Chapter no 23

Daughter of the Siren Queen

WATER ENVELOPS ME, cradles me, welcomes me home. My body shifts, stretches, relishes the new surroundings. My muscles feel refreshed, ready to get back in the fight.

Riden watches me, ascertains that I am myself, before giving me an encouraging nod and swimming for the surface.

My father’s laugh reaches me, even down here. “Your captain has left you! She’d rather live her life as a senseless beast than go down with her ship and crew. I hadn’t realized I’d raised a coward.”

I feel nothing at the words. My crew knows how I’ve grown. They won’t believe them. They must know I am here to save them, not to save myself.

For now, I swim far, far below, arcing down into the deep. It’s clear as day to me where no human could see or bear the pressure.

I find them easily. The sisters I would have grown up with had I lived my life as a siren. They swim in circles or rest on the ocean’s bottom, arms thrown over their faces in defeat. Limbs twisting and shifting uneasily, helpless, yet enraged.

I am here, I sing to them. Now you can speak directly to my face. Tell me why you have abandoned your queen yet again.

A group of older sirens looks away. Their hair obscures their faces as they shift uneasily. They were there when their queen was ripped from them the first time. They are ashamed—so much so they can’t bear to look into my face.

The siren children are ethereal. Perfect pearls in this sea. They hang back behind their mothers—those that still have them. A girl with hair the color of sparkling sand huddles near a woman with night-black locks. The child, who can’t be more than five, sings of her mother’s death. She saw it with perfect clarity, the way the harpoon hit her mother, how her eyes rolled back, how she sank down to the ocean’s bottom.

We need to make them pay for what they’ve done, I say.

How? the siren clutching the orphan asks. The men cannot hear us. Their leader is immune.

How is that possible?

He has lain with a siren and lived. Now the magic of our song does not affect him.

All this time I thought I couldn’t control him because we shared blood, but it is because of his relationship with my mother, not me, that he is immune.

And even if he weren’t immune, she continues, it would do us little good. Our voices do not work when we’re completely out of the water as yours does.

They don’t need to. Do you not have arms and legs?

We are weak out of water. We will have no more strength than human women.

I smile at all of them. I’ve been training human women to fight for years. A woman is not helpless when she knows what to do. And even a man is helpless when outnumbered ten to one.

It’s not a question of if you’ll win, I continue. The only question is whether you will choose to fight. Will you fight for your queen? Will you fight for your waters and treasure? Will you fight for your little ones?

My song carries through the water, firm and unmistakable. A call to arms. A demand from their princess.

I am not your queen. You do not have to obey me as you do my mother. This is a choice you must make. A choice to avenge your lost ones, to save your queen, to protect your children. I am an outsider. The life I could have had with all of you was taken from me, but I am here now by choice. Will

you not choose to rally with me now? I braved the ocean for you. Will you brave land for your queen?

All of their singing stops. The piercing chords of grief cease. The harsh thrums of anger relent.

In their place is conviction. A promise. As one they sing a song so powerful it brings tears to my eyes. It’s a battle cry made of pure, heavenly song. The ships above shift from the force of it.

I show them their advantages over men—what they can do to subdue them—

And then we ascend.

* * *

When my head breaks the water, I sing and pull the moisture into me, drying as I drag myself back up the side of the Dragon’s Skull. I peek my head over the lip of the ship. My crew has been tied to the mainmast, bunched together under layers of rope. Some five men stand facing them, making sure no one leaves.

A soaked Riden is tied up with the others. He had no choice but to return to the ship and be taken captive once more until I returned. Sorinda, I can see, has already managed to free her hands without attracting the attention of the guards. Mandsy is opposite her, head slumped against the mast, only knocked out, I’m sure. Radita wriggles her shoulders, and a pirate advances on her with his sword raised.

“Stop that,” he says, “or I’ll run you through.”

She gives him a look to say exactly where he can stick his sword.

He steps forward, catching a lock of her hair on his cutlass and holding it up to the light. “Captain says we can do what we want with you lot once we start sailing again, so long as you’re all still alive once we reach the keep. I’m going to start with you.” He puckers his lips at her and laughs, gliding his sword along her cheek now as though it’s a caress.

No one lays a finger on my girls.

He’s the first to go. With his back to me, he can’t see me come up behind him, can’t see me reach for his sword. With one hand at his wrist and the other just below his shoulder, I bring the whole arm down on my knee,

ignoring the spasm of pain that erupts in my injured arm at the movement. The resulting crack is a fierce drum beat adding to the music of my sister sirens. I take his sword and rake it across his throat.

The struggle is enough to get the attention of the other guards. Before they can reach me, I toss the cutlass to Sorinda, who catches it easily and frees herself and the others.

One of my father’s men rushes below for help. I start on the rest. Riden offers up a smile before leaping onto the nearest guard and taking his sword from him. I kick another’s legs out from under him and stake him to the deck with his own cutlass through his chest.

By the time we’ve finished with the guards, my father has made an appearance once again, the massive forces of his men lined up behind him. His side is bandaged now; his hand holds his sword once more.

He doesn’t appear surprised, only more enraged.

“You don’t know when to quit, girl. You’re just as outnumbered as before. This fight will not have a different outcome.”

A scream rises in the air. First one, then another, and another. They’re distant, traveling to us from other ships in the fleet. My father looks around, but he can see nothing from where he stands. His men still cannot hear a thing. They haven’t a clue that anything is amiss.

Until the sirens pour onto the deck. Hundreds. As many as will fit.

Water falls off them in waves, dribbling down their long locks and smooth bodies, soaking the deck instantly. A line of sirens go down as my father’s spooked men fire off shots, but they are helpless against the superior numbers. The sirens trample them underfoot. They force them off the edges of the ship and into the water. They fight alongside my crew, sending souls to the stars right and left.

I’ve never known Kalligan to run from danger, but he races for higher ground at the sight of all those sirens on his ship. He climbs the rigging, leaving his men to fend for themselves. And I realize then just how much he must fear death. He’s been in a position of power and security for so long, I wonder if he’d forgotten what it was to be afraid. And now he has no need to worry about being seen as weak. None of his men will live to speak of it.

I leave him for now. My priority is my mother.

I cut a line through the masses, taking down the pirates in my path, assisting the sirens who need it. Eventually I make it to my father’s rooms.

She is right where I left her. First I take out the gag.

She coughs twice and swallows deeply. “You’ve saved me again.”

“It’s my fault he found you again. I’m the one who tracked down the map pieces for him.” I use a borrowed cutlass to work at sawing through the thick ropes at her wrists.

“Is he dead?” she asks. It’s the fiercest tone I’ve heard her voice take. “Not yet. He’s hiding from the fight.”

* * *

The battle is over only minutes after it began. The sirens made quick work of the pirates. They’ve already taken back to the water by the time I get my mother out in the open air. I’m surprised she doesn’t join them immediately. Instead, she stares purposefully at the mainmast, where Kalligan stands on the beam below the highest sail.

“You’ve lost,” I shout up to him.

“I haven’t lost until a sword plunges into my heart,” he calls back. “Mandsy, find me a saw,” I say. “If our beloved king won’t come down

of his own free will, we’ll have to hack down his throne.”

A loud clang sounds. It’s my father’s sword hitting the deck. The purest sign of defeat.

He’s no fool. He knows he’s lost. He has no power over me. My crew and I are finally safe.

His feet follow, and everyone on the ship quiets, watching him. “Now what?” he asks as he rises to his full height. “Am I to face a firing squad? Be imprisoned till the day I die? You don’t have—”

His words are stopped by a fiery-red blur crashing into him. They crack through the wooden railing and topple off the side of the ship, a tangle of limbs and hair and my father’s shouts.

As soon as they hit the water, I know I will not see my father alive again. The water churns violently as Kalligan tries to claw his way to the surface. There’s a muffled, watery scream, a sound I’ve never heard him

make before. My mother pulls him deeper. The water folds into place as their dark shadows fall away.

One, two,

three bubbles.

And all is still.

The pirate king’s reign has come to an end.

* * *

The cheering is ear-shattering. It mixes with the songs of hundreds of sirens, shaking the ship from under the water. The girls rush one another, tangling themselves in ferocious hugs. We’re alive. We’re still alive and the king is dead.

For one, brief moment, I mourn the man I thought my father to be. I mourn the rare embraces, the words of comfort and encouragement. I mourn the man who taught me to fight. Who set an example of leadership. Who showed me the joys to be had in a life on the sea.

I mourn him, and then I remember the ultimate choice he made. He wanted control and power. Nothing more. He did not know how to love, only to use what he had to get what he wanted.

So I mourn the man I once believed my father to be. And then I let him go.

I throw myself at Mandsy, hugging her with as much strength as I dare without crushing her or jostling my own injured arm too much. Soon Enwen joins us, looping his arms around both of us. A relieved laugh escapes me as I look around at all the happy faces. Even Sorinda doesn’t shrug away from the embraces that come her way. Until Kearan tries, that is.

As soon as Enwen and Mandsy leave me to celebrate with others, my

eyes scan for the next closest person.

They land on Riden.

The look we share seems to crackle with its own energy. Suddenly he’s not standing over there. He’s here. Right in front of me. Until he’s so close that I can’t see him at all.

My eyes close as he presses his lips to mine. And though it is nowhere near our first kiss, it feels brand new. Neither of us is burdened down. Draxen is not here to keep us apart. My father cannot terrorize us. Even the threat of death doesn’t hang over our heads.

This kiss feels honest. It feels real.

And I don’t ever want it to feel differently.

You'll Also Like