The mad ship, p.54
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       The Mad Ship, p.54

         Part #2 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb

  Her captor had borne her into an unfamiliar part of the ship. He shoved her into the captain's darkened cabin, then latched the door behind her. Serilla did not know how long she had waited there. It seemed hours, but how could one measure time in such circumstances? She had cycled from rage to despair to terror. Fear had been with her constantly. By the time the man actually arrived, Serilla was already exhausted from shouting, weeping and pounding on the door. At his first touch, she physically collapsed, near fainting. Nothing in her scholarly upbringing or days at court had ever prepared her for anything like this. He easily overcame her efforts to push him away. She was like a spitting kitten in his hand. He raped her, not savagely, but matter-of-factly. The discovery of her virginity made him exclaim in surprise, and curse in his own language. Then he went on with his own pleasure.

  How many days ago had that been? She did not know. She had not left the cabin since then. Time was broken up into when the man was there and when he was not. Sometimes he used her. Other times he ignored her. He was impersonal in his cruelty. He did not notice her in any other way; he made no attempt to win her affection. He showed her the same courtesy he gave to the chamber pot or spittoon. He never spoke to her. She was there to use, when he felt the need. If she made it difficult, with resistance or pleading, he would hit her. He delivered the open-handed blows casually, with a lack of effort that convinced her his intent strength would be far greater. One slap loosened two of her teeth and left her ear ringing for hours. The lack of malice with which he struck her was more frightening than the blows. Hurting her was of no concern to him.

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  At some early point in her captivity, she had contemplated revenge. She had rummaged about in the room, looking for anything that might serve as a weapon. The man was not a trusting soul. His chests and cupboards were locked, and did not give way to her prying. But she did find on his desk documents that indicated her suspicions were well founded. She recognized a chart of Bingtown harbor, and a map of the area around the mouth of the Rain Wild River. Like all such maps she had ever seen, there were great blank spaces. There were letters there as well, but she did not read the Chalcedean language. The documents contained mention of money and the names of two high Jamaillian nobles. It might have been information about bribes; but it might also have been a bill of lading. She put everything back exactly as she had found it. Either she had not done a good job, or the beating he gave her that night was for a different offense. It quenched her last thoughts of resistance or revenge. She no longer even thought of survival. Her mind retreated, leaving her body to function on its own.

  After a time, she had learned to eat the leavings from his meals. He did not eat often in his cabin, but provided her no other food or drink. She had no clothing left intact, so she spent most of her time huddled in the corner of his bed. She no longer thought. When she tried to fumble her way out of her confusion, she found only ugly alternatives. All thought was fear. Today, he might kill her. He might give her to his crew. He might keep her forever, all the rest of her life, in this cabin. Worst of all, he might return her to the Satrap, a broken toy that no longer amused him. Eventually, he would get her pregnant. Then what? This present that she endured had irreparably destroyed all her futures that might be. She would not think.

  Sometimes she stared out the window. There was little to see. Water. Islands. Birds flying. The smaller ships that accompanied them. Sometimes the smaller ships disappeared, to rejoin them a day later. Sometimes they showed sign of battle, scorched wood or tattered sails or chained men on the deck. They raided the small outlaw settlements of the Inside Passage as they discovered them, taking loot and captives as slaves. They seemed to be doing well at it.

  Someday, they would get to Bingtown. When that thought came to Serilla, it was like a tiny crack through which light shone. If she could somehow escape in Bingtown, if she could get ashore, she could conceal who she had been and what had happened to her. That was very important to her. Her mind recoiled from continuing this life. She could no longer be Serilla. Serilla was a soft and pampered academic, a gently reared scholar, and a court woman of words and thoughts. She despised Serilla. Serilla was too weak to fight off this man. Serilla had been too foolishly proud to accept the Satrap's offer to bed him instead of the Chalcedean. Serilla was too cowardly to plot how to kill the captain, or even how to kill herself. Even knowing that Bingtown was her last hope in the world, she could not focus her mind enough to form an escape plan. Some vital part of herself had been, if not destroyed, suspended. She detached herself from Serilla, and shared the world's contempt for her.

  The end of her ordeal came as abruptly as it had begun. A sailor unlocked the cabin one day and gestured for her to follow.

  She clutched the blanket to herself as she cowered on the captain's bed. Steeling herself for a blow, she dared to ask, “Where are you taking me?”

  “Satrap. ” The one word was his reply. Either he spoke no more of her language than that, or he considered it ample. He jerked his head toward the door again.

  She knew she had to obey. When she stood and wrapped the blanket about herself, the sailor did not try to take it from her. The gratitude she felt for this brought tears to her eyes. When he was sure she was following, he led the way. She followed him cautiously, as if she were venturing into a new world. Blanket clutched tightly around her, she emerged from the cabin. She kept her eyes cast down and hurried along. She tried to go to her old cabin, but a shout from her guide made her cringe. She fell in behind him once more, and he took her to the Satrap's quarters.

  She expected he would knock at the door. She had hoped to have at least that much time to prepare herself. He didn't. He flung the door of the cabin open and gestured impatiently for her to enter.

  She stepped forward into a noisome flow of overly warm air. In this warm weather, the smells of the ship itself had ripened with that of sickness and sweat. Serilla recoiled but the sailor was merciless. He seized her shoulder and pushed her into the room. “Satrap,” he said, and then shut the door firmly.

  She ventured into the stifling room. It was still and dim. It had been tidied, in a careless sort of way. Discarded garments hung on backs of chairs rather than littering the floor. The censers for the Satrap's smoke herbs had been emptied but not cleaned. The smell of stale smoke choked the room. Plates and glasses had been cleared from his table, but the sticky circles from the bottoms of the bottles remained. From behind the heavy curtains on the great window came the sound of a single determined fly battering its head against the glass.

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  The room was accusingly familiar. She blinked slowly. It was like awakening from a bad dream. How could this room with its domestic clutter still exist so unchanged after all she had been through? She stared around, her daze slowly lifting. While she had been held captive and raped repeatedly, a single deck away, life had gone on for the Satrap and his party. Her absence had changed nothing for them. They had continued to drink and dine, to listen to music and play games of chance. The litter and mess of their safely ordinary lives suddenly enraged her. A terrible strength flooded her. She could have smashed the chairs against the table, could have shattered the heavy stained glass of the windows and flung his paintings and vases and statues into the sea.

  She did not. She stood still, savoring her fury and containing it until it became her. It was not strength, but it would do.

  She had believed the room was deserted. Then she heard a groan from the disheveled bed. Clutching her blanket about her, she stalked closer.

  The Satrap sprawled there in a wallow of bedding. His face was pale, his hair sweated to his brow. The smell of sickness was thick about him. A blanket thrown to the floor beside the bed stank of vomit and bile. As she stared down at him, his eyes opened. He blinked stickily, then appeared to focus on her. “Serilla,” he whispered. “You've come back. Thank Sa! I fear I am dying. ”
br />   “I hope you are. ” She spoke each word clearly as she stared at him. He cowered from her gaze. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot. The hands that clutched the edge of his blanket trembled. To have lived in fear for all those days, and then discover that the man who had given her over to such treatment was now sickened and wasted was too great an irony. In his illness, his wasted face finally resembled his father's. That brief resemblance both stabbed and strengthened her. She would not be what Cosgo had tried to make her. She was stronger than that.

  She abruptly discarded her blanket. She walked naked to his wardrobe and flung the doors of it wide. She felt his eyes on her; she took a vengeance in that she no longer cared. She began to pull out and then discard his garments, searching for something clean she could put on. Most of his clothing stank of his drug-smokes or perfumes, but she finally found a loose pair of white pantaloons, and then a red silk shirt. The trousers were too ample for her. She belted them up with a finely woven black scarf. An embroidered vest covered her breasts more appropriately. She took up one of his hairbrushes, cleaned it of his strands, and then began to bring her own dirty locks into order. She ripped the brush through her brown hair as if she could erase the Chalcedean's touch from it. Cosgo watched her in dull consternation.

  “I called for you,” he offered her weakly. “After Kekki sickened. By then, there was no one else left to tend me. We were all having such fun, before the sickness came. Everyone got so sick, so quickly. Lord Durden died right after our card game one night. Then the others began to get sick. ” He lowered his voice. “I suspect it is poison. None of the crew has been ill. Only me and those loyal to me. In addition, the captain does not even seem to care. They sent servants to tend me, but many of them are sick and the rest are fools. I have tried all my medicines, but nothing eases me. Please, Serilla. Don't leave me to die. I don't want to be tipped overboard like Lord Durden. ”

  She braided her hair back from her face. She studied herself in the mirror, turning her face from side to side. Her skin had gone sallow. On one side of her face, the bruises were fading. There was caked blood inside one of her nostrils. She picked up one of his shirts from the floor and wiped her nose on it. Then she met her reflection's gaze. She did not recognize herself. It was as if a frightened, angry animal lurked behind her eyes. She had become dangerous, she thought to herself. That was the difference. She gave him a glance. “Why should I care? You gave me to him, like a leftover bone thrown to a dog. Now you expect me to care for you?” She turned to face him and stared into his eyes. “I hope you die. ” She spoke the words slowly and individually, willing him to understand how completely she meant them.

  “You can't hope that!” he whined. “I am the Satrap. If I die, with no heir, all Jamaillia will fall into disorder. The Pearl Throne has never been unoccupied, not for seventeen generations. ”

  “It is now,” she pointed out sweetly. “And however the nobles are managing now is how they will manage when you are dead. Perhaps they won't even notice. ”

  She crossed the room to his jewelry boxes. The best quality would be in the ones most stoutly locked. Casually she lifted an ornately carved box over her head. She dashed it to the floor. The thick carpeting on the deck defeated her. She would not humiliate herself by trying again. She would content herself with simple silver and gold instead. She opened compartments of a different chest randomly, chose earrings for herself and a throatpiece. He had let her out as if she were a whore he owned. He could pay well for what he had done to her, in a multitude of ways. What she took now might be her only source of wealth when she left him in Bingtown. She decked her fingers with rings. She looped a heavy chain of gold about her ankle. Never had she worn such jewelry. It was almost like armor, she thought. Now she wore her worth on the outside of her body instead of within. It built her anger.

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  “What do you want from me?” he demanded imperiously. He tried to sit up, then sank back with a moan. The command was gone from his voice as he whimpered, “Why are you being so hateful to me?”

  He seemed so genuinely incredulous that she was jolted into an answer. “You gave me over to a man who raped me repeatedly. He beat me. You did it deliberately. You knew what I was suffering. You did nothing. Until you needed me, you cared nothing for what became of me. You were amused by it!”

  “I do not see that you took great hurt from it,” he declared defensively. “You are walking and talking and being as cruel to me as you always were. You women make so much of this! After all, it is what men naturally do to women. It is what you were made for, but refused to grant me!” He plucked petulantly at his blankets and muttered, “Rape is nothing but an idea women created, to pretend that a man can steal what you have an infinite supply of. You took no permanent harm from it. It was a rough jest, I admit, and ill considered . . . but I do not deserve to die for it. ” He turned his head and faced the bulkhead. “No doubt when I am dead, you will experience more of it,” he pointed out with childish satisfaction.

  Only the truth of his last statement kept her from killing him at that moment. The depth of her contempt for him was suddenly boundless. He had no concept of what he had done to her; worse, he seemed incapable of understanding it. That this was the son of the wise and gentle Satrap who had made her a Companion was inconceivable. She pondered what she must do to ensure her survival. He inadvertently gave her the answer.

  “I suppose I must give you presents and honors and bribes before you will take care of me. ” He sniffled a little.

  “Exactly. ” Her voice was cold. She would be the most expensive whore he had ever created. She went to a desk that was securely fastened to the bulkhead. She unburdened it of discarded clothing and a forgotten plate of moldy dainties. She found parchment, a pen and ink. She set them out, then dragged a chair across to seat herself. The change in her posture reminded her of how her whole body ached. She paused, frowning to herself. Going to the door, she jerked it open. The sailor on duty there looked at her questioningly. She made her voice imperious.

  “The Satrap requires a bath. Have his tub brought, with clean towels, and buckets of hot water. Very quickly. ” She shut the door before he could react.

  She returned to the desk and took up her pen.

  “Oh, I do not wish a hot bath. I am too weary as it is. Cannot you wash me where I lie?”

  Perhaps she'd allow him to use the water when she was finished with it. “Be quiet. I'm trying to think,” she told him. She took up the pen and closed her eyes for a moment, composing her thoughts.

  “What are you doing?” Satrap Cosgo asked.

  “Drawing up a document for you to sign. Be quiet!” She considered terms. She was inventing a whole new position for herself, as the Satrap's permanent envoy to Bingtown. She would need a salary, and allowance for suitable quarters and servants. She inked in a generous but not outrageous amount. How much power should she allot to herself, she wondered, as her pen inscribed the flowing characters on the parchment?

  “I'm thirsty,” he whispered hoarsely.

  “When I am finished, and you have signed this, then I will get you some water,” she told him reasonably. In fact, he did not seem very ill to her. She suspected it was a combination of some true illness, seasickness, and wine and pleasure herbs. Put that with a lack of servants and Companions fawning over him, and he believed he was dying. Fine. It well suited her purposes that he believe he was dying. Her pen paused for an instant in its flight and she tilted her head as she considered. There were emetics and purges in the medical stores he had brought with them. Perhaps, in the course of “caring” for him, she could see that he did not recover too swiftly. She needed him alive, but only as far as Bingtown.

  She set her pen aside. “Perhaps I should take time to prepare a remedy for you,” she conceded graciously.



SEEMED TO TAKE BOTH PLEASURE AND pride in this. Shreever had more mixed feelings. While the larger contingency of serpents that traveled with them now assured greater protection against predators, it meant that food supplies had to be shared. She would have felt better if more of the serpents were sentient, but many of those who followed the tangle were feral creatures who gathered with them only out of instinct.

  As they traveled and hunted together, Maulkin closely observed the feral serpents. Any that showed signs of promise were seized when the tangle paused for rest. Kelaro and Sessurea usually overpowered the chosen target, bearing him down and letting him struggle against their combined weight and strength until he was gasping. Then Maulkin would join them, to shake loose his toxins and weave his body through the winding loops of the memory dance while they demanded that the newcomer recall his own name. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. Not all of those who could recall their own names were able to retain their identities for long. Some remained simple, or drifted back into their animalistic ways by the next tide. But some few did recover and hold on to higher thought. There were even a few who followed the tangle aimlessly for a few days, and then suddenly recalled both names and civilized manners. The core group of serpents had grown to twenty-three, while easily twice that number ghosted behind them. It was a large tangle. Even the most generous provider could not keep them all satisfied.

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