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Excerpt I - The Circle is Broken

These worries plagued me for the days afterward.

On a particularly warm morning, about a fortnight after our departure from Lopet, I decided to take a walk around our ship. When I finished one round, I did another and lost my ladies. I helped a sailor reset the mast. I sat in the crow’s nest and watched the tides for a few hours. When I reached the stern, I found a crate to sit on. Even encumbered with a dress, I managed an unladylike seat on the wooden chair.

Time passed. The sun began to sink. I heard some voices behind me and ignored it. My focus was on the next step, with or without the Jastese. I swore, if someone interrupted that process, I was going to rip my hair out and scream.

Char was the one who carefully approached. “I thought we were not keeping secrets from each other?”

I was startled. I put my hand to my heart. “Char, I am sorry.”

He was careful not to get too close. Ever since that last night in Lopet, Char had been wary. He answered not out of responsibility, but carefully. He did not finish my sentences anymore. He agreed with everything I said.

I found his spark dimmed and wondered how I could get that back too.

Char left his hands behind his back. “What is on your mind?”

“We will need more men to be ready to land,” I stated plainly. “We need the Jastese forces.”

“When is the last time you heard from someone?”

“That’s it, though. We have not received anything in days.”

Char swore under his breath.

“If we divert resources to the south, we might not have enough to bring to Klenard,” I complained. “If I do nothing and continue due east, I run blindly and hope someone will be behind us.”

“What other advantages do you have without the Jastese Army?”

“Maybe some men who will adjust to land better than the waters. A larger second wave than the first.”

“That might be our ticket. Ploum is our main target. If I run in first with a smaller force, it will surprise those left behind.”

“What are you talking about? The first impressions are the best. We must push Tommel too, remember?”

“I cannot forget your uncle’s treachery. I also am not stupid enough to fall for his tricks.”

“My uncle would have known better by now. He will expect this and take advantage.”

“God brought you this far, didn’t he?” Char neared. “Why would He give you so many trials if He knew you could not do it?”

I stood up. “It still leaves me with more questions than answers.” I sighed. “What do you feel? I hesitate waiting.”

“Send one small schooner out,” Char suggested. “Ten men will steer it. It will be fast. They can scout and return in less than a week.”

“We are halfway over,” I pointed out. “It leaves us less time.”

“Better to know and prepare than to be in the dark,” Char reminded me. “Shall I send them out?”

His fresh confidence meant that I did not waver. “With my blessing.”

It was a tease, if I ever saw one.

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