Author’s note. In the final version, this chapter will come much earlier, it will probably get moved to chapter 6 or 7.
Carina woke Marianne at dawn, trailing kisses down her neck. Marianne opened her eyes to see her protector practically glowing in the first light of the morning. ”It’s too early, Cari, and you have the breath of a dragon.”
Carina kissed her soundly on the lips, parting her mouth with her tongue. Marianne shoved her off. ”Go rinse your mouth, filthy heathen,” eliciting a sulk from her lover.
“Killing people always puts me in the mood,” Carina said, sitting up on the bed.
“Breathing puts you in the mood,” Marianne replied, sitting up herself. The covers slid down to her waist, exposing her breasts. Carina admired Marianne, the curve of her neck meeting her shoulders, and how her nipples hardened in the morning breeze.
“That’s because every breath I take carries your scent.” Carina got up, feeling dejected at being turned down, and walked to her dresser. She poured a cup of water from a blue pitcher, drank some, and swished a second sip around in her mouth before swallowing. She poured the rest of the water from the pitcher into a matching basin on the dresser, and carefully dipped a cloth into it.
Now it was Marianne’s turn to watch. Carina washed her body, rinsing the cloth in the basin between strokes, before getting out of bed and following the same routine herself. They both finished bathing, and Marianne slipped into a dress and Carina came over to lace the back, already fully dressed, when Jack walked into the room.
“Good morning!” he shouted from the doorway, streaking across the room to his mother’s waiting arms. Marianne kissed him on the forehead and Carina tousled his hair.
“You’ll need to put your pants and shirt on, Jack. School today.”
“Aww, Mom. School is so boring. Mrs. Albertson just talks all day long.”
“And you need to listen so you can grow up to be as smart as your dad,” said Carina. ”Now go, your mother gave you an order!”
Jack ran back into his room and started dressing. ”He’s right, remember listening to Mrs. Albertson talking all day long?” Marianne grinned. ”It was boring.”
“But, how many times every day do you use the things she taught you.”
“Oh, I know. Sometimes it would be nice to teach him myself, is all.” The two of them sat in the deep upholstered chairs beside the fireplace, waiting on Jack.
“Where do you want to start the investigation?” Carina asked.
“I think we should start with a visit to Santerson. If he was responsible, he will know by now that his plot failed. I’d like to see his face when we show up, but we need an excuse.”
“Who else is a suspect?”
“I think all of the governors are capable. Does this feel like Luke Santerson to you? The attack was bold. He doesn’t work like that.”
Jack entered and interrupted their conversation. ”Ready!” He said, “I even tied my boots!” Marianne cringed, looking at the knots in the boy’s boots. It would take her half an hour to untie them.
“Perfect!” She said. The three of them walked to the ground floor of the keep, where Jack gave his mother and Carina hugs and kisses.
“Carina and I have to go to see Governor Santerson. We may not be back before you get out of school today. If we’re not waiting for you, go straight to our rooms and play there until we get back, got it?”
“Yes Mommy. What if you’re not back by supper?”
“I promise we will be. We’ll probably be back before you’re done with your lessons for the day.”
“Okay. See you after school,” Jack said, already walking into the classroom. Marianne waved at Mrs. Albertson, who looked up from her desk and squinted at the door before waving back.
Marianne stopped by Arian’s offices on her way to the harbor. His secretary Julie was there, going through stacks of papers. ”Julie, Carina and I will be out all day. Would you see to it that someone checks on Jack after his lessons?”
“I’ll see to it myself, ma’am. Would you like me to have supper prepared for you when you return?”
“That would be fantastic, thank you.”
Less than an hour later, Marianne and Carina tied up to the dock on the biggest island in The Rock Tail. All along the docks, men worked, moving goods between the docks and the giant warehouse that stood on the top of the cliff. The two ladies climbed the steep stairs as giant cranes mounted to the side of the warehouse lowered crates to the docks. The crane’s ropes ran through holes in the wall. Inside, two teams of horses walked in circles all day long, providing the lifting power.
The entire system was Arian’s design, and many around the island said it was his greatest project. Marianne hoped it wasn’t. While the effect of it was very exciting to watch, essentially he replaced a few men with a few horses. His greatest project was the one he was using right now, an enormous kite that would allow him to sail south in any current. If it worked and he isn’t dead, being swept along the bottom of the current out towards the maelstrom. Marianne ended that thought quickly.
It was a short walk from the warehouse to the village. Hundreds of years ago, when the village was the first settlement on the island, the first Lord of the Rock Tail mined the center of the island for the stone to build the keep. All the islands of the Rock Tail were perfectly flat, and exactly eighty feet from the water, as if five columns had been raised from the floor of the strait. The mining had created a large sunken area in the middle of the island, and that was where the village was built. Being lower than the surface of the island protected the inhabitants from the strong southerly wind and fierce winter storms that roared down the strait. Arian’s father was noted for hundreds of public works projects around the island. He dedicated his life to making life better for the inhabitants. He was the one responsible for the suspension bridges that connected the lower four islands, and the wall around the village.
The wall was eighteen feet above the ground outside and and wide enough to walk on top. Six towers, equidistant gave the watch shelter from storms and visibility out into the fields. The fields were arranged strategically. Tall crops and woodlands around the edges of the island, while shorter crops circled the village, maximized visibility.
Directly behind the village was the composting field, every bit of organic waste from the islands was transported there and used to create dirt. Every month the entire hundred acre compost pile had to be turned over. The men and women who worked the compost pile called it the Dirt Farm. They made dirt from waste. It was one of the most important jobs on The Rock Tail, and the least respected. The dirt farmers waded through human waste and refuse all day, turning acres and acres of compost to maximize nutrients. The original settlers of the island chain scaled the cliff walls to find a perfectly flat granite table top. Dirt, stolen from Algrind, was hauled to the island in buckets and barrels and hoisted to the top by hand. Over a hundred years of farming and careful management, they’d managed to cover the entire island chain in dirt. Without the dirt farm, careful recycling, and spreading, the dirt on the island would run out of nutrients, and wash into the strait.
The village gate was fairly small, just wide enough for a horse cart to pass through. There were six horses on the island. Four of them worked in the warehouse, and two of them worked hauling goods from the fields to the shipping facility. The big island was almost fourteen miles in diameter. The north and west side were almost entirely comprised of pasture and a small barn. A large herd of cattle, the six horses, and a massive flock of sheep lived in the pasture that made up nearly a quarter of the island. The 2nd smallest island, called Elbow Island kept another herd of cattle for beef, and the island’s supply of chickens. The rest of the island was grains and vegetable gardening for the more than one-thousand people who lived on The Rock Tail. Everyone ate, everyone shared in the work. Almost all industry on the island was owned by Tilwin, who kept a portion of the profits for defense and projects that benefited the island’s inhabitants. Most citizens had a side job or trade, worked after their daily job, creating items of value, beauty, or necessity, and trading those items for other things.
It was a good life. No one went hungry unless everyone was hungry, and those in the keep didn’t take any more than any other citizen. When peppers were in season, Arian, Marianne and Jack got just as tired of them as everyone else.
Marianne and Carina walked through the gate into the village. Just inside the gate, a long winding ramp led down to the floor of the bowl.
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