Chapter no 12


I wove through the crowded street, headed for the bell tower that stood in the center of Dern. On Jeval, there had been little to frame the expanse of sky before it dove into the sea. Here, it was hedged in by the wayward patterns of crude, slanted rooftops, making me feel like I could disappear.

On Jeval, there had been nowhere to hide.

I kept a careful watch around me, turning to scan my surroundings every eight to ten steps to keep track of my path. I remembered more of the village than I thought I would, because not much had changed in the years since I’d last walked its streets. The shapes and the sounds came back to me in another rush of memories. But the last time I was in Dern, I was holding the hand of my father’s navigator, Clove. I’d followed after him in the dark with quick, splashing footsteps as he pulled me through the crowds to the shop of the gambit. But I wasn’t the sweet little girl who’d once ridden through these streets perched on his shoulders. I’d been whittled into something else now.

The smolder of a pipe illuminated in the dark alley, and a woman watched me through a puff of white mullein smoke. I was already drawing more attention than I wanted to.

I took a sharp turn, noting the red rooftop at the northeast corner to mark where I was. Boots clapping on wet stone sounded behind me, and I pressed myself into the shadow that draped the stone wall with my hand wound tight in my wet braid until they were gone. Most people were headed home with market carts in tow, making their way out of the congested part of the village. But a few were headed up the hill, toward the tavern, and the

thought made me nervous. If there weren’t any rooms at the inn, the crew might return to the Marigold.

The gambit’s shop appeared at the end of the next alley, lit by only one dim street lamp. It was no more than a bricked lean-to beside the smooth wall of a windowless building, but it looked exactly the same as I remembered it, down to the framed-out window with one cracked pane. Five uneven steps led up to the green door, where a sign was painted in a chipped, fading blue.


I stopped, listening for a moment before I stepped one muddy foot into the slice of moonlight that lit the cobblestones. The door swung open, and two women burst forth, laughing as they stumbled down the stairs. I shot back, trying to fit every bit of me into the darkness. They walked right past me without even looking up, and it was only after they were turning the corner that I saw the glitz of something shine around one of their wrists. It glinted like a little flame below the sleeve of her cloak.

If there was a stroke of luck to be had in this village, I’d just found it.

I started down the wall in the opposite direction, picking up my pace to head them off, and when I reached the next alley, I waited, watching for their shadows on the ground with my breath held in my chest. A simple grab, that’s all I needed, but it had been a long time since I’d done one and even longer since my late-night lessons with Clove.

Don’t hesitate, Fay. Not even for one second.

I could almost hear his rough, thundering voice. I had thought my father would be angry when he found out that Clove was teaching me to pickpocket, but I found out later that Saint was the one who’d asked him to do it. It was my mother who’d disapproved.

As soon as I could hear voices, I stepped out into the path, my eyes up on the rooftops, and I faltered backward, slamming into one of the women and knocking her sideways.

“Oh!” I caught her by the arms before she fell into the mud, and she looked up at me with wide eyes. “Please, let me help you.”

She steadied herself against me as I clumsily slipped the bracelet from her small wrist, and I bit down hard on my lip. It was a skill that needed

practice, but I’d never had the guts to pickpocket on Jeval. Not when it could get me tied to the reef and left for dead. I looked up, sure that the woman had noticed the feel of my fingers at the clasp, but as soon as her eyes focused on me, she recoiled, her hands balling into fists at her chest and her mouth gaping open. “Don’t touch me!”

It took a moment for me to understand. I studied her face and looked down to my bare feet and ragged clothing. Both gave me away as a Jevali dredger, even if I wasn’t one by blood, and my busted lip told anyone who looked at me that I’d seen trouble in only the last few days.

The other woman wrapped one arm protectively around her, leading her away with a scowl on her face, and I bowed my head in an apology.

As soon as they were out of sight, I exhaled, trying to slow my erratic pulse. The gold bracelet shined as I turned it over in the light. It was maybe the only time looking like a Jevali would serve me well.

Another shadow moved in front of the window of the gambit’s shop before the door latch pinged, and I stilled when a figure appeared in the center of the alley. The light from the shop fell on a lock of golden hair peeking out from under a cap, and I sucked in another breath, my fingers closing over the bracelet.

West. He stood in the middle of the alley, his eyes on the closed door of the gambit’s shop. I slid myself down the wall and tucked myself behind the corner, my heart slamming in my chest again.

Before I could even turn to run, the shop door was swinging open and Willa came down the steps, stopping short when she saw him. His face was only half-painted in light, and he slid his hands into his pockets as the door closed behind her.

“How much?” His deep, even voice was sharp enough to cut through bone.

Willa smoothed the look of surprise on her face, coming down the steps to push past him, but he stepped in front of her.

“How much?” he said again.

I slunk back farther, watching them.

Willa turned to face him, squaring her shoulders to his though she was half his size. The lantern light deepened the color of her skin to a dark

umber, making her bronze hair almost glow. “Stay out of it, West.”

He took the few steps between them and reached for her wrist, unwinding her arms and turning her around. She yelped as he lifted the hem of her shirt, checking her belt, and he stilled. The jewel-rimmed dagger she carried at her back was missing.

He pulled his knife from his own belt and started for the steps of the gambit, but she lunged forward, hooking her hands into his arm and pulling him back. “West, don’t,” she rasped, her eyes pleading. “Please, don’t.”

The knife was clutched so tightly in his hand that the light bounced off the blade as it shook. “How much did he give you for the dagger?”

“Twenty coppers.” Her voice was suddenly missing the anger I’d heard in her words only moments before. She sounded like a child.

West raked a hand over his face, sighing. “If you need something, you ask me, Willa.”

Her eyes were shining as she looked up at him, and even in the dark, I could see West’s jaw clenched tight. It suddenly dawned on me that there must be something between them. They didn’t spend much time together on the ship, but I could see its shadow in the way they looked at each other now. They were more than shipmates, and the realization made me bite the inside of my cheek. I was almost … angry, but the feeling was immediately replaced by humiliation. I didn’t like that I cared one way or the other.

“I owe you enough,” she whispered. Her cheek shined with a rolling tear and she reached up to wipe it away, careful to avoid the burn that was branded on her skin.

“I told you I’d take care of it.”

She stared at the muddy ground between them, her chin dipping down as if she was trying to breathe through the tears.

“When are you going to start trusting me, Willa?”

Her eyes snapped up then, filled with fire. “When you stop treating me like the Waterside stray you used to steal food for.”

He stepped back, as if the distance would ease the weight of her words. But it didn’t. They hung between them like the stench of a rotting corpse. Something never forgotten.

So Willa was telling the truth when she said they were Waterside strays.

And she and West had known each other long before the Marigold.

“I’m sorry.” She sighed, softening. Her hand reached out for him, but he stepped to the side, making way for her as he slid his knife back into his belt.

She looked at him for a long moment before she started back down the alleyway. It wasn’t until she was out of sight that West turned again, and when his eyes lifted, I froze. He was looking right at me, his gaze like a focused ray of light, illuminating my hiding place.

I looked over my shoulder, but there was nothing. I was completely swallowed by the dark.

“Get out here.” He spoke so low that I could barely hear him over the sounds of the soft thunder above us. “Now.”

I hesitated before stepping out from the shadow and onto the cobblestone path. A cold drop of rain hit my cheek as his eyes ran over me slowly, the tension still wound tight around the set of his shoulders.

“What are you doing out here?”

“I told you”—I met his gaze—“I didn’t pay for a prison cell. I paid for passage.”

His gaze raked over me until it stopped on my hand. The gold bracelet was tangled in my fingers, sparkling in the lamplight. “You know what would happen if a passenger I brought to this village was caught stealing?”

I did know. He’d be fined for it. His license to trade in Dern’s merchant house could even get docked, depending on the number of black marks on his record. As helmsman, he was responsible for every soul that he brought into port.

I glared at him, dropping the bracelet into my pocket. “I gave you all my copper. I can’t go into Ceros with nothing.”

West shrugged. “Then you can spend the next six months here in Dern, scraping together the coin you’ll need to pay another trader to take you on.”

My eyes widened. He was serious.

“You’ve lost your passage on the Marigold,” he said, his eyes falling to my dirty feet. “Unless you want to make a new deal.”

“What?” I hardly recognized the sound of my own voice, pulled thin by the silence.

“Passage to Ceros and thirty coppers.”

“Thirty coppers?” My eyes narrowed in suspicion. “For what?”

For just a moment, a look lit in his eyes that I had never seen on him before. The hint of some frailty beneath all of that hard-edged stone. But it disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced.

“I need a favor.”

You'll Also Like