Ship of destiny, p.28
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       Ship of Destiny, p.28
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         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
Page 102

 

  “Home?” He tried to make the question casual. “And where is that?”

  “Home is an eventuality. It is nothing for you to trouble yourself about just now,” she told him. She smiled, but her voice had cooled.

  “Might that be the thing you will want, when you want it?” he pressed.

  “It might be. Or it might not. I’ll let you know. ” She paused. “After all, I have not yet heard you say that you agree to my terms. ”

  Carefully, carefully. “I am not a hasty man. I would still like to know more of what they are. ”

  She laughed aloud. “Such a silly topic for us to discuss. You agree. Because you have even less choice than I do in the life we must share. What else is there for us, if not each other? You bring me gifts, don’t you? That is more correct than you know. But I shall not even wait for you to present them before I reveal that I am a far richer trove than you imagined you could ever win. Dream larger, Kennit, than you have ever dreamt before. Dream of a ship that can summon serpents from the deep to aid us. They are mine to command. What would you have them do? Halt a ship and despoil it? Escort another ship safely wherever it wishes to go? Guide you through a fog? Guard the harbor of your city from any that might threaten it? Dream large, and larger still, Kennit. And then accept whatever terms I offer. ”

  He cleared his throat. His mouth had gone dry. “You extend too much,” he said baldly. “What can you want, what can I give you worthy of what you offer?”

  She chuckled. “I shall tell you, if you cannot see it for yourself. You are the breath of my body, Kennit. I rely on you and your crew to move. If I must be trapped inside this hulk, then I must have a bold captain to give me wings, even if they are only of canvas. I require a captain who understands the joy of the hunt, and the quest for power. I need you, Kennit. Agree. ” Her voice dropped lower and softer. “Agree. ”

  He took a breath. “I agree. ”

  She threw back her head and laughed. It was like bells ringing. The very wind seemed to blow stronger in excitement at the sound.

  Kennit leaned on her railing. Elation rose in him. He could scarcely believe his dreams were all within his grasp. He groped for something to say. “Wintrow will be very disappointed. Poor boy. ”

  The ship nodded with a small sigh. “He deserves some happiness. Shall we send him back to his monastery?”

  “I think it is the wisest course,” Kennit concurred. He covered his surprise that she would suggest it. “Still, it will be hard for me to see him go. It has torn my heart, to see his beauty so destroyed. He was a very comely youth. ”

  “He will be happier in his monastery, I am sure. A monk has little need of a smooth skin. Still… shall we heal him anyway, as a parting gift? A reminder to carry with him, always, of how we shaped him?” Bolt smiled, showing white teeth.

  Kennit was incredulous. “This, too, you can do?”

  The ship smiled conspiratorially. “This, too, you can do. Far more effective, don’t you think? Go to his cabin now. Lay on your hands and wish him well. I shall guide you in the rest. ”

  A STRANGE LETHARGY HAD COME OVER WINTROW. FROM ATTEMPTING TO meditate, his mind had sunk deeper and deeper into an abstract abyss. Suspended there, he wondered distantly what was happening to him. Had he finally mastered a deeper state of consciousness? Dimly, he was aware of the door opening.

  He felt Kennit’s hands on his chest. Wintrow struggled to open his eyes, but could not. He could not awaken. Something held him under like a smothering hand. He heard voices, Kennit speaking and Etta replying. Gankis said something quietly. Wintrow fought to be awake, but the harder he struggled, the more the world receded. Exhausted, he hovered. Tendrils of awareness reached him. Warmth flowed out from Kennit’s spread hand. It suffused his skin, then seeped deep into his body. Kennit spoke softly, encouraging him. The fires of Wintrow’s life force suddenly blazed up. To his consciousness, it was as if a candle suddenly roared with the light and heat of a bonfire. He began to pant as if he were running an uphill race. His heart labored to keep up with the rushing of his breath. Stop, he wanted to beg Kennit, please stop, but no words escaped him. He screamed his plea into his own darkness.

  He could hear. He could hear the startled gasps and cries of awe of those who watched outside him. He recognized the voices of crewmates. “Look, you can see him change!”

  “Even his hair is growing. ”

  “It’s a miracle. The cap’n’s healing him. ”

  His body’s reserves were burned recklessly; he sensed that years of his life were consumed by this act, but could not defy it. The rejuvenating skin itched wildly, but he could not twitch a muscle. His own body was beyond his control. He managed a whimper, far back in his throat. It was ignored. The healing devoured him from the inside out. It was killing him. The world retreated. He floated small in the dark.

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  After a time, he was aware that Kennit’s hands were gone. The painful pounding of his heart subsided. Someone spoke at a great distance. Kennit’s voice reverberated with pride and exhaustion.

  “There. Leave him to rest now. For the next few days, he will probably only awaken to eat and then sleep deeply again. Let no one be alarmed by this. It is a necessary part of the healing. ” He heard the pirate’s deep ragged breath. “I must rest, too. This has cost me, but he deserved no less. ”

  IT WAS EARLY EVENING WHEN KENNIT AWOKE. FOR A TIME, HE LAY STILL, savoring his elation. His sleep had completely restored him. Wintrow was healed, by his hands. Never had he felt so powerful as he had while his hands rested on Wintrow and his will healed the boy’s skin. Those of his crew who had witnessed it regarded him with deep awe. The entire coast of the Cursed Shores was his for the plucking. Etta fair shone with love and admiration for him. When he opened his eyes and regarded the charm strapped to his wrist, even that small countenance was smiling wolfishly at him. For one perfectly balanced instant, all was well in his world.

  “I am happy,” Kennit said aloud. He grinned to hear himself say such foreign words.

  A wind was rising. He listened to it whistle past the ship’s canvas, and wondered. He had seen no sign of a storm arising. Nor did the ship rock as if beset by a wind. Had the dragon power over such things as a rising storm, too?

  He rose hastily, seized his crutch and went out on deck. The wind that stirred his hair was fair and steady. No storm clouds threatened, and the waves were rhythmic and even. Yet, even as he stood looking about, the sound of a rising wind came again to his ears. He hurried toward the source.

  To his astonishment, the entire crew was mustered around the foredeck. They parted to make way for him in awe-stricken silence. He limped through them and forced himself up the ladder to the foredeck. As he gained his feet, the sound of the rising wind came again. This time he saw the source.

  Bolt sang. He could not see her face. Her head was thrown back so that her long hair cascaded over her shoulders. The silver and lapis of his gift shone against the foaming black curls. She sang with a voice like a rising wind, and then with the sound of waves slashed by wind. Her voice ranged from a deep rush to a high whistling that no human throat and lips could have produced. It was the wind’s song given voice, and it stirred him as no human music ever had. It spoke deep within him in the language of the sea itself, and Kennit recognized his mother tongue.

  Then another voice joined hers, winding pure notes around and through Bolt’s sea song. Every head turned. A profound silence stilled every human voice on the ship. Wonder replaced the first flash of fear that seized Kennit. She, too, was as beautiful as his ship. He saw that now. The green-gold serpent rose swaying from the depths, her jaws stretched wide in song.

  WINTER

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER TWELVE - Alliances

  “PARAGON, PARAGON. WHAT AM I TO DO WITH YOU?”

  Brashen’s deep voice was very soft.
The hissing rain that spattered on his deck was louder than his captain’s voice. There did not seem to be any anger in it, only sorrow. Paragon didn’t reply. Since Brashen had ordered that no one must speak to him, he had kept his own silence. Even when Lavoy had come to the railing one night and tried to jolly him out of it, Paragon had remained mute. When the mate had shifted his attempts to sympathy, it had been harder to keep his resolve, but he had. If Lavoy had really thought Brashen had wronged him, he would have done something about it. That he hadn’t just proved that he was truly on Brashen’s side.

  Brashen gripped his railing with cold hands and leaned on it. Paragon almost flinched with the impact of the man’s misery. Brashen was not truly his family, so he could not always read his emotions. But at times like this, when there was contact between flesh and wizardwood, Paragon knew him well enough.

  “This isn’t how I imagined it would be, ship,” Brashen told him. “To be captain of a liveship. You want to know what I dreamed? That somehow you would make me real and solid. Not a knock-about sailor who had disgraced his family and forever lost his place in Bingtown. Captain Trell of the liveship Paragon. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I thought we would redeem each other, ship. I pictured us returning to Bingtown triumphant, me commanding a sharp crew and you sailing like a gray-winged gull. People would look at us and say, ‘Now there’s a ship, and the man who runs him knows what he’s about. ’ And the families that discarded us both might suddenly wonder if they hadn’t been fools to do so. ”

  Brashen gave a small snort of contempt for his foolish dreams. “But I can’t imagine my father ever taking me back. I can’t even imagine him having a civil word for me. I’m afraid I’m always going to stand alone, ship, and that the end of my days will find me a sodden old derelict washed up on some foreign shore. When I thought we had a chance, I told myself, well, a captain’s life is lonely. It’s not like I’m going to find a woman that will put up with me for more than a season. But I thought, with a liveship, at least we’d always have each other. I honestly thought I could do you some good. I imagined that someday I’d lay myself down and die on your deck, knowing that part of me would go on with you. That didn’t seem like such a bad thing, at one time.

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  “But now look at us. I’ve let you kill again. We’re sailing straight into pirate waters with a crew that can’t even get out of its own way. I haven’t a plan or a prayer for any of us to survive, and we draw closer to Divvytown with each wave we cut. I’m more alone than I’ve ever been in my life. ”

  Paragon had to break his silence to do it, but he could not resist setting one more hook into the man. “And Althea is furious with you. Her anger is so strong, it’s gone from hot to cold. ”

  He had hoped it would goad Brashen into fury. Anger he could deal with better than this deep melancholy. To deal with anger, all you had to do was shout back louder than your opponent. Instead, he felt himself the horrible lurch of Brashen’s heart.

  “That, too,” Brashen admitted miserably. “And I don’t know why and she scarcely speaks to me. ”

  “She talks to you,” Paragon retorted angrily. Cold silence belonged to him. No one could do it so well as he, certainly not Althea.

  “Oh, she talks,” Brashen agreed. ” ‘Yes, sir. ’ ‘No, sir. ’ And those black, black eyes of hers stay flat and cold as wet shale. I can’t reach her at all. ” The words suddenly spilled out of the man, words that Paragon sensed Brashen would have held in if he could. “And I need her, to back me up if nothing else. I need one person in this crew that I know won’t put a knife in my back. But she just stands there and looks past me, or through me, and I feel like I’m less than nothing. No one else can make me feel that bad. And it makes me just want to…” His words trailed off.

  “Just throw her on her back and take her. That would make you real to her,” Paragon filled in for him. Surely, that would bring a rise from Brashen.

  Brashen’s silent revulsion followed his words. No explosion of fury or disgust. After a moment, the man asked quietly, “Where did you learn to be this way? I know the Ludlucks. They’re hard folk, tight with a coin and ruthless in a bargain. But they’re decent. The Ludlucks I’ve known didn’t have rape or murder in them. Where does it come from in you?”

  “Perhaps the Ludlucks I knew weren’t so fastidious. I’ve known rape and murder aplenty, Brashen, right on my deck where you’re standing. ” And perhaps I am more than a thing shaped by the Ludlucks. Perhaps I had form and substance long before a Ludluck set a hand to my wheel.

  Brashen was silent. The storm was rising. A buffet of wind hit Paragon’s wet canvas, making him heel over slightly. He and the helmsman caught it before it could take him too far. He felt Brashen tighten his grip on the railing.

  “Do you fear me?” the ship asked him.

  “I have to,” Brashen replied simply. “There was a time when we were only friends. I thought I knew you well. I knew what folk said of you, but I thought, perhaps you were driven to that. When you killed that man, Paragon-when I saw you shake his life out of him-something changed in my heart. So, yes, I fear you. ” In a quieter voice he added, “And that is not good for either of us. ”

  He lifted his hands from the railing and turned to walk away. Paragon licked his lips. The freshwater deluge of the winter storm streamed down his chopped face. Brashen would be soaked to the skin, and cold as only mortals could be. He tried to think of words that would bring him back. He suddenly did not want to be alone, sailing blindly into this storm, trusting only to a helmsman who thought of him as “this damned boat. ”

  “Brashen!” he called out suddenly.

  His captain halted uncertainly. Then he made his way back across the rising and falling deck, to stand once more by the railing. “Paragon?”

  “I can’t promise not to kill again. You know that. ” He struggled for a justification. “You yourself might need me to kill. And then, there I’d be, bound by my promise…. ”

  “I know. I tried to think of what I would ask you. Not to kill. To obey my orders always. And I knew you and I knew you could never promise those things. ” In a heavy voice, he said, “I don’t ask for those promises. I don’t want you to lie to me. ”

  He suddenly felt sorry for Brashen. He hated it when his feelings switched back and forth like this. But he couldn’t control them. Impulsively, he offered, “I promise I won’t kill you, Brashen. Does that help?”

  He felt Brashen’s convulsion of shock at his words. Paragon suddenly realized that Brashen had never even considered the ship might kill him. That Paragon would now promise thus made him realize that the ship had been capable of it. Was still capable of it, if he decided to break his word. After a moment, Brashen said lifelessly, “Of course that helps. Thank you, Paragon. ” He started to turn away again.

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  “Wait!” Paragon called to him. “Are you going to let the others talk to me now?”

  He almost felt the man’s sigh. “Of course. Not much sense in refusing you that. ”

  Bitterness rose in Paragon. He had meant his promise to comfort the man, but he insisted on being grieved by it. Humans. They were never satisfied, no matter what you sacrificed for them. If Brashen was disappointed in him, it was his own fault. Why hadn’t he realized that the first ones to kill were the ones closest to you, the ones who knew you best? It was the only way to eliminate the threat to yourself. What was the sense of killing a stranger? Strangers had small interest in hurting you. That was always done best by your own family and friends.

  THE RAIN HAD WINTER’S KISS IN IT. IT SPATTERED, ANNOYING BUT HARMLESS, against Tintaglia’s outstretched wings. They beat steadily as she flew upstream above the Rain Wild River. She would have to kill and eat again soon, but the rain had driven all the game into the cover of the trees. It was difficult to hunt in the swampy borderlands along the Rain Wild River. Even on a dry day, it was e
asy to get mired there. She would not chance it.

  The cold gray day suited her mood. Her search of the sea had been worse than fruitless. Twice, she had glimpsed serpents. But when she had flown low, trumpeting a welcome to them, they had dove into the depths. Twice she had circled and hovered and circled, trumpeting and then roaring a demand that the serpent come back. All her efforts had been in vain. It was as if the serpents did not recognize her. It daunted her to the depths of her soul to know that her race survived in the world, but would not acknowledge her. A terrible sense of futility had built in her, combining with her nagging hunger to a smoldering anger. The hunting along the beaches had been poor; the migratory sea mammals that should have been thick along the coast were simply not there. Hardly surprising, seeing as how the coast she recalled was not there either.

  Her reconnaissance had opened her eyes to how greatly the world had changed since her kind had last soared. The whole edge of this continent had sunk. The mountain range that had once towered over the long sand beaches of the coast was now the tops of a long stretch of islands. The richly fertile inland plain that had once teemed with herds of prey, both wild and domesticated, were now a wide swamp of rainforest. The steaming inland sea, once landlocked, now seeped to the ocean as a multitude of rivers threading through a vast grassland. Nothing was as it should be. She should not be surprised that her own kin did not know her.

  Humans had multiplied like fleas on a dying rabbit. Their dirty, smoky settlements littered the world. She had glimpsed their tiny island settlements and their harbor towns as she had searched for serpents. She had flown high over Bingtown on a star-swept night and seen it as a dark blot freckled with light. Trehaug was no more than a series of squirrels’ nests connected by spiderwebs. She felt a grudging admiration for humanity’s ability to engineer a home for itself wherever it pleased even as she rather despised creatures so helpless they could not cope with the natural world without artificial structures. At least the Elderlings had built with splendor. When she thought of their graceful architecture, of those majestic, welcoming cities now tumbled into rubble or standing as echoing ruins, she was appalled that the Elderlings had perished, and humans inherited the earth.

 
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