House Mederos was once the wealthiest merchant family in Port Saint Frey. Now the family is disgraced, impoverished, and humbled by the powerful Merchants Guild. Daughters Yvienne and Tesara Mederos are determined to uncover who was behind their family's downfall and get revenge. But Tesara has a secret – could it have been her wild magic that caused the storm that destroyed the family's merchant fleet? The sisters’ schemes quickly get out of hand – gambling is one thing, but robbing people is another…
Together the sisters must trust each another to keep their secrets and save their family.
File Under: Fantasy
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The Harbor Master has stated that all vessels that have not paid their docking fees for the quarter must be moved, by tow or under sail, to the West Pilings, or be fined 10 guilders per day. Dock sources say that the move is to open up berths for an expansion by House Iderci after their ship, the Iderci Empress, comes out of the shipyards for her maiden voyage. She is expected to be the largest, fastest ship in the St Frey shipping fleet. In other business news, the Guild is to review the charges against House Mederos this afternoon, in the first step to determining if the offending family has met its civil and criminal obligations and is to be released from further sentencing. Guildmaster Trune and the council will preside over the proceedings.
Dockside Doings, Junipre, Treacher’s Almanac
Tesara pretended she didn’t hear the loud whispers as she browsed the open window display of Sturridges, on the Mile. The fine gifts emporium was decorated for Saint Frey’s Day. It was filled with gilded ribbons and chocolates, delicate porcelain, and fragile silk scarves of yellow and green for spring. She cocked her head exactly as if she were contemplating the difference between a delicately painted blown-glass egg and a cameo brooch, and in the meantime, took in all the none-too-subtle gossip around her. She and her sister had only been home two weeks, but the rumor engine of Port Saint Frey was nothing if not efficient.
“I can’t believe she shows her face in public.”
“Look at that bonnet. Can you imagine?”
“She’s gotten so worn. I heard she and her sister were reduced to scrubbing floors at a school for paupers.”
Tesara schooled her face into a smile and turned to face her tormenters. The cluster of merchant misses huddled near the door, and as one they gasped and fled inside the store, their skirts rustling as they whisked inside to safety, where she dared not follow. She could look all she wanted, but she knew what would happen if she tried to enter. Even worse than the gossip of her former peers would be the crossed arms and forbidding posture of the shop girl. The humiliation of denied entry would finish what the misses had wrought – her complete and utter dismissal from society. Once more alone, she turned back to her private contemplation of the lovely things she could no longer afford.
Her fingers ached, and she rubbed her hands absently, a routine gesture, her crooked fingers swollen and misshapen. Her fingerless mittens were no match for the brisk winds coming off the harbor. In the spring, no matter how fine the day, the winds of Port Saint Frey bit, and bit hard. Despite the almost constant pain, her hands felt leaden and dull.
It was exactly like Madam Callier to eliminate an aggravating problem with forthright action, Tesara thought, trying to will away the pain. A troublesome new student had a troublesome talent? Problem solved with brutal efficiency. It had worked – for six long years, she had not experienced even the slightest frisson of electricity. Madam Callier had not only broken her will, she had broken her power.
She could almost believe that she was mistaken that six years ago she had sunk the family’s shipping fleet from her bedroom window.
“Miss Mederos? Tesara?”
Tesara turned to see a young man calling her name and her heart sank. Oh please. Oh no. She managed a smile and a curtsey, and hoped that both looked easy and confident.
“Mr Saint Frey, what a pleasure.”
“Please, we’re old friends. Jone. Remember?” Jone Saint Frey smiled a charming little smile. It did not mollify the bitterness in her breast, so she smiled wider, hoping she wasn’t clenching her teeth. How much longer could she keep smiling? Couldn’t he see the tendons in her neck were about to snap with strain?
“Of course. Jone. How are you? Your family?”
“Well, thank you. We are all in fine health.”
He had grown up after six years. He was tall and thin, and he had the pallor of a man who spent much time indoors. He had the long sideburns and mustache of a fashionable young man in Port Saint Frey, and his trousers were of fine summer wool. His coat was gray, and she wagered the pocket square of bright scarlet perfectly folded like a splash of blood over his heart was silk from the Qin traders. He must be twenty now, Tesara thought. Yvienne’s age. They had been friends as children, getting into as much mischief as coddled children could, though they were from entirely different spheres. The Mederos family had been one of the wealthiest merchant families in the city, but Jone Saint Frey was a scion of the House of Saint Frey, the founding family, and mere wealth could never compete with nobility like that.
Of course, it only made her current status even more laughable. Why was Jone even talking to her? Oblivious, he went on.
“And you? Your sister? You’ve been away at school, haven’t you?”
“Yes. We’ve just returned home.”
A pauper’s school, indeed. The misses had the right of it. Two weeks before, Madam Callier had called them into her study and told them to pack their things; their parents had written for them to return. She gave them back their dusty valises and their old clothes, all far too small now for any good, and packed them into a cart much as they had arrived, only this time without their old nurse. A year after their arrival, Michelina had succumbed to a fever, brought on by the damp mountain air of the north. The girls had not mourned their last link to home. Even toward the end, Michelina had made it clear she blamed them for her exile.
Tesara had been eager to come home, but had quickly discovered that everything had changed. Except for Sturridges, of course.
There was a silence between them and Jone made a rueful face, as if he were at a loss to carry the conversation. Still, he did not seem ready to take his leave. He turned toward the window.
“A fine display, isn’t it? Sturridges always goes all out for Saint Frey’s Day. Have you been inside? Perhaps you can advise me on gifts for my mother and my aunt.”
“I’m afraid not,” Tesara said, grateful for a chance to escape. “I’ve only time for window shopping today. But anything from Sturridges – I mean, I’m sure you will find something suitable.”
“Well,” he said. “Then I won’t keep you. Enjoy your excursion, Miss Tesara. It’s a fine day for it. And Happy Saint Frey’s Day.” He made a bow, she curtsied, and then she continued on her way down the fashionable Mile. The street thronged with shoppers and their servants carrying baskets, but no one else acknowledged Tesara, even though the curious turned toward her and then away, as soon as they recognized her.
Jone had it right about the day being fine – the dazzle on the sea almost hurt the eyes, and the white clouds chased across a deep blue spring sky. The merchant fleet bobbed at anchor in the harbor, far below the Mile. She had missed these days during their long years at school in the mist-shrouded mountains of Romopol. She wasn’t nostalgic for the cut direct, given by all their former society. She wondered why Jone had come up to talk to her – surely the return of the “poor Mederos sisters” was the talk of the drawing rooms and salons all along the Crescent and Nob Hill. And there was all the news in the paper – today was the day of the first hearing, to determine if the family had satisfactorily paid for their crimes.
If you counted Uncle’s six years in gaol, and her and Yvienne’s purgatory in Madam Callier’s Academy, the answer was yes. But Tesara knew from the hard-won perspective of all her eighteen years that Port Saint Frey would never forget and never forgive.
A gust of wind came up and blew back the brim of her outdated bonnet. Tesara held it down with one hand and with the other grabbed the front of her old-fashioned pelisse. It had been her mother’s when she was young. The cape was good wool and she kept it well brushed and tidy. You couldn’t even see the darns where she had repaired moth damage unless you were very close.
She didn’t use to care about clothes. She had been a child then, and she hadn’t understood that clothes were very much more than just something to cover one’s nakedness. Clothing signified wealth, or lack thereof. Station or standing. Service – or served.
To anyone walking the Mile who did not recognize Tesara Ange DeBarri Mederos, she was nothing more than a lady’s maid who wore her mistress’s hand-me-downs.