Chapter no 10


Sunlight spilled through the cracks of the bulkhead above me, and the thick smell of lantern smoke and oil lingered in the cabin. As soon as my eyes opened, the ache in my jaw woke where I’d slammed into Koy’s skiff. I pinched my eyes closed, the bone throbbing as I clenched my teeth. It was followed by the burn on my skin that wrapped over my shoulder and down my back.

I sat up slowly and set my feet on the damp floorboards. Willa’s hammock was already empty.

Auster pried the lid off of a crate in the supply room as I passed the door, letting it fall on the ground before he started on another. He glanced over his shoulder at me, grunting as he pulled a jar of pickled fish from inside.

The humid wind spilled into the passageway as I climbed the ladder and I lifted a hand, letting it pull through my fingers. Warm but strong. I didn’t like the feel of it. Too sharp for the pale, cloudless sky that hung above us, which meant that a storm was most likely brewing past the horizon.

Willa and Paj were already working the sheets, trimming the sails to accommodate the push.

“You’re lazy, for a dredger.” Her voice fell down on me from where she stood in the nets above. She had one foot tangled in the ropes and the other propped against the mast, the black shine of tar on her fingers.

“How far until Dern?” I watched her climb down to the next sail. She looked over me, to the west. “We’re here.”

I turned to see the little port village sprawled over a hill in the distance, where the sea met the shore in a long, rocky wall.

A smile spread across my lips, a small laugh escaping my chest. I hadn’t seen Dern in years, but I remembered it clearly—the misshapen cobblestone buildings and the blackened mouths of crooked chimneys. There was always a lady on the dock selling blood oranges and Saint’s navigator, Clove, used to buy me one every time we made port.

The burn of tears lit behind my eyes as the memory flooded into the places I’d been so careful to keep damned up. I thought about Saint every day, his face coming to life in my mind as if it hadn’t been four years since the last time I’d seen him. But I tried not to think about Clove almost as often as I tried not to think of my mother. What my father lacked in affection, Clove had given to me in spades.

“West…” Willa stopped her work, her eyes going wide before she slid down the mast and landed on the deck.

He stepped out of the archway, scanning the docks before his lips pressed into a hard line. “Hamish!”

Willa’s face paled, and for a moment, she looked like she was going to be sick.

Hamish ducked out from the helmsman’s quarters, finding a place beside West at the railing. He let out a long breath, cursing, before he disappeared back through the door.

I studied the port, looking for whatever it was they saw there among the ships. Six long docks jutted out from the scarps, the narrow bays filled with boats of every size. They all looked to be traders. Some crests I recognized and one or two I didn’t, but the ship from the Narrows gave itself away. Its wide, ornate construction and detailed woodwork didn’t fit beside the simple ships made in the Narrows.

My heart twisted in my chest when I spotted Saint’s crest—a wave curling over a triangle sail, painted on one of the crisp white shrouds of a clipper.

He wouldn’t be on it. The ship was too small to be his, and there was no telling how many he had under his command now.

“Open her up!” West shouted over the sound of the wind, his shoulder brushing mine as he passed me.

Auster and Paj jumped from the foremast, and Willa pushed the can of tar into my hands before she went for the ladder that led to the quarterdeck. They unwound the lines, pulling in synchronized movements as West stood and watched one side of the quarterdeck lift up to reveal the cargo hold.

They secured the lines, tying them around iron hooks at the foot of the railing, and Auster and Paj climbed down into the hull where barrels of apples and crates of nets were stacked in the corner. They passed them to each other in a line until they were arranged in rows, ready to be unloaded.

The others said nothing, but I could feel the tension coiling around the ship. Whatever Willa had seen on the docks had set them all on edge as they worked, organizing goods until Hamish emerged from the helmsman’s quarters with five small red leather purses in his hands. He tossed them to each of the crew before they secured them to their belts.

West’s attention was still fixed on Dern as he lifted the hem of his shirt and tucked his purse into the waist of his trousers.

“What’s out there?” I asked, studying his face.

His green eyes flashed as he turned the spokes of the helm, but he didn’t answer. I could see him calculating in his mind, measuring the angle of the ship against the dock. He tilted the wheel a fraction more before he was satisfied, and Paj came down from the quarterdeck to take his place.

“Dredger.” Auster jerked his chin toward me.

I climbed the steps, and he handed me the hauling lines as he and Willa closed up the storage. Hamish stood below, carefully knotting the end of a rope to a small chest at his feet, and West stepped in front of him, blocking my view. “Strike all sails,” he called out, meeting my eyes in a warning.

Whatever Hamish was doing, West didn’t want me to see it. Just like the maps in his quarters and the coral islands to the north. It had taken me less than a day to see that the Marigold was more than a trading ship, but the list of questions I had was growing by the minute.

Auster and Willa obeyed the call, running to the mast to take up the downhauls. Behind them, Hamish dropped the length of rope over the stern into the water, and the chest sank into the deep.

If Hamish was the coin master, there was only one thing he’d be hiding before the Marigold made port. I wound the rope up tightly, eyeing the

village. Whatever or whoever was there, West didn’t think his coin was safe.

Auster climbed down to help Willa drop anchor, and we crept toward the dock slowly. As soon as we were close, I split the heaving lines in my hands and swung my arm back and forth, aiming for the post at the end of the dock. I let go with a grunt, watching it unfurl as it floated through the air. It rippled away from the ship until the end was free, and it slapped against the post as the loop slipped over it.

I took up the length in my blistered hands and propped my feet against the railing before I leaned back, wrenching it toward me, hand over hand.

“Nice throw.” Willa smirked, taking the rope behind me and pulling. “You wouldn’t have made it from that far, Paj!” She taunted.

He looked at me from over the wheel, and I was so surprised to see a smile pulling at his mouth that my feet almost slipped on the oiled wood. The rhythm of crewing a ship was like a melody I’d known my whole life and had only been able to hum to myself for the last four years. In only a few short days, we’d make port in Ceros, and I’d have my chance to finally take my place on Saint’s ship the way my mother had. The way I was born to.

West took the lines behind Willa and helped pull us in as two men came

running down the dock. They put their hands out, waiting for the Marigold to come closer, and when she made it to the edge, they pushed to keep her from scraping.

The crew dropped another anchor and then the loading ramp as Hamish talked to the dock workers below. A rogue wind swept into the cove, and I turned to face it, pulling the damp air deep into my lungs.

The current in the air sent a chill up my spine as I watched the sky turn. Slowly. That was the way of storms in the Narrows—they were clever. It was what made sailing these waters so dangerous. Nearly every ship that lay at the bottom of this sea had been put there by a storm.

Willa and Auster came up out of the passageway with their satchels and coats, and Paj pulled a knitted cap over his head before swinging up and over the railing to climb down the ladder. I lifted myself up to follow, but a hand jerked me back down to the deck.

West stood behind me, one hand hooked into the back of my belt. “You’re not leaving the ship.”

“What?” I gaped at him, instinctively trying to pull away from his grip.

But his hand only tightened, making me hold my breath. “We’ll be back in the morning, then we’ll set out for Ceros.”

I looked over his shoulder to the village. I needed off the ship if I was going to figure out a way to trade for more coin. “I’m not a prisoner.”

“You’re cargo. And the only cargo that gets off the ship at this port is the cargo that’s staying here.” He stared at me, daring me to argue. But we both knew he couldn’t make me stay on the ship. Not without tying me to the rafters in the hull. “I don’t think you have enough coin left to pay another trader for passage. So, if you don’t want to be left on this dock tomorrow, you’ll stay put.”

When he pushed past me, I caught hold of his sleeve, pulling him back. He bristled, looking down at my hand wrapped around his arm, as if stung.

“What’s down there?” I didn’t care what mess the Marigold had gotten itself into, but if it was going to keep me from getting to Ceros, it was my problem.

His jaw worked, moving beneath his sun-darkened skin. “Get off this ship, and you won’t get back on,” he said again.

He yanked free of my grip, putting the cold air between us and I finally breathed, the taste of his scent on my tongue. He pulled a cap on over his unruly gold hair before he climbed down, and I watched him press a few coins into the hands of the two men on the dock. They were probably hired to watch the ship. Or me. Maybe both. The crew wouldn’t leave the Marigold without having eyes on her.

West didn’t look back as he followed the others in a single line down the weathered wood planks leading up the dock to the village. I watched them, my hands wound so tight around the railing that my bones felt like they might crack. I needed to turn my six coppers into at least twelve before we set out from Dern, and if I didn’t get off the ship, I’d have no way to do it.

I cursed, the smell of him still thick in my throat.

Getting kicked off the Marigold was a risk I would have to take.

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