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Daughter of the Pirate King: Chapter 21


TRAIL MY HANDS along the wooden railing as I walk. It was damaged once during a battle against a ship that tried to desert my father’s fleet. A cannon from my ship tore through the opposing vessel’s mizzenmast, and the whole thing managed to come down onto my ship, tearing through the railing and denting the deck. The crew and I quickly sailed for the island of Butana, where we stole wooden planks from the island’s fine lumberyards. Nearly lost a member of the crew, too. Men with saws and axes chased us away, but even carrying heavy wooden planks, we still all made it out alive. We rebuilt the railing ourselves and replaced the damaged planks in the deck.

Each piece of this ship has a story. Each piece was fought hard for and earned. It makes the whole so much more rewarding, because it took so much effort to put her together.

I love my ship almost as much as I love my crew.

I see the door to my quarters, and I feel a strong pull in that direction, but I ignore it. There will be time to get comfortable later.

“Hiya, Cap’n,” a tiny voice says from above. Roslyn sways down from a rope until her bare feet hit the ground. The wee lass is more stable swinging through the air than she is on flat ground.

I ruffle the girl’s hair as I take in the faces of all my crew, promising myself that there will be time to catch up with everyone later. But there are a few things that must be settled first.

“Niridia,” I say. No matter where I am on the ship, my first mate always manages to hear me. I swear I could whisper to her from down below and she’d hear me from the crow’s nest. It’s a fantastic ability of her own.

“Aye, Captain?” she asks, materializing in front of me.

“How many dead in the skirmish?”

“Don’t beat yourself up over it. When there is fighting to be done, good men and women will be lost. And there’s not one on this ship who isn’t willing to die for you.”

“How many?” I repeat.

“Two.”

“Who?”

“Zimah and Mim.”

I close my eyes and picture their faces in my mind. Zimah was one of the three who volunteered to come with me on the journey to get myself kidnapped by Draxen. She was a great tracker and a fine conversationalist. She had all kinds of stories to share about the places she’d been. I loved listening to her. Mim had a good pair of hands on her. Always willing to do what I asked, glad no matter what it was. A mighty fine pirate. I shall miss them both dearly. I hate to think it was because I called for help that the two of them died. I realize every man and woman knows what they sign up for when they join the crew, but still. I hate the constant losses that come with pirating.

“We will light candles for them tonight,” I say.

“Already sent the order to Roslyn.”

“Good.” As captain, I have to push aside losses and focus on what’s best for the crew. I hate that part, too. “We’ll need a new navigator. Someone who can track and knows the lands and waters well.”

Niridia nods.

A crazy thought comes to me. “I know just the man.”

“Man?” Niridia asks. “Didn’t you swear after Ralin that you’d never take on another man for the crew so long as we already had one?”

“Oh, don’t remind me about Ralin. Couldn’t keep his hands off the crew, that one. Despicable creature.”

“He was a bit more bearable once you cut them off.”

“Yes, shame he decided to leave our employ after that. Can’t imagine what that was about.”

Niridia smiles. “Some men don’t have the stomach for being pirates.”

“This one, if he’s willing, should be well cut out for the job. He’s more interested in his drink than in the girls. And he’s so slow, he wouldn’t be able to catch any of the women.”

“Sounds like a fine specimen. How could we turn down such an able-bodied man?”

I laugh. “I missed you, Niridia.”

“Missed you, too, Captain.”

“I need to go belowdecks, but I should be back shortly. Get us going, will you? I want to get to the checkpoint as quickly as possible.”

“Of course.”

It doesn’t seem right that the first place I should go once boarding my own ship, the Ava-lee, is the brig. I’ve spent so much time in cages, cells, and other forms of entrapment over the last month. It’s hardly the sight I want to be met with now.

But there is lots to do, and why waste time?

Besides, Draxen’s in my brig, and I want to gloat.

I tread belowdecks. The sound of my feet pounding on the wooden steps is much sweeter than when Riden was dragging me belowdecks on the Night Farer. Freedom is a sound unlike any other. And my ship is so much prettier. I doubt I could find its likeness anywhere.

The cells are all full. I like to keep the prisoners as separated as possible. Less chance of escaping that way. As it is, some have to share, two men to a cell. Not Draxen, though. He’s the one to be especially wary of. He’s all the way down on the end by himself.

I probably kept more of Draxen’s crew than I should have. There will be plenty of opportunities for getting rid of them. Ideally, before Trianne runs out of food to make in the kitchen. Men are more expensive to feed.

Wallov and Deros stand to attention once I enter the brig. Draxen looks pointedly away from me.

“Why so sullen, Draxen?” I ask. “You got the best cell.”

He ignores me. I smile as I look to my men.

“Good to see you, Captain,” Wallov says. “Roslyn’s been asking after you for quite some time.”

“How is she coming with her letters?”

“Quite well. Likes to read everything in sight.”

“Glad to hear it. It’s good to see you both again. Sadly, I must cut the chatting short. We will have plenty of time to celebrate finding the map and to catch up later tonight. Right now, would you kindly bring me out that one?” I ask, pointing at a cell in the middle.

“The large one, Captain?”

“Aye.”

“Sure thing.”

They both enter the cell, Deros standing near the door while Wallov goes in all the way. There are two pirates in this cell. The younger one stands up and tries to give Wallov some trouble, but Wallov shoves him backward, sending him to the ground and leaving a free trail to Kearan.

Kearan’s slumped on the floor, but he stands quickly. “No need for force, mate. I’ve got no reason not to come willingly.”

Wallov lets him walk back on his own, but he keeps an eye on Kearan. He’s got strong arms and sharp eyes, that Wallov.

Deros locks the cell back up while Wallov brings Kearan to me. I’m standing back over by the entryway to the brig. No need for all the pirates to hear what I’m about to offer him. Might give them all the wrong idea. For Kearan is one of only two men I intend to recruit.

“Kearan?”

“Yes?” he asks, not bothering to tack on any sort of civil title. Even in such a dire situation, he has his come-what-may attitude.

“One of my good women died in the skirmish. A spot’s opened up on my crew. I could use a navigator like yourself. Are you interested?”

“It’s been only a month since you tried to kill me. Now you want to hire me?” He doesn’t look confused or scared or even grateful. Just bored.

“I know. I’m questioning it myself.”

“What’ll happen if I say no?”

“You’ll stay down here until I either kill you or … well, killing you is probably the only option.” I don’t want to tell him I’d let him go. He can’t think he has too many options. Besides, once he spends some time on my ship, he won’t regret the decision.

“With such gracious options like those, how can I choose?”

I cross my arms. “I think I’m being more than fair. You’re lazy, and you wouldn’t need to contribute all that often.”

“In the meantime, will I stay down here?”

“No, you’ll be on probation, free to roam the ship with a guard trailing you. Once I feel I can trust you, I’ll remove that.”

Kearan scratches at the stubble on his face, thinking it over.

I add, “We have a rather large rum storage.”

“I’ll do it.”

“I thought you might say that. Now, report up top. Go introduce yourself to the helmsman.”

“Aye.” He starts to leave.

“Kearan.” I stop him.

“Yes?”

“You will address me as ‘Captain’ from now on.”

He looks down at the floor for a moment, as though this might change his mind. Finally, he says, “Aye, Captain.”

“Good.”

He leaves, and I grab Wallov’s attention again. “Now I need that one. The man with the pearls.”

Enwen is the only one in the cell. He comes strolling out as soon as it opens.

“Miss Alosa,” he says. “I see the bracelet brought you luck after all.”

“What?”

He points to my foot. I forgot completely that he’d tied his “siren charm” there. “Got you your freedom, didn’t it? And I know my pearls still work because I’m here safe and sound on your ship. Are yeh a believer yet?”

“I’m afraid I don’t believe in luck. Just skill.”

“Sometimes I think they’re the same thing.”

I’m not sure what he means by that, but I don’t really care at the moment. “It so happens I could use a good thief. Would you be willing to join my crew?”

He smiles. “Course. Don’t care much where I sail, so long as there is plenty of coin to be found.”

“Don’t worry. I promise that where we’re going, there will be more money than you can even fathom.”

Enwen licks his lips. “In that case, I promise to be the best thief you’ve ever seen.”

“Good. Report up top, then.”

“Aye-aye.”

As he disappears above deck, I realize I should have mentioned that he leave the thieving for when he’s off the ship. Best not forget next time I see him.

I survey the remaining prisoners before speaking up. “The rest of you will remain here until I decide what to do with you. You needn’t fear for your lives unless you try to escape.” I look at Draxen during the last bit. “Then you have great need to worry.”

Draxen stands. “What of my brother?”

“My best healer is seeing to his wounds.”

“If anything happens to him, I’ll kill you.”

“Draxen, empty threats are useless. Your brother is in my care, and whatever I decide to do with him will be done. There is nothing you can do to change it. Understand?”

I may have made it sound a bit worse than it is, but I don’t care. After so much time spent near Draxen, he should be glad I’m letting him keep his life.

I start for the surface, following after the two new members of my crew.

Though the pain of our loss is great, I think Kearan and Enwen will be nice additions. I have plenty of good fighters on the ship, but skilled thieves and navigators are hard to come by.

I breach the top and am greeted by the bright sun. It is a fine day with few clouds in the sky. The wind blows my hair over my shoulders. It’s perfect for sailing.

I stop short when I find Kearan frozen in place, facing the stern.

“Kearan?” I ask, poking him in the back. He doesn’t move.

I swivel around so I can look at his face. He’s staring at something ahead. Attempting to follow his gaze, I can only guess he’s looking at the aftercastle.

“Kearan?” I try again.

He opens his mouth, closes it again to swallow, and tries again. “Who is that?”

Oh, he’s looking at a person. I take another look. “Niridia? That’s my first mate at the helm.”

He shakes his head. “Not her. The dark beauty in the shadows.”

I look again. I hadn’t even noticed Sorinda hiding in the shadow cast by the end sail. “That’s Sorinda.”

He doesn’t look away. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t blinked. “And what is her job on the ship?”

I smile. “She’s my assassin.”

“I want her to be the one to supervise me.”

“What?”

“You said I was on probation and I would be supervised for a time. I want it to be her.”

I have never heard Kearan talk so clearly. His words are usually accompanied by the slur that comes with constant drunkenness.

“Did you hear the part where I said she’s my assassin? Don’t mess with her. She’ll kill you before you have time to blink.”

“Then it shouldn’t be a problem. She can make sure I don’t step out of line.”

Not twenty minutes ago, I assured Niridia that Kearan was more interested in his drink than in the girls. It appears I spoke too soon.

But to be honest, I’m dying to see how this turns out.

“Sorinda!” I shout.

She doesn’t move her stance, but I see her eyes shift toward me.

“Come down here.” I wave her over.

Like a cat, she slinks out of the shadows. Rather than taking the companionway, she leaps over the railing and lands without making a sound.

She is, as Kearan described, a dark beauty. Long black hair. Thin with elegantly pointed features. Though she’s constantly trying to hide, when she comes into the light, there are few who stand out more. Niridia is an obvious beauty with features that almost look painted. Sorinda is like something forged out of nature. One of the beauties that only comes out at night.

She doesn’t answer once she reaches us. She simply waits for me to speak.

Kearan stares at her openly. Sorinda pretends not to notice.

“This is Kearan. He’s joined our crew. Going to be our new navigator. Right now he’s on probation. Will you keep an eye on him for me?”

“I always have an eye on everyone.”

I smile. “I know, but this one is officially your responsibility.”

She sizes up Kearan. Her expression never changes much. It’s always impossible to tell what she’s feeling. But now her lips curve downward slightly. Kearan may be large and ugly, but there’s no denying he’s good at what he does—so long as he is properly motivated to do it.

“Very well,” she says at last.

“Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have one more prisoner to see.”

Though Draxen’s ship is bigger than mine, I’ve opted for more rooms up top rather than larger captain’s quarters for myself. Since I actually care about my crew, I’ve had a room fashioned for treating injuries.

This is the one I start for.

On my way, I spot Enwen at the port side railing, surveying the crew. He’s less of a concern to me than Kearan. I’ll have someone keep an eye on him, but that can be sorted out later.

Mandsy leans over the cushioned table in the room, where Riden lies on his back, asleep. His breeches have been sheared at the thighs to allow easy access to the pistol wounds. The room smells of ointments and blood.

“How is he?” I ask.

“Things are looking really good, Captain. The ball has already been removed from his thigh. The shot at his calf went clean through. I bandaged him up as best I could, including the lighter cuts and stabs on his arms.”

Something inside me relaxes, and breathing comes more easily. “Good. Has he been conscious at all?”

“Yes. He woke up once and looked at me funny.”

“Did he say anything?”

“He said, ‘You don’t have red hair.’ Then he fell back asleep.” She smiles knowingly. “He was awfully disappointed I wasn’t you, Captain.”

“Nonsense. There are plenty of redheaded women.”

“If you say so.”

“Alosa?” The voice is faint and unsteady.

“Riden.” I step up to the head of the table so I’m in his line of vision.

“I’ll just leave you two for a moment,” Mandsy says.

“Yes, thank you, Mands.”

She closes the door behind her.

His face is pale, but his chest still rises and falls, filling with air then releasing it. I never truly appreciated that motion until now. His arms and legs are covered in bandages. There’s barely more skin than white strips of cloth.

“How do you feel?” I ask.

“Like I got shot. Twice.”

“If you weren’t so injured already, I’d beat you for what you did back there.”

“Freeing us?”

I shake my head. “No, you idiot. Getting yourself shot! Twice!”

“Pain goes away eventually,” he says. “Death is permanent.”

“You’re awfully lucid for a man who was shot.”

He smiles before his face turns to seriousness. “I’m sorry for what those men did to you. I can’t possibly know how awful it was for you, but I imagine it was horrific.”

I look at him incredulously.

“What?”

“Do you see me?” I ask.

“Yes. What—”

“I’m standing. I have no injuries. No gunshot wounds, and you think I had a horrific time? I’m fine.” Although I’m furious that Theris—the real Vordan—is still alive.

“How is my brother?” Riden asks.

“He’s in my brig.”

“Alive?”

“Yes, alive! You think I want a corpse stinking up the place?”

“Thank you, Alosa.”

I wave him off like it’s nothing. “I trust you find your own accommodations satisfying?” I ask when the silence becomes too long.

“I’m on a table.”

“Yes, but it’s the only thing in the room aside from Mandsy’s case of healing supplies. Not a mess in sight. There’s nothing for you to obsess over.”

He laughs. When he’s done, he asks, “What happens now?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. My father and I have some planning to do. The men from your crew who are still alive, I’ll drop off at some port. I can’t let Draxen go free. He clearly won’t let his defeat go, so he’ll remain my prisoner for now. But no harm will come to him or you if I can help it.”

He locks eyes with me. His expression is so grateful, so relieved—you’d think I’d made him king of his own island.

“You saved my life, Riden. I’m simply returning the favor.”

“Is that really all it is?”

“Yes.”

He takes a deep breath. “When we were on that island, I learned so much about you. I accused you before of enchanting me, of toying with my mind. I know now what it really feels like to be under your control. I realized you were being honest with me before, and that what I think—what I feel—has nothing to do with your abilities, but everything to do with you.”

“Riden,” I say, stopping him.

“Yes?”

“You’ve lost a lot of blood, and I’m pretty sure you were dead for a time. Maybe you should take some time to reclaim your strength—and your head—before you say or do anything mad.”

“Like get shot twice?” he asks, relieving the tension in the room.

I laugh. “Yes, like that.”

“Fine, but since I know so much about what you’re capable of, would it hurt if I asked you a question?”

“You may ask.” Doesn’t mean I’ll answer.

“What’s so special about your birth? How did you come to possess the powers of sirens without fully becoming one? You said you’d tell me in exchange for the map. Though I didn’t offer it to you freely, you have it now, and I’d still like to know.”

Riden does know so much about me. He witnessed firsthand all the horrible things I could do to him if I wanted. Yet he still talks to me as though we’re … friends, almost. I don’t mind if he knows more. It’s remarkable that he’s accepting me as it is. Not that I should care whether he does or doesn’t.

“My father followed his section of the map almost nineteen years ago. He wanted to see how far he could get with what he had. He and two ships from his fleet came across an island that had never been charted by any cartographer in Maneria, save the one who made the map to the Isla de Canta long ago.” I know this story by heart. When I was little, I asked my father to tell it to me repeatedly. Now that I’m older, I realize it’s a bit inappropriate for a young girl. But my father has always treated me as though I’m older than I really am.

“What was the island?” Riden asks.

“We do not know its name. Only that it is located on the way to the Isla de Canta. But its name is not important. What’s important is what they found when they reached it.”

“What did they find?”

“A lagoon. A lagoon where beautiful women bathed in the water. Thinking that they’d go and have some fun, several men jumped overboard, including my father. But instead of the women fleeing, screaming to get away, it was the men who shrieked until their heads disappeared below the water’s surface.”

“But your father survived. How?”

I smile, remembering when he told me the story of how he and Draxen took control of the Night Farer. “Don’t interrupt. I’m getting there.”

“Sorry.”

“The siren is a strong creature. Stronger than any single man. When she finds her prey, she grips him by the shoulders and forces him down to the ocean’s bottom, where she has her way with him.”

Riden swallows. “How romantic.”

I cock my head. “Would you say it is any more terrible than the intentions of the men who started for them in the first place?”

Riden is silent at that.

I continue. “A man will struggle and fight to save his life, but the siren will always win. And those sirens who conceive while underwater will give birth to siren children. Always girls, of course. Because sirens are always female.

“My father was grabbed by the most beautiful of them all. Their queen, even, he claims. She, like the others, pulled him down to the ocean’s floor.”

“And?”

“My father struggled at first. He fought with all his might, but it was useless. He knew he was going to die. And so, instead of struggling until the lack of air became too much for him, he decided he would become a partner in what was happening.”

“You mean—”

“Instead of fighting, he returned her embraces and kisses. And for whatever reason, this saved his life. Because she brought him back to the surface. All the way back up onto land. For a child who is conceived by a siren on land will be more human than not.”

“Stars,” Riden says, all other words leaving him.

“My father, and those who stayed aboard the ships, left the island, having gone as far as they possibly could without the other two-thirds of the map, and sailed home. They were permitted to leave due to my father’s encounter with the siren queen. She allowed them to keep their lives instead of sending all her subjects to finish them off.

“My father has returned to that island many times since then. But he’s never seen another siren.”

Riden doesn’t say anything more. He’s too lost in thought, trying to take it all in. Eventually, his eyes close, and I assume he’s asleep. I stare at his closed eyelids. His deep, even breaths. His full lips. He’s a strange man. Strange for having saved me. Strange for fighting so hard to save his awful brother. Strange for not fighting for what he wants—whatever that may be.

I suppose I will have plenty of time to better figure him out in the future.

There’s still one-third of a map that needs finding.


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