Prologue: Shadow of Artemia

Shadow of Artemia
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Swunaket Port

“Sleak. Be brave now, Husband. We need to walk–a few steps only. Nathin, help him.”

The boy moved, instantly obedient. Good lad. Lomar Fasholt turned to the rest of her small party, squinting slightly in the bright daylight. She had foolishly left her dark glasses at home, with so many other things. Somehow, she hadn’t expected it to be daylight, much less First Noon, when the light was as brilliant as a Blessing. Dark deeds happened in hidden rooms in the deep hours of night, while pious people slept, not in the brilliant morning, on a public street.

Surely, in the lucent streets of Second Sunrise, people would rush to rescue a helpless man attacked by three strong women. They would have answered the cries for help from the girl attending him, beat off the attackers and offered aid; transport to the Temple, or to the hospital.

The girl was before her now, face pale, eyes wide, shoulders square, and hands calm. Her weapon was not on display, but Lomar had no doubt that it would be in her hand in a heartbeat, should the need arise. She didn’t lack for courage, Aster Fasholt.

That was not in doubt.

Protect the weak,” Lomar said.

The girl nodded once, and stepped back to Nathin’s side, while Lomar passed on, with Terbus properly three paces behind her.

The sign over the door said, Cartwight Cargo, the blue letters made less bold by the blare of the sun. Lomar had made her arrangements with MaLinda Cartwright herself, seven Standard Years ago. Every Standard since, she had gotten a receipt, listing out her balance, the interest earned, and a single line, initialed by MaLinda herself:

The agreement stands.

Lomar took a deep breath and did not allow her steps to falter. Nor did she look back. Sleak had lost blood, but his wounds were not disabling. If his steps were uncertain, he had Nathin to support him.

She . . . had only herself for support; she was the protector of the other four. She also had one plan, and one plan only. If it failed–no.

MaLinda Cartwright was an outworlder and a pagan, but she was an honorable woman. The agreement would stand. It must.

Lomar put her hand on the door. It gave way before her, buzzing, and she stepped into Cartwright’s front office, a dagger of sunlight entering with her to pierce the blessed dimness. Terbus caught the door before it closed and held it open for the others.

A woman stood up from behind the desk as Lomar approached, her glance going beyond her, to the others. Lomar saw her frown before Terbus shut the door, sheathing the sun’s dagger.

“Good day,” the woman said, carefully. “Trader.”

So she was recognized, but not named. MaLinda employed sensible persons. Of course she did. A woman in MaLinda’s line of work could scarcely afford to hire idiots.

“Good day,” Lomar answered, coming forward and placing her hand, palm-flat, on the counter. “I would like to see Mistress Cartwright, please.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but she’s not here. Had an appointment, cross-port.”

Lomar’s stomach, already roiling, cramped. Delay. Delay at this point could be fatal.

“Could I help you, Trader? I’m MaLinda’s partner.”

She had heard that MaLinda had taken a partner in the aftermath of the laws that had sent a third of her competitors off the port. Temple law did not reach inside the port. That was true. But, when the local traders and shippers were enjoined, in peril of their souls, from dealing with any business save those owned and operated, properly, by women, it had the effect of driving males, male-owned, and corporate-run businesses out of the port, and off of Dayan completely.

Lomar searched her memory; came up with a name.

“Venis Jei?” she asked.

The woman nodded–a tall, long-limbed woman, where Lomar was short and round. A woman with nervous eyes, who kept glancing over Lomar’s shoulder, her face hard and tense.

Lomar turned her head to see what disturbed her so, and saw Sleak, half-swooning, held upright between Nathin and Terbus, blood showing wetly on his pale shirt. They had given him first aid, and sprayed his cuts with sealant. Sealant wanted hours to properly set–and Lomar had judged that hours were a luxury they could not afford.

Mother, no wonder the woman was tense.

“He took a bad fall,” she said to the woman, and nodded to Teri. “Put him in a chair and let him rest.”

Venis Jei met her eyes grimly.

Lomar took a breath, inclined slightly, and spoke with a trader’s calm clarity.

“I have a standing agreement with MaLinda Cartwright, for transportation to Hel’s Gate, for . . .”

“. . . an undisclosed number of passengers, not to exceed twelve, on-call;” the other interrupted. “I’ve seen the annual receipts.”

Lomar nodded, and lifted her hand away from the counter, leaving the claim card on the counter.

“I am invoking the agreement,” she said, steadily.

Venis Jei extended a rough, big-knuckled hand and picked up the card. She bent her head, as if she was reading it, though it bore only the words, “Cartwright Cargo” and the claim number.

Lomar took a deep breath. The woman remained with her head bent, her whole body singing with tension.

Now it comes, Lomar thought; she will break the contract, count out the money and send us away. The blood . . . she can’t possibly take the risk. The port was immune to Temple Law, but if the Temple declared Cartwright Cargo Unclean . . .

Lomar was not a pious woman, though she stood as a Pillar of the Temple. Rarely, did she feel the need to pray, and it was notable that she should pray, now.

Goddess, aid your daughter. Help me keep my people safe, as You shield us all from harm.

Venis Jei looked up at last, her bony face set.

“MaLinda thinks high of you,” she said. “I won’t deny I tried to talk her outta that agreement, but she said to me, If Lomar Fasholt calls in that claim, it’ll be life or death, and a life is the least of what I owe her.” She took a deep breath, and lifted the gate in the counter.

“You wanna get your people into the office to sit and rest? I’ll call in the crew.”

Lomar felt her knees give, which would not do. Not now. She nodded, and turned to call the others–what was left of her family–to follow.


Shadow of Artemia Chapter One

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