Chapter no 10

Daughter of the Siren Queen

STAND IN ONE of the storage rooms belowdecks, surveying the equipment. “The Ava-lee was already well stocked when we’d arrived back at the

keep, Captain,” Radita says as she gestures around the packed room. “We didn’t take any damage while sailing to pick up Vordan. Though we’re not as equipped as I’d like for a voyage this long, we still have plenty of supplies. There’s enough canvas to repair each of the sails, stacks of wooden planks should the deck need refurbishing, extra rope if any of the lines start showing signs of wear. I’m checking her every day. So far so good.”

Radita spent most of her life training under her grandfather, one of the most famous shipwrights at the land king’s disposal. After the death of her grandfather, she had no way to support herself, since the land king wasn’t about to hire a woman to fill the empty position. That’s when I found her.

“There’s no one I trust more with the ship’s upkeep, Radita. Keep up the good work.”

“Aye, Captain.”

It’s been two weeks since we dropped off Draxen at the supply post. The Ava-lee has been holding steady under the pressure of strong and favorable winds, carrying us through waters I’ve never seen before. There are no known lands this far south. The land king paid his dues to my father to allow his ships to explore the area down here, but none have returned with news of land, if they return at all. My ancestors kept their secrets well hidden.

Still, two weeks of good wind means we have a three- or four-day lead on my father, depending on how long it took him to get the fleet moving. It’s an acceptable lead, but not enough for me to sleep comfortably at night. I pass by the opening to the brig on my way back up top and peer inside.

Riden sits at a table with Wallov and Deros, playing cards. He seems to have made it his personal mission to make everyone on the ship like him. If he’s not gambling with the men, he’s up in the crow’s nest looking through a telescope with Roslyn or having drinks with the girls. I’ve even seen him trying to warm up Niridia. She’s not the trusting sort, though when you do earn her trust, she’s the most loyal friend you’ll ever have. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Niridia is all chummy with him as well.

Soon I’ll be the only person on the ship who can’t stand him.

Kearan is at the helm when I make it to the aftercastle. He’s only been back on duty within the last couple of days. Took him some time to recover from his cleansing. It’s too soon to tell whether I like the man better sober or not.

“Wind’s picking up,” he says in greeting. “There’s a storm on the horizon. The little one spotted black clouds. We’re headed right for them.”

Of course we are.

“Keep us steady,” I say to him. Then I shout for Niridia. “Get everything tied down and well secured. Storm’s ahead.”

“All hands to work!” she shouts. “Storm warning. All loose items are to be stowed away!”

All decks are in a flurry of activity as crates and barrels are doubly tied down. Though I stay on the main deck, I know what’s happening below me. Trianne, the ship’s cook, is securing everything in the kitchens behind cupboards. The cannons are being stowed, dispersed around the ship so their weight doesn’t pull us too far to one side. All ports and windows are being closed.

It isn’t long before those of us up top can see the black clouds on the horizon.

“The sails?” Niridia asks.

“Not yet.” There’s not enough distance between us and Kalligan’s fleet. Storms usually last no longer than a few hours. Every minute the sails are

tied down is another minute the fleet will gain on us.

Night falls, and I order every lantern on the ship lit. No one dares to go to sleep. They’re all out on deck. Waiting. Watching.

Most of the night has passed when the storm finally hits. The wind becomes frenzied, and Kearan starts to wrestle with the helm.

“She’s the easiest vessel I’ve ever handled!” He shouts to be heard over the sloshing water and ravenous wind.

“One of the perks of having a smaller ship!” I shout back to him. The sails flap frantically in the wind, no longer doing us any good. They’ll only shred if we leave them up.

“Niridia, get those sails down!”

She rushes down the companionway and cups her hands around her mouth. “Riggers, to your posts! Bring down the sails. No one is to climb the masts without a secure line!”

Riden and the others attach ropes to their waists and tie off the other ends to notches near the feet of the masts. The rain comes down hard, making everything slippery almost instantly. The ship turns sharply, the current below sending her in unpredictable directions.

I spin around. “Kearan, relinquish the wheel.”

“I can hold her steady, Captain. I’m a seasoned helmsman.” “You don’t know the Ava-lee like I do. Now move over!”

He scowls but does as I say. Rather than stomping off belowdecks, he hovers behind my shoulder. Another violent jerk starts to move the ship, but I grip the helm and hold her still. Even then, one girl slips from the mast and dangles from her line. The rain is too thick for me to tell who it is. But her hands find the rope, and she pulls herself up. Another girl hurries to her along the beam and helps her to get her feet on solid wood.

“Niridia!” I shout. “All unnecessary crew are to go belowdecks!”

“Aye.” She races around the deck, shouting to everyone holding on to the railing, masts, and anything else to keep from being tossed into the ocean. Calmly, yet quickly, they head for the hatch. Enwen is the first to reach it. He hauls it open and hands the girls into the hole one by one before traveling down himself.

All the sails are tied down save the topmost square-rig on the mainmast. A larger body that can only be Riden climbs upward with a couple of the girls to secure it.

“Kearan, join the others belowdecks,” I say. “I’m needed, Captain. I’ll stay.”

I look over my shoulder. “How are you needed?”

“If you should fall, someone else will need to take the helm.” “You no longer care for your own safety, is that it?”

“The only person I trust at the wheel is myself. I am watching out for my own neck.”

I go back to ignoring him after that. If he’s going to start being as difficult about following orders as Riden, then he can get dragged to the ocean’s depths and I’ll say good riddance.

Wallov comes running out of the trapdoor a second later, rushing for the mainmast. A struggle up at the top drags my attention to it. Riden wrestles in the crow’s nest with something.

Another sudden pitch and the ship veers left.

Two bodies, one large and one small, fall from the mast and flail over the edge of the ship, plummeting so quickly, if I were to blink, I’d miss them.

I’ve left the helm and made it halfway to the port side when the ship starts spinning wildly in a circle, sending me down to my hands and knees. Wallov ends up plastered against the ship where the railing connects to the deck, and the force of the spinning prevents him from standing.

Another sharp twitch and I’m flung onto my back. I crane my neck to see Kearan getting the helm under control once again. I’d leapt for Roslyn and Riden before even thinking of the consequences.

The rope is stretched taut against the lip of the ship. Wallov finally finds his feet and starts pulling at the rope. Once I reach his side, I add my strength to his. We pull little Roslyn’s form back on board. She’s conscious, but she’s groaning so loudly I can hear her over the storm.

“It’ll be one hell of a bruise,” she says as she rubs at the rope under her arms.

“You watch your language,” Wallov says, but he gathers her to him in a crushing hug.

“What happened?” I ask. I grip the side of the railing tightly as my eyes search the roiling sea for Riden.

Roslyn pushes away from her father to face me. “I told him I didn’t need his rope! But he wouldn’t listen. He untied it from his waist and put it around my own.”

“You were supposed to be belowdecks along with everyone else,” Wallov says. “What were you doing?”

“I was keeping lookout. It’s even more important to have eyes on the sea during a storm. The captain needed me!”

Wallov’s face is harder than I’ve ever seen it in front of his daughter. “Because you disobeyed orders, a man is dead.”

Roslyn shivers involuntarily, but I feel my senses clearing. “He’s not dead yet,” I say. “Get her belowdecks.”

Roslyn hangs her head, ashamed, as Wallov leads her away.

Niridia and the rest of the riggers arrive an instant later. “I’ll go in after him,” she says as she fiddles with her own rope.

“No,” I say. “It’s too dangerous.” My mind races, knowing every second we delay brings Riden closer to death. “Tie it to me.”


“Just do it. Use a constrictor knot around my waist. I won’t be able to untie it underwater.” I don’t have to say aloud the next part. Even in my siren state. I hand her all my weapons, everything sharp. “I’ll have no choice but to return to the ship.”

“But you won’t be lucid enough to reach him.”

“I’ve done it before.” I somehow managed to save us both from Vordan by swimming us to safety.


“I don’t know, but this is the only way he has a chance.”

She looks at me sadly as she finishes tying the rope. I know we’re both thinking the same thing.

Riden has no chance at all.

I try to rip the rope free and find it snug. “Be ready to restrain me when I get back to the ship. Have the other men stopper their ears.”

Then I dive.

As I fall, I fill my thoughts with Riden. Don’t forget. You are going into the water to save him, nothing more. You will not lose yourself. You will not become the monster.

I close my eyes as I hit the water, as if that will somehow keep me in control.

Warmth envelops me. The sea enfolds me into the world’s most gentle caress. I am one of her own, and she missed me during my long absence. And, oh, how I missed her. I am content to let her push me down, down, down, where I can rest on the ocean’s silky bottom.

But there is a disturbance in the water.

I search through the sea’s depths. I’d see better if it weren’t so dark and the waves so unsettled. As it is, I can still make out a human man. He can’t see me; he’s too concentrated on his arms and legs. As if he can master the full weight of the ocean with his limbs alone.

I watch him for a moment. If anything, he loses ground instead of gaining it. Sometimes he doesn’t even propel himself in the right direction, burying himself deeper under the waves. Soon I grow tired of watching him squirm.

Come here, sad creature, I sing, and the man turns his head in my direction. Though he can’t see me, he does his best to obey my beckoning. Every muscle in his body does what it can to bring himself closer to me. He makes better progress than he had before, now that he’s not fighting against the direction of the current. But he still moves too slowly for my pleasure. I don’t like waiting.

I swim to meet him. I’m almost there, when a force pulls tight against me. I look down and find a rope holding me back.

I tug at it, try to wriggle free, but it is far too tight and unyielding. I could take my nails to it, but the man will likely be dead before then. We won’t have nearly as much fun if he’s already dead!

Come on, then. Just a little farther!

He manages to get in one more good kick, and I reach him with my fingertips. My lips pull up into a wide smile as I bring him closer.

My, he is pretty. I stroke a finger down his cheek until it reaches his lips.

His eyes strain to see me. He relaxes suddenly as if he’s comfortable now that he’s with me. No, wait, he’s running out of air. That won’t do just yet.

I lean down and press my lips to his. I’ve air left in my lungs from before I jumped. I give it to him.

The touch is electric. My entire body comes alive even more so than before. I still feel the strength of being underwater. I feel the confidence, the power.

And my mind returns to me.


I grip his arms and kick to the surface. His face breaks free of the water and gulps down breath after breath of air.

The waves fight against me with everything they’ve got, but I don’t surrender. I keep Riden above the water where he can breathe. It is beyond strange to be so surrounded by both water and him, as if the two forces are battling each other for residence in my mind. The water encourages the siren, Riden the human.

“Pull us up!” I shout as loud as I can. I’m prepared to sing to Kearan if he hasn’t covered his ears yet, but the rope starts yanking us toward the ship, Riden spluttering as we are pulled through the waves.

The cold hits me once I’m out of the water. Riden shivers next to me, but I haven’t felt the cold long enough to be affected so deeply by it yet. The extreme temperatures of the ocean don’t harm or even register to the siren.

When we reach the ship’s edge, several girls pull Riden from my arms and get him onto the deck. Then they grab me. Instead of lowering me lightly onto the floor, I’m practically thrown.

“What the—”

A weight drops on top of me. Ropes. No, a net. I paw at it, trying to break free, but that only entangles me further. Then I’m being dragged.

I focus on my surroundings, wondering who could have possibly boarded us in the storm. But I’m not staring at intruders.

“Niridia?” I say, astonished to find she’s one of the girls dragging me. “Get this damned thing off me! What are you doing?”

“Get Riden to Mandsy so she can look him over. And for star’s sake get his ears covered.”

Oh. She thinks I’m the siren. Of course she does. I went into the water. “Niridia, I’m fine. It’s me.”

Haeli and Reona, two of my riggers, look to Niridia questioningly at my lucidity.

“Ignore her. Captain’s not herself. She’ll be all right by morning.” She leans toward Sorinda. “The creature’s getting cleverer.”

I sigh. “Niridia Zasperon, I’d really rather not spend the night in the brig.

It puts me in a mood the next day.”

She steps away from the netting and looks at me. “Only the next day, Captain?”

“Very amusing.”

She places her hands at her hips. “You would have me put the safety of this crew in jeopardy so you can have a soft bed?”

I hold in a growl. “Fine. Put me in the brig, but I need dry clothes so I don’t freeze. And extra blankets.”

Niridia chuckles to herself, though I can’t hear it over the wind. “All right. Let the captain out. She’s fine.”

* * *

When I can feel my fingers again, I head belowdecks with everyone else. Kearan stays above to keep the ship righted. I promise to relieve him shortly. He brushes off the comment as though he couldn’t care either way. He’s a lot like Sorinda in that regard.

In a corner of the crew’s sleeping quarters, a little girl cries into her father’s arms. As soon as she spots me, Roslyn stops her sniveling. She stands tall, pushing out of her father’s grasp.

“I will accept whatever punishment you have for me, Captain.” She pulls her dagger from its sheath and offers it to me.

I watch her carefully. “Did you hear Niridia call everyone belowdecks?” “No, Captain, but…”


“I saw the riggers lowering the sails. I knew the winds were getting dangerous. And I shouldn’t have allowed Riden to put his rope on me. It was my choice to stay up in the nest without protection.” She doesn’t look down; she keeps those blue eyes on me.

“From what I saw, it looked like you put up quite a fight.”

“Well, yes, Captain. But I should have been strong enough to fight him off.”

I kneel down to her level and hand back the dagger. “As far as I’m concerned, sailor, you did nothing wrong. You are not expected to be anything more than what you are. You didn’t deliberately disobey orders, and Riden is alive.”

Her eyes light up. “Alive? Truly?”

“Yes. The only one you owe an apology to and a punishment from is your father for scaring him half to death.”

“Rest assured,” Wallov says, “she’ll be punished.” He tousles the hair on the top of her head.

Roslyn nods solemnly before asking, “May I go see Riden?”

“Not yet,” I say. “He needs to be checked out by Mandsy first. I’m going to find her now for an update, but I wanted you to know he is all right.”

She wraps those little arms around me and gives me a squeeze before returning to her father.

I keep a hand on the railing for balance as I ascend the steps. The storm has only worsened, and I worry for the safety of the ship and crew. If we should run aground in this weather …

“How’s she holding?” I shout to Kearan once I make it up top. “Not easily, but I’ve got her.”

I nod, tell him I’ll be back after I check on Riden, and head for my quarters. Niridia said the girls had carried Riden into the infirmary, a room with a padded table for patients, but the ship was too unsteady for him to be elevated. Eventually he had to be taken to my room. The lush carpets on the floor were the best solution. He can’t fall off there.

“For the last damned time, Mandsy, I don’t want any water! I just spent the last ten minutes coughing it out of my lungs.”

“Your body has been through an ordeal. You’re exhausted and you should drink something.” Mandsy isn’t intimidated by any of her patients. Ever. She’d treat a snarling bear if it was injured. She tries to bring the cup back to Riden’s lips.

“What I want is to be left alone so I can sleep. Surely sleep is part of your treatment?”

“Yes, but you could be concussed if you hit your head on something underwater. Someone should watch over you.”

The ship rocks. Mandsy backs up to catch her balance, but some of the water still tips out of the cup she’s holding, and Riden braces himself with his arms from where he lies on the floor. When the ship straightens again, I step all the way into my bedroom.

“Mandsy,” I say, “go below and check on Roslyn. Make sure she’s all right.”

Mandsy treads past me as Riden looks at me in alarm. “Did she fall into the water, too? Is she—”

“She’s fine, thanks to you,” I assure him. “I just wanted Mandsy out of here so you would stop being rude.”

His worry morphs into a glare. “I said I didn’t want any company.”

“This is my room, and I just saved your life. You could show a little gratitude toward all the people who are trying to help you.”

He won’t look at me now. He finds his feet far more worthy of his fury.

Riden’s managed to change into some dry breeches. (I’ve already dried myself off with my abilities.) A towel hangs around his neck, keeping his hair from dripping onto his bare chest. A dry shirt lies next to him, but he probably doesn’t have the energy to pull it on.

“Do you want some help with that?” I ask, pointing to the shirt.

“If you won’t leave, then I will.” He tries to stand; at least I think that’s what he’s doing. His legs are twitching.

I rush forward and push against the idiot’s shoulders. “What are you doing?”

He bats at my arms with flimsy pressure and tries to stand again. “Keep your arse on my floor,” I say.

“Why don’t you make me?” he snaps. “You’ve already broken your promise today. What’s once more?”

My mouth drops open. “Is that what this is about?” He still won’t look at me.

“Would you really have preferred that I let you drown?”

“I gave you my conditions for joining your crew. Under no circumstances were you to use your abilities on me.”

“You were going to die!”

He snaps his neck in my direction, his eyes finding mine instantly. “Then you should have let me. I practically killed myself trying to obey you. I can barely lift my arms, and forget about my legs. I feel as though I’ve been swimming for years nonstop. Not because I was fighting for my life, but because I was trying to heed the order of a siren.”

“You’re being a prick. I did nothing wrong.”

He mumbles something under his breath. I almost don’t call him out on it, but if he’s going to insult me, he better have the balls to do it to my face.

“What was that?” I ask. “You were just like him.”

My mind blanks. Him? “Who?”

“Jeskor,” he breathes so faintly I almost miss it. His eyes take on a faraway look, reflecting on some former time. Some demon of his past, I realize.

I know all too well what it is like being raised by a pirate. But I don’t know fully what life was like for Riden growing up. What did his father do to him?

“What happened?” I ask.

His eyes narrow on me again. “I want to be alone.”

“Fine,” I snap. I throw the large feather blanket from my bed on top of his head. Maybe he’s too weak to adjust it and he’ll suffocate, but that’s probably too much to hope for.

I leave before I can fantasize more about strangling him.

How dare he scare me to death and then try to guilt me for it! I should dump his arse back into the sea.

“Kearan, go below and tell Mandsy she should stay with Riden if Roslyn checks out all right. Then get some rest. I’ll take the helm for a while.”

He opens his mouth.

“If you’re about to argue with me, I suggest you don’t.”

Something about my tone makes him go through the hatch without another moment’s hesitation.

* * *

Two hours pass. The hazy light of dawn finally peeks over the horizon, casting a little light for us to see by. Kearan is taking another turn at the helm while I rest my arms from the battle with the sea. The ship constantly has to be turned into the waves to keep it from capsizing. It’s as if the storm is a manifestation of my father’s wrath.

A brutal gust of wind strikes the ship, and a crack slices the air. I assume it’s more thunder until I feel the ship start to tip. I can do nothing but watch as the mainmast snaps just below the second sail. It falls against the side of the ship, slicing through the railing and putting a hole through the deck. It’s held together by mere fragments of wood and a few lines of rope.

I run for the trapdoor, open it, and scream, “Niridia, get the crew up here! Now! Before the tension drags us under!”

There’s a blur of movement as the crew spills onto the deck, carrying knives and axes. They slice the ropes and hack at the wood weighing us down. Radita directs them so the task can be done in the most efficient way possible.

The broken mast falls into the sea, and the ship sways far to the opposite side. We swing back and forth until the ship rights itself.

Just as slowly as the storm came upon us, now it recedes. The sea rests and the clouds retreat. The sun climbs higher toward its perch in the sky.

Radita lets the crew breathe for a moment before instructing them in cleaning the wreckage. Clumps of sea plants are tangled in the railing. Loose ropes lie everywhere. Wood fragments litter the deck. Radita tells them which pieces of the ship to save and which to toss over the side. Some of the girls start rebuilding the parts of the railing and deck that were lost.

The mizzenmast and foremast still stand, but the rigging hangs limply to the deck, blowing about in calmer winds. The mainmast floats in the water a ways off, and a few girls take the rowboats to try and salvage the sails and crow’s nest.

Only then does our new predicament fully hit me.

A sequence of expletives leaves my mouth as I take in the carnage. I don’t even feel guilty when Roslyn turns to Niridia to ask what one of the words means.

The ship barely crawls along without the mainmast. We can’t unfurl the sail on the foremast yet because the rigging needs fixing. The lateen on the mizzen doesn’t do much to push the ship forward. The pirate king will have no trouble catching up to us now.

I can’t seem to stop looking at the missing mast. My father betrayed me.

My mother betrayed me. Now my own ship has betrayed me.

A feeling of helplessness pokes around the edges of my mind, wanting in, wanting to flood everything else.

Three days.

My father is possibly only three days away. And our ship is now drastically slower than his. He’ll be upon us in no time.

The thought nearly leaves me breathless with fear. What more could I have done? We had a plan. We were doing fine—but I cannot control the weather. This failing isn’t my fault.

Then why do I feel responsible? Did I do something wrong? I discovered my father was not the man I thought him to be. I thought being away from him would be the safest for my crew and me. But by ordering everyone to leave the fleet, I put us in more danger than we’ve ever been in before.

But you gave everyone a choice, a small, rational voice argues in my head. You gave them the option to leave. They all chose to stay.

Still. My. Fault.

A body bumps into me, and I finally look up.

“Sorry, Captain,” mumbles Lotiya as she carries a load of planks for repairing the deck.

I take a good look around me, see the men hauling heavier pieces of debris over the ship, see the riggers working on fixing the two sails left standing, watch Roslyn sweep the deck with a broom—the faces of my crew.

They’re still alive. The pirate king is not upon us yet. I’d let despair win too soon. All hope is not lost.

We need a plan.

“Kearan, Niridia! Meet me in my quarters now.”

Kearan has a fractured piece of wood thrown over his shoulder. He shrugs it into the sea before following after me, Niridia on his heels.

We go to my desk, bypassing Mandsy and Riden on the floor. I don’t spare them a glance.

We’re here for the map.

“We need a new mast,” I say. We can fashion one ourselves, but we need a tall tree for that. Those aren’t to be found in the open ocean, but if we’re anywhere near land …

“Yes, here!” I point to the island. The one where my parents met. It’s not far off.

“We can’t just stop,” Niridia says. “We’ve no idea what’s out there.” “Would you rather sail around aimlessly until we run out of food?”

Kearan asks her. “Or worse. Until the king reaches us?”

“We could replace the mainmast with the mizzen, attach the mainsail to it, and—”

“It’s a good idea, Niridia,” I interrupt, “but we’ll never outrun my father that way. It would speed us up some, but not enough. We’ve no choice but to stop.”

It’s in Niridia’s nature to be cautious. She always suggests the safest and most practical course of action, but she never fails to follow orders when I say otherwise. She’s the reasonableness to my recklessness. And I always need to consider reasonable options, even if I don’t always end up taking them.

“Get us here, Kearan,” I say. “And let’s pray to the stars we can find a suitable trunk ashore.”

“Aye, Captain.” He leaves us, and I say a silent prayer of thanks that the rudder at least isn’t damaged. Then we’d really be in trouble.

* * *

I crawl into my room long after nightfall. After two days without sleep, I’m practically sagging from exhaustion.

“Get out,” Riden demands.

Oh, no he doesn’t. I saved him. I worked out saving the ship and the rest of the crew. I’ve worked too hard and too long. I will sleep in my own bed tonight.

I offer him a vulgar gesture in response before stepping over him to reach my bed. “You didn’t see it,” I say, realizing it’s pitch black, “but I just suggested you go—”

“I think I can guess,” he says. I hear a shuffling noise, and I realize he’s trying to push himself off the floor to leave, just like he did before.

“You’re not leaving this room, Riden. Try it, and I’ll have Mandsy tie you down.”

He growls at me. It’s the last thing I hear before falling asleep.

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