Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Mermaid Precinct, which is now available for preorder on Amazon (Kindle or trade paperback), and will be available from other online dealers soon enough, as well as directly from eSpec Books.
Torin ban Wyvald looked on his partner with concern as they worked their way down Meerka Way toward the docks. By the time they crossed Axe Way into Goblin Precinct—and the street got far more crowded—Torin moved alongside her and asked, “Are you all right?”
“I’m honestly not. I can’t believe she’s dead.”
Torin blinked. Danthres always felt strongly about people being killed, but it was generally in the abstract. The tone in her voice now, though, was different, as if she’d lost a friend. “You know—or knew, rather—the Pirate Queen?”
Danthres nodded. “She used to come to Sorlin fairly regularly. Her flagship, the Rising Jewel, was one of the few boats that could get close to Sorlin’s coastline without being damaged. And she used to bring halfbreeds to us for sanctuary.” Danthres had spent her formative years in Sorlin, a haven for people who violated elven purity laws by interbreeding with other races. They later kicked her out for being a disruptive influence following the accidental death of her best friend. A year ago the community itself disbanded, since elven purity laws had been a thing of the past since the Elf Queen’s death at the end of the war a dozen years previous. The community had gone below subsistence levels. Danthres’s feelings on that particular subject had run the gamut over the past year, ranging from disinterest to anger to sadness.
“I’m surprised,” Torin said. “I didn’t realize that pirates engaged in altruism.”
“Of course they do—well, she did, anyhow. I have to admit, her crew are the only pirates I’m personally familiar with. And I’ve heard nothing from them since moving here to Cliff’s End.”
“Nor I,” Torin said, “beyond the stories one hears from bards and such. Hardly surprising. Pirates work best in solitude, and when they do dock somewhere, it out of necessity would be a place that receives considerably less boat traffic than we receive in Cliff’s End.” He smiled. “It would also be a place that doesn’t have a huge law-enforcement agency like the Castle Guard.”
“True.” Danthres sighed. “She went through the blockade several times to rescue children—not just halfbreeds, but also full-blooded children who were left orphaned by the war.”
That surprised Torin. “I didn’t realize you took in full-bloods.”
“We took in anybody. That was the point. Yes, most of our population were halfbreed elves, because they were hunted down everywhere else, but we took in plenty of others.”
By this time, they’d reached the River Walk, bringing them to Mermaid Precinct. It was midday, and several of the fishing ships had come in or were coming in with the day’s catch, which would be many people’s dinners tonight.
Snaking their way through the crowds—the increase in Cliff’s End’s population made the docks a nightmare to navigate, especially around midday—all conversation ceased, as the crowds and noise made it impossible to speak audibly. By the time they made it to the far end of the precinct, where the new dock extension was being built, Torin felt physically exhausted from pushing his way through the crowds. Whatever inkling the populace might have had to step aside for members of the Castle Guard was no match for their desire to purchase fish at midday, it seemed.
Jayson and Gonzal from Mermaid Precinct were standing near a black dinghy. Torin noticed that it had a flagpole but no flag.
Gonzal stepped forward to greet the detectives. “Lieutenants. That’s the Pirate Queen’s sailing master. S’all he’d say, though, ‘cept that the Pirate Queen’s dead, and he wants you two—well, you, Lieutenant Tresyllione—t’be the ones t’investigate.”
Danthres barely acknowledged Gonzal before continuing forward.
Indicating the dinghy with his head, Torin asked, “Is the boat not flying a flag?”
“Oh, it was, but we asked the gentleman t’take it down. Figured it’d attract attention, y’know?”
“Good idea,” Torin said.
He then jogged to catch up with Danthres, who was approaching the dinghy. “Lisson? Is that you?”
The gentleman on the boat broke into a huge grin. “It is you! The Cap’n said you were workin’ for the Castle Guard doin’ detective work—heard you solved Gan Brightblade’s murder.”
“We both did,” Torin said. “I’m her partner, Lieutenant Torin ban Wyvald.”
Lisson frowned. “Ban Wyvald? You’re the Chief Artisan of Myverin’s son?”
“No longer—now I’m the High Magistrate’s son, as my father was promoted.”
“You’ll be amused to know that there was a bounty for you during the war. Cap’n thought about trying to track you down—least that’s what I heard. I was just a deckhand back then.”
“Which is when I knew him,” Danthres said. “So the Captain is dead?”
Nodding, Lisson said, “Yes, and we believe she was murdered. I’d like you to come with us to Rising Jewel and investigate.”
“Why won’t you bring your ship here?” Torin asked.
“I doubt we could fit all three of her boats here,” Danthres said with a glance at her partner.
“Actually,” Lisson said with a sigh, “it’s just the one ship. The Cap’n got rid of Heart of Silver and Dwyte’s Revenge.”
“How come?” Danthres sounded surprised.
“It became too difficult to wrangle three ships. And our numbers have been down consistently over the past few years—too many crew retiring, not enough replacements. In any case, if you step onto the dinghy with me, I can take you to—”
Torin folded his arms over the gryphon medallion etched into the chest of his leather armor. “Absolutely not.”
Lisson frowned. “Whyever not?”
“You expect us to simply hand ourselves over as your prisoners?”
“You won’t be our prisoners. We wish you to investigate the Cap’n’s death, as I said.”
“And why should we believe that you’d do this?”
Lisson smirked. “Well, your Castle Guard does have a reputation for solving such murders. Even of famous figures in Flingaria—not just Gan Brightblade and Olthar lothSirhans, but also I believe you uncovered Lord Blayk’s conspiracy to murder his father Lord Albin.”
Torin waved an arm back and forth. “It’s nothing to do with that. You’re pirates. It’s difficult to trust you under the best of circumstances. You mentioned my father—a year ago, he attempted to bring me home. Obviously, he did not succeed. Just enough time has passed for him to have returned to Myverin in failure and for the council to then put out a bounty on my head to make another attempt. For that matter, Danthres and I have made many enemies outside Cliff’s End—two years ago, we exposed a wealthy gentleman in Treemark who was hoarding Hamnau gems. The Brotherhood of Wizards confiscated them. For that matter, I can’t imagine that the conspiracy Lord Blayk masterminded only involved him. And those are just the people I can think of off the top of my head who might wish to pay for us to be captured and brought to them. I’m afraid that sailing with you to your boat is out of the question.”
For a moment, Torin feared that Danthres would go against his feeling, letting her familiarity with the Pirate Queen cloud her judgment.
Luckily, his partner was smarter than that, which was one of the reasons why he liked being her partner.
“Torin’s right,” she said. “We’ll need more if we’re to go with you.”
“You knew the Cap’n, Danthres, don’t you wish to give her justice?”
“Yes, I knew her—two decades ago. All I know of her since is her reputation, which, as my partner has cogently pointed out, is as a pirate. By definition, her life—and yours—is one of criminality, and our function is to stop criminals, not help them. And we have nothing to prove what you say.”
Lisson stared at her for a second, looking disappointed. Torin would gladly live with that disappointment, and was prepared to turn around and wade through the crowds at the docks to go back to the castle.
However, Lisson then put his hand over his heart and said, “I swear by the soul of Dwyte that I speak the truth when I say that the Cap’n is dead, and we wish you to investigate her death as you would any murder in Cliff’s End. I also swear by the soul of Dwyte that you will come to no harm on Rising Jewel and will be returned to the dock when your work is done.”
Before Torin could scoff at that, Danthres said, “Very well. Let’s go.”
“Excuse me?” Torin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “One oath and you trust this—this criminal?”
“Yes,” Danthres said, “because the oath is sworn on the soul of the greatest pirate who ever lived. Dwyte was the pirate who harried Baron Alomgord’s forces for years. Any pirate who goes back on that oath is put to death.”
Lisson regarded Torin intently. “I have never before sworn that oath, Lieutenant ban Wyvald—because nobody has ever doubted my word in the past. Yes, I am a pirate, but that simply means I live beyond the laws of mortal governments—as do we all. We do, however, live by our own code, and the most sacrosanct part of that code is to swear on Dwyte’s soul.”
Danthres put a hand on his shoulder. “Torin, trust me. Please.”
Torin sighed. “Very well. You, I trust, Danthres, always. If you believe this oath will protect us, then I will agree to sail to the pirate ship.”
“Thank you.” Lisson’s words were passionate, and heartfelt, and Torin almost believed in their sincerity.
“We should also send for Boneen,” Torin added.
“Who is that?” Lisson asked.
“Our magickal examiner,” Danthres said. “A mage on loan from the Brotherhood of Wizards. He casts a spell that enables him to see what happened in a particular place in the past.”
Lisson shook his head. “That would be a waste of time, I’m afraid. Rising Jewel is quite heavily warded against all spells.”
Torin’s eyes widened. “All spells?”
“It was a very expensive undertaking—and quite all encompassing. I think that’s also truly part of why she pared down to a single ship. Renewing the wards is even more costly.”
“Very well, though that will make the process more complicated,” Torin said with a sigh.
Danthres shrugged as she stepped onto the dinghy. “It’s not as if it’s the first time we’ve been unable to work with a peel-back.”
“True.” Torin turned to Gonzal and Jayson. “Send a message to Captain Dru, please, and let him know where we’re going and what we’re doing.” He hesitated, then added, “If we’re not back by the end of shift, assume that we’ve been kidnapped by the Pirate Queen.”
“Torin!” Danthres said.
“Forgive me, Danthres, but I prefer to have a contingency in case your old friend here whom you haven’t seen in two decades is an unscrupulous pirate who goes back on his word.”
Lisson gazed at Danthres. “Your friend is quite obdurate.”
“My partner is correct in his misgivings. He doesn’t know you and has no reason to trust you. For that matter, as he points out, I haven’t seen you in some time. Do you blame us for taking steps to ensure our safety?”
“I suppose not.” He lowered his head and sighed. “Forgive me, Danthres, but the Cap’n’s death—”
She put a hand on his shoulder. “I understand.” Then she looked up at Torin. “Shall we?”
Nodding, Torin also hopped onto the dinghy. “Let us go to our aquatic crime scene.”