Tales from Thac: Grand Choosing
This month we will look at another excerpt from the upcoming anthology Tales from Thac. Grand Choosing is the second story in the series that takes place along the Pirate Coast. (The first was the Emerald Blade.) Once again, while not strictly in Thac, these tales depict characters and events that will have a marked affect on the isle's future.
I already described the Pirate Coast in the Emerald Blade blog entry, but I will reiterate it here for those who missed that post (feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph if you've already read this.) The Pirate Coast stretches nearly a thousand miles along the southeastern shore of the great mainland, Laurentia. It is the unofficial home of the thirteen clans of the pirate nation. The Clans of the Coast rule the waters along that shoreline, demanding tribute from all who sail passed, and sinking those who are foolhardy enough to refuse. They are a tough lot of privateers, but also live by a strict code of honor.
Grand Choosing is a short coming of age story for the young pirate clan member, Kortiama Ozden. (Note: The below depiction of Korti is actual an image that reminded me of her that I found on the web. The artwork belongs to a very talented artist, Dennis Froelich.)
Korti is an orphan. At the age of five, she was adopted by the Lord Captain of the Dasati pirate clan, Tharne Ozden. Since then, life has treated her far better than she ever expected, but it has also had its challenges. Never one to back down, Korti wants to prove herself on her own merits. So she studies and trains for the Day of Choosing, the day she gets to join a ship's crew and sail the pirate coast. Yet that day will hold more for Korti than she ever bargain for, if she survives it.
Now, here is an excerpt from Grand Choosing:
A darkness surrounded Kortiama, one so thick not even her lantern could penetrate. Eyes darting about, her breathing came in short, ragged gasps, her heart racing. Her nose flared out, taking in the musty smell surrounding her. A cold sensation rushed past her back. She spun around, holding back a scream.
A blood-curdling shriek filled the air, then it was cut short. Lathara? No, it can’t be.
“Korti, run! Get the others out and run!” a young man shouted before he cried out in pain. Silence.
“Regarn? Regarn?” No, he couldn’t be gone. “Trevis! Trevis, where are you?”
Kortiama tugged on the arm of her sister, who lay in a heap on the ground, her wild mane of hair curtaining her face. Still breathing, her skin was pale and cold, as if the life had been sucked out of her. “Solais, get up. We have to go. This was a mistake.”
Air moved in a brisk current behind her. Kortiama spun around, desperately trying to find what had taken her friends. Her pulse pounded in her ears, making it hard to think. Why had she done this? She knew it was unsafe. And yet—
A cold, dark, foreboding presence sent a chill up her spine. Kortiama turned to face a floating figure in a dark billowing cloak. A large boney hand reached for her, coming within mere inches of her skin. Unable to move a muscle, she let out a chilling scream.
Kortiama’s eyes snapped open as she shot upright. Her breaths came shallow and hard, sweat dripping from all over her. Her fingers clutched soft sheets. She was no longer in a dark room. Instead, she sat in the large four-post bed in her room, bright morning light filtering in through a tall arched window.
Tears streamed down her cheeks and she pulled her knees to her chest. Her long raven hair spilled around them.
It was a dream… but at the same time it wasn’t. The recurring nightmare wouldn’t leave her, forcing her to relive that fateful mistake from three years ago, over and over. She knew the villa was dangerous at the time. That was why they needed a ward-breaking spell to get in. Yet she couldn’t let her ambitious uncle Rikton get his hands on the Mandate—the one item that would give him power over the Dasati. Even as a child, she’d learned what kind of ruin that would bring to their clan.
Still, as a foolish child, she thought her little group of orphan misfits could handle it. They were a capable bunch—unfortunately, not capable enough.
The door to her room flew open and heavy feet rushed in. “Korti? Korti, are you okay?” Soft hands touched her shoulders. “Korti, I could hear the screams from the other room.”
Kortiama lifted her head, her cheeks tear-stained as she gazed at her sister Solais. Aside from the mane of light-brown hair, she looked remarkably like Korti. She had a similar tan complexion, with deep brown eyes and even the same round-shaped face.
The two of them were the only ones to have survived the massacre, and only because Tharne and the Emerald Blade had come to rescue them—only the rescue had come at a cost, the Emerald Blade’s life. Afterwards, Kortiama discovered the Mandate hadn’t even been at the villa. It’d been a ruse by Rikton, and another example of her poor decision-making.
Some leader I am.
Solais stroked her head. “It was that nightmare again, wasn’t it?”
Kortiama nodded, struggling to find her voice. She feared any quaver in it would only make her sound more pathetic.
“You need to let it go, Korti,” her sister said, gently taking her by her shoulders. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“It was,” Kortiama insisted. “I was our leader. Everyone looked to me for direction. They trusted me. And I got them all killed.”
Solais fixed her with a hard stare. “We followed you because we believed in you—and your goal. I’m the one who stole the barrier-canceling scroll from Uncle Tharne. You didn’t even know he had it. I chose to follow you. We all knew the dangers and what the cost might be.”
Kortiama’s shoulders slumped. Knowing her friends had made those choices of their own accord didn’t absolve her of the guilt. It ate away at her every day. They were all supposed to make it to the day of choosing and be placed on one of the grand ships. They were to do their clan proud and be the best privateers in all the clans—at least one of them becoming a ship’s captain. That was the dream they all shared. But now only she and Solais would see that day come.
With a reluctant sigh, Kortiama pulled herself out of bed and dressed. Solais left to do the same, knowing no words would help at this point.
Kortiama pulled out a white low-shouldered blouse with long, flowing sleeves, and dark pants. A black underbust corset complimented the shirt, though it took a moment for her to lace up on her own.
While difficult, it wasn’t impossible for Kortiama, due to years of practice.
She then rummaged for her favorite boots, finding them tucked away in a corner. After pulling them tight up to her knees, Kortiama went about brushing her hair, staring out one of the tall arched windows of her tower. The villa below, constructed of smooth limestone with terracotta roof tiles, sprawled across a manicured plateau. Another tower stood on the south side of the home. A fortified wall surrounded the grounds, adding a fortress feel to the estate.
Craggy mountaintops secluded her home to the east, while a forest and hills bordered the villa to the west. The sparkling waters of the loch shone beyond the treetops. Renere, the home port of the Dasati, sprawled along the western shore with a number of tall ships moored at its docks.
She loved her little town, but like all in her clan, she yearned to be out on the water. Of course, until the day of the choosing, she would be confined to sailing skiffs in the loch.
Kortiama’s brushing stopped, realization dawning on her. Today was her birthday, and that meant the next choosing was only a few months away. She and Solais had missed the last one due to the unfortunate event at the villa. This meant Kortiama could finally be chosen for one of the great ships of the Dasati, and sail with the rest of her clan.
Renewed vigor hastened her routine, the nightmare soon becoming a distant memory.
When she exited her room, Solais was just leaving hers as well. She’d dressed in leather pants and a cropped white blouse, the sleeves long and hanging low off her shoulders, accentuating her slender, muscular frame. A bright red bandana now pulled her hair out of her eyes, a failed attempt to control her wild mane.
“Feeling better and ready to take on the day?” Solais asked.
Kortiama nodded, and Solais’ face broke out in a wide grin before latching onto Kortiama. “Good. Can’t have my baby sister all gloomy on her birthday.”
Kortiama’s nose scrunched as she swatted at Solais. “Must you call me that? You’re only three months older than me.”
Solais winked. “Still makes me older.”
She and Solais weren’t blood sisters. Both had been orphaned as babies during the largest raid in Dasati history. Lord Captain Eboneye, who had united the thirteen clans, led the raid on Penwick. It’d been long and grueling, with casualties on many fronts. But the feared man held the city, until their goddess’ favor ran out—or so it was claimed.
Kortiama and Solais grew up together, alongside other children orphaned by that event, until Captain Tharne adopted both of them.
Solais grabbed Kortiama’s wrist and dragged her toward the stairs. “C’mon, I’m sure Eyro has breakfast waiting.”
Kortiama nodded, smiling, and followed her sister down the winding stone staircase. When they made it to the bottom of the tower, a faint savory smell teased their noses. Solais was right, Eyro has been busy this morning.
Solais and Kortiama strolled down the hall, past several rooms and a large library. The villa seemed unnecessarily large, consisting of over twenty rooms between the first and second floors. Kortiama wasn’t entirely sure why it need to be so big. To her knowledge, the original owner never utilized even half the rooms. Power, most likely.
They made it to the large foyer, descending one of the two curving stairs. Their boots clicked on the tiled black and white marble floor. Before entering the room where the smell wafted from, Kortiama stopped in front of a double portrait hanging between the stairs depicting an imposing couple. The man was garbed in a fancy, dark long coat and white shirt, with a red sash tied at the waist. An eye patch, grizzled dark beard, and scars enhanced his menacing visage, though it was the woman in the painting that was even more frightening.
Her sable hair and porcelain skin framed coal-black eyes so dark one would swear they’d steal your soul. The elegant black grown and intricately woven hair did nothing to hide the ominous aura that was perfectly captured of this fearsome woman.
These two were none other than Bernal “Eboneye” Ozden and his wife, Liadha Rowan, a powerful witch of the Ramulos clan. The estate had once belonged to them, until Liadha abandoned it after Eboneye’s death. That was how it fell into the state Kortiama and her friends had come to, before it had been purged of the dark horrors.
Solais rested her arm on Kortiama’s shoulder. “I still say you look a lot like her.”
Kortiama tapped her finger against pursed lips. They did share many similarities, something others had pointed out when Liadha made the occasional visit to the clan to see her former brother-by-marriage. “Maybe. But I still say you look like Eboneye.”
Her sister crossed her arms and puffed out her chest, arrogance radiating off of her. “Maybe I am his long-lost daughter, after all.”
The two shared a glance and then doubled over in laughter. It wasn’t uncommon for children to pretend to be the fabled pirate’s lost heir. Who wouldn’t want to be related to such a man, and possibly have the blood right to lead the clan?
Sorry, but we'll have to stop there for now. For more of Grand Choosing and other exciting stories, look for the anthology to be published next spring. And stay tuned for more excerpts from Tales and Rise of the Thrall Lord in the coming months.