A rebellious young heroine begins a voyage of self-discovery in the third novel of an epic fantasy series set in the world of Viridian Deep, from the legendary author of the Shannara saga.
Auris’s adoptive sister Char has always been the baby of the family—a position that grates on Char, especially when everyone insists on telling her exactly what to do and how to do it. But Char is certain that her headstrong, impulsive behavior, the quality her family sees as her greatest weakness, is actually her greatest strength: the willingness to instantly brave danger and leap to the rescue when anyone she loves is threatened.
Char knows she will never grow into the woman she was meant to be under her family’s loving but repressive eye, so a month before she turns fifteen, she runs away and joins a Human pirate crew in the warm southerly regions of her world. Then, three years into her pirate career, her captain—the man she is convinced she loves—is captured by the leaders of the slave trade he has been fighting. When Char leaps in to rescue him, she finds herself thrust into an adventure that will uncover secrets she never suspected about herself, one that will maybe, finally, teach her to look before she leaps.
Release date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: Del Rey
Print pages: 304
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Sister of Starlit Seas
In the late-night hours of the second day of the full moon, I slip from my concealment to begin my latest mission. I will be instantly visible should I leave the shadows, so I stay close within their cover, my thoughts on my intended rescue and the importance of its success. I am young still—I know this—yet I am much more capable than my seventeen years might suggest. Well seasoned by three years of hard living and perilous adventures, I can now do what many others cannot.
When I left Viridian Deep, I was considered little more than a wayward and somewhat difficult child: Charlayne—known by all as Char—the youngest daughter of Ancrow the Magnificent. (My bitter appellation for a mother I never really knew and have come to resent.) I had three other sisters and a brother who were all so much more accomplished and well regarded than I was. So I was bold and careless and ready to risk my life on every occasion just to gain some attention, and was therefore considered a needless risk-taker.
But to me, it never felt needless. There was always something in me that drove me to recklessness, as if there was a part of my being that lay undiscovered and unfulfilled. And if I could just locate that part, then I would finally be able to settle down instead of always searching around the next corner for whatever adventure or revelation might await.
I have not yet found what I am searching for, but my restless wandering has led me to Jagged Reach, a large island in the Helles—a warmer and more tropical sea than the one that bordered my homeland. There I joined a pirate crew—and in the peril and risk and freedom of life on the open seas, I almost found what I was looking for.
Better yet, I have finally fallen in love.
And if that love is to have a future, I remind myself sternly, then I had better get on with what I am doing.
The docks are layered with dew from a midnight fog, not to mention scattered raindrops and the constant swell of brine. The dampness makes the wooden slats underfoot slick and treacherous, but I have no fear. I never have. It is what makes me such a good pirate.
I tread carefully in the blanketing darkness, stepping slowly, carefully, and purposefully. I am a warrior, a paladin, an archangel of fire and
fury. I carry my weapons strapped across my thighs, down my back, and about my waist, and I wear my heart on my sleeve—for I am all that stands between death and my intended. Without me, he will surely perish—and that I cannot allow.
And perhaps—perhaps!—this rescue will finally prove how much he needs me.
With a surge of hope, I continue on. I have a destination, and I need to reach it before sunrise.
The way forward is clear. It is late, and those who work these docks are mostly asleep. There are night watchmen on patrol, but I know their ways and can avoid them. Also, each ship keeps a nighttime watch, though the sailors assigned mostly only come out on the half hour for a quick look around, then hastily retreat back into the warmth of their cabins. There are dangers in the dockland world, to be sure, but while death has nodded my way more than a few times, it has never come as close to me as it has to others.
Down the shore, the oyster catchers are readying their craft to enter the adjoining rivers that feed into the Helles. I can hear their stays being tightened and their anchors being raised. Men’s deep voices rise up in the dark, intermingled now and then with the higher-pitched shouts of women. Fishing is an equal-opportunity endeavor, where both sexes work together. Not all professions are so balanced, but fishing requires a closeness—a trust and a sharing—that some types of work do not. Duties are shared, and earnings are spread out equally. I could have chosen this work once, back when I first came to the island of Jagged Reach and the city of Pressia. But I chose another way—a better way, which shares many of the same advantages—and I am not one to look back.
I have never been, and never will be.
I slip past the oyster piers and continue on to where the warehouses loom in huge dark blocks of timber and stone. Here the docks are longer and more heavily timbered, to handle the oceangoing freighters and monstrous haulers. Here the heavy-laden carriers must load and unload their goods—everything from timber and steel to woolens and appliances. Yet what comes here is not what goes out, because their services benefit two worlds. This island lies between the Fae lands and the Human provinces, so the bonds of trade—some of it illegal—bind our two peoples in ways that transcend both worlds. In most places, there is a defined separation—a refusal of the one world to even believe in the presence of the other. But on these islands, in the safety of the waters of the Helles, it is possible for each to engage with the other. Here the wards that separate the two worlds have weakened sufficiently to allow for Fae and Human to interact and coexist on a different and more productive scale.
It surprised me at first, this forbidden intermingling of Fae and Human. I had been taught it was an impossibility—that the wards of the Fae forbade it from
happening. But as with so many things we are taught in our childhood, there are exceptions to every rule. And Jagged Reach has been one such exception for a thousand years. Yes, there are rules governing the exchanges between Human and Fae, and yes, some restrictions still apply. But people, no matter their origins, gravitate toward one another, and the more you interact, the harder it becomes to see your neighbor as all that different from yourself.
It is one of the things I have come to love most about my life in Jagged Reach, how I see around me every day a multiplicity of people, all different from me, amid which my own green skin and leafy hair stand out not a bit. Besides, how else can you explain my having fallen in love as I have? How else can you explain my willingness to risk so much for a Human—someone who is considered by most of the Fae as an impossible match?
I slide along the walls of the nearest warehouse, deep within the shadows, looking hard at what lies about me. Discovery now would be disastrous, so I cannot make a wrong move at this point. My eyes shift from one docking site to another, from one vessel to a second, from one worn plankway filled with movement to a score of others so that nothing escapes my notice.
I spy the dock lookout as he approaches from some distance ahead of me, well out in the bright exposure of the moonlight, his attention fixed on the piers. I know him instantly. He is a mean piece of work we call Crouch for his tendency to walk with a bent, lurching gait, his head lowered. He shambles rather than walks, but his strength is enormous. I have seen him brutalize more than one unhappy soul in the supposed pursuit of his duties. Mostly, I think, he enjoys hurting others—especially when so many he encounters are smaller and weaker than he is. I once watched him kill a man by twisting his head about and dumping his lifeless body aside like so much garbage.
I don’t want anything to do with him, but he is not near enough to see me yet, so I must hide before he gets much closer and let him pass. He carries a triad staff, the better to employ the inish he commands. I do not fear him, but I do not underestimate him, either. He does not command the inish power of a Watcher, as Harrow does, but then neither do I. So I must not engage him.
I settle into the relative concealment of a warehouse entry where the shadows are deep. With his eyes fully exposed to the moonlight, Crouch’s vision will be severely limited. He will pass me by unknowingly, and I will be little more than another piece of the shadows that hide me. All I need to do is remain still and make no sound—something I am immensely good at these days.
I wait patiently for his passage, already frozen in place. Favor smiles on me, for he passes me by without a look and goes on down the dock without
I wait until he is out of sight and proceed once more, easing my way toward the Faraway Trades Company’s Warehouse #3, where I will find what I am looking for. Gulls perch on pilings and abandoned wharf ends, resting in huddled groups. A few calls ring out, shrill and somewhat chilling, but none move or startle as I pass. From farther back, cranes draw in heavy ropes, and chains clank in an endless clatter, as the unloading of a heavy cross-channel freighter commences. I welcome the disruption of these sounds, which draw attention away from me. I give them a few moments of continued activity, then push on.
Time is passing. I feel it slipping away.
I move more quickly now, sliding along the warehouse fronts, counting off the piers projecting out into the water, their lengths littered with machinery. Cranes for heavy pallets and boxcars. Lifts for fishing gear and light surplus. Spans for drying and cleaning nets and harpoons. Bins for fish before they are washed and prepared for sale. Racks for weapons and light armor. Tubs for gear that will need cleaning and drying.
I give it all a careful look as I pass. There are too many hooks and gaffs for my taste. Too many blades and spears. Too many ways to bring things to ground that wish only to be free.
I reach Warehouse #3 of the Faraway Trades Company and halt once more, this time in the relative safety of the building next door, deep in the shadows of an overhang. The building is dark and quiet, though the world about it rustles and clangs with the tonnage being moved from the ships anchored along the row of docks I’ve left behind. Warehouse #3 is almost at the far end of the harbor, and down here activity is minimal. It could be because business is down or shipping is slow, or it could be because these units are mostly for storage. But I know better. I know these warehouses are owned by Humans and manned by Goblins. You seldom see the latter, of course—Goblins are not appreciated anywhere in Fae country. But those who work here are kept safely tucked away within a bevy of storerooms by their Human overseers, who employ them for a particularly vile purpose.
For Warehouse #3 is the hub of the Faraway Trades Company’s illegal sideline—a business that is known to exist, but never openly acknowledged: slavery. Here the Human representatives of the Ministry are involved in the imprisonment, sale, and shipping of both
Humans and Fae to countries that will use them as forced labor for the remainder of their lives. Even though widely decried in the Human world—and anathema to most Fae—it is secretly allowed. And I should know. I have worked hard to put a stop to it, as a part of my new pirate life on the Helles.
When we are not smuggling or reappropriating goods, we are engaged in actively destroying the slave trade. And the Faraway Trades Company is well known to us as the worst of the worst. Apart from such warehouses, which can contain their living merchandise on their way from one port to another, rumor has it that it maintains several secret slave colonies for more long-term storage of its “goods.” We have been searching for such a colony for as long as I have been part of the crew but have yet to find one. Faraway Trades is primarily a shipping company, so these colonies must be somewhere near water. But for all we have searched among the more remote islands in the Helles, we have still found no sign of them.
Yes, I am a thief and a pirate, and have definitely operated on the shady side of the law. (After all, crusaders need some way to earn a living.) But for all that, I have never thought to enslave another creature. In the world of the Fae, we believe that our people are born free and entitled to stay that way. But the Humans tend to view things differently—especially when it comes to workers for their salt and iron mines, rock and ore extractors, and reef skimmers. For those are hard jobs that few would voluntarily choose.
The Faraway Trades Company provides workers for the jobs that no one in their right mind wants to do. So to fill those positions, it scavenges and steals, and it does so with the tacit permission of authorities who do not care to involve themselves in the darkness that such undertakings necessarily require.
I learned most of this from my intended—a pirate and a brigand, but a good man nevertheless, who is hunted relentlessly by those he plagues with his endless war against slavery. With his ship and his loyal crew, he hunts these fiends across the waters, and when he finds them, he brings them down.
I should know. He has been my captain for almost three years now. He told me of his purpose, explained his intentions, and shared his vision for a better future. He brought me out of the darkness of my ignorance and into the light of his own knowledge.
And I love him enough that I will now risk my life to save his.
I look back at Warehouse #3. He is locked within, waiting to be executed and guarded by a small army of Goblins—any one of which is twice my size.
I stand almost no chance of saving him. Yet I must try.
I am Char, daughter of Ancrow, sister of Auris, Harrow, Ronden, and Ramey, and I am brave enough to take the risks that await me.
I step forth from my hiding place and advance.
I move swiftly to where my intended is imprisoned, working my way over planks worn and ragged from years of exposure to both work and weather. I am conscious of only him and nothing else.
You might think it odd that I constantly refer to him as my intended, and you would be right to do so, as he neither sees nor refers to himself in such terms—or even believes that we share any more intimate relationship than captain and crewmate. I am merely a friend and ally, a girl he found in a dockside bar working the counter, illegally employed. I earned my money however I could in those days, and often that required lying to prospective employers to persuade them to take me on. I look and sound older than I am, which gives me an advantage, and I am wiser in the ways of the world than most girls my age. I am in many respects a chameleon, and I take advantage of that to keep others guessing.
But back to my intended.
I call him that because—to me—that is who he was from the first moment I met him. I call him that to remind myself that there will come a day—perhaps this very day—when he sees me with new eyes. To him, I am just the little inland girl who took to sea life like a fish to water, and who never seems more at home than when out on the waves. And indeed, this is how I see myself. I am a girl born to live near the sea. The ocean draws me. I ride the waves like an old sailor, at peace in the strongest of swells. Storms do not scare me, no matter how strong, and the waters cradle me as they would a child of their own. I can swim and dive with the best of them, much as I did back home with my best friend Florin, a Water Sprite.
The young captain they call the Silver Blade—born Brecklin Craile—believed in me right from the start. But to him, I am just a fledgling crewmember he has trained to the pirate life. He does not see me as a potential partner yet, much as I long for that.
What was it that drew me to him? That he saved me, yes. But also something more intense, complex, and deep. I felt it right away when I heard his voice and saw his face. It was like the scent of nectar wafting from a flower. It was a mix of face and body—his long, narrow visage combined with his startling blue eyes and that lean, rangy torso, full of leashed energy.
But it was his presence, too. Calm and collected, constantly at ease but always at the ready, never hurried or rushed. It was the certainty he conveyed—the difficult-to-define but undeniable confidence that, whatever happened, he was ready for it.
As I slink toward Warehouse #3, I remember once more how it all began, as clear as if
it were yesterday.
I was working out of the Boat Hook, down toward the end of the docks, where the dregs of the nautical trade always drifted. There were rules and at least a pretense of proper behavior in most places in Pressia…but not at the Boat Hook. I was working at a place where life was cheap and perilous, and keeping a blade close was always necessary. I had learned early how to wield blades of all sorts, so I took to carrying at least two or three on a constant basis, both for emergency and for appearance. Seldom was I challenged after the first few times I was tested, because word got around of my skill. Yet, as I have said, there are exceptions to every rule, and the same applied here.
Because Delph Ruan never did learn when to quit.
He made his intentions clear right from the start. He wanted a warm body at night and a worker by day to carry out his wishes and improve his situation. Not a wife, you understand. A wife was out of the question; no sucker for love or commitment was he. But a partner would do, if she possessed certain skills and attributes.
I brushed him off, but he persisted. He was loud, imposing, and endlessly rude, declaring early on that he wanted me, though I was firm in telling him no.
It was not enough to discourage him. At first, he was nothing more than a temporary nuisance. But then he began harassing anyone who showed an interest in me. He knifed one man—didn’t kill him but left his mark—and once he even challenged me to a one-handed knife fight: a match where combatants tie one arm behind their backs while the other, knife in fist, is bound to their opponent with a three-foot length of rope. He seemed surprised when I accepted—though I did so only because I’d had enough and wanted an end to his pursuit. He thought he had me at his mercy, but he was like that—always thinking things that weren’t true.
His plan was to yank me off my feet, bring me down, and with his knife at my throat offer to spare my life if I gifted him with a night or two of special favors, which he was sure would win me over for good. He even bragged aloud of his intentions to those who would listen.
When the fight began, we were ringed by barflies and other low-life scum. He yanked me toward him straightaway, foolish man—and found himself flying over top of me to land flat on his back. I was on him instantly, quick as lightning, and it was my knife that ended up at his throat and my voice offering to spare his life if he made a sacred promise to never come at me again.
I thought that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. Not in the least.
Several weeks passed, then one busy night he caught me coming in from the washroom out back, where I had gone to clean up. He grabbed me from behind, pinning my arms to my sides, snatching up two of my three knives, and dragging me backward along the hallway with a sack thrown over my head. I tried to reach for my third knife, but he found it first and cast it away.
“Time to pay the price of admission,” he hissed as he dragged me out the back doors of the Boat Hook and into a cluster of storage bins near the water. Without a word, he yanked off the sack, cast me down, and fell atop me. He was big enough that I was pinned fast. I tried biting and scratching, but he only laughed and said he liked his women wild. I screamed, but the noise from inside drowned out my cries. I yelled that I was only fifteen—which at the time was true, though barely—but he did not care about that, either.
Then suddenly he froze in place, still holding me fast, but gone as still as could be.
“What mischief is this, Delph?” a voice said from behind him, a sword point prodding his exposed rear end. “Are there no grown women who consider you worthy?”
“Leave me be,” my attacker snarled. “This is my business.”
A boot to the stomach kicked him off me. He lay sprawled on the dock, his face a mask of rage. “I’ll have your innards scattered along the piers from one end to the other for this!”
“Will you, now?”
I looked up at my rescuer and knew him at once. Everyone on the docks did. He was the Silver Blade. His skills with weapons were astonishing, and even at his young age—maybe as young as early twenties—he was the stuff of legends. I had never met him, never done more than glance his way momentarily, another figure in the crowd. He was too…what? Too impossible for someone like me, too far out of reach, too important to even consider me. I was a runaway with no real future, and nothing to recommend me.
“Would you like to stand up, Little Scrapper?” he asked me.
I scrambled up and faced him, brushing back my leafy green hair self-consciously. “I would. And my thanks.”
He laughed. “Most welcome. Now then.” He shifted his blade from Delph’s rear to his front, pressing a bit harder. “I think we need this one permanently gone, don’t you?”
I was inclined to agree,
but Delph was helpless and there was terror in his eyes. And I knew the Blade’s reputation: Take no prisoners; grant no favors. “I would like that. But not this way. Release him. If I ever see him again, I will geld him myself.”
Brecklin Craile lifted his blade and sheathed it, adding a final kick to Delph Ruan’s backside. My attacker scrambled to his feet.
“This isn’t finished, you stunted little tree!” he screamed at me as he raced away.
With the Silver Blade standing next to me, I watched the beaten man flee, my emotions in turmoil.
“Charming,” the Blade said quietly. “Yet he is dangerous, that one. You must be careful.”
He caught my eye, and I forced myself to meet his gaze. “I can take care of myself,” I declared stoutly.
He grinned. “I have no doubt you can, Little Scrapper. So then, what would you say if I offered you a place on my crew?”
I knew what he meant, because everyone on the docks knew what he was. He was asking if I wanted to become a pirate.
“Why would you want me?” I asked.
“Because you have a pirate’s soul and a warrior’s heart. Because I can already tell from having watched you over the past two weeks that you were born to the profession. Because you are already halfway there, in case you hadn’t noticed. And because you are fierce and wild, and I like what I see.”
He paused. ...
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