That evening, Arkmar, in his leathers but without the dead weight of his chain mail, his beard unbraided, and Ryel, clad in a scarlet bathrobe, her long dark silky hair done up on top of her head, sat in the bow of the Storm Queen, dangling their feet over the edge of the deck as the prow cut the rolling waves, headed east into the rising, nearly full moon. They passed Arkmar’s pipe and Ryel’s flask, and then they switched and did it the other way around. Somewhere behind them, Ferd stood in the wheel house steering, and somewhere nearer behind them and beneath them, the sound of faint talk and occasional giggles filtered out.
“So you suddenly trust her,” said Arkmar.
“I have something on her,” replied Ryel.
“Care to explain?”
“I can’t explain. Can you explain how you managed to get that judge to do exactly what you wanted? Maybe I don’t want to know.” She took a long draw on her pipe and handed it to him, meeting his eyes. “Was that too prejudiced?”
Arkmar laughed. “Elves, right?” he said. “You don’t think your sex lives disgust us at all?”
“Oh no,” said Ryel, batting her eyes. “We know we’re beautiful. Don’t hate us because we’re sex positive. Et cetera.” She reached in a pocket of her robe and pulled it out: three bronze-ish tubes, somehow welded together into a sort of corner piece of a cube, each one at right angles to the other two. “She did give it up to me.”
“Why did she do that?”
“Arkmar, what can I say? Making love is a form of—well, among the high elves, it’s a form of communion, not—well, maybe it says something about me that I think of it as a form of persuasion.”
“You really are rather a slut, Ryel.”
“You were pretty intimate with that gnome lady. That was a lady, wasn’t it?”
“Hey, she’s a judge,” said Arkmar. “No, I know. I finally have to actually come right out and admit, I know it is a form of persuasion. Not that it can’t be terribly amusing and compelling.”
“But,” said Ryel, gazing down into the dark sea. The moon penetrated far down, and she could see sharks at three different levels patrolling the deep waters. “Making love. I tend to think of it as a euphemism, but sometimes—it’s exactly what one does.” She didn’t look up: Arkmar, not especially impressed, only raised his eyebrows. She went on: “What I did to Thaeron in Baharna. He deserved that. Of course we will never make love again, no, one of us will eventually lose patience and kill the other. Davalon,” she said, and she stopped, smiled, and shook her head. Arkmar looked at the fifth piece, still in her right hand. “Davalon. Oh, I made love to him. I mean, I fucked him good, but it was making love.”
“You have a long term commitment to this guy? He lives with ghouls.”
“No, I don’t have a long term commitment,” said Ryel as if it was the dumbest idea ever. “I totally adore him but it doesn’t mean I know when I’ll see him next.”
“And this Aridel.”
“What can I say, it’s different,” said Ryel. “She’s a total fraud. She wouldn’t know the truth if it bit her.” She laughed. “The Wood Elves are all about living long, constant lives, faithful to the one they fell in love with when they were fourteen, faithful, actually, to everything they first did when they were fourteen, and they stay fourteen forever because they’re so faithful. And look at me. I don’t live anywhere, I don’t own anything, I don’t have any principles, I really am the biggest slut ever, ever, and I don’t care what I do to people. All for the job at hand. Well, Aridel is like that, but with the high kindred, right? They’re all about morals and trust and the magic of purity, they can do anything because they’re pure of heart, it’s declasse even for them to lie, and here’s Aridel, for whom truth is not even especially necessary. She will betray you if she has the least reason to, and trust exists solely to get you to where she can do so with maximum profit.”
“But we made love, I honestly think she did it because she thought she’d profit from it more than me, but what can I say? It was the real thing. The High Elves can bring the magic, I’ll say that. So guess what. She thought I would be ruthless like her, but she didn’t think I was ruthless enough to, well, take her up on that magic.”
“Explain, elf girlie.”
“Well,” said Ryel, still looking down into the waves, “in a ritual like that you open up to the other in a deep, deep way. She hoped that this would allow her to add my talents to hers to further her end. She didn’t think I would use it to further my ends. But it opens you up to that.”
“Why did you have power over her but not she over you, then?”
“Because, dwarf, and this is the important point, as long as I want us to go on together, as long as that’s really what I want, she has no option other than either to abandon the whole quest to find the pieces, or she has to share the quest with me. But what she really wants is to have the quest to herself, and she can’t have that as long as I’m willing to exploit the connection.”
“You talked about the pieces? Explicitly?”
“Everything is implicit, dwarf. That’s the High Kindred through and through. It’s all Understood.”
“You told her how much?”
Ryel laughed. “What kind of an operative do you think I am? I told her nothing. She knows we have one. She may guess we have more than one. She does not dream we have four,” she ended in a sly whisper.
“So are you in love or aren’t you? Never mind, I know, it’s complicated. All right. Ryel. We have five pieces. I have the other four in my bag. That makes five. Remember what Davalon said. The next piece we find, and we’re sitting at the grownup table.”
“I know.” She looked at hers. “I wonder if we can fit these six together. I wonder what they’d do.”
“I wonder who they’d attract,” said Arkmar. “I wonder what your friend will do.”
“That too,” said Ryel.
“And she knows where we’re headed next?”
“I only talked about it with our captain. I suppose others may guess.”
They sat and gazed out to sea for some time. The hatch behind them flopped open and talk spilled out. Up climbed Aridel, her dress hardly buttoned: the buttons in front that were buttoned were buttoned wrong. Behind her, Alkwadir and Elena looked out smiling, both naked.
“Ryel,” said Aridel, “we want you back, we’ve run out of things just three of us can do.”
Ryel sighed and stood up, rolling her eyes at Arkmar. She turned and looked at the other three, her hands behind her back, holding the fifth piece. Arkmar took it from her and put it in his bag, then pulled out his pipe and lit it and looked out to sea. Ryel smiled at the other three, let her robe come open, and then walked forward gracefully as it fell from her.
“I suppose one more ritual might be just what we need,” she said, advancing to kiss Aridel, melt into her for some seconds, then separate, still holding hands. “Shall we?” With smiles at each other, she and Aridel hopped down into the hatch and Ali shut it over them with one last wink at Arkmar.
The dwarf sat there and smoked and looked out to sea, thinking of how much nearer the moon seemed.