Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sneak Peak: The Glaring of Cats

Hey all,

My second novel, The Glaring of Cats, is very nearly almost just about done. I'm just wrapping up the final-ish editing pass and waiting on the cover and it'll be done. Expect an official announcement in a week or two and then it'll be ready to read on Amazon.

So, in anticipation, here's a sneak peak. Enjoy!

The Glaring of Cats: Sneak Peak

The sun glowed high in the sky, beating down through light clouds onto a smooth, calm sea. A double-masted junk coursed across the water, its sails catching the westerly wind. An old ship, her dark flanks bore the scars and dents from battle and weather, but the brass fittings gleamed and her deck shone from constant care. Her figurehead, a busty mermaid with a tankard in each hand and a confused expression, rode at the fore. Near the bow in big, white letters read the ship’s name: The Drunken Mermaid with Really Big Boobs.
At a small table in the shade of the sail sat Captain Yhu, a skinny man in a red coat. A plate, piled high with hard tack, salted fish, and cheese, and accompanied by a mug of thick, black beer that could be used as paint remover, rested on the table in front of him. Most of the crew, a swarthy lot with bare chests and loose pants, ate in what shade they could find or perched on the railings. They talked and laughed as they ate, the breeze doing its best to blow away the collected funk of men who lived in a closed space and didn’t bathe.
“Sail ho! Sail to the south!” came a shout from the crow’s nest. The men leapt to their feet and crowded around the railing as Captain Yhu finished his cheese and rose. He pushed and shoved his way to the bow, shielding his eyes as he scanned the horizon. Spotting the sail, he brought up his spyglass.
A single-masted ship, little more than a dot to the naked eye, sailed east. “It’s a river vessel,” he said.
“What’s it doin’ out here?” said First Mate Mha, the sun glinting from the thick gold earrings in each ear.
“It’s gettin’ boarded is what its doin’!” A cheer rose from the crew. “Break out the weapons and get to yer stations!” The Captain felt the rumble of dozens of bare feet through the deck as thirty-odd men ran to their posts.
“I got a bad feelin, Captain,” Mha said.
The Captain glanced over at him. “What?”
Mha wiped his bald head with a hand, flicking the sweat onto the deck. “Ain’t no reason for a little ship like that to be out here. It don’t make no sense.”
The Captain turned back to the ship on the horizon, which stayed true to her course. “You’re right,” the Captain said. “But sense or no, she’s an easy target.”
“As you say, Captain.”
“Get the Dragon ready, just in case.”
The Mermaid closed the gap, but the smaller ship didn’t deviate. Captain Yhu stayed at the bow, tapping his fingers on the rail. Behind him, his men gathered, knives, clubs, and heavy broadswords at the ready.
“They have to know we’re here,” the Captain Yhu said to himself. “Why ain’t they runnin?”
Almost in response, the ship dropped its single sail and began to slow.
“Bring us alongside!” The Captain felt the Mermaid slow and start to curve in. His finger tapped faster.
“The men’re ready, Captain,” said Mha.
“Good.” The Captain glanced at his First Mate. “I’m gettin’ the same feelin,’ Mha. This is startin’ to remind me o’ the Hummingbird.”
“The Hummingbird?” The First Mate’s voice trembled on the last vowel and the Captain thought he heard a sniffle.
The Captain turned and after a moment’s hesitation, patted Mha on the shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t go thinkin’ on the Hum- that other ship.”
Mha nodded, but the Captain could see tears brimming.
“C’mon! Who’s a pirate, eh? Who’s a big, bad pirate?”
“I am,” Mha said, a slight waver in his voice.
“That’s right! Now, wipe your eyes and get on the Dragon. Keep out of sight ‘till I signal.”
“Aye, aye.”
The Mermaid closed with its target and the Captain could see her deck now. A long, sloped vessel with a shallow draft, she should have been on a river. Only one person could be seen, a woman standing at the bow. Yhu leaned forward and then brought up his glass. Though he could only see her back, but she looked young and slim. Her long, straight black hair held a single, jade comb and the breeze rustled her blue silk tunic, pants, and sash. She played a flute, a long brass instrument with a red tassel on the end.
“What the?”
The Captain heard her song as his ship pulled alongside, a low, mournful tune that felt familiar, but he couldn’t quite place. The woman gave no notice as the larger ship bumped hers and the Captain saw her face. Fine, delicate features and silk clothing suggested a noblewoman, which promised that her family would pay a fortune for her ransom.
Grapnels flew out from the Mermaid and bit into the smaller ship’s rail.
“Look at her!” Sneaky Tan said, as the two ships pulled close. “Hello, ransom!”
The woman continued her song as the sailors lashed the ships together. A thud reverberated through the wooden ships as the pirates secured the ropes holding them together. The woman gave no notice.
Yet, just as the last knot pulled tight, she leapt.
The Captain watched open-mouthed as she arced up and over his deck, almost thirty horizontal feet and ten vertical, to land on the Mermaid’s opposite railing. She played a few more notes, let them linger, and then finished with a flourish, spinning her flute behind her back. Then she stood there, hands clasped behind her, looking at the stunned pirates with pale blue eyes.
“Oh,” said the Captain. “This is gonna be bad.”
“You are pirates?” the young woman asked with the same crisp enunciation the Captain recalled from a couple of noble victims.
Big So pushed his way in front of her, swinging a club larger than some masts. “Yeah,” he said with a leer. “but don’t worry, we ain’t gonna hurt ya none, we’re just gonna ransom ya back to yer rich daddy.”
“And if I resist?”
He grinned and shrugged. “There’s like thirty of us an’ one a you.” The other pirates snickered. “But if it makes ya feel better, th-“
Something happened that began with a gold blur and ended with a ‘crack.’ Big So fell backwards, a huge lump forming on his head.
The assembled pirates stared as Big So thudded onto the deck. Even as the Captain shouted for his men to stand down, a collective yell rose from the crew.
They charged.
Little So reached her first, slashing with his broadsword. The woman leaned to the side, letting the weapon pass a scant inch from her head, while ramming her flute into Little So’s midsection, dropping him to the desk where he writhed and gasped. She tripped Medium Fang as he charged, his momentum carrying him headfirst into the railing. Just-So came in low, knives flashing, and received an almost delicate kick to the jaw, which sent him flying backwards. Five more pirates attacked in as many seconds and went down just as hard.
The remaining crew stampeded to the opposite side of the ship.
The young woman, now on the deck, stood with her hands behind her, the breeze blowing past her, rustling her hair, and delivering a faint scent of roses. Big So started to rise, looked up at her, and then scrambled away to his mates, followed in short order by the other victims.
“Who is the Captain?” the woman asked.
Sixty-four-and-a-half fingers pointed at Captain Yhu. He glared at his crew for a moment and then straightened his coat and stepped forward.
“I’m Captain Yhu. Who’re you?”
“You may call me Miao.”
Captain Yhu paused. “Like a cat?”
“As you say.”
“I have a question,” Miao continued. “Is this a better ship than that one?”
The Captain glanced at the small, one deck river boat. “Yeah.”
“Good. You will take me to the city of Locklarn.”
Captain Yhu blinked. “The city of what?”
“Never heard of it.”
She stared at him for a moment. “Well, poop!” Miao froze, hand going to her mouth. “I’m so sorry! I apologize for my language!” She bowed low enough that her hair touched the deck.
“Ummm,” said the Captain. “We’re pirates. You can say whatever.”
She glanced around and then smiled. “Poop!”
One of the pirates, Young Ko, raised his hand. Miao nodded at him. “That ain’t real swearin.’” he said. “I mean, you can say ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ and all sortsa-“ A piton crashed into his chest, knocking him backwards into his mates.
“I will not,” she said, eyes narrowed, “stand for such language! Any person using those words will be punished! Severely!”
All the pirates shut their mouths, but one hand rose from the back.
“Can we say ‘po-‘ that word you just used?”
Miao thought for a moment. “Very well. But not too much. Now then,” she said, sweeping back a loose strand of hair. “You do not know how to get to Locklarn?”
“Never even heard of it.”
“I see.” She strode forward, the pirates parting in front of her. “Mr. Ho!” she called out to the smaller ship as she leaned over the railing. “Please bring my bag!”
“Where is it?” came a voice, muffled behind the tiny door that led to the central cabin.
“It’s hanging on a peg.”
“By the barrels?”
As Miao spoke, Sneaky Tan waved to the Captain. He gestured towards the woman and made a cutting motion. The Captain nodded and Sneaky Tan began to move towards her, his bare feet making no sound on the deck, a knife at the ready.
The Captain held his breath as Tan got within striking distance. Tan readied himself, lunged, and missed.
Miao stood next to him, her hand on his throat. Sneaky Tan froze. “We can agree,” she said. “That I can kill any or all of you anytime I wish?”
A murmur of assent rose from the pirates.
“Then please refrain from attacking me or I shall. By-the-by,” she said, as she released Tan. “If the man with the firearm does not discharge it into the ocean, I will hang him from the . . . “ she trailed off. “What’s the thing that holds the sail up?”
“Mast?” someone said.
“Thank you. Yes, I will hang him from the mast with his own intestines.”
All the pirates turned towards the door to the lower deck. “Captain?” asked First Mate Mha from behind the door.
“Do it!”
The door creaked open and Mha stepped out, straining under the weight of the weapon. The Dragon’s brass fitting gleamed when the sun hit them, joined by the rich luster of the mahogany stock.  Its twelve thick brass barrels jutted out in an arc, designed to clear a deck in one shot. Mha staggered to the railing and set the gun on it.
Everyone clamped their hands over their ears as Mha pulled back the hammer. He said a quick prayer and then after a three-count, pulled the trigger.
The entire boat recoiled at the flash and roar, knocking several of the pirates off their feet. A cloud of smoke obscured the port side of the ship, masking the rain of feathers that erupted from an unlucky flock of seagulls.
The Captain turned away from the smoke as it rolled across the deck, filling his nose with the smell of burnt powder. He then noticed Miao.
She knelt, her hands clamped over her ears, but she looked blurry, like a runny ink drawing. Even as the Captain reached up to rub his eyes, she came back in focus.
As the Captain started to order his men to attack, Miao stood, one hand on the rail, and brushed at knees of her silk trousers. She looked shaken, but Yhu closed his mouth and watched as she regained her composure.
“You okay?” he called out, but she didn’t appear to hear him. “Huh.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool - I'm looking forward to it.