Chapter no 11


I still had an hour or two until nightfall, and that was plenty of time.

West was either stupid for leaving me on his ship alone, or he had no choice. Judging by the tension that filled the Marigold’s crew as we drifted into the harbor, I guessed it was the latter. Whatever West was up to in Dern, he needed his entire crew for it, and he didn’t want a Jevali dredger as a witness.

I climbed the mainmast and watched the five of them weave through the narrow streets of the village below, walking in a single file line with Auster leading and West taking up the tail. They were headed to the tavern, where three tilting chimneys rose up from a long, rectangular building that also served as an inn.

It was usually the first stop for traders when they made port, and even as a child, I’d known what happened behind those doors. I’d seen enough of my father’s crew disappear into taverns with purses full of coin and leave with empty ones. There were only two things strictly forbidden on a ship because both could get you or your shipmates killed: love and drunkenness. Only on dry land could you find someone to warm your bed or empty a bottle of rye into your belly.

The brilliant glow of firelight spilled onto the street as the door opened and the crew disappeared inside. A long breath hissed out between my lips as I raked the hair back from my face, thinking. They probably wouldn’t reemerge until morning, when the merchant’s house opened, which meant I had a good ten hours to get in and out of Dern without being noticed.

I climbed down to the deck, finding each cold rung with my bare feet. As soon as night fell, I’d slip into the village and get what I needed. Until then,

I would use the time to find out what the Marigold was up to in the hopes I’d end up with something even more powerful than coin. There was no currency more valuable in the Narrows than information.

I followed the steps into the passageway and stopped in front of the door to the cargo hold, sliding the smallest of my iron picks from my belt. The lock sprung easily, and I pushed the door open, ducking low beneath the rafters with the lantern out before me.

Hamish’s words echoed in my mind.

You put one finger on anything that doesn’t belong to you on this ship, and I will know.

I’d have to take my chances.

Only a few beams of waning sunlight cast down from the quarterdeck above, hitting the cases and cylinder drums that lined the walls. The room was full of them, stamped with different seals I recognized, identifying the ports that were scattered along the inlets of the Narrows. From the looks of their inventory, the Marigold did well for themselves. And with only five purses between them, profits had to be good.

What was less clear was how they’d been able to establish trade in this many ports as a new crew, especially a young one. Everyone on the ship couldn’t be much older than me, and although it wasn’t unusual to see young people crewing trading ships, it was strange not to see a single seasoned sailor among them.

Nets and lengths of newly made rope were piled beside sheets of neatly folded canvas and baskets of green tomatoes. But there were always goods on a ship a coin master didn’t want anyone to see. I’d learned that as a child, snooping through the cargo of the Lark.

I turned in a circle, studying the stacks around me carefully. Every ship had its hiding places, and this one was no different.

Except that it was.

Something about the Marigold and its crew was off. I could guess what happened to their dredger, but why were they running only five crew on a ship that really needed twelve? What was West doing at the coral islands and what in Dern had them rattled?

I hung the lantern on the hook and lifted myself up onto my tiptoes, fitting my hands into the grooves of the beams overhead. My fingers followed each one down the length of the hull, moving slowly until they hit the smooth, cool glass of a bottle wedged between the wood. I worked it free and held it to the light, where the amber liquid was turned green by the color of the blue glass. I uncorked it, giving it a sniff.


A sly grin pulled at the cut on my lip before I tipped my head back, taking a long drink. The rye burned in my chest until I coughed, swallowing with my eyes pinched closed. A hundred candlelit memories flashed in my mind as the sharp, sweet scent of the rye exploded in my nose, and I immediately stoppered the bottle, tucking it back into its hiding place, as if the visions might disappear with it.

I jumped down and checked the boards in the walls next, taking the knife from my belt and knocking the ends of each plank until one loosened. It swung up, and I reached inside, my hand finding a cinched linen pouch. The pale yellow gems spilled out into my palm and I tilted my hand toward the hazy light. At first glance, they looked like citrine. But my mother had taught me better than that.

The facets that gathered the faint hue at their crests gave them away— yellow feldspar.

They were good pieces, the light scattering evenly on their faces. It wouldn’t be the only gems they had hidden, but they would be easily missed if I took even one. I needed something else. Something less conspicuous.

I dropped the pouch back into its hiding place and lifted the lids of barrel after barrel until one of them held something that shined in the darkness. Brass buckles. I sighed with relief and shoved two of them into the purse at my belt, securing the lid back down and twisting it closed. The last of the dimming light spilled through the slats from the quarterdeck and my eyes lifted, studying the break in the darkness. On the starboard side, there was no light.

The helmsman’s quarters.

I climbed the crates of cabbage in the corner and reached up, fitting the tip of my knife between the end of one of the slats and the beam. I pulled the handle down carefully, prying up with my weight until the nail popped. Once both ends were free, I lifted the plank and set it on the stack of ropes beside me. Above, the shutters on the windows in West’s quarters were closed.

My knife slid easily beneath the other planks and a few minutes later, I had an opening big enough to fit through. I went back for the lantern before I wedged myself into the narrow opening, my feet dangling over the open hold before I pulled them inside.

A small shadow swung beside my foot as I stood in the middle of the room, and I took a step toward the shuttered window, where a string of adder stones swayed in the bit of wind slipping through the cracks.

I smiled to myself, reaching up to take one of the smooth pebbles between my fingers. In the center, a perfect hole made it look like an eye. Legend said that adder stones brought good luck. They were collected on beaches and strung up as talismans to hide the helmsman from the eye of sea demons. My father had them hanging in the window of his quarters too, but that hadn’t kept the Lark from sinking.

Behind me, West’s desk was bolted to the floor, a pile of unrolled maps and charts covering its surface. I stepped closer so that I could press my hands to the soft, worn parchment. Its curling edges framed in the precise, delicate ink that mapped the islands, coves, and underwater trenches of the Narrows. Depth notations and landmarks and the geometrical web of straight lines filled the margins in slanted, clumsy handwriting and I wondered if it was West’s or Paj’s. I went to the next one, studying. At the top edge, Jeval sat like a buoy in the middle of nowhere.

A shining, brass compass unlike any I’d ever seen sat in the very center. I picked it up, setting it into my hand and examining the strange face in the lantern light so that the needle danced in a wavering line.

A white, rough stone sat beside it, the size of my palm.

But it was the hatch I’d made in the floor that pulled at my attention, appearing in the shadowed corner of my vision. I walked back to the opening, looking down into the cargo hold, where one of the planks I’d

lifted from the floor stared up at me. On one end, black paint was brushed onto the lacquered surface where it had been tucked beneath the rug.

I turned, eyeing the tasseled edge of the ruby wool tapestry beside my feet and sank down, lifting up its corner. My heart plummeted into my stomach as the lamplight flickered over the shape of a black wave. I pulled the rug back farther, gasping as the rest of the symbol came into view. The scuffed outline of a crest was painted onto the floor. But it wasn’t the Marigold’s.

It was Saint’s.

My mind raced, trying to make sense of it. Trying to put the pieces into an order I could understand. But the only explanation was one that couldn’t be true.

This wasn’t West’s ship. It was my father’s. Or it had been at one time. But the crest on the sails and the prow wasn’t his. So, either West was hiding where this ship came from, or he was hiding what it actually was.

A shadow ship.

I’d heard of them before—ships that were controlled by a powerful trading outfit but operated under a different crest to hide their true identity. They carried out tasks that their master didn’t want to be associated with, or worse, manipulated trade at ports to tip the scales in their favor. It was a grave offense against the Trade Council and one that would get a ship’s license permanently revoked. It didn’t surprise me that Saint had a shadow ship. Maybe he had many. But why would he trust a job like that to a bunch of Waterside strays?

That was how they’d gotten their license from the Trade Council—Saint. The sharp clang of a bell made me jolt, and the heavy compass slipped from my cold fingers. I leapt forward, catching it before it slammed onto the floor, almost knocking the lantern from the table. I sucked in a breath,

steadying myself against the desk.

It was the bell that signaled sundown, ringing out over the village as the last of the light disappeared over the horizon.

I replaced the compass in the very center of the desk with trembling hands before I climbed back through the floorboards and secured them back

into place. I couldn’t replace the nails, but so close to the desk and half-tucked beneath the rug, I hoped it would take a while for anyone to notice.

I came back up onto the main deck and looked out over the village. If I remembered where it was, I could make it to the gambit and back in a little more than an hour.

Below, the two men West had paid were on the dock, bent over a game of cards. I lifted myself over the stern of the Marigold, winding my legs into the rope of a fish trap so I could lower myself all the way down without a sound and slip into the still water of the harbor. I filled my lungs with air and sank below the surface, swimming with my hands out before me in the dark, headed for the shore.

I knew that in the Narrows, nothing was what it seemed. Every truth was twisted. Every lie carefully constructed. My instincts had been right about the Marigold. It wasn’t a trading ship, or at least that wasn’t all she was. It was only a matter of time before the crew of Saint’s shadow ship found a rope around their necks. And my only chance at making it to Ceros would be gone.

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