Chapter no 7


The sharp ping of a pulley hitting the deck jolted me from sleep. I blinked, rubbing at my eyes as the cabin came into view. The hammock swung back and forth as an empty bottle on the ground rolled over the wood planks, and I sat up, unfolding myself from the fraying fabric.

I braced myself on the wall, moving through the passageway slowly and squinting against the bright sunlight of midday coming down the steps. The crew was already well into their duties when I stepped out onto the deck. I turned in a circle, a lump coming up in my throat as I looked out to sea. In every direction, there was only blue. Only the hard line of the horizon and the wind and the saltwater thick in the air.

I leaned out over the railing, listening to the bilge cut through the water in a familiar whisper. A smile pulled at my lips, igniting the pain of the torn skin, and I reached up, touching the hot, swollen cut.

The feeling of eyes on me made me look up to where Willa sat in a sling high on the foremast with an adze in one hand. The thin, arched blade was set into a wooden handle at a right angle with one blunt end used as a hammer. It was the tool of a ship’s bosun—the member of the crew who kept the ship afloat.


I jumped, pressing my back against the rail before I looked up to see the young man with shorn hair and smooth obsidian skin standing over me with a case in his hands.

“Out of the way, dredger,” he muttered, shoving past me.

“Where are we at on time, Paj?” West stepped into the open breezeway, stopping midstride when he saw me.

“Checking now.” The man he called Paj set the case down at his feet, and the sunlight hit the bronze octant inside as he opened it. He was as broad as he was tall, the sleeves of his shirt too short for his long arms.

I looked between him and West, confused until I realized he must be the Marigold’s navigator. But he was too young to hold a position like that. Really, they were all too young to be anything other than deckhands. They were boys on the edge of being men.

Paj took the octant from the velvet lining carefully, bringing the eyepiece up and pointing the scope toward the horizon. The sunlight reflected off the little mirrors as he slid the arm forward and adjusted the knobs. After a moment, he stilled, doing the calculations in his head.

West leaned into the doorway, waiting. Behind him, I could see the corner of a desk and a pair of framed windows behind a neatly made cot. It was the helmsman’s quarters.

Paj lowered the octant, looking back at West. “The storm only put us half a day behind. We can make it up if the wind stays strong and Willa keeps the sails together.”

“The sails are fine,” she snapped, glaring down at us from where she was suspended on the boom.

West gave Paj a sharp nod before he disappeared into his quarters, closing the door behind him.

“Blasted birds!” Willa shouted, covering her head with her arms as an albatross hovered beside the sail. It picked up one of the twisted locks of her hair before she swatted it away.

At the top of the mainmast, the one with the long, dark hair laughed. He was perched in the lines with bare feet, holding a wooden bowl in his hands. The birds were gathered around him, their wings flapping against the wind as they fished out whatever was inside.

He was sowing good fortune for the ship, honoring the dead who had drowned in these waters. My father had always told me that seabirds were the souls of lost traders. To turn them away or not give them a place to land or nest was bad luck. And anyone who dared to sail the Narrows needed every bit of luck they could get.

Boots hit the deck behind me, and I turned to see Willa unbuckling the sling from around her waist. Her hair was twisted like rope in long, bronze strands falling over her shoulders, and in the light, her skin was the color of the tawny sandstone that crumbled over the cliffs of Jeval.

“I’m Fable,” I said, reaching out a hand to her.

She only stared at it as she threw the sling over her shoulder. The burn on her face unfolded over her jaw, coming to a perfect point on her cheek. “You think because I’m the only girl on this ship that I want to be your friend?”

I dropped my hand. “No.”

“Then get out of my way.” She said the words through a bitter smile, waiting for me to move aside.

I took a step toward the mainmast, and she climbed the steps to the quarterdeck without looking back. It was only then that I got a good look at the ship.

The Marigold was a lorcha, just small enough to maneuver in the storms that haunted these waters, but with a hull big enough to hold decent inventory for a small trade operation. Its unique sails were what made the ship easy to spot out on the sea—like sheets of white canvas with wooden ribs, their shapes arced a bit like bat’s wings. Saint’s ship, the Lark, had been much bigger with five times as many crew. But the smell of stained wood and salty rope was something that was on every ship.

If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine I was there again. My mother up in the masts. Saint at the helm. But the memory wasn’t painted in the brilliant colors it once had been. Not like my memories of Jeval.

Every day I’d watched the green ridge of the island lifting up from the water in a slant, reaching for the sky before it dropped down at the cliffs. The trees below hid the hovels of the dredgers, but the smoke from their fires lifted up in twisting, white strands. I tried to carve the memory out of my mind. The crystal, teal waters. The way the wind sounded moving through the branches.

I didn’t want to remember it. “Time to pay rent.”

I turned back against the wind. The young man who’d been at the top of the mast was suddenly beside me, half of his thick hair unraveling from where it was pulled back. His dark lashes rimmed gray eyes set against a warm ivory complexion. Altogether, he had the coloring of driftwood. He stood with a pile of nets in his arms, the rope crusted white with dry salt.

“Rent? I already paid West.”

“That was for passage. If you want to sleep in that hammock, it’ll be an extra charge.” He winked, his deep voice turning the words up just slightly at the ends. He was trying to hide the accent, but I could hear it. He wasn’t born in the Narrows. “And West told me to see to that.” His hand lifted, gesturing toward my face.

“So that you can add it to my tab?” I said, sucking the swollen lip between my teeth. “It’s fine.”

He turned, not waiting for me to follow. “Come on.”

I matched his gait, trying to keep up, and I saw him glance down at my bare feet on the hot deck. They were callused from the years walking on the sunbaked beach. Boots were a luxury I hadn’t been able to afford, but more than that, they didn’t have much use on Jeval.

He led me up the stairs to the quarterdeck, dropping the nets in a heaping pile at my feet. “I assume you know how to mend nets.” He didn’t wait for me to answer, handing me a white bone needle before he went back to the stack of crab traps.

The truth was that I didn’t know anything about nets. I’d only fished with traps and lines on the island because there hadn’t been anyone willing to teach me how to make them.

He unclamped the trap at his feet and got to work. I wasn’t going to tell him that I’d never used a needle or that entrusting me with the nets would probably mean losing fish. Instead, I sat and acted like I knew exactly what I was doing.

Finding the breaks was easy enough. The fraying, splitting strands of rope were scattered but numerous. I set the needle on the deck beside me and inspected the knots, turning the net over to see every side before I cut away the damaged bits.

“You’re the stryker,” I said, not really meaning it as a question. The only one who handled the nets and traps on the Lark when I was growing up was the crew member responsible for feeding everyone. If West asked him to stitch up my lip, he was probably also entrusted with tending to wounds and sickness.

“I’m Auster.” He tossed a piece of broken wood overboard. “Ceros, huh?”

My hands stilled on the net, but he didn’t look up from the traps. “That’s right,” I answered, pulling the threads free.

“You had enough of dredging on Jeval?”

I threaded the twine through the needle and pulled to tighten it. “Sure.”

That seemed to be enough for him. He pried the broken latch from the trap and replaced it with a new one as I compared the nets to try and find out how the knots were made. We worked in the long afternoon hours, and it only took me a few tries to figure out how to stretch the net to weave the needle left to right, tightening the new sections. I caught Auster watching my hands more than once, but he said nothing, pretending not to notice each time I pulled the wrong way or missed a loop and had to redo it.

Paj reappeared below, taking the helm with West at his side, and I watched as they bore the ship east. They talked in hushed voices, West’s eyes on the horizon, and I studied the sky.

“I thought we were going to Dern,” I said, looking to Auster.

His gaze narrowed at me as he looked up from the trap. “If I were you, I wouldn’t ask questions you don’t need the answers to.”

West and Paj talked at the helm for another few minutes, watching the others climb up the masts to adjust the sails. They were changing course.

I worked on the nets until we were losing the daylight and the air turned cool, soothing my hot skin. My back and shoulders ached, my fingers starting to blister, but I finished off the line of knots I was working before I let Auster take them.

He inspected my work carefully before he gave a tight nod and went down to the main deck where Willa and Paj sat together at the prow with bowls of stew. Willa’s feet hung over the edge, her boots kicking against the wind, and my stomach turned at the smell of cooked fish.

Night fell over the sea, painting the Marigold black except for the white sails stretched against the dark, clouded sky. The stars and moon hid, giving no sign of where the sea ended and the sky began, and I liked the feeling. Like we were floating in the air. The west wind was warm, finding its way onto the ship before it ran back to the wake on the water behind us.

My teeth clenched against the hunger in my belly, but I couldn’t afford to spend a single copper, and both Willa and Auster had made it clear that nothing would be given for free. I slipped past them in the dark, stopping before the steps that led below deck. The soft glow of candlelight spilled through the crack in the door to my right, and I watched a shadow move over the floor as a heavy hand landed on my shoulder. I spun, pulling my knife free in one motion to hold it ready at my side. The young man with the spectacles from last night looked down at me, only half-lit by moonlight. “You’re Fable.”

My grip on the knife loosened.

“I’m Hamish, coin master of the Marigold.” His reddened cheeks looked as if his skin wasn’t suited for the wind and sun of sailing. “You put one finger on anything that doesn’t belong to you on this ship, and I will know.” I lifted my chin. Most people in the Narrows were cut from the same tattered cloth, but even the lowest rungs of society had its castoffs. Jeval was the only bit of land between the Narrows and the Unnamed Sea, and it had become a sort of catchall for those who either couldn’t outrun their reputations or had too many enemies on the mainland to stay below notice.

Among traders, they were known as thieves.

I pulled the sleeve of my shirt down instinctively, making sure my scar was covered. Traders were even more superstitious than Jevalis, and the last thing I needed was for them to start wondering if I was going to draw the eye of sea demons. The first storm we saw could get me thrown overboard.

I could live with the crew not liking me, but if they were afraid of me, I was in real trouble.

Hamish reached around me for the door, and it swung open on creaking hinges.

Inside, West was bent over a table of unrolled maps with a cup of something steaming hot in one hand, where the gold ring on one of his

fingers caught the light. Hamish stepped into the small room, coming to his side with a rolled parchment and a black feather quill.

“Thank you,” West muttered, stilling when his gaze travelled to the door and he spotted me.

“I—” But the words sputtered out, my heart coming up into my throat. I wasn’t sure what I’d even meant to say.

West jerked his chin to the door and Hamish obeyed, moving past me without a word and disappearing in the dark breezeway.

“What is it?” West set the cup down on the map, turning the ring on his finger as he stepped in front of the desk. I didn’t miss the way he stood in front of the maps so I couldn’t see what was on them.

“I wanted to thank you.” I stood a little taller. “For what?”

My brow pulled. “For taking me on.” “You paid for passage,” he said flatly.

“I-I know,” I stuttered, “but I know you didn’t want to—”

“Look,” he cut me off. “You don’t owe me anything. And I want to be clear”—he met my eyes for a long moment—“I don’t owe you anything.”

“I didn’t say—”

“You put me in a bad position by coming to the docks last night. One I didn’t ask for.” A sharp edge cut into the smooth current of his voice.

I knew what he meant. His crew didn’t approve of his decision to give me passage. Now, he’d have to square it with them somehow. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t need an apology. I need you off my ship. As soon as we get to Ceros, you’re gone.”

In the entire time I’d been trading with West, he’d never said as many words. He’d always been cold, his words clipped and his manner impatient. His gaze had always jumped around the docks, never landing on me, but it did now. His eyes met mine for the length of a breath before they dropped to the floor between us.

“I didn’t know it would cost you anything,” I said, my voice softer than I meant it to be.

“It did. It will.” He sighed, dragging one hand over his face. “While you’re on this ship, you’ll pull your weight. If someone asks you to do

something, you do it without question.”

I nodded, biting the inside of my cheek as I tried to decide whether to ask him. “Why are we headed north?”

“If you want me to approve our route with you, it’ll cost you another fifty coppers.” He walked toward me, closing the distance between us. “When we make port in Ceros and you set foot on that dock, I don’t want to see you again.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but he was already closing the door in my face, the latch rattling into place.

The words stung, and I wasn’t sure why. He’d bought my pyre for the last two years, but West and I weren’t friends. He was right that he didn’t owe me anything, but when I’d run down that dock screaming his name, he’d saved my life. And somehow, I’d known he would.

Something had made him take the copper and go against his crew. Something changed his mind. Really, I didn’t care what it was. West didn’t want me on the Marigold, but the fact was that I was finally on my way to Ceros. That was all that mattered.

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