The Dragon Round (Dragon #1) - Stephen S. Power

PART ONE

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Jeryon

CHAPTER ONE

The Captain’s Chance

1

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Just before dawn and still eight hours from Hanosh, the captain of the penteconter Comber feels the rowers start to flag. They’re pulling together, but behind the drummer’s beat, and if he lets them get away with it, they’ll fall apart. He can’t afford that. However exhausted they are, having rowed for seventeen hours, he brings his galleys in on time.

Jeryon’s about to leave his cabin and go below when a whip cracks and he hears his oarmaster, Tuse, call for twenty big ones. The galley lurches forward, and by the seventh heave the rowers are tight again.

Tuse has some promise. Jeryon likes that call. Not twenty for Hanosh. Not twenty to save the sick. Just twenty. Tuse focuses on the job he has, not the one he wants, unlike his other mates.

The first and second mates are on the stern deck above, two whispers through the wood. Jeryon closes his eyes to listen. So far they’ve only said what all mates say: to advance they have to earn another captain’s ship. They’re getting bolder, though. It’s a short trip from earn to take.

If Jeryon didn’t need them for the next eight hours, he’d put them off, maybe before they reached Hanosh. As it is, let them think he would sleep. Once the medicine’s unloaded, he’ll wake them to reality.

Livion, the first mate, soft-cheeked and slight, leans against the stern rail. Solet, the second, stands to starboard with the rudder trapped between his thick chest and hairy arm. They have the wind, which fills the galley’s sail and muffles the crack of Tuse’s whip.

“I wish she’d left the city,” Livion says over the wind.

“Why?” Solet says. “The flox was in the Harbor. It’d barely touched the Hill. Without some moon-eyed sailor to carry it all the way up to the Crest—”

“Plagues don’t care what lane you live on.”

“Apparently your woman doesn’t either.” Livion’s eyes narrow, but Solet ignores him and goes on. “And if her father cared before we set out, he won’t after we dock and save the city. A father might not want a sailor in his family, but what owner doesn’t want a hero in his business?”

“I’m not using her to get to him.”

Solet snorts, and Livion stiffens. Sometimes Solet oversteps himself. Hanoshi don’t discuss their private lives, which makes an Ynessi like Solet want to pry all the more. The first mate finds it easier to give in a bit and get it over with than to resist. It’s his fault, anyway, for trading a long look with Tristaban as they were casting off.

“I want him to find me worthy of command,” Livion says.

“Worthy?” Solet says. “You sound like the captain. You sound like my grandfather. There’s no worthy anymore, just worth.” Solet taps the rudder with the blade he wears in place of half his right forefinger. “Get your woman. Get your command. Get your fortune. That makes you worthy. Money is money to her father, to all the owners. You don’t want to end up like Jeryon, do you?” Solet taps the deck with his foot.

“I could do worse,” Livion says. “He’s been captain for years.”

“Decades,” Solet says, “which makes him—”

“Reliable?”

“Stalled. He doesn’t reach. He’s captain of a monoreme. Has been. Always will be. He might as well push a milk cart.”

“That milkman,” Livion says, “is the real person who’ll save the city.”

“And he’ll give the Trust all the credit for sending him. They’ll give him a pat on the head and a perk for being on time. There’s a whole city waiting to cheer us, the