Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer


Here’s another new experiment: my first Kindle project. You can find it here.

And here’s the first chapter.


   “What the hell are you looking at?”
   Jaelik Tarlsson—captain of Rapier’s Thrust, which flew the black flag in Roostaan waters that guaranteed a hangman’s noose for any man of age caught aboard her—grinned drunkenly at the young giant in Roostaan Deathwatch sergeant’s leathers.
   “Now there’s a pretty question, laddie,” Jaelik said smoothly. “You see, if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t have to be looking so long, now would I?”
   The young sergeant blinked owlishly. Nearly seven feet tall and broad across the shoulders, he sat hunched over one of the slipshod wooden tables at the back of the Blistered Mermaid tavern. His huge fists rested on either side of a wooden platter piled high with gnawed rib bones. Burgundy sauces and grease stained the broad, brutish face and uniform blouse. Dark, stringy hair trailed to his shoulders. His scabbarded sword lay across the table, close at hand, and showed plenty of wear and tear.
   “You never seen a man eat before?” the sergeant asked belligerently.
   The nearby crowd grew silent, and the effect spread throughout the tavern. It didn’t take long for the whole place to go silent because the drinking establishment wasn’t big. The tavern perched on the sagging pilings that hung out into the dock, a cancerous sore that protruded out into the harbor. Red lanterns marked its roof so ships’ helms could see it clearly in the dark, and men needing a cheap drink or bill of fare could find it whether tired or already working on a drunk.
   The Blistered Mermaid was one of several ale houses along the seedy docks of Roosta, and the port city was home to some of the vilest fighting men to ever stand a ship berth or guard post. As the forerunner of the League of Alpatian Sea Nations—merely a fancy name for the organized freebooters that had rallied to Turkoth Blackheart’s crimson flag—Roosta held order through a combination of martial law, blackmail, and bribery.
   The city, and others of the League like it, had become a haven for raiders and pirates who preyed on the weakened nations around them. The hard-fought war against the invading barbarian hordes from the north had consumed years, men, and materials.
   Unfortunately, the threat from the North was the only thing that had bound the sea-faring nations in centuries. That, and the trade they managed with the great nations to the east and the west. Far Exterre, of the glittering onion domed towers, beautiful doe-eyed women who masked their faces by custom, and powerful arcane magics that—some said—could raise the dead, didn’t care who managed the Alpatian Sea as long as their goods got through on time. Likewise with Lythaan, the great sea power that held all the Western Ocean in thrall with their vast warships and first-rate navies and armies.
   The tiny nations and city-states lodged in the harsh mountainous terrain that framed the crescent body of the Alpatian Sea were too deeply rooted for either Exterre or Lythaan to attempt to conquer. Both powerful nations would have had to sacrifice far more than they were willing to give up, and with the mountains and the barbarians to the North, there was nowhere for the Alpatian countrymen to go.
   “Oh, I’ve seen men eat before,” Jaelik stated pointedly, “I was just interested in watching you.”
   The sergeant spat out a chunk of chewed gristle that bounced from the stained tabletop. The Blistered Mermaid wasn’t known for its cuisine. He looked like he was trying to make sense of what Jaelik said, or perhaps it was only indigestion.
   “Mayhap,” Alff whispered at the captain’s elbow, “ye could see ta properly antagonizing one o’ them a little closer to our own size.”
   Jaelik grinned and whispered to his companion. “Where would be the fun in that?” He was a couple inches shy of six feet, with a frame made broad by years of handling oars and sail. He’d first crewed aboard flatboats hauling goods from one ship to another in port cities, then on cargo ships. Now he was captain of his own vessel as a privateer under the Letters of Marquee granted him by Vellak, where he hailed from. Vellak was one of the few port cities Turkoth hadn’t managed to gain control of. At least, not yet. Vellak’s policy of free trade cut deeply into Turkoth’s coffers.
   Jaelik wore his blond hair cut short on the sides but in a braid in the back, and went clean-shaven. A few years short of thirty, his skin was browned from seasons spent at sea and facing harsh weather. Scars marked him, from rope burns to sword cuts. He remained short of handsome, too, carrying a face that too many could easily forget, which served him well as a privateer captain.
   He wore a dyed blue silk shirt with belled sleeves, white leather pants, and black, cracked leather knee boots rolled over generously. An unadorned rapier hung from a broad black belt brocaded in gilt and fancy stitchery. The belt was there as part of his disguise as one of the many near-do-well merchant princes that trolled the waters around Roosta these days, but the sword was one he was familiar with.
   “Aye, an’ as I were to recall,” Alff grumbled, “we’re not here to be after having fun. We’re here cause-a that thrice-damned ha’nt that them blamed sea gypsies cursed you with. Cegrud the One-Legged take ‘em all.”
   “You know better than to speak ill of the dead,” Jaelik cautioned.
   Alff shrugged and shook his head. He was a beefy man with a shock of red hair, a fierce curling mustache, and was nearly twice his captain’s age. He crewed aboard Rapier’s Thrust as quartermaster, and he was the man Jaelik had learned to favor having cover his back.
   “Aye,” Alff replied, “an’ I figger they done and gone too far when they up an’ make an honest man’s life an unjoyous hell. Me, I’d rather be chasing after a godspeaker what could banish ha’nts than what we’re after doing.” He squinted up one blue eye at Jaelik. “An’ begging the cap’n’s pardon, but ye still ain’t sure ye ain’t just gone a little daft.”
   Jaelik shot the man a look.
   “Hey, an’ I said a little,” Alff replied, spreading his hands in supplication. “I’ve knowed ye to take a couple hard shots to the gourd in the past, an’ mayhap a binge or two in one of them Krillican drinking dens. Either one of them can leave damage what can return an’ addle a man now and again.”
   “She is not some hallucination triggered by an old injury or exotic drink,” Jaelik stated. Only he could see the woman aboard Rapier’s Thrust. “The gypsies knew about her.”
   Alff scratched his whisker-stubbled chin. “Aye, I been thinking on that somewhat, too. Mayhap they just kinda put that thought in yer noggin an’ let ye summon up yer own demons.”
   “She’s a beautiful woman,” Jaelik protested.
   “Aye, an’ what other kinds of demons would a rogue like ye be summoning up, Cap’n?” Alff grinned. “Ye remember them twins in Xzanl? The ones that wanted to boil yer—”
   “What the hell are you two talking about?” the sergeant bellowed angrily. He leaned toward their table, and the Roostaan soldiers leaned in with him expectantly.
   Roostaan soldiers, Jaelik knew, weren’t touted as being generous or gentle. However, they also didn’t kill people they believed to be merchant princes, who might be ransomed back to some well-to-do trading house.
   Jaelik grinned again and jerked a thumb at Alff. “My friend here said he believes you have an interesting face. All pointed like it is, he thought it should be rendered on the prow of a fighting ship.”
   The sergeant tossed another gnawed bone onto the plate piled high before him. He looked at his companions as if seeking some indication of how he was to receive the news.
   Alff sighed deeply and whispered, “Cap’n, ye could have left me out of this altogether. That is one brutish man, and I don’t take a beatin’ near as well as I used to.”
   “Now me,” Jaelik went on, pouring a little more mulled wine from the pitcher he’d purchased, “I was thinking that a face like that could never be placed on anywhere other than the south end of anything northbound.”
   Face reddening, the sergeant reached for the sword and slid it free of the scabbard. “Now that,” he roared, “I don’t like at all.”
   “Oh, I don’t hold you accountable for that,” Jaelik said good-naturedly. “I blame your mother. Looking at you, there’s no telling what she bedded down with. That’s not your responsibility at all.”
   With a cry of rage, the sergeant surged up from the table. He brandished the sword and the pale light from the oil lanterns gleamed dully in the pocked finish.
   “My apologies,” Jaelik said unctuously. “Obviously I’ve struck a nerve. I wasn’t aware that you knew the lady.”
   “Get him, Portnoy!” one of the other Deathwatch guards urged. “Split him like a rotten melon!”


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