“Sedric!” Alise gasped his name. Sedric was missing? She’d always thought he was safe on board the Tarman. He’d been there, in his cabin, when she left. How could he be missing, unless the barge had taken a terrible beating in the wave? Had his shelter been torn free, had he been drowned in his bed? The devastating news that Sedric was definitely missing collided with her joy that Leftrin was fine and would soon appear to rescue her. It was as if neither emotion would allow her to fully experience the other, and so she was trapped between them, feeling disloyal and numb. She worked her way around the clustered keepers and through them until she stepped out in front of Carson. At the sight of her, a sudden smile lit his face.
“Alise! You are here! Well, that will take away the captain’s greatest fear.” A light of cautious hope spread over his face. “And Sedric? Is he with you?”
She shook her head as Carson sidestepped Greft and came straight to her. She found her voice and tongue, though she could scarcely draw breath to push out the words. “I thought he was on the Tarman.” A devastating guilt dizzied her. She’d made him come with her. And now he was missing. Dead. Sedric was no swimmer, no tree climber. He was dead. Unthinkable. Impossible. Don’t think on it, don’t allow it to be real. She cleared her throat, and her tongue babbled on without her. “Now that Veras has returned, we are missing only the copper dragon, the silver one, and Heeby. Of keepers, we’ve seen nothing of Rapskal, Alum, or Warken. Are any of them with you?”
A silence fell, and when Carson slowly shook his head, low groans and sighs met his denial of their hopes. “They’re gone, then,” Alise said aloud, and she hated the finality of her words. It was like pronouncing them dead.
“I intend to keep looking.” Carson’s words jolted her back to awareness of the world around her. The keepers were milling around and talking, absorbing this latest piece of news. Veras had rejoined the other dragons; Jerd, Sylve, and Harrikin were working together to show her how to use the logs to float so she could rest.
“I found her wedged between some trees,” Carson told her. His gaze had followed hers. “She’d climbed up there when she was too weary to swim anymore. That probably saved her life. But as the water went down, she found herself wedged. She’d probably have gotten herself out after she starved a bit more, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that.”
Alise met his eyes. “You’re trying to tell me that the others may be in similar situations somewhere. Stuck, but alive.”
“That’s what I’m going to keep believing. Excuse me.” He turned away from her, lifted the horn to his lips, and blew three short but deafening blasts. This time, in the distance, she heard an answering horn. He turned back to her with a smile and raised his voice so that all on the raft could hear him. “And that will be the Tarman. We’ll ferry all of you out to the barge as soon as we can. The floats for the dragons are a good idea. We may be able to make them a bit more sturdy with line from the Tarman. If the river continues to fall, they probably won’t need them much longer.
“Jess is still missing, and I’m going to continue searching rather than hunting. So I suggest that gathering any food you can find would be an excellent idea. You’re going to have to do more toward feeding yourselves for a few days, until we can resume hunting again.”
Greft had come to stand just behind Carson’s shoulder. He looked irritated, Alise thought, and wondered what could annoy him about being rescued. When he spoke, his words sounded like a rebuke.
“If you’ve finished chatting with Carson, I’ve some important information to share with him, if he’d give me his attention. The wave that struck us deposited most of us in the trees along here. I gathered those I could find, and the dragons called to one another until they found one another. We’ve been able to provide for ourselves here. I’ll organize some of the keepers to collect more food for tonight. Most of it will be fruit or vegetable. Luckily, I kept my wits about me, and we caught three of our boats. No paddles remained; they were tossed about and almost all our gear was lost. It will make it hard for us to help bring in meat or fish for the dragons.”
Carson nodded slowly. “Damn shame. We can carve some paddles, but that will take time. And the missing gear will be largely impossible to replace. We can try to make some fish spears, too, even if they’re not much more than sharpened sticks. But at least you’re all alive.”
Greft’s eyes narrowed. Alise realized that was not the response he had expected from the hunter. “Saving lives seemed a bit more important to me than saving gear,” he said tartly. “I did the best I could at the time.”