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City of dragons, p.29
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       City of Dragons, p.29

         Part #3 of Rain Wild Chronicles series by Robin Hobb

  Malta clutched his arm tightly and held him. “I know,” she said breathlessly. “He doesn’t look as we thought he would. He’s marked, I know. Just as the midwife warned me. Just as everyone feared he would be. But he’s alive, Reyn, and he’s ours . . . ” Her voice broke on the final words she uttered. “You’re disappointed, aren’t you?”

  Page 106


  “I’m amazed. ” He sank slowly to his knees and put out a shaking hand. He glanced up at her over his shoulder. “Can I touch him? Can I pick him up?”

  “Touch him,” Malta urged him, sinking down beside him. The large woman was moving out of their way, slowly and carefully. She ducked out from under the canvas shelter, leaving them alone. She hadn’t spoken a word. He set his hand to his son’s chest. His hand spanned it. The baby moved, turning his face toward Reyn, looking at him with deep blue eyes.

  “But don’t pick him up,” Malta warned him.

  “I won’t drop him!” He had to smile at her worry.

  “That’s not it,” she said quietly. “He needs to stay close to Tarman. Tarman’s helping him breathe. And helping his heart beat. ”

  “What?” Reyn felt as if his own breath faltered, as if his own heart paused in his chest. “Why? What is wrong?”

  Her slender hand joined his on their son’s chest, closing the circle that the three now made. “Reyn. Our son is touched by the Rain Wilds. Heavily touched. That is what it means, why so many women sent their children away from them, before their hearts are too bonded. He fights to live. His body has been changed. He is not human and he is not Elderling. He falls between, and things are not right inside him. Or so Tarman says. He says that he can keep our baby alive, but that for him to change as he must change to survive, it will take a dragon. There is something special that a dragon can do, similar to how Tintaglia changed us. Something that will make his body work for him. ”

  There was a heavy tread on the deck behind him and the flap of the canvas was lifted abruptly. “My ship speaks to you?” Leftrin demanded. He sounded affronted.

  Malta looked up at him without rising. “It was necessary,” she said. “I did not know what my baby needed. He had to tell me. ”

  “Well, it might be good if someone tells me exactly what’s going on on board my own vessel!”

  “And I could do that, sir. ” It was the woman, Bellin, ducking under the canvas to join them. It was becoming crowded in the makeshift shelter. She seemed to sense Reyn’s need to be alone with his wife and child, or perhaps she wanted her own privacy to speak with the captain. “Let’s go back to the deckhouse and I’ll tell you why the baby is here. Has Skelly come back?”

  “I ran into her as I was trying to wake a lift tender. Hennesey found them and sent her to let me know. He’s bringing Tillamon. Reyn’s sister. She was helping us search for Malta. ”

  “All’s well then. Come. I’ll put on more coffee and tell you as much as I know. ”

  Leftrin teetered on the edge of the decision for a moment. Perhaps the plea in Reyn’s eyes decided him. “I’ll do that,” he said abruptly and ducked out under the canvas.

  The moment he left, Malta eased herself closer to her baby, curling herself around him. Without hesitation, Reyn mirrored her so that their son was framed by the arcs of their bodies. He put his head close to Malta’s, breathed the scent of her hair and the sweet knowledge that she and their child were safe with him. “Tell me,” he requested softly. “Tell me everything that happened after I left you. ”

  Day the 26th of the Change Moon

  Year the 7th of the Independent Alliance of Traders

  To Trader Finbok

  From Kim, Keeper of the Birds, Cassarick

  You will be the first in all Bingtown to receive these tidings. Captain Leftrin and the liveship Tarman have returned from their journey up the river. In a meeting at the Traders’ Hall tonight, he revealed that the expedition has rediscovered Kelsingra, but he has so far refused to say much more than that. He challenges the right of the Cassarick Traders’ Council to see his charts and notes, claiming that such knowledge belongs to him and to the dragon keepers who went with him. He asserts that a careful reading of the contracts will prove this is so.

  The gossip is that perhaps he has killed all the others and will claim Kelsingra as his alone. Captain Leftrin asserts that almost the entire expedition has survived and is well and in a place where the dragons are comfortably settled. Of your son’s wife, he says that she chose to stay where she was. He also makes accusations against one of the hunters who traveled with him, saying he was a treacherous spy for Chalced and saying also that perhaps there is corruption in the Cassarick Traders’ Council, for they were the ones to hire the man.

  Do you now see the value of private birds? This information will reach you days before others know what is happening here. I trust you also see the value of having a friend among the bird keepers and that my payment will reflect that gratitude.

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  Chapter Twelve


  “Who could that be at this time of night?” Carson wondered aloud as he rolled from the bed.

  “And what sort of trouble?” Sedric muttered. He’d just been on the verge of falling asleep. He watched Carson drag on his trousers and then walk the short distance to the door. He pulled the blankets closer to try to make up for the warmth the big man had taken with him.

  “Tats?” he heard Carson ask in consternation, and the boy’s muttered response.

  “Can I come in? Please?” The boy spoke his request more clearly, and Carson stepped back from the door to let him enter. He shut the door behind him, and then crossed the fire and tossed a log onto it. Sparks flew up and a few flames woke.

  “Well, sit down,” Carson suggested to Tats and took his own suggestion, taking a seat on one of the benches he’d built. Tats shook rain from his hair and then took his place on the other one. “Is something wrong? Sick dragon?” Carson asked when Tats didn’t speak.

  “Nothing like that,” Tats admitted in a low voice. He glanced at the fire and then away into the darkness. “Thymara and Rapskal didn’t come back from the city. They flew off on Heeby in early afternoon. He said he wanted to show her something there. I thought they’d be back before night. Everyone knows Heeby doesn’t like flying in the dark. But it’s been dark for hours and there’s no sign of them. ”

  Carson was quiet for a short time, watching the tongues of flame lick up the side of the log and then begin to devour it. “And you’re worried that something bad happened?”

  Tats took a deep breath and then sighed it out. “Not exactly. My dragon, Fente, she got all excited for a bit and said that Sintara was in the water. Drowning, maybe. Fente didn’t seem exactly heartbroken about it. So I went to Mercor, because he’s, well, more steady. Less jealous and vindictive than my Fente. And more likely to talk straight about things. He put up his head and acted like he was listening and then said, no, as far as he could tell, she was fine. That she had been in the water and distressed but seemed fine now and he thought she was in Kelsingra. Well, we all know she can’t fly, so I went looking for Sintara. She’s gone. ” He looked down at his hands. “I think maybe Sintara is on the other side of the river. In the city. And that Rapskal, Heeby, and Thymara are there, too. ”

  Sedric sat up, cloaking the blankets around him. The boy sounded miserable.

  Carson spoke judiciously. “I’ve seen tracks in the meadow first thing in the morning. At least one of the dragons has been trying to fly. Makes sense that it was Sintara, and that she finally made it over there. That might be why Thymara stayed. But with weather this nasty, maybe it was raining too hard and they decided to wait it out there. They’re probably fine, Tats. If something had happened to Thymara, Rapskal would have been frantic and come back here. And if something bad had happened to Rapskal, Heeby would be trumpeting up a storm. And if H
eeby and both of them were in trouble, then I think all the dragons would know. Sintara would certainly know if Thymara was injured or in danger. And despite how difficult she can be, I think she’d spread the word if we needed to worry. ”

  Tats looked down at his feet. “I guess I know that,” he said softly.

  “So,” the big man’s voice was considering. “Sintara made it across the river. That’s quite a flight. ” He turned to smile at Sedric. “I wish I knew what finally motivated her. I’d try it on Spit. ” He turned his grin back on Tats but got no response from him.

  Silence again, save for the scatter of rain outside and the soft crackling of the awakened hearth fire. Tats shifted on his bench. “I guess I’m not worried that they’re hurt. I’m worried that they’re together. ” He hunched his shoulders more tightly, as if that would ward off his pain.

  Sedric watched him in sudden understanding. He knew the pangs of jealousy when he saw them.

  The bench creaked as Carson shifted his weight. He was in profile to Sedric, and the light of the fire lit the consternation on his face. “Well. Nothing you can do about it if they are, son. Things like that happen. ”

  “I know that. ” Tats had locked his hands together. He trapped them between his knees, rocked slightly, and then suddenly said, “I made a mess of things with her. I thought everything was going well and then suddenly it wasn’t. She was so angry that I’d slept with Jerd. And I didn’t get it, because when Jerd and I were together, Thymara didn’t even seem interested in me. She was just being my friend, like always. So why was she so angry about it?

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  “Well. Now I guess I understand it better. ”

  Carson leaned down and used a piece of kindling to poke the log deeper into the hearth. “It’s a hard way to learn, but I think that’s how most of us learn about jealousy. It seems like a stupid way for anyone to feel, until someone makes you feel it. ”

  “Yes. ” Tats was animated now and perhaps angry. “And I can’t stand thinking about them together, and I can’t stop thinking about it. How can she do that to me? I mean, couldn’t she have told me about it, warned me, or given me a chance to do better before she chose him, or, or something?”

  Carson glanced over at Sedric and then back at the boy. “Sometimes things aren’t all that planned. They just happen. And, well, you’re talking as if her being with him, if she is with him, is something that she’s doing to you. Now I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but chances are that you didn’t figure at all in her decision. When you decided to be with Jerd, did you stop to wonder what Thymara would think of it? Or Rapskal or Warken? Or anyone?”

  A bemused smile twisted Tats’s mouth. “When I ‘decided’ to be with Jerd. Hah. ” Despite his misery, the memory lit his face with a smile. “I don’t remember deciding anything that night. Or thinking at all. ”

  “Well, perhaps for Thymara . . . ”

  The smile faded abruptly from his face. “But she’s a girl. Girls do think about those things. Don’t they?”

  An incredulous smile spread slowly across Carson’s face. “You came here tonight to ask me for advice about women?” He turned and looked pointedly at Sedric. “Are you sure you knocked on the right door?”

  Tats looked uncomfortable. “Well, who else can I talk to? The other keepers would just make fun of me. Unless I talked to Jerd, and that would go places I don’t want to go. Or Sylve, and then I just might as well talk straight to Thymara because anything I said to Sylve would get right back to her. So I came here. You, both of you seem happy. Like you got it right. And I thought, of everyone that’s here now, you seemed the best to talk to. You’re older. And it can’t be that different, can it? People being jealous, people being in love. ” The last word came awkwardly to Tats, and he didn’t look at Carson as he said it.

  Sedric found himself glancing away from Carson, as if he dared not read what might be on his face. For a time, the hunter didn’t speak. Then he said quietly, “Happy comes and goes, Tats. Loving someone isn’t that crazy infatuation that you feel at first. That passes. Well, not passes, but it calms down, and then sometimes, when you least expect it, you get a glimpse of the person and it all comes back again, in a big rush. But even that’s not what you’re looking for. What you’re looking for is the feeling that no matter what, being with that person is always going to be better than being without that person. Good times or bad. That having that person around makes whatever you’re going through better, or at least more tolerable. ”

  “Yes. That’s it, exactly. That’s what I feel about her. ”

  Sedric looked up at Carson. The hunter was slowly shaking his head. “Sorry, Tats, but I don’t believe it. ”

  The boy shot to his feet. “I’m not lying!”

  “I know you aren’t. You believe what you’re saying. Now don’t get angry. I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Davvie not long ago. Don’t take offense, but you just aren’t old enough to know what you’re talking about. You want Thymara, and I’m sure you like being around her. And I’m sure it’s making you crazy tonight that she’s with Rapskal instead of you. But what I see is a young man with a very limited selection of partners and a very small experience of . . . ”

  “You don’t understand!” Tats cried and spun toward the door. He snatched it open and then paused to pull his hood up.

  Carson didn’t try to stop him. “I do understand, Tats. I’ve been where you stand. Someday, you’ll be where I am right now, saying these same words to a youngster. And he probably won’t—”

  “What is that? Look! Is it a fire? Is the city on fire?” Tats had halted in the doorway, staring out and across the hillside and river and into the distance.

  In two steps, Carson was at his side, peering over his shoulder. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen light like that. It’s coming from windows, but it’s so white!”

  A rumbling began, so deep that Sedric more felt than heard it. He rose, clutching the blanket around his nakedness, and joined them at the door. In the distance, in the night, he could see the city as he never had before. It was not a distant huddle of structures but an irregular pattern of rectangular lights scattered over the far shore and into the distance, right up to what he surmised were the foothills. As he watched, more lights kindled, spreading downriver, and his breath caught in his throat as he suddenly realized that he was looking at a city much larger than he had imagined. It easily rivaled Bingtown for size.

  Page 109


  “Sweet Sa!” Carson breathed, and at that moment the rumbling Sedric had felt became a full-voiced trumpeting from a dozen dragon throats.

  “What is it?” he demanded of everyone and no one, and he felt Relpda echo his query. His dragon had wakened to the lights and trumpeting. For a moment, he sensed only her disorientation, and then he felt her thought, both joyous and anguished. The city awakens and welcomes us. It is time we went home.

  But we cannot get there.

  Alise awakened to dragons trumpeting in the night. She put her feet over the side of the bed and winced as they hit the cold floor. She slept in the Elderling gown that Leftrin had given her, as much as to feel it as his touch as for the unfailing warmth it gave her. She hurried to the door of the hut that seemed so much larger and emptier without the captain, opening the door to rain and darkness.

  No. Not complete darkness. Stars had blossomed across the river. She stared, rubbed her eyes, and then looked again. Not stars. Not fires. Windows lit with the sort of light that could come only from Elderling magic. Something had happened over there, something had been triggered. She stared in awe and frustration. “I should have been there when this happened. Who did this, and how?”

  But she knew. Rapskal had been impulsive since she first met him, reminding her of a mischievous boy from the very start of the expedition. She knew that he had continued to visit the city in Leftrin’s absence and strongly suspected th
at he had ignored the captain’s warnings about immersing himself in the memory stone dreams. Now he had discovered something and had done something to waken that reaction in the city. If it was like other Elderling magic she had witnessed, it would last for a time and then, as abruptly as it had begun, it would fail and be gone, never to be seen again.

  And here she was, on the wrong side of the river.

  Tears pricked her eyes. She shook her face angrily, denying them. No time to weep. Instead, it was time to stare, to try to mark in her memory which of the distant buildings had lit and which had remained dark. It all had to be recorded. If this was as much as she could witness of this last great display of Elderling magic, then witness it she would and make a record for any who came after her to study the ancient ruins.

  “I think the first thing is to rig a better shelter for the Elderling and her child,” Hennesey suggested. He was sitting at the galley table. He glanced at the veiled woman beside him as if awaiting her confirmation. She remained silent and still.

  Leftrin nodded numbly. He was exhausted, but there was no time to rest now. His ears buzzed with weariness, and he shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “Is there any coffee left?”

  “A little,” Bellin replied. She took the pot from the iron stove and brought it to the galley table. She poured more for him, and when Reyn nudged his mug to the middle of the table, she refilled his as well. Leftrin looked at the Elderling who sat across from him, so weary and so anxious. He wanted Leftrin’s help. He needed him and his ship, for the sake of his child. But from the story that Reyn had told, helping him could involve him in thwarting the Chalcedean spies. And he feared he knew at least one of those spies by name. If he openly defied him, what might Arich do? Betray that not only had Leftrin made illegal use of wizardwood to supplement his ship’s life, but that he had been the one to smuggle Sinad Arich up the Rain Wild River? He saw the guilt in the eyes of his crew. They’d done something wicked to protect their ship’s secret. At the time, they’d accepted their captain’s word that they had had no choice. When Arich had vanished from the ship when it docked, none of them had questioned him about it. But they all felt it now. Their wickedness had come right back at them. The very thing they’d done to try to protect themselves was what would damn them further. No one would excuse him on the grounds that he’d done it to protect his secret. Either of those crimes was scandalous. If both became known, he could not think of a Rain Wild faction that would not be furious with them. Alise among them. He wondered if Reyn or Tillamon felt their nervousness.

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