Monday, January 28, 2013

First Chapters: Fisherpriest by C.M. Simpson

Fisherpriest was C.M. Simpson's first published full length dark fantasy novel. While its main theme is of finding one's place in a world not quite their own, it is also a tale of horror, magic and fantasy. Other themes include slavery and racism, and the book contains adult content not suitable for a younger audience or more sensitive readers. C. says it was not an easy novel to write in places, but she enjoyed its journey.

When the two halves of her soul rejoin, Linna finds herself in a city she does not recognize on a world she thought existed only in her imagination. To make matters worse, the god she serves has rejected her, and she is captured and sold to four princes from a distant land, who require a priest of the sea. What starts out as a journey to regain her deity’s approval, soon becomes a flight for her life. With one prince at her side, and unspeakable evil at her back, Linna embarks on a journey where she must survive pursuit by the purist Silver Mountains tribeselves, and captivity by the cave spider clan in order to find her place in the world.

Fisherpriest is the first novel in a quintet of books set on the south-eastern coast of one of Tzamesch's main continents, and is the first of the Tales of the Five Kingdoms series. It is available on Smashwords, Kobo, Kindle, iTunes and CreateSpace.

Chapter 1: Arrival

I did not know, when I created the fisher priests, that they existed, and it was certainly never my intention to become one.
I was writing. My occupation being an author, this was not unusual. The final details for an overview of the world I was designing for my books were coming together on the computer monitor, and I found I needed another look at the map I’d made.
It was almost complete but, when I bent across the map, I found myself falling. One of the between-world portals I wrote about had opened up, pulling me in. Not possible, I remember thinking as I fell, and definitely, most definitely, not happening to me.
This had to be too much coffee, and not enough Irish—or was that too much Irish, and not enough coffee? Ridiculous, I was on my way to bed; it was late. I’d wake up in the morning with computer keys imprinted on my forehead, and the computer screaming error messages at me. I’d keep hearing its high-pitched beep long after I’d switched it off.
The landing was abrupt and hard, and knocked the wind from me. When I opened my eyes—for I had closed them against the confusion of color engulfing me—I found myself in a darkened rift between two rows of close-set buildings. Sighing in resignation, I decided I’d have to go along with the dream. With any luck the computer would wake me soon.
Across from me was the porch of a darkened pub—inn, I corrected myself, if I’d fallen into the map as I thought. I looked up at the slit of sky still visible between the crazy rooftops, and saw star flecks on a platform of black. I recognized none of them; star patterns weren’t one of the things I’d thought to design. It was strange they existed anyway. I stared at the inn again, wondering how long ago it had closed.
The street was deserted. Looking at it, I realized I was in one of the lower parts of town—which town, I wasn’t sure; I hadn’t designed any of those either. There was a general store on one side of the pub, and an apothecary on the other. A baker’s shop stood beside the general store, and beside it was the equivalent of a pawn shop on my own world. I shook my head and immediately wished I hadn’t. The buildings around me seemed to spin, and I felt nauseous. I must have hit my head on the way down.
It wasn’t until I reached up to rub the lump there that I noticed the robes. They rustled as I lifted my arm. Looking down at them, I saw they were the color of the sea. I was pretty sure I’d been dressed in my usual denims and cotton tee when I’d leant over the map, darn sure my bra had been a better fit than whatever it was I was wearing now.
I groaned. If I believed my own fiction, this wasn’t my imagination, and the computer wasn’t going to wake me up. If I had been writing this story, I was a writer who had fallen through one of the between-world portals I wrote about, and landed myself in that world which, surprise, surprise, was actually real. Nonsense, snapped the other, saner, part of my mind, but you might as well play along. I looked about me again, but couldn’t recognize the town.
Very slowly, I stood up. Pieces of me shouted loudly in protest, and I leant against a nearby wall to think. I hadn’t known dreams and imagination could hurt so much—another point for my falling between worlds theory. Rejecting the idea, I tried to think of a more likely reason.
Maybe the lump on the back of my head reflected a burglary, and I was unconscious while the burglars ransacked my house, and stole my computer and television. I hoped, as I leaned on the wall, that they’d be kind enough to back my manuscript up onto the portable hard drive, before taking the desktop away. I was also hoping they’d leave the portable hard drive behind.
If they didn’t, I’d need months to recreate the notes, and I’d have to rewrite the whole darn novel, which would not turn out to be the same book it was now. Dammitall, I liked the book it was now. I stared at the sky, trying to work out what to do next, and hoping I’d wake up before this dream got any worse.
The sky paled as I leant there, sending pre-dawn light to reveal what my surroundings looked like. In the end it was the City Watch who decided what I’d do next. I heard the thump of heavy boots on cobblestones, and saw the glimmering light of a lantern reflected down a nearby street. In some of my cities the Watch is a good thing but, in others, it isn’t. Splitting headache or not, I ran.
I shouldn’t have. My footsteps attracted the attention of the guards, and they pounded after me. This was probably the most excitement they’d had all night. I hoped the burglary was over, and that I’d come round soon. Better still, I hope the computer would wake me.
Computer? part of me wondered. What’s a computer?
The dark mouth of an alley gaped at me, offering its dubious shelter. Still trying to work out “computer”, I leapt down it. There was a chuckle in the dark. A foot snaked across my ankles, and I tripped. I put my hands out to break my fall, sending shards of pain slicing up both wrists and into my forearms. A hand descended from the darkness, pulling me into a shadowed doorway.
The Watch shone a cautious lantern down the alley, and someone pulled me hard against his chest, wrapping an arm across my shoulders, and muffling my face in his shirt. Hearing the Watch muttering uncertainly at the alley entrance, I stayed perfectly still. Time enough when they’d gone to get out of this. We froze even though the buttressing alcove sheltered us in darkness. Their muffled discussion ended and firm, but fading, boot steps announced the Watchmen’s decision to ignore the alley’s invitation.
I breathed a sigh of relief, at least until my rescuer drew me through the doorway at the rear of the alcove. As soon as the door had closed behind us, I was released. With the exit blocked, I backed hastily away from him, until I felt the firm edge of a table hit my backside. My rescuer ignored me, barring the door after us, and calmly crossing to add more logs to the fire burning in the room’s hearth. Still stunned at finding myself in another world and on the wrong side of the law, I watched him uncertainly.
He wasn’t too tall, maybe five feet and eight, ten, inches, with short black hair, a neatly clipped back beard and eyes the color of oak. When the fire was blazing to his satisfaction, he spoke.
“Tell me, what’s a fisher priest doing this far from the ocean?”
It was a request, not quite an order. I stumbled over my reply.
“I, I don’t know.”
He grinned, white teeth showing through the beard, brown eyes twinkling with mischief.
“I suppose you’re about to tell me you fell through a portal by mistake.”
I stared at him.
“Well?” he smirked.
I shook my head, gritting my teeth against the uncomfortable roil in my stomach.
“I wasn’t going to tell you anything,” I replied, swallowing back another wave of nausea.
He gave me a curious look then, and was silent for a moment. At last he sighed.
“Do you know where you are?”
I shook my head, trying to ignore the stars that blurred my vision.
He tried again.
“Do you know where you’re from?”
I was about to tell him, but the fleeting memory of a cream-walled room with a black box on a table had no name. Nor did the city that lay beyond an impossibly high window. Again I shook my head.
“Well, do you have any idea where you’re going?”
My mind raced and I unearthed a name from the manuscript I’d been working on. Part of me wondered why I’d been writing from the archived prophecies. Part of me wanted to wake up but, as far as the other part of me knew, I was awake. I gave the man the name, certain the rest would sort itself out, after I’d left the shelter of this room.
“Faerclay,” I declared.
He looked relieved and astonished.
“What’s there for you?” he demanded.
“A fishing village,” I replied, “and a temple.”
“There are closer temples,” he told me, but Faerclay had stuck. It seemed right somehow.
I shook my head at him, ignoring another sudden flare of pain.
“It has to be Faerclay,” I insisted.
His next look was one of speculation, but whatever he was about to say was cut short by a staccato sequence of knocks at the door. While we’d been talking, my rescuer—captor?—had been fussing with a large metal kettle hanging over the fire. Now, he set a steaming mug of leafy water before me. The knocking came again, quick and secretive, on the door to the alley. He cast me another of his shadowed looks, and crossed to answer it.
Six, cloaked figures entered at his invitation, and he closed the door swiftly after the last one. For these he poured, not the herbal tea I held, but amber fluid from a wooden keg set beneath some rough shelves on the far wall.
I decided the fire’s flickering dance was better to study than the strangers, although I could feel their eyes on me. Nothing was said as they hung their cloaks behind the door.
It was only when their cloaks were hung that my rescuer spoke. “Captain. Your Grace. My study awaits.” he paused, looking at me. “You, my lady, are welcome to stay awhile, if you wish. I can help you book passage for Faerclay.”
“Thank you,” I replied, and watched as the two men he’d addressed, along with their companions, followed him into what I assumed was his study.
If I hadn’t been watching, I’d never have noticed the look that passed between the man addressed as ‘captain’, and one of those who remained in the kitchen. I shivered and sipped my tea.
Once the door had closed, the two men hunkered down beside the fire, placing their drinks on the hearth, and stretching their hands to its warmth. They spoke in undertones, appearing to ignore me, yet I felt watched. My sixth sense was clamoring warnings, although neither of the men showed any interest in my presence. Still, I decided to leave.
Lifting the mug of tea, I drank. The further down the cup I drank, the stronger the tea tasted. I left the half nearest the bottom. There was something familiar about the flavor, and my warning bells were in full swing again. If I wasn’t careful, they’d make my headache worse, and I vomit up what I’d drunk.
Very carefully, I placed the mug back on the table and stood up. There were words. One said words when leaving a house that had offered shelter. What had I decided they were? A part of me laughed. Silly! No one decided what they were. The exact form had been decided eons ago, and passed on, like all such words. One only had to remember. With an odd reluctance, the correct phrasing came, and I was able to speak the proper farewell to the men resting by the fire.
“Give our host my blessing,” I told them, “and my apologies for not staying.”
I had reached the door, and my hand was on the latch, before they moved. Hearing the sound as they rose, I hauled the door back into their faces. I’d been expecting this.
A hand grasped my robe as I darted through the opening. Grasped and held it, as I ran into the alley, and towards the street from which I’d come. I twisted, grabbing the robe, and yanking it free.
The hand slipped, and someone swore as I started running again. It was then I heard the chanting. The spell hit me at the same time the tackle did, so that I was unable to break my fall. I was going to have grazes to make a warrior proud, and I thought my arm was broken. I couldn’t even tell them how much it hurt, but at least the spell acted like a splint.
A single word was spoken, as I was picked up and set upon my feet, and I found myself able to move again. My forearm shifted and I yelped. That time I’d felt bones move. I cradled the injured arm along my other forearm.
“Back you come,” snarled a voice in my ear, and a hand gripped my bicep.
I walked obediently down the alley, and into the kitchen where my half-filled mug waited. My first host stood patiently in the doorway, and I realized, as he spoke again, that it was his voice I’d heard in the chant.
He gestured to the same seat I had left and, obediently, I took it. My head was ringing from where it had met the cobbles, and my broken arm had begun to ache. I laid it on the table in front of me, but said nothing.
“Now, gentlemen,” my host addressed the men waiting at his study door, “where were we?”
The door closed behind them again and, again, I found myself in the kitchen with the two men.
The one who’d brought me back sniffed, and poured himself another drink from the keg. This time he took a seat beside me. I glanced sideways at him, and he met my eyes evenly, with his gaze.
I looked away.
He signaled to his partner by the fire.
The man rose and took my mug. Crossing to the keg, he held it under the tap and filled it. When it was full, he placed it firmly before me.
“Drink,” ordered the man at my elbow.
The other took a seat on my left. Using my good arm, I reached for the mug, and drew it to me.
They watched as I sipped at its contents. Irish was good, but this, in spite of the herbal tea, was better. Outside, I could hear movement as the city began its day. I looked towards the door, lowering my cup.
“Drink it all,” said the man, who sat between the door and me.
I brought my gaze to challenge him directly.
He met it without flinching.
“Drink,” he commanded, voice still soft, as he shifted slightly and laid an arm across my shoulders.
I flinched in fright, and tried to hide my growing terror by slowly sipping at the odd brew and watching him over the mug’s rim. His gaze never left my own. Gradually, the aches left my body, and the pain in my arm subsided to a nagging twinge. A subtle warmth crept over me. Halfway down the mug, I stopped.
My head felt heavy. I put the mug down and raised a hand to lean on. My eyes sought the comforting dance of the fire.
“Drink,” came the quiet voice, and again I lifted the mug to my lips, not protesting when he brought a hand up to steady it.

*   *   *

I woke in the dark, still flanked by my two companions. My face was pillowed on my good arm, and the fire no longer cast its light about the room. Someone held a small vial of smelling salts beneath my nose. My broken arm had been bound and splinted, and I could no longer feel grit in my face. My grazes stung, feeling slightly sticky from the ointment that had been smoothed over them. I smelt krag weed and the bitter taint of float bottles, and knew my injuries would heal quickly and most likely without infection. I also wouldn’t feel them for a few hours. I made a mental note to thank their healer if I ever met them.
Pushing feebly at the vial, I tried to lift my head. My mind reached instinctively upwards to the god I served. There was no reply. My host had returned from his study with his guests. I became aware of his stare just as someone passed a full tankard my way. I sniffed at it suspiciously.
“Drink it!” someone snapped and, reluctantly, I lifted it to my mouth.
It contained nothing more than sweet-tasting water and I drank greedily, feeling life return with every swallow. When it was empty, I set it down before me, and addressed my host.
“You said you could direct me,” I began, but he was discussing something new with the man he’d called ‘Your Grace’.
I made to rise, but found a hand on my thigh that pushed me back to the seat. Another hand came to rest gently on the opposite shoulder. I turned to look imploringly at my host, but found myself, instead, studying the man he spoke with.
The ‘Your Grace’ was of slight build and medium height. He had blonde hair cut short about the ears and face and pulled into a cue at the back. His dress was austere, an oddly blotched black that blended with the shadows, and seemed to absorb the little light shed by a lantern sat high upon a shelf.
His voice was low, but silken smooth, and as hard and cold as ice. I could see my host disagreeing with him on some point of business. I didn’t imagine the business they argued over was me. In the end, the blonde man spun away from my host, and snapped an order to his men. Three of them went through into the study. One remained, hand resting on my shoulder, waiting.
My host went to a cupboard in the corner of the room. Instead of opening it, he pressed a panel in its side and swung it into the wall. A narrow set of stairs descended steeply into darkness behind it. There was the sound of shuffling feet and grumbling voices, and the door to the study opened again. I looked up. One of the duke’s men appeared leading a group of twenty people.
It took a second glance on my behalf to see that these newcomers were chained together, and a third glance to notice the small and deadly muzzles belonging to crossbows cupped securely in the guards’ hands. My gaze sought the face of my host in query. He spoke in reply addressing his guest.
“The priestess, your Grace,” he began as the chain of people passed down the stairs.
He was answered by a signal from the blonde man to my companion, and I was led towards the stairs also.
At first my host appeared resigned to letting me go but, as I drew closer, he pushed my escort from me and pulled me behind himself. The air in the room began to crackle and I heard the blonde man snarl. “She comes with me, Blackman. You will receive her price in addition to the others.”
A murmur of sound rose about us, and I felt my sixth sense jerk again. Another caster, ‘my’ wizard was in trouble. Blackman’s voice rose—another spell—but it was too late. The gestures that had accompanied his spell froze midway as the captain finished his chant.
My escort took my hand, and drew me out from behind the frozen mage. I caught Blackman’s look of frustration as we passed, but then we were descending the stairs and I saw him no more.
It was pitch black, yet I found myself able to see as though the passageway were dimly lit. Beside me, the guard moved with equal ease. It wasn’t long before we reached the bottom of the stairs and rejoined the others.
One of the guards said something glib in greeting to my escort. I heard the man laugh and reply in the same strange tongue. As they spoke again, I felt a stir of recognition deep inside my mind, and couldn’t help but stare in mute amazement at them. It was then I noticed the faint slant to their eyes, and the pointed tips of their ears. Without thinking I reached up to my own ears.
There was a faint point there as well. I looked up in surprise at my guards. Amused, they stared back and shared a private joke between themselves. Their amusement was cut short by an undisguised clatter of footsteps on the stairs. The guards came alert at once, and the grip on my hand tightened. I felt an unexplainable urge to hide, but was forced to stand my ground.
The captain and ‘His Grace’ stepped swiftly out of the stairway. I couldn’t help but notice the captain wiping the blade of a dagger on a black handkerchief as they approached, and I shrank behind my escort.
“She can see,” the captain said. “Fix it.”
A guard handed my escort a cloth sack. I stood quietly as it descended over my head, quelling the mild panic that started to rise as the bag covered my nose and mouth. My grip on the escort’s hand tightened as I drew a deep breath.
“Captain,” I heard him call.
I took another breath, trying to keep the rising panic at bay.
“She’ll be alright,” I heard the captain say.
“Move them out!” His Grace ordered.
I heard the prisoners shuffle forward, and allowed myself to be led behind them. My panic subsided as I concentrated on staying upright. My hand gripped the hand of my escort more tightly than before.
The journey seemed to take forever. The temperature about me dropped, and I heard the sound of flowing water. It wasn’t until we stopped that the panic came again. I ripped my hand free of my escort’s grasp, and began clawing at the constrictive bag. He grabbed and held it. I pulled away from him, trying to break free until I registered pain as he took hold of my left arm.
With the pain hammering at my mind, I found I couldn’t break his grip. I had no choice but to let him pull me down to sit beside him. Someone sat down on the other side of me, and, instinctively, I cringed away from him. The captain’s voice addressed me in the strange other tongue they all spoke. It sounded soothing.
I remained frozen, not understanding. He reached across and lifted the bag so that the lower half of my face was uncovered. I took a shaky breath inwards and began to relax.
It was then I began to tremble. I tucked my knees to my chest and rested my chin on them. A low whistle made me jump, and I instinctively turned my head in the direction from which the whistle had come.
I heard the captain answer it, and we were on our way again. We came out of the tunnel some distance from the city. The sound of footsteps and chains echoed across a wooden surface and I guessed, from the sound of waves washing against rocks below, that there was a jetty. The smell of river damp filled my nostrils.
The creak and settle of timbers signaled that a boat rocked ahead of me. My escort stopped just short of the jetty, so I did too. I could hear the prisoners being loaded aboard, then the sailors casting off. The cool damp of a rising breeze made me shiver. The liquid bubble and swirl of water had me imagining some sort of ship coming to a stop beside the jetty. ‘His Grace’ gave an order and the sack was pulled clear of my head.
The craft tethered to the jetty had to be closer to sixty feet long. It was finely made, and painted black, At first, I thought it was a pleasure craft, not meant for serious business. The ship had the essence of speed about her, and was made for sail. She was a credit to whoever had built her, and it was onto this beautiful vessel I was led, ‘His Grace’ and his bodyguard before me. My escort followed.
Beyond it, I saw the shape of another, larger, vessel. From its outline it looked like a cross between a fighting ship and a freighter. A boatload of prisoners was making its way towards it, and armed sailors strode its decks. A gentle tug on my hand brought my mind back to the present and I moved towards the smaller craft.
It was as I stepped down onto the gangplank that the first of the memories hit. Only my escort’s quick grab prevented me from crashing into the river.
I saw myself as a little girl, stepping onto a fishing boat with a man I knew to be my father. The fishing boat was nothing more than a rowing ketch. We’d rowed out to the reefs and then my father had left me on an exposed island of rock and rowed away. I’d been frightened at first, until a beautiful lady with pointed ears and slanted, sea-green eyes had arrived, surfacing from the waves in front of me like a sea-borne goddess.
She and I had played for a long time on the rocks and in the reef depths, until my father had returned and she had disappeared. We’d rowed back in silence. My father had become rolling drunk that night, and stayed rolling drunk, too, for as many nights after as he could manage.
I remembered the taunts I’d suffered from the village children. As I’d grown older, I’d found myself increasingly appreciative of my human-colored flesh and father’s pitch-black hair. The sea elf’s blue tinges and gold-bronze crown would have cast me further out than my pointed ears and eyes the color of ocean depths.
The picture of my mother faded, and I found myself being shaken by my escort on the plank. I reached out and grabbed him to steady myself.
“Memories,” I managed to explain, as we stepped onto the deck of the craft.
He nodded, as though that one word explained it all, and took me below decks.
‘His Grace’ was waiting. “Sea priest,” the duke began, as the hatch closed, and his crew guided the boat onto the water.
“Fisherpriest,” I corrected.
He looked confused, but then, I doubted he was corrected very often. “Explain,” he commanded.
“I serve Yasmeh, the fisher god. My concern is the well-being of fishermen. The Sea Brethren serve Oceanus, among others, and their concerns are different and factional,” I replied.
He must have understood my over-simplification for he smiled. The Sea Brethren were not merely factional, but could be found in either fragile harmony, or outright warfare with each other. At odds amongst themselves as much as the ocean was at odds with itself, these priests were something more than just ‘factional’.
“Well, fisherpriest,” he said, “what exactly are you doing in Currinvale?”
“Currinvale?” I asked, “But that’s miles from...”
“The sea,” he finished for me, “and you are a fisherpriest of sea folk. Your robe states that much. So, what brings you to Currinvale?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“What takes you to Faerclay?”
“The temple,” I replied.
“And what of Escar?” he pressed.
“What of Escar?” I returned, but a warning bell had rung within my spirit, and I knew I had to avoid the city of Escar at all costs. Again I reached up in thanks to my god. Still I received no reply, save for a pressing urgency to reach Faerclay.
‘His Grace’ was watching me. “The sea blends with the river in two months’ time. Faerclay holds the honor this year.” His voice no longer held the icy touch it had possessed before, but it was hardly warm as he spoke.
I nodded, steadying myself against the ladder that led to the hatch as understanding hit me. The once-in-a-decade Sea and River Meld was the reason I needed to reach Faerclay, but I didn’t have the time to think too deeply on it. There was another matter of curiosity at hand.
“What need have you of me?” I demanded.
‘His Grace’ looked amused, as though he’d been waiting for me to ask. He gestured towards a table surrounded by a low bench, and I sat opposite him. My escort stood behind me. His bodyguard took up the position behind him.
“Now,” ‘His Grace’ began, leaning forward, “my name is Duke Anton Vicarey-Esselwood and I require a priest, a sea priest is most desirable, but a fisherpriest will do.”
“I must be at the Sea and River Meld in Faerclay,” I said firmly.
The duke sighed. “Will you consider my offer if I get you there?” he asked.
“I will consider it,” I replied, “but my answer depends on the outcome of events at the festival.”
He bowed his head in agreement, but still I felt uncertain.
“What price the fare to the festival?” I asked.
“Your services after it,” he said firmly.
I knew, then, that he was determined not to let me go. I also knew that only my agreement to his demand would secure me the festival in time. “Very well,” I said.
“Your word on it,” he demanded.
I allowed my gaze to meet his and we stared levelly at each other.
“Your word on my passage,” I countered.
“Done,” he agreed, offering his hand.
“Done, then.” I took his hand in mine, my green-blue gaze never leaving his gray one.
The business closed, he signaled to my escort.
I tensed but my guard merely took up station in the galley.
The duke squeezed my hand again.
“Your word,” he reminded me.
“And yours,” I countered. Again my eyes met his.
This time he smiled.
“Come, I will show you your quarters,” he invited.
“Very well,” I agreed, suddenly aware that I possessed only what I wore.
He showed me to a small cabin. It contained a low, wooden bed with drawers beneath it, and a fold-out bunk above. A wash-stand was secured to the wall in one corner, and a wooden desk with room beneath it for a trunk stood beside the bunks. I glanced longingly at the soap.
“You’ll share this with Tarquin,” my host announced.
“Thank you,” I managed, wondering who Tarquin could be.
“There are fresh robes in that drawer,” he told me. “I’ll leave you to clean up.”
“Thank you, your Grace,” I replied, waiting for him to leave.
I had almost relaxed, when I heard the key turn in the lock after him. “Your word, Your Grace,” I yelled, slamming myself against the unyielding wood.
“And yours, priestess,” I heard him reply, unconcerned, “and yours.”
I satisfied myself with slapping the door again, then turned to the wash-stand. In spite of the krag-weed and float-bottle salve, I still felt slightly nauseous from the pain. I wanted to cry, but I also wanted to be clean. A quick wash, would make surely make me feel better.

*   *   *

I was just pulling the robe he had mentioned over my head when I heard the key turn again. I spun to face the door, hastily smoothing the robe about me. It was the duke’s bodyguard. He looked me up and down.
“Tarquin keeps a comb in that drawer,” he said, pointing.
I glared at him and crossed to where he indicated.
He watched as I found the comb and began to comb the tangles from my hair. It was difficult to do with only one hand.
“Supper’s ready,” he added, as I placed the comb back in the drawer.
“Supper?” I asked. “What time is it?”
“Time?” he said. “I reckon it’s close to midnight.
“But I thought—” I began.
“You slept, remember?”
“I did,” I agreed.
He closed the door behind us, and led me to the galley and main room. The duke was waiting. His eyes appraised me as I entered and I drew myself tall beneath his gaze. His lips quirked up in a smile.
Oh goody, I had amused him.
“Come and sit,” he said.
I allowed the guard to escort me to the seat, and sat where he showed me. My original escort served the meal he’d prepared and both guards again took up position behind us. When we’d eaten I was escorted back to the cabin. I heard the duke bid his guards goodnight and another door closed. The key turned in the lock on my door as I lay down on the bottom bunk.
The guards could be heard sharing a mild joke as they passed back to the galley. I listened to their voices murmur in low conversation and fell asleep to the sound of their oddly familiar tongue.
I was woken later by a loud rattle over my head and sat bolt upright. My head collided with the lowered bunk and I fell back.
Tarquin. I assume it was Tarquin, since it he was the one I was sharing the cabin with—Tarquin snorted with what might have been amusement.
“Good night, priestess,” he said, and I recognized the voice of one of my earlier escorts.
“Good night,” I answered, rolling over and pulling the blanket closer around me. I had discarded the robe without thinking. It lay, folded, on the desk.
The big guard’s legs dangled from the bunk as he kicked off his boots. His shirt and breeches landed atop my robe and the legs disappeared. He hadn’t locked the door.
I waited until his breathing had deepened and steadied into the rhythm of sleep. The thought of sitting in the free air on the deck above was irresistible. Slipping out of bed, I moved his clothes to one side, pulled my robe on, over my head.
This done, I listened again. Tarquin’s breathing remained deep and constant and slow. I crossed to the door. The handle turned easily beneath my touch, and I eased it quickly open. Pulling it closed behind me with much greater caution, I heard it shut with barely a click.
There was no evidence of wakefulness behind me, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My bare feet made no sound on the timber flooring, so that I reached the hatch without any trouble.
The hatch, however, scraped as I slid it open. I cursed the clumsiness brought about by my broken arm and didn’t wait to see if I’d been heard, before scrambling swiftly onto the deck.
There was a man at the helm and two others at the sails. They looked around as I emerged and I acknowledged them with a casual wave of my good arm, before scraping the hatch closed again with my foot. Relying on the habits of sailors, I looked for, and found, a fishing reel hooked over a pole. Picking it up, I moved to quietly the stern of the boat.
For a long moment, I sat with my feet dangling over the edge. They didn’t quite touch the water, but it didn’t matter. I dropped the line in, and let it trail behind the boat. The gurgle of water soothed me, and I leant against the rails. There was a peace about the night and the river I couldn’t help but envy. Staring into the pitch black waters, I lost myself in thought.
I was startled by the hatch scraping open again, but chose to ignore it. There was a low, tense exchange of words between the man at the helm and the newcomer, and I heard someone approaching. He came to stand directly behind me. I continued staring into the river. A voice addressed me in the guard’s tongue and I recognized Tarquin.
When I didn’t reply, he sighed and switched to the common man’s language. “You shouldn’t be here by yourself,” he told me.
I didn’t answer.
“You shouldn’t be here at all,” he persisted.
I was relieved when the line jerked in my hand. The fish fought and, one-armed, I would have lost it if Tarquin hadn’t helped me reel it aboard. Once it had been freed from the hook I dropped it back into the river. Before I could cast the line again, I felt a hand grab my arm. Another closed around the reel.
“No more,” he ordered, and, reluctantly, I gave up the reel.
It was placed over an upright in the rails. I remained seated, staring at the river. A hand tugged at my arm, ordering me up.
“Let’s go,” Tarquin commanded.
I shrugged at his grip. It tightened, and, when I resisted it a second time, he sighed. A second hand twisted itself in my hair and pulled. I stood.
“Alright,” I snapped. “You needn’t pull at me like that!”
He disentangled his hand and led me back along the deck.
At the hatch, I stopped.
“Why can’t I sit up on the deck?” I asked.
“Duke’s orders,” was his terse reply.
We went below. This time he locked the cabin door, and I watched as he placed the key about his neck.
“Robes off,” he ordered.
“What?” I was shocked.
“Put them in here,” he continued, pulling open a drawer.
Reluctantly, I obeyed, turning away from him while I did so. As I closed the drawer he gave me another order.
“Bed,” and he pointed at the lower bunk.
Red-faced, I crept beneath the blankets. Questions boiled as I watched him undress and clamber into the bunk above but, when I tried to ask them, all he would answer was, “Sleep.”
And sleep I did, waking late to find myself alone in the cabin. The boat was still, as though it were tied up for the day. I pulled open the drawer and took out my robe.
Dressed again, I paced. I could hear movement above me. The cabin felt oppressively small, and I could feel the panic starting to rise again. I decided to pray.
Again there was no reply, not even the presence of my god. In despair, I paced the cabin once more. My pacing was interrupted by Tarquin’s entry into the cabin. He closed the door behind himself and handed me a bowl.
“Eat,” he said.
I sat on the edge of the bed, picking at the contents of the bowl. He watched me, scorn twisting his lower lip. Finally he crossed the cabin and tore the spoon from my hand. Without a word, he angrily dipped it into the bowl and lifted it to his mouth. He chewed, swallowed and handed it back.
“See?” he demanded. “Perfectly safe. Now eat.”
I ate, glaring at him over the bowl.
He waited until I’d finished, took the bowl and left. I heard the key turn behind him. It was just as well, for the memories returned in earnest, shortly afterwards.
The haunting visage of my sea-elven mother appeared from beneath the floorboards and I remembered the time of our farewell.
I had been fishing with my father when we met her again. I was fifteen, fully-grown by human standards, and able to take care of myself. My mother’s people rose about the boat and there was no welcome in their eyes.
At her request, I laid my rod aside and slipped into the water. We swam together until the boat and my father were out of sight. In the lee of a towering reef with the open sea before me, I learned the horror of my birth.
My father had been part of an expedition that had raided the elves in a war of jealous misunderstanding. They had captured my mother and a few others, and had treated her in the manner of pirates with all female captives.
Although she’d eventually escaped, the event was not forgotten. In a raid of their own, the sea elves took their revenge. My father alone, of all those in the expedition, was left alive and, some months later, I was delivered to his doorstep to be raised amongst the fisher folk. Now I was grown, his punishment was due.
After that tale, she swam with me back to the village, and bade me farewell. My father’s boat was washed ashore later that afternoon. I never saw him again.
The villagers turned against me after that, and I fled their ignorant fears, finding no refuge amongst humans or elves in my wanderings. In the end, I was accepted as a novitiate in the ways of Yasmeh, the fisher-god.
Another memory, one of another world, rose against the first and I struggled with the idea of technology and all its trappings as more memories from my half-elven side began to surface. Where had I been that so many wonders manifested themselves, and with such ease? Magic was unknown there, but it was hardly needed. Light that came with the touch of a switch, a way of recording words without pages, carriages that moved without horses. Two sets of memories warred inside my head, until the pictures of that other world gradually gave ground to those of the world I was now in. When they left me, I found myself curled against the base of the door, an overwhelming sense of weakness upon me.
I also heard the key turn somewhere above me, and felt the door’s pressure as Tarquin pushed against it. With an effort, I rolled out of the way.
“Anton!” he bellowed. “Anton!”
I heard footsteps, and an oath, followed by curt orders. Tarquin lifted me and placed me on the bottom bunk. I tried to sit up.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Memories,” I replied, curling up against him.
“Mmm,” I nodded, feeling my strength return. “May I go on deck?” I opened my eyes as I asked it, and looked directly at the duke.
He frowned.
“There is something you should know,” he finally admitted.
I felt triumphant.
“Yes?” I pressed.
“I have some enemies.”
I nodded. Considering how he’d treated Blackman and myself, this was not a surprise.
“We are watched always. It is better for you if you are not seen yet.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Your life may be worth more that way,” he said. “Besides, people ask too many questions, seeing a fisherpriest aboard a vessel like mine.”
“What about at night?” I pleaded.
He stared at me, dark eyes brooding as he considered my request. “A short while only,” he finally conceded, “and never alone.”
“Thank you,” I smiled.
The duke’s brow furrowed as though something worried him.
“Don’t thank me yet,” he chided. “I haven’t brought you to Faerclay.
I changed the subject rather than ask if he still intended to take me there.
“Why have we stopped?’ I asked.
The duke sighed. “It’s daylight. I don’t want to be seen travelling this part of the river, so we’ve anchored under cover of some trees until nightfall. Is that alright with you, m’lady?”
I shrugged, ignoring his sarcasm.
“It’ll have to be.”


Should you want to read more, Fisherpriest is available on Smashwords, Kobo, Kindle, iTunes and CreateSpace.

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