Chapter Forty Nine

The following day was a blurry haze to Toke.

 

He had been given the same drug that had put the rest of the crew to sleep, but a triple dose. Because of that, it was nearly sundown when he finally woke up, tucked into his cot in his cabin. The wings he had grown the night before were gone, as was his superhuman strength—and his right arm.

 

Inaska had been there when he'd awoken, just as she stood beside him now, not even an hour later, as he watched the corpse of his best friend being lowered into the lake, wrapped in a fishing net with heavy stones tied to it. Toke could clearly see Boam's face in between the netting, his eyes closed like he was merely taking a long needed nap. Toke half expected him to jolt awake as soon as he touched the water, yelling at them like the crew had pulled some kind of prank on him. He didn't, though, and within seconds the weighted nets carried him down into the dark depths of the lake, never to be seen again.

 

A proper Vlangurtian funeral.

 

“Are you okay?” Inaska asked when he bowed his head, fighting to keep the tears inside. She had both her arms wrapped around his left one.  His right arm hung dead at his side, the skin a sickly shade of gray. Where it had once merely been injured, Finch had permanently crippled it.

 

“Of course I'm not okay!” he snapped, pulling his only good arm away from her and punching the ship's railing with it. “I just buried my best friend. Do I smiting look okay?”

 

Inaska didn't say anything, and he immediately felt bad for yelling at her. He lowered his fist and turned to look at her. So beautiful... she had even taken her mask off for the funeral, as if bearing her scars to Toke's fallen friend was some kind of gesture of respect. Toke's heart throbbed, an inexplicable combination of both happiness and one crushing sorrow.

 

“I'm sorry,” he said. “I didn't—”

 

Inaska was there in an instant, wrapping him in a hug. “Don't apologize. I know what you're going through. I'm the one who's sorry.”

 

“I should have done something. I- I knew Shen liked to use chemicals. I should have known he would try to dart me the same way he did Zashiel. If I'd just been a little smarter, then Boam...”

 

“Shh,” Inaska whispered, holding him close. Not knowing what else to do, he hugged her back. His right arm instinctively tried to wrap itself around his beautiful lover, and his brain buzzed with confusion when it wasn't able to. It knew it couldn't move, and never would again, but for some reason continued to insist that it try anyway. Instead, he made do with hugging her with only his left arm, a pathetic gesture from a pathetic man.

 

Boam... Toke remembered their time together at the Jerulkan Academy. The way he had been able to say the most ridiculous things with a straight face, almost making you think he was being serious. The way he would rant and ramble about that precious book of his. The book that the rest of world would never get to read now.

 

Toke's strength left him, and he leaned heavily on Inaska. She grunted, but didn't complain, holding up his weight with her own. Toke knew he was acting shamefully, but he didn't care. He rested his head on Inaska's shoulder... and he cried.

 

“Shh, shh,” she said again, reaching up to stroke his hair. “You did amazing last night, Toke.”

 

“So what?” he demanded. “What does it matter if I nearly killed Finch if I couldn't save one person in the process?” His grip around her waist tightened. “I should have just let them take me.”

 

Inaska stiffened, and pulled out of the hug. “One person? Toke, you sinking idiot! You saved me, Zashiel, and the entire crew!”

 

Toke paused, blinking.

 

“But, Boam...”

 

“I know.” She rested her forehead against his. “It hurts. I hate that the one person you couldn't save was... well, I wish it hadn't been anyone. But I'm sorry it had to be your best friend.”

 

Toke opened his mouth, though he wasn't sure what he wanted to say. Luckily, he was interrupted when a familiar figure came to join them.

 

“Wayli,” Toke said, letting go of Inaska again. “I, um... how are you?”

 

He hardly needed to ask. While Toke was at least making an effort not to break down with emotion, Wayli was wearing her feelings free for all to see. Tears streamed down a face that was contorted almost beyond recognition with grief, and she hiccupped with every breath, like she wanted to sob but had somehow used them all up. Toke looked at her, and then found himself cringing.

 

“Wayli, don't...” He took a step back. “Don't look at me like that. I- I'm sorry!”

 

Wayli sniffled and wiped her arm across her eyes, but then shook her head. “I'm n- not mad at you, Toke. I'm just... I... Oh, Boam!”

 

With that, she came in for a hug as well, which Toke provided as best he could. He cursed his useless right arm, hanging there by his side as if none of this bothered it in the slightest. He cursed Finch for making it that way, and cursed Shen for bringing her onboard this ship, and... and himself, most of all, for not being strong enough, or smart enough, to prevent any of it.

 

“He said he was...” Wayli cried, her face pressed into Toke's shirt, wetting it with her tears. “He said...”

 

Though he wouldn't have thought it possible, Toke's heart sank even further into his stomach. He shared a look with Inaska, whose eyes had gone wide, realizing the same thing as him.

 

“Wayli,” Toke said, breathless, “were you and Boam...”

 

She didn't answer... but she nodded.

 

Toke hugged her tighter, grief threatening to make him double over and implode on himself. “Oh, Wayli!” he said. The tears were coming from his eyes again now too. A moment later, Inaska joined the hug, and he was startled to see that she was crying as well.

 

Suddenly, though, Wayli pulled away. “H- He wouldn't want this!” she snapped.

 

Toke stared blankly at her. “He wouldn't want what?”

 

“This!” She gestured at her face. “Us! Crying! He would... He'd...”

 

“He'd tell a joke, and want us to laugh,” Toke finished for her, nodding.

 

The three of them stood there for a minute, nobody knowing what to say. Finally, Inaska took Toke's hand.

 

“What do you figure he's up to down there?” the white-haired girl asked softly.

 

“He...” Toke took a deep breath. “He's probably joining the army as we speak.”

 

Wayli raised an eyebrow. “The army?”

 

He nodded. “The Imperial Clownfish Army. Wh- Where they throw...” he thought for a second, “donuts at each other.”

 

“Fighting the evil Sea Potatoes,” Wayli agreed after a moment's hesitation.

 

“The scourge of Vlangur.”

 

They stopped for a minute, and... to Toke's surprise, a smile rose to his face.

 

He chuckled. “He's probably adopted an orphan jellyfish by now.”

 

“He says it's even more brainless than we are.” Wayli was smiling now too. It was a weak smile, barely covering the pain she obviously felt inside—the pain they all felt—but it was a real one. “And he's... he's...”

 

She couldn't finish, because she began giggling uncontrollably. Toke's smile grew, and before he knew it he was giggling as well. Just giggling, not laughing. He didn't think either of them had it in them to really, truly laugh right then. But giggling was close enough. That at least chased away the crushing sorrow that threatened to bring Toke back to that lonely, silent island.

 

He didn't know how long the two of them stood there giggling like psychopaths, but the sun was already nearly set by the time they got themselves under control. Toke bent over, strangely out of breath, but when he looked up at Wayli he was relieved to see that she was still smiling. And so was he, he realized.

 

Boam might have been gone, but they still had their memories of him to look back on. And if Boam had done one thing in his life, he had filled those memories with laughter and silliness. No, he wouldn't have wanted them to cry. And he wouldn't, Toke decided. Whenever he thought of his friend, he would smile even as the tears came.

 

Because at least that was something.

 

“Thank you,” Wayli said, giving Toke another hug. “For everything. And I- I'm sorry we got you into this.”

 

“You didn't get me into anything,” Toke assured her. “This is my fault.”

 

To Toke's surprise, Wayli slugged him on the arm—his good arm.

 

“What was that for?” he demanded, instinctively trying to rub it before he remembered he couldn't.

 

Wayli stuck her nose into the air. “Here I am, trying to humble myself and offer a heartfelt apology, and you go and ruin it. Bad form, Mr. Gnasher!”

 

She walked away, stiff and offended, but then turned and gave Toke one last grin before vanishing belowdeck.

 

“Your friends are weird,” Inaska noted.

 

“They couldn't be my friends if they weren't.”

 

She looked at him. “What does that say about me?”

 

“That you're the weirdest of them all.”

 

“Good.”

 

The two of them kissed, but as their lips touched Toke felt a pang of guilt. Inaska must have sensed it as well, because she pulled back and gave him a concerned look.

 

“What's wrong?” she asked.

 

Toke sighed. “I just... is it right for us to do that now?”

 

“Do what?” Inaska laughed. “Kiss? And here I thought we'd done worse than that already.”

 

“That's just it!” Toke stepped away from her, putting his hand on the railing. “I failed your father's test. I didn't kill Kuerlo.”

 

“But—”

 

“And besides that,” Toke hung his head, unable to look her in the eye, “I smiting lied to you!”

 

Inaska didn't reply for a minute, and the only sounds were the bustling crew and the lapping of water against the hull.

 

“What did you lie to me about?” she finally asked.

 

Toke looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “About me turning into a Sorakine! I never told you!”

 

Inaska gave him a nonchalant flip of her hair and came to lean on the railing beside him. For another minute, not a word passed between the two of them. Inaska looked out over the seemingly endless lake, her eyes distant, and Toke's heart grew heavier with every beat.

 

“Look, I'm sorry,” he finally blurted out. “And I understand if you don't—”

 

“I think the scientific term for that is keeping secrets.”

 

Toke blinked. “I... what?”

 

She looked at him, her hair falling to cover half of her face. “You didn't lie to me, Toke. You couldn't lie to me, because you never told me in the first place.”

 

Toke sighed, hanging his head again. “I know. If you don't think you can trust me anymore... if you don't want to get married anymore... I understand.”

 

Something brushed Toke's leg. Looking down, he saw his dead arm swinging gently back and forth. He narrowed his eyes. What had...

 

“Oh, right,” Inaska said. He looked up—and she whacked him on the back of the head.

 

“Ow!” he complained, backing away. “What the smite?”

 

She crossed her arms. “Did you feel that one?”

 

“Uh, obviously!”

 

She nodded. “Good. That's what you get for being so stupid.”

 

With that, Inaska turned to look out at the lake again, leaving Toke feeling as if something important had just flown right over his head.

 

“Wh- What was that for?” he asked a minute later.

 

“Toke,” she asked in a softer voice, “do you love me?”

 

“Of course I do!” he exclaimed, stepping up to her and putting his hand on her shoulder. “Why would you—”

 

“Because ever since we met, you've been making excuses!” she snapped. She looked at him, and her eyes flashed with anger. “It's like you're trying to push me away. Is that what you want, Toke? Because if it is, I'll do it!” She waved her hand. “I'll go, and you'll never have to put up with me again. So if that's what you want, just—”

 

Thump.

 

Inaska jumped in surprise when Toke fell to his knees, propped up by his good arm. His bad arm flopped uselessly at his side. All his strength was suddenly gone, and it took everything he had in him not to lie down face down on the floor.

 

“Toke?” Inaska asked tentatively, all the anger gone from her voice. “I- I didn't mean it. Are you...”

 

“You've got it all wrong,” he whispered.

 

“I what?”

 

He looked up at her, fresh tears running down his face. “You've got it all wrong! Inaska, I love you more than life itself! I... I keep making excuses because I don't smiting deserve you!”

 

They looked at each other, but when Inaska didn't say anything, Toke went on.

 

“I know you love me, and I love you, but... sometimes I just can't believe it. You could have anyone, Inaska. You deserve the best the world has to offer! Why are you settling for me? It makes no smiting sense!”

 

He looked down, and froze when a drop of water hit the back of his head. Snapping his eyes back up, he saw that Inaska was crying as well, but somehow she was smiling too.

 

“You really are an idiot,” she whispered. Then, before he could respond, she grabbed him underneath his arms and hoisted him to his feet. “Quit groveling, will you?”

 

“Inaska, I...”

 

She silenced him with a finger on his lips. “Toke, how many times do I have to tell you? Love is a choice! It has nothing to do with being better than anyone else, it's just...” She pulled him close. “I choose to love you. And I choose not to stop. Not today, not tomorrow...” She kissed him, and Toke eagerly reciprocated. On this day of insanity and grief, she was warmth. She was stability. He clung to her, not just with his arm, but with his heart, because he knew that without her he would get swept away again. And this time, who knew where he would wind up?

 

Finally, she broke the kiss and looked at him with glistening eyes. “Not ever!”

 

Toke grinned like the idiot they both knew he was, and came in for another kiss—but she leaned back, out of his reach. When he cocked his head, confused, she stepped out of the embrace and looked the other way.

 

“Besides,” she said, her eyes far away, “it's not like I haven't been keeping secrets from you, too.”

 

Toke didn't have to ask to know what she meant. “The Chiyuka ointment.”

 

“Tajwyn cream,” she corrected him.

 

“Whatever. Where did you get that?”

 

Inaska sighed and sat down with her back to the ship's railing, pulling Toke down with her.

 

“Remember the night you spent in Thannaduk's hospital?” she asked. “And I showed up and—”

 

“You stole it from them,” Toke cut her off.

 

“No, I swear I didn't!” Her eyes widened, hurt. “But... I stole one of their books about how to make it.”

 

Toke thought back to the rectangular parcel she'd been carrying that night, and nodded. “Why, though?”

 

“I...” She hesitated and drew her legs up under her chin, clutching Toke's hand to her chest like a stuffed animal. “You know who I am... what I am.”

 

Toke nodded, but didn't say the words out loud.

 

“You know what kind of a legacy I'm going to leave behind because of what I did,” she went on, head bowed. “I just thought... you know...”

 

“Maybe you could help someone for once instead of hurting them.”

 

Her eyes hardened, and she squeezed Toke's hand almost painfully tight. “The hospitals are wrong to charge that much for tajwyn cream. Anything that can help people as much as it does should be given out freely to whoever needs it!”

 

Toke frowned. He didn't agree with her—he wasn't sure she even agreed with herself—but he knew better than to argue with her right now, when she was spilling her heart out for him.

 

“I’ve been practicing for months now.  That book helped more than you could imagine, but there’s still something missing.  It doesn’t heal like it’s supposed to.  It…” She looked at him, embarrassed. “It probably only worked on Zashiel last night because you combined it with real taj—I mean, Chiyuka ointment.  I can’t figure it out, though.  The book doesn’t say what the last ingredient is.  It’s like it expects me to already know, like the secret is so important that the author couldn’t even risk it being written down, and… why are you looking at me like that?”

 

Toke blinked, and realized a dreamy smile was creeping up his face.

 

“Nothing.  For a second there, you just… you kinda reminded me of Boam, and the way he would spend hours talking about his book if you gave him half a chance.”

 

Or me, with my batteries…

 

“Anyway,” Inaska sighed, hanging her head again, “I thought if I could learn to make it, I could forge a new legacy for myself. One where people saw me as something besides...” She stopped, and then laughed spitefully at herself. “It's stupid, I know. I should just learn to live with—”

 

“No,” Toke interrupted. “It's not stupid. It's amazing!”

 

Inaska hesitated, but then shook her head. “You're just saying that.”

 

“I don't just say things to you,” he told her, sliding closer so that their sides were touching. “I just say things to my dad to get him to shut up. You're not like him. You're better than him. So when I say something to you, you know I mean every word.”

 

The white-haired girl looked at him, and then rested her head on his shoulder. “So, you're really okay with this?”

 

Toke groaned softly. “I'm still not okay with you robbing hospitals, but—”

 

“I'm done with that, I promise!”

 

He nodded. “Then I don't have a problem with it. Not when it makes you this happy.”

 

She turned her head a little and gave him a coy smile. “And...?”

 

“And what?”

 

“You're not at all excited about having an endless supply of tajwyn cream for the fights you'll be getting into?”

 

“I thought that went without saying.” He chuckled and put his arm around her shoulders. “But... I'm not sure I'll be getting into fights anytime soon.”

 

“Oh, sure you will,” Inaska said, elbowing him. “It's what you do. You're like a violence magnet.”

 

A shiver ran down Toke's spine, and he couldn't help but hear Shen's voice whispering in his head.

 

Towerfall.

 

He pushed those thoughts from his mind, though, and leaned his head back against the railing. He had enough things to worry about today without that nonsense weighing him down too.

 

“Your father knows how to make it too.”

 

Toke actually jumped a little when he heard that. “He does?  How?”

 

“That was our end of the agreement.  I told him I would teach him how to make the most powerful medicine in Vlangur, and then he could sell it.”

 

Toke groaned, leaning his head back on the railing. “Yep, that’d do it.  Smite him, all he cares about is money!”

 

Inaska shrugged. “If that’s all it takes to convince him to let us get married, then I’d say it’s worth it.”

 

“That still leaves us with one problem, though.  A big problem.”

 

“What's that?”

 

“I never killed Kuerlo.”

 

Inaska shifted so that she was facing Toke. “I'm sure daddy will—”

 

“He never wanted me to marry you in the first place!” Toke snapped. The words came out more harshly than he'd intended, and he cringed. “Sorry, but it's true. Ludsong gave me that test because he wanted me to fail it. Now that I have, why would he change his mind?”

 

Inaska didn't have anything to say to that, so she just pressed herself closer to Toke and sat with him in silence. Toke didn't complain. Ludsong had braved the storm all by himself in his tiny lifeboat, and had somehow managed to make it back to the Seventh Swordfish while Toke was still sleeping off the effects of the drug. He was nowhere to be seen at the moment, but any minute now he would come clomping out onto the deck, ready to snatch his daughter away. There was nothing Toke could do about it. He had agreed to this test knowing full well what would happen if he failed. It was his own idiocy that had kept him from putting Kuerlo out of his misery before jumping off his ship. At least he and Inaska could spend a few more minutes like this, pretending to be a soon-to-be-wed couple, before—

 

Inaska sprang to her feet. “Come on, let's go find him!”

 

“Wha—” Toke spluttered as she pulled him up after her. “Go find who?”

 

“My father, silly!”

 

Ludsong hadn't come to Boam's funeral, so far as Toke had seen. He was most likely in his cabin, sleeping just like Toke had been. His pulse spiked as Inaska sped in that direction, towing him behind her.

 

“Why would we do that?” He demanded digging in his heels. “Do you want him to split us up sooner than it has to be?”

 

Inaska stopped, and gave him a grave look. “Toke, do you trust me?”

 

“With my life,” he said without hesitation.

 

“Then come on!” She pulled on his arm again and, reluctantly, Toke let her lead him belowdeck.

 

Ludsong wasn't in his cabin, which Toke found odd, but upon further investigation they found out he was in the hold with Captain Treyn. Toke winced when they descended into the massive storage room, which lay in absolute shambles after last night. Barely a single box had been spared his wrath, and every step they took, they had to wade through splinters, nails, and various pieces of costumes and props. A man-sized hole let a circle of sunlight shine down into the center of the room. Most of the crew was down here, trying to salvage what they could. Looking at it all, Toke couldn't help but feel guilty.

 

“I ruined everything last night, didn't I?” he asked as Inaska pulled him further in.

 

She rolled her eyes. “Don't give yourself so much credit.”

 

“But, look!” Toke tried to gesture with his bad hand, and pushed down the wave of irritation that came when it still refused to move. “You need all this stuff for your shows. What if—”

 

“We can manage, Toke. Stop feeling sorry for yourself! There's the captain.”

 

Treyn was kneeling directly under the hole in the ceiling, with Ludsong by his side. Dabba was lying at the captain's feet, stretched out and... Toke blinked. The fearsome jungle cat was sunning himself like a big, lazy kitten. Toke had assumed Treyn was inspecting Dabba's wounds, but as he got closer he realized that he was actually giving him a belly rub.

 

“Who's my good boy?” Treyn was cooing, scratching at his belly fur with both hands. “Who's my big, strong, stupid, stinky boy?”

 

“Captain?” Inaska said, stopping in front of them.

 

“Who beat up that nasty old Sorakine? Was it you? Was it you?”

 

Toke glanced at Inaska and decided, based on the face she was making, that this must be weird even for Treyn.

 

“Uh, Daddy?” she asked tentatively.

 

Ludsong opened his mouth to reply, but was completely drowned out by the captain.

 

“Did you save the ship? Huh? Did you? Nooo, no you didn't! That aftdragger did!”

 

With that, he looked up, and Toke jumped in surprise. Dabba growled in annoyance, but when Treyn didn't continue the belly rub he rolled over and got to his paws.

 

“What are you looking at me like that for?” Treyn asked. “All this dummy did was get thrown around, and then he decided to take a nap.”

 

Dabba growled, almost like he could understand what the captain was saying, and whacked him with his tail. Treyn got up, dusting his hands off on his grimy red coat.

 

“So, what do you want? If you're here for a belly rub, I guess you earned one, so...”

 

“What?” Toke took a step back. “No!”

 

Treyn shrugged. “You’re missing out. I’ve been told they’re amazing.”

 

Toke backed away, but stopped when Inaska grabbed his arm and pulled him back up to her side. He eyed Dabba warily, but, to his surprise, the lion didn't growl at him anymore.

 

“Daddy,” Inaska said, hugging Toke's arm to her chest, “we need to talk.”

 

Ludsong's eyes immediately narrowed, but before he could say anything, Treyn blurted out, “Oh, about that! We should be there in the next hour or so.”

 

Both Toke and Inaska gave the captain identical looks of confusion.

 

“Come again?” Toke asked.

 

Treyn looked from him, to her, and then a salacious grin spread across his face. “He doesn't know yet, does he?”

 

“I'll take it from here, Cap'n,” Ludsong grumbled, arms folded. Treyn slunk away, snickering.

 

Once they were alone, Toke tried to meet Ludsong's gaze, but failed.

 

“So, you were right all along,” he said. “I tried to kill Kuerlo, and I couldn't.”

 

Ludsong made a rumbling sound deep inside his throat. “And why do you think that is?”

 

Toke shrugged. “I don't know. I was going to, but then he told me Shen was heading for the Swordfish, and I panicked.”

 

The first mate nodded, as if this was what he'd expected to hear. In the brief silence, Toke looked down and realized he was still holding hands with Inaska. He let go, figuring it wouldn't be right to do that now, especially not in front of her father.

 

It's your own fault you failed, he told himself, forcefully. All you can do is accept the consequences.

 

Inaska refused to let go of his hand, though, even though he wasn't holding onto hers. She gave him a scathing, wordless look, and he reluctantly tightened his grip again.

 

That's just going to make it even harder to let go...

 

“So,” Ludsong finally said, “what do you figure happens next?”

 

“Daddy,” Inaska interjected, stepping forward, “I think you should—”

 

He waved his hand, silencing her. “Let him speak for himself, girl.”

 

Toke gritted his teeth. “According to the deal we struck, if I didn't kill Kuerlo you wouldn't judge me capable of protecting Inaska. And being in the condition I'm in now...” He glanced down at his useless arm. “It seems unlikely I'll be able to protect her from anything in the future. It's the last thing on Fissura I want, but, sir... you're well within your rights to call off the engagement.”

 

Inaska gasped and spun to face him. “Toke!”

 

“I'm sorry, but what can I do?” Toke demanded. “I can't tear you away from your own father!”

 

“You… you can...” Inaska's voice trailed off when she realized the predicament as well. If she chose Toke, she lost her father. If she chose her father, Toke would spend the rest of his life alone.

 

Alone... Alone... Alone...

 

Even now, that word haunted him. The sound of gently splashing waves was always there, waiting for him to slip, return to them, never to escape again...

 

Inaska's eyes widened so much that they stretched her C-shaped scars, her face contorted in what must have been sheer agony, and she let go of Toke's arm to clutch at Ludsong's.

 

“Daddy, please,” she begged him. “Please, reconsider. I- I love him, Daddy! Please don't say no!”

 

Ludsong sighed, and then shook his head. “Girl, you ain't never had good sense when it comes to men.”

 

“I don't care! I love Toke!”

 

“Will you hate me if I tell you no?”

 

Inaska froze, and then stepped back in horror. “No, of course not! I could never hate you!”

 

Ludsong looked at her, considering, and then at Toke. Toke's heart sank into his stomach. He knew that look Ludsong had in his eyes. The look of triumph that came with knowing that you were right all along, and that now you were going to get what you deserved.

 

“Maybe,” he said slowly, lips curling in a small smile, “we can work out a compromise.”

 

Inaska blinked. “A- A compromise? How?”

 

Ludsong reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. “If I let you two get married today, will you promise never to look at me that way again?”

 

Time stopped. Had Ludsong just...

 

“I already asked Cap'n Treyn to dock us at a town called Des Romal. Like he said, we should be there in an hour or so. And when we get there...” He sighed, crossing his arms again—but he didn't have to finish because Inaska threw her arms around his neck, squealing.

 

“Oh, yes! Maelstroms, Daddy! Thank you!”

 

Ludsong smiled, though it looked like it hurt him to do so, and he hugged his daughter back. Then, without a word, Inaska let him go, gave Toke a quick peck on the cheek, and dashed away, leaving the two men alone together.

 

“What just happened?” Toke asked, dumbly.

 

“You're gettin' married, boy!” Ludsong snapped, the smile sliding from his face. “Go get ready!”

 

Toke looked over his shoulder, to the staircase where Inaska had just disappeared, and frowned. “But your test...”

 

Ludsong gave a long, suffering sigh. “Boy, I don't like you marryin' Inaska, so I set you up a test I thought for sure you would fail.”

 

“And I did.”

 

“Aye, you did. But you know what I saw next?” Ludsong leaned in closer to him. “I saw a sinkin' fool jump off a ship without a moment's hesitation, and then go flyin' all the way back to the Swordfish in a sinkin' storm! And what'd he do it for?”

 

He reached out and grabbed Toke's good arm. Toke jumped, but the massive man only gave him a firm, strangely fatherly, squeeze.

 

“He did it to save my daughter,” he whispered.

 

Toke looked up, and was startled to see tears coming out of Ludsong's eyes.

 

“Of course I did,” he said tentatively. “I—”

 

“I know, I know, you sinkin' love her.” Ludsong released his arm and stepped back, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes. “Course, that wouldn't've been enough. But then I finally make it back, and everyone's tellin' me you saved the entire crew all by yourself.”

 

Toke looked away, wilting a bit. “Not everyone.”

 

Ludsong softened a bit. “You can't always save everyone, boy. Be happy for the ones you can save. And... be happy with my daughter.”

 

Toke found himself standing a little taller when he heard that, and he looked Ludsong in the eye.

 

“Anyone who'd go to the lengths you did last night to protect my little girl,” the first mate concluded, “I know I can trust him to take care of her. Bad arm or no bad arm.” He reached out and poked Toke's dead arm, smirking a little at how it swung listlessly back and forth. “Now go get ready, will ya?”

 

Toke nodded and took a step backwards, but then paused. “I... holy smite, what do I have to get ready?” He asked, panic rising up inside him, the likes of which he hadn't felt even during the battle the night before. “What do I need to wear? What do I need to bring? What—”

 

Ludsong smacked him on the head, and Toke froze, blinking.

 

“Go look in your cabin,” he grunted. “I put everythin' you'll need in there.”

 

Toke took a second to process his words, and then took off running.

 

“Maelstroms, I'm gonna regret this,” he heard Ludsong mutter from behind him.

 

He didn't mind, though. All his thoughts were consumed by Inaska... and his wedding.

 

 

NEXT TIME: To all my friends and fans, you are hereby cordially invited to Toke and Inaska’s wedding. Date: September 21st, 2019. Place: Wherever you happen to be reading this. Time: Whenever I get around to posting it. Bring birdseed—and, if I know these two, a suit of armor.

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