The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco. — attr. to Mark Twain

Chapter One

There was an air of festivity at the Port Saint Frey harbor, where Tesara Mederos and her sister Yvienne waited to send off their parents on a six-month voyage that, the entire family hoped, would restore their fortunes. Stevedores and sailors trundled up and down the gangplank of the clipper Iderci Empress with barrels and gear and supplies. The Empress was a fast, lean ship whose keel was laid eight months before; this was to be her maiden voyage. Her masts were black against the bright blue sky, her furled sails a fine white, and her balustrades and brassworks gleamed. She wanted only for passengers to come aboard with their luggage. Brevart was already on deck, asking dozens of questions of the captain and the first mate, and they were patiently answering him, though no doubt they had much to do before the ship left port.

Despite the sunshine, clouds massed on the mountains behind the city, and Tesara could feel a wetness to the air that had nothing to do with the sea. Her power felt dampened, and she gave a little experimental push, flexing her fingers. Down the dock, air pressure and then a gust of wind rattled the dockmaster’s manifests, and the man and his apprentice scrambled to catch the pages before they flew off into the harbor.

Oops. Tesara bit back an alarmed laugh.

“For goodness sakes, Tesara, can you at least pay attention?” Alinesse said with exasperation.

“Sorry, Mama,” she said, but Alinesse didn’t wait for her apology and had already turned back to Yvienne. “Now, Yvienne, I’ve spoken with Albero about the broken dumbwaiter, but I’m leaving it in your hands to consult with the engineers. After all, you know the most about those things.”

“Of course, Mama,” Yvienne said, with a straight face. Tesara was impressed by her composure. “I’m as interested as you in determining why it’s stopped – I mean, why it never worked.”

It had certainly worked just fine the night they ousted the disgraced Guild liaison Trune from their family home. No doubt in a nasty fit of spite Trune had damaged it, a parting shot at the family he had been determined to destroy. The whole house had had to be made over when they moved back in, and Alinesse, though her nature was normally frugal, had spared no expense in removing “the stench” as she called it, of Trune.

“I must say that if the tradesmen who installed it say it has to be taken out, I will not be displeased,” Alinesse said. She made a pursed-lip expression of disgust. “I am sure I could never be persuaded it was of any use. Finally, girls, you need to keep up with the household expenses and bills. This is your responsibility, Tesara. No, I will brook no complaint. Yvienne is busy with the office. You’ll have to meet with Mrs Francini every morning and go over the accounts. And you do have a good hand (said grudgingly) — so please take over the correspondence. And another thing — no invitations. I expect you to live retiringly. Perhaps the Sansieris can visit, but none other. I am sure the gossips in this town have nothing better to do than to find fault with your conduct in the worst way. Where is your father?”

They all looked up at the ship. Brevart followed after the captain eagerly, gesticulating. Surprising them both, Alinesse smiled, clutching her broad-brimmed bonnet. Her eyes were bright.

“I do love a sea voyage, girls. I wish it were for better reasons, but this is the first step in restoring our fortunes. What a stroke of luck that we got word that the Main Chance was sighted off the coast in Grand Harbor.”

Tesara and Yvienne exchanged glances. Yes, thought Tesara. That was rather convenient. Six years after the ship allegedly went down with all hands, and six months after House Mederos was restored to her rightful place, the great flagship of the Mederos fleet turned up on the other side of the continent. That sort of luck made a girl suspicious.

Yvienne stepped forward and gave Alinesse a kiss on the cheek. “You have nothing to worry about, Mama. We’ll take care of things here, and we’ll see you in a few months.”

“Or sooner,” Alinesse agreed. She held out gloved hands to both girls and clasped them tight. “I know we can trust you. You have a good head on your shoulder and you, Tesara–” Tesara braced herself. Alinesse gave a smile that was half rueful grimace. “You have hidden depths, my dear. If you but concentrate–”

Before Tesara could say something she would regret, Yvienne interposed smoothly. “It’s time, Mama,” she said, nodding over at the chaplain from the Church of the Sea. He and the acolytes were preparing the Service of Outgoing Ships. Already the voyagers and well-wishers moved in that direction. The sailors and the officers on board the ship gathered at the rail above them, Brevart among them, hats and caps doffed and heads bowed. The sailor at the end caught Tesara’s eye just before she bowed her head, and she turned to look at him as the priest began the ceremony.

The sailor at the end of the row, slender, slighter than the other men, and with a scant beard, was none other than Jone Saint Frey.

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