Four weeks passed by like horses on a track. In what seemed like no time at all, Inej chose a crew, readied her ship and prepared for a journey that could last up to four months.
The evenings were filled with good food and conversation in the Van Eck house that Kaz managed to attend more often than not. Her days were spent with her parents, re-learning one another, or at the docks, first choosing, then getting to know her crew. She readied the sails, her cabin and every other place she could think of, delaying the day she would leave the bubble of happiness they’d made in Wylan’s house. She knew could never last, it was better to leave before the bubble burst on it’s own. But it was still tempting to stay in the comfort and contentment for as long as she possibly could.
To escape that temptation, she had set herself a deadline for her departure. Four weeks. Four weeks to laugh with Jesper and Wylan in the music room. Four Weeks to learn every inch of her new ship, slightly finer than she would have chosen for herself, but perfectly proportioned for a small crew to sail the true sea and take on larger slaver ships. Four weeks to live in luxury with her parents, while introducing them to the rooftops of Ketterdam and the people she’d grown to love there. Four weeks to say goodbye to Kaz.
The last was harder than she’d like to admit.
Kaz didn’t say goodbyes. She knew that, and she planned accordingly. She had said goodbye to him a thousand ways over that last week. She said goodbye as she slipped her hand into his ungloved one in Wylan’s sitting room. She said goodbye to him when she left him notes on his desk at the slat about gossip she overheard on the docks. She said goodbye on the nights he came for dinner and charmed her parents with dryly-told stories of Inej’s adventures with the Dregs. She had said goodbye with a line drawn in blood over Pekka Rollins’ heart.
It wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be enough. But it would have to do.
So when her parents walked up to The Wraith’s gangplank with another figure, clad in black and leaning on a cane, Inej was surprised to say the least. Kaz’s bitter-coffee eyes flashed in her direction from under the brim of his hat as he talked with her father. He shook her father’s hand stiffly, and then her mother’s. Inej noted the fair skin of his hands and the leather gloves tucked into his waistcoat pocket.
He didn’t come aboard. He stayed at the end of the gangplank as she greeted her parents and had her second mate help them with their trunks. She half-expected to turn and see him gone, but he still stood, slightly to the side as to not impede the flow of people bringing the final supplies aboard.
She walked lightly down the gangplank to him.
“I have something for you,” he said, the salty rasp of his voice blending musically with the sound of the sea.
“Something more than a boat and my parents?” Inej teased gently.
Kaz looked down and Inej thought he might be smiling, or even blushing. But whatever it was, it was gone from his face when he looked up again, pulling a brown-paper package from his coat pocket.
Inej’s fingertips brushed the boy’s as she took the gift. She still wasn’t used to the feel of his bare skin. Still, she was glad to see that he didn’t flinch at the touch. They hadn’t had much time to experiment with what they might become in the future. But most days they could hold hands without incident. Inej found herself unexpectedly pleased with this development.
She untied the rough brown twine and unfolded the paper to reveal a small compass on a long chain. She smiled at the sight of it. Like all his other gifts, it was practical. Though she already had a good compass aboard, this one was small and light enough to carry on her person. And, like all his gifts, it was beautiful too. The brushed brass casing glinted in the late morning light and the center arrow was painted a bright ruby red. The letters denoting North, South, East and West were not ornate, but stocky and easy to see, and yet, they were painted in the color of a clear blue sky.
“Thank you, Kaz,” she said, wishing that she’d thought to give him something in return.
He shook his head as if to shoo away off her thanks.
“You’ll give the slave ships a reason to fear your name, Captain Ghafa.”
Inej smiled and found herself standing a little straighter at his words.
Then, quick as a hummingbird, he leaned in and brushed his lips against her cheek, as light and fleeting as a brush of wind.
She wasn’t entirely sure, but she thought she heard him say, “be safe,” as he pulled away.
Then he was walking away, cane tapping out an even pattern on the wooden pier as he made his way back to the streets. She wanted to say something more, to shout something to his receding back, but she had nothing to say. She would see him again. She would return as a captain and a force against slavery. She would leave again and return again, again and again.
Inej folded the wrapping paper and stuffed it in her coat pocket. Her fingers brushed against an unevenness on the back of the compass and turned it over to find an inscription there.
To help you find your way home.
Inej smiled, hung the compass around her neck and climbed aboard her ship.
They cast off and set sail. Inej’s heart soared to be out on the open sea. Leaning over the side of the ship into the wind, she felt rather than saw her father come up next to her.
“What were you talking to Kaz about on the dock, Papa?” Inej asked after a while, curiosity getting the best of her.
“I was asking if he knew your favorite flowers,” he said, a twinkle in his eye.
“Papa!” Inej scolded.
“I told him I was thinking of buying you a bouquet in the next port,” he replied with a laugh.
Inej shook her head and looked back out at the sea.
“I’m sorry that you did not have boys bringing you flowers,” he said after a pause, voice suddenly sober and heavy.
“I don’t need boys to bring me flowers, Papa.”
“No,” he said softly, “You found one to bring you knives.”
Inej swallowed and looked at her father.
“What did he say?” she asked at some length.
Her father smiled. “He told me to buy you wild geraniums because they are your mother’s favorite, tulips because they remind you of Ketterdam in spring and tuberose to sweeten the smell of your room.”
He paused and the teasing glint reentered his eyes. “And a vase that wouldn’t tip over on a moving ship.”
Inej spent a long time smiling and thinking over those words as her fingers ghosted over the hard outline of the compass tucked into her shirt. Around her the sea rolled and splashed against the sides of her ship. The Wraith slipped through the waves as easily as she had once slipped over Ketterdam’s rooftops. Eventually, she turned and went below decks. She had slavers to catch.