Long after the sun had set, when the passengers were nestled neatly in their cabins, the crew gathered on the deck of the Dove
. They’d been at sea for a fortnight, playing the role of any passenger vessel crew — all “yes, sirs” and “no, miladys”— seeing to the needs of the stiff-legged landsmen with exaggerated obsequiousness. But no more.
Rake stood at the helm, just below the Nameless Captain, as was his place. e ragged crew below them were the captain’s men, chosen for their savagery, their drunkenness, and their predilection for thievery and murder. But it was Rake they answered to at sea.
“It’s time,” Rake said, and the men scattered belowdecks.
Sleep-fogged passengers were pulled roughly from their bunks and dragged, questioning and sputtering, to the foredeck. The captain scoffed; even their nightwear was finery, silks with careful stitching.
As was ritual, the strongest man was pulled from the ranks of the passengers and forced to his knees. On this particular voyage, he was a spice merchant named Mr. Lam, headed to the Floating Islands without his wife and his children to see about the famous marketplace there. He could be no more than twenty-five.
“Come on, then, Florian,” Rake said. “Time to earn your britches.”
It had been Rake’s idea: The name change. The men’s clothes. Being a slip of a girl may have been tenable in Crandon, but it wasn’t here on the Dove. Not among these men. In taking this man’s life, Flora could start a new one. Her life as Florian.
The cost was simple. Rake slipped Florian a dagger.
“Show them,” Rake whispered. Not just the passengers, as was Florian’s official charge, but the other sailors aboard the Dove. They needed to see who this child was, the man this girl had become. Rake could tell from the solemn nod Florian gave that he understood Rake’s words exactly.
The child stepped forward, and though he was small-boned and skinny from strict rations, the passengers fell silent. The long, silver dagger in Florian’s hand shone like the moon in an otherwise black night.
The Nameless Captain cleared his throat, all theater and cruelty. “It gives me no great pleasure to announce to you fi ne people that the Dove is no passenger vessel. She is a slaver. And all of you aboard are now her chattel.”
Sobs and cries of dissent rippled through the passengers. One foolish old man even cursed at the captain. A blow from Rake across the man’s chin crumpled his aged and spindly legs for him, and he hit the deck with a crash of bone on wood. The scuffle only caused more shouting and wailing until the captain raised his pistol into the air and fired once.
Silence returned, save for the sound of the sea lapping against the Dove
“If any of you are thinking of mutiny, I can promise you”— he motioned to Florian, who slipped behind the trembling Mr. Lam, dagger poised —“we don’t take kindly to mutineers.”
Though the man begged for clemency at a whisper, Florian dragged the dagger across his throat. Lam’s blood spilled down the front of his nightshirt, and his thick, muscled body fell to the deck. Two of the crewmen hauled the dying man up by the armpits and held him for passengers to witness how the last shudders of life left him. Florian wiped the blood from the blade on his sleeve.
With the passengers now sufficiently terrified, the captain had them locked into the slave quarters, in the hold of the ship. e Dove’s spacious cabins would be used henceforth by the crew, who until then had been taking turns in the hammocks strung up in the stores.
Belowdecks, the passengers wept.
Abovedeck, the crew chanted, “Florian, Florian, Florian, Florian!”
He was a captain’s man now — Rake had seen to that. As safe as he could be among his peers. The child had competently changed stories more than once, and swiftly, too. Rake had seen it happen. What was one more seismic shift? From child to adult. Innocent to murderer. Girl to man.
And Florian, who still had Mr. Lam’s blood on his sleeve, smiled into the darkness.
Copyright © 2020 by Maggie Tokuda-Hall. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.