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Ice bound kings convicts.., p.11

Ice Bound: King's Convicts II, page 11

 

Ice Bound: King's Convicts II
 


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  “Think the catch is good enough to keep us through the winter?” Piran asked as they shouldered into the next haul.

  “Don’t know. Why?”

  Piran glanced both ways over his shoulder before replying. “Just some of the talk I’ve heard among the guards. Said that the last couple supply ships weren’t as full as usual.”

  Blaine grimaced, standing back as the net cleared the railing and the deck shuddered with the weight of the catch. “If that’s the case, we’ll be living on herring and turnips before the winter’s through.”

  Piran made a sour face. “Not the first time I’ll have done with tight rations, but I’d rather have my belly full while I freeze.”

  A good day’s catch meant backbreaking work. This far north, the sun never completely set, making the six month ‘white nights’ season the time when convicts and guards alike pitched in to provision the colony for the half year of darkness to come. Blaine shivered. Even after six years, he hadn’t grown accustomed to the long sub-arctic nights. Donderath, half a world away, had a temperate climate, with four seasons and a winter that, while sometimes harsh, was nothing like Velant’s brutal cold and howling winds.

  After a twelve candlemark shift at the nets, the ‘night’ haulers came clomping up from the bunk rooms below with their heavy boots, growling and cursing at the cold wind. Weary and numb with cold, Blaine and Piran lined up to go below. Since it never got dark, the buss could fish day and night, and by alternating crew, give the men slightly more room in the cramped quarters below decks.

  In the cramped area of the hold set aside for crew, hammocks swung with the motion of the boat. It was cold enough that Blaine kept his oilskin coat on until the hold grew warm from the press of bodies. Piran had wandered off to find someone who was still willing to play him at cards or dice.

  “Give it up, Piran. I’ve already lost two measures of grog and my ration of smoke weed to you,” complained a raw boned, red-haired man.

  Wide-eyed with feigned innocence, but barely suppressing a grin, Piran turned to the man’s companions and held out his hand with three dice on his open palm. They all groaned loudly. “Not since I lost my best socks to you, dammit,” complained one of the men.

  Piran’s smile widened. “I haven’t worn them yet. You might win them back.”

  Indecision clouded the man’s face for a moment before he nodded. “All right. For the socks.”

  Blaine turned away chuckling. The longer the boat was at sea, the larger the number of fishermen who realized that Piran was uncannily fortunate when it came to games of chance. His luck stopped just shy of being so good as to raise accusations of cheating, though Blaine had known Piran long enough to suspect that sleight of hand, not magic, helped his chances considerably. Blaine had not played his friend for anything more valuable than a few measures of snuff since they had been in the mines together. On occasion Piran let him win.

  Later, when most of the men lay snoring in their hammocks, Blaine woke as the ship rose and then fell so sharply that he was nearly thrown from his bed.

  “By the gods! A few more like that, and it’ll send us all to Raka,” Blaine muttered, hanging on to his hammock and hoping that his supper ration remained in his stomach despite the way the ship lurched and pitched.

  “If Raka is warmer than Velant, I’ll go willingly,” Piran replied, holding fast to one of the support beams, but to Blaine’s eye, Piran’s face had taken on a green tint.

  “Velant is where the gods send the men Raka turns away,” said the red-haired man, who had given up trying to stay in his hammock and braced himself between the hull and the support post.

  Water flooded down the stairs from the deck and the hold erupted with curses. Bad as it was below, Blaine knew it was worse on deck. Storms arose swiftly in the Ecardine Sea, with gale-force winds and sleet that could cut skin. It was not unusual to lose three or four men overboard each trip due to storms. Blaine had no love for Velant, but the idea of dying in the cold north waters, his body and soul forever prisoner to Yadin, god of the dark water, seemed an even worse alternative.

  That fate had obviously occurred to some of their fellow fishermen, because Blaine heard voices muttering prayers to both major gods and household deities alike, begging safe passage. Then a loud laugh cut across the hold, and Blaine looked at Piran.

  “Tell Yadin and his ice demons that he’s better off with the herring than the likes of us. The herring have more meat on their bones,” Piran said. “As for the other gods, while you’re at it, see if they can magic up better grog. What we’ve got tastes like sheep piss.”

  The red-haired man scowled at Piran. “You mock the gods?”

  Piran laughed again. “I can’t mock what isn’t real.”

  The red-haired man looked as if he might take a swing at Piran, but the boat rose and fell again, sending him sliding across the hold to land hard against the other hull. Piran looked up at the deck above them as if it were the sky. “Is that the best you can do?”

  “Shut up, Piran,” Blaine muttered.

  Piran looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “When did you get devout?”

  Blaine shook his head. “I’m not. But I’d rather not clean you up after our bunk mates are done kicking your sorry ass.”

  Piran grinned. Two missing teeth were testament to just how much he relished a good brawl. “Let them try.”

  The ship canted hard to starboard, and several men lost their grip, slamming across the hold. Above their heads, they heard a crack like thunder, and the shouts and screams of men.

  “We’ve lost a mast,” Blaine muttered.

  Piran let go of his hold on the support post and gave Blaine a shove. “Get up the steps. Now!” All joking was gone from his face. In its place was a cold reckoning that Blaine guessed had gotten Piran through the wars he had survived, battles he would only talk about when drunk.

  Lurching like drunkards, Blaine and Piran stumbled across the hold. A few of the others struggled to their feet, realizing that if the ship were to go over, their odds of surviving were far better on deck than below. Many of the men remained frozen where they were, clinging white-knuckled to their hammocks or to the posts, eyes closed and heads down, praying.

  “Stay below!” A guard shouted as they reached the top of the stairs, and belatedly tried to shut the door against them. Piran and Blaine threw their weight against the door, sending the guard sprawling. When the man attempted to grab at Piran’s legs, Piran kicked him away.

  “Maybe the gods were listening,” Blaine murmured as they reached the deck. The main mast of the buss had splintered, leaving only the mizzen standing. The deck was awash with sea water, and the fishermen and sailors alike had lashed themselves to the rails. Piran and Blaine managed to do the same, ducking to avoid the worst of another wave that broke over the bow. Blaine came up sputtering.

  “We’ll drown by inches at this rate,” Piran said, holding tight as the ship pitched.

  “Can you see any of the other ships?” The Pathi had been one of thirty ships in Velant’s fleet of herring boats. When Blaine had been on deck before the storm, he had spotted many of the other ships spread out across the water.

  “I can barely see my hand at the end of my own damn arm,” Piran replied. “Clouds above, rain between and the sea below. I can’t see worth shit.”

  If we founder, would the other ships bother to look for survivors? Or would they just gather the herring barrels they could find and head back to port? On one hand, Velant wouldn’t care if two dozen convicts drowned. But even Commander Prokief might count the loss of an experienced crew, given the colony’s dependence on fish for both food and trade with Donderath. And while the fishermen aboard the Pathi were convicts, they had fished long enough to be valuable.

  Gradually, the storm lost its fury. Blaine dragged himself to his feet, gripping the rail hard enough that he thought his fingers might make indentations into the wood. The deck smelled of vomit and sea water, and every man aboard the Pathi
was ashen-faced.

  “Stared Yadin in the face and spit in his eye, we did,” Piran chuckled.

  “Shut up, Piran.” Blaine was sore all over. He had long ago grown used to the hard work of hauling in nets. Last night’s battle with the sea had left him battered and numb with cold. Storm crests had broken across the deck with the force of body blows. Blaine’s shoulders, knees and elbows ached after bracing himself all night long. From how stiffly his shipmates moved, Blaine guessed that they felt much the same. Many men were bruised and bleeding where the waves had thrown them into the railings or slammed them against the deck. And yet, despite the worst the storm had to offer, they were still alive and afloat.

  Captain Darden came around the ship’s wheel, where he had lashed himself through the storm. His dark, heavy brows and full beard made his scowling face look as ominous as the thunderheads that had just cleared from the sky.

  “Muster on deck! I need a head count.”

  In the end, only two of the Pathi’s crew were missing, and miraculously, the ship had taken no damage other than the loss of its main mast. That alone was enough to present problems. The Pathi had been at sea for four weeks, nearly at the end of its six-week voyage. They were at the edge of their range, far out from the Velant coastline, and even farther from any other ports.

  Blaine and the others waited as the captain took out his sun board and calculated their position. Captain Darden’s expression braced Blaine for bad news even before the man spoke.

  “The storm took us off course and further out to sea than our usual fishing sites,” Darden said. “If we’re lucky, maybe one of our sister ships will find us and tow us back to port. If not—” He shrugged, but they did not need him to finish the sentence. Far from home without their mast, the sea would finish what it started.

  “It’s his fault!” The red-haired man, Isdane, shouted. He pointed at Piran. “He mocked the gods. Mocked Yadin himself. Dared the Sea God to take us.”

  Piran’s face was pure innocence. He spread his hands and shrugged. “Just a figure of speech.”

  Isdane launched himself at Piran, a massive bull at full charge. Piran was faster, and sidestepped the big man, narrowly eluding his grasp.

  “Piran!” Blaine spotted two of Isdane’s friends just as they bent to rush Piran. Blaine stepped up beside Piran as the crowded deck erupted in shouts. One of the men threw a punch that connected hard with Piran’s jaw, but Piran returned a sharp jab that sent the man sprawling. Blaine intercepted the second man, landing his fist squarely in the center of the man’s face, breaking his nose.

  Before the fight could go further, strong hands seized Piran, Blaine and Isdane and hauled them back. Captain Darden stepped in between Piran and Isdane.

  “That’s entirely enough.” Darden fixed them with an icy glare. “We’ve got all the problems we need without this.”

  “But I heard him. He mocked the gods!”

  Darden looked at Isdane wearily. “I suspect the Sea God has more sense than to take offense from the likes of Piran Rowse.” He turned back to Blaine and Piran. “Get below, and stay there. Any more trouble and I’ll have you whipped.”

  Blaine and Piran followed Isdane and his friends down the narrow stairs in silence. But when they reached the hold, Isdane started toward Piran again. “It’s your fault we’re going to die out here.”

  Blaine shouldered his way between the two men, and shoved Isdane backwards into his friends, hard enough to make them step back a pace. “Shut up, fool. Dying’s not certain, but whipping is, and I’ve got a mind to hang onto my skin.”

  Isdane glared at Piran, and Blaine stood his ground between them, hands on hips. “We’ve got water enough for at least another week, and herring enough for the rest of our lives. There’s no reason for the other ships not to come looking for us; Commander Prokief’ll have their hides if they cost him a boat and a cargo of fish. He won’t be satisfied unless they bring us back or show wreckage to prove we sank. And in the meantime, mark my words, Captain Darden will have us fishing. I’ve got no desire to haul in nets with a striped back, or to have a bath of seawater after a flogging.”

  Behind him, he heard Piran open his mouth to comment and turned. “Your mouth started this. Drop it.”

  Blaine could feel the heat from both men’s gaze, but he did not back down. Finally, Piran gave a creative curse and walked away. Isdane shot Piran a murderous look, then turned to his friends. “Let it go, boys. We can always jump the sorry son of a bitch when we get back in port.”

  Isdane and the others retreated to one side of the hold. Blaine found Piran leaning against one of the support poles that held their hammocks. “On the whole, that went rather well,” Piran observed.

  Blaine swung a punch that caught Piran on the side of his jaw.

  Piran’s eyes went wide. “Hey, what was that for?”

  “You could have gotten both of us thrown overboard to appease Yadin.”

  “You don’t believe in the gods.”

  “No,” Blaine replied, “but sailors are as superstitious as they come, and if anyone other than Isdane starts thinking you’re a jyng, the Captain’s likely to toss you over you just to keep the peace.”

  Piran’s mouth set in a hard line but he made no retort and Blaine relaxed. “Hey, it could be worse,” Blaine said. “Darden could have decided to split you open and read your entrails for omens.”

  “Don’t give him any ideas. He doesn’t like me.”

  “I wonder why.”

  Piran fell silent for a moment. “Do you think we’ll really die out here?”

  Blaine shrugged. “Velant’s a death sentence. The only real question is what…or who…carries it out.”

  Piran raised an eyebrow and looked at him. “You really don’t care, do you?”

  Blaine turned away, tugging at the knots of his hammock. “No, I really don’t.”

  Continue the adventure in Ice Forged, Book 1 in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga

  More from Gail Z. Martin

  Short Stories:

  Deadly Curiosities Adventure:

  Vanities (1500s #1)

  Wild Hunt (1500s #2)

  Dark Legacy (1500s #3)

  Steer a Pale Course (1700s #1)

  Among The Shoals Forever (1700s #2)

  The Low Road (1700s #3)

  Buttons (2000s #1)

  The Restless Dead (2000s #1A)

  Retribution (2000s #1B)

  The Final Death* (2000s #2)

  Coffin Box (2000s #3)

  Wicked Dreams (2000s #4)

  Collector (2000s #5)

  Bad Memories (2000s #6)

  Shadow Garden (2000s #7)

  Spook House (2000s #8)

  Fatal Invitation (2000s #9)

  *Free Novella on Wattpad for a limited time.

  Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure:

  Raider’s Curse

  Caves Of The Dead

  Storm Surge

  Bounty Hunter

  Blood’s Cost

  Stormgard

  Monstrosities

  Bad Places

  Dead Man’s Bet

  Dark Passage

  Bad Blood

  Haunts

  Cursed

  Death Plot

  Brigands

  Bleak Harvest

  Hard Choices

  Dead Reckoning

  Desperate Flight

  Coming in June 2016

  The Shadowed Path - Jonmarc Vahanian Anthology

  Blaine McFadden Adventures

  Arctic Prison | Kings Convicts I

  Ice Bound | Kings Convicts II

  No Reprieve (Orbit Books - Dec 2015)

  Storm and Fury Adventures (with Larry N. Martin)

  Resurrection Day

  Grave Voices*

  *Free Novella on Wattpad for a limited time.

  Full-length novels:

  Jake Desmet (with Larry N. Martin)

  Iron and Blood

  Deadly Curiosities:

  Deadly Cur
iosities

  Vendetta

  Chronicles of the Necromancer:

  The Summoner

  The Blood King

  Dark Haven

  Dark Lady’s Chosen

  The Fallen Kings Cycle:

  The Sworn

  The Dread

  Ascendant Kingdoms:

  Ice Forged

  Reign of Ash

  War of Shadows

  Shadow and Flame (March 2016)

  About the Author

  Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy novel War of Shadows (Orbit Books) which is Book Three in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga; Iron and Blood: The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin and Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec 2015, Solaris Books). She is also author of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books. Gail writes three series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, the Deadly Curiosities Adventures, and the Blaine McFadden Adventures. She also co-authors the Storm and Fury steampunk short stories with Larry N. Martin. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, The Weird Wild West, The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Heroes, With Great Power, Realms of Imagination, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens. You can find all the latest news on what’s out and what’s coming, including excerpts on AscendantKindoms.com.

  Find her at www.AscendantKingdoms.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

 
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