Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Isle of Swords Sneak Preview!
My next book, Isle of Swords, is a high seas pirate adventure due to be released early this summer. Here for the first time online are two sneak preview chapters. Post in and let me know what you think.
Chapter 1 A Black Bird in the Storm
“Papa, I’m scared!” the little girl cried out as she slid awkwardly across the deck. Before she could regain her balance, she crashed into her father’s arms.
“Oh, Dolphin!” he said, shielding her from sheets of rain and sea spray. “What are you doing up here?”
She looked up at him, “I heard a monster out in the sea!”
“A monster? My darling daughter, you heard the thunder and the wind, that’s all,” he snuggled her in close beneath his coat. “There are no monsters in the sea. It’s a storm.”
“But it’s a big storm!” she whimpered.
“No, not big. Just noisy.” But this voice was not her father’s.
Dolphin peaked out from her father’s coat and grinned. It was Brand, the young ship’s mate she’d teased most afternoons since they left port. You’re my blond monkey, she’d said to Brand. And most times, he’d laugh, make chimp noises, and scurry up the nearest rope ladder or rigging. Now, the wind whipped his long hair about his face, but Dolphin saw him wink and felt her heart flutter.
“I’m still scared,” she said.
“It’s just a squall,” Brand said confidently. “Captain Halifax will see us through. And The Trafalgar is the pride of His Majesty’s fleet! Now you mind your father and go back to your quarters ’til it blows over.” And just like that, he was gone across the deck.
“There, you see?” said Dolphin’s father. “No monsters. Just a storm.” He looked down at his precious little girl. Her bright coppery locks were matted against her pale cheeks.
Dolphin stared back, but up beyond her father, following the main mast through shrouds of rigging, past the crow’s-nest, and into the turbulent gray sky. The churning dark clouds seemed to scowl back. Lightning slashed overhead, and Dolphin ducked again into her father’s coat. Thunder crashed, and the entire ship trembled.
“Papa!” she cried. He gave her a brave smile and cradled her head against his chest. He hoped she couldn’t hear his heart hammering away. No, she couldn’t. Not through the overcoat and not with the storm raging.
“There, there, my Dolphin. Remember what Brand said. It will all be over soon. Now, let’s get you back to our quarters and snug in bed.”
“But, Papa, I want to stay here with you!”
“No, you will be much safer below,” he replied, a slight edge to his voice. “I have work to do. I’m helping the quartermaster. He’s waiting for me . . . see?” He pointed to the grizzled graybeard near the mast. He alone of all the sailors on deck wore no coat. He nodded and grinned at Dolphin.
Suddenly, Dolphin clutched her father’s leg. She stared, pointing past the quartermaster, past the main mast, out into the rolling sea. “What’s that?” she shrieked.
Dolphin’s father turned and squinted into the murk. A huge sea swell rose and further obscured his view. “What, I don’t see anyth—” His mouth shut with an audible snap. The swell subsided. Lightning crackled and streaked. In the flickering light and through the spray and chop, an enormous ship appeared in the distance. It was tall, at least three masts, and narrowed sharply at the bow. It knifed through the waves, driving toward them.
Dolphin’s father bent low and held his little girl by the shoulders. “Stay here,” he whispered urgently. He ran to the quartermaster and pointed out into the sea.
“Pirates,” hissed the quartermaster.
“Pirates? In the middle of the storm?”
The quartermaster did not reply immediately. He stared out into the sea. Abruptly, he took in a sharp breath and went very rigid. He grabbed Dolphin’s father by the shoulder of his coat and practically dragged him back across the deck. “Get your daughter down below,” he said as they drew near the ship.
“Come, my child,” Dolphin’s father said, his voice taut. “We must go to our quarters.”
“But, Papa, the ship . . . who are they?”
“No one to worry about, Dolphin. Off the deck, now. Here we go—”
“You best not lie to your daughter.” The quartermaster’s voice was flat, terrifyingly void of emotion. “That ship . . . it’s The Raven. Bartholomew Thorne.”
Dolphin’s father felt the blood in his veins turn to ice at the uttering of that dark name. He whisked his daughter off the deck and raced for the cabins. He banged awkwardly through a door, and his daughter screamed.
“I’m so sorry, Dolphin,” he managed to say. He could feel her trembling against him. He held her close and continued running. A hundred thoughts raced through his mind: memories, hopes, regrets.
“Papa!” she pleaded as they plunged into their cabin.
He sat down with her on the bed and snuffed the candle in the lantern. As darkness enveloped them, he said, “Don’t worry, my precious daughter. It will all be over soon.”
And he began to pray.
Chapter 2 Echoes of Cannon Fire
A cannon shot, deep and sudden, trailed off like a peal of thunder. Something cold touched his fingertips. Another shot. Run them all out, boys!
Water trickled over his hand. She’s taking on something awful! Bosun, pitch that leak! Another shot, nearer still. Water surged into his mouth and nose. A wave partially submerged his head and sprayed his back.
He woke, jerked his head up from the surf, and flailed onto his side. His face, his arms, his back—throbbed and burned. “What happened?” he moaned, coughing up seawater and grinding sand between his teeth. He could not see. Has someone cut out my eyes? Hands trembling, he reached up. His eyes were swollen and caked shut . . . but at least they were there.
After several painful attempts, he managed to pry them open. Brilliant white light knifed in, he clutched at his face. His head throbbed, sun blazed mercilessly off the white sand, but slowly his eyes adjusted. He squinted under a cloudless blue sky and saw water. As another wave raced toward him, he rose to one knee. That little bit of movement brought tremendous pain. It felt as if there were shards of glass embedded in his skin.
With another groan, he stood. He reached over his shoulder and, between the tatters of his shirt, he felt ripped flesh, sticky and wet. His fingertips came back glistening with blood, and he became lightheaded. He swayed for a moment, then steadied himself and looked around. Across a slope of white sand, there stood a deep copse of trees—mostly tall palms, surrounded by sea grape and divi-divi trees. He stared at the leaning, gnarled trunks. Divi-divi trees always leaned to the southwest. That meant something . . . he felt sure it did, but he could not grasp what. He looked along the tree line, up and down the shore, and again, out to sea. “I don’t know this place,” he whispered.
He grabbed fistfuls of his matted blond hair. His welted face felt foreign . . . like someone else’s. A sharp ringing came to his ears. The world seemed to spin. “My God,” he mouthed, “I . . . I don’t even know who I am.”
A flash of green racing across the sand drew his attention, and he turned. At his feet, a large iguana sat gnawing at the leather drawstring of a pouch that lay half-buried in the sand.
Brushing aside the lizard, he picked up the fist-sized pouch. It had some weight to it. “Is this mine?” he wondered aloud. He thought it had to be, but nothing about it seemed familiar. Still, when he loosened the drawstring and began to pour out its contents, he couldn’t help but feel a strange gravity weighing upon him.
A sparkling green stone fell into his hands first. It was shaped like an almond, but much larger. The brilliant sun flickered within it as if the stone was alive with fire at its core. Next, a lock of lustrous red hair dropped out and lay in his palm close to the jewel. The hair was a little damp but still very soft. He ran a finger lightly over it, wondering. . . .
The surf raced in and covered his feet, just as the last item—a rusty iron cross—fell into his palm. Ancient it looked—and not just from the tarnish. It bore strange markings and a script of some design, but he could not read it.
He dropped the three tokens into the pouch. He did not recognize any of these things. Nothing made any sense! His head ached. Weak and confused, he watched as an iguana scurried away and disappeared over the slope. Then he froze, for nearby the lizard’s trail was a trail of footprints. They wound away from the trees, down from the slope, almost directly to where he stood. A wave crashed with a sound like a cannon shot . . . or maybe, more like the crack of a whip, and he jumped.
The ringing came back to his ears, and he felt dizzy. As his vision blurred, he looked at the footprints leading up to where he stood. The thought, I am not alone, flashed into his mind before everything around him faded into darkness.