“Fascinating,” said Scathach. “So was that Workshop engineer of any use?”

“Not so much. We could never really unravel all of Chester’s defenses. But in the end it didn’t really matter. Dr. Bechel doesn’t even begrudge the fact that we kidnapped him. In fact, he doesn’t even want to go back home. …”

David trailed off as Max shot him a horrified glance. The boys were silent for several moments before David begged the ladies to make themselves at home. Dinner would have to wait for an hour—maybe two—but he was confident that Marta could adjust. Running up the stairs, David abruptly abandoned their guests and vanished behind his bed curtain.

An hour later, he returned with an outraged smee.

Toby was literally trembling with indignation, twisting about in the sorcerer’s hands to lambast him in a thunderous baritone.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to be forgotten for over a month!” he roared. “To be left shuffling about a house in Blys, masquerading as some crusty engineer while all of Rowan is celebrating in your absence? Well, I can assure you that you’re going to pay for this! The meter’s been running, my friend, and when I factor in the overtime …”

The apoplectic smee was set upon a pillow by the fire, where he continued to seethe and gasp. But at last Toby sighed and fell still. Uncurling his body, he raised his yamlike head to gaze around at the rest of his audience. Pausing at Scathach, the smee cleared his throat and inched forward.

“Who are you, and why haven’t we met before?”

~ 20 ~

Under a Mackerel Sky

A month later, the Ormenheid lay rolling on the shallows of Rowan Harbor. Compared to Prusias’s war galleons, the Viking ship looked no bigger than a dinghy. While she might have been less imposing, she had her own special gifts. Even as the sun broke the horizon, her dragon prow faced east, her sail magically unfurled, and her oars dipped down into the waters.

Max thought she cut a very noble figure under the mackerel sky, her timbers creaking as the sea lapped his boots with shell and foam. Sloshing past him through the swells, Cooper climbed aboard and beckoned for the others to start passing along the many barrels, sacks, and crates stacked neatly on the beach.

“This is quite the honeymoon,” mused Miss Boon, glancing at her wedding band before heaving a sack of flour into Scathach’s waiting arms. With an indifferent shrug, Scathach swung the flour along the line to Sarah, who passed it to Lucia, who handed it to Max, who tossed it up to Cooper.

Despite the grunts and occasional griping, the loading of the ship was going smoothly until Lucia dropped one of the crates.

“Eek!” she cried. “There’s something moving in there. Lots of things!”

“Sorry!” said Max, stooping quickly to retrieve the crate.

“What is that?” Lucia demanded. “It better not be anything dangerous!” She gestured protectively toward Kettlemouth as the oblivious bullfrog dozed in a converted birdcage.

“No, nothing dangerous,” said Max, trotting off with the crate on his shoulder.

Several more boxes went down the line without incident before Lucia dropped another.

“What could be in that one?” she wondered. “It’s so heavy!”

“My fault,” said Max, promptly scooping it up. “I didn’t mean for anyone else to carry it. Sorry—should have marked it.”

Lucia seemed content to merely glare and grumble until the smee offered some suggestions.

“You’ve got to use your legs, young lady!” cried Toby. “My God, you’re just flailing about like a broken scarecrow. Bend those knees! How can such a dashing filly be so—”

“Not another word, you!” roared Lucia, wheeling on him. “If you’re not going to help, then you just be quiet. I don’t have to take orders from some lazy, strutting peacock!”

But indeed, Toby was a peacock.

The smee had indulged in many forms since the Director lifted his ban. There had been magnificent tigers, square-jawed knights, and golden stallions, but of late the smee had favored the shape of an iridescent blue peacock that was prone to highly dramatic displays of his tail whenever he believed its sudden appearance might be to his advantage. It rarely had the desired effect, and this occasion proved no exception.

“I was only trying to help,” he sulked, having weathered a storm of Italian obscenities.

“Then grab a crate,” huffed Lucia.

“But I didn’t come down here to work,” he replied. “I just came to see you off! You know, bon voyage and so forth.”

“Are you going to miss us, Toby?” teased Max, lugging a crate to Cooper.

“Let’s see,” mused the smee. “If ‘missing you’ means carefree evenings at Cloubert’s while Lady Luck whisks me off to fame and fortune, then I suppose I’ll miss you a great deal. Ha!”

While the smee reveled in his wit, Max caught sight of a large figure making its way carefully down the many stairs from Rowan’s cliffs. Washing his hands in the sea, Max left the others and trotted to where the steps met the rocky beach.

Bob was breathing heavily when he reached the bottom. Setting down his bundle, the ogre reached for a handkerchief and wiped his glistening brow. Catching his breath, he craned his head up at the high cliffs and shook his head. “Too many steps.”

“You didn’t have to see us off,” said Max. “It’s so early.”

With a shrug, the ogre refolded the handkerchief and gazed out at the Ormenheid floating beneath the pale peach sky.

“Pretty ship,” he grunted. “Bob wonders if you have room for one more.”

“You mean that isn’t a care package to see us off?”

Looking down, Bob blinked at the enormous pack that was overflowing with cooking pans and ogre-sized clothing. Laughter rumbled in his chest.

“No, malyenki,” he said. “These things are not for you. It is time for Bob to go get his little Mum. Soon he will be too old for such journeys and she has been away long enough. It is time she comes home where she belongs.”

“Well, I think we can help you,” said Max, grinning. “We’re taking Sarah and Lucia to search out Connor Lynch in Blys. Once they’re off, we’ll be heading north. We’ll pass right near Shrope Hovel.”

“Where are you going in the north?” asked the ogre.

“The Isle of Man.”

“A Fomorian lives there,” rumbled Bob. “They are dangerous.”

“That’s why we’re going.”

The ogre digested this and gazed back at the Ormenheid. “Do you think the others will mind?” he asked tentatively.

“Doesn’t matter if they do.” Max shrugged, hefting up Bob’s pack and trudging toward the water. “She’s my ship and I’m captain. If anyone complains, I’ll make them cut the jibs and swab the sheets.”

“Bob does not think malyenki knows how to sail.”

Of course, everyone was delighted to welcome Bob aboard. Swinging his leg easily over the gunwale, the ogre settled in to wring out his socks while the others stowed the rest of their gear and prepared to set sail. When Max gave the command, the Ormenheid’s oars began to scull gently through the water as the breeze stretched her sail taut. She moved smoothly through the harbor, skimming past Gravenmuir’s dark remains.

Once they were headed for open waters, Max walked back to the stern and gazed up at the cliffs, where he thought David and Mina might be watching from high atop Tur an Ghrian. The tower dwarfed everything around it, a slender white spire whose summit stood a thousand feet over the sea. Max was enjoying its majesty when a large

Вы читаете The Maelstrom
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату