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Ferd got the elf and the dwarf below deck and toward the front, and up a single file gangway there was a door on the left. Inside was a tiny room with two hammocks, one above the other. There was also a strong box and some half torn out cabinetry.

“Key,” said Ferd, handing a tiny iron key to Ryel; it was hard to know how his big hand even gripped such a thing. “It’s to the strong box.”

“Do you suggest,” said Ryel, “that I use the strong box?”

“I suggest you use the false drawer in the cabinet,” said Ferd. “That way if aught goes missing, you can assume ‘twas me that done it.” He pulled out his big flask and handed it to Arkmar. “You a dreamer yourself?”

“I am. Arkmar at your service,” said the dwarf, taking a swig. “Ah, it is excellent. I think I will not wake up for a while longer.”

“Ferdinand of Ool at yours,” said Ferd. “I am not a dreamer, I am the grandson of dreamers.”

“Ferd,” said Ryel, “how long has your skipper been married?”

“Been over a year,” said Ferd. “Took him by storm, she did. She’s a good one, though. We all hated her till we learned about her. She’s tougher than she seems, Elena.”

“Does she wield magic?”

“She wields an old magic,” said Ferd, “akin to yours I think. She is a dreamer. Alkwadir is not. He is much smitten with her, and she wants only that he be so.”
Arkmar handed the flask to Ryel, who took a swig, then another. “He’s happy, I’m happy,” said Ryel. Ferd snorted and shook his head. “What?”

“You can’t possibly expect me to keep a straight face when you say such things as that,” the big man replied. “Let it rest, though. Captain would want me to be wheedling from you what you might be about, since he thinks he’s reckoned to be ferrying you for friendship and asking no questions. So shall we say I wheedled? What would I get?”

“I have no problem telling you,” said Ryel. “I was sent here. I am in search of things. I have a list.”

“And one of them is on Oriab? It’s not up Ngranek, is it?”

Ryel looked at Arkmar, who half pulled the map out of his pocket and gave it an exaggeratedly surreptitious look. “It might be,” said Arkmar.

“You’d want to go see damn Ngranek in any case,” said Ryel. “Because you have a thing for rock.”

“It’s dangerous, of course,” said Ferd.

“Like everything else. Maybe the next thing on the list is in the Vale of Pnath.”

“Pnoth,” said Arkmar. “That’s the way I always heard it.”

“Pnath, dear,” said Ryel. “Your suggestion about the strong box. So is the crew a problem? I ask because you seem to indicate that Elena isn’t the problem and Ali isn’t the problem and you sure aren’t the problem.”

“No,” said Ferd, “ah, maybe some of them are a problem. But then there’s the sea we’re passing over. This is not the place for a midnight swim, either.”

“Ah.”

“So Ryel, you didn’t come back here thinking you were going to share the Captain’s bed, did you?”

“It was the furthest thing from my mind, of course, Ferdinand.”

“Well, that’s good,” he said, taking back his flask and turning away. He stepped out and glanced back in with a smile. “Because that Elena. That could be a problem.”

Ryel and Arkmar discussed things in a vague way while they were stowing their small amount of gear. “You know,” she said, “I could just carry it all on me. That would solve the security issue without having to resort to the false bottom drawer.”
“You could,” said Arkmar. “You could get rolled by some of the crew. Or you could have your clothing stolen while you’re without it, at some point. I’m not trying to be crude if I ask: were you thinking, in fact, of being without your clothing at some point on this voyage?”

“Arkmar, how well do you know me?”

“I know you just about well enough to know you were, at least, thinking of fucking him. You as much as said so. Are you still thinking of fucking him?”

“But Arkmar. He wants me to. Should I not?”

“I will not be drawn into such debates,” said Arkmar. “My kin don’t think of mating in such a variety of ways as Elves or Humans do. More, perhaps, is the pity, but there it is. Still, you asked my opinion. So I ask, will it help us do the thing?”

“Us? Thing?” She cocked her head to one side. “Well,” she said, “that depends, doesn’t it?”

“On what does it depend?”

“On what exactly Elena is.”

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