Chapter no 18


She’s saying something.

I didn’t open my eyes until the first slice of sunlight cut through the darkness, casting down to the green water trapped in the cabin. The storm had barreled over the Marigold quickly, but it had taken hours for the winds to stop tossing the ship. We hadn’t capsized and hadn’t run aground, and that was really all any crew could ask for.

Hoarse voices sounded outside, but I stayed curled up in the dark for another few minutes. The water sloshed around me, carrying the contents of the toppled trunks like little boats around the cabin. A small box of mullein, a quill, a corked empty rye bottle. It would take days to get all this water from the hull and the sour smell would only get worse.

Sailing the Narrows meant braving the storms. Once, I asked Saint if he was ever scared when the dark clouds came for the Lark. He was a big man, towering over me from where he stood at the helm. When he looked down at me, his face was shrouded in the white smoke from his pipe.

I’ve seen worse things than a storm, Fay, he’d answered.

The Lark was the only home I’d ever known before Jeval, but in the years before I was born, Saint had lost four other ships to the sea demons’ wrath. As a child, the thought made tears well up in my eyes, imagining those beautiful, grand ships trapped in the cold deep. The first time I ever saw one for myself was diving in Tempest Snare with my mother, where the Lark now slept.

I pulled myself to my feet slowly, every muscle and bone sore from being thrown from the lines. Dried blood crusted my hands, my palms stinging where the skin had torn against the ropes, and I hit the hatch with

my fist. The light touched my face as it lifted above me. Hamish crouched over the top step, and my eyes adjusted to the brightness slowly. The sandy hair that was usually combed back was stuck to his forehead, his spectacles fogged. Behind him, the heat of late morning was making the moisture on the deck steam like a pot of water.

Paj tipped his chin up at me, smirking. “Looks like our bad luck charm survived.”

I came up the steps, my boots heavy with water. All around us, the sea was calm, smoothed out in a clear, deep blue.

West stood portside, a length of rope belayed across his back. A deep gash was cut into the thick muscle of his forearm, and another grazed across his temple. The blood was dried in trailing lines down the side of his face.

I peered over the side of the ship to see Willa sitting back in her sling, biting down on the blade of a knife with her teeth. She propped her feet on the hull, working on the breach where the iron clasps that held the bowanchor had been. The rings had ripped through the wood in the force of the waves.

She pulled the adze from her belt and pounded a cone of raw wood into each hole. It would stop water from filling the hull until we got to Ceros, but there would be more work to do while it was docked.

Auster was suspended beside her, pulling at the rope that secured the loose anchor, but it wasn’t moving. Paj watched him over the railing with his jaw clenched, and I remembered the way he’d jumped into the black water. How he’d held Auster in his arms, his face twisted as he cried into Auster’s hair. I’d been right about the two of them. It had been clear as glass in the moment they landed on the deck.

Paj loved Auster, and from the look on his face as he peered up at him, Auster loved Paj.

Never, under any circumstances, reveal who or what matters to you.

It was the reason Saint had made me promise to never tell a soul that I was his daughter.

I looked up to a flap of the topsail dangling from the foremast, where the wind had ripped it through. In the breezeway, the riggings that kept supplies

in place had also broken free. The Marigold would be anchored at least a week for these repairs.

Auster climbed the rope ladder and jumped back onto the deck, dripping seawater. “Must be a reef. I can’t see down that far.”

West was studying the surface below. “How deep?” “Two hundred feet maybe? I’m not sure.”

I took hold of the rope and gave it a tug. “I can get it.” But West kept his back to me. “No.”

“Why not? It’s only two hundred feet.”

“It’s the least she could do.” Auster glared at me, but humor illuminated his steely eyes. “Bad luck and all.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We took a vote this morning.” Willa squinted against the sunlight. A patch of red bloomed beneath the tawny skin of her cheek, where she’d likely been hit by the railing or sliding cargo. “It’s unanimous. You’re bad luck, dredger.”

I laughed, letting go of the rope. “Can we hold a new vote if I free the anchor?”

West’s eyes went to my bloodied hands. “We’ll wait for low tide. It’ll free itself when the ship lowers.”

Below, Willa looked up at him before she shot her eyes to me. “We’re already behind schedule.”

West leaned out, inspecting her work. “How long?” “Not long.”

“And the sail?”

“I’ll take care of it.” Paj pushed off the side, heading below deck.

I followed after him, snatching a lantern from the archway and striking the flame as I went down the stairs. I got down onto my knees in the cabin, searching with my hands in the water until I found it—my belt. There was no reason not to let me dive, just like there was no reason to make me stay on the ship in Dern or go below deck in the storm. But if I freed the anchor, we could call whatever West had done for me square. There’d be no debt, and I’d have the crew as witnesses.

I could only find three of my tools, but I guessed it was enough for whatever was keeping the anchor lodged. I fastened the belt around my hips and tightened the buckle, coming back up the steps. West was on the quarterdeck, helping Hamish secure the last of the crates.

I kicked off my boots and looked into the water, where the rope disappeared beside the hull.

“What are you doing?” Auster leaned into the railing beside me.

“I’ll pull when it’s free,” I said lowly, stepping up. “Then you can bring it up.”

Auster looked at me from the corner of his eye before he nodded discreetly. I climbed to the outside of the boat and stood, balancing on the rail.

“Fable,” Hamish warned from the quarterdeck. A smirk pulled at Willa’s mouth.

West turned, looking over his shoulder, and I met his eyes just as I let go. The sight of him disappeared as I fell, plunging into the water feetfirst. My body sank, and I let the cold wrap around me, the salt stinging my eyes.

I broke the surface to the sound of West’s rough voice. “Fable!”

I ignored him, turning away from the boat and pulling the air deep into my belly until it filled me up to my throat. I let it out in a long, measured exhale as West shouted again. “Fable!”

Two more breaths, and I dove. The cloudy blue stretched out in every direction, the sediment still settling from the churn of the storm. I kept one finger on the rope to follow it into the void, and the current pushed my hair back as I descended. I smiled, looking around me to the vast emptiness. I’d dove almost every day since I was a child. The water was more of a home than Jeval ever was.

The truth was, I liked being a dredger. In fact, I loved it.

I followed a group of parrotfish down, their violet edges rippling as they twisted and turned. The pressure pushed in around me, and I let out a stream of air as the shoal came into view below. The black rock stretched out across the white-sand seafloor in a wandering fissure. My feet landed on the ridge lightly, where the anchor was caught beneath the shelf. Far above me, the Marigold was no more than a dark spot on the surface.

I braced myself on the rock, my palms stinging, and kicked at the anchor with my heel. When it didn’t free, I pulled the chisel and mallet from my belt and got to work on the edge, crumbling the rock with every tap. Little black pieces sank to the seafloor, a dusty cloud coming up around me, and when I had a large enough crack, I set my feet on the ridge and pushed against the rope as hard as I could. The burn for air awoke softly in my chest, my fingers tingling.

It groaned before the rock gave way and the anchor snapped up, loosening the tension of the rope. I pulled in sharp jerks until the line began to move, fitting my feet onto the arms of the anchor and watching the glittering light above grow and stretch as I slowly came closer. Fish swarmed beneath the Marigold, twisted in the ribbons of seaweed trailing from the barnacles and mussels that covered the hull. I let the last of my air out just before I reached the surface and filled my lungs again with a gasp as I came up. West was still leaning over the side, his lips pressed into a hard line. As soon as he saw me, he disappeared.

Auster and Paj worked the crank, lifting the anchor up out of the water, and I reached for the ladder as they heaved it onto the deck. Willa was finishing the plug in the hull with a layer of tar, and she smiled to herself, shaking her head.

“What?” I stopped on the ladder beside her, catching my breath.

“I can’t decide if I like you or if I think you’re stupid.” She laughed.

I smiled, climbing up until I was over the rail and my feet hit the hot deck.

West was already climbing up the mainmast, that same tension running up his spine that was always there when he was angry. He wasn’t used to being disobeyed, and I wasn’t used to being told what to do.

He fit his hands and feet onto the iron rungs until he was balancing against the foot of the sail. His hands worked at the ropes, his knife in his teeth and his hair blowing across his face.

He was right—the sooner I was off this ship, the better. But I was going to walk off the Marigold not owing anything.

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