Inda by Sherwood Smith

  The real world intruded itself once again when the harbor master’s assistant spoke. “Ho, Inda.”

  “Heyo, Woof.”

  “Squalls ahead,” Woof said in Sartoran, motioning behind by rolling his eyes and flicking his head.

  “What news?” Inda flexed his aching wrist.

  “Came in with Ramis,” was the surprising answer.

  “What? Ramis One-Eyed? Is he here?” Inda turned around and surveyed the harbor in the fast-fading light, but saw no sign of a tall-masted, square-sailed Venn warship with its raised, curved prow.

  “Was. Left on the morning tide, stayed just till the ebb. Off to some secret base to refit, some say.” Woof jabbed toward the sea with his quill. “You think Dancy looks dusted up, you should’ve seen Knife. Norfa—on morning duty—she heard they took on three Brotherhood, two big cut-boom brigantines, and a schooner. Sank two, took the third. And when I say took, I don’t mean took a new ship, I mean sent ’em right into night, though it was the middle of the day.”

  Norsunder again. “Three! What does he look like?”

  “Ugly.” Woof smacked the side of his face. “Half burned off. All over purple, eye patch. They say that the dead eye looks straight into Norsunder. I don’t want to know.” Woof grimaced. “The good one is terrible enough. But he brought—”

  “Elgar!” Kodl yelled from across the cobblestone causeway, Testhy close behind him.

  Woof stepped back, made a gesture both courtly and ironic, and Inda, remembering the beginning of the conversation, wondered what awaited them. Surely not a disgruntled captain!

  Testhy looked glum as he fingered his bandaged side. His light eyes flickered to either side. “I hate it when anyone asks for me by name. Just means trouble. I hope it’s just Scalis’ unpaid shot in some den. He has the money to pay it now.”

  “Why us, then?” Inda countered. “Wouldn’t the person he owed ask for him? And if some captain wants us to hire, shouldn’t it be Kodl?”

  Of course Testhy couldn’t answer these questions. He just hitched his shoulders closer to his ears.

  The trader clerks waved them through canyons of silk bales stacked neatly and well away from the big rooms with their damp air, past other sorts of cargo, some of it hidden in boxes painted with cryptic markings, to a small office with a battered door.

  Kodl opened it. A tall, thin, black-browed young woman looked up from the table she sat at, and Kodl stopped short so that Testhy and Inda nearly ran into him. Testhy’s breath whuffed out as if someone had smacked him on those wounded ribs.

  “Ryala! Ah, Mistress Pim,” Kodl croaked, wiping his grimy eyes as if he were dreaming.

  Inda stared, and three gear bags thumped to the dusty floor.

  The owner’s daughter stood, and they recognized worn Iascan travel clothes. She held up some wrinkled papers and pronounced in a loud, forceful voice, the sort of voice one uses when one has mentally rehearsed an encounter for months and months, “If you do not have the price of my family’s ships and their cargo, then I accuse you of theft. And murder. And I’ll see that I get justice.”

  Testhy sat down abruptly on a barrel, his hand pressed to his side. Inda stared from one to another, completely bewildered.

  Kodl said, “Testhy told me that Fassun wrote to you.”

  “Two letters,” Ryala Pim stated, her eyes wide, her face taut. “He sent two letters, in case one should go astray. And he paid for magic transfer.”

  Testhy forced himself to speak, though his throat had gone dry. “Look, Mistress Pim. Fass was angry when he wrote those. He told me just before he left the island he wished he hadn’t. He was going to earn some more money and tell you what really happened.”

  She faced him, her shoulders tight. Until Testhy spoke everything had gone as she had envisioned during her long, weary months of travel, but now the interview was completely different from what she’d expected.

  Everything was unexpected. No one, at first, had been willing to take her from the mainland to Freedom Island until a messenger from that ugly pirate captain had come with his invitation. Her mind fled back, briefly, to the utter quiet of that inn in Khanerenth, an absence of sound probably unfelt in there for decades, so all that could be heard was the rain dripping on the cobblestones outside, the fire, and a lot of people breathing, after the innkeeper whispered, “Ramis.” Only desperation had given her the courage to accept.

  “What do you mean?” She shook her head to banish the memory and glared at Testhy, one hand clutched tight around the magic talisman she’d been given so unexpectedly by that scarfaced pirate.

  Testhy glanced Kodl’s way, watched by Ryala. She did not know Testhy, or his habits, so his normal, shifty-eyed gauging of others’ reactions appeared as collusion.

  He said, “Fassun stayed in Freeport over that first winter; then he went to the mainland. Him being Idayagan, he meant to find a capital ship to hire on, since what comes through here are privateers and allies of the free traders—”

  “You mean pirates,” Ryala broke in.

  “We don’t have anything to do with pirates,” Kodl said.

  “You don’t?” Now she was back to familiar mental terrain. “Oh, then you still have our ships? Even one of them? The cargo, perhaps?”

  “No. They were taken when we entered harbor here.”

  “You sold them,” she accused. “Fass said you sold them.”

  Kodl shook his head. “We would have lost them anyway. Possibly our lives as well, had we not run for this harbor. The sved is that Norsh and Leugre led some crew in a mutiny; they wanted to keep the ship and turn pirate, and they lost. Norsh, Leugre, and some others were killed. Fassun was with them, but I don’t believe by true choice. We let him and Indutsan and Faura go. As for the money, we paid off the arrears of everyone’s wages.”

  “You didn’t pay Fass,” Ryala retorted, glaring at them all in turn: three brown faces with pale hair, for all she could see of Inda was the top of his sun-bleached head as he stared at the dusty boards of the floor. Three heads gone pale in the sun from sailing around, attacking people. Like pirates. Maybe even in her mother’s ship, for who was to say they didn’t just keep it and sell the cargo?

  Kodl said, “No. As I said, we let Fassun and his cousin and the others go. In the launch before we sailed into Freeport.”

  “So you say.” Ryala Pim flushed with rage. “Convenient, that mutiny. And the fact that all the other crew are gone, except your pirates.”

  “That’s not true,” Inda protested.

  Ryala Pim glared at him. “So you didn’t know about the mutiny beforehand? Fass said that you did, and that you—you, a Marlovan—used that as an excuse to kill off your enemies.”

  “No! Oh, yes, we knew, that is, we suspected they were planning a mutiny, and it’s true I killed Leugre and Black Boots, but that was because they were coming after me.”

  “If they were suddenly so evil, why didn’t Captain Beagar place them in the brig for justice?” Ryala demanded, her voice shaking.

  “He was . . . sick,” Testhy said, his eyes shifting, when he realized the other two would not answer.

  “Fass said he was drunk! Or you never would have gotten away with your mu—”

  Kodl cut in, angry now. “He was drunk, yes. The embargo, the blockaded harbors—he’d lost everything that mattered to him most. And now he is dead, and beyond blame.”

  “Fassun said that you killed him. You, the expert with the knife.” Ryala pointed at Inda, and stated in her slurry north-coast Iascan, “I know who you are, Lord Indovun Algraveer.”

  “Indevan-Dal Algara-Vayir,” he corrected automatically, in the accent of a Marlovan aristocrat. “Of Choraed Elgaer.” Her derision in saying the name he had not used, or even heard, for four long years made him flush with painful prickly heat all over.

  The other two gaped at him.

  Ryala sneered. “And I also know why you went to sea, Lord Indovun. Because you cheated in your stupid war games and killed the boy who
tried to stop you. And you expect me to believe you!”

  White-hot rage seared through Inda. “That’s a lie!” Inda shouted, for the first time in all the years the others had known him.

  “Oh, so Lord Kethadrend Keperi-doo-Kepur-dow—now one of your nasty, bloody Jarls, who rules the entire Andahi Pass all the way up to the Nob. He’s a liar? It’s his daughter who told my mother who you were and what you did. His son was there when it happened.”

  Inda’s rage turned cold, bringing back all the pain and humiliation of his eleven-year-old self. “It is a lie, a damned lie, and Kepa is a liar,” he declared, realizing he’d spoken in Marlovan only when he saw the reaction in all their faces. In Iascan, “Kepa lied to the masters. It was a frame up. Though I don’t know why.”

  Ryala turned away from him, her movement expressive of disbelief and contempt. “There is no sved for pirates.” She waved her papers. “You’re all a lot of liars. I believe Fassun. Knew him all my life. He was my friend, his words were sved.” Her voice quavered with both grief and anger.

  Testhy said in a low voice, “He told me before he left for the mainland he felt bad about lying, especially about Inda, because, well, because.”

  “Because what?” Ryala and Kodl exclaimed at once.

  Inda gave a shaky sigh. “Zimd told me Testhy was meeting him in secret. Fassun didn’t have any money. I told Testhy to give him my share of the gold bag run. Tau shared his with me until we got our first pay, and kept the secret.”

  “I don’t believe it,” Ryala stated. “Why would you do that? He hated you!”

  Inda flushed with guilt, dropping his head again to glare at his hands. He was determined not to speak. Ryala felt sour triumph at having caught him lying at last. Of course she could not know—because Inda would never say it out loud to anyone—that his reaction was a mixture of guilt over Marlovan conquering of Fassun’s homeland, and guilt because Scalis had thrown Fassun out of the forecastle drills after Inda decked him, and Inda hadn’t found out until it was far too late to make amends. Neither was his fault but he felt guilty just the same, for reasons he still couldn’t parse.

  “Why else would you give him money?” she demanded, waiting obviously for his next lie.

  “Doesn’t matter why.” Inda dug his palm heels into his eyes. “I wasn’t there when Testhy gave him the money. Never saw him. But Testhy said Fass told him to tell you what really happened if he ever saw you again.”

  Testhy said, “He’s telling the truth. Fass told me about the letters, Mistress Pim. Then he used Inda’s money to buy passage to Khanerenth. We left on our first hire, and we never saw him again.”

  Kodl opened his hands. “I myself heard nothing about Fass until the last time we touched here between hires. Adun-Cook had just returned from Khanerenth and had gone again, but she left me a letter, saying he’d died in a fight in Lands End while stealing some sailor’s purse. Said he’d been drinking heavy. He couldn’t get hires because people insisted he sounded Iascan, and then because of the drink.”

  Ryala stared sightlessly down at the papers crushed in her trembling hand. The other hand still clutched that transfer token as memory erupted into her thoughts again, bringing before her mind’s eye the terrifying pirate Ramis, who had ignored her until a couple of days ago, in the middle of the sea, he joined her beside the rail. She said to him, Are you certain I will find Kodl and that Lord Indevan there in Freeport Harbor?

  He shut his one eye, lifting his face as if hearing voices beyond human hearing, or seeing a vision that others could not see, then said, They are in a battle right now. If they live through it, you will find them.

  How could he know that? Maybe they were all secretly united together. So why did he give her the magic talisman before he set her on land?

  Ryala shook her head slowly, smashing the letters unheeding against her chest. “It’s true that Fass died while stealing. I found out that much when I was in Lands End, before I crossed to here,” she said in a low voice. She blinked rapidly. Her jaw hardened. “If he was that desperate, then blame falls to you.”

  “It was a mutiny, Mistress Pim,” Kodl stated.

  “So you say. But who am I to believe? I crossed the entire continent just to find out the truth. The only evidence I have is Fassun’s letters, and the fact that you are all still here, still fighting like Marlovans and killing people.” She slapped at Testhy with her papers. “Here’s the sved: my ships are gone. Gone! Everything is gone. Those ships—the talk of war in the north—-we had pledged the very last of our credit on that glowglobe cargo, at Captain Beagar’s request. Gone. Sold by you. But we still owe the original owners. How am I going to repay it? There is no shipping, no work, no money. Just before I left, pirates attacked and burned down Lindeth. And then the Nob. My mother is left with no roof over her head, same with my cousins at the Nob. We are forced to take charity from the Guild. I will have justice, Handar Kodl.”

  He spread his hands. “It was either take refuge here, or be taken by pirates. The ship was lost either way.”

  She smacked the papers against the back of her chair, her mouth quivering. “Back to that again? All right. I can see that my journey was for nothing.” Tears wet her cheeks. “But I promise you this,” she said in a low, trembling voice. “You set foot in any kingdom that has justice, and I will see to it you get it. Thieves. Pirates.”

  She closed her eyes, her one hand clenched on something and her lips moving. As the other three watched in stunned disbelief she vanished in an eye-tearing crackle of light, leaving only a faint breeze caused by displaced air to stir the heavy air in the room.

  “How’d she do that?” Testhy squeaked.

  Kodl turned to Inda in amazement. “You’re the son of a lord? No,” he corrected, calling up what little he knew of Iasca Leror’s government. Choraed Elgaer. “A prince.”

  Inda looked back with that blank face they’d all known since he was a rat. They stared at his bruised jaw, red knuckles, the filthy tangle of yellow-streaked hair escaping from his braid, and his old, weatherworn shirt and deck trousers, thinking: prince? Aren’t they supposed to be different?

  He’s different when he fights, Kodl thought.

  Inda, reading accusation in those stares of bemusement, said, “I did not betray Dogpiss Noth.” His gaze slipped past them, straight into the past, old pain renewed. “It was a plot, and I still don’t know why, but the king’s own Shield Arm was part of it.”

  Kodl whistled softly. He could well believe that. Marlovans were notoriously bloody-handed, so why wouldn’t they plot against each other as well as their neighbors? He stared at Inda, reflecting on years of travel, round the world twice, and how you thought you knew people, then surprise. Like Beagar, so calm and wise and steady during bad weather and nasty customs officials, turning to drink and despair.

  Now it made sense, the boy who could fight two-handed against grown men. The boy who would forget and use proper Sartoran verbs in Dock Talk, even though he’d never actually been to Sartor. That all added up to a prince’s education. A cowardly, treacherous prince?

  No. Kodl was sure of that much. Inda Elgar might be a prince, and might have left scandal behind him, but he was no coward. Nor was he treacherous, or he would have been leading that mutiny on the Pim trader, and further, he would have succeeded. He was a natural commander—who didn’t want to take command.

  At least not yet.

  Would the rest of his band of mariners follow the son of a prince if he decided he wanted to be the leader? Kodl said, “Look. Scalis’ family was killed in a Marlovan raid, long ago. He’s talked himself, and the others, into thinking you were one of their horse tenders, a stable boy, exiled for refusing to murder people. Let’s keep what we heard between the three of us. Some of the others have similar attitudes. We don’t want to run the risk of dissention in the band when we’ve been so successful, do we?”

  Testhy shrugged. Princes were rare, but they were also only of real interest in their own sphere, that is
, surrounded by wealth and power and thus dispensers of largesse. Inda Elgar, or whatever his name really was, obviously possessed not the smallest vestige of largesse.

  Inda nodded. It was clear he still wanted to keep his secrets if he could. Kodl would exert himself to keep it that way.

  Kodl murmured, “That knife fighting. The staffs. Is that what they teach the horse boys?”

  “Dragoons,” Inda corrected numbly. His mind droned over and over again, Never go home again. Never go home again. “We haven’t horses on ships, so you’re getting a combination of dragoon work—those are the ones that ride ahead and fight on the dismount—and . . . another kind of defense.” He stumbled at revealing the Odni. That promise had been to his sister, and through her, to his mother. Never go home again. But he would keep that promise.

  He struggled to get a grip on his emotions. All right, so now two knew who he was, what had happened to put him here. But they would keep his secret.

  A short breath, then, “Pirates don’t do sveds? Or did she mean they always lie?”

  “You won’t often see sveds in pirate-held ports,” Kodl said. “Very few mages will work for ’em, and also, merchants who try to cheat end up dead. On the mainland so-called respectable traders cheat each other all the time unless their Guilds are on the hop. It’s against the law to kill someone for cheating you. Pirates don’t need sveds.”

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