Ciskell was a small island, built out of shattered gray stone that didn’t quite have the constitution to escape the salt ocean. The wind liked to carve its name into every surface. The boys and girls liked to carve their names into the harbor wall, alongside the fat, fading white paint warning: THAT S NOT THE HORIZON. IT S THE DREKKIN EDGE O THE WORLD.
Ciskell didn’t get many visitors.
The town had seven streets that climbed up and down between the square workshops, bare-faced homes, and tall grass. Only six of them were named. Goat farms sprawled across the low north side, where the wind didn’t cut as hard and the grass grew wilder. The boat-wrights and fishermen claimed the east coast, a tangle of canvas and old wood, blue fish and drying nets. Everyone else took whatever place seemed best, to avoid the noise or the smells, or both.
The only store on the island was buried in the south, at the end of Tuck Street, behind dusty windows and a creaky front door. Sitting twelve feet back from the road, it was easy to ignore. At noon, the low building was already a shadow under its own porch. At sunset, it was a ghost, and Vel could hear Old Man Derret rattling inside as she walked home from the boatyard.
Sometimes, she slipped inside.
The shelves were stacked with stranger things than the rest of the island. They all traded with each other – yarn for fish steak, cheese for rope, grain for new wood – but three or four times a year Derret traded with the ship captains, paid silver for silk and glass and marble. Every bit of it was useless, and foreign, and stunning. Vel tucked her hands behind her back. They still smelled like brine and fish and bitter iron and had no place in this warm little treasure house.
“You wipe your feet?” Old Man Derret asked, coming out of the back with a crate of shiny somethings. He never said hello.
“Yes,” Vel promised. Then she flashed him a smile, and that made him pause.
Narrowing his eyes, he clumped behind the counter and dropped the crate. He braced his hands on the counter top to either side of it, watching her approach. She only smiled wider for the way he seemed to trace the lines of her arms as if she might have brought him something worse than grime.
At the counter, Vel crossed her arms over the top and leaned toward him. She grinned.
He looked pulled back and scowled.
Then she opened palm. She pressed a thin silver plate onto the counter in front of him, let it click against the counter. Roughly square, there was a rough face in the center, words in a language she didn’t speak around the edge. A coin, from somewhere far away and wild.
“Where did you get that?” he asked.
She watched his face relax into something like awe, still smiling like a cat herself. “It was in a fish I gutted today.”
He wrinkled his nose, but still reached for it.
In the middle of his treasure trove, she watched him finger the small metal piece, watched his eyes grow wider and his lips begin to curve.
“What will it buy me?” she asked.