The Serpent Sea - By Martha Wells

Chapter One

Moon had been consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud Court, for eleven days and nobody had tried to kill him yet. He thought it was going well so far.

On the twelfth day, the dawn sun was just breaking through the clouds when he walked out onto the deck of the Valendera. The air was damp and pleasantly cool, filled with the scent of the dense green forest the ship flew over. It was early enough that sleeping bodies still crowded the deck, most of them buried under blankets or piled up against the baskets and bags that held all the court’s belongings. A few people stirred somewhere toward the bow, where the look-outs were posted. On the central mast, the fan-shaped sails were still closed. Their companion ship, the Indala, floated a short distance off the starboard side, pacing them.

Moon heard someone stumble up the narrow stairs from below decks. Then Chime climbed out of the hatch and squinted at the dawn light. He said, “Oh good. Another nice day to spend on this flying torture device.”

Moon had been having variations on this conversation for days. Raksura weren’t meant to live on flying boats—that had been very well established by everybody—but there was no other way to move the court to the new colony.

Indigo Cloud had been in decline for a long time before Moon had arrived, with outbreaks of disease, attacks by predators, and the Fell influence that had caused fewer warrior births. When the Fell attack had forced them to finally abandon the old colony, there hadn’t been enough warriors to move the court in the normal way. Everyone knew they had been lucky to convince a Golden Islander trading family to let them pay for the use of the two flying boats. But while the Valendera was over two hundred paces long and the Indala only a little smaller, there just wasn’t enough room to do much of anything but sleep or sit. The situation was the worst for the wingless Arbora, who were used to spending their days hunting, tending their gardens, or in carving, weaving, or working metal. When the Aeriat were sick of the cramped quarters, they could always go flying.

Moon said, “Do you need me to say anything or do you just want me to stand here?”

“Yes, yes, I know, I know.” Chime rubbed his eyes and glared at the lightening sky. Moon and Chime were both Aeriat Raksura, but Chime was a warrior and Moon was a consort. In their groundling forms there wasn’t much difference between them; they were both tall and lean, both had the dark bronze skin common to many Raksura. Moon had dark hair and green eyes, and was used to blending in with real groundlings. Chime had fluffy, straw-colored hair, and had never had to live outside the closeknit court, though he had his own unique problem to deal with. Chime added, “I just can’t wait until we get to the Reaches. I’ve read all the old histories, but actually seeing it… Stone says we’re nearly there.”

Stone had been saying they were nearly there for three days, but Stone’s idea of “nearly” was different than anyone else’s. Moon just lifted a brow. Chime sighed, and said, “Yes, I know.”

They stood there a moment while Chime continued to grumble and Moon just enjoyed the predawn quiet. All everyone wanted to talk about, when they weren’t complaining about the conditions on the boats, was how excited they were to be going to the new colony. Courts didn’t move very often; Stone was the only one who could remember the last time Indigo Cloud had moved, turns and turns before any of the others had been born. But Moon had never looked at any place with the idea of living there forever. It was daunting, and he couldn’t even pretend to share everyone’s enthusiasm.

Moon felt something watching him, something not friendly. He looked toward the Indala and saw River, Drift, and two other warriors crouched along the railing, staring at him and Chime. They were all in Raksuran form, River’s green scales catching the morning light and reflecting their blue undersheen. River twitched his mane of spines and frills, a not-quite-deliberate challenge.

Now that Moon was Jade’s consort, River’s place as the lover of Pearl, the reigning queen, was safe. But it didn’t mean they were friends now.

Instead of hissing, Moon yawned, stretched extravagantly, and tried to look like a tempting target. A fight with a half-Fell half-Raksuran

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