Chapter no 16

Daughter of the Siren Queen

That was close, wasn’t it? When next we meet, Alosa, you will face the full force of the Dragon’s Skull and my fleet. Things will go differently then.

ANY PROGRESS I thought I’d made with Riden the previous day feels insignificant when reminded of the sheer size of the fleet. So what if I can keep my mind while restocking my abilities? What am I to do against twenty ships? With the thirty more that may already be following behind them? Without the siren treasure to bribe my father’s men away from him, I don’t like our odds.

Only a few hours later, another note arrives.

I see you.

I climb the rigging all the way up to the crow’s nest. Even then, I have to squint to see the brown line on the horizon. There must be a good current back there, helping the fleet along. It sets my heart to pounding to see them so close.

I climb back down as quickly as possible. “Go find me Radita,” I say to Niridia.

My father must be working his men into the ground, rotating them at the sweeps. They’ll be exhausted by the time they reach the Isla de Canta. But I don’t think that’s my father’s current goal. He only needs to catch me. Then they can rest before continuing on.

When Niridia returns with Radita in tow, I can’t get the words out fast enough.

“He’s gaining on us. Now that he has us in his sights, he won’t slow.

What can we do to build speed?”

Radita’s answer is immediate. “We can’t do anything to the ship itself, but we could lighten her. The most effective way would be to throw the cannons overboard.”

“We can’t do that,” Niridia says. “Then if he catches us again, we have no way to fight!”

I don’t have solutions for anything. There’s sense in lightening the load and sense in keeping the cannons. It’s impossible to know which is the smarter choice right now.

“All right,” I say. “We don’t do anything yet. Roslyn!” The lass isn’t on duty, but I need to quickly change that.

“Yes, Captain?” she asks, strolling over from where she was chatting with a group of the girls.

“I need you up top. You report to me immediately if the ships in the distance get larger. Understand?”

“Aye.” She scurries up.

“Search the ship, Radita,” I say. “See if there’s anything else we can toss over that will make a difference.”

“There isn’t any—” “Just check, please!”

She shares a look with Niridia before going below.

“I’m not being unreasonable. Maybe she’s overlooking something. He can’t catch us, Niridia.”

“We beat him once,” she says, “we can do it again.”

“He won’t face us one-on-one this time. We can’t take on twenty ships.” “That’s true,” she says. “But there’s nothing you can do to help the

situation yet. Focus on practicing with Riden. I’ll oversee everything out here.”

* * *

I’d wanted to give Riden a break after what we accomplished yesterday. Being around me while I’m using my abilities isn’t easy on him. But the need to figure things out has become more urgent than ever.

I sigh in relief when Riden doesn’t give me any snark after I tell him we need to begin practicing again immediately.

He must be able to tell I’m on edge, though, because once we get to the brig he asks, “What’s wrong?”

“We can see the fleet from the crow’s nest. Father is pushing his men to the breaking point to catch us.”

“Then we’d better be ready for him.”

Under Sorinda’s watch, we spend the rest of the day learning the extent of my control over the siren in me.

Riden tries leaving the room—with his ears covered, of course—to see if distance affects the response the siren has to him. It does. He needs to be in my line of sight, or the siren blocks out his shouts.

He tries calling to me more and more quietly, until he doesn’t say anything at all, with the hopes that eventually just looking at him will be enough. But that doesn’t keep the siren at bay.

It’s his voice while he’s in my sights. Nothing less.

I’d so hoped that maybe with practice, I could learn to control the siren on my own.

But after three more days with the same results, I’m forced to give up that notion. Still, so long as Riden is near, I can replenish my abilities and regain my senses immediately.

The next time I face my father in battle, I will not have to worry about what I will do when my abilities run out. I can restock without fear of the siren taking over as long as I can hear Riden—until my strength fails or every one of my father’s men is dead. Whichever happens first. Still, it is too easy for our enemies to cover their ears. It isn’t enough.

This is only the first step. The real challenge will be staying myself while surrounded by ocean water.

I need to be in the sea and still be me.

* * *

The fleet disappears beyond the horizon, and I can’t decide if it’s better or worse not knowing where they are. Still, not being able to see them means we’ve gained more ground.

Perhaps that’s why I delay taking the next step in learning the new control I can master over my abilities with Riden.

It’s more than the fleet, I tell myself. I can’t push Riden too far too fast.

He needs time to cope.

It’s a lie I tell myself. Riden actually appears to be getting more and more comfortable with the siren the longer he spends with her. And while, of course, I’m taking his feelings into consideration, the truth is—being in the water terrifies me. There’s so much harm the siren can do. So many people she can hurt on this ship.

I’m absolutely petrified of being her and being at risk of losing myself to the sea forever.

But as the threat of dehydration looms ever closer over our heads, I’m running out of excuses.

Kearan thinks we should be upon the island any day now.

Out on the deck, he and Enwen hang off the railing, staring longingly at the flat expanse of water.

“It looks better than it tastes,” I tell them.

“Why, oh why, does the sea contain salt?” Enwen asks. “To drive us mad,” Kearan says.

“Stop looking at it,” I tell them. “Go distract yourselves.”

As if they’d coordinated it ahead of time, the two turn around and slump to the deck simultaneously.

We might not survive to reach that island.

I head for the kitchens, seeking out Trianne. She’s got that last water barrel under lock and key in one of the storage rooms. I trust my crew not to steal more than their share when it comes to gold. But water is an entirely different matter. The lack of it messes with a person’s mind.

“How much is left?” I ask her.

She knows immediately what I mean. “If we continue at these portions?

Five days.”


“Start serving the rum with dinner in place of water,” I tell her. Not only will it give us longer on the sea, but it’ll help the crew sleep at night with thirsty bellies.

“That’ll buy us an extra week, maybe. Stars be thanked, Kearan cut himself off. Else we’d be out by now.”

“That’s the truth.”

I clap her on the shoulder before leaving the galley. “They’re back!”

The shout is quiet from down here, but I know it’s Roslyn. She must mean the ships.

The fleet.

Is he playing with me? I wouldn’t put it past my father to give his men a break long enough for me to feel safe just to speed them up again to throw me off.

Father likes games, and at this point, the only advantage I have over him is being able to restock my abilities without having to incarcerate myself and wait a night.

It’s not enough.

I know this. I know what I need to do next.

My limbs shake just thinking about it, but I force myself to take the necessary steps. I locate Sorinda first and give her orders. Then I go to my rooms to change. Finally, I seek out Riden.

He is chatting with Wallov in the brig when I find him. They are probably too far below to have heard the shout, and when I start to catch the topic of their conversation, I decide not to interrupt right away.

“Caring after a child is hard work,” Wallov says, “especially when they’re too little to walk on their own. But I wouldn’t trade Roslyn for all the gold in the world.”

“Is it ever awkward being a father to a daughter?” Riden asks.

“It hasn’t been yet, but I’m dreading the conversations we’ll have when she gets a bit older.”

“Fear not, Wallov,” I say, alerting the two men to my presence. “There’s a whole crew of women to help with that.”

“Good,” he says, the relief evident in his voice. “I was really hoping for that.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” I say, my voice taking on a more urgent tone, “but I need Riden.”

Riden cocks his head to the side, and I hurry to add more to my statement.

“The fleet is back. It’s time to take the next step.”

The lighthearted expressions on their faces falter. Wallov hurries up top to be near his daughter while she does her job.

“Follow me,” I say to Riden.

When he sees me go for the stairs, he asks, “Above? We won’t be in the brig?”

“Not today.”

He follows without any more questions, and I find myself thinking back on his conversation with Wallov, despite the looming threat the fleet presents.

“Are you planning on having children anytime soon?” I ask him once we’re up top and headed for my quarters. Niridia gives me a calculated look, nodding in approval when she sees I’m with Riden. Her injured hand is held up by a sling around her neck.

“Not soon,” he says, “but someday. I hadn’t thought it possible with this life before. But here, on this ship, a child would be safe. Well, probably not quite as safe as on land, but safe enough with this crew around.”

My mind is turning at this reveal. Riden fathering a child? I can’t quite wrap my head around it, and my mind is having a harder time than usual with my father in our sights.

“Wouldn’t you like to have a child someday?” he asks.

The question puts Roslyn and my father in the same space of thought in my head, and I shudder before finding a response. “I’ve honestly never thought about it.”


“No. I already look after a whole crew. I don’t see how a child would fit into the mix.”

“I can picture a fiery-haired child running amok on this ship, locking her dolls in the brig when they misbehave.”

I laugh.

“You can probably only have daughters, right? No sons?”

I suppose I hadn’t really thought of that, either. “Probably. But would they be like me? Or would they be … human?” I almost said normal.

“Does it matter?” he asks.

Confusion tears through me. He begrudgingly allows himself to be in the siren’s presence. Why wouldn’t he worry that a child I bore would have a siren in her, too?

The lack of water is getting to his head. He’s delusional. Sorinda is already waiting for us in my bathing chamber.

Riden takes one look at the tub full of salt water. “Are you serious?” “Very.”

“What is the plan, exactly?”

“I get in the bath, go full siren, and you try to bring me back.” “You’re not contained,” he says.

“The bath is bolted to the floor. I can’t move it to the brig.”

He must sense how nervous I am, how much I really don’t want to do this, because he says next, “It’s fine. Get in the water.”

I take off my boots and any other dangerous items. I stand only in a black blouse and leggings. I decided it best not to wear white since I knew I would be getting wet. In front of Riden.

I step into the tub, every muscle in my body tensing at the onslaught. The water is cool, causing bumps to prickle along my skin. My own mind turns traitorous, begging me to take in the water, aching for the power and surety and revitalization that come with it.

I know that as soon as I allow myself to sit down, the water will consume me, and I will be helpless to take it in. To be the siren is to never be afraid. To never hunger or thirst. Never doubt or worry. Never fear. It is an existence unlike any other. Carefree and wondrous. Sometimes I crave it, but I also know that with it comes the lack of all things human. Causes me to forget all the humans I love so dearly.

I don’t want to forget, but I need the siren to beat my father. I’m sure of it in a way that I can’t explain. If only I can merge the two halves of myself to achieve it.

I let myself sink into the water. My worry morphs into confidence. Weariness turns to strength. I lie down, letting power envelop me. I raise my arms to stretch, to swim, but they crash against metal.

What the—

This is a container. Not the sea. No, I can feel my precious ocean below me, separated from me by meters of wood.

Clawing my way downward isn’t an option. I have to leave the water in order to reach my real home.

A voice calls to me from above. “Alosa, get out of the water.”

The voice is male. The same male from before. The pretty one. The one I’ve still failed to turn into a corpse.

I raise my head out of the water, peer at him through eyes that see so much better under the sea.

“No human commands me!”

I wait for him to cower, to shrink away. But if anything, he holds himself taller.

“Part of you is human, too. Let it out.”

I stand, my eyes landing on the exit. The human is between me and it. I raise my first finger, examining the pointed claw at the end. “I think I’ll draw a line across your throat. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” My tongue curls around a sweet note, letting my will become this man’s as well.

“Yes,” he says eagerly, extending his neck toward me.

I could draw the prettiest red pictures all over you, I sing. I delight in deciding where to start. With that muscled torso? On his lean legs?

But being away from the sea is like having an uncomfortable itch; I need to hurry back to her.

I suppose I’ll just have to take him along with me. I step out of the tub. And hiss through my teeth as red hot pain slices into my arm.

There’s another human in the room. A woman hidden from my sight until now. Her sword drips with my blood. I’ll tear off the arm holding that sword.

But before I can move, a body presses against my back. One arm clamps around my waist, the other bars across my shoulders and chest. A chin rests against my shoulder, pressing a scruffy cheek next to mine.

“You will not harm those you love, Alosa,” Riden says. “Not while I still breathe.”

My legs lose their strength. I’d tumble to the floor if Riden weren’t still holding me. Tears prick at my eyes, but do not fall. My stomach turns at the thought of what I almost did. To Riden. To Sorinda. To the rest of the crew.

I could have killed all of them.

“I’m me,” I say quietly, trembling. The movement is shaking Riden, too. I absorb the water still clinging to my clothes, thinking perhaps I’m only cold.

But the shaking doesn’t cease.

“We’re done for now,” I say to Sorinda. “You can go.”

“I’ll send for Mandsy,” she says, nodding to the cut she gave me. “No, I’ll tend to it. I think I need to … to properly process.”

She doesn’t argue. I love that about Sorinda. She leaves silently. I don’t even hear the door close behind her.

“You can go, too,” I say to Riden, who still has himself tucked behind me.

“Not yet,” he says, holding me as I wait for the shaking to subside.

When it does, I say, “We are never doing that again.”

He loosens his hold on me, letting one of his hands rub circles into my back. “Yes, we are.”

I turn on him, breaking his hold on me completely. “How can you say that? You haven’t liked any of this from the beginning. You only did it because you’re too damn selfless for your own good.”

“I care about this crew. So do you. That’s why we have to try again. Until we get a handle on this, just as we have with restocking your abilities.”

“I was overconfident. I thought it would be easier because we’d practiced so much beforehand. But this was different. I nearly killed you and Sorinda. Then I would have been loose on this ship. I don’t even want to imagine the damage I could have done.”

“But you didn’t,” he says, trying to reach for me.

“Why are you trying to touch me!” I scream at him, losing my composure. “I disgust you. My powers terrify you. You can’t stand to be near me. You don’t have to pretend.”

Riden freezes in place. “Is that what you think?” “It’s what I know, Riden.”

“And I suppose you know my mind better than I do?” “It’s fine, Riden. I can handle the truth.”

He pulls a hand down his face, as though trying to erase the tension there. “I don’t hate you or your abilities, Alosa. I only needed time to adjust to them. To get over everything that happened to me in the past.”

I’m quiet for a moment. The horror of what I almost did still swirls inside me, like a storm waiting to be unleashed. There’s just too much that I’m feeling right now. Too much for me to be silent.

“I can’t get over the way you acted when I saved you,” I say. “You made it seem like I sing to men for sheer enjoyment—as if they’re toys for me to play with. You should know by now that the only time I use my voice is when I need to protect my crew. That includes you. When you fell in the sea, I didn’t think, Riden. I didn’t remember our deal. The only thing I could think about was the fact that you were in danger. I acted. I jumped.”

My voice gains strength as I talk, as I fill the words with meaning, with emotion. The way humans do, not sirens.

“But even if I had stopped to remember,” I continue, “I would have made the same choice. I couldn’t help myself. When it comes to you, I have no control over my actions.” Those are the same words he said to me after we escaped the cannibal island. I can see by his face that he remembers, too.

“I know that,” he says. “I know that you never use your abilities for your own amusement. It’s just not the way you are. In the moment, I couldn’t see that. It was easier to believe you were manipulating me just like my father used to than to think you were saving me because you actually cared. I can’t take back the way I acted after you saved me. But honestly, this”—he gestures to the salt water in the tub—“these moments where we work on controlling your abilities, they’ve helped me grow as much as you.

“You are perfect just the way you are,” he continues, “and I wouldn’t change a single thing about you.”

I want to pull his face down to mine. Kiss him until I can’t breathe. His eyes intensify, and I can tell he’s thinking the same thing. It sends a searing heat all the way down to my toes.

Riden breathes in deeply. “You’re doing it again, Alosa. You’re furious at yourself this time. You feel guilty for what could have happened. And you’re looking for a distraction.”

So what! I want to snap. How does he read me so damn well? Why does he keep the siren at bay? What is it about this blasted man?

Before I can say anything, his eyes land on my arm. Where Sorinda cut me.

“Can I help you with that?” he asks.

If he expects me to keep my hands to myself, then no. “I’ve got it. Would you tell Niridia to send someone in here to get the water out of my tub?”

“Of course,” he says. He leaves.

I head for my wardrobe and bandage my wound alone.

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