79 ~ Ghia

Ghia returned to the room she shared with Yarrow, absolutely ecstatic.

Her horse was gorgeous. A beautiful pinto mare, with a brilliant star on her head, even-tempered and already friends with Suki, to judge from the way the two girls had carried on. She hoped Amora would put in a good word for her with Suki, who was being quite possessive of Jules whenever Ghia was around. Ghia’s horse was a bit smaller than Suki, but then Jules’ mare was a war horse. She was supposed to be huge. Amora, however, was just the right size for Ghia, and she already had all the trappings a horse would need for a ride to Harbourtown.

She couldn’t believe Jules had done something so wonderful for her. Nevermind it was her birthday and they friends – a horse like Amora was an amazing gift, and something Ghia never would have expected in an age. She must have been expensive, too. Why would Jules spend so much on me?

After seeing her horse she’d come straight back to her room. Yarrow was scolding the boys, she guessed, for the bellica was not in the taproom or their room, and besides – she’d rather wait until tomorrow to talk to Jules again. She didn’t know what had possessed her to kiss him – but she’d enjoyed it far too much. Her stomach was still doing flip-flops and her lips were still tingling.

What would it feel like really to kiss him? Or, rather, to let him kiss her? She was sure he had much more experience in those matters than she did.

For some reason Ghia’d never had an interest in sex. In her late teens, when other girls her age had been having their experiences, either with lovers or at charnel houses, Ghia had preferred to work, or read, or sew. Sex had never really crossed her mind as something interesting or even worth the time to investigate.

Until Midwinter night, at the tavern, when she’d undressed Jules. She blushed anew at the thought.

Why should that have made a difference? She was a healer – she knew what a naked body looked like, male or female or in between. The sight of a naked person in the hospitalis, patient in the sick room or healer in the showers, was a common occurrence that had never turned on that particular switch in her.

Was it just because they weren’t in a work context? Or was it because it was Jules, whom she’d never seen naked before?

She shook her head. Either way it doesn’t matter, girl – you’re just friends and that’s the way it has to stay. No one can afford love nowadays.

Sighing, she sat down on her bed and pulled her bag over to her. She’d waited in anticipation long enough. It was time to open her aunt’s gift. She pulled out the small package and carefully removed the cloth and string that wrapped it, placing the fabric away in her bag as a scrap for sewing. It was a small jewelry box. Her heart beating faster in excitement, she pulled off the top.

There was a folded piece of paper inside, and under that a necklace, rather old. The pendant was small and tarnished, with a strange drawing on it, detailed and colourful, but quite simple. She picked it up and turned it over to see another drawing, similar in style but different in content. She frowned. Crests? Of what?

Figuring the paper might have a clue, she unfolded it carefully to find a lengthy letter in her aunt’s neat handwriting.

Dearest Ghia,

I would have told you this in person, but a dream told me you wouldn’t be here for your birthday, so I decided it would be best to give it to you in writing instead.

I’m not sure exactly where to begin, so I will just have out with it and hope it is not too abrupt for you. Your foster-mother and I were not entirely truthful with you when we said we didn’t know where you came from. This necklace was on you when you were left on our doorstep on New Year’s in 4001. It has two family crests on it – one, we do not know, but the one with the sun over the mountain and sword is the Lihin crest, sovereign rulers of Atton. We hope you can find out about the second one yourself.

Ghia felt the tears prick her eyes, and she almost put the letter down, too upset to continue. She forced herself to go on, knowing she needed to read the rest of the letter.

We would have told you, darling, but we were too scared to do so. We were afraid you’d leave us in search of your real parents, and we loved you too much to bear that thought. However, after careful discussion Helene and I decided it was time you knew the truth of your origins. You are of noble birth, Ghia – a scion of the Lihin line.

We hope you do not hate us for not telling you sooner, dearest girl. You asked us once, long ago, about your origins, and when we told you we didn’t know, you seemed fine with that and never asked for more. Your apparent disinterest made it easy for us to justify hiding the truth from you for so long.

We’re sorry, darling, and hope you can forgive us in time.

We hope your birthday is wonderful otherwise, and will see you upon your return.

All my love,

Aunt Kasandra.

Ghia closed her eyes and crushed the letter to her chest, feeling tears run down her cheeks.

Goddess. She never would have imagined such about her past. About her parents. And for her foster family not to tell her? How could they? Anger flooded her, but it was short lived. They’d thought they were doing the right thing. Hadn’t Ghia herself decided she had no wish to know of her past, for her family was fine the way it was?

Well, sort of. She was still waffling on that. It seemed the Goddesses wished her to know regardless of her own wishes.

Lihin. She was of the family of Lihin. She was royalty. But her parents had not wanted her.

Was she then the child of a scandal, abandoned to hush things up?

No, that didn’t fit. She’d been a year old when Helene and Kasandra had found her. She would have been given away much earlier than that if her birth were of doubtful origin. There was no doubt in her mind she was abandoned because of her powers.

Why had they not kept her and simply hidden her powers? A royal family would have had no problem finding training for her, rare as powers such as hers were. They only had to ask the Donacella-Voto family, after all – every royal family knew of that family’s vow.

I guess this means I’m Yarrow’s cousin, she thought suddenly. That would explain why our hair is so similar.

It had to be her father who was a Lihin, for Lady Lihin had had only two sons – twins, Marcus and Terence. In 3989 Marcus had been chosen by Zameera at her Birthright Ceremony, and became the royal twins’ acknowledged father. Personally, Ghia had doubts he was really Zardria’s father, for the two women were so unalike. More likely Zardria was the spawn of Lord Exsil Vis, the late Queen’s second Consort. It was more than possible for twins to have different fathers.

Marcus couldn’t be Ghia’s father. He’d died soon after being chosen as Consort, over ten years before Ghia’s birth. Terence had to be her sire. She did not know much about him, except he’d died just under two decades ago. Lady Lihin was now the last of the Lihin line, except Yarrow–and now her. Unless this necklace was a hoax, Ghia was Lady Lihin’s granddaughter.

Would the woman welcome her, she wondered, if she went to claim her birthright? Or would she be cast out, a peasant trying to rise above her station?

She supposed it depended on who her mother was, and whether the woman had been husband or mistress to Terence Lihin. She had no idea where to begin in the search for her mother’s identity.

Wait. No, there was something – Charity, that drunken lout Trevor had called her. Charity. Then his friend had said that Charity had left for Atton…over twenty years ago. And Ghia looked just like Charity. Except the hair.

Looked as if her mother had been a barwench from Mudflat and, obviously, mistress to Lihin, for royalty wed royalty and bedded whatever moved. How wonderfully scandalous!

She looked at the necklace she held in her fist. There was the Lihin crest, a yellow sun over a red mountain, with a sword lying horizontally underneath the likeness of Mt. Impri. She turned it over to examine the other crest.

Like the Lihin crest, it was incredibly detailed despite its small size. An island, with a blood red rose growing out of it, and a dagger of thorns pointing into the earth. It baffled her. She’d never seen anything like it in her studies and had no idea what it meant.

Was it some old royal line no one remembered? Was Charity of an ancient line of ladies or duchesses? Or was she just a wench giving herself airs?

Oh, it was useless! Ghia wanted to scream in frustration. She was just running circles in her mind and had no idea where to get the answers she needed. It was giving her a terrible headache.

Carefully, she folded the now crumpled letter back and placed it in her bag. The necklace she put on, hoping someone somewhere would have some answers for her.

The door opened then, and Ghia jumped in panic. When she saw Yarrow, she calmed down. Not by much.

She had the feeling – and by feeling she meant blaring mental noise – that Yarrow didn’t like her. Or hadn’t liked her and was only now starting to warm up to her.

She supposed she seemed weak to the bellica. In some ways, she was. Like this stupid crying thing I do all the damned time.

Yarrow sighed and unbuckled her belt, tossing her sword by her bed. She plopped down onto the mattress and began to remove both her boots. When her feet were free, she stretched them out languorously, sighing happily. It was only then she looked up at Ghia, and frowned.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, and Ghia realised her tears must be obvious.

Hastily Ghia wiped her face and shrugged. “Oh, it’s silly. My aunt’s gift was…very touching.”

Yarrow looked confused a moment, then her face cleared. “Oh, birthday. Happy one, by the way. Was her gift better than what Jules got you?” she asked, a wry smile on her face.

Ghia laughed. “No. That’s a tough act to follow. It was just…very enlightening.” She fell silent, unable to think of anything else to say about it.

Yarrow raised her eyebrows. “May I see it?”

Seeing no reason why not, Ghia lifted the necklace up for the bellica to see.

Yarrow got up from her bed and took the pendant in her hand carefully, inspecting it closely. She turned it over, looked at the other side, and gave it back to Ghia. “Nice piece of work,” she said nonchalantly, lying down on her bed, “but I fail to see why your aunt gave you a necklace with the Lihin crest on it.”

The statement was said neutrally enough, but Ghia could hear the tension in Yarrow. Swallowing the lump of nervousness in her throat, Ghia responded very quietly. “It was on me when they found me. They…they think it may be a clue to my family origin.”

Yarrow grunted as she adjusted position on her mattress and Ghia felt increasingly nervous. Yarrow was short-fused and moved more quickly than a cat, and here Ghia was, trapped in a room with her, suggesting she was royalty. Suggesting this to a princess of Athering – and furthermore, that she was royalty related to said princess. Was she crazy?

She jumped when Yarrow spoke. “About a tredicem and a half before I turned eleven, I was visiting my grandmother and uncle in Atton. Uncle Terence had been incredibly depressed since late Decima, when his husband and one-year-old daughter had disappeared, presumed dead in the treacherous mountain passes. Grandmama had thought the visit with me would cheer him up. Apparently I reminded him too much of his little one, whom he’d loved more than life itself. We found him on the last day of my visit, hanging from the chandelier.” She paused.

Ghia froze, unable to speak for the horror that gripped her.

“That was in 4001. I guess you would have been about a year old then, wouldn’t you?” Yarrow looked at Ghia intensely.

Ghia nodded stiffly, afraid of Yarrow’s reaction.

The bellica simply nodded briefly, as if Ghia had merely confirmed something she already knew. “I’d wondered, for a while. I knew Helene and Kasandra had adopted you. I guess this pendant just clinches it, doesn’t it? Cousin?”

Before she could stop herself, Ghia found herself choking out a question whose answer she dreaded. “Do you blame me for his death?”

Yarrow snorted. “Obviously, Ghia, you were the one who decided to leave, at the age of one year. It had nothing to do with your mother.” She shot Ghia a look that made the healer feel silly at having asked. “Though,” the bellica added, leaning back in her bed, “I would like to have a word with my aunt, if she still lives, to ask her what was so damned important it was worth destroying my paternal family over.”

Ghia cringed inwardly. She already knew what had been so important. Telling the bellica, however, required a level of trust that didn’t exist between them at this point. Instead, she shrugged. “I don’t know. Are you upset that we’re related?” Why am I being so childish tonight?

Yarrow rolled onto her stomach and shot a droll look at Ghia. “If I were, I wouldn’t have called you cousin, would I?” She punched her pillow and laid down on her bed, obviously ready to sleep.

“So…you don’t think I’m weak anymore?”

Yarrow grimaced. “Did Jules tell you? I’ll flay him.”

“What? No. I’m just good at reading people,” she lied easily. What had Yarrow said to Jules? Now she was curious.

“Hm. Well, I did think you were weak. But I’m a cynical old bellica who’s been in this job too damned long, and making snap judgments is part and parcel with my line of work.” She shrugged. “I forgot there were many forms of strength. You’ll make a good Lady Lihin, Ghia.”

Lady Lihin? “What?”

“You’re next in line for Atton, Ghia. You’re the only possible heir.”

“But you’re older than I.” Ghia was flabbergasted. She couldn’t be the heir to Atton. Not possible.

Yarrow groaned. “What do you know about Athering inheritance laws, Ghia?”

She shrugged. Her schooling had been in the history of magek, not the laws that governed her country, for they were fickle, depending on the whims of the current ruler. She’d never bothered to learn them. “Virtually nothing.”

“Mm. Ok, well, here’s how it goes: the heir to the throne of Athering is encouraged to choose from nobility or high-ranking military for her Consort. Aradia’s line likes to keep the blood as pure as possible. However, if she is to choose someone from another royal family, like, say, the Lihin line, she cannot choose the only heir. There must be more than one heir to the line of that township. In my mother’s case, there were no heirs, but there were two men who could produce heirs. However, when my mother chose Marcus Lihin, she negated the possibility of her children inheriting anything but her throne. Unlike commoner inheritance, as soon as a noble marries above her station, the children of that union inherit the higher-ranking station, and cannot be heirs to the lower-ranking. Make sense?” Yarrow looked at her expectantly.

“I think so,” she said, nodding.

“So that means that only Terence Lihin’s children are eligible to rule Atton. As you’re his only child and female, you are the only heir to the throne of Atton, Ghia. I remain, forever, the Queen’s best bellica.” She quirked her lips in a smile that said she had no problem with her role.

Well, maybe she had one problem with it. “Queen’s?” Ghia asked innocently.

A cloud covered Yarrow’s face, and Ghia could see the mental struggle the bellica went through. After a moment she spoke. “Yes. Queen’s.”

Ghia wasn’t sure what had made the bellica trust her with that, but she was grateful for it. It was a first step. She smiled at Yarrow. “Well. I’d rather remain the Queen’s best healer than be Lady Lihin of Atton,” she said in response.

Yarrow’s face cleared from the storm clouds that had covered it a moment before, and she almost smirked. Almost. “What, you don’t want to move to Atton? Jules is from there,” she added nonchalantly, and Ghia frowned at her.

“Why would that matter?”

Yarrow cleared her throat. “No reason,” she said, putting her head back on the pillow. “At any rate, I’ll send a letter to Grandmama upon our return to Atherton. She’ll be very happy to hear you’re alive.”

“Because I’m her heir?” Ghia asked, unable to keep the morose note out of her voice. She didn’t want to be loved for her position. Helene and Kasandra had never cared that she was just an orphan with no history.

“No. Because she’s missed you very much these nineteen years. You were the joy of her life, Ghia. She was beside herself when you and your mother disappeared from their lives.” A pause. “Though she will be happy to have an heir again. But mostly she just missed you. Ghia,” she added, turning to face the healer once again, “I do think we should keep this quiet, on the whole. It might be…dangerous for word to get out that Atton has an heir again.” Ghia nodded, knowing that Yarrow referred specifically to Zardria. Yarrow looked satisfied and put her head down again, facing away from Ghia. “Dim the lights, would you?” said her sleepy voice.

Ghia got up to extinguish the candles. It was late. They both needed to sleep.

When it was dark and Ghia was snuggled under the covers, she spoke tentatively. “Bellica?”

“Mmmm,” came Yarrow’s voice from her pillow.

“Tomorrow, we need to head to Harbourtown, Major Aro and I. Do we have your leave?”

There was a pause, and then Yarrow’s voice floated over to her again. “Aye. But Jules stays here.”

“I wouldn’t dream of moving him while he recovers. He’s still concussed.”

“Good. I need him here.”

Ghia did not want to ask why Yarrow would need her CMO around. She hoped that no one would be injured too terribly. Jules himself was not in perfect condition, and working too much would be bad for him.

Another silence passed. Then Ghia spoke again. “Yarrow?”

“What?” said the bellica testily.

“What’s our family like?”

“Aside from Grandmama? Dead. I’ll tell you more about her when we join you in Harbourtown. Now shut up and go to sleep.”

Ghia let a smile steal across her face at the bellica’s response. It was so typically Yarrow, she couldn’t help but grin.

At that she turned over and tried to get to sleep. “Good night, cousin.”

“Night, cuz,” came Yarrow’s muffled voice, and then there was no more noise but the heavy breathing of two very tired women.

 

Jourd’Juno, 2nd Primera

Aro and Ghia prepared to leave early the next morning, before sun up. The major had slept a few hours, Ghia noticed as she went to Jules to say goodbye.

“I thought I was coming along with you,” he said, voice petulant after two days without sleep.

“You’re in no condition to go and we have to leave now, Medic. You’ll join us in a few days, Yarrow said.”

He glared at her but it was weak, and his eyelids fluttered tiredly. “Can I sleep now at least?”

Ghia smiled at him, though he couldn’t see her. “Yes. Go to sleep, Jules. I’ll see you within a sevenday.” She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, but Jules was already gone.

Yarrow saw the healer and major off, walking her horse out to the edge of town.

“Ride well, Healer, Major,” she said by way of farewell. Aro, already ahead, waved and saluted his superior officer goodbye.

Ghia smiled at her and said “We will. And Yarrow?” Yarrow raised an eyebrow. “Try not to kill Jules or Caelum,” she said, too soft for Aro to hear.

Yarrow smirked. “I’ll do my best. We’ll see you in a few days or so, cuz.”

“Farewell, cousin.” Ghia waved her hand and then rode off after Aro, clucking softly to Amora. Her mare snorted and tossed her head, happy to be on the road.

Excitement gripped her. This adventure grew more interesting by the day. Now she had a wonderful equine friend to share it with. She couldn’t wait to see what awaited her on this road.

~

The road to Harbourtown was indescribably boring. Nothing but dirt road stretched interminably before them, through a brown landscape dotted with heather and gray rocky outcroppings. At least there were small hills to break the monotony and the sky was not all gray today. Had some blue not peeked through the cloud cover, Ghia would have gone quite mad.

“Does it get any better?” she asked Aro, barely daring to hope.

He shrugged. “Not really.”

She sighed. At least Harbourtown would be nice. At the very least, more interesting. It couldn’t be more boring than this road.

They rode along in silence for a while, the steady clop of their horses’ hooves the only noise in the bleak landscape. Ghia patted Amora affectionately, and the mare tossed her head in reply, as if to say “I like you, too.” The healer smiled to herself. She could not thank Jules enough for this gift. I’ll have to find something equally wonderful for his birthday.

The peace of the road did not last, however, for the noise of Aro’s thoughts broke through the silence in her head. She could sense his slight apprehension of being alone with her and her strange powers, of which he’d witnessed only a fraction. The questions he held about her, too, she could hear, and that was also near driving her mad. If only he’d ask a question! It would be less irritating than this silence.

She tried to wait patiently for him to gather his courage but patience was not Ghia’s strong suit unless she was working in the hospitalis. Unable to take it anymore, she spoke. “Yes, I can.”

Aro jumped in his saddle and stared at her. “You can what?” he asked nervously, though she knew he knew.

“Read your thoughts,” she answered, with a smile. “Don’t worry, Aro – I don’t pry. But whatever is on the surface of your mind can be hard to ignore, depending on how loudly you’re broadcasting.”

He returned her smile tentatively. “So I was ‘broadcasting’?”

She snorted. “Yeah. Loudly. You can ask me these things, Aro,” she added. “I can’t promise I’ll answer. But you can ask.”

“Fair enough,” he said, and shrugged. “So. How do you know Anala is in danger?”

“Start with the hard questions, huh? Well. I had a dream that told me she was. I can’t explain any more than that, because the dream itself actually doesn’t make much sense. But it did tell me what I needed to know,” she finished lamely.

“Oh.”

They lapsed into an awkward silence. Ghia had thought that reading minds would make social contact easier, but apparently it just muddled things more. Great. Because things are so easy for me socially already.

“You have nothing to fear from me, Aro,” she said finally, unable to take the silence anymore, and Aro started. “I consider you and Bellica Anala to be friends. I’m loyal to my friends.”

He relaxed visibly, and gave her a much more natural smile. “That does make me feel better,” he said, and this time the silence they lapsed into was more comfortable.

That night they camped at a rocky outcropping, and Aro taught Ghia the basics of taking care of her horse and the basics of campsite building. By the time they finished, she was exhausted, and fell asleep without bothering to eat supper.

The next day they awakened before dawn and left soon after a small breakfast of porridge with dried fruits and nuts. The ground became steadily rockier, eventually forming cliffs to one side of the road.

“I thought you said it didn’t get more interesting,” Ghia teased the major, but his smile was tight, and she wondered what was wrong.

Looking ahead, she saw a cliff rose on the other side of the road as well, and they had to travel between two high rock walls. Perfect place for an ambush, Aro’s thought drifted over to her, and Ghia tensed. She hadn’t brought bandits into consideration when she’d decided to leave on this crazy journey, and now she was regretting her hasty departure from Mudflat. If they’d waited until the First Regiment’s officers had been ready to go with them, then they might have a chance against a group of bandits.

Taking a breath, she expanded her senses forward through the ravine, seeing if there were other human minds ahead.

There were.

Feck. There was no way they could fight off a host of ruffians – unless Ghia used her powers. Maybe not even then.

What choice did she have?

Maybe she should consult with Aro first. He was the seasoned military officer, after all, and she the healer. Strategy was his game.

“Aro,” she said–rather, sent, her lips barely moving. He inclined his head to her a fraction of an inch, to indicate his attention. “There are bandits ahead. Do you have a plan?”

They’d reached the entrance to the ravine now, and the clop of their horses’ hooves bounced off the rock walls. It was eerily quiet. Ghia suppressed a shudder.

“How many?” he asked, voice quiet.

Quickly she counted the minds she sensed ahead. Damn. “Twenty, mayhap more.”

Aro grimaced, and Ghia could see his answer on his face. We’re fecked.

That answered that question. Should she strike now, or when she could see the enemy – and vice versa?

An arrow landed on the path before them, quivering in the air. Their horses stopped, and Amora nickered nervously. Ghia automatically soothed her.

A woman with dark hair, dressed in ragged leather breeches and jerkin, stepped out from behind the ravine wall, further on down the path. She wore a rag around her face, hiding the smile Ghia knew was there from the crinkle around her eyes. The woman raised her hand in greeting – or warning.

“Hail, Lady and Lord. I am the Great Sasha and I bid you welcome to my domain. However,” she added, a mean glint coming into her eyes, “there is a toll for those to cross my land without permission. Pay it and no harm will come to you.”

Aro regarded the woman steadily, and Ghia tried to copy his apparent ease. “This land belongs to the sovereign ruler of Athering – not bandit scum like yourself. We’ll pay no toll.”

There was a creaking, like the sound of branches in the wind, and Ghia’s eyes flickered up to see archers surrounding them, readying to let their arrows fly. She glanced back at the ‘Great Sasha’. The woman stood, elbows akimbo, and said confidently: “You’ll pay. Or you’ll die.”

Ghia laughed. She couldn’t help it. It was so ridiculous – here she was, a half-Magi, with near-limitless power at her fingertips, and a mere bandit was making her feel nervous. She would have kicked herself had it not been so hilarious.

Sasha glared at the healer. “Something funny, girl?” So much for ‘Lady’.

Ghia sobered and looked steadily at the bandit queen. “Yes. This whole operation is quite pathetic. Think you can best us? Get out of our way – we don’t wish to hurt you,” she added snidely, making her voice as haughty as possible. It wasn’t difficult.

Sasha glared harder at the healer, and signalled with her hand. As one the archers released their bowstrings, and the arrows flew through the air towards the two riders.

And stopped at Ghia’s outstretched hand.

Ghia cursed inwardly, trying to hold all the arrows in the air. It was not so easy as she had thought it would be, but she held on, determined not to show her struggle. She gave the astonished bandit queen a smirk, and then let the arrows drop to the ground.

“What devilry is this?” cried Sasha, real fear in her voice. Her eyes narrowed at Ghia. “Who are you?”

Ghia gave what she hoped was a merciless, feral look as she sought for an answer. She let a second pass before she replied, more confident than she felt: “Charity, the Demon Queen of Athering. Now let us through.”

She could feel Aro’s eyes on her, could sense his astonishment at what she’d done. She resisted telling him she’d not even started.

The Great Sasha, however, was not to be outdone so easily. With a shout and gesture she had a horse at her side and a bandit army behind her, and she was riding towards them with a vicious gleam in her eye. “Demons can be slain!” she shouted, brandishing a long, curved blade.

Ghia felt a start of fear, but did not let it show. Instead she grounded and centred, letting hot energy from the earth fill her being, as she waited for the moment to strike. “Ghia,” said Aro nervously, for the bandit army got closer and the archers refilled their bows. “Ghia,” he said again, and again Ghia ignored him.

Just…one…more…second….there! She was filled to capacity. She let herself out, out, out, and spoke to the air elementals, subjects of Aera, asking them to do her bidding. The tiny, almost-invisible beings gathered at her call, and came down and formed a solid wall between her and the bandits.

A second later Sasha and her army smashed into the invisible wall and fell backwards, horses twisting on the ground in failing attempts to get up. More arrows loosed but the elementals flew to stop them, and sent them back point first on the archers.

Some bandits tried to flee at this point, but the air that Ghia spoke to stopped them. They were held fast and gathered up, and Ghia lent her power to the elementals as they picked up the bandits and flew away with them.

She stayed with the creatures until the bandits were hanging over the ocean, many many miles away, and then bid the little ones let go of the bandits. She could hear a satisfying splash, and the surprise of the water elementals and other denizens of the ocean. She thanked Aera and her sprites and then she was back in her body, too suddenly for her taste.

Suffering from whiplash, she fell off her horse to the ground, where she retched for quite some time.

After a while the world stopped tilting and she was able to sit up. Aro was crouched by her, regarding her warily.

“Remind me never to get on your bad side,” he said, and she managed a small smile.

“Let’s just hope that was the only bandit group we’ll have to deal with,” she said, getting to her feet. “I don’t know if I can do that again.”

He only nodded, and they mounted their horses and were off again, inexorably on to Harbourtown.

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