Ship of destiny, p.62
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       Ship of Destiny, p.62

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
 
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  He laughed suddenly, the sound as painful as a sob. “I know. I know. It’s just-” His words abandoned him. How could he explain to a boy the rush of feelings that accompanied the restoration of his world?

  Amber filled in other thoughts for him. “Kennit would not bother taking her up only to kill her. He has to intend to ransom her. That’s the only logical answer. We may not have enough to ransom the Vivacia back, nor the power and skill to take her by force, but we have enough to make a respectable offer for Althea and Jek. ”

  “We’ll have to go to Divvytown. ” Brashen’s mind was racing. “Kennit believes he sank Paragon. If we reappear…” He shook his head. “There’s no telling what kind of reception we’d get. ”

  “He’s ne’r seen Amber ‘n me. We could take the ship’s boat up the slough on a high tide, an’ make the offer an’-“

  Brashen shook his head as he smiled down on Clef’s valiant offer. “That’s a brave thought, but it wouldn’t work, lad. There would be nothing to stop them taking the ransom and keeping you both as well. No. I fear there will have to be a fight. ”

  “You cannot win her back by fighting,” Paragon suddenly broke in. “Nor will you buy her back with ransom. He cared nothing for your gold when you last encountered him. No. He will not sell her. ” The figurehead twisted his scarred visage toward them.

  “How do you know?” Brashen demanded.

  Paragon looked away from them and his voice went deeper. “Because I know what I would do. I would fear that she knew my secrets. Such knowledge is too dangerous for Kennit to let her go alive. He will kill her before he allows her to be taken from him. Yet, I do not understand why he took her up at all. It would have been far safer for him to let her drown. So there is a piece of the puzzle I do not hold. ”

  Brashen held his breath. The ship had never before been so open with him. It was almost as if a stranger spoke with Paragon’s voice.

  Paragon mused on. “If he keeps her, he will keep her for himself alone, a treasure beyond gold’s power to ransom. And there is only one place where Kennit keeps such treasures. Eventually, he will cache her there. Only one place is safe enough to hide that which is too precious even to kill. ”

  “Could you take us there? Could we lie in wait for him?” Brashen asked.

  The ship turned away from them. He hunched his head down on his chest. The muscles stood out suddenly on his back, as if he waged some terrible battle with himself.

  “Ser?” Clef began, but Brashen motioned the boy to silence. They all waited.

  “We sail on the next tide,” Paragon announced suddenly in his man’s voice. “I will do it. What gold cannot buy, blood may. I will take you to the key to Kennit’s heart. ”

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX - Courtship

  “I WANT TO BE LET OUT OF HERE. ”

  Kennit shut the door behind him and set down the tray. With elaborate calm, he turned back to Althea. “Is there something you need that you don’t have here?” he asked with studied politeness.

  “Fresh air and free movement,” she replied immediately. She was sitting on the edge of her bunk. As she stood, she had to catch her balance against the gentle roll of the ship. She kept one hand on the bulkhead to steady herself.

  He knit his brow. “You feel ill treated? Is that it?”

  “Not exactly. I feel I am a prisoner, and-“

  “Oh, never that. You are my most honored guest. That you would think otherwise wounds me. Come. Be honest with me. Is there something about me that offends you? Is my appearance frightening? If so, I assure you it is without my intent. ”

  “No, no. ” He watched her struggle to formulate an answer. “You are a gentleman, and not at all frightening. You have shown me only courtesy and graciousness. But the door was locked when I tried it and-“

  “Come. Sit down and eat something, and let us discuss it. ” He smiled at her and managed to keep his eyes from roving over her. She was dressed in Wintrow’s clothing, and with her hair tied back, the resemblance between the two was even more marked. She had his dark eyes and his cheekbones, but her face had never been marred with a tattoo. She had probably put on Wintrow’s clothes believing them less provocative than his nightshirt. Exactly the opposite was true. The rise of her breasts inside Wintrow’s shirt stirred Kennit’s blood to pounding. Her cheeks were tinged pink with her earnestness, yet an unnatural glitter in her eyes showed that she had not completely cast off the soporific he had been giving her. He uncovered her food and set it out for her, just as the ship’s boy Kennit had once waited on the pirate Igrot. Strange parallels abounded, he thought to himself. He pushed down the thought and forced himself to keep his voice conversational.

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  “I’ve explained my concerns to you. My crewmen are not the genteel society you were reared in, I fear. To allow you the freedom of the ship would be to invite an affront, or even an attack of some kind. Many of my crew are former slaves; some were slaves here on this ship. They spent time in her holds, shackled, cold and filthy. Your family put them there. They do not bear Kyle Haven’s kin much fondness. You say you were not responsible for his treatment of them, nor for his treatment of your family ship. But I feat it is difficult to make the crew accept that. Or the ship herself.

  “I know that Vivacia is truly what draws you. ” He smiled indulgently. “If you were free to leave this chamber, you would rush straight to the figurehead. For I know you can’t believe me when I tell you that Vivacia is gone. ” From the corner of his eye, he watched her fold her lips and set her jaw, just as Wintrow did when he was crossed. It almost made him smile, but he kept his demeanor. He shook his head at her gravely. “But she is, and Bolt would not be kind to you. Would she go so far as to threaten you with physical violence? In all honesty, I do not know. And I would prefer not to find out by experiment. ”

  He met her flinty stare with his warmest smile. Such black eyes she had. “Come. Eat something. You’ll feel more rational. ”

  A shadow of uncertainty passed over her face. He recalled that feeling. Igrot, the epitome of coarseness, would, after days of harshness and cruelty, suddenly pendulum back to contrived gentility. For a week, Igrot would speak to him with gentleness, instruct him in etiquette, and bestow on him looks of fatherly tenderness. He would praise him for hard work well done, and predict a bright future for him. And then, without warning, there would come the sudden, harsh grip on his wrist, jerking him close, and the roughness of the man’s whiskered cheek sanding Kennit’s face as he struggled in his embrace.

  He felt suddenly vulnerable. Had he put himself in danger with the woman? He tried to find his open smile again, but could only gaze at her measuringly. She returned the look.

  “I don’t want to eat anything,” she said flatly. “You’ve put something in my food that makes me sleep. I don’t like it. I don’t like the vivid dreams, nor the way I feel when I try to wake up and I can’t. ”

  He managed to look shocked. “Lady, I fear you were much more wearied than you knew. I think you have been sleeping off not just the effects of near drowning in icy water, but months of doubt and fear. It is natural that now you are aboard your family ship, your body relaxes and lets you rest. But… wait. Let me reassure you. ”

  He carefully seated himself on her chair. With fastidious precision, he ate one bite of everything on her plate, and mimed a sip of the wine to wash it down. He patted his lips thoughtfully with her napkin, then turned to smile at her. “There. Satisfied? No poison. ” He cocked his head at her and lifted one eyebrow. “But why do you suppose I would want to poison you?”

  “What sort of a monster do you think I am? Do you fear and hate me so much?”

  “No. No, that is… I know you have been kind to me. But…” She drew in a breath, and he could see that she regretted her foolish accusation. “I didn’t say poison. I just know th
at I sleep too deeply, and awake still groggy. My head is always heavy; I never feel alert. ” Her head swayed a tiny pattern of unsteadiness although her feet remained planted in one spot.

  He knit his brows in grave concern. “Did you strike your head when you fell overboard? Is there a tender spot?”

  “No, that is, I don’t think so…. ” She set her hands to her head and pressed gravely.

  “Allow me,” he insisted, and pushing the chair back, gestured that she should take his place. She moved stiffly and sat very straight as he set his hands to her head. He stood in front of her so she could see his face as his fingertips gently explored her head. With feigned casualness, he loosed her hair, and searched her skull. He frowned to himself. “Sometimes a blow to the back of the neck or on the spine…” he muttered thoughtfully.

  Then he stepped behind her and pushed aside the sleek black flow of her hair. He leaned close to her and traced the line of her spine down her neck to her collar. She sat submissive before him, her head bowed, yet he could feel the thrumming of tension in her muscles. Fear? Apprehension? Perhaps, anticipation? Her hair held a trace of some fragrance, but the shirt smelled of Wintrow. The combination was intoxicating. He let his fingers slowly trail down her spine. “Any pain?” he asked concernedly. He halted his fingers at the waistband of her trousers but did not remove his hand.

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  “A little,” she admitted, making him smile at his good fortune. “In the middle of my back. ”

  “Here?” He walked his fingers gently up her spine until she nodded. “Well, then. That might be your problem. Have you been dizzy at all? Fuzzy vision?”

  “A bit,” she conceded reluctantly. She lifted her head. “But I still think that there is more to my sleepiness. ”

  “I think not,” he contradicted her gently. His hand still rested on her back. “Unless…” he paused until he was certain she hung on his words. “I am so sorry to suggest this. I am sure you know what I speak of when I mention a bond with the liveship. She senses my moods, and shares her own with me. Perchance, if the ship is angry with you, or hostile toward you, if she wishes you ill-there, I am sorry I even suggested such a thing. ”

  He had intentionally reinforced her apprehension, but her face had paled beyond his expectations. He would have to be more careful; he did not want to take all the fight out of her. A little struggle might add piquancy to the conquest. He smiled reassuringly. “Eat something. Regain your strength. ”

  “Perhaps you are right,” she conceded huskily. He gestured at the food and she turned back to the table. As she took a bite of food from the spoon that had recently been in his own mouth, he felt a sharp jab of lust such as he had never experienced before. The intensity amazed him and it was all he could do to keep from gasping.

  THE FOOD WAS EXCELLENT, BUT THE PIRATE WATCHED HER EAT SO INTENTLY that she could not relax. Neither, however, could she wake up all the way. She sipped at the wine, and almost immediately, her vision doubled. It went away when she blinked, but she was suddenly too tired to eat any more. She set her spoon down. It was so difficult to hold her thoughts still. A word from Kennit could send them drifting away. But there was something important, something she was missing-

  “Please,” he said solicitously. “Try to finish your meal. I know you are feeling unwell, but food is what you need to recover. ”

  She managed a polite smile. “I cannot. ” She cleared her throat and tried to focus her thoughts. His words kept carrying her ideas away. When he had first come in, there was something very important she had wanted to ask him… as important as wanting to get out of the room and speak with her ship. Brashen! Pulling him back into her mind seemed to steady her thoughts. “Brashen,” she said aloud, and felt she gained strength from just saying his name. “Captain Trell. Why has he not called on me, or taken me back on board the Paragon7. ”

  “Well. I am not sure what I should say to that. ” There was deep concern in Kennit’s voice. She had to turn her head to see him, and it made the cabin rock. The dizziness was back. Her tongue felt thick in her mouth.

  “What do you mean?”

  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I thought you would have seen it from the water. I am so sorry to tell you this, my dear. The serpents did great damage to the Paragon. I’m afraid the ship went down. We tried to save those we could, but the serpents are so voracious…. Captain Trell went down with his ship. There was nothing we could do. It was a miracle we were able to save you. ” He patted her shoulder gravely. “I am afraid this ship must become your home again. Now, have no fears. I will take care of you. ”

  The words swept past her in a flood. Their meaning reached her mind after the sounds of them came to her ears. When she understood what he had said, she shot to her feet. At least, she thought she had. Then she was standing, her hands braced on the tabletop to keep from falling. She hated the dizziness because it was distracting her from a pain so great it could only be death. She could not comprehend its source and then she knew that her world had ended. She had gone on alone without it, or it had somehow left her behind. Brashen. Amber. Clef. Haff. Poor old Lop. Paragon, dear mad Paragon. All dead, on her foolish errand. She’d brought them all to their deaths. She opened her mouth but the agony was such she could not even weep.

  “Here, here now,” Kennit was saying, trying to help her to her bunk. She had forgotten how to make her knees bend, and then they suddenly buckled. She half-fell, banging her ribs on the edge of the bunk, and then scrabbled into the bed that had so often been her refuge. “Brashen. Brashen. Brashen. ” She could not stop saying his name, but her throat was so tight that no sound was coming out. The room swayed around her and she was choking on the word. Perhaps she could die with his name caught in her throat.

  Kennit suddenly sat down beside her. He hauled her to a sitting position. She leaned on his chest and he put his arms around her. “Here. I am here. There, there, there. A terrible shock, I know. How clumsy of me to have told you this way. How alone you must feel. But I am here. Here. Take some wine. ”

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  She sipped at the cup he held to her mouth. She did not want as much as she took, but the cup would not go away and she seemed to have no determination left. Kennit spoke gently to her all the while he tipped the cup against her mouth. When the wine was gone, he set the cup aside and held her. Her face was against the fine lace of his shirtfront. He stroked her hair and rocked her as if she were a child and said nonsense about taking care of her now, and that she would be fine, fine in time, all she had to do was trust him and let him make her feel better. He gently kissed her brow.

  He was doing something to her throat. She reached up and discovered he was unbuttoning her shirt for her. She pushed at his hands to stop him, knowing dimly that something was amiss. He set her hands gently aside and smiled sympathetically. “I know, I know. But you have no need to fear me. Be sensible. You cannot go to sleep dressed. Think how uncomfortable that would be. ”

  As before, his words pushed her own thoughts away. He undid the little buttons carefully and opened her shirt. “Lie back,” he whispered, and she obeyed without thinking. He lowered his face to her breasts and kissed them gently. His mouth was warm, and his tongue skilled. For an instant, the dark head bent over her was Brashen’s, and it was Brashen’s hands unfastening her trousers. But no, Brashen was gone, drowned in the cold dark sea, and this was not right, she could take no comfort here. As warm and gentle as his mouth was, this was not something she wanted. “No!” she wailed suddenly, and pushed Kennit away. She managed to sit up. The lantern light behind him was dazzling. She squinted at his doubled face.

  “It’s just a dream,” he told her reassuringly. “It’s all just a bad dream. Don’t worry. It’s just a dream. Nothing that happens now matters. No one else will know. ” For a moment, she could see the man. His pale blue eyes were foreign to her. She could not read them. His wo
rds washed away her certainty. A dream? She was dreaming this? She closed her eyes against the too-bright light.

  Something nudged her shoulder and she fell back limply. Somewhere, someone tugged at her body. She felt the rasp of cloth past her legs. No. She dragged her eyelids up and tried to find sight. His face was inches from her own but she could not make her eyes resolve his features. Then she felt his hand slide up her thigh. She cried out in protest as fingers probed her, and the hand went away. “Just a dream,” the voice told her again. He pulled up the blanket and snugged it around her. “You’re safe now. ”

  “Thank you,” she said in confusion.

  But then he bent and kissed her, his mouth going hard on hers, his body pinning hers. When he let her go, she found she was crying. Crying for whom? Brashen? Everything was so confusing. “Please,” she begged him, but he was gone.

  It was dark suddenly. Had he blown out the light? Was he really gone? She waited but all was still and silent. It had been a dream…. She was awake now and safe on her ship. She felt the gentle rolling as Vivacia cut her sure way through the waves. She moved like a waltz, as comforting as the rocking of a cradle and Althea had never even danced with Brashen, and now he was gone. Sobbing shook her, but it was not release. She only grew dizzier and woozier with her crying. Everything was so wrong, and she was too sick to make sense of any of it. Brashen had needed her to be strong, but she had failed him. He was dead. Dead and gone forever, just as her father was dead and gone forever. She knelt again by her father’s body on the deck, and once more felt her whole world taken away from her. “Why?” she asked of the silence. “Why?”

  The sudden weight on top of her drove the breath from her lungs. A hand clapped over her mouth. “Quiet, now. Quiet,” the dark voice in her ear warned her roughly. “Best you be quiet and no one else ever needs to know. Not ever, if you’re wise. ”

  The old nightmare was strong and she was sick. She tried to push him off, she thought she had, but when she rolled over to crawl away, she heard a quiet laugh. Then he was on her back, pushing the blanket aside. She was naked. When had she undressed? Her muscles had no strength. The more she tried to flee, the more her body collapsed. She made a sound, and the hand clapped over her mouth covered her nose as well and pulled her head back. It hurt. She could not breathe, and she was no longer certain where she was or what was happening. Needing to breathe took precedent over all else. She seized the wrist of that hand and wrestled it feebly. Sparks danced behind her eyes as he kneed her legs apart. He was hurting her, her head pulled back so far on her neck, but the pain was not as important as needing to breathe. His hand slipped until it covered only her mouth. She dragged in breath after breath through her nose, and then he thrust suddenly deep into her. She screamed without sound and bucked under him but could not evade him.

 
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