The captain’s eyes had gone flinty. He spoke quietly. “Eider. Bring him aboard and set him down.”
As if he were a derrick moving freight, Eider turned and dropped Greft on the deck. Greft staggered two steps, then straightened up. He glared around at all of them defiantly.
Sylve abruptly pushed her way into the ring of bystanders. “I was with Mercor. I heard you demand blood. And I heard Kalo refuse you.”
She was pale and shaking, and for the first time Thymara saw how much Sylve feared Greft. She didn’t want to wonder why. Harrikin ghosted up behind the girl and set his hands lightly on her shoulders. “It’s all right,” he said reassuringly.
“No. It’s not.” Her voice trembled, but she faced Greft squarely. “I heard what Kalo said. He said he wouldn’t give you blood because he no longer trusted you. That you might not want the blood to change, but only to sell.” Her hand darted out and seized the front of his torn shirt. She tore at his pocket, and a small glass bottle fell with a thunk and then rolled in a circle on the deck. It was empty. She pointed at it. “It doesn’t take a bottle of blood to change someone, only a few drops. So what was that for, Greft? Do we have a traitor in our midst?”
Thymara gasped for air. For as Sylve spoke, Mercor abruptly loomed up alongside the ship. His dragon’s voice and thought echoed his keeper’s exactly: “Do we have a traitor in our midst?” he demanded.
Greft looked around at them wildly. The ring of humans who surrounded him was shocked, silent. Thymara saw Sedric turn his face away, pale and sick with horror. Alise’s face was set like stone, and Leftrin’s eyes hardened. They waited.
“I’m not the only one!” he shouted. “You liars! Liars one and all! Jess told me, he told me everything. He told me the whole expedition was just to get the dragons far enough away from Trehaug that no one would know of the slaughter, except for the men doing the buying. He told me Leftrin knew about it, that him getting the contract was rigged! The Rain Wild Traders’ Council and even Cassarick’s little Council know about it! Why do you think they agreed to this? It’s all a farce! Even the ‘expert’ from Bingtown and her assistant are in on it. There is no Kelsingra, there’s no final destination for any of us. The plan was to get the dragons away from Trehaug, then slaughter them and load the barge with the pieces. And set course for Chalced, to sell it all to the Duke of Chalced.”
He glared around at all of them defiantly. A shocked silence followed his words. The pained smile he gave them mocked them all. “Don’t you understand, you fools? Why do you think the Council chose you? To get rid of you! And have no one care that you were gone. Once you’d helped move the dragons far enough upriver, no one would need you anymore. And the dragons are supposed to die or be killed. And then the barge full of dragon parts heads straight to Chalced. And everyone is happy. The Rain Wild folk don’t have to support the dragons anymore, Trehaug gets rid of a bunch of misfits, the Duke of Chalced is cured and allies with the Rain Wilds, and a lot of people get very, very rich very quietly! You liars! Don’t look at me like that! You know I’m speaking the truth! Why are you all pretending?”
Boxter shouldered his way to the front of the huddle. Tears were starting to fall from his eyes. “But you said…you said all those things! About having our own city, and starting new rules and, and everything!” He sounded like a small confused boy. For a moment Thymara thought of Rapskal and his ingenuous questions. Grief scored her heart. But Boxter was not Rapskal, and anger began to dawn in his face, making it ugly. “You liar!” he cried out when Greft just looked at him. “You liar! Telling us we had to leave the girls alone, and then you went after them! Making all those rules about sharing and then keeping the best for yourself. We know what you done, Kase and me. We’re not stupid.”
“Aren’t you?” Greft sneered, and Boxter swung. Greft snapped his head back, but Boxter’s fist still grazed his chin, clacking his teeth together as it slammed his mouth shut.
“Enough!” Leftrin shouted, and Swarge suddenly had Boxter’s arms clamped to his sides.
A thin line of blood trickled from the corner of Greft’s mouth. He ignored it, instead looking disdainfully from one of them to another. When he realized the full hostility of those watching him, he took a breath. “At first, I believed in what we were doing. Then Jess set me straight.” He looked at Leftrin, and his eyes were full of accusation. “What happened to Jess, Captain Leftrin? He told me you wanted to back out on his deal with you, told me that you wanted that woman in your bed, and that if you killed him, you’d bribe her with dragon blood to get what you wanted. Is that how it happened?” He swung his accusing glare to Alise. “Fancy Bingtown lady like you whores herself for dragon blood?”