Ship of destiny, p.23
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       Ship of Destiny, p.23

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb

  “You were a slave aboard the Vivacia,” Althea said quietly. That was all. No questions, no contradictions. The man was talking, and telling her more than he realized.

  “I was a slave on your family ship. Yes. ” He gave his head a shake to fling the hair back from his eyes. “You know that. Don’t tell me you don’t recognize your own family’s tattoo. ” Unwillingly she studied his face. The last tattoo on his cheek was a clenched fist. That would suit Kyle. Althea took a breath and spoke softly. “I own no slaves. Neither did my father. He brought me up to believe slavery was wrong. There is no Vestrit tattoo, and there are no Vestrit slaves. What was done to you was done by Kyle Haven, not my family. ”

  “Slide away from it, right? Like your little priest-boy. He had to know what was being done to us. That damn Torg. He’d come amongst us at night and rape the women right in front of us. Killed one of them. She started screaming and he stuffed a rag in her mouth. She died while he was fucking her. And he just laughed. Just stood up and walked away and left her there, chained just two men down from me. There wasn’t a damn thing that any of us could do. The next day the crew came and hauled her away and fed her to the serpents. ” The man’s eyes narrowed. He ran his eyes over her. “It should have been you, spread out and choked. Just once, it should have been one of you. ”

  Althea closed her eyes for an instant. The image was too vivid. By the railing, Amber suddenly turned to stare off over the sea.

  “Don’t speak to her like that,” Brashen said roughly. “Or I’ll throw you overboard myself. ”

  “I don’t care,” Althea interrupted him. “I understand why he says that. Let him talk. ” She focused herself at the man. “What Kyle Haven did with our family ship was wrong. I acknowledge that. ” She forced herself to meet the man’s hawkish gaze with one of her own. “I want Vivacia back, and when I get her, no man will ever be a slave on her. That’s all. Tell us where we can find Kennit. We’ll ransom the ship back. That’s all I want. Just the ship. And those of her crew that still live. ”

  “Damn few of those. ” Her words had not changed the man’s heart. Instead, he seemed to sense her vulnerability and to be eager to hurt her. He stared at her as he spoke. “Most of ‘em was dead before Kennit even stepped aboard. I done two of them myself. It was a fine day when he came aboard. His men spent quite a time pitching bodies to the serpents. And oh, didn’t the ship scream while they did it. ”

  His eyes locked with Althea’s, trying to see if he had wounded her. She did not try to pretend otherwise. Instead, she slowly sat back on her heels. It would have to be faced, all of it. She was not a Haven, but the ship was her family ship. Family money had paid for the slaves, and her father’s crew had been the ones to chain them up in the dark. What she felt was not guilt; guilt she reserved for her own wrongdoing. Instead, she felt a terrible responsibility. She should have stayed and fought Kyle to the bitter end. She should never have let Vivacia depart Bingtown on such a dirty errand.

  “Where can we find Kennit?”

  The man licked his lips. “You want your ship? You ain’t going to get her. Kennit took her because he wanted her. And she wants him. She’d lick his boots if she could reach them. He sweet-talks her like a cheap whore and she just laps it up. I heard him talk to her one night, cozying up to her about turning pirate. She went willing. She’ll never come back to you. She got a gutful of being a slaver; she pirates for Kennit now. She wears his colors, same as me. ” His eyes measured the impact of his words. “Ship hated being a slaver. She was grateful to Kennit for freeing her. She’ll never want to come back to you. Nor would Kennit ransom her to you. He likes her. Says he always wanted a liveship. Now he has one. ”

  “Liar!” The roar burst out, not from Althea, but Paragon. “You lying sack of guts! Give him to me! I’ll wring the truth out of him. ”

  Paragon’s words were another buffet against her. Sickened, Althea stood slowly. Her head spun with the impact of the man’s words. They touched a deeply hidden fear. She had known that Vivacia’s experiences as a slaver must change her. Could it change her this much? So much that she would turn against her own family and strike out on her own with someone else?

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  Why not?

  Hadn’t Althea also turned away from her family, with far less provocation?

  A horrible mixture of jealousy, disappointment and betrayal swept through her. So must a wife feel who discovers her husband’s unfaithfulness. So must a parent feel when a daughter becomes a whore. How could Vivacia have done so? And how could Althea have failed her so badly? What would become of her beautiful misguided ship now? Could they ever be as they were before, one heart, one spirit, moving over the sea before the wind?

  Paragon ranted on, threats to the pirate and pleas that they give him the prisoner, he would wring the truth out of him, yes, he’d make him speak true of that bastard Kennit. Althea scarcely heard him. Brashen took her elbow. “You look as if you will faint,” he said in a low voice. “Can you walk away? Keep your dignity in front of the crew?”

  His words were her final undoing. She wrenched free of him. “Don’t touch me,” she snarled low. Dignity, she cautioned herself, dignity, but it was all she could do to keep from shrieking at him like a fishwife. He stepped back from her, appalled, and she saw the briefest flash of anger deep in his dark eyes. She drew herself up, fighting for control.

  Fighting, she suddenly knew, to separate her emotions from Paragon’s.

  She turned back toward the prisoner and the figurehead, a fraction of an instant too late. Lavoy had hauled the pirate to his feet, and was holding him against the railing. The threats were twin: that Lavoy would simply push him overboard, bound as he was, or that the mate would strike him. The man’s face was reddened on one cheek; there had been at least one blow. Amber had hold of Lavoy’s drawn-back arm. She suddenly looked surprisingly tall. For a woman so willowy to have the strength to hold Lavoy’s arm back surprised Althea. Amber’s expression seemed to have turned Lavoy to stone. The look on Lavoy’s face was not fear; whatever he saw in Amber’s eyes moved him beyond fear. Too late, Althea saw the real threat.

  Paragon had twisted to his full limit. His hand reached, groping blindly.

  “No!” Althea cried, but the big wooden fingers had found the prisoner. Paragon plucked him easily from Lavoy’s grip. The pirate screamed and Amber’s shout of, “Oh, Paragon, no, no, no!” cut through his cries.

  Paragon turned away from them, clenching the pirate in his hands before him. He hunched his shoulders over the stolen prisoner like a child devouring a stolen sweetmeat. He was fiercely muttering something to the hapless man as he shook him back and forth like a rag doll, but all Althea could hear was Amber’s pleading, “Paragon. Please, Paragon. ”

  “Ship! Return that man to the deck at once!” Brashen roared. The snap of ultimate command was in his voice but Paragon did not even flinch. Althea found herself clutching the railing in both hands as she leaned forward desperately. “No!” she begged the ship, but if the figurehead heard her, he gave no sign. Near her, Lavoy watched, his teeth white in a gritted grimace, his eyes strangely avid. Paragon darted his face down close to the man he clutched tight in both hands. For one horrific instant, Althea feared he would bite his head off. Instead, he froze as if listening intently. Then, “No!” he shrieked. “Kennit never said that! He never said he always dreamed of having his own liveship. You lie! You lie!” He shook the man back and forth. Althea heard the snapping of bones. The man screamed, and Paragon suddenly flung him away. His body cartwheeled in the bright sunlight, then bit into the flashing sea abruptly. There was a slap of flesh against water. Then he was gone. The chains on his ankles pulled what was left of him down.

  Althea stared dully at the spot where he had vanished. He had done it. Paragon had killed again.

  “Oh, ship,” Brashen groaned deep beside her.

  Paragon swiveled his head to stare at th
em blindly. He curled his fists and held them in toward his chest as if that would hide his deed. His voice was that of a frightened and defiant boy as he declared, “I made him tell. Divvytown. We’ll find Kennit in Divvytown. He always liked Divvytown. ” He scowled blindly at the silence of the folk gathered on the foredeck. “Well, that was what you wanted, wasn’t it? To find out where Kennit was? That’s all I did. I made him talk. ”

  “That you did, laddie,” Lavoy observed gruffly. Even he seemed daunted by Paragon’s action. He shook his head slowly. In a quiet voice, pitched only for the humans, he added, “I didn’t believe he’d do it. ”

  “Yes, you did,” Amber contradicted him flatly. She stared at Lavoy with eyes that seared. “That was why you put the man within Paragon’s reach. So he could take him. Because you wanted him dead, like the other prisoners. ” Amber turned her head suddenly, to stare at the Tattooed ones of the crew who stood silently watching. “You were in on it. You knew what he would do, but you did nothing. That’s what he’s brought out in you. The worst of what slavery could have done to you. ” Her glance snapped back to the mate. “You’re a monster, Lavoy. Not just for what you did to that man, but for what you’ve wakened in the ship. You’re trying to make him a brute like yourself. ”

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  With a jerk of his head, Paragon turned his maimed face away from Amber’s words. “So you don’t like me anymore. Well, I don’t care. If I have to be weak so you can like me, then I don’t need you to like me. So there. ” For him to revert to such childishness immediately after he had brutally killed a man paralyzed Althea with horror. What was this ship?

  Amber didn’t reply with words. Instead, she sank slowly down until her brow rested on her hands as they gripped the railing. Althea did not know if she mourned or prayed. She clung tight to the wizardwood as if she could pour herself into it.

  “I did nothing!” Lavoy protested. His words sounded cowardly to Althea. He looked at his Tattooed crew as he spoke. “Everyone saw what happened.

  None of it was my doing. The ship took it into his own hands, in more ways than one. ”

  “Shut up!” Brashen ordered all of them. “Just shut up. ” He paced a quick turn on the deck. His eyes traveled over the silently gathered crew on the foredeck. His eyes seemed to linger on Clef. The white-faced boy had both his hands clasped over his mouth. His eyes were bright with tears.

  When Brashen spoke again, his voice was devoid of any emotion. “We’ll be making for Divvytown, with all speed. The performance of this crew during the attack was abysmal. There will be additional drill, for officers as well as crew. I will have each man knowing his place and duty, and acting promptly on that knowledge. ” He let his eyes rove over them again. He looked older and wearier than Althea had ever seen him. He turned back to the figurehead.

  “Paragon, your punishment for disobeying my orders is isolation. No one is to speak to the ship without my leave. No one!” he repeated as Amber took a breath to protest. “No one is even to be on this foredeck unless duty demands it. Now clear it, all of you, and get back to your tasks. Now. ”

  Brashen stood silent on the foredeck as his crew silently ebbed away, back to deck or bunk as their watches commanded. Althea, too, walked away from him. Right now, she did not know him at all. How could he have let all that happen? Didn’t he see what Lavoy was, what he was doing to the ship?

  BRASHEN HURT. IT WASN’T JUST THE LONG GASH DOWN HIS RIBS, THOUGH SA knew that it burned and stung. His jaws, his back and his gut ached with tension. Even his face hurt, but he could not remember how to relax those muscles. Althea had looked at him with absolute loathing; he could not fathom why. His liveship, his pride, his Paragon had killed with a bestial savagery that sickened him; he had not thought the ship capable of such a thing. He was almost certain now that Lavoy was lining up not just men, but the ship himself to support the mate in a mutiny. Amber was right, though he wished she had not spoken it aloud. For reasons he did not completely grasp, Lavoy had seen to it that all their prisoners died. It was overwhelming to him. Yet he must deal with all that, and never show, not even by the twitch of a facial muscle. , that it bothered him. He was the captain. This was the price. Just when he most wanted to confront Lavoy, or take Althea in his arms, or demand that Paragon explain to him what had just happened, instead he had to square his shoulders and stand straight. Keep his dignity. For the sake of his crew and his command, he must feel nothing.

  He stood on the foredeck and watched them all obey him. Lavoy went with a resentful, backward glance. Althea moved awkwardly, her spirit broken. He hoped the other women would have the sense to give her some privacy for a time. Amber was the last to leave the foredeck. She paused beside him, as if she would speak. He met her eyes and silently shook his head. Paragon must not think that anyone opposed Brashen’s order to isolate him. He must feel the disapproval was universal. As soon as Amber was off the deck, Brashen followed her. He spoke no parting word to the ship. He wondered if Paragon even noticed it.

  PARAGON SURREPTITIOUSLY WIPED HIS HANDS AGAIN DOWN THE BOW. BLOOD was such clinging stuff. So clinging, and so rich with memories. He fought against absorbing the man he had killed, but in the end, the blood had its way. It soaked into his wizardwood hands, rich, red and fraught with emotions. Terror and pain were the strongest. Well, how had the man expected to die, once he took up piracy? He’d brought it on himself. It was not Paragon’s fault. The man should have talked when Lavoy told him to. Then Lavoy would have killed him gently.

  Besides, the pirate had lied. He had said that Kennit loved Vivacia, that he often said he’d always wanted a liveship for his very own. Worse, he said that Vivacia had bonded to Kennit. She could not. She was not his family. So the man had lied and he had died.

  Brashen was very angry with him. It was Brashen’s own fault he was angry, because Brashen could not understand a simple thing like killing someone who had lied to you. There were many things, he was discovering, that Brashen did not understand. But Lavoy did. Lavoy came to him and talked to him, and told him sea tales and called him laddie. And he understood. He understood that Paragon had to be as he was, that everything he had ever done, he’d had to do. Lavoy told him he had nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to regret. He agreed that people had pushed Paragon into everything he had ever done. Brashen and Althea and Amber all wanted him to be like them. They wanted him to pretend he had no past. No pasts at all. Be how they wanted him to be, or they wouldn’t like him. But he couldn’t. There were too many feelings inside him that he knew they wouldn’t like. That didn’t mean he could stop feeling them. Too many voices, telling him his bad memories over and over and over, but in tiny little voices he could not quite hear. Tiny little blood voices, whimpering from the past. What was he supposed to do about them? They were never silent, not really. He had learned to ignore them, but that didn’t make them go away. But even they were not as bad as the other parts of himself.

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  He wiped his hands again down his hull. So no one was supposed to talk to him now. He didn’t care. He didn’t have to talk. He could go years without talking or even moving. He’d done it before. He doubted that Lavoy would obey that order anyway. He listened to the barefoot thundering of footsteps on his deck as men raced to one of Lavoy’s orders. He let the other part of himself grow stronger. Did they really think they could punish him and still expect him to sail blithely to Divvytown for them? They’d see. He crossed his arms on his chest and sailed blindly on.

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER TEN - Truces

  AUTUMN RAIN WAS PATTERING AGAINST THE WINDOWS OF RONICA’S BEDROOM. She lay still for a time, listening to it. The fire had burned low during the night. The chill in the room contrasted almost pleasantly with how warm she was beneath the blankets. She didn’t want to get up, not just yet. Lying in a soft bed, between clean linens and under a warm quilt, she could pretend. S
he could go back to an earlier time, and fantasize that any day now the Vivacia would dock. She would meet Ephron as he came striding down the wharf. His dark eyes would widen at the sight of her. The strength of his first hug had always surprised her. Her captain would catch her up in his arms and hold her tight as if he would never let go of her again.

  Never again.

  Despair washed through her. By an effort of will, she let it pass. She had survived this grief; from time to time, it still ambushed her with its pain, but when it did, she reminded herself that she had survived it. Nevertheless, she found herself irretrievably awake. It was very early, the clouded dawn barely touching her windows.

  What had wakened her?

  She had fleeting memories of horseshoes clattering on the drive, and the sound of a door flung open. Had a messenger come? It was the only reason for such sounds so early in the morning. She rose, dressed hastily without disturbing Rache, slipped out into the dim hallways of the quiet house and padded softly down the stairs.

  She found herself smiling grimly. Malta would be proud of her. She had learned that the edges of the stairs were less likely to creak, and how to stand perfectly motionless in the shadows while others passed unnoticing. Sometimes she would sit in the study and pretend to doze, to encourage the servants to gossip where she might overhear them. She had found a pleasant spot under the study window where she could feign absorption in her needlework, until the worsening autumn weather had put an end to that ruse.

  She reached the ground floor and stole quietly through the hall until she was outside Davad’s study. The door was shut but not quite latched. Stepping close, she put her ear to the crack. She could just discern a man’s voice. Roed Caern? Certainly, he and the Companion had been keeping very close company of late. Scarcely a day went by when he was not closeted with her. Initially, Ronica had blamed that on his involvement in Davad’s death. However, everyone else seemed to regard that as resolved now. What else had brought him to Serilla’s door at such an hour and in such haste?

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