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One of them, he now recalled, would be with Hest now. Cope. Redding Cope, with his plump little mouth and stubby-fingered hands, always hanging on Hest’s every word, always eager to win a smile from him with his sly mockery of Sedric. Well, Cope would have Hest to himself now. Savagely he wished the man small joy of it. Perhaps he might find the prize he had won was not what he had thought it to be.

THYMARA HAD LEFT the barge early in the morning, after begging the use of one of the small boats from Captain Leftrin, who had seemed in an uncommonly generous mood that morning. He had ordered Davvie to row her ashore in the remaining ship’s boat, telling her to hallo from the trees when she wanted a ride back to the vessel. She’d taken a couple of carry-sacks and promised she’d try to find fresh fruit or vegetables for them all.

She hadn’t told Tats she was going. She hadn’t told anyone. Still, she hadn’t been that surprised when he came to help them put the small boat over the side. And when he’d clambered down the ladder and sat down behind her, that hadn’t surprised her either.

She had the amount of time it took Davvie to row them ashore to consider how to react to Tats’s presence. Davvie’s friendly chatter kept him busy until then. Evidently he’d just become friends with Lecter and was full of questions about him. Tats answered as well he might. Lecter had always been a bit aloof; none of them knew him well. Thymara was happy for him; she didn’t know Davvie well, either, but had noticed how alone he seemed to be. She understood Leftrin’s decision to keep a distance between his ship’s crew and the keepers, but she had pitied Davvie as the only youngster on the ship. She hoped for his sake that Leftrin would loosen his rules a bit and allow his friendship with Lecter to continue.

Davvie nudged the small boat up onto the bank of the river as close as he could get to a tree’s outthrust roots. She and Tats disembarked onto the knees of the trees. From there, Thymara sprang for the trunk and was able to sink her claws in and scrabble up. Tats bid Davvie farewell and then followed her more laboriously. Once they reached the branches, they both traveled more easily. Neither one of them said much for a time, other than, “Watch out, it’s slippery here,” or “Stinging ants. Move quickly.”

She led and he followed, moving in parallel to the river’s edge, moving upstream as she traveled higher into the branches.

“Where are we going?” he asked her at last.

“Looking for fruit vines. The kind with air roots. They like the light along the riverbank.”

“Good. I don’t feel like having to climb all the way up to the canopy today.”

“I don’t either. We’d waste most of our time just going up and coming down again. I want to gather as much food as we can today.”

“Good idea. It’s going to be harder to feed everybody now. Most all our fishing gear is gone. Along with most of our other supplies. Our blankets are gone. We lost a lot of knives.”

“It’s going to be harder,” she agreed. “But the dragons have got better at feeding themselves. I think we’ll be all right.”

He was quiet for a time, following her along a horizontal stretch of branch. Then he asked, “If you could go back to Trehaug, would you want to?”

“What?”

“Last night you said you couldn’t go home. I wondered if that was what you really wanted to do.” He followed her silently for a time, then added, “Because if it was, I’d find a way to take you there.”

She stopped, turned, and met his eyes. He seemed so earnest, and she suddenly felt so old. “Tats. If that was what I really wanted to do, I’d find a way to do it. I signed up to be part of this expedition. If I left it now…well. It all would have been for nothing, wouldn’t it? I’d just be Thymara, slinking back home, to live in my father’s house and abide by my mother’s rules.”

He furrowed his brow. ‘“Just Thymara.’ I don’t think that’s such a bad thing to be. What do you want to be?”

That stumped her. “I don’t know. But I know that I want to be something more than just my father’s daughter. I want to prove myself somehow. That what I told my da when he asked why I wanted to go on this expedition. And it’s still true.” They’d come to the next trunk and Thymara started up it, digging her claws into the bark. The same claws that had condemned her to a half life in Trehaug might be her salvation out here, she thought.

Tats came behind her, more slowly. When Thymara reached a likely branch, she paused and waited for him. When he caught up with her, his face was misted with sweat. “I thought only boys felt things like that.”

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