Chapter no 15

Daughter of the Siren Queen

“ROPE!” I SHOUT UP from the water.

Sorinda peeks over the edge of the ship once before tossing me one. I haul myself up with her help.

The ships in the distance fire their cannons, now that Tylon’s ship has gone down. Holes ripple in the water near us, but we’ll soon be out of range.

We need to get our lead back.

It’s too much to hope my father went down with the ship. He would have been the first one off it.

I expel some of my song so I can absorb the water drenching my clothes. Once I am dry, I will no longer be able to restock without losing myself. I know this, somehow. I can feel the siren part of me just waiting to come back out.

I plant myself on the aftercastle with Kearan. He steers us while I keep my eyes on the fleet. I can’t see the faces of the men from this distance, but there is one figure—bigger than all the others—that stands out. The king. He will be furious. His men will be terrified of him.

They must already be exhausted from rowing all this way, because they are unable to keep pace with us.

I stay up top with Kearan for maybe an hour, just long enough to determine we are still gaining a lead and are long out of range. The fleet is still in sight. It will be a while before we no longer see them on the horizon. But it is safe enough to check on other things.

My first stop is the infirmary. I find Mandsy wrapping Niridia’s hand in gauze. My first mate is covered in a large blanket, water pooling below her on the floor.

“How bad is it?” I ask.

“The ball went clean through the middle of her hand. It’s hard to say how the bones will heal.”

“It’s my left hand,” Niridia mumbles. “I’ll still have a sword hand.

Nothing to worry about.”

“I’ve tried to give her something for the pain, but she won’t take it.” I raise a brow at Niridia.

“You need me sharp. Our enemies are far too close.”

I place a hand on her shoulder. “I need you well. We’re okay for now. Get healed up. You’re to take whatever Mandsy gives you. That’s an order.”

Niridia purses her lips, but she doesn’t refuse the bottle Mandsy passes her.

“Niridia is the last to be patched up,” Mandsy says. “I’ve taken care of the others. They’re already resting below. A few of the girls took balls to the legs and arms. Mostly nicks as they were veering around their hiding places to take shots.”

“I heard someone fall from the mast as I ordered the sails unfurled,” I say. “No concussions?”

Mandsy’s face turns grave. “No, a casualty, Captain.” I swallow. “Who?”

“Haeli. She took a bullet to the back. I tried to stop the bleeding, but it was too late. I left her on the deck so we can put her to rest as soon as we have enough of a lead on the fleet.”

Haeli. One of my best riggers. I picked her up off Calpoon—one of the Seventeen Isles. She was in a traveling band of performers. Half the time she played the lute during performances, the other she was out in the audience, stealing from their pockets. I was one of her marks. After she robbed me, I offered her a job. Told her I paid better than thieving.

Now she’s lifeless out on my deck.

I force a deep breath through my nose. “Any other casualties?” “No.”


I leave them. The weight of this journey presses down on my shoulders, physically exhausting me, despite the nourishment I’ve just received from the ocean. How many of us will be left once we reach the siren island? How many of my loved ones will I be forced to lose in order to make the rest safe?

I can’t stand the pressure of my own thoughts. I need to keep busy. I seek out Radita belowdecks.

“She took a few hits, Captain,” she says once I ask after the status of the ship. “A cannon struck through the galley. It took out most of the water storage, and all the water barrels on the deck were riddled with holes during the battle. We’ve lost most of our drinkable water.”

“How much do we have left?” “A single barrel.”

“Only one!”

She nods. “The one we’ve already opened and started drinking from.”

I cover my face with my hands. Our days are numbered. I’ll order Trianne to start rationing the water. Even then, I don’t see how we can make it to the siren island with what’s left. Then there’s the return journey.…

“Can you see to the ship’s repairs?” I ask. “I already have some of the girls on it.” “Thank you.”

“It’s my job, Captain, but you’re welcome.”

When I pass by the bunks, Roslyn is fretting over Wallov’s injuries. “It’s a scratch, sweet,” he tells her.

“No, it was a shard of wood to your shoulder. Now lie back down.” “I’m fine,” he says, emphasizing the last word.

“In that case, there’s no reason to halt my dagger lessons.”

I manage a grin as I close the hatch behind me, heading now for my rooms. But my amused expression disappears as soon as I get inside.

Somebody is already here, waiting for me.

“What are you doing? You’re not allowed in here unless I invite you in.” “I have a bone to pick with my captain,” Riden says. His body is rigid with fury, and I wonder how he manages such an even tone. “I thought it

best to do so in private so you don’t hold me over the edge of the ship for mutiny.”

“You’re not the only one with problems,” I snap. “My own father blew holes in my ship. A third of the crew is injured. One of our own is dead. So unless your issues are bigger than those, I suggest you leave because I don’t need more added on to my load.”

His calm tone vanishes. “It was very nearly more than one casualty!

What the hell were you thinking yanking me into the ocean with you?”

“I was thinking I had girls in the water and I needed to save them! I didn’t exactly have time to ask for your permission before eels would be upon them.”

“And I was what? Bait? An expendable body while you were off saving your real crew members?”

“My real crew members? You can be so thick sometimes! I took a calculated risk. I had no choice but to involve you.”

His nostrils widen as he takes in another labored breath.

“I needed you,” I spit out. “Without you, I turn into a monster beneath the water. But you—you keep me human. You are what I needed to remember myself. I hate it, but I realized that something about you, only you, keeps me human when my siren nature tries to take over.”

That brings him up short. “Why?”

“Hell if I know. I wasn’t about to let four girls under my protection die as I paused to figure that out.”

He raises his gaze from mine, pondering something. “You weren’t yourself at first. You were dangerous. You were the siren, and then—I knew what to do somehow. I knew that if I didn’t struggle, if I just got close to you, you wouldn’t drown me.”

“In the story my father always told me about how he met my mother, he said instead of fighting the siren trying to drown him, he didn’t resist. That’s what stopped her, made her bring him up on land instead.”

It can’t be that simple, can it? An unresisting man causing a siren’s nature to be replaced with humanity? Whatever it is, I need to learn to control the siren, and Riden is the first chance I have at doing that.

“What is it?” Riden asks. He’s looking at me once more.

“I need your help. I was able to take out a ship from under the water. If I could learn to control myself, so I could go underwater anytime without fear … It’s not just a want. It’s a need. I need this in order to protect my crew. I need to learn to restock my abilities without losing my mind. I need to submerge myself in water without turning into a mindless beast. I need you to help me.”

Some of the fight leaves him at the look on my face. I don’t know what he sees there.

“Alosa, there is very little I wouldn’t do for you, but what exactly are you asking of me?”

“I need you to be with me when I replenish my abilities. I need you to bring me back. Over and over and over again. Until I can do it on my own.”

He scoffs. “I came in here to tell you not to drag me underwater with you, and you’re asking me to do just that?”

“Riden, we need this.”

“You promised you wouldn’t use your abilities on me. You broke it once to save my life. And now…” He shudders.

“This is different. I’m asking for your permission ahead of time.” “And if I say no?”

“Then I’ll respect that.” “Good. I’m saying no.”

I hadn’t expected him to answer so quickly. He could have at least pretended to consider it.

Part of me is relieved. The siren terrifies me every time I have to stock up. But the other part of me is disappointed. Doesn’t he know what this could mean for the crew, for our chances of survival?

It doesn’t matter. Riden won’t cooperate. That means I’ll figure something else out.

“Then on your way,” I say, pointing to the door.

* * *

Kearan, Niridia, and I are back in front of the maps. I’ve already explained the water situation to the crew. Now the three of us need to find a solution.

“There’s this large island on the Allemos map,” Kearan says, pointing to it. “It’s likely to have freshwater. We could stop.”

“The last island we stopped at had siren-made cannibals,” Niridia says. “Devil knows what’s on this one.”

“The question is whether we’d rather die of thirst,” I say, “or risk running into danger on another island.”

Niridia considers this. “Dying of thirst is assured if we don’t stop. Dying on this second island is only a possibility at this point.”

“Agreed,” Kearan says.

I’m thinking the same thing. “Good. Kearan, set a course.”

* * *

My eyes trail along the horizon, as they have for the last several days, but there is no sign of the fleet. Roslyn hasn’t shouted out anything from her better vantage point in the crow’s nest, either, so I decide to give it a rest.

A pod of whales swims a few hundred feet to our right. They leap from the water and splash back down. Roslyn laughs from the railing, straining as close as she can get, trying to catch the sea spray with her fingers.

The water is startlingly clear out here. Bright fish in reds and blues and yellows swim in the shallows as we pass by more isles along the way. They’re barren plots of sand without more than a palm tree or two sprouting up. We’ve passed nothing yet containing a freshwater source.

Today I find myself observing the crew at their chores. Radita walks around, checking the rigging, making sure the new fixes hold. Some of the gals swab the deck. Others drape down on the outside of the ship, suspended by ropes to pick off barnacles and other unwanted creatures trying to hitch a ride.

The temperature has warmed even more, making us thirstier with the new rationing. The girls wear their sleeves rolled up and their hair up and off their necks.

Riden is up in the rigging, fiddling with the sails. He’s barefoot, shirtless, and he’s gone a few days without shaving.

Holy hell.

I’m staring. I know it, but I can’t seem to stop.

“I could get used to warm weather,” Niridia says from next to me. “Won’t exactly make everyone smell nice, but the view is vastly improved.”

I should have a clever response, but all I can manage is “Aye.”

We stare a few beats longer, until he’s about to turn around and we’ll be caught for sure.

“What’s going on there?” Niridia asks. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, why don’t I see him waltzing out of your quarters every morning with a spring in his step?”

I laugh. “Because there is nothing going on there.” “Why not?”

I dare a glance back up at him, watch the purposeful way he moves, watch his muscles tense as he pulls on a line. “He can’t handle what I can do. My abilities terrify him.”

“Any person with sense is terrified by what you can do. That doesn’t mean we don’t all love you.”

“Thanks, but it’s different with him. He has a history with people trying to control him. The fact that I can literally make him do things takes his mind back to a darker time.”

“He’ll get over it,” Niridia says with a certainty that surprises me. “How do you know?”

“Because he’s not an idiot.”

I take a deep breath. “I made things worse.” “What did you do?”

“The few times that I’ve been able to control myself underwater—it’s always been because of Riden. I wanted to get a better handle on my abilities, so I asked him to help me. I asked him to make himself vulnerable like that over and over again.”

“And he said no?” she asks in astonishment.

“Of course he did. I shouldn’t have asked it of him. It was wrong—” “No, Alosa. What’s wrong is you not trying to do everything in your

power to protect your crew. You did the right thing. He’ll see that it’s right, too.”

“There’s no way he’ll come around.”

“Well, not on his own,” she says. “Men can be so thick sometimes. They need help every once in a while.”

I smile. I’d said as much to Riden’s face, but when Niridia starts walking off, the smile drops. “What are you doing?”

“Helping.” “Niridia!”

“Riden!” she shouts.

He looks down, his eyes roving until they spot her. “Aye?” “Come down for a moment, please.”

He leaps for the netting and begins to crawl his way down. “Niridia, he already said no. Leave him alone.”

“Just let me try something. You do trust me, don’t you?” “Of course.”

“Then let me do my job on this ship.”

Riden drops into a crouch as his bare feet hit the deck. He straightens, notices me next to Niridia, but focuses on her.

“Do you consider yourself a selfish person, Riden?” she asks brazenly.

If he’s at all uncomfortable with the question, he doesn’t show it. “I can be,” he says.

“I’m the first mate of this ship, which means I see everything that happens. I see you comforting Deshel, see you softening every time Roslyn is around, see you laughing with Wallov and Deros. You’ve grown fond of us, haven’t you?”


“Good. Now the captain tells me you could be invaluable in helping her control her abilities, thereby helping us survive the pirate king. Do you think she’s right about that?”

He closes himself off, his face turning away slightly. I’m shocked when a weak “Yes” comes out of him.

“You risked your life for Roslyn once already. You very nearly died for her. Tell me, if the pirate king catches up to us, do you think he will spare her because she is a child?”

His head whips back around. “No,” he says, stronger.

“No one is ordering you to do anything. I just think it’s important for you to see things exactly as they are. You could tilt the odds in our favor, Riden. Remember that when you’re trying to sleep at night.”

And then she just walks off. Leaving me to deal with Riden. With shirtless Riden.

“I swear I didn’t put her up to that,” I say. “I told her to leave you alone.

I was just venting to her, and she got it into her head—” “It’s all right.”

“Is it?”

“You will recall I was once a first mate. We can be a stubborn bunch.”

He scratches a spot on his arm, and I focus on that instead of his abdomen.

“She’s right,” he says suddenly, drawing my gaze to his face. “I don’t like it, and I can’t promise that I won’t lash out afterward—but we need to do this.”

“If there were any other way for me to do this, I wouldn’t have asked. I’ve tried my whole life to control this. My father put me through all kinds of—never mind. That’s not important. I’m just saying that if the pirate king ruled it out as a lost cause, then I know you really are my last option.”

“Hmm” is all he says.

“When should we start?” I ask tentatively. “Probably the sooner, the better.”

“Probably.” A pause. “So … now?” I venture. “Yes.”

I nod. “Let me make some arrangements.”

* * *

It takes a quarter of an hour to get things ready—and only that long because I took my time. I am in no hurry to use my abilities in front of Riden again. To see his disgust and anger. If we succeed, it will make an insurmountable difference in the battle against my father. But if something should go wrong, if I should hurt anyone while lost to the siren—

I’m walking a very fine line.

When I reappear at Riden’s side, he says nothing, only follows me belowdecks. All the other men have been ordered to cover their ears with wax by a smug Niridia. Sorinda is waiting for us in the brig, outside my cushioned cell.

“Doesn’t Mandsy usually help you with this?” Riden asks, surprised at seeing the assassin.

“Should things get out of hand, Sorinda is here to put a stop to them.”

Calmly, he asks, “You mean she’s here to put me down if I’m pulled under your control?”

“No,” I say, horrified at his accepting tone, that he would think I’d allow such a thing. “She’s here to make sure I don’t hurt you.” You imbecile. My eyes dart down before immediately returning to his face. “Go put on a shirt before we start.”

“It’s hot,” he says, and I can guess what he’s thinking. This is going to be miserable. The least you can do is let me be as comfortable as possible.

I have two choices. I can let him think I’m being unreasonably cruel, or I can explain things. He insists I never open up to him.

Fine. I’ll explain things.

“Sirens want two things from men. Gold and pleasure. Do you have any gold on you?”

“No,” he breathes.

“The siren in me would have you moaning in pleasure as she whittled holes into you with a knife. She’d strip you naked and watch you dance until your feet peeled away to the bone. Once you bore her in life, she’ll enjoy dancing with your corpse under the sea. Do you want me to tell you how much that thought delights her? She’s thought it about you before.”

Shattering silence is all he has in response.

“I thought not. Put on your shirt. Let’s not make her hungrier than she needs to be.”

He leaves the brig, and when he returns, he has a sterner expression on his face. But at least his top half is covered now, too.

I step into my cushioned cell, handing Sorinda my weapons, my corset, my boots. Anything containing metal, everything sharp. All the things the siren can use to try to escape.

She locks me in, then does the same thing for Riden, making him hand over his weapons, and locks him into the cell across from me, where I cannot reach him.

But I will be able to hear him.

“On the island with Vordan,” I say, “when he put me in that cage and forced me to sing to you, you kept me sane enough to do as I was told, so he wouldn’t kill you. You should have died. I’ve never stayed human so close after replenishing my abilities. Those pirates poured water onto me, forcing me to take it in over and over again. But just by speaking to me, you kept my head clear. It took some effort. But I think toward the end of our stay on the island, it was easier.

“Stocking up my power is different from being submerged under the sea with all that power endlessly flowing through me. But we’ll start small and work our way up. If there’s any progress to be had,” I add.

“And provided I don’t die,” he says.

Sorinda pulls her rapier from its sheath. “You’re not going to die. Not on my watch.”

“I promise this isn’t going to be any more fun for me than it is for you,” I say.

Right now my power is at its fullest, so I sing to expel some of it. I’m not enchanting anyone. My song doesn’t have to be a command. Riden flinches anyway. I pretend not to notice.

When I’ve depleted it some, I dip a finger into the water. I almost ask Riden whether or not he’s ready, but I realize neither he nor I will ever be ready for this.

I pull the water through my skin, let it fill me. It’s like taking a cool drink of water into a parched throat. The way the drained abilities within me crave strength and power. Crave the water.

I take in my surroundings with new eyes. Eyes that can see the individual fibers of wood on the walls, the stains on the floor, the flecks of gold in the human man’s eyes across from me.

The humans have trapped me again, but this time they were kind enough to leave me someone to play with.

“Alosa,” he says firmly, as though it is a command. Worthless human.

No creature commands me.

“Alosa.” He says it again, but this time it’s different. It’s soft, pleading. Where before there was just another human, now there is Riden. My



The siren still pushes to the front. She is ruthless and brutal. Hungry for her own enjoyment. Hungry for power. But I place a cage in my mind, put her behind it. I don’t need her now.

“It’s me,” I say.

Riden lets out a long breath.

I am used to the siren after dealing with her all these years. It’s so strange. Because I am her. When I take in the water, I become a creature with no knowledge of my human existence, no knowledge of those I care about or my human aspirations. I become what I would have been if I’d never known life above the sea.

It’s terrifying to know I could lose myself to her. But it won’t happen here. Not in an environment that I control. I take comfort in the Ava-lee’s familiar surroundings.

But what I’m most concerned about right now is Riden. He appears all right, despite what I’ve just put him through. I dare to speak.

“Before,” I say, “when I was replenishing my abilities and you disobeyed orders by coming to observe me, you didn’t speak. And I didn’t come to my senses. I remained a siren the entire time. I wonder if it’s your voice, somehow, that does it?”

“What about when you’re underwater?” Riden asks. “I can’t speak to you then, but you’ve still managed to come to your senses three different times.”

“You’re right. Those times, you…” “Kissed you,” he fills in.

Sorinda remains as apathetic as always as Riden continues talking. “When you saved us from Vordan, you held me under the water. I thought I was going to die, and the last thought I remember having was that I wanted to kiss you one more time before that happened.”

He’s never told me that before.…

“That’s when I came to,” I say, remembering. “And when you fell into the water during the storm, you were drowning again. The siren put her lips to yours to give you some air, so you wouldn’t die before she could have her fun. That’s when I was myself again.”

“And then during the battle,” Riden says, “I put my forehead to yours.

Not quite a kiss, but it was close.”

I stare at him through the bars. “Why did you do that? You couldn’t have known what I was trying.”

“Somehow, I just thought that if I could get closer to you, maybe we wouldn’t die.”

It is not only the siren who reacts to Riden, then. He somehow knows how to handle her, too.

“Let’s go again,” I say, dipping my finger in the water once more. Riden doesn’t object, so I draw it in.

* * *

Riden and I practice for hours. Each time, all he has to do is say my name, and I’m me again.

I can’t explain it. Riden is not the only one who has spoken to me while I was the siren. In the past, my father kept me contained while I was stocking up on my abilities. His voice didn’t bring me to. Tylon has seen me as a siren, tried speaking with me. That did nothing for me, either. Wallov and Deros have done it. A few other captains at the keep.


It’s Riden. Only Riden.

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