Ship of destiny, p.77
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       Ship of Destiny, p.77

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
 

  “THERE THEY ARE,” MALTA WENT ON IN AN UNDERTONE TO THE SATRAP. “Sit tall and regal. Do you recognize any of them? Do you think they are loyal to you?”

  He eyed his nobles sullenly. “I know old Lord Criath’s colors. He was most enthusiastic about my journey north, yet declined to join me because sea travel pains his joints. Yet, look how easily he crosses to our deck, and how tall he stands. He scarcely needs the man who hands him across. The fifth man, he who comes now, he wears the colors of house Ferdio, but Lord Ferdio is a small, slight man. This must be a stouter, taller son of his. The others… I cannot tell. They are so well hooded and hatted, their collars pulled so high, I scarce can see their faces-“

  Malta suspected it, an instant before anyone else did. She glanced past the men boarding the Vivacia. On the deck of the other ship, sailors assisted their leaders to cross. Many surly, glaring sailors, all cloaked against the day’s cold. Too many?

  ‘”Ware treachery!” she shouted suddenly. Her cry forced them to act, perhaps sooner than they had planned. Some finely dressed men remained on the other ship, but at Malta’s cry, all flung aside their cloaks, sailors as well as counterfeit nobles. Their weapons came into view, as did the garb of common fighting men. With a roar, the sailors who had been “assisting” their cohorts flung themselves across the gap that separated the ships. More men appeared from belowdecks, a flood of fighters leaping across, blades in hand.

  Kennit’s men, never trusting souls, sprang to meet them. In an instant, the main deck of the Vivacia was a melee of struggling men and flashing blades. Everywhere Malta turned, there was chaos. Kennit stood, sword drawn, barking orders about cutting lines and pushing off, while Etta guarded his back with both a sword and a shorter blade. Even Wintrow, her gentle brother, had drawn a knife and stood ready to repel any who tried to come up onto the foredeck. Jek and Althea, empty-handed, had moved to back him. All this, in the merest blinking of an eye.

  Horror transfixed the Satrap. He shrank back in his chair, even drawing his feet up from the deck. Malta stood helplessly beside him. “Protect me,” he cried shrilly, “protect me, they’ve come to kill me, I know they have. ” He seized her wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. He sprang to his feet, stumbling on the too-long cloak, and pulled her in front of him. “Guard me, guard me!” he pleaded. He dragged her away from the chair to the point of the bow and huddled there, clutching her wrist.

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  Malta struggled desperately to break free. She needed to see what was happening on the main deck. “Let me go!” she cried but he was too frightened to heed her. More men were pouring over from the other vessel.

  There was a great crash as Jek snatched up the Satrap’s chair and smashed it on the deck. She seized one leg of it, and tossed another carved leg to Althea. She was grinning wildly; the woman was crazy. “Malta!” she shouted, and Malta ducked as the woman flung a heavy rung from the chair at her. “Use this!” Then she sprang back to the ladder, clubbing savagely at the men who had nearly gained the foredeck. Althea joined her. Wintrow had taken up a position near Kennit, who was shouting orders to his men.

  Malta threw her head back and stared wildly around her. The other ships of the Jamaillian fleet were drawing near. She caught a glimpse of the Marietta charging down on them. She could not see the Motley, but she doubted it had fled. She glimpsed another ship, coming swiftly, not flying Jamaillian colors. Had another pirate ship chanced upon the fray? Then she saw the figurehead move.

  “A liveship comes! A Bingtown ship comes to our aid!” Malta shouted the news, but no one paid any heed.

  The Satrap had hold of her shoulder. Now he shook her frantically. “Get me below, take me to safety. You must protect me. ”

  “Let me go!” she cried desperately. “I can’t protect you if you cling to me like this. ” She strained against his grip and managed to reach the rung Jek had thrown. She hefted it in her hand, but didn’t feel any safer.

  “WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE’RE CHARGING INTO!” AMBER SHOUTED UP TO HIM.

  “We know Althea’s on that ship!” Brashen bellowed angrily as he clambered down the mast. “We can’t hold back here and do nothing while the Jamaillians take the Vivacia. I don’t trust them any more than I do Kennit. She may be killed, or captured. I’ve no desire to see Althea with a slave tattoo across her cheek. So let’s try to turn this to our advantage. ” He sprang to the deck. “Semoy! Break out the weapons!”

  Semoy came on the run. “Right away, Captain. But you ought to tell the men who we’re fighting. ”

  Brashen grinned, wild and reckless. “Anyone that gets between us and Althea!”

  A surprising bellow burst suddenly from Paragon. “But save Kennit forme!”

  THE BATTLE, CONFINED TO THE MAIN DECK OF THE VIVACIA, SUDDENLY shifted. The sheer pressure of men pouring over from the Jamaillian ship was turning the tide. In horror, Malta saw Jek pulled down. Althea dove into the melee after her. As she vanished, a wave of Jamaillian warriors came up over the lip of the deck. She had one glimpse of Wintrow, Etta and Kennit, all in a tight group, fighting for their lives.

  “Here he is!” roared a Jamaillian sailor as he leapt up to her. She swung her rung at him. It hit his sword arm, but he simply shifted his arm so the blow was glancing. With his free hand, he snatched the rung out of her grip as easily as taking a toy from a child. He roared with laughter and pushed her aside. His push and the Satrap clinging to her sent her sprawling. The man grabbed the Satrap by the back of his collar, shook him free of his grip on Malta. When she snatched at the Satrap, the fighter held him out of her reach and drew his sword back to plunge it into Malta, then stared in sudden disbelief at a sword tip standing out from his chest. Behind him, a tall man roared his fury. He jerked both sword and victim back and away from Malta. He shoved the dead man into his comrades, pulling the sword out as he did so.

  “Get down! Be small!” Reyn shouted at her furiously, and then he turned his back to her. His copper eyes flashed through his tattered veil. She had a glimpse of his left sleeve, sodden with blood. Then three men flung themselves at him and he went down before her very eyes.

  “Reyn! No!” she cried and tried to spring forward, but the Satrap was a clinging, shrieking weight behind her. He latched onto her shoulders like a limpet, gibbering and weeping. A man seized her by the hair and flung her aside. With a wild laugh, he sprang on the Satrap as if he were a child seizing a cornered puppy. “I have him!” he roared. “I have him!”

  Malta jerked her head aside to avoid a kick. It glanced off her skull, dazing her for an instant. It was not deliberate. Now that they had the Satrap, no one was interested in her anymore. She saw him picked up like a sack of meal and flung to a man’s shoulder. He bore him away, roaring his triumph. The battle parted for him and receded after him. The boarders had what they had come for and now they were leaving. She had one glimpse of the Satrap’s white face, his mouth and eyes wide with terror. She could not see Reyn anywhere. She scrabbled to her knees and stared wildly about. The Satrap was toted across a deck where dead men sprawled amongst the rolling, groaning wounded. The pirates who still fought were in defensive positions, battling for their own lives, unable to spring to his rescue.

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  The Satrap was an annoying, useless person, but she had cared for him like a child. Day and night, she had been at his side. It smote her heart to see him being borne off to his death. “Malta!” he cried, and his one free hand strained toward her.

  “The Satrap!” she shouted uselessly. “They have taken him! Save him, save him!” No one could answer her cry for help. As his captors bore him off, the other Jamaillian warriors fell back around him, grinning and shouting with triumph. As the focus of the battle shifted, Malta caught a glimpse of Althea. She had taken a blade from someone. She made an abortive attempt to break free of the knot of fighters that engaged her, but Jek dragged her back.

 
He’s not worth your life!” the tall woman shouted at her. Her blonde tail of hair dripped blood.

  Then, from a tangle of bodies on the deck, Reyn reared up. Malta shrieked aloud with joy at the sight of him. When he had gone down, she had given him up for dead. “Reyn!” she cried, and then as he snatched up a blade and staggered after the Satrap’s captors, she screamed, “No! No, come back, don’t, Reyn!”

  He did not get far. A wounded man clutched at him as he dashed past and Reyn fell solidly to the deck. Malta staggered to her feet. Reyn was all she could see. He grappled with the man who had dragged him down. The other man had a knife, already reddened with blood. Heedless of all else, Malta flung herself toward the struggling men.

  “LET ME GO!” ALTHEA TRIED TO BREAK JEK’S GRIP, BUT HER FRIEND WAS relentless.

  “No! Let him go. They’ve taken him onto their deck. Will you take the fight there, where the odds are even worse? We’ve lost him, Althea, at least for now!”

  Althea knew she was right. The man carrying the Satrap had caught a dangling line and swung across to the other ship’s deck. The Jamaillian sailors were retreating in triumph, cutting the lines that had bound the ships together during the short, fierce fighting. As swiftly as they had come, they left, taking the Satrap with them.

  Althea saw Reyn’s curtailed charge. She thought he would get up, but before he could scrabble to his feet, an unlikely savior sprang to the Satrap’s rescue. With a wild cry of fury, Kennit sprang from between Etta and Wintrow and into the fray. “Don’t let them take him!” he roared angrily. He had a short blade in one hand and his crutch gripped under his other arm. She did not expect him to get more than a few steps, but he swung his way across the deck, loping from foot to crutch with a grace that amazed her. “To me!” Kennit roared as he ran. Loyal pirates closed in behind him. Etta and Wintrow sprang after him, but others had filled the gap. They were cut off from him.

  When Kennit came to the ship’s railing, he didn’t pause. His peg hit the deck, his foot the railing and he flung himself out. With a leap that would have shamed a tiger, he sprang after the departing ship. Althea expected him to fall between the vessels but he hit the other deck and rolled. A bare handful of his men followed him. One fell short, yelling as he plummeted into the water.

  She could not see what became of Kennit after that. Too many men converged on the outnumbered pirate king and his men. Etta screamed in rage and gathered herself. Wintrow tackled her to keep her from flinging herself after Kennit. The gap between the ships had widened to an impossible leap. Jeering laughter and triumphant calls rose stingingly from the other ship as it pulled steadily away from the Vivacia. Two men held the pale Satrap aloft and shook him mockingly at Vivacia’s crew.

  Etta pushed savagely free of Wintrow. In her despair and anger, she turned on him. “You fool! We cannot let them have him. They’ll kill him. You know that. ”

  “I don’t intend to let them keep him. But your drowning just now would not save him,” he retorted angrily. His voice deepened in command. “Jola! They’ve taken Kennit! Vivacia! After them, they’ve taken Kennit, we must pursue!”

  Vivacia took up the cry. “Up anchor! Put on sail! We must go after them, they’ve taken Kennit. ”

  “No!” Althea groaned, low. “Let him go, let them have him. ” But she knew the ship would not. She could feel Vivacia’s anxiety, pulsing up through her wood. The ship loved him and she would have him back, no matter the cost. Althea looked across the water at the Jamaillian fleet spread before them. If Vivacia challenged them, she had no chance, even if the Marietta and the Motley backed her. It would not be swift, it would be bloody with more men dying on Vivacia’s decks and in the end, her ship would be in Jamaillian hands. It was a lost cause already, but she knew that the ship would pursue it. She would be borne along with her to face a savage end.

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  Then a voice reached her, booming across the water and setting the hair on the back of her neck on end. “Halloo the Vivacia! Who has taken Kennit?”

  She turned slowly as a chill raced over her. It was a voice from the grave. Paragon’s voice reached across the water as no man’s could do. She looked at him, and then looked again. It was not Paragon. The battered liveship with its makeshift rigging bore Paragon’s nameplate, but the figurehead was an open-countenanced young man, beardless, with his hair bound back in a warrior’s tail. Then she had a glimpse of a golden woman standing on the deck just back of the figurehead, waving both her arms in a wild greeting. For an instant, all other thoughts and fears were suspended as she watched them come on. She could not see Brashen; there was no way to be sure he was alive, too, but she suddenly felt he must be. Paragon’s eyes were closed and he sailed with his hands stretched blindly before him. That wrung her heart. It was as they had feared. Amber had recarved him, but it had not restored his sight. A white serpent cut the water before his bow.

  “They’re alive!” Jek was suddenly beside her, jumping up and down and pounding her on the back with a bloody fist. It was unnerving yet wonderful to be snatched off her feet and whirled around by the larger woman as Jek gave a howl of joy.

  “Ho, Paragon!” Vivacia cried in despair, “There, that ship, he’s on board her. They’ll kill him, Paragon, they’ll kill him!” She pointed frantically and uselessly across the water. Her own anchor was just rising from the muck.

  Her cry carried to the Marietta and the Motley as well. Althea saw them divert in their courses toward Vivacia to pursue the one Jamaillian ship that was fleeing for the shelter of its fleet.

  But Paragon was already underway and the will of a liveship propelled him as much as the wind in his sails. He gathered speed unnaturally. Even the crew of the Vivacia, familiar with the ways of liveships, cried out in wonder as he swept past. Althea had a glimpse of Brashen running down Paragon’s decks with Clef at his heels. At the sight of him, her heart sprang to life in her chest. Then Paragon had swept by them, showing Vivacia his stern. She stood staring, stunned with joy.

  The beleaguered crew of the Vivacia had sprung to at the news that their captain was taken. Every man who could move sprang to hoist the anchor and raise the sails. For the time being, they ignored the bodies that littered the deck. The wounded that could staggered to their feet to help run the ship. Malta, unharmed but obviously shaken, wandered, stricken, through the tangled dead. Wintrow had taken command away from the rattled Jola. Etta seemed to be everywhere, lending a hand and shouting for speed at every task.

  “Althea!” Jek shouted, breaking her from her trance. “Get moving!” Jek had already joined the men at the anchor.

  “After him!” Althea joined her shouts to Wintrow’s. “Paragon must not face them alone!”

  Before the anchor was completely out of the water, Vivacia was gathering momentum.

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR - Rescues

  “I DON’T CARE ABOUT KENNIT!” BRASHEN ROARED. “GO BACK FOR ALTHEA!”

  “She is safe where she is for now!” Paragon shouted defiantly. “I must have Kennit back. I need him. ”

  Brashen clenched his teeth. So close, for an instant, and then they had swept past. The need to see Althea and know she was safe hollowed him, but the headstrong ship seemed intent on bearing them to their deaths. Every time Brashen began to trust Paragon, he dashed his hopes again. He defied both rudder and orders, arrowing after the fleeing Jamaillian ship. The white serpent leapt and dove in their bow wave like a dolphin. On the foredeck, Mother leaned on the railing as if she could push the ship to go faster. Amber stood straight and tall, the wind whipping her hair. Her eyes were wide as if she listened to distant music. “At least slow down,” Brashen begged. “Let the other ships pull even with us. We don’t need to face the whole Jamaillian fleet alone. ”

  But Paragon rushed blindly ahead. Brashen surmised that somehow the white serpent guided him. “I can’t delay. They’ll kill h
im, Brashen. They might be killing him right now. He must not die without me. ”

  That had an ominous tone. Brashen suddenly felt a light touch on his wrist. He glanced down to find Kennit’s mother standing beside him. Her pale eyes locked with his dark ones and spoke all the words her tongue could no longer say. The eloquence of that appeal could not be refused. Brashen shook his head, not at her but at his own foolishness. “Go then!” he suddenly shouted at the ship. “Fling yourself forward blindly. Satisfy whatever madness drives you once and for all. ”

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  “As I must!” Paragon flung back at him.

  “As must we all,” Amber agreed quietly.

  Brashen rounded on her, glad of a new target. “I suppose this is the destiny you bespoke,” he challenged Amber in frustration.

  She gave him an ethereal smile. “Oh, yes indeed,” she promised him. “And not just Paragon’s. Mine. And yours. ” She flung an arm wide. “And all the world’s. ”

  KENNIT HAD NEVER BEEN IN A WORSE PLACE. CRUTCHLESS, WEAPONLESS, HE SAT on the deck while working sailors moved matter-of-factly past him. The few men who had boarded with him were bloody corpses. Pointless to take satisfaction in the Jamaillians they had taken with them. The Satrap was a crumpled heap behind him. He was uninjured but swooned. Kennit himself was battered, but as yet unbloodied.

  He sat on the open deck near the house of the ship. He had to look up at his guards. He refused to do so. He’d had enough of their sneering faces and mocking grins. They’d taken much pleasure in snatching his crutch away and letting him fall. His ribs ached from their boots. The sudden change in his fortunes dazed him as much as his injuries. Where had his good luck vanished? How could this have happened to him, King Kennit of the Pirate Isles? But a moment ago, he’d held the Satrap of all Jamaillia captive and had the signed treaty that recognized him as King of the Pirate Isles. He had felt his destiny, had briefly touched it. Now this. He had not been so helpless and defeated since he was a boy. He pushed the thought aside. None of this would have happened if Wintrow and Etta had followed him, as they should have. Their courage and faith in his luck should have matched his own. He’d tell them so when they rescued him.

 

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