The knock of a pulley hitting the deck made me blink, and suddenly the white-washed world around me came rushing back. Footsteps on wood. Shadows on the quarterdeck. The snap of rippling sails up the mainmast.
The pain in my head erupted as I squinted against the glare of sunlight and counted. The crew of the Luna was at least twenty, probably more with the Waterside strays on board. There had to be a hand or two belowdecks or tucked away into the helmsman’s quarters. I hadn’t seen Zola since I’d woken on his ship, the hours passing slowly as the sun fell down the western sky at an excruciating pace.
A door slammed in the passageway and the ache in my jaw woke as I clenched my teeth. Clove’s heavy steps crossed the deck as he walked to the helm. His rough hands found the spokes as his gaze set on the glowing horizon.
I hadn’t seen my father’s navigator since that day on Jeval four years ago when he and Saint pushed the tender boat out into the shallows and left me on the beach. But I knew his face. I’d know it anywhere because it was painted into almost every memory I had. Of the Lark. Of my parents. He was there, even in the oldest, most broken pieces of the past.
Clove hadn’t so much as looked at me since I’d first spotted him, but I could see in the way his chin stayed lifted, keeping his gaze drifting over my head, that he knew exactly who I was.
He had been my only family outside of my parents, and the night the Lark sank in Tempest Snare, he’d saved my life. But he’d also never looked back as he and my father sailed away from Jeval. And he’d never come back for me, either. When I found Saint in Ceros and he told me that Clove was gone, I’d imagined him as a pile of bones stacked on the silt in the deep of the Narrows. But here he was, navigator of the Luna.
He could feel my stare as I studied him, perhaps the same memory resurrecting itself from where he’d had it carefully buried. It kept his spine straight, his cool expression just the tiniest bit thin. But he wouldn’t look at me, and I didn’t know if that meant he was still the Clove I remembered or if he’d become something different. The distance between the two could mean my life.
A pair of boots stopped before the mast and I looked up into the face of a woman I’d seen that morning. Her cropped, straw-colored hair blew across her forehead as she set a bucket of water beside me and pulled the knife from her belt.
She crouched down and the sunlight glinted on the blade as she reached for my hands. I pulled away from her, but she jerked the ropes forward, fitting the cold iron knife against the raw skin at my wrist. She was cutting me loose.
I went still, watching the deck around us, my mind racing as I carefully slid my feet beneath me. Another yank of the knife and my hands were free. I held them out, my fingers trembling. As soon as her gaze dropped, I pulled in a sharp breath and launched myself forward. Her eyes went wide as I barreled into her, and she hit the deck hard, her head slamming into the wood. I pinned her weight to the coil of ropes against the starboard side and reached for the knife.
Footsteps rushed toward us as a deep voice sounded at my back. “Don’t. Let her get it out of her system.”
The crew froze and in the second I took to look over my shoulder, the woman rolled out from under me, catching my side with the heel of her boot. I growled, scrambling toward her until I had hold of her wrist. She tried to kick me as I slammed it into the iron crank that stowed the anchor. I could feel the small bones beneath her skin crack as I brought it down again harder, and the knife fell from her grip.
I climbed over her and snatched it up, spinning so that my back pressed against the railing. I lifted the shaking blade before me. All around us, there was only water. No land as far as I could see in any direction. My chest suddenly felt as if it was caving in, my heart sinking.
“Are you finished?”
The voice lifted again, and every head turned back to the passageway. The Luna’s helmsman stood with his hands in his pockets, looking not the least bit concerned by the sight of me standing over one of his crew with a knife in my hands.
Zola wove through the others with the same amusement that had shone in his eyes at the tavern in Ceros. His face was lit with a wry grin.
“I said clean her up, Calla.” His gaze fell to the woman at my feet.
She glared at me, furious under the attention of her crew. Her broken hand was cradled to her ribs, already swelling.
Zola took four slow steps before one hand left his pocket. He held it out to me, his chin jerking toward the knife. When I didn’t move, he smiled wider. A cold silence fell over the ship for just a moment before his other hand flew up, finding my throat. His fingers clamped down as he slammed me into the railing and squeezed until I couldn’t draw breath.
His weight drifted forward until I was leaning over the side of the ship and the toes of my boots lifted from the deck. I searched the heads behind him for Clove’s wild blond hair, but he wasn’t there. When I almost fell backward, I dropped the knife and it hit the deck with a sharp ping, skittering across the wood until it was out of reach.
Calla picked it up, sliding it back into her belt, and Zola’s hand instantly let me go. I dropped, collapsing into the ropes and choking on the air.
“Get her cleaned up,” he said again.
Zola looked at me for another moment before he turned on his heel. He strode past the others to the helm where Clove leaned into the wheel with the same indifferent expression cast over his face.
Calla yanked me up by my arm with her good hand and shoved me back toward the bow, where the bucket of water was still sitting beside the foremast. The crew went back to work as she pulled a rag from the back of her belt.
“Take those off.” She spat, looking at my clothes: “Now.”
My eyes trailed to the deckhands working behind her before I turned toward the bow and pulled my shirt over my head. Calla crouched beside me, rubbing the rag over a block of soap and drenching it in the bucket until it lathered. She held the cloth out to me impatiently, and I took it, ignoring the attention of the crew as I scrubbed the suds up over my arms. The dried blood turned the water pink before it rolled over my skin and dripped onto the deck at my feet.
The feel of my own skin brought back to life the memory of West in his quarters, his warmth pressing against mine. Tears smarted behind my eyes again, and I sniffed them back, trying to push the vision away before it could drown me. The smell of morning when I woke in his bed. The way his face looked in the gray light, and the feel of his breath on me.
I reached up to the hollow of my throat, remembering the ring I’d traded for at the gambit. His ring.
It was gone.
West had woken alone in his cabin. He’d probably waited at the bow, watching the harbor, and when I didn’t come, maybe he’d gone into Dern to find me.
I didn’t know if anyone had seen me dragged onto the Luna. If they had, it wasn’t likely they would ever tell a soul what they saw. For all West knew, I’d changed my mind. Paid for passage back to Ceros from some trader on the docks. But if I had, I’d have taken the coin from the haul, I reasoned, trying to carve out every other possibility except the one that I wanted to believe.
That West would look for me. That he’d come after me.
But if he did, that meant something even worse. I’d seen the shadow side of the Marigold’s helmsman, and it was dark. It was all flame and smoke.
You don’t know him.
The words Saint had spoken in the tavern that morning echoed within me.
Maybe West and the crew of the Marigold would cut their ties with Saint and with me. Set out to make their own way. Maybe I didn’t know West. Not really.
But I did know my father. And I knew what kind of games he played.
The saltwater stung against my skin as I scrubbed harder, and when I was finished, Calla was waiting with a new pair of trousers. I pulled them on and knotted the strings at the waist so they didn’t slide from my hips and she tossed me a clean shirt.
I raked my hair up into a knot as she looked me over and when she was satisfied, she turned to the passageway beneath the quarterdeck. She didn’t wait for me to follow, pushing past Clove to the helmsman’s quarters. But my steps halted when I stepped into his shadow and lifted my gaze, looking up at him through my lashes. The last bit of doubt I had that it was him disappeared as I studied his sun-leathered face. The storm of everything I wanted to say burned on my tongue and I swallowed down the desperate urge to scream.
Clove’s lips pursed beneath his mustache before he opened the log on the table beside him and ran a callused finger down the page. Maybe he was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. Maybe we’d both been pulled into Zola’s war with West. What I couldn’t put together was how he could be here, crewing for the person my father hated more than anything.
He finished his entry and closed the book, his eyes going back to the horizon as he adjusted the wheel slightly. He was either too ashamed to look at me or afraid someone would see. I wasn’t sure which was worse. The Clove I knew would have cut Zola’s throat for putting his hands on me.
“Come on, dredger,” Calla called from the passageway, one hand holding the edge of an open door.
I let my gaze fall on Clove for the length of another breath before I followed, leaving him and the sunlight behind. I stepped into the cool dark, my boots hitting the wood planks in a steady rhythm despite the shaking that had settled in my limbs.
Behind me, the expanse of sea reached out in an endless blue. The only way off this ship was to find out what Zola wanted, but I had no cards to play. No sunken ship of gems to barter, no coin or secrets that would buy me out of the trouble I’d landed in. And even if the Marigold was coming for me, I was alone. The heaviness of the thought sank deep inside me, my fury the only thing keeping me from disappearing with it. I let it rise, filling my chest as I looked back once more to Clove.
It didn’t matter how he’d ended up on the Luna. There was no forgiveness in Saint’s heart for treachery like that. I couldn’t find any in mine, either. I had never felt so much of my father inside of me as in that moment, and instead of scaring me, it flooded me with a sense of steadying power. The tide-pull of strength anchored my feet as I remembered.
I wasn’t just some Jevali dredger or a pawn in Zola’s feud with West. I was Saint’s daughter. And before I left the Luna, every bastard on this crew was going to know it.
Copyright © 2021 by Adrienne Young