Two years! His hands, blast them, were trembling. He had to swallow hard before he spoke to the duchess. At least, he hoped she was the duchess, a bent and ancient woman three inches shorter than Pazel himself, who stood by the foremast mumbling and worrying the gold rings on her fingers. When Pazel spoke she raised her head and fixed him with her gaze. Her eyes were large and milky blue, and as she stared at him, her dry lips twisted into a smile.
Her crooked hand shot out; a nail scraped his cheek. He had shed tears. The crone put her moistened finger to her lips and grinned all the wider. Then she fell upon the tea service. First she popped the three largest ginger candies into her mouth, and slid a fourth into her pocket. Next she produced an old, scorched pipe from the folds of her cloak. As Pazel watched, aghast, she tapped the half-burned plug of tobacco into the bowl of lukka seeds, stirred with a thumb and then crushed the whole mixture back into her pipe, whispering and squeaking to herself all the while. Her eyes found Pazels again.
"Got a flint?"
"No, maam," said Pazel.
"Thats Lady Oggosk to you! Fetch a lamp, then."
It was difficult to fetch anything while holding the tea-tray. Pazel thought his arms would break, hoisting a brass deck lamp heavy with walrus oil as Lady Oggosk struggled with her pipe. Wafts of burning walrus, tobacco and lukka seeds flooded his nostrils, and the Ladys breath as she puffed and hiccuped was like a draft from a ginger-scented tomb. At last the pipe lit, and she cackled.
"Dont cry, my little monkey. He hasnt forgotten you - oh, not for an instant, no!"
Pazel gaped at her. She could only mean Chadfallow, but what did she know of their connection? Before he could find a way to ask, she turned from him, still chuckling to herself.
The third passenger was a merchant, well groomed and well fed. At first glance, Pazel thought him ill: he had a white scarf wrapped tight about his neck, and one hand rested there as if nursing a sore spot. He cleared his throat with a painful noise - CHHRCK! - nearly making Pazel spill the tea. The man had an appetite, too: four biscuits vanished into his mouth, followed by the next largest ginger candy.
"Youre not very clean," he said suddenly, looking Pazel up and down. "Whose soap do you use?"
"Whose soap, sir?"
"Is that a difficult question? Who makes the soap you scrub your face with?"
"Were given potash, sir."
"Youre a servant."
"Not for much longer, sir," said Pazel. "Captain Nestef has extended me his hand of friendship, for which I bless him thrice over. He says I have genuine prospects, with my flair for languages, and - "
"My own prospects are excellent, of course," the man informed him. "My name is Ket - a name worth remembering, worth jotting down. I am about to make transactions valued at sixty thousand gold cockles. And that is just one trading voyage."
"How grand for you, sir. I say, sir! Would you be sailing on the Chathrand?"
"You will not see sixty thousand in your lifetime - nor even six. Go now."
He placed something on the tea-tray and waved Pazel off. Pazel bowed and withdrew, then looked at the object. It was a pale green disc, stamped with the words ket soap.
One of those sixty thousand coins would have suited him better, but he hid the soap in his pocket nonetheless. Then he looked at the tray and his heart sank. He had nothing left for Chadfallow but a small rind of ginger and a broken biscuit.
The doctor ignored these, but pointed at the tea flask. Carefully, Pazel filled a mug. The doctor wrapped his long fingers around it, raised it to his lips and inhaled the steam, as he had told Pazel one should in cold weather, to "vivify the nostrils." He did not look at the boy, and Pazel did not know whether to stay or leave. At last, very softly, the doctor spoke.
Excerpted from The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick Copyright © 2009 by Robert V. S. Redick. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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