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The Last Legacy
Author: Adrienne Young

 


ONE

 

The docks were no place for a lady.

My great-aunt Sariah’s words fell with the beat of the heavy rain as I snatched up my skirts, realizing the hem was soaked through. It was one of many lessons she’d imparted to me in my years beneath her watch. But while my great-aunt was many things, she was certainly no lady.

A rivulet of water rippled down the steps, where I stood beneath the harbor’s entrance, trying to stay out of the downpour.

I pulled my skirts up higher, looking again to the street. The city of Bastian was gray, its pointed rooftops cloaked in a thick, white fog. I’d arrived on the Jasper on schedule, but despite my uncle’s claims, there’d been no one waiting to receive me.

I shifted to the side when a cluster of men barreled past me and their eyes cut back, raking me from head to toe. The ridiculous frock Sariah had me wear was completely out of place among the hucksters, fishermen, and trading crews who filled the docks. But I’d spent my life not belonging anywhere and all of that was about to change.

The wind picked up, stinging my cheeks and pulling strands of hair loose from where they were tightly pinned back. By the time Murrow showed up, I’d look like I’d been hauled up out of the water in a fishing net. My skirts were growing heavier by the minute.

I cursed, reaching into my pocket for the letter. It had arrived on my eighteenth birthday, as expected. From the time I was a tiny girl in a ruffled frock learning to hold my teacup without spilling, I’d known about the letter. It was a harbinger that followed me through every one of my memories in Nimsmire.

The morning I woke to eighteen years of age, I’d come down the stairs of the gallery to find it sitting unopened on the breakfast table. My great-aunt sat beside it, spectacles propped up on the tip of her nose as she read the morning reports from her many enterprises. As if it were any other day. As if the very air we breathed hadn’t shifted the moment that wax-sealed envelope was delivered.

But it had.

I found the softened edges of the parchment, pulling it free. It was worn from where I’d unfolded it over and over. And though I had the words memorized, I read them again.

Bryn,

It’s time to come home. I’ve booked you passage to Bastian on the Jasper out of Nimsmire. Murrow will be waiting at the docks.

Henrik Roth

It wasn’t an invitation or a request. My uncle was summoning me home—part of a deal he’d made after my parents died. The penmanship was almost flawless, the script slanted in perfect black ink on pearl-white parchment. But there was an unruly flick of the quill at the ends of the words that was unrefined. Brutish, even.

The thought sent a chill up my spine.

I refolded the letter and slipped it into my cloak, gritting my teeth. He’d called me back to Bastian from Nimsmire, but he hadn’t had the decency to show up and greet me himself. From everything Sariah had told me about her nephew, it didn’t exactly come as a surprise.

Ahead, the great city I couldn’t remember hid beneath the mist, stretching along the rocky shore and disappearing into the hills. It had been fourteen years since I boarded a ship in my great-aunt’s arms and she took me from this place. She’d made me a promise as a child—that she’d never lie to me. Through the years, she’d answered my questions with a darkened gaze about the family we’d left behind here. But her answers often left me wishing I’d never asked. Because though I was the niece of one of the most respected aristocrats in Nimsmire, there was one thing I’d never been able to wash myself clean of: my name.

Bryn Roth.

I’d never had a choice in the matter. It was a truth as simple and as evident as the fact that I had brown eyes or that there were five fingers on each of my hands. While the girls in Nimsmire’s merchant families were being matched and given their own business ventures, I waited for my uncle’s letter. I’d known all my life that one day, I’d go to Bastian. I’d even hungered for it, longing for the day that I could disappear out from under Sariah’s attentive gaze and escape the dismal fate of my peers.

The harbor bell rang out, signaling the opening of the merchant’s house. There was already a long line of traders waiting to pick up their inventories before they set out for the next port city on their routes. More than one of them glanced at me, eyeing the trunk at my feet. It was filled with frocks and shoes and jewelry—things Sariah had packed for me. My armor, she’d called it. All the things she said I’d need if I was going to be of use in Bastian. That’s why I was here, after all.

I stared at the trunk, considering whether I could carry it. Certainly not in these blasted, heavy skirts. If no one was coming for me, I’d have to hire someone to deliver the trunk to Lower Vale. If I did, I figured I had about as much chance of seeing it again as I did of getting the mud out of the hem of my frock. For a moment, I thought maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing.

“The long-lost Roth!” A smooth voice carried on the cold wind, finding me. “Come home at last.”

I dropped my skirts and turned in a circle, searching the faces on the street until I spotted him. A young man with a fine wool coat leaned against a lamppost ahead, one foot crossed over the other as he watched me. His hair was shorn to the scalp on both sides, but its top was a mound of dark, loose curls.

I scowled as he grinned up one side of his face. “Murrow?”

He smiled wider. “Bryn.”

“How long have you been standing there?” I snapped, climbing the stairs and abandoning the trunk.

He had a sharp, handsome face, but it was his eyes that caught my attention. They were a pale, silvery gray that caught the light in a flash. He nodded in greeting and stood up off the post, sliding his hands into the pockets of his jacket.

“Long enough.” He walked toward me slowly, and it was only when he was standing a few feet away that I realized how tall he was. He towered over me, tilting his head as he looked down into my face. “It’s good to see you, cousin.”

I glared at him. “Henrik’s letter said you’d be waiting for me.”

“And so I am.”

Sariah had told me about Murrow. A rascal, she’d called him. He’d been a boy when she left Bastian for Nimsmire, but the entire family tree was etched into my mind, each of the names that lived there branded into my memory. To me, the tales of the Roths were like the fantastical myths of the sea that the traders lived by. Except these tales were true.

“Sariah didn’t come with you?” he asked, absently checking his pocket watch.

“No.” In fact, Sariah had refused to come. She’d sworn when she left Bastian that she would never step foot in the city again and that was another promise she intended to keep.

“Just as well.” He breathed out a sigh. “Come on.” He jerked a chin toward the entrance to the harbor and started up the docks without me.

“But my things.” I turned back, only to find the trunk that had been sitting at the bottom of the steps was gone. When I searched the street for Murrow’s head bobbing above the others, two men were striding ahead of him, my trunk poised ungracefully on their shoulders.

“Wait!” I called out, rushing to keep up.

Murrow slowed just long enough for me to fall into step beside him, pulling his hat low over his eyes. The rain beaded on the dark gray tweed like tiny diamonds and the chain of his gold pocket watch glimmered as it swung from his vest pocket. At first glance, he was as elegantly dressed as any of the young men in Nimsmire, but there was a roughness to his countenance.

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