Chapter no 20


Dawn broke as we entered the harbor. I stood at the bow as Auster tied off the last bandage, watching the city come closer. For four years, I’d dreamed of the moment I would reach Ceros, and now that it was here, all I could think about was the moment I would see my father’s face. Wondering what he’d say. What he’d do.

The stone buildings crowded into one another, sprawling down the hill that led to the water. The early light reflected off the square window glass as the sun rose behind me, making the city look like it was studded with diamonds. And suspended above it all, an intricate grid of rope bridges hung, already filled with people making their way across the city.

“Keep them clean.” Auster waited for me to nod in answer before he picked up the pail at his feet and climbed the mast.

I looked down at my scraped hands, now wrapped in white linen strips. The fever and the swelling along the cuts on my shoulders had begun to fade and my lip was beginning to heal. In the end, I’d have more than one scar to remember the journey across the Narrows by.

Auster’s shadow danced on the deck as he balanced in the lines with the seabirds overhead, their wings stretched against the wind. He threw a perch into the air and one caught it in its mouth as another landed on his shoulder. I couldn’t help wondering if what my father had always said about the birds was true. If it was, maybe one of them was Crane.

The crew readied the Marigold to dock, and by the look of the other ships in the harbor, I could see that we weren’t the only ones who’d come through the storm. Split masts, torn sails, and scraped hulls marked several other vessels down the line. The dock crews would make good coin for the

next week, their livelihoods often dependent on the faithful storms that plagued the Narrows.

More than half of the ships in the harbor bore Saint’s crest, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Even after losing the Lark, his trade had grown in the years since I last saw him. My mother had always admired that about him, the refusal to be beaten and his hunger for more. There was no telling how many ships were under his command now.

Willa crouched beside the main anchor and I took hold of the line, lifting it as she untied the knot. “What if Zola finds out what happened to Crane?”

“He knows.”

My hand tightened on the rope. It wasn’t only West I was worried about. “What will he do?”

She shrugged. “Zola’s got bigger problems.” “Bigger than one of his crew getting murdered?”

“He got into some trouble with a big gem trader from Bastian who crippled his operation years ago. He can’t so much as swim in the waters of the Unnamed Sea without getting his throat cut, and with Saint taking control of the trade in the Narrows, he’s desperate. That’s why he’s had his eye on us. He can’t expand his trade route, so he needs to stay on top. He knows he can’t touch Saint, but he can keep smaller crews from coming up.”

The trade war between the Unnamed Sea and the Narrows was older than my father. The Narrows had always controlled the production and trade of rye, but Bastian controlled the gems. Both were needed to put coin in the pockets of the guild masters.

It was a world poised on the tip of a knife. “What gem trader?” I asked.

“The only one that matters. The Trade Council has been holding out against giving Holland license to trade in the Narrows, but it’s only a matter of time. There will be nowhere for Zola to hide then.”

Holland had been legend long before I was born. She was the head of a Bastian empire that ruled the gem trade, and Saint’s operation was a drop in the bucket compared to the power she held over the guilds. If the Trade

Council ever gave her license to trade in our ports, it would wipe out every Narrows-based operation, including my father’s.

Below, fishermen were already bringing in their first catches, and the smell of seaweed was thick in the air. Auster and Willa threw the heaving lines to the men on the dock, and they pulled us in slowly as the harbor master walked toward us, a stack of parchment under his arm.

Marigold!” he shouted, stopping at the end of the platform. “Get West, will you?” Willa said, going for the anchor’s crank.

I looked over her shoulder to the closed door of the helmsman’s quarters. West and Hamish had been out of sight since before dawn, and I wondered if they were getting the ledgers in order for Saint. The hit on their books from the storm would come with consequences, and my father wasn’t an understanding man.

I knocked on the door and stepped back, pulling in a deep breath to put together some sort of goodbye. There’d be no more early mornings on the cliffs of Jeval, watching for the Marigold’s sails on the horizon. No more ferries on Speck’s boat with pyre heavy on my belt, and never again would I see West waiting at the end of the dock for me. My stomach wavered, making me feel sick. I didn’t like the idea of never seeing him again. And I didn’t like that I felt that way.

Footsteps sounded before the door creaked, but it was Hamish who appeared when it opened. Behind him, stacks of copper were spread over the desk, the maps rolled up tight.

“What is it?” West’s voice sounded behind me, and I turned to see him standing beneath the archway.

“Oh, I thought you were…” I looked behind him into the dark passage that led below deck. “The harbor master’s asking for you.”

He nodded, coming up the last step, and I realized he was holding my belt and jacket. He pushed them into my arms as he moved past me.

I looked down at the stitched leather of the shoulder seams, biting down on my bottom lip. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he wanted me off the ship as soon as we pulled into port. I wished it didn’t sting, but it did. I was standing in the breezeway with my heart in my throat, trying to figure out how to say goodbye, and West couldn’t wait to be rid of me.

I slipped the belt around my waist and fastened it, the red blooming beneath my skin. My hand found the post of the archway, and I ran my fingers up the oiled wood one more time, looking out over the ship. Even bruised from the storm, the Marigold was still beautiful. And in a way, I would miss her.

Men called out below as Hamish unrolled the ladder. He reached into his jacket and handed me a folded parchment. “A map. It’s a big city.”

“Thank you.” I took it, smiling at the rare kindness.

“Be careful out there.” Willa perched her hands on her hips. The sun caught the burn on her face, making it look bloodred, but the skin was healing. And now that Crane was at the bottom of the sea, I wondered if the part that couldn’t be seen would begin to mend too.

“I will.”

Her mouth twisted up. “Somehow, I don’t believe you.”

Paj offered me his hand, and I took it. He squeezed once. “Good luck, dredger.”


Behind him, Auster gave me one of his easy smiles.

“Fable.” West walked across the deck, the wind pulling his shirt around the shape of him as he stopped before me.

“Thank you,” I said, holding a hand out between us. Whatever his reasons, he’d taken a risk in letting me come onto the Marigold. If I was never going to see him again, I wanted him to know that I understood that much.

He didn’t take it. He shifted on his feet before me, his gaze trailing everywhere except my face. “Keep the jacket buttoned up and keep your knife where you can reach it. Don’t trade your tools, not even to eat. And don’t sleep on the street.” He lifted my hood into place as I pulled the jacket closed and fastened the buttons up to my neck. “Don’t draw attention to yourself. It’s better to be no one than to be someone in this city.”

He thought better of whatever else he was going to say, closing his mouth and swallowing hard. I lifted my hand again, waiting for him to take it, and this time, he did. His fingers wrapped around my wrist and mine

around his as I looked up into his face. “Thank you, West.” My voice was small.

He didn’t move. It looked as if he wasn’t even breathing. I tried to let go, but his grip tightened, holding me in place. The pulse at my wrist quickened as he pulled my hand toward him and the scar carved into my forearm peeked out from beneath my sleeve.

“I mean it, Fable,” he breathed. “Be careful.”

His fingers unwound from my arm, and I stepped back to put more space between us, my heart pounding in my chest. I dropped my eyes to the deck and lifted myself over the rail, onto the rungs. He watched me climb down, the ladder swinging, and as soon as my boots landed on the crowded dock, something crashed into my side. I flew forward, catching myself on the hull of the ship with my hands to keep from falling into the water.

“Watch it!” A broad-shouldered man barreled past me with a crate of fish on his shoulder, not even looking back.

I pushed into the crowd, pulling the sleeve of my jacket down to be sure my arm was covered. The docks were alive with the business of the port, at least six times the size of Dern’s harbor. I wove in and out of the pockets of people, and when I reached the main walkway that led up into the city, I looked back one last time to the Marigold. She sat in one of the last bays, her warm golden wood the color of honey. On the quarterdeck, West stood with his arms crossed, looking out at me.

I met his eyes one last time, hoping that even if I hadn’t said it, he knew. I did owe him. I owed him everything.

He watched me for another moment before he finally turned, disappearing from the deck of the ship, and I breathed past the sting in my eyes.

I walked into the river of hucksters, swirling around one another up the ramp that led into Ceros’s Waterside. Crews that had just docked were already on their way up the hill where temporary companions and bottles of rye awaited them in the city’s taverns.

Saint’s outpost was nestled in the Pinch, a pitiful hollow where no respectable person lived or did business. Most everyone who did call it home survived off his patronage, which meant Saint collected a lot of

favors. It was one of the reasons he’d been able to build all he had. He knew how to make people depend on him.

Another shoulder shoved into me, throwing me back, and I hit a post, stumbling. But the thought hissed like a faint whisper, my eyes following the polished boots beneath the length of a sapphire blue coat.

I looked up and the chaos of the dock halted, everything slowing with the stalled beat of my heart. The breath burned in my chest, my mind racing through a flood of memories that rushed in, drowning me.

The man looked over his shoulder as he passed me, the set of his angled jaw tight.

It was him. It was Saint.

The trader who’d built an empire. The father who’d left me behind. The man who’d loved my mother with the fury of a thousand merciless storms.

He blinked, his eyes sparkling beneath his hat for just a moment before his gaze fell back to the dock.

And as if I’d only imagined it, he kept walking.

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