Mara came up on deck from her watch of Anala when the cannonballs had shaken the ship and burst through the hull. The sick room was sheltered in the middle of the hold and so Anala was safe. Mara wanted to help topside.
She came up the stairs in time to hear the deal offered to Lares. While the shock of Anala’s parentage froze her mind, fear gripped her heart that Lares would accept the deal. She was not stupid. She could see in Lares’ face how the man felt for the lady offered to him. She also knew that if Lares accepted, she could not fight him off, to keep him from giving Anala up. She only hoped the whole crew would be able to, if she died protecting her sister.
But he’d remained true. Whether he would have, had the lady not killed herself, Mara didn’t know. All she knew was that one minute Lares stood, debating, and the next he’d gone mad.
She supposed she would, too, losing what he had lost. She watched him empty all their long-range rounds trying to destroy the ships that attacked them, and saw the ships fall behind. Then she saw the sails of the armada coming up behind them. They were doomed.
No! They couldn’t lose – not now, not so close. Not after Lares had lost so much. Mara did not want the lady’s sacrifice to be in vain.
She ran to the fore of the ship and stood at the railing, seeing they were almost at Harbourtown harbour. Safety awaited them, if they could just gain the harbour.
No one in Harbourtown knew what was coming, she realised with a sinking feeling in her stomach. They would be sitting ducks, open to the attack that was coming. They had to be warned, or Harbourtown could be destroyed.
She glanced at the crew. No one else had realised this. She looked north, to the cliff face on the edge of town that held the Bell. The rope hung down the cliff side, reaching a ledge of rock at sea level. It waited for someone to pull it, to warn the town. She looked at the distance between the ship and the rope. It was long. But she could swim it.
She glanced at Merry, and as if he felt her gaze, he looked up. She could see in his eyes that he saw what she meant to do.
“Mara! Nay!” he shouted, but she ignored him.
She took a deep breath and jumped over the edge of the ship, diving into the icy water. The shock of the cold water against her warm skin nearly made her heart stop. She floundered a moment, and then she was swimming with all her might towards the cliff face and the Bell-pull.
The Vocan ship to their port side had fallen back before, but still Mara swam as quickly as possible to avoid getting hit.
Cries reached her ears from Merry’s ship, begging her to come back. She pushed them aside and kept on swimming, despite her fear. She was terrified: the water close to shore was much safer. Deep water held creatures she’d rather not meet. She kept on. Anala needs me. Lares needs me.
Soon the cries from the ship became shouts of encouragement, and she felt her strength and courage pick up. She swam faster, focused on reaching the ledge. She heard Lares shout, then, “Mara! You can do it! Do it for her!” and she put on a burst of speed. She did not know which her he meant, but it did not really matter. She was almost there.
She was shaking with cold by the time she gained the rope and the rocky ledge at the sea’s surface. She levered herself up with the rope and when she stood, soaking and shaking on the rock, she pulled down on the tar-covered twine with all her might.
Slowly, inexorably, it moved down, and then she felt the moment when the Bell was on its side. The momentum then carried the Bell to the other side, and the rope flew up as the giant metal piece swung the other way, carrying the light Mara with it. Unable to hold on, she dropped to the rock ledge, hard, where she lay, stunned.
The BONG BONG BONG of the Bell rang throughout the town, and the rocks of the cliff face. It reverberated throughout Mara’s body and made her teeth vibrate together.
She’d done it. I warned ’em, she thought happily, and then all she knew was blackness.