The Deepest Ocean
Chapter One: Seawatch
For the first time in Darok Juell’s command, the warship Daystrider waited idle in harbor on a woman’s account.
Maybe she’s changed her mind, Darok thought. Or drowned.
The ship’s bell clanged the eleventh hour, and the later it grew, the easier it was to imagine the woman never appearing, so he could send a regretful message to Admiralty headquarters and set sail at all speed. His orders were to leave Sweet Harbor before sunset.
He couldn’t send a crewman ashore to look for her, because he didn’t know her name. Four days before, he had been summoned to Admiralty headquarters, where Reshard Balt, Commander of the Guardian Fleet of Denalay, had informed him a woman would join his ship on the morning it sailed.
“A woman?” The times had changed, and it was no longer unheard-of for a woman to be aboard a ship in some capacity other than an officer’s wife. She certainly wouldn’t be the first woman to work on Daystrider.
The problem was, Balt hadn’t mentioned her profession, which should have been the first and most important thing for a captain to know.
“Yes,” Balt had said. “This woman will assist you in your mission.”
“How will she do that…sir?”
That had been all. A captain had a right to know who traveled on his ship, but he’d been given nothing. As a result, he could say nothing to the crew about it—about her—either.
After the feverish work of the past month, it was all the more frustrating to be forced to wait. Daystrider had not just been restocked with stores and ammunition—sheaves of tridents and casks of oil—she had been remade into what would pass as a whaler from a distance. Barrels and boiling vats stood on the deck where the catapult had been, the figurehead was gone and she had been renamed Swiftmark. The Turean pirates might or might not attack a whaler, but they would never allow Daystrider, long since named a Weapon of Denalay, to sail into their waters unharassed.
If the woman ever arrived and they could leave.
His brother, the ship’s first lieutenant, was belowdecks after moving out of his cabin. Darok had told him to give that up, to make room for a woman who could hardly be expected to sleep with the crew. Alyster was annoyed at both his displacement and the fact that he hadn’t been told the reason for the delay, but only one person on the ship would know exactly what was going on.
Unfortunately that person was Lady Lisabe, a Voice of the Unity. She outranked Darok as he did the cook, so asking her anything she might not wish to divulge was out of the question. Although she was gracious and charming, she hadn’t seen fit to tell him why she was traveling on board his ship or where she would disembark. She stood at the other side of the deck, staring out at the harbor.
Darok didn’t bother looking for the woman, because both docks and water were crowded. Merchantmen and traders, both Denalait and foreign, unloaded in the Sweet Harbor, so the wharves were an anthill of activity, the churning water an opaque grey. Daystrider was as far as possible from the traders’ docks, though that placed them close to the mouth of the harbor. He could see every boat in the fishing fleet anchored out to sea, and longed to be in the open water as well.
Reaper, a real whaler which made him only too aware of every chink in his ship’s façade, was cleared for port-entry and maneuvered its way past them. He drew in a long breath. Reaper smelled different too.
“Sir?” Kaneth Strave said.
Darok turned, but the sailing master wasn’t looking at him. He followed Kaneth’s line of sight to a harbor barge sluicing through the filthy water, heading for Daystrider.
Behind the oarsman stood a figure wrapped and hooded in a grey cloak. Darok couldn’t tell if the figure was female, but when the barge drew up to the hull and the oarsman called for a ladder, he knew it had to be her. He wondered what her duties on board would be, since Daystrider already had a full complement. It would not be beyond the Admiralty to plant an agent on his ship, but this was too obvious by far.
The ladder unrolled and Darok put a hand on the rail, trying to get a good look without actually leaning over. It wouldn’t do to appear interested. The figure began to climb.
Even at that distance, with the hood falling halfway over her face, her arms were too slim to be mistaken for a man’s. The crew continued with their work—those on deck were mending sailcloth or polishing the brass, and ship’s discipline would not have tolerated any open slacking as they stared—but everyone was aware of the new presence.
Since Darok didn’t move to acknowledge her arrival, no one else did so either. Unassisted, the woman climbed over the rail.
The bell tolled the twelfth hour as she set foot on the deck, though Darok doubted he would have heard her if the harbor had been completely silent and the water frozen. Her grey shoes were made of some soft cloth, and her cloak wrapped her like smoke. Not someone who wanted to call any attention to herself, except she had done so only too well by being assigned to his ship and by boarding it so late.
He crossed the deck and approached her. Her head lifted, the hood slipping off to reveal her face.
“Captain?” Her voice was low, devoid of accent or emotion.
She has a tattoo. Darok barely noticed anything else about her face, because all he saw was the black triangle that completely surrounded her left eye, curving slightly at the peak. He had seen tattoos before, but on men, not women, and it was jarring compared to the traditional and trying-not-to-be-noticed quality of her clothes.
Abruptly he was aware of the silence on the deck. “Yes. Captain Darok Juell.”
He’d spoken more tersely than he’d intended, but the full formal introduction which included his ship’s name and status as a Weapon of Denalay would have accorded the woman too much importance. Besides, he didn’t need to impress her—it was the other way around.
“My name is Yerena Fin Caller,” she said.
Obviously that wasn’t her real name, but before he could say anything, the woman shrugged her cloak back. A small pack rode between her shoulders, leather straps crossing over her chest, and she swung the pack down, pulling it open at the same time. She drew out a folded piece of paper and extended it to him.
Darok took it, noting with dismay the seal of the Admiralty in blue wax. He broke the seal.
The Admiralty of Denalay hereby charges, in the name of the Unity, all loyal men of the Guardian Fleet to give their aid and assistance to Yerena Fin Caller, a Weapon of Denalay and bearer of this letter.
He read that twice to be certain he’d understood it. This woman, with her strange appearance and stranger, concocted name, was a Weapon of Denalay? She enjoyed the same status as his warship, which was second only to the flag of the fleet and had sunk four Turean galleys? He still had no idea what on Eden she could do for his mission.
Lady Lisabe drew closer and Alyster came up from the lower deck. Darok would have preferred they found some activity more gainful than being spectators, but he paid them no attention as a new possibility occurred to him. No one on the ship knew what Yerena Fin Caller was supposed to look like, and the woman who stood before him had arrived late.
“How can I be certain you are who this claims you are?” he said.
The woman had waited with no change in expression, and there was none even after he spoke, not so much as a furrow touching the smooth skin between her brows. She seemed completely indifferent to everything, and to his annoyance, Darok had difficulty holding her gaze. The black wedge of her tattoo kept making him focus on one eye rather than both of them, and the tattoo itself reminded him uncomfortably of a shark’s fin.
“I am an operative of Seawatch,” she said, “and my duty is to guide and to guard.”
In the near-silence on the deck, the men who were closest heard that, and a whisper swept through the crew. Seawatch served the Unity but did so in secret, through sabotage, assassination and other methods less savory. That explained why the letter was from the Admiralty, since Seawatch would not have put anything in writing.
Though unless the tattoo washed off, this operative would make a very obvious assassin. Darok doubted the little pack she carried held much in the way of secret devices or equipment, and her only evident weapon was a knife at her belt.
“How exactly will you guide or guard anyone?” he said.
“I have a mental link to a shark.” The tone of Yerena’s voice didn’t change. “The shark may be used to scout ahead, to transport and to attack.”
That explained the tattoo. And her name. A shark would come in useful for scouting, but he didn’t think it could ram a Turean galley and live to swim away.
“What kind of shark?” he asked.
“The white death.”
That time the crew’s murmurs were a little louder, and a few of them traced a protective circle over their hearts. Darok wished he had questioned the woman in private, but taking a stranger—and he didn’t trust her, no matter what documents she carried—to his quarters wasn’t a good move either.
“Can you prove it?” he said.
A flicker of emotion disturbed her composure, and she looked at him as though not sure she had heard correctly. “How do you want me to prove it?”
Darok shrugged. “Show me this shark.”
Her dark brows came together, but she spoke quietly. “Captain, it’s a shark, not a dog. It can range a hundred miles away, and I don’t summon it unless that is absolutely necessary.”
“Well, that’s absolutely necessary if you want a place on my ship.” Not only was she less than convincing—couldn’t she decide if her shark was a male or a female?—but Darok was beginning to like having the upper hand again. He allowed himself to smile. “Because I’m not waiting until we’re in the Iron Ocean to find out whether you’re telling the truth. So either call your shark or get off this ship.”
Her eyes narrowed. They were long-lashed and hazel, and Darok thought they might have been arresting if not for the tattoo. That would always draw attention first.
Then she turned so she was looking away from him, over the gunwale and out to the mouth of the port. Beyond was the sea, and the fishing fleet made a line of white sails on the horizon. She stared out at the water in silence.
Nothing happened. The crew had been talking quietly among themselves, but those sounds gradually died and Darok felt the smile drain off his face. A seagull shrieked, wheeling overhead before it perched on a yardarm.
If Yerena felt the weight of the stares on her, she gave no indication of it. A breeze stirred strands of dark hair that had come loose from a knot behind her neck. Then the air quieted too, as though the sky held its breath. Lady Lisabe sat down on a crate, but Yerena was so motionless she might have been nailed to the deck and dipped in wax to boot.
Darok glanced out over the sea and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Worse, they were starting to attract attention. The crew of the whaler had finished mooring their ship and were unloading barrels of oil, but from time to time they looked at the silent congregation on his deck with obvious curiosity.
I hope they’ll think we’re gathered in prayer. This is ridiculous, and we’re wasting more time—
“We could throw some meat in the water,” Alyster said. Why stop at the meat? Darok thought. “Cook’s cleaning a haul for supper. We can dump the guts—”
“No,” Yerena said.
Darok suppressed a grin. Alyster was used to women finding him attractive, which meant they never gave him one-word interruptions in a monotone. “Would you mind telling us why not?” he said.
Darok could guess the answer. “Because that might give the shark the idea it’ll be fed from this ship. We don’t need the white death trailing around with its mouth open so the men can throw hardtack inside.”
That brought a few uneasy chuckles from the crew, which Yerena put an end to when she said, “If a shark learns that humans give it food, you’d best hope you’ll never be in the water someday when it’s near and hungry and you have nothing to feed it.” She seemed to be reciting a lesson she had learned long ago and did not bother to face Alyster when she replied. Darok rubbed the ball of his thumb between his brows, wondering whether she would leave of her own volition or if an escort would be required.
Someone screamed in the distance. Other cries echoed, starkly panicked, as he spun around. The fishing fleet was in disarray. Men hauled in their nets whether they had taken catches or not, and boats rocked as fisherfolk scrambled away from something in the water. A warning peal rang out from the watchtower.
A tall fin streaked between two boats and sliced through water turned frothing white. Once it was clear of the fishing fleet, it seemed to move even faster. Its course would have brought it straight into the harbor and towards Daystrider.
The muscles in Darok’s legs tightened, and only an effort of will stopped him from taking an involuntary step back. He couldn’t afford to look weak before his crew, much less a Seawatch operative.
Just beyond the mouth of the port, the fin turned sideways in a wide circle, gleaming a metallic grey where the sunlight touched it. The lookout in the watchtower blew his conch horn again, but the fin sank below the waves as the shark dove deep.
Darok heard the crew’s gasps, but all he could think was, That fin’s half the height of a man, which means the shark itself… Like an iceberg, most of the creature was below the water, and he guessed it was at least twenty feet long, perhaps closer to thirty. He pushed his hair back from his forehead, feeling the dampness of sweat on his skin.
“It’s leaving.” Yerena turned from her contemplation of the water.
Darok wished he could tell everyone that, but perhaps it was best the terrified harborfolk not know he’d been partially responsible for what had just happened. The fact that they could no longer see the fin didn’t help, because now they had no idea where the shark was.
Ninety feet away, the captain of Reaper caught his eye and pointed to the whaler’s deck, then out to the harbor. Darok nodded with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. Wonderful, he was wasting another shipmaster’s time and resources as Reaper patrolled the port in case the shark returned. The day grew better and better.
Yerena drew her cloak close around her. She didn’t show any sign of victory, but she was clearly waiting. Darok set his teeth and consigned Seawatch to the abyss along with all the Turean pirates.
“We’ll cast off.” He kept his voice calm with an effort. “We would have done so this morning, had you been here.”
“I apologize for my lateness, Captain.”
She spoke in the same way she had told him her name—without hesitation or any discernible emotion—and Darok gave up. There didn’t seem to be much else to say, so he picked up her pack.
“I’ll take you to your cabin,” he said.
Yerena stepped into the cabin when the captain held the door open for her, and reached for her pack. Perhaps he had thought it was too heavy for her, but it wasn’t, though it held everything she owned.
He gave it back to her. “Let me know if there’s anything else you require.”
“Thank you,” Yerena replied in a reflex that had been drilled into her before she was eight years old. Comportment and deportment were very important in Seawatch. No matter what the situation, its operatives were polite and composed.
They were also accustomed to less luxurious accommodations than the cabin she had been given. It was small—since space on warships was limited—but clean, and sunlight from the open window fell on a clothes-cabinet, a washbasin and a bunk. There was a mirror on the wall as well. She had expected to sleep in a hammock and to hang her watersuit on a nail.
“It’s customary for guests to dine with the captain on the first day of a voyage,” Darok Juell said. “I hope you’ll do me the honor.”
“Of course.” Though her heart sank a little, because hospitality from him would make her task that much more difficult.
“Supper is served at the sixth bell.” He stepped back and closed the door.
Yerena sat on the bunk, which dipped beneath her. Poking it experimentally, she guessed it was at least twice as thick as her mattress in Whetstone and softer too. She closed her eyes, longing to be back there, even in the black room where hours lasted for days.
Stop it. There was something more important to be done.
Without opening her eyes, she thought of the shark.
Touch, hold and lock were the three levels of the mental link between her and the shark, each deeper than the one before it, but all she needed to do at that time was show the shark her approval. She breathed out and let the touch connect. It was like thinking of part of herself that she took for granted—her left hand, maybe—except the shark was more of a hand that acted independently of her body.
The touch was enough for her to gauge the distance between the two of them, so she knew the shark was heading away from the harbor, into open water. That was good. She didn’t want it anywhere near people who might hurl gaffs or harpoons at it.
Well done, beautiful one, she said silently. She often spoke to it like that, despite having been told it couldn’t understand words. Through their link, though, it sensed her emotions, which was the main reason for Seawatch’s ironclad insistence on comportment. The last thing she needed was a great white shark becoming agitated or angry because she couldn’t control herself.
So whenever the shark obeyed her, she was careful to feel only approval and pleasure. She breathed out again, emptying herself, then let those emotions fill her and flow out in warm waves to the shark. Well done.
That was the only reward she had to offer, since feeding was out of the question. If it needs to be fed, it doesn’t deserve to be fed, was how an instructor in Whetstone had explained the rule, so instead she gave the shark the same contentment and satisfaction it would have felt from a full belly. Or from good sex, she thought in her more cynical moments.
The longing welled up again, so she detached before the shark could sense her emotions—and interpret them as a need for its presence. She was happier with the shark than with any person in Eden, perhaps because it never made any demands on her, but the new orders she had been given put it far more at risk than it had been in the dirty, congested waters of Sweet Harbor.
That morning, she had been on her way to the port—walking, since she didn’t have money to hire a carriage—when an errand boy had intercepted her. The message he gave her said simply that Martil Trawter wished to meet her at a certain inn.
Trawter did not need to provide his rank, because Yerena knew he was Seawatch’s liaison with the Unity, which placed him in the guild’s upper echelons. She made a detour to the inn at once, and was shown into a private room where he was waiting.
“Yerena Fin Caller,” he said when they were alone. “What is your assignment?”
Yerena stood an exact pace from the door, her arms straight by her sides, her back straighter. “To travel with the warship Daystrider when it sails to the relief of the loyalists on Lastland, and to break or sabotage the Turean pirates’ blockade.”
“You have additional orders now. Daystrider must not be allowed to fall into Turean hands. If this appears unavoidable, you are to sink the ship.”
The order felt like a jab in the stomach, and only long years of training kept her features expressionless. Sink a warship…with her shark? She knew which one would come off worse from such an encounter, unless she planned it very cleverly or waited until the ship had already taken significant damage.
But that wasn’t Trawter’s problem, it was hers. “Is the loss of all hands acceptable?”
“Yes. Though regrettable.”
“Good. Do you have any other questions?”
Yerena managed a shake of her head. There was nothing more to say. She knew why Daystrider had been sent on such a mission alone, and knew too that once they were among the Turean islands, their chances of success were slim at best. Little wonder the Unity was prepared for failure and would not risk humiliation into the bargain. Well, she would do her duty if or when the time came.
The floor rocked beneath her feet as the ship moved out of the port, and a breeze stole through the window, redolent of spices and fish and smoke. She got up and began to unpack.
She hung her cloak on a peg, then stowed her watersuit, mask and sewing kit in the cabinet. On top of it she put a comb, a jar of bleed-no-more and a pot of grease, which had been wrapped safely in clean underclothes and her one other dress. Shaking the dress out, she wondered if she should change into it before the evening meal. Probably. The dress she wore was damp beneath the arms.
She stripped it off and washed as best she could. The sounds of the port gave way to the creak of timbers, the muffled thuds of men moving about on the deck, and the whap of sails unfurling to catch the wind, a wind no longer heavy with cinnamon and smoke and rotting fish guts. The clean salty scent of the ocean filled the cabin as she put on her other dress.
She had sewed it herself six years ago, but it was identical to the one she had just taken off. Seawatch operatives did not call attention to themselves, so the sleeves came to her wrists and the skirts to her ankles. In a spurt of rebellion, she had cut the neckline in a V-shape, but one of her instructors had seen it and asked her what she imagined she had to show off. Embarrassed, she had filled in the neckline with a triangle of grey linen. She buckled her knife-belt around her waist and combed her hair before she coiled it neatly at the back of her neck again.
It was still bright outside. Yerena straightened the quilt and sat down in the single chair, her hands folded in her lap. She was trained to wait patiently, to keep her mind blank until its talents were called for, but it wasn’t always easy to do so.
And it didn’t help that, the past night, she had dreamed she was drowning.
That morning, Speared Lord ran up the signal flag which meant prisoner, so Jash Morender sent two of her crew to the galley in a boat. “Come back with the prisoner,” she said. “Captain Stylor is welcome to attend too.”
Haraden Stylor, the master of Speared Lord, was not likely to be pleased at having to surrender his prize, but Jash commanded the freeships of the Turean flotilla, and unless Dreadnaught was sinking, she didn’t plan on leaving it for her captains’ galleys. That would be a loss of face, and in the Archipelago, commanders owed their position to the confidence of their peers, rather than to formal organizations or divine powers. Jash watched the men row away, then went to her cabin to decode a message from one of her spies in Denalay.
The men returned four hours later, and her aide asked where she wanted the prisoner. “In here.” She rose from her desk. “Pass the word for Arvius.”
Other than being gaunt and dirty, the prisoner didn’t look much in need of the ship’s surgeon. His hands were tied behind his back, not that Jash would have worried overmuch if he had been freed. The men shoved him into a chair and one of them handed her a leather bag. “Captain Stylor says that was in his boat, sir.”
Jash dismissed them and opened the bag, but it contained nothing except for a half-empty flask and some rations wrapped in a cloth. She dropped it and faced the prisoner.
“Did they send you away or did you escape?” she said.
Sweat gleamed in the hollows of his face, but he said nothing.
Jash smiled, something she never did when she was happy. “Understand this. If you tell me what I want to know, I give you my word that I will not allow you to be killed or imprisoned or tortured. If you don’t—”
The man’s lip curled. “The word of a pirate?”
“This pirate commands the Turean freeships and holds your life in her hands. If you refuse, all I have to do is turn you over to my crew and order them not to kill you. No matter what else they do.”
The apple in his throat bobbed visibly as he swallowed, but he said nothing. The silence was broken only by a knock on the door, and her aide showed Arvius Tayan in.
Jash could not have asked for a more effective entrance, because Arvius had clearly been interrupted in the middle of his work. He wore an apron stained with blood, and various metal implements protruded from his pockets. His sleeves were rolled up, showing thick forearms covered with brown hair, and he looked more like a butcher than a surgeon. The prisoner half-twisted in the chair and stared at him.
“You—will you swear?” He turned back to face Jash. “To what you said before?”
Jash bent her fingers and touched the knuckles of both hands to her chest, just over each breast. “By the gods of sky and water, I swear I will not allow you to be killed or imprisoned or subjected to pain if you answer my questions with truth.”
After that it was easy, if not exactly satisfying. The prisoner said his name was Colyn Belforic—information Jash hadn’t asked for—and she suspected he was trying to make them see him as a person rather than as a Denalait. Even after she was done with him, he wouldn’t be a person. Though he would be infinitely more valuable than a Denalait. I swear that as well.
She told Arvius to sit down, which he did reluctantly, and questioned the prisoner about the fortress on Lastland and why he had left. He told her the fortress’s defenders had opened a postern gate for him, hoping he could take a boat and slip through the blockade. Jash considered that an act of sheer desperation, given that there were eight galleys surrounding Lastland and two thousand miles between them and the Denalait coast.
“This postern gate…” she began, but the prisoner told her the defenders did not expect relief or reinforcements to arrive from Denalay. Jash hoped that meant they were all going to commit suicide, but apparently they were building another wall instead, a granite wall within the iron-banded gates. They were sealing themselves into their fortress, turning it into their tomb.
So ramming the gates wouldn’t work. “How long can their supplies hold out?”
“Two months at the most.”
The blockade had already lasted a fortnight by then, and Jash knew she couldn’t simply wait three times as long. Even if Denalay did nothing during that time, her captains and crews would be reluctant to let their ships sit idle in the waters around Lastland. Besides, her reputation as a commander would suffer if she sat on her hands until starvation did her work for her.
She questioned him further on the few unguarded points of Lastland, but didn’t learn anything helpful. Underground passageways had been dug or carved beneath the fortress, to be used as a last resort, but they all led out through the Honeycomb, and her people had been stung there once already. Arvius was tapping his fingers against the arm of his chair by then, a noise that stopped when she smiled at him.
“That’s all, Keneer,” she told her aide, who had been writing down the prisoner’s answers.
“Captain?” The prisoner shifted in his chair. “You promised—”
“I know. Arvius, come here.” She went to a corner of her cabin and knelt before a large iron pot that had been brought there almost a week earlier.
Looking almost as uneasy as the prisoner did, he heaved himself out of the chair. He was taller than Jash and strong enough that the crew submitted meekly to surgery rather than risk being wrestled onto a table, but when he saw what was in the pot, his face paled. “Brain coral? Captain, I can’t—”
Jash spoke quietly and without moving her lips, but the prisoner heard. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” he cried out.
“I won’t.” Jash placed the pot in Arvius’s arms and he took it as he would have handled a nest of scorpions. “I’m just going to change your mind. Keneer, take our prisoner to the surgery. Oh, and give him poppy juice, Arvius. I did promise he wouldn’t be in pain.”
After they had gone, she sat before her desk with a cup of nettle tea, looking over a detailed map of Lastland. She wasn’t sure how brain coral could help in that regard, but then again, no one knew what brain coral was capable of once it was in a suitable host, and she wouldn’t lose anything by experimentation.
Keneer knocked at the door again. “Captain, the taileye’s returned.”
Jash didn’t particularly like their single Denalait ally, and she could never trust anyone who was not a Turean, but she vastly preferred to have him where she could see him. It would also be interesting to see what he made of the message her spy had sent. She finished her tea and climbed the stairs to Dreadnaught’s upper deck.
The first thing she saw, as always, was the east coast of Lastland. Beyond it the ocean stretched vast and unbroken, and sometimes Jash dreamed of taking a small swift vessel and sailing away, to search for the water’s end.
Once the war was done, when the circle banner no longer flew over the fortress. A circle was just one link in a chain, and the eight galleys surrounding Lastland all flew a broken chain on a blue field.
Eight galleys were half of her flotilla, but for once they almost matched the number of Denalait vessels. After the galleys had reached Lastland, a spy sent word that an armada of twenty warships, led by Hawk Royal, had sailed into the south, heading for the Archipelago.
Fear had tightened around Jash’s heart. The Turean strength was spread over five dozen islands, but the largest was the southern isle of Scorpitale, where she had been born. The Denalaits would burn the villages on Scorpitale after taking enough supplies to sail on to Lastland.
Merely praying for a miracle had seemed inadequate. So she had turned two captives over to Nion Vates, and whatever he did with them pleased the gods. A freak storm struck, smashing eighteen warships, and wreckage washed up on the shores of Crypthouse for days. Hawk Royal and Tramontane limped back to the mainland, but Jash knew her people would never be left in peace.
What bit like acid into her was that the Denalaits had so many advantages. They had all the mainland’s resources and traded for what they didn’t have, while Dagre and Bleakhaven refused to aid the Tureans because of a pact to take no hostile actions against other lands of Eden. And Arvius complains about coral, Jash thought. When the dice were so heavily weighted against her, what else could she do?
Now her spy—thankfully there were no obvious physical differences between Tureans and mainlanders yet—had sent word of the Denalaits’ next tactic. Jash slid her hands into the pockets of her sealskin vest and crossed the deck of Dreadnaught to her ally.
He was bent over a rain cask. Her crew collected that water for bathing, but Quenlin Fench cupped his hands in it and drank—further evidence, if any was needed, that it was the Tureans who belonged to the sea. Mainlanders couldn’t stomach its waters and had to drink what came from the sky or the land instead.
Quenlin dragged a sleeve across his mouth and leaned against the rail, elbows braced on it as he looked out over the water at Lastland. Five days ago, he had requested a boat and had set sail without informing anyone of his whereabouts, not that Jash had been concerned. She had known he would return. Mostly because he had nowhere else to go.
“Where were you?” she said when she stood beside him.
Jash had heard there was a chasm somewhere in the Shoreless Ocean, a trench that supposedly descended into hell or the heart of Eden. She had no idea why he would spend time searching such a thing, but then again, he was not just a mainlander but one who had been molded by the nightmarish institution called Seawatch into the bargain. A few mental defects were to be expected.
“I have news,” she said. “The warship Daystrider left the naval shipyards on the Greater Horseshoe five days ago. It’s bound south.”
Quenlin straightened up and nodded in acknowledgement, because obviously one ship deserved nothing further.
Jash smiled. “There’s a rumor a shark sorceress is aboard.”
The tattoo on his face looked like the tail flukes of a whale, and his eyes narrowed to the point where she could barely see the left one in the blackness of the ink. “Do you know what she’s linked to?”
“No. But she’ll only have one shark. Can you deal with that?”
“I intend to.” His mouth tightened to a line and he turned back to look out over the sea. “Here,” he said, in so low a whisper that Jash would not have heard him if she had been a little farther away.
A black wedge slashed through the waves. Another fin rose behind it in a dark reflection. The third, taller but deeply notched, trailed a spray of spume, and the fourth whale leaped clear of the water, so close that Jash saw the eye just forward of the white splash on its head.
The killer whales spouted, plumes of mist filling the air, then dived again. Quenlin put his back to the rail and leaned against it, so he was facing not the fortress, but the two thousand miles of water separating them from Denalay.
“Let her come,” he said.
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