All around her, the ship creaked as it rocked gently in time with the waves. Down in the hold, Mira couldn’t see the ocean, the rolling waters stretching for hundreds of miles in every direction, a plain of featureless blue that seemed interminable and absolute. From her interior vantage point, she couldn’t watch the sailors manning the Caroline as they moved about, nor was she able to look at the clouds gathering on the distant horizon to their west. That was fine enough for her. She heard the sounds, felt the motion, and that was plenty.
For six weeks she’d shared the inside of the ship with scores of others, whether the crew or the passengers, the colonists bound for America. Close to a hundred people crowded the decks and cabins, some there only for the work, a few for the dream of a new beginning, and many, like herself, just looking to run away. Of all of them, she had begun the voyage knowing only one: her brother, Thomas. In the intervening month and a half, she’d gotten to know a few of her fellows, but there were none she could call a friend.
The Caroline was cramped, all would agree, but Mira found ways to hide herself. Often, during the long days, when boredom gnawed at her mind, she would sneak away, hiding herself among the cargo, the boxes and barrels that held the food that kept them all alive on the vast, open sea. She wasn’t a stowaway, Thomas had seen to that, but she was unexpected, a final addition to the manifest that the captain hadn’t accounted for. Deep inside, she knew that some of the passengers probably resented her presence, and the crew would rather have her father than her brother, but there was nothing anyone could do about either of those, so she lost herself in the journey, the sights and sounds and smells, the movement of the ship over the water, the feel of the wood of its hull.
Never before, in all her twelve years of life, had Mira been on a boat before she and Thomas took ship in Portsmouth, despite the fact that her father had been a sailor. But the moment she stepped onto the deck of the Caroline, she felt like she belonged. When the ship set off, she was at the stern, watching the land as it began to recede. As the Channel gave way to the ocean, a moment feared by crewman and passenger alike, Mira felt a sense of release, like she was sailing not to America, but to Heaven.
“Mira? Are you down here again?” came the boyish voice that belonged to her brother.
She climbed over a crate, then slipped between two barrels, her every step sure, even on the slick surface of the hold. Waiting at the door was Thomas, standing expectantly, sighing in relief as he saw her appear. Thomas, her brother, her twin, her dirty mirror. In him, she saw herself, but altered, changed in subtle ways that most wouldn’t even notice. He was a day older, an inch taller, a stone heavier. Where she was a girl about to blossom into womanhood, he was a man before his time, thrust into his role as her protector.
“I’m right here,” Mira said, holding her hands on her hips. “What is it?” She loved Thomas, but she didn’t like being found in her private place.
“They don’t want you sleeping down here anymore,” he told her.
“I wasn’t asleep,” she protested. “I was listening.”
Thomas shrugged. “Well, that’s what they said to do, so I did it. Captain thinks there’s a storm coming. Maybe tonight, might be tomorrow morning. He wants all the passengers to stay down below.”
Mira giggled. If I go down any farther, I’ll be swimming, she thought to herself, enjoying the idea. That wouldn’t be so bad, unless there really is a storm. And there was a storm on its way. She could feel it, sense it even here, in the very core of the ship.
Thomas must have noticed her eyelids flutter, or else he simply knew she was growing distant, for he said, “Mira, is something wrong?”
She shook her head lazily. “Not for me.”
It wasn’t something she knew how to explain. Indeed, Mira hadn’t told anyone besides her brother, and even he wasn’t sure what to make of it. Ever since her first day on-board, she had felt it, though. It was strongest when she was down here, in the ship’s belly, below the waterline, but, if she focused on it, she could feel it anywhere on the ship. It was like an intimate understanding of the ocean itself, the sense that, in her mind, she could see the water, its secrets. She could smell rain before even the first cloud was visible. She knew intuitively that the Caroline was traveling westward against a current, a river flowing through the sea itself, and that the storm was following that flow, heading straight for them.
“It’ll be tonight,” she finally said. “The storm.”
“How do you know?” asked Thomas.
“Big brother, smart sister,” she answered, one of the many phrases the two of them had coined over the years that were inscrutable to anyone else. She knew he’d understand what it meant: he was the strong one, while she had the brains to keep them both out of trouble.
Thomas nodded, getting the meaning of her reply. “All right, I believe you. You still have to come back, though.” He took her hand and began to lead her out of the cargo hold.
“Fine,” she said, reluctantly turning from her secret hideaway.
Hours later, long after the sun had been swallowed by the darkening clouds, Mira heard the first raindrops hitting the top deck above her head. Within minutes, the sprinkling turned into a torrent, and the next sound she heard was the captain shouting orders. Gusts of wind began to strike the Caroline from different directions, pitching the ship to a much greater degree than the rocking waves of the past weeks. Some of the passengers nearest to her gasped at the sudden movement, and a little girl, no more than half Mira’s age, shrieked in surprise and fear.
It’s only a storm. Nothing more than rain and wind, air and water. Mira convinced herself of the truth of that, but the other passengers wouldn’t be so accepting, so she kept it to herself. She let them panic as the night deepened and the storm intensified. They were in a precarious position, protected from certain death by wood, nails, and the will of God, so Mira understood why they were afraid. But she didn’t share that emotion. The sea didn’t scare her; indeed, it comforted her, and no storm, no matter how strong, would take that away from her.
Some unknown and unknowable time passed, and many of the passengers started to huddle close together, either for protection or for simple companionship. Mira didn’t join them, instead finding herself an empty corner. They’ll be too afraid to sleep, she thought, and that means I won’t get to sleep, either. She wanted to shout at them, tell them that everything would be fine if they could just make it to the morning, but they wouldn’t believe her, so there was no sense in even trying. So, blocking their fearful whispers and their muttered prayers from her mind, Mira leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes.
She felt the wave coming before it actually hit. Her eyes flew open, and she braced herself against the wall of the ship. Before she had time to warn the others, the Caroline tumbled. Mira watched as people and belongings slid around, all heading toward her corner. In their cabin, women and the few children screamed, while the crewmen above shouted and cursed and prayed. After a dozen quickened, agonizing heartbeats, things returned to normal as the ship righted itself.
Almost like he was summoned, Thomas appeared in the door not long after the wave passed, sodden and sullen and dripping water all over the floor. “Is everyone all right in here?” he asked the crowded mass as he scanned the room for problems. “Did anyone get hurt?”
“We’re all good,” Mira told him from her corner. “They got scared, but nobody’s hurt.” If the wave pushed them a few more degrees, she might have been crushed beneath the others, but she didn’t need to tell him that.
“That’s good. Captain said to tell all of you that we need all hands tonight. He’s looking for any man that knows how to handle lines, or anybody that can carry a load. Oh, and he needs us all to make sure we’re safe, and that all the cargo is tied down. Anyone that isn’t too scared to go should come with me down to the hold.” A handful of men stood up and followed Thomas out the door, but he turned back, remembering one last thing. “Everyone, look out for water coming in. Captain wants to know if we start taking on, got it? Man, woman, or child, if you see a leak, don’t hide it, and don’t try to fix it yourself.”
Thomas left, taking his gathered men with him, and Mira smiled. Her brother, she was happy to see, was growing into his role. He was maturing, despite his reservations about sailing. She remembered the end of their first week at sea, when he confided in her that he hated every waking moment. “I’d jump over and swim back home,” he’d told her, “if I knew how to swim.”
At the time, that hadn’t made any sense to Mira. How could a sailor not be able to swim? But, as she had learned since then, that seemed to be common. Two members of the crew had even known her father, and both swore that he was the same. “We can’t go back,” she had told Thomas after that confession. “Home is us.” Another phrase she had come up with since their departure, one that had to be true. Home, for both of them, was with each other. There was nothing left in England but two graves and endless sorrow. The sooner they reached America, the better.
As the storm blew over their stretch of ocean, Mira let her mind wander further, always keeping the old days out of her thoughts. She dreamed without sleeping, imagining the new beginning the she and Thomas would make in America. The waves rocked her and the Caroline, the sea a loving mother who didn’t know her own strength. Nothing that night, however, matched the force of the large wave that almost flattened her.
By midnight, the tempest had passed. The rain diminished to a soft spray that she could no longer hear, and the waves subsided. The wind became calm. In her heart, Mira knew that it was only a temporary respite, that more bad weather was coming. It was far away, though, days at the least. That was plenty of time to forget.
By the pilot’s reckoning, so Thomas told her, they were probably only a couple hundred miles from the American coast. They’d need to change their course a little, but everything would be smooth for the last few days of their trek across the ocean.
“But there’s another storm on its way,” Mira protested. “This one feels a lot bigger.”
“I think Captain already knows that, Mira.”
“What if he doesn’t?” She knew there was no use in arguing her point, but she did it anyway. The captain, the pilot, and the rest of the crew—except her brother, of course—would ignore her. She was just a little girl, after all.
“Mira,” Thomas began, taking her hand in his, “don’t be afraid. Every man on this ship knows what he’s doing. They’ve been through storms before, bigger than anything we ever saw at home. Keep saying your prayers, and we’ll see the shore before you know we’re there.”
“I want to see,” said Mira. “I’ve been down for…six days. Let me go up there.”
Thomas sighed in exasperation. “All right, it’s time you saw the sun. Stay out of the way, right?”
Mira, like all the other passengers, had been up on the deck a few times during the voyage. Whenever the Caroline was in smooth waters and light, easy winds, the captain allowed them to roam around, to breathe the fresh, salty air of the vast sea. As long as they didn’t get in the crew’s way, he gave them freedom of the whole ship, within reason. Mira loved those days, and she spent them staring off across the ocean, sweeping her gaze through every direction. Not searching, but looking, seeing.
Since the last storm, though, the captain had been adamant about keeping his colonists out of harm’s way, which meant that almost a whole week had gone by with Mira stuck in the cramped cabin or, more often, hiding among the crates in the hold. She could still feel the water around her, with its subtle currents and rolling waves, but that was a poor substitute.
“I told you to keep the passengers below decks,” the captain said to Thomas before the two of them had even stepped all the way outside.
“It’s only my sister,” Thomas replied. “She knows how to stay out of the way, and she’s small, too.”
For her part, Mira stood meekly, not saying a word, but trying to look as harmless as possible. If you don’t let me out, I’ll sneak out, she wanted to say. But that would get Thomas in as much trouble as herself, so she kept her mouth shut.
“Just her, then,” the captain acquiesced. “Anybody else comes up, you send them right back down, understand?”
“Yes, Captain,” Thomas. “Anybody else comes up, you send them right back down, understand?”
“Yes, Captain,” said Thomas. “She’ll only stay for a while.”
The man waved his hand, then turned back to the business of running the ship, bellowing orders to the sailors, speaking them only a bit less loudly to his nearby officers. The wind was blowing in their faces, a small but steady breeze that caught the sails, pushing the Caroline ever so slightly back, slowing her down unless the crew could do…something. Mira didn’t really know enough about sailing to figure that part out.
Picking her way through the mass of sailors, dodging a few of them as they moved to and fro, she moved as far forward as she could, to the very front of the ship. Thomas said that it’s called the bow, she reminded herself. From that vantage point, she saw not much more than blue waves and white spray on the water, blue sky and white clouds in the air, forming an almost perfect symmetry. There’s beauty in front of me, and only ugliness behind, she mused, letting her thoughts drift even as the ship did.
We weren’t supposed to be here. Our father was going on this ship, but we came instead. Two broken halves in place of one whole. It wasn’t their fault, not really, but then it was, in a way. He didn’t have to do it. If he hadn’t, he’d be here, taking people to America instead of running away to it.
As if summoned by her own internal tempest, the first gray clouds appeared on the horizon. At first, it was nothing more than a spot of dirt marring the blue before her, but the Caroline moved on, and the spot grew. The days of forgetting were over; the storm would soon be upon them.
This time, the winds swirled in a way that helped to push the Caroline toward her destination, once the captain had ordered his crew to move the sails around to better use the rising breeze. “Another point to starboard!” he called out to the men, and they rushed to follow his order. Mira, all but forgotten at the bow, felt the ship turn to the right, changing its course.
The darkest clouds were now more to her left than her front, but the wall of gray spread across the sky ominously, warning them and beckoning them at the same time. Underneath Mira’s feet, far below the layers of wood, she knew that the approaching storm was altering the currents with its passage, disrupting the flow enough to impede their progress, even as the winds shifted to blow into her face.
Everything is trying to stop us. It’s like God is holding us back, she thought. There had to be a reason—nothing happened without a reason, so her mother and father had taught her—but she didn’t know what it was. Was that their punishment for what they’d done? Thomas was protecting me. He didn’t think it would go that far. Maybe, she considered, it wasn’t God turning them away. Maybe He wanted them to reach America, and the Devil was stopping them, wanting her to lose her faith. That has to be it.
Mira gasped as a finger touched her back. “Excuse me, Miss Blake,” the captain said kindly. She backed up a step, expecting him to tell her to go back to the cabin, that her time above was over. But he didn’t. Instead, he slid her to the side, not at all angry with her presence, and took her place at the bow, leaning into the oncoming wind. He stood there in silence for a moment, turning his head this way and that, holding his finger into the air, then muttering to himself.
“What is it?” Mira ventured, not knowing how he’d react.
To her surprise, he answered her. “Wind’s shifting. Headwind, that’s no good. We’re too close to run. Port takes us into that,” he pointed at the looming bank of clouds, “and starboard sends us back to sea.”
Mira understood the point he was making, if not the exact words: they were trapped. “What are you going to do?”
“Can’t outrun the storm if the wind won’t work with us.” He looked down at her, his hand stroking his chin. “This ship can’t sail into the wind if it comes straight at us. If it’s off to either side, we can tack. It’s slower, but that would be enough. Problem is, my little lady, any way we go, we’re wrong.”
Now she was interested, and she wanted to keep him talking as long as possible. “Why?”
He held his right arm up, pointing it in that direction. “If we turn this way,” he said in a voice like her father’s, when he had tried to teach her one of his lessons of life, “then that takes us farther out to sea. Go that way,” he indicated ahead and to their left, “and there’s the storm. You remember the one from a few days ago?”
Mira nodded. “I remember it. The other people almost crushed me when the big wave hit.”
The captain smiled at her. “That must have been frightening. But this one’s worse.”
“How do you know?” Can you feel the way the water moves, too? she almost added, but she barely stopped herself.
“This isn’t my first time on the ocean,” he said with a grin. “You learn a few things if you stay out here long enough. If you stay alive long enough.” He took her by the arm, but not roughly, and started to lead her away from the bow. “Now, dear, it’s time to hide. Let me worry about getting you through the storm.”
Mira had no choice but to comply. As he sent her on her way, she told him, “I’ll say a prayer for you.”
That made him laugh. “That’s good of you. I think we’ll need all we can get.”
As the youngest crewman on the Caroline by a year and a half, Thomas was once again assigned the duty of keeping the passengers in line. It was up to him to make sure they were in their cabins, out of the way, when the storm finally hit. Captain Hayling was a shrewd man, and he quite obviously understood the men of his crew, their abilities and their limits. Thomas knew he was too young, too small, too weak to truly help with many other tasks on board. In a way, he was grateful. At least I don’t have to stay on deck through the storm. The first was bad enough, but this one’s supposed to be even worse. He sighed loudly as he descended to do his job. If I’ve learned one thing since we left home, it’s how much I hate the sea. No wonder Father drank as much as he did. I would, too.
The last two days had been tense for all hands. The captain was trying to find a way around the storm, a path that would keep his ship safe while not delaying their arrival in America by too much. It was a delicate act, and Thomas had thought the night before that they’d made it. Circumstances changed, though; the tempest was larger than anyone expected, and its course was erratic, unpredictable. The Caroline didn’t have enough provisions to outrun the storm forever, and Captain Hayling told his crew he wasn’t going all the way to Nassau for one bit of weather, however large. Thus, their new goal was to find some way of navigating the turbulent seas, dodging the worst winds and waves, until the storm passed, then they would head up the coast until they found their destination.
With only a few weeks’ experience at sea, Thomas had no way of saying whether this was a sound plan. He knew that stores were starting to run low, as much of the food was reserved for the colony. Maybe I should look into that, he thought, searching for a way to put off his return to the top deck as long as possible. If I can stay occupied long enough, we might be past the storm by the time Captain calls for me again.
He expected to find Mira in the cargo hold again, since that appeared to be her favorite place on the ship, and she was indeed there, hiding among barrels of grain and salted meat. “Are you down here again?” he asked, announcing his presence.
“You see me,” Mira answered back, standing up and hopping onto a barrel. “Playing fetch again?”
“Huh?” He blinked twice, then realized what she was saying. “There’s another storm—“
Mira interrupted him. “I know. Felt it here,” she tapped her chest, “ever since the last one. It’s big, but we’ll make it through.”
“How can you be so sure?”
She giggled. “Miracle knows miracles.”
That’s a new phrase. She must’ve come up with it in the last few days. She was serious about what she said, though. Thomas could tell that from the way she used the full form of her name: Miracle. Their mother had shared the story of that name once, a couple of years before, during one of their father’s ocean months-long voyages.
“Thomas,” she had told them, “was the first, and he took most of my strength. After he was born, the midwife said that I had another child coming. I cried more than he did. We prayed together, prayed that I would survive, and that all my babies would be there with me to meet Matthew at the dock when he came back.” She hugged them both closely and continued, “I made it through the night through nothing less than God’s will, because He wasn’t ready for me to die. I knew that then, and I knew that the second child was truly a miracle, so that’s what I named you.”
Thomas blinked, his mind returning to the present, as Mira hopped off the barrel. “Well,” she said, “I’ll go with you. Don’t want to get in trouble, right? We protect each other.” Taking his hand in hers, she led him out of the hold.
The captain and the pilot both cursed and swore, but Thomas stood silently, not far from where they conferred. The sky above him was leaden, filled with the promise of danger and woe, while the seas had grown equally restless. Large waves now occasionally bucked the ship, and it hadn’t even begun to rain yet. From his position, waiting for orders, he could think only one thought: We may die before the night’s over.
Before Thomas lost himself in such thoughts, Captain Hayling turned away from his pilot and addressed the crew. “The storm’s upon us, boys,” he said without introduction. “We’re too far in to go around. I don’t like any more than you do, but we’ll have to ride it out. It’s going to be a long night, and we’ll need all hands to get through it. No sleep and no drink tonight.” The crewmen moaned their disapproval at that. “But no lash, either. We won’t have time for that. Now, if we make it past this, I’ll buy everyone’s drinks the first night we’re in port.” The moans turned to cheers. “But if I see any one of you give up on this ship, I’ll push you over myself.” His speech concluded, the captain went back to his officers and started work on the strategy that would see them safely to America.
As the sky darkened further, both with clouds and the oncoming night, duties were assigned. Thomas, due to his youth and inexperience, was given the ignoble job of messenger. While the older, wiser sailors were wrestling with lines and holding on for their lives, he would be running around the decks of the Caroline, possibly the most dangerous position of all. He hated the notion, but those were his orders, and it was too late to turn back.
A tense supper, taken in shifts, marked the last hours before the wrath of the storm struck. The sails were taken down the rest of the way; the wind would be too strong, and in the wrong direction besides. The passengers, including Mira, were given strict instructions to stay below, and they complied. Fear clouded most of their faces when Thomas delivered that message, and he understood why. They’re all scared. None of them ever had to live through anything like this. They don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re all blind. Thomas thought back to Captain Hayling’s speech, and realized that he, too, was afraid of what may come.
He returned to the deck and went back to his captain’s side. “Take half an hour,” Hayling told him. “Eat, talk, pray, whatever you want to do. Just be ready to run if you hear me calling.”
“Yes, Captain,” said Thomas.
He took his bowl with him down below, and he ate in the passenger cabin, in Mira’s far corner. “The water’s pushing us away,” she whispered to him. “Away from the storm. Can’t you feel it?”
“No,” he admitted.
Mira shrugged. “Don’t know. It’s a miracle.”
Thomas took a bit of biscuit and chewed thoughtfully. He swallowed, then said, “I think we’re going to need a lot of those.”
“We’ll get them,” Mira declared confidently. Her eyes, Thomas saw, told a different story, for in them he saw the same fear as everyone else.
It started like any other storm, with rain showers and a steady breeze both slowly growing. But this time was different. This storm kept growing. From his position near the stern, waiting for his captain to give him something to do, Thomas watched as the steady rain became a torrent, a deluge worthy of Noah himself. The wind blew harder and harder, gusting with such force that he feared it would toss him overboard. The hood of his cloak flew back from his head, and water of both kinds—the fresh rain and the salty spray—covered his face in mere moments. In the distance, lightning flashed, streaking across the darkening sky in a sight that awed all aboard. Some bolts were so close that there was no time to count heartbeats before the thunder followed in its deafening roar.
An hour in, it was full night, but the sky was anything but black. At any instant, Thomas could see lightning somewhere around him, a constant illumination that, if nothing else, gave them all a light in the darkness. Candles, lanterns, and torches were useless at this point, so he welcomed it, even as he gripped the rail tightly to stop himself from shaking with fear.
As the wind rose, so did the waves, and the Caroline was soon enough rocking. I’m going to be sick, Thomas thought, sinking to his knees. In over a month, he still wasn’t entirely used to the movements of a ship at sea, and this didn’t help. He closed his eyes and tried to will himself better.
Captain Hayling was shouting his orders to make them heard over the rain and thunder and crashing and creaking, and yet Thomas could only dimly hear him from a few yards away. At some point, he recognized that the man was calling his name. “Blake!” the man was yelling. “Get over here!”
Thomas groaned and stood. After half a dozen nauseous, wobbly steps, he was by the captain’s side. “Sir?” he asked, raising his voice over the din.
“Go down below,” commanded Hayling. “Look for leaks in the hull, and injuries on the passengers. If things get worse, we might need a couple of them on the pumps.”
“Yes, Captain,” Thomas said, but he was already turned toward his next task.
In some ways, the tilting of the ship as the crests and troughs of waves caught it was worse on the inside, because it made Thomas feel as if the whole world was turning from side to side. He held himself together, though, by keeping at least one hand on a wall at all times. Twice he felt bile rising in his throat at a particularly rough spell, but he was able to push it back down both times.
“Thomas, is that you?” Mira called out before he even entered the cabin. How did she know? he wondered.
“It’s me,” he answered, stepping inside. “Is everyone all right in here?” He waved his lantern around a room otherwise lit only by the lightning, and he saw the same mass of huddled, fearful people he remembered from the week before. And, like that last time, Mira was among them, a shining ray of hope amid the gloom.
She got up and came to his side. “We’re moving around a lot, but nobody’s hurt yet.”
“Good. Captain wants everyone to stay calm, but he said we might need a couple of strong men to help with the pumps, if things get really bad.” Thomas saw a few faces take on a panicked expression, and he hurriedly added, “But we’re not there yet. The ship is fine for now, and she’s strong. God willing, we won’t need your help, and the next time you’re all on deck will be to see the shore.”
Thomas turned to go, but Mira caught him. “I’m coming, too.”
“You can’t be up there, Mira,” he said.
“I know. But you’re going somewhere else, aren’t you?”
He smiled and held his lantern up so it would shine on her face. “How do you do that? You knew I was coming, too. Are you a witch?”
“Funny,” she said, pushing his hand with the lantern down. “Your feet are the lightest, since you’re the littlest. And you went the wrong way.” She began to walk away, down toward the hold, her feet more sure in the dark than his had ever been in daylight.
Thomas followed her, keeping the lantern close to his body, feeling in its warmth and light a sense of peace, like that flickering flame was the log he could cling to as he was drowning.
“Hurry!” Mira called from ahead.
“You need to stay in the cabin with the rest of the passengers,” Thomas warned her when he caught up. “If one of the crew finds you wandering around…”
“They won’t. I can hide, and nobody finds me unless I let them.”
Thomas responded with a frustrated sigh.
“Don’t say that,” Mira told him. “Listen to me. I can feel the water moving, and it’s making me sick, too. But I feel it, hear it. Like the whole ocean is talking. And I feel something else.”
The way she said it sent a shiver down his spine. “Like what?”
“Like I can talk back.”
Whatever reply Thomas was about to give was cut short when a large wave caught the Caroline on its flank, tipping the ship perilously until it was almost sideways. Mira squealed in panic, sliding to their enclosed world’s new bottom and crashing into the wall, while Thomas was able to brace himself by grabbing the door with one hand, his other clutching the lantern, their only light.
As the ship righted itself, he heard the shouts of alarm filtering in from above. Captain Hayling cried out for calm, but his cries seemed to go unheeded. “I have to go,” Thomas told his sister, who was climbing out of the corner where she had landed. “They might need me. Mira, get back in the cabin. It’s not safe here.”
“I’ll be safe,” she said, making no move to comply.
Another wave hit, this one less forceful, less gut-wrenching, but it was accompanied by a horrible cracking sound that the two youths could plainly hear in the hold. A moment later followed a pair of splashes and more shouts, some closer to their position and coming from the sides.
“Someone went over,” Mira said quietly.
Thomas grabbed her hand and started to pull. “Let’s go.” He stopped at the passenger cabin and pushed her in, then made his way up to the deck, not worrying whether Mira was actually staying where she belonged. She’s smart. She’ll know not to go back to the cabin.
The topmost level of the Caroline was in disarray. Some of the men were looking over the starboard side of the ship; others were busy repairing something up near the port bow. Many of the rest were gathering buckets, for at least one of the waves had brought water onto their ship.
“Blake!” Captain Hayling called when he saw Thomas. The man was soaked through and dripping, his hat gone and his coat whipping in the stiff breeze. “Get up here!”
Thomas stowed the lantern and leaped up the steps. “Captain?”
His commander pulled him close so he didn’t have to shout, but he still had to raise his voice to be heard. “How are things below? Are we taking on water?”
“Good to hear. Grab a bucket and get to work.”
Those were his orders, and he had no choice but to follow, so he did. Alongside the experienced seamen, he spent the next hours scooping up the water that had begun to flood the Caroline. It was hard work, but necessary, and he was too frightened to complain. More large waves struck, and the constant spray burned his eyes. His mouth tasted nothing but the salt of the sea. But the worst part of all was the sickening spin that came with the broadside waves. There were two possibilities when a crest began to grow to either side, and Thomas learned to hate both of them. Either the wave would pick up the Caroline and tilt her to one side, throwing every crewman off his feet—and sometimes overboard—or it would break onto the ship, its sheer force scattering men in every direction, half-drowning them with the massive volume of saltwater. Each time that happened, Thomas would spend the next minute spitting and coughing, wondering what the conditions were down below. If things were that bad for the crew, what were the passengers, with even less control over their surroundings, going through?
Around midnight, by anyone’s best guess, the storm abated enough that Captain Hayling could order a halt to the bailing efforts. The rain had slackened to a soft, steady shower, but the wind remained strong, although the gusts were fewer and less ferocious. The crew, Thomas included, took the opportunity to eat, drink, and otherwise relax, but they all knew the lull was only temporary.
They were still hours away from dawn when the storm waxed again, forcing all back to work. Another sailor was washed over during that time, marking the third to fall into the sea. Like the two before, he was rescued after much struggle, and his mates dragged him back aboard and gave a ragged, tired cheer. Minutes later, more waves rocked the Caroline, and Hayling ordered all his men to find ways to keep themselves out of the water. “Hold a rope or tie yourself to the mast,” he told them, “but stay on this ship!” His command was punctuated by yet another starboard-side crest breaking upon them, drenching Thomas and his fellow bucket men to the bone.
“I don’t know if I can go on,” Thomas said to the man beside him, during one particularly bad spell of bailing.
The seaman didn’t even look his way as he responded, “No other choice but to swim.”
“I can’t swim,” admitted Thomas.
“Same.” The man grunted as he threw water over the side. “So we keep going.”
And so he did, all through the night. Twice more, breaks in the rough weather allowed the crew a little time to catch their breath, only to have the storm come back in greater power. Thomas lost himself in the labor, all other worries beyond mere survival forgotten. His captain had no other tasks for him; indeed, Hayling appeared to have forgotten all about his runner. So Thomas kept going, driven by the belief that they would eventually pass into clear, open seas, and then to the American coast.
The sky was beginning to lighten behind the dark wall of clouds, a clear sign that the night was ending and day was coming, but the storm was not yet done. The lightning had diminished in frequency, now only occasional flashes, but Thomas felt his sight returning. For hours, he had been all but blind, able to see only a few feet in front of his eyes, but now the ship around him came into view, and what he saw stole his breath.
The Caroline was battered and bruised, and she showed her scars. The mainmast had lost its top, probably a victim of the wind. When it fell, it hit the stern, tearing a hole in the deck itself and exposing part of Hayling’s cabin. Water from sky and sea poured into it in a steady stream as the ship rocked in the high waves. “God help us,” Thomas said aloud as he stared at the damage.
“We’ll need it,” his partner on bucket duty agreed. He still didn’t look up.
Once it was clear to all that the sun was up, that dawn had come to wash away the awful night, Captain Hayling addressed his crew. “We’re not out of this yet,” he warned, “but I think we made it through the worst.” As if to mock his words, a wave slammed into the starboard bow, breaking over the crew up there, already miserable enough from their sleepless night. Hayling countered that by raising his voice. “We’ll be out of the storm tomorrow, mark my words! We’ll hoist the sails and fly with the wind at our backs! Now, give me one more day!”
The crew cheered, but Thomas could tell their hearts weren’t into it. Nonetheless, he thought the captain was right. After all, he had the experience at sea. He’s been through storms worse than this, Thomas thought. If he thinks we’re past the worst of it, I believe him.
Mira may have been the only person on the Caroline that got any sleep, and she only did that by retreating to the hold, curling up between two heavier, steadier crates. Thomas would have been furious if he’d found out, but she was betting on her brother being too busy to worry about her well-being. It turned out that she was right, but she didn’t know until she woke to the darkness, the rocking, the creaking, all the things that had been her constant companions this past day.
How long did I sleep? she thought as she rubbed her eyes. Is it morning yet? From so deep in the ship, she had no way of telling. She would have to leave her safe place and see for herself. Maybe I can get something to eat, too. Her stomach rumbled in agreement as she stood.
Creeping through the ship was easy, as almost everyone was either working or taking refuge in the cabins. In the whole way up from the hold, Mira passed not a single person until she poked her head out into the fresh, open air. There she could see the damage the storm had wrought, from the splintered mast to the wounded hull. Water slid across the deck in small streams in time with the movement of the waves, not so much to pose a danger, but enough to keep a team busy with buckets.
One member of that team, she noticed, was Thomas. Upon seeing him, Mira wanted to run to his side, but she knew she couldn’t. He was working, doing his job, their late father’s job. She would only get in the way, he’d tell her. He made it this far without me, she told herself. Thomas looked miserable, though, soaked and sleepy, exhausted from his labors, just like every other man she looked at.
As she turned to head back down, Mira inhaled sharply as her hand brushed against something hot. She jerked back, biting her lip to keep from crying out and alerting the crew to her presence, then reached forward more carefully. A lantern with a fading flame, still hot to the touch. One of them must have left it here a few minutes ago.
She was about to take it, to bring it to the attention of the captain, when she heard him shout, “Turn us away! Hard port!” At the exact same moment, Mira felt a sickening pain tear through her stomach, almost enough to make her throw up. Fighting that pain, she slipped outside to see what was the cause of the trouble.
A wave was bearing down on them, larger than any she had seen. It wasn’t upon them yet, but she could already see its crest topping all the decks of the Caroline, including Captain Hayling’s position at the rear. And it was growing. As it rose, so did the roar in Mira’s unsettled stomach. The captain and his pilot struggled to turn the ship so it would be spared the brunt of the impact, but this wave was just too big. At what Mira guessed was a hundred yards away, it had swelled to such a height, such a breadth, that it would swamp the whole ship. And the pain inside her grew.
When the wave struck, it had to be at least forty feet tall, and its power was so great that the Caroline, caught in its grasp, rolled all the way onto her side, the tip of the mast touching the water. Then, the wave broke upon them, and Mira imagined it was God’s own hand come to scour His sea clean. Saltwater washed over her, tearing her away from the doorway where she stood. Above the clamor of the wave, the crew crying out their prayers, and her own screams, she heard a series of enormous cracks, then a single voice. It sounded like Thomas. He’s calling my name, Mira thought, as she felt her feet leave the wood.
Mira spun wildly in the cool water, searching desperately for the way back to the surface. She’d managed to take a deep breath as the wave flung her into the sea, but now her air was running out. Every direction seemed equally dark. Her vision was restricted to a few feet, and she didn’t know which way was up. Where do I go? How do I get back?
In that moment, time expanded, slowing down as her mind achieved a clarity she had never known before. Her thoughts rushed back to a time two months in the past, to her family’s home in England. Her father had come home drunk, she remembered, more drunk than usual. He was angry, and his reddened face was etched in her memory. He didn’t want to cross the ocean again, that’s what it was. But it was more than that. It was mourning for his wife, Mira’s mother, that added to his troubles. Raising two children was even more difficult now that he was alone. Finally, Mira realized, everything boiled over that day, all his sadness and anger and worry sending him into a rage.
At first, Mira had blamed herself. That was the obvious thing to do; after all, her father had called it her fault when the back of his hand connected with her cheek. She’d agreed with him in an attempt to make him stop, but he didn’t relent, cursing her as the cause of all his ills. It was her fault, he said as he struck again, that he had to do this. Her fault that he had to take another job on the ocean. Her fault that her mother was dead. And she had little choice but to cower, crying and begging him to stop.
Thomas saved her from the assault, grabbing their father’s wrist as he readied another blow. That had only enraged the man further, and he started to turn his wrath at the older twin. Thomas struck first, throwing a punch that hit his father in his midsection, knocking the wind out of him. The next was aimed at the man’s head, and it was so strong that Mira swore she saw a flash of light when her brother’s fist landed. It was like Thomas was no longer in control of his own body, but that he had become an instrument of the Divine, smiting the hateful old drunkard that had once been her father.
Thomas continued until the man was knocked to the ground, then succumbed to his own red madness, straddling him and wrapping hands around his throat. “You don’t get to hit her!” Thomas screamed at him. “Not her, not anyone!” Their father struggled, grasping, writhing, trying to get away, but Thomas held him firm. “You belong with the other devils in Hell!” her brother snarled, spitting on the man as the life fled his eyes.
Mira saw it like it was yesterday, like two months hadn’t passed. She remembered shrieking in fear, pulling at Thomas. “He’s dead! You killed him!” she exclaimed once her brother finally gave in.
He looked at her with bloodshot eyes that shimmered with oncoming tears. “I…don’t know what happened. What I just did.” He held up his hands and shuddered. “Forgive me.” Whether he was talking to Mira or to the Almighty, she didn’t know. “He was—” Thomas shook his head. “That wasn’t the first time. He did the same to Mother. I watched him. He did it to me, too, but never that bad.” He wiped away tears. “It wasn’t the first time, but that was his last.”
“We have to get out of here,” Mira said fearfully.
“I—I know.” Thomas took a breath to steady himself. “I know where we have to go. As far away as possible.” He stared straight at Mira. “America.”
Mira didn’t trust herself to speak, so she only nodded. As they gathered their meager belongings—plus all they could find of their father’s money—she spared one last look at the old man. She didn’t hate him for what he had done. “God forgive us all,” she whispered as leaned in and closed his eyes for the last time. When she pulled back, she was shocked to see that his neck was burned.
The agony of her lungs brought Mira back to the present. I’m about to drown. The revelation didn’t scare her; in fact, she was almost relieved. But some part of her knew that it wasn’t her time. She wanted to take a deep breath, but there was no breath to take, only water, deadly water. Closing her eyes, Mira felt her mind reach out, felt the sea calling to her, as it had since the day she stepped onto the deck of the Caroline. What are you trying to say? she asked. Can I be saved?
With knowledge she was sure she never had, the answer came to her. With her last effort, she began to push her way through the water. Her body screamed for air, then that scream came out. Reflexively, she sucked in, fully expecting that it would be the last time she did, but she broke the surface at that same moment, and her chest swelled with salty sea air.
Mira gasped and coughed as she treaded water, and all she could think was, I’m alive! She exulted in that as she found her bearings, but then she saw the Caroline, and her heart sank.
“Men overboard!” Mira heard from the stricken ship. What had been her home for the last weeks was now in tatters. The storm had dealt it a mortal blow; the same wave that had sent her into the sea had almost capsized the Caroline. Captain Hayling’s brave vessel had mostly righted herself while Mira was doing the same, but the mainmast was all but gone, snapped off by the power of the wave. Other wreckage floated in the water around her, including one of the ship’s boats, which was no more than thirty feet away.
“More over here!” another sailor cried out, pointing in her direction. “That’s—” He motioned madly for others to see. “We’ve got a passenger overboard! The Blake girl!”
Thomas heard that, Mira thought. Sure enough, he was instantly at the man’s side, eyes wider than the ocean itself. “Mira!” he yelled.
“I’m fine!” she called back, turning her head toward the boat, then back at the larger ship. “Get everyone else first!”
She paddled her way across the short distance to the boat and grabbed it, grateful for the extra buoyancy. The boat rode low in the water, mostly because it was already halfway full, but that worked out for the best, because Mira didn’t know how she would’ve gotten into the thing if it hadn’t been. Pulling herself over the side, her head splashed into the water filling the boat’s bottom. I can’t get any wetter than I already am, she thought as she climbed the rest of the way in.
There wasn’t much else for her to do. The oars were gone, not that she could have used them, and the boat didn’t have a sail. She was adrift, but her situation had improved considerably. She didn’t know if she could say as much for the Caroline, judging from the sounds she heard.
The big ship was tilted to one side, Mira noticed. It wasn’t evident when she was in the water, but now it was clear. Not only did it have that worrying cant to it, but it was also much shorter than it should have been. As she watched, it slowly dipped further. It’s sinking! she thought in alarm. She immediately jumped up to help, but then she stopped. There’s nothing I can do out here. All she could do was watch and pray.
The captain shouted, and so did the crew, and all their words jumbled together in her ears. The deck was more active than she had seen even before the giant wave crushed them, with men running all around it, coming out of or going into the lower areas. Some sailors were gathered around the stern, where another ship’s boat waited unharmed. Mira saw them test it, lowering it slightly before raising it back up. One of those men ran to the captain, then she heard him call over everyone else, “Get the passengers up here right now!” He took two crewmen to the side and said something she couldn’t here. Whatever it was, it must have been about her, for all three turned her way. The two men nodded, and moved to the boat. Thomas, she saw, came up beside them after a moment.
The stern boat lowered into the water with all three men aboard. One of them manned its oars while Thomas and the other looked straight at her, guiding their small vessel through the rough seas. Mira could only wait helplessly as they approached, wishing that they would hurry. We’re not out of this yet, she thought as the feeling of dread settled on her again. The storm’s not over.
“Mira, we’re here,” Thomas said aloud as he stood unsteadily in his boat. “Watch out.” He tossed one end of a long coil of rope into her vessel, and Mira had to turn her head to avoid the splash it made. “Grab the rope and hold on.”
With her brother guiding her, she looped the rope into one of the holes where the oars—if she had any—would go, then held it tight. She felt the tug as the other boat moved around, pushed by the waves and the rowing crewman. Once the two boats were close enough, the third man pulled them until they were touching, and he climbed across and into Mira’s boat. “Stay here,” he told her.
The two vessels were so near that Mira didn’t have to leave hers to embrace Thomas. “I’m so glad you’re safe,” she whispered in his ear. “I thought that wave would wash you away.”
Her brother looked at her in disbelief. “You’re glad that I’m safe? You’re the one that went over!”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Mira lied. “It was all as it was meant to be,” she added, hugging him more.
“Captain wasn’t even going to rescue you,” Thomas said, breaking the contact.
“We’ve still got four men in the water on the other side of the ship. The only reason he sent us was because you got in the boat, and we need it.”
“Hand me those oars, boy,” the other sailor said from behind Mira. “We need to move.”
Thomas did so, transferring not only the oars, but also a bucket and another length of rope. He then gave Mira another hug, and told her, “Stay with him. He’ll get you back to the ship.”
Mira looked at the Caroline, even lower now than it had been, and listing badly to the right. “If there’s a ship to go back to.”
“Hey,” said the crewman, “no talk like that, now.” He threw the rope, now unneeded, back over to Thomas. “Come on, lass. We’ve got work to do, and I can’t do it alone.”
“I’m Donald,” the sailor said as he rowed toward his first stop, another man of the Caroline stranded in the water. “What’s your name?”
Mira was grateful for the conversation, and the man seemed kind enough, although his Scottish accent sounded strange to her ears. “Miracle, but everyone calls me Mira.”
“That’s a good name, eh?” Donald laughed. “You’re Blake’s little sister, the one he’s always watching over.”
“I used to know another Blake. Matthew Blake.”
Mira gasped, and the memories threatened to come rushing back. “That’s my father. He…passed on.”
“Always figured he’d go down at sea. He was a bit of a rat, you know? Getting into trouble, drinking too much. I saw him get the lash once or twice, but it never seemed to stop him.” Donald shrugged his shoulders, causing a small splash as the oars touched the water. “Well, he’s either in a better place now. Or a worse one, come to think of it. I hope you don’t mind doing a little bit of work for me, Mira.”
“What kind of work?”
“Take that bucket and start scooping some of this water out. It’s putting us too low, and it’s heavy, too. That’s slowing us down.”
“Oh, right.” Mira picked up the bucket and began bailing, emulating her brother’s motions from earlier. “Like this?”
“Just like that,” said Donald. “Don’t go too fast. You’ll wear yourself out.”
Mira understood in her mind that the water was heavy, but she barely felt its weight as she sent each bucketful back to its home. Under Donald’s coaching, she fell into a rhythm that relaxed her, and she imagined that she was, in turn, telling the water itself what to do, moving it more with her mind, her will, than her hands and the pail. As she settled in, the movements became a reflex, freeing her to speak. “Is the ship sinking?” she asked.
Donald turned his gaze to the Caroline. It was at an awful angle, but the water level was no higher than it had been a few minutes ago. “I think they have her steady. They’re moving some cargo out. If we can get that on the boats, that’ll help even more.”
If you say so, Mira thought, unsure. She didn’t argue, though, continuing with her assigned task. More water went out, and she could feel the boat rising in tiny increments, mere fractions of an inch.
The first crewman came into view as the rounded the ship. The boat carrying Thomas was closer to the man, who had stayed afloat by grabbing some piece of wood that didn’t sink. “We’ll get the next one,” Donald told Mira. He turned their vessel away, pointing it toward a more distant figure. “That one.”
“Do I need to keep going?” Mira asked, holding the bucket. Much of the water was already gone, but what was left was still at least an inch deep.
“Aye.” He rowed forward at a steady pace, and the next stranded crewman grew closer. “I’ve got another question for you, Mira. How did you end up overboard?”
Mira blushed. “I was peeking,” she said, embarrassed.
“Checking in on your brother, weren’t you?” Donald joked. Mira said nothing to the contrary, so he went on, “So, how did you survive?”
“Miracle knows miracles,” she answered.
“What’s that mean?”
“Oh, something I made up. Thomas and I, uh, we say things like that to each other. Things nobody else understands. It was a miracle, that’s all.”
“I believe it. Can you swim?”
Mira paused, thinking. I’ve never done it before today, she almost said. “I can now.”
“I guess you have the right name then.”
Both of them quieted as they neared their target. Under Donald’s watchful eye, Mira threw one end of the rope at the drowning man. He clutched it, and Donald helped her pull the crewman close. Like catching a fish, she thought. Their rescue brought with him even more water, dripping from his form and into the boat, and Mira readied the bucket. “We’re enlisting girls now?” the man said, raising an eyebrow.
“She went overboard, too. Spying on us hard-working men.” Donald said it roughly, but he winked at her as he did.
“There’s another out that way.” The sailor pointed a direction, and Donald turned to follow.
They rescued three more crewmen after that, each easier than the last, as there were more to pull on the rope. Once that was done, Donald spun the boat around and headed back to the Caroline.
“Don’t look good,” one of the rescued crew said as they approached.
“She’s steady, though,” Donald countered. “She won’t sink tonight.”
“She might if the storm picks back up.”
“Then let’s pray it doesn’t. There’s more than us—“
“It will,” Mira interrupted.
All eyes turned her way. “And how do you know that?” the first crewman they’d rescued asked her.
She had to look away, unable to meet their stares. “I can feel it,” she said softly.
The fact that no one had been killed could only be called God’s will, all aboard the Caroline agreed. Now that everyone who had gone over had been retrieved, the only thing to do was to continue their journey. But Thomas didn’t know how they would do that with the damage their ship had suffered, and the skies were looking worse by the hour. Captain Hayling surely saw this, as he had spent most of the afternoon huddled with his officers.
The Caroline was riding low in the water, and men from among both the crew and the passengers were taking turns on the pumps. For now, their feverish work was working, and the team sent to check for leaks had found nothing, but there were bigger problems. The mainmast was fairly useless in its present state, or so the sailors around Thomas judged. The holes in the top deck were not fatal, but they were an easy way for the rain, which looked to be returning in earnest, to find a path into the ship. We’ll have to go slow, he thought, studying the damage. But we won’t be going much of anywhere if the storm winds come back.
Hayling, before he had retired to his conference with the officers, had ordered some of the cargo brought up from the hold. “If we start to go under,” he’d told them all, “then I want as much up here as we can get. People, too, if they stay out of the way.” Thus, as the sun began to set somewhere behind the clouds, the deck was cluttered with people, crates, and barrels, making even the simplest tasks a chore. Thomas, with his smaller stature, had become invaluable when speed was required.
The rain stayed away long enough that everyone on board enjoyed a warm meal, and Thomas ate his with Mira, who had found a safe corner where they could both eat in peace. “The current’s pushing us,” his sister said as he sat beside her. “I can feel it moving.”
With her improbable rescue from the sea, Mira had grown even more thoughtful, even distant. Through the evening, Thomas caught her staring at nothing, like she was trying to see the shore, except that it was too far over the horizon. And the few words she’d said to him were mostly warnings of danger to come. “Are you a fortune-teller now, Mira?” Thomas asked her.
“I don’t see, but I feel. Different things.”
Thomas looked at her skeptically. “Right,” he said. “Well, where is it pushing us to?”
Mira held out her finger, turning it to the starboard side of the ship. “That way.”
“North.” Thomas ate in silence for a while, thinking. We’re supposed to be going west, aren’t we? Isn’t that why we have a compass?
“We can’t sail,” mused Mira, “and we can’t row. How do we get where we want to go?”
“A poet, too? Did something happen to you in the water?”
“Just another miracle.”
That night’s rains resulted in nothing more than a lot of bailing and pumping, and Thomas was even able to take a short nap an hour after midnight, during a lull. But the next day brought the full fury of the storm. The rain fell steadily in its torrents, but the wind increased until raindrops and sea spray were indistinguishable. Unlike before, the winds were now so strong that they chopped the waves before they could grow too large, which meant a rough ride for the Caroline, but a far less dangerous one.
The worst of it lasted a couple of hours, and then it stopped. Suddenly, through eyes almost blinded, Thomas saw a shaft of sunlight in the distance. The clouds began to break, the rain ceased, the wind died down, and blue sky appeared around them. The younger crewmen cheered, joined by the passengers that hadn’t retreated inside, but Captain Hayling hushed them. “It’s a false calm,” he said, and the officers and older sailors murmured in knowing agreement. “Things will get worse before they get better, but we should have about an hour.”
In the end, they had closer to two, then the storm returned. Now the winds came from the opposite direction, creating a perfect tailwind. If not for the ferocity—and their shattered mainmast—Thomas knew they could easily make six knots or more. Some of the sailors shared that sentiment when their breath wasn’t taken by the gusts.
Through it all, Mira remained on the deck, never once taking shelter below. With Donald’s aid, she had lashed herself to a post with twice her height in rope. She took a position in the lee of some crates, but the shift in winds had put her right into the teeth of the storm, and she huddled. Thomas never heard her complain, though, which was more than he could say for some of his fellow sailors. Or himself, for that matter.
The next day, the storm was still raging, but it was beginning to abate. The winds died down somewhat, the rain softened, and the waves weakened. The ship was in no immediate danger, so Hayling started sending men down below to try to sleep if they could. Thomas took advantage of the respite to go to Mira’s side. “How are you?” he asked his sister’s huddled form.
“We made it,” she answered with a smile.
“We’re not all the way through, but Captain says that was the worst of it.”
Mira stood, throwing off the stiff cloak that had covered her. She was still attached to the post, but that didn’t seem to bother her. “We’re almost there,” she said, hugging Thomas and pressing her face to his chest. “Almost.”
Her crew now more rested, the Caroline weathered the storm for another day, as it diminished into a gale, then nothing more than drizzle and a steady breeze at her back. The men wanted to hoist the sails, and Captain Hayling was willing to give them that, but the broken mast remained a problem.
After much deliberation with his officers, the captain came to a decision. “We’ll do what we can without the mainsail,” he announced. “We don’t have any other choice. As soon as we’re in sight of land, we can send out the boats. They can tow us if need be.” With that, there wasn’t much left to do but wait.
Stricken as she was, the Caroline made good time once she was out of the heaviest rains. The winds came from the east, turning to the northeast on the second day, when another band of showers struck. Those moved out in the evening, however, and the night sky, for once, was clear. That night, for the first time in most of a week, the stars came out. The pilot and navigator immediately set to finding the ship’s latitude, coming back with a surprising result: too far north by three degrees. They were two hundred miles away from their landing point; if the ship didn’t turn southward soon, they would sail into an area largely empty of friendly people.
Hayling listened to his officers’ report, then explained in simpler terms the situation to the crew. “We didn’t come through all this just to get killed by Indians,” the captain then told them all. “It’ll take a few more days, but we can head down the coast with the boats. Once we sight land, I’ll send them out.”
That moment came two days later, and the sky readings indicated that they had veered another degree of latitude in that time. “I told you,” Mira said to Thomas. “It’s the currents.” Since the storm, she would hardly move from the deck, and Donald had adopted her as a lucky charm. The captain, probably wanting all the luck he could get, allowed it.
“Land!” cried the lookout, and all those on deck rushed forward to see for themselves. Thomas was among them, but he was too short to see more than the backs of his fellow sailors.
At the announcement, Captain Hayling spoke up, “All right, men, but we’re not done yet. Get ready to launch the boats. One to see where we are, the other two if we need a tow.”
The crew rushed to follow his orders, filled with renewed energy now that they were in sight of their goal. Thomas was no exception, helping one team of sailors to lower their boat before reporting the good news to the passengers that were still below. We made it, he let himself believe, despite his superior’s warning. Praise the Lord, we made it!
There were no Indians awaiting their arrival, and the first boat, the scout, came back unscathed after a few hours roving down the coast. Alas, they found no white settlements, either. “Head back out tomorrow,” Hayling told them, frustration creeping into his voice. “I’ll send one of the other boats the other way. If nothing else, we’ll find a place to anchor, and the passengers can start their own colony.”
Word came the next day that the land, thought to be the American coast, was actually an island, and that the true shore lay some miles farther west. The captain seemed almost relieved at this, and he ordered the Caroline to set sail again. The boats were recalled but not brought back aboard. Instead, they would flank the larger ship and keep eyes out for danger, both on land and in the sea.
“We’re almost there,” Thomas said at supper. He was eating with Mira, hoping that this would be the last meal he’d have on a ship. “When we get off, I’m never getting back on a ship in my life.”
Mira smiled, but it was tinged with sadness. “It’s still talking,” she said cryptically.
“The sea,” Mira explained. “Now it’s all mixed up. A bunch of different voices, all trying to talk over each other. It’s like an angry mob.”
“Can you tell them to be quiet?” Thomas asked her jokingly.
Mira took it seriously. “I wish I could. They’re too loud.”
As if confirming Mira’s dark words, the next day’s reports from the boats spoke of turbulent waters, narrow passages, and driftwood washed ashore. “I think I know where we are,” Captain Hayling said upon hearing the reports. “We’re close to Carolina—” The crew cheered, but he held up his hands. “—but we’re in dangerous waters. You’ve all heard the tales, but now we’re living them. We’re in the ocean’s graveyard.”
Around the islands, the waters were nearly as unsettled in calm seas as they had been during the storm’s worst. Remaining in sight of land, Captain Hayling ordered the sails to be taken down, the boats to be brought up. The Caroline sat at anchor for a day, pummeled by the waves, while her commander worked out his course. Finally, he devised a plan. “One boat will go out ahead, with as many passengers and as much cargo as it can hold. It will tow us when needed, but otherwise stay a bit ahead, in sight of us and of land. The other boats stay with us on the ship, since we might need them.”
Thomas joined Donald and half a dozen other sailors on the boat, along with twice as many passengers, Mira included. “Stay out of the way,” he warned his sister.
She laughed. “What if you need me?”
“Lass has a good head,” Donald noted. “She’s lucky, too.” Mira nodded her agreement, crossing her arms in front of her in a gesture of defiance.
“Just be careful, then,” Thomas said, relenting.
The sailors, with the help of a couple of stronger men from among the passengers, rowed into the churning waters. More than once through the day, they began to lose control, but they were able to save the boat each time. With each uncontrolled drift, however, their craft slipped farther away from the Caroline.
As night fell, the parent vessel was out of sight, and the eight men conferred. “We can’t stay out here in the dark,” one man declared.
“The ship’ll drop anchor,” said another.
“But we don’t know where it is,” argued a third. “We should head for shore.”
One passenger overheard that comment and said, “What if there are a thousand Indians waiting for us?”
“Would you rather float around in the dark? If we don’t make for land, who knows where we’d end up when the sun rises tomorrow.”
Thomas was going to stay out of the brewing spat, but Mira intervened. “The water’s taking us that way,” his little sister said, drawing a number of stares. She went on, “If we stay out here, we’ll end up on the beach regardless.”
“She knows her water,” Donald added. “We can build a fire on land, and none of the scouting parties saw any Indians. It has to be safer than staying on the water.”
His voice seemed to turn the tide, and the other sailors fell in line with his decision. As the sun set in their eyes, they rowed to shore, touching ground as the last light faded. From there, Donald took charge, maintaining order as the passengers climbed out of the boat and onto American soil. The seamen offloaded the cargo, leaving it on the beach with their craft. Once that was all done, everyone headed for higher ground, a line of trees some forty yards or so ahead.
The darkness closed in on them, and Thomas reached for Mira to pull her close. “Don’t worry about me,” she whispered. Other passengers began to stumble as they reached the wood, but Mira’s steps stayed sure. How does she do that? Thomas wondered again. And how can I still see her feet? Even the most experienced sailors in the party were squinting, and the passengers—colonists, now—were holding their hands before them as they walked, but Thomas realized he wasn’t hampered by the lack of light. To his eyes, it was still dusk, even though a thousand stars glittered in the sky above him.
When all had reached the tree line, one of the sailors asked, “How about that fire?”
“I’ll do it,” Thomas replied without a thought. He was pushed forward by the others, some laughing as he passed, and one of the men placed something in his hands: flint and a blade. I don’t even know how to start a fire. Why did I agree to this? Carefully, two sailors that had run ahead to the trees walked him to a few logs they had hastily gathered while the others were still on the beach.
He fumbled with the tools for a moment before he heard soft footfalls rushing to his side. Mira breathed into his ear, “Let it talk to you.”
I think she finally went mad. But something felt right about her words. Thomas inhaled deeply to steady himself, then struck the steel. A single spark leaped from the knife, and it seemed to sing to him, a ringing sound that no one else could hear. The note was off, though, and he instinctively knew why. He slid the flint farther down the blade and struck again. More sparks flew, carrying with them their song, and one caught on a blade of grass. A tiny flicker appeared, and Thomas leaned his head down to look at it. Before his eyes, it grew, blossoming into a flame. Sailors and colonists around him cheered when the orange fire lit, and he felt a surge of pride and power. He recognized the feeling. I haven’t felt like this since…
Since the day he killed his father.
There was fire then, too. Fire and light. Fire can kill, but fire can also save. It saved Mira the last time; now it would save them all.
The next morning, the Caroline came into view. Everyone was happy to see her, everyone except Thomas. Donald had woken him a few hours before dawn to take watch, and he spent most of that time staring at the fire. His fire. When he should have doused the flames, he left it burning, imagining that it was burning his old, sinful self, leaving him cleansed. It’s a new beginning, he thought, wondering if Mira felt the same.
Once the cargo was loaded back onto the boat, it was time to depart the makeshift camp. As a reminded, Thomas found a lantern and lit it from a stick he took from the fire. On the way down the beach, he earned a few odd looks at carrying the lit lamp, but no one was willing to take it from him.
By midday, they were back at sea, searching for a path to the mainland. The current fought them every step of the way, but the men held firm, and they stayed out of trouble. Late in the afternoon, they finally found the end of the island. Donald signaled to the Caroline their findings, and their little boat led the way for the much bigger ship. The surf was close on either side, and low tide exposed sharp rocks that would tear the ship’s hull to pieces.
“Go that way,” Mira said, pointing. None of the crew was willing to gainsay her, and Donald followed her directions. Under her guidance, they slipped through the narrow strait with ease, and they spent the rest of the evening watching the Caroline try to accomplish the same feat. It was rough going for the bigger vessel, but Captain Hayling’s men made it, and they shared a cheer as the boat pulled alongside.
From there, the seas were a little calmer, albeit shallow. They followed a sound inland the next day, after spending another night on an island camp. The outflowing water that pushed them away from land suggested a river, and Hayling called on them to go on ahead. Two hours before sunset, their boat, with Mira at the helm, rounded a bend. For the first time in two months, they saw signs of habitation. Donald and the other sailors rowed hard for the port, reaching it with plenty of light to spare.
Edentown. It was a fitting name, Thomas thought, for a young man and a young woman looking to start anew. Mira, though, looked almost sad to step onto the pier. “What’s wrong?” Thomas asked her as he pulled her out of the boat.
“The mirror broke,” she said.
“I don’t understand.”
Thomas expected her to leave it at that, to leave him wondering. Instead, she actually answered. “We’re different. Fire and water. Light and dark. Not twins. Opposites.” She looked at him, her eyes staring into his, into his soul. “You don’t believe me. You never did.”
Fire and water. Light and dark. Thomas thought back, and it all made sense. She was always hiding in the hold, in the darkest part of the ship. She survived when anyone else would’ve drowned. Then he thought about his own journey. The fire on the island. The burns on Father’s neck, after I strangled him. The lantern staying on through the storm. Miracles, just like her. “I believe you.” He took her hand and led her into the bustling little town, where a new life awaited them.