The crash shook the ship, making every board creak and groan with strain. Nadina huddled closer to the barrels she’d hidden behind, kept a firm grip on her compass, and prayed. She wasn’t exactly sure who she was praying to. Her people had never had a god of the sea or for sailing. It seemed a waste of perfectly good gods when your people had lived most of their lives in a landlocked desert.
Above deck she could hear shouting and the trampling of boots. The general noise of the crew didn’t sound much different from the other sixteen days she’d listened to it, yet she now felt the need to pay close attention. Something had changed, and it wasn’t just the fog outside.
The fog was thick -- pea soup mist as Mary’s grandmother would have called it -- and it engulfed the entire fleet like a blanket. Nadina could barely make out the silhouette of the closest ship through the porthole. The fog had swept in on the wind at dawn and made the sun a mere shadow; its faint light made the fog seem like a curtain drawn across a bedroom window.
Nadina wished she was back in her own bedroom. But if wishes were horses and all that. She shook her head at herself and sat back down, her back to the wall. Her legs ached, her back ached, her stomach growled, and she was more homesick than she’d ever been. The fog was just the final drop. She’d scream soon, she knew it. She’d scream and they’d find her, no matter how well Mary had stacked the boxes and barrels.
A pair of footsteps separated from the crowd on the upper deck and began walking down the stairs, down the corridors, down through the mess hall. Nadina sat still as a statue and listened, counting the steps.
The door to the cargo hold creaked both when it was opened and when it was pushed shut. The steps walked deeper into the room, toward the boxes and barrels. The faint light from a candle flame broke through the dark. “Nadina?”
“I’m here,” Nadina answered, not getting up. “Of course I’m here. Where else would I be?”
The brown mop of Mary’s hair made an appearance as the girl in question pushed aside a barrel. The hair was followed by her freckled face. She was smiling. Always smiling. It annoyed Nadina. That apologetic smile made it next to impossible to be mad at her, even for a moment.
“Sorry about that,” Mary said as she climbed over the barrels and into the boxed off square that was Nadina’s current place of residence. “We’re only three days from the islands now. Please hold out a bit longer.”
Nadina sighed and made herself smile. It wasn’t hard when she was looking at Mary. “I’m sorry, I’m just bored. I’ve won ever single chess game I’ve played against myself thus far and I’ve run out of stories to tell myself.”
Mary put down the bucket she’d been carrying and pulled Nadina into a hug. They both stunk of sweat and Mary smelled like fish and the salt of the sea. Nadina didn’t pull back. Instead she buried her face in the other girl’s neck and drew in a deep breath through her nose.
Mary giggled. “That tickles!”
“Are you sure no one followed you?”
She could almost feel Mary roll her eyes. “Has anyone followed me the last thirty times I’ve been down here?”
“I didn’t mean to imply that you’re clumsy,” Nadina said. “It’s just good to keep you on your toes.”
“That’s why I like having you around,” Mary said, squirming out of the embrace, careful not to elbow Nadina. “Wouldn’t want to slack off and get myself arrested.”
“Don’t even joke about that,” Nadina said, but there was no anger or scolding to her words. “Now, what delicious breakfast did you bring me?”
Mary put down the bucket she’d been holding next to the blanket covered one in the left corner. She then stuck a hand into one of her pockets and produced a handful of scones.
“Surprise! I managed to sweet-talk the chef into giving me the remains of the captain’s afternoon tea from yesterday. They might be a bit stale, but they’re completely maggot free and not too dry yet.”
Nadina cupped her hands and let Mary pour the scones into them, smiling all the while. “Thank you,” Nadina said, stowing away the morsels in various pockets upon her person. “You on latrine duty again?”
“Best way to get left alone,” Mary said. “And it makes emptying your bucket ever so much easier.”
“You’d think they’d get suspicious with you volunteering for such an unpleasant task over and over,” Nadina said. She licked the crumbs of the scones from her palms before she helped Mary lift the stinking bucket over the boxes.
“I’m at least as clever as you,” Mary said. “I’ve been faking vertigo from day one. I trade every assignment in the crow’s nest for latrine duty, deck scrubbing, you name it. You’d be surprised how quick my dear crew mates were to gang up on me. I have crow’s nest duty every other day now.”
“Sounds like you’re working hard.”
Mary leaned their foreheads together and wrapped her arms around Nadina’s shoulders. “Not as hard as you. And what do we always do?”
“We always do the right thing at the right time,” Nadina said, the words old and worn but comfortable, like a pair of good walking boots.
“We always do the right thing at the right time,” Mary echoed and hugged her tighter. “Have I told you how amazing you are for putting up with this? If it was me you know I would have been barking mad after the first week.”
Nadina chuckled. “Flatterer.”
“For you, always,” Mary said. “Just hope my flattery doesn’t get me in trouble.”
“We’re both too clever for that,” Nadina said, believing each word. “Now go play good sailor to that sandstorm of a captain you’ve got. I’ll be fine.”
Mary gave her one last, long look before she nodded, grabbed the blanket covered bucket and left.
Nadina sat back down on the floor, steeling herself against the ensuing darkness. She pulled free a bottle of water from its hiding place inside a broken box and took a gulp. There were only three bottles left. She did her best to push her thoughts elsewhere. If the winds stopped favoring them they’d think of something; she and Mary always did. After all, they’d come up with this brilliant plan, hadn’t they?
Nadina’s father had always told her to hide where the enemy would least expect it. What could be less expected than one of their warships?