The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1) by Heidi Heilig

It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer. I was in the crowded bazaar of a nearly historical version of Calcutta, where my father had abandoned me.

He hadn’t abandoned me for good—not yet. He’d only gone back to the ship to make ready for the next leg of the journey: twentieth-century New York City. It was at our final destination, however, where he hoped to unmake the mistakes of his past.

Mistakes like me, perhaps.

He never said as much, but his willingness to leave me behind was plain: here I was, alone, haggling for a caladrius with a pitiful amount of silver in my palm. Part of me wondered whether he’d care if I returned at all, as long as the mythological bird was delivered to the ship.

No, he would care, at least for now. After all, I was the one to plot our way through the centuries and the maps, the one who helped him through his dark times, the one who could, say, identify fantastical animals from twenty paces and negotiate with their sellers. Then again, once we reached 1868 Honolulu, he would have no need for navigating or negotiation. I was a means to an end, and the end was looming, closer every day.

But he never worried about that. I tried not to either; I tried desperately hard. Worrying did me no good, especially now, with the bird seller peering at me, as bright-eyed as any of his wares.

“Very rare, this bird!” The merchant spoke louder than the distance between us warranted; we were nose to nose across a stack of cages, but I couldn’t step back or I’d be swept up in the scrum of shoppers. “The caladrius will cure any illness, just by looking a patient in the eye—”

“I know, I know.” I’d read the myth in an old book of fables: the caladrius could take disease on its wings and burn it away by flying near the sun. The legend also said if your illness was incurable, the bird would refuse to look at you; of course the merchant hadn’t mentioned that part.

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Good health is priceless, girl.”

“I know that too.” I wiped my brow. The sun was panting in the sky, and the heat curdled the perfume of jasmine above the odor of sweat. I had to get back to the ship, if only for some air. “Please. It’s for my mother. She’ll die without it.” Normally I wasn’t above using a sob story to haggle, but it felt different when the story was true. In fact, she had already died without it, sixteen years ago. “My father would never, ever recover.”

The man’s eyes softened, but then the crowd crushed against my back, making space around a fat British officer; locals didn’t dare jostle the Company Raj. Distracted, the bird seller glared at the Englishman. “Please,” I said again, slightly louder, trying to add the gleam of charity to the tarnished rupees in my hand.

He sucked his teeth, wavering. “A bird like this is worth her weight in gold to a prince.”

“But the princes of India don’t have any more gold,” I said. “The British took it all, and they don’t believe in the myth of the caladrius.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew it was the wrong thing to say. The man’s face hardened. Awkward, awkward. I scrambled for a way to backpedal. Between us, his wares beat their wings against the bamboo bars, singing for freedom like Orpheus in Hades. A hand touched my shoulder and I spun, ready to take out my vexation on this bold stranger, but I bit back the words. Kashmir had appeared like an oasis. “Hello, amira.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “The captain sent you here to rush me.” Under his careless hair, there was not a drop of sweat on his brow.

“To help you.” He gave me his most charming smile, then turned it on the bird seller as he poured gold into the man’s palm. “This should be more than enough,” Kashmir said, reaching over to pluck up the bamboo cage. Then he slipped his arm into mine and steered me away from the wide-eyed merchant. “Come, Nix. We have to go.”

I was more surprised than the bird seller. “Where did you get so much gold?”

“Oh, you know,” he said. “Around.”

We were halfway back to the docks when the shouting started.

Kashmir handed me the birdcage. “Don’t run,” he told me. Then he took off.

“Thief!” The Englishman was barreling toward us. “Thief!” Kashmir had left a swirling wake in the crowd; I set off after him.

The treacherous street threw obstacles underfoot: baskets of locusts and pails of yogurt and blankets laid with ripe rambutan. I dodged past women in rags and women in silks, men in loincloths and men in uniforms. The birdcage swung from my fist and sweat stung my eyes. Kashmir was far ahead of me—or rather, I was falling behind.

I wracked my brain for a solution from the stories I knew. Unfortunately, most of those stories were myths, so most of the miraculous escapes came about by the pursued being turned into a tree or a star or a bird or the like. I looked back over my shoulder; the Englishman was gaining. I clutched the birdcage to my chest and tried to summon more speed.

I broke free of the market, careening around a corner and bouncing off a donkey. Kashmir was standing on the wharf, waving me toward the ship. I skidded to a stop in front of him, and he took my shoulders, steadying me. “Why did you run, amira?”

“Why did you run?” I returned, breathless.

“So he would chase me! Yalla. Vite! Get aboard and go!” He pushed me along and I stumbled down the quay.

My father was helping Bee rig the sails, but when he heard the Englishman’s cries, he stopped and stared. Then he redoubled his efforts, calling out to Rotgut to cast off the lines as the Englishman loped nearer. Locals scattered, but Kashmir waited until I’d cleared the gangplank. When he started to run, it was too late.

The Englishman grabbed him by the collar of his thin linen shirt, his muttonchops quivering in rage. “You half-caste thatch gallows!” He drew a pistol out of his belt and pressed the barrel against Kashmir’s cheek. “Give me back my coin and I won’t shoot you where you stand!”

Kash didn’t bother responding; he made a chopping motion toward the ship, but we were already slipping the berth. I looked at my father in disbelief, but he met my stare with his ice-blue eyes. “He can take care of himself.”

Despite the heat, I shivered; if Kash had kept the caladrius, would I be the one left behind on the wharf? I set the birdcage on the deck and gripped the rail, gauging the distance to the pier, but then Kash shoved the Englishman’s gun upward. The man squeezed the trigger, and the bullet flew wide. He’d kept his grip on Kashmir’s collar, but not on Kashmir, who tore his shirt down the front as he pivoted on one foot and threw his arms back out of the sleeves. He left the man reeling backward with the linen rag in his hand and a bewildered expression on his face.

I ran to get a rope, but when I came back to the bulwark, Kashmir was nowhere to be seen and the Englishman was screaming from the edge of the pier, fumbling with his gun. I followed his outraged eyes to the stern of the ship, where Kash was swinging his leg over the rail.

“Stop the ship! Stop at once!” the Englishman said, appealing to my father as he tried to reload. “Your coolie is a thief!”

Kashmir put his hand to his chest in a gesture of injured innocence: Kashmir, who would make you laugh to steal the fillings from your molars. Then he ducked as the Englishman fired again, the bullet crunching into the oak of our mizzenmast. I stared, stunned for a moment, then dropped to the deck beside the birdcage, my breath ruffling the caladrius’s feathers.

The Temptation was a fast ship, so we were out of range by the time the Englishman had loaded a third shot. I clambered to my feet, my hair plastered to my cheeks and my ears ringing. Kashmir was no worse for wear, despite his lost shirt. His golden skin shone, flushed with exertion, and, I suppose, victory. He caught my eye, and I turned away.

“You’re blushing,” he said.

I heard the amusement in his voice. “It’s the heat.”

“What a rush!” My father passed the wheel off to Bee and came trotting down the stairs to the main deck. He picked up the cage, peering inside. “My God, she’s beautiful,” he said, grinning. “Thanks, kiddo!”

“Thanks?” I yanked my shirt straight. “You should be thanking him.”

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