By: Charlotte Boyett-Compo | Other books by Charlotte Boyett-Compo
Published By: New Concepts Publishing
Published: Nov 03, 2008
ISBN # 9781603942454
Published By: New Concepts Publishing
Published: Nov 03, 2008
ISBN # 9781603942454
Word Count: 100,000
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, HTML, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket (.prc)
WindChance by Charlotte Boyett-Compo - Romance>FantasyAn Unknown Evil: Syn-Jern Sorn made a very powerful enemy in his half-brother, Trace Edward Sorn. Taken in chains to the infamous Labyrinth Penal Colony, Syn-Jern is meant never to return to his rightful place as Duke of Winterstorm, an inheritance his step-brother has usurped. But Syn-Jern weilds magical powers so deadly he is loath to unleash them on his enemies. Will the love of a rebellious young girl save Syn-Jern from the evil within his soul or will it destroy her?
The first novel in The WindTales Trilogy, prequels to WINDKEEPER!
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© copyright by Charlotte Boyett-Compo, November 2008
Cover Art by Eliza Black, November 2008
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
The strident cry broke over the morning like a blast of the arctic air that had been at their heels since dawn.
"Where away?" The Captain raised his spyglass and swept the rolling vista before him.
"To the starboard, Cap'n. Thirty yards off the bow. She's lying dead in the water."
"Making repairs?" the First Mate asked as he joined his captain at the rail.
Catching sight of the unknown vessel lying off their weather beam, the captain shook his head. "Don't see anyone on her decks." He raised his eyes to the crow's nest. "What do you see, Haggerty?"
"Nary a soul moving on her, Sir. Looks deserted," was the boyish reply.
"Ghost ship," the First Mate mumbled, crossing himself.
"Stow that talk, Mister!" the Captain snarled, shoving his First Mate aside as he strode away. "Mister Tarnes!" he called out to the Second Mate, who was at the helm, "bring her about. Let's see what we've got over there!"
"Aye, aye, Cap'n!" the sailor replied and swung the brass-rimmed teak wheel in a lazy arc to starboard.
Genevieve Saur pushed away from the taffrail of her brother's brigantine, The Wind Lass, and strolled on legs well accustomed to the rolling dip of the seas, to the quarterdeck where her brother and his First Mate were arguing. A smile dimpled her small face and she thrust her hands into the pockets of the cords she wore when on board her brother's ship.
"You going to board her, ain't you?" Mr. Neevens, the First Mate, was growling.
"Aye, we're going to board her!" Genevieve's brother growled back.
Neevens shook his shaggy gray head. "Not this old tar! I ain't going aboard no ghost ship." He screwed up his weathered face and stuck out a pugnacious jaw to emphasize his point. "I ain't boarding no ghost ship!"
Genevieve grinned when her brother cast her a furious glance. She shrugged in answer to his silent plea for help. She watched his gray eyes harden with pique.
"We're going aboard her, Neevens, and that's the end of that!" Weir Saur shouted at his First Mate. He fixed his winter gray eyes on his sister.
"Naturally," Genevieve replied, eyeing Neevens with a pretend look of admonishment. "I don't believe in ghosts."
"And what about beasties?" Neevens snapped. "You afraid of them, missy?" The old man held her gaze, his whiskered chin thrust out, his watery eyes steady.
"There are no beasties on that ship!" Weir shouted. "Ghosts, either!"
"You'll see," the First Mate shot back. "You'll see!" He spat a thick stream of tobacco juice over the rail and squinted at his employer. "You come back without a head attached to them smug shoulders, Cap'n, we'll see who was right about beasties and such! You ever heard the tales of the NightWind?"
A vicious crosswind, aided by a troubled sea that was beginning to show signs of a coming blow, heeled the Wind Lass over on the starboard tack. Cold waves broke over the knightheads, shot high in the air, and dropped with a roar onto the forecastle as the brigantine made for the unknown vessel.
"See?" Neevens grumbled. "NightWinds don't like to be bothered!"
Looking windward, the Captain frowned and his voice was a curt bellow as he looked up into the shrouds. "I want those topsails close reefed." He turned his eyes down to his sister. "I don't like the looks of that sky."
Genevieve turned her head and saw what had her brother concerned. The sky was a mottled gray; darker streaks of yellow were shot through the lower section of sky, making the flesh of the horizon appear bruised and sickly.
Weir nodded, his mind on the nimble-footed sailors scurrying up the rigging. "Take in the topgallants while you're at it!"
The Wind Lass slipped effortlessly over the heaving waves, a steady hand at her helm. She slid in beside the unknown vessel and dropped anchor, riding the sea with a rolling pitch that left no doubt as to the turn of the weather.
"You going with us or not?" Weir asked his First Mate as the old man peered cautiously over the distance between the two ships as though something would lurch across the spans to take hold of his scrawny body.
Mr. Neevens snorted, spat, and looked at his Captain. "Might as well," he grumbled. "Aint got nothin' better to do."
Genevieve hid a smile as she turned to study the other ship. There was no name on her bow, no identification markings. Her hull had been painted black but here and there along the wood, great gouges of paint had flaked away leaving gray streaks where the weathered wood showed through. Her rails were tarnished; the wood chipped in places, some of her rigging flapping loose in the freshening wind. Her sails had been furled, lashed down to the yards and masts, and the creaking timbers and the rub of the shrouds were the only sounds that greeted the boarding party at a quarter to nine on that Friday morn.
"Where the hell is the crew?" Weir asked, as he studied the decks that looked as though they hadn't been sluiced in a good many days. Salt was caked in the cracks of the decking, splashed up the masts. The hatchway stood open, the darkness from below decks a sinister gash of silence.
There was a smell about the ship, an alien, somewhat malevolent aroma that seemed to make the eerie quiet all the more prevailing.
"You ever smelled anything like that?" Mr. Tarnes, the Second Mate, asked his captain. Weir shook his head. "Smells almost like burnt flesh, doesn't it?"
"Do you suppose the beasties had a barbecue last eve?" Genevieve quipped, elbowing Mr. Neevens in his scrawny ribs.
"That'll do, Genny," her brother cautioned, giving her a stern look from beneath his chestnut brows.
"Well, let's go on below and see what we can find," the girl quipped, unconcerned by her brother's fierce scowl. "There's nothing up here."
"You afraid of anything, missy?" Mr. Tarnes snorted. He looked at the young girl with the look of a man long-accustomed to dealing with precocious females.
"I'm not particularly fond of snakes," Genny admitted.
"Well, I'll venture to say there are no snakes on board," Weir growled as he walked to the hatchway. He looked down into the darkness, and then with a deep breath, stepped gingerly down the companionway.
The cabins were empty, the galley devoid of provisions, and the captain's stateroom almost denuded of both furniture and nautical charts and equipment.
"Pirates," Mr. Tarnes said, nodding. "They was hit by pirates." He looked around the great cabin. "Took everything that wasn't nailed down and then some."
"Shanghaied the crew?" Weir asked, trusting Tarnes' knowledge of the subject.
"That'd be my guess, Cap'n." He poked among a pile of scattered papers on the captain's desk and lifted a single sheet of parchment. Squinting, he read the paper, drew in a quick, troubled breath, and then handed it to Weir as though it was poisonous. "Sailing orders, Sir."
Weir scanned the parchment. His brows drew together and he looked up at Tarnes. "A prison ship?"
"Ain't marked as such," Tarnes told him, "but that there order says she was carrying prisoners bound for Ghurn Colony." A wry grin settled over the man's rugged features. "Looks like the pirates got them some additional workers if this here lady was carrying prisoners."
Genny shivered. It wasn't that she was bothered by the mention of pirates; after all, wasn't that what she and Weir had decided to take up now that they had lost their family holdings? Wasn't that why they were out here in the middle of the South Boreal Sea learning the ropes from Tarnes and Neevens? What bothered Genny Saur was the mention of the penal colony at Ghurn. If things didn't go right for her and Weir that was where he was bound to wind up. As for her, she'd swing from the nearest yardarm since there were no prisons for women, only nunneries, and she knew gods-be-damned well she wouldn't let them place her in one of those hell-holes again.
"Did you hear that?" the First Mate suddenly squawked as he pushed up hard against Nathaniel Tarnes. He grabbed the other man's arm in a punishing grip and plastered himself to Tarnes.
"Hear what, you old fool?" Tarnes snarled, pushing the First Mate away from him. "All I hear is your teeth chattering!"
"No," Genny replied, looking at her brother. "I heard something, too."
"A thump. There! Did you hear it?"
Weir cocked his head to one side, listening. His eyes narrowed. "Aye, I heard that."
"Sounds like it's coming from the hold." Tarnes shoved Neevens out of his way and ducked out of the Captain's cabin and walked to the forward companionway that led the lower deck. He stopped, listened. "Aye, it is. It's coming from the hold."
"Could they have locked the crew down there?" Genny asked.
"We've been on this ship nearly an hour. Don't you think they'd have heard us board and have made some noise before now?" Neevens inquired, his eyes jerking about for the beasties he expected to see at any moment.
"Could have thought the pirates had come back," Tarnes told him.
"I ain't going down there," Neevens informed them. He pushed himself against the cabin wall. "I just ain't, that's all there is to it."
"Fool!" Tarnes called him.
The hatchway down into the hold was battened down; locked with a heavy padlock that appeared to be newer than the hasp into that it had been fitted. It took both Weir and Tarnes' combined strengths to pry the padlock open with a crowbar Genny found above decks. Once the padlock was off and the hatch opened, an overbearing stench assaulted the boarding party's nostrils, making eyes water and stomachs roll.
"By the holy ghost!" Tarnes gasped, covering his mouth and nose with a hastily-drawn kerchief. "What the hell is that smell?" He gagged, swallowing a rapidly-rising clump of bile that was threatening to erupt from his watering mouth.
"If that's the crew, they've been down there awhile," Genny murmured, holding her nose and breathing heavily through her parted lips.
"I've never smelled such foulness," Tarnes mumbled, his eyes watering from the stench.
"Ho, there!" Weir called into the blackness of the hold. "We're from the Wind Lass. Is anyone there?"
There was silence from the ebony depths.
"It could have been rats we heard," Weir said.
"Mighty damned big rats to have made a thump like we heard." Tarnes squinted, leaned over the hatchway, and peered into the darkness. "I can't see a bloody thing."
"Genny, go find us a lantern or something. I'm not going down there without a light of some kind." Weir Saur was a brave man, but darkness was not something he was comfortable with.
Genny nodded at her brother's request, well understanding his one weakness, and left to do his bidding.
"Ho, there!" Weir called out again. "Is anyone there?" Only more silence and a horrible waft of the stomach-churning stench greeted his hail.
"God, but that's a right offensive odor!" Tarnes said. "What the hell could cause such a smell?"
Weir didn't know and he wasn't so sure he really wanted to find out. The smell had an evil about it that bespoke the very bubbling pits of hell. "Whatever it is, there sure can't be anything human living in it. I can hardly breathe up here."
A flicker of light washed over the men and they looked over their shoulder to see Genny striding forward with two lanterns swinging in her hands. The light from the amber-tinted shades cast her small oval face in an ivory glow, lighting her forehead while the area below her nose was lost in deep shadow. If Mr. Neevens had seen her coming at him like that, he would have bolted for sure.
"When I was in the galley, I found something very interesting, Weir," she told her brother.
"What?" Weir Saur accepted one of the lanterns from his sister.
Genny handed the other lantern to Tarnes. "There were a lot of herbs and roots lying scattered about the cook table and there was a crucible of quinine on one of the shelves."
"Sounds like they had fever on board," Tarnes said.
Genny nodded. "There's a lot of that at the penal colonies, I hear. Looked as though they were brewing a remedy for malaria."
A sound from behind them made the three turn in surprise, but upon seeing who had joined them, they relaxed.
"Find anything?" the newcomer asked.
"We're about to go down into the hold. We heard a sound earlier, but there wasn't any answer to my call," Weir said.
Genny looked at the newcomer and smiled, as she smiled every time she was within eyesight of Patrick Kasella. Her gray eyes twinkled, her ivory complexion ran a peach blush and her heart skipped a beat or two every time her brother's best friend and partner looked her way.
"What is that godawful smell? Is that coming from the hold?" Patrick asked, smiling briefly, brotherly, at Genny before turning his attention to Weir. "Surely that can't just be bilge water."
"I don't think so neither, and it's getting worse the longer we stand here," Tarnes quipped. He stepped gingerly over the hatch and put his booted foot on the top rung of the ladder leading into the hold. "I'm either going to see what's causing it or faint from the smell of it."
The men didn't see the hurt look fall over Genny's face at Patrick's easy dismissal of her; not that the Ionarian had ever looked at her with anything other than easy dismissal. In his charming, North Boreal way, Patrick, or Paddy as his friends called him, treated Genny no differently than he did the rest of Weir's crew. That he didn't seem to see her as a budding young woman bothered no one but Genny, certainly not Weir who didn't want any man looking at his sister in any way other than brotherly.
Weir stepped down the ladder behind Tarnes and Patrick followed. The men didn't think of Genny until she bumped into Paddy's back as she stepped off the ladder.
"Damn it, Genevieve!" Weir cursed, eyeing her with displeasure. "We don't know what we're going to find down here!"
Her pert nose in the air, Genny glared at him, her lips pursed tightly together, still stung by Patrick's unknowing disregard. "So?" she challenged.
"You've got no business being down here until we find out what's causing that godawful smell!" Weir snarled. "There could be plague or the likes down here!"
"Hush!" Tarnes cautioned. He squinted. "There it is again." He hefted his lantern and peered about the hold. The stench was worse where they stood, enveloping the four of them in an atmosphere that was almost palpable.
"I'll look to the aft," Weir said as he took Genny's arm. "You come with me."
Paddy followed behind Tarnes as the Second Mate made his way amidships and then, finding nothing but splintered wood from broken open cargo, ventured further into the deeper darkness of the stinking hold.
Weir stumbled over a coil of hemp and bumped hard into the bulkhead, banging his shoulder painfully against the wood. He almost dropped the lantern in the process, but Genny reached out to steady him.
"Did you hear that?" she asked.
"I didn't hear anything," Weir grumbled as he wiped his hand down his pant leg. There was thick, slimy moisture on the wall of the ship's hold. "What did it sound like?"
The young woman listened hard, shushing her brother as he repeated his question. She inched forward, searching the planking beneath her feet.
"Look at this, Weir," she said as she pointed.
Weir came forward and lowered the lantern. "There's nothing but bulkhead back there."
Genny wasn't so sure. "Do you see anything odd about the wood?" she asked, stepping over another coil of rope as her vision followed the planking.
"No," he told her. He held the lantern a bit higher. "I don't see anything odd. It's flat. What else should it be?"
"We didn't find anything but unsalvageable cargo," Patrick told them as he and Mr. Tarnes joined them. "Nothing that could have made the sounds you heard."
"We may have found something, Paddy," Genny said.
Weir rolled his eyes, looked at Patrick. "Little miss know-it-all thinks there's something odd about the bulkhead."
Genny stooped down, touched her hand to the horizontal planking covering of the bulkhead, and tapped on the wood. There was a hollow sound. She looked over her shoulder at her brother. "There's something behind this wall."
Patrick eased around Tarnes and hunkered down beside Genny. He rapped on the planking and gagged. "Mother of Alel!" he gasped. "Whatever that smell is, it's coming from behind here." He turned his head away and gathered a mouthful of saliva and then spat, hoping to exorcise the bile riding up his gullet.
"Is there a latch of some sort on this wall, Paddy?" Genny asked, running her hands over the wood.
Reluctant to even touch the wood concealing such a foul odor, Patrick nevertheless put his hands on the planking and felt, wincing at the feel of the slick wood beneath his flesh. His fingers touched something cold, stopped, went back, and fumbled until the smooth expanse of metal ran under his fingertips.
"Here! Weir, hold that lantern closer!"
Bending forward, Weir Saur thrust his lantern close to his friend's shoulder and caught sight of the iron bolt set into the wood. He watched keenly as Patrick threw the bolt back.
"Where's the handle?" Genny asked, seeing none.
"Inside spring lock," Patrick told them as he pushed on the door to release it.
"Holy ghost!" Tarnes gasped, reeling from the stench that shot out from behind the moving panel.
Genny thought she would vomit as the smell assailed her. She crab-walked back from the door as Patrick pulled it further open.
"There's something there," Tarnes warned.
A pitiful sound, a human sound, seeped from behind the panel. It was a groan, a cry for help.
"There's a man in there!" Weir whispered as the light from Tarnes' lantern fell partially into the hidden area behind the planking.
Patrick looked up. "No, there are two."