All the while, Evrane paced—unleashing her worry to no one in particular, yet doing it in time to the pounding drum. Iseult simply slept on.
At last, Safi’s vigil was rewarded: a smear of dark shapes formed on the horizon, eventually solidifying into a Nubrevnan warship like Merik’s and a second ship with a hull so dark it was almost black.
Safi tugged against her chains, her arms bending back until she was close enough to the window to fully inspect the black ship. Three masts—snapped in half. A flag, falling over the bulwark.
She caught her breath. There was no mistaking the gold crescent moon on that flag. It was the symbol of the Empire of Marstok, and the green background made it the standard of the Marstoki navy.
“Oh bat shit,” Safi whispered.
“Does Vivia think,” Evrane said to no one in particular, “that there will be no retaliation from Dalmotti? Piracy does not go ignored—especially not from a naval empire.”
“I don’t think Dalmotti will retaliate,” Safi said. Evrane paused midstride, and Safi pointed to the window, chains clattering. “The ship she attacked is from the Marstoki navy.”
“Wells preserve us,” the monk breathed. Then she lurched to the window and her face paled. “What have you done, Vivia?”
Safi pressed her face to the glass beside Evrane. Nubrevnan sailors marched men in Marstoki green across a gangway. The Marstoks’ wrists were bound, and they were near enough for Safi to see solid triangles on more than a few hands.
Witchmarks. Firewitch marks. “Why are none of the Firewitches fighting back?” Safi would never not use her magic to save herself or her friends. Her leg started bouncing, more questions flying through her mind. “And why are the Marstoks being led off their ship?”
“I assume,” Evrane said, resuming her frantic pacing, “that Vivia intends to claim the Marstoki vessel and all its contents—then abandon her own ship. Because of the Truce, she cannot kill the Marstoks outright.”
Nodding slowly, Safi thought back to Uncle Eron and his enormous plan to stop the Great War. Was this the sort of act that would dissolve the Truce early? Was this what he’d hoped to prevent?
Safi had no idea and no way of knowing, so she shifted her attention back to the Marstoks shambling onto Vivia’s ship. There weren’t many Firewitches, but enough to easily fight back against the princess’s crew.
In fact, one bearded man seemed vicious enough to save his whole ship. He snarled and snapped at every Nubrevnan prodding him over the gangway. Then Safi caught sight of his triangular Witchmark—there was a hollow circle at the center.
“They have a Firewitch healer,” she said, voice husky with shock.
“Perhaps,” Evrane murmured.
“Not perhaps,” Safi insisted. “I see the mark on his hand. He just crossed the gangway onto the other ship.”
Evrane rounded on Safi, eyes wide. “You are sure of what you saw?”
“Hye.” Safi slouched back from the window, her chains slackening. She suddenly saw what she needed to do. The plan was all there before her. She knew where to walk belowdecks, how to sneak about topside, and which sailors to avoid. “We can get to the Firewitch,” she said. “While everyone is distracted, we can bring him here.”
“No.” Evrane’s lips puckered into a grim line. “We cannot bring an enemy sailor onto this ship. That goes too far—even for me. Yet we can reverse your plan and bring Iseult to the healer.” The monk withdrew a key from her cloak and held it up.
Safi gasped. “How did you get that?”
“I stole it from Merik.” She flashed a humorless grin and pushed to her feet. “Unlock yourself, and then wake up Iseult. While I ensure the coast is clear, you need to get her standing. We will have only one chance to make a run for it.”
Safi nodded, release winding through her shoulders. Through her legs. She was finally acting—and even better, she was running. That was something she knew how to do well.
In the back of her mind, though, something poked and scratched: Merik would be furious over this. After all, she was putting his contract at risk, and he’d already chained her up for that.
But the consequences were worth it—Iseult was worth it.
So, with a bolstering breath, Safi plucked the key from Evrane’s hand. Then, as the monk darted from the cabin, Safi slipped the key into her first manacle. It opened with a satisfying clink.
* * *
Merik flew to the Marstoki war galley, moving so fast that he left his stomach behind. Kullen soared beside him, almost invisible in the wildness of their winds. Yet through it all, Merik still managed to pick out Vivia.
Stocky and dark-haired like Merik, she roared orders beside a gangway connecting the Marstoki galleon to her ship. Nubrevnan sailors led submissive Marstoks across and then organized them in seated rows across the main deck.
Merik’s feet touched down, yet he didn’t tow in his magic. Instead, he spun once and lashed it across the deck.
It spun around his sister, yanking her to Merik. But she only grinned, landing gracefully beside her brother.
“You lied,” he growled, tearing off his wind-spectacles, “about what the miniature was.”
“And you lied about where it was.”
Dimly, Merik was aware of sailors fleeing—as if a giant wave might be spiraling toward him. But Vivia’s magic was slow and Merik’s rage all-consuming. He freed his pistol and pressed it to her head.