Windmaster Legacy Chapter One
It should have been the happiest time of her life. Yet Ellspeth, former captain of Sea Falcon, could not pin down the source of her uneasiness. Nothing beyond the normal sounds of sea birds, shouted orders and hammering reached her ears. A glance out the office window assured her there were no problems with the new ship. Windmaster bobbed gently in the confines of the construction pit. Destined to be a floating school for mages, the ship’s construction had been smooth with only minor problems. Three days earlier, during the canal diversion that flooded the dry dock and floated the vessel off its supports, no water penetrated the hull.
Based on Mirrim’s assurances, preparations for the handfasting ceremony in a few days between Ellspeth and Dal remained under control—even if Ellspeth still could hear her mother’s slightly acidic comment, “as long as your groom is here.” Dal had left more than three sevenday ago to bring his mother from their clanhold in the Mtwan Mountains to Stratven. His trips to find students for training in the magical arts or traveling on behalf of their common friend, King Fraunces of the Second Kingdom, kept him away more than Ellspeth liked over the past three seasons. Although he always appeared at the boatyard when needed to join his powers with hers to cast the protective spells on the ship, she missed him when he was gone. The ethereal link between them and their nightly visits via scrying crystal were not the same as him holding her in his arms. Only the night before, he had promised to return before the next full moon.
Ellspeth examined the star chart on the wall and carried out a fast calculation. Both moons, Shartle and Neba, would be full in three days. Each night they provided light for the carpenters and tradespeople putting final touches on Windmaster. Even though it had been almost three seasons since Bashim fell off the cliff during his sword fight with Dal, when either of the two moons were full, she still expected to hear the rogue mage’s whisper of “little wizardling” on the incoming sea breeze.
Bashim is dead. You saw him die. “It’s the full moon,” she muttered, pinpointing the source of her nervousness. “Nothing more.”
Forcing her attention back to the task at hand, she sifted through the piles of lists and drawings that covered her desk until she found the map she wanted. Despite the fact she already knew it by heart, she traced yet again the course for Windmaster’s inaugural cruise.
A light knock and a servant’s voice broke into Ellspeth’s reverie. “Mistress, I have a message from Lady Mirrim.” When she bade him enter, a young page in the green and black colors of the House of Cszabo flounced into the room. He bowed so deeply the tips of his lacy cuffs almost brushed the floor. “Captain Ellspeth, Lady Mirrim requests your attendance this afternoon at fourth hour. I’m to return and escort you.”
Ellspeth performed a fast appraisal of her appearance. Gold bracelets glittered from wrists that showed below the rolled-up sleeves of a well-worn tunic. She wasn’t sure why her mother didn’t just stop by the boatyard office, but a request from the guild leader merited more than casual work clothes. Fourth hour, Ellspeth decided, would allow enough time to hurry to her quarters and change into a formal uniform.
~ * ~
True to his word, the page knocked at the door of Ellspeth’s private rooms a few minutes before the appointed hour. Her confusion deepened when they reached the guild hall and the youth did not turn into the corridor that led toward Mirrim’s office, but to the chamber where the house council met. The last time she’d appeared before them was to petition their help in building Windmaster.
At the heavy double doors, her escort gave two short knocks, pushed the doors open and gestured Ellspeth forward. The sight within sent ice through her veins. Instead of just the guild leader, seven ship captains, active and retired, filled the high-backed chairs behind the curved table. She spotted two of the senior members who ran the trading house land caravans. Symbols of rank glittered gold against their dress tunics. Ailean, a retired captain of the House of Cszabo, nodded at her entry.
Ellspeth fought down panic. Why is the entire council of the House of Cszabo here?
Neither the plain wood box, nor the bound leather volume Mirrim tapped her fingers on provided any clue to the nature of the summons. The expression on her mother’s face, what Ellspeth called Mirrim’s “ruler face” boded nothing good. That no scribe sat at the low table in the corner offered no comfort. With a ledger and inkpot before him, it appeared that Fifth Chair would act as recorder. This would be an official proceeding.
Since outsiders were not normally allowed at council meetings, the men sitting in the cushioned armchairs along the sidewall caused even more concern. King Fraunces sat near the head of the table, legs stretched out in front of him. His burgundy tunic and pants matched the royal banner hanging on the wall behind his seat. Despite the casualness of his clothes and relaxed position, there was no mistaking his official bearing. Ellspeth did take some comfort from the private smile on his face. Vika, an independent captain and not a member of the trading house, sat a few seats farther down. He brought back the memory of how much he’d risked helping her and Dal escape the clerics who’d pursued them.
At Mirrim’s nod, the oldster at her right pushed back his chair and stood. Ellspeth’s worry solidified into dread as she realized this might be one of his last official actions, and her mother’s way of protecting her position as guild leader. Whatever happened would be from First Seat’s actions, not Mirrim’s.
The man’s raspy voice barely carried past the table. Ellspeth strained to hear him. “Captain Ellspeth, do you acknowledge you relinquished command of Sea Falcon to your first officer? That you abandoned your ship and crew in the Northern Sea?"
All the anger she had at her mother because there was no warning the summons was anything other than routine fled in an instant. With every bit of strength, Ellspeth fought to keep the waiver from her voice. After a gulp of air, she was able to answer with a simple, “Yes.”
Then by the ruling of the council of the House of Cszabo, you are hereby stripped of your rank and command. I order you to surrender your captain’s bracelets.”
Ellspeth stared first at the man whose simple statement held an intractable finality, then at her mother. The guild leader’s expression didn’t change except for a slight tightening of her lips.
Mother didn't know. But how could the council vote to sanction me without her knowing?
Ellspeth was unsure whether her hands or the councilman’s blue-veined ones trembled more when the mark of her rank was pulled from her wrists. Sea Falcon had been her home, and she its captain for the past three turns. She knew every inch of the barque from the tip of the ship’s five masts to the carved insignia on the bow. Every curse she had ever heard in the various ports of the Northern Sea fought to get past her lips. Instead, one thought roared in her mind. I've lost my ship.
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Copyright 2016 by Helen Henderson
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