Ship of destiny, p.48
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       Ship of Destiny, p.48

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
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  “If you will not cede her the authority due her, then I see no reason for the New Traders to remain here,” Mingsley had blustered. “It is well known that the Old Traders have no intention of conceding our right to our lands and…”

  “Oh, do just leave. ” The Tattooed woman had sighed. “Or shut up and be a witness. But there is not enough daylight for us to discuss the things we must cover, let alone deal with your posturing. ”

  The others had stared at him, agreement in their silence. Mingsley had stood threateningly. “I know things!” he had intoned. “Things you will wish I had stayed and shared with you. Things that will render useless all you agree to here. Things that…”

  But all the rest of his “things” had been lost as two brawny young Three Ships men literally picked him up and set him outside the Council chamber. His final astonished glare at Serilla had said plainly that he had expected her to take his part. She had not. Nor had she tried to claim authority over the meeting, but instead had been, as suggested, a witness for Jamaillia. And, incidentally, one who was very clear on the original terms of the Bingtown Charter. On many of the provisions, her knowledge was clearer than that of the Traders, gaining the Bingtown Traders’ surprised respect for her erudition. Perhaps they were beginning to see that her precise knowledge of the legal relationship between Bingtown and Jamaillia could benefit them after all. The New Traders had not been as pleased. Now she stared at their spokesman, daring him to take the confrontation further.

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  Mingsley mistook her long silence for abashment. “I will tell you this. You have failed us twice, and badly. You must remember who your friends are. You can’t seriously intend to support the old charter. It offers us nothing. Surely you can do better for us than that. ” He moved the cup on the saucer. “After all we’ve done for you,” he reminded her slyly.

  Serilla took a slow sip of tea. They were in the drawing room of Davad’s house. The Chalcedean raiders had burned the east wing, but this end of the house was still habitable. She smiled small to herself. Her cup was not cracked. A small thing, but a satisfying one. She had stopped fearing to offend him. She looked at Mingsley levelly. It was time to draw a line. “I do intend to enforce the old charter. More, I intend to suggest it as a basic foundation for the new Bingtown. ” She smiled brightly at him as if a brilliant idea had just occurred to her. “Perhaps, if you were willing to go upriver, the Rain Wild Traders might offer you the same status as they have offered the Tattooed. Of course, it would have the same requirements. You’d have to bring your true-born daughters and sons with you. When they married into Rain Wild families, they’d become Traders. ”

  He recoiled from the table, and snatched a kerchief from his pocket. He patted hastily at his lips. “The very idea is abhorrent. Companion, are you mocking me?”

  “Not at all. I am merely saying that the so-called New Traders had best come to the bargaining table with everyone else. And they must understand that, like everyone else, they will have to meet certain terms to be accepted here. ”

  His eyes flashed. “Accepted here! We have every right to be here. We have charters granted by Satrap Cosgo himself, ceding us land and…”

  “Charters you bought from him, for outrageous bribes and gifts. Because you knew that bribing him was the only way you could get such a charter. What he could not legitimately grant you, you bought from him. Those charters were founded on dishonesty and broken promises. ” She took another sip of tea. “If they hadn’t been, you never would have consented to pay so much for them. You bought lies, ‘New Trader’ Mingsley.

  “Now the truth has come to Bingtown. The truth is that the Three Ships Immigrants have a true right to be here. They negotiated it with the Bingtown Traders when they first came here. Last night, they negotiated further. They will be given grants of lands, and votes in the Council, in recognition of all they have done against the Chalcedean invasion. Oh, they will never be Bingtown Traders, of course. Not unless they marry into the families. However, I imagine the Bingtown Traders will become a ceremonial aristocracy of sorts, rather than a true ruling class anymore. Moreover, Three Ships families seem to cherish the distinction of being Three Ships. Those of the Tattooed who choose to remain in Bingtown rather than go to the Rain Wilds will have the opportunity to earn land of their own, by assisting in the rebuilding of Bingtown. Those that do will receive voting privileges with the land, and stand on an equal footing with every other landowner. ”

  “Ah, well, then. ” Mingsley leaned back in his chair and rested his hands contentedly on his belly. “That is what you should have told me first. If voting and control of the town are to be based on land ownership, then we New Traders have nothing to fear. ”

  “Certainly, that is true. Once you legally acquire some land, you, too, will be allowed to vote on the Council. ”

  He went red, and then his face darkened until she feared he would collapse. When he spoke, the words burst from him like steam from a kettle. “You have betrayed us!”

  “And how did you expect to be served? You betrayed the Satrapy once, luring Cosgo to issue grants to you that you knew were illegal. Then you came here, and further betrayed Bingtown, by dirtying its shores with slavery and undercutting its economy and way of life. But that was not enough for you. You and your cohorts wanted it all, not just the lands of Bingtown, but the secret trade of Bingtown. ”

  She paused for a sip of tea, and to smile at him. “And for that you were willing to betray the Satrap into death. You would have used his slaughter as an excuse to let the Chalcedeans kill the Bingtown Traders, so long as you could keep their wealth for yourselves. Well, you were betrayed once, by the Chalcedeans. How that astonished you! But you did not learn. Instead you sought to bend me as you bent the Satrap, not with wealth but threats. Well. Now you are betrayed again, by me. If betrayal you would call it, that I stand up for what I have always believed in. ”

  In a very reasonable voice, she continued, “New Traders who labor alongside the Three Ships folk and the slaves in helping to rebuild Bingtown will be granted land. That the Bingtowners themselves decreed, with no prodding from me. It is the best offer you will get. But you will not take it, for your heart is not here. It never was. Your wives and your heirs are not here. Bingtown, to you, was a place to plunder, never home, never a new chance. ”

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  “And when the Jamaillian fleet arrives here, what then?” he demanded. “The birds that were sent out to Jamaillia primed them to expect Old Trader treachery against the Satrap. Lo and behold, we were more right than we knew! Your Bingtown Trader friends were the ones who sent the Satrap to his death. ”

  Her voice was cold. “You are so bold, you admit your part in the plot against Satrap Cosgo, and then threaten me with the consequences?” She shook her head in patrician disbelief. “If Jamaillia were going to muster a fleet against us, it would have done so by now. Unless I am much mistaken, those who hoped to sail north and plunder Bingtown have found they must stay at home to protect what they have. If this threatened Jamaillian fleet ever arrives, I doubt there will be much to it. I assure you, I am all too familiar with the financial state of the Jamaillian treasury. The death of a Satrap and the threat of civil war will prompt most nobles to keep their wealth and their strength close to home. I know what the conspiracy hoped. You believed your Jamaillian partners would arrive with ships and turn Bingtown over to you. Doubtless you thought it wise to have this fallback defense against the Chalcedeans in case they became too greedy. As they did, and far sooner than you expected. ”

  She gave a small sigh and poured herself more tea. With a social smile, she waved the pot questioningly toward Mingsley’s cup, then interpreted his outraged silence as a refusal. She took up her lecture again. “If this fleet ever arrives here, they will be greeted with diplomacy, a cordial welcome and a well-fortified harbor. They will find a city rebuilding itself after an unjustifi
ed Chalcedean attack. I suggest you consider the New Traders’ position in Bingtown from an entirely different angle. Whatever will you do if the Satrap is not dead? For if the dragon speaks truth when she says that Malta Vestrit lives, then perhaps the Satrap has survived alongside her. How uncomfortable could that be for you? Especially as I have it, in your own hand, that there was a New Trader plot against him. Not that you were personally involved, of course. ” She idly stirred a bit of honey into the mint tea. “In any case, if the fleet is met, not with a show offeree, nor a scene of civil disorder, but with a courteous and diplomatic welcome… Well. ”

  She cocked her head at him and smiled winningly. “We shall see. Oh. Did I caution you to remember that this Jamaillian fleet must first come here through not only the Pirate Isles, but through the Chalcedean ‘patrol’ vessels? It will, I think, be rather like coming past an enraged hive of bees. If and when the fleet reaches us, they may be glad of a peaceful harbor and a dragon guardian. ” She stirred her tea again as she idly asked, “Or had you forgotten about Tintaglia?”

  “You will regret this!” Mingsley told her. He stood with a fine crash of china and cutlery. “You would have been carried alongside us to power! You could have returned to Jamaillia a wealthy woman, and lived out your days in civilization and culture. Instead you have doomed yourself to this backwater town and its rustic folk. They have no respect for the Satrapy here. Here you will be nothing more than just another woman on her own!”

  He stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him. Just another woman on her own. Mingsley was not to know that he had flung a blessing at Serilla in the tones of a curse.

  KENDRY CAME BACK TO HARBOR UNDER SAIL, A DIMINISHED CREW WORKING HIS decks, but making good time nonetheless. Reyn Khuprus sat on the skeletal rooftop of a half-destroyed warehouse and watched him come. Overhead, Tintaglia circled once, flashing silver. The dragon touched Reyn’s mind briefly as she passed overhead. “Ophelia is your name for her. She comes, also. ”

  He watched Kendry as the men brought him alongside one of the shattered docks and tied him off. The liveship had changed. The affable boyish figurehead did not wave his arms in greeting, or clap and whoop with joy at his safe return. Instead his arms were crossed on his chest and his face was closed. Reyn could guess what had happened. Tintaglia had told Kendry who and what he truly was. The last few times he’d sailed on the Kendry, he had been uncomfortably aware of the dragon lurking below the ship’s surface personality. Now those memories would have bloomed in full.

  A slow and terrible knowledge rose in Reyn. He was doomed to see this change in every liveship. With each stricken or closed face, he would have to confront what his ancestors had done. Knowingly or not, they had taken the dragons’ lives from them, and then condemned their spirits to a sexless, wingless eternity as ships. He should have been happy to know that the liveship Ophelia had prevailed in her encounters with the Chalcedeans. Instead, he did not want to be there when Grag Tenira went down to greet the ship he had loved all his life, and encountered a glowering dragon instead. It was not only dragonkind he had injured; soon he would see in his friend’s eyes the damage done to Bingtown’s liveship families.

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  Too many changes, too many chances, he told himself. He could not sort out what he felt anymore. He should have been joyous. Malta was alive. Bingtown had formed a solid alliance and had a treaty ready for the dragon’s mark. The Chalcedeans were vanquished, at least for now. And sometime in the future, if all went well, there was another Elderling city for him to explore and learn. This time, he would be in charge, with no plundering or hasty robbing of treasure. He would have Malta at his side. All would be well. All would be healed.

  Somehow, he could not trust it to be real. The brief sensing of Malta that he had received through Tintaglia was like the aroma of hot food to a starving man. The possibility of her was not enough to satisfy the longing in his heart.

  At a noise in the building below him, he glanced down, expecting to see a stray dog or cat. Instead, he saw Selden picking his way through the rubble below. “Get out of there,” he called down in annoyance. “Can’t you see this whole roof could fall on you?”

  “Which is why you’re sitting on it, obviously,” Selden called up to him, unimpressed.

  “I just needed a place where I could look out over the harbor and watch for Tintaglia to return. I’m coming down now. ”

  “Good. Tintaglia’s gone to groom, but soon she’ll return to make her mark on the scroll the Council has drawn up. ” He took a breath. “She wants the Kendry immediately loaded with supplies and engineers and sent up the river so her work can be begun. ”

  “Supplies from where?” Reyn asked sarcastically.

  “She doesn’t much care. I’ve suggested that she should begin with the Kendry just taking builders up there, stopping in Trehaug to pick up folk who know the ways of the river, and then going to the place she wants dredged. They must see what needs to be done before they plan how to do it. ”

  Reyn did not ask him how he knew so much. Instead, he came to his feet, and picked his way back to the eaves of the building. The winter sun woke the glints of scaling on Selden’s brows and lips. “She sent you to fetch me, didn’t she?” Reyn asked as he made the final jump down. “To make sure I’d be there?”

  “If she wanted you there, she could have told you herself. No. I came myself to make sure you would be there. So you can hold her to her promise. Left to herself, she will worry first about her serpents and the possibility of other cocooned dragons surviving. If we leave it up to her, it will be months instead of days before she sets out to look for Malta. ”

  “Months!” Reyn felt a surge of rage. “We should be departing today!” A sick certainty came over him. It would be days. Just signing the contract would probably take a day in itself. And then the selection of folk to go upriver, and the supplying of the Kendry. “After all Malta did to free her, you would think she would have at least a scrap of gratitude for her. ”

  The boy frowned to himself. “It isn’t that she dislikes Malta. Or you. She doesn’t think that way at all. Dragons and serpents are so much more important to her than people, to ask her to choose between rescuing her own kind and saving Malta is like asking you to choose between Malta and a pigeon. ”

  Selden paused. “To Tintaglia, most humans seem very similar, and our concerns seem trivial matters indeed. It is up to us to make such things important to her. If she succeeds in her plans, there will be other dragons sharing our world with us. Only they will see it as us sharing their world. My grandfather used to say, ‘Start out dealing with a man the way you intend to go on dealing with him. ’ I think the same may be true of dragons. I think we need to establish now what we expect of her and her kind. ”

  “But, to wait days until we depart-“

  “To wait a few days is better than to wait forever,” Selden pointed out to him. “We know Malta is alive. Did her life feel threatened to you?”

  Reyn sighed. “I could not tell,” he was forced to admit. “I could sense Malta. But it was as if she refused to pay attention to me. ”

  They both fell silent. The winter day was cold but still under a clear blue sky. Voices carried, and hammers rang throughout the city. As they walked together through the Bingtown streets, Reyn could already feel the change in the air. Everywhere, the bustle of activity clearly spoke of hopes for and belief in tomorrows. Tattooed and Three Ships people worked alongside Traders both Old and New. Few of the businesses had reopened, but there were already youngsters on street corners hawking shellfish and wild greens. There seemed to be more folk in town as well. He suspected the flood of refugees had reversed, and that those who had fled Bingtown to outlying areas were returning. The tide had turned. Bingtown would rise from the ashes.

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  “You seem to know a great deal about dragons,” Reyn observed to Selden. “Whence co
mes all this sudden knowledge?”

  Instead of replying, Selden asked a question of his own. “I’m turning into a Rain Wilder, aren’t I?”

  Reyn didn’t look at him. He wasn’t sure Selden would want to consider his face just now. The changes in Reyn’s own appearance seemed to be accelerating. Even his fingernails were growing thicker and hornier. Usually such changes did not come to a Rain Wilder until he reached middle age. “It certainly looks that way. Does it distress you?”

  “Not much. I don’t think my mother likes it. ” Before Reyn could react to that, he went on, “I have the dreams of a Rain Wilder now. They started the night I fell asleep in the city. You woke me from one, when you found me. I couldn’t hear the music then, like Malta did, but I think that if I went back now, I would. The knowledge grows in me, and I don’t know where it comes from. ” He knit his scaled brows. “It belonged to someone else, but somehow it’s coming down to me now. Is that what is called ‘drowning in memories,’ Reyn? A stream of memories flows through me. Am I going to go crazy?”

  He set his hand to the boy’s shoulder and gripped it. Such a thin and narrow shoulder to take on such a burden. “Not necessarily. Not all of us go crazy. Some of us learn to swim with the flow. ”

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER TWENTY - Prisoners

  “ARE YOU SURE YOU’LL BE WARM ENOUGH?” JANI KHUPRUS ASKED HIM AGAIN.

  Selden rolled his eyes at Reyn in sympathy, and the Rain Wilder found himself smiling. “I don’t know,” Reyn replied honestly. “But if I put on any more layers of clothing, I’m afraid I’ll slip out of them when the dragon is carrying me. ”

  That silenced her. “I’ll be fine, Mother,” he assured her. “It won’t be any worse than sailing in foul weather. ”

  They stood in a hastily cleared area behind the Traders’ Concourse. Tintaglia had demanded that henceforth every city in the Traders’ control must have an open space sufficiently large for a dragon to land comfortably. And whenever a dragon chose to land in a city, the inhabitants must guarantee the creature a warm welcome and an adequate meal. Negotiating what an “adequate meal” was had taken several hours. The meat had to be alive, and equal at least the size of a “well-fleshed bull calf at the end of his first year. ” When told she was more likely to get poultry, as Bingtown lacked grazing lands for cattle, she had sulked until someone had offered her warmed oil and assistance in grooming her scales whenever she visited. That had seemed to mollify her.

 

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