Atop a piling, the figure sat motionless in the darkness and stared at the ship docked nearby. Anyone who looked in the direction of the piling from the ship would have seen at most an inky blot. They would have missed the blue skin, the iridescent scales, the eyes aglow with reflected light. They would also not have seen the fish clutched in taloned hands, or the look of anguish on the wet face.
Danae could smell the fish’s blood running down her cold hands and across her scaled thighs. She wanted very badly to raise that fish to her thin lips and rip it apart with her pointed teeth. She could all but taste the metallic tang of its flesh on her tongue. In her mind, however, words of warning chanted angrily, telling her not to, warning her that it would be the last thing she ever did. So she sat, and watched, and waited.
Blen Sailmaker lifted the brush up off Danae’s smooth, brown skin and set it back in the inkpot, steadying the small vial against the sway of the waves.
“That’ll do it, I think.”
Danae stood up, craning her neck around to view the spot on her hip where her shipmate had been working. She turned her torso to better catch the thin, autumn sunlight that was streaming in the porthole of the Friendly Lion. The lines he had drawn on her hip still glistened wetly, but she could see that they were well placed.
“Straight, that’ll do it.” She set a Drin down on the table before him in payment. “Don’t drink it too fast.”
“Do you have anything else?” he asked, eyeing the coin with a slight frown. “Sometimes I have trouble spending Shapkan.”
“Hernorala could spend it,” Danae replied offhandedly as she reached for her shirt. She had stripped down to her maiden cloth so that Blen could wield his brush. She watched as his face lit up at the sound of his sweetheart’s name.
“That she could,” he said, taking the coin and flipping it into the air. “Spending my coin is the one thing she is very good at.”
“Just the one thing, Blen?” Danae asked, stepping into her breeches. She tested the ink on the last of the repaired lines before pulling her pants up. It was still just a bit tacky, so she left the canvas trousers set low. The rest of the drawing was dry. She admired the cleanly drawn images of fish scales that adorned her dusky flanks. “If one thing is all she’s good for then why do you seem to spend your every waking moment with her when we dock in Dargon?”
“Oh,” Blen replied quickly, not seeming to catch the tease in her voice, “she’s good for lots of things.” He stood, pushing the cork back into the ink bottle as he did. “Her cooking’s the best in Dargon! How else do you think Sandmond can keep that inn of his open? And she can sew too, not like a sailor, but fine, lacy stuff, seamstress-like. And –”
“Straight, straight,” Danae interrupted. “I was just teasing you, not asking for a manifest.”
“Why don’t you get that drawing tattooed on?” Blen asked as he put the ink and brushes away. “This is the third time this trip I’ve redrawn that for you. And those black lines don’t show well against your dark skin. I know a woman in the Old Town who can tattoo in white. She could put it on so it wouldn’t ever wear off.”
“No thanks,” Danae replied. “I like it just the way it is. Thanks for the thought, though. I don’t trust Kodo, and Kitley’s hand shakes too much.”
“You can always ask the captain.”
Danae hesitated, then replied softly, almost to herself. “You’re right. I don’t know why I don’t. He just …” Her voice trailed off.
“He likes you,” Blen replied. “He does. You’ll see.”
Danae nodded, then returned to the earlier topic. “Why don’t you just marry her?”
He frowned. “No, this is no life for her. She likes her job. She likes the land.”
She rolled her eyes. “That sounds like an excuse to me.”
“No, no …” he said, eyes downcast, voice dropping.
“Well, why don’t *you* …?” Danae left the question unfinished. She knew the answer. Just then Kodo’s voice bellowed out from the bow.
Silently the two left the cabin and returned to work.
Docking at the port of Dargon went uneventfully, as did the task of relieving the Friendly Lion of the cargo she had hauled up from Armand. Captain Tennent soon distributed the pay to his crew and released to the streets all but Kodo, who was to take first watch. The captain then headed up the pier, stopping on a nearby dock to trade news with the captain of another merchant vessel. Pay in hand, Blen was gone in a instant, bee-lining up Commercial Street for the Street of Travellers and Sandmond’s Inn, where he would meet with his sweetheart. Kitley followed, albeit more slowly. His aged feet were taking him up the street towards the burned out piers where rumor had it a new bathhouse was being built, along the lines of the ones in Port Andestn. Those baths were fed by ancient aquaducts with water from natural hot springs leagues away, and were known for their healing qualities.
Danae doubted the new baths would be quite as impressive, but also was curious and wanted to investigate. She resolved to follow Kitley, curious about these baths, wondering if they were like the ones she remembered from her own home, far to the south. Her pace was measured and even, nonetheless. It was an unusually warm day for Seber, and the air was still and filled with the smells of the city. She wandered slowly along the road, observing stevedores laboring, street vendors peddling, merchants dickering. About her swirled a pageant of dress and dialect and diction. Her own dark skin drew little notice, unlike deeper into the city where her unusual appearance might be the occasion for unwelcome attention.
Danae found herself standing at the corner of Commercial Street and the Street of Travellers. She considered going up the road to Sandmond’s Inn for a drink, but decided against it, and kept walking. Somehow the idea of meeting Blen and his girl seemed somewhat odd. Even after a year and a half on the Lion, Danae still felt like an outsider. The ship had docked at Sharks’ Cove for repairs after a pirate assault had damaged her rigging and killed one of the crew. Blen had met Danae on the street, and she had signed on, eager to leave that blighted city. Life onboard was not as hard as life on the street. Her work consisted of cleaning and mending and whatever else needed to be done. She got along with all the crew well enough, and with Blen best of all, but she wasn’t completely comfortable around any of them.
Danae continued to walk the length of Commercial Street. At the end she found a small crowd that had gathered. Danae worked her way close enough to see what was happening. It turned out to be the site where the new baths were being built. Warehouses had once stood there on a long pier, but had burned down. The wreckage left over from that fire was now gone, and the frame of the new building was going up. At the far end a huge fireplace was being erected. A steady stream of workers were hauling stones for the furnace down from the shore in carts, and then carrying them up ladders to the masons. It didn’t look like harder work than Danae had just done in unloading the ship, but it was probably much less interesting.
Danae noticed several women in the stream of workers hauling stone. One in particular stood out due to her young age. Her pale skin was coated with dirt and mud, leaving it almost the color of Danae’s. Seeing this girl at work on a construction site reminded Danae of being a young woman in a strange city for the first time, doing odd jobs for food. It had been exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures for Danae, who had just left her home. Life and death had seemed much closer together back then. This girl was younger than Danae had been, though, and better fed. She would no doubt be going home at sunset. This job was probably a way for the girl to earn her family some extra coin, and was perhaps even a diversion from a less exciting apprenticeship. Danae had not returned home, and indeed had left that small city for another further up the coast, which she in turn left for another one. Danae had not had a home in a long time. She watched the workers with their stones for several menes before turning back toward the city.
The coin Captain Tennent had distributed to the crew was generous, but the prices in Dargon always seemed designed to most quickly part a sailor from her wages. Danae was careful to visit the shrine of Cirrangill before the marketplace, knowing that she would tend to spend more money than she wanted to if she kept it on her person. She paid the customary price for a length of rope from a widow at the door, then tied it to an old fish net draped over the idol inside. Cirrangill was not who she had worshiped as a child, but she had left her southern gods when she left her home. Her duty done, Danae turned her feet and attention to the nearby market. Captain Tennent provided basic provisions for his crew, but a diet of biscuit and pulse was always better when mixed with some salt and spice. Danae quickly found both, along with thread and fine needles, honey and balm. She bought a small mirror, to replace one lost at sea, and paused at a stall selling rugs.
“What is this?” she asked the keeper, fingering a mat with a fanciful image embroidered on it.
“Three Royals, not a Penny less,” came the swift reply from a sharp-eyed woman seated on a three-legged stool.
“I meant the image,” Danae replied. “What is it?”
“That’s a ship being pulled under by the great sea hag. Surely a sailor like yourself should know that.” The woman eyed Danae critically.
“I’ve never seen one,” Danae replied. “Of course,” she hastily added, “no one who does lives, straight?” She turned away to hide a smile.
“True that is,” the woman replied. “Now then, that’s a very fine piece, there, suitable for the finest company. I used real gold thread in the tentacles of that one, I did.”
Danae peered at the rug closely, then backed away. “Too dear for my purse,” she explained, and went on her way.
Danae’s purse was much lighter by the time she found herself once again at the corner of the Street of Travellers. By then it was dark, and she didn’t hesitate to set her feet straight toward Sandmond’s Inn. There was a small knot of sailors and other evening drinkers clustered in the yellow light at the door. She recognized one or two from previous visits to Dargon, and she gave a very familiar whack to a somewhat familiar rump as she went in, propelled by a burst of rowdy laughter. There was an empty place on the end of the long table, near the kitchen door, and she took it. She glanced into the kitchen as she did, but, as she expected, neither Hernorala nor Blen were visible. They were no doubt off on a quiet rendezvous.
Danae obtained a flagon of ale and settled in for dinner. The barmaid brought a bowl of fish soup, and Danae cooled it with a splash of her drink. She slipped her hand under the waistband of her trousers and touched the painted fish scales on her hip. She closed her eyes and muttered something under her breath. She then lifted the bowl to her lips and drained it. The next time the barmaid passed by, Danae requested stew. When that arrived, Danae again cooled it with her ale and ate it hastily. She drained her flagon and ordered another, with more soup. It went down just as fast. Once done, she again touched the lines and uttered a phrase. She ordered still more stew, but this she ate hot. Next came buttered bread and root paste, followed by sweetmeat pie and wine. The server offered fruit pie, a slightly incredulous expression on her face, but Danae held up her hand. “That’ll do.”
“That’ll do.” Those had been the first words Danae had ever heard from Captain Tennent’s mouth. She had been standing in the cabin of the Friendly Lion, where Blen had led her after first meeting her on the docks at Sharks’ Cove. Those words weren’t what she had been expecting, or hoping for. He had treated her kindly enough, and that had sustained her in the months of hard work that followed, but she still felt that hollow spot in her soul. She knew why, and in her mind she dismissed it, but every time she looked at him, she saw her father for an instant.
Tennent had treated her fairly, and the crew welcomed her presence. She was different enough from Frog, their former crewmate, that she didn’t feel like a replacement. Danae was becoming used to the crew, too. The last storm they had met at sea had strained their bonds, though. She still remembered the shock of the cold water when she had dived overboard to rescue Tennent when a wave took him. In her mind she could still hear his screams from when she had found him, so far from the ship. She tried to push that thought from her mind, but she couldn’t. He had fought her all the way back to the ship, not knowing what had seized him. None of the others had known she had gone for him — she had made sure of that. She had wanted to tell them, but she could not, and that secret now lay between them.
“Another one, sailor?” Danae looked up at the barmaid. She was a different one, young and skinny. Danae studied her face for a moment. There was a gauntness to it, as if the days had not been kind of late. There was a peculiar hunger in the woman’s eyes. The barmaid met Danae’s eyes, and swallowed hard. After a moment’s hesitation, the barmaid awkwardly touched her neckline, exposing a finger-breadth’s more bosom.
Danae smiled grimly at the misunderstanding. “Ale,” she replied huskily. “One more before I go.” The barmaid smiled with relief and left. Danae shook her head at the wave of memories that came to her, grateful that they were not as steeped in misery as that poor girl’s must be. Danae had found a home on the Friendly Lion before the deeper hunger had set in. It was not just a hunger for food, either, although her stomach’s painful calls had beckoned all too often enough.
Danae looked around her. She was surprised to see that the tavern was much emptier than when she had come in. She wondered why, then realized how much time had passed. Had she missed her watch? No, she consoled herself, hers was the early watch, many bells away. Captain Tennent would be taking this next watch. No, she had just been lost in thought, that was all. The long table was empty save for a couple of men at the far end. The barmaid reappeared with a mug and a smile. Danae quietly rewarded her with double coin and a sympathetic nod, which elicited a happier smile. Danae stared out into the emptying room as she drank.
Danae’s attention peaked at the sound of her fellow sailor’s name. She looked around. There was no one nearby, but the kitchen door was nearby and stood open.
“And you think they will?” This voice was different than the first, and came from inside the kitchen.
“Wouldn’t you?” This was the first voice again, a man’s. “Away at sea for months, and then here you are at night with your lover?”
“You don’t know that they’re lovers,” countered the second voice, a woman’s voice.
“Oh, come on, don’t be such a virgin! They’ll be at it ’til dawn! Ever since he left, Hernorala’s had nothing but his name on her lips. It’s driving me nuts!”
Danae stirred herself up and stood, wobbling only a bit. She suspected the ale was watered after a certain bell, when the sailors were too drunk to notice. She took a step toward the kitchen door, intending to enter the conversation.
“So, what did you do to her?” Danae froze. This was the second voice.
“I didn’t *do* anything *to* her,” countered the first voice, a bit petulantly. “It’s not like that.”
“You said you were going to get rid of her.”
“I did not! I just said she would be leaving soon!”
“And then you would be head cook.”
“Look, I’m not trying to hurt her, or him. She wants him to stay here with her, and I bet he does too, but you know these sailors. They got the wanderlust, and just can’t keep their feet dry. I’m just giving her an excuse to go with him, that’s all.”
“So what did you do?”
Danae pressed herself against the wall beside the kitchen. She looked out at the rest of the room, but the eyes that saw her were dulled with drink and indifference. She quieted her breath to hear better.
“Well, your virginal Hernorala came back from the market with a tiny, little, pink bottle today.”
There was a small, delighted gasp. “Maidenkeep?”
“Or something like it. And you saw what she changed into before she left. There was so much lace in this kitchen you’d've thought we were the Lucky Lady!”
“Blen’s balls, more like it.”
“So what did you *do*?”
“I swapped it.”
“What? You swapped what?”
“The Maidenkeep, or whatever it was that was in her little, pink vial. I dumped it out and poured in some of this.”
There was a pause and another happy breath.
“Nightfruit brandy! And a great bottle of it! What are you doing with this much love potion?”
“Sandmond keeps this bottle behind the meat cabinet,” the first voice explained. “I expect he sells it to the occasional barmaid who wants to earn a bit of extra coin.”
“Sandmond wouldn’t do –”
“Or, whatever, I don’t care. All I care is that when they drink this, they’ll be climbing the beanpole until dawn, and she’ll be as knocked up as a thirteen-year old bride after Melrin.”
“Oh, Sandmond won’t have that. You know how he likes us to have a figure.” There was a pause. “But by the time she’s showing he’ll be long gone. What’s she going to do until he gets back?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, how’s she going to get by without the work?” There was a bit of heat in this question.
“What, that’s not my problem, now is it?”
“What do you mean, not your problem? This whole thing is your doing!”
Danae didn’t wait to hear any more. She headed for the door. She burst out into the night and started running up the street towards the docks. It wasn’t until she got to the corner of the Street of Travellers that she stopped, realizing that she wasn’t sure where to go. She had thought to warn the amorous couple, but they wouldn’t be at the ship. They most likely were back at Hernorala’s place. She turned around, and bounced right off Captain Tennent.
“What’s your hurry, sailor?” he boomed at her. “I saw you running up here and I thought you might have the guard after you.”
“No sir. Have you seen Blen?”
“Yes, just a few menes ago. He was in a rush too, him and that woman of his.”
“Where were they headed?”
Tennent pointed up the docks. “Is there some sort of trouble?” His expression grew a bit stern, and for a moment he was Danae’s father again.
“No sir,” she hastily replied. “I just need to tell him something important.”
“Go quickly then,” he replied, his expression softening. “You might still catch him. He was looking for a boat to rent.”
“A boat …” she said, then ran off up the street.
Danae considered her words as she ran. Why hadn’t she told Captain Tennent? Surely he could help. She slowed to go back, but the image of her father appeared in her mind, stern and unforgiving. Captain Tennent was not like that, she knew, but she just couldn’t make herself go back. She ran on, scanning the gloom at the water’s edge for a familiar face.
She ran the entire length of Commercial Street and ended up back at the ruins of the old burnt docks. The skeletal frame of the new baths stood out pale in the gloom. She stood there, helpless. She had not seen either of the two in the many faces she had passed on the street. She stamped her feet impatiently as she caught her breath. She remembered the conversation she had shared with Blen. She could imagine him, feeling trapped between a woman he wanted and a life he loved. She wanted to go back and punch that cook in the face, whoever he was, but then she remembered her last conversation with her father and calmed down.
Danae froze as a tinkling of laughter came to her ears. It was a man and a woman, laughing together. She again stilled her breath, and it came again, along with a few faint words, unintelligible. The voice she recognized, though: Blen. She spun about, looking into the dark. The sounds came again, from offshore. She cast her gaze seaward. The area near the docks was punctuated with the tiny lights from ships at anchor. The glassy sea reflected the lights like dancing fireflies. Drawing closer was one ship that was quite well illuminated, a passenger barge. It glowed with many lanterns hidden behind oilskin screens. Many figures moved on its deck: it was hosting a party of some sort. Again came the voices, low and indistinct, but not from the barge. She turned and followed a nearby line of charred pilings with her gaze. There, about five chains offshore, between her and the barge, a small light glimmered.
Danae walked to the edge of the water. Here the seawall was gone, and the shore sloped gently into the water. There were no people or boats at this end of the docks. The construction workers had left, taking the onlookers with them. There were no boats here to borrow. Danae stared out at that tiny light for just a moment, then began to strip. She pulled off her sailor’s garb, tossing each item over a nearby piling stump. Once bare, she paused a moment, closed her eyes, touched the lines Blen had painted on her skin that morning, and muttered a short phrase. Then she ran out into the water. The shock of the cold brought back the startled look of Tennent’s face as she had grabbed him in the storm and waves, and then she disappeared beneath the waterline.
It had been her grandmother, her father’s mother, who had taught her the spell and had first drawn the lines on her body. Her father had been livid when he had seen them, the overlapping black lines that formed the fish scales on her skin. Danae had been standing on the pier with her grandmother, shivering naked in the evening air, when her father stormed down the beach and confronted his mother. Danae had stood there, shaking and crying, as the two argued. She had thought that her father would be pleased that his mother had chosen her to receive this family secret. After the passing of Danae’s mother, Danae had gravitated toward her grandmother, learning many things from her, and this had pleased her father. But he had not been happy that day. The argument had ended when Danae’s grandmother turned and pushed Danae off the edge of the pier. Danae had screamed as she fell, and the cold water filled her open mouth when she hit. In that instant she had learned the truth.
It was that truth that filled Danae’s awareness as she swam out into the sea. That truth was always most obvious near the surface. No matter how rough or cold the water, when the enchantment held her, the air seemed more harsh. The water was more soothing, more friendly, more like home. Beneath the surface her limbs seemed more free, as if the water supported them better than the land ever could. And she was fast. Danae held her head above the water just long enough to get her bearings, then struck out in the direction of the light. With powerful, easy strokes she slipped through the water. To her eyes the sea was actually better lit than the world above, the water glowing with a deep emerald hue.
She could hear for leagues, and the tastes of the ocean were like a long tale told by a master storyteller. The pilings slipped past in rapid succession. As she drew near her goal the light from the sole lantern flooded the water, opening up galleries of wonders. Danae almost turned away, to head seaward, to head home. Her mammal mind still ruled, however. She turned and slipped upward into the night.
The fire that had demolished the old warehouses had spared just one corner of the old pier, and it was too far out to be demolished. Above her a triangle of slats blotted out the dim glow from the night clouds. Beside the last piling was a small boat, and a rope ladder that led upward. Danae squeezed her eyes hard to clear the blurriness from them; it was so much easier to see underwater. She coughed out a mouthful of water, then another. She listened. From above came small, happy sounds. She called Blen’s name.
The sounds stopped. “Hello?” came the tentative reply after a moment. Danae ducked back down under the water, diving deep before turning back toward the surface. She pushed hard against the water, gathering as much speed as possible, and leaped upward in a fountain of water. She cleared the edge of the platform with ease, drawing herself forward with her hands. Drawing her legs under her, she settled down onto her haunches, taking in the scene. There were old nets heaped up against a piling, with canvas atop that. Light from a lamp revealed Blen reclining on the canvas. His shirt was open, and his canvas pants were rolled up under his head like a pillow. His legs were covered instead with Hernorala, who was resting her head on his thigh. Both gave a started yell, and then clutched each other.
“Stop,” Danae said. She tried to focus her eyes on them, but her eyes turned instead to the darkness, toward the sea. She could feel the heat radiating off their bodies. How odd, that a body would be warm like the sun, and not cool like the water.
“W-what!? W-who are you?” Blen stammered. “What … what are you doing here?”
Danae squeezed her eyes hard and shook her head, letting her hair whip about. She heard Blen and Hernorala protest as cold water hit them both, but Danae needed to clear her mind. The spell was strong because it had to be, but Danae now needed to speak as a human, not swim as a fish. She opened her eyes again. Hernorala was now hidden behind Blen, who was shielding her.
“It’s alright … it … me,” Danae said. “Danae. I came … warn you.”
“Danae?” There was shock and wonder in Blen’s voice. Danae watched his eyes as they darted back and forth, up and down, covering her entire body. She saw recognition and awareness bloom in his expression. “Hernorala, it’s Danae, from the ship.” He sat up. “Warn us? Why?”
Danae again closed her eyes for a moment. She shivered once, the spell waning a bit. By the time she opened her eyes Hernorala had retrieved her skirt and was using it to cover Blen’s midsection.
“That …” Danae pointed at the pink bottle of potion. “Pink … don’t use … Hern … Hernorala,” Danae said. “Someone … switched.” Words were difficult, as if her throat was not meant for speaking.
“Switched … switched the bottle?” Hernorala replied. “What do you mean?”
“The cook. He wants your job.” Danae swallowed hard to clear her throat. “He saw … your pink bottle. He dumped it, refilled it. Nightfruit.”
“Why would Jase do that?” Hernorala asked. A detached part of Danae’s mind filed the cook’s name away for future reference.
“He wants you pregnant.” Danae returned their blank stare for a long moment, forcing herself to continue caring about these two warm-blooded land dwellers. “He thinks if you … are pregnant … you will lose your job.”
Hernorala and Blen looked at each other for a long moment, then Hernorala rested her head on Blen’s hip. Blen turned toward Danae, a slight smile on his face.
“He’s too late,” Blen said. “We got married tonight. We came out here to celebrate.”
Danae blinked. Her shivering stopped, and a slow smile graced her blue lips.
“I love Blen,” Hernorala said, “and I already have Captain Tennent’s permission to join the crew. I’ll be coming with you. Jase can have my job.”
“And as for the pink potion,” Blen added, looking down at his wife, “I think we can work around that.” Hernorala smiled broadly and kissed his hip.
“Good.” Danae found herself staring out to sea again. Suddenly the urge to swim hit her like a mallet. She turned toward the edge of the ramshackle shelter and leaned forward.
“Thank you, Danae!” Blen’s words caught her before she could dive over. She turned back to the entwined couple. “Thank you for warning us. I’m glad you can be happy with us.”
Danae stared at the two, but they were just two land animals now, hot and strange. She turned back to the water. Below her, she caught sight of her own reflection in the dancing water. Dusky blue skin and wide, slitted eyes stared back at her. Her hair was matted and green, and the slope of her shoulders and breasts were plated with iridescent scales. She looked just like her grandmother had looked, the last time Danae, or anyone else, had ever seen her. Now Danae leaned over and slipped back into the water.
Danae turned and swam away from the pilings. Her initial task complete, she now felt a different urge: hunger. Danae knew that the spell only lasted so long; the soup and the stew she had fed it would keep her alive only for a while in the frigid sea. The spell had to be fed, and what it was fed determined what future the spell bearer would live. Flesh or fowl, root or leaf, all these foods were fine, so long as they grew above the waterline. But fish or seaweed were a different matter.
A memory flashed across her consciousness: her grandmother bobbing in the waves, green hair flowing across her bare shoulders. She’d had a distant look on her face and a fish clenched between her teeth. Danae had known even then what her grandmother was feeling, having felt that same urge herself. Now that same hunger seized her again. Over and over she repeated in her mind the warnings her father had given her of not eating fish while under the spell, but the words seemed more and more strange, mere sounds without true meaning. Her fish mind didn’t care. She was free now, free to swim and taste the world. Ahead the water was lit again, and she was there in a thought, circling around the strange, slow thing. She bumped it and scratched it. Dimly her mammalian mind told her it must be the passenger barge, coming in to dock. Cold curiosity seized her, and she surfaced to take a look. The lights burned her great eyes, and the water called again, but curiosity held her aloft for a long moment. The revelers onboard stood stunned, drinks in hand, and stared back. The one woman dropped her glass and pointed.
“Nisheg!” She screamed. “It’s the nisheg!” The call was taken up in an instant by the others, but Danae didn’t care. She dropped back into the water and swam off.
Danae didn’t remember catching the fish. She remembered heading for shore, and she remembered leaping easily from the water to the top of the piling. It was only then that she noticed the fish in her hands. It was still wriggling, impaled on the talons that her fingernails had become. It was otherwise intact, but only part of her mind cared about that now. She was going to eat it. She looked across the water at the ship docked not a chain away. It was the Friendly Lion. Captain Tennent stood on the deck, staring in her general direction. He must have heard the splash she had made, but he could not see her in the darkness. Danae didn’t want him to see her, even though she had come to bid him goodbye.
Her father had yelled and screamed when she had left her village as a girl of fifteen. Standing on the deck of the monthly trading ship as it pulled away from dock, she had watched as he helplessly shouted and cursed at her. His curses turned to pleading as the distance grew, and then to wailing, and then faded away completely. The last words Danae could make out were the ancient chant of warning against eating fish. Then he was gone. Now Danae was leaving again, but there was no one to call for her, no one to warn her. All that lingered were deep, cold thoughts that didn’t want to be warned, that just wanted to eat and go, but still she sat and watched.
“It was inevitable,” Danae’s mind told her. “The women of your family always leave. Your mother left you when she died, your grandmother left for a life in the ocean, and you left your father behind. You have no choice, really; it’s in your blood. You always leave.”
But there was still a part of her that didn’t want to leave, not really. She hadn’t wanted Blen to leave; that was why she had gone out to warn them. Now he wouldn’t be leaving, but he would bring in another person to the crew. What would she be then? Did the Friendly Lion really need two junior crew? It was probably best if she left. The sea would welcome her home.
With a fluid motion Danae dropped off the piling and into the water. She slipped over to the side of the Friendly Lion, touching her hull and tasting the flavor of her wood in the water. Danae could also smell the blood from the fish still in her hand. Slowly she drifted to the surface, her head breaking the waterline just beside the anchor rope. There she floated, lost between two worlds. She wanted to swim away; she wanted to go back onboard and continue her life. She wanted the sea; she wanted warmth and dry clothes. She wanted an end.
A movement caught her eye. From the darkness a rat swam into sight. It was coming from shore, and was heading for the nearby anchor rope. As Danae watched, the rat reached the rope and hauled itself out of the water, climbing upward. It hesitated at the old ratcatcher, sniffing about for a hole in the oft-mended device. It wants in, but it doesn’t want to get caught, Danae thought, just like me. She then slipped back under the water, leaving behind only a ripple.
The rat looked down briefly, then continued to search for a way in. Suddenly, below it, the water erupted. There was a squeak, and the rat was gone. After a moment Captain Tennent looked over the railing. All he saw was a dead fish floating on the water.
Dawn found Captain Tennent mending sails just outside the cabin door. The docks were quietly busy, and the sky slate grey. He turned when the cabin door opened. In the dimness of the small cabin stood Danae. She paused there a moment, shielding her eyes with her hand, then she looked down at her body. The morning light revealed dusky brown skin from chest to feet. Here and there were traces of black lines. Once continuous, they were now only fragments.
“Welcome back,” Tennent said simply.
Danae stared at him a moment. “Captain.”
“I fetched your clothes for you. They’re under my bunk.”
“Blen came by to ask about you. I told him you came back early last night.” He tugged the needle through the canvas.
“I …” Danae ran her hand through her short hair, plucking out seaweed. “Thank you.”
Tennent looped the needle back through the sailcloth. “You hear such crazy things on the docks these days. There’s a rumor going around that a bunch of drunks from the Old City saw the sea hag’s daughter last night down by the new baths. Said she came right up to their barge and nearly swamped it. Crazy, huh?”
“Yes, sir. Crazy.”
“Of course those landlubbers called it a nisheg, but what do you expect, eh?”
“Never mind. I also wanted to mention that Hernorala will be joining the crew as cook. You’ll be in the rigging now.” His voice softened a bit. “If you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” Her voice was still rough, and she could taste salt on her lips.
“Thank you for your efforts last night. Blen explained what you did.”
Danae tried to stifle a yawn, then surrendered to it. It felt good, felt animal.
“He would have done it for me.”
“As would we all.”
She smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
He nodded. “Good. That’ll do.”
Danae stood a moment longer, tracing the faded, broken lines on her thighs. She took a deep breath. “Captain?”
“Would you mind doing me a favor?”