Inda by Sherwood Smith

  Inda gave her a red-nosed glance, a brief grin, and then smacked the glass back to his eye, aiming it into the wind.

  Jeje waited. The night, fast descending, blended sky and sea and ships, except for pinpoints of golden light. She brushed snowflakes from her eyelids and squinted against the wind. Some lights rolled and pitched: sea lights. Other tiny ones arced high: fire arrows.

  The confusion of lights close together meant that at least two pirate ships had closed with and boarded the larger ship. Inda had pointed out when the pirates first started shadowing their convoy that they mostly hunted in threes.

  Everyone had watched the early attacks, with the same sort of sickening fascination with which people looked at carriage wrecks, or burned houses; then they’d given up, except for Kodl and Inda. Captain Beagar had begun drinking hard after the first Pim ship was taken. The older hands had been wild with anger, all the more because they could do nothing. Now, after seeing most of their convoy disintegrate, no one was there to watch the second Pim ship get snapped up except Inda.

  “What do you see?” she asked.

  “Watching the defense.”

  “Doesn’t look like there was much of one,” she said.

  He gestured with the glass. “They all do the same thing. It doesn’t work.”

  “Come down, have a warm bite. You’ve been here since dawn. Long enough. Testhy seems willing to stay till the next watch, which I’ll take.”

  Inda said, “Did you know New Year’s Week is already at least a week past, maybe two? I was trying to count it out.”

  She snorted. “I didn’t know. And I don’t care. And won’t, until we reach a port, where things like dates might have a meaning—” She stopped, hating herself. Maybe Inda had finally, finally, been ready to talk about his past. And here she was, whining like a scolded brat. “Tell me about New Year’s,” she said, but she knew it was too late.

  And Inda just shrugged. “Oh, I think we’ll reach a port. Though I didn’t for a while. But I’ve also been watching that fellow.” Inda waved at the lead pirate ship, and then gripped the shroud as the ship gave a sudden lurch, and crew appeared below, handling the gaff to the mizzen course.

  Both Inda and Jeje looked up at the sails then into the wind, thinking the same thing: it was time to run under reefed staysails. Testhy, still on deck watch, obviously thought so as well, and called out orders to the watch.

  “He watches Niz,” Inda continued. “I’ve seen him on his deck, with a glass to his eye, when Niz is in the tops. They don’t want to attack us, not when they can see a Delf.”

  Jeje felt her numb lips stretch into a grin. “Those noses are easy enough to spot,” she said. “Think of that, a Delf nose being our protection.”

  Delfs all seemed to have bird skulls, pointy at the front, always recognizable in a crowd; what kept the pirates wary was the equally well-known fact that the Delfs all seemed to know what ships other Delfs served on, and far too often if you attacked a ship with a Delf on it, Delf traders would appear out of nowhere to its defense. Despite their never-ending feuds they all formed instant alliances when they were attacked from outside and fought ferociously.

  Inda and Jeje were still smiling when they reached the deck. They lent a hand to the furling of the mizzen course, and then clambered numbly below, where Inda devoured the lukewarm gruff and stale rocks.

  “Did they get the Pim Olla?” Tau asked, pouring good Sartoran steeped leaf from the captain’s stores.

  Inda muttered, “Yup,” then chomped another bite.

  “Think we’re next?” Tau asked, one fine brow aslant. His long fingers ran up and down the edge of a little food knife.

  Inda gave his head a shake. “Wary of Delfs is my guess.”

  Tau held up a hand. Inda frowned, realized that the usually fastidious Tau was a little disheveled. Tau lifted his voice just slightly, saying, “Yan?”

  “Out here.”

  That meant on guard.

  Tau leaned forward and murmured, “So let’s talk about us. And Norsh and Leugre.”

  Chapter Fifteen

  TAU told them in three blunt sentences what Faura had revealed, then asked, “Should I take it to Kodl?”

  Jeje opened her mouth to blurt, Of course! but Inda said, “He’s going to want proof. And the mood he’s in, he might rope it out of Faura. Or Fassun. And then talk turns into action when it might not’ve.”

  “From the sound of it, mutiny is imminent anyway.”

  Imminent, Jeje thought, fighting against another surge of hopeless desire. At least (so she told herself) she could try to enjoy these moments, since she couldn’t seem to rid herself of them. Imminent—the way his mother talks.

  Inda said slowly, “Maybe nothing will happen. Sounds like they don’t have a real plan of action.”

  Jeje said, “What would be a plan of action? All that about killing everyone they hate sounds like a plan to me.”

  Inda shook his head. “That’s just hot talk. If you want to take something, well, like a ship, you’d have to first secure the ship and then those who command. They don’t sound like they have thought any of that out. And they both like getting others to run their ruses. Like in Khanerenth.”

  Tau leaned forward. “You mean, putting Gillip and Black Boots up to it. Though nobody followed their lead.”

  Inda said, “Right. Leugre is a K—” He shut his mouth on the word “Kepa.” Then, seeing puzzlement change to question in the others’ faces, he said, “Putting people up to things works only if they wanted to do it anyway. But the whole crew doesn’t want a mutiny.”

  Tau said, “I agree. Sails—Cook—the carpenter and his mates, the bosun and his, why should they mutiny? So we lose the ship. We don’t own it, so our only loss is our back wages. We’ve lost those whatever happens, because we can’t get to the Pim guild agents. But if we get to Freedom Island and they take the ship away, those with skills can hire on elsewhere.”

  “As long as they aren’t Iascan,” Jeje said.

  “You learn an accent and lie,” Tau said, shrugging.

  A little silence ensued, during which the lamp swung. All of them glanced at the force and height of the arc, gauging the coming weather.

  Then Dasta said, “Leugre would love being a pirate. All he needs is this ship to be his.”

  Inda snorted. “He might be able to take this ship. But he’ll never run a battle against another ship and win. Neither he or Norsh.”

  The others turned his way, and Jeje said, “Why not? I mean, does he know that?”

  Inda shrugged. “Did you watch those pirates take the other Pim ships? From what I could see, they seemed to have some kind of strategy. Imagine Norsh actually planning an attack, instead of talking hot and trying to get others to do the real work.”

  Strategy. The word caught at the others. Who used words like that? Jeje realized she didn’t even know what it meant, except that it had something to do with the military in some sense. Tau’s eyes narrowed; he didn’t speak, in case Inda offered more. Dasta thought back to the first week Inda was on board, when all of a sudden he, a small boy, decked Fass, who was twice his size and strength. Strategy.

  But one look at Inda’s tightly pressed lips and they knew that, as usual, he was not going to reveal his past.

  So Jeje said, “You seem to know what you’re talking about. I sure don’t. Then you think nothing will happen?”

  “No,” Inda said. “I think if something happens that Norsh can use, he’ll use it. He might even talk someone into doing that something.” Inda laid his lands flat on the table. “Then it’s going to be one on one, plan or not. If I’m right, we’ve either got to find proof they’re planning mutiny, proof that will convince Kodl and the captain, or get our own defense ready.”

  Dasta glanced at Tau. “Fass?”

  Tau said, “In with Norsh, but reluctantly. I don’t think we dare talk to him or any of his mates.”

  The others agreed. Fassun always followed whoever seemed strongest
. That meant if the mutiny could be stopped and Kodl became captain, Fassun would switch sides in a heartbeat.

  Inda murmured, “If it happens, it has to be before we get to Freedom Island. Or they lose the ship, too.”

  Tau played with the little knife, lamplight running and winking on the blade in ribbons of fire. “What would a ‘something’ be that Norsh or Leugre could use?”

  Inda rubbed his nose. “If anything happens to the captain.”

  Jeje struggled for clear sight, for sense. She hated this feeling that she’d slipped into a dreamworld. No, a nightmare. “So we’d better start listening everywhere we can?”

  Inda said, “And put a guard on the captain’s cabin.”

  “All on double watches.” Tau yawned. “And just in case we were feeling lazy, the wind smells of a coming storm.”

  They all watched the widening arc of the lamp, and sniffed the air, which smelled faintly of ice.

  “I’ll volunteer first,” Yan spoke softly from his post at the door.

  “It’s a toss-up whether they’ll do anything to the captain before he drowns himself in wine,” Tau observed.

  They could all see his regret, which they shared, but since there was nothing to be said, they left for their various jobs in silence.

  Four ugly days of fighting rain, sleet, and wind kept everyone busy. It took a full day just to get storm sail on the masts. They lost two foresails, ripped to shreds in moments, before they bent a stiff new storm sail on, Sails and her mates laying aloft themselves to help sheet it home.

  The ship ran under nearly bare poles, the half moon just above the horizon casting an icy blue glow over the white-topped breakers, when Jeje finally was sent below to rest.

  Zimd had just arrived, stretching and yawning. “Well that was fun,” she said, chortling. “I’m ready for spring.”

  Jeje sighed, too tired to speak.

  Zimd jumped onto her hammock, put hands on knees. “Jeje. You aren’t heart-achin’ for your pretty boy now, are you?”

  Jeje made a fist, dropped her hand, and walked out, tired as she was. Too tired, obviously. Zimd’s teasing was just stupid. So why did it upset her so much? Instinct drove her down below toward the hold, where no one would see her, and she wouldn’t see Tau’s golden eyes. I know why I hate it so much. It’s because I haven’t hidden it, and thought I had.

  “. . . dead.”

  At first the whisper seemed a part of the voice in her head, but that word caught her attention.

  Embarrassment snuffed quick as a candle in rain, Jeje tiptoed between barrels and carefully numbered ends of tall rolls of sailcloth stacked outside of the purser’s office. “You sure Beagar’s dead?”

  That was Indutsan’s dry voice. Then Leugre’s snigger.

  “Knife right through his chest,” Fassun muttered, his voice shaking. “Face down at the table.”

  Norsh laughed. “Probably fell on it drunk. He wouldn’t have the guts to do it sober.”

  “Or Black Boots stabbed him in the chest, then shoved him forward. Why else is he hidin’ down in the—”

  “Doesn’t matter,” Norsh snapped. “We have to jump. Now. Before Kodl finds out and gets the forecastle shits together.”

  “So we pick targets?” Leugre asked. “Didn’t we say that before? I want Kodl. He’s snoring away this moment—”

  Jeje backed away, too quickly; she bumped into a thick roll of sailcloth on which a wooden spoon had been balanced, and she saw it too late, her fingers just touching the end of it before it clattered to the deck.

  Norsh said sharply, “Who’s that?”

  Jeje ran. The others slammed out and pounded down the companionway right behind her. She dashed upward yelling “Tau! Inda!” at the same time someone on deck roared, “Capn’s dead!”

  Norsh shouted, “Get the others! Get the others!”

  Inda had been drinking hot cider in the wardroom; he emerged into the waist just as Jeje ran up, Leugre pounding after her, a boarding sword in one hand, a grappling hook in the other.

  “Get Kodl,” Inda said to Jeje without looking at her.

  She vaulted up the ladder to the weather deck.

  Leugre stood there, breathing hard, feeling unreal, despite the weapons he kept gripping and regripping in each hand, despite the sharp smell of sweat from his own body, and the faint smell of sweet cider in the air. They were, at last, going to take over the ship. Mutiny! They would be pirates! He always heard about them, but never thought of pirates being actual people like him.

  But in his way was Scalis’ strutting Marlovan horse turd.

  Inda shut out the sounds of feet on wooden boards, the creakings of the ship, the flacking of sails being taken in, and the thumps and yells of Norsh’s people running about wildly waving weapons.

  He faced Leugre, his eyes flickering from side to side.

  Leugre mistook that glance for fear.

  “Want it easy or hard?” he asked, licking his lips. “Easy, you have to beg.”

  The brat shuffled crabwise to the side, a purposeless movement to Leugre, who was trying to decide how long he could take killing him before he had to go find Kodl; then somehow all he could see was shadow, since the deck lamp was now above and behind the Marlovan, the light distracting his eyes.

  “Hard,” Inda said.

  “Leugre?” came the call from somewhere behind him.

  Leugre slashed with the grappling hook at the Marlovan, the sword in his left ready for the kill. The grappler clattered on a barrel, and Leugre stumbled against a bulkhead; then pain splintered his throat from a lethal palm-heel strike. He fell, choking to death on his own blood.

  Just then Gillip, Black Boots, and one of his mates arrived, saw Leugre fall, and they rushed Inda, who blocked the ladder to the deck, hands empty—

  Up on deck Niz and Scalis arrived from fore and aft at a run. They saw the Marlovan boy in the waist make a smooth circular movement with both hands, too quick to follow, but suddenly he stood there holding two knives, not out like swords, but half-hidden against his forearms, and as the sailors rushed him, he flowed into the shadows of the swinging lamp above, whirled around, and within five heartbeats three sailors lay on the deck bleeding their lives out.

  Inda leaped over the last one and dashed back to the ladder, looking around in fast assessment—

  “Hah!” a hoarse laugh cracked the air.

  Inda’s head jerked sideways and up. There stood Scalis and Niz, lounging against the binnacle, as if nothing were going on. But nothing was going on now, Inda realized, his mind catching up: the fights had all ended.

  “That’s five you owe me,” Scalis said to Niz, his breath clouding in the bright lamplight. “Knives, like I told ya.” And significant nods.

  Kodl appeared from the cabin. “Where is Norsh? I thought he would come after me.”

  Sailors assembled from all directions, everyone talking, some frightened, some of them holding violently struggling conspirators, Fassun, Indutsan, and Faura among them.

  Niz cocked his head toward the hatchway. “Quiet, sounds it. Who did he get?”

  Then they heard noise below. Some grasped weapons as they surrounded the hatchway. To their surprise what appeared was yellow hair, then an unremarkable face: Dun. His expression was mild as always as he gave a vague wave. “I’m afraid Norsh met with an accident belowdecks.”

  “Accident?” Kodl asked.

  “Disagreement with my number one hammer. The hammer won.”

  Kodl sighed in relief. He looked around then, assessing what they had. Four lower deckhands lay dead in the waist, two on deck, and there would be more below. Sails and her first sail mate had Faura by the arms. Fassun stood distraught, a knife held at his neck by one of Scalis’ forecastlemen.

  When Kodl saw Fassun his triumph died. “Turn these ones loose into a boat. They can take their gear. Indutsan goes with ’em,” he added, catching sight of the purser held by the Delf.

  Indutsan searched for allies, his eyes angry, but he
’d been caught and knew it.

  Scalis ordered a boat to be lowered. The rest of the crew started talking all at once, their voices high and sharp, many of them moving back and forth to no real purpose. All except Inda, Kodl noticed. He leaned on the lee railing, staring at the harbor across the bay; the making tide was steadily bringing them into Freeport Harbor.

  Kodl joined the boy at the rail. They stood there as the ship pitched gently on the flowing tide, watching the tiny gleams of golden light strung along the far end of the massive bay, like fireflies in a meadow.

  Inda could still feel the impact of Leugre’s flesh on his palm. There was no triumph, just a sense of sickness. He would have killed me, Inda’s inner voice argued. They all would have killed me. But the answer was heavy, nauseating silence. His guts heaved, causing cold sweat to break out all over him; he realized his knees and belly had gone watery.

  “Good work, Elgar,” Kodl said.

  Inda made a gesture of negation, realized he was still holding his knives, and that his hands shook. His grip was so tight it took a moment to loosen his fingers. Then he noticed the blood splashed down his shirt. He ripped it off, used it to clean the knives, and pitched it overboard, trembling more from reaction than the cold.

  Then he shoved the knives back in the sheaths that everyone could now see.

  Jeje appeared and silently held out Tau’s coat. It was warm from his body. Inda pulled it on, grateful for the warmth, though he still shivered.

  Kodl had been watching the boy, who faced him mutely, his thin ribs, glimpsed through the open front of the coat, expanding and contracting with his labored breathing. Kodl turned his head, saw the entire crew on deck, silent under the creaking timbers.

  I am captain now, he thought, but of course there was no joy, only irony. Captain at last—for the shortest cruise ever known.

  But the work must be done, and done right, in respect to Captain Beagar, who had been murdered. Anger burned through Kodl when he remembered the lifeless body, the knife angled in a way that looked impossible for someone thrust into himself.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]