Inda by Sherwood Smith

  It was Sindan himself who had insisted that only the king be told. The next day he was gone, leaving the conquerors to follow more slowly behind him. Yet the boy had not spoken to his uncle once during that long journey, except when he had to.

  The Sierlaef had not been brooding about the dramatic rescue that had turned imminent defeat into triumph. He never gave the rescue a thought beyond that first surge of relief; of course his uncle had somehow found out and came rushing in. That was what a Harskialdna was supposed to do.

  What he brooded about was the early part of that battle.

  Tanrid Algara-Vayir could have told everyone that it was he who had commanded until the Harskialdna showed up with the main force. But at all the victory dances he sat apart, grieving over the double loss of his Runner and his cousin Manther Jaya-Vayir.

  The Sierlaef knew Tanrid by now. He wouldn’t strut. He simply didn’t care what anyone thought. Tanrid was smart, he was loyal, and he could command. And the future king could not disabuse himself of the truth: he would one day be king, yet he really didn’t know how to command an army in the field.

  And whose fault was that? The Sierlaef glared at his uncle. He’d been told for years that he’d had the best training in the kingdom, that in the future it would be he who would command with Buck Marlo-Vayir at his side to see to logistics, like the kings of old—and yet when they came at last to real war, he couldn’t do it.

  The inescapable conclusion was that his uncle thought that someone would command for him after all. He would wear the crown and wave the sword, but others would really command. Who? Not his little brother. His uncle had seen to that. Buck Marlo-Vayir? At that battle Buck hadn’t been any better at command than the Sierlaef himself.

  Tanrid Algara-Vayir? No, because he was about—

  The royal heir glared up at Tanrid, who sat beside his beautiful soon-to-be wife watching the little boys down in the court. Tanrid was about to ride home. Forever. And by his side would be—

  The Sierlaef didn’t notice his sixteen-year-old brother passing not six paces away, almost as tall as he was, or Buck’s teasing of his own Tvei, who had shot up to Buck’s height. He never saw the stricken face of Ivandred, Manther’s Tvei, lurking around hoping the Sier-Danas would talk more about Manther. He looked up at Joret because he couldn’t bear not to, knowing that she would only be here a few more days, and then would go home. Forever. He would never see her again. Ever. Princesses stayed at home.

  No, he couldn’t bear that. He had to find a way to see her. Just once. To be alone with her, once, just once, just the two of them, which was impossible here. Short of riding to Choraed Elgaer, he couldn’t—

  Riding to Choraed Elgaer. Well, why not?

  I’m the next king. I don’t have to stand by with my wand waving in the wind. The kingdom is mine. I can do what I want.

  He grabbed Buck. “Talk,” he commanded, pulling him away.

  Chapter Twelve

  “ Panddressed,Elgar.”

  U Inda banished dreams of making snow forts with Tdor at Tenthen Castle. All he could see in the thick dark of the mids’ cabin was a faint glow on Kodl’s pale hair.

  The usual pain that came from being woken from dreams of home vanished when Kodl added in a tight voice, “Captain is going ashore. You’ll act as coxswain. Get your crew together.”

  It was not his turn to take the gig to shore, but as a lowly mid, one step above a rat—and there weren’t any new rats to do the rat chores, as the embargo meant no new hiring as well—he didn’t argue.

  Kodl had promoted them anyway, because it was their due, and promised them an increase in wages—when they would be able to land, visit the Pims’ guild agent and get their pay—and they were permitted to sit in the cramped little cabin called the mids’ wardroom.

  First Mate Kodl was doing his best to keep order on a ship full of whispers, threats, ugly sidelong glances between other mids and older hands, between warrant officers and mates. And not just whispers, but sudden scuffles, thumps and cracks, people appearing limping and bruised, while Kodl, who never seemed to sleep, walked the length of the ship every day, in all weathers, back and forth, a knotted rope swinging from his hand.

  And the captain stayed in his cabin, as if nothing had happened at all.

  Inda pulled his winter shirt on over his sleep shirt, and over that the new long woolen vest he’d bought at the Nob during the spring. He made sure the cuffs hid his wrist sheaths, then put on his thick woolen socks and fleece-lined green-weave deck shoes.

  Inda’s crew lowered the captain’s gig in silence. Being in Khanerenth’s main harbor seemed to increase tension, not ease it: as yet they had no guild agents here—the old one had vanished in the change of government—nor were they going to exchange any cargo. Khanerenth was one of the last kingdoms that ignored the embargo—at least if the ship was anchored out in the roads. And no one knew how long that would last.

  No one spoke as Captain Beagar took his place on the cushions in the stern sheets—cushions that Inda had helped make—and Inda took charge of rudder and yoke. Zimd acted as bow. Just as she grasped the boat hook came a yell, “Wait!”

  The four crew, Inda among them, paused in placing their tholepins. Down swung the second mate, Vorzcin, her short curly hair lifting on the wind as she dropped into the bow beside Zimd.

  To the captain’s frown she said, “Kodl gave me leave. I’m to get new charts, sir.” She smiled and held out the little bag of coins she carried.

  She’s lying, Inda thought, watching how Vorzcin avoided the captain’s gaze. Otherwise she looked exactly like always: strong, breezy, smiling at the great cliffs on the north side of the harbor and at the gulls wheeling overhead. Smiling, though there wasn’t any reason to smile.

  It was a silent trip, except for the screeching of those gulls, and the swish-splash of water down the sides.

  When they drew up to the dock, everyone looked to Inda, coxswain for this trip. He said, “Liberty for a bell, sir?”

  “No,” the captain snapped. Inda could feel his effort to speak in an even voice when he added, “I am only going to the harbormaster’s for news and mail exchange. I will return shortly. We’ll want to sail with the tide.” He did not look at the second mate, just climbed out and strode away down the dock, gripping the mail bag against him, his green coat flapping in the wind.

  Vorzcin gave Inda a rueful shrug as she clambered out after the captain.

  At once the four members of the boat crew shipped their oars and leaned on them, Dasta looking back at the Pim consorts anchored farther out, sails bunted, crews busy aboard. Yan frowned toward the harbor, dominated by the huge castle on the far cliffs, in whose storage barns they had spent a winter two years before. Things seemed quieter now, though there were marching warriors all along the docks and riding patrols along the wide concourse at the shore.

  Inda watched in all directions though he was fairly certain no one would force him off the ship. No one had said anything more about Marlovans, but the rumors about Iascan trade had gotten worse. If they were true, the entire crew was in trouble, not just him.

  Only Zimd seemed in a good mood, but then she was always in a good mood, except if they called “All hands!” during rain or a sleep watch. Zimd lived for two things, food and gossip.

  “So,” she said, as if carrying on a conversation. “That’s one mate we’ll never see again, eh? And won’t Leugre be mad!”

  Dasta snorted; Yan looked up, his round, pale Chwahir face expressionless. “You don’t know she’s going.”

  “Yes I do,” Zimd chortled. “You were snoring away during snooze watch while I was up in the foretop. Let me tell you, Kodl’s voice carries from the forecastle scuttles just fine when he’s arguing. She says, ‘Get while you can,’ and he says, ‘That sort of talk is mutiny,’ and she laughed at him and said he’d have real mutiny soon enough, and then he’d learn the difference between that and good advice.”

  “She’s not the one talkin’ mut
iny,” Dasta muttered.

  “We all know who is,” Zimd said with her usual cheer, then yawned as she scanned the area. The clouds were thickening, the water graying as the waves chopped and flicked up white foam. But nobody approached. “Anyone want some?” And from her bulky tunic she pulled a sizable flat package wrapped carefully in magic-warded cloth; the frigid air carried just a whiff of baked pastry, causing mouths to water.

  Inda, Yan, and Dasta stared as she unwrapped what turned out to be a fresh-baked chicken-and-potato pie, thick with gravy and tender new carrots.

  “How did you get that?” Dasta asked. “Not from Cook.”

  “No. I took it,” Zimd said happily. “After all, we really don’t think Leugre deserves it, do we?”

  All three thought sourly of Norsh’s chief crony, who had always liked rough games, the rougher the better. He bullied the smaller rats for sport, but he harbored a special, unrelenting hatred for Inda—and his friends—since Scalis had thrown Leugre out of forecastle drill.

  Dasta chuckled, then pulled his hands back as if they’d been burned. “But when we get back to the ship, and Leugre gets off his watch, and the pie—and Vorzcin—are gone, he’ll know we got it. And he’ll break heads. Starting with him, of course.” Nodding at Inda. “Finishing up with us.”

  “No he won’t, because I’ll tell him Vorzcin took it,” Zimd chortled. “It’ll make it far, far worse!”

  Dasta snorted again. He didn’t mind Zimd, who could be good company, except when she kept on poking her nose into people’s lives.

  Zimd snorted back, then said, “Norsh wants Taumad, Leugre wants Vorzcin, Faura wants Taumad. What say, when Leugre discovers Vorzcin is gone, he switches to chasin’ Faura? If only Taumad would look her way, it’d be as good as a Colendi play! Better!”

  Inda said, “You’re really sure Vorzcin isn’t coming back?” He pointed down the dock where a familiar figure loped toward them, dodging porters, sailors, owners, cargo inspectors, and the squads of fully armed warriors that prowled back and forth along Khanerenth’s harbor, walking reminders of the recent protracted civil war.

  Zimd rewrapped the pie. The others watched Vorzcin approach, a cloth-wrapped scroll carried in her arms.

  She leaped down into the boat, sending shivers through it; handing Dasta her package, she said, “They will call me coward and sved-breaker but no one can call me thief. Those are the charts for Freedom Island, and the chart maker says they did get rid of the pirates. The new holders are indeed open to trade, though it’s on free-trader terms. So here’s the newest chart to replace the old.”

  She bent, and caressed Inda’s cheek. “Give that to Tau, will you? Though he wouldn’t ever give me so much as a kiss.” Inda stared, puzzled, as she added, “I’m smart, is what I am. You would be, too, if you run.” And, in a husky voice, “Be well. All of you. I will be!” With a smile and a flick of her hand she bounded back up onto the dock and ran toward the harbor without looking back.

  “What did I tell you?” Zimd said. “Here. Four equal pieces. And the sweetest part is thinking of Norsh and his mates all eating stale ship-bread and cold cheese.”

  Inda ate quickly, glad for the warm food; the sun vanished behind clouds, and the wind turned biting, causing all but Dasta to hunch with their backs to it. Cold never seemed to trouble Dasta, who kept watch on the harbor, at last saying the welcome words, “Cap’n coming at last.”

  They readied their oars. It was unlike the captain to leave them so long without at least sending someone with hot drink, if no word of brief liberty. One glance at his face and no one spoke, not even to ask about mail in the noticeably slim satchel the captain set down by his feet.

  Zimd noted that neither Yan nor Inda gave the mailbag a glance; Yan’s reason was obvious. He was a runaway Chwahir, but Inda had never shown the least interest in mail, nor had he sent or received any.

  She found that so intriguing! Just as she found it intriguing that while Dasta had been seen wearing a heavy coat maybe half a dozen times, Inda wore long sleeves year round. Inda was fascinating because he never told anyone anything. He could be along on liberty and he’d sing the songs, even speculate about the stories behind them, and then the most mild question, like if he had any brothers or sisters, and he’d snap his mouth shut and not speak again, sometimes for a whole watch. But he didn’t get angry, or nasty; he just somehow wasn’t there.

  Zimd chuckled to herself. Mysteries were so much fun. Too bad Jeje was turning even more sour than Faura these days, refusing to talk. And when she was asked her the wrong thing, just teasing, like, she snapped your nose off.

  Well, Zimd knew why—and that made life even funnier!

  No one spoke during the long pull back to the ship, though wave after wave splashed over the bow and soaked them all. No one spoke when the captain climbed slowly up the side, not with his accustomed briskness, but like an old man, blind and infirm. Inda, supervising the gig crew in booming the gig up to its place and lashing it down, heard the captain say in a low voice to Kodl, “No protection from Khanerenth. Their navy is still too busy fighting one another. But we’re a day behind a convoy of traders from Venn, all heading down to winter in Sartor if they can. We will join them.” He vanished into the cabin—without overseeing the anchor raising, as had been his custom.

  Kodl said, “Signal the consorts to get under way.”

  “Here’s the charts.” Inda proffered the wrapped scrolls.

  Kodl frowned as he took the package. “Charts?”

  Inda’s face heated. “Vorzcin. Bought them. Said you ordered them.”

  Kodl’s frown deepened as he slipped the wrap-cloth off and unrolled the scroll a little way. Then he looked up in fury at the crew members who had appeared in a half-circle all around. “Weigh. Anchor.”

  “That there is the chart for Freedom,” said Black Boots, one of the larboard deck crew under Norsh.

  “Doesn’t matter if it’s a chart to Norsunder,” Kodl snapped. “Weigh anchor.”

  Black Boots looked forward, licking his lips. “We think it’s not right. Risking our lives. We think it’s time to take the ship ourselves—”

  Kodl moved so fast Black Boots never saw the rope coming. Snap, crack, thud, and he fell to the deck. The charts, forgotten, fell away from Kodl; Fassun appeared from the binnacle and gathered them up, sending quick looks around before he bore them back into the binnacle.

  “It’s true! You know it!” roared Gillip, captain of the mizzen. “You keep your rope for yourself, soul-eater!” He brandished a marlin spike, looking from side to side.

  Inda realized the two men were trying to start a mutiny. Not in the future, but right here, right now. They looked around for support, and several of the crew stepped forward, everyone looking to the right and left, waiting for someone else to move first, until Kodl struck, the rope whistling, right across Gillip’s face.

  “My eyes! My eyes! Owww!” the man howled. He covered his face with his fingers, and blood oozed between them, dripping on the deck.

  Scalis appeared, his long arms swinging. “Did ye hear the order, then? We’re heavin’ anchor, and anyone not pullin’ will get more of the same from me.”

  Niz strode up to his side, bandy legs wide, his sharp nose poking forward as he eyed all the crew members who had suddenly appeared climbing down the shrouds or popping up from hatchways. Inda saw Tau and Jeje among them, tousled and heavy-eyed from having been woken from their snooze watch.

  “Anchor up,” called Dun. He marched up to the capstan, followed by others, shuffling, whispering, and the mutiny, such as it was, ended.

  “Brig ’em until the captain decides what to do,” Kodl said shortly, pointing to Black Boots and Gillip.

  “But I—” Black Boots began, and Inda saw Norsh grip his arm, then with the other hand make a fist, turning the underside of his wrist upward for the briefest moment.

  Black Boots muttered under his breath, but followed.

  Inda looked up to see if Kodl or anyo
ne else had seen Norsh’s gesture, but they were all busy.

  Leugre raised his voice, his tone and manner heavy with threat, “I’m second mate now. I’ll stay on deck.”

  A hand knocked against Inda’s back. “Let’s get the anchor up sometime today, shall we?” Fassun pointed with his chin toward the capstan.

  When the anchor had been catted Inda and his gig crew were dismissed. Inda was tired, but he knew he would not sleep, so he retreated to the mids’ empty wardroom.

  He had been teaching Scalis and his defense team what he knew about staff and sword, gradually absorbing ideas from them as well, most particularly from the carpenter’s mate. But that was general offense and defense. He had kept his promise to Hadand, and had never shown anyone the Odni. Instead he practiced it alone, with two real blades, two beautiful Sartoran-forged daggers that he’d bought his very first winter away from home.

  The drill was so familiar that he didn’t need to think about it; he just cast his mind free, whirled and blocked, tumbled and struck, never halting, his breath steady despite the glow of warmth and the prickle of sweat.

  It was the sound of footfalls that broke his reverie. He slammed the knives into his wrist sheaths, his loose sleeves hiding them just as Dun entered. Then he picked up the staff propped in a corner.

  “Here you are,” he said, and looked around the small cabin with its single lamp swinging. “Warming up a little?”

  “Warming up” was one of the forecastle’s phrases for drill during cold weather. The same sort of humor caused them to call the same drills in summer “cooling off.”

  Inda made an impatient movement. “You’ve been sailing longer than I,” he said, and Dun smiled and opened a hand, not willing to lie unless he had to. “What does this mean?” Inda demonstrated Norsh’s fist, turning his inner wrist up.

  “I would call that a private signal,” Dun said slowly. “For lack of any other knowledge.”

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