Excerpt: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory + Giveaway

THE HOUSE OF THE FOUR WINDS, book 1 in the One Dozen Daughters series by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory is released by Tor Books on August 5th.





THE EARLY-MORNING sunlight shone through the French doors that led out to the balcony of Princess Clarice’s tower bedroom. From the balcony was the sweeping vista of the Borogny Mountains, spreading their pristine robes for admiration, their high peaks crowned in clouds and their slopes robed in snow year-round. They were the first thing Princess Clarice saw each morning as the sun rose over the Swanscrown.

I shall miss this. The thought came before Clarice quite realized she was awake.

There was no point now in trying to convince herself she was asleep. Throwing back the covers, she shrugged into her wrapper, tucked her feet into her slippers, and padded over to the French doors. Taking a deep anticipatory breath, she flung them open and stepped out onto the balcony. As always, the dawn chill made her catch her breath, but she had done this every morning for as long as she could remember. Today, she would do it for the last time. In the distance, she could hear the faint music of the bells at the university calling the students to their morning lectures. Any other day, Clarice would have watched the valley awaken until she was chilled clear through. But today was a day unlike any other in all her previous eighteen years, and she was in a hurry to meet it.

*   *   *

Breakfast was normally a noisy family affair, but today Clarice saw only three places set at the long oak table. Duke Rupert was seated in his usual place at the head of the table, but the Duchess was seated to his right, instead of at the far end, and a place was set for Clarice on his left.

“Come in, darling,” Yetive said encouragingly.

“Where is everyone?” Clarice asked curiously, coming in and taking her seat.

“The ballroom,” her father answered, taking a slice of toast from the toast rack and buttering it. “Today is your birthday, after all. Had you forgotten?”

“Of course not!” Family tradition was that the birthday child had breakfast alone with Mama and Papa. Even Dantan had had his special day, though then, on his first birthday, he had been much too young to appreciate it.

And Clarice would not be here for his next one.

“I was just so…” She stopped. She couldn’t say exactly how she felt about leaving Swansgaarde. Preoccupied, absolutely. Nervous? Perhaps. Curious? Daring?

“Excited?” Mama asked.

Clarice smiled gratefully. “Yes. That. I can’t wait to begin, but at the same time, it feels almost disloyal to be so happy.”

“I shall call for the royal executioner at once,” Papa said, helping himself to eggs and sausage from the silver chafing dishes on the table. The Duke had a particularly dry sense of humor and generally cloaked his stronger feelings in it.

“Don’t you remember, dear?” Mama replied with a little smile. “Your great-grandfather pensioned the last one off and we haven’t had one since.”

“Drat,” Papa said mildly. “What’s the use of being a duke if you can’t order anyone beheaded?”

“Oh,” Mama said with a saucy wink, “you may order it as much as you like.…”

Clarice laughed, as she was meant to, at her parents’ gentle teasing. Duke Rupert was the mildest of men, preferring a day of fishing on the banks of the Traza to a day of making ducal pronouncements. Clarice knew that other countries were ruled very differently—why, far-off Lochrin, which she had studied in her geography class, had a parliament and a prime minister and hundreds of people who did nothing all day but help Queen Gloriana rule her vast empire.

“So,” Papa said. Breakfast was finished and the footmen had come in to clear away the dishes. “Today, Daughter, is your eighteenth birthday. Have you decided where you will go and what you will do?” He steepled his fingers. “Given your chosen ‘trade,’ I would become a very exclusive instructor, if I were you. I think you would excel at it.”

Clarice refrained from making a face. Granted, she probably would make a good instructor—and eventually that might be what she would do. But not before she had a chance to see more of the world!

“I shall seek adventure, of course,” Clarice said with a laugh. “Think how disappointed Damaris would be if I said anything else! But the best adventures come when one is not looking for them, so I have it in mind to see something of the world. Besides, the best instructors all have continentwide reputations, and I’m not going to get enough pupils to earn my living without one. I believe even traveling all the way to Lochrin itself will be far less costly than staying quietly in Swansgaarde.” And perhaps adventure will find me. “It isn’t as if I can’t do without servants, after all.”

This, too, was true. From the time they were fourteen, the princesses were required to spend a month of each year waiting on their sisters, and at sixteen, to spend three months living in the Royal Hunting Lodge without a single servant. It was one thing to be able to shoot a goose—any noble worth his salt could do that. But could he gut and skin it, then cook and serve it?

Duke Rupert’s daughters could. And polish a pair of boots, make up a bed, or muck out a stable. It was excellent training, Duke Rupert always said, in case one had to go incognito among someone else’s servants—or flee into the wilderness.

Clarice was unsurprised to see her mother nod. “An excellent choice,” Yetive said.

“I thought that was what you would decide,” the Duke added approvingly—but then, the Duke so trusted his wife’s judgment that he was inclined to approve anything she endorsed. “I have made arrangements with my banker in Heimlichstadt for the necessary funds, so remember to see him before you go.” While each of them would be expected to earn her own living, each princess would leave Swansgaarde with everything she needed to take up her chosen trade, and enough money to support her for perhaps a year. While it might seem like a great deal of outlay—especially since the entire purpose of this plan was to not bankrupt Swansgaarde—even the whole cost of sending twelve princesses forth to seek their fortunes was less than the cost of twelve royal dowries and twelve royal weddings.

The Duke got to his feet; Clarice and the Duchess stood as well. “And I wish you luck, love, and adventure, my darling.” He hugged her tightly.

“Adventure most of all,” her mother said, putting her arms around Clarice in turn. “And so you don’t forget us on all your adventures…” The Duchess cocked an eyebrow at her husband.

The Duke reached into his pocket and drew out a small blue box. “What’s a birthday without presents?”

Clarice opened the box. Inside, on a bed of royal-blue velvet, lay a golden brooch, perhaps as long as her thumb. Upon it, in silver and blue enamel over gold, were the swans and towers of Swansgaarde. As a proper princess, Clarice had had lessons on heraldry, and she could blazon the device as easily as the chief herald: argent and azure, shield quartered per chevron; center base, a swan swimming, argent; to dexter chief, a tower, argent; to dexter sinister, a mountain peak, argent. The arms were bordered by a double ring of diamonds alternating with pearls, and the back of the brooch was as ornate as the front, its smooth gold etched with an intricate drawing of Castle Swansgaarde. Engraved beneath was the family motto: Je me promène là où je vais. The first Prince of Swansgaarde had come from Wauloisene, and Waulois was still the official court language. “I wander where I will.” Perhaps it is a good omen.

“Of course it is bespelled,” Mama said. “So long as you have it, you will always be able to find your way back to Swansgaarde.”

“I shall wear it always—and think of all of you,” Clarice said proudly.

*   *   *

The Temese docks were a noisy, bustling place, even at dawn. Dockers and wharf rats were everywhere, carrying loads almost larger than they were. The air was noisy with whistles and shouts, and ripe with smells—some exotic, some merely foul. At this hour, mist still skirled over the surface of the river, like steam in a cook pot, adding a dreamlike aspect that would disappear as soon as the sun rose higher.

Clarice had been surprised to discover the capital of the Lochrin-Albion Empire was not a coastal city, and that Lochrin was many miles inland. The fountainhead of its vast maritime empire was the river Temese, which flowed through the city itself—or perhaps it was more accurate to say that the sprawling city bordered the Temese. It was the largest city she had yet seen in the half year since she’d left home.

Clarice had been in Albion for a sennight. In that time she had entirely ignored the shops and playhouses, and even the parks and menageries. The docks held her interest, with their bustle of ships coming up the river or setting off down it. She always came to watch the docks at dawn because ships sailed on the ebbing—morning—tide, when the flow of the Temese ran unimpeded toward the sea. Now, one of the ships had cast off, drifting leisurely into midchannel with the aid of a oar-driven towboat. As Clarice watched, someone in the towboat tossed the towrope loose. As the sturdy craft backed nimbly out of the way, the trailing rope was drawn up to the deck of the ship and its sailors hoisted narrow, triangular sails, which quickly caught the morning wind. The ship began moving with slow grandeur down the river.

I want to go wherever she is going, Clarice decided firmly. Somewhere far from any of the lands I know.

Lochrin-Albion was a wealthy and far-flung empire. And the cornerstone of that power was thaumaturgy.

Magery was said to have come from Ammon, the son of King Solomon, who had first learned, and then taught, the ways of magic to his people. But when the Age of Exploration dawned, the Cisleithanian and Albionnaise and Wauloisene and Rossiyskayan ships had discovered vast kingdoms that had never heard of King Ammon—Khemetia and Khitai and the lands of Ifrane. From theurgy, magery had become thaumaturgy, a science just like geomancy or astromancy. It had taken centuries and been neither simple nor bloodless—as Clarice knew full well from her lessons in both history and thaumaturgy. But the realization that magic was but one of the natural sciences and not a mysterious indication of divine favor—as Dr. Albertus Karlavaegen was so fond of saying—had laid the foundation of the modern world in which she lived. Thaumaturgy guarded the great empires, armored their soldiers, empowered their physicians, and made travel across the great oceans a commonplace thing.

Thaumaturgical power was the product both of innate gift and long training. It was no more mysterious than skill with a blade, which was also the product of both gift and training, but its products were primarily the purview of the Crown (of whatever land) and the wealthy. Thaumaturgy could heal a wound, cure disease, suspend decay—so that bread or flowers would remain fresh and pristine for months or even decades—and do many other wonderful and miraculous things.

It didn’t take any particular magical ability to see magic, Clarice knew, because she certainly didn’t have any aptitude for spellcraft. It was more a case of learning to see. Dr. Karlavaegen had taught languages and magic to the royal family of Swansgaarde for the past three dukes, and he had told his young charges that most people saw what they expected to see. He intended, so he said, to teach them to see what was really there instead.

Now Clarice watched closely as a lady in satin and velvet stepped from her carriage to ascend the gangplank of one of the merchant ships. The lady’s trunks were being hoisted onto the deck in a net, and the lady was accompanied by a small parade of servants: maid, footman, bodyguard. The lady wore the highest of high fashion, with voluminous ground-sweeping skirts over an enormous hoop petticoat—but even through the dockside was far from clean, her skirts remained pristine. And no wonder: the yards of lilac silk had been bespelled—probably on the loom—to repel dirt and stains. It was easy to tell if you knew what you were looking for: the use of thaumaturgy gave its objects a kind of hyperreality, so that even at several yards’ distance, Clarice could make out every pleat and seam of the garment, and every separate hair of the fur-lined capelet the lady wore over it. Even the rings on her fingers were sharp and distinct, probably bespelled with a Finding Charm so that if they were misplaced—or stolen—they could easily be traced. Such wonders came at a high price, when they could be purchased at all on the open market. Clearly the lady in lilac was a wealthy woman indeed. Wealthy—or well connected.

The lady and her entourage vanished in the direction of the stern of the ship—only the best passenger accommodation would do, clearly—and Clarice’s attention was claimed by movement farther along the dock. Another ship was departing. She stepped forward, to the very edge of the quay, hoping to watch the departing vessel as it began its journey.

“Hi! You! Laddie!” An urgent shout caused Clarice to spring backward just in time to escape being flattened by a net full of crates being swung to shore. The man who had shouted at her glared. Then his eyes flicked to the sword belted at her hip and he contented himself with warning her to watch her head.

He would have been demanding to know where my brother or my husband was had I been wearing a dress,Clarice thought smugly to herself.

No one would have recognized the slender, blond-haired, young man standing on the docks as Princess Clarice of Swansgaarde. She had a man’s height, and all that had been needed to transform the princess into Mr. Clarence Swann was an artfully cut suit of clothes and a specially made corset that flattened her breasts. The current fashion was for a full-skirted coat that fell to midthigh, and the waistcoat beneath it—worn buttoned up nearly to the throat—was almost as long. Her soft leather riding boots, flaring out at the knee, with their tidy spurs buckled across the instep, and wide-brimmed felt hat—fashionably turned up at three sides, and decorated with a stylish plume—completed her transformation from princess to adventurer. She had played the part of a boy in many of the family’s amateur theatricals, and if Mr. Swann seemed to be nothing more than a beardless youth, the rapier he wore at his hip—and his obvious ability to use it—discouraged his fellow travelers from attempting to take advantage of him, a matter she’d proved to her satisfaction many times in the past six months.

Clarice had never regretted her decision to masquerade as a young man, for in all the tales she’d read, it seemed that the princes got to have the adventures while the princesses had to languish in a high tower or a woodland cottage and wait for something exciting to happen. As she’d made her way westward, no one had ever for a moment suspected she was other than what she presented herself as: a young man of good family and modest fortune out to see the world. Though she’d presented herself on several occasions as perfectly ready to duel, her confident assumption of victory had meant there was no opportunity to practice her skills.

Having reached this bustling island at the edge of Eurus, Clarice had been trying to resign herself to retracing her steps. But in the days she had spent watching the passengers board the ships and the ships set sail, Clarice realized she had made up her mind: excitement and adventure were to be found in the New World, and that was where she would seek them.

*   *   *

A quick trip to the portmaster’s office and a small gratuity bought her the information that the next three ships sailing to the New World were the New Prometheus, the Cutty Wren, and the Asesino. Another small gratuity bought her advice on how to find their captains.

James Galloway was the first name on her list. New Prometheus was a fine new ship, the portmaster’s clerk had told her, one that would suit Clarence Swann’s needs admirably. Apparently it also suited the needs of a great many other people as well, for Captain Galloway told her regretfully that he had no space for another passenger. She thanked him courteously and proceeded to the next name on her list.

The Cutty Wren had a berth available, but she was primarily a courier vessel delivering mail and documents to New Hesperia, and her passengers sacrificed amenities to speed. Aboard her, Clarice would have to share her accommodations with as many as five other passengers. That sort of communal arrangement would make the preservation of her masquerade impossible. Captain Hawthorne was a cheerful man and took no offense at Clarence Swann’s desire for more private quarters and suggested several ships that would admirably meet his needs. Unfortunately, none of them was sailing within the next fortnight.

“What of Asesino?” she asked. “She is sailing soon and was recommended to me.” She was careful to keep her voice slow and low. A woman speaks quick and high, like the flight of birds, she reminded herself. A man speaks with the low, measured bark of a hound on a scent.

Captain Hawthorne frowned thoughtfully. “She’s one of Bellamy’s fleet and sails with a hired captain. I have not heard that Sprunt has any fondness for live cargo, begging your pardon, sir, but it will do you no harm to ask. You will find him at the Mandrake; it is his usual tavern. You’d best hurry; Asesino sails on the morning tide.”

Thanking Captain Hawthorne for his advice, she paid for her shot and left the Mermaid’s Locker.

All things in life had a hierarchy, she had discovered on her travels. Sometimes of money, sometimes of birth, and sometimes of inclination. She wondered which of the three was behind Captain Sprunt’s choice of drinking establishment, for the Mandrake was clearly several steps below the Mermaid, where her first two prospects had been found.

Sawdust was on the floor, and from the look of it, it had not been swept out recently. The air was thick with the fumes of tobacco and the smell of stale beer. But by now she was no stranger to places even more dire than this; Clarice stepped boldly through the doorway and hailed the barkeep. “I am seeking Captain Samuel Sprunt of the brig Asesino. Is he here?”

“Depends on who’s asking,” the man replied.

“Why, someone who wishes to pay him money, of course,” Clarice answered lightly.

That seemed to be the right answer; the barkeep jerked his chin toward the back of the tavern. “Table under the window, and you can tell ’im from me, ’e ain’t getting another pitcher until ’e pays for the last three.”

This comment did not seem to require an answer, so Clarice merely inclined her head and walked in the direction indicated. The position of the table—and the two empty pitchers upon it—were ample indication she had found the right man.

Samuel Sprunt was not the sort to instantly inspire confidence. In other circumstances, Clarice would have had little hesitation in dismissing him as nothing more than a common seaman, for his clothing was dirty and stained, evincing hard use and little care, and his thinning black hair was pulled back into a tarred rattail as was the curious custom of the sea.

She seated herself without waiting for an invitation, removing her hat and setting it on a portion of the table that, if not clean, was dry.

“Here, now. Who do you think you are?” Sprunt growled. “This is a private table.”

“My name is Clarence Swann, and your ship was mentioned to me as one upon which I might purchase passage.”

“We’re not—”

At that moment the barmaid arrived, asking what the gentleman would have to drink.

“Bring me another pitcher,” Sprunt said. “I’m dry as a dog’s bone.”

“Pockets empty as his dish, too, I’ll wager,” she said unsympathetically.

“I’ll pay.” Clarice took a silver quarter-angel from her pocket and set it on the table. It was the smallest coin she had on her, but from the barmaid’s expression, it was a great deal larger than what was usually seen here. Sprunt and the barmaid both grabbed for it; the barmaid got there first and whisked it into her apron.

“Won’t be a moment, lovey,” she said, scooping up the empty pitchers and sauntering off.

“You’re mighty free with your coin,” Sprunt growled.

“I find it’s easier to pay for what I want than to argue about it. More peaceful as well.” Clarice put a hand on the hilt of her rapier.

“Well, as I was saying, my lad, normally I don’t like to take passengers, but you seem like a good enough sort.” She had no trouble deciphering the crafty gleam in Sprunt’s eyes: he thought Mr. Clarence Swann was easy prey.

“Your ship is bound for the Hispalides and New Hesperia with a cargo of tea, spices, brandy, and wool. It sails tomorrow. I shall require a private cabin. Do you have one available?”

“Well, as to that, something might be arranged. I’m not sure it’d be up to the standards of such a fine lord as yourself.”

Clarice gave him a mocking look and said nothing.

The barmaid returned with a tray that held a pitcher and a pewter tankard. She set the tankard in front of Clarice, leaning low over her to pour it full, then indicated the coins on her tray. “Two spaniels a pitcher. Less you want to pay for what he’s already drunk.”

It was forty silver angels to a gold angel, and a silver angel was worth forty spaniels. Clarice scooped up all but one coin deftly. “I don’t pay for a man’s drink unless I’m drinking with him,” she said with a smile. She dropped the coins into her pouch and picked up her tankard. Sprunt had already taken possession of the pitcher and filled his own tankard.

“Grasping harpy,” he said as the barmaid departed. “Do you travel on business, my lad? Asesino’s a good ship—the best—but she’s not so fast as some. It might be you wouldn’t see Lochrin again for a good half year. Won’t your family miss you? A sweetheart, perhaps?”

He is fawning in one breath and bullying the next, like a fearful dog that is too cowardly to bite. And far too interested in her personal life for Clarice’s taste.

“That’s hardly a matter for your concern,” she said repressively. “As it happens, I travel upon a small stipend bequeathed me by my late aunt. Alas, the whole of the principal vanishes into the hands of her lawyers at the moment I breathe my last, so I am determined to live a very long time.” The story had served her well in the past, explaining her leisured lifestyle without giving the impression that any great sum of money could be extracted from her. “Now. We were speaking of the availability of a private cabin?”

Sprunt had already drained his tankard and refilled it. “Fine accommodations, fit for a fine lord such as yourself. You’ll eat at my own table, same as my officers, and I’ll see you dry-shod to the streets of New Hesperia.”

“Then all we have to settle is the cost of such fine dining and fine accommodation.”

“Five gold angels. Payable in advance, of course.” The pitcher was empty once more, and Sprunt flourished it meaningfully in the air.

It wasn’t a small sum of money by any means, but it was more or less what Clarice had expected to pay. She dug into her pouch and produced a gold half-angel.

“Take this in token of my desire to sail with you. I shall provide the balance, of course, before we arrive at our destination.” Clarice had no intention of paying the whole of Mr. Swann’s passage until they were within sight of the Hispalidean Isles, for she had received a quick yet thorough tutorial in the untrustworthiness of hired assistants during her memorable passage through the Borogny Pass.

The coin vanished swiftly.

The barmaid returned, and Captain Sprunt ordered another pitcher. Since he looked prepared to spend the entire day drinking at Mr. Swann’s expense, Clarice rose to her feet.

“Then as we are in agreement, I will take my leave. There are a number of errands I must run before we sail.”

Before Captain Sprunt could argue—or attempt to try to convince Mr. Swann that as another pitcher had already been ordered, he must pay for it—she collected her hat, bowed, and made her escape. She had nearly reached the door when a young man—clearly a ship’s officer—entered.

No greater contrast with the slovenly captain Sprunt could be imagined, for the newcomer’s coat and trousers were immaculate, and his soft brown hair was cut short, rather than tarred and pigtailed. Clarice stood aside to let him pass, then lingered in the doorway as he made his way to Captain Sprunt’s table. He was roughly her own age, she judged, which was not uncommon, since many seamen of both naval and merchant fleets began their apprenticeships as young as eight. The young man approached Captain Sprunt and bent over to speak to him. Whatever the officer had to say was evidently not to the captain’s liking, for apparently it took a good deal of persuasion before Sprunt heaved himself to his feet and stomped out. He attempted to rearrange his features into a pleasant expression as he passed Clarice and was not entirely successful. She watched him depart with mild curiosity, wondering if she should reconsider her choice of ship. A half-angel, even if it was gold, was a small price to pay for avoiding unpleasantness.

“Pardon me, sir, but are you the gentleman who has booked passage aboard the Asesino?”

Clarice turned, to find herself face-to-face with the young man who had spoken to the captain.

“I am.” She frowned in puzzlement.

He held out his hand. “Then on behalf of Asesino and all her crew, I bid you welcome! I am Dominick Moryet, and I have the honor of sailing as her navigator. I should like to—” He broke off, blushing a little. “I should like to ask you not to mind Captain Sprunt’s manner overmuch. He has a few odd ways, but he is one of the best captains to be had in all of Albion. And lucky as well—he has twice been boarded by pirates, and yet, as you see, he is still here.”

Dominick held out his hand, and Clarice shook it firmly. His grip was strong and warm.

“I am Clarence Swann. He did not look at all pleased to see you.”

Dominick grinned. “I came as the bearer of bad news, sir. We sail tomorrow, as you know, and I’m afraid I told him that he must go and buy our cook out of jail, if we are to have any feeding at all.”

Clarice smiled back. “I should hate to starve all the way to the Hispalides, for that is a voyage of some weeks, is it not?”

“A month if the winds favor us, two if they do not. Have you sailed before?”

“No great distance,” Clarice said dismissively. “Perhaps you will give me some idea of what I might expect—if you are not engaged elsewhere, of course.” She gestured toward the table Captain Sprunt had just vacated.

“I should be pleased, Mr. Swann. I am of no use at all until we are at sea—and then, I flatter myself, I am vital. But may I suggest a change of venue? There is a coffeehouse not far from here that I am accustomed to frequent when I am in Lochrin. You might find it agreeable.”

“Lead on, Mr. Moryet.” Clarice gestured for him to precede her. “I have not been so many days here that I know the city well, and I would be glad of your instruction.”

The establishment her new friend led her to was different in every way from the Mandrake. The Golden Wheel had large bow windows and was light and airy. Its bare wooden floor seemed to have been scrubbed within an inch of its life, and the brass footrail of the polished counter gleamed as brightly as new-minted gold.

The atmosphere inside seemed to be almost that of a private club. The tables at the back were all occupied by grave, bespectacled gentlemen who consulted together over stacks of paper and rolls of maps.

“They are assurance agents,” Dominick said, noting the direction of her glance. “A ship cannot sail without being indemnified.” He directed her to a table at the front. It could seat ten, and two of the chairs were already occupied by a man and a woman a few years older than Dominick, both reading the newspaper. The woman’s skin was the same shade as the beverage she drank, its darkness a vivid contrast to the whiteness of her linen collar and russet wool gown.

The first time Clarice had seen someone with skin of such a color had been in Vinarborg, and for a moment she had been astonished, until she realized she was seeing her first Ifranian. Ifrane was a continent so large that all of Eurus could fit into it several times over. Since then she had become accustomed to the sight, for Ifranians lived in every great city of Eurus.

It seemed to be the custom to share tables here, for the woman looked up and smiled, gesturing them to the unoccupied chairs before returning to her reading.

“What do they assure?” Clarice asked as they seated themselves.

“Why, that a cargo and a ship should arrive,” Dominick answered, sounding surprised. “What a ship carries is rarely her own property and has been bought and sold long before she leaves port. If she does not arrive—I assure you that is a rare occurrence—someone, the Cornhill Society in this case, must make good the loss.”

The server arrived and presented the bill of fare. Clarice discovered that one could order tea or chocolate, call for a pipe of tobacco or a cup with dice, and even request bread, cheese, and oranges.

“There are many who arrive when the Golden Wheel opens her doors in the morning and do not leave until the lamps are lit,” Dominick said with a smile. “They would starve were there not food to be had.”

“It seems entirely convenient.” Clarice ordered chocolate—for it was a luxury she had often missed on her travels—and bread and cheese.

“Enough to share,” Dominick said, placing an order for a pot of coffee. “And a bowl of oranges, too. Fresh fruit is the thing I miss most on a long voyage, and I dare say you will, too, for we go weeks without it. You have said this is to be your first time at sea, Mr. Swann?”

“It is, and I look forward to the experience. But you must call me Clarence, Mr. Moryet, if only for introducing me to the pleasures of such a delightful establishment.”

“And so I shall, Clarence. And you must call me Dominick,” he said charmingly. “For we are no ship of the line, to stand upon formality.”

“Dominick,” she agreed. “Perhaps you can tell me what I might expect? I have the promise of a private cabin, but I understand Asesino does not commonly carry passengers.”

“As to that, I cannot say,” Dominick answered carelessly, “for this is my first voyage on her as well. But I know her type. She is a good merchant brig. We sail first to Cibola in the Hispalides and then on to New Hesperia, where we shall make port in Manna-hattan. I have been there many times; it is a vast island that lies near to the mainland, and its harbor is excellent.”

Clarice repressed a smile. Just as a carpenter might look at a forest and describe it in terms of its excellent timber, she supposed a sailor might view all cities in terms of harborage. “You mentioned that Captain Sprunt has previously been boarded by pirates. Are they common upon this route?”

Their server returned, wheeling a small cart, and set out their food. The oranges were presented in a blue-and-white porcelain bowl that had surely come from Khitai, the bread was fragrant and still warm from the oven, the wedge of cheese still wrapped in its cloth. The fragrance of the coffee nearly made Clarice regret her choice until she picked up the wooden handle of her own pot and tipped it over her cup. The rich scent of the chocolate made her sigh with pleasure.

“I think chocolate is one of the best things to come from New Hesperia,” Dominick said with a smile. “It is a great pity, of course, that both chocolate and coffee come from Iberian lands rather than Albionnaise. But you mentioned pirates. Permit me to put your mind at rest. They know that a ship sailing westward is less likely to hold much of value to them, and even on an eastward voyage, they are less likely to trouble a ship of Albion than one of the Hesperian treasure ships. They know our cargo is more likely to be furs, cotton, and sugar, rather than gold, silver, and gems. You may expect an uneventful voyage in both directions.”

The war that had swept from Albion to Rossiyskaya Imperiya as Cisleithania and the Lochrin-Albion Empire fought for possession of New Hesperia had been fought on every battlefield: land, sea, and air. It had ended almost a generation ago, and then there was peace, but men who had reveled in the freedom and danger of privateering and blockade-running were not inclined to give them up simply because ancient enemies had now become wary allies. They’d struck the colors of the nations that had commissioned them and raised the Red Ensign in their place. And so piracy was something any sea traveler had to be concerned with, much as those on land would guard against bandits and highwaymen. It was possible, she knew, to survive capture and even sail away with one’s ship intact, were ship and crew skilled or lucky.

Apparently Captain Sprunt was lucky.

“That is good to know,” Clarice answered honestly, for though she sought adventure, she didn’t feel she’d be likely to find it at the bottom of the ocean.

“I have been a sailor nearly half my life,” Dominick said, “and I have never, I am happy to say, sailed upon a ship that was taken. You are more likely to find yourself a victim of boredom than of buccaneers.”

They spoke for some time—about the conditions aboard ship and what she was likely to experience as a passenger. Dominick expressed no doubts that she would receive the private cabin she had specified, but warned her she must not expect it to be spacious: “There is not a great deal of room aboard a ship. Not as you landsfolk reckon it.”

Clarice found him easy to talk to, willing not only to answer her questions, but to anticipate them. She told him much the same tale of her history as she had given Sprunt, about journeying to the New World to seek adventure. She added something she had not confided to the captain, that she was eager to increase her reputation so that she could set up an exclusive swordsmanship sallé when her adventures were complete—provided she had not found her fortune in some other way.

“I should think Cibola will suit you admirably, Clarence,” Dominick said. “It is very much Iberia in miniature, and I have seen many duels there.”

“Perhaps I shall fight some and make my fortune.” She smiled, pleased with the success of her masquerade, for though they had spent more than two hours together, Dominick clearly had no clue as to her true gender.

At last he said, with some reluctance, that as they sailed at dawn, he must be off to his guildhouse to settle some necessary matters, and after a gentle wrangle over who was to pay the bill, he rose to go. As he did, Dominick offered one last piece of advice, which turned out to be the most useful of all.

“There is no reason you may not board as soon as you like. Better tonight than in the morning—it will give you time to get settled before we are on our way.”

“I thank you, Dominick. I believe I shall do so.”

She watched him as he walked from the Golden Wheel, a smile on her face. She liked Dominick Moryet, and a new friend would make the coming voyage even more pleasant.

*   *   *

It was early evening before Clarice returned to the docks. She rode in a carriage this time, for she had left her horse at the Borogynian embassy’s stables—the seventeen tiny Borogny Principalities shared, out of convenience and economy, a single ambassador to Queen Gloriana’s court—with instructions that it was to be returned to Swansgaarde when convenient. The next messenger to Swansgaarde would be glad to see such a sound beast waiting for him. Perhaps one day she and her faithful companion might meet again.

Her shopping had occupied much more of the afternoon than she had expected it to, but she had listened closely to Dominick’s tales of seafaring life and made purchases accordingly. He had said that boredom was a great enemy, so she had purchased a portable chess set, a cunning thing little larger than a book. Each square of the board had a small hole drilled in its center, and each of the pieces had a corresponding peg in its base, for Dominick had said that storms were not uncommon, and that the ship might grow “lively” if it ran into weather. She’d also purchased a small selection of medicinal items that should serve against anything she might reasonably be expected to encounter, since she couldn’t risk accepting the ministrations of the ship’s doctor.

But her most expensive purchase—and the hardest to find—had been a spellmatch.

The spellmatch was a golden tube about the size and thickness of her longest finger. It was threaded at the middle so that the two halves could be screwed together, and when opened, one half contained a spindle the size and shape of a nail: the match itself. When removed from its case, it would burst into flame, burning until it was closed away again. It would do so forever, if the case was not crushed.

They had been common enough in the castle, and only when she found herself without one had she mourned the lack of its convenience, but she had never had a compelling reason to replace it until now. Clarice possessed, and had often used, humble flint and steel to start a flame. But that not only took time and tinder, but light to see by, three things that were not likely to be easily available on shipboard.

To contain her possessions, she had purchased a sea chest with strong brass strappings and a stout lock. It was broader at the bottom than the top to prevent its toppling over, and its handles were ring shaped, the better to lash it into place against the wall of her cabin against the possibility of heavy seas. The stout leather saddlebags that had previously contained her possessions would hardly be useful at sea, she had discovered: leather tended to mildew.

Her shopping and packing done, she ate a last meal at the inn and settled her account, then, as thoroughly prepared as she could render herself, presented herself at the foot of the Asesino’s gangplank.

In the twilight, the ship seemed nearly insubstantial, its great bulk illuminated by nothing more than a few lanterns. No one was in sight, but after a few moments a sailor looked over the side and saw her, and a few minutes later—just as she was wondering if she should have asked the coachman to carry her trunk on board—a man in a hastily donned coat, his hat askew, hurried down the gangplank to greet her.

“Are you Mr. Swann? I am Simon Foster, quartermaster. We do not sail for some hours yet.”

“Indeed, I hope you do not, as your captain said you would leave on the morning tide. But Mr. Moryet told me I might board earlier, if I wished to.”

“Yes, of course.” Mr. Foster inspected her for a moment, clearly assessing her breeding and fortune. Clarice had become accustomed to this in her travels, and she was once again grateful that her dress proclaimed her to be a respectable gentleman of good family. She suspected that if it had not done so, Mr. Foster would have told her to carry her own luggage, but he nodded, as if to himself, then stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly.

“Mr. Foster!” the response came from the deck, from the same sailor who had seen her before.

“Here’s our passenger, Mr. Swann. Take the gentleman’s trunk to his cabin, Neddy, and see him squared away!” Mr. Foster called up.

As Neddy hurried down the gangplank, Clarice saw that he wore only a shirt and breeches unbuttoned at the knee, and his feet were bare. He hefted a corner of the trunk to gauge its weight, then heaved it onto his shoulder with an ease that spoke of long practice and formidable muscles. Clarice followed him up the gangplank and onto the deck. There, Neddy paused to collect another sailor, an Ifranian, garbed in much the same dress as Neddy. The newcomer took up a lantern, then, carrying the chest between them, the pair went through a door and down a narrow flight of steps.

“Mr. Foster called you Neddy,” Clarice said, hoping to start a conversation.

“That’s right, sir. Ned Hatcliff’s my name, and this here is John Tiptree. Best topsail man in the seven seas.”

“Mind the ladder, sir,” John said, and Clarice was glad of the warning, for the ship’s interior was decidedly dark. By the time they stepped out again, they had gone down two decks.

The passageway was narrow, the ceiling so low that the heads of both the seamen nearly grazed it. At a door that seemed identical to all the ones they had already passed, the two men dropped the trunk to the deck. Ned opened the door. “Here you are, sir. Breakfast is at two bells forenoon.”

At Clarice’s look of incomprehension, both men smiled slightly. “Nine o’clock, as they say on the land. I’ll send young Jerrold down to show you to the captain’s mess. No fear you won’t be awake. We’ll be under sail by then.”

Ned and John carried the trunk into the cabin. After a bit of awkward shifting about—Clarice had to move up the passageway before they could exit—she was alone. She entered her new accommodations with curiosity.

The cabin was so small it would have been overcrowded with the three of them present. The only illumination came from the lantern John had hung on a hook jutting out from the beam that bisected the ceiling—low enough, Clarice was certain, that she would have to resign herself to banging her head upon it at frequent intervals—and she was once more pleased at her foresight in purchasing the spellmatch. The bunk filled the whole of the wall to her left; to the right, a small table, apparently meant to serve as both desk and table, was built into the bulkhead, its low-backed chair fitting neatly beneath it. Her trunk had been set against the wall opposite the door, and also upon that wall were several pegs, as much of a wardrobe as the cabin possessed. The door was louvered, for which she was grateful, as there was no other means of ventilation.

Clarice latched the door, unbelted her sword and hung it by its belt upon one of the pegs, and seated herself on the edge of her bunk. Ned had seemed to think she would remain here until morning, but until the moment she sat down, she had planned to make her way back up to the deck to see something of her temporary home. Now, she decided it had been a long enough day without finding herself lost in the maze of passages. She pulled off her boots, debated with herself for a moment, then undressed (hanging her hat beside her sword), put on her nightshirt, selected a book on the natural history of the New World from her trunk, and transferred the lantern to a hook at the head of the bed.

Though the ship lay at anchor and had not seemed to be moving when she had gazed at it from the dock, she now sensed a tiny rocking motion and saw that motion reflected in the slight sway of the lantern. It gave her the odd feeling that the ground beneath her had suddenly become strangely insubstantial, though of course there was no ground beneath her now at all. The motion, though new, was not unpleasant, and she read barely a chapter before the day’s excitement caught up to her. Blowing out the lantern, she was quickly asleep.

*   *   *

When she came awake in the dark, at first Clarice had no idea where she was. Everything was moving—apparently in several directions at once—and there were loud creaking noises.

She sat up and clutched dizzily at the side of the bed. Oh, she realized. I am on the Asesino. She must be under way.

The ship’s motion wasn’t extreme, but was enough to make her clutch at handholds as she groped her way to the table. She’d left her satchel there the night before. It took her a few moments to locate the spellmatch, but once she had, in moments the lantern was alight. She hung it back on the hook in the beam.

With the aid of the lantern, she made quick work of dressing. The special corset she wore to disguise her sex flattened her chest appropriately, and once she had laced it firmly into place and donned her shirt, vest, and coat, it was completely invisible.

Once she was dressed, she blew out the lamp and placed her hat firmly upon her head, ready to venture out into the ship.

Enough light came belowdecks for her to easily find her way back to the ladder and up. When she stepped out on the main deck, the sight she beheld caused her breath to catch in wonder for the first time since her last morning at home.

It was barely dawn. The Asesino glided down the river toward the sea. The air was filled with the brackish scent of the river and the sharp cleanliness of morning. The ship was not yet under full sail; the mainmast and foremast stood bare, their sails still furled. Wind filled the jibs at the bow. On either bank, Albion swept past, as quickly as if Clarice rode at a gallop. The deck was the highest point in the landscape; she could see for miles. She felt her heartbeat quickening; it was really happening, she was really going to sail to an entirely new world!

“A pretty sight, is it not?” Dominick had reached her side as she gazed entranced. “I love the sea, but I admit the land has its charms—when one is leaving it, anyway.”

She turned toward him, smiling. He wore no hat, and his sandy curls danced in the sharp morning breeze. His blue eyes sparkled with excitement that matched her own.

“Oughtn’t you be…?” She gestured vaguely toward the bow. The great ships had a language all their own, just as they were worlds all their own, and Clarice was not yet fluent in it.

“At the helm?” Dominick asked merrily. “Mr. Greenwell would have my ears for such presumption. He is our helmsman,” Dominick added, seeing her look of confusion. “I show him where to go, and he takes us there.”

“You are the navigator,” she said, remembering.

He nodded, pleased. “I won’t have anything to do until we are at sea, and we must go some distance until I am of any use. Past the Scilly Isles at least, and that will be a day or two. Once we are in the Channel, we shall sail down the coast and past Lizard Point. Once we pass the Scillies, we shall be in open sea. I can show you on a map later, if you wish?”

“I should like that.” Clarice was about to say more when a series of shrill blasts on a whistle interrupted her.

“We’d best get out of the way,” Dominick said, taking her arm. “Come. There’s a better view from the poop deck anyway.” He gestured toward another set of stairs to her right, and Clarice followed him.

From here, she could look across the whole of the main deck. Its surface seemed oddly cluttered—barrels, crates, coils of rope, a coop full of chickens, and even a pig.

“The chickens are kept for eggs and turned into soup or stew near the voyage’s end,” Dominick said. “Mr. Squeal is fattened upon offal and garbage until he, too, is ready for the table. It is common practice. The less garbage we toss overboard, the less likely the sharks will follow us.”

“I should like to avoid meeting any sharks.” Clarice looked out across the deck. It was like a great roofless chamber, and upon it at least two dozen men were engaged in various mysterious tasks. Some seemed merely to be idling, though she doubted they were. They seemed to be drawn from every race that inhabited the globe; among the pale skins of Eurus burnt bronze by tropical suns and ocean wind, she saw coffee-dark Ifranians, honey-brown Caribe, the paler honey of Khemetia.…

“The sea is its own nation,” Dominick said, accurately interpreting her gaze. “We sail with men born under the suns of a dozen nations, I’ll wager.”

“But no women?” Clarice asked boldly.

Dominick smiled. “I dare say a woman can be as bold a sailor as any man, but Asesino is Albionnaise. Only our naval ships carry female crew. But there. That is what you will be wishing to see,” he said, pointing along the length of the deck.

Another raised deck was at the bow, where she could see the great spoked wheel that controlled the ship’s rudder. It was at least five feet across, and its wood and brass gleamed in the strengthening light. A man stood before it, his hands upon two of the spokes, his back to them. Mr. Greenwell, she supposed.

“You will soon learn when and how to get out of the way, Clarence,” Dominick said encouragingly. “If you are ever in doubt, simply go to the rail. It is the deck itself which tends to be busy. As you may see for yourself.”

He gestured, and she watched as the crew did … something … with lines and sails. The ship seemed to lunge forward. The swanlike elegance of a schooner under full sail was an illusion that held only at a distance. Up close, one could see that mystery of elegance and grace was bought with backbreaking human effort.

“We shall raise the mainsail when we are in the Channel,” Dominick said. “That is something to see, I promise you.”

“It must take a very long time to learn all one needs to know,” Clarice said slowly. The more she studied it, the more the Asesino seemed to her like some vast machine, as if she had somehow found herself within the workings of a great clock.

“All your life. I first went to sea when I was eight, as a cabin boy on my father’s ship. And I vow I am still as good a rigger as any soul aboard.” He pointed upward, where the great masts seemed to prod the belly of the sky. “There is where the best view of all is to be had, a hundred feet above the water,” he said fondly. “Perhaps you would like to go aloft with me in a week or so, once you have gotten your sea legs.”

Clarice glanced down and realized she was gripping the rail at the edge of the deck. She forced herself to release it. “Perhaps I shall. You will find I am no coward.”

“Why, Clarence, you sail with us on a voyage to the ends of the earth! I already consider you the boldest of fellows.”

Dominick seemed content to oversee the work on the deck as if Asesino’s crew were the subjects of his own private kingdom. By now the sun had risen above the housetops, and they were already near the edges of the city. What had been outlying villages only a century before were being engulfed in the city’s expansion, thatch and timber and ancient stone giving way to grand open squares and the palatial town houses of Lochrin’s wealthy.

“It is so very large,” she said, half to herself. “I think you could set all of Swansgaarde down within this city alone.”

Dominick chuckled, recalling her to herself. “It is the greatest city in the world,” he said proudly. “And I am delighted to leave it, for it is the most crowded as well.”

“Do you—” She broke off at the sound of a bell being rung in a complicated rhythm.

“Five bells. Mr. Emerson may take pity on us and give us a stale crust to gnaw upon until breakfast time. You will do well to ingratiate yourself with him, for you will become tired of salt beef and salt pork, no matter how well they are disguised, and you will long for fresh bread even more than fresh fruit. It is his skill that stands between you and utter weariness of life.”

“Mr. Emerson is the ship’s cook,” Clarice guessed.

“He is indeed, and we shall hope he is a good one. We will know by whether he gives us bread or biscuit. A ship’s cook bakes bread when he has the ingredients, and ship’s biscuit when he does not—if he has the skill.”

“I see this is to be a dire warning of our future. Was he very drunk when Captain Sprunt arrived to collect him?”

“As drunk as a sea cook might be,” Dominick said cheerfully. “But that is less important than that he and Mr. Foster do not like one another at all. I suspect he reported Mr. Emerson to the watch so as to get him out of the way while our supplies were being loaded.”

“Mr. Foster is…?”

“The quartermaster. He is one of our officers, so you will meet him at breakfast. He is responsible for purchasing every item used on a voyage.”

“I believe I made his acquaintance last night. It was he who sent Ned Hatcliff to bring my trunk aboard.”

“Which brings me to my next question. I meant to ask you if you found your accommodations satisfactory.”

“Quite as small as you promised me, but entirely satisfactory.” Clarice followed Dominick down to the deck. “It does seem to move about a great deal, though.”

“I will hope you don’t find yourself afflicted with seasickness. But if you do, I believe our surgeon has an excellent cure for the ailment.”

“I will hope I don’t need it.” The alchemist’s shop in which Clarice had purchased her spellmatch had also sold talismans against seasickness, and she had thought of buying one. But they were dauntingly expensive, and the proprietor had told her honestly that no one ever died of seasickness, and its effects, though dire, passed within a few days. She hoped she would not regret her decision.

Dominick led her the length of the ship. As they approached the bow, she realized she smelled smoke. “Dominick—the ship is on fire!” she said urgently.

“What—? Oh. No, Clarence, that is merely the galley chimney. Mr. Emerson can hardly be expected to cook without a stove, now, can he?”

Clarice had never considered the matter before. But a kitchen—and a stove—aboard a wooden ship seemed like a recipe for disaster rather than dinner.

“It is entirely safe,” Dominick said. “But the moment there is even a chance of bad weather, the galley goes cold, and there is no hot food at all to be had. It is something I hope we avoid.”

The ship’s galley was beneath the bow. They went down a set of steps—Dominick called it a “ladder.” and Clarice made a mental note; everything on a ship seemed to have a different name than it did on the land.

The first thing she noticed was the heat. It was quite as hot as if she stood within the bake ovens she knew must be here, and so dark she could not imagine how anyone could see to do anything.

“Mr. Emerson!” Dominick called out. “I have brought our passenger to see your domain! We are both of us, I assure you, perishing of hunger.”

“Perishing, is it? I’ll give you perishing, my lads. And put you to honest work, too, see if I don’t.”

The figure to go with the voice appeared out of the gloom. It was certainly not what Clarice expected. For all that he spoke as if he had never been east of Lochrin, Emmet Emerson had the ink-black skin of a subject of the Wagadu Empire in distant Ifrane. He was short, and as round as he was short, with a fringe of curly, white hair bordering his gleaming scalp. He wore a cloth apron over his shirt and breeches, on which he now wiped his hands. His left leg ended at the knee, and below the joint was a long peg of wood, like a chair leg, held in place with straps. For all his grumbling, he was smiling.

“Admiring my furniture, are you, lad?” he asked Clarice. “Went afoul of a line these ten years gone. Took it right off, clean as any surgeon. Bam!” He clapped his hands together in illustration, and Clarice startled.

“This will be Mr. Swann’s first time at sea,” Dominick said.

“Then we’d better get some belly-timber into him before we’re off the river,” Mr. Emerson said firmly. “Here now, Jerrold!” he called behind him. “Bring out one of the fresh loaves and a couple of tankards!”

A moment later a young man appeared. Beneath the sun-bronzing of his skin he would probably be as pale as Mr. Emerson was dark; his eyes were gray and he had a shock of copper-red hair. One hand held a round baker’s loaf, while the other held two wooden tankards. “Here, Mr. Emerson. What should I put in the tankards?”

“Why, the finest coffee with cream and sugar,” Mr. Emerson said. “What do you think, my fine young cloudwit? It’s hot ale I’ve got a brimful cauldron of.”

Taking the loaf from Jerrold’s hands, Dominick broke it in half, handed half to Clarice, and explained, “The morning watch is being fed. After that is done, Mr. Emerson will get our breakfasts.”

“I see,” Clarice said, although she wasn’t sure she did.

“Enjoy it while you can,” Dominick said, flourishing the bread before taking a hearty bite. “It’s the first thing to go.”

“There’ll be biscuits and pancakes right along,” Mr. Emerson said. “Fresh milk, if the nanny cooperates. If she doesn’t, it’s into the stew with her!” He chuckled at his own wit.

Jerrold returned, carrying the steaming tankards carefully. Clarice was used to the notion of beer served hot, for it had been common enough in the inns at which she had stayed, but any landlord who’d served beer as weak as this would have been soundly thrashed by his customers.

“It is watered, of course,” Dominick said, seeing her expression. “You can’t ask a man to go up into the rigging drunk.”

Mr. Emerson made a rude noise. “Take more than a tankard of beer to get any of those layabouts drunk. It’s for the water, same as the rum.”

“I see I have much to learn about shipboard life,” Clarice said, though she understood this. The water they carried, while drinkable, would be far from fresh in two weeks—or six. The charms to keep it fresh were beyond the budget of any vessels save rich merchantmen—or the Imperial Navy. “I hope you will be willing to instruct me.”

“Put you to work, if you aren’t careful!” Dominick said, laughing.

They returned their empty tankards to Jerrold and went back up on deck. The Temese, broad even where it flowed through Lochrin, had broadened farther still. The city was long behind them now; all there was to see on either side was rolling green meadows, flocks of sheep, and the occasional distant spire of a village temple. For the first time, Clarice could smell the sea.

“I had thought a ship was like, well, a sort of seagoing inn. Or a company of wagoneers. I mean to say, such an organization as … as…” She faltered, not quite certain of what she meant to say.

Dominick came instantly to her rescue, though her comparison of the Asesino with a tavern or a wagon train made him smile. He had a dimple in his cheek, Clarice noted absently. “As is not put together from random dock sweepings at the beginning of each voyage!” he said irrepressibly. “But I assure you, dear Clarence, it is often the way of things—we are not the Imperial Navy, and our sailors only sign on for a single voyage at a time, being discharged when the ship reaches her home port. Though I grant you a captain is often the owner of his ship, with his officers taking a share in the profits from a voyage, such ships cannot easily compete with the companies which may own a dozen ships or more.”

“So none of you have sailed together before?” It seemed to Clarice a haphazard way to arrange matters, especially if people were to be living in such close quarters for so long, with no way of going elsewhere if one found one disliked one’s companions.

“Captain Sprunt has brought with him companions from other voyages, I believe,” Dominick said. “Mr. Foster, whom you have met, and our ship’s chaplain, Reverend Dobbs. And he has brought his own first mate, Freeman Lee, so you may be sure of a smooth and easy voyage. It is not the custom for a ship’s captain to have a great deal to do with the crew directly, for the sake of discipline. It is the first mate who is their ruler when we are at sea. As for the rest of us, the ship’s officers, we have come to our berths in the usual fashion: Mr. Greenwell, his apprentice, and I from our respective guildhouses, and Dr. Chapman from the Surgeon’s College, I expect.”

“Have you no apprentice, Dominick?”

“Captain Sprunt does not choose to sail with a navigator’s apprentice, and that is his privilege. He has said there will be little for me to do, for he was once a navigator himself and prefers to take his own sightings, but the assurancemen require every ship to carry a guild navigator, and so here I am.”

“And will you someday become a captain as well?”

It was an innocent question, but Dominick’s expression darkened and he turned away. “I could not hope for such great fortune,” he said briefly. “Come. I will conduct you to the captain’s mess.”

*   *   *

The captain’s mess, when not being used for meals, served as the common room for the ship’s officers, and, so Clarice was told, for paying passengers. She was welcome to spend as much of the day here as she chose, but could expect little company until evening, for everyone else had duties to occupy them.

It seemed to her to be a pleasant enough chamber for one in which she was to spend so much of the next six weeks. It ran the full width of the deck, with portholes on each side. The ceiling above her head, and the upper half of the bulkheads, had been given a good coat of limewash, so the whole effect was bright and airy. In addition to a large, round dining table beneath a wheel chandelier that held six oil lamps, the room held a smaller, round table that might seat four, a writing desk, and a sideboard, which flanked a second door—or hatch, as she had learned to call it. The sideboard looked much like the one she had seen in the Swansgaarde kitchens, meant to provide an additional working surface as well as to display fine serving pieces. It did not seem to perform either function here aboard Asesino.

Two members of the ship’s company were already present when Clarice and Dominick entered.

“Ho, Dickon, are we to go upon the rocks while you stuff yourself like a glutton?” Dominick said. His momentary dark mood, she was relieved to see, had vanished as quickly as it came.

“In the Temese?” Dickon Greenwell answered in mock outrage. He was perhaps a year or two older than Dominick. His black hair was pulled back into a braided pigtail, but not tarred. He wore a coat of green worsted over a loose shirt, but neither weskit, lace, or bands. The Asesino seemed to be a somewhat informal ship. “If young Miles can put us aground here, he is a fellow of unsuspected talents! But who is this?”

“This is our passenger, Mr. Clarence Swann.” Dominick’s tone of voice indicated a passenger was an exotic rarity indeed.

“You will lose that fine hat overside the moment we’re at sea,” the second man present said. “And then your fine white skin will burn red as a boiled ham. Come see me then.”

“Dr. Chapman, our ship’s surgeon,” Dominic said, seating himself, and added, by way of introduction, “He has come to us from the navy.”

Dr. Chapman was a spare, sun-bronzed man of an age somewhere between forty and sixty. A life spent at sea made it difficult to tell his age, but his hair (worn sensibly cropped, but somehow still disheveled) was more silver than brown. He was dressed with more formality than either Dominick or Mr. Greenwell; his blue coat had clearly once been a part of a uniform, and the falling bands at his neck were crisply starched, as were the ruffles at his wrists. His weskit was curious, being made of leather rather than cloth, and an ivory-handled walking stick was by his side. Despite his gruff words, his blue eyes held both kindness and humor.

“I am no stranger to wind and weather,” Clarice said, a bit tartly. She had been no stranger to the outdoors as a princess of Swansgaarde, and her skin had tanned a good deal since. She sat down between Dominick and Dr. Chapman; no one had said anything about assigned seating.

“To such wind and weather as you will encounter in the Hispalides, you are,” Dr. Chapman replied with gloomy relish. “But suit yourself. It would be a great shame to lose such a fine hat, however.”

“I shall take care that I do not. It has been my companion on many adventures, and I hope to have its company on many more.”

“An adventurer, are you, Mr. Swann?” Dr. Chapman asked. “You will surely find adventures enough in the Hispalides. Why, once, when I was serving aboard the Megara—”

He broke off as the hatch opened once more, and the rest of their breakfast companions arrived.

Captain Sprunt she had already met, and she recognized Simon Foster from the previous evening. The other two must be Freeman Lee, and the ship’s chaplain, Reverend Dobbs.

It was not hard to tell who was which. The reverend was garbed as if he were on his way to a funeral rather than a breakfast. Coat, breeches, weskit, were all of sober black cloth, as was his flat, wide-brimmed hat. He was of middle years, his complexion sallow with either ill health or dissipation, and his long, narrow face bore an expression of what seemed to be perpetual dissatisfaction. His eyes were dark, and he regarded those already seated with disapproval.

“On your feet for the captain!” his companion boomed out.

Everyone at the table rose quickly. Clarice did as well, removing her hat, though in her case it was merely a matter of courtesy. Freeman Lee’s shoulders strained the seams of his faded blue coat. His thin, gray hair was scraped back into the same sort of tarred pigtail as the captain wore, and his nose had been broken several times. His hands were enormous, their knuckles, too, marked with the scars of a number of brawls.

This man is dangerous, she thought, looking at Mr. Lee. She’d learned to rely on her judgment to keep her out of trouble during her travels; she wondered, if she had seen Samuel Sprunt in the company of this group of his officers, if she would have been quite so quick to book her passage.

I suspect Reverend Dobbs of liking his whiskey far too much, and Mr. Lee is a bully. It is too soon to form an opinion of Mr. Foster, but he does not look as if he smiles overmuch.

Still, she told herself consolingly, Dominick is nice, and I think I shall come to like Dr. Chapman and Mr. Greenwell quite well. And there is Mr. Emerson.…

Everyone seated themselves again, and a moment later the inner door opened. A boy—he could not be more than eight or ten—entered, pushing a small wheeled cart. He began to lay the table for the meal, beginning with Captain Sprunt, and moving clockwise: next Reverend Dobbs, then Dr. Chapman, then Clarice. He wore only a shirt, and trousers instead of breeches, the first she had seen anyone wearing aboard ship. His skin had the paleness of a city-dweller, and his brown hair had escaped its queue, falling in locks about his face.

It did not conceal the large purple bruise upon his cheek.

“How do you fare, David?” Dominick asked quietly when the boy reached him.

“Quite well, thank you, Mr. Moryet,” the boy answered softly.

“I thought I’d taught you to stop your chatter,” Sprunt barked from across the table, and Clarice saw David flinch.

“Your pardon, Captain, but I asked the boy a question,” Dominick answered as David moved on.

“How do you find shipboard life so far, Mr. Swann?” Dr. Chapman asked loudly.

“It is quite interesting,” Clarice answered, just as boldly. If being a princess had taught her one thing, it was how to make small talk at a moment’s notice—and to take control of a conversation when it suited her. “Far more convenient than traveling by land, for one need not leave one’s lodgings to reach one’s destination.”

“And what is that destination, if I might ask? Permit me to introduce myself: I am the Reverend Philip Dobbs, of the One True Church, and all the souls who sail aboard Asesino are in my care.”

“It must be a great deal of work for you,” Clarice said mildly.

“A congregation of heathens, atheists, and Old Church heretics,” Dobbs said darkly. “If sin and evil had worldly weight, this ship would sink before she left the dock.”

“How dreadful,” Clarice said, though she was one of the Old Church adherents he seemed to dislike. The Old Church and the New Church (the so-called One True Church) had broken more than three hundred years ago over the question of thaumaturgy: the Old Church had once held that only priests could practice what was then called theurgy. The New Church held that thaumaturgy was a mere science, and so priests must not practice it at all. The Old Church now recognized thaumaturgy as a secular science distinct from ecclesiastical theurgy; the New Church did not recognize either theurgy or the Old Church. It had been a long and bitter quarrel, and during the Protectorate, Albion had outlawed all magery entirely.

“But you have not answered my question,” Reverend Dobbs repeated—rather rudely, Clarice thought.

“I go to seek my fortune in the New World. I am a swordsmaster by profession.”

“A man of blood and violence,” Reverend Dobbs said with gloomy satisfaction. “But you are young—there is still time to turn from your sinful path.”

“I shall take that under advisement, to be sure.”

While Reverend Dobbs had been lecturing her, David had finished laying the table and departed. Now he returned, his cart this time laden with serving dishes. Jerrold, the cook’s mate, was with him. This menu was still much what she would have expected at any inn or tavern, but a month from now even the captain’s table would lack fresh fruits and vegetables.

Once the dishes were set on the table, Reverend Dobbs embarked upon a lengthy prayer. It was cut short, to Clarice’s secret glee, by Captain Sprunt’s reaching across the table to help himself to the plate of sausages.

David, Captain Sprunt’s cabin boy, remained to act as server. Captain Sprunt ate quickly. It put Clarice in mind of the custom of most royal courts, where no one at the table could continue eating once the ruler had finished. Papa had learned to dawdle outrageously over his food at formal banquets for that very reason, and Clarice hoped ships did not follow the same rules as courts, or she would probably starve. But she saw that Dr. Chapman was in no hurry to finish, even taking a second helping of eggs as the captain drained his tankard a final time and got to his feet.

When he stood, Mr. Lee jumped to his feet as well, and everyone once again followed suit, settling back into their seats a moment later. Lee remained on his feet, hesitated, grabbed up a sausage and a piece of bread from his plate, and followed the captain from the room, chewing as he went.

“What a tiresome custom,” Dr. Chapman said, then took a sip of his coffee. “And to think, I thought I had put it behind me forever.”

Clarice hid a smile. Mr. Foster simply ignored him. Reverend Dobbs glared at him with outright dislike. Dominick and Mr. Greenwell both looked uncomfortable.

“I suppose the Imperial Navy must have a great many formalities,” Clarice said. Anything to break the charged silence.

“Traditions, dear Mr. Swann!” Dr. Chapman said cheerfully. “You may think our navy sails on timber and canvas, but it is tradition that keeps it afloat. Why, you might think yourself in Camelot Palace to see the young officers all lined up in their white gloves and silk stockings awaiting the morning inspection. And woe to him who has tarnished buttons or a run in his stocking, for he is doomed to go hungry. Fine customs—for a ship of war. But that puts me in mind of a time when I was surgeon’s mate on the Stormcrow, Neptune bless her, and we had just sailed into harbor in Khitai to pull the Great Cham’s beard…”

The story that followed was as amusing as it was improbable, and soon Dominick and Mr. Greenwell were smiling and exclaiming at each new twist in the tale. Dobbs, seeing nobody was paying attention to his glowering, threw down his napkin and stalked off, leaving his breakfast unfinished. Foster continued to eat as if he were entirely alone, but at least he gave Dr. Chapman the courtesy of a bow when Foster, too, departed.

Dr. Chapman drew his tale to a close as soon as the hatch had closed behind Mr. Foster. “Chaplain!” Dr. Chapman said, nodding toward where Dobbs had sat. “What in the Seven Oceans does a ship need with a chaplain? I ask you.”

“I would not expect—” Dominick said, and stopped abruptly.

“But who would lead services if we did not carry one?” Clarice asked.

“Why, the captain, of course,” Dr. Chapman said. “Who else?”

Dominick’s refusal to finish his sentence suddenly made sense. He does not wish to criticize the captain, and it seems as unlikely to him as to me that Captain Sprunt has any familiarity at all with the Prevailing Book of Prayer.

“I suppose he feels it more practical to leave such things to an expert,” Dominick said carefully. “And they have sailed together before. Perhaps Reverend Dobbs is his luck.”

“Do you think so?” Mr. Greenwell asked. “Sirocco—Aglaia—Queen Gloriana—Pride of Londinum—Atlantis … Do you suppose Reverend Dobbs was with him on all of them?”

Dominick had told her Captain Sprunt had survived several maritime disasters. These must be the names of the ships involved.

“If he was, then we sail with two lucky men, and that is lucky for us,” Dr. Chapman said firmly, and Mr. Greenwell nodded .

“Mr. Swann, I am pleased to have made your acquaintance,” he said formally.

“As I am yours, Mr. Greenwell. But you must call me Clarence. For we are to be shipmates.”

“And I was churched Richard, but my friends call me Dickon” came the quick reply.

David came forward—he had been standing in the corner so silently Clarice had forgotten he was there—and began to clear away.

“Come down to my surgery when you are done with your duties, young Appleby, and I will give you a liniment for those bruises,” Dr. Chapman said gruffly. “I am afraid it is too late to do much for your eye, but a cold compress should take down the swelling a bit.”

“I fell, sir,” David said, not meeting Dr. Chapman’s kindly gaze. “I am not yet used to the motion of a ship at sea.”

“Yes,” Dr. Chapman said dryly, when David had turned away. “Sea! We shall reach the Channel in another turn of the glass or so, I wager.”

“Sprunt hit him,” Clarice said accusingly.

“And that is his affair. You will do nothing to stop it, nor will I,” Dr. Chapman said. “Nor will any man aboard this ship. The sea is not the land, Mr. Swann. You must not try to apply your landsman’s rules here, or you will come to grief. And now, I shall return to my proper place.” Dr. Chapman got stiffly to his feet. “I shall welcome company, should you find yourself at leisure.”

“Thank you,” Clarice answered. “I am told I shall have nothing but leisure.”

Dr. Chapman chuckled. “That is why so many seafarers gamble, you know. Sailors are not great readers, and it is a good thing, for if a ship were to carry enough books to serve her crew, there would be no room left for cargo! Do you play cards, by any chance?”

“Indifferently. But I have brought with me a chess set. Do you know the game?”

Dr. Chapman beamed with honest pleasure. “A man after my own heart! Bring your set when you come, and I shall give you a game you will not soon forget!” He moved toward the door, leaning heavily on his cane. His right leg, Clarice noted, was held stiff and did not flex at all.

“I suppose that is my cue to return to my cabin and immerse myself in a book.” Clarice was oddly reluctant to leave, but Dominick surely had work to do if she did not. “Though I may bring it back here to read. The light is better.”

“It is better still upon deck,” Dominick answered. “Nor is there any reason you should not go there. Ah, but I forgot! You must have a care for your hat!”

Clarice retrieved her hat from her knee, where it had rested during the meal, and swatted Dominick with it. “My hat has weathered storms and great battles. It laughs at a mere sea breeze.”

“Does it?” Dominick’s eyes danced with mirth. “Then perhaps you—and your hat—would like to accompany me on a stroll about the deck?”

“With pleasure,” Clarice said instantly. “If your duties permit?”

“What a landlubber you are, Clarence!” he said teasingly. “I am hardly called upon to perform my duties—as you call them—yet. But come, and I will show you how it is done, if you are interested.”

“With pleasure!”

After a pause in his cabin to retrieve his instruments—it was no larger than hers, but he shared it with Dickon—they proceeded to the deck, and then to the bow.

“We tell our direction by the compass, and our longitude by means of the chronometer,” Dominick said. “It is a good enough instrument, but it is not spellset, so it is not entirely accurate. To discover our latitude, we use this.”

He opened the large, flat case of waxed and oiled canvas and drew out something that bore a faint resemblance to a gigantic geographer’s compasses. It was a long, straight rod with two smaller rods set into it at right angles. Each of the smaller rods bridged the gap between the main staff with wide, curved pieces of engraved metal that had a sliding marker.

“I have never seen anything like it!” Clarice said.

“Nor would you have—on land. It is a Davy’s quadrant. With it, I can tell you the angle of the sun above the horizon. From that, and my tables, I can tell our position. Every place on the surface of the earth can be described as the intersection of two points, its latitude and its longitude. Simple enough to determine ashore—and the craft of a lifetime at sea.”

He took up the quadrant, with the largest curve toward him, and held it up in the manner a huntsman would hold a bow. He put his eye to the sliding marker, then sighted along the long axis for a moment. “There is a good deal of finicking involved.” He lowered the quadrant with a smile and returned it to its case. “But no matter how good your charts, there are no landmarks to be found at sea.”

“Except the land itself.”

“And it is easier to miss than you would think. Now come, and we will take our constitutional.”

Later, she was to look back upon this as the last moment of unalloyed peace and happiness she was to find upon theAsesino and wonder if anything she might have done could have made a difference.


Copyright © 2014 by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Synopsis: This summer, Tor Books is pleased to publish the first of brand new series from bestselling coauthors Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, THE HOUSE OF THE FOUR WINDS (A Tor Hardcover; $25.99; On-Sale: August 5, 2014). The team that produced the USA Today bestseller To Light a Candle, and the New York Times bestsellers When Darkness Falls and The Phoenix Transformed, now bring romance to the fore with their tale of the twelve princesses of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard who must find their own fortunes.

Princess Clarice, the eldest princess and the first to leave home, disguises herself as Clarence and sets sail for the New World. Her skills with the rapier and dagger are put to use sooner than she expects when the crew rebels against the cruel captain and she sides with Dominick, the handsome navigator. Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of the Four Winds. They seek the chance to change their fortunes, but what they find instead is the powerful and dangerous sorceress Shamal. She claims the treasure and Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Where high seas adventure meets buoyant magical romance, this lighthearted romp by a favorite team is a perfect summer read. Publishers Weekly declares it “a fascinating concept,” and calls it a “rollicking romantic fantasy.” This summer enjoy a charming new swashbuckling tale of love, pirates, and magic.

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19 thoughts on “Excerpt: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory + Giveaway

  1. Oh I had no idea Mercedes Lackey will release this book!! It sounds sooo good and I’m a sucker for princesses but princesses that desguise themselves as a man? gimme gimme!!! Anyway, thank you for bringing this to my attention and BTW gorgeous cover!! 🙂

  2. Aaaah. I’ve been seeing this around the blogosphere and love what I’m hearing. Thank you for sharing an excerpt and a giveaway! 🙂

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