The mad ship, p.40
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       The Mad Ship, p.40

         Part #2 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb

  Wintrow rocked slightly forward. He looked as if he'd been punched in the belly. “I didn't mean it,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “Not like this, not just vanished away while I slept. Please, sir. Bring him back. I'll take care of him and make no complaints. ”

  “I'm afraid I can't do that,” Kennit pointed out affably. He gave Wintrow a small smile to reassure him, but rebuked him gently with, “Next time, be sure you want what you ask for. I went to a great deal of trouble to arrange this for you. ” He took a spoonful of the soup. He wanted to eat in peace. It was time to put an end to Wintrow's impertinence. “I had expected you to be grateful, not remorseful. You asked for this. I've granted it. That's all there is to say about it. Pour me some wine. ”

  Wintrow moved woodenly to obey him. Then he stepped back from the table and stood as if frozen, his eyes fixed on the wall. Fine. Kennit put his attention on his food. The exercise had given him a marvelous appetite. His muscles ached and he planned to rest after his meal, but other than that, he felt keen-edged and competent. This had been good for him. He'd have to get out and move about more, once Etta had padded his crutch and stump-cup for him. He tried to decide if he could adapt his peg to allow him to climb the rigging again. Even in miserable times, he'd loved going aloft. The wind up there always seemed cleaner, and the possibilities of life as broad as the horizon.

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  “There was blood all over your coat. And the side of the gig. ” Wintrow's stubborn words broke into his reverie and his dining.

  Kennit sighed and set his spoon down. Wintrow was still staring at the wall, but his rigidity suggested that he was trying to control shaking. “The blood was not your father's. If you must know, it was Sa'Adar's. ” Sarcasm crept into his voice. “Please don't tell me that you have revised your feelings about him as well. ”

  “You killed him because I hated him?” There was panicky disbelief in Wintrow's voice.

  “No. I killed him because he would not do as I wanted him to do. He really left me no choice. His death is no loss to you. The man had only contempt for you and your father. ” Kennit lifted his wine and drained off the glass. He held it out to Wintrow. The youth moved as jerkily as a puppet as he refilled the glass.

  “And Ankle?” he dared to ask in a sickened voice.

  Kennit slammed his glass to the table. Wine leaped out and soiled the white cloth. “Ankle is fine. They are all fine. Sa'Adar is the only one I killed, and I only killed him because I had to. I saved you the trouble of having to do it later for yourself. Do I look so foolish as to waste my time on unnecessary actions? I will not sit here and be badgered by a ship's boy! Clean up this mess, pour me fresh wine and then leave. ” The look Kennit gave him had cowed many a larger man.

  To the pirate's surprise, it suddenly kindled an answering spark in the boy's eyes. Wintrow straightened himself. Kennit sensed he had pushed the boy across some sort of boundary. Interesting. Wintrow advanced to the table and removed the food and the soiled cloth with a silent, savage efficiency. He restored it, carefully poured more wine, then spoke. He dared to let his anger sound in his voice. “Do not ever lay your deeds at my door. I do not kill people who inconvenience me. Sa gives life, and every life he forms has a meaning and a purpose. No man has the ability to understand fully Sa's purpose. Rather I must learn to tolerate those others until they have lived to fulfill Sa's purpose. I am a part of his intention for this world, but my part is no more important than anyone else's. ”

  Kennit had leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms on his chest while Wintrow tidied the table and preached. Now he sighed out through his nose. “That is because you are not destined to be a king. ” A thought occurred to Kennit and he could not control his smirk. “Meditate on this, priest. Perhaps I am one of those you must learn to tolerate until I can fulfill Sa's purpose. ” When the glower on Wintrow's face only darkened at this jest, Kennit laughed aloud. He shook his head. “You take yourself so seriously. Run along now. Go talk to the ship. I think you'll find her course aligns closer with mine than yours just now. I mean it. Run along. Send Etta to me on your way. ”

  Kennit whisked his hand at the door. He turned his attention back to his interrupted meal. The boy took his time about leaving and shut the door a bit loudly. Kennit shook his head. He was getting too fond of Wintrow and allowing him too many liberties. If Opal had taken that tone with him, he'd have worn stripes before sunset. He shrugged at his own leniency. That had always been one of his faults. He was too kind-hearted for his own good. He shook his head to himself and let his thoughts wander back to Key Island.

  “WHY DIDN'T YOU WAKE ME?” WINTROW DEMANDED. HIS UNRESOLVED anger at Kennit still roiled within him.

  “I told you. ” Vivacia reacted stubbornly to his tone. “You were weary and deeply asleep. I did not see any harm in what he was doing. You could not have stopped him anyway. So I saw no sense in waking you. ”

  “He must have come right up here to get Ankle. She was here when I fell asleep. ” A sudden suspicion jabbed him. “Did he tell you not to wake me?”

  “And if he did?” Vivacia asked, affronted. “What difference would it make? It was still my decision. ”

  Wintrow looked down at his feet. The depth of his hurt surprised him. “Once you would have been more loyal to me. You would have wakened me, whether you thought it was wise or not. You must have known I would have wanted that. ”

  Vivacia turned her head and looked out across the water. “I fail to see your point. ”

  “You even sound like him,” Wintrow said miserably.

  His unhappiness spurred her more than his anger had. “What do you want me to say? That I am sorry Kyle Haven is gone? I am not. I have not known a moment of peace since he took command. I am glad that he is gone, Wintrow. Glad. And you should be glad, also. ”

  He was. That was the rub. Once she would have known that, but now she was so taken with the pirate, she considered only Kennit's view. “Do you need me anymore?” he asked her abruptly.

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  “What?” It was her turn to be shocked. “Why ask such a thing? Of course, I need . . . ”

  “Because I thought that if you were happy with Kennit, perhaps he'd let me go. Both of you could just put me ashore on the mainland. I could make my own way back to the monastery and my life. I could put all this behind me, as something I couldn't change anyway. ” He paused. “You'd be rid of me also, just as you are rid of my father. ”

  “You sound like a jealous child,” she retorted.

  “You haven't answered my question. ”

  In that moment, she did. She opened herself to him, and he felt her pain at his hard words.

  “Oh,” Wintrow said softly. That was all. His gaze followed hers. The Marietta rocked at anchor so close by that Wintrow could see the face of the man on watch. Sorcor had not been pleased when an anxious Brig had sent to ask if he had word of the captain. The new, closer position of the other ship reflected his renewed watchfulness.

  She cut to the heart of the squabble. “Why are you jealous that I care for Kennit? You would do away with the bond you and I share, if you could. He is the opposite. He strives so earnestly to build a tie between us. He speaks to me as no one else ever has. He comes up here, while you are off and about your tasks, and he tells me stories. Not just tales from his life, but folk-tales, and stories he has heard from other people. And he listens to me when I speak. He asks me what I think, and what I would like to do. He tells me his plans for his kingdom and the people he will rule. When I make a suggestion, he is pleased. Have you any idea how nice that is, to have someone tell you things and listen in return to what you say?”

  “I do. ” It put him in mind of his monastery, but he did not say the words aloud. He did not need to.

  “I do not know why you will not give him a chance,” she suddenly burst out. “I cannot claim to know him as I know you. However, this we b
oth have seen; he harbors more affection and goodwill toward you than your father ever did. He thinks of others. Ask him, sometime, to show you the plans he has drawn for Divvytown. He has given it great thought, how he would build a tower to warn them of danger, and where he would put the wells to have cleaner water. Askew, too. He has drawn a chart of Askew, with a breakwater to improve the harbor, and docks drawn in. If only they would listen to him and live their lives as he directed, things would be so much better for them. He wants to make things tidy and better. Moreover, he wants to be your friend, Wintrow. Perhaps what he did to Kyle was high-handed, but you did request it. He could have gained the goodwill of the slaves by turning Kyle over to them. His torture and death would have been a spectacle for Divvytown that would have brought Kennit great renown. Surely, you must know that. Alternatively, he could have ransomed him back to your mother, beggaring the Vestrit family in the process of enriching his own coffers. He did neither of those things. Instead, he simply set that nasty, small-hearted man aside, in a place where he cannot hurt you or others. ”

  She drew a breath, then seemed out of words. Wintrow felt overwhelmed by what she had said. He had not known Kennit dreamed such dreams. Her reasoning seemed valid, but her defense of the pirate still stung him. “That is why he is a pirate, I suppose. To do good?”

  The ship was insulted. “I do not pretend he is selfless. Nor that his methods are above reproach. Yes, he savors power and longs for more of it. When he gains it, he does good with it. He frees slaves. Would you prefer he stood and spouted platitudes about the brotherhood of man? What is all your longing to return to your monastery, but a desire to retreat from what is wrong in the world?”

  Wintrow gaped in wordless astonishment. A moment later, she bravely confessed, “He has asked me to pirate with him. Did you know that?”

  Wintrow tried to remain calm. “No. But I expected it. ” Bitterness broke through in his voice.

  “Well? What would be so wrong with it?” she demanded defensively. “You see the good he does. I know his ways are harsh. He has admitted that to me himself. He has asked me if I would be able to cope with what I must witness. I have told him honestly of that horrid night when the slaves rose. Do you know what he said?”

  “No. What did he say?” Wintrow struggled to master his emotions. She was so gullible, so naive. Didn't she see how the pirate was playing her?

  “That it was like cutting off his leg. He had suffered a long misery, thinking it might get better if he did nothing. You made him see he had to endure a far greater pain before his anguish could be over. He believed in you, and you were right. He asked me to recall all I had shared of the slaves' torment, and then to consider that in other ships, that torment continued. It is not piracy, but surgery he performs. ”

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  Wintrow's lips had been folded tightly. Now he opened them to say, “So Kennit plans to only attack slaver ships after this?”

  “And those who profit from slavery. We cannot seize every slaveship between Jamaillia and Chalced. However, if Kennit's just wrath is felt by all who traffic with slavery, and not just those who run slaveships, soon all will be forced to think about what they do. Those merchants who are honest and good will turn against the slavers when they see what they have brought down on them. ”

  “You don't think the Satrap will renew his patrols of this area? His patrol ships will hunt down and destroy the pirate colonies in an effort to be rid of Kennit. ”

  “Perhaps he will try but I do not believe he will succeed. Kennit champions a holy cause, Wintrow. You of all people should see that. We cannot be turned aside by the prospect of pain or risk. If we do not persevere in this endeavor, who will?”

  “Then you have told him you will pirate for him?” Wintrow was incredulous.

  “Not yet,” Vivacia replied calmly. “But tomorrow I intend to. ”

  ALTHEA'S TRADER ROBE SMELLED OF CAMPHOR AND CEDAR. HER MOTHER had stored it to keep the moths from the wool. Althea shared the moth's opinions of the smells. The cedar would have been tolerable, in a milder dose. The camphor made her feel giddy. She had been surprised to find the robe still fit her. It had been several years since she had worn it.

  She crossed the room and sat down in front of her glass. A feminine young woman looked back at her. Sometimes her days as ship's boy aboard the Reaper seemed like a dream. Since she had returned home, she had put on weight. Grag had expressed his approval of how her figure had rounded out. As she brushed out her glossy black hair and then pinned it up sedately, she had to admit she was not displeased with the change. The plainly cut Trader's robe was not especially flattering to her. Just as well, she told herself as she turned slowly before the glass. She did not want to be seen as an ornamental female tonight, but as a sober and industrious Trader's daughter. She wanted her words to be taken seriously. Nonetheless, she paused to add a bit of scent to her throat, and a touch of color to her lips. Garnet earrings, a recent gift from Grag, swung from her ears. They went well with the magenta robe.

  It had been a busy day. She had gone personally to petition the Bingtown Council. They had said only that they would consider it. They did not have to hear her. Keffria was the Trader of the family, not Althea, and she had stiffly told her sister that she, too, would speak tonight if the opportunity presented itself. Althea had composed a note to let Grag know of the taking of the Vivacia, and sent Rache off to deliver it. After that, she had gone herself to Davad Restart's, both to give Davad the news about the piracy and to ask the Trader if he would give them a ride to the Council. Davad had been properly horrified, but also reluctant to believe anything “that Trell rascal” said. He assured her that if the story proved true, he would stand by them in their trouble. Althea noticed that that offer had not extended to his wallet. She knew Davad better than to expect financial assistance from him. His affection and his money were kept well separated. Then she had returned home, helped Rache bake the week's bread, staked the beans in the kitchen garden and tied up the plants, and thinned the green fruit on the plum and apple trees. It had taken a good scrubbing to make herself presentable again.

  Yet, all her frantic activity had not been enough to keep Brashen Trell from intruding on her thoughts. Hadn't her life been complicated enough without him coming back to Bingtown? Not that he had anything to do with her life, really. Right now, every moment of her time should have been occupied with thoughts of Vivacia or the Traders' Council meeting. Or Grag. Instead, Brashen stood there, at the edge of every thought, opening a whole realm of other possibilities. To contemplate any of them made her uneasy. She pushed him away, but images of him kept returning: Brashen sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and nodding to her mother's words; Brashen's head bent over little Selden as he lifted the boy to carry him off to bed; Brashen standing, legs braced as if on a deck, staring out the window of her father's study into the night. Or, she reminded herself tartly, Brashen, repeatedly feeling in the corner of his jacket pocket for the cindin that undoubtedly was there. The man was the victim of his own bad decisions. Let him go.

  Althea hurried out to the entry. She didn't want to be late for the meeting tonight. There were too many portentous things on the agenda. To her surprise, Malta was already waiting there. She ran a critical eye over her niece, but found nothing to correct. She had expected Malta to overindulge in paint, scent and jewelry, but she looked almost as sedate as Althea did. The flowers in her hair were her only ornamentation. Yet even simply attired in her Trader robe, the young girl was breathtaking. Althea looked at her and could not fault the young men who admired her. She was growing up. Over the past day and a half, she had shown far more maturity than Althea had thought she possessed. It was a shame that it had taken a family crisis to bring it out in her. She tried to push her nervousness aside and reassure her niece.

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  “You look very nice, Malta. ”

  “Thank you,” th
e girl replied distractedly. She turned to Althea with a frown. “I wish we weren't riding to the meeting with Davad Restart. I don't think it looks good. ”

  “I agree with you. ” Althea was surprised that Malta had even considered it. Althea herself was fond of Davad, as one is fond of an eccentric and occasionally boorish uncle. For that reason, she struggled to ignore the wrong-headedness of his current politics. She agreed with her mother. Davad Restart had been a friend of the family too long to let a political disagreement come between them. Althea just hoped her association with him would not weaken her presentation to the Council. She must seem whole-hearted and righteous in her support of the Tenira family. It would be humiliating beyond repair if she was regarded as a silly woman who would take sides based on the opinion of the man closest to her. She wanted to be heard as Althea Vestrit, not as a girl infatuated with Grag Tenira.

  “Does a carriage and a team truly cost that much? There is the whole summer season of balls, teas and parties ahead of us. We cannot always be depending on Davad. Think how that looks to the other Trader families,” Malta went on plaintively.

  Althea knit her brows. “There is the old carriage. If you are willing to help me, we could clean and oil it. It's very dusty, but sound. Then we could look into hiring a team and a driver. ” She crossed the room to peer out the window. Then she turned and grinned wickedly at Malta over her shoulder. “Or I could manage the reins myself. When I was your age, Hakes, our coachman, used to let me drive occasionally. Father didn't mind, but Mother never approved. ”

  Her niece gave her a cool look. “That, I think, would be more humiliating than riding in Restart's rattletrap. ”

  Althea shrugged and looked out the window again. Every time she thought she had established some sort of link with Malta, the girl would rebuff her.

  Her mother and Keffria entered the room just as Davad's carriage pulled into the drive. “Let's not wait,” Althea suggested, and opened the entry door before Davad could leave the carriage. “Once Davad is inside, he'll want wine and biscuits before we leave again. I really don't think we have time,” she added at her sister's disapproving stare.

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