Corsairby Chris Bunch
And then he discovers something
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Swashbuckling captain Gareth Radnor has taken command of the Steadfast. But the young captain intends more than seeking his fortune. He wants vengeance against the Linyati slavers who murdered his family. Crewed by a motley band of adventurers, his carrack plunges through the salty waves, striking at the Linyati wherever it can.
And then he discovers something more compelling even than revenge: The Linyati aren’t human . . .
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THE SEA HORROR
A cabin door on the deck above the fighters slammed open, and a nightmare burst out. It was an enormous, tailless lizard, half as tall as a man, with a long, fanged head like a crocodile. Its skin was large, rainbow-hued scales, and it carried a forward-curving sword in each four-fingered claw. It moved impossibly fast, leaping down the ladder, slashing into pirates, spinning away from counterthrusts and lunges, squealing all the while.
Gareth shot at it with one of his pistols, missed, and, guts clenching, went for the monster with his sword ...
Morning, Mage Radnor," the boy said cheerily. "And could we have a spell for our fishing?"
"If I could summon up the cod, and have them dancing on your doorstep," the rather rotund, balding man said with a smile, "do you think I'd be sitting here worrying about taxes?"
"Probably," said the wizard's wife, Bon, a slender woman some ten years younger than her husband. "Maybe not living hereperhaps with our own fleet, with a fine house in Ticao, like your brotherbut you'd still be fretting about the king's share. Just think how much more it would be if you could magic up the finnies."
"Probably, probably that's how things would work out," Radnor said. "Plus the cost of the nets, whether my men were happy, whether I needed to build my own salting plant, and so on and so forth. Best we should be happy with what we have.
"Although I would fancy a spell that'd bring up a tiny demon that understood addition and subtraction.
"He got up fromthetable littered with scrawled papers and broken-tipped quills, and went to the stairs.
"Gareth! Knoll's a-waiting!" There was no reply.
"He's been sulking all morning," Bon Radnor said.
"Over what? What's there to gloom about?" Knoll N'b'ry said. "The sun's out, the sea's almost flat, there's near no wind, and the tide is on the turn." He raised his voice. "C'mon, Gareth! Tuck your pouty lip back in and stir your stumps!"
Footsteps sounded, and Gareth Radnor came down the winding stairs. He was just fifteen, taller than his friend Knoll, thin, and if it weren't for his pursed lips and frown, would be considered darkly handsome. He wore heavy canvas pants and a patched sweater.
Without speaking to anyone, he sat by the back door and pulled on tarred canvas knee boots, then stood.
"Don't forget your oilskins, dear," his mother said.
"Good idea," Knoll said. "Bound to be a chop coming back."
Gareth didn't answer, but went out, letting the door bang behind him.
"So it's his business if he gets wet," his father said.
Knoll held up his hands helplessly. "He doesn't listen to me, either," and went after Gareth.
"There is a temptation," Radnor said wearily, "to cast a bit of a weather spell after our only son. Nothing more than a half-hour drenching, mind you."
"Make it a weeklong cascade for all of me," Bon said.
"I'm sure I wasn't that big a pain in the sitter when I was his age," Radnor said righteously.
"And I'm sure you were," his wife said. "Now, what, assuming the boys have no luck, do you fancy for our evening meal?"
Knoll caught up to Gareth as he went down the cobbled street toward the docks.
"And what's the matter with you?" he asked. "A night-spirit appear in your bed and then leave before you were satisfied or something?"
"Oh shut it," Gareth snapped.
Knoll looked at him, sneered ostentatiously, but said nothing. The street flattened, and they passed mostly empty docks.
"Hope we do as well as the fleet," Knoll said, unable to keep silent for long. "I helped Da load his pots, and said a prayer over every one before dawn."
"Prayers don't do any good with fish," Gareth said.
"And how do you know that? Just because your father's a magician doesn't mean you have the Gift," Knoll said. "Next you'll be saying magic doesn't work either. Maybe we should just put fish guts in the traps and let the crabs' common sense, or lack of it, take charge."
"Probably do as good as anything else."
A small boat was tied up at the last, rickety, half-sinking pier. The boat was old, but neatly kept, white with green trim, single-masted, a bit over twenty feet long, with a tiller at the stern. A third boy, almost as thick as he was tall, not quite Gareth's height, busied himself baiting hooks on a long line and curling the line in a wooden bucket.
"What kept you?" he asked.
"Gareth's got the pouts," Knoll said. "I tried chucking his little chin, but he'd have none of it."
"Can't have a man going out with the pissies," the stocky boy said and, surprising for one of his bulk, sprang athletically to the dock. "Come on, Gareth. We'll need a smile for all the little fishies to admire."
"Dammit, leave me alone, Thom," Gareth almost snarled. "I'll be all right."
"Oh I know you will," Thom Tehidy said happily. "In fact, I guarantee it."
"Thom, I'm in no mood to be trifled with! I said, leave me alone! We've got fishing to do!"
Tehidy picked Radnor up in his thick arms, spun him until he was head down, feet flailing in empty air.
"Now, we dunk him a time or two, nice brackish water down here, look, there's a turd floating, right under your head, and one, and a two, and"
"All right! All right!" Gareth said. "I'm in a good mood! See? Look at this smile!"
"What do you think, Knoll N'b'ry?" Tehidy said. "Appears to me he's faking it, and needs a good healthy drink of mother ocean."
"Thom, put me back on my feet."
Tehidy obeyed, swinging Gareth around and setting him on the dock.
"Should've just tossed you in," he said. "M' pap always said the day starts best and easiest if you're already wet."
Gareth looked at his two friends, then started laughing. It was a strong, cheerful sound.
"There," Knoll said. "Now you're all better, and we'll even let you man the rudder on the way out."
"So what was the problem?" Knoll asked, as the boat tacked out of the harbor under its single sail.
"Everything," Gareth said.
"Everything like how?" Thom said, from his seat below the mast.
"Look around, dammit!"
Behind them, about a third of a league distant, was the village, climbing up steep cliffs, houses brightly painted, roofs red, blue, green. Occasional clouds drifted above, and the sky was a solid blue. Behind the village, on rising ground to the high moors, were farmhouses and cultivated land. Here and there were the dots of oxen pulling plows, their owners beside the teams.
Two of the royal semaphore towers could be seen leading off into the distance, connecting the village with the capital of Ticao and the rest of the great island of Saros. Empty beaches and cliffs were on either side of the village, and other settlements could be dimly made out to the east and west.
The sea was greenish blue, low waves gently lifting the boat, a slight breeze blowing across the boat's thwarts.
"What's to see?" Tehidy asked bewilderedly.
"Only the same thing we look at every day, that's all!"
"What's the matter with that?" Thom said. "Who wants a change when things are good?"
Gareth growled. "What good? We're doing the same thing we've done every week that somebody doesn't want us to work on one of the boats, or else helping some clod kicker with his planting! There's time enough for drudgery in the years to come!"
"That's what we are," Thom said. "That's what we do, what we're going to be doing, isn't it?"
"I know!" Gareth said. "That's the problem! For the rest of our lives, pulling fish out of the ocean or shoving seeds in the ground! Over and over and over!" Thom was looking at him curiously.
"I remember," he said slowly, "when we were kids, and you were always going on about going off to be a sailor. I mean, a deepwater sailor. Fighting wars."
"Or being a pirate," Knoll said.
"I wish I'd stuck to that," Gareth said sullenly.
"The problem is," Tehidy said reasonably, "none of us know who to talk to about pirating. Nobody at the semaphore station seems to know the routing for the Royal Loyal Evil and Roistering Pirates."
"Plus," N'b'ry put in, "we figured out a long time ago that Old Man Baltit's stories about pirating seem to be mostly made up, since they keep changing, and he's just about the only one who's been away anywhere."
"I know," Gareth said, through clenched teeth.
"You could always run away," Thom went on. "Find a village that's on the king's impressment list, and be taken for the navy. Even though I hear running up and down the mast with some bastard with a rope end hitting you on your butt gets old real fast.
"Or join the coastal guard. Give you a chance to stay in home waters, and prob'ly drown in the first big storm, trying to save some dumb fisherman like me. Or maybe meet real pirates on the wrong end of a cannon."
"What happened?" Knoll asked quietly. "You normally don't go off like this."
Gareth sat staring out at the water. He picked up a bit of salted fish from the bait bucket, chewed at it.
"Dad got a letter this morning, that he's supposed to pass along to the herald so everybody'll hear it," he finally said. "From Vel's father."
"Uh-oh," Thom said quietly. Vel Kese had been the closest thing the village had to a beauty, a year younger than the boys. Her father had run one of the village's two shops until recently, when he'd announced there wasn't any money to be made here and moved the family to another village two or three days' distant. She'd been Gareth's girl since they were seven or eight, and most of the villagers assumed she and Gareth would eventually marry.
Gareth was considered a good catch, being the son of the village thaumaturge, with seven years of tutoring. Everyone assumed that he'd amount to something more than a fisherman, even though he didn't show any signs of having his father's Talent.
"Hern Kese is really damned proud to announce that his daughter has become affianced and will soon be the second bride of some asshole cidermaker, who'll make her very happy and so on and so forth."
"Oh," Knoll said softly.
"Makes me wish Dad had let me go off to Ticao and live with my uncle. Instead, I hung around here, and thought that ...It doesn't matter what I thought," Gareth said. Thom reached across and patted Gareth's knee.
"Oh the hells with it," Gareth said. "Let's start looking for a good place to drop our lines."
"I thought," Knoll said, eager for the change of subject, "we'd try back of that seamount you climbed once, to the east, where it shallows."
"Why not?" Gareth said. "It's past time I learn to concentrate on making a good life for myself," he said bitterly.
"Whatever the hells that might be.
"I just wish," he said, after a pause, "something exciting would happen around here."
The seas around the huge stack, rising abruptly out of the deep waters, were choppy, almost treacherous. Even though all three boys had been in boats since before they could walk, they still kept a wary eye to seaward for the sudden widowmaker that could smash them into the nearby rocks.
They also watched the horizon as the day grew later, saw the village's crabbers sail home.
Two years earlier, on a dare, Gareth had climbed to the top of the nearby stack, using a grass rope where he could, finding foot and toeholds in cracks, pulling himself up with the tussocks that grew out of the face. Once a gull had exploded from its nest, almost making him fall. When he reached the top, a tiny plateau not much bigger than his father's spellcasting floor, he'd held firm against the gusts that tried to send him spinning down into the breakers, wondering why the hells he insisted on making such a damned fool of himself, and then wondered how he would climb down.
But he had, and the villagers swore he was the first, well, perhaps the second, to ever climb that seamount, although no one could remember that first man's name.
It was getting cold. Gareth's fingers were sore, salt-burned, and his ears felt like they were the finest porcelain, and would shatter if anyone tapped them with a fingernail.
"Hi," Knoll said suddenly. "Look."
Distant smoke boiled across the water from somewhere behind the seamount.
"Fire," Thom said. "Something big's burning!"
Knoll was reeling in the line as Gareth went to the rudder and brought the boat about as Thom raised the sail. Gareth let the current skitter the boat around the mount, close to a dark cliff and a cave, where the surf boomed in deadly invitation.
"Oh gods," Knoll said softly. Something was burning.
It was their village. Sailing out from under that cloud were four ships like none they'd ever seen. Gareth could faintly make out their hulls against the water. They were black, with red lateen sails on three masts.
"What're they?" Thom said.
"I don't know," Gareth said, but the flames gave him the answer.
"Linyati," Knoll whispered. "The Slavers! I never heard of them this far north."
"Gods," Thom echoed Knoll, less a prayer than a moan.
"Come on, Gareth! Hurry!"
The village was a shatter of flames and ruin, the only sounds the crackling of the fires, crashes as roof timbers collapsed.
The fishing boats were smoldering ruin, their oil-soaked wood having instantly flared up when torches were thrown.
There were two men dead on the docks, arrowheads coming out their backs. Half a dozen crabs from a broken trap crawled across their bodies on their way back to the water.
Gareth leapt over the bodies, the other two behind him, running for their homes.
A body sprawled at the foot of the street in a pool of blood. Next to him lay a broken boathook, and, with great wounds in their bodies, three dark-complected men in foreign, silk-looking garb. Gareth had time for a flashing thought that perhaps Old Man Baltit hadn't been the colossal liar everyone thought he was, for he'd taken at least these raiders down, then ran on, heart hammering under his ribs, toward his house.
His father lay on his back, just inside the doorway. His hand had been chopped off, trying to push away the spear that had buried itself in his chest.
Gareth's mother sat on the foot of the stairs, and for an instant Gareth thought she was still alive, until he saw the gaping slash across her neck, and the way her head lolled.
He was on his knees, and the only numb thought he had, over and over, was I didn't even say good-bye, I didn't say good-bye to them.
Time passed. He heard footsteps, didn't turn. Knoll's voice came:
"They took ...Thom's whole family ...my father's dead ...mother and my sisters are gone. They took them all. There's no one left in the village.
"Only the dead, Gareth. That's all they left."
Another thought came to Gareth:
And I didn't tell them that I loved them. I don't remember, can't remember, when I said that last. Then the tears finally came free.
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Meet the Author
Chris Bunch became a full-time novelist following his twenty-year career as a television writer. A military veteran, he was the Locus bestselling author of student popular works as the Sten series, The Seer King, The Demon King, and the Last Legion series. He passed away in 2005.
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Gareth Radnor is a hero's hero, and his adventures and quest for revenge and survival is a must rear for any lover of high fantasy, and heroism. Chris Bunch grabs ahold of you with hearbreaking tragedy during the opening pages, and holds your attentions close with florid descriptions that don't pander to the unimaginative. The thing I truly love about this man's writing is that he leaves something to the imagination, ala Howard, and Burroughs, he paints the tableau in broad strokes and allows the reader to fill in the intricacies. There's something refreshing about an author that tells a tale with such stunning clarity and doesn't sully the page with needless words. I am on my third copy of this book, and I fear my latest may well not survive another reading. A pity that Chris Bunch left us recently and a sequel may never be penned.
He was a teen fishing in a secluded spot with two friends when the Linyati entered his village killing those who fought and enslaving the rest. The village is destroyed and Gareth Radnor¿s family along with it. Gareth moves to the Capitol City to live with his uncle. When a bored Gareth pulls a prank on a noble, the lord vows vengeance. For his nephew¿s safety, his uncle sends Gareth to go to the sea. Over time he becomes voted the captain of the Steadfast. He leads his men in battle against the Linyati and wins. He returns home wealthy, but unable to rest on his laurels. He devices a plan to steal the Linyati treasury that requires trekking deep into enemy territory. Chris Bunch is a wonderful storyteller who writes fantasy that adults will enjoy. The Linyati are a strange, enigmatic race who serves masters that seem more apropos as residents of hell. The innocent Gareth grows quickly into a hardened warrior filled with grief, anger and pain that shapes him into being a fan favorite while steering CORSAIR into a fast-paced, absorbing novel. Harriet Klausner