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Книга The Jewels of Aptor. Содержание - Chapter IV

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“Here, Snake,” said Geo. “You know how to work the jewel now, don’t you; but you learned from Argo just now.”

The boy nodded.

“Here, then, why don’t you take it?” Geo lifted the jewel from his neck and held it out to him.

Snake drew back and shook his head violently.

Urson looked puzzled.

“Snake has seen into human minds, Urson. He’s seen things directly which the rest of us only learn from a sort of second hand observation. He knows that the power of this little bead is more dangerous to the mind of the person who wields it than it is to the cities it may destroy.”

“Well,” said Urson, “as long as she thinks he’s a spy, at least we’ll have one of them little beads and someone who knows how to use it. I mean if we have to.”

“I don’t think she thinks he’s a spy any more, Urson.”

“Huh?”

“I give her credit for being able to reason at least as well as I can. Once she found out he had no jewel on him, she knew that he was as innocent as you and I are. But her only thought was to get it in any way she could. When we came in, just when she was going to put Snake under the jewel’s control, guilt made her leap backwards to her first and seemingly logical accusation for our benefit. Evil likes to cloak itself as good.”

They stepped down into the forecastle. By now a handful of sailors had come into the room, mostly drunk and snoring on berths around the walls. One had wrapped himself completely up in a blanket in the middle berth of the tier that Urson had chosen for the three. “Well,” said Urson to Snake, “it looks like you’ll have to move.”

Snake scrambled to the top bunk.

“Now look, that one was mine.”

Snake motioned him up.

“Huh? Two of us in one of those?” demanded Urson. “Look, if you want someone to keep warm against, go down and sleep with Geo there. It’s more room and you won’t get squashed against the wall. I’m a thrasher when I sleep.”

Snake didn’t move.

“Maybe you better do what he says,” Geo said. “I have an idea that…”

“You’ve got another idea now?” asked Urson, “Oh, damn, I’m too tired to argue.” He vaulted up to the top bunk. “Now move over and be very small.” He stretched out, and Snake’s slight body was completely hidden. “Hey, get your elbows out of there,” Geo heard Urson mutter before there was only a gentle thundering of his snore.

Silver mist suffused the deck of the ship and wet lines glowed a phosphorescent silver; the sky was pale as ice; pricks of stars dotted over the whole bowl. The sea, once green, seemed bleached to blowing clouds of white powder. The door of a cabin opened and white veils flung forward from the form of Argo who emerged like silver from the bone-colored door. The whole movement of the scene made it look like a picture imagination fastens in the slow ripplings of gauze under breeze. One dark spot was at her throat, pulsing darkly, like a heart, like a black flame. She walked to the railing, peered over. In the white washing a skeletal hand appeared. It raised on a beckoning arm, then fell forward in the water. Another arm raised now, a few feet away, beckoning, gesturing. Then three at once; then two more.

A voice as pale as the vision spoke “I am coming. We sail in a hour. The mate has been ordered to put the ship out before dawn. You must tell me now, creatures of the water.”

Two glowing arms raised up, and then an almost featureless face. Chest high in the water, it listed backwards and sank again.

“Are you of Aptor or Leptar?” spoke the apparitional figure of Argo again in the thinned voice. “Are your allegiances to Argo or Hama? I have followed thus far. You must tell me before I follow farther.”

There was a whirling of sound which seemed to be the wind attempting to say, “The sea… the sea… the sea…”

But Argo did not hear, for she turned away and walked from the rail, back to her cabin.

Now the scene moved, turned toward the door of the forecastle. It opened, moved through the hall, the walls, more like polished steel than weathered wood, and went on. In the forecastle, the yellow oil lamp seemed a white flaring of magnesium.

The movement stopped in front of a tier of three berths; on the bottom one lay a young man with a starved, pallid face. His mop of hair was bleached white. On his chest was a pulsing darkness, a black flame, a dark heart, shimmering with the indistinctness of absolute shadow. On the top bunk a great form like a bloated corpse lay. One huge arm hung over the bunk, flabbed, puffy, without muscle.

In the center berth was an anonymous bundle of blankets completely covering the figure inside. On this the scene fixed, drew closer… and the paleness suddenly faded before darkness, into shadow, into nothing.

Geo sat up and knuckled his eyes.

The dark forecastle was relieved by the yellow glow of the lamp. The gaunt mate stood across the room. “Hey, you,” he was saying to a man in one of the bunks, “up and out. We’re sailing.”

The figure roused itself from the tangle of bedding.

The mate moved to another. “Up, you dog face. Up, you fish fodder. We’re sailing.” Turning around, he saw Geo watching him. “And what’s wrong with you?” he demanded. “We’re sailing, didn’t you hear? Naw, you go back to sleep. Your turn will come, but we need experienced ones now.” He grinned briefly, and then went on to one more. “Eh, you stink like an old wine cask. Raise yourself out of your fumes. We’re sailing!”

Chapter IV

“That dream,” Geo said to Urson a moment after the mate left. Urson looked down from his bunk.

“You had it too?”

Both turned to Snake.

“I guess that was your doing, eh?” Urson said.

Snake scrambled down from the upper bunk.

“Did you go wandering around the deck last night and do some spying?” Geo asked.

By now most of the other sailors had risen, and one suddenly stepped between Urson and Geo. “ ‘Scuse me, mate,” he said and shook the figure in the second berth. “Hey, Whitey, come on. You can’t be that soused from last night. Get up or you’ll miss mess.” The young sailor shook the figure again. “Hey, Whitey.” The figure in the blankets was unresponsive. The sailor gave him one more good shake, and as he rolled over, the blanket fell away from the blond head. The eyes were wide and dull, the mouth half open. “Hey, Whitey,” the black sailor said again, and then he stepped back, slowly.

Mist enveloped the ship three hours out from port. Urson was called for duty right after breakfast, but no one bothered either Snake or Geo that first morning. Snake would slip off somewhere and Geo would be left to wander the ship alone. He was walking beneath the dories when the heavy slap of bare feet on the wet deck materialized in Urson. “Hey,” greeted his friend. “What are you doing under here?”

“Nothing much,” Geo said.

Urson was carrying a coil of rope about his shoulder. Now he slung it down into his hand and leaned against the support shaft and looked out toward the fog. “It’s a bad beginning this trip has had,” he said. “What few sailors I’ve talked to don’t like it at all.”

“Urson,” said Geo, “have you any idea what actually happened this morning?”

“Maybe I have and maybe I haven’t,” Urson said. “What ones have you?”

“Do you remember the dream?” he asked.

Urson scrunched his shoulders as if suddenly cold. “I do,” he said.

“It was like we were seeing through somebody else’s eyes, almost.”

“Our little four-armed friend sees things in a strange way if that’s the case.”

“Urson, that wasn’t Snake’s eyes we saw through. I asked him, just before he went off exploring the ship. It was somebody else. All he did was get the pictures and relay them into our minds. And what was the last thing you saw?”

“As a matter of fact,” Urson said, turning, “I think he was looking at poor Whitey’s bunk.”

“And who was supposed to be sleeping in poor Whitey’s bunk?”

“Snake?”

“Exactly. Do you think perhaps White was killed?”

“Could be, I guess. But how, and why, and who?”

“Somebody who wanted Snake killed. Maybe the same person who cut his tongue out a year and a half ago.”

“I thought we decided that we didn’t know who that was.”

“A man you know, Urson,” Geo said. “What man on this ship have you sailed with before?”

“Don’t you think I’ve been looking?” Urson asked. “There’s not a familiar face on deck, other than maybe one I’ve seen in a dockside bar, but never one whose name I’ve known.”

“Think, Urson, who on this ship you’ve sailed with before,” Geo asked again, more intently.

Suddenly Urson turned. “You mean the mate?”

“That’s just who I mean,” said Geo.

“And you think he tried to kill Snake. Why didn’t Snake tell us?”

“Because he thought if we knew, we’d get in trouble with it. And he may be right.”

“How come?” asked Urson.

“Look, we know something is fishy about Argo. The more I think about it, the less I can put my hands on it. But if something is fishy about the mate too, then perhaps he’s in cahoots with her. What about when he came into Argo’s cabin last night when we were there?”

“Maybe he was just doing what we said we were; walking by when he heard a noise. If it was his eyes we were seeing through, then he sees things awfully funny, then.”

“Maybe he’s a strange one too, like Snake who ‘hears’ things funny. Not all strangeness shows,” Geo reminded him.

“You could be right,” said Urson. “You could be right.” He stood up from where he had leaned against a lifeboat support. “Well, you think some more friend, and I’ll listen. I’ll see you later.” He hauled up his rope again and started off in the mist.

Geo decided to search for Snake. A ladder led to the upper deck, and climbing it, he saw across the deck a tall, fog-shrouded figure. He paused, and then started forward. “Hello,” he said.

The captain turned from the railing and looked at him.

“Good morning sir,” Geo said. “I thought you might be the mate.”

The captain was silent for a while, and then said, “Good morning. What do you want?”

“I didn’t mean to disturb you if you were…”

“No disturbance,” said the captain.

“How long will it take us to get to Aptor?”

“Another three weeks. Shorter if this wind keeps up.”

“I see,” said Geo. “Have you any idea of the geography of Aptor?”

“The mate is the only one on board that has ever set foot on Aptor and come off it alive. Except Priestess Argo.”

“The mate, sir? When?”

“On a previous voyage he was wrecked there. He made a raft and drifted into the open sea where he had the good fortune to be picked up by a ship.”

“Then he will lead whatever party goes to the place?”

“Not him,” said the captain. “He’s sworn never to set foot on the place again. Don’t even ask him to talk about it. Imagine what sort of a place it must be if probable death on the open sea is better than struggling on its land. No, he’ll pilot us through the bay to the river’s estuary, but other than that, he will have nothing to do with the place.

“Two other men we had on board who’d been there and returned. They went with the Priestess Argo in a boat of thirteen. Ten were dismembered and the pieces of their bodies were thrown in the water. Two survived to row the Priestess back to the boat. One was the sailor who died in the forecastle this morning. Not half an hour ago, I received news that the other one went overboard from the rigging and was lost in the sea. This is not a good trip. Men are not to be lost like coins in a game. Life is too valuable.”

“I see,” said Geo. “Thank you for your information and time, sir.”

“You are welcome,” the captain said. Then he turned away.

Geo descended the ladder again and walked slowly forward. Something touched him on the shoulder and he whirled.

“Snake, God damn it, don’t do that!”

The boy looked embarrassed.

“I didn’t mean to yell,” Geo said, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulder. “Come on, though. What did you find? I’ll trade you what I know for what you do.”

You… sleep, came from Snake.

“I’m sorry, friend,” laughed Geo. “But I couldn’t take a nap now if you paid me. Now tell me, whose eyes were we seeing through last night? The captain’s?”

Snake shook his head.

“The mate’s?”

Snake nodded.

“I thought so. Now, did he want to kill… wait a minute,” said Geo. “Can the mate read minds, too? Is that why you’re keeping things from us?”

Snake shrugged.

“Come on now,” Geo said. “Do a little yelling and explain.”

Don’t… know, Snake thought out loud. Can… see… what… he… sees… hear… what… he… hears. But… no… hear… thoughts…

“I see. Look, take a chance that he can’t read minds and tell me, did he kill the man in the bed you should have been in.”

Snake paused for a minute. Then nodded.

“Do you think he was trying to kill you?”

Snake nodded again.

“Did you know that the man killed this morning in your place was one of the two men who came back from Aptor with the Priestess?”

Snake looked surprised.

“And that the other one drowned this morning, fell overboard, and was lost?”

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