A SHORT TIME LATER, a very tired Tress hiked the last few feet up out of the tunnel, holding three cloth-wrapped packages—one larger, two smaller.
She was greeted by the sight of Laggart, standing watch at the ship’s rail. The two stood, facing one another while his brain caught up to his eyes, then his common sense came huffing up behind with an ache in its side. He lowered his gun and backed away.
This allowed a crowd of more friendly faces to appear. They cheered as Tress sluggishly settled into the ship’s launch. The tunnel collapsed in on itself as soon as the Dougs began hoisting her up to the deck. At the top, she was greeted by an ecstatic Ann.
“How?” she demanded. “How?”
“The captain probably should have gagged me,” Tress said. “Take note, Ann. If you ever go to make an important deal, make certain your payment can’t speak for itself.”
You’d be surprised how often that advice has been relevant during my travels.
“Here,” Tress said, handing one of the small packages to Ann. “The dragon couldn’t help me with my problem, so I got this for you.”
The woman took it, frowning. But Tress was too tired to explain at the moment. The crew, realizing this, gave her a little space as she picked her way over to where Dr. Ulaam was tending Fort and Salay. Their wounds
were already being treated by one of his fantastic salves—they didn’t heal a person immediately, but they did speed it up and left one feeling in much better shape.
Ulaam was explaining the benefits of the various noses he could provide (I’ve always wanted to try the one that can’t smell cheeses), but Fort just
slumped against the rail, staring ahead as if dazed.
Tress knelt, then delicately unwrapped the larger of the two remaining packages. Inside was another board like the one Crow had destroyed. Fort sat up immediately. He looked from her to the board, then back at her.
Then he hugged her. No words needed to be said. Ann walked up holding the pair of spectacles she’d unwrapped, one end dangling from her fingers as if she were holding a dead mouse by the tail.
“The dragon,” Tress explained, “says you have something called micropsia. He gave a technical explanation, but I didn’t understand it. I don’t know if that disease could have caused you to somehow hit someone
standing behind you, but…well, those spectacles should help.”
Tress handed the final package—more an envelope—to Salay, then stood and walked to the steps up to the quarterdeck. She settled on the steps and tried to process everything.
The others left her alone for the time being, so Tress wasn’t interrupted until Salay came limping over, using a crutch.
“You should probably stay off that leg,” Tress noted.
Salay shrugged, settling down with some effort next to Tress. She carried a folded piece of paper.
“Filistrate City,” Salay said. “I searched Filistrate City.”
“The dragon says your father arrived there six months ago.”
“Damn,” Salay said. “Right after I left. I’d have kept hunting, never knowing he was behind me…” Then she reached over and gave Tress a hug.
It was exactly what Tress needed right then. When emotions start leaking, it’s best to give the body a good squeeze and force them right on out. Like lancing a boil.
When their emotions were thoroughly lanced for the moment, Salay forced herself to stand up. Crutch under her arm, she saluted. “It will take us about a week to reach the Midnight Sea, Captain. But supplies should hold out just fine. We bought plenty at that last port.”
“Salay…” Tress said, “you should be captain.”
“Can’t be captain,” Salay said. “It’s my job to make certain the captain is making good decisions. That’s what a first mate is for.”
“You’re trying to make a bad decision, Captain,” Salay said. “See? I’m good at the job.”
“The Midnight is dangerous,” Tress said. “The dragon wasn’t willing to give me any help. Even he fears the Sorceress.”
“Well,” Salay said, “we’ll just have to figure out how to cross the
Midnight like we did the Crimson, Captain. Do we set sail now, or wait for the morning?”
Other objections died before Tress could get them out. This was what she wanted.
“We sail tonight, Helmswoman,” Tress said. “And if I’m the captain, then I’m going to go claim Crow’s bed. Don’t wake me up unless Death himself has shown up, nails in his eyes. Even then, see if you can stall.”