1 Vaqrin (first day of summer) 941
It began, as every disaster in his life began, with a calm. The harbor and the village slept. The wind that had roared all night lay quelled by the headland; the bosun grew too sleepy to shout. But forty feet up the ratlines, Pazel Pathkendle had never been more awake.
He was freezing, to start with - a rogue wave had struck the bow at dusk, soaking eight boys and washing the ships dog into the hold, where it still yipped for rescue - but it wasnt the cold that worried him. It was the storm cloud. It had leaped the coastal ridge in one bound, on high winds he couldnt feel. The ship had no reason to fear it, but Pazel did. People were trying to kill him, and the only thing stopping them was the moon, that blessed bonfire moon, etching his shadow like a coal drawing on the deck of the Eniel.
One more mile, he thought. Then it can pour for all I care.
While the calm held, the Eniel ran quiet as a dream: her captain hated needless bellowing, calling it the poor pilots surrogate for leadership, and merely gestured to the afterguard when the time came to tack for shore. Glancing up at the mainsails, his eyes fell on Pazel, and for a moment they regarded each other in silence: an old man stiff and wrinkled as a cypress; a boy in tattered shirt and breeches, nut-brown hair in his eyes, clinging barefoot to the tarred and salt-stiffened ropes. A boy suddenly aware that he had no permission to climb aloft.
Pazel made a show of checking the yardarm bolts, and the knots on the closest stays. The captain watched his antics, unmoved. Then, almost invisibly, he shook his head.
Pazel slid to the deck in an instant, furious with himself. You clod, Pathkendle! Lose Nestefs love and theres no hope for you!
Captain Nestef was the kindest of the five mariners he had served: the only one who never beat or starved him, or forced him, a boy of fifteen, to drink the black nightmare liquor grebel for the amusement of the crew. If Nestef had ordered him to dive into the sea, Pazel would have obeyed at once. He was a bonded servant and could be traded like a slave.
On the deck, the other servant boys - tarboys, they were called, for the pitch that stained their hands and feet - turned him looks of contempt. They were older and larger, with noses proudly disfigured from brawls of honor in distant ports. The eldest, Jervik, sported a hole in his right ear large enough to pass a finger through. Rumor held that a violent captain had caught him stealing a pudding, and had pinched the ear with tongs heated cherry-red in the galley stove.
The other rumor attached to Jervik was that he had stabbed a boy in the neck after losing at darts. Pazel didnt know if he believed the tale. But he knew that a gleam came to Jerviks eyes at the first sign of anothers weakness, and he knew the boy carried a knife.
One of Jerviks hangers-on gestured at Pazel with his chin. "Thinks his place is on the maintop, this one," he said, grinning. "Bet you can tell him diffrint, eh, Jervik?"
"Shut up, Nat, you aint clever," said Jervik, his eyes locked on Pazel.
"What ho, Pazel Pathkendle, hes defendin you," laughed another. "Aint you goin to thank him? You better thank him!"
Jervik turned the speaker a cold look. The laughter ceased. "I hant defended no one," said the larger boy.
"?Course you didnt, Jervik, I just - "
"Somebody worries my mates, I defend them. Defend my good name, too. But theres no defense for a wee squealin Ormali."
The laughter was general, now: Jervik had given permission.
Then Pazel said, "Your mates and your good name. How about your honor, Jervik, and your word?"
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.
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