The inside of the castle dungeons are more than cold, they’re freezing, and there’s little question of why. The entire thing is made of ice, thick layers of the stuff on the walls, on the floor, on the black and gray cell doors. Spiny fingers of deep blue, frozen water cling to the ceiling as if it is the sole support of the castle above, which now that I think about it, I guess could be true.
I’m more concerned with how I can feel it in the first place. Ever since arriving in the dungeons—no, even before that—at the castle’s gate, when the skies were shot through with blood and my chest seized up with pain strong enough to make my lungs feel like they were going to burst, I could feel again. Frankly, I find the thought of feeling more disturbing now than being a ghost pirate with zombie tendencies (a.k.a. losing body parts on occasion).
“This is your fault, by the way,” Mary tells me from the cell next door. I’m not sure how she ended up with the pixie, the short nymph-thing fluttering its wings anxiously beside her, but I’m immediately grateful for whatever karmic fates delivered that unfortunate favor.
“How is this my fault?”
“Well, it’s not my heart your ex is holding captive somewhere—” she pauses to gesture at the ceiling, “—up there.”
“I didn’t lose it on purpose.” I know my voice has a defensive whine in it that would normally make me shudder in horror, but I’ve given up on that revulsion momentarily. “Besides, how was I supposed to know it would end up here with my almost husband. Who’s supposed to be dead, by the way.”
“‘Supposed to’ holds very little weight in Norland,” the pixie squeaks and both Mary and I turn to glare at him.
“Then what does hold weight, Mini Me? Because it’s certainly not you.” She reaches over to pinch a thin, fluttering wing between her fingers, and the beast immediately comes crashing to the ground, rubbing its tailbone profusely and murmuring some kind of curse I cannot hear.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t just hear that,” Mary says darkly. She stares toward the cell opening where the bars of her large cage meet mine, and we share a look of alarm. “Who knows what will happen the next time Sebastian comes down.” Her voice shakes as her eyes focus on mine, and we both know it’s true. “Whatever happened between you guys anyway?”
“It’s a long story.”
The pixie shuffles forward toward the gate that divides us, his wings trailing, immobile, on the ground behind him. His bulgy eyes stare up at me, blinking every so often, but not often enough to be normal. “I have time,” he says.
I bite my lip against my response. I don’t want to say anything; I can’t. It was so long ago. It’s not their business anyway. But I know that’s a lie. It became their business as soon as Sebastian locked us in here.
I sigh, leaning back against the icy wall and staring at my hands in my lap. “I’d rather not say.”
“And I’d rather be eating ice cream than sitting in Antarctica, but you don’t see me complaining.”
The pixie juts a finger toward her face. “You’re complaining now.”
“Shut up.” She raises a hand at him and he flinches away. “Now.” Her voice lowers. “Tell me what’s going on.”
I sigh again, refusing to meet either of their gazes. “I told you most of it already. My mother wanted me to marry well; Sebastian was the perfect gentlemen, so that’s who she chose. My father was okay with it too because his family was well off. My father can’t resist a single piece of gold, so he didn’t mind marrying me off as long as he got to see some kind of payment every once in a while—”
“Your father sold you?” Mary demands, her hands leaping off her lap into the air—but finding they have nowhere to go, they land back on her lap with a small thump.
“Not exactly; it was more like a dowry.”
Mary’s lips press into a thin line, and her voice is flat as she says, “Your father sold you.”
I ignore her and continue. “It was three days before the wedding when my father was scheduled to leave for a voyage across the sea. It wasn’t quite pirating then, or at least no one called it that. I think he saw himself as more of an explorer than anything else. It’s just that explorers need funding too, so he got his…illegally.”
“Well, I’m not a history major,” Mary begins, “but if Sebastian’s parents were so well off, wouldn’t they have disapproved of a pirate father-in-law for their son?”
“Sure. If they had known. But when you leave with a ship full of empty crates and tell people they are full of merchandise for selling in other lands, then coming home with a trunk full of money is nowhere near as suspicious.”
Mary pushes out her lower lip. “Hmm, clever.”
“What about Sebastian?” The pixie is now sitting cross-legged next to Mary, its chin balanced on the back of one hand, its buggy eyes staring at me intently. “What did you think about him?”
I shrug. “He was okay, I guess. I had met more than one snob in my life; those were the people my mother wanted me to socialize with—climb the ladder so to speak—so I knew his type even before I knew him. Still, he wasn’t like the others, not as bad, I guess. He always seemed to care about what I had to say when I spoke, and if I so much as sneezed he always gave me these looks of concern—”
“Probably just protecting his property,” Mary says and the pixie shushes her. I, too, glare in her direction before continuing.
“Whatever the reason, he was nice enough, but I still didn’t want to get married. I wanted to see the world, so the night before my father’s departure I got on the boat, hid below-decks, and prayed no one would find me. They didn’t.
“After the ship left port the next day, just before the sun was going to set, I decided to climb up top; to confront my father about my life, and try to convince him to let me out of my marriage, to let me join him and his crew. But when I finally crawled my way on deck it was a massacre of poisonous flesh and putrid sores. I remember vomiting because of the smell. Bodies were scattered everywhere, people with gaping holes in their sides, people missing limbs and organs, their stomachs ripped open to show their gruesome, hollow insides.”
“How did you not hear any of this?” Mary interrupts. “If people were being slaughtered, don’t you think you would have heard at least a little of it?”
“That’s the thing. Just minutes before I did climb to the top, I could hear them. They were talking, working, rowing the oars—everything normal crew people do. And then, suddenly, they weren’t.”
Mary frowns as if she doesn’t believe me, and I tell myself that doesn’t matter. “I searched my father’s quarters but he wasn’t there, he was at the helm, his arms stiff and rigged as he gripped the ship’s wheel. I knew by the way his skin looked—gray, not tan in the sun, with festering sores that he hadn’t had when we’d left that morning—that he was as dead as the rest of them.”
“How were you not infected?” Pixie-boy asks. I can tell Mary is about to shush him, but then she thinks better of it, nodding her head in assent to his question.
“I don’t know how the first wave of the infection passed me over, but I know how I got the second.”
“The second?” Mary asks. “What do you mean?”
“The disease didn’t just spread through the crew once,” I tell them. “The second wave of poisonous virus—I got it from Sebastian. He was on board.”