Stone and Fire: Chapter 38

He jumped down the last of the stairs, landing with a loud thump.  Just to be sure, he reached up and set the lantern swinging, making it rattle.  He also kicked a barrel and counted to thirty in his head.  Then, and only then, did he open the door to Mikaere’s chamber.  The young man was sitting up in the bed, the blanket mostly to the side covering a lump that was moving slightly with each breath.  “I’m heading ashore to discuss the new sails.”  And Adaeze hadn’t permitted him to go ashore without Mikaere’s blades since Diantha had told her about the assassination attempts.

“Yes, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere slid out of the bed and reached for his leggings.  The lump beneath the blankets moved just a little.

“I’ll meet you on deck.”  He tried not to look at the blanket.  “I’m going to go look for my sister.”  Liam turned and headed back the way he’d come.  He stopped when he got to the deck, then began counting in his head.

A minute later, Ama came up the stairs behind him.  She was dressed, though her hair was still tousled as messy.  “We just going to keep pretending —” He shot her a glare, and she snickered.  “You know, it’s going to be hilarious when Mbali —”

“Stop talking.”  Liam folded his arms but couldn’t quite stop himself from wincing.

Ama just laughed.

(more…)

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Stone and Fire: Chapter 37

She stared a moment at the willowy, dark-skinned young woman.  The girl was taller than the Ilael, with long legs that had leaped the gap between the longboat and the dock with ease.  The girl grinned, and Diantha laughed softly.  “Mbali.”

“Chieftess Valyk.’  She turned to catch hold of the rope, so the boat could be tied to the dock.  Her eyes danced as she turned again.  “Mine aunt, we come bringing trade.

“You…”  Diantha gave a small shake of her head.  Mbali was taller than her own daughters.  Tears threatened.  “You grew up.”  She exhaled.  “You weren’t supposed to do that.”  She opened her arms.

Mbali stepped inside to return the hug.  Then she gave Diantha an apologetic look.  “I sail on The Wayward Dolphin.  Mama and Papa —”

“Sailed south for a moot.”  Diantha nodded.  “I got the letter.  We have barrels of ice peppers and a selection of carved rubies.”

“We have salt.”  Mbali jerked her head at the ship.

“Oh, I could kiss your father.”  Diantha laughed softly.  “We sent Clan Gorit running with their tails between their legs, but their little stampede did result in our stores getting swamped.”

“Papa made sure we have enough to resupply you.”  Mbali handed over the manifest.  “We also brought silk, glass from Sahit, and a cage of songbirds for the twins.”

“Is the Wayward Dolphin your ship then?”  Diantha took the manifest from her and handed over the parchment Torin had prepared.  A quick scan of the manifest showed there was once again no need to doubt Liam.  Everything was exactly as she would have requested.

“I’ll not be fifteen for a moon yet.”  Mbali shook her head.  “I sail with Captain Tendai, under the flag of Admiral Uduak.”  Mbali leaned forward.  “But the Captain is letting me handle a lot of the trading so…”  Her smile was eager.

“Soon.”  Diantha offered the manifest back.  “I want everything, but you knew that already.”

“Your offer is fair…”  Mbali handed the list back.  “But you knew that already.”  She tucked the list into her pouch, then took a deep breath and looked up at Diantha with a huge smile.

Diantha blinked, then put her hands over her mouth as her own face broke into a smile.  She’d been waiting for this news every time she heard from Liam or his family.  They knew a son was coming, but Liam had refused to peek ahead to tell them when the boy would arrive.  “When?”

“Papa said if we continue the run as requested, we’ll make it to the islands in time.”  Mbali spread her hands.  “They are going to name him Enu, after Mama’s brother.”

“Enu.”  Diantha had heard the story from Jurgen.  “It’s a good name.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 36

Adaeze stretched, then glanced at her daughter.  Mbali was giggling.  “What?”

Mbali put a hand to her own forehead, then moved her hand to touch Adaeze’s forehead, then moved it back.  “I’m taller than you.”

“You don’t have to keep reminding me of that.”  Adaeze shook her head as Mbali started dancing her way across the deck.  She sent a mock glare up at her husband, then pointed at Mbali.  “Your fault.”  He was staring off the side of the ship, his gaze distant.  “Liam?”  She walked over and put her hand on his arm, making him jump.  “Liam, what’s wrong?”

“I…”  He gave a small shake of his head as the far away look left his eyes.  “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”  She stared, feeling a chill go down her spin.  “Liam?”

“Your grandmother is dead.”  He met her eyes.  “My queen.”

“Oh.”  She stared at him, taking a few deep breaths.  Then she turned to the helm.  “Set course for the islands.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 35

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.

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 33

“Feel the air against your skin.”  Jurgen swung the quarterstaff near Rien.  “Trust your ears.”

Rien stuck his tongue partially out of his mouth as he screwed his face up in concentration behind the blindfold.  When Jurgen aimed the next blow, slowed, at him, Rien suddenly swung his own staff up.  It hit Jurgen’s staff, though the angle wasn’t quite sufficient to completely deflect the blow.  Still, it brought a smile to Jurgen’s face.  “I got it.”  Rien ripped the blindfold off.  “I hit it.”

“Good job.”

The sound of activity from the hall drew his attention, and a moment later Rutger came bursting through the door.  “Rien, Rien.”  Rutger grabbed his little brother’s hand.  “Come see what I got.”

Jurgen watched Rutger drag Rien out of the room, then gave a small shake of his head.  “Hello, little brother.  I missed you too.”  He tossed the quarterstaves into the corner, then followed the boys out.  A whoop of glee from Rien had him quicken his pace, and he emerged into daylight to see two stallions, both nearly golden in color save for their black socks.  “Well now…”  He glanced at where Liam was standing, then frowned at his brother’s expression.  “Liam?”  He put a hand on Liam’s shoulder.  “Everything alright?”

Liam opened his mouth, then closed it again.  “The horses are twins.  Such a birthing is considered sacred.”  He turned back to look at where Rutger was stroking the nose of one of the stallions, while the other butted up against him for a share of the attention.  “A gift for a prince.”  He exhaled.  “I hope he understands the magnitude of what he was given.”

“Things aren’t alright, are they?”  He folded his arms.  “You’re back sooner than I expected.”

“Diantha’s with child.”  Liam looked back at him.

“Yeah, she…”  The smile died on his face.  “Liam.”  He started shaking his head.  “No.”

“They’ll not survive the birthing, Jurgen.  Efua can…”  Liam sighed.  “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.”  Jurgen looked away.  “Me too.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

“It’s dangerous.”  Liam shook his head.

“You said I would serve you, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere looked up at him.  “I cannot serve you if you leave me here.”

“You are serving me.  You are watching out for my family.”  Liam folded his arms.

“I can understand the trade language now, and I’ve beaten Chidike three times now in duels.”  Mikaere lifted his chin stubbornly.  “I can help.”

“Mikaere, if you…”  Liam leaned on the ship’s railing.  “If you come with me to the Wildlands, you’d have to pretend to be my slave.”

“I am your —”

“No.”  He raised his voice, then almost regretted it as he saw the wounded look in Mikaere’s eyes.  Liam exhaled.  “Mikaere, you are not my slave.”

“Aihuroa, my life is —”

“Mikaere, I…”  He looked up, and saw Uduak giving him a sympathetic smile.  He’d once been convinced he was her slave.  Except Uduak had…  “You’re not my slave, Mikaere.  You are part of my family.”  The younger man’s eyes went wide, then started to shine with unshed tears.  “And you’re right.  You came to the Ilael because of me.”  He squared his shoulders.  “Next time I go ashore…”  He smiled.  “You may come with me.”

Mikaere’s face broke into a wide smile.  “Don’t worry, Aihuroa.  I’m sure Captain Adaeze will let you go ashore again.”  He scampered off, pausing to help one of the crew tie down a line.

Liam looked up as Uduak approached. “I have a feeling I just became a grandmother again.”

“He’s too old to be my son.”  Liam laughed, then let it die away.  “I admit, when I go to the Wildlands and see Jurgen with Rutger and Rien, I…”  He shook his head.  “Have absolutely no idea how Jurgen manages to put up with little brothers.”

“Little sisters are better.”  Ama’s voice came from behind him, and a moment later she was climbing onto his back.  He shifted so she could settle herself more comfortably.  He felt the slight spark of her power as it brushed up against his, and saw the hint of a smile that revealed she felt it too.  “The storm is going to be big.”

“If we alter our heading a few degrees we can ride it out along the edge.”  Liam nodded.

“Be more fun to go through.”  She smiled at the clouds.  “They are singing.”  She snuggled into him as he shifted so she was sitting on his hip.  “Listen.”

He closed his eyes, tracing his mind along the edge of her fledgling gift.  Her head rested on his shoulder, and he knew her eyes were closed as well as she leaned into his focus.  “They are.”  He nodded.  He started to open his mouth, then closed it before tracing the edge again.

In his arms, Ama tensed slightly.  With their powers linked, he knew she’d seen the same thing he had.  “I could try.”  She lifted her head.  “I could try.”

“I know.”  He drew her further down the line, and heard her let out a small whimper.  Then he let the vision fall away.  “We can come around the other side.  It won’t save the ship, but it will save the crew.”

“I’ll get stronger.”  He opened his eyes to meet her darker ones, and saw the determination inside.  “I will.”

“I know.”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “And I will help you.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 31

“Adaeze and I really need to —”

“No.”  Jurgen shook his head at Diantha.  “No, I think it is very much in my best interest that you and Adaeze have a dozen mountains between you at all times.”

Diantha just rolled her eyes before turning to smile at Efua.  “Welcome.  I hope being away from the sea doesn’t cause you too much hardship.”

“It is…”  Efua shrugged.  “Strange not smelling salt on the air.”

“The collar was a wise idea.”  Diantha touched it.  “I know it may be uncomfortable, but it will mean that as long as you don’t actually attack, anyone with a grievance against you has to bring it to Liam, and he can bring it to me or Jurgen.”

Efua turned to give Liam a smug look.  He sighed.  “Yes, yes, you told me so.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 30

“That was…”  Liam winced.  “Something I was hoping to avoid.”

Adaeze was pacing the cabin.  “As much as I hate it, I admire it.  You’re mine.  I claimed you.  How better to ensure your complete loyalty to the Ilael and ensure you never act against the best interests of the throne?”

“I think the fact that you saw that and he didn’t…”  Uduak’s voice was soft.  “Proves that the decision was a good one for multiple reasons.”

“Uduak…”  Adaeze blinked.

“I made you a captain for a reason, Adaeze.  And it wasn’t because you claimed my son.”  Uduak smiled at her.

“I still don’t like this.”  Adaeze sighed before sitting down.

Liam wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close to them.  “Those who want to rule are rarely those best suited to the task.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire : Chapter 29

Jurgen swallowed as he watched a tear roll down Thirza’s cheek.  The worst part was he couldn’t tell her the truth.  He couldn’t tell anyone the truth without risking destabilizing King Wendel and thus rendering Pauwel’s sacrifice meaningless.  “First my songbird, and now my bear.”  Thirza wiped at her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mother.”  He sighed.

“I didn’t…”  She exhaled.  “He…”  She gave a small shake of her head.  “I thought of him as a pet.  A harmless little puppy I could take in and use as a guard dog and…”  She closed her eyes.  “Blood and ashes, I never expected to care about him, let alone love him.”  She sighed.  “How is Marinus?”

“I’m not sure he quite understands yet.”  Jurgen glanced out at the balcony.  Marinus was juggling three painted leather balls under the watchful eye of Rutger.  “He’s still…”

“So young.  All of you lost your fathers so young.  Do you even remember Gerlach?”

“I…”  He blinked.  He’d been the same age as Marinus now when his father had been killed.  “No.  I don’t.”  It was a punch in the gut to realize that by the time Marinus was a man, he likely wouldn’t remember Pauwel.  Or Koert.

“Gerlach.  Koert.  Pauwel.”  Thirza took a ragged breath.  “Blood and ashes, even Levi.  I can’t…”  She closed her eyes.  “I should find another so Marinus doesn’t…”  She shook her head.  “I can’t…”

“I’ll train Marinus.”  Jurgen crouched in front of her, putting a hand on her knee.  “He can come to Valyk with me and train with Petrus and…”  He swallowed again.  “I’ll make sure he knows what kind of man his father was.”

“A good one.”  Thirza nodded.  “A good…”  Her shoulders began shaking as she started crying again.  “Oh, Pauwel.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire : Chapter 27

Jurgen nodded to Pauwel.  “Things seem…”  He gave a cautious shrug.  “Better.”

“They…”  Pauwel smiled.  “They are.  Not fast or…”  He glanced up at the balcony above.  “Koert was teachin Rutger how to read a couple of the other languages.  I pointed out just how smart he was, and that maybe he could help her like Koert used to.  Taking notes during meetings and all.”

“Sounds like…”  Jurgen nodded.  “That might be good for both of them.”

“As long as she don’t want to actually read the notes.  He’s smart, but he can’t write fast and good at the same time yet.”  Pauwel grinned proudly.  “He’d getting there.  How’s Marinus?”

“Rien.”

“What?”

He laughed.  “Petrus started calling him Rien.  He likes the name.”

“I named him Marinus.”  Pauwel folded his arms.

“It’s a big name for a little boy.”  Jurgen shrugged.

“It was my grandfather’s name.”

“Give him time, Pauwel.  He’ll grow into it.”  Jurgen put a hand on Pauwel’s shoulder.

“He will.”  Pauwel lifted his head and gave another proud smile.  “He’s the River Dragon, and there ain’t nothing out there can fight a river and win.”

“I’m giving him Winterstar.  She’s a mare out of Lavender by Sugar…”  His eyes narrowed.  “Are you snickering at my horse?”

“Yes.”  Pauwel nodded.  “Sugarplum.  Lammert’s funny.”

“Speaking of Lammert…”  He held up a piece of parchment.  “Diantha and I are going to inspect Valyk’s holdings on the coast.  He’s going to meet us there.”  He tucked the parchment away again.  “Why don’t you come with us?”

“I…”  Pauwel hesitated a moment, the nodded.  “Yeah.  She’s got stuff to occupy her right now and uh…”

“And you could use some time for you.”  Jurgen squeezed his shoulder.  “You can bring Marinus as well.  Rozenn’s coming along to watch my kids.  One more…”  He frowned.  “I’ll get her a bodyguard.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 26

Mbali and Ama were both wearing crowns of shimmering gemstones, and had silken capes draped around their shoulders.  Villagers were offering each plate of food to the two children, letting them choose the first morsels before allowing anyone else to eat.  Uduak blinked.  “Baako…”

Baako laughed.  “See it from their perspective, my heart.  Things are dark, their children are starving, a monster preys upon them, and then out of the sea come strangers, bearing the things they need most.  Answering their prayers.”  He smiled.  “And then, from where they sit, taking only a pittance as payment.”

“A pittance?”  Uduak stared.  “Do they have —”

“No, Uduak, they don’t.”  He laughed again.  “To them, colored pearls are common enough they give them to the children to use as marbles, and beyond that you are just asking for beans.”  He leaned back against one of the trees.  “Without Liam to guide us through the reefs, we’d have had only a small chance of making it here safely.  What we see is something we’ve accepted as normal.  They have clear eyes and so…”  He shrugged.  “They see the miracle.”

“Storm’s mercy, the charts to get here alone would buy us another ship.”  She exhaled, then took a slow, deep breath.  Her eyes went toward where a third of the crew were listening to Chidike tell the tale.  Liam had killed a basilisk in single combat.  Unarmored, and blindfolded.  “Return the gem to the fire, and you’ll be given a gift beyond what you dreamed.”

“Speaking of gifts…”  Baako glanced at the village.  “The governor or whoever he is keeps trying to give me a very large rock and…”  He shrugged.  “I’m going to need Liam to figure out what is going on with that.”

“I’ll uh…”  She sighed.  “Order Adaeze to let him out.”

“Just for a little while, and…”  Baako slowly nodded.  “Maybe on a short leash?”  He shook his head.  “Storm’s mercy, I’m going to set that boy to cleaning the bilge.  What the hell was he thinking with…”  He clenched his fists, then took a deep breath of his own.  “Should put him on bread rations and tie him to the mast and hang upside down from the rigging and…”

She shook her head and walked away as Baako was still muttering disciplinary actions.

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 21

Liam ducked to avoid hitting his head on the entrance to their quarters.  Even inside, standing upright his hair just brushed the ceiling.  He started to turn toward Adaeze only for her to shove him forward lightly.  He smiled, but obeyed the direction.  Her hand on his shoulder guided him to his knees, and he bowed his head, awaiting her next command.  “Put your hands behind your back.”

As soon as he obeyed, she secured his wrists with a simple leather strap, buckling it into place.  She fixed a second strap just below his elbows, then a third just above.  Adaeze had been nervous about binding him while they were at sea, but he’d reminded her that he’d know if there was any danger.  Her hand traced up his back, then she wrapped it around his throat and pulled him back against her.  “Whatever am I to do with you?”  She smiled down at him.

“Anything you’d like.”  He returned her smile.  “I am yours.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire : Chapter 20

Much to his irritation, it didn’t take long before he found himself actually liking the Wilder prince.  Barbarian he might have been, he was surprisingly knowledgeable.  Then again, this young man had been raised with the intention of ruling his country, rather than simply supporting his brother’s reign.  “But what if there is no loot to divide among the men?”

“There’s always loot.”  Jurgen shook his head.  “Just sometimes its intangible.  Take your own history.  Those bandits your people yanked out of the woods to help.  Was it pay that was offered?”

“No, it…”  Wendel slowly nodded.  “It was restoring their status as citizens of a country.”

“Pride.”  Jurgen shrugged.  “You’d be surprised how far that’ll take a man.  Paying your men is all well and good, but doesn’t you little if your opponent has more gold.”  He waved a hand.  “Learn their names, listen when they speak, tell them when they’ve done well, even if it’s just a quick nod of approval.”  Jurgen looked over at him.  “Man will fight dragons for a leader who treats him with respect.”

“Is that how Wilders do it?”  Wendel raised an eyebrow.  “I thought you just followed whoever promised a good fight at the end of the trip.”

Jurgen laughed.  “But that’s part of it, yes?”  He shook his head.  “You respect your men, but you don’t coddle the bastards.  That’s why we decided ruling your people wasn’t worth the effort.  Need your swaddling clothes changed too often.”

“And here I thought it was just because your people were too lazy to bother with the work of governing.”  Wendel rolled his eyes.

“You have confidence in your men.  You tell them that.  You tell them they are the most vicious fucks that were ever born and that their enemies are mere dogs before them.  You tell them that, and you believe it…”  Jurgen shifted a little in the saddle.  “And they’ll believe it too, and they’ll charge when you tell them.”

“Or stand…”  Wendel slowly nodded.  Then he took another look at Jurgen.  “Soldiers I have.  It’s rangers I need.  Where do I get them?”

“Well, you could pay a bunch of my people…”

“That would turn the nobility against me.”  Wendel shook his head.  “Or I rather think I would.”

“Then you get them the same place you got them the first time.  You need a man who can sneak into a camp and come back with something you can use…”  Jurgen gave him a serious look.  “Then it sounds like what you need is a thief.”

He laughed a little.  “Prince Jurgen…”  He smiled.  “If your people weren’t a bunch of undisciplined lunatics, I rather think you’d be dangerous.”

“Prince Wendel…”  Jurgen smirked.  “We’re dangerous because we’re a bunch of undisciplined lunatics.”

“That helps me with my army, but there are still the nobles to consider.  Many will back my brother because of what he promises.”

“Then you make it clear that first off, he can’t keep those promises.  Then you make it clear that following him might give them some small benefit, but not following you will cost them everything.”  Jurgen gave him a level look.  “Who is the most powerful of the nobles arrayed against you?”

“Duke Baasch.”

“You answered that quickly.”  Jurgen blinked.

“It’s not really a matter for debate.”  Wendel sighed.  “Frankly, I think he’s hoping my brother and I will kill each other and he’ll be able to come in and set himself up on the throne himself.”

“Well, that makes the solution even easier then.”  Jurgen grinned again.

“And this solution?”

“Kill the jackass.”

“It’s not that easy.”  Wendel started shaking his head.

“Yes, it is.”

“It’s really not.”

“Yeah, it is.”  Jurgen laughed.  “You call him out.  Challenge him.  Make him come to you, make sure people will laugh if he doesn’t.  Kick him right in the pride.”  Jurgen shrugged.  “Then, kick his ass.”

“I…”  Wendel opened his mouth.  Then he closed it again.  He tilted his head and frowned.  Then he nodded to himself.  “Actually, that’s rather good advice.”

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 12

Wendel immediately started shaking his head in denial.  “I’m not to be king.  I’m the third son.”  He then paled more when Uduak just lifted her eyebrow.

“But you are Prince Wendel Jaeger.”  She took a deep breath.  Under other circumstances, she’d be ecstatic about all the ways she could turn this to her advantage.  “One of ours was lost in the process of saving your life, and you decline us the basic courtesy of truth?”

“Forgive me, my lady.”  He gave a small bow.  “After our experiences of the past few months trust is in short supply.  The last group we paid for passage sold us to Manisar upon learning we were noblemen.”

She gave him a sharp nod, then turned to Liam and switched languages.  “What else can you tell me?”

“There are false messages being delivered.  He knows the truth, having witnessed certain events firsthand, and he’s someone from whom the king will hear the truth.  King Sigmund trusts him most of his sons.  Calls him the Rock of Ardual.”

“I see.”  She gave the young man a considering look, and saw him shift his weight nervously.  Then she looked back at Liam.

“And…”  Liam met her eyes.  “Events are far enough and I can’t…”  He took a deep breath.  “I can’t focus right now.  We need him alive and on the throne, Mother.  We need him as an ally.”

“Adaeze, tell the pilot to change course.  We’ll take him where he needs to go.”  Uduak switched back to the trade tongue.  “Prince Wendel, we’ll get you to your destination.  I assume you want us to do so…”  She gave a small shrug.  “In a subtle fashion?”

“It would…”  He nodded, though he gave Liam a confused look.  “Be appreciated, my lady.

“Captain.”  She narrowed her eyes.  “My title is captain, and on my ship, Prince Wendel, I am the sovereign.”

“Understood, Captain.”  He bowed.

(more…)

Stone and Fire: Chapter 11

He took Adaeze’s hands, and let her lead him through the steps of the dance.  Fortunately, she was aware enough of his movements that she wasn’t thrown by his single misstep.  Baako and Tau played drums, the rhythms playfully competing for the attention of Nkruma’s pipes.  The first time he’d tried dancing Ilael style, he’d nearly broken his own leg and his partner’s.

Nearly a dozen ships were gathered at the atoll, trading goods and information with each other.  Any shipsmeet was cause for celebration, and the fact that it had been a good year for trade just made spirits higher.  The Phoenix was one of the wealthiest of the ships, wealthy enough that Uduak was considering taking on a sister-ship.  Apparently, word had spread, because many prospective young captains had found excuses to spend time on board.

Though few actually wed that young, Ilael were considered of marriageable age at fifteen.  Though he lacked some months yet, Liam found himself gaining no small amount of attention.  Ships were often inherited, and it was not uncommon for a wealthy mother to give captaincy of a sister-ship to a daughter or the spouse of a son.  And rumors about him and his gifts had spread throughout the Ilael.  The exotic and mystic son of Uduak was apparently considered quite a prize.

Adaeze had come to his rescue, and hadn’t left his side after finding him being cornered by a rather persistent woman a few years older.  They finished the dance, then joined the onlookers.  Less than a dozen heartbeats after they sat, Enu joined them.  “Liam, the young pilot from The Ranger just asked me the strangest question.”  He leaned forward and smirked at Liam.  “She wanted to know if you’re proportional.”

“She wanted to…” Adaeze started to ask, then her eyes widened.

“Another one?”  Liam ran a hand down his face.

“Wait…”  Adaeze stared at him.  “What do you mean another one?”

“I’ve been asked that four times now.”  Liam sighed.  Then he gave Enu a suspicious look.  “What did you tell her?”  When Enu just grinned, Liam glared.  “Enu, what did you tell her?”

“That you’re still growing…”  Enu’s smile was evil.  “And if you end up proportional you’re going to be about eight feet tall.”  When Liam gave him a look, Enu just laughed.  “I think she’s actually scared off now, so you’re welcome.”

“You’re terrible.”  Adaeze shook her head fondly, then glanced over her shoulder.  “Though that would explain some of the strange looks I’ve been getting.”

“He’s a full foot taller than you already, little sister.  They’re probably wondering how you can kiss him without carting a ladder around.”  Enu reached out to rub Liam’s hair affectionately before standing.  “Pardon, but Lesedi is giving me looks that suggest she’s offering to be far better company than you two.”  He left.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.  Adaeze leaned into him, and he put an arm around her shoulders.  “It’s okay.”  She said softly.

Liam blinked.  “What’s okay?”

“That we aren’t kissing.”  She caught his hand, and twined her fingers around his.  He squeezed her hand gently.  “This is nice too.”

“I…”  He shifted just a little so she could lean on him more comfortably.  “Thank you, Adaeze.”

(more…)