The siblings discover something far worse than bandits on the River. Fen is terrified but Arwin is awed.

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CLOCKWORK RIVER

By Christopher Robin Negelein

CHAPTER SEVEN
Excerpt

The breeze crossed the river carrying the fresh scents of both summer flowers and the oncoming rain as it lifted Fen’s ponytail. With one foot on the ship’s railing, she drank the fragrance in while scanning the river for threats. The boat, now under way, left behind several lean-tos on the shore that sheltered the old and the young.

The girl, Soon, stood nearby with her foot on the rail too.

She pointed at a leaf floating by. “Yezi.”

Fen tried. “Yeza.”

“Almost,” little brother said. “It sounds like a ‘u,’ but it is an ‘i.’ with a soft ending.” She was supposed to be the one with a gift for languages. With her frustration rising, she wanted to snap at him, but he had been sitting cross legged on the deck, hunched over a hook that he had been fashioning all day. That sight broke her heart a little, he has lost so much more than anyone knew. Many of his tools would have to be rebuilt from scratch, his old tool set had been family heirlooms and Arwin’s backpack had been quiet for far too long. The day may come where we may have to give up on finding a cure for father.

“Your brother leans very forward when he is working hard. ” Soon said.

If they were not blood, Fen would hate him out of sheer jealousy. She tapped the side of her head. “That is his talent, his focus.”

She hoped that Soon wouldn’t assume what others had before, that the Clan siblings were complete opposites. That Fen was strong, but dumb, and Arwin was smart, but weak, as if the gods kept a balance on Nature’s gifts. There had been quite a few imperial rivals that had lost their pride, their fortune or even a finger, from that mistake.

Fen squatted to meet his gaze. “How long are you going to sit there like a squirrel over a nut?”

Arwin didn’t look up. “As long It takes. What business is it of yours?”

“Your arms are too thin.” Fen said. Some of the men she had commanded possessed thinner arms than his.

“My arms are just fine.”

Fen poked Soon. “No. They are as skinny as Soon’s.”

Soon giggled.

Still focused on crafting his tool, Arwin still didn’t look up. “Not true, her arms are definitely bigger. She could easily lift this boat out of the water.”

Fen snorted. “And what about me?”

“Don’t bother using your arms. Your lips are more than sufficient, since you flap them about more than your sword arm.”

Fen put her arms akimbo. “Then you should be able to lift a whole fleet with just your bottom lip.”

“You are mistaken, Heron.”

“Really?”

Arwin finally met her gaze. “Yes, I’d need my whole mouth for that. You are the one that would only need their bottom lip. You know the one… you keep curling it whenever you are angry.”

“I do not curl my bottom lip.”

His face brightened. “Oh yes, you do. If you did it any more often, a bird would land on it.”

Both siblings gave a small smile, reminiscing how their father would tease them the same way. Soon bit her bottom lip, aware that something was going on. The water lapping up against the boat filled the short silence between the three.

Arwin broke the quiet as he gazed out on the river. “So, if we can get this crew to accept us as fellow river pirates, how will we pick our prey?”

Fen smiled sardonically. “Merchants and nobles use the Yung River like an imperial road, but that means there’s patrols. If we see more swords than sailors, then we move on and leave well enough alone.

Arwin raised an eyebrow. “That sounds suspiciously simple.”

Fen shrugged. “The more complicated the plan, the more likely it is too fail.”

Arwin nodded. “The more complex the apparatus, the more chance a piece breaks.”

“Exactly.”

“So then the real question is, what do we do when a royal inspect–”

An echoing roar made Fen spin her head around, looking for the threat, as Arwin jumped and dropped the tiny hook tool he was working on. The instrument, more handle than anything else, rolled on the deck for just a moment before he snatched it up.

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