Chapter no 13

Daughter of the Siren Queen

WE RACE FOR OUR lives down the tunnel Mandsy found. Eventually, a small light appears ahead. Sunlight. An exit.

I glance over my shoulder. The cannibals aren’t in sight yet, but I’m sure it won’t take them long to discover which way we went.

I slam into Riden’s back. He turns and steadies me before I hit the ground, and I rub at my arms where I bumped him.

“Why are we stopped?” I shout at the same time I see the problem.

A cave-in. Sunlight filters through a small opening, not big enough for a person to fit through, not yet. The girls have their cutlasses out and are beating against the wall with their hilts. Deros tries to find handholds on the rocks to move them out of the way.

“Keep at it!” I shout to them.

I wedge my torch into the ground in front of me, draw my sword, and prepare to greet the ravenous men. Riden stands at my side, ready to help. We barely fit side by side.

“Here,” he says and hands me his sword while he reloads his pistol. “You weren’t joking when you spoke of how much danger your crew gets into.”

“We like to keep things interesting.” “And fatal.”

The cannibals are within sight now, sprinting full speed.

Riden pours more gunpowder into his pistol, takes aim, and fires. The first cannibal in line falls, tripping those immediately behind. Some are

smart enough to jump over the mess and keep running.

I toss Riden back his sword, and we begin to fend them off. Cannibals extend as far as my eyes can see in the scanty light.

The first cannibal who reaches me has bloodshot eyes, a scar on his forehead in the shape of a K, and long, matted hair. He swings his sword down at my head, and I raise my own to deflect it. Then he tries it again. He’s quick, but after three times of this repetitious action, I sidestep as soon as he starts to move his arm downward and hack him at the elbow. His arm comes clean off, and a scream that makes me want to rip off my ears ensues. I silence it with a well-placed stab.

It takes me only one try to confirm my suspicions. The men are unaffected by my voice. Their minds have already been charmed by sirens much more powerful than I.

There is very little left of the men they once were. They have no skill with a sword. Their strikes are imprecise, ill-timed, wild—like small children with toy clubs. They are desperate, quick, emergent. You’d think they were the ones fighting for their lives and not we.

But they are fresh and full of energy, unlike us.

“One of these days it would be nice to do something normal with you,” Riden says as he punches a looming face, then stabs the cannibal in the stomach.

“I thought you were angry with me.”

“I still am, I think, but it doesn’t seem all that important when we’re fighting for our lives.”

Well, then. “What exactly did you have in mind?” I kick at my own assailant, right in the mouth. Must’ve knocked a few teeth loose.

“I don’t know. We could share a meal together.”

Share a meal? I don’t know what he’s going on about, but I say, “Oh, come now, this is far more fun.”

We keep backing up as bodies pile up in front of us. The sounds of metal striking rock continue to pound at our backs.

“I will concede that I do feel more alive when I think I’m about to die,” he says.

“You’re not going to die,” I tell him.

That’s when one of them jumps me. I’d been fighting one cannibal, and the next one, instead of waiting his turn, launches himself over the first and flattens me onto my back as my sword goes flying from my hand.

The impact would have been painful enough without the bones on the ground digging into me. Sharklike teeth bite into my shoulder, and I let out my own sort of growl. I reach my left hand up around the cannibal’s throat, squeezing and pushing those needles out of my skin. They’ve been filed down to points! They’re gnashing, eager to pierce into my skin once more. His breath is rancid. I have to choke down my last meal.

Riden is busy blocking the tunnel by himself now while I grasp around frantically for my sword. Eventually my hand finds something hard and heavy. A human femur, I think. I bring it down on the cannibal’s head, which knocks him out instantly.

I push and wiggle to get the dead weight off of me. Two seconds later I have my sword in hand again. I kill the man I’d just rendered unconscious

—I don’t want him waking up ever again—while Riden holds off the rest.

I’m bleeding now, and the cannibals become even more frenzied by it. Apparently their own bleeding companions lying around the cave floors have no allure for them. It is only the unenchanted sailors unfortunate enough to land on this island that whet their appetites.

One more chink and I hear rocks cascading behind me. Light bursts through the tunnel, temporarily blinding the cannibals in front of us.

“Run!” I shout again.

The light burns my eyes as I turn, and I run blindly at first, tripping over the rocks and forest floor. But I don’t stop. My breath makes my raw throat ache, but I ignore the pain. I can only imagine how everyone else must be feeling if I’m getting tired.

They are only yards behind us. Deshel is slowed down by the body she carries, but no words would convince her to drop it. Nor would I dream of doing so. To not be buried at sea is to be damned for eternity, never finding rest with the stars.

Deros and I reach the beach first. Our strides never falter as we shove our strength into the single rowboat left for us, plunging it into the ocean.

The others tumble in, and we are finally drifting off toward the ship. Toward safety.

The cannibals wade into the water. Deros and I row with every bit of strength we have left. But as soon as the cannibals get in over their heads, they falter, scrambling for purchase on the sand below, swallowing water— drowning.

They forgot how to be men long ago.

* * *

“What happened?” Niridia asks when we finally drag ourselves back onto the ship. “What beasts did this?” She stares in open horror at Lotiya’s body.

“Men,” Sorinda answers.

“Not just men,” I say. “Bewitched men. They were pirates once. Men from my father’s own crew.”

“How is that possible?” Niridia asks.

“On his first voyage here, my father claimed they were set upon by sirens, but not all of his men made it off the island. It would seem that those left for dead were enchanted to guard this place and feast on any who stopped on their way to the Isla de Canta.”

“How do you know they were your father’s men?” Riden asks. He stands near Deshel, who hasn’t yet dropped Lotiya’s body.

“Some of them bore Kalligan’s mark. My father’s men distinguish themselves by drawing the letter on their foreheads. Years ago, those who wished to truly prove their loyalty would carve it into their flesh, letting the skin scar. Father’s mostly done away with that, since it makes it difficult to hide them in a crowd or to send them out as spies.”

“Just a moment,” Enwen pipes up. “You’re telling me you can bewitch men into cannibals?”

“No. I am merely half siren, and my abilities last only as long as I have song to fill a man’s ears. As soon as my song fades, the enchantment ends. It would seem that full sirens are much more powerful than I.”

Enwen sticks out his tongue in disgust, as though imagining his own life as a cannibal. Everyone else is silent as they take the new information in.

Deshel breaks it as she lets out a single laugh, one without any humor in it. “We risked our lives to save a siren. Who then left us to be hunted down by the king. And now we were almost eaten alive because of that siren’s enchantments from long ago.” Her gaze cuts to me like a knife. “I hope you feel her life was worth my sister’s.” She sets the body down.

A new kind of silence fills the ship, that of held breaths.

I’m already running at her. I have a fistful of her shirt in my hands as I slam her into the ship’s railing and tilt her backward, so most of her weight is teetering off the side, held up only by my arms.

That kind of talk is tilting toward mutiny, and I won’t have it. “Lotiya was family to me, not in the way she was to you, but still in all the ways that mattered.”

I loosen my grip, set her weight back onto the ship. “I cannot undo what has been done. But remember, I gave everyone a choice to stay or leave before we set out on this voyage. And you have a choice to make now, Deshel. You can lay all the blame on me, let bitterness and resentment fill you until you’re no longer able to sail with my crew. Or. You can accept that your sister knew the risks and decided to sail for adventure and treasure anyway.

“You will grieve for her. We all will, but we can keep fighting and living our lives as she would want. Now, go below and get yourself cleaned up. Take some time to adjust. Decide what you will do.”

I release her. She has no words for me in return. Not yet. She slinks belowdecks.

“As for the rest of you—get this ship ready for sailing. The king could be only a day behind us now.”

They’ve already started cutting and smoothing our new mast to shape, and Radita sets about ordering everyone back to the task.

It’s probably overkill—I’ve already seen that the cannibals can’t swim, and they don’t seem intelligent enough to use boats, but after one is faced with the danger of being eaten alive, I don’t think that really matters. Either way, I post watches while we’re making repairs.

A hand gently grips my elbow.

“Come on,” Riden says. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

I realize now that I’m still covered in blood, and my shoulder needs to be cleaned. Likely with a whole bottle of rum.

“Mandsy,” Riden says, “your healing kit.” “I’ll go fetch it.”

“And some water. Captain needs to clean up.”

He leads me toward my quarters, now by the hand, and I let him. It gives me some time to think over the tongue lashing I’m about to give him. I tell him to stay above deck while I replenish my abilities and he goes below. I tell him to stay put in the cave with everyone else and he follows me. I can’t have people on this ship I can’t trust.

He closes the door to my quarters and has me sit on the bed. After examining my shoulder for a moment, he reaches down to his boot and pulls out a knife.

“Where did you get that?” I ask.

“Won it in a game of cards from Deros. He’s always losing his knives to us.” Riden doesn’t look at me as he talks. Instead he keeps his attention on the knife, which he brings down near my shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I snap, pushing his hand away.

“Cutting at the sleeve of your corset. I need to get a proper view of the bite.”

“And ruin my corset? Are you mad?”

“Alosa, it’s already bloodstained. Give it a rest.” “Give what a rest?”

“The arguing.”

You are the one who needs to give the arguing a rest. It’s becoming a habit—you disobeying and questioning orders.”

“So punish me again,” he says. “But right now we need to get you cleaned up.”

I raise both my arms, possibly in an attempt to strangle him, but my shoulder burns, and I have to settle for yelling. “It’s not about punishing you! It’s about getting you to listen! I need sailors under my command who I can trust!”

Those brown eyes flash with hurt for an instant before they harden. “You can trust me.”

“Can I? You wander belowdecks when you’re ordered to stay above.

You follow me into danger when you’re told to stay behind.” “Apologies, Captain.”

“Don’t apologize to me unless you mean it. Do you intend to disobey orders again?”

He looks down at the ground for a moment, searching for the right words to say. He pierces me with that stare of his when he finds them.

“I can’t help myself when it comes to you.” “What is that supposed to mean?”

“I used to be able to rationalize. When we were on the Night Farer, I could push feelings aside and focus on what was important. At the time, it was giving Draxen what he wanted. But that’s not what’s most important to me anymore.”

I swallow loudly during his brief pause.

“I’m fascinated by you. I needed to see you when you were alone in the brig. I didn’t like the thought of you being by yourself, and I couldn’t help my curiosity. I had to see what you were like when you were … different. You have so much power. You tempted me with just one movement of your finger. And yet, when you’re yourself, you treat this crew as though they’re your family. You like to pretend you’re so tough and nothing hurts you, but you care so deeply.

“And when we were in the cave, you ordered me to stay behind. You were trying to protect everyone again. You don’t care one whit about putting yourself in danger if it’s the trade-off for keeping everyone else alive.”

He takes a step forward, and my heart beats faster at the proximity. “I do not value my life above yours, and I could not let you be in danger alone. I wanted to be a part of your crew so I could fight with you, not have you trying to save me from danger.

“I made myself a promise,” he continues, “after we left Draxen at the supply post. I’m not going to follow orders blindly like I did as first mate of the Night Farer. I don’t want to be the man who doesn’t do what he believes is right because he’s too busy following orders. I want to make my own choices. Especially where you are concerned.”

I’m speechless, completely caught off guard by his reasoning. He continues still, reaching a hand out to stroke my hair, “You’re beautiful, the most stunning person I’ve ever seen. You’re fearless. You like danger. You like to make your friends laugh and your enemies cower. You have the power to obtain anything you want, yet you’ve worked hard for everything you have.

“So, no, Alosa, I cannot promise that I won’t ignore orders again. Like I said, when it comes to you, I have no control over my actions.”

I stand and move over to one of the portholes in the room to stare at the fading sunlight. I need to put distance between us so I don’t do something embarrassing. Like spout off my feelings or lunge at him again.

I take deep breaths, trying to calm my heartbeat, trying to focus on the pain in my shoulder instead.

But then I feel his hand touch the base of my neck. I almost jump. I hadn’t even heard him approach. When did I relax around Riden enough to no longer consider him a threat? My guard isn’t up. And strangely, that realization doesn’t bother me. His fingers slide up my neck and into my hair, raising the strands away from my skin.

My heart leaps as I feel his breath there.

“Your enchantments last long after your song fades.” His voice takes on a huskier tone, and my senses sharpen with it. His lips brush my neck as he starts kissing his way up to my hairline. My body shudders, an uncontrollable reaction to him. He smiles against my skin, pleased by the response.

I swallow. “I thought we weren’t supposed to be kissing anymore.”

“We are not kissing,” he whispers. “I’m kissing you.” His free hand slides around my waist, pressing me into him. “Your skin tastes so good.” His teeth nip at my neck, and an excited gasp leaves my mouth.

I’m about to round on him, possibly to demand a kiss or fifty from him, but then Mandsy arrives with her kit.

“I’ve got everything,” she says brightly. “I’ll have you patched up in no time.”

Riden doesn’t move. I’m still facing the window, so I can’t begin to imagine the look on her face.

“Or I could come back later,” she says in the same chipper tone of voice.

Nothing fazes her.

“No,” Riden says. “The captain needs treating now. I’ll leave you to it.” His warm arms leave me, and his footsteps retreat until they’re cut off completely by the door shutting.

What the hell just happened?

Does he think I’ve forgotten how he reacted to my saving him from drowning? He can’t just make everything disappear by touching me!

Although, apparently, he can, since I forgot completely about it in the moment.

I shake my head and turn toward Mandsy. She doesn’t look as though she saw anything of note. She’s smiling, but she always smiles.

“Have a seat, Captain.” She points toward the bed.

I don’t realize how warm I am until Mandsy touches a cool cloth to my blood-streaked face. Its weight is a comfort, unlike everything else.

Lotiya is dead. My father is almost upon us. My mother is probably swimming somewhere without a care in the world. My muscles sag from the fighting and running and heavy lifting. And I can’t even begin to figure Riden out.

It just keeps piling up, and I don’t want to deal with any of it. “What took you so long?” I ask Mandsy to distract myself. “Took me a while to get a barrel of freshwater opened.”

Her response is far too hasty. She’s meddling again, and I narrow my eyes at her.

“Oh, all right. So I thought the two of you could have a nice moment together. The least he could have done was help you out of your clothes so I could better—”


She holds up her hands in defense. “I’m just saying—” “Well, stop just saying.”

“Sure thing, Captain.”

She stays silent, but a knowing smile won’t leave her face.

* * *

Mandsy has me cleaned in no time. I didn’t need stitches, although I’ll likely have that man’s canines printed into my flesh forever.

By the time I leave my rooms, the mast is cut to scale, and the crew carefully lowers it into the space left by the previous one. It’s a balancing act, raising such a massive piece of wood without tipping over the ship. They’ve attached pulleys to the foremast and mizzenmast to get the trunk upright, and I jump in to help. After that’s done, we have to attach the crossbeams and fasten Roslyn’s crow’s nest up top. The sails are attached next.

As soon as the mast is functional, we set sail again. Radita is a little put out at not being able to polish out all the flaws, but it’s vital that we get sailing again. The crew whoops as the sails fill with wind. We begin moving at our usual quick pace once again. I look over my back at the horizon; no sign of the fleet yet.

At night we light the lanterns. We let the remains of Lotiya’s body drift off to sea, buried with the fallen pirates before her. When her soul departs from her body, it will follow the lantern light and find the water’s surface. From there, it will be able to see the stars and fly up to the heavens. Every soul parted from this world is a star in the sky. They live in peace, reunited with lost loved ones at last.

Deshel is silent through the whole affair, never taking her eyes off the water, as if willing her sister to return to life. My own heart aches at the loss. Deshel may blame me, but I blame the man who forced me into this course of action. My father is at fault. No one else.

* * *

After another week at sea and no signs of the fleet, I relax. We’ve put some more distance between us, and I don’t feel the need to look over my shoulder every hour.

My wound is healing nicely, and everyone is in better spirits. I finally have the time to deal with other things.

With Riden things.

I find him belowdecks, sitting in a bunk opposite Deshel, both of their faces somber. He puts a consoling hand on her shoulder. I wonder if he’s

feeling guilty for all the complaints he made against the sisters. Trying to make up for it somehow.

As I watch him comfort her, I’m struck with the thought of how good he is. I mock his attempts at being honorable, but in this moment, it’s so easy to see that he truly is a generous and thoughtful person. I’m sure he imagines how he would feel if he were to lose his brother. He has so much kindness to offer a woman he usually can’t stand.

And yet, when a woman he does like saves his life, he has nothing but contempt. And then he has the audacity to touch me, to whisper tantalizing thoughts in my ear, to kiss my skin. As though nothing happened.

The anger rippling through me could make the sea boil. I approach the two.

“I forget she’s gone sometimes,” Deshel says. “I catch myself looking for her, calling out her name, even. And then I remember.… That’s the worst part. Realizing it over and over again. There’s a constant ache, too, but then it will really slam into me all of the sudden.”

“There were times I would forget my father was dead,” Riden says, “but I always felt relief when I remembered. I can’t imagine what it would be like in your situation. I’m so sorry. I’m here whenever you’d like to talk.”

“Thank you. I think I’d like to be alone now, though.”

Deshel looks up, noticing me. “Captain.” She stands, takes a step toward me. “About before, I’m sorry for what I said. I do not blame you. I was hurting—am hurting—more than I ever have before.”

“It’s already forgotten,” I tell her.

She nods once before lying back down in her bunk. “I need to see you in my quarters,” I say to Riden. “Is something wrong?” he asks.

I don’t answer him. I turn for the stairs leading above, expecting him to follow. I relax slightly when I hear his steps behind me. But I’m still worried over the conversation ahead. I don’t know how it will go. If it will only make things worse.

Riden shuts the door behind himself as he steps into my rooms. Natural light pours in from the portholes, illuminating his even features.

He leans against a wall, crossing his arms lazily over his chest. “What have I done?”

“I’m ready for your apology,” I tell him.

He blinks, stands up straighter. “What am I sorry for?”

I make sure my words are clear and do my best not to raise my voice. “You don’t get to decide how to treat me based on what your mood is. I don’t care about your gratitude; I don’t need it. You’re a member of my crew, and I would try to save anyone who fell overboard during a storm. But your reaction was completely unwarranted. Yes, I broke a promise, but I saved you and everything was okay.”

His crossed arms rise as his muscles tighten, but I press on. “You pouted in your self-righteous anger until our lives were in danger. ‘It doesn’t seem all that important when we’re fighting for our lives’?” I quote back at him as a question.


“I’m not finished.”

He snaps his mouth shut.

“You’re not allowed to turn me away when I’m at the height of vulnerability, then be furious at me for rescuing you, then touch and kiss me and spout off your feelings when it suits you. I want answers for why you behaved the way you did. And I want my damned apology, and I want it now!”

He uncrosses his arms. “May I speak now?”

I nod at him so I don’t plunge into another tirade. “I’ve been selfish,” he says, “but so have you.”

Through bared teeth: “That’s not how an apology sounds.”

“You had your chance to talk. Now it’s my turn. Throwing yourself at me when your world comes crashing down around you? Selfish. You were trying to use me. I wanted more from you than that.”

It doesn’t escape my notice that he said wanted. Past tense.

“I meant what I said on the cannibal island. When we were fighting for our lives, I realized I didn’t want to be angry with you. You might say my response to that realization was … hasty.”

The memory of his lips on the back of my neck surfaces.

“But before,” he says, “after you rescued me from the sea, you might say was at the height of vulnerability. I needed time to sort out my own past and come to terms with it.”

I’m silent, hoping he’ll offer me an explanation without my prompting. When he doesn’t, I ask, “What happened?” as gently as I can so as not to scare him off.

“I spent much of my early years not having control over anything.” He closes his eyes, perhaps trying to block out the memories. When he opens them again, he says, “My father dictated when I could eat, when I could sleep, when I could piss—it didn’t matter how hard I begged or pleaded. He hated me and did whatever he could to show it, preferring to make me suffer than kill me. There were times—few though they were—when I would do something that pleased him. He’d promise never to strike me again. Of course, those were lies.

“I won’t get into the details of everything he did to me. Suffice it to say, Jeskor was a bastard. I still carry those scars. The fears of a little boy trying to trust his own father not to hurt him. When you used your abilities on me, when I specifically asked you not to, I was reminded of that time. Those scars came to the surface. I remembered broken promises. Beatings, lashings, starvation. I remembered it all, felt manipulated all over again. I’m sorry for what I said and how I behaved. I just needed time to remember you’re not him. You didn’t save me to be cruel.”

“Of course not,” I say.

“Then why did you save me?” he asks.

The question is so bizarre, I almost don’t answer him. “Because you’re part of my crew. I watch after my own.”

He’s quiet, staring me down. “Is that all?”

There are words he wants me to say. Words I should say. But I can’t allow myself to think them, let alone say them. My mind is as blank as my mouth is dry.

“That’s twice I’ve been honest with you, Alosa. Twice I’ve made myself vulnerable to you. That’s supposed to go both ways.”

When I still can’t say anything, he leaves.

You'll Also Like