For our final week looking at featured author Justine Alley Dowsett, we have an exclusive excerpt from her upcoming novel, Uncharted!
“Sam!” Reginald exclaimed, making a point to sound jovial when addressing the sour-face postmaster. “How’re the kids? How’s Frank?”
“Har, har,” Sam replied in a flat monotone, barely looking up enough to glance over the edge of his half-moon glasses. “Like you care. I don’t even know why you bother to stop in here, you’re just going to throw out the letter from your mother without even reading it.”
“You’re reading my mail now?” Reginald raised a quizzical brow in Sam’s direction.
The postmaster shrugged lazily instead of answering, reaching below his desk to pull out a familiar-looking manilla envelope to hold it out to Reginald. He did all of this without taking his eyes from the newspaper article he was reading. Leaning forward, Reginald took note of the headline: Kevlan Warship Spotted Off the Eastern Coast – Coincidence or Portent?
Reginald shook his head. Kevlans, our modern day boogeyman. Sure, relations with Kevla aren’t great, but one ship in our waters is hardly a declaration of war.
Regarding the man suspiciously now, Reginald took the proffered letter and ignored the wastebasket this time in favour of stuffing it into the breast pocket of his sailor’s jacket. Sam didn’t seem to notice the change in Reginald’s routine, or if he did, he simply did not care.
“So if anyone comes this way looking for passage, you’ll direct them along then, right, Sam?” Reginald fought to get Sam’s attention one last time even as he backed away, intent on the door. “Especially a–”
“A Priestess,” Sam finished for him without looking up, “yes, yes, I know.”
“Right, because Priestesses are leaving here all the time, heading out to perform weddings, act as diplomats, healers–”
“Reginald,” Sam stopped him, “I live here. I know more about Priestesses than you do. I’ll send them to you if anyone is coming to book passage.”
“Thanks, buddy. I knew I could count on you.” Reginald forced a smile in the off chance that Sam should look his way.
“You mean you knew you could count on your coin buying my discretion,” Sam commented drily, directing his words to the paper in his hands more so than to Reginald as he turned the page.
“That too,” Reginald mumbled half to himself as he let himself out of the trading post and into the early morning sunlight. “Rat bastard.”
The street was bustling, at least for the Temple District in early spring. It wasn’t cold out, and perhaps that was the reason, this having been the first real nice day since winter broke. Kids laughed as they ran in the street, chasing one another, and Reginald nearly tripped over one of them as they got near enough to be underfoot.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” he called out, but the little girl with twin ponytails and a smudge of dirt on her freckled cheeks just laughed at him and kept on with her friends.
“You’re the one walking the wrong way on the street, mister!” one of her friends, a boy, yelled at him as he, too, ran past.
Reginald looked up and realized belatedly that the boy was right. Everyone else on this side of the street was headed away from the docks and he, like an ignorant fool, was trying to head in the opposite direction.
And this is why I hate the Temple District, Reginald reminded himself. All their stupid rules and superstitions…why can’t they just walk on both sides of the road like regular people?
Without trying to be too obvious about it, he ducked his head and scurried to the far side of the street where he swiftly merged with foot traffic. He soon blended inconspicuously with the crowd, and before long he was back where he’d docked The Clover.
Just seeing his majestic ship made him feel better. All right, he admitted, it’s not ‘majestic’ by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s mine, as so few things are in this world.
Of a smaller than average size and with an even smaller than average crew, The Clover was still a proper ship registered with the Saegardian Navy. Painted navy blue and grey, Saegard’s colours, it sported a strip of white paint across the middle with a brightly painted green four-leaf clover. Reginald had inherited the ship from his father, who had only become a Captain in the Navy in the first place because he had won the ship in a poker tournament and had the misfortune of needing a job at the time. The Clover was supposed to have been named after the winning card in that poker game, Le Roi de Trefle, but a misunderstanding with the English-speaking painter at the shipyard had resulted in the current design, and as Reginald’s father had been a man who believed strongly in luck and fate, he had simply laughed at the mixup and called it his ‘lucky ship’.
Reginald didn’t care what the ship was called. It was his and he was the Captain now, and that was what mattered.
A loud booming sound split the air. Reginald jumped, caught off guard, but his panic deepened as he realized that the thunderous sound reminiscent of an explosion or a cannon, only not quite as deafening, was coming from his ship. Before he knew it, Reginald was running full speed up the gangplank.
His boots thudded against the wooden gangplank, but the sound they made was nothing compared to the second round of cannon fire, or whatever it was he was hearing. Why in the world would anyone be using their cannons here of all places? I can’t imagine there are any Saegardian Priestesses that need to be fired upon!
No sooner had he reached the deck than he identified the source of the noise. His private charter turned business partner, Grey Rhodes, stood near the centre mast, his left arm extended with what looked like a miniature handheld cannon. As Reginald watched, Grey lit the end of a short fuse and did his best to hold his arm steady as the booming sound filled the air once more.
Reginald watched open-mouthed in horror as the ball bearing thudded into the wall of the Captain’s Quarters, splintering wood already weakened by his first few shots.
“Êtes-vous fou?!” Reginald’s French roots escaped him, despite his best efforts.
“Ah, there you are,” Grey responded, smiling as if taking notice of him for the first time at his exclamation. “How did your trip to town go?”
Reginald spluttered, his face going red with the effort needed to contain himself. He forced his next words out painstakingly one by one, being extra careful to make sure each one was in English. “Why. In. The. World. Are. You. Firing shots at my boat!?”
“Well, you don’t need to get all up in arms about it,” Grey answered, calmly cleaning out the barrel of his contraption with a scrap of cloth. He waited until he’d gently placed the mini-cannon on a nearby barrel next to what looked like the rest of his shooting supplies. “I’ve taken precautions.”
Reginald looked from the splintered wood of his boat to the calm expression on Grey’s face and then back again before crossing the deck to the scene of the crime. He pointed at the evidence. “You call this taking precautions?! What precautions? You may technically be sleeping in the Captain’s Quarters because you pay more to keep this boat afloat than I do at the moment, but they’re still the Captain’s Quarters and the last time I checked I’m still the Captain!”
“Of course you are,” Grey agreed in that same infuriatingly calm tone, “and I told you that I’m more than happy to take the First Mate’s cabin or any other cabin you choose to give me. I didn’t choose this wall because it was the Captain’s Quarters, I chose it because I could get a clear shot from a decent distance. I can’t very well be firing off shots into the city, and the boats are so close together here on the docks that if I shot out that way I’d risk hitting someone else’s boat.”
“Oh, I get it,” Reginald stated flatly. “You didn’t want to damage anyone else’s boat…”
“Right,” Grey agreed. “Well, now that that is sorted. How’d you make out in town? Do we have any jobs lined up? Any passengers that need a lift?”
Unable to contain himself any longer, Reginald opened his mouth, ready to give Grey a piece of his mind, when a familiar voice broke in, stopping his tirade before it could begin. “Did you want me to take it down now, milord Grey?” Pierre, the deckhand, addressed himself to Grey, as usual not taking notice of the fact that he was butting into a conversation that was already in full swing. “Are you finished with it?”
“Best leave it up, I think,” Grey told Pierre with a smile and a sidelong glance at Reginald. “It seems to me that your Capitaine may want to blow off some steam later and we wouldn’t want to risk him damaging his own boat.”
The particular emphasis in Grey’s words made Reginald stop and consider the situation for a moment. He turned and really took in Pierre for the first time and realized that the lanky, red-haired boy had his hand on what appeared to be a large plank of wood mounted to the exterior wall of the Captain’s Quarters. At Reginald’s glance, Pierre dropped the plank and it made a slight clanging sound, like a cooking sheet might make if dropped onto a wooden floor.
“It’s really quite ingenious, actually,” Grey noted, crossing to take Pierre’s place next to the makeshift target. “Pierre’s idea. He’s got a rare mind.”
“He does?” Reginald looked over the awkward teen with the oversized nose and dull-looking brown eyes.
“Oh yes,” Grey insisted. “I told him I needed a place to practice with my new pistol and he came up with this all on his own. And look,” he lifted the panel far enough off the wall that Reginald could see what lay beneath it, “it works. The wood here is just as smooth as the day it was installed…well, at least as good as it was yesterday.”
Reginald instantly felt foolish. He’d made a big stink about nothing. He could see, however, by the twinkle in Grey’s eye, that his reaction had been perfectly anticipated.
“Yes, well,” Reginald cleared his throat, trying to regain some amount of his authority. “Next time you want to install something on my ship, Pierre, you talk to me.”
“But Lord Grey, sir –”
“Lord Grey,” Reginald said, for what he felt was the millionth time, “is not the Captain of The Clover!”
“Oui, Monsieur.” Pierre hung his head. “I mean, yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“All right,” Reginald said, feeling a little better, “go on with you, then. Keep lookout from the crow’s nest and give a whistle if you see any likely passengers looking to board. Got it?”
Pierre sighed as if Reginald had just asked him to swab the deck. “Fine…”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that properly,” Reginald commented.
Pierre scurried off, leaving Reginald alone with Grey. “I swear I wonder if that kid’s worth the trouble most days.”
“He’s not so bad,” Grey allowed. “He still has some growing up to do, but he looks up to you.”
Reginald raised a brow. “You think so?”
Another person may not have picked up on the lie, but Reginald had spent nearly two years in this man’s company and he was beginning to detect when Grey was putting him on. Reginald shook his head. It’s not that Grey thinks that Pierre has the talent needed to do this job, it’s that he doesn’t like to see anyone down on their luck. He knows just as well as I do that if I sent Pierre home to his mother, she’d kick him out on his ear. She’s got too many mouths to feed as it is.
Reginald sighed. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
Grey smiled. “Of course I am!” He put his arm around Reginald’s shoulder. “And speaking of me being right, there’s something else I wanted you to see…”
Folded between two barrels and wrapped in damp silks, Meredith woke slowly from an uncomfortable sleep. She didn’t even have the time to stretch the kinks out of her neck before she became aware of the sound that had woken her; two sets of heavy footfalls on the wooden stairs that led to her hiding place in the cargo hold of a ship.
Struck with immediate panic, she reached out for the nightgown she’d draped along the barrel next to her to dry. It was still damp, but she pulled it to her chest anyways and carefully arranged it so she could slip it over her head quickly and easily. It wouldn’t do to have someone find her in the state she was in.
The men’s voices drew nearer and their conversation became clear.
“So while you were gone I took it upon myself to do some shopping.”
“You bought all this without ever leaving the ship?”
“I know some people.”
“So, like I was saying…”
Meredith’s heart stopped in her chest as one of the barrels hiding her from view suddenly slid aside. She was halfway to lifting the shift over her head. Her body was by and large covered by a thin layer of silk, but that was all.
Her eyes met those of two men who couldn’t look more dissimilar. The one on the left wore sailor’s clothes; worn, but of decent quality. His hair was dark brown and cut short, though it had the slightest hint of a reddish tint and an unruly curl. His eyes were blue and warm like his skin which was sun-darkened probably from being on deck most of the time.
The other, the one holding the barrel, looked as if here in the cargo hold of a ship was the very last place he belonged. He was tall and well-dressed in a navy suit jacket over a pressed white shirt with a ruffled collar. His ash-blonde hair fell straight over steel grey eyes and his features were smooth and not those of a sailor or labourer, though he was tanned as if he too spent considerable time outside.
The noble-looking man’s eyes were wide, but his surprised expression was nothing compared to the shock evident on the sailor’s face.
A moment passed where nothing was said at all, and then Meredith started screaming.
For more on Justine, including where and how to buy her books, head over to Mirror World Publishing.