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   Chapter 8 Haven

Haven: Book Four of The Channel Riders By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 25105

Updated: 2018-02-26 16:01

Chapter 8

Once out of the library, Elena let out a long shaky breath. Part of her wanted to run to her quarters, lock the door and see what the documents held. The more reasonable part of her brain reminded her that she left her e-reader back on Earth with Lisa and that running from the library like a thief was bound to bring attention. She knew attention was not a good idea. She didn't want anyone to take the documents from her before she had a chance to read them.

Elena was in the shadowy alcove between the library and the market. She was effectively hidden from the crowds for the moment and she used the moment to compose herself. She would stick to her plan of going through the market. After all she had a meeting scheduled with one of the merchants and it would look strange not to appear.

When she felt steadier, Elena stepped from the cool shadows and into the whirlwind of the market. She smelled the spices offered for sale and inhaled deeply. Many of them now graced the shelves of her store under more earth centric names. She strolled through the spice quarter first, the familiar scents of the exotic helping to ground her in the present and shift thoughts away from the past. As she walked, Elena noticed that there were at least two merchants missing from the mix.

Narwan, who ran a small grill next to his bowls and baskets of spices, was gone. Elena remembered being fascinated by the portly Stedovan who used two of his six hands to constantly keep the roasting spit turning while the other four were busy measuring out spices and taking his customer's money. The market seemed emptier without his lively patter and loud and often ludicrous claims placed on his spices.

The other empty spot in the spice seller's area was a woman she could not name, but who formed a magnetic presence in the district. She was a Farnac and in the manner of her people, was draped in loose fitting garments that covered her from head to toe, leaving only her eyes exposed.

Elena had some idea that her anatomy was not very human looking, but only guessed that from the way she moved as her gown covered her feet and pooled a little on the ground so that no accidental exposure would occur. Her eyes were human shaped, however the pupil was the silver of mercury and moved as though it were a rolling ball of the semi-liquid element.

She never called out to her customers as Narwan had, but people of all races were drawn to her and her bottles and vials of many colored liquids. Getop especially seemed drawn to her, and her table was always swarming with them, their wings fluttering softly as though they were butterflies and she a flower they wanted badly to perch upon, but didn't dare.

Without the Farnac woman present, the Getop Elena saw wandering the market looked somewhat morose. Their wings were down and their bulbous tails seemed deflated. They passed the empty stall, giving it longing glances as they moved down the central aisle between the stalls. Not for the first time Elena wondered what was in the bottles the woman sold. Elena studied the empty stall for a moment and realized that no-one took the spot over. Usually every inch of space was used and fought over. Now two stands stood empty and no-one moved to fill them. She wondered if it was respect or fear that kept the merchants at bay.

Elena moved on, uncomfortable with her own thoughts. The spice district lead into the district claimed by the cloth merchants and to Elena's relief, she detected no large gaps in the walls of merchants. She didn't know if it was because the merchants filled the space or the waving cloth hid the gaps. Whatever the cause, she was grateful for at least one element of stability.

With the possibility of several official functions and various dinner engagements looming in her future, Elena realized she badly needed to supplement her one little black dress. She perused the options available and began to make selections. For the moment she let her concerns go as she lost herself to the textures, colors and possibilities available. She chose several different materials that would be suitable for her. In the corner of one booth, Elena saw a bolt of cloth that nearly begged her to buy it. The merchant, noticing her interest quickly brought it over.

"You have an excellent eye for quality, Captain, " the merchant told her as he brought the bolt of cloth forward and let her feel the texture. The merchant continued on in his spiel about the quality of the cloth, the expense of its making and the difficulty in getting it to market. The usual prattle was comforting, expected.

Elena tuned him out as she looked at the cloth. The cloth looked gray at first glance and felt as soft as eiderdown. As the light caught it, Elena could see shimmers of greens and browns that reminded her of Kiera. She knew the material would be a mistake for her to wear, it would make her look washed out and sickly. But Kiera's coloring would be a perfect fit.

'And if the engagement goes through, she will need a gown for presentation, ' Elena thought. She decided to buy the material just in case.

"It is lovely, " she admitted to the merchant with a bored sigh, "however it really doesn't suit me, " Elena began, taking the first step in the dance.

"Oh, but Captain, surely you are mistaken, you would look like a Queen in this, " the merchant contradicted. The dance had begun. Slowly, Elena let him talk her into buying the material and after twenty minutes of arguing price, Elena purchased the material and had it, along with the rest of her purchases sent to her favorite dressmaker. Satisfied with her purchases, Elena turned from the counter to find Benjamin and Thompson watching her. Both wore amused looks on their faces.

"And Smith thought you were a pushover, " Thompson said. Elena frowned. Thompson held up his hands in mock defense. "I told him it was just a ruse, " he clarified. "Now, I see I was correct."

"Enjoying the market?" Elena asked, ignoring his commentary on her haggling skills.

"Very much, " Thompson said. He smiled and reminded Elena of the tourists she used to see getting off the large cruise ships for a day of shopping and study. All he was missing was the Hawaiian shirt and the camera around his neck. With a start, Elena realized this was his non-threatening disguise. She had to admit, it was a fairly good one. She doubted anyone who saw him would suspect he worked for the military. She wondered if that was part of his training as well.

'How to look like a Hapless Tourist 101, ' She thought. 'I can add it to the list of other possible classes he took.'

"Good, " she replied, realizing she was silent too long. "I need to get going."

"Ah yes, " Thompson said, looking amiable. "You need shoes to go with those new clothes of course. Enjoy." He turned and started to walk off, Benjamin following behind and shaking his head bemusedly. Elena let them go and followed her cloth to the dressmaker's shop.

Evalene Dupry married a member of the Guild and raised three daughters as pilots. In order to keep an eye on her family, she moved her dressmaking shop to the DF and over time became a fixture. Four of her granddaughters became pilots and several of her grandsons now served as shop assistants, keeping the family close and connected.

Most of Elena's clothes came from the shop as her grandfather had a horror of shopping and found it simpler merely to drop Elena o

e his skills and gain experience while having his adventure and the family ships will sail safer waters. Have you prepared for further safety measures? There are certain to be other ships either in our family or among the Carloti Houses who will seek safer routes. There will also be many Houses who are not aligned with us yet, who may seek safer trade."

"I told Ambra and the others that if there are other ships, I am willing to speak with their Heads of House." Elena said. "We have enough trade at the moment to assign routes, even if they are temporary." Her grandfather nodded.

"Good, " he said. "I think you will find many takers. I will pass the word among the ships that sail for my House, if you find that acceptable."

"Of course, " Elena said.

"Then should any of them approach you, know that they do so with my blessing as their Head of House and work with them accordingly."

"I will."

"Even Therese?" he asked, his eyebrow raised in question. Elena sighed.

"If she asks, she would have to do so with Aunt Elizabeth's permission, " Elena said, hedging her answer.

"This is true, " Alexandro said. He continued to look at her.

Elena sighed. "If she did, then I would help her out, " she admitted reluctantly. "I would make it a boring transport run with as horrible a cargo as I could think of, but I would help her out. I'd probably try and justify rotten fish guts as the new natural fertilizer though."

Alexandro put his arm around her and squeezed. "I'm not going to go out of my way to offer though, " Elena said sulkily. Alexandro chuckled and gave her another squeeze before letting go.

"Family looks out for family, " he said. "Even if they sometimes need to resort to rotten fish guts."

"I wouldn't expect Mateo to feel the same way though. He'd turn her down." Elena said grumpily as they resumed walking.

"I know, " Alexandro said softly. "He holds his grudges long and with a fierce grip. It is one of the traits he shares with Therese and one of the reasons they are at each other's throats so often, whereas you simply ignore her when she becomes unbearable."

Elena couldn't think of a response to that. Mentally, she could almost hear Mateo claiming to have nothing in common with Therese. She also wondered if her close call with Therese's fender caused Alexandro to alter his opinions on the family dynamics. For most of her life he downplayed the difficulties within the family, trusting familial love and support to work things out in the end.

"It is also the reason she will need to ally with you once the seats pass to the next generation. I don't suppose you have spoken to Mateo about that?" her grandfather asked, interrupting her thoughts on his change of perspective.

"I did actually, " Elena said, choosing her words carefully, wanting no misunderstandings. "He is willing to consider taking the last step towards eligibility. Beyond that he has made no decision."

"That he is considering the final step is interesting, " Alexandro said with a smile. "Although I should have guessed that from his behavior at Nathanial's wedding. Not one bridesmaid ended up in his bed." Elena smiled.

"Speaking of weddings, " She said deliberately shifting the topic. "I have at least one pilot of my house who is likely to announce an engagement at the end of the season, possibly two. I know there are standard gifts required from a Head of House for both the engagement and the wedding; do you know what they are?"

"Ah, of course, " Alexandro said. "As you did not come to your status as Head of House in the normal fashion you would not have received some of the information. I will send a chart showing the designated gifts for different events and different levels of your House along with a couple of other things you might find useful."

"I wasn't that unusual, " Elena said. "But thanks for the documents." Alexandro laughed.

"Normally when someone wishes to be their own Head of House, they work to achieve the requirements and then put in a request for a change of status. You walked away from the Guild severing all ties for five years and only came back under duress." He shook his head. "That is not considered the normal path."

Elena could not think of a safe comment to make so she kept quiet. As Alexandro cared little for small talk, he was content to walk the rest of the distance in silence. When they came in sight of Elena's quarters, they noticed a man who appeared to be waiting for her.

"And so it begins, " Alexandro said. "Did I not say others would seek safer passageways? Perhaps he is associated with the Carlotis. Regardless, I will leave you to deal with it. I plan to ship out first thing in the morning so I doubt I will have the chance to see you again before I go. Good journey to you."

"Good journey to you as well Grandfather, " Elena replied. He gave her a quick hug, turned and walked back the way they had come, leaving Elena to face the stranger alone.

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