Chapter no 14

Daughter of the Siren Queen

THE WIND STOPS, completely locking us in place after another few days of sailing. The weather can be like that. Wild and deadly one day. Nonexistent the next. In many ways, it’s even worse than being caught in a storm, especially when one is racing against the deadliest man on the sea. Just like that, the lead we’ve obtained after fixing the mast starts to dissipate.

I give the crew chores so none can dwell on our dire straits. I send them below to clean their bunks. Trianne takes a few of the girls to help her tidy up the galley, and the deck is in desperate need of swabbing after the storm. Radita finally has the chance to fix up the mast just the way she would like it.

But it doesn’t take more than a day to clean the ship to perfection. I’m itching out of my skin.

“Kearan! Why aren’t you at the helm? Get over to the aftercastle.” “And do what? Spin us in circles?”

“Just try to look busy!”

He is busy, though. He spends his time doing more push-ups and stretches. He does heavy lifting around the ship, and I’ve even seen him traversing up and down the stairs leading belowdecks. Not because he’s going anywhere, but because he’s strengthening his legs. Before, he was grizzly-looking with a wild beard, had lazy fat rolls, and had the stench of a drunk permeating off him. Now he actually looks his age: nineteen.

He’s not handsome—nothing could fix that—but he’s healthy, sturdy. His eyes are still too far apart, his nose still broken and badly set. But every

bulge on his skin is now muscle. The crew can stand to be within ten feet of him, and he’s clearheaded in a way that makes him even more useful. I thought maybe the changes would cause him to stare at Sorinda less, but there is no change there.

Deshel comes up top through the hatch. Alone. And all I can think about is how she was always in the company of her sister, the two of them giggling at some private joke.

I lost a crew member on this voyage, and I will probably lose more before it is over. My own father is hunting me, and I’m not entirely sure what he will do if he catches me. My crew I know he will kill. Slowly. And me? Will he try to persuade me to his side again? Or will he even bother? Maybe my neck is already marked for a noose.

I’m fleeing one parent and returning to another, but what kind of reception will I receive from my mother? I doubt she knows me anymore. She is back in the water, and all humans will be prey to her. I may be her daughter, but will that matter if she is a mindless sea beast?

And then Riden—

No, I am not going to think of Riden.

The next morning, the skies are still empty of wind, but a fog fills the space instead. Roslyn can barely see the deck of the ship from up in the crow’s nest. The ocean itself is against us now.

Enwen spouts off surefire ways to get rid of the fog.

“Toss three coins into the sea, Captain. One for the stars, one for the sky, and one for the ocean,” he says.

“What need have they for money?”

“It’s not about need, it’s about showing reverence.”

I’m usually patient with him, but I don’t have it in me today. “By all means, Enwen, waste your money, but if you step one foot into my treasury, I’ll toss you overboard.”

Mandsy sits cross-legged on the deck with some fabric in her lap. Looks like she’s working on a dress. Mandsy appreciates fancy things as much as I do. Niridia crouches next to her, chatting lightly.

Kearan rolls a barrel full of freshwater across the deck as a morning exercise. Sorinda sits in the shade made by the aftercastle, watching the

crew on deck. I’m bored out of my mind, so I sidle up next to her. “Kearan looks better,” I say.

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“Maybe you should talk to him.”

She turns her head to look at me fully. Sorinda often reminds me of a cat with the sleek way she moves. “Whatever for?”

“He’s not a drunk anymore. He has things to say.” “I don’t.”

“You don’t ever talk to anyone. Maybe it’s time you started.”

She turns away from me, peers over at Kearan again. “Talking isn’t necessary for me to do my job.”

“No, but you might enjoy it if you tried.” I move to stand. No one can change Sorinda’s mind. She follows orders better than anyone else on the ship, but when it comes to her personal life, she’s as closed off as a clam.

“Captain.” She halts me with a word. “I see everything on this ship. Instead of trying to engage me in conversation, you might consider talking to the person who you really desire to.”

Her line of sight changes.

To where Riden is chatting with Wallov and Deros near the bow.

“That is none of your concern,” I say, but Sorinda has already disappeared. I turn my gaze back to Riden.

“Ships in the distance!” Roslyn cries from the railing near the men. Though she’s not up in the crow’s nest, she’s clearly been keeping a lookout better than anyone else.

Heads turn toward the starboard side. Fingers point. Hands cover open mouths. Wallov rushes Roslyn over to the crow’s nest, so she can hide in the false bottom of her post.

The pirate king’s fleet has found us.

* * *

The fog has started to clear, and in the distance are twenty ships, the

Dragon’s Skull at their head.

The air is deathly silent with not even a breeze to stir it.

I dare to hope they haven’t spotted us, but then a ship pulls forward, separating itself from the fleet, using sweeps to sail right for us.

“Battle stations!” I shout. “Prepare the cannons! Gunmen, to your posts!

Load every musket and pistol on this ship! Move, move, move!”

Quick-running feet thud over wood. Muskets are passed around. Barriers are fashioned out of barrels, crates, and spare rowboats to provide protection from gunshots. Below, Philoria, Bayla, Wallov, Deros, and the others will be hauling out the gunpowder and cannonballs.

Niridia and I set up a station just behind the companionway. We have five muskets and five pistols between the two of us, all laid out on the ground. Ammo and gunpowder are within reach for reloading. Niridia is there to reload me and dole out orders when I give them.

Riden tucks himself into the space with us. “I’m a good shot. You’ll want me here—unless you have other plans for me?”

As the newest member of the ship, he hasn’t been given a station for battle.

Part of me wants to send him away just to be petty, but I remember the first time we met, when he used his pistol to shoot my own from my hand. He does have good aim.

“You can stay,” I say.

It’s Tylon’s ship, Death’s Secret, that approaches us. I find myself wishing that my own ship was equipped with sweep oars, but the Ava-lee was not built for carrying them. We’ve no way to run. Nothing to do but wait.

“Do we fire on them while they approach?” Niridia asks.

“No. Father would just retreat and then order the whole fleet to fire upon us. If one ship is coming forward, it’s because he wants to talk first. The rest of the fleet won’t fire to risk hitting their own ship, and I like our odds better when it’s one-on-one.”

“Talk first?” she asks.

“If the pirate king had only talking in mind, he would have sent his ship forward. Because this will turn into a fight and he doesn’t want to risk damage to his own vessel, he’s coming over on another.”

It’s at least a little satisfying knowing it’s Tylon’s ship I’ll be putting holes in.

Death’s Secret ceases its rowing when it’s perhaps fifty yards from us, angling itself so the starboard side lines up with ours, cannons to cannons.

My father is not hard to spot. He strides down from the aftercastle to stand on the main deck, as close to me as he can get. He has a belt slung over one shoulder, four pistols strapped across his back. A massive cutlass that would be a detriment to a normal man is sheathed at his side. He could take a head off with it.

My father enjoys looking fierce. As do I. Fortunately, I’d woken up in a bad mood today, and it shows in my clothes. My corset is black with a bloodred blouse underneath. I’ve tied my hair out of my face and wrapped a matching red bandanna over the top of my head. I look ready for a fight.

I stand opposite my father, nothing but water separating us.

“Where is she?” he says slowly, as though he’s barely keeping his temper in check.

“I missed you, too, Father,” I say in response.

“You will bring her over to this ship, lay down your arms, and surrender to my men.”

“I don’t have her. She swam away as soon as she was free of you. You can search this ship from top to bottom, but you will see I’m telling the truth.”

He nods to himself, as though he’d been preparing for this answer. “Then command your men to lay down their arms and surrender the ship.”

“And if I don’t?” I ask.

“Then my ship will tear yours to ribbons!” Tylon shouts. My father turns his head on him, irritated by the interruption.

“Tylon,” I say. “I hadn’t noticed you in my father’s shadow.” His fair complexion takes on a reddish hue.

“You’re my daughter,” Father continues. “Surrender the ship and we’ll talk.”

I’m surprised by the offer. Of course, I know there will be nothing but a slow death in store for my crew if I order them to surrender. I can see it in his eyes. But the fact that he would try this when everyone on Tylon’s ship

can hear him—it could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. I hadn’t realized how much my father depended on me and my abilities. He thinks he can break me if he gets his hands on me, force me to do his bidding once again. He doesn’t want to kill me, not yet.

But I will not fall into his hands again, and I sure as hell won’t let him get ahold of my crew.

Better to strike than to dodge. It’s one of the first lessons Father ever taught me.

I put a hand over my mouth and chin, as if I’m pondering his offer. “Niridia,” I say quietly. “Tell the crew below to fire the cannons.”

“Aye.” She disappears casually through the hatch.

I make a show of thinking over Father’s offer, but all I can think is that I never really knew this man. I thought I did. I thought I knew just how fierce and cruel he was, thought I was all right with it, since that cruelty was mostly directed at our enemies. But now that it’s directed at my crew, it is something I cannot forgive.

“Let me tell you what I think of your offer,” I say. That’s when the first cannons fire.

The Ava-lee rocks from the blasts. Wood rips open in the opposite ship. I have only four cannons below. Two were aimed at the deck of the opposing ship, one blowing apart a group of men huddled together while the other nicked the mizzenmast. The other two cannons tear holes through the starboard side, one lodging into the wood while the other cuts clean through.

Father turns and bellows orders to Tylon’s men. I smile at the little weasel’s put-out face as my father takes control of his men, and dole out orders to my own crew.

“Fire the muskets!” I shout. “Aim for the gun ports. Take out the men at the cannons!”

Tylon’s ship has more than double the cannon fire of mine. If we don’t focus fire on the men operating the cannons, they’ll obliterate us in no time. Niridia appears back at my side. “Musket,” I say, holding out my hand, and she places the gun in it. I sight one of the gun ports, narrow my gaze on

the man loading the ball into the cannon, and fire. He goes down, and Niridia trades me a loaded musket for an empty one.

Riden veers around me to take his own shot, aiming for the gun ports as ordered. His mark goes down.

“Very nice,” I tell him.

He grins before trading muskets.

Gunfire ripples through the air on both sides. My girls are well protected behind their barrels, crates, rowboats, and other hiding places, but the men on Tylon’s ship fall like hail from the sky, some tumbling off the edges of their ship, hitting the water.

I only get out one more shot before the first cannon fire reaches us. The ship lurches back from the force of it, but there’s no time to assess the damage.

Instead I reach out with my voice. I know that if Father is hurtling out orders, his men must not have their ears covered.

I find three men at a cannon, pull them under my spell. It’s not hard to project a new image into their minds, make them think the bottom of their own ship is actually mine. They start to pull the cannon away from the gun port, aim it at the base of their own ship.

But then I lose one. He was killed by his own men once they noticed what he was up to. I grab another man, have him help with the task. One finally manages to clean out the carriage, another reaches for a cannonball, but I lose all three of them. Someone is putting up a good fight over there. Luckily, though, it’s pulling the rest of the gunmen away from their own cannons as they try to stop their fellow men from blowing holes in their ship. I keep them busy, seeking out live men when the previous ones die, just like I did at Vordan’s inn.

Sorinda races toward me, ducking behind the barrier we’ve fashioned.

With four of us, we’re all pressed shoulder to shoulder. “Acura eels have surfaced,” she says.

I smile. “How many?”

“At least two. One is enormous.” “Perfect.”

I switch tactics, singing to the men on the top deck, enchanting them to jump into the water. As soon as they leap, I release them, searching for men still aboard the ship with my voice.

“Keep firing,” I tell Riden and Niridia. I grab another loaded musket and an extra pistol, then race with Sorinda over to her previous position, blocked from attack by barrels storing freshwater.

I peer into the sea.

Men shriek as the eels circle them. The eels like to toy with their food first. It’s when they dive below the surface that one needs to worry. That’s when they’re readying to charge. They’re deadly carnivores that spend most of their time on the sea bottom, sensing for disturbances in the water.

Their nostrils stand out prominently, giving them an even fiercer look. They’re navy blue on the top half, white on the bottom: the perfect camouflage, not that they need it.

Acura eels are far worse than sharks. Sharks only kill when they’re hungry. But eels—they don’t leave anything alive, whether hungry or not.

One of the eels currently in the water must be at least twelve feet, teeth twice the length of a finger. Tylon’s men swim desperately for the ship, clinging to its sides—before they’re dragged under.

I can’t sing and fire at the same time, and the men at the gun ports are back to loading the cannons. I reach for them with my song once more, and I finally enchant one of the men to light the fuse at the cannon pointed downward.

I hear the blast seconds later, and it brings a smile to my face. That’ll keep the gunmen busy as they try to stopper the hole.

My father is visible from this vantage point. His voice bellows over the sounds of my ship’s cannons firing again.

I spot one of Tylon’s men right next to him. With my song, I promise him riches lie in the water if he’ll only jump. My father watches as the man tosses himself overboard.

An eel circles him, spinning the current around him, before diving.

Seconds later it drags his scream under the water.

Kalligan searches my ship. When his eyes land on me, they narrow.

I wish I could take Father out, but he’s too skilled of a fighter. He’d only be momentarily distracted if I sent men to fight him. And it would take all of my focus just to keep him busy.

A breeze ripples across my forehead as I utter one last note, sending three more men overboard, and my song officially runs out.

But my father doesn’t know that yet, and I hear one word rise out of the chaos.


He’s done playing with us. Now we’ll face the fleet as soon as he and Tylon’s ship are out of the way.

I wipe the sweat from my forehead, shoot my musket at another man through a gun port, just as another comforting breeze wafts over my heated skin.

The breeze …

“Riggers! Get those sails down!” I shout.

The girls leave their safe places to race for the masts. Riden hurries to join them.

“Not you, Riden! Keep shooting!” I tell him.

We’re taking as many of those bastards down as we can.

“Aye-aye!” He dives back behind the companionway with Niridia. Sorinda fires her own musket from beside me, and I raise a newly loaded gun.

Something launches over the distance between our two ships, striking my deck, ripping up the wood, before catching against the railing. Another soon joins it. Then another and another.

The harpoons.

Father must have changed his mind as soon as the breeze picked up. He knows we can outdistance him now.

“Cut those lines!” I shout to the crew. Niridia, Teniri, Athella, Sorinda, and Deshel rush to the railing and lean precariously off the deck to reach the ropes tied to the harpoons. Cutlasses hack and saw at the taut lines. Two go down, but another three harpoons quickly replace them.

Damn it!

I cease aiming my musket toward the men at the harpoon guns to join the girls.

Shots rain down on us, now that the men aren’t afraid I’ll pick them off.

Riden continues shooting, but several enemy shots hit their marks.

I hear a scream and thud as one of the girls up in the rigging falls. Mandsy is already ducking out of her hiding place to reach whoever it is. Teniri hisses through her teeth as a shot skims her arm, but she doesn’t stop sawing at the rope in front of her.

And then Niridia— Niridia falls into the water.

Time seems to slow as my mind tries to work through so many things at once. Even if we get the sails down, we’re locked in place by the lines connecting us to the other ship. The shooters are picking us off. And I’m sure it won’t be long before the men are back at the cannons. If they manage to reel us in with the harpoons, the men will outnumber us at least two to one. My abilities are drained. We’ve faced worse odds, but my father is on that ship.

He’s as good as ten men. Not a single person on this ship could take him, save perhaps me. When I’ve sparred with my father in the past, I only win about half the time. We’re too evenly matched.

But Niridia.

She’s going to die if I don’t get her out of the water.

One of my girls goes for a rope, but an eel near Tylon’s ship breaks away to investigate the disturbance near ours.

The Ava-lee jerks to the side so violently, I barely catch myself on the railing, but Teniri, Deshel, and Athella fall into the water. Only Sorinda manages to keep her hold.

The harpoons have started to reel us in.

My mind spins. I need to go after them. Sorinda needs to tie me with a rope. I’ll need a dagger if I’m to face an eel. But if I have something sharp, the siren will cut through the rope and follow her own agenda.

They’ll die, and I’ll be lost to the sea. Unless …

Riden fires off yet another shot.

Every time I’ve managed to keep myself in control of the siren, Riden has been there. Somehow, he keeps me human. I don’t know why. I don’t know how, but I need him if I’m to do this.

I rush at him as iron balls pelt around me. He releases another shot just as he notices me.

“Come with me now!” I tell him. I grab him firmly by the upper arm. He doesn’t hesitate to listen, though he can’t have any idea what I intend.

“Run!” I tell him, so I’m not dragging him quite so much.

He does, until he realizes we’re heading for the edge of the ship. He tries to stop, but by that point, there’s already enough momentum for the two of us to go over.

My grip on him is like a vise as we fall. I cling to him as though he’s the key to my survival. In a way, he is. If this doesn’t work, my girls are dead, and I will be a mindless beast forever. Every muscle in my body tenses at the splash, and I really hope my grip doesn’t break Riden’s arm—

All fear and tension drain away. It’s like waking from a good night’s sleep, fully rested. Full of energy. Full of power. Ready to sing the day away.

But my ocean is full of disturbances.

Men scream from far away, their cries cut off by eels tearing into them. What wonderful beasts. Another comes pelting in this direction, after the women whose legs kick to keep them above the surface. One of them is bleeding, sending the eel into a frenzy. I stay right where I am, ready to watch the show. Until something kicks me.

I hadn’t even noticed I was holding on to a man. Though the salt water must sting his eyes, he manages to glower at me thoroughly.

I laugh at the silly creature. Watch him struggle against me. We’re below the water’s surface. It won’t be long before his lungs give up. But then, he stops fighting. He can’t have drowned so quickly. No, he draws himself nearer, places his forehead against mine, noses bumping.

The heat from him—

This sensation. This lack of fighting. It’s— It’s—

A memory pushes itself to the surface, words fluttering into my mind on wings. Your enchantments last long after your song fades, he said before he kissed my skin.

Suddenly, peace and eagerness are gone, replaced once more by fear and urgency. I throw Riden toward the ocean’s surface before launching myself toward the oncoming eel. The largest one yet, perhaps fifteen feet—all teeth and muscle. Its tail rippling through the water so quickly I can barely see it.

But I’m faster.

I may not have been born in the sea, but I was born to rule it. I am the daughter of the siren queen.

The eel has already finished its circling of Niridia and the others. It’s far below us now, surging up, up, up, mouth gaping.

I reach for the dagger in my boot, launching myself at the eel from the side. Dagger connects first, then my legs wrap around the creature’s body, just barely long enough for my feet to connect on the other side of the massive water beast.

It wriggles at the pain, sending us shooting in random directions. I pull out the dagger and drive it in again. And again and again. Finally the creature stills, and I release it. A quick glance shows me that someone lowered a rope for the girls and Riden.

But Death’s Secret still pulls us in.

A harpoon dislodges from my ship; one of the girls must have tossed it over after cutting the line. An idea hits me, and I grab the harpoon before it can sink to the ocean’s bottom. I swim down, down, down—as far as I can get while still traveling toward the opposing ship.

Then I propel myself toward the enemy ship, all muscles straining, swimming as fast as my siren nature will carry me, angling the harpoon so the tip will hit first.

It pierces the wood, and I rip it back out. I pull at the boards in the opening, widening it as water gushes into the hole. They must have patched up the cannon hole I made the men launch into their own ship.

Let’s see them patch this up.

I repeat the action, swimming down and then striking the ship with the harpoon three times more.

Death’s Secret is rapidly sinking.

I am underwater, fully in control of my mind, and the ship holding my father is sinking. I should be a mindless beast right now, lost to the sea forever, my crew and ship disappearing into the deep.

Instead I am more powerful than I’ve ever been before in my life. The realization is intoxicating.

I don’t want to leave the water. As soon as I do, I know I will have the same weaknesses as before. Unable to replenish my abilities without losing my mind, useless to everyone.

But what is the alternative? To stay underwater with my human mind forever? Never living life as a siren or human. Trapped somewhere in between.

I swim back toward my own ship, watching the lines from the harpoons fall into the sea. The Ava-lee is free, beginning to sail away.

I don’t breach the water’s surface until I’m on the port side, where the fleet can’t see me.

I don’t want my father knowing I beat his ship by destroying it from under the water’s surface. This will not be the last time I see him or his fleet, and I don’t want him knowing I’ve found an advantage.

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