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knew that they had left the canal for the open harbor. There was a change in motion that told her they had linked to a
tow vessel. They would not stand out she knew, for many barges would still be being towed back and forth as
merchants took advantage of the long summer evenings to load and unload.
"You make a convincing sailor lass," was the man's greeting when she emerged. He had not needed so many
alterations to his attire, but he, too, had replaced the loose workman's smock he had worn ashore with a striped shirt.
In addition to knife and wallet, his belt bore a sheathed cutlass as well.
"We transfer," he said, "to another boat soon, a swifter vessel than this. We're to be a party of sea dogs taking
advantage of our leave. One of the men here has a brother on board our target, and we're paying a call."
"Fine," Adalia said. "And then?"
"Follow me," he said. "We'll board, and then you'll claim the child while I& "
He didn't finish then, for a man called out from the fore portion of the barge.
"Sailboat's here, Clam!"
Her guide, now aptly identified as "Clam" for he had certainly proved as close-mouthed as one, tapped her on the arm.
"Ready?"
Adalia nodded. Although she was pleased that Clam expected her to be able to handle herself, she almost wished he
would offer her more advice. After all, her husband had been a sailor and she herself had been around boats all her
life, but she had never been part of a boarding party and had no idea what they expected of her.
Play along, she coached herself, and find Jori. That's your job. Leave the rest to Clam and his fellows.
With the brother one Strop in the lead, they swarmed up the side of the trading vessel, leaving one sailor aboard
the sailboat.
The trading vessel was not large when compared to many in the harbor, but it seemed large enough as Adalia found
toeholds in the swinging rope ladder.
Only schooling her muscles into reflexes learned when visiting Big Jori aboard carried her along.
After the sailboat's pitching, the deck of the trading vessel seemed as steady as the docks ashore. Adalia cast glances
here and there, noting the location of the hatches and the best ways to get to the fore and aft cabins. As of yet she had
no idea where Jori was being kept and more than once the mewling cries of the seagulls made her start, for to her eager
ears they sounded much like the wails of a child.
"Signal from ashore!" came a call from the crow's nest.
Immediately, one man Adalia thought he was the same who had manned the rowboat's oars when she had caught her
glimpse of Jori separated himself from the convivial knot of visiting sailors and trotted purposefully for the aft cabin.
Adalia didn't need Clam's slight nudge to mark the cabin out, and when the door shut behind the man, she was already
easing herself in that direction. The door opened again and the man emerged, followed by a slender woman dressed in
sailor's togs.
Both were looking intently toward where regular flashes of light probably from a handheld mirror were coming
from Lighthouse Hall, an artificial high point created to guard the harbor.
The cipher was not one with which Adalia was familiar. There were doz;ens in use, for the plutocrats of Waterland
were well aware that knowledge could be transformed into wealth.
However, though the flashes were nothing but winks of light, watching the anxious expression on the woman's face
shift to one of grim determination told Adalia more than she wanted to know.
She had edged within reach of the stairs that led to the raised deck around the rear cabin and now in one rush she was
up the stairs and into the cabin. Jori, so heavy-lidded that she suspected that he might have been given a tot of liquor
in his milk, woke a bit when his mother lifted him, then snuggled against her breast and fell promptly back to sleep.
Out on the deck there were shouts and the sound of metal striking metal. Clam and his men were at work.
Adalia found a fabric sling meant for carrying the baby near to the cradle. Despite a shudder of revulsion at wrapping
herself in something belonging to one of the assassins, she used it to secure Jori to her. She was fastening the final knot
when the cabin door was flung open. The woman stood blocking the doorway, a cutlass rimmed with a thin bead of
scarlet in her hand.
In this pose, graceful and confident, Adalia knew her as she had not before for the woman who had stolen Jori from
her room.
"Reid Greene is dead," the assassin announced, "and by your hand, but it seems you did not trust us, Widow Baker."
Adalia smiled grimly. "Master Reid lives, and you were unwise to trust me. As you would turn me into a tool for your
hand, so I turned Master Reid into one for mine."
The woman reeled back a step, then recovered.
"You are bluffing."
"Wait and see," Adalia replied calmly.
But the woman did not. Wheeling to flee, she found
Clam standing behind her, the point of his cutlass pressing lightly against her belly.
"Tansy Tea," Clam said, "daughter of Opulence Tea. I hold you for questioning on the matter of an assassination
attempt against my master, Supreme Affluent Reid Greene. Your associates here on shipboard are subdued. Doubtless
you can buy your life by finking on those who are ashore, or would you prefer a valiant death?"
Adalia felt cruelly disappointed when Tansy Tea dropped her blade and put her hands behind her back in a posture of
surrender.
For a brief moment, the baker considered shoving the assassin onto the tip of Clam's blade. Then she shook her head
regretfully.
Poison when Jori's life was at stake she might have managed, but not such a violent act with Jori mumbling sleepily at
her breast. Still, she couldn't help but feel that she was owed a more personal revenge.
Clam must have read something of Adalia's thoughts from her expression, for as he shoved the prisoner ahead of him,
he called back:
"Come along, Widow Baker. Master Reid is planning a bit of a get-together to discuss this ugly situation, and I
believe he is counting on you to bake some almond tarts for his guests." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]