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what the water gave

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When a maid joins the sea, she surrenders her tears to the gods. Brienne’s eyes swam in saltwater whether she felt lonely or livid or listless, but the day she killed Ser Ronnet Connington, bile leaked from her neck, clouding the cobalt waters of Shipbreaker Bay.

The regal old woman sniffed, bubbles eddying around her gills as she studied the splintered ship that littered the rocky seabed. “It had to be done, child. No use gagging over it.”

“You can be glad,” added a slender girl, the one who’d grasped Brienne by the arm and pulled her down, down, down, even as her lungs had burst and her legs convulsed, bound in silk and seawater. “The other sailors reached shore.” The girl’s lips twitched with distaste. “That man killed you. The Merling King demands satisfaction.”

Am I dead? Brienne wondered. Have I been cast into the hells with the other grotesques? She looked up and up and up, where waves frothed and snapped under a raging sky. Seawater undulated around her, comforting but for the corpse netted in the rigging.

“Small wonder. Even the gods cannot bear to look on her.” Even then her betrothed had been laughing, wild and desperate over the gale. “Better her than us. Toss that sow into the sea, before the Merling King tears us apart.”

He deserved it, she thought, steeling herself to look at him. Red Ronnet was not so red any longer. Cold had leached the ruddiness from his cheeks, and the fire in his beard had extinguished to dull umber without the invigorating kiss of the sun. Her betrothed opened his mouth, eyes unseeing as he expelled a last, mocking breath. It bubbled across her palm, skittering skyward like some black bat come to curse her.

Brienne flinched away, scrubbing her hand on her skirt—on her scales. A sob wracked her, and bile bled from gills that quivered like green boys facing their first foe. Water crashed into her lungs in great, heaving waves, and her stomach lurched with panic that she might drown again.

“There, there,” the old woman clucked, swimming over to gather her up. “Life demands life, and that’s all there is to it. It’s done now. You’re safe from him and every other man.”

“All will be well,” soothed the sweet-faced girl, the one who’d drowned her. “You’re one of the merlings now.”

A current swept past as if to usher Brienne into its depths. Ser Ronnet twisted grotesquely, bound in his watery grave.

He had been right after all. It was bad luck to sail these waters with a maid freshly flowered.