A Final Excerpt from LORD OF THE CROOKSIDE – now available on Zackerium.com
“Share the wealth?”
Pohtoli shook the clay bottle. After a moment, Yasinnic shrugged and took it open, swigging down the usual mixture…toggef, it was called. Rum, to take the edge of the boredom and monotony that were the usual companions of life on a ship in the Empyrean. Lime juice, to keep scurvy at bay, a bit of wisdom that went back as far as anyone could remember. And water, to keep the crew from being incapacitated by drunkenness, and to stretch out the lime juice on log voyages.
Pohtoli would have preferred a cup of fine red wine. He took down a mouthful. “See anything?” he asked after swallowing.
“Not since the last time you asked,” Yasinnic answered. The kuyei hunched down in his cupola, shrugging every so often to keep his skycoat warm. His skin was copper-colored, his hair black and bound back in a tail, his pointed ears poking up through the strands. All three rifles sat next to him, loaded and primed if needed. Thus far they hadn’t been touched. He noted how Pohtli scanned the horizon with barely concealed anxiety.
“If there were peradins approaching,” Yasinnic said, “I would see them.”
“I do not doubt it,” Pohtoli responded. But he continued to look.
Yasinnic frowned. “Why do you fear the peradins?” he asked.
“I don’t fear them,” Pohtoli answered. “I hate the scum. There is a difference.”
“All right…why do you hate them?”
Pohtoli turned about, hunching down to get out of the wind. “I am Iyantuan,” he explained.
“Yes, you remind us of this at least once a day.”
“Really? I should do it more often. To be of Iyantua is to hate the peradins They infest the Empyrean around my world, harass out trade routes, even raid out cities on occasion. We are a realm whose lifeblood is trade, and yet our ships must run a gauntlet of flying savages to carry our goods to markets near and far. Two of my childhood friends bore scars from peradin scum by the time they reached their twentieth year. One of my uncles died in battle when a marauding tribe swarmed the ship he was on. To be an Iyantuan is to hate the peradins, and killing them is a meritorious act in the eyes of the gods.”
Yasinnic took this all in without comment. He then shifted about and looked to the east. “Peradins,” he said. “Coming in from the west.”
“Where?” Pohtoli whirled about, scanning the distance with a savage eagerness. “I don’t see anything…” Then he heard Yasinnic’s soft laugh.
“That’s not funny,” he snapped, looking back at his comrade.
“I think it is,” Yasinnic chortled.
Two days later, Stozenvaal appeared in the distance. First as a small brown and green dot barely standing out against the dark gray of the Empyrean, growing the closer they came. Soo enough it filled their vision to the east, a broad, diamond-shaped piece of rock and earth, fifteen miles long from one end to the other.
“Stozenvaal,” Gaebrel said, looking through the spyglass. “Looks like we’re coming in from the Sarrow Point.” He went over to the pipe and stamped his feet twice. “Two points to starbed,” he called down. “Then keep her steady.”
“Right!” Hurren called back up. Gaebrel kept his eye on their destination, growing in the distance. He muttered something under his breath, a gutteral phrase that drew the eyes and ears of his comrades nearby.
“What was that?” Morrec asked.
“Prayer for protection,” Gaebrel answered. “‘May winds be at my back and solid rock beneath my feet.’ Words to be said, when a man returns to Stozenvaal.” A slight accent entered his voice as he said this, the name coming out a Shtozhenvaal to Morrec’s ears.
Then Gaebrel frowned. “That’s new,” he said. On the sharp point of land that marked Stozenvaal’s end, a stone fortress gripped the land, its front spreading downwards over the edge.
“Maybe a lord built it,” Pohtoli observed.
“There are no lords here,” Gaebrel said. “Every family is a law unto itself…” He put his eye to the spyglass…a banner flew from the topmost tower of the fort, a pair of blue daggers on a white background, placed between two red slashes.
“Maybe a garrison?” Gerel suggested. “You said this was a haven for pirates. Perhaps someone decided to do something about it?”
“Excet Vanzaar’s Blades fly at the top.” Gaebrel lowered the spyglass. “That’s the flag of Stozenvaal.”
“Your people have a flag?” Pohtoli asked, surprised.
“Of course! Why wouldn’t we?”
They passed over the fortress. Gaebrel looked over the side, and saw men on the battlements watching. Light reflected from spy glasses, and one fellow, the size of an ant from his perspective, waved at them.
“Another mystery,” Gaebrel said, unease grwig in him.
The land passed below. Winds generally slowed near a world or a land of any real size, a mystery of the Aethyr that he had yet heard an explanation form. The great currents that cut through the Empyrean carried ships and other travelers on journeys of tens of thousands of miles in a matter of months…but when they neared a land or a world they often slowed to the speed of a strong breeze on the surface of the ocean. A blessing in one sense…those living in places like Stozenvaal didn’t have to fear the Celestial Winds carrying them away, along with anything else that wasn’t nailed down. Unless a storm struck…
The ship followed the edge. A village passed in the distance…Ebeltad, that was it was called, he remembered. Two others could be seen in the distance…Voornzet and Abetstol. Haarnhek was on the other side of the land, beyond the Crook. The ground was covered in grass, and he saw a herd of sheep amble along, followed by a shepherd and his dog.
“Nothing grows down there,” Morrec said. “How do they eat?”
“There are farms on the Lowside,” Gaebrel answered, “the other side of the land. And hunting boats go out with nets and spears, to catch birds and anything else that can be eaten.” He frowned, and called out an adjustment. “Arc us down two points. Its best to have the edgeside along our sides.”
Gerel and Pohtoli went out onto the sidesails, while Morrec went below to the crystal locker, ready to work the rexite rods if needed. The Sparrow shuddered slightly as the sidesails turned, pointing the ship downwards slightly. The edgeside of Stozenvaal rose past, the topside disappearing above.
“Level them out,” Gaebrel ordered. The rocky face passed alongside, and then vanished as a thick layer of trees approached. Not a natural forest…they were laid out in orderly rows, planted on the topside above then continuing downward along the edge towards the Lowside below. He recognized them…moortira trees, fast growing. One could go from a sapling to a twenty-foot trunk in three years. The people used the twigs and deadfall for firewood, while the planks made strong and sturdy ships. He remembered a forest being there, but it was never this large…
There were other sips ahead…a great many of them, marking the entrance to the Crook. He frowned, as another massive fortress came into view, this one extending from the topside of the land down to the bottom, a tall cannon tower at the top with the rest of it rising from the edgeside like a great blister of cut stone and brick. Cannons posted out of gunports, and long firing slits raun in the areas between them. That also wasn’t around the last he saw this place. There were no forts, no cannons. Who would attack Stozenvaal, there was nothing worth taking? Even the peradins disdained the place…
The Sparrow passed by the fortress, and then they were in the Crook. A long channel cut into one face of the diamond that was Stozenvaal, going two-thirds of the way through the land, and almost a mile wide at the mouth. Bird and bat colonies lived on its walls, that he remembered. The small hunting boats of the Stozenners trapped them with nets, or went out into the Empyrean in search of larger game.
The birds were still there…a flock of them flew upward in the distance, a hundred strong, their wings flashing in the gloom. Across the mouth, on the opposite side was another fortress, a twin to the one they had just passed behind. Gaebrel told Hurren to turn, his voice fading away at the site ahead.
The Crook was a natural harbor. Ships that took shelter within its gloom could ride out even the fiercest of Empyrean storms, and there were always a few docked here. A town of sorts had grown up at the end of it..Azelpaar it was called. A ramshackle place in his memories, where low edgeside taverns huddled next to brothels like the one his mother ran, catering to the needs of crews waiting for the winds to turn in their favor. A rough place even at the best of times…those living in the countryside tolerated its existence because of the coin the place brought it, but otherwise avoided it.
“Look at that!” Potoli called out from the starboard sidemast, pointing ahead at the brilliant sight beyond.
“Now that’s a thing of beauty!” Gerel added.
Gaebrel stared into the distance. “What happened here?” he whispered.
LORD OF THE CROOKSIDE (Book Seven of the Nine Suns) now available on Zackerium.com!