The Spinster and the Sea – J.C. Pillard

The Spinster and the Sea – J.C. Pillard

April 2022

Samson always felt out of place in the crowded common room of the Last Drink. Seaborne’s largest inn was about the only place that could hold all the privateers, naval deserters, and vagabonds when they came together in the town they called home. Still, most of them were young men, or at least younger than Samson, and the old carpenter felt like a rusted nail with all these hot-headed lads around him. Not to mention the heat of the room. With so many bodies pressed together, most of the boys were in their shirtsleeves, cravats loose around their necks. Samson wanted nothing more than to step outside into the cool, salty air. But given the news the dawn had brought, he knew this wasn’t a gathering to be missed.

The chatter of the crowd died as Captain Crain marched to the front of the room, his long, beaded braids framing a serious face.

“Soldiers of Seaborne,” he said, voice weighted. “You heeded the bells when they rang this morn. For this, I and all the town thank you.”

“We heeded ‘em all right,” interrupted a lad towards the front. “Now tell us why.”

A rolling chuckle passed through the room. Crain nodded. “The Royal Navy has been spotted a day’s sailing from here. We have it on good authority that they are coming to destroy Seaborne.”

The men glanced among themselves, murmuring. The news was not really a surprise. Seaborne was known as a pirate port and refuge from the King’s justice. It had always been only a matter of time before the Royal Navy decided to rain hellfire down on it.

“Let them try,” laughed a red-haired man from where he sat. “Rachim’s Reef’ll cut their ships to ribbons.”

“In most cases, Gladstone, you’d be right. But they’ve one of our own with them.” Crain paused, letting his words sink in. Samson tensed, watching as realization rippled through the room. The reef was Seaborne’s pride and joy. The razor-sharp ledges and corals spread for miles beyond the town’s cove, and any ship that didn’t know the way through those waters was likely to be wrecked. But if the Navy knew the way, then Seaborne’s primary defense was useless.

“We have but two choices. We can flee. Or we can fight.”

The silence in the room was deafening as each man weighed the outcome of such a battle. At last, one of the young lads spoke up.

“The likelihood that they’ll pass through the reef unscathed is slim, even if they know the way,” he said, his voice more measured than the other young lads. “Atop the seawall, we may be able to drive them off.”

A rumble ran through those assembled. It was a daring proposal. The Royal Navy had been burning pirate towns for decades, and none had stood against them with success.

Samson cleared his throat. “Argus saw three flotillas coming our way. Even with what defenses we can bring to bear, that may not be enough.”

“If we do not stand against them, then who will?” demanded another voice, the hot-headed young man who’d spoken first. “I say we fight! Show those royal dogs the King’s hand doesn’t reach this far.”

A mighty cheer followed his words, and from his corner Samson sighed. He knew advising caution was not to be borne, not when so many of the folk in this room had watched the Royal Navy take everything from them. Still, there was no sense in rushing towards ruination when it was coming right at you.

The men began talking, making plans for their glorious defense. Samson stood, limbs complaining at the movement, and turned to go when he heard Captain Crain call him over. The other man still stood near the front of the room, so Samson had to push his way through the crowd to reach him.

“Samson,” Crain said, voice low. “Can I leave it in your hands to spread word for an evacuation? The women and children should be moved to the interior of the island. In case the battle goes ill.”

The carpenter heard the unspoken words in the captain’s sentence—not ‘in case’ but ‘when’. Still, he nodded.

“Leave it to me.”

Crain paused. “Will you tell her as well?”

“She is part of the community, too, Captain,” Samson replied, knowing exactly whom Crain meant. Nadia was the oldest resident of Seaborne. She was also the most reclusive, rarely leaving her cottage up on the cliff.

“She won’t go,” Crain said seriously.

“I know.” Samson sighed. “But I’ll tell her, even so.”

Samson moved more slowly than he would have liked through the town. His leg, aching from an old wound, complained with every step as he knocked on doors to spread word of the impending battle. Behind him came a stream of evacuees, fleeing for the desert hills further from the coast. Carts rolled over bumpy, dusty roads, and donkeys brayed as they were led towards the island’s interior.

At last, having spread his message to enough folk that the whole town would soon hear of it, he paused to rest a while. Raising his eyes, Samson stared up the winding trail that led to the top of one of Seaborne’s cliffs. A lonely cottage stood there, bent and gnarled as a weathered tree. He sighed. It was time to see Nadia.

The twisting path up to the clifftop was hundreds of steps, and Samson’s leg ached with every one. He remembered the day he’d met Nadia. Everyone in town knew about her, of course. They called her a witch and a recluse, and Samson was fairly sure no one would care if she were to keel over in the town square. And yet, that day decades ago, she hadn’t seemed a witch at all. Just a lonely woman. She’d stumped down to his carpenter’s shop to get an old spindle repaired. A fine blue shawl had been thrown around her shoulders, and he hadn’t been able to stop himself from asking where she’d gotten it. Such luxuries were comparatively rare in Seaborne.

Her eyes had shuttered. “I made it,” she’d said, but there had been no pride or joy in her voice. Still, when Miriam Tassleton had been asking around for a new bedspread, it was Samson who’d made the trek up the cliff to ask Nadia if she might take the commission.

He made that same journey now, hoping the old spinster would speak with him. She was a wonder with all things fiber. She could patch a sail so the wind would never tear it again, and the ropes she knotted never frayed. Still, for all her talent, she kept everyone in town at arm’s length, as though she disdained them all. He’d tried, on more than one occasion, to coax her down to Seaborne for a drink or during an open-air festival. But he’d never succeeded.

Samson crested the cliff with a heavy step. He took a few moments to gather himself before he crossed to the cottage, knocking hard on the crooked door.

“What?” Nadia’s voice was like a cracking branch in a high wind. “What is it?”

“Nadia, it’s Samson. Can I come in?”

A silence followed his question, and Samson bit back a sigh. Finally, a harried, “Oh, all right, then,” came from behind the door, and the carpenter muscled it open.

Inside, the front room of the cottage looked like a flock of sheep had exploded. Baskets of fleece overflowed onto the floor, and lengths of yarn lay in tangled heaps in a trunk against the far wall. The room was stuffy, though the shutters of one of the windows were thrown open to overlook the sea, shedding light on a single skein of green yarn sitting on the windowsill. Beside it, Nadia sat on an overturned crate in front of her spinning wheel, that same, deep blue shawl she’d worn when he first saw her wrapped around her shoulders. Her face was craggy as the cliffside, and she frowned at him as he entered, each of her wrinkles deepening to a crevasse.

Samson grunted as he finally got through the door. He peered around the doorframe to where the top hinge hung loose.

“When did this happen?” he asked, fingers tracing the worn metal hinge. No wonder it had been so hard to open.

“What do you want?” Nadia demanded. “I haven’t finished Alder’s sail yet, if that’s why you’re here.”

Samson considered the door. With the proper tools, he could probably fix it. He reached into his pocket, questing for screws—

“Leave it, carpenter.”

“Nadia, you can’t just leave your door broken.”

“It’s my door,” she said crossly. “I’ll do what I like with it.”

“Fine,” Samson said, stifling a sigh, “As you wish.”

“What do you want?” she asked again.

“To warn you. The Royal Navy is coming to Seaborne. They may know the way through Rachim’s Reef.”

Samson did not know what he’d been expecting when he told her. It certainly wasn’t the look of devastation that flitted across her face, hidden so quickly he briefly thought he’d imagined it. It was a look he knew well—many of Seaborne’s residents arrived wearing it.

She turned away from him, her gaze tracking out over the sea. “Well,” she said finally, “I suppose it’s not unexpected.”

Samson steeled himself. “Captain Crain has ordered an evacuation of the town. Some of the sailors are staying to fight.”

That made Nadia turn. “They plan on fighting? With what? Sabers won’t do much good against long guns, carpenter.”

No, they wouldn’t, but Samson didn’t say that. Instead, he asked, “Will you leave? Head inland with the others?”

She frowned. “Will you?”

“What do you—”

“It is a fool’s endeavor. You know that as well as I, better even. If the Royal Navy makes it through the reef, there will be no saving Seaborne, no matter how much fire the young folk down there have boiling in their blood.”

He shook his head. “Seaborne means a great deal to them. It has been a refuge for many, including you. That means something.”

Her frown darkened. “So you’re not leaving.”

“No. I’ll not abandon them.”

“Foolish,” she muttered, turning away. “Go on, then.”

“Will you—”

“I have no need to leave,” Nadia interrupted. “They’ve already taken everything else from me. If the Navy seeks to burn me in my bed, I say let them try.”

Samson winced. “There’s no shame in running—”

“I will not run again,” Nadia snapped. “Now leave.”

Sighing, Samson turned back to the broken door, heaving it shut behind him.

It was midnight, Nadia was sixteen, and the ship was on fire.

She and her brother, Thomas, had booked passage on the Abigail. They’d been at sea eight days, passing beyond sight of land and out into the endless blue. Nadia had never been to sea before, and while she found it beautiful, she couldn’t wait to reach their new home, a continent away.

But now, she and Thomas emerged from the belly of the ship to screaming and flames. Around them, a fearsome battle raged. Three ships of the line surrounded the small frigate, cannons ready to reduce the vessel to splinters. In the flash of gunfire, Nadia made out the brilliant red flag of the Royal Navy snapping in the wind.

There were many questions about that night to which Nadia never received answers. She never learned why the Navy targeted their ship. She never got the chance to ask Thomas how he knew exactly where the lifeboats were, or how far they were from their new home. But most of all, Nadia never knew if she would have acted differently, had she known what was to come.

Thomas got her settled in a lifeboat, swinging it out for the drop. Behind him, sailors were scattered across the deck, groaning and bloody.

His eyes had met hers from where he stood on the deck. “If I’m not back in five minutes, make the drop,” he commanded.

“Thomas—” she started. She was only sixteen, and she was terrified.

“I’m going to try and save some of the others.” He had to shout to be heard above the battle.

A colossal boom shook the ship, sending it tilting dangerously. Nadia reached out a hand, voicelessly pleading with her brother to leave them, to run. But he met her eyes, shaking his head.

“I have to try, Nadia. It’s the right thing to do.”

“No. No, Thomas!” Nadia screamed as her brother plunged back into the fray. She sat frozen in the boat, heart trying to pound itself out of her chest. She wanted to get up, to run after her brother and make him get in the boat, but she couldn’t seem to move.

A sound like thunder tore through the air, and the deck buckled and split. The falls holding the lifeboat snapped, and Nadia screamed as she plummeted down towards the black sea. Her boat struck the side of the ship as it fell, and Nadia heard a sharp crack, like the sound of an axe striking wood. She had just enough time to see a fracture splinter down the middle of her lifeboat before the vessel hit the water with speed.

Nadia was drenched with salty spray. The ocean began leaking into the boat almost immediately. Behind her, the three Royal Navy vessels drew tighter around the burning Abigail.

“Thomas!” Nadia shrieked, her voice lost beneath the maelstrom of battle. “Thomas!”

The lifeboat was sinking, water sluicing in through cracks in the hull. Nadia fought to stay afloat, but water poured in faster than she could fling it out. The sea tossed her little vessel to and fro until it disappeared beneath the water. And Nadia, in her heavy wool skirts, was pulled down with it.

The world beneath the waves was cold and dark. Nadia fought against the water, trying desperately to claw back to the surface, to find something to hold onto, but nothing met her hands. Her lungs burned. Her vision began winking with black spots.

Fear, pain, and fury welled up inside her. Nadia opened her mouth, screaming into the sea. Water poured in between her teeth, down her throat, but she didn’t care. If she were to die here, she would not go quietly.

The scream echoed in the deep, growing louder, as though something were screaming back. The blue-black world around her seemed to convulse. Through her darkening vision, she watched the water coalesce into the figure of a woman who hung suspended in the ocean a mere foot from where Nadia was drowning. She had hair as green as seaweed, and a gown of seafoam. She looked nearly human, until Nadia glanced into her eyes.

They were black as the depths of the sea, black as the sky at night. And they watched Nadia with unfathomable sadness.

The creature—the woman—reached out a hand and touched Nadia’s breastbone. Beneath that touch, she felt her lungs expand with air, the water disappearing. She almost recoiled from the woman, recalling the tales of selkies and fair folk the servants used to whisper in the kitchen at night. Those black eyes bore into her, chilling her with their uncanny intelligence.

You wish to be saved.

The words reverberated in the ocean around her, more felt than heard. Nadia shuddered as those words crawled over her skin, but still she nodded.

What will you give me in payment for your life?

“Anything,” Nadia said, the word leaving her mouth as bubbles. “Everything.”

The woman regarded her with those deep, sad eyes, before nodding. Her seaweed-hair eddied around her with the motion.

Then Everything is what I will take.

The woman reached out once more, grasping Nadia’s hands, and Nadia felt a sharp pain as though each palm had been cut. She pulled away, but there was nothing now to pull away from. The woman was gone.

Her lungs began burning once more as the water redoubled its efforts to swallow her. Frantically, Nadia twisted her hands upwards in the sea.

And the sea twisted back.

A rope of water, blue and cold, met her fingers. She grasped it and pulled herself upward, hand over hand, twisting more water into a rope, barely conscious of how she managed it. Her head broke the surface and she gasped, hacking up brine and salt. Her water rope was wrapped over a piece of planking, and she heaved herself onto it, sputtering and sobbing. She thrust the wet hair from her eyes, staring towards where the Abigail had been. A few smoldering boards floated on the water’s surface, but the ship was entirely gone. In the distance, the Royal Navy vessels sailed away into the dark.

A storm was blowing in over the island. Its massive thunderheads were black against the blue sky. From her window, Nadia watched them roll in with a frown burrowing itself between her brows. Her fingers traced the twist of the green skein on the sill. The house seemed quiet and close, almost watchful.

I have to try, Nadia. It’s the right thing to do.

She shook her head, seeking to dislodge the memories creeping into her mind. Perhaps the rain would dissuade those fools down in Seaborne, make them turn tail and run as they should. Or perhaps it would simply make their job that much harder.

I have to try, Nadia.

Thunder rolled overhead, sending a shudder through the cliff face and drawing Nadia’s gaze back to the clouds. They swung low, heavy with water they’d start dumping soon enough.

I have to try.

“Are you ever quiet?” she snapped into the empty air. No one responded, of course. She shut her eyes, breathing out through her nose.

Nadia often thought about that night, about what she had done and what she had not. The woman in the water, her green hair eddying around her like seaweed, had indeed taken everything: Thomas, and with him the new home they’d been sailing towards, had been eaten by the waves. But the power given to her to save her life had never departed, though Nadia had never known what to do with it. She’d always been a gifted spinner, but since that night her spinning went beyond silk and cotton. After Thomas had died, she’d spun her grief into a soft, silky yarn from which she’d knit a deep blue shawl. From her fury, she’d spun a wild red yarn and woven the blankets on her bed. And from the shameful relief at her escape, she’d spun the seaweed-green yarn that rested upon her windowsill, where she could see it every day.

It had been Samson who first noticed her spinning, and Samson who began bringing her the work of the town. At first, she’d thought to turn him away, but she had needed the money more than she’d needed her pride. She’d taken the work of torn sails and ripped shawls from the carpenter, whose kind eyes and patience reminded her, painfully, of Thomas. With such work to do, she had stopped spinning impossible things, trading them for wool and flax, silk and cotton.

She’d stopped, but she hadn’t forgotten.

“Damn it,” she muttered, turning away from the window. Her wheel sat behind her, accusing her with its stillness, and she sighed. Then she went to heave open her door.

Wind whipped through Nadia’s hair as she slowly pulled her spinning wheel out into the storm. After she’d set it on the cliff’s edge, she went back for the crate. Her back throbbed with the strain, yet still she dragged the thing behind her, warped wood digging into the dirt of the cliff until it came to rest before the wheel. She settled herself atop it and looked up to the roiling gray clouds above. She’d failed Thomas once. She wouldn’t fail again.

Nadia remembered when her grandmother had taught her how to spin. The old woman’s fingers had shown her how to pinch the fleece, how to draft it for a fine thread or a thick one, how to send the spindle turning. She remembered her childhood hands, chubby and clumsy, spinning wool with a spindle that wouldn’t stop wobbling.

“Be patient,” her grandmother had chided when Nadia pouted at her work, so ugly compared to her grandmother’s supple yarn. “These things take time.”

“These things take time,” Nadia muttered to herself as she reached up into the sky. With deft hands, she pinched out a piece of low-hanging cloud, pulling it down. She drafted it out, wrapping it around the leading string of her old wheel. A quick press of her foot on the treadle, a twitch of her hand on the flywheel, and the spinning wheel jumped into motion, twisting the gathered clouds into a fine, silky yarn the color of the sea after a storm.

Nadia pulled the clouds from the sky with skillful, creaking hands. Her back ached, and her fingers grew numb with the cold, yet still she spun, pulling down handfuls of the storm and winding them onto the bobbin. When each bobbin grew full, she stopped, detaching it from the wheel to tuck away in a sack at her side and replace it with another before she began again.

She was on the last bobbin, clouds gliding smoothly through her hands, when she heard the crack. She grasped the wheel, stopping its motion, and stared down towards the maidens that held her bobbin in place. A fracture ran down the left one, slithering all the way to the base. Her fingers tightened on the wheel. She hadn’t considered what the water from the clouds might do to the wood.

Releasing the last bit of cloud back to the sky, Nadia ran a finger over the crack, feeling absurd tears building behind her eyes. It was just a spinning wheel, she told herself. It was just the wheel she’d spun on since Thomas’s death. It shouldn’t matter. Still, there was a painful knot welling in her throat as she realized the wheel was, more than likely, beyond repair.

Carefully, she detached the last bobbin from its place, stowing it in her pocket. With a final look at the crack in her wheel, she stood. Fetching her cane from the cottage and hefting her sack with the other bobbins, she turned and began the long trek down to the seawall.

Samson was tired. His leg smarted and his fingers hurt from an afternoon and evening spent preparing for the assault. Most of the men were asleep, looking like gray wave caps beneath their blankets as they lay along the top of the wall. Samson picked his way among them, trying not to trip. He glanced up at the black sky. He’d expected rain, had seen the storm clouds gathering all afternoon, but they’d dissipated during the evening and into the night, never dropping even a thimbleful of liquid. The stars glinted above, bright eyes ready to watch Seaborne fight and fall.

Captain Crain stood alone near one of the seawall’s stairs, his gaze hard on the ocean. Samson came to stand beside him.

“How’s the night?” Samson asked softly.

“Still,” the captain replied. “Too still for my liking.”

“Have they been spotted?”

The captain shook his head, beaded braids clattering together. “No. But dawn is still some ways off. We will stand ready until then.”

Samson nodded, turning to gaze to the water. All was dark and quiet, and nervous fear curdled in his gut at the quiet. The fleet would be here, sooner or later. Then they would find out if the firepower of Seaborne would be enough.

“Move, or I’ll move you.”

Starting, Samson turned towards the seawall’s stairs. There, at the base of the staircase with a bag slung over her shoulder, was Nadia. She was glaring at the guard posted there, her gaze enough to turn a lesser man to stone.

“Grandmother, I told you, this is—”

Her eyes flicked up and caught Samson’s gaze. “Carpenter!” she yelled. “Tell this man to stand aside, or he’ll learn exactly what a cane to the head feels like.”

Samson was already hurrying down the stairs. “It’s all right, I’ll take care of it,” he murmur to the stunned guard, who looked a little queasy from Nadia’s dagger-like stare. He turned towards the spinster.

“What are you doing here?”

She huffed. “Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

Because it looks like a stiff wind could blow you over. “This is no place for an old woman,” he tried.

She shook her head and shouldered past him. “It’s no place for an old man either, carpenter. Give me your arm.”

Samson wavered. He should force her to leave, to flee for safety inland. But it looked as though Nadia was getting up the stairs with or without his help, and he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of any more of her ire. He hurried after her, offering his elbow and helping her to the top of the seawall.

The captain looked askance as they appeared, eyes darting first to Nadia and then Samson. “I thought she was to be evacuated.”

“I tried,” Samson muttered as Nadia released his arm and moved to the edge of the wall.

“What defenses do you have?” Nadia asked, her creaking voice taking on the sharp crack of authority.

Crain arched an eyebrow. “Twenty long guns. Thirteen cannon, though only enough shot for perhaps four rounds each. Muskets for the men.”

“Hmph. That won’t be enough.”

The captain opened his mouth to reply when a shrill whistle cut through the air. All along the wall, men began sitting up, their gazes dragged towards the cliffs. Samson and Crain stiffened, and Nadia frowned.

“What was that?”

“The lookout,” Crain said, mouth drawn in tight. “The fleet has been spotted.”

“Then we haven’t much time,” Nadia said. She set her bag down and opened it, pulling out what looked like a bobbin wrapped thickly in silvery spider’s web. “We can’t let them reach the bay.”

“We’ll try to hold them off—”

“You needn’t try,” Nadia interrupted. “Just leave it to me.” She plucked at the bobbin in her hands, pulling free a thread. Moving slowly, then growing faster, she began unspooling the thread, pushing it off the seawall. As she did, the cord unfurled, billowing out to become a dense cloud that skated down to the bay, hovering just above the water.

“It’s fog,” Samson breathed, eyes wide. It was impossible. And yet, she must have done it. No wonder the clouds above had thinned as the night wore on: Nadia had stolen them from the sky. He didn’t know how she’d accomplished it, but she’d brought them exactly what they needed. A fog so dense that no ship—no fleet—could pass through it safely. Not with Rachim’s Reef lurking in wait.

“Carpenter,” Nadia snapped, continuing her unspooling. “Don’t just stand there gawking. Hand me the next bobbin.”

Samson jumped to obey, pulling out the next bobbin and handing it to her. Soon a fog thicker than wool was spreading down from the seawall, enshrouding the bay and the deadly reef beneath the water.

A few minutes later, two more sharp whistles pierced the air. Beside them, Captain Crain swore.

“They’re at the reef’s entrance,” he muttered. “The fog hasn’t reach that far yet.”

“Bring me some of your men, Captain,” Nadia commanded. “Let’s see if they can unspool a bobbin as well as they can shoot a musket.”

The captain nodded sharply. He began shouting orders, and soon Samson and Nadia had another six hands to them, unspooling the clouds down onto the water. The rest of the soldiers took up positions along the wall, and the rattle of cannons being moved and loaded cut through the otherwise silent night. The fog billowed from Nadia’s hands, and before too long Samson could barely make out his own feet, let alone anyone further down the seawall.

A boom pierced the air. Around them, the soldiers tensed. Moments later came the distant splash of something heavy hitting water. Cannon shot.

“That’s the last of it,” Nadia said, holding up the final bobbin.

Samson nodded. “I can help you back down the steps.”

“What? No. I’m not going, carpenter.” The spinster turned her eyes towards the wall of fog before them. “I will see this through.”

Samson wanted to argue, even opened his mouth to do so, but something stopped him. Nadia seemed made of steel, and he feared how sharp she might be if he tried to move her. So he merely nodded.

Another boom came, then another. A murmured passed along the wall, soldiers shifting nervously. The fog was too thick for them to see anything, and sounds came through it muffled, so that where the shots came from or how distant they were was hard to tell. The night began to lighten as dawn approached, and still they waited. When at last the sun rose and began to burn away Nadia’s fog, Samson could hardly believe his eyes.

There was a single ship in the bay. A single ship only. Behind it, distant among the shoals, he caught sight of masts sticking from the water like felled trees, torn sails hanging limply. The ragged remains of the force sent to destroy Seaborne, sliced to ribbons by Rachim’s Reef and Nadia’s fog.

“Prepare the long guns!” Captain Crain’s shout echoed along the seawall, and a great cry rose from the sailors. Nadia watched without a word, her eyes bright. Tentatively, Samson reached for her hand. To his surprise, she reached back and gripped him tightly. He glanced down at her and realized why her eyes looked so bright—tears shone in them, unspent.

“I thought it would feel better,” she murmured. “Having my revenge.”

Sailors and soldiers eddied around them, but Nadia and Samson stood alone, rocks among the tide. The carpenter studied her, his gaze thoughtful.

“How does it feel?” he asked.

“Like I’ve taken the knife used against me and turned it on another.” She swallowed. “Even if in defense, I can’t say I like the feeling.”

“I can take you back up the cliffs, Nadia.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I will stay to see what I’ve wrought.”

She would not move, and so Samson did not either. Even as the booms of the first long guns shook the stones beneath their feet, the spinster and the carpenter stood side by side, watching as the last ship was burned in the bay.

Nadia sat in her cottage, running her old hands over the crack in the spinning wheel. Only a day had passed since she had unleashed her fog. A day since she had repaid Thomas’s death a hundredfold. After the battle in the bay—if a battle it could be called—she had gone back up the cliff alone. Samson might have gone with her, if she’d asked, but she hadn’t wanted him to. She could not say she regretted what she’d done, but so many lives lost to her strange magic weighed heavy on her hands.

She gently touched the crack on her wheel once more before she sighed, turning to the window. The skein of green yarn seemed to wink at her from where it lay on the windowsill, and she picked it up. It would be a good while until she could spin again. She’d have to see about a new wheel. Perhaps she could knit something to pass the time.

There was a knock on her door, and she frowned. “What? What is it?”

A grunting sounded, the door being shoved open, and Samson appeared. He gave her a tired smile. “I expected you to be sleeping off your heroic efforts,” he said. “Instead, I find you before your wheel. As ever.”

“What do you want, carpenter?” Nadia demanded. “Is there yet another platoon or something on the way?”

He chuckled. “No, certainly not. I wanted to check on you. Make sure you’re all right.”

“Of course I am.”

“Of course,” he parroted. His thoughtful eyes examined her, and Nadia fought the urge to squirm beneath their appraisal. “You know,” he said after a moment, “we would not have won the battle without you.”

“No, you would not have.”

He cocked his head. “How did you do it?”

“Do what?”

He sighed. “Nadia, please.”

Nadia pursed her lips. “How do you make a table? Or an oar?”

“Time,” he said. “Time and practice.”

“Then you know how I spun the storm,” she replied. It was only partly a lie.

She examined Samson more closely, seeing a heavy-looking bag in his hands. “What’s that you’ve got?”

He hefted it up. “Supplies. For your door.”

“I told you to leave it.”

“You did,” he agreed slowly. “But I’ve decided not to listen. You need a working door, Nadia. Sometime soon, you may actually want to let someone in.”

She opened her mouth to object. After all, perhaps she liked to have a door that kept solicitous neighbors at bay. But she found the words would not come.

“Fine, carpenter,” she said eventually. “As you wish. You can fix the door. Just don’t make too much noise.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Samson said, smiling, before he turned back to the broken hinge.

From where she sat beside the window, Nadia watched him thoughtfully. He had a good complexion for green, she thought, especially the paler shade she now held in her hands. Besides, it was a long, cold trek up the cliff. He could certainly use a scarf.

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