Ship of Destiny (Liveship Traders #3)

by Robin Hobb

PROLOGUE - She Who Remembers


On the day that she had hatched, she had been captured before she could wriggle over the sand to the cool and salty embrace of the sea. She Who Remembers was doomed to recall every detail of that day with clarity. It was her entire function and the reason for her existence. She was a vessel for memories. Not just her own life, from the moment when she began forming in the egg, but the linked lives of those who had gone before her were nested inside her. From egg to serpent to cocoon to dragon to egg, all memory of her line was hers. Not every serpent was so gifted, or so burdened. Only a relative few were imprinted with the full record of their species, but only a few were needed.

She had begun perfect. Her tiny, smooth body, lithe and scaled, had been flawless. She had cut her way out of the leathery shell with the egg tooth atop her snout. She was a late hatcher. The others in her clutch had already broken free of their shells and the heaped dry sand. They had left their wallowing trails for her to follow. The sea had beckoned her insistently. Every lap of every wave beguiled her. She had begun her journey, slithering across the dry sand under the beating sun. She had smelled the wet tang of the ocean. The moving light on its dazzling surface had lured her.

She had never finished her journey.

The Abominations had found her. They had surrounded her, interposing their heavy bodies between her and the beckoning ocean. Plucked wriggling from the sand, she had been imprisoned in a tide-fed pool inside a cave in the cliffs. There they had kept her, feeding her only dead food and never allowing her to swim free. She had never migrated south with the others to the warm seas where food was plentiful. She had never achieved the bulk and strength that a free life would have granted her. Nevertheless, she grew, until the pool in the cave was little more than a cramped puddle to her, a space barely sufficient to keep her skin and gills wet. Her lungs were pinched always inside her folded coils. The water that surrounded her was constantly befouled with her poisons and wastes. The Abominations had kept her prisoner.

How long had they confined her there? She could not measure it, but she felt certain that she had been captive for several ordinary lifetimes of her kind. Time and again, she had felt the call of the season of migration. A restless energy would come over her, followed by a terrible desire to seek out her own kind. The poison glands in her throat would swell and ache with fullness. There was no rest for her at such times, for the memories permeated her and clamored to be released. She had shifted restlessly in the torment of her small pool and vowed endless revenge against the Abominations who held her so. At such times, her hatred of them was most savage. When her overflowing glands flavored the water with her ancestral memories, when the water became so toxic with the past that her gasping gills poisoned her with history, then the Abominations came. They came to her prison, to draw water from her pool and inebriate themselves with it. Drunken, they prophesied to one another, ranting and raving in the light of the full moon. They stole the memories of her kind, and used them to extrapolate the future.

Then the two-legs, Wintrow Vestrit, had freed her. He had come to the island of the Abominations, to gather for them the treasures the sea left on the shore. In exchange, he had expected them to prophesy his future for him. Even now, that thought made her mane grow turgid with poison. The Abominations prophesied only what they sensed of the future from stealing her pasts! They had no true gifts of Seeing. If they had, she reflected, they would have known that the two-legs brought their doom. They would have stopped Wintrow Vestrit. Instead, he had discovered her and freed her.

Although she had touched skins with him, although their memories had mingled through her toxins, she did not understand what had motivated the two-legs to free her. He was such a short-lived creature that most of his memories could not even leave an imprint on her. She had sensed his worry and pain. She had known that he risked his brief existence to free her. The courage of such a brief spasm of life had moved her. She had slain the Abominations when they would have recaptured both of them. Then, when the two-legs would have died in the mothering sea, she had aided him to return to his ship.

She Who Remembers opened wide her gills once more. She tasted a mystery in the waves. She had restored the two-legs to his ship, but the ship both frightened and attracted her. The silvery gray hull of the vessel flavored the water ahead of her. She followed it, drinking in the elusive tang of memories.

The ship smelled, not like a ship, but like one of her own kind. She had followed it now for twelve tides, and was no closer to understanding how such a thing could be. She knew well what ships were; the Elderlings had had ships, though not such as this one. Her dragon memories told her that her kind had often flown over such vessels, and playfully set them to rocking wildly with a gust from wide wings. Ships were no mystery, but this one was. How could a ship give off the scent of a serpent? Moreover, it smelled like no ordinary serpent. It smelled like One Who Remembers.