Chapter no 2


There were five rules. Only five.

And I’d been reciting them to my father from the time I was big enough to first climb the masts with my mother. In the dim candlelight of his quarters on the Lark, he’d watch me, one hand on his quill and the other on the green rye glass that sat on his desk.

  1. Keep your knife where you can reach it.

  2. Never, ever owe anyone anything.

  3. Nothing is free.

  4. Always construct a lie from a truth.

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

I’d lived by Saint’s rules every day since he abandoned me on Jeval, and they’d kept me alive. At least he’d left me with that much when he sailed away, not once looking back.

Thunder grumbled overhead as we neared the beach, the sky darkening and the air waking with the whisper of a storm. I studied the horizon, watching the shape of the waves. The Marigold would be on its way, but if the storm was bad, she wouldn’t be at the barrier islands in the morning. And if she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be able to trade.

Koy’s black eyes dropped to the net of abalone in my lap, where the purse of pyre I’d loosed from the reef was hidden inside one of the shells. I wasn’t the stupid girl I’d once been. I’d learned quickly that tying the purse to my tools like the other dredgers did would only invite them to cut it from my belt. And there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I was no physical

match for them, so I’d been hiding gems and coins inside gutted fish and abalone since the last time my haul was stolen from me.

I traced the scar at my wrist with the tip of my finger, following the vein of it like tree roots up my inner forearm to my elbow. For a long time, it was the only thing that kept me alive on the island. Jevalis were nothing if not superstitious, and no one wanted anything to do with the girl who had a mark like this one. Only a few days after Saint left me, an old man named Fret started a rumor on the docks that I’d been cursed by sea demons.

The skiff slowed, and I stood, hopping over the side with the net slung over my shoulder. I could feel Koy’s eyes on me, the deep husk of his whisper at my back as I trudged up out of the shallows. It was every man for himself on Jeval, unless there was something to be gained by scheming. And that’s exactly what Koy was doing—scheming.

I walked along the water’s edge toward the ridge, watching the cliff face for the shadow of anyone following me. The sea turned violet with dusk, and the last gasping glitter of light danced on the surface of the water as the sun disappeared.

My callused fingers found the familiar crevices of the black rock boulder and I climbed, pulling myself up until the spray of seawater crashing on the other side hit my face. The rope I had anchored on the ledge disappeared into the water below.

I took the cracked abalone shell from my net and dropped it into my shirt before I stood, filling my lungs with air. As soon as the water rose with the crash of a wave, I jumped from the ridge into the sea. It was growing darker with every minute, but I took hold of the rope and followed it down into the shadows of the kelp forest, where the towering, ribbonlike strands reached up from the seafloor in thick, wavering threads. From below, their leaves looked like a golden rooftop, casting the water green.

The fish wound through the vines as I swam down and the reef sharks followed them, hunting for their suppers. The cove was one of the only places I’d been allowed to fish because the rough water made it difficult to keep the reed traps the other dredgers used in one piece. But the woven basket trap my father’s navigator had taught me to make could withstand the crush of the waves. I wrapped the thick rope around my fist and yanked,

but it didn’t give, wedged by the push of the current between the rocks below.

My feet came down on top of the basket, and I braced myself against the stone, trying to kick it loose from where it was half-buried in the thick silt. When it didn’t budge, I sank down, hooking my fingers into the woven top and jerked it back until it snapped, sending me into the slab of rough rock behind me.

A perch wriggled through the opening before I could get it closed, and I cursed, the sound of my voice lost in the water as I watched it swim away. Before the other one could escape, I pressed the broken lid to my chest, wrapping one arm tightly around the trap.

The rope led me back up from the seafloor, and I followed it until I reached the jagged overhang that hid in the shadows. I used my chisel to pry loose the stone I’d sealed with kelp, and it fell into my hand, revealing a dug-out hole. Inside, the pyre I’d collected for the last two weeks sparkled like broken glass. It was one of my only hiding places on the island that hadn’t been found. I’d been sinking my fish traps in the little cove for years, and anyone who saw me dive here, saw me come up with my catch. If anyone thought I might be keeping my gems here too, they hadn’t been able to find them.

When the pouch at my belt was filled with pyre, I replaced the stone. The muscles in my legs were already burning, tired from hours of diving, and I used the last bit of my strength to push toward the surface. A wave barreled in as I gulped in the night air, and I kicked myself toward the outcropping before it could suck me back under.

I dragged my weight up with one arm and lay back in the sand, catching my breath. The stars were already winking overhead, but the storm was moving toward Jeval fast, and I could tell by the smell of the wind that it was going to be a long night. The winds would threaten my hovel on the cliffs, but I couldn’t sleep anyway when I had to keep my pyre or coin on me. My camp had been tossed while I slept before, and I couldn’t risk it.

I slipped the wriggling fish into my shirt and swung the broken trap over my shoulder so that it hung against my back. Darkness fell over the trees and I found my way by moonlight, following the trail until it curved toward

the crag and I leaned into the incline as the path grew steep. When the ground abruptly ended at a smooth face of rock, I fit my hands and feet into the holds I’d chiseled and climbed. Once I had my leg over the top, I pulled myself up and looked behind me to the path.

It was empty, the trees swaying gently in the breeze and the light shifting over the cool sand. I ran the rest of the way, until the flat ground dropped off sharply over the beach far below. The bluff overlooked the barrier islands, invisible in the dark, but I could make out the glow of a few lanterns swinging from the masts of ships docked for the night. It was the spot I’d sat every morning, waiting for my father’s ship to return, even though he’d told me he wasn’t coming back.

It took me two years to believe him.

I dropped the trap beside the fire pit, unbuckling my heavy belt. The wind picked up as I wrapped my hands around the thick tree trunk that hung over the cliff and shimmied myself up slowly. The ground dropped out from under me, and I looked down to the shore that lay at least a hundred feet below. The night waves were foaming white on the sand. Most dredgers were too heavy to climb out onto the spindly tree without the branches cracking and sending them to their death. I’d almost fallen myself once or twice.

When I was close enough, I reached up into the hollow at the joint of two swollen branches. My fingers found the purse and I swung my arm back, tossing it to the ground behind me before I climbed back down.

I started my fire and skewered the fish on the spit, settling into a comfortable groove in the rocks that overlooked the path. If anyone came snooping, I’d see them before they saw me. I just needed to make it to morning.

The coins clinked together as I shook the purse, spilling them onto the soft sand. Their faces shined in the moonlight as I counted, setting them in neat stacks before me.

Forty-two coppers. After what I would have to spend on skiffs, I needed another eighteen and I’d have enough to barter with West for passage. I had even set aside a little coin to keep me fed and sheltered until I tracked down Saint. I lay back on the ground and let my legs hang over the edge of the

cliff, staring up at the moon as the fish crackled over the fire. It was a perfect, milk-white crescent hanging above me, and I breathed in the salty, cypress-tinged air that was unique to Jeval.

My first night on the island, I’d slept out on the beach, too afraid to go up into the trees where the tents were pitched around burning fires. I woke to a man tearing open my jacket, searching my pockets for coin. When he didn’t find anything, he dropped me on the cold sand and walked away. It took days for me to figure out that every time I fished in the shallows, someone would be waiting on the beach to take whatever I’d caught from me. I ate kelp for almost a month before I found safe places to forage. After almost a year, I finally had enough coin saved from cleaning other peoples’ catches and selling palm rope to buy the dredging tools off Fret, who was too old to dive anymore.

The waves crashed angrily below as the storm winds blew in, and for just a moment, I wondered if I’d miss it. If there was something on Jeval that had become a part of me. I sat up, looking out over the night-cloaked island, where the tops of the trees moved in the dark like churning water. If it hadn’t been my prison, I might even think it was beautiful. But I had never belonged here.

I could have. I could have made myself one of them, working to build my own small gem trade on the barrier islands like so many others. But if I was a Jevali dredger, then I wasn’t Saint’s daughter. And maybe even that wasn’t true anymore.

I still remembered the hum in the belly of the hull and the creak of the hammock. The smell of my father’s pipe and the sound of boots on the deck. I didn’t belong on the land or on the docks or the cities that lay across the Narrows. The place I belonged was gone.

Miles away, where the moonlight touched the black seam of the horizon, the Lark lay beneath the waters of Tempest Snare. And no matter where I went, I’d never get home. Because home was a ship that was at the bottom of the sea, where my mother’s bones lay sleeping.

You'll Also Like