Enjoy this mid-way excerpt, from the pages of the third book of The Kingdom Isle series: In Search of the King. We hope to have it completed & edited for Fall 2015 book season – Steven Styles & L. R. Styles
THE SLAVER galleons moved in like trained hawks. As the merchant vessel captain ordered the sails hauled in, the pirates closed in on either side. As soon as they’d lowered their sheets, one ship began letting down long boats.
Dunner’s keen eye proved true. The clean look of new timbers met Joseph’s gaze as he studied the ships. Rows of square doors were cut into each hull, a little over halfway up the sides. Hinged at the top, the doors appeared to raised within by a length of stout cord; out of each protruded the wide barrel of large land cannon, though these seemed differently formed than those of the Kingdom Isle.
Joseph counted fifteen canon per side. Threads of black smoke still rose from the first in the topmost row. The smell of sulfur and charcoal faintly mixed in the air. He glanced at the merchant ship’s bow; the small serpentines mounted there seemed like a boy’s slingshot in comparison. None of the merchant ship’s crew went anywhere near them.
Standing–with his fellows–on the captured deck Joseph watched a full score of pirate crewmen hoist themselves over the side of their vessel. No ragged barefoot group of pirates, were these… but ruddy, well-outfitted men and armed to the teeth. Their leader stepped aboard last, a hulking figure in leather breeches, horned boots and and open crimson shirt. Two short, shined blades stuck out of his gilded belt; daggers hilts sat ready in the tops of his boots. A red scarf held the long strands of sun-bleached hair from hanging in his weathered face. Dark eyes glittered at the fearful faces of the merchant crew with apparent satisfaction. As his gaze shifted to the group of cloaked travelers–standing on the far side of the deck—a sardonic grin spread over his clean-shaven face.
“A good catch!” the slaver leader bawled out. “And here I expected barren waters along this stretch!” A chuckle rose up from among his crewmen.
Descending from the quarterdeck, the ship’s captain fixed the pirate leader with an angry glare.
“We’ve paid our fees,” he snapped. “My master won’t suffer his ship and crew meddled with.” The slaver regarded the portly captain with narrowed eyes. His grin remained.
“And my master acknowledges your fees,” he returned, looking back at the group of merchants. “But he demands a tax of your cargo.” As he spoke both captain and crew looked visibly relieved.
“We are respected merchants,” came Tyrus’ voice.
The cold gray eyes of the Shamar leader betrayed nothing. “If you harm us or steal our wares, our families will send men searching for us. The king, himself, will avenge us.”
The slaver’s grin widened; another round of laughter rose up from his crew.
“I welcome such search parties with open arms,” returned the leader. His gregarious tone grew in volume. “More stock for us to sell at market. As for the king of that tiny island… I have seen none of his slow ships in my waters.”
Joseph glanced at one of the silent, cloaked figures standing by Tyrus. None moved.
“Is it our cloth you’re after?” demanded a gruff voice. Dunner glared at the slaver from the forefront of the group, puffing his pipe. “Our shoes and shovels then? Or is it the crates of apples that you risk execution for?”
“None of those, grandfather,” the slaver returned. He sounded almost jovial. “I have no interest in apples, or anything you offer. Ti’s able-bodied men I’ll be collectin’ this day… not the gray-heads.”
As he spoke, the leader gestured to one of his men. The pirate approached Dunner with a confident step, his blade out and ready.
“Move aside, old man,” he sneered, reaching out one hand to enforce the order. A sharp crack sounded out on deck as Dunner’s fist made contact with the pirate’s jaw, followed by a powerful jab to the stomach. The pirate crumpled to the deck and lay still.
A second of shocked silence reigned on the ship. Joseph tensed for a fight, glancing over his shoulder at the second ship. Next to him, Hezekiah gripped the handle of a long dagger, partially hidden beneath his cloak. The leader’s grin disappeared. His dark eyes took in the fallen man briefly and then riveted themselves upon Dunner once more.
To the surprise of all, the pirate leader threw back his head and laughed loud and long.
“The old mongrel yet has his bite!” he called out. His men did not join his merriment; they did not advance on Dunner. “Take the lot of them!” the slaver continued. “The grandfather as well. Such spirit! There’s eight years good labor among them, at least.”
“Only a reprobate takes pleasure in enslaving his fellow man.”
One of the cloaked men–behind Tyrus–had spoken. Joseph knew the king’s voice but more he recognized the dark tone he spoke with; he’d heard it once before, proclaiming judgment over the Citadel square. The slaver seemed to take no notice.
“Wares,” he corrected. “To me, men are wares… and I have been called worse than rep-robert.”
“Reprobate,” Dunner corrected, with a puff of his pipe. “A man at the lowest ebb of the tide of humanity, it means.”
“Perhaps our host had has no learning of letters, as we have,” Hezekiah put in. “I would be happy to write it down for him, in several languages…”
The slaver leader’s eyes held a dangerous glimmer.
“Wasting away the hour in childish banter will not spare you your fate, merchant,” he said through clenched teeth. “Lay down your knives as well. I need no letters to tell me you have a dirk or dagger about ye.” The broad grin slowly spread over his face as the man shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “It behooves me to to bring you to market unscathed… but any resistance and my men will knock you about the head. We’ve carried men into the boats before… like so many sacks of grain.”
From within the gray hood, Joseph caught the king’s eye. Ever-so-slightly, the monarch nodded. Stepping forward beside Dunner, Joseph took his dagger from its sheath and threw it down. The point dug into the deck and stayed. The man at Dunner’s feet groaned and the aged admiral nudged him away with the toe of his boot.
“By the dragon, a fine catch,” the slaver mused aloud, looking from one man to the other in the merchant group. “I will see gold for your backs, I will.”
Following Joseph’s example Tyrus, Hezekiah and the others all tossed down their knives. The weapons clattered against one another, drawing the interest of a few of the slaver’s crewmen. Squatting down the pirates picked through the blades, tossing any deemed inferior over the side of the ship with a practiced flip of the wrist. Dunner missed none of their movements, observing where each man stowed his stolen weapons.
Out of harm’s way–up on the quarterdeck–the captain viewed the disarming of his passengers in uneasy silence. Whether he disapproved of their enslavement, or mourned the loss of their future business, Joseph could not tell. His crew seemed eager to see them all go. Once the group of merchants were disarmed, the slaver’s men directed them at sword point into the waiting boats.
Dunner went first, swinging down the side of the ship to the heaving long boat below like a seasoned deckhand, his pipe still trialing out thin threads of smoke.
“Enjoy your pipe, grandfather!” the sun-bleached leader called down to him, leaning over the side. “Tis the last sweet smoke you will ever breathe!”