Chapter no 6


Lightning illuminated the clouds above the Marigold, splintering into a spiderweb of light. The edge of the storm reached the barrier islands in the dark, a cold mist blowing in with the wind. The ship rocked against it, the lantern swinging in the girl’s fist as she held it up before her.

“Last I checked, we voted as a crew.” Her gaze dragged from my head to my bare feet.

West ignored her, tossing my purse into the air, and a young man with spectacles caught it in both hands behind him. The lantern light reflected off the wide, round lenses as he looked up at me.

“I’m with Willa.” Another man with dark hair pulled back from his face stepped forward. “I didn’t hear you ask us if we wanted to take on a passenger.”

I stayed in the shadow of the quarterdeck, clutching my tool belt to my chest. Four crew members stood before the mainmast, waiting for an answer from West. But he seemed to be measuring his words carefully, the silence pulling tight with the tension between them.

“It’s fifty-two coppers.” West looked at the girl.

She half laughed. “You can’t be serious. What do we care about fifty-two coppers? We’ve never taken a single passenger on this ship in over two years, and I don’t see why we should start now.”

The man with the glasses stood watching, his eyes shifting back and forth between them. From the look of the ink-stained fingertips curled around my purse, I guessed he was their coin master. To him, it wouldn’t matter that I’d just been a breath away from being gutted by Koy or that

they’d been trading with me for the last two years. It was his job to make sure they didn’t get involved in other people’s business, good or bad.

“What is this, West?” A third man with skin the color of obsidian came down the steps beside me, one hand raking over his shaved head.

“It’s copper,” West snapped. “You have a problem with that?”

The girl they called Willa stared at West, her wide eyes expressionless. “Actually, I do.”

West turned to the coin master, his irritation visible in the hard set of his jaw. “Divide it among the crew, Hamish. I won’t report it. Drink your weight in rye when we get to Dern or buy yourself a new pair of boots. I don’t care what you do with it.”

That seemed to satisfy them for now, a hush falling over the deck. But the suspicion was still there in their side glances to one another. They weren’t going to argue with pocketing my coin, especially if it wasn’t going into the ship’s log. But they didn’t like the idea of me being on the Marigold, and they didn’t care if I knew it.

“Fifty-two coppers, five ways,” Hamish spoke beneath his breath, as if repeating the words made the decision final.

I glanced up to the two masts of the ship. I’d never been on deck or seen the rest of them, I’d only ever met West on the dock when they stopped in Jeval. From the looks of it, they crewed this ship with only five sets of hands, but a vessel like this should take at least ten crew members, maybe twelve.

“Four ways,” West corrected. “I don’t want a share.”

Hamish gave a single nod, and I studied West’s face, trying to read him.

But there was no hint there of what he was thinking.

“You just said you took her on for the copper.” Willa glared at him.

He met her narrowed gaze, jerking his head in my direction before turning on his heel. His boots knocked against the deck as he walked past them and disappeared through an open door.

Willa let out a long breath, watching the darkened archway before she finally looked back at me. I cringed as the soft lantern light shifted to illuminate the other side of her face. Her left cheek was raw and pink, the

skin healing from a bad burn. It reached up the length of her neck and over her jaw, coming to a point.

I knew exactly what it was. I’d seen wounds like that before—a long knife held over a fire until the blade glowed and pressed to someone’s face to teach a lesson. It was a punishment meant to humiliate you long after the pain subsided. Whatever crime she’d committed, she’d been made to pay for it.

It wasn’t until I looked her in the eye that I realized she was watching me inspect the mutilation. “Come on.” She dropped the lantern so that she was cloaked again in darkness and pushed past me into the archway.

I looked back once more, to the dock below. Koy would make it back to the beach any minute, and Speck wouldn’t wake from his rye-soaked stupor to find his boat gone until morning. Either way, I’d never see him or this island again.

I hoped.

The crew watched me as I pushed off the railing and followed Willa into the narrow passage, the weight of their stares pinned to my back. The handle of the lantern squeaked ahead, and I followed its light down the wooden steps and into the thick smell of pickled fish and over-ripened fruit. The crest of the Marigold was burned into the three doors that lined the wall. I lifted a finger as I passed, tracing the outline of a flower inside a wreath of leafed branches. In the center of the bloom lay a tiny, five-pointed star.

As a little girl sailing on my father’s trading ship, I knew every trader’s crest. But I’d never seen this one until the Marigold showed up two years ago on the barrier islands, looking to trade for pyre. Wherever they had come from, they had to be a low-rung crew just beginning to get their route established. But how they’d managed to get a ship and a license from the Trade Council was a question that couldn’t have a simple answer.

Willa pushed through an open doorway and hung the lantern on a rusted hook driven into the wall. I ducked inside, where patchwork hammocks swung from low-hanging beams in a small cabin.

“This is where you’ll sleep.” Willa leaned into one of the posts, her eyes trailing over me until they stopped, and I looked down to see she was

eyeing the tip of the scar peeking out beneath my sleeve. “It’ll be a few days before we get to Ceros. We have to make a stop in Dern first.”

I nodded, keeping my back to the wall. “Do you need to eat?”

“No,” I lied. I’d eaten only a single perch in two days, but I wasn’t stupid. She was trying to get me to owe them something.

“Good.” She smirked. “Because our stryker’s only stocked enough food to feed this crew. When you do need to eat, you’ll be expected to work for it.”

And there it was—the hook. I knew how this worked because I’d grown up on a ship. I’d known what game I’d have to play since I’d first made the plan to use the Marigold to get off Jeval, but I hadn’t counted on having nothing to barter with. I would have to keep my head down and do whatever was asked of me to pay the price of getting to Ceros.

But the way the girl looked at me now made me feel unsteady on my feet. I’d already gotten on the wrong side of the crew, and if I didn’t figure out a way to fix it, I’d find myself overboard before we crossed the Narrows.

I ducked below the bulkhead and found a hammock only half-hung, one end touching the wet ground. The wood and iron trunks lining the walls were bolted neatly into place, all secured with locks except for one, where the slow drip of water trickled in between the slats overhead. It sat open, a small, rusted chisel inside. Above it, a pair of boots hung by their laces on a crooked nail. Maybe the crew’s dredger.

Willa took the lantern from the wall and walked back into the passageway; the gleam of the jeweled dagger tucked into the back of her belt. She climbed the stairs, leaving me in the pitch-black as the sound of footsteps trailed across the deck. I secured the other end of the hammock on an iron hook and climbed in, my weight sinking into the thick, damp quilt.

The hum of the sea hugging the hull was the only sound except for the faint vibration of voices above. I pulled the musty air into my lungs, listening to the groan of the wood and the slosh of water. And suddenly, I was that little girl again, swaying in my hammock on the Lark.

I’d been asleep on my father’s ship when I heard the sharp ring of the bell echo out into the night. Only a few minutes later, the loud crack of the mast and the howl of an angry wind was followed by screaming. His hands had found me in the dark, his face peering down at me in the little sliver of moonlight coming from the slats above.

The night the Lark sank. The night my mother died. And in a single moment, everything changed.

The next day, he left me behind on Jeval.

I reached into the tiny pocket I’d sewn into the waist of my pants, prying the last of my coppers free. I hadn’t given them every copper. Those six coins were the very first I’d ever earned, and I’d never spent them. I’d saved them for the most desperate of moments. Now, they were all I had left. But six coppers would only keep me fed and sheltered for a day or so in the city. If we were stopping in Dern, it would be my only chance to try and multiply my coin before we reached Ceros. If I didn’t, I’d have to show up on Saint’s doorstep empty-handed—something I swore to myself I’d never do.

A board creaked in the passageway, and my hand went straight to my belt, pulling my knife free. I stared into the shapeless, empty dark, waiting for another sound as I tucked the coppers back into the little pocket. But there was only the thrum of the storm creeping toward Jeval. The knock of a door closing as the ship tilted. I clutched the knife to my chest, listening.

Only a few days.

That’s how much longer I had to survive. Then, I’d be at my father’s door, asking him for what he promised me. What he owed me.

I reached beneath the sleeve of my shirt, finding the thickly roped scar that was carved into my arm. My finger followed it up like a maze of blood-filled veins in a pattern I had memorized. It was my father who’d given it to me, the day he left me on Jeval. I had watched in horror as he dragged the tip of his knife through my flesh without so much as a twitch of his hand. I told myself it was the madness of losing my mother that made him do it. That his mind had been fractured by grief.

But I remembered the soft set of his mouth as he cut me. The way his head tilted to the side as my blood ran over his fingers. I’d done nothing

since the last time I saw him but dream of the moment I’d see him again. I’d thought of nothing else. And now that it was so close, my stomach turned, my pulse skipping unevenly. The man who’d taught me to tie knots and read maps wasn’t the same man who’d put the knife soaked with my blood back into his belt and sailed away.

Soon, I’d be in Ceros. And I wasn’t sure anymore which man I would find.

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