Tress of the Emerald Sea

FIVE MONTHS LATER, a ship arrived at the Rock that was not a rock. That ship bumped the docks as it slowed, on account of its new apprentice helmsman being inexperienced. Salay’s father looked chagrined, but Salay merely smiled and gave him a few pointers.

The ship was not the Crow’s Song. The crew had decided that a fresh start would help them in their new lives, and besides, the captain had wanted a few extra cabins. So after receiving their pardons, they’d sold the old ship

and bought a new one. With a brand-new name.

The captain soon emerged onto the deck of the Two Cups sporting a long captain’s jacket and a hat with a plume. She made a few hand signs toward the helm—some of the ones Fort had been teaching the crew. Turns out, it’s handy for multiple reasons to be able to communicate with signs on a ship: you can talk to sailors on the rigging or give a direction to the helm without needing to yell over the sounds of the spores or wind. In this case, she

congratulated the apprentice helmsman on his first steer into port. Bumps notwithstanding.

After that, Tress walked to the rail and took a sip from her cup. One with a butterfly, which had obviously been glued back together after being

shattered into many pieces. The captain didn’t mind the breaks. Cups with

chips, or dings, or even cracks had stories. She particularly liked the one this cup told.

The dockmaster and dock inspector arrived, and Salay soon presented them with quite the royal writ detailing the important nature of this vessel. Single-handedly stopping the Sorceress had earned Tress and the crew a tad more than a pardon. Plus there was the matter of their exclusive ability to trade through the Crimson and Midnight Seas, opening new opportunities with once-distant seas. Every person on that ship would, within a few years, become fantastically wealthy. (I knew them when they were all just Dougs.)

The king had of course insisted that he’d always intended for this to happen—that he’d believed in Charlie, and his chosen bride, from the beginning. If that sounds like hypocrisy to you, well, we prefer to call it politics.

While the dockmaster and inspector were rereading the writ, Charlie finally emerged on deck.

Fully human again.

The curse had said he needed to bring the person he loved most to the Sorceress’s home, to be cursed, in exchange for his freedom. My modifications allowed him instead to bring the person he loved to her home, to be versed, in exchange for his freedom. A good, sensible, non-slant rhyme.

Tress had left their cabin at his request so he could transform in private. Now he strode out, holding the poem he’d written for her, a stupid grin on his face.

She loved that one.

Also, the only thing he was wearing was a tiny pirate hat. As he stepped up beside her, she leaned in. “Love,” she whispered, “clothing. Humans

wear clothing.”

He looked down. “That is going to take getting used to,” he said. “Um… excuse me.”

Yes, they stayed together. The two of them had both been changed by their journeys—but in complementary ways. Tress remained captain and expert sprouter, while Charlie turned out to be an extremely capable valet and a passable ship’s storyteller and musician, a well-versed man indeed.

With a few tips, he wasn’t so boring after all. Secretly, I’ll tell you that you aren’t either. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to lower your value. Don’t trust them. They know they can’t afford you otherwise.

The crew began to climb from the ship, excited for some shore leave, even if it was on the Rock. They all made an appearance, except for Laggart, who was currently in the brig for starting a bar fight at the last port.

You’ll be happy to know that, as I’ve kept track of the crew over the years, even he has shown some growth. It’s beginning to look like instead of following his family’s tradition of being an unpleasant snarl of misery until you get yourself killed, he’s on track to do…well, basically anything else.

As Charlie was getting dressed, Tress read his poem, the verse that broke the curse.

It is only for her. I’m sorry.

Once she looked up, she spotted something exhilarating. Her parents were stumbling down toward the docks, her little brother in tow. Tress’s mother had spent most nights since she’d left watching the sea for any signs, but

even with the eventual letters Tress had been able to send, she hadn’t quite believed Tress would return. Neither of them had, until they saw her

standing there.

Tress strode down onto the dock, then onto the once-familiar stone ground

—salty and black. Odd, how foreign the place felt. How could something feel both familiar and foreign? As her family arrived to embrace her though, she discovered that was exquisitely familiar. Not foreign in the least.

They’d brought their luggage. And their cabin was ready. She ushered them toward the ship, but was interrupted as the duke arrived at last. Red faced. Bearing his scowl. He had only one, Tress had decided. For while you needed a smile for every occasion, a scowl needed no variety.

“What is this?” he said, slapping the writ in his hand. “What have you done?”

“I’ve rescued your son. The real one. Not the walking chin with a six-word vocabulary.”

“I meant what have you done to the island!” the duke said, gesturing at the king’s words. “Anyone can leave if they want? The island will soon be

completely depopulated.”

“Read the next part,” she said, and took a sip of her tea, then walked off, not waiting for him.

He had to read it several times to put it together. The king had proclaimed that a generous stipend would be paid to anyone who lived and worked on the Rock for twenty years. If you’re so lucky as to get a job on Diggen’s Point, you’ll retire with a sizable nest egg.

But be warned, positions there are hard to come by these days. No one

wants to leave. The beer is great, the company passable, and the pay…well, it makes up for the rest.

Tress stepped back onto the deck of her ship, meeting a newly beclothed Charlie. She nodded down toward his father on the dock. “Want to say hello?”

“No thank you,” Charlie said. “Did you leave Mother’s letter?” (The duchess, it should be noted, had moved away from the island—and more importantly from her husband—several months before. Turns out that

abandoning your only son to certain doom is not a path to a healthy marriage.)

“It’s in the stack,” Tress said. “He’ll find it, assuming he bothers to keep reading. Ah, look. He’s scowling again.”

“Life is easier for him that way,” Charlie said. “He only has to maintain one expression.” He wrapped his arms around her and put his head on her shoulder. “It’s going to be annoying to no longer have fur, but the other perks are certainly going to outweigh that loss.”

“I wonder,” she said idly, resting her hand on his as he held her, “if there’s a maritime law against a captain dating her valet. What will people say?”

“They will say,” he replied softly, “what a lucky, lucky man he is.” They didn’t stay long. Just enough time to gather some supplies and for

Tress to give another thanks to those who had helped her escape all those months ago.

And then the ship left to sail the ocean with a girl and a rat on board. The rat, it turns out, was not actually a rat. In more ways than one.

The girl, you may have discovered, was not actually a girl. She was seven ways a woman, regardless of her age.

The ocean, however, was now as you hopefully imagine it. Assuming you imagine it as emerald green, made up of spores, and bearing endless possibilities.


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