“It was interesting. I think Balax and some of the others’ perception was that he ‘stepped up’ once we made landfall, that he only started thinking like a leader when we arrived on Scale. I don’t think that’s true. It wasn’t true to us. He was every bit the same captain he ever was, I think it just seemed more legitimate when he was leading armies rather than a smuggler crew.
“He always used to say he never wanted the throne because he wasn’t a leader. I don’t know how he could look at his life and come to think that. He was what bound our crew together. He was what bound that army and that offensive together – and I think deep down, he was what bound those adventurers together.”Waterlogged journal page recovered from a shipwreck near Mistport
Sulira stretched, opening her eyes and blinking slowly as the morning sun filtered through the carriage window onto her coppery face. Outside, she could hear the voices of her entourage murmuring, and the sound and aroma of gently frying kalakar meat wafted under the door to her. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, breathed deeply and sat up, then frowned. Something was wrong.
She cast around, trying to determine what was different. It was subtle, she thought. The drapes weren’t quite as they were last night, there was a smoky aroma in the room that had been absent when she fell asleep – and a sealed letter sat on the bureau. Half-formed memories of dreams came back; there had been…people? Two of them, here, right there to her left. A cousin. Her favourite cousin? No. What?
Sulira pinched her brow between two fingers, her thoughts cloudy and jumbled. She leant forward in bed, ruffling the sheets as she did so and stretching to grip the letter between two fingertips, then reclined backwards against the carriage wall. She turned the paper over in her hands, inspecting it – her stationery and bearing her seal. Holding it up in the window’s sunlight, she saw her particular shade of ink shine through. Had she..?
No. Not her handwriting. She rubbed at the corner of one eye, then broke the seal gently with a claw and unfolded it, beginning to read. No, it wasn’t her flowing script, this was more of a brutal scrawl – hard edges and plenty of blots and smudges where the ink hadn’t been left to dry. She found herself reading the same line again and again, it seeming to get lost somewhere between her eyes and her mind in her groggy state, then glanced down at the signature and felt her heart jolt. Now she was awake.
There was a knock at the door, and Sulira quickly stuffed the letter underneath the bedding without thinking. “Yes?” she called out, her voice squeaking a bit as she did so. She grimaced and clutched her throat.
“Breakfast, ma’am,” came the voice from the other side of the door.
“Very good,” said Sulira.
“I’ll bring it in, ma’am?”
“No! N—” Sulira’s eyes went wide, and she took a second to compose herself. “No, that’s alright, I’ll be out in a moment to eat with everyone.”
The voice was silent for a moment. “You’re sure, ma’am? I—”
“Yes! Yes, quite sure, thank you.”
“It’s a little bracing, ma’am. Bit of a chill in the air. You wouldn’t be more comfortable—”
“No! No, not at all. Some fresh air will do me good.”
“…Alright, ma’am. I’ll have it kept warm for you when you’re ready.”
“Excellent, thank you,” said Sulira, folding the letter and tucking it under her pillow. Outside she could hear the carriage creak as the guard moved to leave once more. “Ah!” she called out.
The creaking stopped and the guard spoke again. “Everything alright, ma’am?”
“Anything unusual last night?” she called, levering herself out of bed and looking around for clothing.
“…Not especially, ma’am, no. Some of the vak reported some wildlife sightings and the weather took a worse turn in the early hours, but that’s the extent of it, ma’am. Something amiss?”
Sulira turned her head and looked at the pillow. “No…no, nothing amiss. Thank you.”
“How long until we arrive in Karan Taul?”