Main Daughter of the Pirate King

Daughter of the Pirate King

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break your glass slippers

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Begin Reading
Table of Contents
About the Author
Copyright Page

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For Alisa,
my sister, friend, and first reader

“LET US NOT, DEAR FRIENDS, FORGET OUR DEAR FRIENDS THE CUTTLEFISH.”
—CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Chapter 1
I HATE HAVING TO dress like a man.
The cotton shirt is too loose, the breeches too big, the boots too
uncomfortable. My hair is bound on the top of my head, secured in a bun
underneath a small sailor’s hat. My sword is strapped tightly to the left side
of my waist, a pistol undrawn on my right.
The clothing is awkward as it hangs loose in all the wrong places. And
the smell! You’d think men did nothing but roll around in dead fish guts
while smearing their own excrement on their sleeves. But perhaps I
shouldn’t complain so.
Such precautions are necessary when one’s being invaded by pirates.
We’re outnumbered. Outgunned. Seven of my men lie dead on their
backs. Two more jumped overboard as soon as they saw the black flag of
the Night Farer on the horizon.
Deserters. They’re the most cowardly filth. They deserve whatever fate
comes to them. Whether they tire and drown or get claimed by the sea life.
Steel twangs through the air. The ship rocks from the blasts of cannons.
We cannot hold out much longer.
“Two more down, Captain,” Mandsy, my temporary first mate, says from
where she peeks through the trapdoor.

“I should be up there, shoving steel ; between ribs,” I say, “not hiding like
some helpless whelp.”
“A little patience,” she reminds me. “If we’re to survive this, you need to
stay put.”
“Survive?” I ask, offended.
“Let me rephrase. If we’re to succeed, you really shouldn’t be seen
performing impressive feats with the sword.”
“But maybe if I just killed a few of them…” I say more to myself.
“You know we can’t risk that,” she says. Then she adds abruptly, “More
men have boarded the ship. I think they’re headed this way.”
Finally. “Give the order to surrender.”
“Aye, Captain.” She ascends the rest of the steps leading to the deck.
“And don’t get yourself killed!” I hiss after her.
She nods before traveling through the trapdoor.
Don’t get killed, I say again in my head. Mandsy is one of only three I
trust on this ship. She’s a good gal, very bright, optimistic—and a good
voice of reason, which I desperately needed during our voyage. She
volunteered to come, along with two other girls from my real crew. I
shouldn’t have allowed them to join me, but I needed their help keeping
these worthless men in line. Life these last few weeks would have been so
much easier if I could have had my crew on this venture.
“Lay down your arms!”
I can barely make out her cry through the sounds of fighting. But then
things calm down. Cutlasses clatter to the wooden deck almost instantly.
The men currently under my command had to be expecting the order.
Praying for it, even. If I did not order the surrender, perhaps they would
have given up on their own. By no means does this crew consist of the
bravest bunch.

I climb the stairs, lying in wait just belowdecks, staying out of sight. I’m
to play the part of the harmless cabin boy. If these men were to discover
who I truly am …
“Check belowdecks. Make sure no one’s hiding.” It’s one of the pirates. I
can’t see him from where I hide, but if he’s giving orders, he’s either the
first mate or the captain.
I tense, even though I know exactly what comes next.
The trapdoor lifts, and a hideous face comes into view, complete with a
foul, scraggly beard, yellow teeth, and a broken nose. Meaty arms grasp me
roughly, hoisting me off the ladder and tossing me onto the deck.
It’s a miracle that my hat stays on.
“Line them up!”
I stand as my weapons are removed by the ugly pirate. Then his foot
jams into my back as he forces me to my knees, along with the rest of my
men. I look down the line and relax as I see Mandsy. Sorinda and Zimah are
unharmed as well. Good. My girls are safe. To hell with the rest of the crew.
I take a moment to observe the pirate barking out orders. He’s a young
man, perhaps not even twenty years of age. Unusual, that. Young men are
not usually the ones giving orders, especially among crews such as this one.
His eyes are alight with the victory of the battle. His stance is sure, his face
confident. He’s probably a head taller than I, were I standing, with dark
brown hair the color of a seal’s coat. His face is pleasant enough to look at,
but that means nothing to me when I know he belongs to this crew. He
notices Mandsy in the lineup. Her hat has fallen off, revealing her long
brown hair and pretty face. He winks at her.
All in all, I’d say he’s a cocky bastard.
My crew and I wait in silence for whatever the pirates have in store for
us. Smoke billows around us from the cannon blasts. Debris is scattered

around the ship. The smell of gunpowder leaches into the air, scratching at
the back of my throat.
Footsteps sound as a man walks across the gangplank that connects the
two ships. His head points down, revealing nothing more than a black hat
with a white plume rising from the side.
“Captain,” the same pirate shouting orders from before says, “all the
men on the ship are before you.”
“Good, Riden. But let’s hope they’re not all men.”
A few pirates snicker. Some of my men glance nervously in my
direction.
Fools! They’re giving me away too easily.
“I’ve spotted three lasses so far, but none of them have red hair.”
The captain nods. “Listen up!” he shouts, raising his head so we can see
him for the first time.
He’s not much older than his cocky first mate. I slowly take in the faces
of the pirate crew. Many can’t even grow hair on their chins. It’s an
incredibly young pirate crew. I’d heard that the Night Farer was no longer
under the command of the pirate lord Jeskor—that he was succeeded by a
young captain, but I hadn’t expected the entire crew to be so young.
“You have all heard the stories of Jeskor the Headbreaker,” the young
pirate captain continues. “I am his son, Draxen. And you will find that my
reputation will grow to be far worse.”
I can’t help myself. I laugh. Does he think he can make a reputation for
himself by telling everyone how fearsome he is?
“Kearan,” the captain says, nodding to the man behind me. Kearan rams
the bottom of his sword onto the top of my head. It’s not hard enough to
knock me out, but it is enough to hurt like hell.

That’s enough of that, I think. Mandsy’s words of caution are so far from
my mind now. I’m done kneeling on the floor like some servant. Bracing
my hands against the wooden deck, I extend my legs backward, hooking
my feet behind the heels of the ugly pirate standing there. With one yank
forward, Kearan topples backward. I stand quickly, turn around, and take
my sword and pistol from him before he can regain his feet.
I point the pistol at Draxen’s face. “Get off the ship and take your men
with you.”
Behind me, I hear scuffling as Kearan finds his feet. I jerk my elbow
backward, connecting with his enormous gut. There’s a large splat as he
collapses to the ground once again.
It’s quiet. Everyone can hear the click of my pistol cocking back. “Leave
now.”
The captain tries to peer under my hat. I could duck under his gaze, but
that would mean taking my eyes off him.
All at once a shot fires, wrenching the pistol from my hand. It lands on
the deck before skittering out of sight.
I look to the right to see the first mate—Riden—placing his pistol back
into his holster. A resulting arrogant smile stretches across his face. Though
I would like to slash the look from him with my sword, I can admit it was
an impressive shot.
But that doesn’t stop me from getting angry. I draw my sword and step
toward the first mate. “You could have taken my hand.”
“Only if I’d wanted to.”
All too quickly two men grab me from behind, one holding each arm.
“I think you talk far too much for a mere cabin boy whose voice hasn’t
yet dropped,” the captain says. “Remove the hat.”

One of my captors yanks the hat from my head, and my hair falls into
place, reaching halfway down my back.
“Princess Alosa,” Draxen says. “There you are. You’re a bit younger
than I expected.”
He’s one to talk. I may be three years shy of twenty, but I’d bet my
sword arm I could best him in any challenge of wits or skill.
“I was worried we’d have to tear apart the ship before we found you,” he
continues. “You will be coming with us now.”
“I think you’ll learn quickly, Captain, that I don’t like being told what to
do.”
Draxen snorts, rests his hands on his belt, and turns back toward the
Night Farer. His first mate, however, never takes his eyes off me, as though
he anticipates a violent reaction.
Well, of course I’m going to react violently, but why should he expect it
already?
I slam my heel into the foot of the pirate holding me on the right. He
grunts and releases me to reach down. Then I jab the side of my freed hand
into the other pirate’s throat. He makes a choking sound before placing his
hands at his neck.
Draxen turns to see what the commotion is. Meanwhile, Riden levels
another pistol at me, even whilst a smile still rests upon his face. Singleshot pistols take time to reload with gunpowder and an iron ball, which is
why most men carry at least two on them.
“I have terms, Captain,” I say.
“Terms?” he says in disbelief.
“We will negotiate the terms of my surrender. First I will have your word
that my crew will be freed and unharmed.”

Draxen removes his right hand from his belt and reaches down for one of
his pistols. As soon as he has it, he points it at the first of my men in line
and fires. The pirate behind him jumps out of the way as the body of my
crewman falls backward.
“Do not test me,” Draxen commands. “You will get on my ship. Now.”
He is certainly eager to prove his reputation. But if he thinks he can
intimidate me, he is wrong.
Again I pick up my sword. Then I rake it across the throat of the pirate
recovering from the strike to the neck I gave him.
Riden’s eyes widen while the captain’s narrow. Draxen pulls out another
gun from his waist and fires at the second man in line. He goes down like
the first.
I ram my sword into the closest pirate next to me. He cries out before
dropping first to his knees, then to the deck. The boots I wear are now
sticky with blood. I’ve left a few red footprints on the wood beneath me.
“Stop!” Riden shouts. He steps closer, pointing his gun at my chest. It is
of no surprise to me that his smile is now gone.
“If you wanted me dead, you would have already killed me,” I say.
“Since you want me alive, you will comply with my terms.” In a matter of
seconds, I disarm Kearan, the pirate who grabbed me from before. I force
him to his knees. One hand yanks his head back by the hair; the other holds
my sword steady against his neck. He doesn’t make a sound as I hold his
life in my hands. Impressive, considering he has seen me kill two of his
shipmates. He knows I will feel no guilt at his death.
Draxen stands before a third member of my crew, holding a new pistol.
This one’s Mandsy.
I don’t let the fear show on my face. He has to think me indifferent. This
will work.

“For one who asked for the safety of her crew, you sure are being callous
when I kill them off one by one,” Draxen says.
“But for every man I lose, you shall lose one as well. If you intend to kill
them all after I’m on board, then it doesn’t really matter if I lose a few
while bargaining for the safety of the rest. You intend to take me captive,
Captain. If you wish me to board your ship willingly, then you would be
wise to listen to my offer. Or shall we see just how many of your men I can
kill as you try to force me over?”
Riden approaches his captain and whispers something to him. Draxen
tightens his hold on his weapon. I feel my heart beating rapidly. Not
Mandsy. Not Mandsy. She’s one of mine. I can’t let her die.
“State your terms, princess.” He practically spits out my title. “And be
quick about it.”
“The crew is to be unharmed and released. I will come aboard your ship
without resisting. Also, you will bring my accessories over.”
“Your accessories?”
“Yes, my wardrobe and personal belongings.”
He turns to Riden. “She wants her clothes,” he says incredulously.
“I am a princess, and I will be treated as such.”
The captain looks about ready to shoot me, but Riden speaks up. “What
do we care, Captain, if she wants to get herself all fixed up for us every
day? I for one won’t complain.”
Soft laughter resonates from his crew.
“Very well,” Draxen says at last. “Will that be all, Your Highness?”
“Yes.”
“Then get your pampered arse over to the ship. You men”—he points to
a couple of brutes in the back—“get her belongings to the ship. As for the
princess’s crew, get the lot of you to the rowboats. I will be sinking this

ship. It’s a two-and-a-half-day sail to the nearest port if you row quickly.
And I suggest you do before you die of thirst. Once you reach the shore,
you will take my note of ransom to the pirate king and inform him that I
have his daughter.”
Men from both sides hurry about to carry out orders. The captain steps
forward and holds out his hand for the sword. Reluctantly, I give it up.
Kearan, the pirate I’d been threatening, rises to his feet and scurries as far
from me as possible. I don’t get a chance to smile at his reaction, because
Draxen lands a blow on my left cheek.
My whole body lurches from the force of it. The inside of my mouth
bleeds from where my teeth struck skin. I spit blood onto the deck.
“Let’s get one thing straight, Alosa. You are my prisoner. While it
appears you’ve learned a thing or two from growing up as the daughter of
the pirate king, the fact remains that you will be the only woman on a ship
full of cutthroats, thieves, and blackhearts who haven’t made port in a good
long while. Do you know what that means?”
I spit again, trying to get the taste of blood out of my mouth. “It means
your men haven’t been to a whorehouse recently.”
Draxen smiles. “If you ever try to make me lose face in front of my men
like that again, I may just leave your cell unlocked at night so anyone can
wander in, and I will fall asleep, listening to your screams.”
“You’re daft if you think you will ever hear me scream. And you’d better
pray you never fall asleep while my cell is unlocked.”
He gives me an evil smile. I note that he has a gold tooth. His hat sits
atop black hair that peeks under in little curls. His face is dark from the sun.
And his coat is a little too big for him, as if it belonged to someone before
him. Stole it off his father’s corpse, perhaps?

“Riden!” Draxen shouts. “Take the girl over. Put her in the brig. Then get
to work on her.”
Get to work on her?
“Gladly,” Riden says as he approaches. He grasps my arm tightly, almost
hard enough for it to hurt. It’s a sharp contrast to his light expression. It
makes me wonder if the two men I killed were his friends. He tows me
toward the other ship. As I walk, I watch my men and women drift away on
the rowboats. They row at a steady pace so as not to tire themselves too
quickly. Mandsy, Sorinda, and Zimah will make sure they swap positions
regularly so each man can get a turn to rest. They’re bright girls.
The men, however, are throwaways. My father handpicked each of them.
Some of them owe him money. Some of them got caught stealing from the
treasury. Some didn’t follow orders like they were supposed to. And some
have no other fault except for being an annoyance. Whatever the case, my
father gathered them all together in one crew, and I brought no more than
three girls from my ship to help me keep them in line.
After all, Father suspected that most of the men would be killed once
Draxen took me. Lucky for them, I was able to save most of their miserable
lives. I hope Father won’t be too upset.
But that doesn’t matter right now. The point is that I’m now aboard the
Night Farer.
Of course, I couldn’t make my capture look too easy. I had a part to play.
Draxen and his crew can’t suspect me.
They can’t know I was sent on a mission to rob their ship.

Chapter 2
I ENVY RIDEN’S BOOTS.
They’re of a fine workmanship and black as a shark’s hungry eye. The
buckles look to be pure silver. The leather is firm and tight. The material
folds around his calves in a perfect fit. His steps thud on the deck. Sturdy.
Loud. Powerful.
Meanwhile, I constantly trip as Riden drags me along. My too-big boots
keep nearly falling off. Whenever I hesitate so I can readjust them, Riden
yanks harder on my arm. I have to catch myself several times before I fall
to the floor.
“Keep up now, lass,” he says merrily, knowing full well I’m incapable of
doing just that.
Finally, I stomp on his foot.
He grunts but, to his credit, does not let me go. I expect him to hit me
like Draxen did, but he doesn’t. He just hurries me along faster. I could, of
course, break away from him easily if I wanted to. But I can’t seem too
adept, especially when pitted against the first mate. And I need the pirates
to settle down around me after my display back on the other ship.
This ship is empty except for the two of us. All of Draxen’s men are over
on my ship, relieving it of anything valuable. Father gave me enough coin

to make the pirates happy but not too profitable. If I had been found
traveling without any money, Draxen was bound to be suspicious.
Riden turns me to the right, where we face a set of stairs leading
belowdecks. It’s an uncomfortable trip downward. Twice I miss a step and
nearly tumble all the way down. Riden catches me each time, but his grip is
always firmer than necessary. My skin will likely be bruised by tomorrow.
Knowing this makes me angry.
Which is why when we are three steps from the bottom, I trip him.
He’s clearly not expecting it. He falls, but I didn’t take into account that
tight grip of his. So, naturally, he takes me with him.
The impact is painful.
Riden gets to his feet quickly, yanking me up with him. Then he shoves
me into a corner so I have nowhere to run. He rakes his deep brown eyes
down and up, regarding me with curiosity. I’m something new. A project,
perhaps. An assignment from his captain. He must learn the best way to
deal with me.
While he watches me, I wonder what it is he gathers from my face and
stance. My role is the part of the distressed and exasperated prisoner, but
even when playing a part, pieces of a person’s true self can sneak through
the cracks. The trick is controlling which part of me I want him to see. For
now, it is my stubbornness and temper. Those I don’t have to pretend.
He must come to some conclusion as he says, “You said you would be a
willing prisoner. I can see your word does not mean much to you.”
“Hardly,” I retort. “If you had given me a chance to walk to the brig
without your help instead of bruising my arm, your knees wouldn’t be
smarting.”
He says nothing while amusement lights up his eyes. Finally, he extends
his arm in the direction of the brig, as if he is a potential partner presenting

me with the dance floor.
I step on without him, but from behind me he says, “Lass, you’ve the
face of an angel but the tongue of a snake.”
I’m tempted to turn around and kick him, but I manage to hold myself in
check. There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve
gotten what I came for.
I stand tall and walk the rest of the way to the brig. I observe the
different cells quickly, selecting the cleanest one. Really, it looks just like
the others. But I try to convince myself the dark substance in the corner is
dirt.
At least the cell has a chair and a table. I will have a place to put my
belongings. I don’t doubt for a moment that the captain will keep his word.
It is mutually beneficial for all pirate captains to be honest with one another,
even if we’re likely to kill one another in their sleep. No deals and
negotiations would be possible between rivaling lords without some
semblance of trust. It’s a new way of life for every pirate. My father
introduced the concept of honesty into the pirate repertoire. All the pirates
who wanted to survive under the new regime had to adopt it. For anyone
found being dishonest in their dealings is quickly disposed of by the pirate
king.
I inspect the seat of the chair. Everything is too dirty for my liking, but it
will have to do. I remove the large brown leather coat from my shoulders
and cover the seat and back of the chair with it. Only then do I sit.
Riden smirks, probably at my clear unease in these quarters. He locks me
in the cell and pockets the key. Then he pulls out a chair for himself and sits
down, just on the other side of the bars.
“What now?” I ask.
“Now we talk.”

I make a show of sighing dramatically. “You already have me prisoner.
Go claim your ransom and leave me to sulk in peace.”
“I’m afraid your father’s money is not all we want from you.”
I clutch the neckline of my cotton shirt as though I’m worried the pirates
intend to undress me. This is part of the act. It would take a lot of men to
restrain me; I have no trouble handling three at a time. And no more than
that would fit in this cell.
“No one is going to touch you now that you’re down here. I will see to
that.”
“And who will see to it that you do not touch me?”
“Let me assure you, I have never had need to force myself upon a
woman. They come willingly.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“That’s because I haven’t worked my charms on you yet.”
I laugh scornfully. “As a female pirate raised by other pirates, I’ve had to
fend off the most despicable and persistent of men. I’m not too worried.”
“And what would you do, Alosa, if you had to fend off a man who
wasn’t despicable and persistent?”
“I’ll let you know when I meet one.”
He laughs. The sound is deep and rich. “Fair enough. But now to
business. You are here because I want information.”
“That’s nice. I want a clean cell.”
He leans back in his chair, getting comfortable. Perhaps he realizes this
will take a while. “Where does Kalligan make port?”
I snort. “You’re a terrible questioner. You think I’m going to hand over
the location to my father’s hideaway? Shouldn’t you ease into the big
questions? And since he is your king, you would do well to address him
with his proper title.”

“Since I have his daughter locked up, I think I have the liberty to call
him whatever I wish.”
“He will kill you and everyone else on this ship. And he will not make it
quick.” I felt it was about time I threw out a threat or two. That’s what a real
prisoner would do.
Riden doesn’t look worried. Not at all. He wears his confidence as if it is
merely another article of clothing upon his person.
“It will be difficult for us to return you if we do not know your father’s
location.”
“You don’t need to know it. He will find me.”
“We will be several days ahead of your father’s men. That’s more than
enough time to escape to somewhere he will never find us.”
I shake my head. “You simpleton. My father has men in his employ
throughout all of Maneria. It only takes one of them to spot you.”
“We are well aware of your father’s reach. Though I don’t see how he
thinks that merits his self-given title as king.”
Now it is my turn to recline in my chair. “You’re jesting, right? My
father controls the ocean. There is not a single man who sails without
paying a toll to him. All pirates must pay a percentage of their plunder to
him. Those who do not are blown sky high from the sea. So tell me, fearless
Riden, first mate of the Night Farer, if he kills men for shorting him on
money owed, what do you think he will do to the men who have taken his
daughter?
“You and this crew are nothing more than a bunch of little boys playing
a dangerous game. Within a fortnight, every man on the sea will be looking
for me.” Of course, I intend to be off this vessel before a fortnight has
passed.

“Little boys?” He straightens in his chair. “You must be younger than
nearly every man on this ship.”
After everything I said, that’s what he held on to? “Hardly. What are
you, fifteen?” I’m goading him. I know he must be much older than that,
but I’m curious as to his actual age.
“Eighteen,” he corrects me.
“Regardless, my age has nothing to do with anything. I have a special set
of skills that make me a better pirate than most men can ever hope of
becoming.”
Riden tilts his head to the side. “And what skills might those be?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
His grin widens at that. “As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, this is no
ordinary crew. We may be younger than most men at sea, but most of us
have seen the cruelest side of life there is. The men are ruthless, each one of
them already killers.” For a moment his face drops, and a hint of sadness
washes over him. He’s reflecting on some former time.
“If you’re going to start crying, could you wait until you get back on
deck? I can’t abide tears.”
Riden levels his gaze at me. Almost as if he’s not looking at me but
through me. “You’re truly a heartless creature, Alosa. You kill without
hesitating. You can best two men at a time in a fight. You watch your own
men dying without blinking. I can only imagine the kind of upbringing you
must have had under the most notorious pirate in all of Maneria.”
“Let’s not forget the fact that I’m a better shot than you.”
He laughs, showing a nice set of teeth. Impressive for a pirate. “I think I
shall enjoy our talks together over the next good long while. And I sincerely
hope I will get a chance to see you shoot someday, so long as I’m not the
target.”

“No promises.”
The faint sounds of shouting rise above deck. The ship shakes as it
releases more cannons. That’ll be Draxen sinking my ship. Well, it’s not my
ship, merely the ship my father gave me for this mission. My real ship, the
Ava-lee, and most of my real crew are safe at the keep. While I miss both,
I’m also thrilled at the challenge ahead of me.
The steps creak as someone descends them. Draxen comes into view not
long after. Three men trail behind him, carrying my effects.
“About time,” I say.
The faces of the three brutes carrying my bags are red, their breathing
rapid. I smile. That probably means they got it all. I do not pack lightly.
Each one of them huffs as they drop the bags to the floor.
“Careful!” I snap.
The first pirate is rather tall. He almost has to duck in order to traverse
belowdecks. Now that he’s dumped his load, he reaches into his pocket and
fumbles with something there. A string of what looks like beads peeks out.
Some sort of good luck charm, perhaps?
The second stares at me as if I’m a tasty morsel of food. He makes the
skin at the base of my neck crawl. Best to stay away from that one, I decide.
The man at the back of the group is Kearan. Stars, he’s ugly. His nose is
large, his eyes too far apart, his beard too long and unkempt. His belly
hangs over his belt to complete the look.
I think that my opinion of him can’t get any lower when I notice what’s
in his hand. He tosses a couple of my dresses onto the heap at the floor.
I clench my teeth. “Were you dragging those? On this filthy floor? Do
you have any idea how hard it was to find a girl my size to steal those
from?”

“Shut your trap, Alosa,” Draxen commands. “I’m still of half a mind to
toss this lot overboard, my word be damned.”
Kearan pulls a flask from his many-pocketed coat. He takes a large swig.
“Might keep us from sinking, Cap’n.”
“Oh, hush,” I say. “It’s not too late for me to kill you.”
He has the decency to look troubled before taking another drink.
Draxen turns around. “Gents, go above and make ready the ship. I want
to leave immediately. Kearan, to the helm with you. Await my return.”
As they depart, Draxen strolls up to Riden and slaps him on the back.
“How did it go, brother?”
Brother?
Draxen’s hair is darker, but his shoulders have the same broadness as
Riden’s. They have the same dark eyes, but Riden is more handsome. No,
not handsome. Rivaling pirates are not handsome. They’re bilge rats.
“Well enough,” Riden responds. “She’s very much loyal to her father.
She’s confident in his ability to rescue her, since his reach upon the sea is so
vast. Her words lead me to believe he’ll be looking for us in open water, so
I recommend we stay close to shore.”
Hurriedly, I think back to our conversation, realizing the all-toorevealing mistakes in my answers.
Riden’s more clever than he seems. He smirks at my startled expression,
or perhaps at the look of death I send him afterward. Then he continues.
“She’s got a fiery temperament that matches the red hair atop her head.
She’s intelligent. I’d guess she’s had some sort of proper schooling. As for
her fighting and such, I’d wager she was trained by the pirate king himself,
which means he truly cares for her and will agree to pay the ransom.”
“Excellent,” Draxen says. “So the blackhearted pirate king would indeed
come for his daughter.”

“Probably in person,” Riden says.
I’m careful to keep my expression the same. Let them think my father
will be looking for me, rather than sitting safe in his keep, awaiting my
report. However, Riden's spot-on about my training. My father would only
trust this mission with someone he had trained himself. And he’s only ever
trained one person.
“Anything else?” Draxen asks.
“She’s a dangerous one. She should be kept locked up at all times. I also
wouldn’t let any of the men be alone with her, for their sakes.” Riden says
that part jokingly, but then he returns to seriousness, taking a deep breath
while he collects his thoughts. “And she’s hiding something. More than the
secrets we already know she keeps. There’s something she really doesn’t
want me to find out.”
I stand from my chair and step up to the bars, my mind reeling. He can’t
know my darkest secret. Only my father and a select few know it. “How
could you possibly know that?”
“I didn’t.”
Draxen laughs.
I ball my hands into fists. I want nothing more than to strike Riden’s
cocky face again and again until each of his teeth fall out of his smile.
But, alas, his face is too far away. So I settle for grabbing the sleeve of
his long shirt. Since he’s still sitting, he flies headfirst toward the bars. He
braces his hands against the bars so his face doesn’t connect. That’s fine by
me, because it gives me the time I need to use my free hand to pluck the
key to my cell from his pocket. Once I’ve got it, I place it in my own pocket
and back up to the wooden wall of the cell.
Riden grunts as he stands.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t be left alone with her, either,” Draxen says.

“I can handle her. Besides, she knows that the longer she holds on to it,
the longer she’ll have to enjoy my company.”
I remind myself that I’m on this ship by choice. I can leave anytime I
wish. I just need to find the map first.
I unlock the door myself. The two men allow me to haul my bags into
my cell. They don’t bother to help. They wait as I make the three trips. Not
that I want their help. I’m in a mood to break bones. Riden’s, mostly. Father
would no doubt admire my restraint. I lock myself back in the cell once I’m
done.
Riden holds out his hand expectantly. I hesitate for only a brief moment
before tossing the key at him. He catches it effortlessly. A look of
skepticism crosses his face. He grasps a bar of the cell and tugs. It stays
firmly in place, locked.
“Can’t be too careful,” Riden says to Draxen. “Did you check through
her things?”
“Aye,” the captain says. “There’s naught but clothes and books in there.
Nothing of danger. Now, I think we’ve had enough excitement for one day.
Let’s go above and decide the best location to stall the ship. And it would
be best not to tell the lass where we’ll be. Don’t need her gettin’ any ideas.”
Draxen makes for the stairs. Riden quirks up the right side of his lips
before following.
Once they’re out of sight, I smile. Riden isn’t the only one to have
gathered information during our little chat. I’ve learned that Riden and
Draxen are brothers, sons of the pirate lord Jeskor. I’m still unsure as to
what happened to Jeskor and his original crew for Draxen to inherit the
ship, but I’m sure I will learn that later. Riden’s a good shot, and he has his
captain’s confidence. How else did he manage to convince Draxen not to
kill any more of my men? I wonder what he whispered to him back on the

other ship and why he bothered to step in, in the first place. Riden’s
concerned for the men on this ship, not just with the normal concern that a
first mate might have for the men he oversees. I think back to when he told
me all the men on the ship are killers and how saddened he was by it. He
feels responsibility for something. Perhaps it is tied to whatever happened
to the original crew of the Night Farer.
There are many secrets aboard this ship, and I will have plenty of time to
discover them all, starting tonight. I shake my right arm. I feel the metal
slide down and slip into my hand.
It’s the key to my cell.

Chapter 3
I HAD AMPLE OPPORTUNITIES to snatch the key from Riden. The trick was
finding a way to lock myself in the cell before switching the key with
another one I’d brought on board with me. I guessed that the key to my own
ship’s brig would be about the same size. Riden couldn’t have noticed the
difference.
He’s not as clever as he thinks. And I am far more clever than he
realizes.
Big mistake on his part.
Now that I’m alone, I rummage through my bags to find something
suitable to wear. I can’t stomach this sailor’s outfit any longer. It’ll take an
entire bottle of perfume to rid my skin of the stench of the last owner. Who
knows when I’ll be allowed a bucket of water to wash? With Captain
Draxen’s cruel demeanor, I’m sure it will be quite some time.
I select a dark blue corset with wide sleeves that attach with thick
ribbons. I place these atop a white blouse. The corset ties up the front, so
I’m able to do it myself. I never had ladies to wait on me like land-faring
noblemen’s daughters. There are not many women willing to work for
pirates. And the ones equipped for a life at sea are not wasted as maids. My
own crew back at the keep is nearly entirely composed of women. A fact I
am proud of.

I pull on a pair of black leggings and a pair of clean breeches atop that.
My boots, perfectly snug and comfortable, go on next, extending all the
way up to my knees. I sigh in contentment once I’m done. Looking good
certainly helps to make one feel good.
Humming as I work, I grab a book titled Depths of the Sea from one of
my bags. It’s an index of all the creatures known to live in the ocean. I
memorized each entry long ago, and I’ve spent so much time at sea that I’ve
seen more creatures than charted in the work itself. That’s why I had no
problem hollowing out the binding of the book and hiding a small dagger
inside.
Voices and footsteps reach my ears. I quickly place the dagger into my
right boot and drop the book back with my other things. I sit down in what I
hope is an inconspicuous manner as three men enter the brig.
“She don’t look like much,” one says to the others.
“But did you see what she did to Gastol and Moll?” another asks. “Dead
as rocks.”
The third man remains quiet, watching me as the others do.
“Have you finished ogling?” I ask. “Or are you hoping I’ll perform tricks
for you?”
“Don’t mind us,” the first pirate says. “It’s not every day you get to see
the pirate king’s own flesh and blood.”
“And am I what you were expecting?”
“They say the pirate king is as big as a whale and as fierce as a shark.
We weren’t expecting a tiny little thing.”
“I must take after my mother,” I say. I’ve never met my mother, so I
couldn’t say for certain, but my father tells me I received my red hair from
her.

The rest of the day is much like this. Pirates come and go, taking
whatever chance they can get to see the pirate king’s daughter up close.
After the first bunch, I stay mostly quiet.
It’s close to nightfall when my last visitor shows up. Whereas all the
other pirates arrived in groups, this man comes alone.
He’s not much to look at, this one. Medium height and build. Brown hair
and beard. He does look older than most of the other pirates on board.
Maybe not quite thirty, but it’s hard to tell with the beard hiding the bottom
half of his face. He’s got a gold coin in his right hand, which he moves over
his knuckles with ease.
“Hello, Alosa,” he says. “Name’s Theris.”
I’d been leaning back on two legs in my chair, but now I swing forward,
straightening myself. “I must have seen every man on board pass through
here at least once today. Why should I remember you? Or care what your
name is?”
“You shouldn’t,” he says, reaching a hand up and scratching his
forehead. His fingers move fast, but the movement is unmistakable. He
draws the letter K. “I’m not a very interesting man to know.”
The K is for Kalligan. It’s the signal men under my father’s employ use
to identify themselves. Theris must be the man on the ship working for my
father. He would have been the one who let my father know that the crew of
the Night Farer wanted to kidnap me in the first place.
You never know when unfriendly ears are listening in, so I keep the
conversation casual. “So it would seem.”
“Just wanted to catch a glimpse of the pirate king’s daughter.”
“And let me catch a glimpse of you?”
“Precisely. Sometimes survival isn’t about what you can do, but who you
know.”

“Noted,” I say icily.
Theris nods before retreating.
I wasn’t expecting my father’s man to make himself known to me. We
have different jobs on the ship. Theris’s is to provide my father with
information about this ship and its captain. Mine is to play the role of thief.
We shouldn’t need to help each other. In fact, we’re expected to be able to
perform our tasks alone.
But my father is counting on me not to fail. Perhaps his desire to find the
map is so great that he’s ordered Theris to keep an eye on me. On the one
hand, I can understand why he wouldn’t want to take any chances, but on
the other, I’m deeply insulted. I can handle this mission on my own, and I
won’t be calling on Theris for help.
* * *
I have to wait until nightfall before I can start. I can tell when the sun sets
because most of the pirates retire below. I can’t see them from the brig, but
I can smell them. They can’t be far. I can imagine them sleeping in
hammocks or on a straw-strewn floor. Whatever it may be, it’s bound to be
better than the brown-caked floor I’ll be sleeping on. I cringe at the thought.
I start humming again as I shrug on my coat, which is fashioned
similarly to the justaucorps men wear, but mine was made for a woman’s
figure. Mandsy made it for me. She can wield a needle just as well as she
can wield a sword, which is only one of the many reasons why I made her
part of my crew.
Though the coat will help me look like any other sailor if I’m seen from
a distance, I hope I won’t have much need to blend in once I’m above deck.
I’m counting on the cover of darkness to mask me.

Once I’ve got my cell unlocked, I silence my humming. I drift around
the lower areas of the ship, getting a feel for the shape of it. A storage room
for food and supplies, a treasury for the pirates’ plunder, a modest kitchen,
and the main crew’s sleeping quarters make up the space belowdecks. Easy
enough to remember.
Now I need to make it into the captain’s quarters without being seen. I
don’t have Draxen figured out yet, but if I were trying to hide something
important, like a map, I’d keep it close.
There is a possibility, however, that Draxen doesn’t even know the map
is on board. It belonged to his father, who is a descendant from one of the
three ancient pirate lord lines. (I am, of course, descended from one of the
others.) Lord Jeskor may not have even told his sons about the map. No
matter. The map has to be on board. Jeskor would have had it here when he
died, and Draxen’s quarters used to be his own. They’re most definitely the
first place I should look.
I peek up over the last step of the stairs, observing the deck. It’s hard to
see, as the moon is almost new. Naught but a sliver of light shines down
upon the dark deck of the Night Farer. The ship was once a standard
caravel ship, a type of vessel used for maritime exploration. Most pirates
steal them from the land king’s own armada. Then we make adjustments to
fashion the ship to our own liking. I can see that Jeskor has had the rigging
redone. He’s exchanged the traditional lateen sail on the mainmast with a
square-rigged sail. Smart, as it’ll give him more speed. I also noted, while I
was back on my father’s ship and watching the Night Farer approach, that
Jeskor’s added a figurehead below the bowsprit. I doubt the land king has
ever had large carvings of women fashioned to the fronts of his ships. He’s
much too practical for that.

There are only a few men above deck. Someone’s at the helm, a man sits
in the crow’s nest, and a couple of others roam the deck to ensure all is
well. I can tell exactly where they are, because they hold lanterns out in
front of them.
Draxen and Riden will already be in their quarters. Assuredly sleeping.
They just made an impressive capture—they will have celebrated. Now
they’re likely sleeping off their drink. I anticipate tonight’s venture going
over smoothly.
There are two separate levels above deck at the stern of the ship. The
lower level likely holds Riden’s quarters. The captain’s will be off the
aftercastle.
All I need to do is get past the man at the helm. Luckily for me, the man
seems drowsy. He lazily leans against the railing while holding the helm
with one hand.
Draxen’s doors are likely unlocked. He wouldn’t need them locked while
he’s in there. Unless he’s paranoid or mistrusting of his crew. He didn’t
seem to be either sort to me, so I should be able to get right in.
I crouch on the deck beside the stairs that lead up to the second level. I
wait for the man’s head to loll to the side. Standing on my toes, I carefully
creep up the companionway. All is well until I get to the last step, which
creaks out a sound so loud in the silence, it feels as though I could have
heard it from belowdecks. I feel my body go rigid at my mistake.
The sailor at the helm jerks awake fiercely, turning his head toward the
sound. Toward me. “Blast it all, you gave me a start! Please tell me you’re
here to relieve me, Brennol.”
He’s too tired, and the sky is too dark for him to tell who I really am.
Quickly, I play along, lowering my voice as much as I can. “Aye.” I keep

my response short. I’ve no idea what Brennol sounds like, and I can’t risk
my voice being off.
“Thank the stars. I’ll be off, then.”
He heads belowdecks while I stand there. I need to hurry before the real
Brennol shows up for his shift. Without another thought, I slip inside
Draxen’s quarters.
I spot him instantly, lying on the bed. His face is turned away from me,
but I can see the steady rise and fall of his chest. He’s out. A candle burns
softly near the bed, offering the room a little light and warmth. The place
isn’t filthy, but neither is it exactly tidy. This is a small blessing, at least. It’s
much harder to mask thieving when tossing a clean room. It’s easier for the
owner to tell if something’s been touched.
Now I get to work, starting at the desk, where he has various papers and
maps strewn about.
The map I seek will be different from the others. For one, it’s older. It’ll
be fragile and darkened with age. Also, the map will not bear the language
of the common tongue. Its language, too, is more ancient. There are few
who know it. Lastly, the map is not complete. It is one of three pieces,
separated long ago and dispersed to the three pirate lords of the time. With
the three pieces united, the bearer will be able to find the legendary Isla de
Canta, an island heaped with untold treasure and protected by its magical
occupants, the sirens.
It’s not anywhere on the desk or near it. I checked each drawer for false
bottoms and hidden compartments. I move on to the cupboards where he
keeps his clothes, rifling through every pocket in each garment. I feel a
desperate need to wash my hands afterward, but I squelch the urge.
Instead I continue to scour the place. I pick at each wooden panel in the
floor to see if anything is hidden underneath. I lightly tap the walls,

listening for irregularities that hint at secret openings. I strike the last wall a
bit too harshly, and Draxen rolls over in his sleep. Thank the stars, he does
not wake.
Deep sleeper, that one.
Lastly I check under the bed. He’s got a few things here. Thick woolen
stockings, a broken sextant, a telescope.
When I want to sigh in exasperation, I swallow instead.
It’s not here. It’s not anywhere in this room or the adjoining washroom
and sitting room. And that means it’s somewhere else on the ship. But the
ship is enormous. There are countless hiding places. And I will have to
check them all until I find the map.
I’m going to have a miserable time of it.
Opening the captain’s door quietly, I peek my head out. I’ve spent over
half the night. No point in doing any more searching now. Might as well
return to my cell for some sleep.
Brennol seems to have made his appearance, and he looks wide-awake.
He has both hands placed firmly at the helm. How to get past him? If I
simply walk out, he’ll notice I’m not the captain. I’m too short.
If I could just make it down the companionway, he probably wouldn’t
take notice of me. But it’s a good ten feet away. I tiptoe back into Draxen’s
quarters and search for something to use.
Eventually I find a copper coin. Perfect. Back at the door, I place the
coin over the top of my thumb and flick it toward the port side of the stern.
Brennol turns his head in that direction, leaning forward and squinting.
Quickly, yet silently, I make for the stairs on the right and descend them,
remembering to skip the step at the top.
When I hit the deck, I slam my back into the wall behind the
companionway, ducking out of sight. I think I took the final step too loudly.

And Brennol is bound to be even more alert now. I should wait a couple of
beats before heading belowdecks.
A door to my left opens.
The door to Riden’s quarters.
He looks first to his left, then to his right. “I thought I heard something.
’Fraid I’m a light sleeper. Didn’t expect you, though.”
I have only a moment to register the fact that all he has on are a pair of
breeches before he reaches for me.
I have nowhere to go. Between the walls and the stairs, the only way out
is through him. And I suppose it makes sense to simply let him catch me,
even though my instincts scream at me not to.
I want to be here. I have a job to do. It’s okay to let him catch me.
“How did you get out of your cell?” he asks. Not an ounce of sleep
traces his words, though he had to have just woken. He grabs me by my
upper arms, holding me in place.
I say, “I stopped the first pirate I saw and asked really nicely.”
His face is cloaked in shadows, but I swear I can hear his smile. “I’m the
only one who has a key.”
“Perhaps you dropped it, then. That was careless of you.”
He touches his side as if to grab a pocket, then remembers he’s not
wearing a shirt. A fact I haven’t been able to forget.
It wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t smell so good. Pirates are supposed to
stink. Why does he have to smell like salt and soap?
He yanks me forward, and I realize I should probably be putting forth at
least a little resistance. So I place my hands on his chest and shove. The
night air is brisk, but Riden is still warm from being wrapped in bed. Warm
and solid and good smelling.

With iron-gripped fists. If he bruises my other arm, I will have to
retaliate.
He hoists me to the door he came out of. It’s as dark as the end of a cave
in here, but Riden seems to find whatever he’s looking for just fine. He
pulls me back outside with him and holds something up in the air for me to
see.
“This would be the key I so carelessly dropped,” he says.
“Strange, that.”
He sighs. “Alosa, what are you even doing out here?”
“You’ve kidnapped me. What do you think I’m doing out here?”
“The rowboats are over there.” He points to the opposite side of the ship.
“So why would you be lollygagging around my door?”
“I wanted to kill my captors before I left.”
“How’d that work out for you?”
“Still working on it.”
“I bet.”
Down the stairs we go, past the sleeping crew, and into the brig. Riden
shoves me back into my cell. Then he tries the key.
Obviously, it doesn’t fit.
Riden observes it more closely. Surprise takes over his face. “You
switched them.”
“Hmm?” I ask innocently.
He comes into the cell with me. “Give it to me.”
“What?”
“The key.”
“You have the key in your hand.”
“It doesn’t fit.”
“You can hardly blame me if you broke it.”

I don’t expect him to buy any of what I say. I’m learning that I enjoy
toying with him. I like the surprise and … not respect, but something close
to it, that shows on his face when he learns something new about me. But I
can’t let him discover too much about my true nature. That’d be dangerous.
For him.
Because I won’t fail. I can only imagine what my father would do to me
if I did. But I’m not afraid. I’m doing this not only for my father but also
because I want to. Because I’m a good pirate and the hunt is thrilling.
Because I want to reach the siren island as much as any other pirate.
Perhaps even more so. I’m determined to do whatever it takes to get the
map. If Riden becomes too difficult, I will remove him from my path by
any means necessary.
“I’ll give you one more chance to hand it over, princess.”
It’s brighter down here. Several lanterns are lit outside the cells. I can see
Riden’s face perfectly. In the getup he’s wearing, I can see a lot of him
perfectly.
“I don’t have anything,” I say again.
He steps toward me slowly, keeping his eyes on mine as he does so. I
back up until I hit the wall, but he continues to advance. His face is too
close. I can see flecks of gold in his eyes. They’re lovely eyes. I’d like to
study them longer.
But suddenly his hands are on my hips.
I think I might stop breathing, but I’m unsure. I’m startled, certainly; am
I supposed to slap his hands away or stand still?
He moves his hands up my stomach, never taking his eyes off me. Now I
know I’m breathing because I think I might have just gasped. I’m pretty
sure I should slap his hands away.

But I don’t. Once he reaches my ribs, he moves his hands to my arms,
running them up to my shoulder.
“I don’t know what you’re wearing,” he says. “But I like it.”
“Custom-made,” I say.
“And then stolen by you?”
I shrug. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“You’re touching me.”
“I’m trying to get my key back.”
“Sounds like an excuse to touch me.”
He smiles and leans forward so his mouth is at my ear. “I don’t see you
stopping me.”
“If I had, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
His eyes shoot up in alarm, but he doesn’t have enough time to guess
what I’m about to do until I’ve already done it.
Yes, I knee him. Right between the legs.
He takes some time to recover. Enough for me to exit the cell and lock
him in.
He stares at me levelly. “That was low.”
“I thought it was rather brilliant, actually. Besides, you said you
wouldn’t touch me. I can see your word does not mean much to you.” I
throw at him the same words he used on me.
“And you said if we brought your blasted luggage on board, you
wouldn’t put up a fight.”
“I didn’t put up a fight. I got out of my cage fight-free.”
“Lass, let me out of the cage.”
“I think you’re more suited for it than I am.”

He bangs a fist against one of the bars. “Let me out. You know you
won’t get far. All I have to do is yell, and over half the crew will be upon
you.”
“And I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they find their first
mate trapped in the brig.”
“Alosa,” he says, a hint of warning in his voice.
“Answer something for me, and I will spare you the embarrassment of
your crew finding you.”
“What?” He’s clearly agitated. I suppose I would be, too, if I had been
duped by a pretty face.
“When we first met, and I was bargaining for the lives of my crew, you
whispered something to the captain. Something that made him stop killing
my men. What was it?”
Riden appears perplexed, but he answers. “I told him that if he wished to
keep the support of his crew, he would be wise to stop encouraging you to
kill them off.”
“Did you care for them? The men who I killed?”
“No.”
Hmm, perhaps I was wrong about how much he cares for the members
of this crew. “Then why bother?”
“I answered your question. Now let me out.”
I sigh. “Fine.” Though I wonder why he doesn’t want to talk about it.
Perhaps I’ve hit on something there. If it wasn’t to do with the men I killed,
then wouldn’t it have to do with his brother?
The cage sings as it unlocks, and I hand the key to Riden. “You and the
captain are brothers.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“What exactly happened to your father?”

Riden locks me in soundly. Then he pockets the key without taking his
eyes off of it. He turns to leave.
“I killed him.”

Chapter 4
THE FLOOR IS DISGUSTING, but somehow I manage to sleep. When I wake, a
face is inches from my head.
I shriek and roll away. Even though I realize now that he’s on the other
side of my cell, my heart still races.
“No need for that,” the pirate says. “Just needed a lock of your hair is
all.”
My hand flies to my head. Indeed several strands have been cut. “What
are you doing? I’ll kill you for that.”
“It’s best to leave the lass alone, Enwen,” another man says. It’s Kearan.
“Has a thing about people touching her.”
“It needed to be done,” Enwen says. “I tell you, red hair’s good luck.
Keeps you from getting diseased an’ all.”
I recognize now that Enwen is the tall man who helped carry my things
down yesterday.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard,” Kearan says. “I hope you
get sick tomorrow. You need to set your head right.”
“You just wait. Next time a plague hits, I’ll be strokin’ this hair while
you all will be coughin’ and dyin' and such.”
“I need a drink.”
“Nah, Kearan. It’s too early for that.”

“If I’m to survive the day, I’ll need to start early.” He pulls out his flask
from one of his pockets.
“What is this?” I ask as I stand and stretch out my neck. I can feel a
couple of cricks in it. And I smell worse than I did yesterday. Blasted floor.
“We’re your guards, Miss Alosa,” Enwen says. “First mate says it’s wise
to have someone watching over you at all times.”
I eye Kearan. “And I take it that neither of you volunteered.”
“That’s the truth of it,” Kearan says.
“Oh, I was happy to do it,” Enwen says. “Ever since I saw you yesterday,
I’ve been wantin’ to get my hands on that hair of yours. Very rare, it is.”
“I can assure you, it has no magical properties,” I say, angrily fiddling
with the patch of hair that is now shorter than the others.
“Not magical,” Enwen says. “Just good luck.”
“I get sick as often as any other person.”
“What?”
“You said red hair wards off disease. I’ve got a whole head of it, yet I get
sick.”
“Oh.” Enwen looks troubled for a moment. He hunches over my lock of
hair, staring at it. “Well, I suppose it doesn’t work on you because it’s your
own hair. It’s got to be taken from someone else for the luck to work.”
“So if I steal it back from you, will it work for me?” I say sarcastically.
Kearan laughs, choking on the rum in his mouth. A few drops fall to the
floor as he coughs. He sighs. “Bloody waste, that.”
I sit on my chair, all too aware of the grime and slime that coat
everything in the cell, including me. I need to change, and I need some
water to clean myself off. I’m about to ask for the latter, when I hear
someone coming over.

It’s Riden, of course. He carries with him a tray of food and a dangerous
smile. At the sight, I feel my stomach growl. I’m fairly certain that’s a
response to the food and not the smile.
“Enwen, Kearan, you’re relieved while I question the prisoner. But you
will return to this post once I’m done.”
“Aye, Master Riden,” Enwen says. Kearan nods, looking bored. The two
leave.
“Hungry?” Riden asks.
“Starving.”
“Good. I managed to swipe you some eggs.” Riden unlocks the cell and
puts the tray on my table, keeping a close eye on my legs. I’m certain that’s
because he’s wary of me kicking and not because he simply wants to stare.
He shuts me back in, standing safely on the other side of the bars.
I start eating at once, cracking the boiled eggs and adding a bit of salt
before chewing. I wash each one down with some water from the cup on the
tray.
Riden seems to be in high spirits once again. It appears that there are no
hard feelings for last night.
“So, what’s it to be today?” I ask. “More talk of my father?”
“Yes.”
“Hoping I’ll unintentionally reveal where the keep is? You’re wasting
your breath.”
“What you unintentionally reveal is up to you. What I wish to discuss is
your father’s reputation.”
“Whatever you’ve heard, it’s probably all true.”
“Nevertheless, let’s discuss it anyway.”
“I want some water,” I say, wiping at a spot of dirt on my arm.
“I’ll refill your glass when we’re done.”

“No, I want a bucket for washing. And a rag. And soap.”
“Don’t you think that’s asking a bit much for a prisoner?”
“And,” I say, practically singing the word, “I want a new one of each
every week.”
He scoffs at first. Then he thinks it over. “We’ll see how our
conversation goes today. If I like what I hear, I’ll make the proper
arrangements.”
I cross my legs and lean back in the chair. “Fine. Let’s talk.”
Riden pulls a chair out and sits. He’s wearing a hat today. A tricorne with
no feather. His hair is bound at the nape of his neck. His shirt and breeches
fit nicely. White on top, black on bottom.
“I’ve heard rumors of Kalligan’s dangerous deeds. He’s said to be able to
take on twenty men at once in battle. He’s traveled every inch of the sea,
fought off all manner of sea demons, including a shark, which he fought
underwater with his bare hands. He makes deals with the devil and
encourages evil in others.”
“So far, you’re not wrong,” I say.
“He’s even said to be the only man to survive an encounter with a siren.”
I snort at that.
“He even bedded her,” Riden continues. “Used the creature’s own tricks
against her. Now it sounds to me like our dear king is, at best, a manipulator
and a wild storyteller. Perhaps he’s not as honest as his new laws demand.”
“He can hardly help what other people say about him.”
“And what would you say about him?”
“He’s my father. What more needs to be said?”
“There are different kinds of fathers. Those who love unconditionally,
those who love on condition, and those who never love at all. Which would
you say he is?”

For the first time, I feel Riden touching at something I’d rather leave
alone. “I hardly see how this line of conversation is helpful to you.”
“Hmm. You’re deflecting the question. On condition it must be. For if he
never loved you, you wouldn’t hold him in such high regard. So tell me,
Alosa. What sorts of things have you had to do to earn your father’s love?”
“The usual. Cheat. Steal. Kill.” I throw each response out offhandedly. I
hope he doesn’t detect the distress I feel.
“He’s turned you into something. Trained you to become something no
woman should ever have to be. You—”
“I am what I choose to be. You speak ignorantly. I think we’re done
talking.”
Riden stands, comes close to the bars. Then, thinking better of it, he
backs out of my reach. “I meant no insult, Alosa. Consider yourself lucky. It
is better to have a little love than it is to have a father who never loved you
at all.”
I know Riden speaks of himself now. But I’m still irritated. I feel as
though I need to set him straight. “Everything my father did, he did out of
love. He made me strong. He made me something that could survive in his
world. Doesn’t matter what he did to get me here. I’m a fighter. The best.”
I don’t need to block the memories. That’s all they are. Memories. They
can’t hurt me. They’re done. It doesn’t matter that my father would have me
fight boys older and stronger than me every day while I was growing up.
Now I can beat them all. It doesn’t matter that he shot me once to show me
the pain of a gunshot wound, to have me practice fighting while injured.
Because now I can do it. It doesn’t matter that he would starve me and
weaken me, then give me tasks to complete. He taught me endurance. Now
I can handle anything.

“What about you, Riden?” I ask. “What has gotten you to where you
are? You claim to be the one to have killed your father, yet Draxen is
captain of this ship. Was Draxen your father’s favorite? Or was he simply
the oldest? Either way, why would you let him take something you earned?”
Riden’s face hardens. “Draxen is older. And he was Father’s favorite.
Not that it matters now. You were right earlier. We should have stopped
talking. I don’t suppose you wish to tell me where your father’s keep is
now?”
“No.”
He nods, unsurprised. “A storm’s coming, and we haven’t quite reached
our destination. Be prepared for a rough night.”
“I always am.”
I clear my mind rather than replay our conversation. I’m exhausted from
being out so late, so I return to the floor and doze. It’s not as though I have
anything better to do.
A loud ringing sound jolts me awake, sending my heart racing for the
second time today. Someone kicked at the bars of my cell.
When my eyes focus, I spot Draxen standing before me, hands at his
belt, plumed hat upon his head. He watches me as though I’m some prize
he’s won. Or some new tool he’s received. I suppose he sees me as both.
But I don’t care. In the end, I will be the tool that ends his life.
My father couldn’t simply take the Night Farer by force. The map could
easily get ruined in the struggle should he gun the ship down. He had to
send one person aboard to search it. But when this is all done, I will lead
this ship straight to my father so he can kill them all. The pirate king wants
no competition when searching for the Isla de Canta.
“How are you liking your accommodations, Alosa?”
“The floor’s rough and the cell stinks.”

“Fit for the princess of thieves and murderers, don’t you think?”
“Still could do with a bed.”
“You’re welcome to ask one of the crew to share. I’m sure any of them
would volunteer.”
“If I’m sleeping in anyone’s bed, it’ll be because I’ve killed him and
taken his property as my own. Haven’t you lost enough crew members,
Draxen?”
“You’re too sure of yourself. I think I should order Riden to add some
beatings into his sessions with you. Might do you both some good. Stars
know, he could use it.”
Since I doubt I’ll be able to finish my nap, I rise and take the chair,
though I’m far past bored with the confrontation. Draxen has nothing
interesting to say. He’s hoping to see me squirm with fear. He’s a man who
feeds off of others’ pain. So far, none of his intimidations have worked.
“I’ve granted Riden permission to work on you, but should you continue
to be uncooperative, I’ll give someone with less charm a chance to question
you. Keep that in mind while you sit down here.”
“Better hope he doesn’t get soft on me. I’d hate to turn one of your own
men against you.”
“Princess, Riden’s dealt with hundreds of women already in his life. He’s
never had trouble leaving one of them. You will be no different.” His boots
echo through the empty room as he leaves.
Draxen’s a real piece of work. So is Riden. They operate in different
ways, but their goals are the same, which makes them both equally stupid.
What morons would think to steal from the pirate king? Especially without
sufficiently checking their crew for spies? It was easy to arrange my
“kidnapping” once Theris provided all the information we would need.

I’m surprised when Riden comes to visit me again, this time carrying a
bucket of water, a bar of soap, and a few clean rags.
I was certain I had angered Riden past the point of kindness. I almost
feel bad for all the terrible things I’ve thought about him.
Almost.
“You have ten minutes before I send the men back to watch over you.”
“I’ll only need nine,” I say to be difficult.
He shakes his head before leaving.
The boat rocks a little higher at that moment. Storm’s coming indeed.
I’ve got a good pair of sea legs on me. I feel sturdier on the sea than I do on
land. I’m used to her movements, her language. She’ll tell you what she’s
going to do, if you listen.
I’m clean and dressed in a fresh corset, this one red, when Kearan and
Enwen return.
“I’m telling you, it’s bad luck to twist left. You should always thrust and
turn right. Good luck, that is.”
“Enwen, if I’m stabbing a man in the heart, it doesn’t matter if I twist the
knife right or left. Either way, I’ve managed to kill the bastard. Why would
I need any luck?”
“For the next man you kill. Suppose it causes you to miss the heart the
next time? Then you’ll be wishin’ you took the extra time to twist right the
time before. You can’t kill a man good and proper if you miss the heart.”
“I’m starting to think that my ‘next time’ is very soon.”
“Don’t be like that, Kearan. You know I’m the only friend you’ve got on
this ship.”
“Must be doing something wrong.” Kearan already has his flask out, but
as he raises it to his head, he frowns. Empty. So he reaches into his pocket
and pulls out another one. Now I understand the reason for all the pockets

on the coat he wears. I would’ve suspected they were for a thief to put his
finds. No, they’re for holding multiple flasks of rum. I wonder how many
he has in there.
“How do you fare, Miss Alosa?” Enwen asks, turning toward me,
unfazed by Kearan’s words.
“For stars’ sake, Enwen,” Kearan says. “The woman’s a prisoner. How
do you think she fares? Shut your trap for one blasted moment, would
you?”
“The woman can answer her own questions,” I say.
“You shouldn’t be talking, either,” Kearan says. “Don’t need no noise
from the both of you.”
Enwen rubs his temple. “Master Riden only said I ‘probably’ shouldn’t
speak to her, on account of beautiful women have a way of playing tricks on
a man’s mind. But it wasn’t a direct order.”
“He said I was beautiful?” I smirk at the thought.
Enwen looks troubled. “Probably shouldn’t have said that.”
The ship rocks faster and faster as time goes on. Coming up on a storm is
like getting into an argument. There are a few warning signs. Things heat
up. But then there’s a jump. The storm hits you before you’re ready. And
then you’re too far in to do anything about it except get through it.
Everything is loud. There’s nothing to hear except the wind and waves.
Nothing to feel except the bitter cold. I put on the heaviest coat I own to
ward off the bitterness. Every once in a while, I think I catch a shout from
above deck. But that could easily be an echo of the wind.
I have to resort to sitting on the floor. My chair can’t be trusted not to tip.
Enwen sits as well. He pulls something out of his pocket: a string of beads.
Maybe pearls.

Kearan starts snoring. I know he must have some affliction of the
sinuses, because I can hear him over the storm. He jerks awake suddenly.
“Give that back.”
Enwen must see the strange look I shoot Kearan. He explains, “He talks
in his sleep a lot.”
Kearan rubs at his eyes. “This is a nasty one. Might tip us over.”
Enwen extends his pearls. “No, it won’t. I’ve got our protection right
here.”
“I feel so reassured.”
“You should. Storms are a dangerous time to be about. Some men say
this is the time when the unpleasant seafolk come roaming out of their
underwater domains.”
“You mean the sirens,” I say.
“Surely, I do. They like to hide in the waves. You can’t see them in the
water when the sea is boiling and tumbling and all, but they’re down there.
Kicking and pounding at the boat, helping the storm take us under. They
want us. Want to eat our flesh, make necklaces out of our teeth, and hollow
out our bones to make instruments to aid their song.”
“Bloody poetic,” Kearan says. “And a load of rubbish. Anyone ever tell
you, you can’t be hurt by something you don’t believe in?”
Realization lights up Enwen’s eyes. “That’s why everything is out to get
me.”
I hide a smile behind one hand while Kearan tugs a flask out.
Sirens have worked up quite the reputation throughout time. They are
considered the deadliest creatures known to man. Storytellers in taverns
share tales of women of extreme beauty who live in the sea, searching for
ships to wreck, men to eat, and gold to steal. A siren’s song can enchant a

man to do anything. The creatures sing to sailors, promising them pleasure
and wealth if they will jump into the sea. But those who do, find neither.
Once a siren has a hold upon you, she will not let go. She carries her
sailor with her all the way to the bottom of the sea, where she has her way
with him. Then she steals all of his valuables and leaves him to float in the
abyss.
There are many myths surrounding sirens. Most no one knows fact from
fiction. But this part I do know. All the sirens throughout the centuries have
carried their stolen treasures to an island, Isla de Canta. There can be found
the wealth of history, treasures beyond imagination.
This is what my father seeks. This is why I’m here. This is what I’ve
been prepared for: stealing another piece of the map.
Each of the three pieces was passed down from father to son for
generations. One traveled down the Allemos line, eventually falling into
Jeskor’s hands, possibly now Draxen’s. Another down the Kalligan line,
now safeguarded by my father. And the last belongs to the Serad family.
Vordan will be in possession of that one.
With the three pieces united, the bearer will be able to find the legendary
Isla de Canta. Island of Song. Also called the Land of the Singing Women.
“There aren’t any sirens out there,” I say to Enwen. “If there were, you’d
already be enchanted to jump overboard. Do you hear any music?”
“No, because the storm’s blocking it.”
“So the storm’s a good thing?”
“Yes—no. I mean…” Enwen wrestles with that for a moment.
Enwen and even Kearan seem too anxious to sleep tonight. Even a man
who’s spent his whole life at sea has reason to fear her when she’s angry.
But not I. I sleep soundly. Listening to her music. The sea watches over
me.

She protects her own.

Chapter 5
THE NEXT FEW DAYS and nights pass in much the same way. During the day,
Riden comes down to question me. We poke and prod at each other, trying
to get answers. Rarely does anything come of it. He also brings me my
meals, but aside from that, I’m always left alone in my cell, a couple of
guards watching over me. The guards get switched out every so often, but
Kearan and Enwen are by far the most entertaining.
Unfortunately for Riden, guards are not the deterrent I’m sure he was
hoping for. Even they have to sleep, and once they do, I creep from my cell
and poke my nose around the ship. Since the map didn’t turn up in Draxen’s
quarters, I decide to start my search belowdecks from stern to prow and
then make my way above. I chose this order because I assumed I would be
starting with the easiest places to search and making my way toward the
harder ones.
But nothing proves to be quick or easy.
When there’s nigh forty men belowdecks, sleeping, there’s always at
least one every hour who needs to piss in the night, no doubt due to heavy
drinking before bed. I spend half my time ducking out of sight, squeezing
between tight spaces, or holding absolutely still while they rush over to the
ship’s edge and then return to their beds.

My search is tedious and unfruitful, and each night I manage to finish
only a small section of the ship.
On my fifth night aboard the ship, Kearan is snoring loudly while Enwen
counts gold coins out of a small purse.
“Have you been gambling?” I ask.
“No, Miss Alosa, I don’t like to gamble.”
“Then where does your money come from?”
“Can you keep a secret?”
I look pointedly around my cell. “Who would I tell?”
Enwen nods pensively. “I suppose you’re right.” He looks down at the
coins again. “Well, this one I got from Honis. This one’s from Issen. This
one’s from Eridale. This one’s from—”
“You’re stealing them.” I smile.
“Yes, miss. But only one from each man. If a man sees his whole purse
gone, he’ll know someone’s taken it, but if he’s only missing one coin—”
“He’ll assume he’s lost it,” I say.
“Yes, exactly.”
“That’s brilliant, Enwen.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re much smarter than you let on. Do you only pretend to be a
superstitious fool so the crew will remain unsuspecting?”
“Oh no. I’m as superstitious as you can get.”
“And the part about being a fool?”
“I may overdo that one just a bit.”
I laugh lightly. This is the kind of man I would allow to be on my own
ship, if he could manage to reserve his stealing for people who weren’t his
crew members.
“And what about Kearan?” I ask. “What’s his story?”

Enwen looks over at his snoring companion. “Not much is known about
Kearan. He doesn’t talk about himself, but I’ve gathered quite a bit from his
sleep talking.”
“What have you learned?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Simple curiosity and boredom.”
“S’pose it wouldn’t hurt to tell you. Just don’t tell Kearan I was the one
who told you.”
“I promise.”
Enwen starts dropping his coins back into his purse. “Kearan has been
all over the world. He knows the Seventeen Isles inside and out. He’s met
all kinds of people, performed all kinds of jobs and such. He was an
adventurer.”
So Kearan not only knows his way around the ocean, but on land as well.
Unusual for a pirate. Our little isles are so close together that everyone
travels between them. Each is rich with different food sources. Trade is
frequent and necessary between the isles. As such, whoever controls the
sea, controls the money of the realm.
Father tolerates the existence of a monarch over the land because he has
no wish to rule over landlubbers. He prefers to keep company among the
brutes of the sea. The land king pays tribute to my father yearly in exchange
for letting his explorers search through the sea for new lands.
No one has ever managed such a total monopoly over sea travel until my
father established his ruling. And someday all that control will be passed
down to me, which is why I wish to prove myself again and again to my
father. My current task is one on a large list of feats I’ve completed for him.
I look over at Kearan’s fat body, ugly face, and overall unkempt look.
“You certain he’s not just adventuring in his sleep?”

“Oh yes. He might not look like much now, but that’s because he’s
turned into a man who has lost much. Imagine if you were never satisfied
with your life, Miss Alosa. Imagine that you traveled all over the world,
looking for happiness, looking for thrills to pass the time. Imagine seeing
everything there is to see and still not finding happiness. Well, that would
give you a very bleak outlook on life, would it not?”
“I suppose it would.”
“There’s not much to do after that. Kearan makes his living on this ship.
He’s an ugly drunk because it takes away the pain. He has no desire to live,
yet no desire to die, either. It’s a tough spot to be in.”
“Yet you’re his friend. Why?”
“Because everybody needs somebody. And I haven’t lost hope for
Kearan. I believe he will eventually come into his own, given the right
amount of time. And the right motivation.”
I honestly doubt that, but I’m humoring him. “Why do you assume he’s
lost much?” I ask.
“I hear him calling out a woman’s name at night. Always the same
woman. Parina.”
“Who is she?”
“No idea, and I don’t intend to ask.”
Enwen spreads out on the floor, ending the conversation. He’s given me
much to think about while I wait for him to sleep before starting my nightly
search.
Everyone has something dark in their past. I suppose it's our job to
overcome it. And if we can’t overcome it, then all we can do is make the
most of it.
* * *

“Feel like a stretch?”
Riden stands in front of my cell, tossing the key up in the air and
catching it. I’ve been aboard the Night Farer for six days now. This is the
first he’s offered to let me out of my cell.
“Do you like flaunting my freedom out in front of me?” I ask, eying the
key.
“You know, I do get a strange sense of amusement from it.”
“Can’t be too easy for you to feel amused when you know I can get out
all on my own.” Of course, I’m referring to the night he caught me sneaking
out and not all the nights I’ve snuck out since then.
Riden steps closer, dropping his voice. “I’ve been taking excellent care
of the key ever since. And if I were you, I wouldn’t mention that little
mishap to anyone else. Captain’d get an idea in his head if he knew. And
you won’t like his ideas.”
I tilt my head to the side. “You mean you didn’t tell him I tried to
escape?” Best to reinforce the notion. The more Riden doesn’t tell his
captain, the more of a wedge I put between Draxen and the crew. Might be
able to use that distance later. Who knows what else will happen while I’m
a “captive” at sea?
I add, “Perhaps you should get some ideas about what he would do to
you if he knew.”
“Guess I’m counting on the fact that you’ll be more worried about your
own skin rather than harming mine. Now, I’m giving you a break from your
cell. Do you want it or not?”
I appreciate the gesture, but I can’t say that I trust it. “Where are we
going?”
“We’ve come across a ship that appears to have been abandoned after the
storm. The vessel is a little worse for wear, but we may find some

salvageable goods on board. We’re in the middle of the sea with nowhere
for you to go should you try to escape. The captain has granted me
permission to bring you aboard for the search.”
I realize he could be telling me we’re in the middle of nowhere, when in
reality we’re only a day from land. Impossible to tell. Though it doesn’t
matter either way. Still, I like knowing where I am. The uncertainty makes
me a bit uneasy.
“I’m always up for some thieving,” I say.
“Somehow I knew you would be.”
He lets me out. Then he pockets the key, this time putting it in his
breeches rather than his shirt. “I’ll be keeping a close watch over this, so
don’t get any ideas.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re on about.”
He grabs my upper arm and leads me toward the stairs.
“Must you?” I ask. “You’ve already stated I’ve nowhere to go. Can’t I
have the freedom to walk without your aid?” I can’t help but add, “Or can
you simply not keep your hands off me? Enwen informed me you’re
helpless against my feminine charms.”
Riden looks unworried. “If you’ve been talking to Enwen, lass, then I’m
sure you’ve learned that half of what he says is squid brain.”
I smile and lean in his direction. “Perhaps.”
“Quit your smiling and get your arse up those stairs.”
“I wouldn’t dream of giving you such a view.”
Now it’s his turn to smile mischievously. “You don’t get the option to
walk behind me. Don’t trust you. Now, up with you.”
On deck, men are tying down ropes, grabbing their weapons, scurrying
about. Excitement for the upcoming adventure is almost tangible upon the
air. I myself can feel the anticipation of the hunt. I am not immune to the

prospect of some good fun. No pirate is. It’s why we choose this life.
Because we’re good at it.
And we have no morals.
“Ah, Her Highness has decided to honor us with her presence,” Draxen
says. “What do you say, gents? Should we have the lady go first?”
A few ayes and a good deal of laughter are their responses. I look around
the crowd of men and spot Theris blending in with the rest of them. He
glances at me but doesn’t spare me any special attention. He’s good at his
job, that one.
Riden says nothing from beside me. He doesn’t look bothered either
way. Not that he should. He is not here to look after me, and I don’t need
him to. He’s here to make sure I don’t escape, which he might be doing too
good a job of at times. Not to fear. I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve.
“If your men are too cowardly to venture over by themselves,” I say,
“then by all means, I’d be happy to teach them how to properly secure a
ship.” A challenge and an insult all wrapped into one. My specialty.
“I’d rather risk your life than theirs. Be off with you. Riden, go with
her.”
I think it strange that Draxen would risk me when he knows he needs me
as leverage. I suspect he’s trying to make up for what happened back on my
ship. He placed teaching me a lesson over the lives of his own men. Now
he’s showing that he’s putting me at risk before them. It’s a clever play.
Especially since it’s very unlikely that anyone would still be over at the
ship. And, as a last precaution, he’s sending Riden over with me.
We secure the gangplank between the two ships. The damaged ship
before us appears to be a cargo vessel. There’s bound to be lots of food and
water aboard. It’s its own kind of treasure out here.

The gangplank is plenty big to walk across without having to try to
balance. I could probably do it with my eyes closed. Still, its width is small
enough that I’m tempted to give Riden a slight push.
As if sensing this, he says, “Don’t even think about it.”
“I already did.”
“I could have you shot.”
“Your gun would have a hard time working once it’s wet.”
“I didn’t say I had to be the one to shoot.”
“But let’s face it, you’d like that pleasure for yourself.”
He smiles.
The ship’s mainmast has broken clean off. It lies at an angle on the ship,
supported by the railing on the starboard side. That’ll lock the ship in place
for sure. All the rowboats are missing from the ship, which leads me to
wonder how far from land we could be. The ship still floats. It would hold
the men steady for as long as their food and supplies lasted, so why row
away if there’s nowhere to make it to in time?
The deck is one scattered mess. Ropes lie haphazardly, some in knots,
some in coils. Articles of clothing sit here and there, likely having fallen out
of their owner’s bags in the confusion. The wood’s still wet. Everything’s
wet. We have to be extra alert not to trip or slip.
“Anything valuable will likely be belowdecks,” Riden says.
“I know.”
“So, what are you waiting for?”
I raise an eyebrow. “You’re going to make me go first?”
“Can’t risk you trying to jump me from behind.”
“But I don’t have a weapon.”
“That hasn’t stopped you before.”

I can’t help but smile. “I meant, how can you expect me to go below first
without a weapon?”
“I’ll be right behind you.”
“That’s not the comfort you think it is.”
“I know.” His brown eyes are alight with merriment. I think he enjoys
our little spats. I think of them as part of my act. I’m playing a part. If I
keep too much of myself hidden, he might be suspicious that I’m planning
something. So I give him the resistance he expects. The enjoyment I get out
of toying with him is an added bonus. I could have been stuck with a worse
questioner. Why he’s not captaining the Night Farer, I’ll never know.
“Go now, Alosa,” he says.
Water drips from everywhere it seems. Today is the first day after the
night of the storm that the rain’s let up. It’s dark below, further suggesting
that no one’s belowdecks.
Riden, ever prepared, brought a lantern over with us. He lights it. Then
he hands it to me. “Lead on.”
We find the kitchens, where dried meats, well-stored water, crackers,
pickled vegetables, and other seaworthy foods are safely secured in their
cupboards. These will all be taken over to the Night Farer, no doubt.
We pass through the sleeping quarters. Some blankets remain. The smell
is much better here than back on the Night Farer. Why couldn’t Draxen’s
men show more aptitude for personal hygiene? Truly, it benefits everyone
on board.
We’re about to pass into the next room when the candlelight catches
something on the floor.
That would be a sword. Good to know it’s there. If only I could grab it
without Riden noticing, but that’s all but impossible. A sword would be
much harder to hide than a dagger.

There is nothing else of interest on the ship. At least not anything that’s
visible right away. There may yet be some nooks and crannies that remain
hidden. But it’s also just as likely that the crew members took anything
valuable with them. It’s been my experience that when a crisis strikes, the
first thing that men think about are all the treasure they can take with them.
Thoughts of their friends and shipmates usually come second, if at all.
“Looks all clear,” Riden says. “I’ll start looking deeper. Kindly go and
hail the rest of the crew over.”
“Oh yes, I’ll just go hail the crew over. Truly, I enjoy helping the men
who’ve kidnapped me.”
“Can’t leave you down here by yourself while I go fetch them. Would
you rather I hauled you all the way up the deck with me? I know how much
you like it when I have my hands on you.”
I huff and head up the stairs. He’s difficult to figure out, that one. One
instant he seems to try to distance himself from me. The next I swear he
fancies me. He’s probably keeping me on my toes, just as I try to do to him.
The game of predator and prey can be a fun one. When you’re the predator,
of course. It’s fun to rub the victory into your prisoner’s face. You beat
them. You captured them. It’s your right. Father said once that if you can
catch and imprison a man, then his life is yours to take or do with as you
please. His philosophy is that if you have the power to do something, then
you should do it.
Once on deck, I wave at the pirates, signaling that everything is all clear.
With nothing else to do, I return belowdecks. Might as well continue to
walk and stretch before I get shut into my cell again. Not that I don’t intend
to spend tonight moving about anyway.
“They’re on their way,” I say as I enter the room Riden and I last
checked: a storage room.

That’s when they grab me.
Riden’s shoved face-first against the wall, a sword point pressed against
the middle of his back while the bearer’s free hand pushes against his
shoulder. I can see now that a few panels have been removed from the wall
straight ahead. A hidden room. Three men stand in the room with Riden and
me: one keeping Riden where he is, and now two holding me.
“Blast it,” I say. “You couldn’t have shouted out a warning?”
“When a sword’s pointed at me?” Riden asks. “I think not.”
“Shut up!” one of the men holding me yells. “How many are in your
crew? How many will come?”
“Sixty,” Riden says, exaggerating the number by twenty.
“Stars,” the man holding Riden at sword-point says. “We can’t hold them
off. And we can’t count on the others returning in time.”
“Then we’ll use ’em as hostages,” the last man says. “We’ll tell ’em
we’ll kill the members of their crew unless they stay back. We can buy
time.”
“But will it be enough?”
“It’ll have to work.”
“But do we need them both? The man looks like too much trouble to
deal with. I say we gut him and deal with the girl.”
Being underestimated always works to my advantage. But sometimes I
find it offensive. That often makes me violent. It makes me question
whether I should allow them to kill Riden, just so I can beat the hell out of
all three of them without Riden watching. I couldn’t let him see what I’m
capable of doing to them. I hate that I have to hold back now.
The men continue to argue among themselves as I decide what to do.
Riden interrupts my line of thinking. “Now, Alosa, would be a good time
for you to employ that same tactic you demonstrated when we first met.”

“Are you certain you wouldn’t like to handle this one yourself? I’m just
‘the girl.’”
“Stop talking!” a sailor shouts.
But I’m not really listening to them. My eyes are on Riden. His eyes
widen meaningfully, frustratingly. Then he relaxes. “Please.”
“I said—”
Perhaps it’s the fact that Riden remembered exactly what I did to those
two crew members when they stole me from my ship. Or perhaps it’s that I
like the sport of it. Or it’s the idea of showing these sailors exactly what I
can do.
But if I’m being honest … it’s because he said please.
This prompts me to action in a way I can’t explain.
I slam my heel into the foot of the sailor on my right. Then my free hand
goes to the other sailor’s throat. I place one hand at the back of each man’s
neck. With one choking and the other stumbling, it isn’t difficult to connect
their heads. Hard.
That wasn’t part of my routine back on the ship. But a little
improvisation goes a long way. This situation is a bit more dire. For one, it
isn’t one I had planned for.
There’s only the man with the sword left. He stays right where he is,
though his eyes have widened significantly. “Stay where you are or I’ll kill
him.”
I roll my eyes. “Go right ahead. You’d save me the trouble.”
I’m not sure whether I should laugh or not at his confusion. “What?”
“I’m being held prisoner by pirates. If you say more of your men are
coming, then you can help me. We can use him as leverage as was
suggested before.”
He looks to his fallen shipmates.

“Sorry about that. I don’t like being held against my will. Now please.
Say you’ll help me.”
The sailor focuses on Riden, which gives me the distraction I need to
reach for my boot. “Is what the girl says true?”
“Trust me. The girl’s more trouble than she’s worth, and you can’t
believe a thing she says. You’d be better off killing her now.”
I see sweat drip down the sailor’s face. The hand on his sword trembles.
“That’s enough.” He turns his body toward me while keeping his sword on
Riden. “I’m—”
The dagger flies straight and true, finding its place in the sailor’s chest.
Thank the stars I still had it on me. The dagger-hidden-in-book trick is
one I will never take lightly should I ever need to intentionally get
kidnapped again. And it was a wonder Riden hadn’t checked me for
weapons when he found me sneaking about the ship that night.
Riden stands up straight. His mouth is slightly ajar, his eyes wide. “I
thought you … I thought—”
“You thought I’d really turned on you. Probably should have, but oh
well. Too late for that now.”
I walk over to where Riden stands when others enter the storage room.
“What happened here?” Draxen asks. He looks neither worried nor upset
by the bodies on the floor.
I wait for Riden to sell me out to save his own skin. He could easily tell
Draxen that I left him to die, telling the pirates to come aboard when an
ambush was in place. It would be a little farfetched, considering there were
only three men on board. But still plausible.
“It was my oversight,” Riden says. “I thought the ship was clear. I told
the lass to go above and bring you over. Then they came out of a hidden
room. I handled them.”

“Excuse me?” I say. He is not taking credit for my kills. Not that I need
Draxen to know I’m capable. In fact, it’s probably best that Draxen thinks
I’m not.
Riden ignores my outburst. “I think you’ll be pleased with what else
awaits in the hidden room.”
That distracts me. I look over Riden’s shoulder and see three chests filled
with coins. There could easily be more behind other panels.
Draxen’s eyes are on fire as he stares. He alone advances, taking stock of
it all.
“They’re smugglers,” Riden continues. “Looks like they’ve just
delivered their cargo, whatever it may have been. I suspect that after the
storm, most of the crew left to go get a new ship and return here. They
weren’t about to leave all this wealth behind. These men were left here to
guard it. I probably wouldn’t have found them if I hadn’t heard one of them
moving through the wall.”
“Yes, yes,” Draxen says. I doubt he heard a word Riden said. He’s still
staring into the wall. “Take the girl back over. The men and I will handle
this. We need to be quick before the rest of their crew returns.” Almost as
an afterthought, he adds, “Well done, brother.”
Riden nods.
And just like that it’s back to the brig I go.
* * *
Riden opens my cell and thrusts me inside.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Following orders.”
“I thought we were past you hauling me around. Haven’t we established
that I can walk on my own?”

Riden stands at the opening of my cell. He hasn’t shut me in yet, but he’s
not looking at me. He’s looking at the ground. “Why did you do it?”
“Do what?”
“You saved me.”
“Yes, and then you took credit for it. What kind of thanks is that? That
was damned insulting. I ought to—”
“That was for your benefit.”
I’m too full of energy to sit. I usually am after a fight—should I not
exhaust myself to the point of passing out. Father did have me do that on
several occasions so I would know what it feels like to be worn thin, so I
could be mindful of my own strength. It’s important to know how much
energy I have, in case running becomes the better option. But so far no one
except my father has been able to wear me out to the point of losing
consciousness.
“Just how exactly was that for my benefit?”
Riden grows very serious. “I don’t know what you’re doing. I do know
you had an opportunity to escape from us back there, and you didn’t take it.
And you stopped them from killing me when you had no reason to. Now
that leaves me with two notions. Either you’re not so despicable and
heartless as your prior actions would suggest. Or you have some sort of
ulterior motive for keeping me alive and staying on this ship.”
“I’m still not seeing how you claiming my kills is a kindness to me.”
Riden thinks I’m up to something, eh? Guess I will have to up my act. I
need to rid him of the idea.
“You don’t know my brother. So allow me to explain something to you.
If he thinks you’re up to something, he’ll kill you. Now I owe you my life.
So consider my silence part of my repayment.”

“There’s nothing to be kept quiet. You’re overlooking a third option,
Riden.”
“And what’s that?”
“I was looking out for myself. There was no guarantee I could trust those
men. If they found out who I was, they could try to use me for leverage just
as you do, especially if they’re smugglers, as we suspect. And if something
were to happen to you, Draxen would have someone else question me. And
there’s a good chance I’d hate him more than I do you.”
Riden watches me. No amusement. No gratitude. No anything.
What is he thinking?
Finally, he says, “I suppose I didn’t think of that. Of course I should have
considered that your only concern was for yourself.”
“I’m a pirate,” I remind him.
“Yes. I just can’t figure out if you’re a good pirate or a really good
pirate.”
“I’m not sure I know what that means.”
“Just know that whatever it is that you’re hiding from me, I will figure it
out.”
Clinking metal beats a steady rhythm. Not that of swords, but of chains. I
know the sound well, as I’ve spent much time practicing how to get out of
them.
At the sound, Riden goes ahead and locks me into the cell. Did he decide
that our conversation was over, or does he not want Draxen to see him
talking to me through an open door?
Draxen and two pirates—one who I’ve never seen before and the third
pirate who helped bring my things down with Enwen and Kearan—lead two
of the smugglers, who are clad in manacles, down the stairs. The conk to
the head I gave them must not have been enough to kill them. ’Tis a shame

for them, because death likely would have been better than whatever the
pirates could have in store.
I may also be a prisoner, but they need me alive and in good health if
they expect a ransom from my father. These two smugglers, however, do
not need to be traded. Nor do they need information from them because the
gold has already been found. The fact that they were brought on board
alive, then, spells disaster for them.
“What is this?” Riden asks.
“Ulgin’s getting a bit restless,” Draxen says. “I thought he could use
this.”
Riden nods, though he doesn’t look happy about what he knows will
happen next. Yet he opens a new cell far away from mine. The pirate I
assume is Ulgin leads the smugglers inside.
“And I came down to collect you,” the captain continues. “What with
our fortunate find and all, I figure the men could use a payday on land.
There’s lots of gold to be spent. I want you to oversee the distribution of
each man’s share. We should be upon the shore by nightfall.”
I knew we were close to land, despite everyone’s misleading. The
smugglers who left their shipmates aboard their broken ship would have
had to take the time to find a new ship and then find where their old one had
drifted off to. It’s no wonder they haven’t come back to it yet. And rather
fortunate for Draxen and his crew that they happened to stumble across it.
“What are we to do with the princess?”
“Nothing at all. That’s why I brought Sheck down here. He’ll be
guarding her until we reach land.”
“Is that really such a good—”
“I think she’s been having too good a time of it, Riden. It’s time we
remind her who we are. Don’t know why you chose Kearan and Enwen, of

all the crew, to primarily oversee her. If they didn’t have their particular
talents, I would have tossed them overboard long ago. Almost bloody
useless.”
Riden looks like he wants to argue. Very badly. But he doesn’t. “Let’s
see to the gold, then,” he says instead.
For the first time I turn my attention to Sheck. And nearly jump away.
He’s pressed up to the bars, staring hungrily at me. I feel as though rats
crawl across my skin. Actually, I think I would prefer it if rats were
crawling against my skin.
When I was little and faced with a new challenge each day, I would look
to my father for help. He would instruct me and then send me into the fire
pit—figuratively speaking. I always got burned. And I learned quickly that
turning to him for help was useless. He never assisted. I either succeeded or
suffered the consequences of failing. There was no relief. Long afterward, I
might be given some advice and encouragement. Sometimes even comfort.
But in the moment, there was no aid. It wasn’t long before I learned to stop
turning to others for help. It’s never an option, so I don’t even think about it.
Which is why when I am faced with the hot-blooded pirate, my first
response is not to look to Riden. Or to ask Draxen to have someone else
guard me. No, I handle my problems alone because that is the way things
are.
“There isn’t a problem, is there, Alosa?” Draxen asks. His sneer is full of
poison.
I say, “I’ve never had a problem I couldn’t handle myself.”

Chapter 6
THOUGH MY TIME SPENT with Sheck and Ulgin was only a few hours, it felt
like much, much longer.
It started with Sheck walking back and forth in front of my cell, never
taking his eyes off me. Occasionally he would reach through the bars, as if
he could grab me. He was trying to get a response from me. To see me
afraid. I never gave him the satisfaction. I stayed to the far end of the cell
the whole time. Though I was tired and could have used a rest before I
sneak out of my cell tonight, I didn’t nap. I couldn’t risk rolling over in my
sleep, coming within reach of Sheck’s searching hands.
But that was not all that prevented me from sleeping. There was also the
screaming. Ulgin, like Sheck, is not a complicated pirate to figure out. Each
pirate has their vice. For some it is drinking, for others it’s gambling, for
those like Sheck, it is deriving forced pleasure from a struggling woman.
But Ulgin—his is seeing pain in others. So I sat, facing away, while
Ulgin tortured those smugglers to death.
Draxen keeps vile men in his company, but I am neither surprised nor
terribly bothered by it. My father has much worse men at his disposal.
Some of them I know enjoy the taste of human flesh, right off a living body.
I have no such creatures within my own crew. I value other traits above
an affinity for torture and power over those weaker than oneself. I value

brilliant minds, honest souls, and those with long endurance. I forge
relationships based on trust and mutual respect, not fear and control.
Empathy for human life is something my father tried to beat out of me.
He thinks he succeeded. Most people do. And while I can kill evil men
without guilt, the suffering of others pains me as well as it does them. It
hurts, but I can handle it. Bad things happen to people who may not be
deserving of such punishment. The world continues on. I continue on.
Because if nothing else, I’m a survivor.
So it is with relief that I look upon the dead smugglers. Their pain is
gone at last.
Shortly after, Riden comes below with two pirates I haven’t met.
“You’re relieved, Sheck. Go ashore with everyone else. You may, too,
Ulgin, once you’ve cleaned this up.” Riden’s posture is stiff, and he looks at
Sheck with such disgust, I’m surprised his tone doesn’t reflect his feelings.
Sheck hasn’t said a word during the whole time he’s been down here. I
wonder if he can talk at all. He looks me up and down one last time, as if
memorizing every part of me. Then he races out of sight.
Riden turns to me next, his face blank now. “This is Azek and Jolek.
They will be watching over you while I go ashore as well.” Riden steps
right up to the bars, trying to get out of earshot of everyone else. “I know to
expect some sort of attempt at fleeing from you, what with us being so close
to shore and all. So let me save you the trouble. There are five men
guarding the ship above deck. They know to watch out for you.”
There’s a slithering sound; Riden and I turn to see Ulgin dragging a sheet
topped with the bodies of the smugglers out of the brig.
Riden looks at me then, and it might be the poor lighting, but I swear his
eyes are wetter than usual. He is not anywhere close to tears, but he might
be feeling … something.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers.
And then he’s gone.
He’s apologizing as though Sheck and Ulgin are somehow his fault. Or
maybe he’s apologetic for some other reason. I never know with Riden.
Sometimes it feels like he’s trying to help me. Other times, he’s obviously
doing the complete opposite. He subjected me to Sheck and Ulgin, yet he
never ordered me to give him my dagger. I know he saw me take it off the
dead smuggler back on the ship. Did it slip his mind? Or did he want me to
have it while I was belowdecks with those two?
Either way, I still don’t know what to make of Riden.
Doesn’t matter at the moment, anyway. I have a more pressing problem.
Riden assumes I will try to escape this ship in some way. He already
suspects me of being up to something. Of being more