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Chapter 5

The first full day of their voyage was unremarkable. Vistaren talked to the sailors and attempted to stay out of Captain Dzornaea's way while studying the way Lo interacted with her. It wasn't as difficult as he'd expected. Arama was obviously fond of Lo, but she allowed no one to interfere with her duties. She would interrupt a conversation to stride across the deck and berate one of the crew members, or instruct the helmsman to change course. The first few times Vistaren saw that happen, he admired her dedication to duty.

After a while, he recognized it for what it was: an excuse to avoid whatever existed between her and Lo.

A captain's duties weren't as demanding as she made them look. Not on a diplomatic mission like this, at least. He knew she had logs to keep and reports to write, but as far as the routines on deck, they seemed to run themselves. Vistaren watched the helmsman adjust course twice without Arama's intervention, and the first mate didn't hesitate to issue orders regarding the sails and lines without the captain's supervision.

Nevertheless, Vistaren wasn't certain of his conclusion until he saw Lozarr reach out and rest a hand atop Arama's on the railing. It was startling how quickly Arama went stiff and turned her face away from Lo's. She said something that made Lo's shoulders slump. Then she stalked off, snapping orders. Baffled, Vistaren watched Lo as the general watched her walk away from him.

How could Lo's high regard for her elude her so? She was gruff and somewhat unrefined, but not stupid. Lozarr Algot was a kind, well-bred man who obviously cared for her. Vistaren understood that Arama didn't crave rank or glory. She just enjoyed what she did. She was as one with her ship. She loved her country. She served her king. It was admirable and praise-worthy. Was it possible that she feared love?

It wasn't that Vistaren couldn't sympathize. He was going to meet his bride, after all. He wasn't sure if Azmei would even like him. Would she understand his proclivities or make allowances for them? He wanted to like the woman he married, but he was under no illusion that he would ever feel desire for her. It was simply one of those sacrifices that must be made in Amethir's name.

But surely such a sacrifice couldn't be expected of Arama. She had no rank to speak of, and therefore no duties that would prevent her marrying for love. She clearly cared for Lo, and Lo just as clearly cared for her. Why not allow herself such pleasure?

"My prince is obviously further away than his gaze would suggest."

Vistaren jumped. "Lo! Don't sneak up on a body like that!"

Even Lo's smirk was gentle. "I spoke your name twice. Is it my fault that you were inattentive?"

"Certainly." Vistaren shook himself. "You've been to Ranarr before, haven't you?'

"A few times, highness. It isn't so different from Maron."

"No, but the etiquette is very different. I have studied, but I would hate to offend anyone. Especially my bride," Vistaren added lamely.

Lo didn't look at him. "Your bride is from Tamnen. The customs there are rather different from Ranarr."

"Yes." Vistaren cleared his throat. "I require your counsel, Lo. Advise me on how to speak to Princess Azmei."

Lozarr was a tall man. He didn't look away from Arama as he ran a hand through his hair. "I have no experience on which to base any counsel about wooing a woman, Prince Vistaren."

Vistaren couldn't help himself. He snorted. "You damn well know more than I do, Lo. I've never wooed anyone who wanted to be told how pretty he was, or how soft his hands and perfumed his hair."

Lo arched an eyebrow. "Nor have I, Vistaren." He leaned against the railing and directed the full force of his gaze at his prince. "As you obviously understand quite well."

Vistaren's cheeks heated. That had been unkind. "My apologies."

Lo held his gaze for a moment longer, then nodded and looked away. "I am the last person to whom you should go for advice." His voice was low and rough. "I have never been wise about where I spend my affection."

Entirely ashamed of himself, Vistaren looked down. "She's worthy of it. But if she can't see--" He broke off as Lo barked a laugh.

"She sees well enough. Exactly what she wishes to see." Lo's voice was unwontedly bitter. "But I knew when I loved her that she had no basis for a love that didn't leave her. It isn't her fault."

Vistaren kept his breathing even. He felt stupid and young. Why had he thought he understood whatever was between Arama and Lozarr? He was twenty years old and only just unvirgined. What could he know of the complicated emotions that fed into that thing they called love?

Lo sighed. "I'm sorry, Ren. I'm not usually like this. I know she can't-- It just isn't..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "You're not like us. You can have something real. If you're honest with her, Princess Azmei will understand, and she'll find some way to be happy, just as you will." He rested a hand on Vistaren's shoulder. "It won't be perfect. Life itself is never perfect. But it'll be something."

Just two years ago, Vistaren would have been unable to breathe if Lo touched him like this. That had to mean he was growing up, didn't it? He wasn't throbbing with desire for a man who would never look twice at him. He was thinking instead of that man's happiness and how it tied to a woman Vistaren liked and admired. He was thinking of how he himself could find happiness with the woman his father and council had chosen for him.

No, it didn't help. Vistaren still felt selfish and inexperienced. He covered Lo's hand with his own. "Arama doesn't know what she's passing up."

Lo's laughter was sad. Vistaren didn't like it, but sad was better than bitter. "She does. But it's all right. Thank you for trying."

Vistaren looked out across the ocean. The water was impartial. Nonjudgmental. The sea would swallow peasant and king, general and privateer, without distinction. All that stood between them and impersonal death was one good storm. And storm season wasn't all that far away.

Vistaren's voyage had been planned carefully: he would leave Maron one full fortnight after the last rain of the rainy season. It would give the sailors shore leave without forcing him to travel during storm season. No one traveled during storm season if they could help it. Captains like Arama Dzornaea could outsail any storm the sea threw at her, especially with an experienced stormwitch like Kinnet Ardelis on board. But sailing during storm season was just tempting the gods to smite the proud. Best avoided.

Still. As Vistaren looked out across the swells, feeling the sea lift his long hair and tickle his cheeks, he wondered. What would it be like to see her in a fury? What would it feel like to ride the sea's wrath? He glanced around for Stormwitch Ardelis. Vistaren hadn't a smidge of stormwitchery. No member of the royal family did. But witchery, like love, was a power to be reckoned with.

Vistaren couldn't help but be curious.

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