They came in the night as she dreamt, in her berth, on a ship sailing home to del Mar.
After, they would be all Reyna thought about: two carracks painted scorpion black. No emblem on either forecastle, no pennant flying above the mainmast to hint at a kingdom of origin.
Never a good sign.
She had not meant to fall asleep. Her cabin was the size of a leading stone, her berth within the only comfortable spot. She had taken a chart to study there and had dozed by the light of a candle. A rough shaking woke her. In that dazed state between sleep and wakefulness loomed a face, inches from her own.
“Quiet,” Gunnel ordered before Reyna could scream. The gruffness of her voice suggested she too had just woken. But Gunnel wore her sword on her back and two daggers in her belt, something she hadn’t done since they had boarded this ship seven days ago. “Good, you’re dressed. Up, up. Quickly, Reyna!”
Reyna rolled from her berth and dropped lightly onto bare feet. From overhead, so peculiar she thought she must still be dreaming, came the sound of a man singing. A gentle, soothing tune, soft as a child’s lullaby. “What is that?” she said.
Reyna’s grogginess vanished, replaced by a deep, thrumming fear. “Where is the captain?”
“Captured.” Gunnel pointed directly upward. “With the others.”
Reyna crossed the cabin in two steps and threw open her sea chest. There were rules that must be followed, for an occasion such as this. The top half of the trunk was filled with maps and portolans, each rolled and secured with twine. She crushed an armful to her chest and spun around. Gunnel, a sea captain’s daughter long before she’d become Reyna’s guard, had anticipated her next move. The older woman shoved open the window so that the maps could be flung into the darkness and open sea.
It’s fine, Reyna told herself. Fine. Those had been copies of copies, the originals safe on del Mar. Better she lose them than let their trade routes be known to the enemy. Whoever the enemy was. As they emptied the chest, the light from the candle cast shadows onto the walls. Gunnel explained what she knew; it turned out to be very little.
“There are two ships to our west. Both much larger than ours.”
“We had no warning?” There were lookouts aboard theSimona. How had anyone managed to come so close without setting off the alarms?
Reyna’s map carrier lay on the table, a leather tube three feet in length. She uncapped it, glanced inside, and felt her heart spasm in protest. These maps were not copies, but the result of twelve months of labor. A year of her life. And she was expected to destroy them. What would Uncle Ginés do? Or Lord Elias? She knew the answer, which only made her decision more agonizing. Above, the strange humming continued. An eternity passed before she replaced the cap and slung the strap over her head. The carrier lay against her back.
Gunnel looked down at her with a disapproving expression. Quite a ways down, for she stood a good three inches above six feet, unnaturally tall even among her people. She indicated Reyna’s carrier. “It’s a bad idea,” she said.
“Yes. I realize.”
If Lord Braga learned she had kept these maps, and they were stolen as a result, he would suffer a seizure. He would banish her from the Tower of Winds. He would string her up by her feet and toss her over the cliffs at Alfonse to die slowly, her eyeballs pecked away by the gulls. And she would deserve it all. There were rules that must be followed, for an occasion such as this.
She left the carrier where it was.
Gunnel shrugged as if to say, It’s your bed, before pitching the last of the charts out the window. “Listen to me,” she said. “There’s something wrong with the men.”
Reyna shoved her father’s dagger in her belt. “They’re injured?”
“No, something is wrong here.” Gunnel tapped the side of her head impatiently. “I heard footsteps outside my cabin, and when I opened the door, they were shuffling past. Like cattle. And their faces . . .” Her brows, unkempt, sprouting everywhere, drew together. “There was nothing there.”
Gunnel was not making sense. “They had no faces?” Reyna asked.
“Of course they had faces!” Gunnel hissed. “Don’t be an idiot. They looked like . . . like your parchment before you begin painting.”
Blank, Reyna realized. That was what Gunnel meant. “But how? And why were we missed? And who is that man singing?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care to find out. Not a sound from you.” Gunnel reached for the door just as Reyna snuffed the candle with pinched fingertips, plunging them into darkness.
Luck was on their side. The door hinges, well oiled and silent, did not give them away. Reyna followed Gunnel down the narrow, stifling passageway. They crept along the edges like mice. Ahead, torchlight trickled in through the open hatchway. The humming had stopped. A man spoke in a language she thought was Coronad at first, until she realized she could only make out a smattering of words: Yes. Lame. No. The inflection was guttural, like Coronad, but not. A dialect? From her shipmates she heard nothing. No begging or threats. Not a word of protest. Were they dead already? Killed while she slept in her berth? As they tiptoed beneath the hatchway, a man stepped into view on the deck. Reyna and Gunnel moved as one, flattening their backs against the wall.
Don’t look down. Please do not see us. Sweat trickled between Reyna’s shoulder blades. After a minute, she chanced a glance upward, long enough for her to see a man caught half in shadow, half in light. Younger than she’d expected, bigger than she wished. His face, wide, with sharp cheekbones, bore the toughness of a Coronad and was heavily pocked. A knot of hair, perfectly rounded, perched atop his head, a feminine style that contrasted sharply with the assortment of weapons hanging from his vest and belt. Axe, whip, daggers for every occasion. Perhaps strangest of all were the ear covers draped around his neck. The night was warm and pleasant. Why would anyone need to keep their ears covered in such temperatures? He exchanged words with someone out of sight, then reached up and sliced a finger across his throat, an ominous gesture that needed no interpretation. At least one shipman would lose his life tonight.
Gunnel touched her hand lightly. A sign to move on. Swallowing the sickness that crawled