Chapter no 16


I could feel the seafloor pull away from us as we made our way into deeper water. A silence had fallen over the Marigold, everyone busy with securing the new inventory from Dern below deck before the winds hit.

Hamish and West worked over ledgers by lantern light while Auster and Paj sorted crates and barrels, organizing what would come off the ship in Ceros and what would be taken on to Sowan.

Willa was perched at the top of the mainmast, leaning back into her sling and keeping an eye on the storm creeping toward us. I climbed the pegs, finding a place to sit in the riggings beside her. My bare feet dangled out in the air, and I watched the lightning in the distance, tangling like tree roots. From that high, it looked like we were sailing through the clouds, the thick mist hugging around the ship and hiding the water.

“Looks like it might be bad,” she said, softly.

But by the look of the sky, we both knew what was coming. It would be violent, but it would be swift. “I think so.”

Willa was quiet for a long time before she spoke again. “Where’d you learn how to do that? With the gems.”

I propped myself against the mast, trying to read her. She looked genuinely curious. “I’m a dredger.”

“I’ve never seen a dredger spot a fake like that.” “I’m just good with gems.” I shrugged.

She laughed, giving up. “I’d keep that to myself if I were you.” I smiled. “That’s what West said.”

“Well, he’s right.” She picked at the rope beneath her with the tip of her finger. “How’d you wind up out there? On Jeval?”

An ache lit in the center of my chest. “What do you mean?” She raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t know. How do any of us end up where we are?”

Another strike of lightning lit the black sky, a little closer this time. “Whatever you had to do to survive,” she spoke quietly, “it will be worse in the Narrows. Harder.”

“I know that.”

“I don’t think you do.” She sighed.

“You think I should have stayed on Jeval.”

“I don’t know. But you’ll find out soon enough.”

A loud knock sounded below, and Willa sat up, hooking an arm into the lines so she could lean forward. West was standing at the base of the mainmast, looking up at her. A long chisel was clutched in his hand and behind him, Paj and Auster were carrying a large crate down from the quarterdeck.

As soon as she saw his face, Willa stood on the boom. “What’s wrong?” she shouted.

But he didn’t answer. He looked at her for another long moment as they set the crate down behind him.

“What is he doing?” I tilted forward, trying to see.

We both watched as he fit the end of the chisel beneath the edge of the lid, prying it up. The wood popped, and Willa pulled the hair back from her face, squinting. West freed the other end, and the chisel hit the deck with a loud ping as he dragged the lid toward him.

Willa gasped, almost losing her balance in the ropes as she pressed a shaking hand to her open mouth.

Below, the crisp, white moonlight fell on the open crate, where a man with wide eyes peered up at us from a bed of muddy straw.

“What the—” I breathed.

But Willa was already sliding down the mast, trying to find the pegs in the dark. I landed on the deck beside her. She was frozen, every muscle tensed, the bright gleam of tears in her eyes.

The man grunted, writhing in the crate before us and pulling at the wires that were wound tightly around his wrists and ankles. His mouth was

stuffed with tarred cloth, muffling the noises trapped in his throat, where Zola’s crest was tattooed into his skin—a crescent moon framed by stalks of rye.

It was the man Zola was looking for. Crane. It had to be.

Willa cried into her fists before she finally looked up at West, her cheeks wet. The others stood silent, as if waiting for her to say something. The sea calmed around us, the quiet that hit right before a storm conjuring an eerie silence as the man looked up to Willa with pleading eyes.

She drew in a deep breath, her hands unclenching before she gave a quick nod, pulling the adze from her belt. Auster and Paj took hold of the lid, securing it back into place and the man’s muted screams disappeared as Willa took a nail from the purse at her belt.

“What are you doing?” I whispered. But I already knew.

She set the nail at the corner, slamming the adze down to drive it into the wood with one hit before she pulled out another. She did the same at each corner, and when she was finished, West, Hamish, Paj, and Auster each picked up a side of the crate, lifting it from the deck like pallbearers.

“No.” My lips formed the word but no sound came. “West, you can’t just…”

He wasn’t listening. None of them were.

The man screamed once more as he was raised up and over the side of the ship. At the same moment, every finger slipped from the crate and they let it go. It fell through the air, splashing into the dark water below, and I ran to the railing, peering over as it sank into the black.

The shaking in my hands crept up my arms, and I wrapped them around me, clutching the fabric of my shirt into my fists. When I turned back to the others, Willa’s fingers were on the burn reaching across her cheek, her stare blank.

I’d guessed that Zola had something to do with the burn on her face. And I knew that every action demanded a reaction in the Narrows. A few times, I’d seen verdicts like this carried out on my father’s ship. Once, I’d crept onto the deck in the dead of night and saw him cut the hand off a thief with the same knife he used to cut his meat at supper. But I had forgotten what it

felt like. I’d forgotten what the sound of a grown man screaming sounded like.

That’s what West had been doing at the merchant’s house. Whoever he’d been talking to was probably delivering on an order to find the man who’d hurt Willa. When he told her that he’d take care of it at the gambit’s, this is what he meant.

She walked across the deck, stopping before West and lifting up onto her toes to kiss him on the cheek as more tears streamed down her face. It wasn’t the kind of kiss that lovers shared, but there were a hundred secrets in the way that they looked at each other. A hundred stories.

His hand went to the back of his shirt and he pulled her dagger free, holding it between them. She wiped her face with the back of her arm before she took it, turning it over in the moonlight so the gems twinkled.

“Thank you,” she said.

They stood in silence as the wind picked back up, and West watched her slide the dagger back into her own belt. I stood at the railing, every bit of warmth draining from my body. Below us, a man was sinking into the deep. But Willa tied the length of her bronze hair back with a strand of leather, as if they hadn’t just committed murder. As if the whisper of death wasn’t still lingering on the ship.

That was the way of life in the Narrows. And for the first time, I thought that maybe Saint had been right.

You weren’t made for this world, Fable.

A roaring wind came over the starboard side, making me shiver, and I looked up to see the lightning was right over us now.

“Secure the decks!” West shouted, climbing the stairs.

And everyone went back to work. Willa climbed up the mainmast, and Paj and Auster scrambled to finish tying down the cargo. I looked for something to do. A task that would pull the vision of the sinking crate from the front of my mind. I flew down the steps in the passageway, closing the trunks in the cabin and checking the doors.

When I came back up the steps, West didn’t look at me, standing there in the flashing light. But he could feel me. It was in the way he turned just slightly away, his eyes on the deck where my feet were planted. Maybe he

was ashamed of what he’d done. Or ashamed of not being ashamed. Maybe he imagined that I thought him a monster. And he would be right.

I looked up into the blinding flash of lightning overhead.

He was. We all were. And now this storm was going to make us pay for


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