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Chapter 26

It had been nearly a week since our talk. Things were still tense between us as we learned to navigate the murky waters that were marriage. I wondered if all marriages were like this, or if they were typically more simple. I doubted my betrothal in the Mountain would have been nearly as stressful, nor as exciting.

We hadn’t seen land since our departure, though Fletcher knew we were close to the next port town, Baldera. I sat on the top deck in the icy wind, enjoying the unusual rays of sunshine. My nimble fingers were nearly numb as I stitched a hole in Meleryn’s pants. The cold air and activity reminded me of times spent on our balcony with my grandmother as she taught me to sew.

Though our plans had changed a bit, Jon still felt the need to make our way to Mount Tier, to somehow make contact with my father and form a tense alliance. Each day we crept closer. Each day I became more sickened at the thought of seeing my family with this new knowledge. Meleryn nudged me with her boot, lounging in a pile of nets.

“Aren’t yer fingers dead?” she said. I shrugged. The wind whipped my braided hair loose, strands flying into my face. I tried to concentrate once more. Bear sat uneasily by my feet, hating the ship more than I did.

“Ye should chop yer hair. Did wonders for me.” Meleryn joked. She was talkative today.

“I thought you had no choice.” I said. She laughed.

“Aye, I didn’t. But no warrior woman ever keeps long hair.” she explained. My brow furrowed as I peeked at her, careful not to prick my finger.

“Are you suggesting I’m a warrior woman?” I asked. She laughed again, sitting forward.

“Well, ye did kill a man.”

I bit my tongue to suppress the barrage of images behind my eyelids. “Haven’t ye ever noticed Freyja’s hair? How short it is compared to the other women?” Mel said. I thought a moment and nodded. Though shorter, her hair was still long enough not to notice much of a difference.

“I suppose so. So what, you all cut your hair to become warriors?” I said. She gave a derisive snort.

“I tried to keep mine long because I liked it. Jon told me to cut it. I was almost killed because of that stupid mistake.” she rolled her eyes. I’d noticed how Jon treated Meleryn, sometimes as his equal, sometimes as a little sister. I could tell which she preferred. She kicked her booted feet back up, her legs sprawling out. She often wore pants like men, though she had a few skirts. Jon had made comments about her not acting a lady, and I began to see what he meant, though it seemed to suit her hard demeanor.

“What did they teach ye in the Mountain?” she asked, twirling a shiny dagger in her bony hands. I glanced at her scrutinizing face. Bear whined as the ship crashed through a rough wave. Sailing had been rather easy today, compared to the other days. I held up my needle and thread.

“To sew.”

“That’s all?” she said with disgust. I became defensive, feeling useless for only knowing one trade.


“Then what else?” her curiosity surprised me. People tended to stare at me in awe or fear, but none ever asked these sorts of questions. I found it refreshing to talk of my upbringing to someone new, someone who genuinely wanted to know.

“Well, I had to learn to eat properly. Which utensils to use and when.” I watched as her eyes became round in disbelief. I realized I’d lived such a privileged life that my only worries were spoons and not placing my elbows on the table. Out here, people rarely even thought to use a fork when fingers were readily available and food was often scarce.

“And how’s that supposed to help ye?” she asked, dumbfounded. I laughed, the sound carrying on the wind.

“It isn’t. At least not out here. My grandmother would teach me riddles,” I remembered. “She’d sit me down each morning and give me a conundrum, and if I hadn’t solved it by lunch, I would be refused dinner.” Though recounting the memory sounded rather harsh, I was fond of the game we’d played. It had taught me to use my wit. Mel shook her head.

“Yer all crazy,” she muttered. “But that’s really all? I should teach ye how to wield a sword.” she pressed.

“I learned how to become a proper princess, so I’d keep my husband happy.” I said with distaste, realizing what my alternative life could have been; bound to bland man, forced to bear his children and never speak in rebellion for fear of my life. It hadn’t taken me long out here to find my voice. How long in captivity, suppressed by the control of a man, would I have been able to survive?

Meleryn shot up in laughter.

“Weel, I’d say yer far from a proper princess. I see how ye command my brother. Ye hold his bollocks in yer fiery grip!” she laughed as hard as Bane, wiping tears from her eyes. I blushed a deep red.

“He’s still as stubborn as a rock.” I muttered, though she heard me.

“Aye, and ye should have known him before any of this happened. He’s a changed man.” she stared at me with no trace of humor in her eyes. It was bewildering, how she could go from utter humor to seriousness in a matter of seconds.

“I doubt I had anything to do with that.” I looked down at my needle and thread, picking up where I’d left off.

“Yer right. Ye had everything to do with it.”

“Stay put,” Jon yelled as he fled our room, and I knew better than to disobey him when he had that look in his eye. Soaked through, I gripped the edge of the bed against the monstrous rocking of the ship. It screamed in protest of the storm that had arisen out of nowhere. Teeth chattering, limbs numb from cold and shock, I began to peel my sodden layers off. Bear whined and moaned, his tail sagging in defeat. Would we die tonight?

Having never experienced anything of this magnitude before, I wasn’t sure of the severity of the situation. Jon’s reaction had helped me gauge the seriousness of the storm, though. The ship tipped up, and it felt as though we were suspended in time for a moment, before it came crashing down. I could scarcely hear the men yelling over the cacophony of the wind and rain. I realized attempting to undress was foolish at the moment, and instead sat on the floor, gripping Bear in one arm and the edge of the bed in the other. Trinkets and bottles crashed to the floor and exploded on impact, the candles swung on their posts. My stomach heaved with the familiar sensation of seasickness once more.

The continuous lurching of my innards was all too familiar; having fallen from Mount Tier, I was well versed in this feeling. The ship groaned louder than before as it crested another swelling wave of water. Though I could see nothing from where I sat, I knew what the tumultuous sea looked like; an angry, writhing beast come to devour us. I began to tremble in fear, though not for my own life. I worried about little Remi, below deck in the servant’s quarters, and Mel, because we were finally building a tense relationship. I mostly feared for Jon, though. The thought of him leaving this world was more than I could bear.


I recognized the terse voice of Meleryn. She burst through the doors, stumbling inside as we crashed over more waves. I must have looked a pitiful mess to her. But in her eyes was a look of utter fear, masked by the need to be a savior. A look that clearly ran in their family. I pulled myself up, gripping Bear’s scruff. She bid me to follow her.

“Come on,” she yelled. “The ship won’t make it through the storm. Jon’s gettin’ our raft ready!”

“Where’s Remi?” I yelled back, emerging from the safety of my room into the chaos of the storm.

“She’s coming!” Mel answered. Men ran about wildly, pulling ropes, trying in vain to reign in the main mast. Fletcher cursed and screamed orders at his discombobulated crew members. Rain pelted my face painfully, my hair flew in the wind. Mel reached for my hand, gripping it hard to anchor me to the ship and lead me to the rafts. The black clouds above us roiled. Whatever gods they’d prayed to, it obviously hadn’t been enough. I could feel the fear in the crew, the fear of imminent death. Bear planted himself, digging his short claws into the wood of the deck. I reached back for him, torn between Meleryn and him.

“No!” she shouted. The ship rolled to the left side, causing us to slip along the wet surface. Bear slid from my view, replaced by rolling casks and stray nets. The ship righted once more, and I stood transfixed, my heart aching. I realized then that life was simply always going to be that way; a series of dull moments interrupted by terrible punctuations that would alter everything in a matter of seconds. This was going to be one of those moments. I felt it in my core. I set my jaw, giving in to Meleryn’s persistent tugging.

We made it to the port side. Jon’s face lightened the darkness as he saw me. My heart leapt for him. He was already in the raft with a few other crew mates. The small boat swung out over the water, leaving a gap between us. He reached for me. Mel pushed me to the rail.

“Elise!” he yelled, reaching, his porcelain face earnest, his eyes full of that same fear. I reached, stretching myself across the rail, and our fingertips brushed. But I knew in my heart that our fates were already decided. A loud crack sounded behind us. His eyes snapped to the sound, though I knew what it was without looking. The main mast was about to fall.

“Jon,” I said over the wind, my voice calm. He looked back to me, his mouth slightly open, his eyes wide with the shared and unspoken knowledge. I gave him a small smile. He set his jaw, his eyes blazed. The mast crumbled to the deck. A rogue wave hit the starboard side, causing me to slip from his grasp. I fell to the deck, my head smacking a crate. I stared up into the sky, seeing one small clearing in the storm clouds. Through it shone a single star.

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