Petrodor (Trial of Blood and Steel Series #2)by Joel Shepherd
Book two in the quartet A Trial of Blood & Steel picks up the story of the brave and independent heroine, Sasha, now living in the port city of Petrodor. Away from the hills of her Lenayin homeland, Sasha is making a new life in the dark alleys and wealthy houses of Petrodor. An influential trading centre, Petrodor holds the key to preventing the coming war between… See more details below
Book two in the quartet A Trial of Blood & Steel picks up the story of the brave and independent heroine, Sasha, now living in the port city of Petrodor. Away from the hills of her Lenayin homeland, Sasha is making a new life in the dark alleys and wealthy houses of Petrodor. An influential trading centre, Petrodor holds the key to preventing the coming war between Lenayin and the mighty Bacosh. Together with her old mentor Kessligh, Sasha attempts to navigate the political intrigues of the port city and find a way to stop the war. It is the serrin, the beautiful but dangerous people from beyond the Bacosh, who will be the pivotal point in this struggle. How much can Sasha trust her old serrin friend Errollyn? And how much can she trust herself?
Read an Excerpt
PetrodorA TRIAL OF BLOOD & STEEL
By JOEL SHEPHERD
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2010 Joel Shepherd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSasha sat on the prow of the boat, and saw a number of red and white floats bobbing on the surface ahead. She turned, shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun, and pointed. "That's them," she announced to Mari, back at the tiller.
"Of course that's them," Mari retorted. He was a broad, squat man with powerful arms and a rotund middle, weathered and browned in the sun. He squinted into the glare with no shielding hand, well used to that intensity. Sasha still did not understand how he could know where to find the floats. The sea was slippery calm, save for the rocking of a gentle swell. Off to the right, the hills of the Torovan shoreline loomed brown and green, a series of rocky bays and headlands, small waves lapping at the feet of rugged cliffs. Mari simply seemed to know where he was, out here on the featureless sea, the same way a Lenay woodsman might find his way about the forests and hills of Sasha's native Lenayin.
A gentle, shoreward breeze pushed at the sail, bringing the floats closer. Sasha counted twelve in this cluster. Far off to the right, she could see some more floats, these were green and brown though, not the red and white that belonged to House Velo.
"Sasha, look up," said Errollyn from his post beside the sail. "Whiteheaded albatross."
Sasha squinted into the blue sky, and saw a wide-winged bird far overhead. Clearly an albatross, for its wings were long and thin, and barely flapped. But white-headed? Not only did serrin see better by night, they saw further by day as well.
She glanced at Errollyn-he leaned back on the side of the boat, head tilted to gaze enthralled at the sky. She'd never seen Errollyn more happy than in the last several weeks, coming out on the boat. The ocean was nearly as strange to him as it was to her, and he delighted at its wonders. He wore an old, work-stained shirt and rough pants, dark grey hair falling back in disarray. His arms were bare in the unseasonal warmth, flexed with the knotted muscle of a svaalverd warrior. Very few serrin were given to such casual untidiness, yet Errollyn seemed infinitely more relaxed now than at formal occasions, or in social company. And Sasha realised that she ought to be staring at the albatross instead, and tore her gaze away ... but not without a small, private smile.
"Forget the damn bird!" Mari exclaimed. "Boy, let out the sail! Valenti, get off your arse!"
Sasha moved back to help Mari's son Valenti, cautiously lest the small boat rock, grabbing the second float to come alongside as Valenti grabbed the first. They hauled wet rope, hand over hand, Valenti racing her with a grin, bare arms straining against the waterlogged weight ... but it was Errollyn on the other side who beat them both, dragging a wicker cage from the sea with a rush of water. Sasha pulled her own clear at the same time as Valenti, and peered into the round, flat contraption to see if anything had climbed into the hole in the top.
She was lucky-there were two lobsters, flapping and kicking, and she pulled each out in turn, tossing them into the crate at Mari's feet which was already crawling with strange creatures. Valenti added another from his cage, and Sasha turned to watch as Errollyn prised an enormous crab through the hole, holding carefully to its huge pincers. It was red, with a white underbelly and blue trim on its legs.
"Excellent!" Mari exclaimed. "Another that size and Mariesa will have enough for her crasada dosa!" Tonight was Sadisi, the birthday of Sadis, a local prophet who had brought Verenthaneism to Petrodor more than seven hundred years ago. Tonight, there would be more seafood than she'd yet seen in nearly a month of living in Petrodor. Her stomach threatened to turn at the prospect. Maybe she could find a good juicy steak.
Errollyn peered curiously at the crab, as it jabbed its pointed feet at him and snapped helplessly with its pincers. Then he dropped it into the crate with the rest and turned to pull out a second, smaller crab. Sasha and Valenti grabbed bait from the bait box, reached in to spear it on the hooks within the cages, and dropped them overboard once more.
"Too small," said Errollyn of the crab.
"It'll do," Mari retorted. "Toss it in."
"Too small, and female," Errollyn replied, peering at the markings. "Throw it back and you'll have many more crabs hatching in years ahead."
Mari was unimpressed. "We need the meat, now throw it ..." Errollyn did throw it-straight over the side. Mari rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Blasted serrin," he muttered, stomping past the boxes, rocking the boat alarmingly. "It's a blasted crab. I want to eat it-you want to make love to it."
He grabbed a pole from the gunnels and reached for the next float. Errollyn caught Sasha's eye and grinned, a flash of piercing dark green eyes behind a long, unkempt fringe.
"Aren't there some serrin who won't eat any meat at all?" Sasha asked, making her way up to the bow to grab the next float. The boat's rocking had been a concern at first, but she was getting used to it now. And her balance, of course, was excellent.
"Yes," said Errollyn, throwing his baited cage back in with a splash. "But they're stupid."
Sasha laughed, hauling the rope. Serrin never dismissed alternative opinions so readily. Errollyn had, by serrin standards, a most unusual sense of humour. Rebellious, almost.
"Why wouldn't they eat meat?" Valenti asked, making his way past Sasha. He put a hand on her waist in passing. It might have cost a Lenay man his arm, but Petrodor men were just like that, she was discovering. One learned to avoid unnecessary arguments, and make allowances. Sometimes.
"To avoid killing animals," Errollyn replied, following Valenti up to the bow.
Valenti turned a frown on Errollyn. "But you love animals! Why do you eat them?"
"Why do you?" said Errollyn.
Valenti grinned. "You crazy? They taste good! I'm not going to feel sorry for some crab!"
"Then there you are," said Errollyn with a smile.
"Crabs don't feel sorry for the small animals they eat," said Sasha, unwinding arm lengths of dripping rope into the boat. It was hard work, for the cages dragged in the water, and her arms and shoulders ached. But she had strength there that few human women could match, and the sword calluses on her hands kept the rope from chafing. "Why should we feel sorry for crabs?"
"How do you know crabs don't feel sorry for what they eat?" Errollyn asked her. "Maybe they do. Maybe they say a little prayer and beg their gods for forgiveness."
"Now you're just being difficult," Sasha retorted.
"That's what Rhillian always tells me," Errollyn said with a grin, hauling his own rope in. He was faster than any of his shipmates-not only powerful, but certain with his hands, and poised with his balance. He made it look effortless.
"Then explain yourself, ma'she das serrinim," Sasha teased, invoking a Saalsi term for serrin debates. "How does your truth flow?"
Errollyn made a face. "That's an awful translation."
"In Torovan, it's the best I can do."
"I think," said Errollyn, as rope fell from his hands into a gathering pile by his feet, "that it is difficult to swim against the stream. Life feeds on life. We are all creatures of nature, and in understanding animals, I try to understand myself. We are what we are, and we need what we need. I need meat. No other creatures feel the need to apologise for that, and I don't either."
"That's wonderful," Mari said with grand gesticulation. "I could burst into song. If you lot worked as hard as you talked, we'd be knee-deep in dinner by now."
* * *
The sun was sinking to late afternoon by the time they'd made the rounds to all of House Velo's floats. The wind gave out completely, and while Mari furled the sail, Valenti unracked the oars. Sasha insisted firmly that she should take an oar, and was rebuffed even more firmly by Valenti, the young, sun-browned man quite scandalised at the prospect. Sasha settled herself on the bow once more, unwilling to further the argument in such a small boat, surrounded by deep water.
Family Velo had been incredulous enough that she would wish to go fishing, and not join the other, rare Nasi-Keth women in practice of medicines and herb lore, or educating poor dockfront children. Once again, she'd managed to offend nearly everyone-the womenfolk, for snubbing their very worthy activities, and the menfolk, for thinking to show everyone their work was so easy that even a woman could do it. It was an annoyance, to have to prove herself all over again. But in all honesty, these days, she was caring less and less. People would either accept her as she was, or not. At least this way, she could know who her friends were.
The little boat surged through the water with each stroke of the oars, then glided, then surged once more. The sound was soothing. The water gleamed like glass, and the still air was warm on her bare arms. She rubbed at her left bicep, absently, where the tattoo still itched.
To the right, out into the Sharaal Sea, a great ship was also under oars, its sails hopefully unfurled to catch any returning breeze. Further beyond, Sasha fancied she could see another, a distant smudge of mast and rigging through the sea haze.
Ahead, the Alaster Promontory jutted into the sea, marking the southernmost point of Petrodor Harbour. Beyond it, within the bay's deeper waters, numerous ships could be seen at anchor. Doubtless shore leave would be in great demand this evening so sailors could enjoy the Sadisi.
Once beyond the promontory, the small boat moved slowly into Petrodor Harbour. The city of Petrodor encircled the bay like a giant amphitheatre. The sprawling expanse of clustered sandstone and brick buildings crowded the slopes, a seething mass of human habitation where it was difficult to tell where one property began and the others left off. Roads could be barely seen, as they wound their way up and down the cluttered incline, but Sasha knew they were there ... along with the maze of alleys, little stairways, back entrances and secret paths known only to local residents or to the shadowy figures who moved only beneath the cover of darkness.
Even now, with the famed Petrodor incline sunk deep into shadow as the sun set at its back, the sheer scale of detail baffled Sasha's eyes. Here and there across the slope, a larger building broke clear of the confusion-here a mansion, there an old fortress that had once stood alone, now consumed amidst the city sprawl, or a Verenthane temple with soaring spires. The incline itself was uneven-sometimes gentle, at other times looming into a cliff face of yellow sandstone that shone when the morning sun struck it directly.
A third of the way along from Alaster Promontory, the Petrodor Bowl was broken by a protruding ridge, topped with a great, multi-floored mansion behind high walls. Cliffs on two sides plunged straight into the mass of buildings below. The ridge was Sharptooth, and the mansion was Maerler House, not to be confused with "House Maerler," which described the family. The Torovan tongue, as well as Sasha knew it, was revealing itself to be somewhat vague in matters of power-the "fog of intrigue," as Kessligh called it. One of the two great families of Petrodor, House Maerler led a collection of allied houses that locals often referred to as the "Southern Stack," in literal Torovan, stack meaning "alliance" ... or at least as Sasha understood it.
The "Northern Stack," by contrast, was headed by House Steiner, whose residence was less visible from the bay, lost against the northern ridgeline of grand residences. It was no accident, many said, that the northern mansions seemed grander than those of the south. While House Maerler clung grimly to their ancestral lands and trading routes, House Steiner had always pursued expansion. Their preferred method of expansion had been the Verenthane religion.
It was no coincidence either, Sasha reckoned, that further along that northern ridgeline, a rocky path led out onto the Besendi Promontory, where, high above the yellow cliffs, soared the Porsada Temple, the greatest house of Verenthanes in all Torovan. Its four spires flung their star-pointed tips into the sky, in all defiance of the precipitous drop below. The entire, magnificent structure blazed a pure, gleaming white in the late afternoon sun, catching that light even as the rest of the city fell into shadow. A beacon to arriving ships, a watchtower from which to survey the city, the temple reminded all where the true power of Petrodor lay.
The small fishing boat came close by the side of one of the harbour ships now.
Valenti was clearly tiring, his technique with the oar becoming erratic, and Errollyn's effortless strokes threatened to pull the boat around to starboard. "You're dropping your head," Sasha told him. "Don't bend your back, pull through your shoulders." Valenti muttered something, struggling to correct his posture.
"Leave the boy alone," said his father with a frown from the tiller. "Rowing isn't like swordwork, girl. It's harder than it looks."
"It must be," Sasha retorted. "Because it looks as easy as falling over." Errollyn was laughing as he rowed. Where many serrin found human arguments alarming, Errollyn never ceased to be entertained.
"You wouldn't last fifty strokes," Valenti said through gritted teeth.
"How would you know if you never let me try? You're just scared I'll be better."
"Fine!" said Valenti in a temper. He stopped rowing, and climbed from the bench seat as Errollyn also paused, watching with amusement. "Have your turn, little Princess!"
Sasha grinned in triumph, and slid past the young man who for all the youth of his seventeen summers, was still a half head taller than her. She took her seat, pulled her pair of leather training gloves from the back of her belt and yanked them on.
"Soft hands," Errollyn suggested.
Sasha snorted. "My calluses have been carefully crafted over many years. I don't want new ones in the wrong spots." She grasped the oar, braced her boots on the inner hull rib, and began to pull. It was a little awkward at first, but she watched Errollyn, timed her hands to move opposite his, and used her bodyweight rather than her arms as the oar tugged at the water. They gathered speed with each surge, and then the oar flowed through the water more smoothly, and the effort to keep it steady became less.
It felt good, and made use of all the familiar muscles she liked to use. Each unsteady surge of the boat was a strange sensation ... but then, she recalled that she had found riding a strange sensation, once, as a girl. Mari was frowning at her from the tiller, with obvious disapproval. She liked Torovan people ... but, good spirits, they believed in some nonsense! Valenti, now seated on the bow, was out of her sight entirely.
She began to sing, a Goeren-yai chant, in her native Lenay. It was something she'd learned as a girl, at her new home in the hills above Baerlyn in the Lenayin province of Valhanan. Men had sung it while chopping wood. Goerenyai men of Baerlyn, with their long hair, braids, rings and tattoos of ancient Lenay tradition. Men who had become her friends as she'd grown, and impressed her with their honesty, their courage, and their earthy good humour.
The song's rhythm fitted well with the strokes of the oars, and Errollyn, after listening for several verses, joined in as the words repeated. A little corner of Lenayin they made, rowing and chanting in unison across the vast, wide bay of lowlands Petrodor.
They continued singing, rowing the boat slowly into the fishermen's dock, a section of wood-planked pier that ran in parallel to the main dock, surrounded by a wide, creaking cluster of fishing boats all lashed together. Mari brought them alongside the family's other boat, hulls bumped, and ropes were flung across, Sasha shipping her oar as Mari and Valenti leapt across and began securing them together. Sasha went to the space beneath the bow and pulled out her sword, bandoleer still attached, and began securing it over her shoulder. Then followed the belt knives, and the boot knife. Errollyn did the same. No Nasi-Keth nor serrin went unarmed in Petrodor ... in these times, least of all.
Then began the task of carrying the crates of squirming, crawling, snapping seafood across the neighbouring boats to the pier's ladder. Sasha carried the bait box across, her balance nimble on the shifting decks beneath her feet. Valenti made to take it from her, but she put it on her shoulder and climbed the ladder one-handed.
On the pier, Mari talked with a fisherman Sasha did not recognise, the two men peering over the catch, their manner coarse and businesslike. Sasha took the opportunity to swing her aching arms and look about.
Excerpted from Petrodor by JOEL SHEPHERD Copyright © 2010 by Joel Shepherd. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Joel Shepherd was born in Adelaide in 1974. He has studied film and television, international relations, has interned on Capitol Hill in Washington, and travelled widely in Asia. His first trilogy, the Cassandra Kresnov Series, consists of Crossover, Breakaway and Killswitch. Visit Joel Shepherd’s Web site at www.joelshepherd.com.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >