I’ve received the illustrations for Swords of the Four Winds, so now it’s just a matter of finishing and polishing off a few more stories. Here’s an excerpt from one of them, In the Service of the Serpent King.
Thau Sang addressed the pirates in Nusaradyan, a language he spoke only haltingly, but his voice was clear, and his words compelling. Briefly he spoke of the rebellion that had overthrown him, sending him fleeing down the Annala River with only a few retainers, his attempt to make a deal with Datu Nagbuaya, encountered by chance at the river’s mouth, and Nagbuaya’s treachery. Then he spoke of his intention to return, of the chests of silver and rare spices that would be his to give if his throne was restored to him, and of the jewels and fine swords and horses that could be looted from the rebel nobles, with his royal blessing. He spoke of cities that must be sacked as examples to the wicked, and the pirates began to cheer and call out pledges.
But not all. Pandara quickly noted that no few of the captains looked skeptical, and as he feared, one of them garnered the courage to speak up. “Bah! How many of us here are princes and chiefs in our own homes, but can never return?” the dissenting captain challenged, swaggering to the forefront. “Many – even you, Pandara! Aye, even I, Matalam, would also promise you baskets of pearls and chests of silk for your blades to help me return – but I doubt I could ever deliver them, so I do not.
“I say, anyone with any pretension to royal blood may promise the moon, but there’s nothing like sure gold in the hand! Why risk our lives in a venture with such narrow chances of success, when there’s an easier way already? I say this king and princess are in our hands, let us take the certain path and offer them for ransom!” Matalam cried, and many of the captains growled their approval.
“Ransom, ransom!” the dissident captains began to cry, and their men echoed them. Those initially fired by Pandara’s words and Thau Sang’s promises looked uncertain, angry but still tempted by Matalam’s logic.
Nayyadi cast one pleading glance at Pandara.
“Enough!” the Pirate Prince roared, and a listener too far away to make out the words would have mistaken him for a tiger. He squared off before Matalam. “I lead here, and I say we take service with King Thau Sang, for the booty of a kingdom,” he growled, but pitching his voice to carry and remind the pirates what this was about. “Are you challenging me?”
Matalam spat at Pandara’s sandaled feet. “Aye!”
Some captains shouted for the formalities to be observed, but Pandara and Matalam wasted no time. With one accord they unsheathed their weapons, Pandara taking his father’s battle kris in his right hand and a dagger in his left, Matalam drawing a Quan saber whose hilt he manipulated to split into two blades. He grinned exultantly at Pandara. “I outreach you twice over now, Pandara,” Matalam gloated.
“You’re still fat and slow,” Pandara taunted back, and then the battle was joined.
Matalam was indeed a big man, not as tall as Pandara who was very tall for an islander, but his girth was enormous, his dark face round and his chins multiple. But weak and slow Matalam was most definitely not, and his Quan sabers rang like bells against Pandara’s blades. His blows were so powerful they drove Pandara back, and again and again they drove the Pirate Prince’s blades out of line, creating openings that Pandara could only deny by hurriedly leaping or twisting away. Matalam began to laugh.
Pandara was forced onto a patch of soft sand, where his feet sank with every step and slowed him down. Matalam, laughing even louder, closed in for the kill. But he had failed to reckon the true depth of his opponent’s warcraft. Pandara made to back away again, luring his opponent into deeper, softer sand, and then suddenly he dodged sharply to the right. Following him, Matalam dug his feet into a hole Pandara’s feet had made earlier, floundered, and then was knocked over by a shrewd kick. Before he could recover, Pandara flicked the sabers out of his hands then knelt over him, holding the kris to his throat.
“Submit!” he demanded.