Ship of destiny, p.37
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       Ship of Destiny, p.37

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
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  In late afternoon, they stopped to buy fish chowder and fresh-baked bread. There they first heard how the boy-priest who had stood his ground between Kennit and most of Divvytown, and prophesied that Kennit would someday be their King. Those who had doubted the boy’s words had fallen to his flashing blade. Althea’s astonishment must have flattered the fish vendor, for he told the tale thrice more, with more details each time. At the last telling, the man added, “And well the poor lad knew about slavery, for his own father had made him a slave, yes and tattooed his own ship’s likeness onto the boy’s face. I’ve heard it said that when Kennit freed the liveship and the boy, he won both their hearts at once. ”

  Althea found herself speechless. Wintrow? Kyle had done that to Wintrow, his own son, her nephew?

  Brashen choked slightly on his chowder, but managed to ask, “And what fate did Kennit mete out to so cruel a father?”

  The man shrugged callously. “What he deserved, no doubt. Over the side to the serpents with the rest. So he does with the full crew of every slaver he takes. ” He raised an eyebrow at Brashen. “I thought everyone knew that. ”

  “But not the boy?” Althea asked softly.

  “The boy weren’t crew. I told you. He was a slave on the ship. ”

  “Ah. ” She looked at Brashen. “That would make sense. ” The ship turning on Kyle and accepting Kennit made sense now. The pirate had rescued and protected Wintrow. Of course, the ship would be loyal to Kennit now.

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  So. Where did that leave her? For one treacherous instant, she wondered if she were free. If Vivacia was happy with Wintrow aboard her, if she was content with Kennit and her life of piracy, did Althea have the right to “rescue” her from it? Could she just go home now and tell her mother and sister that she had failed, that she had never found their family ship? For an instant, she teetered on a wilder decision. Did she, really, have to go home at all? Could not she and Brashen and Paragon simply go on as they had begun?

  Then she thought of Vivacia, quickening under her hands as she slipped the final peg into the figurehead, the peg her father had filled with his anima as he died. That was hers. Not Wintrow’s, certainly not Kennit’s. Vivacia was her ship, in a way no one else could claim. If the earlier gossip she had heard was true at all, if Bingtown were in some sort of upheaval, then her family needed their liveship more than ever. Althea would reclaim her. The ship would learn to love her again, Wintrow would be reunited with his family.

  She found she blamed Kyle more than Kennit for the deaths of Vivacia’s crewmen. Loyalty to her family had kept those men aboard Vivacia; Kyle’s betrayal of her father’s ethics had killed them. She could not mourn Kyle at all; he had caused her and her family too much pain. The only sympathy she felt was for Keffria. Better she mourn her husband’s death, Althea thought grimly, than to mourn a long life with him.

  TIME HAD BECOME A SLIPPERY CREATURE THAT WRITHED IN PARAGON’S GRIP. Did he rest at anchor in Divvytown’s harbor, or did his outstretched wings send him sliding aloft on an updraft? Did he wait for young Kennit to return, desperately hoping the boy would be unhurt this time, or did he expect Althea and Brashen to return and lead him to his vengeance? The placid motion of the lagoon water, the dwindling patter of the evening rain, the smells and sounds of Divvytown, the guarded quiet of his crew all plunged him into a state of suspension almost like sleep.

  Deep in his hold, in the darkness, where the curve of the bow made a cramped space beneath the deck, was the blood place. It was too small for a man to stand or even creep, but a small, battered boy could shelter there, rolled in a tight ball while his blood dripped onto Paragon’s wizardwood, and they shared their misery. There Kennit could brace himself and snatch briefly at sleep, knowing no one could come upon him unawares. Whenever Igrot began to bellow for him, Paragon would wake him. Quick as a rabbit, he would pop out of his hiding place and present himself, choosing to leave his sanctuary and face Igrot rather than risk the searching crew discovering his refuge. Sometimes Kennit slept there. He would press his small hands against the great wizardwood beams that ran the length of the ship, and Paragon would watch over him while sharing his dreams.

  And his nightmares.

  During those times, Paragon had discovered his unique ability. He could take away the pain, the nightmares, and even the bad memories. Not completely, of course. To take all the memory away would have left the boy a fool. But he could absorb the pain just as he absorbed the blood from his beatings. He could dim the agony and soften the edges of Kennit’s recall. All that he could do-for the boy. It demanded that he keep for himself all he took away from Kennit. The sharp humiliation and indignity, the stabbing pain and stunned bewilderment and the scorching hatred all became Paragon’s, to keep hidden forever deep inside him. To Kennit he left only his icy-cold resolve that he would escape, that he would leave it all behind and that someday his own exploits would forever blot from the memory of the world all trace of Igrot. Someday, Kennit resolved, he would restore all that Igrot had broken and destroyed. He would make it as if the evil old pirate had never been. No one would even recall his name. Everything Igrot had ever dirtied would be hidden away or silenced.

  Even Kennit’s family liveship.

  That was how it was supposed to have been.

  The admission disturbed ancient pain, shifting it like unsecured cargo pounding him during a storm. The depth of his failure overwhelmed him. He had betrayed his family, he had betrayed the last true-hearted member of his blood. He had tried to be loyal, he had tried to stay dead, but then the serpents had come, prodding and nosing at him, speaking to him without words, confusing him as to who he was and where his loyalties should lie. They had frightened him, and in his fear he had forgotten his promises, forgotten his duty, forgotten everything except his need for his family to comfort and reassure him. He had gone home. Slowly, through the seasons, he had drifted, following friendly currents, until he had returned, a derelict, to the shores of Bingtown.

  And all that befell him there was only just punishment for his faithlessness. How could he feel anger with Kennit? Had not Paragon betrayed him first? A deep groan broke loose inside Paragon. He gripped his stillness and his silence like a shield.

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  The light tread of running feet on his deck. Two slender hands on his railing. “Paragon? What is the matter?”

  He could not tell her. She would not understand, and to speak would only break his promise more thoroughly than it was already broken. He bowed his face into his hands and sobbed, his shoulders shaking and his hands trembling.

  “There, I told you, didn’t I? It’s him. ” The voices came from below. Someone was down there on the water near the bow, staring up at him. Staring and jeering and mocking. Soon they would begin to throw things. Dead fish and rotten fruit.

  “You down there, stand clear of our ship!” Amber warned them in a stern voice. “Take your gig away from here. ”

  They paid no attention. “If he was Igrot’s ship, then where is Igrot’s star?” another voice demanded. “He put that star on everything that belonged to him. ”

  The long-ago horror of the star being cut into his chest was eclipsed by the memory of a thousand inky needle-pricks jabbing the same emblem into his hip. He began to tremble. Every plank in his body shuddered. The calm waters of the lagoon shivered against him.

  “Paragon. Steady, steady. It will be all right. Say nothing. ” Amber spoke swiftly, trying to calm him, but her words could not take away the ancient sting.

  “Star or not, I’m right. I know I am. ” The man in the boat below sounded very smug. “The chopped face is a dead giveaway. Moreover, it’s a liveship, same as I’ve always heard the tales say. Hey! Hey, ship! You were Igrot’s ship, weren’t you?”

  The insult of that vile lie was too much to bear. Too often had it been flung at him, too many times he had been forced to mouth it for
the boy’s sake. Never again. Never!

  “NO!” He roared the word. “Not I!” He snatched at the air in front of him, hoping that his tormentors were within reach. “I was never Igrot’s ship! Never! Never! Never!” He shouted the word until it rang in his own ears, drowning out every other lie. Below and above and within him, he heard confused shouts. Bare feet thundered on his decks but he didn’t care anymore. “Never! Never! Never!”

  He barked the word out, over and over, until he could think of nothing else. If he never stopped saying it, then they could never ask him anything again. If they didn’t ask, he couldn’t tell. He could at least be that true to his word and his family.

  THEY MEANDERED DOWN THE STREET IN EASY COMPANIONSHIP. THE RAIN HAD eased and a few stars were starting to show in the deep blue edge of the sky. The taverns were setting their lanterns out. Candlelight glowed behind the shuttered windows of small homes. Brashen’s arm was across her shoulders, and Althea’s was about his waist. Their day had gone well. Divvytown seemed to have accepted them at their word. If the information they had gathered was confusing, it still confirmed one thing. Kennit would return to Divvytown. Soon.

  Establishing that had required several rounds of drink at the final tavern. They were now making their way back to the ship’s boat. They had not yet decided whether to slip quietly out of Divvytown tomorrow, or to stay on, perhaps even await Kennit’s return. The chance of ransoming Vivacia seemed small; deceit seemed a likelier tack. There were too many possible courses of action. Time to go back to the ship and consider them all.

  Foot traffic in the town dwindled as folk sought shelter for the night. As they wended their way down the wooden boardwalk, a couple ahead of them turned into the door of a small house and shut the door firmly behind them. A few moments later, dim candlelight shone from within.

  “I wish we were them,” Althea observed wistfully.

  Brashen’s stride checked, then slowed. He pulled her around to face him and offered quietly, “I could find us a room somewhere. ”

  She shook her head regretfully. “The crew is waiting down at the boat. We told them to be there by nightfall. If we’re late, they’ll assume something has gone wrong. ”

  “Let them wait. ” He bent his head and kissed her hungrily. In the chill night, his mouth was tauntingly warm. She made a small frustrated sound. “Come here,” he said gruffly. He stepped off the boardwalk into the thick dark of the alley and drew her after him. In the deep shadows, he pressed her back up against a wall and kissed her more leisurely. His hands wandered down her back to her hips. With abrupt ease, he lifted her. When his body pressed hers to the wall, she could feel the jut of his desire. “Here?” he asked her thickly.

  She wanted him but this was too dangerous. “Perhaps if I were wearing a skirt. But I’m not. ” She pushed gently away from him and he let her down, but kept her pinned against the wall. She did not struggle. His kiss and his touch were more intoxicating than the brandy they had shared. His mouth tasted of liquor and lust.

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  He broke the kiss suddenly, lifting his head like a stag at bay. “What’s that?”

  It was like waking from a dream. “What’s what?” She felt dazed.

  “That shouting. Do you hear it? From the harbor. ”

  The faint repetitive cries came to her ears. She could not make out the word, but with icy certainty, she knew the voice. “Paragon. ” She stuffed her shirt back into her waistband. “Let’s go. ”

  Side by side, they thundered down the boardwalk. There was no sense going quietly. Shouting was not unusual in a town like Divvytown, but eventually it would attract attention. Paragon was crying the same word over and over again.

  They were nearly at the docks when Clef charged up to them. “Yer needed on ther ship, Cap’n. Paragon’s gone mad. ” He panted the words breathlessly and then they were all running together. As they clattered out onto the docks, Althea saw the crew of the ship’s gig waiting for them, as well as Lop. Jek had her knife out. “I’ve got the stuff you bought loaded, but we’re missing two men,” she announced. The two former slaves were not there. Althea knew that no amount of waiting would change that.

  “Cast off,” she ordered them tersely. “Get back to the ship, all of you. We’re leaving Divvytown tonight. ”

  There was a moment of shock, and Althea cursed herself for a drunken fool. Then Brashen demanded, “Didn’t you hear the mate’s order? Do I have to tell you myself?”

  They scrambled down the ladder into the waiting boats. Paragon’s voice carried clearly over the water. “Never, never, never!” his deep tones belled dolorously. Althea made out the shapes of two small boats near his bow. He’d attracted an audience already. Doubtless, the word would burn through Divvytown that the newcomers had arrived in a liveship. What would that convey to the pirate city?

  It seemed to take all night to reach the ship. As they gained the deck, a scowling Lavoy met them. “I told you this was insane!” he rebuked Brashen. “The damn ship has gone crazy, and your fool carpenter did nothing to calm him. Those louts in the boat below were bellowing that he was Igrot’s ship. Is that true?”

  “Hoist anchor and our sails spread, now!” Brashen replied. “Use the boats to turn us about. We’re leaving Divvytown. ”

  “Tonight?” Lavoy was outraged. “In the dark on a lunatic ship?”

  “Can you obey an order?” Brashen snarled at him.

  “Maybe if it made any sense!” Lavoy retorted.

  Brashen reached out and seized the mate by the throat. He dragged him close and snarled into his face, “Make sense of this. If you won’t obey my orders, I’ll kill you now. Last chance. I’ve had it with your insolence. ”

  For an instant, the tableau held, Brashen’s hand on Lavoy’s throat, and Lavoy staring up at him. Brashen had height and reach over Lavoy, but the mate had wider shoulders and a deeper chest. Althea held her breath. Then Lavoy lowered his eyes.

  Brashen released his throat. “Get to your task. ” He turned away.

  Like a snake striking, Lavoy pulled his knife and sank it into Brashen’s back. “That for you!” he roared.

  Althea leapt to Brashen as he staggered forward, eyes clenched against the pain. In two strides, Lavoy reached the railing. “Stop him! He’ll betray us!” Althea ordered. Several crewmen sprang after him. She thought they would seize him. From the corner of her eye, she saw Lavoy leap. “Damn!” she cried, and turned. To her horror, the other men who had sprung toward him were following him over the side. Not just the Tattooed ones from Bingtown, but other crewmen as well, leaping over the railing after Lavoy as if they were fish heading up a spawning river. She heard the splash of swimmers below. Lavoy would betray them in Divvytown. The loyal crew gaped after them.

  “Let them go,” Brashen commanded hoarsely. “We need to get out of here and we’re better off without them. ” He let go of her and stood straight.

  Incredulously, she watched Brashen reach over his shoulder. With a tug, he freed Lavoy’s knife from his back. He flung it down with an oath.

  “How bad is it?” Althea demanded.

  “Forget it for now. It didn’t go deep. Get the crew moving while I deal with Paragon. ”

  Without waiting for her reply, he hastened to the foredeck. Althea was left gaping after him. She caught her breath and began barking out orders to get the ship under way. Up on the foredeck, she heard Brashen give one of his own. “Ship! Shut your mouth! That’s an order. ”

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  Astonishingly, Paragon obeyed. He answered both his helm and the tug of the small boats as the men below rowed frantically to bring the ship about. The sluggish flow of the lagoon was with them, as was the prevailing wind. As Althea sprang to her own tasks, she prayed that Paragon would keep to the channel and take them safely down the narrow river. Like an opening blossom, their canvas bloomed in the night wind. They fled Divvytown.
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  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Serpent Ship

  THE WHITE SERPENT FLUCTUATED BETWEEN SULLEN AND SARCASTIC WITH NO relief for anyone. He refused to give his name. Names, he said, no longer mattered to dying worms. When Tellur pressed him for a name to call him by, the white finally snapped, “Carrion. Carrion is the only name I need, and soon enough, it will be your name as well. We are dead creatures that move still, rotted flesh that has not yet been stilled. Call me Carrion, and I will call each of you Corpse. ”

  True to his word, that was how he referred to them. It was a constant irritant. Sessurea wished they had never encountered the creature, let alone wrung the story of She Who Remembers from him.

  No one trusted him. He stole food from the jaws of those who had captured it. With a sudden bite or a slash of his tail, he would startle the other serpents into dropping prey, and then seize it for himself. He let fish-kill toxin dribble from his mane as he slept. It was even more annoying because he slept in the middle of the tangle. Maulkin gripped him as they slept, lest he try to escape in the night.

  By day, they had to follow him. Again, he found every conceivable way to irritate the rest of the tangle. He either dawdled, pausing often to taste the current and wonder aloud if he knew where he was going, or he set a demanding pace and ignored all protests and requests for rest. Maulkin always shadowed him, but it took a toll on him.

  Seldom a tide passed that Carrion did not provoke Maulkin to kill him. He struck insulting poses; he leaked venom constantly and showed no deference to Maulkin. If the decision had been Shreever’s, she would have throttled the white serpent days ago, but Maulkin held back the full force of his fury, even when the miserable creature taunted him and mocked his dream, though he lashed the water furiously and his golden false-eyes gleamed like the sun above the sea. He would not tempt the white with threats; the creature longed too strongly for his own death.

  His cruelest torment was that he held back the memories that She Who Remembers had given him. When the tangle settled for the night, anchoring themselves together, they talked before they slept. Bits of memories from their dragon heritage were brought forth and shared. Often what one lacked, another supplied, and so their memories were knitted up like threadbare tapestries. Sometimes the mere naming of a name could bring forth a cascade of forgotten fragments from another serpent. But Carrion always held back, smirking knowingly as the others groped through their weary thoughts. Always, it seemed, he could have enlightened them if he chose to. For that, Shreever longed to kill him.

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