Inda by Sherwood Smith

  But Inda had killed the murderers, which was at least justice, even if it didn’t satisfy Kodl’s desire for vengeance. All that remained was to honorably finish the captain’s work, as much as he could. So he would do it.

  “We will sail for Freedom Island,” he said, lifting his voice so even those in the tops could hear. “Because we must. There is no longer any convoy that would accept us, and we can’t hire protection. We will lose the ship, and probably the cargo as well, because we haven’t any money to join the Freedom Island confederation. You pay or you lose your ship, is the word I heard. But I will not consent to piracy. What individuals choose to do after we land is their affair.”

  “So they won’t force us into the galleys?” someone called.

  “Not Freedom Island, from what Vorzcin heard and told me, before she jumped ship. Which is why I risked the run here,” Kodl said bleakly. “We haven’t a hope of keeping our liberty in any pirate port. And nobody in a kingdom port will hire any of us Iascans. Here at least we get a chance, though your choices will be limited to hiring on with privateers or free traders, but I’ve heard some of them are pretty decent, the free traders being mostly smugglers who run goods buyers think overtaxed. They aren’t looking for fights.”

  Inda flicked his palm up. His head throbbed. Iascan ships were targets now, because of what had happened in the land that was no longer his home. By the Marlovans who had exiled him. But to the rest of the world he was still a Marlovan.

  “Is there another choice?” Inda asked, thinking: Sindan will never find me now.

  Niz muttered something, and Scalis’ rusty laugh was just audible over the slap-slap of the sea against the hull, and the clatter of blocks as the ship lurched on the making tide.

  Kodl raised a hand as if to silence them, and then used that same hand to point southward toward the glittering row of harbor lights, faint and golden at the base of those black mountains. “Let’s get ourselves into harbor safely first. There will be time enough to plan after.”

  Chapter Sixteen

  BY the next watch Inda sensed another conspiracy forming, this one involving him. He saw it in the appraising looks some of the older men sent him, the grins and whispers of Niz and Scalis, who showed no reaction to the sudden deaths of former shipmates. Niz seemed, in fact, to be annoyed that he had been busy on the foremast when all the fun occurred, arriving when it was too late to do anything but witness the end.

  Fun. For a time Inda kept flexing and wringing his hand, as if that would get rid of the physical memory of Leugre’s neck crushing. He’d killed four people altogether, but somehow that one was the worst.

  Tau caught him at it finally, his pale gold gaze flicking from wringing hand to Inda’s face and then narrowing. “They would have killed you first,” he said. As if Inda had spoken.

  Inda leaned against the capstan. “I know.”

  “You also know you’re going to have to teach the rest of us. If you believe, that is, we are worth keeping alive.” He walked away without waiting for an answer.

  Inda was still brooding about that as he helped with the grim chores of bringing up the dead and performing the Words of Disappearance over them—the crew all lined up in the remains of their best shore-going clothes for the captain’s Disappearance—and then the cleaning of the deck of blood, which used just about all the magic on their clean-buckets. Not that anyone cared. The ship was no longer theirs.

  And Inda was still thinking during the late watch, when Kodl at last went into the captain’s cabin to sort his papers, putting the official ones with Indutsan’s books, and setting aside personal ones for the galley fire. He had Inda with him, ostensibly holding an extra lamp, but as a silent threat in case any of the other crew had ideas about another mutiny.

  Inda knew there would be no more attempts to take the ship. For each back pat and word of praise, mostly from the forecastlemen, there were ugly looks and obvious retreats out of his way. Mostly from Gillip’s and Black Boots’ mates.

  Inda noticed, but said and did nothing. He had killed four men, there was no escaping the fact. And he knew now why he just felt sick, instead of triumphant. As he stood there holding that lantern and watching Kodl sort the captain’s papers, burning his hoarded letters from his family, Inda forced himself to face the truth, that all the training at home, the flags and games and fox yips and the rest, were for this: killing. How could he have been stupid enough to think if he could just go home, the rest of his life would be fun war games? Iasca Leror had gone to war, and he probably knew some of the men who had fought, who had killed men they didn’t even know. Maybe his own brother, who was just old enough now to be included in the Guard.

  That’s what I am good at, Inda thought, gazing out the captain’s open stern windows at the water roiling in a blue wake over the black sea. I couldn’t save Dogpiss, I wasn’t fast enough, but now I’m fast and what I’m good at is killing.

  They rode the tide in early the next morning, sailors off watch packing their dunnage below, and speculating on what would happen. On deck there was tense silence as Kodl scanned the shore with a glass. The tension increased when the lookout above shouted, “Cutter beating up direct on the bow!”

  Inda glanced back over his shoulder at the point. Of course. Lookouts there, and some sort of signal method. Freeport Harbor would not be taken by surprise.

  He rode on the foremast boom, as it was his watch. Niz stood on the topsail yard above him, watching critically as the narrow, single-sailed craft swept around in a beautiful curve and closed with them, loosening the sail. A tall girl expertly hooked them on, and an older woman and a young man climbed aboard and touched their foreheads to Kodl, who stood in Beagar’s place on the captain’s deck.

  A hand clapped on Inda’s shoulder. “We’ll stay together, eh?” Scalis said, uttering a horse chuckle. “You didn’t plan nothin’ else, did ya, boy?”

  Inda jerked his chin down. “I don’t know.”

  Just then the man accepted a paper from the former first mate. They moved slowly, embarking on a close inspection, as Kodl signaled for the bosun to whistle one last time: All hands. They assembled fast, everyone silent.

  Kodl spoke a last time to the crew. “We can take our launches in and leave them tied to the dock. The ship is no longer ours. But the harbormaster will pay, so don’t run off before you get your share. Consider it the back pay you were owed.”

  A quick whisper ran through the crew.

  “Cap’n?” called an old hand. “We can’t go home, then? If the Pims find out, we be outlaws, no?”

  “I signed alone, Reef,” Kodl said heavily. “Responsibility is mine.”

  They understood then that Kodl could, by free trade rules, have kept all the money. Or he could have forced them to sign over the ship, too, but instead he was acting alone but still issuing fair shares. Few understood it was his last gesture to Peadal Beagar, who had been a good captain; they cheered him, then broke into groups, talking and laughing.

  “Remember what I said,” Scalis muttered, clapping Inda’s shoulder.

  Inda thought of home and Captain Sindan. Of Sponge whispering into his fever dreams, On my honor, on my soul, you will get justice. Inda winced away from the memory, thinking: How long before you gave up trying, Sponge?

  Not that he blamed Sponge. He remembered quite well what Sponge’s life had been like, despite his being a prince.

  Inda’s thoughts lingered on Sponge as he worked with the crew on lowering the anchor one last time. He did not hear the subdued songs, barely audible above the hull-shuddering thunder of the anchor chain running free. Despite the singing, for a moment he was back behind the scrub pit before dawn, taking turns with Sponge practicing their blocks and falls. Laughing, naming ancient kings in rhythm as they pitched hay, or making up stupid songs about the masters in Old Sartoran, just for the fun of it.

  He was glad that he’d started teaching Sponge the Odni. Trust your own two hands, Sponge.

  They hoisted their sail
bags over their shoulders and climbed down into the launches. Everyone took an oar and pulled for Freeport dock, leaving behind their home of three years with free-trader versions of customs inspectors poking into every corner, evaluating and making notes on slates.

  Soon enough they all climbed onto the dock below the long, broad boardwalk, built by some king long ago. A huge octagonal spired building dominated the north end, obviously the harbormaster’s headquarters, a white flag flying from its spire. Along the boardwalk ranged a row of huge buildings, once grand, probably housing aristocrats with huge retinues, now used as warehouses and shops.

  Inda and his companions glanced upward at the weather-worn buildings with their old scrollwork, graceful iron railings in a lyre motif, the old-fashioned artistry contrasting with the more conventional harbor pleasure dens and shops they now housed. Then they trudged up one of the two curved stairways to the boardwalk, their dunnage burdening their shoulders. A harassed flunky waved them toward the first warehouse. There they stood around in a rough circle near the disconsolate crews of two other ships that had limped in on the previous tide—one of them a high-sided caravel from Sartor, half dismasted by weather and pirates, the other too far down the harbor to see in the hazy sunshine, but a round-hulled brig from the north.

  Inda glared at the placid sea. No one to turn to, no authority to guarantee fairness. No one cared why they were there, what had happened. They had brought a ship to a port that existed outside of any government’s law.

  He sank down onto his bag between Jeje and Dasta, Yan still standing nearby. Tau had vanished, which was usual for liberty landings. Inda wondered if he would return this time, realized he expected Tau to come back, and contemplated for a brief, weary time why he expected it: Tau was a friend, not just a fellow mid. A comrade, just as were Jeje and Yan and Dasta. Or at least he had been, but maybe Tau did not see it that way. If he did scout off, nobody could blame him.

  By the end of a long, thirsty afternoon they all braced themselves to end up with nothing after all, especially after witnessing a prolonged, vehement argument over the tea traders between customs people and what had to be privateer captains, standing just outside the warehouse. So they were surprised when a young man approached Kodl at last, a young fellow with an air of authority, dressed in stylish striped trousers, wide at the bottom and tight at the top, and a frilled shirt under a tight, quilted vest. He read out in fluid Sartoran a long list that they soon realized was a scrupulously rendered percentage of value of ship and cargo.

  Inda saw a boy his own age busily writing down everything that was said on both sides. He wrote with pen on paper, indicating that records were kept.

  Kodl agreed to everything the young man said—there really wasn’t any alternative—and then the speaker finished in a loud, clear voice, “So you’ll sign on receipt of the agreed-on payment?”

  “Yes,” Kodl said heavily.

  The free trader misread his reluctance, and said, with an impatience that didn’t quite mask a residual fear, “Look you. These slow, round-bottom tubs, that’s a fair price. No one gives full price for ’em. And glowglobes, so close to Sartor? Why carry those here? They won’t bring much more than was paid for them before cargo prices.”

  Kodl said in a heavy voice, “Picked them up on the Nob, out west. From a ship needing extensive repair. Supposed to sell them on the other side of the strait. But we couldn’t land, on account of the embargo.”

  The young man nodded. “Dumped cargos are too common these days.” He hesitated. Though Kodl did not yet know it, this was the harbormaster’s assistant, a quick witted, observant young man; he realized Kodl was not reluctant about the price, but about matters he could not control. And so he motioned to a woman who, dressed in money-changer brown, with silken counting strings dangling at her belt, pushed forward stacked coins in three different issues, all purported to equal the same amount.

  So there was some authority behind them! Kodl sighed, inwardly hearing his opening words of defense to Ma Pim. Both Niz and Scalis made what they thought were discreet nods and pokes toward the smallest pile: the six-sided Sartoran coins. Not that Kodl needed reminding that Sartoran coinage was generally accepted all over the southern hemisphere at full value.

  The coins having changed hands, the free traders all looked relieved. The boy blew the ink dry on his record, and they vanished toward the dock and the next ship, leaving Kodl and his crew standing there with the coins and their dunnage.

  “We may as well divide up and pay off right here,” he said, since no one was chasing them away.

  Inda, Dasta, Yan, and Jeje waited as the older hands were paid off. Inda breathed in the familiar smells of a harbor: fish, brine, rope, wood, overlaid by a trace of exotic spices. The voices around spoke in the usual mishmash of tongues expected in a harbor. Dock Talk was the most prevalent, but Khanerenth and Sartoran were also often heard.

  Dasta’s thoughts seemed to come from far away, squeaking like mice in a wall. Until recently his life had lain before him: rat, mid, mate, maybe one day captain, around and around the globe, events marked by fierce storms or escapes from pirates, always safe in convoy, never far from a coast. All of it gone, leaving him in a world with no rules.

  Yan hunched up, willing himself to be invisible. He had escaped the home that was not a home, he had escaped the galleys, he had escaped death. He refused to think about the future. It was enough to stand, breathe, and think, I’m alive.

  Jeje was the only one besides Inda aware that Taumad had slipped away. She watched as old, familiar crew members parted, vanishing into the crowd: cook, steward, bosun, carpenter, sailmaker all knew they could find work fairly swiftly, even if not on a legitimate kingdom trade ship. Testhy lingered, watching as well.

  Sails was the last, a tall, skinny, strong older woman, frowning Jeje’s way the while. At last she separated from Cook and the other four women who had chosen to band together, and said in Dock Talk, “Come with us to Sartor, Jeje. I can get ye work as first sail-mate anywhere but the most finicky yacht or royal ship.”

  Jeje looked toward Inda, then shook her head mutely.

  Sails hesitated, then murmured, “Those pretty ones like young Taumad, it’s never any good even if y’do get their bowsprit aboard ye. They never has to learn to please.”

  Jeje’s face burned, but she didn’t speak.

  Cook said, as Sails joined her, “Don’t tell her sex is mostly in your own head.”

  Sails laughed. The two moved out of Jeje’s life.

  “Ramis,” Inda said suddenly, and the others turned his way. “I keep hearing the name Ramis the One-Eyed.”

  Jeje opened her mouth, then shut it. She was unwilling to be the one to speak Tau’s name, but Yan said it for her. “Tau will have gotten the sved, soon’s he finds us a place.”

  Quick steps brought all their heads up. There was Dun, the carpenter’s mate. They were mildly surprised he hadn’t gone with the carpenter, but no one really knew the pleasant, soft-spoken Dun, and they were too busy with their own thoughts to ask questions. “Kodl says we’ll find you later.” He smiled. “I take it you’ll be in your usual haunts?”

  Inda said, “I think Tau went to scout us a place.”

  Dun gave a casual wave. “We’ll find you. Then plan.” He moved away, Testhy, after a last pause, following him.

  Tau dashed up shortly after, golden hair flying, drawing the usual stares from both men and women. For Taumad the world was little different than before. When he’d left home he had at first scorned his mother’s advice on always finding a pleasure house to stay in, but his first liberty night in an overpriced, nasty backwater inn, stinking of fish, listening to the shrill battles between cats and rats through a night on a hard bed with mildewed blankets, changed his mind.

  Now his ship life was stitched between houses of comfort, cleanliness, and always the best local news. Using the secret words his mother had taught him he always got the best lodging for the cheapest price. Free, if he too
k a turn upstairs.

  Inda grinned, relieved to see Tau. “I got your share of the final take,” he said.

  Tau smiled back, one fine brow quirked, as if he was reading Inda’s mind. As he led his friends up a narrow brick switchback, he said in Iascan, “While we were rounding Khanerenth Lands End, Ramis the One-Eyed of the Knife smashed a local alliance of pirates. Bad ones. Killers.”

  “Brotherhood?” Yan murmured.

  “No. Someone building a fleet to join them. They said Ramis must be going for dominion over these island seas. He stayed here a day, said he’d be back if he heard that the free traders weren’t trading free. That means keeping the peace.”

  Inda jerked his chin down. That might explain the almost unnatural order he saw about him. Oh, there were still the bawling, raucous sounds of drunken sailors from open windows in the dock dives, and loud, shrill voices haggling filled the air, but people seemed to be more careful, somehow, though there weren’t any guards here, far from the reach of any government, and so everyone went armed like brigands.

  “I found a place,” Tau said, and the others followed wordlessly.

  As usual, the places on the hill that commanded a view and fresh air were the most expensive. These houses were set right into the hills, many with streams tumbling down between them, some paved with marble in ancient times. Huge windows bowing out testified to gentler weather patterns.

  “Here we are,” Tau said, pointing.

  The Lark Ascendant was built on a hillside, commanding a truly spectacular view of not just the harbor, but the rest of the island lying northward. Inda stared out at the tangle of silvery branches, the rocky hillside, and wished with violent suddenness he could run off and go exploring, despite the crunch of frost underfoot and the cold searing his throat.

  But he followed Tau inside, where they were soon settled in a first floor room at the back that looked out onto a pretty little tiled court. The four of them had to share a room, of course: all of them except Tau were still passing as underage.

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