Ship of destiny, p.79
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       Ship of Destiny, p.79

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
 

  The second man was a big beefy fellow, more blacksmith than swordsman. Without finesse or pretense, he stepped up and thrust his heavy blade through Kennit and into the Satrap. The blade pinned them together. “Got ‘em both!” he exclaimed in satisfaction. His killer’s striped shirt was stained with grease, Kennit noted in shock. The man wrenched the blade back out of them and turned to face the boarding parties. Kennit and the Satrap fell together.

  Even as he fell, Kennit did not believe it. This could not be happening, not to him. A shrill screaming, like a cornered rabbit, rose right behind him. The screaming ran down and became pain. It ruptured inside him and spread through his entire body. The pain was white, unbearably white, and so intense there was no need to scream. A long time later it seemed, the deck stopped his fall. Both his hands clutched at his middle. Blood poured out between his fingers. A moment later, he tasted blood, his own blood, salt and sweet in his mouth. He’d tasted blood before; Igrot had loved to backhand him. The taste of blood in his mouth, always the forerunner to worse pain.

  “Paragon,” he heard himself call breathlessly, as he had always called when the pain was too intense to bear. “I’m hurt, ship. I’m hurt. ”

  “Keep breathing, Kennit. ” The tiny voice from his wrist was urgent, almost panicked. “Hang on. They’re almost here. Keep breathing. ”

  Stupid charm. He was breathing. Wasn’t he? Unhappily he turned his eyes down. With every heavy breath, he spattered blood from his lips. His fine white shirt was ruined. Etta would make him a new one. He tasted blood, he smelled it. Where was Paragon? Why didn’t he take this pain? He tried to summon him by speaking his ship’s old words for him. “Keep still, boy,” he whispered to himself, as Paragon had always done. “Keep still. I’ll take it for you. Give it all to me. Just worry about yourself. ”

  “He’s alive!” someone cried out. He rolled his eyes up to the speaker, praying for deliverance. But the face that looked down at him was Jamaillian. “You jerk, Flad! You didn’t even kill him. ” Efficiently, this man stabbed his slender blade into Kennit’s chest and dragged it out. “Got him that time!” The satisfaction in the voice followed Kennit down into the darkness.

  THEY WERE TOO LATE. WINTROW SHOUTED HIS AGONY AND KILLED THE MAN who had just killed his captain. He did it without thought, let alone remorse. The crew who had followed him from the Vivacia cut them a space on the crowded deck. Etta flung herself past Wintrow to land on her knees by Kennit. She touched his face, his breast. “He breathes, he breathes!” she cried in stricken joy. “Help me, Wintrow, help me! We have to get him back to Vivacia! We can still save him. ”

  He knew she was wrong. There was far too much blood, dark thick blood, and it still spilled from Kennit as they spoke. They couldn’t save him. The best they could do was to take him home to die, and they would have to act swiftly to do that. He stooped and took his captain’s arm across his shoulders. Etta got on the other side of Kennit, crooning to him all the while. That he did not cry out with pain as they lifted him proved to Wintrow that he was nearly gone. They had to hurry. The Jamaillians had been beaten back, but not for long.

  The Satrap was underneath Kennit. As they lifted him off, the Satrap spasmed into life, screaming and rolling himself into a ball. “No, no, no, don’t kill me, don’t kill me!” he babbled. With the voluminous red cloak, he looked like a child hiding under his blankets.

  “What a nuisance,” Wintrow muttered to himself, and then bit his tongue, scarcely believing he had uttered such words. As they started back to the ship with Kennit, he shouted to his crew, “Somebody bring the Satrap. ”

  Jek bounded past him from the edge of the group. Stooping, she picked the Satrap up in her arms, then shifted him over her shoulder. “Let’s go!” she proclaimed, ignoring the Satrap’s cries. Althea, at her side, menaced the closing Jamaillian warriors with a sword, guarding Jek’s back. Wintrow caught one flash from her dark and angry eyes. He tried not to care. He had to bring Kennit back to his own deck. He wished she could understand that despite what Kennit had done to her, there was still a bond between Kennit and him. He wished he could understand it himself. They crossed the deck at a half-run. Kennit’s leg and peg dragged behind them, leaving a scrawl of his blood in their wake. Someone caught his legs up as they went over the railings and helped them. “Cast off!” he shouted to Jola as soon as Althea and the others had regained the deck of the Vivacia. They turned to slash at Jamaillians, who sought to board them, intent on reclaiming the Satrap or at least his body. The ships began to move apart. A Jamaillian made a furious leap and fell into the widening gap. Their ship was wallowing now. Whatever the serpent had done to their rudder was flooding their holds. The same serpent watched their ship avidly, positioned just beneath the boat they were trying to get off. Wintrow tore his eyes away.

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  “Wintrow! Bring me Kennit!” Vivacia shouted. Then, even louder, “Paragon, Paragon, we have him! Kennit is here!”

  Wintrow exchanged a glance with Etta. The pirate hung silently between them. Blood dripped from his chest to puddle on the deck. Etta’s eyes were wide and dark. “To the foredeck,” Wintrow said quietly. Then he shouted to the crew, “Get us clear of the Jamaillian ship. It’s sinking. Jola! Get us away before the fleet can close us in. ”

  “We’re a bit late for that!” Jek announced cheerily as she dumped the Satrap to his feet on Vivacia’s deck. Althea caught his arm to keep him from falling. As he gasped in outrage, Jek took hold of his shirt and tore it open. She inspected the dark wound that welled blood sluggishly down his belly. “I don’t think it hit anything really important. Kennit took your death for you. Best get below and lie down until someone has time to see to you. ” Casually, she tore a hank of his shirt free and handed it to him. “Here. Press this on it. That will slow the blood. ”

  The Satrap looked at the rag she had thrust into his hand. Then he looked down at his wound. He dropped the rag nervelessly and swayed on his feet. Althea kept a firm grip on him as Jek took his other arm with a shake of her head. She rolled her eyes at Althea.

  Althea stared after Wintrow. Kennit’s arm was across her nephew’s shoulders, Wintrow’s arm around his waist as they dragged him along. She clenched her jaws. That man had raped her and Wintrow had still risked his own life for him. The Satrap took a gasp of air. Then, “Malta!” he wailed, as a child would have cried “Mama!”

  “I’m bleeding. I’m dying. Where are you?”

  A good question, Althea thought. Where was her little niece? She scanned the deck. Her eyes halted in amazement. Malta and Reyn were working together to take a wounded pirate below. Reyn’s left arm was swaddled in a thick white bandage. He went unveiled and Malta’s head was uncovered. In the sunlight, her scar glinted red. Althea saw her turn and speak briefly to Reyn, who nodded to her without hesitation. He put his arm around the man they had been helping and took him below while Malta hastened over to the Satrap. But she addressed her first words to Althea.

  “Reyn thinks I’m beautiful. Can you believe that? Do you know what he said about my hands? That they will scale heavily as far as my elbows, most likely. He says if I rub off the dead skin, I’ll see the scarlet scales working through. He thinks I’m beautiful. ” Her niece’s eyes shone with joy as she rattled words at Althea. And more than joy? Althea leaned forward incredulously. Reyn was right. Malta had a Rain Wild gleam to her eyes now. Althea lifted a hand to cover her mouth in shock.

  Malta did not seem to notice. She slipped her arm around the Satrap, her face suddenly concerned. “You are hurt!” she exclaimed, surprised. “I thought you were just-oh, dear, well, come along, let’s take you below and see to that. Reyn! Reyn, I need you!” Cozening and coaxing, Malta led the Satrap of all Jamaillia away.

  Althea turned away from the spectacle of the unmasked Rain Wilder hastening to her niece’s imperious summoning. She nudged Jek out of her stare. “Come on,” she told her. They hastened toward th
e foredeck, following Kennit’s blood trail. The beads and puddles of blood looked odd to her. Then it struck her. The wizardwood was refusing it. Kennit’s blood remained atop it, as did the other blood shed today. She tried to puzzle out what that might mean. Was Vivacia rejecting the dying pirate? She felt a sudden lift of hope.

  An instant later, it turned to dismay as an immense splash showered her. “That was close!” Jek exclaimed. The next ballast stone hit Vivacia’s hull. The hard wood rang with the impact and the ship shuddered. Althea turned wildly, seeking a gap in the circle of ships that surrounded them. There wasn’t one. The Marietta and the Motley were trapped as well, though they were trying to break free. Another catapult lofted an immense stone toward them as Paragon drifted around the bow of the Jamaillian ship and into full view.

  “ETTA, ETTA. ” HIS PANTING WHISPER BARELY REACHED HER EARS.

  “Yes, dearest, I’m here, hush, hush. ” Another splash rocked the ship. “We’ll take you to Vivacia. You’ll be all right. ” She tightened her hold on Kennit as they hurried him forward. She wanted to be gentle, but she needed to get him to the foredeck. Vivacia could lend him strength; she knew it, despite the wooden despair on Wintrow’s face. Kennit would be all right, he had to be all right. The danger of losing him drove all doubts from her mind and heart. What could it matter to her what he had done to anyone else? He had loved her, loved her as no one else ever had.

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  “I won’t be all right, my dear. ” His head hung forward on his chest, his gleaming black curls curtaining his face. He coughed slightly. Blood sprayed. She did not know how he found strength to speak. His gasped whisper was desperate, urgent. “My love. Take the wizardwood charm from my wrist. Wear it always, until the day you pass it on to our son. To Paragon. You will name him Paragon? You will wear the charm?”

  “Of course, of course, but you aren’t going to die. Hush. Save your strength. Here’s the ladder, this is the last hard bit, my love. Keep breathing. Vivacia! Vivacia, he’s here, help him, help him!”

  The crewmen and Wintrow seemed so rough as they hauled him up onto the foredeck. Etta leapt up the ladder and hurried before them. She tore off her cloak and spread it out on the deck. “Here,” she cried to them, “put him here. ”

  “No!” Vivacia thundered. The figurehead had twisted around as far as she could, further than a real human could have turned. She held out her arms for Kennit.

  “You can help him,” Etta sought her reassurance. “He won’t die. ”

  Vivacia didn’t answer her question. Her green eyes were deep as the ocean as they met Etta’s gaze. The inevitability of the ocean was in her look. “Give him to me,” she said again quietly.

  An unuttered scream echoed through Etta’s heart. Air would not come into her lungs. Her whole body tingled strangely, and then went numb. “Give him to her,” she conceded. She could not feel her mouth move, but she heard the words. Wintrow and Jola raised Kennit’s body, offering him to Vivacia. Etta kept Kennit’s hand tightly in hers as the ship took him in her cradling arms. “Oh, my love,” she mourned as Vivacia received him. Then the figurehead turned away and she had to release his dangling hand.

  Vivacia lifted Kennit’s limp body to her breast and held him close. Her great head bent over him. Could a liveship weep? Then she lifted her head, flinging back her raven hair. Another rock struck her bow. The whole ship rang with the impact.

  “Paragon!” she cried aloud. “Hurry, hurry. Kennit is yours. Come and take him!”

  “No!” Etta wailed, uncomprehending. “You would give him to his enemy? No, no, give him back to me!”

  “Hush. This must be,” Vivacia said kindly but firmly. “Paragon is not his enemy. I give him back to his family, Etta. ” Gently, she added, “You should go with him. ”

  Paragon loomed closer and closer still. His hands groped blindly toward Vivacia. “Here, I am here,” she called, guiding him to her. It was an insane maneuver to bring two ships into such proximity, bow to bow, let alone in the midst of a hail of stones. One such missile crashed down, the splash wetting them both. They ignored it. Paragon’s hands suddenly clasped Vivacia and fumbled their way to Kennit in her arms. For a long instant, the two liveships rocked in a strange embrace, the pirate between them. Then, silently, Vivacia placed Kennit’s lax body in Paragon’s waiting arms.

  Etta, standing at the railing, watched the change that came over the ship’s young face. He caught his lower lip between his teeth, perhaps to keep it from trembling. Then he raised Kennit’s body.

  Paragon’s pale blue eyes opened at last. He looked a long time into the pirate’s face, gazing with the hunger of years. Then, slowly, he clasped him close. Kennit looked almost doll-like in the figurehead’s embrace. His lips moved, but Etta heard nothing. The blood from Kennit’s injuries vanished swiftly as it touched Paragon’s wood, soaking in immediately, and leaving no stain of passage. Then he bowed over Kennit and kissed the top of his head with an impossible tenderness. At last, Paragon looked up. He gazed at her with Kennit’s eyes and smiled, an unbearably sad smile that yet held peace and wholeness.

  An elderly woman on Paragon’s deck strained toward Kennit’s body. Tears ran down her face and she cried aloud but wordlessly, a terrible gabbling wail. Behind her, a tall dark-haired man stood with his arms crossed tightly on his chest. His jaw was set, his eyes narrowed, but he did not try to interfere. He even stepped forward and helped support Kennit’s body as Paragon released it into the woman’s reaching arms. Gently they stretched him on the liveship’s deck.

  “Now you,” Vivacia said suddenly. She reached for Etta, and she stepped into the liveship’s grasp.

  SOMEWHERE IN THE DARKNESS, SOMEONE WAS BEATING A DRUM. IT WAS AN unsteady rhythm, loud-soft, loud-soft, and slowing, slowing inexorably to peace. There were other sounds, shouts and angry cries, but they no longer mattered. Closer to his ears, familiar voices spoke. Wintrow muttering to him and to someone else, “Damn, sorry, sorry, Kennit. Be careful, can’t you, support his leg as I lift-“

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  On the other side of him, Etta was talking. “…Hush. Save your strength. Here’s the ladder, this is the last hard bit, my love. Keep breathing…” He could ignore them if he chose. If he ignored them, what could he focus on? What was important now?

  He felt Vivacia take him. Oh, yes, this would be best, this would be easiest. He relaxed and tried to let go. He felt the life seeping out of his body, and he hovered, waiting to be gone. But she held him still, cupped in her hands like water, refusing to take him. “Wait,” she whispered to him. “Hold on, just for a moment or two longer. You need to go home, Kennit. You are not mine. You were never mine, and we always knew that. You need to be one once more. Wait. Just a bit longer. Wait. ” Then she called aloud, “Paragon. Hurry, hurry. Kennit is yours. Come and take him!”

  Paragon? Fear stabbed him. Paragon was lost to him, no more than a boyish ghost now. He had killed him. His own ship could never take him back. He could never go home. Paragon would fling him away, would leave him to sink beneath the sea just as he had-

  He knew the touch of the big hands that accepted him. He would have wept, but there were no tears left. He tried to make his mouth move, to speak aloud how sorry he was. “There, there,” someone said comfortingly. Paragon? His father? Someone who loved him said, “Don’t fear. I have you now. I won’t let you go. You will not be hurt anymore. ” Then he felt the kiss that absolved him without judgment. “Come back to me,” he said. “Come home. ” The darkness was no longer black. It grew silvery and then as Paragon embraced him and took him home he faded into white.

  Liveship Traders 3 - Ship of Destiny

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE - Hard Decisions

  “COME BELOW SO I CAN BANDAGE THIS,” MALTA INSISTED. “LORDLY ONE, YOU must not take chances with yourself. ” She flinched as a rock landed in the water aft of them. She glanced back and Reyn followed h
er stare. Their aim was getting better. The Jamaillian ships were closing in.

  “No. Not yet. ” The Satrap clung to the railing and stared down gloatingly. Malta was beside him, pressing a rag to his sword thrust. The Satrap himself refused to touch his wound. Only Malta would do for that duty, but Reyn refused to be jealous. The Satrap clung to her presence as if she anchored his world, yet refused to acknowledge his dependence on her. It amazed him that the man could not hear the falsity in Malta’s sweetness to him. The Satrap leaned forward suddenly and cupped his hands to his mouth so that his shouted words would carry his gleeful satisfaction to the men on the foundering Jamaillian ship.

  “Farewell, Lord Criath. Give your good counsels to my white serpent now. I’ll be sure your family in Jamaillia City knows of your bold cries for mercy. What, Ferdio? Not a swimmer? Don’t let it trouble you. You won’t be in the water long, and there’s no need to swim in the serpent’s belly. I mark you, Lord Kreio. Your sons will never see their inheritance. They lose all, not just my Bingtown grants to you but your Jamaillian estates as well. And you, Peaton of Broadhill, oh best of smoking partners! Your forests and orchards will smoke in memory of you! Ah, noble Vesset, will you hide your face in your hands? Do not fear, you will not be overlooked! You leave a daughter, do you not?”

  The noble conspirators gazed up at him. Some pleaded, some stood stolidly and some shouted insults back at him. They would all meet the same end. When they had balked at entering the water in the ship’s boats while the serpent prowled so near, the crew had abandoned them. Their distrust of the ship’s boats had been well founded. They were floating wreckage now. Reyn had not seen a single sailor survive.

  It was too much for the Rain Wilder. “You mock the dying,” he rebuked the Satrap.

  “I mock the traitorous!” the Satrap corrected him savagely. “And my vengeance will be sweet!” he called loudly across the water. Avidly, his eyes tallied the Jamaillian nobles who stood helplessly on the deck of the foundering ship. It was already awash. He muttered names, obviously committing them to memory for later retaliation on their families. Reyn exchanged an incredulous look with Malta. This savage, merciless boy was the Lord High Magnadon Satrap of all Jamaillia? Cosgo opened his mouth again, crying, “Oh, serpent, don’t leave, here’s a tender- Ah!”

 
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