Chapter no 9

Daughter of the Siren Queen

Damned siren blood.

It’s the only thing I can think of to explain my behavior yesterday. Surely no human girl would throw herself at some man she doesn’t fully trust because her parents disappoint her.

It must be because I’m a creature of the sea. Built for tempting men, killing men, and stealing from men.

At least sleep has done me some good. It gave me time to adjust my expectations and come to terms with my new reality.

If my mother doesn’t want to stick around, fine. I’ll go to her and rob her blind.

I’m looking through my wardrobe, searching for something that matches my mood, when the door opens and closes. I panic for a moment, worrying that it might be Riden, but it is only Sorinda.

“Please tell me you don’t come bearing bad news,” I say.

“No, Captain.” She offers me one of her rare smiles. “The king can only come after us with the ships already prepared to sail. The rest will be left to protect the keep. And half the fleet is hurrying to the keep as we speak to prepare for the voyage to the Isla de Canta.”

“Yes. What are you getting at?”

“Has the land king not been looking for a way to rid the seas of pirates? What do you think he would do if you sent him the exact location of the pirate king’s keep?”

I grin so wide my cheeks hurt. “I think he’d send his armada and do his damned best to blow it to pieces.”

“My thoughts, exactly.”

“Sorinda, you’re brilliant. See it done.” “Aye.”

She exits, and I peruse my wardrobe once more. I settle on a silver-gray corset, the color of biting steel as it glints in the sun. Night-black leggings adorn my legs, and I pull polished black boots with silver buckles onto my feet. Matching silver hoops go in my ears.

Now just a hint of paint for my face. Red for my lips. Pink for my cheeks. Silver-gray for my eyelids. The first step to feeling good is looking good, and I look like the royalty I am.

I step up to the edge of the aftercastle and survey everyone below me. Kearan is passed out at the side of ship, empty flask inches from his hand. Sorinda kicks it between two pegs of the railing so it slides over the edge. Then she searches his coat for more flasks to dump.

Most of the crew are absent, still belowdecks sleeping after the late night. A few of the riggers roam the ship, checking to make sure the lines are secure. Some of the younger crew members are cleaning. Radita, the ship’s boatswain, is taking a turn at the helm.

“Morning, Captain,” Mandsy says from where she sits on a crate off to the side, attending to more sewing.

“Why aren’t you watching the brothers?” I don’t want to say Riden’s name.

“Riden is nursing Draxen back to health. The only time he left his side was last night after Draxen fell asleep. Said he was going to see you.”

“And you let him?”

She smiles brightly. “All he wanted was to make you feel better. I thought if anyone could cheer you up, he could.”

“You’re supposed to keep an eye on the prisoners, not let them waltz into my private quarters!”

She looks apologetic, but I can tell it’s faked.

“Are you meddling?” I ask. “Is this some project of yours?”

“Not at all. I merely think he’s a better man than you give him credit for.”

Apparently, he’s more noble than I took him for. Where is the womanizing pirate who only cares for his brother?

“Just do me a favor and keep your charges out of my direct line of sight,” I say.

“I’ll do what I can.”

But as I make for the stairs, I think I hear her add, “But I can only do so much while I’m tending to the mending.”

* * *

Niridia, Kearan, Sorinda, Enwen, and I huddle around the padded table in the sometimes infirmary / sometimes meeting room, where all three map pieces are splayed out in front of us. Kearan’s hair is still dripping water from the bucket Sorinda threw in his face to rouse him. I put a hand to his chest to push him back a step from our only copy of a centuries’ old map.

“Where are we dropping off the brothers?” I ask Kearan. He’s seen more of Maneria than anyone else I’ve ever met, despite his young age. He was a hand for hire, went wherever there was a job that needed done. In the three months since he’s joined the crew, he’s proven to be extremely knowledgeable in navigation—when we can get him sober enough.

Kearan points to a spot on the map, a mere dot of an island. “This is a supply post. The land king stocks it up with food and supplies for his excavating ships. That way they don’t have to travel all the way to the Seventeen Isles to restock. We can drop them off there. They can catch a ride on a ship returning to the Isles after depositing its goods.”

Losing Riden is a good thing, I tell myself. We don’t need the extra mouth to feed. And my father will be so busy coming after me, he’ll forget all about the Allemos brothers. There is no reason to put him in danger. Besides, Riden is confusing and infuriating, and he can’t be trusted. The ship will be better off without him.

But what about you? asks a little voice in my head. I ignore it.

“Good,” I say. “The supply post won’t take us out of the way of our journey.” I feared we’d have to stop by the Seventeen Isles before heading for the Isla de Canta. “Niridia, how much food and water do we have on the ship?” I ask.

“Enough for five months at sea.”

I examine the map, take a compass to it to measure the distance. “Depending on the wind, we could reach the island in two months’ time.”

“And what of the king?” Kearan asks. “How long will it take his ships to cross the same distance?”

“With the wind, our ship is faster. He’d reach the island just over two weeks after us, probably.”

“Only two weeks?” Enwen interrupts. “That means he’s just beyond the horizon right now!”

I nod, and there is a beat of silence as everyone digests my father’s proximity—and what will happen if we should lose our lead.

“And without the wind?” Kearan asks.

“Most of the ships in the fleet are equipped with sweep oars. In no wind, he can travel as long as he has men on board with strength to row, while we’re locked in place.”

“Stars help us if we lose the wind,” Enwen says.

“No one is being forced on this journey,” I remind him. “You’re free to leave with the brothers.”

Kearan ignores Enwen’s outbursts, keeping his eyes on the map. He points to a few different land masses between here and the Isla de Canta. “These aren’t charted on any map I’ve seen. To think there are more islands in Maneria yet to be discovered!”

We stare at him. “What?” he asks.

“You’re getting excited over something you can’t drink,” Sorinda says. “I have interests,” he says defensively. “I’m a person.”

She shrugs indifferently.

I point to the first large island between here and the Isla de Canta, one with a distinct lagoon. “This must be where my father first met my mother.” It’s at the very edge of his map, right before where it connects to the

Allemos map. I don’t know why I bother saying anything. There is no reason why she’d be there now. She’ll have gone to the Isla de Canta with the rest of her kind. And there’s no reason why I should want to see her.

She clearly doesn’t want to see me.

* * *

The start of the trip is a bit aggravating with the extra cargo. Draxen is very, well, unlikable. He glares my way whenever he thinks I’m not looking. He spat on the deck once when he saw me, and I kicked him onto his back to wipe the spot up with his shirt. He hasn’t tried it again since.

Draxen had such high expectations for himself. Kidnap the pirate king’s daughter, obtain the pirate king’s map, sail for the island himself. Getting outsmarted by me never occurred to him. He blames me for the loss of his crew and ship.

I hardly see how he thinks himself deserving of such spoils. On top of being a terrible person, he was also a terrible captain.

It’s strange watching Draxen and Riden interact. They talk constantly, laughing at what the other has to say. Riden coddles him, trying to force food and blankets on him while Draxen shoos him off. I could almost mistake Draxen for a human being when he’s interacting with his brother. But I know the truth. He’s a vile man who uses everyone around him to get what he wants, no matter the costs.

Just like my father.

It hurts to think about my father, to fully imagine the scope of his betrayal. I could have grown up knowing my mother. Or, maybe not. Perhaps she would have only abandoned me at a younger age if she could have made her own choices. Maybe she really is the monster Father always said. I don’t know what to think about her anymore, what all her actions mean. But my father—he has wronged me past the point of forgiveness. I will dethrone him and take everything he has built up for himself as my own.

At this point, that is the only thing I’m certain of.

I hold on to that resolve, let it carry me across the sea of confusion and bitterness that has become my life.

When we reach the supply post, my mood turns dark, as if someone has doused a flame. I can’t explain it.

It certainly has nothing to do with Riden leaving.

I’ve barely seen him in the time it took us to reach the supply post. He belittled me, humiliated me in my rooms after my mother left. What I offered him was little more than what we’d done aboard the Night Farer. Why is he all of the sudden making a big deal over thoughts and feelings? I wanted action. Isn’t that what he’s always wanted, too?

Regardless, I haven’t exactly bothered to seek him out, and he’s been too busy trying to put meat back on Draxen’s bones to do anything else.

Riden crosses the deck with a much healthier-looking Draxen in tow. He steps through the gap in the railing, preparing to climb down to the waiting rowboat below.

He turns his head in my direction, so I quickly look the other way. To be caught staring, even though I know I’ll never see him again, would be even more humiliating.

I should focus on the fact that Riden is the only one I’m losing. Even though I offered escape to anyone who would rather not take on the pirate king, no one in my crew wants to leave. I even took pains to convince Wallov he should take his daughter and run.

He was insulted. Both of them were.

I should be overjoyed to have the trust and respect of my whole crew, and yet my foul mood will not be dispelled. I try not to let it show as I tell Niridia, “Get us going again.”

I scan the ship, displeased by the pace at which everyone is moving. “Get your sea legs moving! We’ve got a long journey ahead, and the pirate king is on our heels. If you don’t pick things up, you can jump ashore now!”

That gets them going. I’m watching their doubled paces with satisfaction, when my vision is blocked by Mandsy’s head. It bears an infuriating smile, a knowing smile.

“Don’t you have something to be doing?” I snap.

She only giggles. “Why in such a foul mood, Captain? He hasn’t gone anywhere.”

“Excuse me?”

“Riden. He’s over there chatting with Roslyn.”

I lean over the railing, looking in the direction of the shore. Draxen is glaring at the ship from his rowboat, specifically at a spot near the bow of the Ava-lee.…

Where his brother is in fact still on board, chatting with Roslyn. “What is going on?” I ask.

“I think he’s coming with us,” Mandsy says.

I narrow my eyes at her. “Where does he get off thinking he can do things without consulting the captain first? And my mood is not altered by the comings and goings of that man. Don’t you dare insinuate as much again.”

She curtsies elegantly before skipping off, probably to weave flowers into crowns or to hug a barnacle or something.

“I’m no passenger,” I hear Roslyn say as I approach. “I’m part of the crew.” I find her little figure in time to see her pull her dagger from behind her back and press it to Riden’s navel. “And I don’t care for being talked down to.”

Riden’s lips twitch as he tries not to smile. “My mistake,” he says and takes a step back. “I meant no insult, little lass. Please spare me.”

Roslyn considers his plea carefully, as though she’s actually debating whether or not to kill him. In reality, I know she’s enjoying watching him beg, having someone play along.

“What is your job on the ship?” Riden asks. Though he must have noticed her moving about the Ava-lee in all the time he’s spent with us, perhaps he never realized Roslyn is part of the hired crew. She gets her cut of the spoils just like everyone else.

Roslyn lowers the knife. “I’m the captain’s lookout. I call out danger from up top and navigate us to safety when we’re in tricky waters.”

“That’s a very important job.” He’s not faking how impressed he is.

My temper fades as I stare at Riden a bit longer. Something in my chest moves as I see him talking with little Roslyn. It’s endearing.

I blink twice. No, not endearing. He’s as bloody annoying as ever. And he does not dictate who stays and goes on my ship.

“Allemos,” I snap in my captain’s voice.

The two turn my way. Riden raises a brow at the use of his surname, which I’ve only ever used once before. When he was in trouble.

“Aye, Captain?” he asks.

“Captain? Who made you part of the crew?” “You did.”

At my confused look, he says, “In exchange for my brother’s life.”

Well, yes, but that was when his brother needed to stay locked in the keep for appearance’s sake. They’re both free now. He can’t expect me to hold him to that. Does he think me so cold?

“Your debt to me is paid,” I say. “You’re free to leave.” “Paid how?”

“Through your help freeing the siren.”

He pauses for only the space of a breath. “But she got away. Until we find her again, I don’t see how I can leave. Just wouldn’t be honorable.”

I’m about to open my mouth to comment on just how honorable I think he is, when he speaks again.

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to stay.”

He wants to be here, I realize. And I can’t think of any nefarious reasons for him to wish to stay. His brother is safe. Isn’t that what he’s always wanted? To stay by his brother’s side and make sure spoiled Draxen gets his way?

So then why would he stay? For the treasure?

Warmth blooms in my chest at the next possibility: Could it be for me? And, the bigger question: Do I want it to be for me?

I can’t even begin to figure out the answer to that question.

So I lie. “It hardly matters to me one way or the other. But if you choose to stay, you’d better carry your own weight. I’ll have no laziness on this ship.”

“Of course not, Captain. Where would you like me?”

“Since you enjoy spending so much time with Roslyn, you can join the riggers. Hop to it.”

“That’s the most dangerous job on the ship,” he says. It’s less an argument than a statement.

“You start at the bottom and work your way up on my crew.” “Enwen and Kearan didn’t.”

Roslyn has her dagger back out. “The captain gave you an order, sailor.” “Yes, thank you, Roslyn,” I say. “Let’s put that dagger away for now. Do

I need to have another talk with your father?”

“No, Captain,” she says before scurrying up the netting.

Riden looks after her. “She’s awfully young to be on a pirate ship.” “Aren’t we all?”

* * *

There’s a spring in my step as I turn for the companionway. We’re under way now. Our next stop, the Isla de Canta, where riches and glory await. I find myself humming as I reach the top of the steps, but then I halt.

“Really now, Kearan,” I say. He’s facedown on the ground. Likely passed out in his own vomit, yet again. This can’t continue. I’ll have to think of some fitting punishment for him. I couldn’t care less what he does in his free time, but when he’s on duty, he’d better be ready to perform at his best.

Suddenly his whole body jerks upward, and I take a step back in case he’s having some sort of sleeping fit.

“Three,” he says on a raspy breath before leaning down to the ground again.

Is he sleep talking? He’s been known to do that even with his eyes open.

No, wait—“Are you doing push-ups?” I ask. “F-f-four,” he says as he rises again.

“Sweet stars, you are. What’s gotten into you?”

After five, he lies on the ground and rolls onto his back, breathing heavily. “Just passing the time, is all. We’ve a long journey ahead of us.”

Yes, but he usually passes the time with drink.

He reaches into one of his pockets. Ah, there he is. But what he pulls out isn’t a flask.

It’s a canteen. The kind we use on the ship for storing water. He sits up and takes a few sips.

“What’s in that?”

He holds the canteen out to me, and I take a sniff. It’s water.

“She dumped all of my flasks into the sea while I slept,” Kearan says. “Didn’t realize she cared so much.” He searches across the ship for Sorinda, but she must be belowdecks because he focuses on me once more. “Any more questions, Captain?” His tone sounds bored.

“Are we headed in the right direction?” “Course, I’m keeping her steady.” “Good,” I say before moving on quickly.

Lest Kearan break into song or sprout wings.

* * *

As I exit my quarters the next morning, a black-and-yellow bird perches on the railing at the starboard side, a scroll of paper tied to its left foot.

I don’t need to guess who sent the letter.

Though it’s not addressed to anyone and it bears no signature, I recognize my father’s neat writing.

You took something that belongs to me. Return it immediately, and I’ll make sure your punishment is swift.

Return it, as though my mother were some prized possession and not a living being. Heat snakes up my neck, but it’s not because of his careless phrasing. Where’s the explanation I’m owed? Is he not going to even attempt to tell me why he lied for years? Why he kept my mother hidden from me? Kalligan is a master at twisting words together. He’s not even trying to sway me to his side.

The briefness of the letter can mean only one of two things. Either he’s furious to the point where most words have left him, or he knows I can’t be reasoned with after what I’ve learned. Either way, I know the letter is a lie. I don’t believe for a second that any punishment he could fathom would be swift.

The yano bird waits patiently, but I have no intention of sending a response. I know silence is the best way to push my father. Let him stew over the loss of his siren.

Over the loss of me.

I wonder which upsets him more.

I was his means of making it to and from the Isla de Canta alive. My female crew and I are the only ones resistant to siren song. Vordan was wrong about Kalligan having a device to protect him. My father and I have always suspected he is immune to my abilities because of the blood we share. But his immunity should only apply to me. Any other siren shouldn’t have a problem enchanting him. That makes him vulnerable on the Isla de Canta.

And now that he’s lost me, he will have to figure things out on his own.

I shoo the bird with my hands. It squawks as it flies into the air, retreating northeast. It’s easy to forget danger is near when one cannot see it, but that bird won’t fly long before it lands on the deck of the Dragon’s Skull.

“Trouble?” asks a voice. A masculine voice.

Riden’s voice.

“Nothing new,” I say. “The pirate king wants his siren back.” “And what did you tell him?”

“I didn’t deign to respond.” “That ought to cheer him up.”

He’s trying to make light of the situation. Trying to make light of our

situation, but I’m not having any of it. “What do you want, Riden?” “Right now? Nothing.”

He has his hair pulled back in a band at the base of his neck, but a burst of wind pulls a strand free.

I chastise myself for wanting to touch it.

“Why are you on my ship?” Reading my father’s note seems to have brought on a bout of distrust.

He watches me carefully, his eyes turning inquisitive. “Is it not obvious?”

“If it were, would I be asking?” I say, irritation coloring my tone.

He smiles as though I’ve just said the most amusing thing in the world. It makes me want to hit him.

Since that’s not the best idea, I turn around to leave him, but he puts his hand on my arm. Before I can do anything else, he’s right there. His chest pressed against my back, his breath warm on my ear.

“I’m here because when I tried to get in that rowboat with my brother, I realized the last thing I wanted was to be away from you.” His hand runs up the length of my left arm, which is facing toward the sea. Away from the eyes of the crew. “I’m here for you, Alosa.” His fingers flutter against my neck, sending a shiver down my back. “If you can’t tell that, I’m not doing a good job of showing you.”

His lips graze my earlobe. To anyone else on the ship, it must look as though he’s only sharing a secret with me.

Now he wants to touch me? What happened to fleeing to the opposite side of the room? That memory boils back to the surface. I bite out, “You’re forgetting. I’m far too emotional for your taste.”

I pull out of his grasp and don’t look back. Rejection stings, doesn’t it, Riden?

* * *

Kearan isn’t at the helm when I reach it the next day. Niridia has taken his place.

“Where is he now?” I groan.

She points just below us. I peer over the aftercastle and find Sorinda leaning against the door to the infirmary, her head turned so her ear is pressed into the wood.

“What are you doing?” I ask her.

“Nothing,” she says immediately. She disappears belowdecks before I can get anything else out of her.

“Kearan’s in the infirmary,” Niridia explains. “He can’t stop shaking and sweating. Mandsy opens the door every once in a while to toss a bucket of

his stomach’s contents over the side of the ship.” “He’s still set on staying off the drinking, then.” I’m impressed.

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