GARTEN HAD DIED IN THE night, the
ninth so far. Corrie Welling had kept count, added every death to the
tally of sins that she would visit upon these bastards.
And those sins were plentiful.
had been in the fetid, rotting hold of this ship for twenty-seven days,
shackled to the wall with just enough freedom of movement to get her
hands to her mouth when her captors gave her a cup of water or a bite of
moldy biscuit. Water and food was twice a day, and even in this
darkened hold, she could tell when the sun was out, filtering through
the seams of the hatch above them.
Plus the heat of the daytime had turned ungodly.
heat, the stench of them all sitting in their own filth, the creep of
salty bilge water that was sometimes several inches deep-all of it was
too damn much to bear.
The animals who had done this to her and the kids locked in the hold with her, they would pay dearly. Corrie would make sure.
rest were all kids, and they all had been looking to her. Most of them
were around eleven or twelve, some as old as fifteen. Corrie was by far
the oldest. By her reckoning, her twentieth birthday passed the same day
the ship had made an abrupt swing in direction.
“Southeast to northeast,” Garten had said that day. “We went around the Ihali Cape.”
had been a good kid. Twelve years old, went to the public prepatory in
Dentonhill. He had clearly been a good student, since he knew geography
and had a good sense of direction this whole time they’d been in the
He had known when the ship made anchorage in Yoleanne,
taken on water and supplies, and then presumed they had kept going south
along the Acserian coast, naming cities they might have reached the
next time supplies were brought on. Agenza, Corren, Torphia,
That one he had been certain about, especially when
Corrie had told the rest what she could hear when supplies were loaded.
Their captors had shouted out to the supply boats in something other
than Trade. They were now off the coast of Imachan.
“Imachan is actually a bunch of countries,” Garten had said weakly.
had gotten sick the day before, unable to keep even water down. Corrie
couldn’t get close to him, but Eana, shackled next to him, said he was
hot with fever. Fever and vomiting had been how it had started for
Relia. And Washle. And Nicelle, Samon, and Tirl. For each of them, once
it started, death came fast and hard and cruel. Garten had been no
different. Corrie had tried to keep him talking, asked him to tell her
more about Imachan, tell her more about the stories he read in school,
tell them all about his home and his mother and his family, anything.
But he had died in the night.
One more crime, one more sin, that she would hold these rutting bastards to account for.
was your fault, stick,” Penler said. Penler was one of the older ones, a
real rutting pisser with too damn smart of a mouth for his own good.
“He hadn’t been right since Morger knocked him to punish you.”
“That wasn’t her fault!” Eana said. “None of that is her fault.”
of what these bastards do to us is my fault,” Corrie said. “But I am
sorry they hurt you to punish me. It’s because they know I can take it
if they knock me.”
“So stop pushing them, stick!” Penler said.
“Stop yelling at her,” Eana said. “That’ll make them come again, and they’ll blame her, and they’ll hit one of us.”
“How do we know she’s not in it with them?” Penler said. “It was sticks who grabbed me in the first place. Same for Washle.”
for me,” Corrie said. Of all the parts that hurt the most of this
rutting sewage was the fact that she had been betrayed by fellow
She was a sergeant in the Maradaine Constabulary. The
Wellings had served for eight generations. Her many-times-great
grandfather had helped found the Constabulary and the City Loyalty. Her
father had died with his red and green on.
She was still wearing
hers. Maybe the bastards who took her wanted to taunt her that much, put
her in this hold with her uniform on, so these kids would know she was
an officer in the Constabulary. Crush any sense of hope they might have.
Show them that no one could save them.
“Listen,” she said
quietly. “In a few minutes, Morger will be down here with our rations.
None of us are going to give him any blasted trouble this time, give him
any reason to stay down here more than he needs to. Not right now.”
“What about Garten?” Treskie asked. He was on Garten’s other side.
draw attention to him,” Corrie said. The others all groaned and whined.
“Listen to me. Listen!” She knew they didn’t want to hear this. They
were as scared as anything, and she couldn’t rutting blame them. They
were exhausted, they were sick, they knew they were being shipped to
some horrific fate in some place only the saints and sinners knew. The
next port might be where they were unloaded, and from there, who even
knew what damned atrocity awaited them.
She was a damned officer
in the Constabulary, and like her father, like her grandparents, like
all three of her brothers and half her cousins, she had taken a damned
oath to serve, to stand for the safety and protection of the citizens of
Maradaine. The kids in this hold with her, no matter where they were in
the world, were still citizens of Maradaine, and she still had her red
and green on.
She would fulfill that oath or die trying.
“Listen,” she said calmly. “I know it’s horrible to be there next to him, to have to smell his rotting corpse-”
“No worse than any other smell down here,” Iastanne said.
“But we don’t want it to be Morger taking him out. It’s got to be Hockly, tonight. So hold on.”
didn’t have the sharp mind of her brother Minox-or his magic, that
would rutting come in handy-but she had paid attention, noting
everything about the hold they were in. She had figured out everything
that could be used as a weapon, memorized where it was. She could find
it all in the dark if she had to. She learned the patterns of the ship’s
crew. Morger brought them water and food in the mornings, Hockly in the
evenings. Hockly, with bad knee and weak shoulder.
Eana asked. Her raised eyebrow showed she understood what Corrie was
driving at. She, more than any of the other kids, had been sharp and
clever enough to see what Corrie had been doing all this time, and kept
her mouth shut about it. Eana had a whip of a mind, Corrie saw that.
Eana knew what the score was, and she clearly trusted Corrie to get it
It had taken twenty-seven days, slow and patient work, but
Corrie had cracked the wood holding her manacles to the wall. She knew
one good yank was all it would take to be free.
But she had to do
that at the precise, ripe moment. She had to be ready to take the ship,
free these kids, and make all the bastards on the ship pay for their
That moment was going to be tonight.
Corrie was a damned constable, even here and now, and she was ready to get to work.
HAD COME AND GONE with the morning rations, not even noticing that
Garten was dead. That was what Corrie had suspected. The man was
fundamentally cruel, but lazy. Like most of the rotten crew on this evil
ship, he had little interest in dealing with the prisoners in the hold
any longer than he had to. Corrie didn’t know exactly what each of the
crew did with their day, but she knew Morger wanted to get his work done
quick and get back to it.
Rutting pig, he was.
The ship was full of them.
had used her ears for the past twenty-seven days, listening to the
chatter of the crew as they wandered about on the deck above them. She
kept track of voices, of names. She made sure she had them all.
were twelve of them on the crew, all of them men. She was actually
honestly shocked none of them had tried to roll her, or one of the other
girls. Not that she was remotely interested in that, and if one of them
tried she’d have bit their pisswhistle off. But it hadn’t come to that.
Of those twelve, Morger and Hockly were the main ones to come down and
deal with the prisoners. On rare occasions, there were the ones she
called Knocknose and Badeye. She didn’t get their real names. Up on top,
there was the Captain and the Chief, and then six more men she just
called One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six. No need for more than that.
your mental energies on the important details. That’s what Minox would
tell her. Coming up with names for the other ones, faceless voices, was a
waste of time and thought. No need to do that.
She knew she had
little to go on about the eight she had never seen. The Captain was old,
moved slow. The Chief had an accent, one she couldn’t place at all. He
had a deep voice, that made her think he was tall and beefy.
matter. Once she was free, had something in her hand she could fight
with, she could whip any one of them. She was certain of that.
As long as she didn’t have to take them all at once.
hold didn’t have the baking heat it usually had today. She wasn’t sure
why, until she heard them talking up above her. Two and Six.
“Storm is coming fast.”
“We can get ahead of it.”
“Don’t think so.”
Blazes, yes. That was rutting perfect.
an hour-still before the evening rations-the ship was pitching hard,
and thunder rolled in the distance. One wave hit the ship, sending
everyone in the hold careening toward the bulkhead, filthy bodies
crashing on top of each other. Corrie’s stomach would have rebelled at
that, had there been much of anything in there.
shouted. Because Corrie was lying in her lap. That knock had sent them
flying, including tearing her manacles from the housing on the wall.
Corrie muttered. She had wanted to come free when Hockly was down here,
take him by surprise when he was dealing with Garner’s body. Now she
was off the wall, and they’d see that as soon as they started down the
“Get ’em provisioned and batten that down!” the Chief shouted.
hatch. Hockly was about to come down, and if she was spotted off the
wall, he’d surely call for everyone to come down, beat her senseless
again. Like when those two rutting traitors took her by surprise on the
She still wondered what else happened that
night. After they took her, shoved her on the ship, did they get Tricky?
Was she dead? Somewhere else on this ship? Something worse?
would be shattered. So would Mama. The whole family. They knew-they all
knew-any ride out could be the last one, but it was one thing to know
that as an idea, and another to face it.
Saints and sinners, they
would surely blame Tricky. The lady didn’t deserve the hate the family
would give her for that. And they would, saints knew. Not Minox, of
course. But most of them already hated Tricky, even if she had saved
Nyla, and this would lock that down.
Provided Tricky was still alive.
But if she was, all the more reason to fight her rutting way out of here and get back home.
She hadn’t ridden her last ride, and, by every saint, she wasn’t about to yet.
The hatch was opening.
the rocking of the hold-the ship was really getting battered by storm
and wind-she scrambled to her place on the wall, got her arms up.
Hopefully Hockly-that sweaty dog-wouldn’t notice before it was too late.
“Chows up, cats!” he shouted as he came down the ladder.
“Don’t you-” Penler muttered.
“Hush your face,” Corrie hissed back.
“What’s the whisper here?” Hockly asked as he reached the ground.
Before anyone else could speak, Corrie said, “Garten died, that’s what.”
Garten?” Hockly asked. “Blazes, I only remember your name, stick, since
you keep it on your chest. Ha!” Not that Corrie had a choice about
that-she couldn’t reach her brass name badge to get it off. She was
pretty sure they only left it on her uniform coat-left her the entire
uniform, for that matter-as a taunt. Such a funny jape they had a stick
sergeant locked up down here with these kids.
“Him,” Eana said, knocking Garten’s dead form with her knee.
“Ugh, he’s looking ripe as a rutter,” Hockly said. “What got him?”
“The same fever that’s been running through all of us, idiot,” Corrie said.
“Hey, girl!” he snapped, “You give more of that mouth, I’ll crack someone’s jaw open.”
Corrie glowered. Let him think he had tamed her.
He turned to Garten’s body, taking the keys off his belt.
“Hurry it up, Hockly!” Four shouted from up top, his words punctuated with a crack of thunder.
“I gotta get this dead one out!”
“Rutting leave it!”
Corrie froze for a moment. She couldn’t see Four, couldn’t tell what he was seeing from up there, how close he was looking.
This might be the only moment she’d have, and if Four raised an alarm before she was ready, it’d all go to sewage.
But this was the moment. Hockly was bent over, back to her, hands occupied.
Saints watch over me, she whispered to herself. You too, Pop.
She darted from the wall, in one fell motion, leapt up and planted her boot hard on Hockly’s bad knee.
would have cried out, but Eana-bless the wits on that girl-grabbed
Garten’s arm and shoved it into his mouth, muzzling him. Corrie walloped
him over the head with the chain of her manacles, and then again. He
had a handstick and his belt that he tried to go for, but Corrie snapped
at it, drawing it out and pulling it up under his weak shoulder. She
slammed her foot onto that knee again while she drove him down, pushing
his face into Garten’s body.