Ship of destiny, p.6
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       Ship of Destiny, p.6

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
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  Devouchet’s eyes grew stony. “Justice has already been done. Restart was a traitor. Everyone knows that. ”

  Ronica Vestrit’s face was impassive. “So I keep hearing. But no one has presented me with one shred of evidence. ”

  “Ronica, be reasonable,” Trader Drur rebuked her. “Bingtown is a shambles. We are in the midst of a civil war. The Council has no time to convene on private matters, it must…”

  “Murder is not a private matter! The Council must answer the complaints of any Bingtown Trader. That was why the Council was formed, to see that regardless of wealth or poor fortune, justice was available to every Trader. That is what I demand. I believe Davad was killed and my family attacked on the basis of a rumor. That is not justice, that is murder and assault. Furthermore, while you believe that the culprit has been punished, I believe the true traitors go free. I don’t know what became of the Satrap. However, this woman seems to, by her own admission. I know he was taken by force that night. That scarcely seems to me that he ‘went into hiding, entrusting his power to her. ’ It seems to me more likely that Bingtown has been dragged into a Jamaillian plot to unseat the Satrap, one that may smear all of us with blame. I have heard that she even wishes to treat with the Chalcedeans. What will she give them, gentlemen, to placate them? What does she have to give them, save what is Bingtown’s? She benefits in power and wealth by the Satrap’s absence. Have some Traders been tricked into kidnapping the Satrap, for this woman’s own ends? If such is the case, she has led them into treason. Is not that a matter for the Council to judge, if it will not consider Davad Restart’s murder? Or are all of those ‘private matters’?”

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  Serilla’s mouth had gone dry. The three men exchanged uncertain glances. They were being swayed by this madwoman’s words. They would turn on her! Behind them, the serving boy lingered near the door, listening curiously. There was movement in the passage beyond him, and then Roed Caern and Krion Trentor entered the room. Tall and lean, Roed towered over his shorter, softer companion. Roed had bound his long black hair back in a tail as if he were a barbarian warrior. His dark eyes had always held a feral glint; now they shone with a predator’s lust. He stared at Ronica. Despite the uneasiness the young Trader always roused in her, Serilla felt a sudden wash of relief at his appearance. He, at least, would side with her.

  “I heard the name of Davad Restart,” Roed observed harshly. “If anyone has a dispute with how he ended, they should speak to me. ” His eyes challenged Ronica.

  Ronica drew herself up and advanced on him fearlessly. She was scarcely as tall as his shoulder. She looked up to meet his eyes as she demanded, “Trader’s son, do you admit the blood of a Trader is on your hands?”

  One of the older Traders gasped, and Roed looked startled for an instant. Krion licked his lips nervously. Then, “Restart was a traitor!” Roed declared.

  “Prove it to me!” Ronica exploded. “Prove it to me, and I’ll keep my peace, though I should not. Traitor or not, what was done to Davad was murder, not justice. But more importantly, gentlemen, I suggest you prove it to yourselves. Davad Restart is not the traitor who planned the abduction of a Satrap. He had no need to abduct a man who was guesting in his home! In believing that Davad was a traitor, and that you have destroyed a plot by killing him, you cripple yourself. Whoever is behind your plot, if there ever was a plot, is still alive and free to do mischief. Perhaps you were manipulated into doing exactly what you say you feared: kidnapping the Satrap, to bring the wrath of Jamaillia down on Bingtown?” She struggled, then forced calm into her voice. “I know Davad was not a traitor. But he may have been a dupe. A sly man like Davad could become the victim of someone slyer still. I suggest you go through Davad’s papers carefully, and ask yourself, who was using him? Ask yourself the question that underlies every Trader’s actions. Who profited?”

  Ronica Vestrit met the eyes of each man in turn. “Recall all you knew of Davad. Did he ever strike a bargain in which his profit was not certain? Did he ever place himself in physical danger? He was a social blunderer, a man close to being a pariah to both Old Traders and New. Is that the man with the charisma and expertise to engineer a plot against the most powerful man in the world?” She jerked her head disdainfully in Serilla’s direction. “Ask the Companion who fed her the information that led to her assumptions. Match those names against those bargaining through Davad, and you may have a starting place for your suspicions. When you have answers, you can find me at my home. Unless, of course, Trader Caern’s son thinks murdering me as well would be the tidiest way to resolve this. ” Ronica turned abruptly. Sword-straight and unsmiling, she faced Roed.

  Handsome, swarthy Roed Caern looked suddenly pale and ill. “Davad Restart was thrown clear of the coach. No one intended him to die there!”

  Ronica met his angry look with ice. “Your intentions made small difference. You did not care either way, about any of us. Malta heard what you said the night you left her to die. She saw you, she heard you, and she lived. Small thanks to any of you. Traders, Traders’ sons, I believe you have much to think on this evening. Good night to you. ”

  This aging woman in the worn clothing still managed to sweep regally from the room. The relief Serilla felt as Ronica left the room was momentary. As she sat back in her chair, she became uncomfortably aware of the faces of the men around her. As she recalled her first words when the Old Traders entered the room, she cringed, and then decided she must defend them. “That woman is not in her right mind,” she declared in a lowered voice. “I truly believe she would have done me harm if you had not arrived when you did. ” Quietly she added, “It might be best if she were contained somehow… for her own safety. ”

  “I can’t believe the rest of her family also survived,” Krion began in a nervous voice, but “Shut up!” Roed Caern ordered him. He scowled about the room. “I agree with the Companion. Ronica Vestrit is crazy. She talks of petitioning the Council and murder trials and judgments! How can she think that such rules apply during war? In these days, strong men must act. If we had waited for the Council to meet on the night of the fires, Bingtown would now be in Chalcedean hands. The Satrap would be dead, and the blame put on our heads. Individual Traders had to act, and each did. We saved Bingtown! I regret that Restart and the Vestrit women were entangled in the capture of the Satrap but they made the decision to get into the coach with him. When they chose such a companion, they chose their fate. ”

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  “Capture?” Trader Drur raised an eyebrow at him. “I was told we had intervened to prevent the New Traders from kidnapping him. ”

  Roed Caern did not blanch. “You know what I mean,” he growled, and turned aside. He paced to a window and stared out over the darkened grounds as if trying to see Ronica’s departing form.

  Drur shook his head. The grizzled Trader looked older than his years. “I know what we intended, but somehow…” He let his words trail away. Then he lifted his eyes and looked slowly around at all the folk in the room. “It was why we came here tonight, Companion Serilla. My friends and I fear that in trying to save Bingtown, we have placed it on the path to destruction of its very heart. ”

  Roed’s face went dark with anger. “And I come to say that those of us young enough to be the beating of that heart know that we have not gone far enough. You long to treat with the New Traders, don’t you, Drur? Even though they have already spat upon a truce offer. You would bargain away my birthright for the sake of a comfortable old age for yourself. Well, your daughter may sit home and tat while men are dying in the streets of Bingtown. She may allow you to crawl cravenly to those upstart newcomers and dicker away our rights for the sake of peace, but we shall not. What would come next? Would you give her to the Chalcedeans to buy peace with them?”

  Trader Drur’s face had gone red as a turkey’s wattle. His fists knotted at his sides.

  “Gentlemen. Please. ” Serilla sp
oke softly. Tension thrummed in the room. Serilla sat at the center of it like a spider in her web. The Traders turned to her and waited on her words. Her fear and anxiety of a moment ago were scorched to ashes in the triumph that burned invisibly within her. Bingtown Trader opposed Bingtown Trader, and they had come for her advice. This was how highly they regarded her. If she could keep her grasp on this power, she could be safe the rest of her life. So, carefully now. Go carefully.

  “I knew this moment would come,” she lied gracefully. “It was one reason I urged the Satrap to come here to mediate this dispute. You see yourselves as factions where the world sees only a whole. Traders, you must come to see yourselves as the world does. I do not mean,” and she raised her voice and held up a warning hand as Roed drew breath for an angry interruption, “that you must give up any of what is rightfully yours. Traders and sons of Traders may be assured that Satrap Cosgo will not take away what Satrap Esclepius granted you. However, if you are not careful, you may still lose it, by failing to realize that times have changed. Bingtown is no longer a backwater. It has the potential to become a major trading port in the world. To do so, Bingtown must become a city more diverse and tolerant than it has been. But it must do that without losing the qualities that make Bingtown unique in the Satrap’s crown. ”

  The words just came to her, falling from her lips in cadenced, rational statements. The Traders seemed entranced. She hardly knew what she was advising. It did not matter. These men were so desperate for a solution that they would listen to anyone who claimed to have one. She sat back in her chair, all eyes on her.

  Drur was the first one to speak. “You will treat with the New Traders on our behalf?”

  “You will enforce the terms of our original charter?” Roed Caern asked.

  “I will. As an outsider and the Satrap’s representative, only I am qualified to bring peace back to Bingtown. Lasting peace, under terms all can find tolerable. ” She let her eyes flash as she added, “And as his representative, I will remind the Chalcedeans that when they attack a possession of Jamaillia, they attack Jamaillia herself. The Pearl Throne will not tolerate such an insult. ”

  As if her words of themselves had accomplished that goal, there was a sudden lessening of tension in the room. Shoulders lowered and the tendons in fists and necks were suddenly less visible.

  “You must not perceive yourselves as opponents in this,” she offered them. “You each bring your own strengths to the table. ” She gestured to each group in turn. “Your elders know Bingtown’s history, and bring years of negotiating experience. They know that something cannot be gained without all parties being willing to surrender lesser points. While these, your sons, realize that their future depends on the original charter of Bingtown being recognized by all who reside here. They bring the strength of their convictions and the tenacity of youth. You must stand united in this time of trouble, to honor the past and provide for the future. ”

  The two groups were looking at one another now, openly, the hostility between them mellowing to a tentative alliance. Her heart leapt. This was what she had been born to do. Bingtown was her destiny. She would unite it and save it and make it her own.

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  “It’s late,” she said softly. “I think that before we talk, we all need to rest. And think. I will expect all of you tomorrow, to share noon repast with me. By then, I will have organized my own thoughts and suggestions. If we are united in deciding to treat with the New Traders, I will suggest a list of New Traders who might be open to such negotiating, and also powerful enough to speak for their neighbors. ” As Roed Caern’s face darkened and even Krion scowled, she added with a slight smile, “But of course, we are not yet united in that position. And nothing shall be done until we reach consensus, I assure you. I shall be open to all suggestions. ”

  She dismissed them with a smile and a “Good evening, Traders. ”

  Each of them came to bow over her hand and thank her for her counsels. As Roed Caern did so, she held his fingers in her own a moment longer. As he glanced up at her in surprise, her lips formed the silent words, “Come back later. ” His dark eyes widened but he spoke no word.

  After the boy ushered them out, she breathed a sigh that was both relief and satisfaction. She would survive here, and Bingtown would be hers, regardless of what became of the Satrap. She pinched her lips together as she considered Roed Caern. Then she rose swiftly and crossed to the servant’s bell. She would have her maid assist her in dressing more formally. Roed Caern frightened her. He was a man capable of anything. She did not wish him to think that her request to him was the invitation to a tryst. She would be cool and formal when she set him to tracking down Ronica Vestrit and her family.

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER THREE - Wintrow

  THE CARVED FIGUREHEAD STARED STRAIGHT AHEAD AS SHE SLICED THE WAVES. The wind at her back filled her sails and drove her forward. Her bow cut the water in a near constant white spray. The flying droplets beaded Vivacia’s cheeks and the foaming black curls of her hair.

  She had left Others’ Island and then Ridge Island behind her. Vivacia moved west now, away from the open ocean and toward the treacherous gap between Shield Wall and Last Island. Beyond the ridge of islands was the sheltered Inside Passage to the relative safety of the Pirate Isles.

  Within her rigging, the pirate crew moved lively until six sails bellied full in the wind. Captain Kennit gripped the bow rail with his long-fingered hands, his pale blue eyes squinting. The spray damped his white shirt and elegant broadcloth jacket, but he took no notice of it. Like the figurehead, he stared longingly ahead, as if his will could wring more speed out of the ship.

  “Wintrow needs a healer,” Vivacia insisted abruptly. Woefully, she added, “We should have kept the slave surgeon from the Crosspatch. We should have forced him to come with us. ” The liveship’s figurehead crossed her arms on her chest and hugged herself tightly. She did not look back toward Kennit, but stared over the sea. Her jaw clamped tightly shut.

  The pirate captain took in a deep breath and erased all trace of exasperation from his voice. “I know your fears,” he told her. “But you must set them aside. We are days from a settlement of any size. By the time we get to one, Wintrow will be either healing, or dead. We are caring for him as best we can, ship. His own strength is his best hope now. ” Belatedly, he tried to comfort her. He spoke in a gentler tone. “I know you are worried about the lad. I am just as concerned as you are. Hold to this, Vivacia. He breathes. His heart beats. He takes in water and pisses it out again. These are all marks of a man who will live. I’ve seen enough of injured men to know that is so. ”

  “So you have told me. ” Her words were clipped. “I have listened to you. Now, I beg you, listen to me. His injury is not a normal one. It goes beyond pain or damage to his flesh. Wintrow isn’t there, Kennit. I cannot feel him at all. ” Her voice began to shake. “While I cannot feel him, I cannot help him. I cannot lend him comfort or strength. I am helpless. Worthless to him. ”

  Kennit fought to contain his impatience. Behind him, Jola bellowed angrily at the men, threatening to strip the flesh from their ribs if they didn’t put their backs into their work. Wasted breath, Kennit thought to himself. Just do it once to one of them and the first mate would never need to threaten them again.

  Kennit crossed his arms on his chest, containing his own temper. Strictness was not a tack he could take with the ship. Still, it was hard to leash his irritation. Worry for the boy already ate at him like a canker. He needed Wintrow. He knew that. When he thought of him, he felt an almost mystical sense of connection. The boy was intertwined with his luck and his destiny to be king. Sometimes it almost seemed as if Wintrow were a younger, more innocent version of himself, unscarred by the harshness of his life. When he thought of Wintrow that way, he felt an odd tenderness for him. He could protect him. He could be to Wintrow the kind of mentor that he himsel
f had never had. Yet, to do that, he had to be the boy’s sole protector. The bond between Wintrow and the ship was a double barrier to Kennit. As long as it existed, neither the ship nor the boy was completely his.

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  He spoke firmly to Vivacia. “You know the boy is aboard. You caught us up and saved us yourself. You saw him taken aboard. Do you think I would lie to you, and say he lived if he did not?”

  “No,” she replied heavily. “I know you would not lie to me. Moreover, I believe that if he had died, I would know of it. ” She shook her head savagely and her heavy hair flew with her denial. “We have been so closely linked for so long. I cannot convey to you how it feels to know he is aboard, and yet to have no sense of him. It is as if a part of myself had been cloven away…. ”

  Her voice dwindled. She had forgotten to whom she spoke. Kennit leaned more heavily on his makeshift crutch. He tapped his peg loudly thrice upon her deck. “Do you think I cannot imagine what you feel?” he asked her.

  “I know you can,” she conceded. “Ah, Kennit, what I cannot express is how alone I am without him. Every evil dream, every malicious imagining that has ever haunted me ventures from the corners of my mind. They gibber and mock me. Their sly taunting eats away at my sense of who I am. ” She lifted her great wizardwood hands to her temples and pressed her palms there. “So often I have told myself that I no longer need Wintrow. I know who I am. And I believe I am far greater than he could ever grasp. ” She gave a sigh of exasperation. “He can be so irritating. He mouths platitudes and ponders theology at me until I swear I would be happier without him. However, when he is not with me, and I have to confront who I truly am…” She shook her head again, wordlessly.

  She began again. “When I got the serpent’s slime from the gig onto my hands-” Her words halted. When she spoke again, it was in an altered voice. “I am frightened. There is a terrible dread in me, Kennit. ” She twisted suddenly, to look at him over one bare shoulder. “I fear the truth that lurks inside me, Kennit. I fear the whole of my identity. I have a face I wear to show the world, but there is more to me than that. There are other faces concealed in me. I sense a past behind my past. If I do not guard against it, I fear it will leap out and change all I am. Yet, it makes no sense. How could I be someone other than who I am now? How can I fear myself? I don’t understand how I could feel such a thing. Do you?”

 
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