If you missed out on this anthology, then you've missed out on a lot of fun reading.
I'd like to share the first few pages of my story The Serpent and the Dagger with you. If you like it, get a copy of A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder, finish the story and read on to see what else you'll really enjoy.
The Serpent and the Dagger
Robert J. Krog
In the hammock next to Kris’s was a large, sweaty, unshaven beast of a man, Tom Kinney, known affectionately by the rest of the crew as the Boar. Kris found the Boar’s ill-tempered presence a boon since the two of them got along well enough. Few on the ship were prone to disturb either of the strong men, both the leaders of boarding parties, in their rest and consequently kept doubly quiet below decks when both were there asleep. And the Boar, for all that he would not shrink from buffeting a sailor who seemed to shirk his duties, or challenging a fellow officer for ineptitude, was a safe and comforting occupant of the next hammock compared to what sometimes seemed to be there. Kris shifted his aching muscles and tried to sleep without thinking about the other occupant. He had been the captain’s wrestling partner that day, and the lesson, the captain’s means of boosting his ego and impressing the crew with his strength, had been brutal, and he had lost, as always, though he finally thought he knew why. He hadn’t known he was losing until the deck was coming up to greet him with a hard knock to the chest and face, but, in retrospect, he should have seen it coming. He took a sip of rum from the flask the Boar had handed him upon seeing his sleepless state an hour before. “Here, Kris, maybe she won’t appear if you’re gone in the rum, or maybe you won’t remember which is much the same.” There were benefits to earning the respect of the Boar. He took another sip and closed his eyes again, longing for sleep, for a dreamless sleep.
In his sleep, in his dreaded dreams, Kris often found that the hammock next to his was occupied by a tall, slender, pleasingly-rounded, ever-young maiden with hair black like the spaces between the stars and eyes as cold as a fish’s. She was Ophidia, the captain’s magical woman, acquired long ago, it was said, in the sacking of a ship of the Empire’s Royal Navy. She was one who appeared and disappeared, whom the rest of the crew did not always see, but who always made herself visible to Kris, who gave him sultry, surreptitious glances when she walked at the captain’s side giving him arcane advice.
He lay in his hammock in the dark, swaying as the Serpent’s Fang cut through the rolling waves toward whatever prize or port Captain Westerly had in mind next. He thought and sweated and tried to sleep yet avoid dreams, for Ophidia had appeared to him in them relentlessly all the previous seven nights.
“Will you not speak with me tonight, Kris?” she would ask, and he would not respond. She was the captain’s woman.
“Then I will sing to you, Kris, I will sing to you of the land of your birth and the sweet maiden you should have wooed and married had Captain Westerly not kidnapped you away from the life you should have lived. If you like, I will be the buxom, honey-haired maiden that would have shared your bed and born your heirs. Then will you speak with me, Kris?” she would say, but he would not respond.
And she would sing to him, in such a pure voice, the gentle, lilting songs of his long lost homeland, the lullabies and shepherdess songs that he carried in his heart. And he would turn away from the tempting sight of her as she changed with the song of his heart from the dark-haired temptress to the innocent, honey-haired maiden, for her eyes were still as cold as cold could be.
And when she had finished singing, and he was near to
tears with longing for maiden and home, she would put a hand on his shoulder
and whisper tenderly, sibilantly, earnestly in his ear, “When will you
challenge the captain at last, Kris, and take the ship as you should? When will you wrestle him, break him, and
take up the dagger of ivory that commands the sea serpent? When will you free me from my bondage and
free the sea from his depredations?
When will you take me home with you to the land of your birth?” Though he burned with desire, silent he
A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder