Petrus gave a gleeful shout before forming himself into a ball and splashing into the water with the other children. Ama began splashing him as soon as he surfaced, and Petrus laughed as he retaliated. Jurgen laughed, then glanced at where Adaeze was sitting. “You know, I thought Liam’s ability to hold his breath was impressive.” He glanced at the water. “Aren’t you…”
“Wait.” Adaeze shook her head.
He was squirming by the time Mbali finally surfaced, shooting out of the water almost the full length of her body and catching hold of one of the ropes to start pulling herself back onto the ship. He couldn’t quite stop himself from giving a relieved chuckle. “Aren’t you worried about those shark things?”
Adaeze rolled her eyes at him before giving a pointed look to where Liam was over on one of the small rocky outcroppings with Zuri and Mikaere, collecting something. “No.” She smiled at where Petrus and the other kids were moving onto the sandbar, whooping and hollering. “Most Ilael vessels do not have so many children. The risk is too great, so they grow up on the islands.” She smiled. “But there is no place in the world safer than the vessel upon which my husband sails.”
“I wish…” He stopped himself before wishing aloud that he could have brought his other two brothers. He sighed. “I wish.”
“I know.” Adaeze watched Mbali dive back into the water. “I would like to send Mbali back with you. To learn horses and mountains. To learn that even though it is the sea to which we will return, we too take life from the land.” She exhaled. “And perhaps to learn from Diantha how to fight.”
Jurgen laughed, then looked out at the sandbar again. Ama was showing Petrus how to spear fish. “One day.”
“One day.” Adaeze nodded.
He smiled as he watched Petrus sitting at the table, eyes locked on the game board. Prince Jonas sat on the other side, and was moving a piece into a new position. “He caught on fast.” Liam glanced over his shoulder.
“There is a reason Solsthriem loses every time it tries to fight us.” Jurgen grinned.
“That’s not…” Wendel tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at him. “Quite how the history books recall it.”
“Only because you guys write them.” Jurgen shook his head.
“And you’re sure…” Wendel glanced at Liam again.
“They will be in Clan Valyk’s territory the entire time. As formidable as my brother is…” Liam inclined his head toward Jurgen.
“My Diantha is a goddess of war.” Jurgen squared his shoulders. “Jonas will be safe. I swear it on my life, Wendel.” He shrugged. “Plan is to tell everybody he’s mine by some Solsthriem wench.” He drew himself to his full height. “Nobody is stupid enough to mess with my kids.”
“You, I trust.” Wendel nodded. “Have you given any more thought to the idea of an arrangement?”
Liam started to open his mouth, and Jurgen reached over, caught his chin, and shut it. “Yes.” Jurgen nodded. “Liam thinks its a bad idea and pointed out the Dragon Queen will oppose it.”
“Then…” Wendel sighed, and started to shake his head.
“I say if it ends up being what the kids want…” He took a deep breath. “Clan Valyk has an army.”
“You’d defy your queen?” Wendel blinked.
“Comes to my family?” Jurgen nodded. “I’ll defy the fucking gods.”
“Every now and then, Jurgen…” Wendel chuckled. “You remind me why we are friends.”
“This was a good idea.” Diantha rested her elbow on Jurgen’s shoulder as she watched Petrus patiently showing the smaller boy how to take someone’s legs out with an axe. Jonas had taken to following Petrus around like an eager puppy in the short time he’d been with them.
“To be fair…” Jurgen shrugged. “It wasn’t mine. Six months here, then six months with the Ilael. Wendel wants his son to be a peacemaker.” He bent slightly to kiss her. “And Jonas knows that it was a Wilder warchief that gave his life to rescue him.” He turned back to the scene. “Some day.”
“Some day.” Diantha smiled. She chuckled. “And someday, you are going to introduce me to Wendel.”
“But Lammert…” Rutger followed him out of the room.
“I’ll be gone more than a year, Rutger.” Liam sighed. “Mother —”
“Mother doesn’t get a say anymore, remember?” Rutger glared. The past couple years had seen him grow several inches, though it was clear he wasn’t going to have the height of his brothers. He was starting to be the spitting image of his father.
“She is still your queen.” Liam shook his head. He’d traced the thread back a hundred times, trying to find a place he could snip it, but everything seemed to lead to the same point. Rutger on an Ilael ship would mean Rutger’s death.
“You take Jurgen.” Rutger shook his head.
“Jurgen is older.” Liam knew the moment the words passed his lips it was the wrong thing to say.
“Jurgen’s a man.” Rutger flinched.
“That’s not…” Liam sighed. “Rutger that’s not what I—”
“It’s the truth though, isn’t it?” Rutger glared at him. “You won’t take me because —”
“No.” He shook his head. “That’s not —”
He cut off as Rutger shoved him, forcing him back a few inches. “It is. I’m not good enough.” The bitterness in the young man’s voice made his stomach twist.
“Rutger…” Liam shook his head. “Please, I —”
“Just go.” Rutger spat the words at him. “Just…” He turned and stormed away. “Just go.”
Liam stood, watching as Rutger headed back toward the main hall, slamming the door behind him. He hung his head, then exhaled. “I’m sorry, Rutger.” He wanted to run after his brother, to tell him the truth and… He glanced up at the balcony and saw Thirza there, looking down at him with a disapproving expression. Rutger would let the truth slip, and that would spell disaster for them all. Liam turned, and walked away, the weight of the dragon queen’s gaze on his shoulders.
Adaeze gently drew the blanket over the two sleeping children. Zuri and Jonas had fallen asleep on a coil of rope, the little fishing poles still in their hands. She’d set them both aside. The night sky was clear, and the winds calm. She looked up at the bow of the ship, and saw Ama and Liam sitting across from each other, their hands locked around each other’s wrists. And it seemed the night was going to stay that way.
Liam’s gift had always been able to help them avoid the words of the storms. If he joined his power to Ama’s though, they could map out a month of weather patterns, letting ships make speed and avoid squalls. And if she joined her powers to his, she could push the wind just right to push a squall out of their path.
Which meant Ama was now officially part of her crew. As much as Uduak had wanted her daughter to be shaman of The Phoenix, it seemed Ama was instead destined to be shaman to the Phoenix. Baako had suggested that Liam take command of his own ship, sailing in conjunction with The Bard, but Liam had refused. He couldn’t be what he was and command a ship at the same time. The other half of the argument didn’t have to be said aloud for her to take his side. He belonged to her.
She caught Efua’s eye, and nodded. Efua returned the nod, then headed for where Liam and Ama were working their magic. As useful as it was, the exercise often resulted in both of them being so exhausted they could hardly walk under their own power. Sure enough, Ama started to fall to the side as soon as Liam let go of her hands. Efua caught her just as Mikaera came forward to help Liam. “Report?”
“Send word for ships to avoid the copper atolls.” Liam’s voice slurred just a little as Mikaere helped him to his feet. “If they want to go to Sahit, they’ll have to take the long way through the reefs.”
“Noted.” She caught his chin and peered into his eyes. “Come. Let’s get you to bed.”
“Rien…” Jurgen strode forward. “Rien what happened?” Rien’s eye was turning purple.
“Rutger punched me for touching his stupid elephant.” Rien sent a glare over his shoulder, then smirked. “He had to go crying to the healer.”
“Rien…” Jurgen narrowed his eyes.
“He started it.” Rien lifted his chin defiantly. Then his gaze went past Jurgen and his head started to turn.
Jurgen blinked, then glanced over his shoulder at where Drika was walking down to the baths. He gave a small shake of his head before reaching out to lightly smack Rien upside the head. “Hey.”
“What?” Rien blinked and looked back at him, then winced. “I’ll go apologize.”
“No, you…” He sighed. “You go let Diantha look at your eye. I’ll go have a word with Rutger.” He started walking, then chuckled. “Rien?” He didn’t bother to turn around as he extended a hand and pointed. “That way.”
“Ugh.” Rien’s footsteps became stomps as he headed in the indicated direction.
Rutger was in the library, holding a book. If he’d needed a healer, he’d either drunk a potion or already seen one, as he looked unharmed. “You want to tell me what happened?”
“My brother…” Rutger turned a page, then tossed the book onto a table. “Is an idiot.”
“As your brother…” Jurgen folded his arms. “I’d appreciate it if you could be more specific.”
The remark failed to get a smile out of Rutger. “I told him to leave Daffodil alone.”
“And that was reason for you to hit him?” Jurgen raised an eyebrow.
“You always take his side.” Rutger got to his feet, glaring.
“He’s a boy.” Jurgen stared down at his brother. “You’re a man.”
“Yeah.” Rutger shook his head. “Right.” He exhaled. “He keeps trying to feed Daffodil stuff from the kitchen heap. It’s making her sick, but he won’t listen, cause he’s an idiot.”
“Then bring it to me.” Jurgen shook his head. “And I’ll —”
“I shouldn’t have to bring it to you.” Rutger growled before clasping his hands behind his neck. “He should listen, and he should leave my stuff alone.”
“You’re right. He should.” Jurgen started nodding.
“But he thinks just cause he’s bigger than me he doesn’t have to.” Rutger kicked the side of the chair. “He’s just a stupid oaf like his father.”
“Hey.” Jurgen raised his voice, and saw Rutger flinch. “Rutger what has —”
“I don’t have to listen to you, you’re—” Rutger stuck his chin out.
Jurgen caught him by the vest and pulled him a step forward. “I am the warchief of both Clan Draak and Clan Valyk, so yes, Rutger…” He narrowed his eyes. “You do.” He released his brother. “I’ll tell Rien to leave your elephant alone. Next time, you bring it to me.”
“Yes…” Rutger shook his head before going to pick his book back up. “My lord.”
“I…” Jurgen took a deep breath. “Really should be kind of angry about that.”
“It’s your fault.” Liam shook his head. “Adaeze is furious at me for peeking.”
“Did she ask or did you tell her?” Jurgen raised an eyebrow.
Liam just glared at him. “I don’t keep secrets from my wife.” He exhaled, then shook his head and shrugged. “If I tried she’d never let me leave the cabin again.”
Jurgen snorted. “That’s because you don’t know how to handle women.” When Liam smiled, Jurgen sighed. “She’s behind me, isn’t she?”
His smile just widened as he nodded. “Diantha.”
“Liam.” She laughed as she put a hand on Jurgen’s shoulder. “How did it go?”
“Jonas is going to marry a woman from Gaebli.” Jurgen gave her a regretful look. “But in ascertaining that Liam accidentally learned he and Adaeze are going to have a son and said son is going to marry a Solsthriem duchess.”
“Isn’t that good news?” Diantha gave him a disbelieving look.
“Adaeze asked me not to look ahead in such matters.” Liam shook his head.
“Then how did you end up —”
“Petrus’s daughter is going to marry Jonas’s son, provided the world doesn’t end between now and then.”
“How likely is that to happen?” Diantha raised an eyebrow.
“I’m doing my best to stop it.” Liam sighed.
Diantha stared at him for a moment, then her eyes widened. “Oh gods, you’re serious.”
“You…” Jurgen blinked, then glanced at Diantha. “He is?” He turned back to Liam. “You are?”
“Yes.” Liam spread his hands before nodding to Jurgen. “I am.”
“Oh.” Jurgen stared at him. “Oh.” He took a deep breath, closed his eyes for a moment, and then all trace of humor vanished from his face as he opened his eyes again. “Tell me what to do.”