The Deepest Ocean (Eden Series)

BOOK: The Deepest Ocean (Eden Series)
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Dedication

In memory of Allan Glenn (aka WinAce)

1984–2005

And for Kathy France, who makes sure I eat well.

Futile—the Winds—

To a Heart in port—

Done with the Compass—

Done with the Chart!

—Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights”

 

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.

—John Masefield, “Sea-Fever”

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?”

“You’ll see.”

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 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.”

Seawatch
.

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.

BOOK: The Deepest Ocean (Eden Series)
9.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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