Ship of destiny, p.47
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       Ship of Destiny, p.47

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
 

  Wintrow heaved a sigh of relief. He did not believe that Bolt felt nothing. There was too much tension thrumming through him: not all of it could be his own. “And her crew?” he ventured.

  Kennit laughed, and gave his shoulder a friendly shake. “Come, Wintrow, we can scarcely guarantee how they will fare. If a man chooses to fight to the death, how am I to stop him? But as you have seen, of late we shed blood only when forced to it. Consider all the ships we have set free to continue on their way. Slavers, of course, are another matter. When it comes to slavers, I must keep faith with all the people in my kingdom. To the bottom they must go. You cannot save everyone, Wintrow. Some folk have made up their minds to be killed by me long before I encounter them. When we encounter Captain Trell and Paragon, then we will act as befits the situation. Surely you can ask no more of us than that. ”

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  “I suppose not. ” It was the best he could do tonight. He wondered, if he had been alone with the ship, could he have forced her to admit she still had a bond with Althea? Althea, he thought fiercely at the ship. I know you remember her. She woke you from your long sleep; she greeted your return to life. She loved you. Can you turn your back on that kind of love?

  A shudder of agitation ran through the ship, and beside her, a loud splashing announced the return of the green-gold serpent. The figurehead, eyes narrowed and nostrils flared, turned to glare at Wintrow. He braced himself, expecting her to fling pain at him. Instead, Kennit gave him a shake. “Enough of that!” he told Wintrow sternly. “Do you think I cannot feel what you are doing to her? She has said she feels nothing. Accept it. ” Then he gave Wintrow’s shoulder a sympathetic push. “Feelings end, lad. Bolt is not who she was to you. Why don’t you go find Etta? She always seems to cheer you. ”

  AS KENNIT WATCHED WINTROW CROSS THE MAIN DECK, THE CHARM SPOKE. IT did not whisper, or try to conceal itself from the ship at all. “Feelings end,” it mocked. “Bolt is not who she was. Oh, yes. Convince yourself of that, dear heart, and you’ll be able to deal with Paragon again. ” It suddenly dropped its voice to a confiding undertone. “You always knew you’d have to deal with him again, didn’t you? When first the rumor reached you of a blinded liveship returned to Bingtown, you knew that eventually your paths must cross again. ”

  “Shut up!” Fear tinged Kennit’s flash of fury. The hair on the back of his neck prickled against his collar.

  “I know Paragon,” the ship said suddenly. “That is, I have Althea’s memories of him. And her father’s. Ephron Vestrit did not like that ship. He didn’t want his daughter to play near him. Paragon is mad, you know. Quite mad. ”

  “Oh, quite mad,” the charm agreed affably. “But then, who wouldn’t be, given all the memories that are soaked into his planks? It’s a wonder he can speak at all. Don’t you agree, Kennit? Wasn’t it enough to strike a boy dumb? No need to cut his tongue out, when he hardly spoke a word for three years. Oh, Igrot believed his secrets were quite safe. All his secrets. But secrets do have a way of leaking out. ”

  “Be silent!” Kennit raged in a hoarse whisper.

  “Silent,” the carved wizardwood on his wrist breathed. “Silent as a blinded ship, floating hull-up in the sea. Silent as a scream underwater. ”

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER NINETEEN - Strategies

  THE FOG AND MISTS WERE RELENTLESS. EVEN ON DAYS WHEN IT DID NOT RAIN, everything dripped with the constant condensation. Garments hung in the galley to dry merely became steamy. The clothes in her duffel bag were as damp as the wool blanket she took from her bunk. Everything smelled green and sour. She half-expected to comb moss from her hair in the mornings. Well, at least they would all have a bit more room now. She’d cleared Lavoy’s things from the first mate’s cabin and was moving her gear in today. The promotion was traditional and hers by right. Brashen had moved Haff up to second. He seemed very pleased with his new rank; an even better sign was that the crew in general approved of his promotion.

  “Do the rain and the fogs never cease in these wretched islands?” Amber demanded as she came into the tiny cabin. Moisture had beaded on her hair and eyelashes. Water dripped from the cuffs of her shirt.

  “In summer,” Althea offered her. “But for now, this is the weather. Unless it rains hard enough to clear the air. ”

  “That would almost be preferable to this constant dripping. I climbed the mast to see what I could see. I’d have been as wise to stuff my head in my duffel bag. How do the pirates move about on days like these? There’s neither sun nor star to steer by. ”

  “Let’s hope they don’t. I’d hate to have one run us down in the fog. Try to think of it as concealing us from hostile eyes. ”

  “But it conceals them from us just as effectively. How will we know when Kennit returns to Divvytown if we can’t even see the island?”

  They had been anchored for the last day and night in a small, sheltered inlet. Althea knew what others did not. They anchored here, not in wait for Kennit, but to try to salvage some sort of plan. Last night, sequestered together in Brashen’s cabin, they had considered options. Brashen had not been optimistic. “It’s all gone down to the bottom,” he said bleakly. He stared up at the ceiling above his bunk. “I should have foreseen that Lavoy would do something like that. He’s destroyed any hope of surprise that we ever had. Someone will send word to Kennit and at first sight of us, he’ll surely attack.

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  Damn Lavoy. When I first suspected him of talking mutiny, I should have keelhauled him. ”

  “That would have been good for morale,” Althea had murmured from the shelter of his arm. She lay in his bunk beside him. The length of his naked body was warm against hers and her head was pillowed on his shoulder. The mellow lantern light made shifting shadows on the wall, tempting her to simply clasp Brashen close and fall asleep beside him. Her fingers idly walked the long seam down his ribs that was the track of the pirate’s sword.

  “Don’t,” he had muttered irritably, twitching away from her. “Stop distracting me and help me think. ”

  She had breathed out a long sigh. “You should have said that before you bedded me. I know I should be putting all my wits to regaining Vivacia from Kennit, but somehow, here with you…” She had smoothed a hand down his chest to his belly, and let his thoughts follow it.

  He had rolled toward her. “So. Do you just want to give it all up? Go back to Bingtown, and leave things as they are?”

  “I’ve thought about it,” she had admitted. “But I can’t. I’d always thought that Vivacia would be our major ally in reclaiming her from Kennit. I’d counted on the ship defying him to turn battle in our favor. Now that we know that Wintrow is alive and well aboard her, and that they both seem content with Kennit, I don’t know what to think. But I can’t just walk away from her, Brash. They’re my family. Vivacia is my ship, in a way she can never belong to anyone else. To give her up to Kennit would be like giving up a child to him. She may be satisfied with Kennit now, but in the end, she’ll want to come home to Bingtown. So will Wintrow. Then where will they be? Outcasts and pirates. Their lives will be ruined. ”

  “How can you know that?” Brashen had protested. A smile curved his lips and he raised his brows as he asked her, “Would Keffria say this was where you belonged? Wouldn’t she say the same things, that eventually you will want to come home and that I’m ruining you? Would you welcome her trying to rescue you from me?”

  She had kissed the corner of his mouth. “Perhaps I’m the one ruining you. I don’t intend to let you go, even when we do go back home. But we are both adults, aware of what this decision may cost us. ” In a lower voice she added, “We are both prepared to pay that cost, and count it still a good bargain. But Wintrow is scarcely more than a boy, and the ship had barely wakened to life when she left Bingtown. I can’t let them go. I have to at least see them, speak to them, know how they are. ”<
br />
  “Yes, I’m sure Captain Kennit would find time for us to visit them,” Brashen had replied dryly. “Perhaps we should return to Divvytown and leave calling cards, asking when he is at home. ”

  “I know it sounds ridiculous. ”

  “What if we did return to Bingtown?” Brashen had asked, suddenly serious. “We have Paragon, and he’s a fine ship. The Vestrits would still have a liveship, one that is paid for. You and I would stand shoulder to shoulder and refuse to be parted. We’d be married, with a proper wedding, in the Traders’ Concourse. And if the Traders wouldn’t allow that, well, to the bottom with them, and we’d sail up to the Six Duchies and make our promises to one of their black rocks. ”

  She had to smile. He kissed her and went on, “We’d sail Paragon together, everywhere, up the Rain Wild River and down past Jamaillia to the islands your father knew so well, and trade where he did. We’d trade well, make lots of money and pay off your family’s debt to the Rain Wilds. Malta wouldn’t have to marry anyone she didn’t want to. Kyle’s dead, we know that, so we can’t rescue him. Wintrow and Vivacia don’t seem to want to be rescued. Don’t you see, Althea? You and I could just take our lives and live them. We don’t need much, and we already have it. A good ship and a good crew. You beside me. That’s all I’m asking of life. Fate has handed it all to me, and damn it, I want to keep it. ” His arms suddenly closed around her. “Just say yes to me,” he had urged her sweetly, his soft breath warm on her ear and neck. “Just say yes and I’ll never let you go. ”

  Broken glass in her heart. “No,” she had said quietly. “I have to try, Brashen. I have to. ”

  “I knew you’d say that. ” he had groaned. He loosened his arms and fell back from her. He gave her a weary smile. “So, my love, what do you propose we do? Approach Kennit under a truce flag? Creep up on him by night? Challenge him on the open sea? Or just sail back into Divvytown and wait for him there?”

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  “I don’t know,” she had admitted. “All of those sound suicidal. ” She paused. “All save the truce flag. No, don’t stare at me like that. I’m not crazy. Listen. Brashen, think of all we heard in Divvytown. The folk there don’t speak of him as a tyrant they fear. He is a beloved ruler, who has put the best interests of his people first. He frees slaves that he could just as easily sell. He is openhanded in sharing the booty he takes. He sounds like an intelligent, rational man. If we went to him under a truce flag, he’d know the most sensible course was to hear us out. What could he gain by attacking us before he’d talked to us? We could offer him ransom money, but more than that, we could offer him the goodwill of at least one Bingtown Trader family. If he genuinely wants to make a kingdom of the Pirate Isles, eventually he will have to seek legitimate trade. Why not with Bingtown? Why not with the Vestrits?”

  Brashen had leaned back on his pillow. “To make it convincing, you’d have to have it all written out. Not some verbal agreement, but a binding contract. What little ransom we offer him now would be just the opening. The trade agreements would be the real bait. ” He rolled his head on the pillow to meet her eyes. “You know that some folk in Bingtown will call you a traitor. Can you bind your family to an agreement with outlaws like these?”

  She had been silent for a time. “I’m trying to think as my father would,” she said quietly at last. “He said the mark of a good trader was the ability to see ahead. To lay the groundwork for the trading of tomorrow with the deals one struck today. It was shortsighted, he said, to squeeze the last bit of profit out of a trade. A wise trader never let the other man walk away feeling sour. I think this Kennit is going to succeed. And when he does, the Pirate Isles will either become a barrier between Bingtown and all the trade to the south, or they will become one more trading stop. I think Bingtown and Jamaillia are close to parting ways. Kennit could be a powerful ally for Bingtown, as well as a valuable trading partner. ”

  She sighed, not with sadness but finality. “I think I’d like to chance it. I’ll make an overture, but I’ll be clear that I’m not speaking for all of Bingtown. However, I’ll let him know that where one Trader comes, others soon follow. I’m going to tell him I speak for the Vestrit family. I need to decide exactly what I can honestly offer him. I can make this work, Brashen. I know I can. ” She gave a short, rueful laugh. “Mother and Keffria are going to be furious when I tell them. At first. But I have to do what I think best. ”

  Brashen’s fingers had traced a lazy circle around one of her breasts, his weathered hand dark against her pale skin. He bent his head to kiss her and then asked gravely, “Mind if I stay busy while you’re thinking?”

  “Brashen, I’m serious,” she had protested.

  “So am I,” he had assured her. His hands had moved purposefully down her body. “Very serious. ”

  “What are you smiling about?” Amber broke into her reverie. She grinned at Althea mischievously.

  Althea started guiltily. “Nothing. ”

  “Nothing,” Jek agreed sourly from her bunk. Her arm had been flung across her face and Althea had assumed she was sleeping. Now she straightened. “Nothing except a bit more than the rest of us are getting. ”

  Amber’s face had gone grave. Althea bit her tongue to hold it silent. Best to let this discussion die right here. She met Jek’s gaze squarely.

  Jek didn’t agree. “Well, at least you don’t deny it,” she observed bitterly, sitting up. “Of course, it would be rather hard to do so, when you come in here late, purring like a kitten that’s been into the cream, or sit smiling to yourself, your cheeks as pink as a new bride’s. ” She looked at Althea and cocked her head. “You should make him shave, so his whiskers don’t rash the side of your neck like that. ”

  Althea lifted a guilty hand before she could stop herself. She let it drop to her side and considered Jek’s flat gaze. There would be no avoiding this. “What’s it to you?” she asked quietly.

  “Other than that it’s completely unfair?” Jek asked her. “Other than that you’re stepping up to the mate’s position at the same time you’re falling into the captain’s bed?” Jek rose from her bunk to stand before Althea. She looked down at her. “Some people might think you don’t deserve either. ”

  The tall woman’s mouth was a flat line. Althea took a deep breath and readied herself. Jek was Six Duchies. On a Six Duchies boat, fists out on deck were how a dispute over a promotion would be settled. Did Jek expect that here? That if she could beat Althea on the deck, she could step up to the mate’s position?

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  Then Jek’s face broke into her customary grin. She gave Althea a congratulatory punch in the shoulder. “But I think you deserve them both, and wish you the best. ” With a quirk of an eyebrow and a widening grin, she demanded, “So. He any good?”

  Relief numbed her. The look on Amber’s face consoled Althea that she was not the only one that Jek had duped. “He’s good enough,” she muttered abashedly.

  “Well. I’m glad for you then. But don’t let him know that. Best to keep a man thinking there’s still something you wish he were doing. It keeps them imaginative. I get the top bunk now. ” Jek looked at Amber as if expecting her to challenge this.

  “Help yourself,” Amber replied. “I’ll get my tools and dismantle the other bunk. Which do you think we want, Jek? A fold-down table, or room to turn around?”

  “Isn’t Haff moving into the empty bunk?” Jek suggested innocently. “He is taking Althea’s position as second. He should have the bunk to go with it. ”

  “Sorry to disappoint you. ” Althea grinned. “He’s staying in the forecastle with the rest of the crew. He thinks they need a bit of settling out. Lavoy and his deserters have rattled the order of things. Haff feels that the men who left with him did so because they were frightened; Lavoy had convinced him that they should side with him against Brashen, because going up against Kennit was suicidal. ”

  Jek gave a s
hout of laughter. “As if that was something we didn’t all know. ” At the look on Althea’s face, she sobered slightly. “Sorry. But if they didn’t know from the beginning that the odds were against us, then they were idiots and we’re well rid of them. ” She levered herself up easily onto the bunk Althea had just stripped and shouldered herself into it. “Snug. But it’s up higher. I prefer to sleep high. ” She gave a sigh of contentment. “So. Just what secret is Brashen keeping?”

  “About what?” Althea asked.

  “About Kennit and what he plans to do to him. I’ll wager it’s a good one. ”

  “Oh. That. Yes. It is indeed. ” Althea slung her duffel to her shoulder. She tried not to wonder what judgment Sa reserved for those who led others to their deaths.

  MINGSLEY PURSED HIS LIPS AND SET THE CHIPPED CUP CAREFULLY BACK ON ITS odd saucer. It held a thin tea of wintermint from the kitchen garden. The good black Jamaillian tea had gone up in flames with everything else that the Chalcedeans had hoarded in the warehouses. He cleared his throat. “So. What have you managed for us?”

  Serilla gazed at him levelly. She had already made up her mind to one thing. Now that she was rid of Roed Caern, no man was ever going to intimidate her again. Especially one who thought he had her under his finger. Had yesterday taught him nothing?

  True to her word, Tintaglia had set out in search of the Kendry and any other liveships she might find. In her absence, the humans had sat down together to try to craft a binding agreement. Early in the proceedings, speaking on her behalf but without consulting her, Mingsley had insisted that Serilla be given the final word on the document. “She represents Jamaillia,” he had intoned loudly. “We are all subjects of the Satrapy. We should be willing not only to have her negotiate with the dragon for us, but to assign us our correct roles in the new Bingtown. ”

  The fisherman, Sparse Kelter, had stood and spoken. “With no disrespect to this lady, I refuse her authority. She is welcome to sit in with us and speak as a representative of Jamaillia, if she wishes. But this is Bingtown business for Bingtown folk to sort out. ”

 
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