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Find food for me.

Her thoughts were clearer and more cogent. Less separate from his own, he feared. He pushed that thought away as something he couldn’t worry about right now. Right now he had to find a way to feed the dragon, if only to lessen the hunger pangs she was sharing with him. But how?

There was no quick and satisfying answer to that. The day was mild, the river calmer and the water less white. He had the tools of a hunter, if not the skills. He had a boat. And he had a dragon.

All he needed to do was decide what to do with those things.

The closest he came to a decision was walking away from the boat and taking a piss into the river. When he was finished, he spoke. “So, Relpda, what shall we do now?”

Get food.

“Excellent idea. Except I don’t know how.”

Go hunt. He felt the mental nudge she gave him. It wasn’t comfortable.

He thought of arguing with her and then decided there was no point to it. She was right. They were both hungry, and the only solution was that one of them find food. And she certainly wasn’t going to do it. He recalled that he had seen Jess coming from the trees with fruit. If the hunter had found fruit up there, then chances were that some remained. Up there. Somewhere.

Meat. Fish, she insisted. She shifted uncomfortably on the log that supported her. One end of it abruptly broke free of the tangled debris and dipped lower into the water. Slipping! She trumpeted her fear as her thought slammed his mind. Frantically, she reached out and seized a second log with her front claws. Her grip held and she pulled the log closer, managing to hitch herself up partially onto both of them.

“Good girl! Clever dragon!” he praised her.

And in return, he received that wave of warmth that eased his hurts. But with it came a message. And tired. So tired. Cold, too.

“I know, Relpda. I know.” They weren’t just comforting words. He did know exactly how tired she was, and how her weariness dragged at her. Her front legs ached from hanging on. All her claws felt odd, soft and sore. Her back legs and tail were weary from thrashing. Abruptly she opened her wings and beat them, trying to lift herself higher on the logs. They were stronger than he had thought they were. He felt the wind they stirred and saw her chest rise almost out of the water. For all that, it didn’t help her at all. It just disrupted the tangle of wood and debris in the eddy. As Sedric watched, a clump of tangled weeds broke free and floated off down the river. Not good.

“Relpda. Relpda. Listen to me. We have to get more logs under your chest and give you a place to rest. Once you are safe, then I can hunt for food for you.”

Rest. A world of longing was in the single word.

SHE’D SLEPT LATE, yet when she emerged onto the deck, she saw that some of the keepers were sleeping still. Alise wondered if weariness or sorrow weighted them. Two who were not sleeping were Thymara and Jerd. The two girls were on the bow of the Tarman, their legs dangling as they sat on the railing and talked. Alise was mildly surprised to see them together. She had not thought they were friendly with each other, and after what Thymara had told her about Jerd, she doubted they ever would be. She wondered what they were talking about, and if they would welcome her if she joined them. She’d had female friends in Bingtown, but she’d never cherished those friendships as much as some women did. There was a reserve in her that perhaps other women thought cold; she’d never been able to confide in her friends the most intimate details of her marriage, though many had insisted on sharing such with her.

Yet she thought that now she would welcome another woman’s thoughts. Since her discovery of the locket yesterday, her mind and emotions had been in turmoil. Why would Hest have such a gift made, why entrust it to Sedric, and why hadn’t Sedric passed it on to her? These were questions she could not share with Leftrin; if there was guilt to bear in these matters, it belonged to her alone. It was a question only Sedric could answer, and Sedric was gone. She reined her mind away from that sorrow. Not yet. She would not mourn him yet. There was still hope.

She wandered the boat, looking for Bellin. When she finally found her, she was in the deckhouse, sitting on Skelly’s bunk. Bellin’s face was serious, and she held both of Skelly’s hands. Tears had tracked down the girl’s face recently. Bellin’s eyes flickered to Alise’s face, and a very slight change in her facial expression told Alise to go away silently without alerting Skelly to her presence. Alise gave a small nod and ghosted away, back to pacing a circuit of the deck.

Thymara had rolled her trousers up to her knees. As she swung her legs, her scales glittered silver in the sunlight. She sat hunched over, but Jerd sat straight and tall, almost pushing her stomach out. Alise envied them: they had so much freedom. No one fretted that they were showing too much leg, or even that they might fall in. Everyone on the vessel assumed they knew what they were about and left them to it. They reminded her of Althea Trell and how competently she had moved about the deck of the Paragon. Althea, she reminded herself, was of Bingtown Trader stock, just as she was. So she could not really blame where she came from for the limitations on her. No, she realized slowly. She was the one who had accepted those limitations and brought them with her. She was the one who lived by the restrictive rules.

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