Authors: Juliet Marillier
To my granddaughter Katy
A number of people helped me with this book. Erudite tour guide Jane Taylor and translator Canan Barim Alioglu provided insights into Ottoman culture during my trip to Turkey. Mr. Ali Tüysüz of the Galeri Kayseri Bookshop in Istanbul found me a wealth of reference material. I’ve had supportive and professional guidance from my editors—Michelle Frey at Knopf, Brianne Tunnicliffe and Anna McFarlane at Pan Macmillan Australia, and Stefanie Bierwerth at Macmillan UK. My agent, Russell Galen, has played a valuable role in all stages of the book’s journey to publication, and Danny Baror has done excellent work on foreign rights. My family has continued to provide moral support and to participate in brainstorming sessions as required.
For proper pronunciation of and details about selected non-English terms, please turn to the back of the book.
The deck tilted to port, and I tilted with it, grabbing at a rope to keep my balance. One day out from Constan
a, the wind had turned contrary and the waters of the Black Sea rose and fell under the
Stea de Mare
’s belly like a testy horse trying to unseat its rider.
“You have excellent sea legs, Paula,” my father commented. He stood perfectly balanced, a veteran of more merchant voyages than he could count. This was my first.
The sail crackled in the wind. The crewmen, grim-jawed and narrow-eyed, were struggling to keep the one-master under control. When they glanced my way, their expressions were hostile.
“It unsettles them to have a woman on board,” my father said. “Ignore it. It’s superstitious nonsense. They know me, and you’re my daughter. If the captain doesn’t like it, he shouldn’t have accepted my silver.”
“It doesn’t bother me, Father,” I said through gritted teeth. Having good sea legs didn’t mean I relished the bobbing motion of the boat or the constant drenching in salt spray. Nor did I much care for the sense that if the
Stea de Mare
sank, these sailors would put the blame on me. “Is this going to delay us, Father?”
“It may, but Salem bin Afazi will wait for us in Istanbul. He understands what this means for me, Paula—the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“I know, Father.” There was a treasure waiting for us in the great city of the Turks, the kind of piece merchants dream of laying their hands on just once in their lives. Father wouldn’t be the only prospective buyer. Fortunately, he was a skillful negotiator, patient and subtle.
When he had first agreed to take me with him, it had been to allow me to broaden my horizons now that I was in my eighteenth year, to let me see the world beyond the isolated valley where we lived and the merchant towns of Transylvania that we sometimes visited.
But things had changed on the journey. Just before we were due to embark, Father’s secretary, Gabriel, had tripped coming down a flight of steps in the Black Sea port of Constan
a. The resultant broken ankle was now being tended to in the physician’s house there while the
Stea de Mare
bore Father and me on to Istanbul. It was most fortunate that I spoke perfect Greek and several other languages and that I had Father’s full trust. While I could not take Gabriel’s place as his official assistant, I could, at the very least, be his second set of ears. It would be a challenge. I could hardly wait.
The wind had brought rain, the same drenching spring rain that fell on our mountains back home, flooding streams and soaking fields. It scoured the planks of the deck and wrapped the ship in a curtain of white. From where I stood, I could barely see the sail, let alone the bow cutting its way through choppy seas. The crew must be steering our course blind.
Father was shouting something above the rising voice of the wind, perhaps suggesting we should go below until things calmed down. I pretended not to hear. The tiny cabins we had been allocated were stuffy and claustrophobic. Being enclosed there only emphasized the ship’s movement, and one could not lie on the narrow bunk without dwelling on how exactly one would get out should the
Stea de Mare
decide to sink.
“Get down, Paula!” Father yelled. A moment later a huge, dark form loomed up behind us. A scream died in my throat before I could release it. Another ship—a tall three-master, so close I screwed my eyes shut, waiting for the sickening crunch of a collision. It towered above us. The moment it hit us, we would begin to go down.
Running steps, shouts, the clank of metal. I opened my eyes to see our crew diving across the deck, snatching implements to fend off the approaching wall of timber. Everyone was yelling. The helmsman and his assistant heaved on the wheel. I clutched on to Father, and the two of us ducked down behind the flimsy protection of a cargo crate, but I couldn’t bear not knowing what was happening. I peered over the crate, my heart racing. Aboard the three-master, a motley collection of sailors was busy hauling on ropes and scrambling up rigging while an equally mixed group had assembled by the rail, long poles extended across and downward in our direction. There were about two arm’s lengths between us.
“Poxy pirate!” I heard our captain snarl as he strode past. A shudder went through the bigger ship, as if it were drawing a difficult breath, and then the two vessels slid by one another, a pair of dancers performing a graceful aquatic pavane.
The wind gusted, snatching my red headscarf and tossing it high. As the scrap of scarlet crossed the divide between the boats, I saw a man set a booted foot on the rail of the three-master and swing up with graceful ease to stand balanced on the narrow rim. He took hold of a rope with one casual hand, then leaned out over the churning waters to pluck the scarf from midair while the ship moved on under full sail. The sailor was tall, his skin darker than was usual in my homeland, his features striking in their sculpted strength. As I stared, the fellow tilted himself back with the ship’s natural movement and leaped down to the deck, tucking the red scarf into his belt. He did not glance in my direction. The big ship moved away, and I saw its name in gold paint on the side:
“Close,” muttered Father. “Altogether too close.”
Despite my pounding heart, I felt more intrigued than frightened. “Did the captain say
?” I asked, unrealistic images of weathered seafarers with exotic birds or monkeys on their shoulders flashing through my mind.
“If he did,” Father said, “we must be glad the fellow didn’t seize the opportunity to board us. I want to get my goods to Istanbul in one piece. Perhaps he knew all I had was hides and wheat. We’ll be more of a prize on the way back.”
I looked at him.
“Don’t worry,” Father said. “This crew has transported me dozens of times, and we’ve never yet lost a cargo. Come, we’d best go below. It’s obvious we’re in the way, and you should cover up your hair again.”
I raised no objections. In my tiny cabin, I wielded a hair-brush as best I could, then tied on another scarf from my collection. There were rules for this trip, rules designed not only for my safety but for the success of our business venture. To win the trust of those we traded with, we must abide by certain codes of behavior, including standards of dress. I would be wearing a headscarf, along with my most decorous clothing, whenever I went out in public.
In fact, the greater part of our business would be conducted with other Christian traders, men from Genoa or Venice or farther west, in whose company these rules could be relaxed. Father would need me to record transactions and check figures, at the very least. When he consulted with Muslim merchants, I would be banned, for Father had told me women of that faith did not mix with men other than those who were their close kin, and then only within the safe walls of the family home. Fortunately, Father and his colleague Salem bin Afazi, who would be meeting us in Istanbul, had a very good understanding. I hoped Salem might arrange for me to be admitted to libraries or to gatherings of female scholars. I had dreamed of that for a long time.
“Father,” I said a little later when the two of us were squeezed into his cabin space as the
Stea de Mare
pitched and rolled, “if you meant what you said about our being a bigger prize once we have the artifact, perhaps we’ll need to take further precautions on the way back. I didn’t think it was the kind of thing pirates would want, but I suppose if they knew its value, they could try to seize it.”
Father looked unperturbed. In the dim light that filtered down the steep ladder from the deck, he was writing notes in the little leather-bound book he carried with him everywhere. “When we reach Istanbul, I’ll hire a guard for you,” he said. “Salem should be able to recommend a trustworthy man. You may receive some invitations from the wives of my fellow merchants, and I won’t always be able to accompany you. A guard can ensure your safety. Without one, you’ll find yourself confined indoors most of the time. Women don’t go about on their own in such places. I do plan to look at other goods while we’re in Istanbul, if only to distract attention from our principal business there, and I’ll take you with me when I can. Nobody’s going to offer me the item I want openly. I’ll need to pursue it through Salem’s contacts.” Father’s voice was held low. The transaction we sought to carry out was delicate in the extreme, and we could not be too cautious.
“Is there any chance I might visit a library, Father? I’ve heard there are many rare books and manuscripts in Istanbul.”
“The best of those are in the libraries of the religious schools or the personal collections of high-ranking officials,” Father said. “As a woman and as a non-Muslim, you could not have access to those. There are some female scholars in the city, of course. Irene of Volos, for example.”
“Who is she, Father?”
“I haven’t met the lady, but she’s a long-term resident of Istanbul and has an excellent reputation as a patron of worthy causes. She’s wealthy; her husband is a personal adviser to the Sultan. I understand Irene’s hospitality extends to women of various backgrounds, including the wives of foreign merchants. I think you’ll find her invitations are much prized. Perhaps we could make an approach to her.”
“That would be wonderful, Father. Of course, I know a lot of the material in any Turkish library would be in Arabic script, but there must be works in Greek and Latin as well, the kind of thing that one day I may be wealthy enough to buy for myself.”
“Is that what you’d do if you made your fortune, Paula? Establish a grand personal library?” Father laid down his quill, which promptly rolled off the fold-down table. I caught it, splashing ink on my skirt.
“Not exactly,” I said, feeling a little defensive. “I was thinking more of a book-trading enterprise. Bra
ov would be an excellent base for that kind of business. I could provide a service for scholars, teachers, and priests. Once the business became well established, I’d have a partner in Istanbul, another in Venice or Genoa, a third in London. I could expand it in time to include my own printing press.”
Father gazed at me, his dark eyes thoughtful in his narrow, gray-bearded face. “An ambitious plan,” he said. “You realize, Paula, that this voyage may well make our fortunes—mine, yours, those of all your sisters and Costi as well?” Costi was Father’s business partner and was married to my sister Jena. He was also our second cousin. Our family had expanded quite a bit over the last few years. Two of my four sisters were married with children, and only Stela and I were still at home with Father. As for my eldest sister, Tati, it was very possible we would never see her again. The forest that surrounded our home housed a portal to another world. Six years ago, true love had carried her through that doorway, never to return.