Chapter no 3


I stood on the cliff as the sun came up, watching the Marigold down on the water. They’d arrived in the dark hours, despite the raging storm that had barreled in from the Unnamed Sea. I’d stayed awake all night, staring into the fire until the rain put out the flames, and my entire body ached with the need to sleep after three straight days of diving.

But West didn’t like to be kept waiting.

There were already hordes of dredgers waiting at the water’s edge when I made it to the beach. I’d been smart enough to pay Speck a month in advance for a spot on his skiff. He was lying on the sand with his hands folded behind his head, his hat set over his face. If you had a boat on Jeval, you didn’t need to dive or trade because every dredger on the island needed you. Having a skiff was like having a pot of copper that never ran empty, and no one was more undeserving of luck like that than Speck.

When he saw me coming, he jumped up, smiling with a wide, rotten-toothed grin. “Mornin’, Fay!”

I tipped my chin up at him, throwing my satchel into the skiff before lifting myself over the side. No one bothered to make room for me to sit, so I stood at the prow with one arm hooked around the mast and my hand closed over the purse of pyre inside my shirt. Koy’s boat was already disappearing around the barrier islands ahead, packed full of so many bodies that legs and feet were dragging in the water on both sides.

“Fable.” Speck gave me a pleading smile, and I glared at him when I realized what he was waiting for.

I worked the sail free, letting it unroll as he pushed us off. The dredgers asked things of me they’d never ask of one another. I was expected to just

be grateful they hadn’t drowned me as a scrawny child in the shallows, but the truth was, they’d never done me any favors. Never fed me when I begged for scraps or offered me a place to take cover during a storm. Every bite of food or piece of pyre, I’d worked for or nearly died getting. Still, I was supposed to be beholden to them that I was still breathing.

The wind picked up and we cut through the smooth morning water like a hot knife through tallow. I didn’t like how calm it looked, the way the surface gleamed like newly fired glass. It was unnerving to see the sea asleep when I’d seen how bloodthirsty she could be.

“Word has it you’ve found a new pyre cache, Fay,” Speck croaked, handing off the tiller and coming to stand beside me at the mast.

His breath stunk of home-brewed rye, and I turned my face into the wind, ignoring him. When I felt the others looking at me, my fist tightened around my purse.

Speck’s hand went up into the air between us, his palm splayed flat before me. “I dinna mean nothin’ by it.”

“Sure,” I muttered.

He leaned in a little closer, his voice lowering. “But there been talk, ya know.”

My eyes cut over to meet his, and I studied him, trying to see what lay beneath the words. “What talk?”

He glanced back over his shoulder, and his silver braid of hair pulled from where it was tucked into his shirt. “There been talk about where you been keepin’ all that copper.”

The dredger sitting to my right shifted, his ear turning up to listen.

“If I were you, I’d stay out of that talk, Speck.” I let my shoulders fall back, leaning into the mast. The key to dealing with the dredgers was to act as if you weren’t scared, even when you were so terrified you had to swallow to keep the vomit down. Speck was harmless, but he was one of only a few on the island I didn’t worry about.

He quickly nodded. “A ’course I do. Jus’ thought you should know.” “Just thought you’d get another copper from me, you mean,” I snapped.

Another smile broke on his face before he ducked his head and shrugged.

“You already overcharge me. I’m not paying you for gossip, too.”

I gave him my back, letting him know I was done talking about it. I had at least three weeks before I’d have enough copper to barter for passage, but if the dredgers really were talking, I wouldn’t make it that long.

Speck fell silent, leaving only the sound of the hull carving through the water and the whistle of the wind. The ribbed white sails of the Marigold came into view as we rounded the corner of the barrier islands, anchored beyond the outcropping of the farthest rise, and Speck gently slowed the skiff. I could see the square set of West’s shoulders at the other end of the docks as he looked out over the water, a black silhouette before the rising sun.

I put one hand up into the air, spreading my fingers against the wind, and as soon as he saw it, he disappeared into the crowd.

Speck loosed the sail as we approached the dock, and before he could ask, I gathered the coiled rope in my arms and threw the lines out. The loop caught the post at the corner of the dock, and I hopped up from the deck onto the side, leaning back with my heels on the edge and pulling us in, one hand over the other. The wet ropes creaked as they stretched, and the hollow knock of the scull against the boat made Fret look up from where he was perched on his stool.

A reed-woven crate sat between his feet, filled with rare shells he’d foraged in the shallows. He’d lost his ability to dredge long ago, but he still traded every week at the barrier islands, selling things that no one else could ever seem to find. He was the first to say I’d been marked by sea demons, and he’d sold me his dredger’s belt, forcing me to break my father’s rules. Because as long as I lived, I’d owe him my life for both.

“Fable.” He gave me a tilted smile as I climbed onto the dock.

“Hey, Fret.” I touched his bony shoulder as I passed, looking over him to where West waited before the Marigold in the distance.

Dredgers were gathered along the narrow wooden walkway in the pale morning light, bartering with traders and fighting over coppers. Jeval was known for the pyre in its reefs, and even though it wasn’t among the most valuable gemstones, Jeval was one of the only places you could find it.

And it wasn’t just pyre the traders came for. Jeval was the only bit of land between the Narrows and the Unnamed Sea, and many ships stopped in for simple supplies in the middle of their voyages. Jevalis carried baskets of chicken eggs, lines of fish, and reams of rope up and down the dock, calling out to the crews that watched over the railings of their ships.

Shouting erupted ahead as I shouldered through a tightly packed group of men, and I ducked to the side when someone threw a punch. A fight broke out, shoving me to the edge of the dock, and an open barrel of mullein leaves rolled into the water, almost taking me with it. Two men jumped in after it, and I waited for the fighting dredgers to be pulled apart before I made my way past them.

As if he could feel me coming, West turned just as I pushed through the edge of the crowd. His waving, sun-bleached hair was pulled behind one ear, his arms crossed over his chest as he looked down at me with pale green eyes.

“You’re late.” He watched me pull my shirt free from where it was tucked into my belt and untie the purse. I glanced behind him to the horizon, where the bottom tip of the sun was already hovering above the water.

“By minutes,” I muttered.

He stepped forward as I emptied the purse and six bulbous, white-crusted lumps of pyre rolled into my open hand.

He plucked the eyeglass from my belt and fit it to his eye before he leaned in, picking the pieces up carefully and holding them toward the sunrise so the light showed through the red gemstones. They weren’t cleaned of the outer rock, but they were good pieces. Better than anything else the dredgers behind me were hocking.

“Looks like you hit that storm.” I eyed the fresh tar drying on the hull of the Marigold, where a small crack marked the wood beneath the railing on the starboard side.

He didn’t answer, turning the pieces over to check them again.

But that wasn’t the only part of the ship that had taken a beating. High up on the mainmast, a girl sat back into a sling, repairing the leather straps that tied up the sails.

As a child, I’d lay flat on the main deck, watching my mother up in the masts of the Lark, a dark red braid swinging down her back like a snake and her sun-browned skin dark against the crisp white canvas. I blinked to clear the memory from my vision before the pain awoke in my chest.

“You’ve had a lot more to trade lately.” West let the eyeglass drop into his hand.

“Lucky streak.” I hooked my thumbs into my belt, waiting.

He reached up, scratching the blond scruff at his jaw like he always did when he was thinking. “Luck usually brings trouble.” When he finally looked up, his eyes narrowed on me. “Six coppers.” He reached for the purse at his belt.

“Six?” I raised an eyebrow at him, pointing at the largest piece of pyre in his hand. “That one’s worth three coppers, easy.”

His gaze travelled over my head, back to the dock of dredgers and traders behind me. “I wouldn’t take more than six coppers back to the island with you.” He fished the coins from his purse. “I’ll give you the rest next time.”

My teeth clenched, my fists tightening at my sides. Acting like he was doing me a favor by only partially paying me in trade made my blood boil under my skin. That wasn’t how this world worked.

“I can take care of myself. Ten coppers or you can find someone else to trade with.” I snatched my eyeglass from his fingers and held my other hand open in front of me. He’d give me the coppers because he didn’t buy pyre from anyone else on Jeval. Only me. For two years, he hadn’t bought a single piece from another dredger.

His jaw worked as his hand closed over the stones and his knuckles turned white. He muttered something I couldn’t hear as he reached into the pocket of his vest. “You should trade less at once.” His voice dropped low as he counted the coppers out.

He was right. I knew that. But it was more dangerous to have a stash of both pyre and copper on the island. Coins were smaller, easier to hide, and I’d rather have only one thing that others wanted. “I know what I’m doing,” I said, trying to sound as if it were true.

“If you’re not here next time, I’ll know why.” He waited for me to look up at him. The long days on the deck of the ship had painted his skin the deepest olive, making his eyes look like the jadeite my mother used to have me polish after her dives.

He dropped the coins into my hand, and I turned on my heel, shoving them into my purse before I tucked it back into my shirt. I pressed into the mob of Jevalis, swallowed up by the stinking bodies, and a lump tightened in my throat. The weight of the coppers in my purse made me uneasy, West’s words sinking like a heavy stone in the back of my mind. Maybe he was right. Maybe …

I turned back, rising up onto my toes to see over the shoulders of the dredgers between me and the Marigold. But West was already gone.

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