Chapter no 15


Whatever favor I’d earned from West and his crew was gone.

He and Paj walked ahead of us as we made our way down the dock, where the Marigold was anchored. I looked back to the merchant’s house, and Hamish caught my eyes.

“Turn around. You’ve drawn enough attention,” he said.

“He’s right,” Willa snapped, walking in step with me at my side. The length of her open jacket blew back behind her, and she pulled up the collar against the wind. “Turn around again and I’ll lock you in the cargo hold until we get to Ceros.”

But her steps faltered as she looked past me to the ship anchored at the next dock. A man in a black coat and long, dark hair streaked with silver smiled at Willa from where he leaned against the post.

“West!” he called out, waving a hand in the air.

West stopped short, every hard edge coming into the angles of his body all at once. He stood straighter, and Paj took a step closer to him. “Zola.”

I studied the man, trying to place him. I remembered the name.

“When did you take on a Jevali dredger?” He looked at me, his smile spreading wider.

West stepped off the main dock onto the walkway, and Paj followed, his fingers going to the handle of the knife in his belt.

Zola pulled the scarf from where it was wrapped over his face. His pale skin was reddened and windblown, his eyes a stormy gray. Above him, the faces of a crew peered down from the railing of a large ship. The crest on the bow was painted in white—a crescent moon encircled by three stalks of rye. It was one I recognized.

Zola wasn’t just any trader. When I’d sailed with my father, he was the largest operation in the Narrows. But in those days, he’d worn the trimmed coats and shined boots that marked the traders from the Unnamed Sea. From the look of him now, he’d come down in the world since then.

West held a hand out to him despite the tension in his shoulders pulling beneath his jacket.

Zola stared down at it for a moment before he took it. “Any chance you’ve seen my stryker?”

West cocked his head to the side in a question.

“Come on, West.” Zola’s eyes jumped back to Willa and her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

“Can’t keep track of your own crew?” she spat.

Zola laughed. “I wouldn’t want you Waterside strays to get yourself into more trouble than you can handle.”

“Crane’s probably drunk under someone’s skirts at the tavern.” West lifted his chin toward the village. “Or maybe he’s gotten himself in more trouble than he can handle.”

The smile melted from Zola’s ruddy face, then. He looked at West for a long moment before his eyes cut to me. “You any good? We’re lookin’ for a dredger on the Luna.”

West stepped to the side, blocking Zola’s view of me. “She’s not ours.

She’s a passenger. That’s it.”

Zola didn’t seem satisfied with that answer, his gaze suspicious, but he dropped it anyway. “You’re looking well, Willa.”

A few laughs sounded overhead, and Willa paled beside me.

“Let me know if you see Crane. You know how hard it is to find a decent stryker.” Zola smiled.

West turned on his heel without another word, and Zola’s eyes moved from me to Willa and back again. His stare burned into my back as we walked, making our way down the ship bays to the Marigold. The rope ladder was unrolled down the side of the hull, and West climbed first, followed by Paj. When they disappeared over the railing, I turned back to Willa.

“What happened to your face?” I asked, looking her in the eye.

“What happened to your arm?” she shot back, glowering at me.

My hand went to my sleeve, pulling it down by the cuff. I’d been careful to keep it covered, but she must have seen it.

She stared at me until I took hold of the ladder, fitting my feet onto the ropes. The wind pushed back my hood as I swung over the railing, where West was already waiting, his eyes on the deck. He turned into the archway, clearly expecting me to follow him into the helmsman’s quarters.

When I hesitated, his voice sounded behind the door. “Get in here!”

I hesitated before I pushed it open and stepped inside. The shutters had been unlatched, filling the cabin with light, and he sat on the edge of the desk beside the white stone. “Close the door.”

I obeyed, leaning into it until the latch clicked into place. “What was that?” He leveled his eyes at me.


“With the gems.”

I shrugged. “I was doing you a favor. They were fakes.”

“I don’t need any favors.” He stood, walking toward me. “We don’t get involved in other traders’ business, Fable. Not ever. Right now, that gem dealer is going to whoever sold him those stones. He’ll tell them about the Jevali dredger on my ship that spotted fake emeralds that even he didn’t catch.”

I stared at him, unable to speak as the blood drained from my face. Because he was right. I’d made myself vulnerable without even realizing it. “How did you do it?” He looked down at me. “How did you know they

weren’t emeralds?”

If I told him the answer to that question, I risked him knowing who I was. There were only a handful of people who could do what my mother could do. The art of a gem sage was something you were born to, not just something you apprenticed for. It was a lifelong study, something that couldn’t be taught.

It was the reason Saint had taken my mother onto his crew. The specialized skill was passed through few lineages, kept secret by most sages after the gem trade expanded and it became dangerous to practice. My

mother had been teaching me, the way her father taught her, before she drowned on the Lark.

But something in the way West looked at me made me realize that he knew the answer to his own question.

“You don’t understand how any of this works. Being responsible for you is going to get me killed,” West muttered.

“He doesn’t know what I can do.”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s wondering if you can. That’s enough.” I bristled, embarrassed. “I didn’t think,” I admitted.

“No, you didn’t. Just like you didn’t think when you snuck off the ship after I told you not to.”

“If I hadn’t gone into the village, you wouldn’t have gotten that dagger back.”

Even I knew it was a stupid thing to say. Implying that West had needed me at the gambit shop was only going to make him angry.

I fished three coppers from my belt. “Here.” I dropped them on the desk beside him. “For the jacket and boots.”

He looked down at the coins. “What?” “I’ll pay for them like I paid for passage.”

“You didn’t ask for the boots and jacket. And I’m not asking for you to pay for them.”

“I don’t need any favors,” I repeated his own words back to him. “And I’m not going to owe you anything.”

“Fable…” He sighed, rubbing his hands over his face, but whatever he was going to say, he thought better of it.

Outside, the rumble of thunder echoed in the distance. Through the open window, I could see the dark clouds knitting together against the blue sky.

“We should wait,” I said, my voice dropping lower. “That storm is going to be nasty.”

“We don’t really have a choice, thanks to you. I need to get you off my ship before the rumors start spreading on those docks and catch up to us in Ceros.”

“Like the rumors that followed you here from Sowan? Don’t want anyone paying too close attention, right?” I let my head tip to one side.

“You’re just a small trading outfit.”

That made him look up, his hands tightening on the edge of the desk. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Maybe not.” I shrugged. “Believe me, I want off this ship as badly as you want me off.”

He stood up from the desk, taking a step toward me. “I know who you’re looking for.”

My hands found each other at my back, my fingers tangling. “So?”

“You want to start over in Ceros? Fine. But Saint is dangerous.” His voice softened, his face suddenly looking tired. “Whatever you want from him, you won’t get it.”

I stared up into his face, trying to put together the few pieces of information I had. West was a Waterside stray turned helmsman running a shadow ship for my father. But his loyalty was to himself and his crew if he was running side trade. He wouldn’t risk Saint’s wrath otherwise. And even if it had nothing to do with me, I was still curious. I still wanted to know.

I dragged the toe of my boot over the edge of the rug, rolling it back to reveal Saint’s crest on the floor. “Looks like you got what you wanted from him.”

West stared down at the crest, not a hint of surprise on his face. “How many ships like this one exist?”

He didn’t take his eyes from mine, and a long, uncomfortable silence stretched out between us. The room grew small with it and for a moment, I regretted saying it. I didn’t want West as an enemy. I opened my mouth to speak, but a knock sounded at my back and the door opened.

Hamish’s face poked into the room. “Auster’s back.”

West didn’t look at me before he followed him out. “Make ready!” he called from the archway.

Boots pounded on the deck, and Auster appeared at the railing. Paj dropped from the foot of the sail above us and landed hard, going for the lines.

“Raise anchor!” West’s voice rang out again, and everyone moved together, winding around each other in a memorized pattern.

Willa and Hamish turned the crank on the starboard side, grunting as the anchor lifted up out of the water. Seaweed dangled from its curves, dripping as it lifted, and she climbed up onto the railing and guided it onto the deck. I caught its end as they lowered it into place and fastened the latch without being asked to. If West wasn’t going to let me pay for the jacket and boots, I needed to work them off before we got to Ceros.

“Shove off.” West took the helm into his hands and the ship turned, drifting away from the dock. “Raise the main sail, Willa.”

She climbed the mainmast, reaching up to untie the lines and slid back down as they unrolled. “You sure about that storm, West?” She watched the flicker of lightning flashing behind the distant clouds.

West’s jaw clenched as he looked at his boots, thinking. The wind pushed his sun-bleached hair across his forehead as he lifted a hand into the air, letting the wind blow through his fingers. “You really want to wait?”

She looked over the harbor, her gaze setting on Zola’s ship, the Luna. “No,” she answered.

“Then let’s go.”

I climbed the mainmast as Willa went up the foremast, helping her with the sails, and Hamish finished tying down the second anchor below. I pulled the lines hand over hand, watching the sheets spread against the gray sky. When they were in place, I jumped down to help the others.

West’s eyes were still on the horizon.

He knew how to measure the clouds against the surface of the water and calculate the pull of the wind. Any decent helmsman would. He could see what I saw—that it would blow in fast and dark, churning up the water and forcing the ship closer to shore than it should be. It wouldn’t last long, though. And the Marigold was small. If she was in deep enough water, the southwest winds wouldn’t push her too far.

As soon as I thought it, West tilted the helm, adjusting it just slightly.

Auster climbed down to the dock to release the heaving lines, and as soon as he was on the ladder, we were drifting into the cove. The wind caught the sails, pushing us out quickly, and Paj found a place beside West.

“How long?” I asked, watching the coastline pull away. “Two days,” Paj answered.

I wrapped my arm around the shrouds bolted into the deck and leaned into them, closing my eyes as the wind picked up. When the faint whisper of someone’s eyes brushed my skin, I looked back to the village, where a figure stood at the end of the dock. The length of Zola’s black coat blew around him in the wind, his gaze taut as he watched us sail away.

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