Ship of destiny, p.90
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       Ship of Destiny, p.90

         Part #3 of Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb
Page 338


  She lifted a hand to her face, her eyes clenched shut in a grimace. Then she slammed suddenly into him, holding on to him tightly. “Where am I?” she demanded dazedly.

  “Out on deck. Sleepwalking, I think. I woke up and you were gone. Let’s get inside. ” Rain sluiced down his bare back and plastered his cotton trousers to his body. It made points of her fine hair and ran in streams down her face. She clung to him, making no effort to escape the deluge as she shivered.

  “I had a dream,” she said disorientedly. “It was so vivid, for just a flash, and now it is gone. I can’t recall any of it. ”

  “Dreams are like that. They come and go. They don’t mean anything. ” He feared that he spoke from experience.

  With a roar, the storm renewed its fury. The pelting rain made a hissing sound on the water on the open river that reached them even here.

  She didn’t move. She looked up at him, blinking water from her eyes. “Brashen, I-“

  “I’m drowning out here,” he announced impatiently, and swooped her suddenly into his arms. She leaned her head against his shoulder as he carried her. She made no protest even when he bumped her head in the narrow companionway. In his stateroom, he kicked the door shut and lowered her to her feet. He pushed his hair back from his face and felt a fresh trickle of water down his back. She stood blinking at him. Rain dripped from her chin and eyelashes. The wet cloth of her nightgown clung to every curve of her body, tempting him. She looked so bewildered that he wanted to take her in his arms and hold her. But she would not want that. With difficulty he turned away from her. “It’s near morning. I’m getting into some dry clothes,” he said gruffly.

  He heard the wet slap of her nightgown falling to the floor and the small sounds of her rummaging through her clothing chest. He would not turn. He would not torment himself. He had learned to rein himself in.

  He had just found a clean shirt in his cupboard when she embraced him from behind. Her skin was still wet where she pressed against him. “I can’t find any clean clothes,” she said by his ear. He stood stock-still. Her breath was warm. “I’m afraid I’ll have to take yours. ” The kiss on the side of his neck sent a shiver down his back and put the lie to her words as she took the shirt from his hands and tossed it to the floor behind them.

  He turned slowly in her arms to face her and looked down into her smile. Her playfulness astounded him. He had almost forgotten she could be like this. The boldness of her expressed desire set his heart racing. Her breasts brushed his chest. He set a hand to her cheek, and saw a shadow of uncertainty cross her face. He instantly took his hand away.

  Dismay washed her smile away. Tears suddenly welled in her eyes. “Oh, no,” she pleaded. “Please don’t give up on me. ” Some decision came to her.

  She seized his hand and set it to her face. The words broke from her. “He raped me, Brashen. Kennit. I’ve been trying to get past it. All the time that… I just wanted you,” she said brokenly. “Only you. Oh, Brashen. ” Some emotion suddenly stole her words. She pressed herself against him, hiding her face against his chest. “Please tell me it can still be good between us. ”

  He’d known. On some level, he’d known.

  “You should have told me. ” That sounded like an accusation. “I should have guessed,” he accused himself.

  She shook her head. “Can we begin again?” she asked him. “And go slowly this time?”

  He felt a thousand things. Killing fury for Kennit. Anger at himself that he had not protected her. Hurt that she had not told him earlier. How was he to deal with all of it? Then he knew what she meant. By beginning again. He took a deep breath. With an effort, he set it all aside. “I think we have to,” he replied gravely. He resigned himself to patience. He studied her face. “Would you like to have this room to yourself for a time? Until you feel differently about… everything? I know we must go slowly. ”

  She shook tears from her eyes. The smile she gave him seemed more genuine now. “Oh, Brashen, not that slowly,” she disagreed. “I meant we should begin again now. With this. ” She lifted her mouth to his. He kissed her very gently. It shocked him when he felt the darting tip of her tongue. She took an uneven breath. “You should get out of these wet trousers,” she chided him. Her rain-chilled fingers fumbled at his waist.

  PARAGON TURNED HIS FACE UP TO THE SKY. RAIN RAN OVER HIS CLOSED EYES and into his mouth. The chill of winter eased from it as the sun touched the day more surely. He blinked his eyes open and smiled. As the rain suddenly pattered into cessation, a bird sang questioningly in the distance. Closer to hand, another answered it. Life was good.

  Page 339


  A short time later, he felt Amber set one hand to his railing. Beside it, she rested a hot mug of something. “You’re up early,” he greeted her.

  He glanced over his shoulder to find her studying him carefully. She was smiling. “I awoke suffused with a singular feeling of well-being. ”

  “Did you?” He smiled smugly, then looked back to the day. “I think I know the feeling. Amber, I think my luck is changing. ”

  “And everyone else’s with it. ”

  “I suppose so. ” He pondered briefly. “Do you remember what we discussed last night?”

  “I do. ” She waited.

  “I’ve changed my mind. You’re right to want to go north again. ” He looked around at the wonder of the spring world. “It feels good to set people on the right path. ” He smiled at her again. “Go north. ”

  EPILOGUE - Metamorphosis

  SHREEVER RESTED. THERE WAS NO MORE STRIVING, NO MORE STRUGGLING. EVEN her pain had dulled to a nagging pulse. She hovered between, in the darkness that was neither serpent nor dragon. There was peace to this inevitability. When summer came, Tintaglia would scratch away the thick layer of leaves that sheltered them. When the hot light of summer touched her case, she would emerge as a dragon.

  The tortuous journey was finally over. When Paragon and She Who Remembers had brought them to the mouth of the river, the serpents had been incredulous. Not one of them recognized this wild and milky flow as the ancient Serpent River. They had followed them with deep misgivings. Many had died. Only Tintaglia’s frantic urging had given Shreever the heart to continue. When they had reached the awkward log construction the humans had flung up to aid them, she had despaired. The water was too shallow, the turns too tight to negotiate comfortably. The humans obviously knew nothing of serpents, and she could not trust them.

  Just when she had given up, a young Elderling had appeared. Heedless of the dangers of the rushing water and the toxic skin of the struggling serpents, he had walked out onto the structures and urged her to continue. In words sweet as the rush of wind over wings, he reminded them of all that awaited them when they emerged from their cocoons. He had focused her thoughts on the future. She had seen the others take heart as well, ignoring pain to struggle on through the maze.

  Wallowing out on the bank had been torment. This was supposed to have been done in mild weather, not in the harsh chill of winter. Her skin began to dry too swiftly. She could not trust the humans who hastened toward her, and they obviously feared her mane. They dumped loads of silver-streaked mud near her. She wallowed in it, trying to coat herself. All around her, others did the same. Tintaglia walked amongst them, exhorting them. Some lacked the strength to devour the mud and regurgitate it mixed with the secretions that changed it into long strands. Shreever felt her own back would break as she strove to lift her head high enough to weave a complete cocoon around herself.

  She had seen both Sessurea and Maulkin cocooned before she had managed to finish her own case. As they grew still and their cases dried to a dull gray, she felt both abandoned and grateful. She was glad to see them safe. Those two, at least, had a chance of emerging beside her. Slender Tellur the minstrel had died at the ship battle. Chalcedeans had slain scarlet Sylic, but immense Kelaro was encased not far from her.
She would not dwell on those who had perished, she told herself, but would await the sun and the emergence of her friends who had survived.

  She let her weary mind drift into dreams of high summer. In her dreams, the skies were filled with dragons. The Lords of the Three Realms had returned.

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