For years, I had worked at the harbor of Port Emaren, scraping by from day to day to pay back the loan for my father’s farm, always saving. Arven was too young to work, and Ellie too ill, so my family was counting on me alone, the unlikely lady breadwinner. The passage over from Greendell had nearly killed me; a six-month, grueling voyage for a girl who had never been on a boat before. But there were so few places that employed women, and so Emaren it was.
The Golden Sea shone a brilliant amber as the sunset illuminated the shipyard, boats docking and leaving off to new lands. The familiar scent of the sea filled my nose, Arven’s note slightly damp in my hand. Together, through his odd jobs and my work at the fish cannery, we had saved eight thousand notes – enough to win back the farm from the bank. And not a moment too soon – the bank was claiming the farm in only two seasons. I had often dreamed of this moment, but never did I stop and imagine what it’d be like when it came to fruition.
I had no regrets left here. I withdrew all of the money out of the bank and went to the harbor for one last time to buy passage back to my home, a small smile playing on my lips as I gave a single-fingered, unladylike gesture to the city.
When I arrived at the docks, though, there was a crowd of angry people in front of the boats. I was used to these crowds; the most temperamental people I had met lived in Emaren as ambitious fortune-seekers. But I recognized some of these people.
“Amelia?” I asked, seeing a familiar face from the cannery. “What’s going on? I’m trying to get out of this godsforsaken city.”
Amelia’s face was slightly flushed with anger. “The king just made an edict to stop all travel going in and out of all the cities and towns. It’s to stop the spread of a disease that’s spreading throughout the kingdom. But my family needs me now, my father is sick-” She bit her lip, wiping a tear away.
The happiness that I had felt earlier was wearing away quickly, replaced with fear. “How long until we can travel again?”
“At least 2 months, maybe more,” she said. “Isabel, don’t you need to get to your family too? What will we do?”
“I’ll figure out something even if it kills me,” I said grimly. Just then, I noticed a commotion farther down by the docks. A man in an elegant dark coat with a large tricorne on his head was arguing animatedly with the supervisor. Was that a pirate? An idea began to take shape in my mind. “I’ll be right back, Amelia,” I heard myself say before squeezing through the crowd.
The pirate laughed insolently at the supervisor. “I’ll take my ship wherever I want to,” he said. He was clearly drunk. “The air here isn’t as fresh as the air in the middle of the sea, only sickness we’re getting is from too much grog on a stormy day!”
The supervisor looked annoyed but wary. “Fine, sir, your ship is clear for passage to Tarbel.”
Tarbel? That was only a few towns away from Greendell! The mystery sailor reached into his pocket and handed the supervisor a lustrous, pearly white jewel the size of his fist. Ah, so it’s a bribe. Whoever he was, the supervisor waved him off and the man walked away, whistling jauntily as he went back to his ship. I looked back at Amelia, but I couldn’t see her in the crowd. My mind was made up in an instant, and I began to follow the sailor. I had seen some crates that some of the men were transporting from the docks to his ship, and I thought they would make a perfect place to stow away, hopefully with some food or something useful inside.
But just in case, if I was found out…
I took a bandana I always carried with me out of my satchel and tied it around my head, covering my hair up. It usually helped to have the option to look like a boy, no matter where you were.