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'One more word in that tongue--' growled Haddismal.
Hercol switched back to Arquali. 'He is alive, I promise you.'
'Who's alive?' demanded the Turach.
'And he told me something worrisome. He said, "It's starting, Hercol." Those words, and no more.'
Thasha (who did not speak Tholja.s.san either) squeezed in on Chadfallow's right. 'What friend?' she said. 'And what is it that's starting?'
Hercol freed a hand from the doctor's ministrations, and gently touched her cheek. Pazel was astounded by the gesture, and the affection so suddenly visible on the warrior's face. Clearly Thasha was startled as well; she gazed at her old tutor as if afraid to speak.
'Something dreadful, I fear,' said Hercol. 'Ignus, stay close to them - and Pazel, you must must let him help you. No matter what has pa.s.sed between us before, we must stand together or die.' let him help you. No matter what has pa.s.sed between us before, we must stand together or die.'
'Die?' barked Haddismal, pus.h.i.+ng Thasha aside. 'What is all this, traitor? What are you telling them?'
Hercol stood straight, looking into the Turach's bulging eyes. 'Just this,' he said quietly. 'That the s.h.i.+p is in danger, imminent and terrible. I do not know from what quarter it comes, but if you do not find out soon, Haddismal, I fear you will be too late.'
Bolutu was not in his cabin, nor on the topdeck, nor eating breakfast. The four youths had scattered about the s.h.i.+p, looking for him everywhere, but it seemed no one had lain eyes on the man since early the previous evening, well before their council meeting. They tried sickbay, the wardroom, the lounge. There was not a trace of him to be found.
But traces of Mr Fegin's 'something irregular' were plentiful. When Marila poked her head into the first-cla.s.s lounge (the luxuries of which were much reduced since Simja, along with the girths of those accustomed to them), she found Thyne and Uskins squatting in the corner, nibbling stale jelly biscuits as they examined a jagged hole in a corner of the wall. In the galley, Thasha stood where the little green door with the peeling paint had been, and saw only a wall where spoons and soup ladles dangled from hooks. Outside the forecastle, Mr Fiffengurt heard the blacksmith complaining that his a.s.sistant, Big Skip, had gone missing as well.
Neeps' discovery was the ugliest. He had gone to the live-animals compartment in search of Bolutu, and stumbled upon carnage. Something had broken into the cage where Latlzo housed his prize sapphire doves; there was nothing left but blue feathers and a great deal of blood. A number of the other animals had been terrorised as well. The pair of gold foxes from Ibithraed were cowering at the back of their cage. The Red River hog was berserk, snorting and spinning in its wooden crate, which it had kicked half to pieces.
At noon Thasha and Pazel went to Chadfallow and begged him to do what he could for Felthrup. The doctor turned gravely from his desk, regarding them over his reading-gla.s.ses.
'I hold myself bound to aid a woken animal as I would a man,' he said. 'But you must never forget that a woken animal is not not a man. Felthrup is a tiny creature with a volatile heart. I may only be able to end his suffering.' a man. Felthrup is a tiny creature with a volatile heart. I may only be able to end his suffering.'
'He's a tiny creature with an enormous heart,' said Pazel, 'and how can you say that, anyway, when you don't know what's wrong with him?'
'I say it because because I don't know,' said Chadfallow. I don't know,' said Chadfallow.
The single Turach left outside the brig would not let the youths enter a second time, and only admitted Chadfallow under his supervision. Pazel and Thasha stood outside the door, listening, but all they could hear was Magritte's wails about his visions, and his fleas.
Sighing, Thasha leaned back against the wall. Only then did Pazel notice the redness of her eyes. He could not tell if it was the result of exhaustion or tears.
On an impulse, he said, 'You were brilliant at the council.'
She looked at him warily, as if he might be mocking her. 'I made a hash of it,' she said. 'I almost got us killed.'
'Not your fault.'
Thasha flushed. 'I was so certain he would come when I called him. Ramachni, I mean. But I was dead wrong.'
In the brig, the guard was bickering with Chadfallow. You want to what? You want to what?
'Thasha, you and Ramachni have some sort of . . . bond,' said Pazel. 'And Bolutu says he's a follower of Ramachni. You sensed him instead of his master. Anybody could have made that mistake.'
Her eyes were unmoved; she didn't believe he meant it. 'You know I don't blame you,' she said.
'Giving me the cold shoulder. I'd do the same thing if I were you.'
'Would you?' The idea made him feel a little better.
'I drank before the wedding ceremony,' she said. 'I got myself trapped in the stateroom while you were being dragged off to Bramian. I'm afraid to read the Polylex Polylex, afraid of learning too much. And then last night, the clock . . . no, I don't blame you one bit.'
'What are you afraid of learning?'
'That I'm not . . . who I'm supposed to be. Who Ramachni was counting on me to be, from the start.' Her voice quickened nervously. 'That no matter what anyone says to make me feel better, I'm going to be the reason we fail, the reason Arunis gets the stone and learns to use it and destroys everything, and it will happen because I'm broken inside. Which is to say crazy. I'm afraid I'm going crazy.'
'Well you're not,' he said firmly. 'You're just rattled, like all of us.'
Thasha shook her head. 'You closed the clock, before it was too late. You cleaned up the mess I caused, again. Oh Pazel, the dreams, the noises. The things I keep seeing. Words painted on the anchors. Doors, where there aren't any doors. And all those ghosts - n.o.body sees them but Rose and me. Do you think I've caught whatever he has?'
'You're not crazy,' he said again, taking hold of her shoulders. 'You blary well ran the show down there in the liquor vault, even after things went so wrong. And Captain Magritte sees ghosts as well.'
'I see a light in your chest, Pazel.'
Tears were welling in her eyes. She was looking at the spot below his collarbone, where Klyst's sh.e.l.l lay embedded beneath his skin. But it was not glowing; it had never glowed; there was nothing to see but flesh.
'I am am crazy,' she said, trembling. 'I see a little sh.e.l.l inside you.' crazy,' she said, trembling. 'I see a little sh.e.l.l inside you.'
'Listen,' he said, tugging down his s.h.i.+rt collar. 'I don't know why you can see it, but the sh.e.l.l is real. The murth-girl put it there.'
'Oh come on.'
'You're not crazy. You can feel it with your hand.' Pazel took a deep breath. 'Touch it. Go ahead.'
She looked at him. He nodded, and guided her hand with his own. She moved slowly, fearfully - and stopped, her fingers not an inch from his skin.
'It will hurt you,' she said, as if the knowledge had just come to her. 'Rin's teeth, Pazel, it will hurt like Pitfire. And you knew that, and you didn't mind.'
'No,' he said, breathless, 'I don't mind.'
Thasha looked at him with a warmth he knew Oggosk would never forgive. 'I mind,' she said, and dropped her hand.
They stood, holding each other's gaze for the first time in weeks. And Pazel knew it was over. The farce, the poor acting job he'd tried to make her believe in for the sake of the ixchel. He would hide what he could from Lady Oggosk, but there was no point in lying to Thasha any more. Not when she could see right through his skin.
'All right,' he whispered. 'You've got to listen to me carefully. Will you do that?'
Before Thasha could answer a noise erupted from the brig. It was an animal's screech, blood-curdling, over the shouting voices of the men. Hercol was urging someone to be careful; Magritte wanted something killed; the guard was swearing; Chadfallow was crying, 'I'll get him, stand back!'
'He's killing Felthrup!' cried Pazel. He tried the door, but the guard had locked it behind him. 'Kill it!' Magritte was shouting. Magritte was shouting. 'Stick it with your spear!' 'Stick it with your spear!' Thasha tried to draw Pazel away, but he ignored her, pounding the door and shouting, 'Ignus! Stop it! Leave him alone!' Thasha tried to draw Pazel away, but he ignored her, pounding the door and shouting, 'Ignus! Stop it! Leave him alone!'
Felthrup's cries ceased as suddenly as they had begun.
The door opened at last, and there stood the outraged guard - and Chadfallow, wiping blood from his hands.
'You mucking b.a.s.t.a.r.d!' cried Pazel, leaping at him. This time, however, Thasha caught him tightly around the chest. Chadfallow looked at him sadly. Then Pazel saw the hypodermic needle clutched in his hand.
'Felthrup was dying of thirst,' he said, as Pazel relaxed in Thasha's arms. 'He was too far gone to absorb water by drinking alone. I injected him with saline - clean water, just slightly salty, as it is in the body.'
'He bit you,' said Thasha.
'You're all blary cracked!' said the guard. 'And this doctor's a liar! He didn't want to give the Tholja.s.san no pills! And the Tholja.s.san himself's the maddest of the lot. Says that drooling rat in there's his pet - his pet! pet! Out of here, all of you! The captain's goin' to hear about this!' Out of here, all of you! The captain's goin' to hear about this!'
'Where's Felthrup?' asked Thasha.
Chadfallow examined his bites. 'I could not . . . persuade him to leave,' he said.
'You'll be comin' down with whatever that rat has, now,' groaned the Turach.
'Very possibly,' said Chadfallow.
'Ignus,' said Pazel. 'I'm sorry.'
Chadfallow smiled dryly. 'Long time since anyone called me a b.a.s.t.a.r.d.'
'Yer a b.a.s.t.a.r.d,' said the Turach. 'Now get away from my post.'
Through all this the Chathrand Chathrand was making fair speed to the south. The morning clouds had vanished, so there were no telltale disturbances to help them locate the Vortex. But there were other signs. The waves, uniform these many days, had lost their shapeliness, and were a bit collapsed on their eastern side. And the east wind, when it came, was strikingly cold, as if it had blown over some expanse of frigid water, churned up from the depths. was making fair speed to the south. The morning clouds had vanished, so there were no telltale disturbances to help them locate the Vortex. But there were other signs. The waves, uniform these many days, had lost their shapeliness, and were a bit collapsed on their eastern side. And the east wind, when it came, was strikingly cold, as if it had blown over some expanse of frigid water, churned up from the depths.
In mid-afternoon, one such cold gust reached in through the porthole of the chart room. Elkstem felt it, snapped his drafting pencil in two, and stormed out to the quarterdeck. 'Let go the wheel!' he said. 'Just let it go, boys, that's right.'
The baffled sailors looked at one another and obeyed. The wheel spun like a giant fis.h.i.+ng reel, the bow of the Chathrand Chathrand swung quickly to windward, and Elkstem shook his head in dismay. 'Catch her, catch her, gents!' he cried, then snapped his fingers for a mids.h.i.+pman. To the thin-lipped Sorrophrani who answered the summons, he dictated: 'A memo to the captain: my compliments, and be aware that the bow's leeward drift is approximately ten degrees. I can comfortably a.s.sume therefore that we are in the outer spiral of the Vortex, and that without intervention, our course will decay. Your servant, etc. Put the message in Rose's hand, lad, wherever he may be.' swung quickly to windward, and Elkstem shook his head in dismay. 'Catch her, catch her, gents!' he cried, then snapped his fingers for a mids.h.i.+pman. To the thin-lipped Sorrophrani who answered the summons, he dictated: 'A memo to the captain: my compliments, and be aware that the bow's leeward drift is approximately ten degrees. I can comfortably a.s.sume therefore that we are in the outer spiral of the Vortex, and that without intervention, our course will decay. Your servant, etc. Put the message in Rose's hand, lad, wherever he may be.'
About this time, Pazel, Thasha, Neeps and Marila found themselves together in the stateroom for the first time in days. Syrarys' dressing-table had been screwed down in place of the one destroyed. It was small, but then so were their meals, lately. Thasha had opened one of their few remaining delicacies: a jar of tiny octopuses, pickled in brine. Her father had always kept several jars of the rubbery pink creatures in the pantry at home, and Nama had seen that a dozen were laid away before they sailed from Etherhorde. Thasha had grown up hating them. But after months of galley food she ate octopuses with a will, as did the other three: spearing them with their knives, slicing off the beaks, chewing them whole. They tasted of home, and were gone in five minutes flat.
The four friends sat gazing at the empty jar. They had changed roles since yesterday, Pazel thought. He had his bare foot atop Thasha's own, enjoying the dusty warmth of it, the trust. Somewhere deep inside him a voice still protested: take it away, take it away take it away, take it away. Was it fear of what Oggosk would do to the ixchel, or Klyst's jealousy? Whatever it was, he felt powerless to obey. He simply could not be cruel to Thasha any longer. And then And then, he thought, as her dry, calloused toes slid restlessly against his own, there's this. there's this.
Neeps and Marila, on the other hand, were barely speaking. Marila had not forgiven Neeps for pus.h.i.+ng her to bring 'that loudmouthed, slave-trading drunk' to the council. Neeps had objected that Druffle wasn't really a slave trader, that he had only dealt in bonded servants, but his hair-splitting just made her angrier.
'Tell me what the difference is, when you get deeper in debt each time your master gives you a rag to wear, or some little piece of garbage to eat.'
Marila's anger was something to behold: icy, soft-spoken, hard as nails. She had talked Neeps into corners three times in the last two hours. They were perfect together, Pazel thought.
'Anyway,' Neeps was saying, 'I don't think Druffle specialised in buying and selling human beings. Arunis sent sent him to the Flikkermen, under his spell.' him to the Flikkermen, under his spell.'
'Which is another reason to stay away from him,' said Marila. 'For all we know he's still in Arunis' power.'
Pazel shook his head. 'Ramachni set him free. We know that.'
'But what if there's some part of him that's been weakened?' said Marila. 'What did Jervik tell you? "He pick-pick-picks at me." "He pick-pick-picks at me." What if Arunis picked a hole in Druffle's mind, and can read it now?' What if Arunis picked a hole in Druffle's mind, and can read it now?'
'She's right, Pazel,' said Thasha quietly. 'Arunis managed to read your mind, and control you. Or at least put ideas in your head, and make you freeze.'
'But it cost him,' said Neeps. 'I'll bet he put a lot of eggs in that basket, trying to get rid of Pazel and his two Master-Words. And he couldn't read Pazel's mind, actually - not until Pazel touched him. Druffle won't make that mistake.'
'Druffle would make any any mistake,' said Marila. 'He's an idiot. Toads and ice.' mistake,' said Marila. 'He's an idiot. Toads and ice.'
'Stop!' Pazel pleaded, raising his hands. 'It's done, and we can't undo it, and we can't waste any more time wis.h.i.+ng we could. Think about what Hercol said, for Rin's sake. We stand together or we die.'
Neeps and Marila glared at one another across the table. Thasha gave Pazel a private smile.
'I still want to know something,' said Marila abruptly. 'Why isn't Arunis dead? Chadfallow says he was hanged for nine days on Licherog, chopped up and tossed into the sea. That sounds blary dead. So what happened? What's he doing here at all?'
Even Pazel found himself glancing in Thasha's direction. 'I know what you want,' she said at once. 'But I told you, I can't touch the Polylex Polylex. I'm sorry. Felthrup was helping me for a while; he'd turn the pages, and read aloud. That made it bearable - just. Since then I've been trying to read it on my own, but it's too awful that way. I go too fast, I learn . . . too many things.'
'Like what?' said Neeps. 'Can you tell us something, just so we understand ?'
Thasha put her elbows on the table, looking down at her plate of snipped-off octopus beaks. She sighed.
'There was a barge anch.o.r.ed on the Ool, in Etherhorde. The spy who ran the Secret Fist before Sandor Ott had it put there to terrify the Nunekkam. It had an eight-foot wooden wall instead of a rail, and shackles all over the deck. If they didn't cooperate with his spies - tell them all about their clients, hand over their business records - he'd take their families and roll them in salt and chain them there, for days. They have soft skin, the Nunekkam, they blister in the sun, birds would come and--'
'All right!' said Neeps hastily. 'Sorry I asked.'
Thasha shuddered. 'It isn't even those stories, exactly. It's that I feel like I'm remembering remembering them. As if I used to know these things, and a few lines bring it all back. It's like going into your house after it's been sealed up for years, and tugging off the dustcloths, and finding the furniture all covered in blood.' them. As if I used to know these things, and a few lines bring it all back. It's like going into your house after it's been sealed up for years, and tugging off the dustcloths, and finding the furniture all covered in blood.'
'Just stay away from the Polylex Polylex, then,' said Pazel. 'Felthrup thought you should, too.'
'Ramachni said she had had to read it,' said Marila. to read it,' said Marila.
'Maybe Ramachni was wrong.'
Marila gave Pazel a sceptical glance, as if she knew very well what was behind his argument. Neeps drew patterns in the brine on his plate.
Suddenly Thasha rose to her feet. Without a word she seized Pazel's hand, making him rise too, and led him into her cabin. She marched around the bed, wrenched savagely at the latch on the porthole and flung open the gla.s.s.
The sudden wind slammed shut her cabin door. Pazel rounded the bed, studying her, more worried than he liked to admit. Thasha bent to the porthole, gulping the cold breeze, and the evening sun lit her face. There were dark rings under her eyes, and the golden flag of her hair had lost much of its s.h.i.+ne. The blane blane, he thought: wasn't that where it started? Had she ever fully recovered from that taste of death?
He put his hands on her shoulders, and they lifted eagerly against his palms. Thasha sighed and let her head fall forwards. Pazel squeezed, then gave a nervous laugh. 'You're so blary strong,' he said.
'Syrarys used to beg me to be lazy,' murmured Thasha. 'She said with my shoulders no man would--Ouch! No, don't stop, that was a good ouch. Don't stop ever.'