Chapter no 26


“Who saw it?” Paj took the harbor master by the jacket, slamming him into the post in the center of the crowd.

Voices erupted all around us, every eye on the Marigold. “Who?” Paj roared.

The man wrenched free, straightening the collar of his shirt. “I told you, the sun came up and the sails were slashed. No one saw anything.”

If they had, they’d never say it. There was a code in the Narrows among traders that no one ever broke. If you saw something, you kept it to yourself. No one wanted this kind of trouble, and that was what Zola was counting on. If he was reported to the Trade Council, he could lose his license for slashing another ship’s sails. But no one was going to say a word.

The harbor master flung a hand to the two bodies on the ground. “You’d better find that helmsman of yours. I don’t need your coin bad enough to have this mess on my dock.” He turned on his heel, taking off down the walkway, and the crowd slowly dispersed around us.

“Let’s go.” Willa pushed through us, leading the way back to Waterside. We walked in a single line, and Auster and Paj watched the shadows of doorways and windows as we passed.

My heartbeat ticked up in my chest, trying to remember if I’d seen West in the blur of the tavern the night before. I hadn’t. Or maybe I had. I only remembered Willa. Zola. The man in the alley I’d drawn my knife on.

Paj pushed open the door to the tavern, and we went straight up the wooden steps, into the dark hallway. Willa didn’t knock, pushing into the door with her shoulder until the lock busted and it flung open before us.

The room was clean, the gray wool blanket smoothed neatly over the bed. My stomach dropped.

West hadn’t slept here last night.

“Who was the last to see him?” Willa’s voice turned weak. Frailty looked so strange on her. It looked strange on all of them. They were scared. “Think. Who was the last to see him?”

“Last night. He had supper and…” Auster ran a hand through his unraveling dark hair, thinking. “I don’t know if I saw him go up the stairs.”

“He didn’t.” Hamish nodded toward the small table in the corner where an unlit candle still sat in the chamberstick. He’d probably never even stepped foot into the room.

Willa paced before the window, her fingers tapping the buttons on her jacket.

“Hamish, go to Saint. See if he’s heard anything. Maybe he went to the Pinch last night. Paj and Auster, check every tavern between here and each corner of the city. Fable and I will go to the gambit after we talk to the barkeep.”

They were down the stairs a moment later, and as soon as they were out of sight, Willa let out a long breath, the tears welling up in her eyes.

“What are you thinking?” I watched her face carefully. The fury that had been there on the docks was gone now, only the fear left.

“I’m thinking I’ll burn this city to the ground until I find him.”

She pushed past me, and I followed her down the stairs, straight for the counter, where the barkeep was stacking clean green glasses in neat rows. Willa took a bottle of rye from where it sat before him, and he looked up, watching her from the top of his gaze.

“What is it, Willa?”

Every bit of the feebleness she’d had upstairs was instantly gone, replaced by the hard, cold face of a trader. “Did you see West last night?” She uncorked the bottle, taking a long drink.

The barkeep leaned on the counter, looking between the two of us. “No, why?”

“Hear any talk about him?” There was an eerie calm to her voice, the look in her eye almost dead.

“I don’t deal in gossip.” He picked up another glass, ignoring her.

“You do now.” She held the bottle out before her and turned it upside down. The rye spilled out onto the counter, pouring over the edge onto the stools and pooling at our feet.

“What the—” He reached over the counter, but she already had another bottle in hand, dropping it onto the wood floor. It shattered around us, and I knew what she was going to do before she did it. She turned on her heel and walked past him to were three candles were burning inside a glass lantern on the wall. She took it from the hook, holding it before her.

“Willa…” His hands went up before him, his wide eyes trained on the lantern.

It hovered over the puddle of rye at Willa’s feet. We all knew what would happen if she dropped it. The tavern would light up like kindling. It would burn to the ground and spread to every building this one touched so fast that there wouldn’t be a thing anyone could do about it. A fire in a city like this was a guaranteed death for us all.

She’d meant it—burning the city to the ground.

“Did you hear any talk about West last night?” she repeated slowly, the wax from the candle dripping onto the glass casting of the lantern.

“Maybe!” He took a step closer, his hands now shaking. “Maybe a coin master from one of the trading ships.”


“I don’t know. I swear. He only asked if the crew of the Marigold was staying here.”

“And what did you say?” Her head tilted to one side.

“I said you were. That’s all. Nothing else.” He gulped. “I swear, I don’t know anything else.”

“I thought you don’t deal in gossip.” Willa stared into the white-hot flame. “If I don’t find West by sundown, I’m coming back. And before I set this tavern on fire, I’ll stake your body to that counter.”

He nodded frantically, the glisten of sweat beading at his hairline. She was terrifying, her beautiful face marred with the scar of the hot blade. She opened the door of the lantern and blew out the candle before she dropped it on the ground and it broke into pieces, scattering over the floorboards.

“Come on.” She opened the door, filling the tavern with daylight, and we stepped out onto the street.

I followed her back toward the harbor. We slipped into the same alleys that we’d walked only that morning, but this time with quick steps. Our boots splashed in the mud, and we pushed through the bodies crowded between the buildings until the cool scent of the sea found us, cutting the stench of the city. Willa led us away from the docks, where the hovels of Waterside were clumped together in a maze of leaning, rotting structures.

“I thought we were going to the gambit,” I said, trying to keep up.

She didn’t answer, cutting left and right without even looking around her. She knew exactly where she was going.

When she stopped before an empty doorframe, she slid her knife back into her belt, taking a deep breath before she turned to face me. “Can I trust you?”

“Yes,” I said, surprising myself with how quickly I’d answered. I hadn’t even taken a moment to think about it.

“This stays between you and me.” She met my eyes for a moment before she ducked inside. “Only you and me.”

The squalor of the city was even worse in the dark, cramped room. It was bare, with hardly any furniture, and the walls empty. The air was stifled, making it hard to breathe. Only a small wooden chair sat beside the window, where a basin and a small fire bin made up something resembling a kitchen.


I froze, my boot hovering over the next step. “Hmmm?” a high-pitched voice answered.

My eyes adjusted slowly, and the thin, sticklike form of a woman appeared in the shadowed corner. A violet shawl was draped over her bony shoulders, a smear of red painted over her thin lips.

Willa sank down beside her, reaching for her hand, and the woman took it. “Willa.” She smiled, blinking slowly.

I’d seen a hundred women like her on Waterside in my lifetime. Poor, hungry. Selling themselves to traders who were docked for the night and ending up with swollen bellies. That’s why Waterside was full of children.

“Mama, was West here? Last night?” Willa spoke softly.

I looked around the room for any sign of him, my eyes landing on a basket of turnips that sat in the corner beside a jar of pickled fish and an unopened tin of tea. Maybe he’d made Willa’s mother his problem too.

“Mm-hmm.” The woman nodded, but she looked tired. “When? When did he come?”

“Last night. I told you.” She pulled her hand from Willa’s, leaning into the wall and closing her eyes.

Willa stood, her gaze moving back and forth across the floor in thought. “Why would he come here?” I whispered.

Willa’s face reddened, and she turned away from me, pulling a quilt where it hung from a nail in the wall and spreading it over the woman.

“He’s too thin, Willa. He needs to eat,” she mumbled. “I know, Mama.”

“You need to make sure he eats.”

“I will, Mama,” she whispered. “Go to sleep.”

Willa stepped around me, and I stared at the woman for another moment as her face grew heavy. Her small cot was old, the frame barely holding together, and the little shack was empty except for the food.

I followed Willa outside, but she stood in the alley, unmoving. I waited for her to look at me. “What was he doing here?”

She shifted on her feet, her hands sliding into her pockets. “He looks after her.”


“Because no one else will.”

It hit me, then, the look on her face giving her away. “Is he … is West your brother?”

She didn’t blink. She didn’t breathe.

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

“Do the others know?” I whispered.

She dropped her eyes. They’d kept it a secret even from their own crew. “You tell a soul and I’ll kill you,” she said, suddenly desperate. “I won’t

want to, but I will.”

I nodded once. I understood this kind of secret. It was the kind of information that could take everything from you.

Willa stilled, looking over my shoulder, and I turned to see a small, barefoot boy swimming in men’s clothes standing in the path ahead. He wrung his hands nervously as he glanced over his shoulder and looked back to Willa.

As if they’d shared some secret exchange, he suddenly took off, and Willa followed, running after him. We followed the twisting trail, the boy disappearing around turns ahead of us until we came around the corner of a hovel, and he stopped, jumping up onto the edge of a crumbling rooftop, perched like a bird. He pointed to a stack of toppled crates before he lifted himself up and over the wall, and then he was gone.

We stepped into the spot of light that painted the wet ground, and I sucked in a sharp breath as Willa tore through the crates, throwing them to the ground. She froze, sinking down as an open hand fell into the sunlight.


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