by Matthew Morde
On Ahme’s twelfth birthday her father, Rees, patted his only child on the head and handed her a tattered strip of leather.
“A glorious arrival day to you, Ahme Rees-ya!” he said, stifling a yawn. “As I am currently poor and with little money, this is your only present.”
Ahme held the leather band before her face and arched an eyebrow. Rees laughed.
“You do not like your gift?” he asked with a mischievous glint in his eye.
“I do not know to what poor creature it belonged,” admitted Rees. “Although I doubt it was something as glamorous as a cow.”
As Ahme dangled the strip in the air, her father leaned forward and pinched his chin, shrewdly inspecting the ragged band like a clothing merchant eyeing silk robes.
“A large rat, perhaps?” he ventured, standing upright.
“What is it for?” Ahme asked suspiciously. Her father did not give presents on arrival days. Indeed, Ahme could not remember ever receiving a gift from her father.
Rees’ flashed his pale yellow teeth in a devilish grin.
“What are we carrying in our hold?” he asked.
Ahme glanced at the dark rectangular opening in the ship’s deck and felt a sickening, ticklish sensation skim across the back of her neck.
“Melons,” she said grimly.
“What kind of melons?”
“And what travels with boka melons?”
“Boka spiders!” she said.
“And boka spiders are dangerous, why?”
“Their bite gives you a fever and you die,” stated Ahme. “And they spit acid.”
“It’s that second part that concerns me. Boka spiders are murderously territorial but clumsy spitters. They spit at each other, they miss, the acid ruins the wood of our precious salhulk. We can’t have that.”
Ahme nodded her head impatiently. They had been transporting boka melons upriver for three days now and her father repeatedly lectured her on the dangers of boka acid to wood. It seemed only Ahme was concerned with the spider’s lethal bite. She idly twirled the leather band in the air so that it resembled a brown tornado.
“Mind me, daughter!”
Ahme stopped twirling.
“Good.” Rees smiled as he pointed. “This is a sling. Use it to kill spiders while I take a nap.”
Before she could respond, Ahme’s father spun on his heel and bounded across the deck, very unlike a man eager for sleep.
“What about Biteface?” she called after her father as he retreated into the aft-cabin. He appeared from the waist up in one of the large windows facing the bow.
“Biteface has been eating boka spiders for three days. He’s so bloated,
he can barely lick his belly. That, and the acid has really done a number on his fur.”
Rees shook his head sadly.
“He needs a rest and so do I.”
Ahme opened her mouth in protest as her father grabbed the window shutters and, like a bird folding his wings, snapped them shut.
“I’ve never used a sling before!” shouted Ahme.
Her father’s reply was muffled by the wall.
“You’ve swung rope to dock workers, haven’t you?”
“Use that! Now to your morning duties and leave me alone. It’s nap time!”
“But Rees, I…”
Ahme’s shoulders slumped as she glanced toward the bow. The sun had not yet risen above the jagged hills to the east and the ship’s hold was still a black pool of shadow. She had perhaps half a turn of the time-coil before Sorna’s rays angled into the cargo bay, waking the slumbering arachnids nestled amongst the melon piles.
A loud grunt near Ahme’s shoulder pulled her attention to a bamboo pen with woven screens and a roof of overlapping palm fronds. A shaggy yak was stuffed inside the enclosure, its massive head resting on the bamboo fence as the creature’s gelatinous yellow eyes watched the girl with her new present.
“What do you want, Yogo?” Ahme asked snidely, knowing well that the yak was eager for its breakfast.
Yogo snorted, its large black nostrils trumpeting wetly as its thick tongue unfurled out of the side the bovine’s mouth then slithered back between its moist lips.
“Since you are not pulling the ship today,” said Ahme, “perhaps you could lick the spiders to death.”
Shaking her head, Ahme was about to start her morning chores when an unpleasant realization made her pause. She had no rocks to sling. Their ship was anchored in the river some forty paces from the nearest stone. She could not walk to shore and gather missiles. Swimming was out of the question. The currents were strong today, and this was crocodile territory.
Ahme silently cursed her father. He was aware of the lack of stones onboard. Ahme had been given a riddle of sorts, an irksome little task to amuse Rees while nourishing his daughter’s wits. These little mind games annoyed Ahme, but this was the first such challenge that frightened her. Fighting giant, venomous, acid-fanged spiders was a horrifying way to spend her birthday.
Deadly arachnids aside, Ahme’s chores awaited. She stuffed the sling into her tunic and pushed the thought of slumbering crawlies into a dark corner of her thoughts.
She walked briskly toward the bow, following the deck around the gaping mouth of the hold. Along the way, she gathered the beetle globes. Filled with luminescent insects, these glass bowls were suspended by netting from poles planted in iron rings along the ship’s railings. Used to illuminate the salhulk at night and ward of collisions with other vessels, the globes had to be stowed during the day lest their occupants cook to death under the desert sun. As globes clanged together in her arms, Ahme glanced into the hold, making out the dim outlines of cargo. The melons were a dark bulbous outline in the thicker darkness below.
Crossing the forward deck area, Ahme reached the tow-post at the front of the ship. She grabbed one of the iron rings attached to the stout pole and pulled herself up onto the bow railing to check the anchor line. The thick rope was taut, stretching from the tow-post toward the anchor hidden beneath the soupy waters upstream. The Thaya spread before Ahme like a lumpy brown plain before bending out of sight behind crumbled hills. A handful of other ships were anchored along the west bank or in the river just off shore. Even in the weak dawn light, Ahme could identify each vessel by their dim shapes. There were two other salhulks identical to her own, tied side-by-side and secured to a palm tree overhanging the royal towpath. Further upstream and also secured to the towpath, was a troop barge. Floating high on the waterline and with no nearby encampment on shore, Ahme determined that the vessel was returning empty from the north. For the last year, troop barges had taken scores of royal soldiers to the edge of the kingdom. They always drifted back empty.
Beyond the troop barge was a vast and awkward looking vessel called a dredger. Ahme scrutinized what looked like a large raft with an upper deck mounted on stilts. A cluster of huts with palm and thatched rooftops was bunched on the flimsy platform. Giant wooden claws attached to cranes reached out from every side of the vessel. Ahme considered the claws used to haul silt up from the canal and river bottoms and wished she had a smaller one with which to pluck boka spiders.
She looked to the nearby river bank and spotted a cluster of bushes that she had sighted the night before. She made certain the ship had not moved since anchoring. Then, swinging gracefully from one iron ring to another overhanging the water, Ahme peered at the waterline below. Satisfied that no flotsam had snagged the front of the ship, the girl swung back onto the deck.
“Wakey, wakey!” she called out.
Beside the tow-post, sheltered from the wind by the bow rails, was the ship’s bird coop. As soon as she opened the coop’s doors, a curious duck poked its crimson head out of the enclosure.
“Cool morning, Ruby!” said Ahme as she plucked the lid off a nearby ceramic jar. She thrust her hands inside and pulled out dripping fistfuls of grain that she then scattered on trays surrounding the coop.
Ruby fluttered its wings as the bird eagerly waddled to its meal. The duck was followed by a plump hen with a cap of white feathers bursting madly from its head.
“A fine morning to you, Mopple!”
Ahme replenished a small trough with water scooped from a nearby rain barrel lashed to the railing. With food and water set out for the ducks and hens teeming around her feet, Ahme lifted the lid off the coop and gathered three eggs.
“Sorry, ladies,” Ahme chuckled. “I’m taking your babies.”
Placing the eggs in a small basket, Ahme made her way to the back of the ship. Ignoring Yogo’s impatient snort as she walked by, Ahme approached the stern-house. Setting aside the basket of eggs, she opened the iron door to the ship’s kiln, a massive pile of stone shaped like a gray beehive. At its top a clay tube funneled smoke over the palm fronds covering the stern-house. Elevated a foot above the wood deck by a stone and mortar pedestal, the kiln was used for both cooking and as a forge for repairing tools. Ahme used an iron poker to rouse the dozing embers inside before feeding a crusty lump of old yak droppings into the kiln. The dried feces blossomed with flames.
Ahme filled a copper kettle and a small clay pot with water, placing them both on a metal shelf set in the top kiln. She dropped the three eggs into the pot, considering for a moment if hard-boiled eggs would make good sling projectiles. Her stomach grumbled in protest.
“I’ll need more than three,” she convinced herself.
While the eggs cooked, Ahme placed a clay pot full of pitch on a blackened indentation in the side of the kiln. She turned to the yak.
“Your turn, you hairy hippo,” said Ahme, making her way to the hay pile stuffed between Yogo’s pen and the stern-house. Using her arms like dredger cranes, Ahme snagged a heaping armful of hay and tossed it at the yak’s feet. Yogo stood up, the shaggy hump on its back brushing the palm leaves above. As the beast buried its head in its breakfast, Ahme retrieved a clay pot and stepped inside Yogo’s shelter.
With deft hands, Ahme milked Yogo’s udders. The yak paid her no mind. While Ahme worked, she mentally catalogued the objects on the salhulk that might prove lethal when launched from the leather tucked into her tunic. Nails were too small, coins and silver too valuable. There was a coconut in the pantry, but Ahme had no intention of climbing into the spider-infested hold after every shot to retrieve it. There was some magestone on board, but she would have to chip off pieces to make use of it. Ahme dismissed the idea, as the magestone belonged to a customer and should not be damaged. That, and it was considered taboo by non-mages to touch the magical material. Rees said such superstitions were silly, but Ahme saw how other freighter crews feared the handling of the mystical ore. Rees was one of the few captains who could be convinced to transport it.
After milking Yogo and tossing another pile of hay into its pen, Ahme removed the boiling pot of eggs from the kiln, then retrieved the bucket of warm pitch. Grabbing a wooden scraper from a tool crate and one of the beetle globes, Ahme quietly made her way into the stern-house.
Rees lay in his hammock, swaying gently with a straw hat covering his face. A stem of half-eaten grapes stretched across his belly.
Ahme rolled her eyes at her lazy father and made her way to a hatch in the floor. As she lifted the trapdoor, she was hit with a blast of cold air from the darkness below. With the pitch pail in one hand and the pole holding the beetle globe in the other, Ahme descended into the aft hold. As they entered the darkness, the insects in their glass abode were riled and began to emit a ghostly green light. They illuminated a chamber some ten paces long with walls that pinched together toward the stern. The darkness drained away from the girl, leaving long puddles of shadow peering around piles of cargo.
Ahme’s breath misted before her eyes as she searched the frigid room. The floor, the ceiling, every bulkhead was covered in thick frost. Her father hired mages to enchant the small hold. It was a costly service, turning a room into an ice box, but it allowed for the shipping of certain luxuries that fetched a greater price in the desert cities along the Thaya.
Preserved in the icy chamber were crates of frozen crocodile meat and baskets of eel harvested from Crane Lake. Three giant Thaya perch, glittering and hard, dangled from the rafters. There were packages of cheese and casks of spirits from Tol-Han, dough and cakes from Shimmer Veil, and enchanted beer from the capital. Hanging amidst lamb and goat shanks was the carcass of some mysterious animal that had once possessed four legs, but sleeker and shorter.
When it was transferred to their ship from another salhulk at Rash-Ha, Ahme asked her father what it was.
“A stag,” he had replied with a strange look on his face.
“What did it look like?”
Her father considered the carcass for a moment.
“Unlike any creature you have known,” he said. “They are beautiful.”
Dissatisfied by the answer, Ahme pressed her father for a description.
“What color was it? Did it have scales?”
“I suppose of all the creatures you have seen, it most resembles a small, thin horse. But its snout is finer and its eyes more fearful. They leap as often as run, and on their heads are horns like naked thickets.”
As he spoke, her father grew wistful.
“They live in the forests a hundred leagues up river, where every six months the sun grows shy and the land freezes into a giant enchanted ice box. It is cold and terrible and the most beautiful place you could ever see.”
Before she could respond, her father had fled his curious daughter.
Ahme considered the lifeless flesh in the enchanted hold and tried to envision the beautiful creature her father had described. As she struggled to do so, the light from her orb began to fade. She had only been in the hold for a few moments, but the cold was already taking its toll on the incandescent bugs.
Ahme hastily made her way to a small door in the back of the room. With a scraper, she chiseled away the frost over the latch then pushed the door open. Ahme passed through into a tiny room crimped into the far end of the ship.
Outside the enchanted hold, the air was hot and stifling. The orb pulsed with light as Ahme inspected the bulkhead for leaks. With the scraper, she smeared tar along damp seams in the wood, watching the viscous goo ooze and drip like black pearls.
Ahme was covered in sweat by the time she finished patching. She returned to the frozen hold, set down her pail, scooped a handful of frost from the wall and held it to the back of her neck. Reclaiming the bucket of tar, Ahme crossed to the forward bulkhead.
Her hand paused on the latch of the door leading to the main hold as Ahme braced herself for the creeping horrors beyond. She reminded herself that the sun had not risen high enough to shine below the top deck. The spiders would still be asleep. That left only Biteface with which to contend.
Taking a deep breath, Ahme opened the door and peered into the shadowy hold.
Cargo was arranged along the walls and in long rows down the center of the salhulk. Baskets full of boka melons made up the largest piles, stacked like sloppy pyramids held together by thick ropes anchored to iron rings in the floor. Sunlight brightened the uppermost melons of each pile. No boka spiders had emerged.
Relieved, Ahme opened the door a little wider. As she dipped her toe into the main hold, she looked down and stifled a yell. Three paces away, basking in the pale glow of beetle light, lurked a boka spider the size of a dinner plate.
Ahme jerked her leg back and slammed the door shut, spilling hot tar on the frosted ground. She stood for a long while, frightened and cold, silently demanding to know why the arachnid was waiting for her. The main hold was still in shadow. The spider should be nesting amongst the melons, not prowling the deck.
Mindful of a face full of acid, Ahme cautiously pried open the door and peeked through. Her breath quickened at the sight of the furry arachnid reaching for her like a disembodied hand. Its eyes sparkled above its wet fangs. Its legs were longer than Ahme’s fingers, stretching like hairy vines from its bloated core. Although the spider did not stir, it took all of Ahme’s willpower to resist smashing the door shut. Having witnessed from the safety of the upper deck, the chaotic spectacle of Biteface battling these frenetic monsters, Ahme knew that boka spiders did not sit still when away from their melon nests. Something was wrong with this particular creature. It twitched its fangs but made no other motion. Its gaze was fixed on the girl but the monster made no motion toward her.
Ahme opened the door a few more inches. The spider lay still.
She lifted her chin and hissed through the gap.
Her call was answered by a loud snort amidst the stacks of cargo.
“Come here, you mean old thing!”
There was another snort followed by a thump. Ahme listened as something trotted heavily toward her. Tension tightened Ahme’s shoulders. The throg was on its way.
Throgs are fierce and gluttonous beasts. They live for centuries and are notoriously difficult to kill. The saying as tough as a throg could be received as either a compliment regarding one’s physical endurance or slight against one’s self-destructive stubbornness. Throgs barely tolerate their owners and consequently left to hunt in places where humans spend little time. Salhulk crews often used throgs or cats to hunt pests. Some crews might employ both, although the risk to felines is great, for throgs seem to have a particular hankering for cat meat. Biteface was no exception and Ahme had to train her cats to avoid the throg’s domain.
Biteface peered around the corner of melon cargo, his beady, bloodshot eyes glaring at the frightened child poking her head through the doorway. He growled then lumbered gracelessly toward Ahme, his engorged belly battered by his own stubby legs. Wild tufts of black fur competed with glistening patches of gray and purple scales. As he drew near, the throg’s broad snout peeled back in a toothy snarl, revealing a mouthful of jaggedness that a crocodile would envy. Dragging behind the throg’s hideous rump was a limp, wiry tail, naked except for a pathetic puff of fur at its tip. Biteface, like all throgs, was aggressively ugly.
Ahme pointed at the spider between her and the throg. Biteface paused over the arachnid and sniffed. The spider remained still, even as the throg bit it in half.
Ahme scrunched her nose in disgust. Biteface nudged the spider’s remaining half then grew very still. He spat up his meal.
As the stench of regurgitated boka spider flooded her nostrils, the once incredulous Ahme realized her father was right. The insatiable throg could eat no more.
Ahme stepped into the main hold. Biteface looked up the young girl, seemingly weighing whether she deserved a nibble. He gagged up some more spider then collapsed onto his side. His bloated belly sagged across the floor like a sack of wet concrete.
With the threat of spider fangs and throg teeth momentarily suspended, Ahme relaxed. Inspecting the half-eaten spider, she noticed that the floor beneath the corpse was lightly frosted. The enchantment from the aft hold had spilled over into the main. The spider had wandered onto the frozen wood and been rendered lifeless.
As Ahme considered this observation, she realized that boka spiders did not shelter at night from darkness. They sheltered from cold.
Setting aside the pitch pail and beetle globe, Ahme returned to the frozen chamber. She dropped to her knees and using the scraper, furiously began shearing layers of frost off the floor. Cold seeped through her tunic and slippers, numbing her kneecaps and toes. Ahme hurriedly balled up fist-size clumps of frost. Her fingers ached with pain as she assembled a glistening arsenal of snowballs.
Ahme unbelted the faded red sash knotted around her tunic at her waist. She spread the cloth out on the ground and filled it with snowballs. When she was done, Ahme gathered the corners of the sash and heaved the snow-laden load over her shoulder. Her tunic billowed around her legs as Ahme stood and made her way up the ladder.
Inside the stern-house, Rees peered out from under his hat as his daughter scrambled out of the hatchway.
“What’s in there?” he asked.
“Shhh,” Ahme replied. “Nap time.”
Rees shrugged then returned his hat over his face.
Ahme stepped outside. The sun shone brightly in the cloudless sky, its rays pushing down the darkness along the starboard bulkhead inside the hold. The snowballs began to melt.
She stood on the edge of the deck, peering down at the boka melons. Biteface had not moved. The throg was slumped on his side, his fat belly rising and falling with every labored breath. Ahme set her arsenal down, grabbed a snowball and loaded it into the sling. She waited.
As sunlight dropped like a bright curtain along the interior wall of the storage bay, the piles of large, oblong fruit were illuminated. The red veins in the melons’ yellow rinds glowed like sapphire embedded in limestone. It was not long before the first spider poked its hairy leg out from a nook near the top of the melon pile.
As the spider crept out of its hole, Ahme spun the sling in the air beside her. It whirled in a blur as the girl frowned with concentration. Below, the spider crawled with a hideous grace into the open air. As soon as it paused, Ahme, anxious and buzzing with adrenaline, released the sling.
The snowball, still wrapped in its leather band, flew from her hand into the sky. Ahme watched, defeated, as the sling plunged into the river with a pathetic splash.
She looked down. More arachnids were emerging from the cargo. Most remained on the yellow melons, while the bolder ventured down onto the lower deck. An especially plump spider with legs like iron pokers scurried to the top of the nearest melon pile. Its fur was a dark green, like the top of a palm leaf, save for a blood-red stripe that ran from the spider’s neck, across its thorax and abdomen. Only a few feet lower than Ahme’s ankles, the spider spotted the girl standing on the edge of the main deck. Ahme’s breath caught as the monster reared back on its hind legs and flashed its fangs.
She stumbled back against the ship’s railing as the spider spat. The acidic goo arched through the air but fell short. The saliva splattered on the deck below. Ahme sighed with relief, then gasped as the spider lunged at her. She snatched a rope dangling nearby and leapt off the ship. Clutching her lifeline, Ahme flew out over the rippling brown waters of the Thaya, away from the murderous beast. The dramatic escape was unnecessary. Like its spit, the spider fell short of the upper deck and plummeted out of sight into the hold. Ahme swung back safely onto the deck.
Her heart was pounding as she searched for her enemy. The spider with the red stripe was nowhere to be seen, but a half-dozen other bokas skittered about. Frightened, Ahme knew not what to do.
“Biteface!” she hissed at the sleeping throg below. “Biteface, get up, you fat toad.”
The throg raised its head, squinting at the girl looming above.
Ahme pointed at the melon pile.
Reluctantly, Biteface rolled onto his stomach before climbing up on his stubby legs. The throg yawned, revealing the ivory thicket overflowing his black gums. He turned toward the bow and trundled forward.
While Ahme watched from above, the ship’s pest-devourer turned the corner of the melon pile. A spider sat a few paces away, easy prey for a hungry throg. Sadly, Biteface was less than hungry. To Ahme’s frustration, the throg lurched forward before stumbling over its bloated belly. Biteface collapsed as the boka spider reared up on its hind legs and spat a green glob of acid into the snarling throg’s face. Biteface shook his head and sneezed. He jumped forward but the spider had already escaped into the melon pile.
“You clumsy fish!” Ahme shouted.
Despite her harsh words, Ahme felt sorry for the throg. The stubborn creature had eaten until he could barely move. As tough as throgs were, Ahme suspected it was unhealthy, perhaps even painful, for Biteface to devour more spiders. The pudgy little brute needed her help, not the other way around.
Ahme glanced at the melting snowballs and wondered where she could get another sling. After a moment, she slapped a palm across her brow. She knew how to throw!
Ahme grabbed a snowball and hurled it the nearest spider, engulfing the hairy arachnid in a white plume of frost. The boka spider went rigid, clattering off its melon pile onto the bottom deck. There it laid as still as stone.
One by one, Ahme launched snowballs at every spider she could find. Her aim was true and it was not long before a dozen pests were strewn about the melon piles like repulsive little statues. Every arachnid that emerged was paralyzed. All except for one.
“Where are you, Stripe?” Ahme muttered, snowball in hand, as she searched for her eight-legged nemesis.
Worried that the spiders would regain their senses, Ahme knew she could not wait for Stripe to re-emerge. She was uncertain how to dispose of the frozen pests. She could throw them in the kiln, burning them to ash, or she could toss them into the river to drown. Either method seemed needlessly cruel. The spiders were frozen, but living. She did not want them to feel pain, yet they could not remain on the ship.
Defying his own stomach, Biteface had risen and begun chewing off the legs of a snow-shocked spider. Feeling that mutilation by throg was the cruellest death of all, Ahme moved quickly. She gathered up the wet sash with its few rapidly shrinking snowballs, and dropped the bundle into the hold. Then, with the grace of a delta monkey, Ahme leaned down, grabbed the edge of the deck above the hold and somersaulted over the edge. Her arms stretched above her head, Ahme dangled cautiously for a moment before plopping below.
Her arrival startled Biteface who spun and growled, bristling his hair and scales into a purple cloud of fury.
“Calm down, Bitey,” said Ahme, scooping up the sash.
Ahme walked up to the closest spider. It was wedged against a boka melon, half its rigid legs jabbed at the sky. Nervously, Ahme cupped her hand and timidly scooped the spider away from the melon. It slid across the deck, its hairy legs bending only just.
Jealous, Biteface lunged at the frozen spider, forcing Ahme to abandon her reservations. She grabbed the arachnid by its bulbous abdomen and tossed it into the sky. The spider spun like a discus out of the hold, disappearing out of sight over the railing. Ahme listened but did not hear a splash.
The disappearance of the spider only incensed Biteface more. The throg snapped at the girl’s heel. Ahme shooed the throg with her foot, working the vicious creature into a frenzy. Snarling through its grinding mesh of teeth, Biteface arched his back as he faced off against his pest rival.
Ahme hooked her arm on the fruit pile next to her and rolled a melon on to the throg’s head. Biteface yelped as the yellow gourd split over his skull. Dazzling red fruit with bright green seeds spilled over the throg and splashed across the deck. Ahme laughed as her stunned opponent sat back on his rump, raising his front paws like a Sorna priest at prayer.
The throg snarled at Ahme but otherwise remained still.
“You deserved it,” chuckled Ahme before realizing that the throg was not baring its teeth at her. She spun around. Stripe loomed over her from the closest melon pile, acid curdling between its fangs. The angry spider peered face-to-face at the frightened girl.
Ahme gasped as she collapsed to the ground. Frantically, she groped for her sash as the spider compressed its legs to pounce. From the corner of her vision, Biteface threw himself onto the cargo, gnashing his teeth at the spider as it leapt into the air. Ahme clenched her eyes shut, bracing herself for the sting of venomous fangs in her flesh.
The twang of a bowstring accompanied by a loud clunk made Ahme open her eyes. She looked down at the dead arachnid pinned to the deck. An arrow with green fletchings impaled the spider through its red stripe. She sighed with relief.
Biteface fell upon the creature and tore it apart. Ahme turned away from the revolting sight. She looked up at the edge of the hold where her father stood, bow in hand.
“Good work!” he chirped, before cheerfully adding, “Grab the arrow before he destroys it. They’re expensive.”
Ahme ignored her father’s request.
“I nearly died,” she snapped.
Rees shook his head.
Ahme scrambled to her feet, balling her fists at her sides.
“It almost bit me! I was almost poisoned.”
Rees waved his hand dismissively.
“I may have exaggerated the potency of boka venom. Very few people die after being bitten.”
Ahme stood wordless for a moment.
“Ve-very few?” she stammered. “What about the acid?”
“You simply wash it off,” Rees replied before shaking his head. “It burns like pepper juice if it gets in the eyes, though!”
“So you’re trying to blind me?”
“Again, a little water and you would have been fine.”
“Why couldn’t I use that,” Ahme gestured at the bow.
“Like I said, arrows are expensive. That and I’m down to handful.”
Feeling manipulated and completely dumbfounded, Ahme demanded to know why they even bothered killing the spiders.
“I told you,” said Rees. “The acid is terrible for the wood. That, and it gave you somewhat of a challenge, no? I’m very proud of your efforts. I never would have thought to use snow. Deducing the paralyzing effects of cold! That was exceedingly clever!”
Her father beamed with pride.
Mimicking Biteface, Ahme let out an angry sneer before storming off. She climbed the forward stairwell and made her way to the prow of the ship. Heaving herself onto the tow post, she perched herself like a nesting crane on top, facing the anchor line and river ahead. The sun seared above and a strong wind from the east did little to temper the heat.
Her father’s voice trailed after her from the stern.
“Biteface and I thank you,” he shouted. “You protected the ship! And his little belly.”
Ahme did not look back at her father. She did not want the trickster to see her smile.