Chapter no 4

Daughter of the Siren Queen

FROM THE OUTSIDE, there is nothing remarkable about the keep. It looks like any other small island in the groupings located far northeast of Lycon’s Peak.

But the king’s pirates recognize it for what it is.

The island has many lips and jutting trenches, a maze built of water and land. One must steer a careful course so as not to beach one’s ship. The sea flows right into a series of caves that house the separate ships of the fleet. Their numbers range to about fifty now.

Niridia directs us up to the dock. Haeli and the other riggers tie down the sails while Lotiya, Deshel, and Athella secure the docking lines. The gangplank is lowered.

“Send Wallov and Deros to bring up Vordan,” I tell Niridia. “And have Mandsy tail Riden like a shark on a blood trail.”

“Of all the women on this ship, I wouldn’t say Mandsy most resembles a shark,” a voice says from behind me.

For the last few days of the journey, Riden was required to stay belowdecks so he wouldn’t learn the exact location of the keep. I hadn’t expected Mandsy to let him back up top so quickly.

“And I suppose I would have that happy privilege?” I ask him.

“No, it’s those vicious sisters. I can’t say which one is worse. Deshel thinks my lap is a chair, and Lotiya has her fingers in my hair as if it were a glove for her to don.”

It pleases me beyond words to know he’s frustrated by their advances. I say, “I thought you enjoyed female companionship. Living on a ship full of women should be a dream come true for you.”

He stares at me as though his gaze should hold some deeper meaning, but I don’t see it. And he’s forbidden me to use my abilities on him.

“I’m not a mind reader, Riden. So spit out whatever it is you want to say.”

Eventually, he says, “Their attention is unwanted.” “Then tell them that.”

“You don’t think I’ve tried!”

“If you’re looking for sympathy, go find Mandsy.”

He glares at me. “Sympathy is not what I want from you, Alosa.”

Before I can even begin to guess what he means by that, he storms off.

Niridia shows up with Mandsy in tow. I just point in Riden’s direction.

Mandsy, her brown hair in two braids over her shoulders, follows him. “Careful,” I shout after her. “He’s in a mood.”

“I’ve just the thing for that,” Mandsy says. “And what would that be?”

“Sewing. Nothing like working with your hands to relax your mind.”

Mandsy is a godsend. She heals, she sews, and she fights. Knowing where every major organ is located on a person makes her a most efficient fighter. She’s patched me and the crew up time and time again. Many of them owe her their lives. I wish I had ten more of her. I’d even take the excessive optimism that comes with her.

“I wouldn’t give that one something so pointy as a needle,” I say. “I’ll take my chances.”

Wallov and Deros both come up top, each gripping one of Vordan’s arms firmly. He’s wriggling in their grasp, but no single man is a match for their joined strength. Vordan shouldn’t even bother, injured as he is.

“You’re handing me over to Kalligan?” Vordan asks.

“You’re to stay in the keep’s dungeon for safekeeping until I decide what to do with you.”

“Have you forgotten our little chat already? You need me. I—”

“You can go to the dungeons standing or we can get out the cage again.

Your choice.”

Wisely, he shuts his mouth.

I dart my eyes to the men on either side of him. “Take him through a side entrance. I don’t want to see him again.”

“I’m heading out,” I tell Niridia. “See to it that everyone cleans up and gets well rested. I want the Ava-lee stocked up for sailing again. I doubt it will be long before we’re back on the sea. The king will want to move the fleet to the Isla de Canta as soon as possible.”

I leap off the side of my ship. Most would prefer to use the gangplank, but the distance doesn’t bother me. It takes just a second to reaccustom myself with solid, unmoving ground after weeks at sea.

Several ships float along the separate docks in this particular cave. It’s the closest one to the keep’s main entrance, so only those in my father’s inner circle are permitted to anchor here. Among them are Hell’s Breath, which belongs to Captain Timoth; Black Rage, which belongs to Captain Rasell; and the Deadman’s Blade, which is captained by Adderan. My face contorts in disgust when I spot Death’s Secret. If Tylon and his ship weren’t so important to my father, I’d whittle holes into the latter when no one was watching—maybe the former, too.

The docks lead to a path down through the cave, which eventually opens up onto the island. From there is a well-trodden trail obscured from the beach by large fir and spruce trees. It’s incredible that their roots are strong enough to breach the island’s hard surface. The keep is a composition of hollowed-out rock with wooden embellishments.

Several islands over is a long-at-rest volcano. The little island the pirate king uses as his keep is a series of tunnels, once carved out of rock by steaming lava, a deadly natural force.

Now it houses the deadliest men alive.

I kick a pebble out of my path as I reach the largest tunnel opening, which serves as the keep’s main entrance. Dead men dangle by ropes from the top of the tunnel, giving it the appearance of a gaping mouth with scraggly teeth. The ropes are tied to large hooks at the end, hooks that have

been inserted into the mouths of traitors. They are hung up like captured fish for all to see what happens to those who meet my father’s wrath.

The tunnel forks into multiple paths, which also veer into their own countless directions. The keep is an endless maze to all except those who serve the pirate king.

I’m following a tunnel deeper and deeper into the keep, in search of my father, or at least someone who can tell me his location, when I pause in front of a door.

The door.

He found something on that island where he met your mother. A weapon.

After weeks of distance from Vordan and his lies, I’d begun to relax. But just like that, doubt creeps back in. Unbidden and unwelcome.

The entrance to my father’s chambers is just one door over. There’s another door inside adjoining the secret study to my father’s bedchamber. As one of the select few allowed to visit my father in his private rooms, I see this door regularly.

It’s my study, Alosa. Surely you know what a study looks like? he said after I asked him what it looked like inside when I was little. Out of embarrassment, I never asked again.

My thoughts are my own. I am not being controlled. I can’t listen to Vordan. I won’t.

And yet, I press an ear to the door, listening carefully.

I don’t know what I expected. To hear ticking? Feel the pulse of anti-siren magic?

Sighing, I move down the hall. I raise my fist and rap on the door to my father’s rooms, remembering why I came here in the first place.

No answer.

I’ll have to look for him elsewhere. I turn—

My breath leaves me. I’m being shoved backward, and wood slams against my spine. Brilliant blue eyes glare at me.


I strain at the hands that hold me, but Tylon has me boxed in pretty good. The weight of his body has me firmly planted against the door. Every ligament of his is lined up with mine, our faces far too close for comfort.

If I hadn’t been so distracted by my father’s secrets, he never would have gotten the drop on me. I should know better than to let down my guard at the keep.

I let out a sound between a growl and a frustrated sigh. “Let. Me. Go.” “It seems the only way to have a conversation alone with you is to

ambush you in the halls.”

“Most men would take that as a hint and back the hell off.”

He manages to get even closer to me. “Why? Why are you avoiding me? Ever since you returned from the Night Farer, you’ve been distant. You’ve been different.”

I turn my head to the side to get as far away from him as I possibly can. “Different? I can’t think of a time when I didn’t hate you, and I can assure you that hasn’t changed.”

A low sound gurgles up from his throat. “You’ll come around. It’s only a matter of time.”

“Yes, how can I not when you attack me in tunnels?”

“I wouldn’t have to if you’d let me see you on your ship.”

Niridia has explicit orders to dump Tylon into the sea on sight. I’m told he’d been swimming several times before we left to hunt down Vordan.

Using my song on Tylon would be a waste. I finally break an arm free of his hold and use it to push at his chest, sending him staggering backward. I place a solid kick to his stomach.

It lands him on the floor, gasping for breath.

“I know you’re not the brightest pirate,” I say as I lean over his body, “so I’ll say this slowly. You and your advances are unwanted. The next time you touch me, you’ll find an iron ball in your stomach instead of my foot.”

* * *

Buttered fish and salted pork leave a mouthwatering scent on the air. I promise myself there will be time for a hot meal later.

Many of the men are taking lunch in the mess hall. Tables upon tables are heaped with all the best foods. From sliced fruits to warm breads to freshly caught seafood and well-aged rum. Only the best is served in the pirate king’s keep. We can afford regular shipments of perishable foods. At

the rate my father’s going, he could soon buy all of Maneria. Money pours into the keep from all the merchants and land nobles purchasing safety for their ships. Some of the pirates under my father’s control never even need to leave the keep. Nor would they want to; anything a man could want can be found here. A floating brothel anchors in one of the caves. Endless food and rum are supplied for all.

I’m used to the stares, glares, or looks of desire that come my way at the keep. Only the ship captains know what I am. I’m a mystery to most. Why would the pirate king bother with claiming a female as his child? Why does he hold me in such high regard? Why am I given the most dangerous and important missions? Some are jealous; some are curious and baffled. Others wish I weren’t so capable of defending myself.

I scan the room carefully, looking for my father, but he isn’t here. I stop one of the cooks bringing out a tray of rounded breads to add to the tables.

“Has the king been in for his lunch yet, Yalden?”

“No, Captain,” he responds. “I’ve heard he shut himself in the treasury for most of the morning. Must not be out yet.”


Wood smacks against rock as the far doors are split open wide. The room instantly quiets. Everyone reads Kalligan’s mood. Even without his fleet, my father is an imposing figure. He’s a giant among men, at well over six feet and built like an ox.

Men step away from his path as he stomps to the center of the mess hall, the tables practically trembling from the force of his footsteps. He searches faces as he goes. Stars help whoever he’s looking for.

“Praxer!” he finally yells, as he spots a man in spectacles with more shine on his head than hair.

“My king?” Praxer abandons his meal and rises, though he has to be about to wet his breeches.

“I told you there was something wrong with the shipment from Calpoon, did I not?”

“You did, and I went through the inventory twice more. I found the missing chest of coins and added it to the rest of the treasury.”

“And did you update the books?” My father’s voice turns eerily calm.

The blood flees from Praxer’s face.

My father gets nose-to-nose with the man, not bothering to check his voice this time. “Two ships were dispatched last week to punish Lord Farrek for shorting me on money! It’ll be a miracle if the frigate reaches them in time to recant the order. What kind of message do you think it sends the land nobles if I start punishing them for paying me?”

“It won’t happen again.”

“You’re right-handed, are you not?”

The balding man stutters before finding his voice. “Yes, my king, why


“Hold him down.”

The two men who had been sitting nearest Praxer leap to their feet and restrain him. They’re likely his friends, but friendship means nothing when an order is issued by the king.

Kalligan litters the floor with plates of food as he clears the table with one swipe. Those seated nearby freeze for fear of drawing his attention.

With one hand on his head and the other at his back, the first of Praxer’s friends shoves him face first against the table. The second extends Praxer’s left arm and pins it against the wood.

“No, my king. Please—”

Praxer screams as red sprays the nearby men and tables.

“Fail me again and you’ll lose your other hand as well. Look at me!”

Praxer has sunk to the floor. He muffles his screams long enough to meet my father’s eyes.

“I have no use for a man without hands. Do you understand?” “Y-y-yes,” he breathes.

Kalligan dries his cutlass on Praxer’s shirtsleeve as he surveys the crowd. His eyes land on me. In the beat of a second his right brow lifts slightly. I nod.

“We leave for the Isla de Canta in one month’s time,” he says to the room. “Let’s hope you fools can keep your limbs in the meantime. No more mistakes.”

Praxer whines as he rocks back and forth, holding his wrist just above where his left hand was moments earlier.

Kalligan steps over him on his way back toward the door.

* * *

“Hello, Father,” I say when I’ve caught up to him. ’Tis no easy feat since his legs outdistance mine considerably. It’s a shame I couldn’t have inherited a bit more of his height. He towers over me by more than a foot. There isn’t a single man I know who doesn’t stand in his shadow.

“Your voyage was successful.” He says it as fact, not as a question. “Aye, sir. The sack of filth, Vordan, has been transported to the


“And the map?”

I cease walking, and he does the same, facing me. With a tightened fist, I pull the map necklace from my pocket.

His foul mood dispels instantly as he takes it in his hands. “You are the only one I can trust to do things right.” One large hand slaps me on the back, and I warm at the sign of affection. It is a big one from him and so rare. “We’ll celebrate later tonight. Have one of the cooks send up a 1656, Wenoa stock.” Ah, that’s a good year. “Have you questioned Vordan yet?”

A pause.

I can’t tell him what Vordan’s told me. Even if I don’t believe it. Which of course I don’t. There’s no reason to even mention it.

Careful to keep my voice normal, I say, “I have. He sang like a bird. I have a list of names of all the men in our ranks who secretly work for Vordan.”

Father watches me carefully. “What’s wrong?” he asks.

He is not controlling you, I tell myself. Why do I even need to reassure myself?

I hurry to think of something believable to say. “Do you think we’ll find my mother? When we reach the Isla de Canta?” After I get the words out, I realize there is genuine curiosity behind them.

Still, I worry at his reaction. What if he assumes that I think he’s not good enough? That I need more than just him? But is it wrong for a girl to want to meet her mother?

“For your sake, I hope we don’t. The siren queen is a truly menacing creature, no more than a sea monster feverishly on the lookout for human prey. She’d kill you before you could utter who you are, and even if you did manage to get the words out, I doubt it would make a difference.

“They’re not like us, Alosa. You’ve seen all too well what happens when your siren nature takes over you. Imagine creatures that have only one side. That side.”

My blood runs cold. I had so hoped to meet my mother just once, but maybe there are some memories I don’t want to make.

“I suggest,” Kalligan continues, “you be prepared to kill every siren you meet.”

* * *

Father calls together a meeting for all the ship captains present at the keep. Over half of them are running jobs throughout Maneria, and he’s dispatched yano birds to order their immediate return. Since he knew I was due to arrive any day, he didn’t bother to spare a bird to fix poor Praxer’s mistake. And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Father chose to put on a show of fury and violence just to remind everyone what happens to those who disappoint him.

We set sail in one month for the Isla de Canta, with or without the rest of the fleet. Those captains who don’t make it in time will not share in our spoils. I’m certain everyone will make haste.

My belly is full. I’ve washed and changed. Red hair spills over my shoulders, brushing against an emerald corset. I like to look my best when surrounded by the most important men in the keep, to remind them I’m their princess and will be their queen one day. And I need the extra confidence boost, given all the uncertainty crowding my insides of late.

My eyes are a deep blue. I replenished my abilities again after questioning Vordan on my ship. Though most wouldn’t dare to try anything with me or my crew at the risk of upsetting their king, it’s foolish to go into territory where I’m surrounded by the most bloodthirsty men in the world and not come fully prepared.

“Shut your mouth, Timoth, or I’ll shove my cutlass through it.” Father usually calls the meeting to attention with a threat. Though nearly everyone had been talking, singling out one man is enough to quiet the entire room. Especially after Father’s display of power yesterday.

I try desperately to ignore the space Tylon occupies. I’m still mad as hell over his ambush yesterday. Arrogant piss pot. As if I’d ever want to associate with him. Tylon is only a few years older than I, and Father adores him (as much as a ruthless pirate can adore anything) because he obeys orders immediately and without question. He’s always quick to rat out other pirates at the keep for misconduct, which makes him unpopular with everyone else, but a star in my father’s eyes. His biggest flaw, however, is in assuming I will align myself with him. He seems to think I will want to share my birthright with him when Father steps down. That by entangling himself with me, he will become the next pirate king. I’ll dagger him in his sleep before that happens. I will become the pirate queen when Father retires, and I will not be sharing power.

“The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here,” my father says. He’s a large figure at the head of a massive oak table. He stands while the rest of us sit, lest we forget who’s in charge. As if he needs to. His sheer size is enough to leave anyone without a doubt as to his status. He keeps his hair and beard short always. Something about not letting it obstruct his line of vision. He once tried to cut my hair to make me a better pirate. I told him where he could stick his scissors, and he jabbed them into my leg instead.

My father certainly has raised me with unconventional methods; sometimes a molten rage surges up when I remember the past. But then I remember the here and now. No one can best me with a blade, save perhaps my father. No one can outdistance me. No one can outlast my stamina. Other pirates fear me. I am proud of all these facts. It is only because of my father that I have achieved them. On top of the skills he gave me are all the good memories I have of him. When he gave me my first sword. The time he stroked my hair and told me I looked like my mother. The jokes and laughter we share when we manage private moments together. These memories are spread out with lots of misery in between, but everyone both loves and resents their parents, don’t they?

You may try to rationalize it, Alosa. He’s your father. He’s only ever tried to make you strong. To make you a survivor. But do those sound like your own thoughts in your head? Or his thoughts bringing you back to him yet again?

I’m not rationalizing. I’m stating facts. Cold. Hard. Facts. I am under no one’s control.

“Vordan’s map was the last of the three fragments, the final piece that leads us the rest of the way to the Isla de Canta,” Father says, bringing me out of my thoughts. “I’ve had years to examine the first map, the map that came from my own father and his father before him. It has traveled the Kalligan line for centuries, and we have kept it in pristine condition.

“The second map piece was brought to us by Captain Alosa Kalligan. Jeskor’s sons had it hidden on their ship, though they were too stupid to realize it.

“The third has come to us today, once again procured by Captain Alosa.”

The eyes in the room swivel to me. Many with jealousy—they wish to be so favored by the king.

“We will set sail in thirty days,” Father continues. “We will reach the Isla de Canta, and its treasure will be ours.”

“Rah!” cheer the pirates in the room. “Captains, what is the status of your ships?”

“I’ve nigh twenty barrels of gunpowder on the Black Rage,” Captain Rasell says. “Fifty men await my instructions.”

Tylon goes next, and I do my best not to frown. “I have five harpoon guns attached to Death’s Secret and over a hundred individual harpoons that can be thrown from rowboats.”

“We’ll skewer the beasts!” Captain Adderan proclaims, and the room goes wild with excitement. For the first time, the thought of traveling to the island makes me sick.

He found something on that island where he met your mother. A weapon. A device that protects him from the sirens. A device that lets him control them.

It goes on like this as twenty pirate captains list their most valuable collections for the trip. The other thirty or so captains are all rushing to the

keep to make it in time for the voyage, and some of them will end up staying behind anyway to defend our stronghold while the rest of us sail for treasure.

“Captain Alosa,” my father says expectantly.

I swallow my uneasiness and push the image of sirens being harpooned like whales from my mind, vowing that nothing will keep me from traveling to the island. This is too important. And Father has already had to remind me recently that they’re inhuman beasts. I know this. I’ve experienced for myself what happens when I’m submerged underwater.

“I have a crew consisting of twenty-eight women,” I say simply.

Adderan snorts. “Women. Good. The men will have company during the voyage.” A few others in the room dare to snicker at the comment.

The men may recognize my talents and purpose, even if they don’t like them. But other female pirates receive no such esteem.

Father doesn’t defend my crew. Nor would I want him to. I can do it all on my own.

The pirate captains and the dungeon master are the only ones who know about my abilities at the keep, so I don’t have to hide them in this room.

I sing a booming note, something that won’t go unnoticed by anyone in the vicinity. Adderan rises from his chair and runs face first into the nearest wall. The contact splits open a thin line on his head, but it doesn’t render him unconscious. I want him fully awake when I humiliate him.

“While the sirens enchant you all to take your own lives,” I say, “my talented female crew will be unaffected. We will be the ones who actually reach the treasure and make the journey back home.”

The room goes silent. Kalligan’s men need to remember these are no ordinary women defending the Isla de Canta.

“Very impressive, Captain Alosa,” Tylon says, and I jerk my head in his direction, “but there is a simple remedy to such a problem. I believe you experienced this one while you were Vordan’s prisoner.”

He pulls something from his pocket, breaks it in two, and molds it into his ears. Wax.

I turn to the man on Tylon’s right. “Captain Lormos, kindly prove a point for me and smack Tylon up the side of the head.”

Tylon must assume my moving mouth is expelling enchanting notes. He grins condescendingly at his invincibility. But then Lormos, who is especially prone to violence, says, “Gladly,” and carries out my request. No singing required.

Tylon grunts and turns to his right, cocking his fist back in retaliation. My father holds out his hands, a simple motion commanding all to stay their violence. Tylon grudgingly complies and pulls the wax from his ears.

“Song is not the only thing you have to worry about,” I say. “You will also be unable to communicate with one another, and the sirens can easily get the drop on you then.”

“We can have men looking in all directions. Everyone’s backs will be covered,” Tylon says defensively.

I laugh without humor. “You’re being naive. That will cost you lives.” If we’re lucky, his.

“My men will be fine. Don’t presume to captain any crew other than your own.”

“Don’t belittle my crew by insinuating we’re only good for breeding!” “That was Adderan! You’re—”

“That’s enough.” The pirate king’s voice cuts across the room. Powerful. Final. I take my eyes from Tylon’s enraged face and note that all the captains in the room are staring between the two of us.

“Just get it over with and bed the lass!” Captain Sordil shouts from the back of the room. I slice him in half with my glare. Before I can do more than that, Father continues, commanding everyone’s attention once more.

“Captain Alosa has more than made her point,” he says, “which is why she and the Ava-lee will sail second only to the Dragon’s Skull on the voyage to the Isla de Canta.”


Because my father’s ship will carry a secret weapon that will control the sirens? Or because he needs to keep his place at the head of his fleet?

Silence hits the room at the pronouncement. Then Adderan speaks up. “Are we sure that’s wise? Surely the Deadman’s Blade would be a better choice to have at your back?” His own ship. “It’s larger and more—”

“Are you questioning my decision?” Father asks, his voice like a whip.

Adderan immediately recants his words. “Wise choice, sire. The Ava-lee

should go second.”

Kalligan nods. “Good. You can take the rear, Adderan.” I grin smugly at Adderan as Father launches into the rest of the details of the voyage, then concludes the meeting. “Alosa, Tylon, stay.”

The captains file out of the room, smiling and clapping one another on the backs. It’s finally happening. We’ve waited years to set sail for the unimaginable treasures waiting at the Isla de Canta. Now we can actually count the days.

“This voyage will go smoothly,” Kalligan says when the last man has left and the door falls back into place, “and I will not have some petty adolescent disagreement get in the way of that. Is that understood?”

“Of course,” Tylon says immediately, ever the willing-to-please pawn. “There is no disagreement,” I say. It’s more of a blatant abhorrence. “Whatever it is, it stops now. There will be no more belittling the other

captains during meetings, Alosa. And Tylon, you would do well to listen to the wisdom Captain Alosa has to offer.”

Tylon nods. I snort and roll my eyes at the whole scene. Tylon’s puppylike obedience is enough to—

Father flies at me, quick as a bolt of lightning. I don’t move, knowing whatever comes will be better if I don’t resist.

In a flash, I’m backed against the wall. A dagger soars toward me, embedding itself in the wood just to the right of my eye.

“You will not be disrespectful in my presence,” Kalligan says. “Else this dagger will move an inch to the left. You don’t need both eyes for your voice to work.”

I stare into those large, fierce eyes. I’ve no doubt he means it. And before he tries to do more than scare me, I have to comply.

“Apologies,” I say.

See, I defy him all the time. I don’t apologize because he controls me. I do it because … because … I can’t finish the thought.

Am I only useful to him so long as I have a voice? Were I mute, would he still love me, still want me to captain a ship in his fleet?

He leaves the dagger in place and exits the room. When I pull away, strands of hair tug from my head, trapped by the dagger, and hang limply against the wall.

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