The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 15


But the night wasn’t over yet.

* * *

By the time the next shift began, I was shivering with cold. The instant I heard the replacement crew members come onto the deck, I began descending the rope ladder. I was blocked by the sail, furled for the night, so I didn’t have to be invisible, just fast. It wouldn’t take them long to exchange their report of this evening’s nonevents.

I was only halfway down the ladder when one of the replacements made his first round up on the castle deck, far below me. As I had done earlier that evening, I rotated to the opposite side of the post, clinging to the ropes and trying to not sway with the ship.

“So the captain put Jaron up in the crow’s nest?” the pirate asked his companion. “That’s a mistake.” I recognized his voice. His name was Teagut, and in true pirate fashion, he’d steal the last coin from his widowed mother’s purse. Aside from that character flaw, he seemed like a decent fellow.

“Why was it a mistake?”

“What do you know about Jaron?”

I crouched lower, eager to hear the Prozarian’s answer.

“I know he deserves everything that is coming to him. Captain Strick is doing the four continents a favor by ridding us of him.”

Teagut chuckled. “If she can catch him. I wager ten gold coins that the crow’s nest is empty.”

I closed my eyes and groaned. If it were possible, I’d pay Teagut tenfold in coins to keep him from making that wager.

“Then you’d better go check.”

Teagut began to climb the ladder, getting closer to me with each rung he ascended. I crouched low on the rear side of the post until he passed me, then I reached around and pulled the knife from the sheath at his waist. He felt me take it and froze on the ladder. I said, “Report that I’m in the crow’s nest, then find a reason to get your companion off the deck.”

“I’ll lose the wager.”

“Better than losing your life.”

He gulped and climbed the rest of the way up to the crow’s nest, peeked in, then returned to where I was and shouted down to his friend, “He’s curled up tight and asleep. Right where he belongs.”

Once he was back on deck, he directed his companion toward the steps to the lower compartments. “I, er, did happen to notice while I was up there that the ship seems to be off balance. We brought on all those heavy crates. Perhaps we should go check the cargo hold.”

Two minutes later I landed on an empty deck, then hurried to the forecastle, where a chest for tools or spare weapons lay. I had hoped to find my sword inside, or any sword for that matter, but instead I found only carpenter’s tools. I grabbed those with hooks or holes and carried them back to a rope dangling from the crow’s nest overhead. I tied the tools to it, then used the rope’s pulley to raise the tools up high. I waited for the next angling of the ship upon the water for the tools to tilt directly over the crow’s nest, then I carefully lowered them into the basket. I finished the job by tying off the end of the rope and hoped everyone had good enough sense to leave that rope alone.

Or better sense than I’d had. During all my studying and experiments with the sails on the Red Serpent, I’d caused hours of work for the pirate crew, who’d had to rig their sails again, and once or twice I’d confused their systems entirely. While traveling to Bymar, I’d begun to understand the intricacies of the ship’s riggings. How every beam and post had to be tied with the proper knots and lengths of rope to allow the wind to catch the sails. A carelessly placed rope might bind the entire system.

In fact, that was how I’d spent my evening thus far in the crow’s nest — carelessly placing ropes, developing a system I very much hoped I wouldn’t have

to test, because I wasn’t certain of whether it would work.

The manacles that had been around my wrists were now dangling from my belt. Careful to make no more sound than was necessary, I placed them at the base of the capstan, tucking them beneath the wheel where they wouldn’t be seen and fastening one end around a large eye hook attached to the deck. The other end of the manacles was left open, ready for someone’s wrist.

Hopefully, the captain’s wrist, or maybe Lump’s, if his wrist would fit within the clasp. I might have to settle for a finger.

With that task finished, I wanted to search Captain Strick’s office, but to get her out of her room, I’d need a distraction. Fire would certainly accomplish that, but it had a terrible side effect of sinking ships, so I dismissed that idea. Stopping the ship would get her attention, but I couldn’t drop the anchor on my own. It took twelve men to rotate the capstan, or I figured, it’d take one Mott.

Mott. My heart clenched.

Instinctively, I looked out over the sea and hoped he was somewhere upon it, alive. I felt certain Imogen was on the lifeboat, and surely, she would have made Fink get in there with her. But I was increasingly worried about Mott.

Worried enough that when I allowed my mind to wander into the possibilities of his death, I understood how bleak my life would be without him.

I needed his strength, and even more, I needed his counsel. If he were asked to advise me right now, I already knew what he would say. Mott would suggest something cautious, something safe. I would listen to his advice, then do what I always did: the very opposite.

With that in mind, my plan became clear. Mott would tell me to go inside the wardroom next to the captain’s quarters. That was where she and those in her close circle would take their meals, but extra cloaks were always stored there in case of sudden rain. Mott would want me to bring one back up to the crow’s nest, hunker down, and stay safe until we reached our destination.

“A brilliant suggestion, Mott,” I whispered. I started toward the wardroom, then froze at the sound of someone climbing the stairs from belowdecks; they seemed to be avoiding making any noise. Still, out of a sense of caution, I backed into the shadows, cramming myself between the posts and bulkhead as tight as possible.


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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