The Mad Ship

Page 96

“But they are!” Faldin looked from one man to the other. “You do not have to believe me,” he added in a superior voice. “You are only a day or so from Divvy town. Go there, if you doubt me. The liveship has been there the better part of a month, undergoing repairs. Speak to the slaves, now free folk, delivered by Kennit from her holds. I have not spoken to the ship myself, but those bold enough to do so say that she speaks well of her new captain.”

Brashen's heart was thundering in his chest. He felt as if he could not get quite enough air. It couldn't be true. Everything he knew about Vivacia and liveships told him it could not be true. Every scrap of evidence that Sincure Faldin offered him told him that it was. He managed a shrug and then coughed in an attempt to ease the tightness in his throat. “Up to the captain,” he managed to say. He made a great show of shifting the cindin in his mouth. He spoke around the plug. “He makes those decisions. Me?” He shifted the truncheon in his hands. “I do other things.” He grinned at them both, a setting of his teeth.

“If you came to Divvytown, I could show you a much fuller selection of merchandise.” Sincure Faldin had suddenly reverted to being a merchant. His smile returned as he made his spiel. “My warehouse is there. Kennit's most recent voyage has stocked it well for me, though there is little else that is actually from the liveship. Slaves were the major cargo. Those he has freed. He has chosen to keep the choice appointments of the officers' quarters intact and otherwise restore the ship. He has not felt well enough yet to welcome visitors, but I am told that the captain's quarters are very fine, all polished wood and shining brass.”

Captain Finney made a nondescript noise. Brashen kept very still. The glint of interest had kindled in his captain's eyes. There was the prospect of seeing a captured liveship, perhaps even speaking to her. Given that sort of proof, and Faldin's assurance that the painting was the only trophy of its taking, he'd probably buy the portrait. Rarity always brought coin. Finney cleared his throat. “Well. Set the picture aside. I have got a bit of space in the hold to fill. Sounds like Divvytown might be the place to do it. If I see this liveship and your tale proves true, I'll buy the picture. Now. Let's back to business. Have you got any tapestries like those you sold me last year?”

HAMMERS RANG ABOVE A CHORUS OF SAWS BURRING. THE SMELL OF HARDwood sawdust and fresh varnish filled the ship's companionways. The slaves that had crowded the decks and holds of the Vivacia had been replaced with gangs of carpenters and shipwrights. Wintrow stepped around a man applying varnish to a repaired doorframe, then dodged an apprentice bearing blocks of beeswax. With amazing swiftness, the Vivacia was being restored. The damage she had taken in the slave uprising had nearly been eradicated. Her holds were being cleaned, not just scrubbed but freshened by the careful burning of aromatic herbs. Soon only the stains of spilled blood would remain on her decks. Despite scrubbing, sanding or soaking, the wizardwood refused to forget.

Sorcor was very much in evidence, striding about the ship energetically supervising everyone. His voice carried well and men jumped to obey his orders. Less obvious but no less commanding was Etta. She did not announce her presence with a bellowed command, but her quiet comments served just as well. Deckhands beamed at a word of praise from her. Wintrow had been watching her surreptitiously. He had expected that she would be waspish in her direction, sharply sarcastic. He had felt the razor edge of her tongue so often that he assumed it was her common demeanor. Instead, he discovered that she had a great talent for both charm and persuasion. He also detected the careful line she walked to get tasks accomplished to her satisfaction without interfering with Sorcor's authority. When the mate and the captain's woman were in proximity, they displayed both camaraderie and rivalry. It intrigued and puzzled Wintrow. Both their bond and their dispute was Kennit.

How could one man command such loyalty from such diverse people? At the monastery, one oft-repeated old saying was “Sa's hand can fit around any tool.” It was usually uttered when an unlikely novice suddenly bloomed with talent. After all, Sa had a purpose for all things. It was the limit of humanity that those reasons could not always be perceived. Maybe Kennit truly was a tool of Sa, and was aware of his destiny. Wintrow supposed that stranger things had happened. He simply could not recall any.

Wintrow rapped once at a freshly restored door, then worked the latch and entered. Despite the sunshine slanting in through the porthole, the chamber seemed dark and close. “You should open the window and let in some fresh air,” he observed aloud. He set down the tray he was carrying.

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