“We knew something was up when all the Feoreans poured into their ships and sailed off without so much as a ‘Stay out of trouble.’” Paramis handed each of them a glass of expensive Aegor brandy. “I have to admit, we weren’t expecting you back so soon.”
Life took a deep drink and sighed. “How long was it? It’s felt like weeks.”
“Not even five days,” Amist said, pulling her chair closer to Kovel’s. “It certainly felt like longer to me too.”
Paramis sat on the edge of the table, looking plainly down at Life. They’d known each other long enough that she could tell he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way things had turned out. “So, what exactly happened?”
He related the events to her as best he could, but left out the bit where insanity had gripped him and controled his hand on the dagger, after Visnek was already down. He’d tell her later, but it was hardly the sort of thing the celebrating crew needed to hear. Paramis looked over her shoulder to find everyone looking at them anxiously.
“And the bit where the Feoreans flocked to Dunica?”
“Happy coincidence,” Kovel said, all smiles. “Turns out the whole Feorean fleet showed up the same day we dealt with Visnek! In the pandemonium his death brought about, most of the Korvalstieniavs were too off guard to properly execute the counter attack.”
Life set down his now empty glass, rubbing his shoulder slightly. While he was grateful, he wasn’t as happy about this as Kovel. “My guess is that Visnek was more than just a fleet general; by now, I suspect he was the head war general, perhaps even Sebelius’ right hand man. With him gone, it was like cutting the head off the beast. No one was there to give orders and so nothing got done. I’m sure by now they’ve elected a new head war general and have recouped, but it’s easy to see how that initial delay might have cost them the war.”
Kovel was nodding. “Not to mention those Feorean ships. Must’ve been about a thousand of them!”
Amist pulled back, shocked. “A thousand ships? Coming here?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly stop to count.” He looked over to Life. “Suppose that means you’d better keep a low profile for a while, my friend.”
Denny stood and crossed to Life, draping his arms around his shoulders. “I don’t plan on letting him go anywhere for a long time.”
Life sought out Paramis later that evening and stood on the bridge of the ship with her for quite some time, just looking out at the sea. Overhead, the sky was vibrant with stars. Though they were quite a distance from the main part of the city, occasional snippets of music filtered through to them and in the distance Life could see lights burning in some of the university towers again.
“So, you killed Visnek after all?” Paramis didn’t look up from the railing.
“I think so.” Life put his back to the coast and stared at the sea. “I don’t have to give you all the gory details, do I?”
He could feel her eyes on him, but she eventually looked away. “No. It’s enough that’s it’s done. What’ll you do now?”
“I can’t go back to Feor, that’s for sure.”
Life shrugged and ducked his head as the wind pulled at his hair.
“You could always stay here in Arisle. I’m sure Den would like that.”
“Yeah. He might. It wouldn’t be so bad, would it? I could help rebuild this place.” He shrugged. “Does get awfully cold here in the winter, though.”
“That’s why they make coats.”
Smiling at that, Life nodded. “What about you? Return to trading?”
“Maybe.” Paramis tugged at one of her dreadlocks absently. “Though they may be a bit less keen to trade with someone who helped a convict escape.” She smiled at him.
Life winced. “Maybe Denny can help find you a job locally too?”
“I was thinking of expanding my trade route. There’s plenty of commerce here in Arisle, and I know they’re quite fond of some of the eastern countries. With a steam ship, journey there wouldn’t be nearly so bad. Have you ever wanted to go Japrea’chi?”
Life stared at her, blinked a few times and then, realizing what she was asking, burst into laughter.
That evening, Carelle brought her family to the ship along with food enough to feed the entire crew. She announced that with the Korvalstieniavs fleeing, the trade routes to the northern coast were open again and food trade had resumed. Combined with the supplies they already had on the Phoenix, they managed to put together one of the biggest feasts Life had ever seen.
Amist strung lanterns along the rigging, which cast the deck into a festive glow, even after the sun had set. Then she employed the help of the crew to pull the galley table and chairs on to the deck so everyone could eat together, under the stars.
Carelle and Cannon played harp and fiddle while Denny sang along with his lute. Kovel and Amist danced in and were soon joined by Life who took Mila to dance. Before long Jonna was dancing with both Mikal and Freya and half the crew was either dancing with them or clapping along.
Drinks and desserts ran long into the night until the crew began to settle down. Denny enchanted them all with a solemn tale of a man crossing the sea in search of his dead lover, which he swore was based on a true story. After that, Cannon played a lively little tune on his fiddle to cheer them up, and Amist went around topping off all the glasses with the last of the liquor.
As things quieted down, Life found himself smiling, leaning back on his chair and looking at the sleepy, happy crew. The lights were brightly shining, like their very own personal canopy of stars. It was a warm, beautiful summer night, the war was over—or nearly over—and he was with his friends and true family.
He noticed Denny approaching him after putting aside his lute and kicked over one of the chairs that had been vacated recently. Denny dragged it even closer, resting head on Life’s shoulder.
“This is how it should always be,” Denny said.
Life wrapped an arm around him. “It always could be, you know.”
“Oh?” Denny craned his head to look up at him.
Life toyed with Denny’s long, wavy locks. “If you want. I’ll stay here and help your people rebuild Arisle, if you’d like. Or . . . Paramis has offered to let us stay here on the ship with her.”
“Mmm.” Denny nestled closer to Life. “I think I’d like that; alone out here with you for months on end. It gets a bit cramped, but it’s quite fun.” Denny looked out over the deck at the crew retiring to their quarters or hammocks. “But wouldn’t it be dangerous to return to Feor?”
Life closed his eyes, feeling such a warm sense of belonging that he was afraid he might start weeping if he didn’t laugh. So he chuckled softly and nodded. “You’re so fond of fine things and silk. How do you feel about taking a little trip to Japrea’chi?”
He didn’t need to open his eyes to know that Denny’s was smiling his radiant smile at him.