In the morning, I approached Captain Argon at the helm. He was studiously refusing to look at the sails on the horizon, his gnarled, tanned hands steady on the wheel, guiding the ship forward.
I stepped up next to him and looked forward. I couldn’t see anything on the horizon before us, but they were Hidden Isles, weren’t they? “Are we getting close?” I asked him.
He glanced at me, eyes thoughtful. “I wish we were, lass. It’ll be three days before we even reach the fog, where we could lose them and find the Isles, but even then…”
I gestured vaguely behind us without looking. “They’re gaining.”
“The Eagle ain’t much faster than this here girl.” The Captain patted the helm affectionately, “but if they get within range, they have forward cannons that they can fire without turning about.”
“Is there any way we can make her lighter?”
The Captain just shook his head. “We’ll need those supplies when we reach the Isles.”
I noticed he said ‘when’ and smiled. “I have utmost faith in you.” I smiled again and went back to my cabin. It was true, I had faith that he would keep Darren safe, but I had more faith in my ability to sacrifice for the common good, even if it meant sacrificing myself. I just hoped that would be enough.
The smile unnerved Argon. Come to think of it, so did the words. I have utmost faith in you. His fingers tightened on the helm. He didn’t have faith in himself, or this ship. There was only a fool’s chance they’d reach the Isles in time, but he wasn’t going to tell her that. The men on that boat were after her, and he was not about to let them catch up. They’d probably take her and then gut The Stardust simply because they could.
“Cap’n, you’re bearing too far east,” Darren’s voice called him back.
Argon jumped and corrected course before turning to his adopted son. He looked tired, half dead on his feet. He hardly slept, constantly up on the rigging. The Captain cast Darren a concerned look. “Yer going to fall out of the rigging one of these days. Ye need to get some sleep.”
The young man shook his head and leaned against the rail. “How can I?”
Argon cast him a stern glance. “Because yer far more use to her alive than smashed to pieces because ye fell.”
“I know.” He turned and looked out to sea. “But every time I close my eyes, all I see is the fear in her gaze and the confusion.” He was silent for a moment. “You know why she wouldn’t talk to me?” He cast Argon a lost glance, full of pain.
The Captain just looked back, asking for an answer.
Darren’s voice dropped to a murmur. “I told her I wasn’t human.” His head drooped, and his hair fell over his eyes. His knuckles whitened as he clutched the rail.
Argon was silent, remembering all those years ago. “I thought ye couldn’t speak of it. I know I can’t. Every time I try, me voice stops working.”
“Apparently I could tell her that, and then I couldn’t say anything,” he said through gritted teeth. “And for a moment, she seemed fine with it all, and then she was afraid of me. I’m not… a monster… am I?”
Argon shook his head. “You’re hardly different from a man.”
The pain in his eyes faded some. “I told her that last night.”
“She spoke to you?”
“I cornered her, but something’s still not right. There’s something she’s not telling me.” He turned again and stared unseeingly at the sails. “I know she didn’t believe me when I said we’d reach the Isles in time, but there was something else in her eyes.”
The Captain thought back to her words: “I have utmost faith in you.” Her eyes hadn’t been right then, either. “I don’t know, lad, but I wouldn’t underestimate our lady Marina. For having been raised by an earl, she’s very resourceful.”
Darren smiled. “The earl didn’t raise her. He tolerated her. I wouldn’t say Moncherné had much love for his daughter.”
“But her mother?”
“They were closer. I noticed while I was working there, but Marina spent a lot more time by the sea than anywhere near the house.”
“Perhaps the reason she was willin’ to go.”
“I don’t know why she came. If I had been her, I wouldn’t have gone with a farm boy I only occasionally spoke with. I know she hates the Duke, but still… she said something odd. She asked if I was a male siren who bewitched girls. Does… my kind… do that?”
Argon looked at him thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t know.”
Darren looked at him with an unfathomable expression. “I hope not…” He looked out to sea. “I really hope not.”