a cross-ocean voyage?
Abruptly, he realized it wasn’t seasickness he was feeling—or at least that wasn’t the only thing he was feeling. There was a mage nearby. Casting his mind out, Corec’s eyes fell on the cook again. Any time he looked her way, he felt an oddly familiar sensation. He hurriedly clamped down on his magic, but it wasn’t necessary. His mind wasn’t forcing him to cast the warden binding spell the way it had with Razai. Instead, it was more like a gentle suggestion. Had he finally gotten control over the spell?
If Leena was a mage, why was she working as a cook? Was she spying for Varsin? Marco was along as Senshall’s official representative, but the trader may have sent someone less obvious too. Then again, Corec was a mage, and he’d been working as a caravan guard. Perhaps it wasn’t that strange after all. He’d keep an eye on her, but if she didn’t cause any problems, he’d leave her alone.
Something had been nagging at Corec’s mind ever since he’d met with Yelena a few days earlier. Wardens were supposed to be able to sense other mages. He’d felt something—that strange sense of familiarity—when he’d first encountered Razai and Sarette, and now Leena, but he’d never felt it with Yelena or her bondmates, or with Priest Telkin, or Vartus or Galina back in Snow Crown. And he’d never felt it randomly on the street, though he must have passed by other mages along the way.
After he’d bonded Sarette and Razai, the feeling had stopped, and he’d never noticed it at all from Katrin or the others, though he wouldn’t have been able to recognize it back in the early days. If it really was a warden’s ability to sense other mages, then why had it only worked three times?
The only possible answer was that he’d been wrong. The oddly familiar sensation wasn’t how wardens identified other mages after all.
But then, what was it? Could it have something to do with how he’d accidentally cast the binding spell five times? And had it truly been accidental? Katrin, Ellerie, and Yelena had all pointed that he was only bonding women. At this point, it had to be deliberate. The sensation he was feeling from Leena might provide him with a clue, if he could just figure out what it meant.
And how did wardens recognize other mages? Yelena had confirmed that they could, but she’d never actually mentioned how it worked.
Corec glanced back at the raised deck to the rear of the ship, where Katrin and Shavala were standing. They were mages, so why couldn’t he sense anything different about them? If he concentrated, the warden bond would tell him what direction they were in, but that was the only unusual feeling he could identify.
He stared at Katrin, focusing until he could almost feel his eyes crossing. Luckily, she was facing the other way, and wouldn’t see him making a fool of himself. Then he felt it—just a slight tingling sensation. He tried again with Shavala, and it happened faster this time. When he focused on Leena, it happened almost immediately.
It was getting easier. He had to concentrate on a specific person, but it only took a moment. All he’d had to do was try, rather than expecting it to happen on its own.
One mystery had been solved, though it still didn’t explain the other sensation he was feeling from Leena. If the ship hadn’t been preparing to leave, he’d have tried to talk to Yelena about it.
“Captain Valen,” Boktar said suddenly from behind him, “this is Corec Tarwen of Larso, the last member of our party. We’re all aboard and ready to go as soon as you are.”
Valen was short, hardly taller than Boktar, but he had the self-assured air of someone who knew what he was doing.
“Captain,” Corec said, greeting him with a nod. “Can you tell us when we’ll be leaving?” Asking the question made his stomach churn.
“We’ve got a good wind at the moment for getting out of the harbor,” Valen replied. “If it keeps up, we’ll set out when the purser returns from the company office, though I think we’re waiting for one more member of the Senshall group.”
“I’m sure she’ll be here on time,” Boktar said.
Corec furrowed his brow. “Who’s missing?”
“Renny Senshall’s representative. I never caught her name—oh.” The dwarf stopped talking and stared past him.
Corec turned to the loading ramp to see who Boktar was looking at.
Razai was waiting two berths away from the Peregrine when Corec strode past on his way to the ship. He didn’t notice her in the sailor disguise she was wearing.
She couldn’t help laughing. Her father had won after all.
Why hadn’t she gone somewhere farther away? Why had she stayed in a city Corec visited regularly? Sure, Vash was here, but he wasn’t that close of a friend. Instead of Tyrsall, she could have gone to… Her mind drew a blank. She knew people across the entire continent, but they were all like Vash. Acquaintances, or people she’d worked with once or twice. Hells, half of them were probably dead of old age by now. Humans aged quickly, and most demonborn did as well.
In the distance, Corec climbed the steep ramp leading to Peregrine’s deck.
She shook her head, still laughing at the futility of it all. All those times Renny had talked about her former roommate, but until she’d mentioned the name, Razai hadn’t made the connection. In the weeks she’d spent following the group, she’d never realized Treya was a Sister of the Three Orders. The girl certainly wasn’t a concubine, and that was the limit of what Razai knew about the Orders.
She could still run—simply tell Renny she wasn’t going to take the job after all—but she had never run from a threat before, so why continue trying to escape from inevitability? Vatarxis always got his way in the end. Besides, it was hard to turn down four or more months of good, steady pay, and if she knew where Corec was at all times, she could stop worrying about him turning up unexpectedly. It wasn’t him she had a problem with.
Razai composed herself and rubbed at her eyes. Her laughter must have crossed over into hysterics, judging by the strange look she was getting from a nearby fisherman, who was staring up at her from where he’d been scrubbing the deck of his boat. She winked at him and shed her illusion, taking on her own appearance. There wasn’t any point in hiding her identity. It wouldn’t take long for Corec to realize who she was.
The fisherman gaped and jerked erect at the sudden change. When she gave him a wide smile, showing her fangs, he stumbled backward and fell into the harbor with a splash.
Razai peered down into the water, checking to make sure he hadn’t hit his head when he went over the side. After reassuring herself he’d be able to climb back up on his own, she hefted her pack over her shoulder and headed down the pier, mentally preparing herself. She’d known this moment was coming for six days now—ever since Renny had told her the names of the group she’d be traveling with—but she’d put it off as long as possible, resisting the concubine’s suggestion of an earlier meeting.
At the top of the ramp, she found Corec talking to the stoneborn man, Boktar. The redhead and the wood elf were up on the quarterdeck, standing at the railing and looking down into the water of the harbor. The rest of the group must have been below decks. Boktar saw her first and stopped talking.
Corec turned her way, his eyes widening. “Razai! What are you doing here?”
“Renny Senshall sent me,” she said flatly. “That’s the only reason I came, so don’t go getting any ideas. I work for her, not for you.”
“You’re the woman she mentioned? I thought you didn’t want to be anywhere near me.”
Razai shrugged. “I gave her my word before I knew you’d be here, but the pay’s good.”
He stared at her suspiciously. “Are you really working for Senshall, or for someone else?”
“I’m no longer associated with my former employer,” she said. Her father may have tricked her into following Corec again, but if Vatarxis wanted any information out of her, she’d make him work for it. “I’m here to make sure Renny’s investment is used wisely.”
Corec had the gall to laugh at that. “Well, I guess I’m glad it’s someone we know. Welcome aboard.”
What did he mean by that? Did he think she’d go easy on him? She grunted in response. “Where’s my cabin?”
“Ahh, I haven’t actually seen mine yet either. Boktar, what do we have?”
“We’re taking up all six passenger cabins,” the stoneborn man said. “Two people per cabin. Razai, we’ve never really spoken before, but thank you for your help back in High Cove. If you’re the woman Mistress Senshall is sending along, you’ll be sharing with the cook we hired. We couldn’t put her in with the crew. The cabins are small and cramped, but at least we each have our own cots.”
“I thought Varsin said his brother used this ship himself?” Corec asked.
“I imagine he takes over the captain’s chamber and stateroom when he does, but this is still better than being in hammocks with the crew. These ships just aren’t built for comfort.”
“I suppose we don’t have a choice at this point,” Corec said. “Let’s go see what we’ve got.”
Razai followed the two men. Out of habit, she eyed them for weaknesses. She knew from experience that Corec carried his sword almost everywhere, but neither he nor Boktar were wearing their plate armor, and their mail didn’t protect the whole body. They didn’t have their helmets either, probably not expecting any threats within the city. She could kill them both easily enough if she took them by surprise.
That would still leave the women, though—all mages. Treya in particular was a problem. As a priestess, if she was strong enough, she could stop Razai where she stood. Treya would have to be first, but if Razai were to ever kill Treya, Renny would never forgive her, even if there was a good reason for it.
The others could be a problem too. Razai didn’t know much about what they were capable of. And the stormborn woman was new. She carried a staff-spear like Wotar’s, but if she was traveling with a warden, she was likely a mage as well. What could she do?
Razai pondered different scenarios as Boktar showed her and Corec around the ship.
Sarette carefully stepped onto the wooden beam, wrapping one arm around the mizzenmast for support as she let go of the rigging. A huge, square sail hung from the beam below, while a smaller one billowed out directly ahead of her, attached to another beam above. From her perch, she could see the ocean spreading out in all directions.
“I like it up here!” Shavala called out from the other side of the mast. “But none of the others will come with me.”
“I can see why!” Sarette was no stranger to heights, but the swaying caused by the wind was different than looking down from Runner’s Summit. It was more like how Vartus had described flying a storm, but Sarette had never been strong enough to try that. Yet, she amended in her mind. “Are you sure we’re allowed to be here?”
“I don’t think they’ll need to adjust the square sails again until the wind changes. I hope that’s soon—we’re going slower now than we were yesterday.” The elven woman sounded disappointed.
“Because the wind’s at the wrong angle?” Sarette asked. She didn’t know anything about sailing, but it seemed obvious.
“Yes. We shouldn’t have to wait for it, but I tried to change the direction of the wind once and almost passed out.”
“With wind, you always have to be careful. How did you do it?”
“I grabbed hold of the wind blowing in my hair and tried to push it away, but there was too much—it just kept coming, and I couldn’t hold on.”
“Wind is dangerous. Do you remember the lightning storm? It’s like that, but it has its own rules. When you move wind, what takes its place?”
“Nothing?” Shavala suggested. “It’s just air.”
“No, there can’t be nothing. The air behind it fills in the gap. And then the air farther behind fills in that gap.”
“It moves like water, then?”
“I don’t think it’s quite the same thing,” Sarette said. She’d never been able to master the weather during her training, but she’d spent four years learning how it worked. “Water is either there or not, but when you move wind, you create more wind. The air around you never ends, and each bit of it is connected to more. If you’re not careful, you’ll use up your strength and go into drain shock. Instead, push it just a little bit at a time, and then more will follow on its own. It won’t keep going for long, but it’s enough to save your strength. When it dies down, you can do it again and again.”
Shavala peered at her from around the mizzenmast and nodded. “So I push the wind toward the sails, then let go and wait?”
“It’s more complicated than that. If the wind isn’t already blowing in the direction you want, you have to counter its force first. If it blows diagonally from the right, then you match the angle and strength from the left.” Sarette let go of the mast to demonstrate, with her hands coming together in the shape of an arrowhead. “What’s left over is pushed forward. And then, if you want more strength, you can add a second air stream blowing straight ahead. But all of that only works if the angle is already close to what you want, like it is now. The rules change depending on the angle of the wind and what you’re trying to do. If the wind’s coming toward you, you have to push directly against it, and you may have to counter your own blowback too. You’ll be working against yourself, so you won’t be able to maintain it long enough to push the ship.”
Shavala tilted her head to the side. “I see why Meritia said to wait before trying to affect the weather. Can you teach me?”
“I’d like that,” Sarette said. She needed to practice it herself now that her magic was getting stronger. She understood the concepts but had never been able to apply them before. “To get started, use your weather sense—I mean, your elder senses—to measure how strong the wind is blowing…”
Treya knocked on the door to Corec’s cabin, then entered, finding him lying on his back on a cot, with his left arm draped over his eyes. There was a bucket near the cot, just in case.
“Katrin tells me you had a bad night,” she said.
“No worse than during the day,” he muttered, without looking her way. “I just had a hard time falling asleep.”
She sat on the cot and laid a glowing hand against his chest. While she couldn’t eliminate the seasickness entirely, either from him or from herself, she’d grown adept at lessening the symptoms.
“There,” she said. “That should help for a few hours.”
He drew in a deep breath, then sat up next to her, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “Thanks. How are you doing?”
“Not as bad as you. I really think you’d feel better if you’d come up on deck. The sailors say that looking at the ship makes it worse. You have to look away instead.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said. “Right now, I’m just hoping it wears off like it did last time. Five days, right? I just have to make it three more days. Unless it takes longer because we’re crossing the ocean this time rather than following the coast.”
Treya winced. She hadn’t even considered that. “I hope not.” The idea of being sick for four weeks wasn’t pleasant. “I’ll ask Captain Valen. He must have had seasick passengers before.”
“How’s everyone else?” Corec had started to sound more like his old self, but he kept his eyes closed and didn’t stand up from the bed.
“Bored, I think, but Katrin would know more than me. I’m not doing that much better than you.”
“Ahh, well, I wasn’t really in the mood to talk by the time she came to bed last night.”
“I know,” Treya said with a grin. “She wants to trade cabins with me. She says Shavala will be better company than you.”
“What?” he asked, opening one eye and peering at her.
“She’ll stay with Shavala for the next few nights and I’ll stay here. There are separate cots, so it’ll be fine. She’s worried you’ll need a healer in the middle of the night.”
He snorted. “Sure, I guess we can make each other miserable for a few days. But you have to bring your own bucket.”
Treya laughed, then had to force herself to stop before the laughter made her queasy. “Are you ready to eat? I don’t think I could stomach whatever it was the sailors had this morning, but Leena baked fresh bread and made a sausage gravy. I didn’t risk the gravy, but the bread was good.”
“I need a little more time before I try standing up. Did you know she’s a mage?”
“Leena—she’s a mage. I told Ellerie and Katrin about her, but I thought you’d want to know too. Don’t worry, I didn’t cast the binding spell.”
“Why is a mage working as a cook?” Treya asked. Leena hadn’t said much about herself in the two days since the ship had set sail. She’d mostly kept to herself, other than conversations with Boktar and Marco about their food supplies.
“I wondered that too, but then I realized she’s not much different than us. We’re mages and we’re here. Everyone needs to make a living.”
“That’s true, but does Boktar know?”
“Ellerie was going to tell him. I don’t know if they’re going to talk to her about it or not.”
From above them came the sound of the ship’s master shouting out commands to trim the sails. As always, the words sounded like gibberish, but the sailors never seemed to have a problem understanding them.
“Why are they changing the sails so often?” Corec asked.
“I haven’t been up much today, but yesterday, Captain Valen said the winds keep shifting. We haven’t lost any time because they’re stronger than normal for this time of year, but it means we have to keep making adjustments.”
“Have you given any more thought to Four Roads?” Treya asked, changing the subject. Of all the plans they’d discussed, that was the option she liked the best. She still had a few friends in Four Roads, and wouldn’t mind settling down there with Corec, Katrin, and Shavala. Perhaps Bobo and Sarette would stick around too.
Things had changed since Treya had first met Corec. She’d been angry about the binding spell in the beginning, but once they’d discovered what it was, and that it was likely the reason her healing magic had gotten stronger, she’d come to appreciate it. And she enjoyed traveling with the group. Perhaps Shana liked to work alone, but Treya’s traveling companions had become her friends, as close as anyone she’d ever known except perhaps for Renny.
“Four Roads isn’t very far from Larso,” Corec said. “We need to figure out what to do about Prince Rusol first. I still have no idea why he’s trying to kill me. Maybe Yelena will discover something while we’re gone, or maybe my father will have an idea. Oh, in the letter I sent him, I told him to send his reply to Sister Treya at the Three Orders chapter house in Tyrsall. You’re the only one I know who lives in the city. Well, other than Yelena and Varsin Senshall, but I didn’t think I could ask them to hold onto my mail for me.”
“That’s fine,” Treya said, then bit her lip. She took a deep breath before continuing. “I told Mother Ola everything. About wardens and the red-eyes, and about Rusol and how he’s trying to kill you.”
Corec turned to face her. “What did she say?”
“She’s worried. She doesn’t know you, but Rusol is heir to the throne of Larso. His mother is a Three Orders concubine.”
“So was mine.”
“I told her that, and I think it helped, but she asked me not to write to the Highfell chapter house. Rusol’s mother grew up there. If we ask the wrong questions, word might get back to her…or to him.”
Corec nodded. “My mother was from the Highfell chapter house too. I never thought about that—I wonder if they knew each other. But she died a long time ago. I suppose no one at the chapter house is likely to remember her.”
His eyes had grown distant while he talked. Treya laid her hand over his, and he gave her a small smile.
“Mother Ola wasn’t aware of any problems in Larso,” she said, “but she’s going to ask around discreetly to see if she can find out what’s going on. She’s also going to try to find Shana, who may have a better idea.”
“Shana’s your teacher, right?”
“Sometimes. She’s the reason I joined the Order of Mystics. I met her when I was young, back when she was hunting down a band of hillfolk bandits who’d been raiding the farms west of Four Roads.” Treya couldn’t quite bring herself to mention that it was those bandits who’d killed her own parents. If they’d even been her parents. Godborn or not, she couldn’t forgive Bishop Lastal for raising those doubts in her mind.
“Thank you for helping,” Corec said. “Maybe we’ll find someone who can tell us what’s going on.”
Treya nodded. “Come on,” she said, standing up. “You’d better get some food before the healing wears off.”