The Girl from the Sea

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First published in the UK in 2018 by Faber and Faber Limited Bloomsbury House, 74–77 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DA Typeset in Plantin by Faber & Faber Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY All rights reserved © Blue Eyed Books Ltd, 2018 Map illustration © Juliet Percival, 2017 The right of Alwyn Hamilton to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

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The Girl from the Sea She was born on the deck of a ship, dreaming of dry land. Her family belonged to the sea. They blew whichever way the wind took them. They claimed that if they were cut, they would bleed saltwater. But their youngest daughter was not like them. As a child she would unroll huge bolts of green silk across the floor and pretend they were fields of grass. She would climb as high as she could on the ship to look for the shore, for their next landing, and when they left she would count the days until she could next have solid earth under her feet. She imagined falling asleep in a bed that didn’t heave with every whim of the water, and waking to the same horizon every morning. And she swore over and over that one day when they docked she would run away until she couldn’t see the water any more. She would find a husband and together they would till fields that


went on as far as the eye could see and raise children who could run as far as they wanted without being stopped by a ship’s railing. She was high up in the sails, on a day with a lazy breeze, looking for land, when she saw the ship that would take her to dry land for good. It was thrice the size of her family’s and had guns where they did not. Though still, she didn’t think to be afraid until her ship was in the shadow of the other one and she saw the ropes, reaching out like tentacles for her little vessel. By then it was too late. The boards of the girl’s ship turned red. And through her screams as she was dragged away, she realised that her family didn’t bleed seawater after all. She screamed until she could scream no more, until her voice gave out and her vision went black. And when she woke, she felt unsteady. And she realised that it was because the ground under her was not moving. She was on dry land. Where she had wished to be for so long. Though now she wished for anything else. She didn’t need to speak their language to understand what happened next. She had seen men inspect the bolts of cloth in her father’s hold the same way these men inspected her. She saw money change hands, and she changed hands too. When the girl had dreamt of dry land, always she


had been able to see the horizon. But the place she was taken to was made wholly of walls. Behind those she watched the sun track across the sky over and over again without ever being able to see where it rose or sank. In this kingdom of walls and no horizons, she was surrounded by girls who dressed brightly like birds and chattered all day in languages she didn’t speak. None of them seemed to realise they were caged. She never spoke to them, but she watched them. She watched as they were led away, and came back, and she knew what had been done to them. And she decided she would not be led away. She would leave on her own. She found a place in the kingdom where the wall was not smooth. Where there were holes into which her fingers would sink and rough places that would grip her feet. And she began to climb, like she had climbed masts and riggings, searching for the horizon. For her escape. She was halfway to the top when she heard a noise below. When she looked down she realised that she was not alone. Men, soldiers, had entered the garden, and were approaching the very wall that she was climbing. They would have reached it by now too, except that she noticed on the ground, another girl, a girl who looked like she came from this desert, and who seemed to have fallen. She lay sprawled directly across the gate that led to the wall she was climbing. As if she were blocking


their path deliberately. Gaining the girl from the sea enough time to escape. The girl from the sea was grateful to the girl from the desert, and she tried to climb faster. She tried to pull herself to the top before they could pass over the feigning girl. But in her haste her hand slipped, and she fell to the ground. And they caught her. And they took her away just like they had the other girls. And finally the girl from the sea met the ruler of the kingdom of walls. And the ruler of the desert that lay beyond those walls. A man who still looked much like a boy. Except for his eyes, which held centuries. Those eyes didn’t release her, not even once. And even when he was done with her, and he sent her back, she could feel those eyes on her. Making her check over her shoulder for days after. It wasn’t long after the girl from the sea was returned to the kingdom of walls that the desert girl who had tried to save her found her. She sat next to the girl from the sea. She didn’t say anything. The two of them simply stared off west together. Until finally then the desert girl offered her name. Nadira. And the girl from the sea offered hers. Lien.


After that they could never be found apart. They traded words in each other’s language until they could understand each other in both. It wasn’t long before both girls realised they were growing great with child. The girl from the sea grew angry as she realised. She hated the child that had been inflicted on her. She hated it because it belonged to the man who kept her here. The ruler of her kingdom of walls. The girl from the sea and the girl from the desert gave birth under the same sky. As she did Lien swore to every star above her that she would despise this child, that she would cast them out. That she would rid herself of it and never see it again. But when she heard her child cry she broke her promise. She wanted to tell her child that this world made her weep too. She reached for the child and as she was handed her son she knew she could not bear to hate him. He looked nothing like the man who had fathered her. He looked like her family. The one that had been taken from her. And was now being returned to her with this child. The two girls lay next to each other, marvelling at their children, when their ruler arrived. He didn’t speak to them, he had simply come to see his sons. The girls held the boys closer, and Lien swore that if he tried to take the infant from her arms she would kill him. But


he turned away again. As he left, a servant returned and told them the names their ruler had chosen. The girl from the sea decided she would not call her son by the name that had been chosen for him by another. He did not belong to her ruler, she would not allow that. He belonged to her. So she tore the name apart, destroying the ruler’s order, and found her father’s name in the middle of it. She would call him Jin and nothing else. The two princes were brought up side-by-side, hearing stories from their mothers of the world beyond the walls. Once, Lien made a boat out of soap for her young son. She carved it with her fingernails, and floated it across the water of the baths for him as she explained to him where she was from. Eventually the boat made of soap dissolved in the water. And for a while the girl from the sea could pretend this was what she wanted. Dry land, and her children with room to run. Though she knew as they got bigger, they might not run into ship rails like she did, but they would run into the walls. Until the day that Nadira came to Lien with her secret. She was carrying another child. And this one did not belong to their ruler. It belonged to a god. And she would be killed if she was found out.


Lien felt like she was torn in two. One side of her hated her sister for putting herself at risk. For being so selfish as to risk being taken away from all of them. The other side was grateful to Nadira for shaking her out of this apathy. This complacency to live in a kingdom made by someone else. For giving her a reason to scale the walls again. And so they began to plan. To prepare. To look for a way through the walls. Finally, when Nadira was heavy with child, they were ready to run. They rose one dawn, knowing that it would be the last dawn they saw from behind these walls. They were to leave that dusk. Either they would cross those walls or die trying. Except, even as dawn crested the walls around them, Nadira’s second child began to enter the world. Nadira tried to hide her pains, prayed for her child to stay its arrival just a few hours. But soon the servants took notice, and the ruler was informed. Nadira found herself lying amongst them, Lien clutching her hand, bringing into the world the child they had meant to run for. And sure enough when the child came it was clear she had not been sired by any mortal man. Before anyone else could speak the ruler was there, looking upon the infant that told of Nadira’s treason.


He did not speak except to demand that she be brought before him for judgement. Nadira was dragged from the room and away from her screaming child, holding her head high as she went to what she knew to be her death. As they dragged her hand out of Lien’s. And for the first time since the day they had exchanged names Lien found herself alone. And she felt herself torn in two again. Only this time it was her grief divided by her determination. She would not let this child die. She would not let Nadira’s death be for nothing. She took the child from the midwife, promising to soothe her. And as the midwife could not deny a wife of the Sultan, she gave the child over. And holding the small thing in her arms, Lien walked until she was out of sight. And then she ran. She woke both their sons who reached up to be held. But she told them she could not carry them. They had to walk. They had to help her. And they did. They followed Lien to the gate guarded by the soldier they had blackmailed. They followed her to the servant they had befriended, who quickly helped them don dark clothes with hoods to cover their faces. They followed her out into the back of a supply carriage of the merchant they had bribed. And finally, onto the deck of a ship, that would take them far away from here.


And for the first time since that fateful day her family was killed, Lien stood on the deck of a ship again, and she watched the sun rise without walls to hide the horizon. She watched it rise over the sea, and she tried to remember why she had so desperately wanted dry land.