The woman returned the wave. “Another round of schooling comes, Gruuma and as per our agreement, I bring you the student I’ve chosen for your school.” The woman was dark of skin, but not as dark as Gruuma and not merely tanned like her rowers.
“And every time, you manage to give me your people’s worst, Alashi. This time, you had to box her up to keep her from hurting herself?”
Alashi smirked. The fleets of the southern and western islands were forced to send a representative to each of the schools by treaty, much like the plainsmen. Unlike the other peoples and nations, they didn’t see the schools as an opportunity and an honor, but as a diplomatic imperative.
The plainsmen, at least, made an honest effort or having their children take the tests and reporting the results. The fleets brazenly falsified them and then palmed off their most superfluous and troublesome orphans on the schools.
“Not to protect her, but me and my men.” Alashi explained, clearly enjoying the less than amused expression from Gruuma. “See, Zin here, she doesn’t much like water, being close to it at least. She climbs like a lemur on the masts, but if she gets close to the water like here? She’s not happy.”
Gruuma grunted her disbelief. A fleet child who hated water? She peered into one of the slats. By the Bright Moon’s light, she could make out, fair, thin hair hanging in dirty strings over a pale face. That meant she was from the far south, where the ships sailed on ice as often as liquid water, most fleet folk had healthy tans unless they were newly joined or originally form the mountains. The fleets weren’t so much a people as a collection of those who didn’t want to bother with the other nation of the world.
The eyes that stared back at her were those of a panicked animal; she heard them talking about how close the water was.
“She really is afraid of the water.” Gruuma surmised. “I wish I could say this is the strangest student coming in this year, but I just got a letter from the Shai-ye minister of relations and… she isn’t.”
Alashi folded her arms. “At least we sent a princess this time. Zinthayliat is daughter of the Admirals Thanigressi. They let the girl grow up feral below decks, more or less. Now they want to make her into something other than a nuisance underfoot.”
Gruuma straightened back up amid much flapping of her cloak. “Either the fleets are softening toward my academy, or this one is five kinds of hell shaped into a girl.”
“Only one way to find out.” Alashi chuckled.
Again, Gruuma was utterly humorless at this. “Bring her.” She said brusquely, turning to walk back down the pier.
One of the rowers got up and brought out an iron prybar, only for Alashi to raise a hand to stop hm.
“No, no.” She said, “Bring the box. Let Gruuma let this one out—preferably after we’re safely on the way back to the ship.
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