As far as lunatic schemes went, this was the best he had ever conjured, and they both knew it. It was elegant, so simple in its execution, and grandiose in its aim, that the desperation of it almost faded out of notice. It had flair and more than enough opportunities to show off for people who were actually waiting to be impressed. It was even possible that their names might be written down somewhere afterward, in a way that wouldn’t point to them as delinquents. And it would be fun.
“All right,” he said. “You can stop looking like that.” Leaned all the way back in his chair with his heels kicked out under the table, he waved his mug at her.
She turned her head, looked at him sideways. “Like what?” But she couldn’t stop herself from smiling, and smiling wider, as the brilliance of the plan bloomed in front of her.
“Stop,” he insisted, dragging the word out, even though his eyes were bright with it too.
“It’s your plan,” she argued.
“Which is how I know it’s a bad one,” he told her.
She crossed her arms over the table. “It’s a great plan.”
“It’s a…” He laughed. His tongue poked at his teeth, the way it always did when he was trying to stop. “Taking the dinghy, the last working part of the ship, and entering it into a competition where the sole aim of every other craft on the water is to sink it with us on it… is a great plan?”
“Yes,” she said.
He blinked at how quickly she’d answered. Then he grinned. Then he dropped his head to hide it.
Slowly, he gathered himself together and leaned forward over the table, too. He settled his elbows on the wood top and touched his upper lip to finishing smoothing his smile. He arranged his hands behind his arms, and finally, looked up just enough to meet her eye. “I’m playing you today, am I?” he asked.
She considered the set of his face and shrugged. “And doing a poor job of it.”
He laughed again. “I didn’t think there was a much stronger argument than that we’d be risking our lives and everything we have left.”
She pretended to sigh, like he did sometimes. “It’s pretty weak.”
He dropped his head and she could see his shoulders shaking.
“The crew’s already left us,” she said. “Because the ship won’t make it another two months to the next port. There’s nothing we can do to even make it look like it will. But if we’re careful, we can make it three weeks to Agone Island. Which is not an island. It’s a dead rock. It’s a crater, where someone decided it would be a good idea to hold a competition to see who could stay afloat the longest, and lucky us, it’s coming up in eight weeks.”
“So…” he murmured, nodding to himself. “You’re playing me today.”
“And doing well, I think,” she said.
He looked at her, impressed, and proud, and still clinging to his doubt.
“This was your idea,” she said.
“All I said,” he reminded her carefully. “Was ‘we should enter the dinghy in the Water Melee.'”
Sighing, she looked at the ceiling and shrugged. “We really have no other choice.” He was grinning when she looked down at him again.
“No,” he murmured. “We can sell the ship for scraps and move on.”
“Right,” she said. “Scraps. Or, we load up the ship with a crew of spectators and competitors and head straight for Agone, then sell it for scraps there. Here, it’s just a rotten old ship. There, it might just be gifts from Fate, for any competitor who still needs timber, canvas, lines, or ballast.”
“And strand our crew on Agone when it’s all over,” he said.
She snorted. “Like they’d want to spend another three weeks in that bucket.”
“And strand ourselves.”
She shrugged. “There will have to be someone looking for extra hands after the Melee.”
“Five different Clans send their very best crews,” he said.
“Because it has such an excellent winner’s purse,” she said. She raised an eyebrow at him, daring him to imagine what they could do with all that money.
“Clan Heirs compete,” he said.
“We’ll try very hard not to kill them,” she promised.
“We could get killed,” he said seriously.
She shook her head. “We’re better swimmers than that.”
He lifted his mug to his mouth, but didn’t quite take a drink, eyeing her over the rim. He seemed to consider what was left to argue. Very slowly, he worked the issues through, swallowed them, and held her gaze.
“I think,” he said. “This is the easiest way I’ve ever won an argument.”
Blinking, she paused. Then, looking down, she laughed at herself. Lifting her mug, she clinked it against his. “Congratulations,” she told him. Draining her mug, she dropped it back to the table. “Next time, I’ll be me again, and actually do it right.”
My friends are thieves! They stole the first line of this piece and ran of with it to write their own stories. Check out the ring of thieves to see all the other schemes.