Ship of destiny, p.50
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       Ship of Destiny, p.50

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
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TINTAGLIA SHOOK HIM. REYN OPENED HIS EYES, AND SAW THE WRINKLED shimmer of dark water far below him. He cried out in terror and clutched wildly at the claws that held him.

  “That’s better,” the dragon proclaimed mercilessly. “I thought you were dead. I had forgotten that humans are not so well attached to their bodies as dragons are. When you venture too far from them, you can lose your way back. ”

  Reyn clung sickly to her claws. He felt dizzy, cold and small, but he did not think it was the effect of the flight. He suspected he had been unconscious. He tried to reach back to the last thing he could remember. It eluded him. He stared down, and suddenly made sense of what he was seeing. “Are those galleys down there Chalcedean? What are they doing, where are they bound?” There were seven of them, moving southward in formation like a V of geese.

  “How can you expect me to know such things? Or care?” She glanced down almost idly. “I have seen many such ships moving southward through these waters. I chased them away from Bingtown, as I agreed to do. But there are far too many for one dragon to disperse them all. ” She seemed offended that he had forced her to admit this. She diverted the topic. “I thought all your concerns were for Malta?”

  “They are,” he said faintly. “But those ships…” He let his words trail away. He grasped what he should have seen all along. Chalced’s move was not just against the Rain Wilds and Bingtown. Chalced had been heavily involved with the New Traders against the Satrap. That they had turned on the New Traders meant only that Chalced was treating allies as it always did. Now Chalced was moving against Jamaillia, in force. Bingtown was but a stop along the way, a place to cripple and occupy so that Chalced would not have an enemy at its back while it went after bigger prey. He stared down at the ships. Many like those, Tintaglia had said. Jamaillia’s sea power had been declining for almost a decade. He did not know if Jamaillia could wage war against Chalced, let alone win such a struggle. Could Bingtown survive the disruption to trade that such a war would wreak? His mind spun with the implications of all he saw.

  Tintaglia was annoyed. “Well. Did you find your mate? Could you tell where she was?”

  He swallowed. “Somewhat. ” He sensed her impatience with his answer. “A moment,” he begged her. He took deep breaths of the cold air, hoping it would restore him while he tried to make sense of the fragmented dream-memory. “She was on a ship,” he told the dragon. “A deep-hulled ship, from the motion, not a galley. Yet she said it was Chalcedean. ” He knit his brows. “Did not you sense that also?”

  “I was not that attentive,” she replied carelessly. “So. A Chalcedean ship. A large one. There are many like that. Where?”

  “Bound for Jamaillia. ”

  “Oh, that’s helpful. ”

  “South. Fly south over the Inside Passage. ”

  “And when we fly over the ship she is in, you will simply know it,” the dragon continued skeptically. “And what then?”

  He stared down at the water below his toes. “Then, somehow, you will help me rescue her. And take her home with us. ”

  The dragon made a rumble of displeasure. “A foolish and impossible errand. We waste time, Reyn. We should go back now. ”

  “No. Not without Malta,” he replied adamantly. To her silently simmering anger, he retorted, “What you ask of me is just as foolish and impossible. You demand that I slog through the Rain Wild swamps and somehow locate a city engulfed Sa alone knows how many years ago, and that I then somehow rescue any cocooned dragons buried deep within it. ”

  “Are you saying now that you can’t do that?” The dragon was outraged.

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  He gave a snort of laughter. “One impossible quest at a time. You first. ”

  “I will keep my word,” she promised sulkily.

  He regretted having offended her. That was not the way to win her best effort. “I know you will keep your word,” he assured her. He took a breath. “I have touched souls with you, Tintaglia. You are too great-hearted to go back on your promise. ”

  She did not reply, but he sensed her mollification. Why she found such gratification in praise, he had no idea, but it was a small price to pay. She bore him on, her wide wings beating steadily. He became aware of the working of a mighty heart inside her chest. Where she clasped him against her, he was warm. He felt a surge of confidence in both of them. They would find Malta, and they would bring her safely home. He gripped her claws in his hands, and ignored the ache of his swinging legs.

  MALTA’S HANDS SHOOK AS SHE TWITCHED HIS JACKET STRAIGHT. A DEEP-VOICED cry of agony resounded through the deck. She clenched her teeth against it and tried to believe the Chalcedeans were winning. She had suddenly discovered that she preferred the known danger to the unknown. Gently, she tugged the Satrap’s collar straight. There. The Satrap of all Jamaillia, Heir to the Pearl Throne, Magnadon Satrap Cosgo was now presentable. The Satrap regarded himself in the small mirror she lifted. Unruffled by the smothered sounds of fighting, he smoothed the thin line of his moustache. Something fell heavily to the deck above them. “I will go up now,” he announced.

  “I don’t think that’s wise. It’s battle up there, can’t you hear it?” She had spoken too hastily. He set his jaw stubbornly.

  “I am not a coward!” he declared.

  No. Only an idiot. “Lordly one, you must not risk yourself!” she begged him. “I know you do not fear for yourself, but consider Jamaillia, bereft and lost as a rudderless ship if aught should befall you. ”

  “You are a fool,” the Satrap told her tolerantly. “What man would dare to physically assault the Satrap of Jamaillia? Those pirate dogs may dispute my rule, but only from a safe distance. When they look me in the face, they will cower in shame. ”

  He actually believed it. Malta gawked in stunned silence as he walked to the door. He paused, waiting for her to open it for him. Perhaps that was the solution. Maybe if she didn’t open the door for him, he would simply stay in the room. But after a long frozen moment, he scowled at her and announced, “I suppose I must do everything for myself,” and opened it. She trailed after him in sick fascination.

  As she stood at the foot of the ladder that led to the deck, she reflected that the hatch cover might save him. It was always hard to lift and slide; perhaps it would defeat him. But when he was halfway up the ladder, the hatch opened, and a square of sunlight fell down onto them. A bare-chested man glared down at them. The spread-winged raven tattooed on his chest was spattered with fresh blood, seemingly not his own. Slave tattoos sprawled across his face and down one side of his neck. The knife he held dripped red. Then his wide-eyed stare changed to a whoop of delight.

  “Hey, Cap! Come see what pretty birds I’ve found caged below!” To the Satrap and Malta, he barked, “Come on up here and don’t be slow!”

  As the Satrap emerged from the hatch, the pirate seized him by the arm and hauled him onto the deck. The Satrap cursed and struck out at the man, who sent him sprawling with a careless shove. As he grabbed Malta, she set her teeth and refused to cry out. She glared at him as he lifted her by one arm and swung her onto the deck. She landed on her feet beside the Satrap. Without taking her eyes from the gloating pirate, she stooped down, seized the Satrap by his upper arm and helped him to his feet.

  Around them, the deck was a shambles. A huddle of disarmed Chalcedeans was corralled at one end, guarded by three mocking invaders. Just past the base of the mast, Malta could see a man’s sprawled legs. They did not move. Other pirates were dropping down into the hold to see what cargo they had won. Malta heard a splash and turned in time to see some men throw a body overboard. It might have been the mate.

  “You will die for this! You will die!” The Satrap was puffing with fury. Two red spots stood out on his pale cheeks and his hair was disheveled. He glowered at all of them. “Where is the captain? I demand to see the captain!”

  “Please be quiet,” Malta begged him in an undertone.

  He did not listen. He pushed at her, as if his fall were her fault. “Silence!” he spat at her. “Stupid woman. Do not presume to tell me what to do!” His eyes sparked with anger but his voice betrayed him with its shrillness. He set his fists to his hips. “I demand that the captain be brought to me. ”

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  “What have you found, Rusk?” a short, brawny man asked their captor with a grin. Curly red hair spilled out from under a head kerchief marked with a raven. He gripped a sword in his left hand. With the tip of the blade, he lifted the embroidered edge of the Satrap’s jacket. “This is a finely feathered bird. Rich merchant or noble blood, I’d say. ”

  Cosgo swelled his chest in affront. “I am the Magnadon Satrap Cosgo, ruler of all Jamaillia and heir to the Pearl Throne! And I demand to speak to the captain. ”

  Malta’s hopes died within her.

  A smile split the man’s freckled face. “You are speaking to the captain. Captain Red. ” He swept a low bow and added purringly, “At your service, great Satrap, I’m sure. ”

  The man who had first discovered them laughed so hard he choked.

  Cosgo’s face went scarlet with fury. “I mean the real captain. Captain Deiari. ”

  Captain Red’s grin went wider. He dared a wink at Malta. “I’m so sorry, Magnadon Satrap Cosgo. Captain Deiari is presently entertaining the fish. ” In a stage whisper, he explained to Malta, “That’s what happens to men who don’t know when to put their swords down. Or men who lie to me. ” He waited.

  Behind him, two sailors seized the fallen man behind the mast and dragged him away. Malta stared in fascinated horror. His lifeless body left a swath of blood behind it. His dead eyes looked at her as they lifted him and his mouth fell open in a joyless smile as he flopped over the railing. She felt she could not breathe.

  “I tell you, I am the Magnadon Satrap Cosgo, ruler of all Jamaillia. ”

  The freckled captain spread wide his arms, sword still in hand, and grinned. “And here are gathered all your loyal retainers and grand nobles, to attend you on this remarkable voyage from… where? Chalced? The Satrap journeys from Chalced to Jamaillia?”

  Cosgo’s nostrils were pinched white with outrage. “Not that it is the affair of a thieving, murdering cutthroat, but I am returning from Bingtown. I went there to resolve a dispute between the Old and New Traders, but then I was kidnapped by the Bingtown Traders and taken up the Rain Wild River. The Rain Wild Traders, a race of folk so horribly deformed that they must constantly wear veils, held me captive in an underground city. I escaped during an earthquake and journeyed down the Rain Wild River until I was rescued by a…”

  As the Satrap spoke, the captain looked from one to another of his men, all the while pulling faces that feigned his wonder and astonishment at the Satrap’s tale. As his men guffawed in delight, the captain suddenly leaned forward to set the tip of his blade at Cosgo’s throat. The Satrap’s eyes bulged and his flow of words ceased. All color drained from his face.

  “Stop it now, do, stop!” the captain pleaded merrily. “We have work to do here, my men and I. Stop your jesting and tell the truth. The sooner you tell us your name and family, the sooner you can be ransomed back to them. You do want to go home, don’t you? Or do you fancy you’d make a good addition to my crew?”

  Cosgo looked wildly about at the circle of captors. When at last his eyes met Malta’s, tears suddenly brimmed in them.

  “Stop it,” she said in a low voice. “Leave him alone. He is the Magnadon Satrap Cosgo, and he is far more valuable to you as a hostage if he does not have a cut throat. ”

  The blade’s tip lifted from the Satrap’s throat. An instant later, it pressed between her breasts. She looked down on it, paralyzed. Someone else’s blood was still on it. Captain Red slid the tip under the lacing that secured her bodice. “And you, of course, are the lovely and learned Companion of his Heart. Also on your way back to Jamaillia. ” His gaze traveled over her slowly.

  His mockery broke her fear. She met his gaze furiously and spat a single word at a time. “Don’t. Be. Stupid. ” She lifted her chin. “I am Malta Vestrit, a Bingtown Trader’s daughter. As wild as his tale sounds, he truly is Magnadon Satrap Cosgo. ” She took a breath. “Kill him, and you will henceforth be known as the stupidest captain ever to discard a Satrap’s ransom. ”

  The captain roared out his delight, and his crew echoed him. Malta felt her cheeks grow red, but she dared not move while the blade pressed her breast. Behind her, the Satrap whispered angrily, “Don’t anger him, wench. ”

  “Cap’n Red. The ship’s secured. ” This from a sailor, little more than a boy, wearing an embroidered vest far too large for him. Malta remembered seeing it on Captain Deiari. A dead man’s clothes were the ship’s boy’s plunder.

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  “Very good, Oti. How many prisoners?”

  “‘Sides these two? Only five. ”

  “Condition of the ship?”

  “Fit to sail, sir. And full holds as well. She’s loaded with good stuff. ”

  “Is she indeed? Marvelous. I think a prize this fat is enough to take us straight back to port, don’t you? We’ve ranged a bit this time, and Divvytown will look good to us, hey?”

  “Very good, sir,” the boy replied enthusiastically. There were assenting noises from the rest of the crew.

  The captain looked around. “Secure the five belowdecks. Get names, find out if they’ve got families that will ransom them. They fought well. If any express an interest in turning pirate, have him brought to me. Cam! Pick yourself a prize crew. You’ll be bringing this one home for us. ”

  Cam, the man who had first found them, grinned broadly. “That I will, sir. All right, you two, right back down where you came from!”

  The captain shook his head. “No. Not these two. I’ll be taking them back to the Motley with me. Even if he’s not the Satrap of all Jamaillia, I’ll wager he brings a rich ransom from someone. ” A deft lift of his blade tip cut Malta’s laces. She caught at the loose bodice of her dress and held it to her, gasping in outrage. The captain only grinned. “As for the lady, she shall have dinner with Captain Stupid and tell me whatever tales she pleases. Bring her along. ”

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE - Paragon of the Ludlucks

  ALTHEA WAS AT THE TOP OF THE MAST, WATCHING, WHEN VIVACIA’S SAILS FIRST appeared. The sails were all she could see, white against the threatening overcast. Paragon was lurking in an inlet with a clear view of a channel just outside Divvytown, but Vivacia had not yet passed the mouth of the inlet. Brashen had studied his scraps of charts, and gambled that this was the approach Vivacia would use to return to Divvytown, assuming Kennit would be returning from the direction of the Others’ Island. Brashen had guessed correctly. Even before Althea could see her hull or her figurehead, she recognized her mast and sails. For a moment, the long-awaited sight left Althea speechless. Several times over the last seven days, she had spotted ships she thought might be Vivacia. Twice she had even called Brashen to the top of the mast to confer with her. Each time, she had been wrong.

  Now, as she watched the familiar rigging come into sight, she was certain: this was her ship, and she knew it, as she knew her mother’s face. She did not cry out the news to all, but came spidering down the mast and hit the deck running. Without knocking, she barged into Brashen’s cabin. He was in bed, sleeping after taking the night watch. “It’s her. To the southwest, whence you thought she would come. No mistake this time, Brashen. It’s Vivacia. ”

  He did not question her. He took a deep breath. “Then it’s time. Let’s hope that Kennit is truly as intelligent and rational as you believe he is. Otherwise, we’re offering our throats to a butcher. ”

  For a moment, she could only stare at him, wordless. “Sorry,” he offered huskily. “I didn’t need to say that. We both decided on this plan. We’ve both convinced the
crew it will work. Don’t feel I’m putting it all on you. ”

  She shook her head. “You only spoke aloud what I’ve been thinking for too many days. One way or another, Brashen, it is all upon me. But for me, this ship and this crew would not even be out here, let alone considering this mad plan. ”

  He caught her in his arms for a rough hug. For an instant, the scent of his bare skin was in her nostrils and his loosened hair against her cheek. She rubbed her face against the warmth of his chest. Why, she wondered, was she willing to gamble at all? Why bet this man’s life and her own life on such a wild venture? Then he turned her loose and caught up his shirt from a chair. As he put it on, he became the captain again.

  “Go shake out our truce flag and run it up. I want the crew to have weapons ready, but none in hand. Remind them that we’re offering to talk first to Kennit; we’re not inviting him to board us. At the first sign of aggression from him, though, we respond in kind. ”

  She bit her tongue to keep from telling him that the crew needed no reminders. They had drilled it into them rigorously. Without Lavoy’s subversion to deal with, she felt far more confident of the crew. They would obey. Perhaps, in a few hours, she’d stand on the deck of the Vivacia again. Perhaps. She jumped to carry out his orders.

  “THERE, SIR. SEE IT NOW?” GANKIS POINTED AND SQUINTED AS IF THAT WOULD aid his captain’s vision. “The ship is holding anchor just off the beach. He’s probably trusting to the shoreline and the trees behind him to make him hard to see, but I spotted-“

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  “I see him,” Kennit cut the man off tersely. “Go about your duties!” He stared at the masts and riggings. A strange certainty filled his soul. The old lookout left Kennit’s side, chastened by his captain’s tone. The chill wind blew past Kennit and his ship plunged on through the waves, but he was suddenly separate from it all. The ship was Paragon. The other half of his soul rode at anchor in the inlet.

  “Can I know him from this far away?” he asked himself softly. “How? Is it a feeling in the air? A scent on the wind?”

  “Blood calls to blood,” whispered the charm at his wrist. “You know it’s him. He’s come back to you. After all these years, he has come back. ”


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