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Carys Alistair, Private
Ship Bored
Tue Jun 20, 2006 12:46 (XFF:

The whole Tower was abuzz. It might be that dawn was still two hours away, but she bet good money that there wasn’t a body left sleeping in the entire complex. She’d stumbled out of bed – not her own, but no less familiar to her for all of that – and packed her rucksack in less than a blink. Now, as she waited, juggling a hot bun from one hand to the other, said bun a gift from a half-distracted young Asha’man from the Infirmary, who had been passing out rations, she let her pulse slow and tried to relax. The energy in the air made easy nonchalance impossible, but she was not going to let Adrien watch her sweat. Although, from the wide-eyed nervousness on her fellow Private’s face, she figured that even if she did sweat, she wouldn’t be alone. Then again, she was never alone these days. Still, there was something to be said for cool clarity of thought.

It was automatic to move out with the large herd of black-clad bodies surrounding hers, but the sound of her name drew her up short. Stopping in her tracks, she glanced over at Adrien, who had the grace to look about half as surprised as she felt. Staff Sergeant Xerin had called them out, she noted: she’d never liked the man, although he’d made a few things easier for her in this new life under the Dragon’s standard. Hadn’t been free, though, she mused, her dark eyes sweeping over his immaculate visage. From trimmed beard to shined boots, Bertrand showed no flaws, but she knew of a few. Masking an impudent grin under an impatient frown, she shifted the pack on her back and waited. He never took long to come to the point, which was one of the reasons she preferred to stay out of his bed. You’d think a man that spent that long on his appearance would have something to offer a girl, but Carys was decidedly unimpressed.

Light, not more “special services,” Carys thought, suppressing a groan. At least if Adrien was involved, she could be certain it wouldn’t be half a tenday’s worth of nights spent in his tent. She opened her mouth with a half-formed protest on her tongue, but Xerin cut her off as neatly as he might clip his moustache. Say what she might about his prowess with his other shortsword (and short was the right damn word for it, too) she couldn’t fault his battle sense. And, amazingly, she didn’t have any trouble with his new assignment, either. Well, this was an unexpected plum in this morning’s pie: a sweet small surprise in an otherwise nasty mess of pottage. Humored from her dark musings by it, she followed the Asha’man indicated through a Gateway, paying careful mind to the edges (she’d learned about those the hard way, although she hadn’t shed the blood). The Full Moon’s Trick was a narrow splinter of a boat, stationed on a heaving flank of the river Arinelle.

Although she had some serious questions, she boarded with a hop that would have pleased even the harshest taskmaster. Adrien, she noted, had done the same, but what could you expect from a mooncalf farmboy off the family plantation for the first time? He probably hadn’t even seen real blood before. Well, he didn’t need to think he’d come sobbing to her, that was sure! She had goals for this trip, most of them starting and hinging on the “come home alive” part. And there was, she reasoned, swinging the sack off her shoulders to rest between her booted feet, nothing wrong with survival. In fact, considering the very small amount they’d been told, survival was a damn admirable goal. They got more information than this during most exercises, which this wasn’t. A butterfly fluttered in its anxious dance within her belly, and she closed her eyes, reciting the facts she knew so far.

It was a pathetically short recitation. A blink later, with the name Jevin Garrald inscribed on her brain, Carys opened her eyes, feeling no calmer than she had a moment before. The bustle around her said that the ship was about to leave its mooring, and indeed, the three before its bow were already in motion. She could see foggy headland to the south, and assumed that that would be Illian, their rendezvous point. They couldn’t be too far from the meeting place, or they would have been Gated directly: the Asha’man were not much for strategy, but they were great at brute force. She approved of that, herself: fast thinking might keep you alive, but always being in the back of the battleground got you called coward, and a daubing with that brush never seemed to wear off. The Full Moon’s Trick heaved as the moorings were cut, and Carys stifled a short cry as her knees threatened to buckle under her. She hated ships.

At least Adrien was faring no better: he looked a trifle green around the mouth. Immensely cheered, Carys walked to the railing, indicating by bent fingers that he should come with her. Securing her sack to her shoulders by the looping tie, she found a convenient coil of rope to use as a seat, out of the sailors’ way. He crouched beside her, still looking miserably nauseous, and she felt a slight surge of sympathy. Her first trip, up this same river, had involved her vomiting over the side for the first three days: feeding the crabs, the sailors had said. Well, they couldn’t afford for him to arrive dizzy and weak, he’d just have to get over it fast. Hadn’t he ever been on a boat before?

“You look about as green as grass,” Carys remarked, smugly. “If you’re going to get sick, I suggest you get it over with, because I doubt they’ll give you a day to recover once we land, and it doesn’t look like the trip will be long.”

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