Synopsis: In Book Two of the Seaward Isle Saga, young Alex takes on her new role as a Tracker, an elite soldier of the King’s Army. After Alex goes undercover in the market in Agana to gather intelligence, she encounters the pirate spy known only as the Horseman at the tent of the renowned fortunetellers, the Witches of Winden. When she returns to her command and reports the incident to her superiors, she’s assigned her first Tracker mission–find and kill the Horseman or die trying. Without any clues as to his real identity, she pieces together his trail, which leads her deep into the pirate stronghold. There, she must go it alone, confronting danger and intrigue around every corner.
Preview: Chapter 1
“Hey, sweetheart, how’d you like to make some money?” A man with a toothy grin and long hair leaned into Alex’s face. “It’s easy work. Men will pay you good money.”
“No, I have enough money.” Alex backed away from his bad breath. She raised her hand and turned away, staring at the back of the head of the man in front of her in line.
“Come on, love!” The man stroked Alex’s hair. “I’ll treat you real nice. I’ll get you a new dress instead of these rags.” He leaned forward and reached for her face. “You’ll clean up nicely. Black hair, blue eyes. Looks good. You’re a little tall, but you’ll be lying down most of the time.” He laughed.
“Get away from me!” Alex swatted his arm away.
The man clenched his teeth and grabbed her arm firmly, pulling her out of line. “Come on. Let’s go, girl!”
“No! Let go of me!” Alex screamed and pulled her arm back.
“You heard her, man, get away from her!” The man in front of her turned around and pushed him away. He raised his fist.
The first man raised his arms and staggered away. “All right! If you change your mind-”
“Get lost!” The second man waved fist at him. “Beat it, man!” He turned to Alex. “Don’t pay him no mind, girl. He’s drunk. He’ll make you turn tricks and leave you with nothing.”
“Thanks for your help.” Alex nodded and got back in line. Her cheeks were already hot from the sun, but now they felt like hot coals. She broke into a sweat.
“What are you doing here anyway? I ain’t never seen a Scinthian get their fortune read.”
“I want to see how they do it.”
“I don’t know how they do it, but the witches did one for me a few months back, and it all came true. They just re-opened their tent in the market here so I wanted to get another one.”
“They’re the famous Witches of Winden.” The middle-aged woman behind Alex joined in the conversation. “I heard they just came in from Pashkina. Did you hear what happened?”
“No, what happened?” Alex turned around to face her.
“It was invaded by monsters.” The frightened woman covered her mouth.
“Not monsters! Trolls and goblins,” the man said. “Get your facts straight, woman.”
“It’s the same thing. They burnt the place down.” The woman raised her hands in the air.
“Them creatures don’t use fire! The soldiers used fire to drive them away, but couldn’t stop them.” The man shook his head. “This is how rumors get started.” He rolled his eyes.
“Pashamon brought one of them to the palace here.” The woman pointed at the large, white building not far away. “It’s in the dungeon.”
“No, he couldn’t do that because he’s dead! And, there’s nothing in this dungeon because there ain’t one. Don’t you know nothing? The King’s soldiers brought Pashamon’s body in yesterday. It was in two pieces, I heard. We’re going to have a huge funeral for him next week.”
“They’ll just build Pashkina back again and them pirates’ll be crawling all over the place.”
“Not this time! The King’s just declared it a dangerous creature zone. If the pirates want it, they’ll have to build it and that won’t happen. They’re lazy bums.”
Alex swiveled her head back and forth between the two, listening intently. She’d come to the market to find out the status of Pashamon, the King’s brother and leader of Pashkina. Based on what this man said, Pashamon was dead so the port could no longer be a pirate haven. When she reports this to her Colonel, he could safely close the Outpost, the remote border station monitoring its activity where she was stationed as the training officer.
Just then, her attention was drawn to some movement in the tent. An old woman in a patchworked robe came out from the back of the open tent and leaned on her cane. She gazed at the line in front of it.
“Have your fortune read here! Meet Eclipse, Daughter of the Moon, who can peer into your future! Only one brassie to uncover your potential!” The old witch tapped her cane on the wooden deck to draw more attention. She wore a hood over a mop of graying brown hair with a pale and wrinkled face.
The man in front of Alex stepped forward and handed her a brassie. She took him in the tent and sat him at a table where a younger woman sat and shuffled cards.
“That’s Aqua, Lady of the Rain, in the front, and there’s Eclipse.” The woman behind Alex pointed at the young witch in the back of the tent. “She’s the daughter of the Moon. Best fortuneteller in the world.”
The older witch, Aqua, returned to the front of the tent.
Alex stood next in line. “How can you tell the future?” She eagerly handed her a brassie.
“You will see. Eclipse can read your future with the cards.” Her high-pitched voice seemed to sing her answer. The old woman made her wait until the man left the tent and led her inside to the table. Eclipse was much younger with large brown eyes and curly brown hair. Her robe was also made of patches.
Alex sat down and smiled at her. “Good day. How can you tell the future?” She folded her hands on the table.
“I use these cards.” Eclipse smiled at the young girl and shuffled the deck of playing cards. She spread the cards in a line across the table. “Let’s begin. Pick a card.”
Alex drew the Ace of Clubs.
“Put it on the table.” Eclipse put four cards around it, face down. “The card you drew tells me who you are. You’ve drawn a club that can be used for hunting so you’re a hunter and a searcher. You tend to travel alone because the card is an ace. You’re quite unique. Do you see?”
Alex glanced down at her clothes. “You can tell that much from my clothes, can’t you?”
Eclipse continued on quickly. “This card positioned above the Ace represents your career. It’s the five of Diamonds. It means that you won’t have a traditional occupation since it’s an odd number, but you’ll become wealthy from your work.” Eclipse blinked and smiled with skepticism. “Are you one of those Scouts? I’ve never had one come to me before.”
“I think I know why.” Alex propped her chin on her hand.
Eclipse stopped smiling and quickly turned over the next card. “This next card is nearest to your heart and represents your love life and possibly, marriage.” It was the Jack of Spades. She shook her head. “You’ll experience great difficulty with love.”
“How do you know that?” Alex frowned.
“This card represents heartbreak. The spade is an upside-down black heart, and the Jack represents men. You must be cautious with your choice of men in the future, but it also tells me that you’ve already experienced problems in the past.” She pointed at the card with a wry grin.
“Does this include all men, even my brother?”
Alex sighed and frowned. “Who hasn’t had some sort of heartbreak?”
“This next card tells me about your health.” Eclipse turned over a ten of Hearts. “This card means that you’ll be healthy, and you’ll have more lives than a cat.”
“Cats have nine lives.” Alex shook her head. “How can I have more than one?”
“This card is your future.” The card was the Jack of Diamonds.
“What does it mean?” Alex tapped her fingers on the table impatiently.
“It means that you’ll find the man you’re searching for which is the Jack, become wealthy in the process that’s the diamond, but there’ll be a lot of turmoil in the process of doing so.”
“Turmoil? What kind of turmoil?”
“Any kind. Two Jacks in the same circle means turmoil, maybe fighting. It’s not a good sign and may involve two men, pulling you in opposite directions.” Eclipse put her fingers on the two opposing Jacks. “It may even be a love triangle.” She shook her head.
With a great racket, a dozen large seamen suddenly rushed past Aqua into the tent. She screamed as one grabbed Alex by the hair and dragged her out of the chair. Eclipse screamed as the bystanders rushed away.
“Gentlemen, I told you to be polite.” A tall, handsome man dressed in fine clothes entered the tent and smiled coldly. “The Witches of Winden, a pleasure to see you. The accuracy of your prophecies is legendary!” Then, he violently slammed his walking stick on Eclipse’s table. Whap! “I understand you were in Pashkina. Tell me what you saw!”
Aqua and Eclipse were too frightened to answer.
“Answer me!” He slammed his walking stick on the table again. Whap! The cards went flying into the air.
Alex bent down to gather them up before they blew away.
“We were at the palace about to give readings,” Aqua said, “and then, I saw this huge, blue thing run into the room, followed by more large, ugly things. We ran to a ship and got away. That’s all we saw.” Her hands shook as she waved them in the air. Her eyes were opened very wide with fear.
The man motioned for her to come forward. Two men lifted her by the arms and stood her in front of him.
“Where was Pashamon?” He glared at her.
“One of those ugly things grabbed him and tore his head off. Blood went all over.” Aqua grimaced with disgust and shook her head.
“What about the prisoners in the dungeon?”
“That’s where the ugly things came from!”
The man slapped her with the back of his hand and sent her flying.
“You, witch, give me a reading, now!” The man pointed at Eclipse.
“I need my cards.” Eclipse stood at the table, shaking. Another man forced her to sit.
Alex handed her a stack of cards. “Here.” She stepped back from the table, but stayed inside the tent, acting like an assistant. She glanced nervously at the two large men on either side of her, wondering what she could do if they decided to attack the witch.
Eclipse took a deep breath and shuffled the cards. “Let’s begin.” She spread the cards across the table. “Pick a card.” She swallowed hard.
The man drew the Jack of Diamonds.
“You’re very lucky and rich.” Eclipse took a deep breath.
“I know that. Continue.” He waved his hand at her.
Eclipse placed his card in the middle of the table and placed four cards around it in a circle face down, just as she had done for Alex. She turned over the card at the top, the King of Spades. “You’ll be most successful in your career. You’ll reach the top of your field.”
“I am at the top of my field. Next!”
“The Queen of Hearts. A woman is madly in love with you and wants to marry you.”
Then, Eclipse drew the six of Spades. “You’ll attain a great estate in six months.” She pressed her lips together and forced a nervous smile.
“Six months?” The young man smiled and clapped his hands once. “Are you sure? It had better not be longer than that!” He pointed his index finger at her.
“Yes, within six months.”
“The next card will tell me about your future.” She drew a card that caused her to stop and inhale sharply.
“Are you all right? What’s the matter?” The man leaned forward.
“Someone is going to try to kill you. You must be cautious.” Eclipse had a worried expression.
“Who is it?” He leaned on his arms.
“I don’t know his name, but his card has shown up before. We call him, ‘the Black Elf.'”
“I need more information than that. Why is he the Ace of Clubs?” He glared at her.
“A club is a weapon, but it’s not just the card. The position of it in the circle of your life also matters. It’s in your future. This Elf murdered a Wizard only a few nights ago. My friend, Aqua, can confirm that. She had a vision of the Wizard’s death. You must be very careful, especially in the next six months. You’re next!” Eclipse was clearly frightened, but gathered herself and hid her smile.
“Is he really an Elf? I know many Elves have great respect for witches and wizards. Why would he kill one?”
“Yes! The most powerful of all the Elves. Beware!” She swallowed hard and shouted at her friend. “Aqua, that Black Elf card showed up again!” She patted her chest to catch her breath.
The old woman gasped and hobbled over, leaning on her cane. “You must be very careful, young sir. The Black Elf’s power can’t be matched!” Aqua put her hand to her frightened face. “I had a vision of the Wizard Mylar, lying dead at his feet.”
“What did he look like?” He frowned and shifted in the chair uncomfortably.
“I couldn’t see his face. It was covered by a black hood.” She shook her head.
“How will I know who it is?”
“That’s the problem. No one can detect the Black Elf, not even the Elves. That’s why the Wizard is dead. His Elf friends couldn’t warn him that he was nearby.”
The man leaned back and frowned. “I see. Do it again! I want more information about this Black Elf!” He tapped his cane on the table.
“The cards have spoken, sir. They’ve given all of their information.” Eclipse shook her head.
“What! Do you defy me?” He hit her on the head with his walking stick. Then, he turned the table over and scattered the cards. “Imposters! I will have you banned!” He kicked the chair, stormed away, and pushed Aqua to the ground with his cane. He turned to the men. “Set sail for Pashkina, immediately.”
“Aye, aye, Horseman!” The sailors with him left for the port.
Alex turned when she heard their response. Horseman?
Eclipse lay under the wooden table, sobbing.
Alex rushed over and lifted the table off her. She helped her sit up and checked her for injuries. “You’ve got a nasty bump on your head. You’d better take it easy.” Alex wrapped a scarf around Eclipse’s head to stop the bleeding. She moved over to Aqua. “How about you?”
“I’ve been hurt worse. He was in a nasty mood today.” Aqua sat up.
“Do you know who he is?” Alex helped her stand up.
“Yes. The pirates call him the Horseman.”
“Who is he?” Alex shook her head.
“I don’t know. They treat him like he’s a king or something. He acts like it, too. Arrogant bastard! Don’t know where he’s from, but we need to fix him.” Aqua stared at the tall ship in the harbor, raising its sails and shook her fist as a sailor blew on his whistle, and a bell rang.
Alex went back to Eclipse who was more seriously injured. “Can you stand?”
Eclipse shook her head, and tears fell. “I’m really dizzy. Help me to a chair.”
“Of course.” Alex helped her up. “Sit here for a few moments and take a drink of water.” She helped Aqua straighten up the tent and picked up the remaining cards.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize, but we must close.” Aqua stood in front of the people remaining in line. “We’ll be back as soon as we can. Eclipse needs to rest.” Then, she returned to the tent. “Help me take Eclipse to the emergency tent, girl. They’ll get us home.”
Alex helped Eclipse to her feet and escorted her to another tent at the end of the row.
“Thank you for your help, young lady. You were the Ace of Clubs, weren’t you?” Eclipse smiled at her. “I’ll remember you.”
In the emergency tent, Eclipse sat down and drew the attention of a handsome young man who tended to her injured head. She smiled with delight, resting and drinking some water.
Eclipse didn’t like to lie to her customers, but in this case, she didn’t have a problem with it. The Horseman‘s six of Spades was a death card. He would be six feet under in six months–his grave dug by a spade. So what if she lied? The Ace of Clubs will take care of him–it was the assassin’s card.
Wasn’t it odd that the young girl’s card was the Ace of Clubs? Could she be the Black Elf? What a silly thought! Ridiculous! But, didn’t she have blue hair in her ears? Only Elves have that. No, don’t be silly! A girl would never do anything like that. Eclipse glanced around for any sight of the girl, but she had vanished into the mass of people.
Alex left the witches and strolled to the harbor where the ship prepared to sail. The name on it was Narcin. She leaned against a pole to watch and thought about her omen and the other man’s. She could hardly remember what hers was about. She had an Ace of Clubs and the Jack of Diamonds, or did he? It was both, but in different order. The omens were tangled up. Alex scratched her head in confusion and tried to sort it out.
Wait a minute! The witch said this man was called the Horseman. If so, then he was the pirate spy who plotted against the King and gave away his most secret plans. His latest plot resulted in the abduction of eight soldiers from the Forest Army and included the King’s brother, Captain Lawrence. Alex didn’t know how the plot was meant to unfold, but she had rescued him and opened the gate that let the creatures into Pashkina as a diversion. Apparently, the Horseman was waiting here to meet the ship with his hostage, but it didn’t show up.
Alex took special note of his appearance for her report to the Colonel. The Horseman was a handsome man in his twenties, of average height and weight, brown hair, brown eyes, wearing a perfectly tailored coat and polished leather boots. His face had no unusual or distinguishing features. He spoke the common tongue and the local language of Aganan like an aristocrat, unlike the sailors around him. He was very confident and arrogant, prone to violence. He had a walking stick, but didn’t have a limp or difficulty walking. There was no need for it, except intimidation.
Alex watched from a distance. The ship flew a small white flag with a ship’s wheel.
“What you looking at, girlie?” A sailor from the ship approached her, wearing a necklace with a ship’s wheel.
“It’s a beautiful ship.” Alex admired the height of the mast and backed up.
“Come onboard, blue eyes. I’ll show you around.” He smiled at her.
“No, thanks.” She felt uncomfortable with his stare and backed away, disappearing into the crowds that thronged the market.
Alex continued wandering the market, listening for any more discussion about Pashamon, Pashkina or the Horseman. While some merchants openly discussed the destruction of Pashkina and funeral preparations for Pashamon, no one talked about the Horseman or the pirates.
Again, Alex thought about those witches. She was relieved that they couldn’t see who she was and felt safe for now, but wondered how much they really knew. What was this vision they saw? How could the old one see the Wizard die? She’d killed him herself–in the Governor’s bedroom at midnight. That didn’t make any sense. However, it did make sense that the Elves couldn’t detect her. They didn’t alert on her presence while she hid behind the dressing screen. That was good to know.
She paid for some fruit and bread at a stand and hurried to her horse. She checked her pockets for more coins. She didn’t regret spending a brassie on her fortune because it was entangled with the Horseman’s. Now that she’d seen his face, she could identify him. Was it just coincidence? If she was the Ace of Clubs in his future, was he the Jack of Diamonds in hers?
Alex spurred her horse on. Out to sea, the Narcin sailed majestically in front of the circle of storms that surrounded the island. The ship headed east towards Pashkina. Alex paralleled its path until the road turned away from the sea, and the ship sailed into deeper water.
Further away at sea, dark clouds filled the horizon, and lightning flashed. These vicious storms caused the shipwrecks that stranded people on the island and kept them trapped forever. Since everyone wanted to be seaward bound away from here, they named the place, “Seaward Isle.”
Alex had been born here. She didn’t know the world beyond the storms. It was an unspoken custom among most of the island’s inhabitants however, not to talk about their homeland because they couldn’t get back. Still, it made her wonder. Where did the Horseman come from? How long ago? Her frustration rose–she didn’t know his real name, much less where he came from. She reviewed his appearance in her mind again for her report. Then, she spurred her horse to return to the Outpost.