Of Fear and Flowers, 1
Leira Auberon has always been ridiculed for her lack of fear and the blood-colored birthmark that covers much of her face. After being blamed for a village death, Leira’s only chance of escape is to join the crew of the catafal—the ship that collects the Kingdom of Agrestis’s dead. Most people fear the catafal and what it stands for. But Leira has never felt fear, and she is intrigued by the ship’s menacing captain.
Leira soon learns to love life at sea. But when a group of immortality-seekers attack the catafal, its misfit crew are drawn into a rebellion threatening the kingdom’s peace. Leira is ready and willing to defend her home aboard the ship. But when her reality is twisted in surprising ways, she finds herself facing the one thing she never expected.
14+ due to adult situations, sexuality
“Three, that all?” one of the voices said. A female voice. Deep and smoky, her eastern dialect languid and laughing. “Hardly seems worth the stop. Should have waited until the next round.”
“And keep the bodies here?” The first voice who had spoken was a local. The carpenter, probably. Or one of his apprentices. “Are you mad?”
“The Briostal works for a long time,” the woman said. Leira glanced at the barrels of preserving solution, a liquid mix that all the shrouds were soaked in before they were placed around a corpse. “Wouldn’t make much difference if they were here for six months or sixteen. They’d stay fresh as the day they were wrapped.”
The villager’s voice raised nearly a full octave in its indignation. “You speak as if these are pieces of meat to keep for hungry days,” he said. Leira imagined him scowling. She rolled her eyes at his outlandish anger. “Instead of souls trapped in bodies, awaiting release at the Ascypt.”
The woman sighed. “They’re facing eternity.” She sounded bored of the explanation, and Leira wondered how many times she’d given it before. “I doubt it much matters if they have to stay here a little while longer before facing it.”
Leira smiled. The villager muttered something under his breath, and then three pairs of feet shuffled further into the room.
“Not that it matters, anyway,” the woman said. She sighed again. “Wildfye’s in the midst of a fever spread. Gave us fifteen. Suppose it all works out. Come on, let’s get these loaded up and on the ship. The captain’s awaiting his payment. You don’t want to anger the Hedgehog, do you?”
“No,” the villager agreed. His annoyance curtailed into wary acceptance. “We don’t want that.”
The three started loading the corpses, and Leira used the cover of their noise to leave the death-house. The conversation she’d overheard had rekindled her excitement, and she ignored the chill of the still rainy eve as she ran to the boardwalk.
Ivor’s Bay was not a tiny village, but it was small enough to house only one inn and a single dock for any vessel larger than a fishing skiff. The lone dock was where the merchant ships pulled in to sell wares, or where the officer ships from the capital town of Dortmunia’s Peak came to deliver royal decrees. Leira had already attempted to sweet-talk, buy, and even fight her way onto these ships. Dortmunia’s Peak was her goal—the biggest town in all of Agrestis, the one place she might halfway blend into the crowd and make herself a quiet, meager living free of the ridicules she’d suffered her whole life at home.
No one had been willing to take Leira as passenger, neither by ship nor carriage nor even a rickety ass’s cart. Locals disliked her, and foreigners were put off by the stain on her face—or their suspicions of why a young girl was so desperate to travel alone. The catafal was her last chance. If she couldn’t book passage on a ship as feared as The Rooster, the only way she’d ever get out of Ivor’s Bay would be to set off on foot.
Leira wiggled her bare toes, desperately hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
The boardwalk was lively with the catafal in port. Shipmen hoisted supplies, and crew members disembarked from the main deck to spend a few hours on solid land. The night was dark, but in the glow of torchlight the black wood and black sails of the ship loomed like shadows. Most of the local villagers stayed away from the dock when The Rooster was in sight. The only ones not foolishly fearful enough to face the ship were the hardened fisher folk who dealt with the catafal every time it pulled into port.
Leira stared at the magnificent sight of Death’s ship, hoping the Bride would prove unprejudiced by giving her blessing to a girl with a stained face.
Of course, it wasn’t Death Leira needed to convince. The Rooster had its own captain.