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She is is older, Pazel thought. Where was the awkwardness, the rich-girl confusion that irritated him so? Where had that look of knowing come from, and that confidence? Was it Fulbreech or the older, Pazel thought. Where was the awkwardness, the rich-girl confusion that irritated him so? Where had that look of knowing come from, and that confidence? Was it Fulbreech or the Polylex Polylex that had turned her into a woman before his eyes? that had turned her into a woman before his eyes?
Pathkendle is staring at Thasha Isiq, said a male ixchel above him.
Pazel jumped, and dropped his candle underfoot. The other two ixchel began to scold the man. Pathkendle can hear us, you silly a.s.s Pathkendle can hear us, you silly a.s.s, said Diadrelu.
Pazel scooped up his candle. 'Sorry, Thasha,' he muttered.
'Now look here, mistress,' said Druffle suddenly. 'Just by gathering we've put ourselves in danger, even in this devil's washtub in the dead of night. So I'll be blunt, shall I? This is hopeless, or nearly hopeless. Who are we to think we can take on these b.a.s.t.a.r.ds? Ten malcontents, against eight hundred enemies. Of which one hundred are blary Imperial commandos.'
'One hundred and nine,' put in Khalmet, 'with the reinforcements from Bramian.'
'Rin's gizzard, it just gets worse!' said Druffle. 'Turachs, Ott's spies, that serpent of a mage. How are we supposed to take 'em all on? We'd have a better chance of stopping an avalanche!'
'If that's your verdict, why'd you come here?' asked Fiffengurt testily.
Druffle looked sidelong at the quartermaster. 'I owe my life to these two,' he said, looking at Pazel and Neeps, "and I'll give it for them, if the time comes. But that doesn't mean I want to hasten the day.'
'n.o.body does,' said Thasha. 'But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We're not about to march on the quarterdeck, Mr Druffle. The point of this council, if you want to call it that, is to come up with a next step. One that doesn't get us killed by morning. Of course Mr Druffle's right about the odds. Whatever we do, we'll need more people to do it.'
'Then let's start with some names,' said Dastu. 'Are there others you trust?'
A moment's silence ensued. 'There have to be,' said Thasha at last, 'but choosing them may be the hardest thing we ever do. For the moment, trust me. There are more than you think.'
She's right, said Diadrelu.
'And the next step is is to find more people, Dastu,' said Pazel. "But when we do, we're going to need to be able to tell them we have some sort of a plan.' to find more people, Dastu,' said Pazel. "But when we do, we're going to need to be able to tell them we have some sort of a plan.'
Big Skip shook his head slowly. 'I've been worrying over that one,' he said. 'A plan the crew might stand up and support has to do one thing. It has to keep 'em alive. You want to beat these villains? Scuttle the s.h.i.+p. Wreck her. Drive her onto a lee sh.o.r.e, if we ever see land again. Or sail her right into the Vortex. But most folk don't want to die, see? Where's the plan that gets 'em off this s.h.i.+p alive?'
Fiffengurt leaned forwards. In a whisper, he said, 'We could fill a crate with powder charges, and blast this s.h.i.+p's belly wide open. The ten of us could handle that.'
His hand shook as he drew it across his face. Pazel looked at him, aghast. Had it really come to this?
'No,' Pazel heard himself saying, 'not yet. I don't think Ramachni wants us to kill ourselves. And I think the Nilstone might be a danger to this world even at the bottom of the sea.'
'Then what is is our plan?' said Neeps. 'What are we going to tell the next ten people we try to recruit for this mutiny?' our plan?' said Neeps. 'What are we going to tell the next ten people we try to recruit for this mutiny?'
No one moved, no one breathed. Neeps had said it, the hangman's word, the word from which there was no turning back. Suddenly Pazel realised the terrible danger they were in. All it would take is one of them to panic. To get up and try to leave right now. We could stop him, but not quietly enough. If anyone moves, we hang. All it would take is one of them to panic. To get up and try to leave right now. We could stop him, but not quietly enough. If anyone moves, we hang.
The one who moved was Fiffengurt - but only to hook Neeps around the neck with his elbow, like a fond uncle. The quartermaster turned his good eye this way and that, and he smiled a mad, anxious, d.a.m.n-em-all-to-the-deep-depths smile.
'Here's a plan for you, blast it. We work our backsides off for Captain Rose. We give two hundred per cent, and we're humble about it. We warm their blary hearts with our good natures, see? And we sail this Grey Lady safe across the Nelluroq.'
'All the while recruiting,' whispered Pazel.
'Bullseye,' said Fiffengurt. 'And when we've brought the Chathrand Chathrand into whatever sheltered harbour awaits us on the far side, what'll we have? A fighting chance to turn the rest of 'em - or at least into whatever sheltered harbour awaits us on the far side, what'll we have? A fighting chance to turn the rest of 'em - or at least enough enough of 'em - to rush the boats. We desert, like rats. If necessary we battle our way to sh.o.r.e. And we refuse to come within five miles of the of 'em - to rush the boats. We desert, like rats. If necessary we battle our way to sh.o.r.e. And we refuse to come within five miles of the Chathrand Chathrand until they hand over the s.h.a.ggat, nailed up tight in a crate where that d.a.m.nable Stone can't kill anybody.' until they hand over the s.h.a.ggat, nailed up tight in a crate where that d.a.m.nable Stone can't kill anybody.'
'And drive off Arunis at the point of a spear,' said Druffle, 'or drive a spear through through 'im. Keep talking, Quartermaster.' 'im. Keep talking, Quartermaster.'
'We would have to scatter across the land,' said Khalmet, 'else the Turachs could rout us with a single charge.'
'Oppo, Lieutenant, whatever you say.' Fiffengurt was growing excited. 'They can rage and spout and murder us - I'm sure they'll do a lot of all three - but they can't sail the Great s.h.i.+p without a crew, now, can they? And it beats dying in G.o.ds-forsaken Gurishal.'
'We'd have to win over hundreds of men,' said Thasha doubtfully.
'Three hundred, I figure,' said Fiffengurt. 'With that many we'll have taken a big enough bite out of the crew to make handlin' the mains impossible. The Great s.h.i.+p won't be going anywhere, until we say so.'
They had all leaned closer as Fiffengurt spoke. Pazel glanced from face to candlelit face, and sighed with relief. No one was backing out. The deadly moment had pa.s.sed.
'Thasha,' said Marila suddenly, 'if you're going to do it--'
'Yes,' said Thasha, 'it's time.'
With all eyes upon her, she pa.s.sed Marila her candle, and began to unbuckle the suitcase. What is this? What is this? the ixchel were muttering, the ixchel were muttering, what's she doing, mistress, what's in the case? what's she doing, mistress, what's in the case? Pazel waited just as anxiously, and just as much at a loss. Pazel waited just as anxiously, and just as much at a loss.
The buckles freed, Thasha looked up at the ring of faces. 'Except for Big Skip, you were all aboard when Arunis attacked,' she said. 'And except for Marila, who was still in hiding, you saw what happened.'
'G.o.ds below, la.s.s, we'll never forget it,' said Fiffengurt.
'You saw Ramachni. You know he's our leader, a mage as good as Arunis is evil. And maybe you've figured out that after that fight he . . . couldn't stay.'
'He was hurt,' Neeps interjected. 'Exhausted, like. He had to go back where he came from, to rest.'
'You mean he got off the boat in Simja?' said Druffle.
'No, Mr Druffle,' said Thasha. 'He's from farther away than that.'
She raised the lid of the suitcase, and there, packed carefully between folded sweaters, was the mariner's clock. The instrument was standing upright, the second hand sweeping noiselessly over the exquisite mother-of-pearl moon that was its face. Pazel started from his crate. Neeps and Marila looked at him and laughed, and Thasha's smile said Serves you right, b.a.s.t.a.r.d Serves you right, b.a.s.t.a.r.d. Pazel didn't care. They could laugh at him for the rest of his life.
'Thasha!' he gasped, euphoric.
His self-discipline had vanished. She was looking into his eyes and knew everything - or knew at least what he felt for her, despite all the weeks he'd spent trying to deny it.
Fiffengurt too appeared light-headed with joy. 'Sweet Heaven's Tree! Does this mean--'
'Yes,' said Neeps, 'it does.'
'What they're so happy about,' said Marila, 'is that it's time for Ramachni to come back.'
'You knew!' said Pazel. 'All three of you! How?'
'I'll only know when he jumps into my arms,' said Thasha, but her eyes were s.h.i.+ning with confidence. 'I've had this feeling for weeks. A feeling that someone was coming, someone different from any of us, and that everything would change when he got here. It's just like the feeling I got when Ramachni sent me the message in the galley. But this time instead of needing an onion, I need to open that clock.'
'What for?' said Dastu. 'It doesn't look broken to me.'
Thasha grinned at him. 'No,' she said, 'I don't think it is.'
With that she bent down and opened the clock's gla.s.s cover. Around and around she spun the minute hand, until the clock read precisely 7:09. 'Now we wait three minutes,' she said.
'What are we waiting for?' asked Big Skip.
'Deliverance,' said Fiffengurt. 'Just watch, and trust the lady!'
They all watched the second hand. As it swept through its third revolution, Thasha bent even nearer to the clock face. And just as the hand reached twelve, she whispered, 'Ramachni !'
There was a sharp pop, and the clock face sprang open on its hinge. Thasha sat back, glowing. But no whirl of black fur emerged from the clock. Nor did Ramachni step out with royal dignity, as Thasha had sometimes described to Pazel, giggling. He did not emerge at all. The only thing that emerged was a breeze - a sudden, cold breeze that extinguished Pazel's candle, and made the others quickly s.h.i.+eld their own - and a little of the dark sand that always blew from the magic tunnel between the worlds. Thasha knelt down before the clock, and Pazel, on an impulse, dropped beside her. Thasha tugged the clock face wide.
'Sorcery,' muttered Druffle.
'Hush up, man!' snapped Fiffengurt.
The breeze became a wind, frigid and gusting. It tugged at their ankles, and blew Thasha's golden hair away from her face. 'Ramachni !' she said again, as loud as she dared. 'Ramachni, what's the matter? Where are you?'
She tried to look into the tunnel, but grains of the black sand stung her eyes. Another candle blew out. The wind began to moan from the clock face.
This is madness! Diadrelu cried from above. Diadrelu cried from above. Pazel, close that thing, before you wake the s.h.i.+p! Pazel, close that thing, before you wake the s.h.i.+p!
Pazel moved to obey - but Thasha caught his hand tightly in her own.
'Wait,' she said, 'please.'
The newcomers were backing against the walls, trying to get farther from the clock - all save Bolutu, who stared at it as though at some frightful revelation. Even Fiffengurt looked anxious. Thasha's grip tightened; Pazel wondered if he would still be sitting there, holding her hand, when the Turachs kicked in the door.
If this continues your fight is over, said Dri.
Pazel turned to Thasha, but as if she guessed what he would say she shook her head fiercely. Please Please, she mouthed. The wind grew stronger, louder; the door of the vault began to shudder in its frame.
Pazel pressed his lips to Thasha ear. 'I'm sorry,' he said. He reached down and closed the clock.
Perfect silence gripped the room. The wind had vanished; the watchers uncurled their bodies, listening. No pounding feet, no bellows or cries. The immensity of the s.h.i.+p, or the crew's exhaustion after weeks of storm, had saved them. The Chathrand Chathrand slept on. slept on.
Thasha put her face in her hands.
Pazel touched her shoulder, but Thasha only stiffened and leaned away. Neeps looked at him and nodded. Telling him he'd done what he had to. It didn't make Pazel feel any better.
Druffle looked at Marila, eyes blazing with accusation. 'Why'd you bring me here?' he asked.
The World Grows Larger
9 Umbrin 941 179th day from Etherhorde
If opening the clock had proved an ambiguous wonder, the fact that no one fled the room afterwards was simply a miracle. Big Skip was still staring at the suitcase, into which Pazel had quickly packed away the clock. Druffle was nipping from a flask. Bolutu, for his part, gazed fixedly at a spot in the air, bending his notebook first one way, then the other.
Thasha sat silent, face in her hands. Ramachni had not come; no help of any kind had come, and now the newcomers were terrified. Their rebellion was sinking into chaos before it had even begun. Pazel sat across from her, wis.h.i.+ng that he could take her aside, calm her, beg her not to feel ashamed. But there was no chance of that.
Neeps and Marila, to their credit, were trying to steer the meeting back on course.
'What you've got to remember,' Neeps was saying, 'is never never to touch Arunis of your own free will. Pazel found out the hard way: it gives him the power to look into your mind, somehow. That's why he could kill poor Peytr Bourjon. Once he knows you're not the spell-keeper, you're fair game.' to touch Arunis of your own free will. Pazel found out the hard way: it gives him the power to look into your mind, somehow. That's why he could kill poor Peytr Bourjon. Once he knows you're not the spell-keeper, you're fair game.'
'We've been wondering what Arunis could have promised him, to make him shake hands,' Marila added.
'Safe pa.s.sage off the IMS Chathrand Chathrand,' suggested Big Skip, 'that is, if we reach the south. If there is is a south.' a south.'
'That is the other great unknown,' said Khalmet, breaking his wary silence. 'I mean the South itself. Drellarek always spoke of resupplying quickly, making west along the southern sh.o.r.es, taking our bearings at some known location, and then returning north to Gurishal, behind the Mzithrini defences. But he knew nothing of the land or its people. Will we face a wilderness like Bramian, full of beasts and savages? If we fled the s.h.i.+p we might perish in a day, or wither slowly, while Rose and his loyalists sat at anchor, starving us out.
'But we might just as likely find a civilised country, with towns.h.i.+ps and industries, and force of arms. We must be ready to contact such people. It may be they have s.h.i.+ps that could take on the Chathrand.' Chathrand.'
'Like the Jistrolloq Jistrolloq did?' said Fiffengurt. 'Don't bet on it, mister. Rose fights above his weight.' did?' said Fiffengurt. 'Don't bet on it, mister. Rose fights above his weight.'
'I'll bet there's nothing but a wasteland,' said Druffle. 'Nothing but toads and spiders, rocks and desolation, and hills all sheathed in ice.'
'Toads and and ice?' said Marila. ice?' said Marila.
Pazel saw Bolutu shaking his head, as if he had heard nearly all he could stand.
'Just a minute,' said Neeps. 'The Chathrand Chathrand and her sister-s.h.i.+ps used to cross the Nelluroq all the time. There has to be civilization in the south. Otherwise, why bother?' and her sister-s.h.i.+ps used to cross the Nelluroq all the time. There has to be civilization in the south. Otherwise, why bother?'
'That was centuries ago, mate,' said Dastu.
'Aye,' said Khalmet, 'and civilizations come and go.'
Bolutu uncurled his notebook - a warped, water-stained ruin after months of abuse - scrawled two words, and held them up: NOT THESE.
They looked back at him, puzzled. 'Whaddya mean?' said Big Skip.
The veterinarian frowned, looking from face to face. He began to write again.
' The wa . . . waking . . . phenomenon The wa . . . waking . . . phenomenon,' Druffle read over his shoulder. 'As in waking animals? What's that got to do with the Queen's Tea?'
Bolutu stopped writing and sighed. Then he dashed off a sentence and held it up.
NOTHING WILL GET DONE AT THIS MEETING.
'Well you're a right blary naysayer,' growled Fiffengurt. 'Why don't you help us get somethin' done, then? Ain't you an educated man?'