For all that she was named for it, Mara despised the ocean. This was an opinion she kept to herself and a secret she took pains to hide. Her people lived and died on the waves. Their rulers drew power from the water and even she took solace in its cooling depths. But she could not love it as those around her seemed to.
Mara moved across the palace walls, bare feet tracing the designs of gold and glass beneath her. The sun shone high and warm across her shoulders and thighs, and the silk of her wrap slid coolly across her bare skin as she walked. Even the wind was alive, coming not from the pungent docks but along the eastern cliffs.
The guards stationed across the high wall, long curved swords crossed behind their naked backs, paid her no attention. They knew her well now; they were not to bother her.
Across the long island she could see the sails, the largest cluster of them currently pulling into the open water. The vessel was massive. She’d stood beneath its towering masts and marveled when she’d first been shown the great sweeping sides and sails. Looking up from the dock one could not see the deck or the men that worked there.
Of course, she couldn’t see them now either. But she imagined him, sure and strong even as the ocean’s service drew him away. She could not hate him for it; he kept his oaths. Like the promises he’d spoken to her, the words were part of him, a devotion she loved. And so she blamed the churning waters and unknown expanses that threatened them.
It was not just his absence she charged the sea with. In the depths of night she heard the soft sleeping sobs from her chambers. There was not a woman in her staff who’d not lost a brother, son, father, or lover to the waves.
If the ocean was kind enough to return them, they were never alone. Along with shining glass to craft their palaces, iron and bough were brought to build more warships. Always more ships, always more men to fill them. Thus far, he and Mara had been reunited, but never without a new scar to run her fingers over.
Mara’s fingers tightened across the curved railing. His ship grew small, swallowed by the sparkling expanse until only the horizon remained. Throat tight, Mara turned to make her way back over the sweeping gold beneath her feet.
Marie opened her eyes. She couldn’t breathe; he was gone, perhaps never to come back. The raw grief fell like a wave over her, and then it passed. The ground beneath her lined boots was jagged grey stone. The cries of the gulls were barely audible under the crash of the rain as they fought to fly across the black sky. Around her the dockside was all but empty in the pour, only a few soldiers smoking under the cover of thick coats remained.
She blinked and turned to the voice calling her name. Two friends, hers, each wrapped in their own heavy clothes gaped at from under the taverns overhang. They gestured, beckoning her from the downpour.
Marie hurried, boots splashing across the uneven cobblestones. The thick warm air of the common room blossomed from the door. Her friends laughed at her and ducked inside.
She paused in the door frame to look out over the now rolling sea. Marie wiped the moisture from her cheek and followed them inside.