“MIND your business, lad!”
He thought he had been minding it, had simply been watching the Wyr-chieftain bend over and try to disguise a jaw-cracking yawn by flaking a very heavy mooring rope into a circle. He hadn’t stopped his work, and that yawn was, after all, his business… seeing that he was part of the reason the Wyr-chieftain wasn’t getting enough sleep.
Taran was aware that a very silly grin had formed on his face, but it congealed as another bucket crashed down beside the one already next to him, water sloshing over the wooden sides. There was a brown, brawny arm attached to the twisted-hemp handle of that bucket, that arm extending from a salt-stained leather vest and, above that, a riot of brown twist-locks pulled back from narrowed, brown eyes.
First Wyr-mate Odina had a considerable glare, no question.
“Get that smirk off your face,” she told Taran, “and pay attention to what you’re doing. Your water’s dirty. Dump it, use this. And keep dumping it, unless you want to scrub the entire deck again.”
Scrubbing the ship’s deck on hands and knees seemed to be Odina’s favorite job for him, aside from lubricating the blocks and pulleys with a particularly foul-smelling black grease. When he gave her a wary look, she merely shrugged. “The faster you learn your way about, the faster Slow Tolly can go back to doing these simpler tasks. You’ll do both him and you a favor, bairn. So stop ogling Himself and get back to work. What do you think you came here for?”
Escape. That’s what Taran had come here for, and adventure, and most of all, the promise of his cousin Merimac—Wyr-chieftain of Geillidh—who had not only been his first lover, but also first to acknowledge that Taran no more belonged in the farm- and fishing-lodge of their kin than he should flap his arms and fly to Sister Moon. And from the first time Taran had stepped foot on Geillidh and joined her small complement—family, really—that promise had been fulfilled. The crew had sung him welcome as Merimac had painted the Wyr-ogom upon his face—the marks that began his journey as one of the Wyrling, the Riverdrivers—and once they’d gotten underway, Taran had taken to the lobbing motion of the boat with an odd grace, as if something in his head and his heels clicked into recognition. And River Herself, stretching a coppery wake, wide and long beneath the galley, parting before them or wrestling with them depending on Her mood… She spoke to him, filled his breast. The story-path of which Merimac had so often told him—he was here now, walking it. Constant, often unbearable in its bliss—here was freedom so sharp and full he could taste it on his tongue like bow spray. Here was promise and prospect. Here was life, and belonging….
But here was also this withering bucket, and thrice-withered scrub brush, and as much work as a full season of haying and fishing. Another promise had been proven true upon his first steps aboard: he might be the Wyr-chieftain’s cousin and lovemate, but it got him absolutely no favors when it came to how Geillidh ran.