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THE KEEPERS GATHERED on the forward deck, summoned by Hennesey’s shouted orders. Thymara had been working in the galley, trying to scrub ancient burned-on residue from the bottoms of the ship’s pots, when the sudden lurch had tossed her against the galley table. She’d hurried out to see what the fuss was about and was shocked to find they were stuck. It had never happened before: they had passed numerous small tributaries feeding into the Rain Wild River. Some had been small streams wending through the trees and out to dump into the river. Others had been wide rivers cutting their own boggy paths through the forest before adding their waters to the river. Tarman never got stuck in any of their deltas. But this was different.

To the left was an immense river with a wide, free-running channel down its center. It was obvious that it had recently been a flood channel. Damaged trees with dangling limbs and mud-daubed debris lined the shores of it. The color of the water was definitely lighter as it fed into the main channel and dispersed. Up that river was the source of both the torrent that had nearly killed them all and the acid that colored the waters of the Rain Wild River white. The river and the forest that bound it to either side ran off into an unimaginable distance. A bluish shadow against the sky at the far horizon might have been mountains, or her imagination. The dragons were silhouettes against that horizon as they made their way upriver.

As Thymara watched, a flock of birds with yellow-barred tails rose as one from the trees, fluttered for a distance, and then resettled. The angry yowl of a frustrated hunting cat followed them. She smiled. The lush and untouched vista attracted her. She suspected both hunting and gathering would be easier there. She wished they were staying here for the night. If they were, she’d explore in that direction. With no weapons or fishing gear of her own left, fruit and vegetables had been the best she could offer her fellows. She longed to borrow gear from Greft’s hoard, but he hadn’t offered it to anyone and she would not ask.

Thymara had found a spot along the bow railing to survey the divergence of the waters. Now she turned back to look at the company assembling on the forward deck to look over the side. Hennesey and Swarge were bringing out the spare poles and passing them out to the stronger keepers. Tats received his grinning. She suddenly suspected he’d always wanted the chance to try his hand with one.

For an instant, she saw them all as strangers. There were ten keepers instead of the dozen they’d begun with. All of them were more ragged and weathered than they had been. The boys had all grown, and most had the shape and muscles of men now. They moved differently than when she’d first met them; they moved like people who worked on water and land rather than as tree dwellers. Sylve, she realized, had grown and was acquiring the shape of a woman. Harrikin still was her shadow; they seemed content with each other’s company despite the disparity in their ages. Thymara had never mustered the courage to ask Sylve if she knew that Greft had arranged the match. Over the last few days, she’d decided it didn’t really matter. They seemed well suited to each other; what did it matter who had decreed it?

Jerd stood to one side, watching the activity. Her face was pale. Despite Jerd’s frequent patting of her belly and posturing, she was not showing much of her pregnancy yet, save in her temperament. She had become unpleasantly bitchy to everyone of late. She had near-constant morning sickness and complained of the way the boat smelled and the food tasted and of the constant motion. It would have been easier to be sympathetic to her, Thymara thought, if she were not so insistent that everyone else’s concerns should give way to her whining. If her pregnancy were typical of the state, Thymara wanted nothing to do with childbearing. Even Greft had begun to weary of Jerd’s constant nipping at him. Twice she had heard him reply to her roughly, and each time Jerd had been both furious and tearful. Once he had turned on her almost savagely, asking her if she thought she was the only one in pain from a changing body. Alum had stood up and Thymara had thought he would interfere. But before it came to that, Jerd had run off wailing, to cower in the galley and weep while Greft had sourly declared he’d rather face a gallator than “that girl” right now.

The crew of the ship had changed almost as much as the keepers had. Thymara had become more aware of both Skelly and Davvie as people. It was often obvious that they longed to socialize more with the keepers; they were, after all, of an age with most of them. Captain Leftrin had tried to keep those boundaries intact, but there had been some breaches. She knew that Alum was infatuated with Skelly, and that both had been rebuked for fraternizing. Davvie’s growing friendship with Lecter appeared to be tacitly ignored by all, which did not seem fair to her. But then, she thought with a wry grin, Captain Leftrin rarely consulted with her on what she thought about how he ran his ship.

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