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Chapter Nine ◇ Whispers in the Harbor

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-Port Barlow-
-Mid Redwind-




Whispers danced through the harbor, drifting on the sea winds as Lorelei strolled to the docks. She'd expected the hushed words to be about her mother and her growing insanity, but they were not.

The further she pushed through the bustling crowd, the more she noticed all eyes pointed toward the sea. Suddenly, the source of the gossip made sense—pirates had returned. Lorelei nearly dropped the fresh wheat rolls her mother had made to sell to the docked sailors, and she didn't dare waste a single one of them—money was hard to come by now that her mother hardly left the house. Grasping the basket handle tighter, she rose to the tip of her toes, hoping to see over the heads of surrounding harbor-folk.

If she could just glimpse the colors of the sails, she would know. Anything other than white would mean her suspicions were true—pirates had come back to Port Barlow.

If they were red sails, it belonged to the Scarlet Maiden, the swiftest ship on the Sister Seas. Lorelei once heard a sailor say the crew's founding captain had dyed the cloths with her victims' blood. Lorelei knew better than to believe every tale she heard, but she still hung onto the magic of the myths from across the sea.

Blue sails would belong to the Anaphine, named after one of the Sea Sisters, and one of the only ships stocked full of heavy shots. Lorelei had never seen a ship with guns, but perhaps today was the day.

The crowd parted enough for her to see.

Her stomach dropped, the basket of rolls almost falling with it. Her face went cold. There wasn't just one ship. There were two. And the sails weren't red or blue.

One had sails the color of rich cocoa. Its masts and railings were etched with gold, their flag an emblem of bones and blades. The wealthiest crew on the seas, the Bonedog—it had to be.

The other ship had sails darker than a starless night and wood like shadows. The Iron Jewel. Why the fresh-hell were harbor-folk still milling about? Did they not realize? Perhaps they were purposefully acting clueless to not draw attention to themselves.

She found herself searching the crowd for Luis, forgetting that he'd left for the capital of Elshire for training with the rest of the soldiers. Port Barlow was left defenseless and vulnerable.

Lorelei's heart thumped quicker in her chest as she took a step backward, her eyes locked on the black sails she'd heard so many terrors about. This crew wasn't like the others she'd fantasized over as a child, staring out at sea, waiting for her day when she would have a ship and crew of her own.

Tales of men with hearts so dark that their blood ran black through their veins, haunted her childhood. Whispers of the fierce brutality they wrought with their swords were the reason why Lorelei's mother had kept her sheltered the whole sixteen years of her life, up on the hill above the harbor. This had always made Lorelei wonder if her father was a pirate, if that was the reason her mother never mentioned his name or who he was, no matter how much Lorelei had asked as a child.

Lorelei had never seen the rest of the world, aside from the visions in stories, but it didn't take much to know good from evil. When she looked upon those black sails, it was as if the evil had reached out and touched her with its scaly, dirty fingers.

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