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No Port in a Storm Sneak Peek

Creeping across the roof, Millie found the trapdoor that led down into the jail’s interior. She made out the runes and sigils of an alarm, and a magical lock, but there didn’t seem to be a mechanical one. Then again, most jails were built to be difficult to break out of, not to break into.

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Chapter 1 - Rattling Cages

In the dead hours of the night, Wyndford was as quiet as it ever got. The yowl of a street cat clashed with the clatter of cartwheels on cobbles, making the ghostly elf perched on the roof of a tenement building wince. Mildred Berry flicked her ears to shake out the sharpness of the noise and turned her focus back to the building next to her. 


The Wyndford City Jail was built out of the same granite as the rest of the city, a four-storey block of a building in the centre of the city. It had a steady business for the first hour she’d watched, drunk after drunk was escorted through its doors. Some went quietly, others singing or shouting. A fog rolled in off the lake during the second hour, muffling the sharp edges of the city. A lucky break for her. The fog would help to obscure her in an already dark night: a few of the officers she had were elven, and their eyes could see in the darkness just as clearly as her own.


A narrow alleyway separated the roof of the jail from Millie’s perch, littered with trash and squabbling rats. Once upon a time, Millie wouldn’t have hesitated at the distance. She’d have leapt across it with the confidence that only came with young joints and the sense of invulnerability that got people killed. Instead, tonight she had a length of sturdy rope in hand and a plan.


Rising to her feet, Millie spun the loop of rope a few times to build momentum and released it, sending the lasso across the empty space and hooking it onto one of the jail’s chimneys. Pulling the rope taut, she tied off her end onto one chimney on the tenement. She’d checked it over for any weakness, but the grout of the brick was sturdy and the bricks whole. It might not hold a full-grown human man, but a petite elf? Not a problem.


Pulling her newsboy cap low to cover her hair, Millie climbed onto the rope, arms held out to either side to keep her balanced. Her moccasins’ thin soles let her feel the hemp rope as though she were barefoot. Millie tested her weight on the rope, and while she felt it sag slightly under her, it held. Carefully and quickly, she put one foot in front of the other until she reached the jail’s rooftop. She crouched once she’d made it, ears perked for any sounds of commotion. 

Somewhere in the jail, a drunk man was singing, his voice faint and surprisingly on key. Millie raised her eyebrows as she realised he was singing an old Union marching song, something she hadn’t heard since the war. Either that was a good sign, or it meant exactly nothing. 

Creeping across the roof, Millie found the trapdoor that led down into the jail’s interior. She made out the runes and sigils of an alarm, and a magical lock, but there didn’t seem to be a mechanical one. Then again, most jails were built to be difficult to break out of, not to break into. 

She placed the flat of her hand on the runes and watched the faint glimmer of magic die. Most of the time, the way magic reacted around Millie made life difficult, so she was happy to use the strange effect to her advantage whenever she could. Lifting the trapdoor carefully, Millie heard the clink of a hook and eye latch. Pulling out a small knife, she slid it along the crack between the trapdoor and its frame until she caught the hook. With a little wiggle, she freed it from the loop of metal that had held the trapdoor in place.

Opening the trapdoor just enough to peer inside, Millie took stock of the situation. There was a ladder that led down to the attic, with bundles of cloth, dried rations, and more stored inside. She eased herself down, moving slowly and quietly down the ladder. The attic was dusty from disuse, and Millie pulled her shirt up over her nose to keep from sneezing. She crossed the floor, following the nails in the floorboards that told her there was a crossbeam underfoot. The floor wouldn’t creak where it was supported, nor was it as likely to give way if a plank was rotten.

The man she was looking for was below her, and the thought made her heart race. Millie could kill him tonight and end the cycle of suffering that he’d put her and so many others through. She wanted to do it, to make sure Frederic Rousseau would never hurt another person and give herself peace of mind.

How often had Millie waited for him, locked in a half-flooded cell in the Marigot jail? Crumbling brick walls that let the water in whenever it rained, it was a far cry from the dusty, dry Wyndford building. 

Something brushed against Mildred’s leg, coiling around her shin to soak up the meagre heat that her skin offered in the water that filled the cell. Built centuries ago, the crumbling brick walls were still sturdy enough to hold in prisoners, but it let rodents and snakes come and go just as easily as the flood waters.

A rat, unaware of what lurked under water, swam closer, sniffing at the air. No doubt it could smell the food and drink that still clung to Mildred’s hair, evidence of the brawl she had ended. Frederic was too drunk to walk home, so they’d put him up in the inn across the street and locked Millie up in jail until he’d sobered up enough to retrieve his property.

The palemouth viper struck from below, sinking its fangs into the rat to deliver a fatal dose of venom. The elf struck too, nearly as quick as the snake. Her hand grabbed its thick neck, just behind the head. With a quick twist, Mildred broke its neck. They didn’t serve prisoners any food in the Marigot jail. If you didn’t catch your supper, you didn’t eat. 

This was not the first time she’d been locked up in the bowels of the old Marigot fort. She knew it wouldn’t be the last, either.


Millie could smell Fred through the dust now. The rotten stink of old drink mixing with the regular prison smells of piss and unwashed bodies. Crouching by a floorboard, Millie used her knife to pry up the nails that held it down. Pulling the plank up, she peeked down to spot a familiar blond head buried in bandaged hands. 

So he wasn’t asleep, good.

Slipping through the space the removed board gave her, Millie climbed down the door of an empty cell until she was face to face with the man she’d spent so long hiding from. 

Frederic Fucking Rousseau looked up from his cot, his eyes searching the darkness of the otherwise empty cellblock. Lionel, Fred’s ever loyal servant, lay in the far corner of the cell, deeply asleep. 

“Mil?” Fred asked in a whisper. “I know it’s you.”

There was no one to stop her if she sank the knife into his throat. She could do it, step up close to the bars and just—

“I didn’t come to save you,” she said in a low whisper, stepping into the small patch of light that the cell window allowed. “And I didn’t come to kill you. As much as I might want to.”

“Have you come to gloat, then?” he asked, voice raspy. He smiled as she stepped into the light, and Millie crossed her arms instead of lunging at him like her instinct screamed to do. “The healer says I won’t be able to walk again without using a cane.” 

“Are you saying I should have shot you in the head?” she asked, sinking her emotions deep into her belly. Away from the surface, away from him. The night she’d shot him in the ankle, she’d been too exhausted and shaken to keep her composure. He had kidnapped a little girl, and wanted to take Millie back. The thought of it still made her stomach churn.

“I was wondering what had made you go soft,” Fred said, rheumy blue eyes fixing her in place. He was stone sober, she realised. Maybe for the first time in years. “But I’ve had a lot of time to think, Mil. I think you know deep down that I’m the only one who’ll love you for what you are.” He smiled again, but the expression was soft and sad. 

“You’re wrong,” she started. This wasn’t going right. She was supposed to have the upper hand, but a sober Fred was a dangerous Fred. 

“Am I?” He sniffed, and pushed himself up to stand on his good leg, using the bars of his cell for support as he hobbled closer. “I learned my lesson. You marked me the way I marked you. I shouldn’t have forgotten who you are. I shouldn’t have given so much of myself up to the drink. But you saved me by sending me here.”

The blood drained slowly from her, leaving Millie cold despite the layers she was wearing. He was up to something, and she wasn’t sure what he was getting at just yet.

“You think I shot you in the ankle to teach you a lesson?” She asked, her whisper getting dangerously close to a hiss. He was right, though. Millie had wanted to hurt him, to make him feel just a sliver of all the suffering he’d inflicted on her and her friend Rhiannon over the years. To leave him with a permanent reminder of what he’d done. He’d arranged the killing of the whole Colfield family, sending Millie and other assassins to eliminate any other claims to the family’s fortune so that Rhiannon’s uncle could inherit the whole thing. Millie reminded herself of why she was there. Rhiannon didn’t know, but it was for her benefit that Fred wouldn’t die tonight. 

“Why did you come then, Mil?” He asked, resting his head against the bars. “If it wasn’t to gloat, why are you here?”

“I’m going to testify,” Millie said, straightening her shoulders. “About what you did to the Colfields.”

Fred looked through the bars at her, his brow knit slightly in confusion.

“And then what?” he asked. “They’ll arrest you for Marigot. Or are you going to ‘testify’ against me for that, too?” It was so easy, Millie thought, to underestimate Fred when he was sober. He still looked like a drunk, swollen and ruddy-faced, but somehow the drink had left his mind in pristine form despite the years of abuse.

“Yes,” she breathed. “About all of it.”

Fred pushed himself up straight, grunting as fresh scars pulled on healing muscle. Rhiannon’s dog had savaged his arm, and the scars left there were significant. It looked like a swamp vishap had gotten at him.

“Well, if you’re going to tell the truth,” Fred whispered, his eyes fixed on hers. “You’ll hang right next to me. I appreciate the romantic gesture, Mil. Together, we face death, just like old times. Us against the world.”

Millie’s hands gripped fistfuls of her shirt and it took every shred of composure she had left to stay rooted where she was, and not launch herself at the man on the other side of the cell door. Why had she come here? What was the real reason? It was hard to remember with his words bouncing around inside her head.

“If you plead guilty and testify against Harrold Colfield, they won’t hang you.” Millie took a deep breath, forcing her heartbeat to slow and her hands to still. “Rhiannon Colfield will arrive later today to make you an official offer.”

Fred listened, eyebrows raised. 

“And what life would there be for me? A known coward, left to rot in a cell until I die from sobriety?” He cleared his throat and shook his head slowly, eyes slipping from Millie to focus on the ground between them. “I’m surprised you haven’t tried to talk her out of it.”

“I tried,” Millie said, and scowled at the smile that appeared on his face. “But she’s a kind woman, Fred. Even after everything you did to her—”

“That we did,” he corrected.

“Don’t try that on me,” Millie hissed. “I kept her safe for years. I taught her how to survive. I might have hurt a lot of people in the past, but I did right by her.”

They watched each other in the weak moonlight, filtered through the fog outside. 

“I never meant for you to take the fall for that,” he whispered. 

“But you did in Marigot,” she countered. “You didn’t even hesitate back then. The ‘Butcher of the Bayou’ was too perfect of an excuse for that fucking ritual we found O’Leary doing. Couldn’t let a human be caught performing sacrificial magic, now could we?”

Fred’s face fell, and if she were less familiar with his moods, Millie might have thought the grief there was genuine. Maybe it still was, but that meant nothing. It was easy to grieve a mistake when you weren’t the one whose life had been ruined.

“That was an order,” he said, rubbing his face with his newly scarred hand. “It came down from top brass. I hid you so you wouldn’t be pilloried. What was I supposed to do, Mil? They would have labelled you a traitor, a heretic.”

“You were supposed to set me free, Fred.” Her voice was harsh, and Millie had to pull herself back from breaking out of her whisper. She wanted to yell at him, scream it until his ears bled. “You were supposed to set us all free after, not kill everyone off one by one. Not keep me in a fucking cellar for three years.”


Fred’s shoulders sagged, and he eased himself back onto the cot, his injured leg stretched out in front of him. 

“You’re right,” he said. He smiled at her, looking as tired and sad as she felt. Neither of them were young like they had been during the war. It had drained them both, leaving them broken and grim. “Better late than never, right?” he said, running a hand through his hair. “I’ll tell your friend I’ll testify. But I need you to promise me something.”

“I don't need to do anything,” Millie hissed.

“Well, then please promise me you won’t forget. Once a Master, always a master. I know that better than anyone. Your friend might act like she’s grateful, but she’s back in society now. She’s the wealthiest woman this side of New Haven, and she’s going to forget you the same way I forgot who you were to me.”

Even after all these years, Fred’s words could knock the air from her. Millie grit her teeth, refusing to let him see just how deeply that had cut. Rhiannon wasn’t like that, she wasn’t like Fred at all. 

“No masters,” Fred said. “No kings. Remember?”

“You don’t get to say that,” Millie snapped. She spun on her heel and climbed up the cell door to the hole she’d made in the ceiling. His words chased her up into the attic, and she wasn’t fast enough to escape them.

“Don’t let her make the same mistakes I did, Mil. You deserve better than that.”


The person who went by ‘The Red Hand’ watched the pale elf emerge from the jail and cross her rope back to the building she’d used to surveil the police officers. Deep in the shadows of a tenement across the street, the Hand lowered the spyglass from their eye and checked that their hood was still drawn low over their face. 

Curious. What had happened in the jail that made her less careful on the elf’s exit? She hadn’t checked for any witnesses other than a quick glance down the alleyway.

The rope was severed on the jail’s side, though the figure hadn’t seen how the elf had managed it. She didn’t have her axes with her, and no gunshot echoed through the sleepy Wyndford streets. Magic, perhaps? Raising the spyglass to their eye once again, they watched the Bayou Butcher quickly pull her rope up, coiling it around her forearm and hand before tying it off. The clothes she wore were plain, a child’s shirt and breeches that made her look like an underfed youth, but her skin practically glowed in the night’s fog. 

The Hand didn’t need to follow the Butcher to know where she was going, but they would trail her back to the banker’s home the same as they had every night since her arrival in Wyndford.

The children had been a surprise, but any doubt that Mildred Berry was the Bayou Butcher had evaporated the first night she had snuck out of the home to case the city jail. The Hand moved quietly, descending from their own perch, feeling clumsy compared to the silent movement of the elf. They had lost her those first few nights. She’d disappear behind a building and be gone when the Hand reached it, or the clatter of a late night carriage passing by covered her scramble up a building where they did not yet dare to follow. 

The years since the war had done little to slow her, it seemed. The Hand smiled under their hood as they slipped out from their hiding spot to follow the pale elf home. It was a relief that the elf had not gone soft like the Captain had. It would have soured what the figure had planned. 

Ten years ago, the elf had murdered someone dear to the Hand. Eight years ago, she had burned Marigot down, uncaring who was caught up in the flames. But soon, the Bayou Butcher would face the consequences she’d evaded for so long.

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