Book Bit Wednesday!
August is swiftly approaching. So, I thought I'd give you some snippets from my new novel, Blackthorne, once a week. The second novel has extra-added points of view--not merely Suvi and Nels--because Eledore kind of isn't any longer. (There's so much more going on than the fall of Eledore--kind of the definition of Epic, really.) There is more of Dylan and the Waterborne in this one. Therefore, the following bit is from Dylan's perspective. It's also much longer than I normally post.
Coral Star, Frigate of Clan Kask, Waterborne Nations
150 miles southeast off the coast of Acrasia
20 August, 1783
Thunder punched the air. Flashes of lightning stitched crooked seams into billowing black clouds. Dylan Kask staggered out onto the quarterdeck just as an eighteen foot wall of water crashed into the side of Coral Star, scouring her boards. Unsecured fishing traps washed over the side, and the deck violently tilted forty-five degrees. Unfortunately, he hadn't yet fixed himself to the lifeline. So, he scrabbled for a handhold before he went the way of the vanished traps. Cold seawater finished the drenching the rain had begun. Lost in the chaos of water and wind, his grip slipped. He slammed into the platform ladder. Pain exploded in his shoulder, arm, and back. He opened his mouth to scream and swallowed seawater. The ocean pulled at his body as if hungry to devour him. He fought for purchase on the ladder rail, finally anchoring himself with both hands. He hugged it with all his might. At last, the wave moved on. The ship righted herself, and he was dropped onto the boards with stinging eyes and nasal passages. Coughing and spitting, he fought to acquire his balance on chilled bare feet. Shoulder-length spiritknots hung in clumps in his face. The clatter of the prayer tokens sewed into his braids was lost in the screaming wind. With his free hand, he searched his belt for the heavy metal clasp used to hook onto the lifeline.
It wasn't this bad when I went to my hammock, Dylan thought. What happened?
The weather had been unseasonably calm over the summer months. That had meant a prosperous fishing and trade season for Clan Kask. However, August marked the start of storm season. Now was the time when Aegrir, for whom that eastern ocean was named, demanded her due.
We wouldn't be here, but for the Acrasians, drown them. He felt a little guilty for that sentiment, given the news.
The Waterborne Nations avoided open hostility as a matter of policy. For Clan Kask, that friendly facade had lasted until the Emperor of Acrasia had discovered Clan Kask's support of the deposed Eledorean queen. Thus, Coral Star had found herself the target of a vengeful Acrasian fleet. Captain Brian Magaodh had gambled on turning into a squall to lose their tail, and Dylan Kask, serving as weathermaster for this venture, had exhausted himself getting them safely away.
But this was no squall. It's a typhoon.
I won't let us sink, Dylan thought. Not as long as I have any power left. Coral Star was Kask, and Clan Kask was his family. I can't let Dar die. I won't.
A loud, splintering crack ripped the air. Broken oak pounded the boards beneath his feet with a force he could feel in his teeth. Someone screamed. Another wave pounded the deck--this time from a less dangerous angle. The crew waded in water up to the knee until it passed.
Captain Magaodh shouted, "Drop the lightning rod chains! And reef the mainsail! Clear that deck! And get that broken hatch secure! Now! Drown you! Now!"
First, the message, Dylan thought. Nothing I do will make a difference, if I don't get the message to Dar or Captain Magaodh.
Sailors rushed to comply with Captain Magaodh's orders. Dylan squinted against wind and rain, searching among them for the one face he'd risked the storm and his weakened state to find. One of Dar's message birds had announced its arrival with a crash against the cabin's window glass. Dar, whose main responsibility was ship's messenger, hadn't been present to receive the bird, since there were no idlers during bad weather with the exception of the weathermaster. Dylan had saved the poor creature before the storm had claimed it. However, the bird had returned the favor by depositing a great deal of water into the cabin in the process.
Rain lashed Dylan's face, blinding him yet again. He felt someone grab his arm and then a tug at his waist as a tether was anchored to his belt. Dylan flipped long wet braids out of his eyes. That was when he spied Dar's lighter brown face. His hair, with its short tufts, made him easy to recognize even under these conditions. Dar was the only practicing Leaudancer onboard above the age of twelve with such short spiritknots.
He'll never grow them past his ears, will he? Dylan thought with a warm inward smile. My Dar will be forever doing penance.
Dar glared, his spiked hair underlining his displeasure. "What in all the gods' names are you doing up here?! And without a lifeline?! You know better than to--"
Dylan shouted against the wind. "You have a visitor!"
Dar paused. "In this?"
"Whitewing. She's half drowned, but she made it, all right."
"Must reward her," Dar said. "Did the message scroll make it?"
"I assume it's urgent."
"Captain Argall says Emperor's Crown foundered. We can finally get out of this swiving storm!"
"Thank the gods and goddesses and all the seas! Get any rest?"
Dylan knew what Dar was asking. This was no time for the truth. "Enough."
"I know you. That look on your face means no. Get yourself safe below," Dar said, resolve lending a hardness to his expression. "Coral Star can weather this. It isn't as bad as it seems."
In truth, they had weathered worse, but only because Magaodh had been lucky. Dylan didn't think Aegrir was with them this day. He swallowed Dar's lie and then gave him a kiss. They both knew the odds. Dylan could feel it in the intensity of his lover's lips. He tried not to make it too obvious a goodbye. "Be careful!"
"You too," Dar said.
"I love you."
"And I love you. Now go!"
Once Dar had gone, Dylan prepared himself to begin his ritual. His feet were already bare, and he was tethered. He found an out-of-the-way place next to the ladder and put his back against a wall. He didn't want to interfere with the work of the crew. With that done, he stretched his arms wide, took in a deep breath, and began.
The first law of magic is thus: energy does not vanish. It transforms. All are born of water. All shall return to water.
Using the sea washing across the ship's boards, he extended his consciousness across Coral Star's wooden surface and around her spotless hull. This close, he could sense the woodmaster at her work as she battled the sea to keep the ship sound. Her workings involved both hardness and flexibility. Beneath her hands, Coral Star was a living entity bound and knit together without nails. They exchanged a quick, wordless blessing, and then he left her to her duty. Feeling his way, he invoked the tension between seawater and hull to anchor his body to the deck through his feet and back. With that done, he let his awareness rise above the ship. He passed through dense clouds as he floated and sensed various air densities. It got colder the higher he got--not that he could've said why or how he felt this. His body remained on the ship. He shouldn't have felt anything at all, yet he did. It wasn't consistent, these senses. For example, wind had no effect on him, which was a good thing, considering.
He moved upward through banks of swiftly moving fog until he reached a place where the storm was divided into two parts--the broadest part, stretching out for miles above him in a dense spiral. He felt his heart drop into his stomach. From his new perspective, he understood the typhoon was too big for him to control. The best he could do was to shift the worst of the storm's force away from Coral Star. Those energies would transfer to another part of the typhoon, forming larger, more dangerous waves and winds.
Using a distant part of himself, he lowered his arms, widened his stance and pushed his palms out in front of himself with focused grace. Then he tucked in his elbows, bumping them against the ship. He barely registered the pain.
The second law of magic is thus: the tide which goes out shall return, bringing with it all energy collected in its wake. That was why it was important to keep one's intent pure. One could choose to ignore the second law, but too much carelessness exacted a high price--one that could be unpredictable. Ultimately, he hoped any nearby ships would have the wherewithal to save themselves. Such phrasing didn't guarantee to eliminate negative effects. He was only a mortal being, after all, and some forces were far more powerful than the will of one Waterborne weathermaster, but it was best to make allowances in one's working nonetheless.
May the Mother of All Waters bless the souls circled in her holy embrace this night. For all are worthy. I, Dylan Kask, beseech the Great Lady Aegrir for her favor. I make this request for Coral Star and her crew. I weave the winds and dance the seas with the intent of the best outcome for those touched by my will.
With that, he shoved his arms forward and used all the magical energy he had to wedge the heaviest winds away from the ship.
He'd once tried to explain what it was like to weatherwork to his friend, Suvi. He'd told her it was like walking the main royal yard without a tether while carving. During a storm, it was even more intense. His consciousness drifted up and up until the ship seemed like a lost toy. Clouds gathered around him. The wind swirled west-southwest. He'd created a hole in its current like dropping a stone in a fast-running stream. He formed the space around the ship and then extended it into the surrounding water. He flattened the area across the ocean and stretched it bigger and bigger until the violent waves near Coral Star began to dissipate. He steered a helpful wind into the reefed sails to pilot the ship from danger. Coral Star seemed to jump at the chance. She moved with nimble grace northward and away from the worst of the storm. To Dylan, it took no time at all, and he was ready to return to his body when an unexpected shape caught his attention. A kainen shape.
The goddess threw her head back, laughing as she danced among the winds--whirling counterclockwise. Her black hair was cast all around her dark head. Her bare brown arms were likewise flung wide to the storm. She was one with the clouds and yet not. Her gown matched the color of her surroundings and faded from dark to light and back again in patterns Dylan recognized from his mother's paintings. Flashes of lightning glittered all around her like white-hot silver. Majestic, Aegrir was all at once young and old. She portrayed a sensual beauty and power in her joyfulness that no mortal could've matched.
Not even my Dar can dance like that.
Dylan had sensed her presence before. As a Waterborne and a practicing Leaudancer, it couldn't be avoided. He lived on Aegrir's waters, after all. She embodied crest and trough, expanding and contracting tides. She was both the world's blood and the world's heartbeat. However, he'd always visualized her as an abstract concept--the spirit of the ocean, not an actual entity. To see her was a shock. Transfixed, he couldn't bring himself to turn away. He drifted closer. Mid-whirl, she paused, and turned her attention to him. All at once, he felt caught like an insect on a pin. Her black gaze was brimmed with a presence so vast that he fought an urge to flinch. Terror spurred his faraway heart to beat faster.
What do you want, little one?
Her voice was huge in his mind. Stunned, it took him a moment to form a response. He knew he couldn't show her his terror. She would dismiss him, and he had need of her good will, more so now than ever before. Great Lady, I am here to protect my family and my home.
Aegrir cast her gaze down at the ocean surface. Why would you venture into my storm? Surely, my children would know better.
He didn't want to argue. He had a feeling it wouldn't go well. We did so to avoid an enemy intent upon drowning us. We had no desire to do the same to them.
Ah. The landwalkers. I sensed their deaths. They should've had more care.
Dylan didn't move. To agree would give the impression that he wished the Acrasians ill. To disagree might mean that he disapproved. He could afford neither.
She floated closer, and as she did, he became acutely aware of his insignificance. Again, he controlled his fear. He didn't wish to risk Dar's safety. I can't. I won't, he thought.
You are brave.
He stayed silent.
Your spirit-name, it is Lord of the Sea.
She smiled. That is brash.
He swallowed and held her gaze.
I like you, little lordling. Perhaps you will stay with me for a time.
Shock sent yet another chill through him. He executed a respectful bow. Great Lady, I regret that I am not free to do so.
You are bound to another?
I am, and I wish to return to him.
I see. She smiled again. I forgot your kind are concerned with appearances. If this were my form, would this still be your answer? She transformed into a handsome Waterborne male with hip-length spiritknotted hair, dark eyes, and a sexy grin. His smooth bare skin was a healthy dark brown. His muscles were firm and strong, and in an instant, Dylan knew what it would be like to slide his hand down that perfect thigh--to feel those teeth sink into his shoulder.
Dar. Remember Dar.
This man was bigger, more perfect, even more attractive than Dar. Dylan found himself staring. The urge to touch the stranger sent a shiver through his entire being. Stop it. Think of Dar. In truth, it was the first time in all the years he'd been with Dar that he'd been tempted to this extreme--even when he'd lived as an exile. I made a vow.
It wasn't until he began to sense an intense cold that he understood his danger. He was losing contact with his body. It's late. Please forgive me, but I must return now.
The stranger pouted, and Dylan found it very difficult to turn away.
You are very loyal.
Dylan said, I'm in love, Great One.
Loyalty and love, these are worthy things. She transformed into her previous shape and returned her gaze to the lower half of the storm. This working you have wrought. It is...weighty. It will be expensive.
I am aware. I will make a suitable offering, Great Lady. I will not forget.
She smiled again. I know you will, little lord. You are and always have been a wise and respectful child. This, too, pleases me. Return to your family. She made to go back to her dance, but before entirely withdrawing, she spoke over her shoulder. One last thing, Little Lord of the Sea.
I claim you, Dylan Ardan Kask son of Judoc Kask, Sealord of Clan Kask. You are mine. And with that, she reached toward him and placed a finger in the middle of his forehead. Bear my mark as well as my blessing.
An astounding shock ran through him and then the sensation of a sickening fall from a great height into unconsciousness. He awoke with Dar stooping over him. The deck was hard and dry under Dylan's back. Steam rose from the boards, and rain poured into his face.
"Don't you leave me, drown you! You can't do this!" Dar's handsome face was marred with panic. "Don't you dare! You promised!"
Too stupefied to do much of anything, Dylan forced two words past his lips. They came out in a jagged whisper. "Not gone." He was smothered in a hug at once.
"What did you think you were doing?" Dar asked.
"You scared me!"
Dylan carefully glanced around him. A headache the size of an Acrasian dreadnought was building up behind his eyes. Movement made it worse. "Is the word given?"
Once more, Dar hugged him tight. "It's given, drown you. It's given."
"Good," Dylan said. "I think I'd like to sleep now." His teeth began to clatter together. It didn't do his headache any favors.
"Let's get you below, then," Dar said. Turning, he shouted over his shoulder, "Get Jade! Tell her to meet us in our cabin!"
Dylan breathed in the scent of Dar and smiled. I'm home. The thought was accompanied by a sense of guilt. I refused the offer. I came back. I kept my word. Still, he'd been more sorely tempted than he'd been in his life. The idea shook him. He'd never even thought such a thing was possible. I can never tell Dar, can I? It would hurt him.
Dylan felt himself lifted from the deck and set on his feet. Dar positioned himself under his shoulder to provide support. Together, they staggered belowdecks and through the common area until they reached their cabin. Dylan could feel bruises swelling on his shoulder, legs, and back. Pain shot up his left leg and ran the length of his spine. He winced and shifted his weight.
"There's not much farther to go," Dar said. "Can you make it? Or do we need to stop?"
"Let's get this over with," Dylan said, gritting his teeth.
Dar slid open the pocket door to their narrow cabin with one hand--larger accommodations were reserved for crewmembers with children. The door trundled into the wall with a loud thud. Dylan lurched inside with Dar's help. The door slid shut. Dylan took small pride in noting that the ship's movements were less drunken than before. His bare feet crossed the rug with a squish, and damp wool prickled under the sole of his right foot. He'd forgotten to clean up the water puddle. Dar wasn't going to be happy about what that'd done to his mother's rug, but Dylan supposed they had more important things to worry about. Closing his eyes, Dylan let Dar help him undress and change into a dry nightshirt.
All the cabins on this level were temporary shelters--some were more temporary than others, particularly during a battle. Since theirs was one of the cabins positioned at the end of the row, it had a solid door and one solid cabin wall--not counting the side of the ship. The wall shared with the next cabin was made of heavy canvas. It flapped and swayed with Coral Star's movement. The action seemed to fan the sharp ammonia stench of bird.
Wooden cages, six of them occupied, were stacked and secured against the ship's side under the window. The occupants protested the unsteadiness of their surroundings. It didn't matter how much Dar cleaned, Dylan could smell bird shit. It was the one downside to bunking with Dar.
It could be worse, Dylan thought. We could be bunking with the guns. We have some privacy, at least.
There came a knock on their cabin door.
Dar asked, "Who is it?"
"It's Jade. May I come in?" The ship surgeon's graceful Tahmerian accent held an edge of tension.
"Yes," Dar said. He then grabbed a blanket, folded it on top of a trunk, and then returned his attention to Dylan. "Sit."
Dylan sat. "Dar, give me your knife."
"Later," Dar said.
"I need it. Now," Dylan said.
"Why?" Dar asked.
Rain pelted window glass. Lightning brightened the cabin's interior. Thunder, less immediate, rattled the window.
Jade Kalyani entered, balancing a cup in one hand and carrying a leather bag in the other. She was a compact and middle-aged woman with tan skin. Her face was tattooed with small, precise circles--two above her eyebrows, one close to each ear. The backs of her hands were also marked. Each circle contained a tiny dot-pattern inked in reds, blues, and greens. Dylan understood that the marks were related to her medical practice. The top of her head barely reached Dar's shoulder. Not a Leaudancer, her grey-streaked hair was bound into one thick braid that fell down the length of her back. She was dressed in baggy brown breeches, a white linen shirt, and a painted silk waistcoat of purple, red, and blue. Her hair was wet. She smelled of medicine and the ocean.
"Please, Dar," Dylan said. "The knife."
"You can't even stand," Dar said. "What makes you think handling a knife is going to be a good idea?"
"I need to take care of something. It's important," Dylan said.
Dar sighed. "Fine." He handed over his knife.
With weak and trembling hands, Dylan reached under his hair and cut two of the braids there. Each represented a connection with an ancestor forged over more than a decade. It would cost him an equal number of years' meditation and sacrifice to regrow, but the price was well worth the survival of Coral Star and all aboard her.
"Oh," Dar said as understanding dawned on his face.
Laying the shorn braids on top of the trunk next to him, Dylan planned to dispose of them properly after Jade left.
"How are you feeling?" Jade asked.
"Like I was hit with a wine barrel," Dylan said. "A full one. Lashed to two other wine barrels packed with lead. What time is it?"
She placed the cup and saucer on Dar's trunk. "Three bells. Middle watch."
No wonder it was so dark. He blinked. It had been morning when he'd gone to bed. "You let me sleep that long?"
Dar answered with a frown on his full lips. "If I hadn't, you'd be dead right now. As it is, you very nearly killed yourself. Again."
"You're not going to persist in arguing about this, are you?" Dylan asked.
"All right," Dar said. "All right."
Jade reached into her bag and began mixing ingredients, which she poured into the cup with expert motions. "Drink," she said, handing him the weighted stoneware dish.
"What is it?" Dylan asked.
"You've weakened yourself. We can't have you getting sick, can we?" she asked.
Dylan drank, winced, and almost spit it back into the cup. "That tastes terrible."
She took the dish from him. "Don't be a baby. Darius says you took a fall. You're in pain?"
"Let me see."
Pulling up his nightshirt, he turned his back and displayed his injuries.
She whistled. "It's a good thing you didn't land on your head." She poked and prodded his back. "Your leg hurts?"
"Yes. Left one. I didn't break it. At least, I don't think I did."
Placing a warm hand on his bare back, she said, "Breathe deep for me. Slowly."
He followed her instructions as best he could in spite of the hurt. She said nothing for a few moments. He felt a gradual, tingling warmth radiate from her palm. Knotted muscles, tense with pain, began to relax under her touch. Eventually, it spread down his spine and through his whole body. He breathed out in relief.
Finally, she replied, "You wrenched muscles in your back. Maybe something is pinched. It's difficult to be precise in this weather. Nothing is broken." She sat, returning her attention to her bag. She lined up a row of bottles and jars and mixed a new concoction. Once the necessary ingredients were inside the cup, she paused, placed her right hand over the brim, concentrated, and then whispered a blessing in Tahmerian. Tracing a holy symbol in the air above the mixture with a finger, she then poured hot water into the cup. She stirred its contents and then handed the finished product to him. "Drink this, too. For the pain. I didn't remove the hurt. I can't right now, but I blunted it. Unfortunately, that won't last long."
This time, he downed the medicine all at once. Its bitterness gave him a shudder, which sent a flash of agony through his spine. He blinked back tears. After three breaths, the ache faded until it became more tolerable.
Packing her things, she said, "I'm afraid that's the best I can do for now. How do you feel?"
"Better," Dylan said.
"Think you can sleep?" she asked.
"Yes. Thank you very much." He got to his feet.
Dar waved him toward the hammock they shared. "I'll pay. Sleep. Now."
"All right." Dylan carefully did as he was told. His aches and pains seemed to drift away. The need to sleep grew even more powerful.
Retrieving a smooth black stone from inside his own trunk, Dar then closed the lid. Jade, like any other member of the crew, was paid a wage for her services. However, Leaudancers were required to give of a gift in exchange for magic done on their behalf. It didn't have to be valuable, only meaningful. "Please accept this small stone. It's jet. It came from a beach in Eledore." In fact, Dylan had given it to Dar as a love token. "Keep it with you for protection."
Jade accepted the stone and then placed it in her waistcoat pocket. "Thank you." She turned and left.
Dylan prepared himself to be jostled as Dar joined him. He closed his eyes.
"I'm going topside," Dar said. "I'll check on you later."
Dylan felt Dar plant a kiss on his cheek and tuck the blankets in tight. "Sleep well, my love."
And with that, Dylan was lost to his dreams.
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is a Science Fiction and Fantasy author living in Texas.