In the buried archives of the Temple of Dust may lie the secret to defeating the Curse, a creature which seeks to destroy 16 year old Ria for the forbidden gifts she possesses. But it is from among the ranks of those who control the Curse where Ria will find her best chance of success. Only the Priestess Niri can save Ria from the forces that hunt her, if Niri doesn’t betray the girl first. Along with Ria comes Ty and his sister, Lavinia, both bound to defend Ria from the Church of Four Orders and Niri, if they must. However, Ty has been living a life less than honest and keeping it from his sister. To survive a journey that takes them across the breadth of their world, the four must learn to trust each other before pursuit from the Church and Ty’s troubled past find them.
So goes the description to my epic fantasy novel Born of Water. The Companion to Born of Water, full of background information and other tidbits, will be released within a week and I’m hard at work on the sequel, Rule of Fire. I’ve offered up Born of Water for free, but never given out sample chapters! Bruce has convinced me to mend my ways, so for the first time ever here is an excerpt from Chapter 7 – The Bazaar of Sardinia:
No one entered Sardinia unnoticed. The town was perched on an exposed slim finger of land which jutted out into the Sea of Sarketh. High hills dropped quickly to the ocean, leaving no deep, sheltering harbor or port for vessels. Instead, a natural breakwater was formed by a line of rocks sweeping out from the point. It offered ships meager shelter from the current and incoming storms.
A small town had formed by those skillful or desperate enough to seek refuge behind the submerged rocks of the breakwater. Despite the convenient location of the town between the Archipelago and the cities lining the Sea of Sarketh, the lack of a harbor had kept the settlement from becoming a thriving commercial town. Over time, the breakwater had been enlarged with boulders and the town had turned to catering to those whose needs were not met in the traditional markets. Sardinia was avoided by conventional merchants and honest professionals, or so Ria had heard.
As Lavinia steered them toward a ramshackle wharf, Ty stood watch leaning over the edge of the boat.
“Rocks awash fifteen feet to port.”
Lavinia nudged the rudder post to turn them a degree to the right.
“No, keep the course steady.” Ty’s harsh voice caused Lavinia to flush as she froze her hand.
“Then say ‘stay on course,’ not ‘rocks to port,’” Lavinia snapped at her brother.
Ty ran his hands through his already rumpled hair. Ria and Niri glanced at each other in silence. Ria’s breath caught in her throat as they glided past the half-submerged remains of a ship. The cracked boards of its hull were an ominous welcome to the dangerous town and harbor.
“You are doing fine. Just keep it slow and follow the channel,” Ty said a little more kindly.
Lavinia took a deep breath and glared at the back of her brother’s head. She refocused on the quickly approaching wharf. The mass of wooden planks and pilings sprawled along the shore without order. In places, small rope-and-board bridges spanned sections that had fallen into the waves.
“Where do I go?” Lavinia asked, admitting that she needed help.
“Stay to the starboard side. Head there, just off the channel. You see?” Ty said, pointing to a doubtful-looking mass of planks nailed haphazardly between old pilings.
“That’s where the merchant vessels tie up?” Lavinia’s voice broke with nervousness.
Ty glanced at her grimly. “No, but it’s the closest to the channel and will be the fastest to leave from.”
The edges of Ria’s vision faded, the colors blending to white. She inhaled sea-laden air while her stomach tumbled. Overcome with seasickness and nervousness, she focused on the rigid lines made by the bones of her hands, not looking up toward the town until the boat brushed the dock.
Three men were walking down the wharf toward them as Lavinia stalled the sailboat just off the dock. They confidently stepped across the missing planks with an easy swagger. His gaze not leaving the approaching men, Ty casually looped a rope around a nearly upright piling, not so much securing them as making certain the boat did not drift.
“Do exactly as I say while we are here,” he said quietly.
Wide-eyed, Lavinia watched her brother over the dropped sail as she lashed it to the boom. Niri was pale, but her serene face did not betray any fears. Ria felt that if she opened her mouth she would scream. Her heart thudded in her chest so hard she thought it would break her ribs, which felt as fragile as crystal. She was a creature made of spun gold and milk glass about to step foot in a world that would crush her as surely as the Church. Eyes twin shards of moss agate set in alabaster, Ria stared at Ty, feeling as frightened of what he was asking her to do as she was of the men walking down the dock.
“Aye, what business do you have?”
The lead man stood over their small ship, coolly appraising it from the height of the dock. One thumb was hooked into the waist of his faded red, rough-woven pants, while his weight rested on his right leg in a casual pose. His muted brown hair fell to his cheeks, which showed two days worth of scruff.
“We have goods for the bazaar,” Ty answered calmly, eyes not leaving the man’s face.
There was a slight glimmer to the man’s hazel eyes as he looked at Ty, then the air of nonchalance fell back across his face. His eyes drifted between Ria and Lavinia. “Is that so? Anything good?”
The muscles around Ty’s face tightened and he stood a little straighter. “Odds and ends mostly; we need to clean out the boat.”
“Not selling her, are you?” the second man asked from where he stood a pace behind the first. Sandy blond hair trailed over one eager brown eye. His tan tunic had a slash of dirt across the front, while his pants were neither gray nor brown. They were the color of mud.
“No, the boat isn’t for sale.”
“Too bad. She is a slick little vessel,” the man replied, his eyes laughing at some private joke.
The third man was hard to gauge. He stood well back from the other two. Built lithely with fine muscles that rippled under his deep black skin, his eyes took in everything. But his expression gave little in return. His clothes were dark, a sleeveless violet tunic with embroidery at the keyhole collar over black pants and boots. The fabric of his shirt was crisp as if still new. His eyes were the only ones that did not stare at the two girls. He met Niri’s gaze steadily.
Niri remained unreadable, not in the least bothered by the direct stare. She stood alone near where she usually sat on the boat, the bright and slightly revealing shirt looking out of place on her controlled form. Ria felt as pale as a summer rain cloud. She refused to look at any of the men, wishing they would disappear if she did not acknowledge their presence, as if she could will this place not to exist. Lavinia stood in front of her, looking up at the men through a lock of dark hair that had fallen across her downcast face. To Ria, the glare to Lavinia’s blue eyes looked startlingly like her brother’s.
“You’ll need to pay the normal dock fee, then,” said the first man, who looked to be the oldest, or at least the one in charge.
Ty did not hesitate. “I’ll pay you to watch the ship, too. We won’t be past sunset.”
The offer erased the dour look from the man’s face. “That would be all right. I’m Gaff. Causis and Hahri can help you take items up to the bazaar as well. You can pay me.” His grin was easy and gap-toothed, more troubling in the boyishness of it compared to the nefarious look the moment before.
Ty passed Gaff a handful of coins without even counting them. Ria watched the money they had spent the last two days earning disappear into Gaff’s shirt. Her breath came in little puffs as she floated high in her head, detached from her body, the boat, the town.
Gaff vanished down the haphazard wharf. Sandy-haired Causis stood leering at the two girls while Hahri waited silently behind him. Ty tossed the bags they had sorted the night before and brought on deck at dawn at Causis’s and Hahri’s feet. Causis scowled but picked up his share.
Ria followed Lavinia’s actions, bending to pick up a small sack of mostly fine cloth. It was light but Ria felt like a willow being bent over in a storm. Ty helped her from the boat to the wharf, his touch warm on her ice-like skin. It made her come back to herself and her skittering heartbeat like a wild bird caught in a snare.
Ria walked down the rickety wharf as close to Lavinia as possible. Hahri and Causis were nearly to end of the dock and Ty was moving quickly to stay with them. Ria’s stiff, stilt-like legs and the weight of the bundle twined in her arms nearly caused her to overbalance at every missing plank. Her eyes would lock on the water swirling around the rocks below and she would nearly misstep. Niri’s hand on her shoulder kept her moving, bringing back enough focus to keep her from walking off the edge.
The relief of finding the muddy road under her feet fell away the instant the wind shifted. The smell of strong spirits and stale urine hit her with a sudden onslaught. She gagged this time for a reason other than nerves. On solid ground now, Lavinia moved her bundle to her left hip so that she and Ria could walk next to each other, their shoulders nearly touching. Ty followed directly behind Hahri and Causis, while Niri was last, keeping the girls between herself and Ty.
Dilapidated buildings with broken boards and missing narrow windows lined the dirt road winding up the hill. Bottles were smashed into the muddy track. A rat dove under the corner of a building, something moldy in its mouth. In an upper window, Ria saw movement. She found herself meeting the dull eyes of a girl about her age. Her naked shoulder was bruised and scratched, lank hair falling down to cover her breast. Rough hands covered the welt and pulled her back and out of sight.
Trembling so hard that she thought her bones would fall apart, Ria pulled her eyes down to Ty’s back and trudged ahead in a nightmare.
The abused wooden buildings gave way to low stucco structures and then larger ones of worn stone. Still far from elegant, these building at least gave a sense of purpose and organization. Ria found herself glancing around again from under her lashes.
Ahead, Hahri opened a tall arched door set in a high wall. Causis and Ty slipped through without pausing. Ria raced through on Lavinia’s heels, who stopped so quickly Ria bumped into her. The bazaar of Sardinia swirled around them on the other side of the old stone wall. The winding narrow streets of chipped stone and stucco buildings echoed the shouts, music, laughter, and sales chatter of hundreds of vendors. Shop doors stood open, giving glances into the dark interiors of rug merchants and dimly lit cafés. Smoke from small cook fires along the street floated in the warming air. The smells of roasted coffee mixed with spices and cooked marinated meats mingled in the still morning. It was the largest and most vibrant market Ria had ever seen or heard of. She blinked in surprise.
“Where do you want to start?” It was the first time Hahri had spoken. His voice was a low base that rumbled deep in his chest. After walking through the doorway to the market, Hahri was now behind Niri while Causis was next to Ty. Ria glanced at Ty to see Causis staring at her. Ria felt her cheeks flame as she glanced away.
“I know someone. You will be able to leave us there. This way.”
Ty led, moving along the bazaar with the ease of someone comfortably familiar with their surroundings. The tension was gone from Lavinia’s form as she watched her brother’s back. The bundle she carried dangled only a foot above the ground. Niri and Hahri were behind Ria, so she could not see if they were similarly relaxed in the vibrant heart of Sardinia. Ria felt more confused than reassured.
But it was easy to be drawn in. An elongated red and orange demi-dragon twisted around the arms of a tattooed man, the rich colors of his skin blending with that of the chained beast. Birds in cages or with feet tied to sticks screamed and sang from one stall. In another, fire sylphs danced above their brass cages waiting to be sold. A man ran up to Ria holding out lengths of gleaming silver silk. His words were incomprehensible as he described the material in a language other than trade. Ria shook her head and looked away, seeing a young boy acrobat, wearing little more than paint, lithely tumbling forward from a handstand. It was marvelous and lurid, fantastical and deceptive.
In the midst of it all, Ria felt like every eye turned toward her. Silk and jewelry, delicate shoes and fine dresses were whisked in front of her. She pulled into herself, for the first time in her life wishing away the novelty of her delicate beauty. The sellers could not help but notice her. Eyes from the shadows of stores assessed her potential. She could feel the stares pushing against her.
Senses assaulted by a new wave of merchandise thrust at her, Ria floundered, gesturing them away with her hands. The bag she was holding dropped and was scooped up before she could bend over. Tears of frustration filled her eyes as she stepped after it, only to be stopped immediately by the surrounding wall of merchant men. Lavinia was not next to her, Ty nowhere to be seen.
Ria scrambled to step back, not knowing how she had become separated from them so quickly. But the men would not let her pass. A hand like a shackle closed over her wrist and pulled her sideways through the throng. Ty had come to collect her, she was sure. The relief that Ty had found her shattered as Ria found herself staring into Causis’s greedy brown eyes. His other hand cut off her scream as he dragged her forward toward the edge of the street.
His grip was brutal. His hand crushed her wrist, bruising her flesh while the arm of the hand across her mouth felt like a steel band across her chest. As he pulled her down an alley barely a doorway wide, Ria stumbled against him, feeling the length of his body against hers. She began to struggle, writhing and kicking.
The hand over her mouth let go. Ria sucked in air before it was knocked out of her again by the slap across her face.
“Stop it. You are worth more to me unblemished, but not by much,” Causis hissed into her ear.
I hope you enjoyed this tiny snippet of the novel! You can find Born of Water on amazon. Look for the Companion, which will be free, sometime in the first week of August. And if all goes well, Rule of Fire should be out late fall.