Kingdom of Sea and Stone (Crown of Coral and Pearl #2) - Mara Rutherford Page 0,1
on its way to somewhere new. It was only a crab, yet already it had seen more of the world than I ever would. I wondered if that was why the young man had given it to me, more of a cruel joke than a gift.
“Lucky,” I whispered again, thinking not just of the crab but also the trader, his son, the ocean, and everything that had more freedom than a girl born in Varenia. Then I did as I was told.
“We’re almost home,” Zadie said, her teeth gritted against the strain of the oars. Our family’s wooden boat crested a wave exactly like the hundreds before it, reminding me how vast the ocean was—and how quickly one could forget something they’d known their entire life.
“I can take over.” I reached for the oars, but Zadie shook her head. There was a time, not long ago, when the soft skin of her palms would have torn open within just a few minutes of hard rowing, but that was before I left Ilara, before Prince Ceren cut off my family’s drinking water, before our best friend, Sami, was banished.
Before, when I would have given anything to see the world beyond my floating village in the sea. Before I understood just how much I had to lose.
I gasped as Varenia finally came into sight. “It really is beautiful,” I said to Zadie, taking in the stilt-legged houses painted in every shade of sunset, from palest yellow to deep red. “But then, you always knew that, didn’t you?”
Zadie finally passed the oars to me and smiled despite her exhaustion. We’d been rowing all night, with nothing but the stars to guide us. I longed for the comfort of my old bed, but I also knew I wasn’t returning to the same village I’d left behind.
“You loved it here, in your own way, Nor,” Zadie said once she’d caught her breath.
Maybe she was right, but I had always wanted to leave. And I couldn’t know if the people who had once wanted to see me banished would be willing to take me back, even if they learned just how far I had gone to protect them.
Zadie wiped the sweat from her brow with her sleeve. Now she was the one with suntanned skin, and I was pale from my time in New Castle. “Mother and Father will be so happy to see you.”
I let out a wry laugh, grateful for the change in subject. “I’m not sure happy is the word I’d use, at least about Mother.” She, along with most of Varenia, believed I had planned for Zadie to be injured by a maiden’s hair jellyfish so that I could go to Ilara in her place.
I touched the scar on my right cheek absently. It seemed so insignificant, compared to the scars that twisted over Zadie’s leg. The stain I had once used to cover the star-shaped blemish was forgotten back in the fortress I had lived in for the past few months. Compared to Mount Ayris, the cluster of houses before me seemed impossibly small and vulnerable, each one a tiny island huddled against the vastness of the ocean, as exposed as a cave creature in the sunlight.
“Mother will be happy,” Zadie insisted. “She regrets not saying goodbye to you. I know it.”
The village was as quiet as it always was this early in the morning, with only a few children scurrying along the docks that connected some of the houses. It didn’t seem possible that things could be as drastically different as Zadie said; surely Mother would still be in bed next to Father at this hour, the house would be neat and tidy, and, however improbable, Sami would come by soon to ask Zadie and me if we wanted to go diving for oysters.
I secured the boat to one of the pillars beneath our house, waiting for my sister to enter first through the trapdoor. I wasn’t sure I was ready to see the look on Mother’s face when I appeared out of nowhere, like a spirit come back to haunt her.
I waited a moment, then several more, but there was no sign of life from inside the house, and I climbed quickly up the ladder, afraid something terrible had happened.
“They’re out.” Zadie’s muffled voice came from the kitchen, where she was rummaging for something to eat.
“Out?” I looked around in confusion. “The sun just came up. Where could they be at this hour?”
“Fishing, I suppose.” Zadie seemed unconcerned as