Exile of the Seas
danger and adventure put every traveler on guard . . . but some have
everything to lose.
graceful dance and comely submission. Until the man her parents
married her off to almost killed her with his brutality.
vicious homeland. The warrior woman aboard says Jenna’s skill in
dancing might translate into a more lethal ability. Danu’s fighter
priestesses will take her in, disguise her as one of their own—and
allow her to keep her silence.
hunts her down. Her best chance to stay hidden is to hire out as
bodyguard to a caravan traveling to a far-off land, home to beasts
and people so unfamiliar they seem like part of a fairy tale. But her
supposed prowess in combat is a fraud. And sooner or later, Jenna’s
flight will end in battle—or betrayal . . .
I crept up to the Valeria’s deck in the predawn dark to watch the sun rise. Though I felt safer, and smarter, keeping to the confines of my cabin, this one excursion had become a sort of habit. I clung to the small rituals, the basic routine I’d been able to establish. Otherwise, I was as unmoored and unanchored as the Valeria on her long ocean journey, sailing over unfathomable depths to unimaginable lands.
Perhaps this was the nature of exile: that all the thrust was in the escape, the moving away. After that, what did you have? If I am any example—and I’m the only example I had—then the answer was not much at all.
I did have my habits, though.
The Valeria was powerful in a way I wasn’t and would likely never be. Ideally suited to her environment, an extension of the waves and master of them, she possessed a singular direction and purpose. The very things I lacked. Thus, I’d become oddly grateful and attached to the ship, inanimate though she was. As long as I was aboard the Valeria, she provided purpose and direction for me. I clung to her the way an infant burrowed into her mother’s breast, murmuring fervent prayers of thankfulness that she hadn’t shrugged me off to drown in the cold, uncaring sea.
Mostly I kept to my cabin. The servant boys and girls brought my meals and fresh water, took away my waste, and otherwise left me alone. It had been easy to adjust to being waited on, as I had been my whole life, and I would’ve been at a loss to put together more than the most basic meal for myself. I wouldn’t let them come in otherwise, which was a new freedom and power I enjoyed flexing. No servants in the walls here, listening to my every movement. And I felt better with the door barred, even though it was only one thin, wooden thing against the world. A world of a sailing ship on a vast, unknowable ocean.
I slept a lot. Which was good because my body began to heal more. And I danced, to relieve the boredom and to encourage flexibility, so I’d heal strong. Dancing felt familiar, too. Something I could do alone in the dim cabin, one of the few things left that remind me of who I’d been.
No matter how much I slept, though, I always awoke early. Well before they brought my breakfast at the seventh bell. In the darkness of my cabin, I marked time by the watch’s bells, practicing the simple count from the longest toll at midnight to the dawn call. I woke. Listened for the six bells. Then unbarred my door, made sure the passage remained empty, and slipped out.
A sort of daily exercise in escape.
Moving silently down the passageway of closed doors, I allowed myself to exult in that ability, one I’d never expected to be what saved my life. All those years I practiced the traditional dances, particularly the ducerse, which required utmost skill to keep the many bells from making sound until the precisely timed moment. I’d thought I was preparing to dazzle my husband and make my emperor proud. Not teaching myself stealth.
But stealth had turned out to be far more useful. It let me keep to the shadows, unnoticed. In my brother Harlan’s too-big clothes, my hair shorn into a short fluff, I looked nothing like Her Imperial Highness Princess Jenna of Dasnaria. If anyone on this foreign ship had ever heard of that doomed girl. Nevertheless, I wrapped myself in the thick wool cloak, pulling the cowl deep around my face. It made me feel safer, for no good reason, and I needed it for the chill. After a lifetime in the cloistered warmth of the seraglio, it seemed I’d never be warm again.
On deck, the sky shone with incipient day. I hadn’t understood this before, that the sky lightens in color before the sun appears. The paintings never show it that way. They depict night or day, sometimes sunrise or sunset, but never those moments before or after. But predawn is different than night, and in its soft in-between-ness, I could see well enough.
Keeping to the edges like a cat might, I skirted the main paths the sailors traveled as they did their jobs. It meant I picked my way through the ropes, barrels, and other supplies lashed to the deck, but I viewed that as another way to improve my dexterity, especially in the clunky boots I couldn’t seem to get used to. In my cabin, I went barefoot, which felt natural and right, but going on deck, I put on shoes like I wore the cloak. The more covering, the better.
It had been nearly a week, but I harbored no illusions about my ignorance of the world outside. I had no idea how long I would have to run, or how far I’d have to travel to escape my pursuers. I’d been unforgivably stupid about this in the past, so it seemed the only wise choice would be to assume that no amount of time or distance would be enough.
At least that gave me a guideline. Never and nowhere might be places without finite boundaries, but I could understand them.
The goats mewed at me from their pen next to the chickens as I passed, making the sounds so oddly like the newborn kittens in the seraglio of the Imperial Palace, where I grew up. I stopped to scratch the little horns on their heads, their fur soft and scraggly against my fingers. We’d become friends on this journey. Goats and the Valeria—they kept me alive and kept my secrets.
to give pleasure, produce heirs, and question nothing. But a plot to
overthrow the emperor depends on the fate of his eldest daughter. And
the treachery at its heart will change more than one carefully
limited life . . .
sweet-scented, golden confines of the palace seraglio, she’s never
seen the sun, or a man, or even learned her numbers. But she’s been
schooled enough in the paths to a woman’s power. When her betrothal
is announced, she’s ready to begin the machinations that her mother
promises will take Jenna from ornament to queen.
prince to charm. He’s a monster in human form, and the horrors of
life under his thumb are clear within moments of her wedding vows. If
Jenna is to live, she must somehow break free—and for one born to a
soft prison, the way to cold, hard freedom will be a dangerous path
decades. She lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine Coon cats, a border
collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a Doctor of Oriental
Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at JeffeKennedy.com, or every
Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.
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