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That bastard was leaving me again.
Between the trees, I could see Koy and the others kicking up sand as they pushed off the beach. The skiff slid into the water, and I ran faster, my bare feet finding their way over twisted tree roots and buried rock on the path. I came through the thicket just in time to see the smirk on Koy’s lips as the sail dropped open.
“Koy!” I shouted, but if he could hear me over the sound of the waves, he didn’t show it.
I tore down the slope until I reached the foam left by a retreating wave and planted one foot in the wet sand before I jumped, my feet kicking as I flew over the swell, toward the stern. I caught the stay with one hand and crashed into the side of the hull, my legs dragging in the water as the skiff took off. No one offered me a hand as I pulled myself up and over the side with a curse under my breath.
“Nice jump, Fable.” Koy took hold of the tiller, his gaze on the horizon as he steered us toward the south reef. “Didn’t know you were coming.”
I raked my hair into a knot on top of my head, glaring at him. It was the third time in a week that he’d tried to leave me behind when the dredgers went out to dive. If Speck weren’t drunk half the time, I’d pay him for the ride to the reef instead of Koy. But I needed a boat I could count on.
The sail snapped overhead as the wind caught it, jerking the skiff forward, and I found a place to sit between two leather-skinned dredgers.
Koy held a hand out to me. “Copper.”
I looked over his head to the barrier islands, where the masts of trading ships tipped and swayed in the rough wind. The Marigold wasn’t there yet, but by sunrise, she would be. I pulled the coin from my purse and, with gritted teeth, dropped it into Koy’s palm. By now, he’d made so much copper off me that I’d practically paid for half of his skiff.
We picked up speed and the water rushed past, turning from the pale turquoise of the shallows to a deep blue as we pulled farther from the shore. I leaned back as the boat heeled, tilting so I could let my hand skim the surface. The sun sat in the center of the sky, and we had a few hours before the tide started to turn. It was more than enough time to fill my bag with pyre for trade.
I tightened the belt around my waist, checking each of my tools.
Mallet, chisels, picks, trowel, eyeglass.
Most of the dredgers had moved on from the east reef months ago, but my gut had told me there was more pyre hiding in those waters, and I’d been right. After weeks of diving the stretch alone, I found the cache beneath a picked-over shelf, and the stones had filled my purse with coin.
The wind whipped around me as I stood, pulling strands of my dark auburn hair around my face. I took hold of the mast and leaned over the side, my eyes mapping the water as it raced beneath us.
“When are you going to tell us what you found down there, Fable?” Koy’s hand tightened on the tiller, his eyes meeting mine. They were as dark as the blackest nights on the island, when the storms veiled the moon and stars in the sky.
The others looked up at me silently, waiting for my answer. I’d seen them watching me more carefully on the docks, and I’d heard their whispers on the beach. After weeks of light hauls on the reefs, the dredgers were growing restless, and that was never good. But I hadn’t expected Koy to be the one to finally ask me outright.
I shrugged. “Abalone.”
He laughed, shaking his head. “Abalone,” he repeated. He was younger than most of the dredgers on Jeval, his toasted skin not yet wrinkled and spotted white from the long days in the sun. But he’d earned his place among them tenfold by stealing enough coin to buy the skiff and start his own ferrying trade.
“That’s right,” I said.
The humor left his eyes when they found mine again, and I clenched my teeth, trying not to let the twitch at the corner of my mouth show. It had been four years since the day I was dumped on the blazing hot beach and left to fend for myself. Forced to scrape hulls in exchange for rotten fish when I was starving, and beaten for diving in another dredger’s claimed territory again and again. I’d seen my fair share of violence on Jeval, but I’d managed to keep out of Koy’s way until now. Catching his notice was a very dangerous place to be.
I stepped up onto the stern, letting the same wicked smile bleed onto my lips that had been painted on his back at the beach. He was a bastard, but so was I. And letting him see how scared of him I was would only make me easier prey. I’d had to find a way to stay alive on Jeval, and I’d lose a hand before I let anyone take my chance to get off. Not when I was so close.
I let go of the mast and the skiff flew out from under my feet as I fell back into the water. My weight crashed into the sea, the crystalline bubbles rippling up around me as I floated toward the surface and kicked to warm myself against the chill. The edge of the east reef touched the current, making the water colder on this side of the island. It was one of the reasons I knew there was more pyre down there than what had already been dredged.
Copyright © 2020 by Adrienne Young