Ship of destiny, p.70
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       Ship of Destiny, p.70

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
 
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  “It didn’t turn your mind. ”

  Jek was silent for a moment. In a quieter voice, she went on, “I’m grieving in my own way. Amber wasn’t some chance-met acquaintance. I’ve cut a lock of hair to mourn her, not that I expect you to understand that. But I lost a friend, not my lover. You lost Brashen. It’s bound to affect you more strongly. ”

  The sense of Jek’s words settled onto Wintrow and stunned him. He stared at his aunt, unable to imagine such a thing. She glared at his scandalized expression. “Yes, I was sleeping with Trell. I suppose that you share your mother’s opinion of that. Can’t rape a whore, right, Wintrow?”

  The injustice of her words stirred his own anger. He stood his ground. Enduring Etta’s temper had taught him some courage at least. “I didn’t condemn you,” he defended himself. “I was just surprised. I’ve a right to be shocked. It’s not what one expects of a Trader’s daughter. But that doesn’t mean I…”

  “Fuck you, Wintrow,” she retaliated savagely. “Because you’re exactly what I’d expect of Kyle Haven’s son. ”

  Those words stung him more than they had a right to. He struggled to keep his voice level. “That wasn’t fair. You want to be angry with everyone, so you’re putting meanings to my words that I don’t intend. You haven’t given me a chance to speak at all. I haven’t said I don’t believe you. ”

  “You don’t have to say it. Your standing with Kennit proves what you believe. Get out. And take that with you. ” She extended a leg to kick the chest disdainfully to the floor.

  He walked to the door. “Maybe I’m not standing with Kennit. Maybe I’m standing with my ship. ”

  “Shut up!” she roared. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. I’ve heard enough. ”

  “If you carry on like a madwoman, people will treat you like one,” he warned her harshly. He shut the door firmly behind himself. He heard the crash and tinkle of a bottle of scent shattering against it. In the dim companionway, he shut his eyes for a moment. Some of her accusations had been fair, he forced himself to admit. He wouldn’t have believed her. Her story was illogical and implausible. He doubted that anyone on board believed what she said about Kennit. Except for him. And it wasn’t her word that had forced him to believe her. It was Etta’s.

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER THIRTY - Convergence

  “IT’S FINISHED. I’LL HAVE TO BORE A HOLE THROUGH YOUR EAR. WILL YOU mind?”

  “After everything else you’ve done, I shan’t even notice. May I touch it first?”

  Amber put the large earring into Paragon’s open hand. “Here. You know, you could just open your eyes and look. You needn’t do everything by touch anymore. ”

  “Not yet,” Paragon told her. He wished she would not speak of that. He could not explain to her just why he could not open his eyes yet. He would know when the time was right. He weighed the earring in his hand and smiled, savoring the newness of the facial sensation. “It’s like a net carved of wood links. With a lump trapped in the middle. ”

  “Your description is so flattering,” Amber observed wryly. “It’s to be a silver net with a blue gemstone caught in it. It matches an earring I wear. I’m on the railing. Hold me so I can reach your earlobe. ”

  When he offered her his palm as a platform, she climbed on without hesitation. He held her to his ear, and did not wince as she set a drill to his ear-lobe. The reconstruction of his face had not been painful as humans understood pain. Amber leaned against his cheek as she worked, bracing herself against the impacts as he breasted each wave. The bit passing through his earlobe tingled strangely. Wizardwood chips fell in a fine shower that she caught in a canvas apron. He ingested them at the end of each day. None of his memories had been lost.

  He no longer hid from his memories. Mother spent part of each day on the foredeck with his logbooks. On wet days, she sheltered herself and her books under a flap of canvas. He could not understand the gabbling of her truncated tongue, but that did not matter. She sat on his deck and leaned against his railing as she read. Through her, the ancient memories came trickling back to him. Recorded in those books were the sparse observations of his captains through the years. It did not matter. The notations were touchstones for memories of his own.

  The tool passed completely through his lobe. Amber drew it back, and after a moment of fumbling, hung the earring from his ear. She fastened a catch at the back of his earlobe. Then she stood clear as he accepted the wood back to himself. He gave an experimental tug on the earring, then shook his head to accustom himself to the dangling weight. “I like it. Did I get it right?”

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  “Oh, so do I. ” Amber sighed with satisfaction. “And you got it exactly right. It went from gray to rosy, and now it shines so brilliantly silver that I can barely look at it. The gemstone winks out from among the links and flashes blue and silver, just like the sea on a sunny day. I wish you would look at it. ”

  “In time. ”

  “Well, you’re complete, save for final touch-ups. I’ll take my time on the finish work. ”

  She ran her bared hands over his face again. It was an odd gesture partly affectionate and partly a search for small flaws in her carving. Immediately after they left Key Island, Amber had come to the foredeck. She clattered down her carrier of tools. Then, without more ado, she had roped herself to the railing and climbed over the side. She had measured his face, marking it with charcoal and humming as she did so. Mother had come to the railing, gabbling questioningly.

  “I’m repairing his eyes. And changing his face, at his own request. There’s a sketch there, under the mallet. Take a look, if you like. ” Amber had spidered across his chest as she spoke. She favored the scalded side of her body. He spread his hands protectively beneath her.

  When Mother returned to the railing, she made approving sounds. Since then, she had watched most of the work. It took dedication, for Amber had worked nearly day and night on him. She had begun with saw and chisel, removing great slabs of his face, not just his beard, but from his brow and even his nose. Then she attacked his chest and upper arms, “To keep you proportional,” she had explained. His groping hands had found only the rough suggestion of features. That swiftly changed, for she worked on him with a fervor such as Paragon had never known. Neither rain nor wind deterred her. When daylight failed her, she hung lanterns and worked on, more by touch than sight, he thought. Once, when Brashen cautioned her against keeping such hours, she had replied that this work was better than sleep for restoring her soul. Her healing injuries did not slow her.

  Not only her tools flew over his countenance, but she had a trick of using her fingers as well. He had never felt a touch like hers. A press of her fingertips could smooth a line while a brushing touch erased a jagged spot. Even now, as she encountered a rough bit, she dabbed at the grain of his face and it aligned under her tingling touch.

  “You loved him, didn’t you?”

  “Of course I did. Now stop asking about it. ”

  Sometimes, when she worked on his face, he could feel her affection for the countenance she carved. His face was beardless now, and youthful. It was more in keeping with his voice and with whom he felt himself to be, and yet it made him squirmingly curious to know he wore the face of someone Amber loved. She would not speak of him, but sometimes in the brushing touch of her fingers, he glimpsed the man she saw in her mind.

  “Now I am layer upon layer upon layer,” he observed as he held her up to the railing. “Dragon and dragon, under Paragon Ludluck, under… whoever this is. Will you give me his name, also?”

  “‘Paragon’ suits you better than any other name could. ” She asked quietly, “Dragon and dragon?”

  “Quite well, thank you, and how are you today?” He grinned as he said it. His polite nothing conveyed his intent. His dragons were his business, just as the identity of the man whose face he wore was her
s.

  Brashen had come to the foredeck. Now, as Amber climbed down from the railing, he sternly reminded her, “I don’t like you out there without a line on you. At the clip we’re going, by the time we discovered you were gone, it would be too late. ”

  “Do you still fear I would let her fall unnoticed, Brashen?” Paragon asked gravely.

  BRASHEN LOOKED AT THE SHIP’S CLOSED EYES. HIS BOYISH BROW WAS UNLINED, serene, as he waited for Brashen’s reply. After a short but very uncomfortable silence, Brashen found words. “A captain’s duty is to worry about all possibilities, ship. ” He changed the subject, addressing Amber. “So. Nice earring. Are you nearly finished, then?”

  “I am finished. Save for a bit of smoothing on his face. ” She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “And I may do some ornamentation on his accoutrements. ”

  Brashen leaned out on the forerail. He swept his eyes critically over the whole figurehead. She had accomplished an amazing amount of work in a very short time. From her myriad sketches, he surmised she had been planning this since they left Bingtown. In addition to the earring, the extra bits of wood Amber had carved away to reshape his face had been fashioned into a wide copper bracelet for his wrist and a leather battle harness pegged to his chest. A short-handled battle-axe hung from it.

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  “Handsome,” Brashen observed. In a quieter voice, he asked Amber, “Are you going to fix his nose?”

  “There is nothing wrong with his nose,” Amber asserted warningly.

  “Mm. ” Brashen considered the crooked line of it. “Well, I suppose a sailor should have a scar or two to his face. And a broken nose gives him a very determined look. Why the axe?”

  “I had wood to use up,” Amber replied, almost evasively. “It’s only ornamental. He has given it the colors of a real weapon, but it remains wizardwood. ”

  Mother made an assenting sound. She sat cross-legged on the deck, a logbook open in her lap. She seemed always to be there, mumbling through the words. She read the logbooks as devoutly as some folk read Sa’s Edicts.

  “It completes him,” Amber agreed with great satisfaction. She drew her discarded gloves back on and began gathering her tools. “And I’m suddenly tired. ”

  “Doesn’t surprise me. Get some sleep, then come to my quarters. We draw closer to Divvytown with every breath of this wind. I want to discuss strategy. ”

  Amber smiled wryly. “I thought we had agreed we didn’t have any, except go to Divvytown and let the word out that we want to trade Kennit’s mother for Althea. ”

  Mother’s bright eyes followed the conversation. She nodded assent.

  “And you see no flaws in that plan? Such as, perhaps, the whole town rising against us and taking her to gain favor with Kennit?”

  Mother shook her head; her gestures indicated she would oppose such an act.

  “Oh, that. Well, the whole plan is so riddled with flaws that one of that magnitude seemed too obvious to mention,” Amber replied lightly.

  Brashen frowned. “We gamble for Althea’s life. This isn’t a jest to me, Amber. ”

  “Nor to me,” the carpenter swiftly replied. “I know you are worried to the bone and justly so. But for me to dwell on that anxiety with you will not lessen it. Instead, we must focus on our hopes. If we cannot anchor ourselves in a belief that we will succeed, we have already been defeated. ” She stood, hefted her tools to her shoulder, then cocked her head and looked at him sympathetically. “I don’t know if it will draw any water with you, Brashen, but there is something I know, right down to my bones. I will see Althea again. There will come a time when we will all stand together again. Beyond that moment, I cannot see. But, of that, at least, I am sure. ”

  The carpenter’s odd eyes had taken on a dreaming quality. Their color seemed to shift between dark gold and pale brown. It sent a chill up his back, yet he was oddly comforted by it. He could not share her equanimity, but he could not doubt her, either.

  “There. You see. Your faith is stronger than your doubts. ” Amber smiled at him. In a less mystical voice she asked, “Has Kyle told you anything useful?”

  Brashen shook his head sourly. “To listen to him wearies me. A hundred times, he has detailed how both Vivacia and Wintrow betrayed him. It is the only thing he willingly discusses. I think he must have lived it repeatedly the whole time he was chained in that cellar. He speaks only evil of them both. It is harder to control my temper when he says Althea brought all her troubles on herself and should be left to face them the same way. He urges us to return immediately to Bingtown, to forget Althea, his son, the family ship, all of it. And when I say I will not, he curses me. The last time I spoke to him, he slyly asked if Althea and I had not been in league with Wintrow from the beginning. He hints that he knows we have all plotted against him. ” Brashen shook his head bitterly. “You have heard his tale of how Wintrow seized the ship from him, only to give it to Kennit. Does any of that sound possible to you?”

  Amber gave a tiny shrug. “I do not know Wintrow. But this I do know. When circumstances are right, unlikely people do extraordinary things.

  When the weight of the world is behind them, the push of events and time itself will align to make incredible things happen. Look around you, Brashen. You skirt the center of the vortex, so close you do not see how wondrous are the circumstances surrounding us. We are being swept toward a climax in time, a critical choice-point where all the future must go one way, or another.

  “Liveships are wakening to their true pasts. Serpents, reputed to be myths when you were a boy, are now accepted as natural. The serpents speak, Brashen, to Paragon, and Paragon speaks to us. When last did humanity concede intelligence to another race of creatures? What will it mean to your children and your grandchildren? You are caught up in a grand sweep of events, culminating in the changing of the course of the world. ” She lowered her voice and a smile touched her mouth. “Yet all you can perceive is that you are separated from Althea. A man’s loss of his mate may be the essential trigger that determines all events from henceforth. Do you not see how strange and wonderful that is? That all history balances on an affair of the human heart?”

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  He looked at the odd woman and shook his head. “That isn’t how I see it, Amber. That isn’t how I see it at all. It’s just my life, and now that I have finally discovered what I must have to be happy, I’m willing to lay down my life for it. That’s all. ”

  She smiled. “That is all. You are right. And that is all that AH ever is. ”

  Brashen drew a shuddering breath. Her words were edged with mystery and fraught with import. He shook his head. “I’m just a simple sailor. ”

  Mother had been watching the interchange intently. Now she smiled, a smile at once beatific in its peacefulness and terrifying in its acceptance. The expression was like a confirmation of all Amber had said. Brashen felt suddenly cornered by the two women, compelled toward he knew not what. He fixed his gaze on Mother. “You know your son. Do you think there is any chance we will succeed?”

  She smiled, but sorrow edged it. She lifted her shoulders in an old woman’s shrug.

  Paragon spoke. “She thinks you will succeed. But whether you will know you have succeeded, or if the success will be the one you would have chosen for yourself, well, those are things no one can say now. But she knows you will succeed at whatever you are meant to do. ”

  For a moment, he tried to unknot the ship’s words. Then Brashen sighed. “Now don’t you start with me, too,” he warned the ship.

  MALTA SAT AT THE CAPTAIN’S TABLE, HER FINGERS STEEPLED BEFORE HER. “THIS is a fair offer, one that benefits all. I cannot see any reason why you would refuse it. ” She smiled charmingly over her hands at Captain Red. The Satrap, impassively silent, sat beside her.

  Captain Red looked shocked. The others at the table were equally stunned. Malta had chosen her time well. The most difficult pa
rt had been persuading the Satrap to do it her way. She had dressed and groomed him carefully, and by dint of badgering and begging, convinced him to come to dinner at the captain’s table. She had dictated his manner to him as well, and he had complied, being courteous but not affable, and more silent than talkative. It was only when the meal was nearly over that he had cleared his throat and addressed the captain.

  “Captain Red, please attend Malta Vestrit as she presents a negotiation on my behalf. ”

  Captain Red, too startled to do otherwise, had nodded.

  Then, in a speech she had practiced endlessly before the little looking-glass in her chamber, she had presented the Satrap’s offer. She pointed out that monetary wealth was not the essence of the Satrapy; power was. The Satrap would not offer coin for his release, nor would he petition his nobles to do so. Instead, he would negotiate the terms himself. Speaking concisely, she outlined his offer: recognition of Kennit as King of the Pirate Isles, an end to slave raids in the Isles and the removal of the Chalcedean patrol vessels. The finer points of this would, of course, have to be negotiated more thoroughly with King Kennit. Perhaps they might include trade agreements; perhaps they might include pardons for those in exile who wished to return to Jamaillia. Malta had deliberately presented the offer while many still lingered at the table. In her conversations with the crew, she had gleaned the concerns dearest to them. She had gathered their fears that they might return to Divvytown or Bull Creek and find their homes burned, alongside their longing to see friends and family in Jamaillia City, to perform once again in the grand theaters of the capital.

  She had distilled their desires into this offer. His silence was eloquent. He rubbed his chin, and swept a glance around the table. Then he leaned toward the Satrap. “You’re right. I thought only of coin. But this-” He stared at him almost suspiciously. “You’re truly ready to offer us these sorts of terms?”

  The Satrap spoke with quiet dignity. “I’d be a fool to let Malta say such things if I had not well considered them. ”

  “Why? Why now?”

  That was not a question Malta had prepared him for. She held her smile on her lips. They had agreed he would defer such queries to her. Yet, she was not surprised as he calmly ignored their agreement.

 
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