As though the mere thought conjured him, Roderick came up beside her

The Quandary

2

Venik guided the Fairweather into the harbor, changing course several times to squeeze between various merchant vessels anchored here and there. The port city of Theras rose up on a series of hills from the water’s edge. The whitewashed buildings gleamed in the bright sunlight. Mariah stood near the rail, arms crossed beneath her breasts, teeth gritted, as they sailed closer. Ordinarily, she would be taking in the breathtaking sight of the city. But she was distracted and knew it was a bad idea to be so when they were about to enter the crazed atmosphere of commerce that made Theras the crown jewel of the Caprian Sea.

 Mariah left the top deck and wandered among the crew, catching snatches of excited conversations about what the members of her crew planned to do when they went ashore. Theras was their major stop in that region and she had intended to stay in the city for a few days while they resupplied. Everyone needed the break from the ship’s clockwork routine. Mariah realized she did too.

Besides there are a few things I need to deal with, she thought. Roderick, chief among them.

As though the mere thought conjured him, Roderick came up beside her as she walked the deck. “So, what did you want to talk about?”

Mariah glanced out the corner of her eye. Roderick kept pace with his arms clasped behind his back. “Now’s not the time. We’ll be finding berth soon.”

Roderick put his hand on her arm. “Mariah. Please. I think I know….”

Mariah felt her face warm and her gaze darted around at the others working around them. She pitched her voice low. “Don’t. Not here. It’s not proper. I’m the captain first. The crew do not need to know my personal business.”

Roderick sighed, removing his hand. “Fine. Mariah, I don’t see the need for this dancing about, but fine.”

“Roderick, I will need you to help with offloading the cargo. I will also need you to speak with the dockmaster about some cargo we will be securing.”

“As you say, Captain Hand.” Roderick’s tone was faintly brittle. He gave a hasty salute then stalked off towards the bow’s cargo access hatch.

Mariah stifled a curse and spund around, heading back to the top deck. Venik was still there at the helm, his gazed fixed on the docks ahead, his brow furrowed in concentration. She came up and took a position next to him, but kept silent while her thoughts churned in her head. There she remained until the ship was readying to moor in one of the numbered berths. Mariah returned to her cabin to collect the manifest and her coin pouch. After a some hesitation, she slipped the slender, curved dagger into her belt.

Once the Fairweather was secure, Roderick and the others opened the cargo hatch and began to draw up the crates and casks that were to be delivered to clients in Theras. Everything became routine and Mariah felt more at ease. The gangplank was descended to the pier below. The whole wharf was bustling with crews from various ships loading and unloading cargo from their vessels. Mariah noted the smattering of locals who bore all the marks of those seeking passage aboard those ships willing to take on passengers. She took them on from time to time herself—or she at least she hand until Alric Chamberlin and his niece Atalia.

“I hate sorcery,” muttered Mariah.

Once the cargo was removed from the Fairweather, Roderick came back aboard. He came up to Mariah, but held back a pace. He was still annoyed. She could tell that much. The sour twist of mouth was enough to kindle her own anger. Mariah battered the feelings away and handed Roderick the writ he would need to provide to the dockmaster.

“Remember to get all of the paperwork for the new cargo. I’d prefer to secure it aboard the Fairweather before we release the crew for shore leave.”

Roderick looked at her a moment, his face suddenly softening. “I’m sorry, Mariah. You do know I appreciate you taking me on… despite what happened.”

She was caught off guard, a lumping swelling in her throat. “Yes, I know.”

With that, he bowed slightly and set off down the gangplank and disappeared into the crowd. Mariah took a breath and tried to concentrate on delivering the cargo to her customers and getting paid. But her thoughts kept circling back to those blue eyes peering into her soul.

Produced by Eugenio Zorrilla.

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