“Or it could kill me or sink the ship or create another Shadow Fold, or worse.”
“You certainly have a flare for the dire.”
My fingers snaked into my pocket, seeking out the damp edges of the scales. I had so little information, and my knowledge of Grisha theory was sketchy at best. But this rule had always seemed fairly clear: one Grisha, one amplifier. I remembered the words from one of the convoluted philosophy texts I’d been required to read: “Why can a Grisha possess but one amplifier? I will answer this question instead: What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.” I needed time to think.
“Will you keep your word?” I said at last. “Will you help us escape?” I didn’t know why I bothered asking. If he intended to betray us, he certainly wouldn’t say so.
I expected him to reply with some kind of joke, so I was surprised when he said, “Are you so eager to leave your country behind once again?”
I stilled. All the while, your country suffers. The Darkling had accused me of abandoning Ravka. He was wrong about a lot of things, but I couldn’t help feeling that he was right about that. I’d left my country to the mercy of the Shadow Fold, to a weak king and grasping tyrants like the Darkling and the Apparat. Now, if the rumors could be believed, the Fold was expanding and Ravka was falling apart. Because of the Darkling. Because of the collar. Because of me.
I lifted my face to the sun, feeling the rush of sea air over my skin, and said, “I’m eager to be free.”
“As long as the Darkling lives, you’ll never be free. And neither will your country. You know that.”
I’d considered the possibility that Sturmhond was greedy or stupid, but it hadn’t occurred to me that he might actually be a patriot. He was Ravkan, after all, and even if his exploits had lined his own pockets, they’d probably done more to help his country than all of the feeble Ravkan navy.
“I want the choice,” I said.
“You’ll have it,” he replied. “On my word as a liar and cutthroat.” He set off across the deck but then turned back to me. “You are right about one thing, Summoner. The Darkling is a powerful enemy. You might want to think about making some powerful friends.”
* * *
I WANTED NOTHING MORE than to pull the copy of the Istorii Sankt’ya from my pocket and spend an hour studying the illustration of Sankt Ilya, but Tamar was already waiting to escort me to her quarters.
Sturmhond’s schooner wasn’t at all like the sturdy merchant ship that had carried Mal and me to Novyi Zem or the clunky whaler we’d just left behind. It was sleek, heavily armed, and beautifully built. Tamar told me that he’d captured the schooner from a Zemeni pirate who was picking off Ravkan ships near the ports of the southern coast. Sturmhond had liked the vessel so much that he’d taken it for his own flagship and renamed it Volkvolny, Wolf of the Waves.
Wolves. Stormhound. The red dog on the ship’s flag. At least I knew why the crew were always howling and yapping.
Every inch of space on the schooner was put to use. The crew slept on the gun deck. In case of engagement, their hammocks could be quickly stowed and the cannon slotted into place. I’d been right about the fact that, with Corporalki on board, there was no need for an otkazat’sya surgeon. The doctor’s quarters and supply room had been turned into Tamar’s berth. The cabin was tiny, with barely enough room for two hammocks and a chest. The walls were lined with cupboards full of unused ointments and salves, arsenic powder, tincture of lead antimony.
I balanced carefully in one of the hammocks, my feet resting on the floor, acutely conscious of the red book tucked inside my coat as I watched Tamar throw open the lid of her trunk and begin divesting herself of weapons: the brace of pistols that crossed her chest, two slender axes from her belt, a dagger from her boot, and another from the sheath secured around her thigh. She was a walking armory.
“I feel sorry for your friend,” she said as she pulled what looked like a sock full of ball bearings from one of her pockets. It hit the bottom of the chest with a loud thunk.
“Why?” I asked, making a circle on the planks with the toe of my boot.
“My brother snores like a drunk bear.”
I laughed. “Mal snores, too.”
“Then they can perform a duet.” She disappeared and then returned a moment later with a bucket. “The Tidemakers filled the rain barrels,” she said. “Feel free to wash if you like.”
Fresh water was usually a luxury aboard ship, but I supposed that with Grisha in the crew, there would be no need to ration it.
She dunked her head in the bucket and ruffled her short dark hair. “He’s handsome, the tracker.”
I rolled my eyes. “You don’t say.”
“Not my type, but handsome.”
My brows shot up. In my experience, Mal was just about everyone’s type. But I wasn’t going to start asking Tamar personal questions. If Sturmhond couldn’t be trusted, then neither could his crew, and I didn’t need to grow attached to any of them. I’d learned my lesson with Genya, and one shattered friendship was enough. Instead, I said, “There are Kerch in Sturmhond’s crew. Aren’t they superstitious about having a girl onboard?”
“Sturmhond does things his own way.”
“And they don’t … bother you?”
Tamar grinned, her white teeth flashing against her bronze skin. She tapped the gleaming shark’s tooth hanging around her neck, and I realized it was an amplifier. “No,” she said simply.
Faster than I could blink, she pulled yet another knife from her sleeve. “This comes in handy, too,” she said.
“However do you choose?” I breathed faintly.
“Depends on my mood.” Then she flipped the knife over in her hand and offered it to me. “Sturmhond’s given orders that you’re to be left alone, but just in case someone gets drunk and forgetful … you do know how to take care of yourself?”
I nodded. I didn’t walk around with thirty knives hidden about my person, but I wasn’t completely incompetent.
She dunked her head again, then said, “They’re throwing dice above deck, and I’m ready for my ration. You can come if you like.”
I didn’t care much for gambling or rum, but I was still tempted. My whole body was crackling with the feeling of using my power against the nichevo’ya. I was restless and positively famished for the first time in weeks. But I shook my head. “No thanks.”
“Suit yourself. I have debts to collect. Privyet wagered we wouldn’t be coming back. I swear he looked like a mourner at a funeral when we came over that rail.”
“He bet you’d be killed?” I said, aghast.
She laughed. “I don’t blame him. To go up against the Darkling and his Grisha? Everyone knew it was suicide. The crew ended up drawing straws to see who got stuck with the honor.”
“And you and your brother are just unlucky?”
“Us?” Tamar paused in the doorway. Her hair was damp, and the lamplight glinted off her Heartrender’s grin. “We didn’t draw anything,” she said as she stepped through the door. “We volunteered.”
* * *
I DIDN’T HAVE A CHANCE to talk to Mal alone until late that night. We’d been invited to dine with Sturmhond in his quarters, and it had been a strange supper. The meal was served by the steward, a servant of impeccable manners, who was several years older than anyone else on the ship. We ate better than we had in weeks: fresh bread, roasted haddock, pickled radishes, and a sweet iced wine that set my head spinning after just a few sips.
My appetite was fierce, as it always was after I’d used my power, but Mal ate little and said less until Sturmhond mentioned the shipment of arms he was bringing back to Ravka. Then he seemed to perk up and they spent the rest of the meal talking about guns, grenades, and exciting ways to make things explode. I couldn’t seem to pay attention. As they yammered on about the repeating rifles used on the Zemeni frontier, all I could think about were the scales in my pocket and what I intended to do with them.
Did I dare claim a second amplifier for myself? I had taken the sea whip’s life—that meant its power belonged to me. But if the scales functioned like Morozova’s collar, then the dragon’s power was also mine to bestow. I could give the scales to one of Sturmhond’s Heartrenders, maybe even Tolya, try to take control of him the way the Darkling had once taken control of me. I might be able to force the privateer to sail us back to Novyi Zem. But I had to admit that wasn’t what I wanted.
I took another sip of wine. I needed to talk to Mal.
To distract myself, I cataloged the trappings of Sturmhond’s cabin. Everything was gleaming wood and polished brass. The desk was littered with charts, the pieces of a dismembered sextant, and strange drawings of what looked like the hinged wing of a mechanical bird. The table glittered with Kerch porcelain and crystal. The wines bore labels in a language I didn’t recognize. All plunder, I realized. Sturmhond had done well for himself.
As for the captain, I took the opportunity to really look at him for the first time. He was probably four or five years older than I was, and there was something very odd about his face. His chin was overly pointy. His eyes were a muddy green, his hair a peculiar shade of red. His nose looked like it had been broken and badly set several times. At one point, he caught me studying him, and I could have sworn he turned his face away from the light.
When we finally left Sturmhond’s cabin, it was past midnight. I herded Mal above deck to a secluded spot by the ship’s prow. I knew there were men on watch in the foretop above us, but I didn’t know when I’d have another chance to get him alone.
“I like him,” Mal was saying, a little unsteady on his feet from the wine. “I mean, he talks too much, and he’d probably steal the buttons from your boots, but he’s not a bad guy, and he seems to know a lot about—”
“Would you shut up?” I whispered. “I want to show you something.”
Mal peered at me blearily. “No need to be rude.”
I ignored him and pulled the red book out of my pocket. “Look,” I said, holding the page open and casting a glow over Sankt Ilya’s exultant face.
Mal went still. “The stag,” he said. “And Rusalye.” I watched him examine the illustration and saw the moment that realization struck. “Saints,” he breathed. “There’s a third.”
SANKT ILYA STOOD barefoot on the shore of a dark sea. He wore the ragged remnants of a purple robe, his arms outstretched, his palms turned upward. His face had the blissful, placid expression Saints always seemed to wear in paintings, usually before they were murdered in some horrific way. Around his neck he wore an iron collar that had once been connected to the heavy fetters around his wrists by thick chains. Now the chains hung broken by his sides.
Behind Sankt Ilya, a sinuous white serpent splashed in the waves.
A white stag lay at his feet, gazing out at us with dark, steady eyes.