She lied, telling him she’d overheard part of a conversation. It was clear Hye was skeptical of her story, but he increased his guard anyway. Hopefully, it would be enough. More risked his attention falling on the boy. Uduak couldn’t deny that part of her was curious. Had the incident with Baako been a fluke? The ship a lucky guess? If her lamb really did have prophetic dreams… The possibilities were staggering.
It was nearly midnight when Hye sent guards for her. She woke Efua to keep an eye on the boy, and went with them. Hye was waiting for her in his office. The bodies of four men lay on the floor. The assassin, two guards, and one of Hye’s own men. Hye looked up at her calmly. “It appears…” He spoke to her in the trade tongue. “That your information was correct.”
“I am pleased to have been able to aid you.” She inclined her head. “You have been gracious to us in the time we have spent as your guests.”
Hye laughed softly. “Uduak…” He took a deep breath. “How did you know about the assassin?”
“I overheard —”
“You speak my language no better than I speak yours, Uduak.” He folded his hands together and set his elbows on the desk. “The only member of your party that does was nowhere near the unfortunate Ujin.” He tilted his head. “How did you know about…” He frowned. “One of my guards said you spoke to that boy of yours before warning me.” He leaned forward. “Does he, by chance, speak my language?”
Uduak exhaled. “Baako taught him a few words. By chance he —”
“Yejun. Fetch the boy.” Hye gestured to one of the guards. Then he looked down at his notes. “According to what my agent stated, you offered to pay five times what was paid for this boy…” He looked back up at her. “Without knowing what price the Unitafels would charge.”
“He’s a child, Hye. I could not leave him to those…” Uduak took a deep breath. Her lamb was still a traumatized child, and he himself didn’t seem to understand the ramifications of what he could do. As near as she could tell, he wasn’t even aware multiple languages were being spoken around him. If Hye caught on…
“No, no, I quite understand. I was rather annoyed to hear my agent would have.” Hye set his hands on his desk. “Even selling him for farm labor would have been preferable.” He looked down at his hands before looking up at her. “Frankly, the fact that a child that looks like him is fluent in your language already makes him a prize. You realize what I could get for him in Thatela or Manisar?” He gave a small shake of his head.
“Our bargain was already struck, Hye.” She raised her head.
“That was —” He cut off as the guard led the boy in. Her lamb gave her a nervous look before coming to her side. Hye went silent for a moment. Then he nodded and asked the boy something in Tebota.
Her heart lurched when the boy replied in the same tongue. Hye immediately broke into a smile, and he asked something else. The boy frowned, but answered. There were a few more exchanges. Then Hye’s eyes widened, and he leaned back in his chair, taking his hands off his desk entirely. He stared at the boy for several long moments. “Hye?”
“You…” Hye exhaled before meeting her eyes. “You recently saved my life. Five hundred gold within a week of your own ransom, and he is yours.” She noted the boy’s eyes widen fearfully. “On the eight day, I will announce him as up for auction. The starting bid will be one thousand gold.”
“Thank you, Hye.” She spoke the words quietly as she put an arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“And I expect to be given first refusal whenever you trade in this port.”
“Agreed.” She nodded as she pulled the boy closer to her, but she didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until they were back in the barracks.
Five hundred gold. His mother had traded a dozen horses for Koert. Assuming the coinage was similar in weight, it meant Uduak was going to have to spend almost three times Koert’s price to buy him. Lammert tried not to panic. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Uduak blinked down at him.
“I’m sorry.” He swallowed.
“I…” Uduak shook her head, then sat next to him on the cot. “What did he ask you, my lamb?”
“You…” Lammert frowned. The question made no sense. She’d been standing right beside him. “You heard him.”
“I do not speak Tebota, my lamb.” Uduak patted his shoulder.
“Neither do —”
“Sweet lamb…” Uduak sighed. “You were speaking Tebota.”
“You are speaking Ilael right now.”
“But I don’t…” He started shaking his head.
“Listen to me.” Uduak smiled at him. “You are dear to me. His price is not too high. I will buy you.” Her words were accented. The Rs ran long, nearly trilling. “Do you understand, my lamb?”
“Yes.” He tilted his head up, giving her a confused look.
“Right now, I speak the trade language.”
Her accent changed a little, and he could hear a difference in the cadence of her words. “And now I speak my own language. Ilael, the language of the seafolk. Few that are not bred on the ships can speak our tongue. It is rare for us to teach it, and you speak as one born on the water.”
Lammert went silent. Then he looked up as Baako spoke. “I am speaking Tebota now, my friend. What do you hear?”
“I hear you…” Lammert frowned. He listened to the words again in his head. “You aren’t speaking my language.”
“No, my lamb.” Uduak brushed her fingers through his hair.
“I’m speaking yours.” He heard his own words then. “I’m…” He leaned back, his eyes wide.
Uduak nodded. After a few minutes, she smiled before kissing his forehead. “Sleep, little lamb. We will be here when you wake.”
Uduak couldn’t help but feel nervous about leaving the boy behind. Hye’s word was generally good, but it might take her a couple days to get the gold together. Leaving the boy on his own made her feel sick. Fortunately, she didn’t have to worry long. Baako offered to stay behind with him. “Are you certain?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I like him.” Baako smiled. “And I owe him.” The smile faded. “And if he wakes people at night and they start asking questions…” He looked back at where the boy was playing a string game with Efua and Enu. He sighed. “And after what he’s been through I don’t want him to think for even a moment that we left him behind.”
“Thank you, Baako.” Impulsively she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “We will see you again as soon as possible.”
He smiled. “Pick up some ginger for him at the port.”
She laughed. “I will.”
He pulled Diantha toward him, kissing her, and heard their clansmen start hollering cheers. And suggestions. Jurgen just smiled, and noted a few of them. “Wife.”
“Husband.” She leaned forward to whisper tenderly into his ear. “If you even think about following Jantine’s suggestion I will shove a wine bottle up your ass.”
Jurgen laughed, then kissed her again. “Full or empty?”
Her eyes narrowed, but whatever reply she was going to make was cut off by her father starting a speech. Then his mother gave a speech. Then someone else started a speech. He met Diantha’s eyes, and she gave a slight nod. Slowly, they backed away. As soon as they were behind the guards, they started running as fast as they could. Within moments they heard footsteps behind them, but no shouting. Apparently, the guards were wise enough not to try to draw attention to what had just happened.
Rather than outrun them, they cut through and emerged in the lower part of the city, then went back across several bridges before ending up near one of the inns. Jurgen shrugged, then went inside. “How much for a room for the night?”
“That will…” The innkeeper turned to him, and the woman’s eyes widened. “Prince —”
“I’m not him.” Jurgen started shaking his head.
The woman looked at Diantha, and her eyes widened still further. “But…”
“I’m not her.” Diantha grinned.
“We get that a lot.” Jurgen nodded. “Room?”
“That will…” The woman swallowed. “I can’t charge the prince for —”
“I’m not the prince.” Jurgen shrugged. “How much for the room —”
“And how much to replace the bed?” Diantha tilted her head. When Jurgen glanced at her, she just grinned. “It’s our wedding night.”
“Good point.” Jurgen nodded. “Will ten gold cover the room and the furnishings?” When the woman just nodded mutely, he tossed her a coinpurse. “And have someone send us up some wine.” He glanced at Diantha, then shrugged. “Not in a bottle.”
That night the nightmares were bad enough he wasn’t sleeping at all. He sat in the corner, his arms around his knees. Baako sat next to him, his arm around Lammert’s shoulders. “Most ships only carry goods. They may have had to sell things to get the coin. Don’t worry.”
“He only gave her seven days.” Lammert tried not to sniffle. “It’s been six.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Baako shook his head. “She’ll pay whatever it costs.”
“He said if…”
“He said he’d start at a thousand.” Baako smiled at him. “She’ll pay it.”
He shook his head. “No, she won’t. Who would?”
“That’s the starting bid, little lamb.” Baako patted him, then frowned. “Do they have auctions in the Wildlands?”
“What’s an auction?” Lammert frowned.
“I”ll take that as a no.” Baako smiled. “It means they get a bunch of people together and they all offer the amount they will pay. If someone offers an amount higher than you do, but you want what is for sale and are willing to pay more, you can offer more. Finally, when nobody is willing to raise the price higher, the item is sold. Lamb…” Baako gave a small frown. “What did Hye ask you?”
“He asked me who I was.” Lammert hunched a little more. He hadn’t intended to tell the man, afraid he’d be sent north again and of what would happen when his mother wouldn’t pay his ransom. The words had just come out.
“Who are you?”
“Lammert Draak of Darodelf.”
“Lammert…” Baako’s eyes suddenly widened. “Clan Draak?”
“Yes.” He shook his head miserably.
“Then your mother is…” Baako leaned his head against the wall. “Oh, little lamb. A prince’s ransom is…”
“She won’t pay it.” He stared at the ground in front of him.
“She won’t.” He shook his head. “Jurgen might, but only if she tells him. She won’t.”
“She’s your mother, little lamb.” Baako pulled him close.
“I hate her.” He whispered the words, then turned away from Baako, a little ashamed.
Baako exhaled. “A prince, and she let you…” His voice filled with fury. “Merciful waters, you’re just a boy and she sent you…” He hugged Lammert to him tightly. “I’m sorry, lamb.” He kissed the top of Lammert’s head. “Uduak will pay. She’ll be here tomorrow. You’ll see.”
“Absolutely not.” Anan folded her arms.
“I do not…” Uduak met her eyes. “Need your permission.”
“I’m not giving you the money.” Anan shook her head.
“Yes, you are.” Uduak squared her shoulders. “It’s mine.”
“It’s your shipbread, Uduak. You want your ship, you have to buy the sails.” Anan waved a hand. “You show up without —”
“Hang the ship.” Uduak all but growled the worlds, and saw Anan take a surprised step back. “Give me…” She narrowed her eyes. “My. Coin.”
“You’d…” Anan stared at her. “You’d sacrifice your ship. For some wild child. Some little nothing you found —”
“He is not…” Uduak glared. “Nothing.” She leaned on the desk, her eyes fixed on the woman sitting across it. “The coin, Anan. Now.”
“You are making a mistake.” Anan sighed, and began retrieving the chest. “You —”
“Leaving him behind would be the mistake.” Uduak snatched the chest, and began counting the coin inside. With so much at risk, she couldn’t afford to be short. The coins gleamed. All five hundred. She picked the chest back up. “Be ready to sail.”
Hye was waiting for them. Efua breathed a small sigh of relief, then caught herself. They were still a few hours from sunset, but Hye could have changed his mind. She said nothing as he took the chest from Uduak. “Five hundred.” He raised an eyebrow. “You’re not bartering?”
“Five hundred.” She nodded. “And first refusal. I’m not bartering.”
“It’s rare for me to come out so far ahead on a purchase…” Hye handed the chest to his subordinate. “And still feel like I’ve lost money.” He slowly nodded. “We had a bargain. The boy is yours.”
“Thank you.” She started toward the barracks.
“Uduak.” His voice called her back. “If you decide later to sell him, I want first refusal there as well.”
“He’s no longer for sale, Hye.” She smiled.
The bed had survived. He was actually a little impressed. Diantha lay curled in his arms, asleep. He might be stronger, but she was more cunning. She’d tripped him the moment they were in the room, then pounced. One of his wrists was bound before he quite knew what had happened. Jurgen smiled at his wife. Her own wrists were still secured behind her back. The ropes may have held, but the table hadn’t. He still had one of its legs tied to his own. Once free, he’d managed to get the upper hand.
He lay, staring up at the ceiling. Diantha stirred, and looked up at him. “You’re worrying about him, aren’t you?”
“I promised him he’d stand beside me when I got married.” Jurgen exhaled.
“Will he?” Jurgen looked down at her. “Or will he just accept it because he’s used to having promises broken?” He put his head back on the pillow. “We won’t have favorites.”
“Our children. I don’t care what…” He took a deep breath. “No favorites. They will all be loved, each one as much as the others.”
“Yes.” Diantha nodded. “They will.”
He couldn’t quite believe it when he saw her standing there. It was all he could do not to run up and throw his arms around her. Lammert turned to smile at Baako, then made an oof sound as someone threw their arms around him. He looked up to see Efua hugging him. “Come on.” She grinned widely. “I promised to show you an octopus.”
As he followed her to the door, Uduak hugged him before taking his hand in hers. She kept hold as they headed to the ship. He heard Baako speaking to her, telling her what Lammert had told him. Uduak’s hand tightened around his own. At the dock, she stopped. “My lamb…” She took a slightly ragged breath. “If you want us to take you back to the Wildlands, we can.”
“I…” Lammert hesitated. She’d bought him. Five hundred gold, and she’d bought him. He might be her slave now, but for the first time in his life, he was wanted. Being a slave wasn’t bad. Koert was happy. And Uduak held him. “If I don’t?”
“Then you may stay with me.” She smiled, then met his eyes. “Is that what you want?”
“Yes.” He heard himself say the word. Then he repeated it. “Yes.”
“Come then.” She pulled him toward a ship. There were others on board. Dark skinned, like her. They were staring at him, and for a moment he wondered if he’d made a mistake. He would be an outsider among these people. Uduak raised her voice. “Everyone…” She smiled at him. “This is my son, Liam.”