All too soon, the ship was docking in Olekoth. The harbor was swarmed with people, and Ayalah felt herself growing irrationally angry and short-tempered with everyone around her as the noise and the stink of the harbor grew clearer and sharper. Still, she supposed the opportunity to view Olekoth’s fleet was nothing to scoff at. In one direction, their warships stretched out before her in a line that reached the horizon; in the other direction, a mishmash of fishing boats and large trading vessels lined the dock, jostling for space. The sheer size of Olekoth’s navy fleet surprised her as they drew closer, and, upon disembarking from the ship, Ayalah discovered that her fists had been clenched involuntarily at the realization of how vastly superior Olekoth’s fighting force was to anything she had ever seen. King Mathais, she thought, was a fool to slight this country’s royal family.
Here, too, as on the ship, the sailors gaped at her as she walked by. There were a few other women dotting the dock, but these women were stocky and grimy like the other sailors, a sharp contrast to Ayalah’s tall, thin frame in her tight leathers. She stood, letting her hair blow in the breeze. Let them stare, she thought with just a twinge of a smile. It seemed harmless, indulging her ego for once.
The sailors here, however, didn’t seem to understand that the stripes on her clothing indicated that she was a warrior—that it was forbidden to touch her, and that, moreover, she herself was a deadly weapon. As she and Greyson moved along the pier, heading toward the bustling city, the sailors began to jeer at her and shout. She couldn’t hear what they were saying over all the noise, but it certainly didn’t seem friendly. Her sword was strapped tightly to her back, inaccessible at the moment; she rested her hand on the pommel of her knife—just in case.
Then she felt it. They passed through a group of men, and as Ayalah stepped carefully over the planks of the dock, there it was: a warmth, a squeeze, a chuckle from behind her.
She whipped around, pulled out her knife, and sliced the man’s throat.
A few of the surrounding men jumped back with strangled oaths, watching the man open and close his mouth wordlessly as blood spewed out from the gaping hole in his neck. Bystanders noticed and cut off their conversations to stare; soon the entire dock had gone silent.
Greyson gaped at her.
“Well?” Ayalah shouted. “Does anyone else feel they can’t restrain themselves from touching or talking to me?” She glared around her, daring someone, anyone, to take her up on her challenge. Nobody did.
She sheathed her knife with an audible hiss, glared around once more, and continued on her way.
“That wasn’t exactly the most diplomatic move,” Greyson observed drily once they were in the privacy of the inn Ayalah had chosen at random.
She shrugged, sitting on the tiny bed she had claimed as her own. “Someone had to teach those sailors a lesson.” She watched Greyson for a moment, noting his discomfort with a twinge of disappointment. “Don’t tell me you’re of the mindset that a woman’s body is subject to the whims of the men around her?”
“Of course not.” Greyson looked surprised, almost offended. “It’s just that you could have been a bit more subtle.”
She scoffed. “I’ve noticed over the years that subtlety is generally wasted on men. They think they have the right to own everything and to do whatever they please with the women surrounding them. Words don’t work; swords and knives do.”
He was silent for a moment, ostensibly concentrating on the curtain he was hanging between the beds to serve as a partition. Finally, he turned to face her. “It’s not that what you’re saying isn’t true. I’ve observed it myself, even with my own parents. But the way you speak of all men as one united body intent on doing what we want to who we want—it just—it bothers me.”
Ayalah found that she was biting her nails and forced herself to stop. “Why?”
He shrugged. “Well, I’m not like that. I would never impose my will on you. For example. Or try to—to do anything inappropriate.”
“I know,” she said. And she did. There was something about this smithy that was unlike all other men she had known, even Gavin. She watched him moving about the room with a smile on her face. “Come,” she said, rising. “Let’s go explore this city in the hours we have before dusk.”