The mad ship, p.88
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       The Mad Ship, p.88

         Part #2 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb

  “Kick me again, and you'll see lights with your eyes shut!” she snapped at him. He actually stepped back from the threat.

  It was evening. It was not quite dark enough for stars to show, but it was dark enough that the yellow gleam of lamplight showed well. Her heart lifted and sank simultaneously. They knew where to go now, but it seemed very far away. She stood slowly, easing her body to her feet. Everything hurt.

  “Did you find any oars?” she asked the Satrap.

  “I am not a servant,” he pointed out coldly.

  She folded her arms on her chest. “Neither am I,” she declared. She scowled to herself. It was going to be black as a tomb back in the collapsed boathouse. How could the Satrap, rightful ruler of all Jamaillia, be such a useless, stupid man? Her wandering eyes took in Kekki. The Companion was sitting hopefully in the boat. She looked like a dog expecting an outing. The water was so shallow that the boat had sunk to the bottom under her weight. Malta barely repressed a terrible urge to laugh. She looked back at the Satrap. He was staring at her severely. Then she did laugh. “I suppose the only way I'm going to be rid of you both is to take you back to Trehaug. ”

  “At which time, I will see you are punished appropriately for your lack of respect,” the Satrap announced imperiously.

  She cocked her head at him. “Is that supposed to make me eager to take you back?”

  He was silent for a moment. Then he drew himself up. “If you act swiftly to obey me now, I shall take that into account when I judge you. ”

  “Will you?” she asked him archly. Then, suddenly, she wearied of the game. She walked away from him, back to the dark cave-like opening where the remains of the building projected from the earth. There was no part of her body that did not hurt. Her feet were bruised and sore, her knees and back ached as she crouched down to re-enter the ruins. She searched in the dark, by touch. She had no means of relighting the lantern they had carried. She found no oars, but did manage to pull loose some pieces of wood that might serve. Like the boats, they were cedar. They would not fit the oarlocks, but she could pole with one of them, she thought. As long as she kept to the shallows of the swamps, they would do. It would be hard work, but they could get back to Trehaug. Once there, she would have to confess all her foolishness. She would not think about that, not just yet.

  She frowned to herself, briefly, as she crawled out of the ruins dragging her boards. She had intended to do something. Something to do with the city, with boards like these. When she had left the city, she had had some firm, fixed purpose. She groped after it, but could only recall a dream from her afternoon's sleep. A dream of flying through darkness. She shook her head. It was most peculiar. It was not that she could not remember; the problem was that she remembered so much, she could not sort out what parts of it belonged to her. From the time she had entered the buried city, few of her actions seemed like something she would do.

  When she got back to the boat, she found both the Satrap and his Companion sitting in it. “You'll have to get out,” she pointed out to them patiently. “We'll have to push the boat to deeper water before you can get in. Otherwise, it won't float. ”

  “Can't you just row us to deeper water?” Kekki asked plaintively. “No. I can't. The boat has to be floating before we can row it. ” As she waited for them to disembark, Malta reflected that she had never paused to think how much she knew simply by virtue of her upbringing. There was a lot to be said, after all, for being a Trader's daughter.

  It took some time in the twilight to find a place suitable to launch. Both Kekki and the Satrap seemed extremely uneasy with the rocking of the small vessel as they clambered down into it from a tree root. Malta directed one to each end and took the center. She would have to stand to pole the boat along. When she had been younger, she had had a little pram she had rowed about in the ornamental pond. This was very different from that. She wondered if she could do it. Then she lifted her eyes to the glimmering lights of Trehaug. She would make it. She knew it. She seized one end of her board and pushed the boat off.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT - Paragon's Captain

  TWO DAYS HAD PASSED SINCE THE BATTLE WITH THE SERPENT. THE SHIP had almost settled back into routine. Haff had attempted to return to his duties, but after an hour in the sun, he had fainted and nearly fallen from the rigging. His attitude toward Althea was markedly more deferential. The rest of the crew seemed to be following his example. Haff had not thanked her for saving his life, but she told herself she hadn't really expected that from him. It was, after all, part of her duties. She'd be content if he accepted that there were areas in which she was his better. She wondered idly which act had actually finally gained the men's respect: threatening to throw Artu overboard or standing up to the serpent. She still hurt all over, but if it had finally secured her berth as second, then it had been worth it.

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  Brashen still looked terrible. The blisters on his face had broken and the skin was peeling. It made him look lined and old and weary. Or perhaps he actually felt that way. Brashen had summoned them to his cabin. Now, as Althea glanced from Lavoy to Amber to Brashen, she wondered why. His eyes were grave as he announced, “The crew seems to have finally settled into its duties. The ship is being run competently, though there is still room for everyone to sharpen up. Unfortunately, in the waters ahead, seamanship may not be as important as our ability to fight. We need to determine our expectations from the crew, in the event of encountering pirates and serpents. ” He frowned and leaned back in his chair. Then he nodded at the table and the chairs surrounding it. A handful of canvas scraps was on one corner of the table. There was also a bottle of brandy and four glasses. “Please. Be seated. ” As they took their seats, he poured a jot of brandy into each glass. When all were settled, he offered them a toast. “To our success, thus far. And to our continued success. ”

  They drank together. Brashen leaned forward and rested his arms on the table. “Here is how I see things. The men know how to brawl. Believe it or not, that was one of the things I considered in hiring. But now they need to be taught how to battle. By that, I mean as a unified force, one that listens to commands even in the midst of danger. They need to know how to defend Paragon, as well as how to attack another ship intelligently. It can't be every man for himself. They have to trust the judgment of the officers. Haff learned the hard way that the ship's officers have reasons for their orders. I want to start training the men while that is still fresh in their minds. ”

  Brashen's eyes roamed the table and came to rest on Lavoy. “We discussed this when you were hired. It's time to begin training. I want some drill every day. The weather has been fine, the ship fair sails himself. Let's learn while we have leisure for it. I also want to see more cohesive-ness in the crew. Some of the men still treat those who were formerly slaves as beneath them. I want that changed. There should be no sense of difference from man to man. They're all crewmen, no more, nor less. ”

  Lavoy was nodding. “I'll mix them up more. Up to now, I've let them pair up for work as they wanted. I'll start assigning work groups. They'll resist at first. There'll be a few broken heads before it's all settled. ”

  Brashen sighed. “I know. But try not to let them disable each other in the process of getting acquainted. ”

  Lavoy gave a mirthless laugh. “I was talking about what I might have to do to them. But I take your drift. I'll start drilling them with weapons. Wooden stuff, to start with. ”

  “Let them know that the better fighters will get the better weapons. That may make them strive a bit harder. ” Brashen abruptly shifted his attention to Amber. “As long as we are speaking of weapons, I'll say this now. I want you to arm the ship. Can you devise a suitable weapon for Paragon to use to fend off serpents? A spear of some kind? And do you think he could be taught to employ it against another ship as well?”

  “I suppose I could. ” Amber sounded surprised.

  “Then do it.
And create a mounting system for it, so that he can have quick access to it on his own. ” Brashen looked concerned. “I fear we'll have more trouble with those creatures, the deeper we go into pirate waters. I want to be ready next time. ”

  Amber looked disapproving. “Then I suggest that, based on what I've heard from Althea, the crew has to be made to understand that serpents won't react like most animals. The men should be told to ignore them and not provoke them until they've actually begun an attack. They won't flee from a spear jab. They'll attempt revenge. ” She crossed her arms on her chest when Brashen frowned at her and continued, “You know it's true. And that being the case, are we wise to arm Paragon? It isn't just that he's blind. His judgment is not always . . . well-considered. He might attack a serpent that was merely curious, or even well-disposed toward us. I suggest that he should have a weapon, but not one he can seize on his own impulse. The serpents affect him strangely. From what he says, I suspect it may be mutual. He claims that the serpent we killed had been following us for days, trying to talk to him. As much as we can, I suggest we avoid the serpents. When we do encounter them, I think we should avoid making enemies of them. ” She shook her head. “The death of the last serpent has affected him strangely. He seems almost to mourn it. ”

  Lavoy made a small contemptuous sound. “Make enemies of the serpents? Serpents talking to Paragon? You sound as mad as the ship. Serpents are animals. They don't think, or plan; they don't have feelings. If we hurt them bad enough, kill enough of them, they'll avoid us. I'm with the captain. Arm the ship. ” He shrugged at her cold stare. He cocked his head and challenged her. “Only a fool would think differently. ”

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  Amber was unruffled. “I think differently. ” She gave Lavoy a cool and mirthless smile. “It's not the first time I've been called a fool, and likely not the last. Still, I will tell you this. In my opinion, men deny animals have feelings and thoughts for one basic reason: so they won't feel guilty about what they do to them. But in your case, I think it's so you don't fear them quite as much. ”

  Lavoy shook his head in disgust. “I'm not a coward. And I'm not likely to feel bad about anything I do to a serpent. Unless I'm stupid enough to be his supper. ” He shifted his feet, and turned his attention to Brashen. “Sir. If you're satisfied, I'd like to get back on the deck. To have us all closeted like this will make the crew jumpy. ”

  Brashen gave him a nod. He leaned forward in his chair to make a note in the logbook in front of him. “Begin weapons drill. But emphasize quick obedience as much as skill right now. Make sure they understand they aren't to act until they're told to, especially if the enemy is a serpent. Make the best use of the men we have. Two of the former slaves have substantial weapons experience. Put them in charge of some of the drills. And Jek. She's quick and knows her way around a blade. I want any barriers that might keep them from fighting as a unit broken down. ” Brashen frowned for a moment. “Amber will create a weapon for the ship, and she will instruct him in it. ” He met the carpenter's eyes. “When he is armed will be at her discretion, unless I countermand it. I believe her observations regarding serpents and their effect on the ship have merit. Our tactic regarding serpents will be first to avoid and ignore. We fight them only if we're attacked. ” He paused to let his words sink in on Lavoy. His voice was firm as he added, “I think I've covered all I had for you. You can go. ”

  A terrible look fleeted over Lavoy's face. Amber met it squarely. Brashen had done little save rephrase Amber's suggestions as an order. Another man might have accepted that, but Lavoy clearly resented it. Althea watched him thinly mask his resentment as he bowed curtly to Brashen and headed for the door. She and Amber both stood to follow, but a curt sign from Brashen stopped them. “I've other tasks to go over with both of you. Sit down. ”

  Lavoy halted. Glints of anger danced in his eyes. “Are these tasks I should be aware of, sir?”

  Brashen eyed him coldly. “If they were, I'd have ordered you to stay. You have your tasks. Get to them. ”

  Althea took a silent breath and held it. She thought Lavoy would challenge Brashen right then. The stare that held between the two men was edged. Lavoy moved his mouth as if he would speak, then curtly nodded instead. He turned. He did not slam the door as he left, but shut it smartly.

  “Was that wise?” Amber dared to ask in the silence that followed.

  Brashen gave her a cold captain's look. “Not wise perhaps, but necessary. ” He sighed as he leaned back in his chair. He poured himself another jot of brandy. Instructively, he addressed Amber. “He's the mate. I can't allow him to think he is my voice, nor that no opinion save his and mine count. I asked you here for your opinion. For him to disparage that is not acceptable. ” He allowed himself a small, tight smile. “But keep in mind that for me to do that would be entirely within my authority. ”

  Amber frowned, but Althea instantly grasped his position. She suddenly looked at him with new eyes. He had it. Whatever that indefinable quality was that made a man capable of captaining a ship, Brashen had it. There were new lines in his brow and at the corners of his eyes. But he had also drawn that cold hard line that separated the commander from his crew. She wondered if he were lonely. Then she knew it did not matter. He was what he had to be. He could not be any other way and still command effectively. She felt a pang of loss that the line must separate him from her as well. But the surge of pride she felt in him overwhelmed any selfish regrets. This was what her father had seen in him. Brashen had justified all of Ephron Vestrit's belief.

  For an instant, he looked at her without speaking, as if he could sense her thoughts. Then he gestured at the scraps of canvas on the table. “Althea. You've always had a better hand with a pen than I did. These are rough sketches. I'd like you to make clean copies of them. They're all I could chart of the pirate ports I visited with the Springeve. We'll look for Vivacia first in Divvytown, but I doubt we'll be lucky enough to catch her there. These bits of charts may come in handy. If you have any questions, I'll go over them with you. When they're finished, we need to bring Lavoy in on them as well. He doesn't read, but his memory is sharp. It's important this knowledge is shared amongst us. ”

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  The words he left unspoken chilled her. He was obviously considering what would be best for the ship and crew in case of his death. She had avoided thinking of such things. He had not. That, too, was part of command. He pushed the scraps of canvas toward her and she began to leaf through them. His next words to Amber brought her attention back to him.

  “Amber. Last night, you were over the side. Paragon was holding you. I heard your voices. ”

  “I was,” Amber agreed evenly.

  “Doing what?”

  The carpenter looked extremely uncomfortable. “Experimenting. ”

  Brashen sighed out through his nose. “I won't tolerate that from Lavoy. What makes you think you can adopt that attitude?” More gently, he added, “If it happens on the ship, and I think it's my business, I'll know about it. So tell me. ”

  Amber looked down at her gloved hands. “We all discussed this before we left Bingtown. Paragon knows of the work I did on Ophelia. He supposes that if I could restore her hands, I could give him eyes again. ” Amber licked her lips. “I have my doubts. ”

  Brashen's tone was dangerous. “As I do. As you were well aware. I told you before we sailed, this is no time for risky experiments in wizardwood carving. A failure that disappointed him could endanger us all. ”

  Anger flickered over Amber's face.

  “I know what you are thinking,” Brashen told her. “But it isn't something that is between the two of you. It involves all of us. ”

  She took a breath. “I haven't touched his eyes, sir. Nor told him that I would. ”

  “Then what were you doing?”

  “Erasing the scar from his chest. The seven-pointed star. ”

  Brashen looke
d intrigued. “Has he told you what the star means?”

  Amber shook his head. “I don't know. I only know that whatever memories it holds for him are extremely unpleasant. It was a sort of a compromise. That encounter with the serpent disturbed him. Deeply. He has thought of little else since then. I sense that he is reconsidering all he is. He's like a boy in adolescence. He has decided that nothing is the way he believed it to be, and is reconstructing his whole vision of the world. ” She took a deep breath as if to say something important. She seemed to reconsider it, and said instead, “It's a very intense time for him. It is not necessarily bad, what he's doing, but it's deeply introspective. For Paragon, that means sifting through some very bad memories. I sought to distract him,”

  “You should have asked me first. And you should not be over the side without someone watching you. ”

  “Paragon was watching me,” she pointed out. “And holding me while I did the work. ”

  “Nevertheless. ” Brashen made the single word a sharp warning.

  “When you are over the side, I want to be aware of it. ” More gently, he asked, “How is the work progressing?”

  Amber kept her temper. “Slowly. The wood is very hard. I don't want to just plane it off and leave a different sort of scar. I'm more obscuring than erasing it. ”

  “I see. ” Brashen stood and paced a turn around the chamber. “Do you think it's possible you could restore his eyes?”

  Amber shook her head regretfully. “I'd have to rework his whole face. The wood is simply gone. Even if I just carved eyes there, there is no guarantee he could see out of them. I have no idea how the magic of wizardwood works. Nor does he. I'd be taking a great risk, and possibly damaging him more. ”

  “I see. ” Brashen considered a moment longer. “Carry on with the scar, but I want you to take the same precautions I'd expect of any other hand. This includes having a partner of some kind when you are over the side. In addition to Paragon. ” He was silent briefly, then nodded. “That's all, then. You can go. ”

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