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Birthright

Pre-quel to "Captains Calling" 

     Memre leaned against the pinewood counter and drummed his fingers, waiting for the harbormaster to finish lunch. The Port Authority in Bray didn’t care about the aesthetics of their principal office like Mooringsport did. The once pastel paint had changed from a light blue to pale green as a thin layer of pipe smoke coated it. A cool breeze gusted in through the open windows, wicking away some sweat on his skin. The harbormaster strode in right behind it, slamming the door to be sure it closed. She paused and wiped a wet rag against her bronzed nape.

     “Afternoon Lyndris,” Memre said.

     She twisted her pale blonde hair up off her shoulders and shot him a half smile. Her hand extended, gesturing toward a desk piled with paperwork held down by fist sized multi-colored shells. Her beautiful grin faded, and she put on her professional mask before her emerald green eyes pierced his. Memre’s back stiffened at the change in her demeanor.

     Her shoulders sank, and she fiddled with the hoop pierced into the point of her ear. “There are things missing from the inventory again,” she said. 

     It had happened once before he was born, and his father still griped about it on occasion. But that had been over a century ago, and it happened twice this year already. A third infraction would bar the Adelaide from entry until they maintained a clean record for a decade. 

     “What’s missing?” he asked.  

     She didn’t even look down at her paperwork. “Two bobbins of enchanted yarn from one crate…” She took a deep breath, and her cheeks puffed out on the exhale. “And a dagger of concealment from another.”

     Memre placed his elbows on the edge of the desk and rested his forehead on his fingertips. They might have let him slide for the thread. It was only used to make moving tapestries. But the order had explicit rules regarding the shipment of enchanted weapons. This one might be impossible to locate because the second the wielder strapped the dagger to their body, it disappeared until removed from its sheath. But if he didn’t find it, it could cost him at least a year of business. 

     He groaned and leaned back to stare at the peeling paint on the ceiling. “Blood and Ashes,” he cursed. “How long can you stall them?”

     She cleared her throat, leaned across the desk and raised a single eyebrow. “How will you be paying for this… favor?” 

     “Dinner?” he asked.

     Her lower lip puffed out, and she wrinkled her nose. She always knew how to brighten his day and he adored how she could switch from professional to playful with him in only seconds. 

     “You still owe me one of those from last time,” she said. 

     His tongue prodded a canine tooth as he thought. “Breakfast?” 

     She leaned onto her elbow and flashed him an impish smile. “Memre. You are awful.”

     He leaned toward her to whisper, but before he could respond, the little bell over the door chimed, and her mask slipped back into place. “Please let me know what you find, Mr. Fergedderston.” 

     “Of course, Harbormaster.” He inclined his head on his way out. “Have a nice day.”

     Thanks to the Goddess’s magic, without permission to enter, the island he ran the cargo for was invisible. And the order stationed battle mages at every major port to inspect all Salamangkan imports and exports before release. So, even though the process was a headache, if he wanted their business, he followed their rules. If he didn’t find that dagger, they would bar the Adelaide from the island for a year. He couldn’t let that happen. Eighteen elves and their families depended on the salary provided by his father. To make things worse, his stubborn father would never leave the port towns, so they needed to get him to an Aiunite healer on the island. 

                                                                                                   

 *****

     The merchant ship bobbed in the waves as sailors scurried across her decks trying to make repairs. There was still so much to do while the Adelaide was docked in Bray. As First Mate, Memre’s job was to manage the cargo, and make certain his sailors were safe before they left again. But after sailing through a dreadful storm a few nights prior, it overwhelmed the bosun with repairs. So, he told him he would help where he could, on top of his other duties. 

     He clenched his hands across his temples while watching two deckhands patch the topsail. “Where in the nether is the sailmaker?” Memre asked.

     The mousy haired deckhand stuttered his response without meeting his gaze. 

     “Mr. Morthil told us to, sir. Said he’d get to the rest when he returned,” the deckhand mumbled. 

Memre hated the way his father ran a ship. He swore that once the Adelaide was his, he would find a crew that listened the first time. One that he didn’t have to kick awake or threaten to throw overboard. It might take a while, but since he’d be captain at least seven hundred years or so, it would be worth the trouble.

     “The two of you put that down. I need you to go to the weave master and retrieve the other patches. They’ve been paid. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.” 

     Memre tucked a dark brown curl behind his ear and re-rolled the sleeves of his blue linen tunic. The seagulls screamed as droves of them clustered around Rolim, his youngest deckhand. The youngling was easily distracted but he would stay on his crew. Not only was he a hard worker, his ability to control animals came in handy more than once. There were few things worse than sitting in the middle of the Cartheran Sea on a hot, still day. And since the little elf arrived, unless there were no large marine creatures within leagues, they could always get a push if they needed one. 

     “Rolim, stop playing with the sky rats. There’s work to do!” he called down to the pier.

     The scrawny male bolted up the dock and slid to a halt. 

     “Sorry Firs—”

     Memre waved his hand. “Not now, it’s fine.” Rolim apologized for everything, and not only to him. He apologized for just… existing. He’d never earn respect by being a push-over. 

     Memre gripped his bicep and pulled him toward the bow. “I need you to do a few things. First, go find Morthil. He’s at the Blue Eel Tavern. Tell him if he isn’t back immediately, I will hire a new sailmaker. When you finish with that, find a reason to help Kilka and make note of what he does this afternoon. You will be his assistant today. Don’t be obvious either.” Rolim nodded before running across the road, almost getting hit by a carriage.

                                               

                                                                                       *****

     Memre poked his head into the stuffy quarters. His father lay so still, he waited to watch the rise and fall of his chest. He only exhaled after the blankets shifted, then crossed the room to open another window. The air whipped through the room, sweeping heat and the sweet odor sitting in the back of his throat along with it.

His father’s eyes fluttered open, and he struggled to put an elbow beneath him. Memre reached to help, and Enyalien swatted his hand away.

     “I’m not dead yet.” He grunted, and after a few moments, sat straight. His face was even paler than yesterday, and his cheeks were gaunt, the skin thin enough to tear. Memre yanked the blanket off his father's legs to let him sit by himself.

     “How are you feeling?” Memre asked as he retrieved a tankard of water.

His father chuckled, and it turned into a raspy cough. “How does it look like I’m feeling?” Enyalien gestured and accepted Memre’s help to get to his desk. 

     “Got to say, didn’t expect any of this yet,” he continued with a grunt.

     Memre leaned against a wall. “We are leaving for Salamangka in…” The aged elf sagged in his chair before he continued. “Tomorrow morning at sunrise.”

     “Pfft. We can give it a shot. I’d rather be on the ocean when it’s time anyway,” Enyalien said. 

     Memre shifted in discomfort, but his father continued. “You remember how I want it handled right?”

     “Do we need—”

     “Yes—” His father barked before falling into another coughing fit. “We do. And since I’m still captain of this ship, you are going to sit your ass down. The Adelaide is a lot of responsibility.”

     “Will you be able to guide us back to Salamangka? You never showed me how to get there.” Memre asked.

     “Start on the normal route, if I’m not in good enough shape to get us there, Adelaide will tell you,” his father said.

     Memre’s eyebrows crinkled. His father had been saying the strangest things the past few weeks. The illness must have crept into his mind. Enyalien’s feeble grip on his wrist surprised him, and he fought to keep it from showing on his face. 

     “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not insane. Now, go retrieve that little deckhand you like so much and bring him here.” His mood was much lighter than usual. And since Memre wasn’t willing to push his luck by questioning him, he only nodded and left him seated at the desk. 

He stepped onto the deck and smiled at the sight of Mr. Morthil patching the sails. Their eyes met for a moment and the sail master’s jaw clenched before going back to his work. Memre walked over to check his progress. 

     “Morthil, how much longer do you need? We set sail at sunrise.”

     “Sunrise?” he shouted.

     Memre’s forehead crumpled, and he squatted, ready to growl at him. For some reason, this male only responded to rude or obnoxious tones. But the sail master grumbled before he could speak. 

     “Ten gold extra. And not a copper less. I’ll be working all night!” Memre looked over his work. He was three hours from finishing, at most.

     “Fine. But for that, it better be the best you have ever done. Or I will find someone less expensive next time.”

     Memre turned to the deckhand who hadn’t moved an inch while waiting on a directive. “Rolim, round up the crew from the lower decks.” He walked the ship, making note of several incomplete repairs and safety hazards. Everyone expected another week in Bray and were already hurrying to finish so they could enjoy some time in port before loading the next shipment.

     He climbed up the stairs, and stood at the rail, overlooking the deck. He wasn’t captain yet, but he’d decided to leave early, and his father hadn’t told him no.

     “Captain Fergedderston has taken a turn for the worse. He needs to see a healer immediately. We leave for Salamangka at sunrise with no cargo to load.” A few of the newer sailors groaned but were silenced by their seniors.

     “Report to your officers with concerns. We are burning daylight, and you all know what you need to do.” He gestured for Rolim to follow.

     Memre knocked, giving his father a moment to collect himself before he entered with the youngling. Enyalien sat straight, rapping his fingers in impatience on the tabletop. He’d climbed out of his nightclothes and dressed in a poet shirt, and brown leather britches. But even though it was somehow cooler in his quarters than it was outside, he’d broken a sweat and tried to pretend as though his breathing was not heavy. His father slid a box in front of him without speaking. Inside were a few large fishing hooks with the barb sheared away.

     “Rolim,” Enyalien said pointing to a globe set into a table. “Pour us a shot of whiskey and get one for yourself too.”

     “Yes sir!” he said before rushing to the other side of the room.

     “Help me remove this hoop.” He leaned forward and turned toward him before handing him a set of steel pliers. Memre had never seen him without it a day in his life.

     “But—”

     “I’ll rip it if I try!” he barked.

     Memre’s hands shook as he parted the metal enough to twist it out of the hole in his ear just as the youngling set a glass in front of his captain. Enyalien nodded in thanks, drank it down, then plunked the hoop into the thin layer of brown fluid at the bottom. He swirled it in thought while the others sat waiting for him to speak.

     “Rolim, clean one of those hooks. Memre needs your help.”

     His father upended the glass onto the table, spilling the metal hoop out, and picked it up to look at it in the light. A small grin crossed his face, as he stared lost in a memory.

     “Alright, let’s do this,” he said.

     Memre’s eyes went wide, and he snapped to his feet, knocking the chair over when Rolim held up the hook. His father guffawed, then in a flash, his face grew stern.

     “Sit!” he snapped before smiling at the youngling. “You’ll do a fine job for the next captain, won’t you?” Memre’s stomach flipped. 

     “Next… next captain, sir?” Rolim asked.

     They waited for Enyalien to stop hacking. The fit was so bad, Memre wondered if he’d catch his breath again. But after a few gasps, he continued.

     “Did you think I’d live forever? Now put the damned hook through his ear. I’m too shaky or I’d do it myself.”          Memre sat, trying to suppress panic as his breath came quickly. His eyes scrunched closed as his father directed Rolim’s unsteady hand. After about a dozen apologies, a loud pop sounded through the cabin and           Memre hissed through his teeth. His father followed the hook with the hoop, pulling against it harder than necessary.

     Memre thumbed the edge of his ear and wiped at the blood with the whiskey covered rag. It burned but would at least make him less likely to get an infection from the fishhook. He stared in the mirror at the brilliant blue metal that matched his eyes. Regardless of the exchange of jewelry, as long as his father lived, the Adelaide was his. While they often didn’t agree on how things should be run, Memre hoped it would stay that way for a long time yet. 

     Enyalien leaned toward Rolim and whispered. “Memre’s going to need someone loyal and reliable, you know?     

     "Every good captain needs someone he can trust.” 

     “Oh… of… yes sir!” he said, lifting his chin and skittering out the door to tend to Kilka.

Enyalien sagged in his seat as soon as the youngling left. Memre gripped him under the arm. He had used the last of his energy for the day, keeping it together for one of his sailors.

     “You need rest,” he said before moving him back to his mattress. His father was asleep before Memre reached the door.

     He retired to his quarters to make sure his lute didn’t require care before they left Bray. No matter who ran the Adelaide, something had to be done about the thief on board. He’d stolen property of the order, and the ship's laws on that were clear. 

                                                                                               *****

     The seagulls shrieked their terrible laugh just as the orange sun crested the horizon. Poor Ryfon had stayed up all night purchasing enough supplies for the galley to prepare for a sudden departure. It couldn’t be him, he’d been working on the Adelaide for sixty years with no problems and took pride in his job.

Two nights before Memre expected to arrive in Mooringsport, he entered his private cabins and checked the tune on his lute. After poking his head into his father’s quarters and closing the windows to block out sound, he went to meet with Rolim. He would have preferred to ask for Oliondro or Ryfon’s help with this, but the fewer people who knew, the better. And since he needed Rolim’s gift to pull it off, the youngling was the only option. 

     “Are you sure you’re ready?” Memre asked.

     The mousy elf nodded. “Yes, sir.”

     He scurried around the masts, lowering the smaller sails himself until the ship bobbed in the low waves. A relaxed half-smile raised on Memre’s face as he leaned against a handrail and played his favorite song. His mother used to sing it when she worked on the deck. Her tunes were always about the ocean, but they weren’t typical chanteys. They were like she was, soothing, but practical. The song was how she told of her adventures. Every major event changed the tune. In the past decade, it had only gotten darker. Tonight would not add any uplifting notes either. It was more likely to be a funeral dirge, at least for a few stanzas. He preferred to woo females with his gift or use it for entertainment. But his father used his mother’s magic, and after she passed, he used his. And while he didn’t want to admit it… the method worked.

     The sailors shouted as Rolim pushed open their doors and banged a wooden spoon onto a steel pot to wake them. He raced onto the deck and slid to a halt in front of the main mast, then faced Memre at attention.

Memre’s fingers plucked the strings through muscle memory alone, because when he lost himself in the music, time passed too fast. Some sailors stomped onto the deck shouting about being disturbed from their rest, others chuckled with amusement, and a handful looked confused. But the sailors that had been around long enough took a deep, reserved sigh. He lowered the song by one octave and played a few stanzas before speaking.

     “I’m sorry that it has come to this. Fall in line,” he said. Panic set into their faces once they realized they no longer had control of their own movements. He rose from the stairs, never taking his fingers away from the strings. 

     “Ryfon, Oli, have a seat over here.” He gestured to the stairs leading to the quarterdeck. 

     Both males had been around since his birth—in the captain’s quarters. Back then, Oliondro’s job had been to scurry over the riggings if need be, and to help the officers. Since he already knew the ship better than most, when he grew too large to be quick at moving between the masts, he was promoted to bosun. 

     “Someone has been stealing from our shipments. If that male would like to step forward, no harm will come to them—other than dealing with the enforcers.”

No one spoke, so he waited. After a few minutes, he sat back on the stairs and propped the lute on his knee before leaning against the railing. When a rogue wave rolled beneath the ship, he snapped out of it, realizing that he had locked them in place longer than intended.

     A small voice rose from the back. “Kilka did it, sir!” Memre winced. He’d never gotten details from Rolim of what he had seen. 

     The rotund elf shouted from the middle of the line. “You little brat, you ain’t gonna get me thrown overboard with your lies!”

     “Come here, Rolim,” Memre said. The lad stood at his feet, out of hearing range from everyone.

     “What did you see?” he asked.

     “Nothing, sir. He’s clean as a fresh scrubbed deck.” He leaned in to whisper with confidence, but his voice trembled. “But I’m ready.”

     Memre raised his voice. “No false confessions! I’ll have no sailor on this ship that would damn one of his crew with lies!” Memre shouted.

     “Please, please don’t do this. He… he did it! I know it!” Rolim cried.

     Tears ran over the youngling’s cheeks as he lost control of his muscles. The poor elf was petrified, so he didn’t need to do too much acting. Memre gave him time to gaze over the taffrail before making him leap into the inky water. After a few moments, a shrill shriek pierced the air. It was cut off midway, followed by several large splashes. Other than the low notes of the lute, the deck was silent.

     The captain made the laws on the open ocean. Since his father was too ill to lead, he could kill them one by one, and no one could do anything about it. And every one of them knew it. Even if the thief refused to confess, someone on this ship knew who was guilty.

     “Fine,” Memre said through clenched teeth. “I prefer not to do this, but I won’t have anyone marring my legacy. Any of you can stop this by telling me who the thief is. Otherwise, the atoll is only a few leagues away. It’s your choice, the sharks, or the sirens. Ryfon come search them please.” 

     He questioned them one at a time. If one of them still had the blade, they would never see it. Ryfon followed behind and ran his fingers along their waistbands, vests, and the seams of their britches. A second elf went over, and a third. There wasn’t a sailor alive that would ever choose the sirens. Kilka was the fourth, and he shouted as he got close to the edge.

     “I cut the wine, that was it, I swear! I don’t know who else is stealing!”

Memre’s eyebrow raised. He believed him. 

     “Well, someone knows who the thief is! Does anyone want to speak up before Kilka takes a swim?” Memre shouted. Everyone sat still as stone. The sharks rolled through the waves in a frenzy as he sent the horrified male overboard with the others.

     “Elanaril, it seems like you are next. Unless you want to confess,” he sang in a slow gait, similar to a dirge. The blonde elf moved toward the taffrail with arms and legs extended as if tied to solid boards. Memre let him stand to look over the side for a few minutes to consider his thoughts while watching five orc sized sharks swimming below.

     “Okay! Okay! It was me. I did it!” the blonde elf squealed.

Memre made him hold his place to watch their dorsal fins cut through the surface. He still needed to be certain he wasn’t covering for someone. 

     “And what are you claiming you stole?” 

     “The dagger, gauntlet, and threads,” he said. Memre was glad he admitted to the first theft too, or they would have had a much bigger problem on their hands. Sweat dripped over Elanaril’s face and he trembled.

     “What did you do with my cargo?” Memre hissed. He gestured to Ryfon, who joined him to restrain Elanaril’s hands, allowing Memre to stop playing the lute. Two of his fingers were raw, and he clenched his fist to stave off cramps. “Everyone sit!” he shouted to the rest of the crew.

     Memre kicked the thief in the ribs as Ryfon bound him to the mast. “Where is my cargo?”

     “Oliondro sold it!” he cried.

     Ryfon grasped the bulky male by the shirt and punched him. His nose cracked with a sickening crunch, and blood sprayed all over the deck. A voice rose from the end of the line. 

     “He’s telling the truth. I heard ‘em talking but didn’t understand until now.” 

      Ryfon and Memre looked at one another in amusement. The three of them had been together Memre’s entire life. Even though the missing items were worth at least five years of salary, neither of his sailors would betray his father like this.   

     “Did anyone else witness this?” Memre asked while rolling his eyes.

     No one spoke. Oliondro stood straight as an arrow, glaring at Elanaril. 

     “Oli, come here so I can search you and clear your name from these lies.” 

     “No,” he said. 

     Ryfon straightened in surprise and his bushy eyebrows crumpled before he spoke. “What do you mean no? Come here, Oli.” 

     The bosun looked over the edge as if contemplating a jump. But Memre’s fingers slipped across the strings again, and within a few notes, his opportunity at escape was lost. 

     “I’d never steal from Enyalien!” Oliondro said as he lost control of his limbs. Ryfon grasped the bosun and shoved him forward. Memre stepped forward to search him, worried at what he would find. As soon as his fingertips touched the sheath in his waistband, he tugged it free, and it materialized only a second later.  

     Memre hung his head as he looked at his palm in disbelief. “Why… why would you do this?”

     Ryfon’s face fell, and he shoved Oliondro onto his knees hard enough to make him cry out.

     “You ain’t half the male your pa is,” he growled. “Pfft. Or your ma, for that matter. And you ain’t going to be my captain.”

     “The Adelaide is my birthright!” Memre shouted. He stepped away for a moment and ran his hand through his hair as he collected himself. “But you are right. I won’t be your captain,” he said.

Memre climbed the steps to the aft of the ship and leaned over to do a head count. They were all there, each gripping a rope tied to a thick ring attached to the hull.

     “Bring them around, Rolim,” Memre called down before descending to the main deck and kicking the rope ladder. The youngling was the least concerned about swimming through the school of hungry sharks. When a few of the sailors refused, the predators pushed them toward the ladder instead. Sharks were built to eat, swim, and reproduce—that was it. Yet Rolim’s gift was powerful enough to make them ignore even their most basic instincts. It was an impressive display of the control he already had—it would only grow. 

     After the drenched sailors filed back into place, Ryfon dragged the elf to his feet by the back of his collar. Memre removed the enchanted dagger from its sheath and sliced a gash down the length of his bicep. The traitor screamed in pain, then lunged free of the cook’s grasp. Memre side-stepped his attack, causing him to smack the deck face first.

     The bosun shouted more obscenities than Memre had heard in a long time when he began playing the lute again. Pushing down the lump in his throat, Memre leaned over his shoulder and whispered. “The sharks, or the sirens?” 

     The volume of the ocean waves increased to a steady, deafening drum, distracting Memre. The high pitch of a flute followed behind. When Memre turned in confusion, Oliondro lunged again, and was stopped by Ryfon. 

Memre’s ear burned as though it lit aflame, and he screamed and clutched it before doubling over, eyes watering. His crew watched in silence as he kneeled on the deck, prodding the new hoop, confused at what caused the pain.

     When the mysterious music faded away, he stood and shook his head before approaching the bosun again. Memre cut away the restraints and took three steps backward before drawing his rapier. Oliondro turned to face him, leaving a half-moon pool of blood on the deck as it dripped over his fingertips.

     “You’ve been a blight on this ship since the day your ma had you!” Oliondro growled. “You ain’t brought nothing but shame to the Adelaide. Maybe if Enyalien hadn’t gone to find you at some harlot’s place, he would’ve been here to save your ma.” 

Memre’s eyes burned, but he flashed a smile instead and tucked the rapier beneath his arm to clap. “Beautiful monologue. Feel better?” 

     The bosun surged, blood splashing across Memre’s light blue shirt, and knocked the blade aside. They rolled, and Oliondro’s fingers wrapped around the rapier. He leapt to his feet and leveled it at Memre before anyone could get close. 

     “You don’t deserve her! The Adelaide is too good for you!” he shouted. The ship rocked as if hit by an immense rogue wave, Oliondro stumbled, but kept his feet under him. Multiple ropes snapped with a loud crack, and the ship loader whipped free, swinging over the seated sailor’s heads. The boom with the pulley system swooped wide, and smacked across Oliondro’s neck, hurling him over the side. He hit the waves with a loud smack. 

     The senior sailors leapt to their feet to secure the rigging, and Memre ran to look into the waves. He shoved Rolim back, blocking his view. Memre spent years suffering what his father made him do, and he wouldn’t have the youngling blaming himself for any of this. Watching the sharks tear the elf to shreds would change him. He was still too young to deal with that.

     “Don’t stop them. This had nothing to do with you,” he said. 

     :Hello: a familiar voice said. Memre twisted in surprise.

     “Mother?” he called.

     A chuckle followed behind the question. :I thought this voice would please you most. But I can choose a different one if you like: Memre’s eyes rounded at the realization.

     :Adelaide?: he thought.

     :Yes. Do you agree to be my new captain, Memre?: 

     He’d lived nowhere else. Never even had the desire. “Of course. This is my home,” he said aloud. The sailors watched him, wide eyed, but no one dared speak. 

     :Good. Then we can talk further after you finish upholding my laws.:

     His head spun, so he sat back on the deck to compose himself. He wanted to check on his father but knew what he would find. The old elf hadn’t been as senile as he suspected, and this answered so many questions he’d had over the years. Only able to do one thing at a time, he rose to his feet to finish what he started. 

     He extended his long fingers and signaled for Ryfon to bring him the other thief. The cook cut the ties on the mast and hauled him to his feet.

     “What? Wait! I admitted to it!” he screeched.

     Ryfon chuckled as he shoved him forward. “You held your tongue while your shipmates were tossed into the drink and said nothing. It’d be wrong to let another ship take a thief and coward onto their crew.”

     Memre expected to handle this one himself. But Ryfon’s rage took the job from him. If it made him feel better, it was for the best. He’d just lost a lifelong friend, and the thief was going to die anyway. They could not give quarter to those that turned against their own crew. 

     Memre sent everyone to their bunks and returned to the captain’s quarters. He hesitated before opening the door, as if leaving it closed would mean his father was still alive. But he wasn’t, and Memre’s first act as captain had been taking lives. He shouldn’t feel guilt, but it would eat at him. It always did. He sat beside his father and stared, unwilling to touch him. 

     :He was an excellent captain, as you will be: Adelaide said.

     “Are you alive?” Memre asked.

     :I am part of the faewood. We have a lot to discuss, Captain. And plenty of time to do so. Allow your sailors to pay their respects to Enyalien. Then I will tell you how to handle his remains.:

                                                                                                   *****

     The sky was turning purple as they docked in Mooringsport. Ryfon got the attention of the enforcers and disembarked with Kilka. The harbormaster boarded as soon as they tied off and gestured for Memre to join him on land.

     :We need to talk before you leave.: Adelaide said.

     :Can’t this wait?: 

     :No: 

     He gripped the handrail as the ship surged against the dock. The warning shouldn’t have surprised him. Adelaide had done many things in the past two days he’d never noticed. Not only did she likely protect him from Oliondro, but since that night, the bed was always made, the temperature in his quarters was always perfect, and he always had the same amount of whiskey in the decanter. 

Memre handed over the blade and pretended to search his pockets as if forgetting something. “Will you give me a moment?” The harbormaster nodded, and Memre stepped out of sight.

     :To protect us both,: she said, :you cannot tell anyone about me. Under any circumstances. Also, now that you are my captain, you cannot ever leave my side. The furthest you can travel is the edge of the port town.:

Now he knew why his father never left the ship. For anything. And the one time he did, it was to find him.

     :Adelaide, were you responsible for my mother’s death?:

     :Your grandfather made a deal with the fae. Your father agreed, and so did you. If you do not honor your agreement…: She didn’t need to finish. Those who broke a deal with the faeries withered away and died. He didn’t even know that he was making a deal. Surely that counted for something.

But she hadn’t answered. His thought came out slow and punctuated. :Did you kill my mother?:

     :He broke the rules when he left,: she said.

     A rock settled in his gut, and the blood whooshed through his ears. :This isn’t how it works! We didn’t negotiate!:

     She chuckled again. This time, the sound gave him chills. :Your grandfather did. And the arrangement has—mostly—worked for everyone. We can discuss it when you return: Memre stomped back onto the main deck, trembling and flushed with rage.

     :Memre,: she said. He paused and a vein on his neck bulged as he clenched his fists.

     :We are bound to one another now. And if you ever try to leave… you will wish your life was the only payment due.:

 

 

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