Chapter no 11

Daughter of the Siren Queen

Clever, Alosa. Sending the land king after the keep. Oh, yes, I’ve heard word. My men are fine. The land king fled with his tail tucked between his legs. We’ll have to relocate now, thanks to you.

Your list of crimes is growing. I don’t know if there’s enough skin on your bones for the lashing that’s coming your way.

The last yano bird returned rather quickly. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we were catching up.

MY FATHER’S LATEST NOTE sends a shiver down my back.

Land could not have come any sooner.

I reach for my telescope and peer toward the line of green on the horizon. Tall trees stand sentinel over the island. They slope with the rolling hills. Gray clouds hang over the island, and an instant later, the ship passes into a light drizzle.

It is not unlike Lemisa, the closest island to the keep, save the weather is a bit warmer. At last, a bit of luck. Cone-bearing trees are the best to make masts out of, and this island is covered with them. Those closest to the shore are relatively small, but if we traverse inland, where there’s sure to be a freshwater source, we’ll find taller trees.

“Ladies and gents, we’re almost there!” I call out to the crew. Hearty shouts go up in response.

“Begging your pardon, Captain,” Enwen says, inching closer to me, “but are we sure going ashore is the best idea? The island could be haunted.”

“Sirens roam these waters, Enwen, and you’re worried about ghosts?” I ask.

“Ghosts, ghouls, banshees, wraiths—”

“Don’t exist,” Kearan cuts in from where he steers at the helm. “Do so.”

“Have you ever seen one?” “No, but there are stories.”

“Stories parents tell their children to make them behave,” Kearan says. “Nothing more. They’re not real.”

“You said sirens weren’t real once. And now look at our captain!” Enwen looks to me. “Meaning no offense, Captain. You’re all right.”

“Thanks, Enwen.”

“You happened to be right one time,” Kearan says. “That does not make the rest of your superstitions real.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because—” Kearan cuts himself off. “How am I having this conversation? Enwen, go blather to someone who wants to listen.”

“You like listening to me.” “I really don’t.”

“Stop it,” I say to the two of them. “We’re going ashore. End of discussion. Niridia! Get everyone on the deck.”

Though I don’t have eyes on her, she answers from below. “Aye, Captain.”

In a matter of seconds, everyone is amassed together, the crew eager for change after two days of our slow pace.

Wallov has Roslyn on his shoulders so she can see me from the deck. Lotiya and Deshel have Riden cornered at the edge of the ship, where he’s sitting atop a barrel.

He slept for a full day after his accident. Once he could stand on his own, he left my room, left my sight. He won’t even look at me now as I give out orders.

“We’ve no clue what we’re going to find on this island,” I say, “so everyone needs to be on their guard. What we do know, though, is in the past, my father’s men met a group of sirens in the water off this island. Very soon I will order the men to have their ears covered until we’re far enough inland that it shouldn’t be a problem. Is that understood?”

I pointedly look at each man on the ship. They in turn nod their heads. Except for Enwen, who seems to have covered his ears before I reached the end of my sentence.

“Though sirens are the only creatures we know exist for sure, we need to understand that there could be many other sorts of magical beings out there. Don’t be afraid, only cautious. We’re in uncharted waters, but remember, my ancestors reached the siren island just fine, and they couldn’t have had half of our talents.”

The girls laugh lightly.

“We’re here to find us a new mast. I want to be on and off the island as quickly as possible. We stick together. I’ll pair the men up with women while their ears need covering. Someone will always be on watch. Radita will take the lead.” She’ll know the perfect tree for our new mast. “As soon as we have this ship sailing again at full speed, it’s on to the Isla de Canta and treasure beyond our wildest dreams!”


And then I will take everything from my father. It is the greatest punishment I can think of for him, but it doesn’t nearly equate to keeping a girl from her mother.

“Allemos,” I shout. “Get over here.”

I worry he’ll defy me in front of the whole crew and I’ll have to punish him again, but to my relief, he obeys. He can be furious with me all he wishes, but I am still his captain.

I pull him off to the side so we can have a private conversation.

“You can stay on the ship to guard it while we’re gone or you can come help us find a new mast. Those are your choices at this point. Regret it though you might, you’re stuck being a member of this crew. It’s impossible for you to leave, and I won’t have you being an idle passenger the rest of the way.”

His face is unreadable. “You’re giving me a choice?”

I don’t break eye contact. “I think you’re an idiot. You’re alive because of me, yet you’re determined to hate me for it.”

His jaw twitches. I know he means to argue, but I press on. “Nevertheless, I did break my promise to you. That is why you have a choice.”

He’s quiet for a moment. “I don’t hate you.” “All evidence to the contrary.”

He doesn’t have anything to say to that. I think he won’t respond at all.


“I’ll go,” he says. “I’m a member of this crew. My strengths are best put to use obtaining a new mast. I’ll see you ashore, Captain.”


It wasn’t enough that his tone was indifferent, accepting of his fate to be stuck on my ship. Now he has to distance himself from me further by refusing to call me by name, as he usually does.

There is so much more I want to say to him. So much I want to demand from him. An apology, for one. Whether his captain, friend, or something more—he should not have spoken to me the way he did the other night. I won’t let that slide so easily.

And then answers. What plagues his mind so much that he’d rather die than be saved by my abilities?

Those conversations will have to wait until another time. For now, we have a tree to find.

“You’re to pair with me on the island,” I say. I don’t give him a chance to respond before leaving to help drop anchor.

He can be upset with me all he likes. I won’t apologize for saving him.

But if I have to watch Lotiya or Deshel leading him through the island while he cannot hear, I won’t be able to focus on the task at hand.

Damn him.

Damn everything about him.

* * *

The waters are clear as we row toward the shore. The waves aid us, pushing us closer and closer to the island. The men have their ears blocked, even though all signs point to no siren life. We can’t take any chances. It’s not as though I can sense them. I lived my whole life not knowing my own mother was living on the same isle as I.

If only I had known, I could have spared her years of enslavement. Would she still have run out on me then?

Would it have stopped you from saving her if you’d known she’d leave you?


Strangely, I’m comforted by the realization, though it doesn’t make me any less angry with her.

The island looks … normal as we approach. Somehow, I expected an island tied to the sirens to be more mystical in appearance, though I’m not entirely sure what that would entail.

The boats run aground and we disembark, pulling the rowboats far onto the sand so the waves can’t pull them back out to sea. We take in our surroundings as we step from sandy beach to needle-covered forest floor.

A squirrel notices our approach and scurries up the nearest trunk. The wind grabs at the leaves in the trees, shaking them together. Birds pull twigs from the ground to make their nests, and something rustles through the thick grass. Probably a rodent of some sort.

“Break into your pairs,” I order.

Mandsy hooks her arm through Enwen’s. Athella sidles herself up next to Wallov. Deros gets claimed by Lotiya, and Deshel hovers near Riden. I give her a look that sends her back a step, and grab Riden’s hand.

Riden looks at our joined hands, searches my face, looks back down at our hands.

In the rush to avoid Riden touching another woman, I’d grabbed him without thought as to how he would react.

My fingers release their hold before he can pull away, which I’m sure he would have done. I won’t look at him after that, but I’ve got his back should something come rushing out of the shrubbery.

Kearan, who I paired with Sorinda, holds his arm out to her. Sorinda stares at him, unmoving. He doesn’t take his arm back; he waits for her to do something. I’ve never seen Sorinda fail to intimidate a man with a look, but the two are trapped in a battle of wills, with Kearan’s arm, which is now more muscled than fatty, extended between the two. All of those push-ups have been doing him good.

“Sorinda,” I say, to remind her of her orders while on the island.

She pushes his arm back to his side, but stays near him and keeps her eyes searching the area around them both.

“He’s not all that bad, you know,” Mandsy says, nudging her shoulder into Sorinda. “Now that he’s sobered up, he has interesting things to say.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Sorinda says.

“How would you know? You never stay near him unless following orders.”

“And what I hear while following orders is telling enough. He’s a bumbling buffoon.”

“That’s rather rude.” “He can’t hear me.”

Kearan looks between Sorinda and Mandsy. “Are you talking about me?” he says much too loudly.

Sorinda rolls her eyes.

The rain and light dampen now that they must filter through the trees to reach us. Many trails wind through the undergrowth; whether they were made by animals or something else, it’s impossible to tell. Either way, we follow one that takes us away from the sea. I monitor a compass in my hand, so we can find our way back to the ship. Radita stays close by my side, examining trees as we pass, but they’re still far too small.

The farther we go, the more entrapped I feel. On the sea, I can see for miles in any direction. But here, on land in a thick forest, anything could be hiding. A threat could be three feet away, and I would be none the wiser. Why would anyone choose to live in a place like this?

When I judge us a safe distance from the ocean, I motion for the men to pull out their plugs. Enwen takes more goading than the others.

I still won’t look at Riden.

Instead I search between the coniferous trees, peering through their branches for hidden dangers.

A figure sidles up next to me.

The one I’m determined not to lock eyes with. “What was that?” Riden asks.

“What was what?”

“You know what. You grabbed my hand.”

“Thought I saw something between the trees. I was protecting you.” The lie sounds pathetic even to my own ears.

“I see” is all he says.

The longer we travel without seeing any threats, the more certain I am that something foul is just waiting for us around the next hill. The animal life all but vanishes, as if they’re avoiding the center of the island.

After maybe an hour, we come to a clearing. A freshwater spring bubbles up from the ground, giving way to a small stream headed for the sea. A cave opening, likely carved out long ago by the underwater source, rests at the bottom of a rocky rise.

Radita strides over to a tree on the edge of the clearing, opposite the cave. She examines it carefully. “No signs of decay,” she mumbles to herself. Then, “This tall pine is perfect.”

“All right,” I say. “Ropes out. Get them strung up around the neighboring trees. Riden, Kearan, the saw.”

Haeli and Reona, my best riggers, climb two neighboring trees and carefully place the ropes. They’ll help support the tree as it falls, giving it a more controlled descent. It will also muffle the sound of it smashing to the ground. We don’t need to announce our presence. Lotiya and Deshel are on watch while the rest of us get to work.

Riden and Kearan mark the tree so it will fall at the angle we want. Then the two of them handle the saw. The rest of us wrap ourselves in the ends of the ropes, so we can use our weight to catch the trunk.

The grating sound of metal on wood starts. A bird twitches its head to the side to better view us with one beady eye. After a few seconds, it takes off in flight.

I tell myself it’s fleeing away from all the racket we’re making and not something coming toward us.

I’ve posted watches. There’s nothing more I can do except help. My eyes dart from the tree line—

And land on Riden’s arms, flexing as they push the saw through the tree. Damn, but they look good.

“Is there something on Riden’s arm?” Niridia asks. It comes out so innocently, but I know better. Oh, she’ll pay for that one later.

Riden looks over his shoulder at me.

“Thought I could make him move faster by sheer force of will,” I say. “If you’d like to come saw, I’ll gladly switch you places,” Riden says.

Three-quarters of the way through sawing, the tree starts to crack on its own, the weight of it bringing it right down toward the ropes. The nearby roped-up trees do most of the work in catching the weight, but we all still get dragged a foot forward in the dirt.

“Cut most of the branches as close to the trunk as possible,” Radita says, “but don’t nick the trunk. Save a few longer branches as handholds for carrying it back to the ship.”

We lower the tree and start hacking with whatever we have. Some brought axes from the ship. Others pull out their cutlasses for the smaller branches. Riden and Kearan take the saw to the lower, bigger branches. The work is painstakingly slow. This pine has innumerable branches, which is a good sign that it’s healthy, but more work for us. I keep one eye on the branches I’m cutting, another on the surrounding trees, searching for anything approaching.

I can see the back of Lotiya’s head from atop the rocky rise above the cave opening. Deshel is hidden opposite her, probably up in one of the trees on the other side of the clearing, guarding our backs.

Still, this place is too ripe with animal and plant life for me to believe nothing else lives here. It would be the perfect place for a settlement, were the land king to discover this place. And if the sirens migrate to this place, surely it can’t be empty? Why else would they come if there weren’t men for them to prey on?

I hit a knot in the branch I’m tackling, so I put even more force behind my next blow, and the wood finally cracks. The girls weave around one another to travel from one felled branch to the next. We care not for neat cuts or even nubs. We can make things look pretty later.

Speed is my only concern. On and off the island.

Every mouth groans from the weight of the tree as we carry, drag, push, and pull the trunk to the ship. Several times we have to attach ropes and pulleys to nearby trees to get the trunk over hills. Even with my strength at the fat base of the trunk, the tree proves challenging. We pause several times to catch our breath.

Lotiya and Deshel follow our movements in a wide arc, ready to warn us at the first sign of danger. My entire body is tense, just waiting for a warning call, sure it must be coming any second.

When we reach the beach and the ship is finally in sight, a collective sigh looses into the air. Deshel returns from her position and peers at the spot opposite her own watch, where her sister should be.

“Where’s Lotiya?” Deshel asks.

Heads turn, but no one says anything. I know it’s not likely that she wandered off on her own. Worry takes root in my chest.

“Lotiya!” Deshel shouts.

“Hush,” I tell her. “We’ll search for her.” I look through the crew. “Sorinda, Mandsy, Riden, and Deros—you’re with me. Niridia, get this trunk to the ship. Radita, do what you can to get my ship going again.”

“You don’t want me to come with you?” Niridia asks.

“If Lotiya is injured, I’ll need Mandsy more.” If I’m not with the ship, I always need one of them with it in my stead. I can’t take them both.

“Shouldn’t I come, too?” Kearan asks.

“No, I need your strength focused on moving the trunk.”

Kearan darts a glance in Sorinda’s direction so quickly I almost miss it. “What if you run into danger? I could—”

“You’re to stay, Kearan. End of discussion.” “I will be joining you,” Deshel demands. “Of course,” I say. “Everyone, move out.”

The majority of the crew get back to dragging the trunk toward the ship, and my little party of six turns back for the island.

It’s easy to retrace our steps. The tree trunk left a clear trail through the forest, turning up dirt and plants as we dragged it in places. In other spots, our feet left deep divots in the ground where the weight of the pine drove us into the forest floor.

We keep the trail to our right, traveling along the path that Lotiya would have taken while on watch. I’ve brought Deros with us because he has some skill with tracking on land. He and his brother lived together, spending their days hunting in the woods for food, until an accident befell his brother. Another, less-experienced hunter got spooked and shot before realizing it was no beast that was near him. The death hit Deros strongly. He wanted to forget everything that reminded him of his brother. So he looked for work on the sea, hiring on with my crew.

“Here,” he says. “I’ve found her trail.”

“It’s more than one set of tracks,” Sorinda puts in. “Yes,” Deros agrees.

“Someone took her,” Mandsy says.

Even I can guess the lines tracing over the needle-covered ground indicate she was dragged.

“There’s blood, too,” Deshel says, her voice breathier than usual.

Deros moves us at a faster pace through the woods now that we’ve found the trail, whipping past tree branches, leaping over roots, dodging bushes and brambles.

The trail takes us back to the clearing. The blood droplets end right outside the mouth of the cave.

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