Shipwrecked! (Depths Chp. 4)
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
I kicked through the open water as hard as I could, wet hair weighing down my head. Sharp waves fled from me, but nothing happened. The ship, now fully loaded and sailing through the great sea, seemed empty, the deck several paces above my head. It would sail on without me, all the way back to Solis. I would never see the Sun Prince again.
If only I could be so fortunate.
Serena’s honey-colored hair split through the surf. Her green-tinged skin melted into the water, but her tattoos outlined her elegant dance through the waves. “Any luck?”
I spit water until I found my voice. “I don’t think they can see me.”
“Keep splashing. This will work.” Serena seemed so certain. So had my mother. I silently cursed them both. The men were monsters, but my family still expected me to believe that the prince’s crew would see me struggling in the water and be curious or charitable enough to pull me into their ship?
Serena dove back down, a great flap of her tail throwing another spray of salt water over me. Great. What if I really did drown? Would my sisters save me or laugh?
This was such a bad idea, but the cliffs of my island were visible through the waves. Maybe I could swim to it—or I could if I stopped wasting my energy treading water. I kicked and hit wood. Pain shot through my leg and water funneled around me. The current, the wake around the ship, pulled me in a sudden torrent. I fought to pull my head over the surf, gagging on salt.
My head broke through the waves. “Ser-Serena!”
Thick cords struck my head. I thrashed as a net hoisted me upward. A sudden thump spilled me across the deck. I blinked, my eyes stinging, my heart racing.
A pack of men leered down at me. Large, hairy, ghastly men. “It’s a girl.”
I stretched out my tunic, wishing I was wearing something longer even if its weight would have dragged me deeper into the sea. I had gotten on the ship, but I still cursed my mother’s plan.
The men would violate and kill me long before I found the prince and my sisters came.
One of the men glanced over the hull, scanning the waves. “Where did she come from? We’re in the middle of the sea.”
“We should throw her back in,” another man added. “There has to be some witchery involved, and it’s bad luck to have a woman aboard.”
The men crowded around me. Closer and closer. A mass of unruly beards and hungry brown eyes. Sweat and salt assaulted my nose. I still had the knife belted to my back, but the sound of their footsteps set me trembling, unable to reach it.
And what was one small knife against so many? Pulling it out might only anger them more.
I pressed myself against a wooden wall and stumbled when the cabin door opened.
The prince walked out, his smaller frame and softer features almost familiar. A strange part of me wanted to cling to him like I ran to Serena as a child. My eyes fixed themselves on him as he surveyed all the men on the deck. “What’s going on?” he asked.
The gruff men never answered him.
“I’ll get rid of her.” The large spokesman seized my arm, dragging me toward the side. He was going to throw me overboard, but I was almost glad. I might not be able to keep an eye on the prince like Mother had wanted, but I would be safe.
I could swim back to my island alone. I could swim a whole lot farther than that, if needed.
“What are you doing?” the prince asked again, more panic entering his higher-pitched voice. He pushed past a tangle of arms and legs to reach me. “You’re scaring her.”
Another man dressed in full armor came through the cabin door, putting his shoulder between me and the prince. “Your Highness, perhaps it would be better if you waited below deck.”
The prince ducked under the armored man’s arm. “She’s just a young girl! They can’t throw her off.”
The sailor holding me stopped walking, but he gripped my arm tighter. Pain radiated from where his thumb pressed into my skin. “We can’t keep her out here, either,” he said. “What if she’s a sea witch?”
“Lock her in one of the storage rooms then.”
I turned toward the new voice, but the older man standing by the prince wasn’t a stranger.
Naman. He was here. I hadn’t been able to tell before, only seeing his broken reflection and hearing his voice, but he was the man who had fished with the prince earlier. Now he wore the prince’s colors—the sun crest of Solis. What was going on?
“I’ll take her.” Naman wrestled my arm from the other man, his touch no lighter than the sailor before him. My whole arm would be covered in bruises before the night was over.
The prince still looked uncertain. “You’re going to lock her up?”
“A compromise, Your Highness. The men will feel better, and we can let her go when we reach Solis. She will be in much better condition than when we found her.”
The prince hesitated for another moment before dropping his hands. “All right.” He took one step back. “But you’ll make certain no one hurts her? Get her something to eat?”
My stomach groaned at the words, still empty by my mother’s decree.
Why would a prince or any man care about something like that? I had only looked to him as a panicked reflex; I never expected him to help. I never expected for him to speak on my behalf in ways my sisters hadn’t since becoming sirens. As sirens, my family didn’t have a lot of patience for human weakness, though I was certain they still loved me.
And would love me more once I became one of them.
“Of course, Your Highness.” Naman bowed his head and pulled me through the darkened doorway—stairway. My foot skidded over the sudden edge of the first step, and I nearly tumbled the rest of the way. Empty hammocks swung from posts, lining the walls with moving shadows.
Fingers digging into my wrist, Naman dragged me through a dim maze of crates and coiled rope until I found my voice. “You aren’t from Cypari,” I said. “You want your own prince killed.”
“Quiet.” He yanked me harder, and I tripped on the uneven wooden planks.
“You lied to my mother. Everyone should hear.”
He pulled me around, pinning my arms against the hull. This oversized man was certainly a beast—violent and spitting as he yelled in my face. “Do you think your mother would care? She wants the prince killed and so do I. What else matters?”
I frowned. He was right. Mother wouldn’t care. She might kill Naman for his lies—she would kill every man on this ship—but she would still want the prince dead, and she would still want me to do it. Nothing had changed.
But somehow it had. My frown became a dark scowl, and I refused to cower under his grip. I hated this man. He lied to get the murder he wanted and likely had other unsavory goals still hidden. He was the monster of my mother’s stories—a man I could strike down and watch his life blood trail through the sea. I could be a vengeful handmaiden of the depths if this were my target. But could I really kill a boy who released that fish and wanted me cared for, just because this man wanted the prince’s death? Even if the prince was also a monster?
“What are you even doing here?” Naman asked. “I sailed to your island from Solis, on our way to collect the prince from his fostering, and marked all the places we planned to make berth returning here. You were supposed to call the prince away. That was our deal.”
“You also told the prince to cover his ears when we tried.”
“I couldn’t very well make it look like I wanted my prince to be taken, with the sailors already making a fuss. Whatever happens tonight, I can’t be named in this. Better to die by your hands than to be found as a traitor. I trusted you to find a way around that.”
We had “found a way around that,” and he would get his wish. No one would know about his sabotage except for me. Naman would die by our hands. They all would.
“You better be worth all the trouble.” Naman shoved me in a closet and slammed the door.
The darkness of the room fell over me. The door didn’t seem to have a lock or even a proper handle, but the scrape and thump of wood marked the formation of a tight barricade.
His footsteps retreated. I paced, weighing my options. There weren’t many.
I pulled my knife out then put it away again. It couldn’t help me now. I had already been blocked into this conflict, my family on one side, Naman on the other. They all wanted the prince killed, and they wanted me to do it. Three steps brought me to the far end of the closet.
The ship rocked. I toppled flat against the wall again as a shrill song filled the air.
No time left. My sisters were here, calling in a storm.
I had to get out of here and find the prince. To kill him or save him, I wasn’t certain, but I couldn’t stay.
I tried the door. It gave under pressure. Either the rocking vessel dislodged the barrier or Naman hadn’t done that good of a job to begin with. Was he still hoping I would kill the prince for him? It didn’t matter. I darted out of the closet. My feet skidded, the floor wet and tilting.
Water filled the hull.
I fell to my knees, reaching out to catch my fall. I held onto an empty hammock and tugged myself upward. Before I did anything, I needed to be free of this cabin. The stairs were only a few steps away. I put one foot forward but fell once I had to let go of the hammock. My hand hit the steps. I dragged myself upward, but my foot caught in a rope. The ship rocked.
A barrel skidded into the wall with another loud crash.
What if one of them hit me? I needed to get out. I grabbed my knife and sawed into the rope. It frayed, but so slowly. The storm my family created would kill us all.
I looked back at the door, wondering how fast I could get outside once I was free.
The next jolt pushed me through the opening faster than I wanted, breaking the last few strands of the rope and hurling me into a somersault. Rain poured down on my head. I put my knife away and looked into the storm. A flash of lightning blazed across the sky.
Men scattered across the deck, fighting at various ropes and pulls. Everyone yelled, but no one heard—either due to the wax they wore in their ears or sounds of the storm. Some of the men seemed to be doing nothing but slipping around in circles. I couldn’t make out their faces, but I knew I would be safer in the water than with them.
I ran to the edge of the ship, rain and wind whizzing past.
I turned. The prince was among the other men on the opposite side of the deck, pulling at a small lifeboat. Easily recognizable due to his smaller size. I didn’t see Naman, or at least I didn’t recognize his dark shadow among the others.
The prince stepped toward me and gestured with his hands—his words broken and muted through the storm. “You’re all right. Come—”
Lightning struck the mast. The deck lurched.
I dove—fell—into the sea. Safe.
Angry, fiery flashes outlined the rolling gray clouds above me when I surfaced. Thunder roared. Wood, ash, and water rained down. Salt and the tang of blood filled my mouth.
I covered my head, my eyes closed for several beats.
As the waves settled, I treaded water, looking left and right. Smoke and firelight shrouded everything in a murky haze. The ship was on its side, blocking the horizon. It was on its way down. I didn’t see a single lifeboat among the wreckage. The yells of panicked, dying men were all around me. I didn’t care about Naman or the rest of the sailors, but where . . .?
The prince didn’t make a sound as he surfaced. His eyes were closed, an open gash on his forehead. He held a board in his hands, bobbing above the surf.
His grip slipped.
It was over. He would drown. I would swim to my island, and when my sisters came, I would say I forced him under the waves and have them fetch the body. I would have his heart and join my sisters without ever lifting a finger, easier than wringing the neck of a fish.
I wouldn’t have to fight a monster or any other kind of man, but my family would still be pleased. So would Naman.
The thought of that monstrous man resparked a reckless rage in my gut. Fie my family and all gods, I didn’t want to please Naman. I wanted to unravel any dark plan he had, and I only had one more second to act. I couldn’t hesitate. The prince’s hand disappeared into the water.
I pulled him onto the board and kicked for the shore.