“Permission to board, captain?” Liam looked up at the deck.
“Get up here.” Adaeze laughed.
He caught hold of one of the ropes and swung aboard. Mbali let out a giggle from where she rode in a sling over his shoulder. Adaeze met him with a kiss as soon as his feet were both on the deck. The repairs were nearly complete. “Are you keeping the name?”
Adaeze’s smile widened. “You didn’t peek.” She kissed him again, then shook her head. “No. The Silver Trident died with her captain.” She touched the railing, running her hands over the repaired wood. “This ship is ours.” She shrugged. “Well, Uduak’s, but ours.”
Liam looked over at where The Phoenix was undergoing a few small repairs. Abeni was going over her new ship, and she’d already dragged him over four times to use his sight upon the vessel. The little bit of work he’d suggested was already underway. “Well, Mbali, what do you think?”
“Down.” She pointed.
“Not just yet, little blossom. They are still treating the deck.” Adaeze touched her daughter’s nose. Children among the Ilael often were left at the islands due to the dangers of ship life. Uduak had chosen to keep Ama with her in no small part due to Liam’s powers, and Adaeze had decided the same. “My deck.”
“A couple of the crew think you are too young to be captain.” He looked over at where some of the sailors were gathered, chatting among themselves. “They think you are only the captain because you married Uduak’s son.”
“I am.” Adaeze shrugged. “On both counts.” She exhaled.
“Uduak wouldn’t give a ship…” He touched his forehead to hers. “Or her son for that matter…” He lifted his head to kiss her forehead. “To anyone she didn’t think could manage them well.”
She caught his neck and pulled him down for a proper kiss. Then she smiled at him hesitantly. “I did decide on a name.”
A sad smile came to her face as she touched the railing again, then she nodded up at him. “I’m calling it The Bard.”
“I…” He blinked. “Adaeze…”
“He gave his life to ensure you came home to me.” Adaeze blinked back damp eyes, then touched the golden band around her upper arm. “How could I not honor that?”
“I love you.” He kissed her again.
“I love you too.”
“Remind me again…” She said the words through gritted teeth as she glared at the love of her life. The man she loved. The husband she adored. The person she was in no way contemplating throwing overboard right this very moment.
“It will be worthwhile.” Liam actually cringed a little.
His life was saved by their daughter’s high-pitched giggle. Mbali had an arm draped around the neck of one of the escaped goat kids and was… Adaeze put her hands over her mouth. “She’s walking. Liam, look, she’s walking.” She grabbed him by an ear, dragged his head down to hers, and kissed him. “She’s walking.”
Mbali giggled again, then patted the goat. “Red.”
“Yes, yes, she’s red.” Adaeze immediately sat down and held out her arms. Mbali and the goat both came over to her. When the goat kid butted her cheek and licked her, Mbali giggled before doing the same thing on the other side.
“Does this mean you’re not going to kill me?” Liam gave her a hopeful look.
“Maybe a light keel-hauling.” She shrugged.
“No keel Papa.” Mbali shook her head.
“Yes.” Liam nodded. “No keel Papa.” He blinked, then stuck his head out the door. “No, you missed two. The other one is about to get into the potatoes so move.”
“Red.” Mbali patted the goat again.
“She’s actually more brown, little blossom.” Adaeze petted the goat. It was kind of cute.
“Red.” Mbali put her arms around the goat’s neck. “Mine.”
Adaeze blinked. She looked at the goat, then slowly raised her head to look up at her husband. He winced. “Liam…”
Uduak glanced at Liam. He’d never let her down when he’d predicted a cargo, so she’d been certain the goats and medicines they’d brought would bring a fair price. What she hadn’t expected was tear-filled gratitude, a feast in their honor, and a village willing to hand over everything of value it possessed in exchange for the cargo. The sickness that had affected the area had caused nursing mothers to go dry. “Are you sure you are translating that correctly?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I…” Liam shrugged. “I’m really not sure.” He began speaking to the village elder again. A couple minutes passed, then Liam exhaled and nodded. “No.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “No, I apparently had it right the first time.”
“Tell him I’m not a god.” She shook her head.
“I’m trying.” Liam gave her an annoyed look. After a few more minutes, the village elder began nodding over and over and making strange gestures in her direction. Liam gave her an apologetic look. “I am not having a lot of success. Apparently, all I’ve managed to do is convince him you are the elder goddess and Abeni and Adaeze are goddesses in your service.”
The elder began making gestures again before raising his hands up to the sky and speaking in a more rhythmic tone. Liam immediately began shaking his head and making gestures of protest. “Liam…”
He winced. “And he’s renaming the village after you.”
“Storm’s mercy.” She ran a hand down her face.
Adaeze sat down next to her husband, and felt his arm wrap around her. The villagers were singing and dragging various members of the crew into their dancing. “Uduak is…” She gave him a suspicious look. “There is more to this vision of yours, isn’t there?”
“I traced the threads to find this.” Liam nodded. “It wasn’t the part that came to me in the dream.” He took a deep breath. “Uduak is putting into port for a week to load up. That should give me enough time to…” He exhaled. “Still trying to find the best way.”
“Define the best way.”
“The way that doesn’t get anyone killed.” Liam shook his head in frustration. “I need…” He sighed, and leaned back. “One life to save a hundred is easy. But nine to save ten?” He folded his arms. “A hundred for a chance at saving a thousand ten years from now?”
“Put it down.” She kept her voice soft.
“No. No, Liam. This was a victory. Put the rest down.” She shook her head. “Mbali is with Efua. So put it down. The rest of the decisions tonight are for me to make.” She took his hands as she stood, and pulled him to his feet. “Hush, my love. Tonight, you belong only to me.”
He let her bind his hands to the bed they’d been given in the small inn. Adaeze smiled as she moved his legs where she wanted them before also securing his ankles. The gag he’d expected, but he blinked when she produced the blindfold. Adaeze just kissed him. “Do you trust me, Liam?” When he nodded, she kissed him again. “Then trust me.” She placed the blindfold over his eyes and fastened it into place.
A gasp escaped him when he felt her teeth nibble gently against his inner thigh. Then she began caressing him, slowly and diabolically, locating with loving precision every sensitive portion of his body. With the blindfold on, it was difficult to tell where she was going to touch him next as she began to take him toward the edge. He felt her lips brush against his cock and started to arch toward her, only to feel her pull away again.
The gag muffled his protest as she went back to the lighter caresses, keeping him on the edge but refusing to take him over. Liam yanked at the restraints as she took him into her mouth again. He was vaguely aware he was begging, and knew it would do no good. It was strange how freeing the restraints felt, knowing he was no longer in control of anything happening tonight. He was helpless, entirely at her mercy and… He groaned as she released him again, denying him the last few heartbeats necessary to take him over the edge.
She kept him on the edge between pleasure and pain until even his muffled words had lost their coherence. Adaeze laughed softly before she impaled herself on him and rode him to mutual release. Then she collapsed beside him.
After they’d both caught their breath once more, she heard him make a small sound and felt him pull at the restraint. “No.” She shook her head, then began tracing a pattern on his chest. “I’ll free you when I’m ready, and not before.” A small nod answered her, and she smiled before kissing his cheek. “I love you too.”
The Uhses boy led them up over the rocky outcroppings. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” Efua glanced at Liam.
“If I had a better idea, we’d be doing that instead.” Liam rolled his eyes.
“He promised he won’t get killed.” Adaeze was glaring daggers at her husband. “And in theory, he can’t lie.”
“But he won’t tell us where we are going, or what’s going to be there.” Efua shook her head.
“And he spent an hour trying to talk me out of coming until I finally just forbid him from going unless I went along.” Adaeze kept glaring.
Chidike smirked at Adaeze before glancing at Efua. “She’s gotten bossy since she got her own ship.” He laid his spear over his shoulder. “Not that I mind the invitation, but when somebody like Liam says grab a spear and follow me…”
“You really wish there were a lot more people with spears around?” Dejen raised an eyebrow.
“Like maybe that big guy from before. The Draak.” Chidike nodded. “And about thirty more like him.”
“If everything goes according to plan, none of you will be needed.” Liam exhaled.
“Why are we along then?” Faraji frowned.
“Adaeze wouldn’t let him go somewhere carrying a spear unless he brought along backup.” Efua shrugged. She just hoped this wasn’t a mistake, or Adaeze was going to kill her. Slowly.
“Liam…” Adaeze slowly turned to face him. She sent a pointed look at the petrified figure of what had been a man, then locked her eyes onto his. “Is this what I think it is?”
“It was…” Liam took a deep breath. “Sort of your idea.”
“How…” Adaeze glared and waved a hand. Of all the ridiculous… “How is tangling with a basilisk my idea?”
“No, not that part…” Liam shook his head. “How to beat it. I…” He winced.
“We are all going to die.” Chidike was staring.
“Not if you do what I tell you.” Liam turned toward them. “Exactly what I tell you and nothing but what I tell you.”
“Alright, so…” Dejen nodded. “What do we do?”
“You uh…” He shrugged, then shifted his grip on his spear. “You keep my wife from following me in.”
“What?” Adaeze’s eyes narrowed.
“If we do that, she’ll kill us.” Faraji stared.
“And if you don’t…” Liam shrugged. “I will.” He nodded. “Good luck.” He gave her an apologetic look before he started walking. “Efua.”
“Liam, you get…” She started after him, only for Chidike and Dejen to each grab one of her arms.
“We should stop him…” Faraji shifted his weight from foot to foot.
“No.” Adaeze took a deep breath, and made herself stop struggling. “No.” She took a deep breath. “If he says he can do this…” She squared her shoulders and took another deep breath. “Then he can.”
“This was my family’s land.” The boy looked up at Liam, his eyes wide and fearful. “We were driven out of nine villages until that one took us in, then my grandfather came back here and that made the curse spread to them.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I shouldn’t have brought you.”
“It’s alright, Mikaere.” Liam gave him a reassuring smile.
“What if bringing you here angers the gods again?” Mikaere shook his head. “The goddess brought kindness for the village, but…” He shook his head. “They’re going to make us leave again for this.”
“Mikaere…” Liam crouched to look the boy in the eye. “Stay with Efua, alright?” The boy nodded fearfully.
“He’s still scared,” Efua said the words in Ilael, then looked at the cloth in her hands. “Isn’t he?”
“Keep him with you.” Liam nodded, responding to her in Ilael. “If he tries going in after me he’ll be killed.”
“Liam…” She held the cloth up. “Are you sure?”
“Just help me focus.” He nodded to her. “And I’ll be fine.”
“Breath.” She nodded. “Listen to my voice, and hear the wind upon it.” She wrapped the blindfold over his eyes and secured it in place as she began intoning the ritual prayer.
Efua grabbed the boy and pulled him to her, crossing her arms over his chest and holding him in place. She had no idea what the words he was shouting meant, but felt like shouting herself. Despite Liam assuring her that they would be out of range, she started backing up and pulling the boy with her. She was nearly back to Adaeze before she stopped, and saw her own expression mirrored on her friend’s face.
The basilisk was huge, nearly thirty feet in length and covered with wicked spikes. And Liam was facing it alone, blindfolded and unarmored. It leapt at him, and he moved aside as though he knew exactly where it was going to land. His spear twirled, cutting a gash into its side. Its tail swung a retaliatory strike, hitting where Liam had been a heartbeat before. Despite being able to see, he jumped, moving from rock to rock to land on its other side and open another gash. Then he rolled beneath as it pounced where he’d been, opening a gash beneath it.
Her mouth dropped open when it struck one of the petrified forms to send stone flying at him. Liam knocked them out of the air with the twirled staff. “Storm’s mercy…” Chidike’s eyes were wide.
Liam moved as though he knew every move the beast would make… because he did. She looked again, seeing what they were seeing. What Liam did was impossible, and yet there he was. The beast was slowing, bleeding from a dozen wounds. The next time it leapt, Liam set the spear, dropping to one knee. The beast, slowed from its wounds, attempted to dodge and failed. It impaled itself. Liam released the spear and rolled to the side a heartbeat before it landed. He drew his knife as he rolled.
The beast kicked, snarling at Liam as it tried to get up again despite the spear driven into its heart. Liam ducked beneath its bite and slashed upward with the long-bladed dagger, sending a spray of blood across the battleground.
It fell, thrashing about a few seconds more, and then it went still. Liam moved, circling. She frowned, wondering what… He stepped forward and the beast lashed out again. She heard Adaeze scream before they realized it had been a feint by Liam. He twisted to dodge the attack, and then closed to drive the long-knife into the beast’s brain.
“Aihuroa,” Mikaere said the word in a tone of awe. “Aihuroa.”
“I have no idea what that means…” Efua stared at the dead monster and the unharmed Liam. “But I think you’re probably right.”