Excerpt - Traitor Blade Book Three (spoiler)

 After two days puking sick, weak as a new-born pup, Edouard de Chamfort already hated The Maria, her captain, crew and everything about the sea. Then the storm blew up. On the third day out from port the wind strengthened. Clouds heavy and dark as smoke roiled above white capped waves. Whipped by wind and stinging rain Edouard stayed on deck, determined to avoid the cramped cabin with its musty air.
Across the slate dark water, clouds and waves merged. On the horizon lightning forked the sky. Each moment the sea grew bigger. The Maria pitched into troughs and bobbed like a cork on the crest of foaming waves. Edouard was no sailor, but he could hear Captain Grimandi yelling. He saw how the crew moved with grim purpose, taking in sails, lashing down cargo. Bad as it was he realised there could be worse to come.

The caravel pitched and bucked like a nervous horse. Edouard grabbed onto a rail as his feet slid from beneath him on spray soaked planks. The sudden movement jolted his injured shoulder, leaving him too breathless to curse.  The wound was not healing as it should. He had used up the salve Roslaire de Lyon had given him, but the pain was worse, and each day he felt weaker. Weakness was dangerous, something he must hide. He was fleeing for his life, incognito on a vessel where he had no friends. Sometimes when he woke it all seemed impossible, as if he was caught in a dream. The hope faded quickly, crushed by the memory of Michel's death.

Edouard closed his eyes for a moment, thinking of Michel. Above his head sails flapped and shredded as men rushed to bring them down. He heard wood splinter. The ship's familiar creak and groan had turned into an ominous wail.

He went to look for the Captain and found him at the wheel. Short and stubby, with a seaman's sharp eyes and a shark's instinct for weakness, Grimandi was a man whose every thought was for his ship and his margin of profit. Edouard had too many secrets to feel safe around him.

Legs astride, braced against the roll of the deck, the Captain gripped the wheel like an anxious lover. He cast one glace at Edouard and ignored him to shout urgent instructions. Edouard made his way towards him, clinging onto any rail as the ship pitched. Mistiming a step he slipped and fell hard against lashed cargo. His injured shoulder screamed protest, sickness rose like a wave. Grimandi yelled and a seaman helped him to his feet. He had to stand for a moment, gripping the rail until the sickness and dizziness passed. The pain in his shoulder was spreading down his arm and across his back. Grimandi was watching him with a calculating gaze. Edouard pulled himself upright, hiding the effort and the pain.

"How long will the storm last, Captain?"

Grimandi's eyes and attention were back on the sails. "I don't know, nor intend to find out."

Edouard did not like the sound of that. His shoulder throbbed as if he was being stabbed over and over. He swallowed nausea and chose his words carefully. Roslaire de Lyon had warned him about Grimandi. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"We'll rest safe in harbour whilst the storm blows itself out." Grimandi glared at him. "What else would I mean? I'll not risk her needlessly."

"You intend returning to Fourges?"

"Yes." Grimandi turned aside to confer with his first mate.

"Is there another choice of port?"

Grimandi shook his head.

Edouard waited until the mate was sent on another errand. "You can't turn back to Fourges," he said, doing his best to make it a command. He did not have the strength for an argument. He barely had the strength to stay upright.

Grimandi laughed, mirthless. "Whatever your hurry, it'll wait." He gave Edouard a sideways glance, smirking. "I'd have thought you be glad to set foot on dry land."

"No," said Edouard. He staggered a couple of paces as the deck pitched beneath his feet. "You can't go back." He glanced around. "Not unless you want to face a charge of high treason." That caught had Grimandi's attention and wiped the smirk from his face. A pocket of silence surrounded them, the noise of the crew and vessel suddenly distant. Grimandi was staring at him, eyes hooded. Edouard had to convince him. There was nothing for it but the truth, however unpleasant. "Return to Fourges and you will would lose your boat and put your crew at risk."

He could see the Captain thinking back, working it through. Grimandi was not a stupid man.

"Who are you?" Grimandi asked.

Edouard reached for his sword. Grimandi flinched back a half pace without releasing the wheel, and watched as Edouard slipped aside the leather covering the hilt to reveal the Chamfort crest.

Grimandi cursed and all but stamped his feet in fury. His knuckles blanched white against the dark wood. "De Lyon, he knew, that's why he chose the Maria. He didn't want to risk his own ships and captains." He spat into the wind and wiped a sleeve across his mouth. His eyes narrowed as he studied the sea and sky, no doubt judging risk and calculating profit. "I've done nothing wrong. Why shouldn't I take my chances safe in harbour?"

There were two answers. "You've been well paid," said Edouard. "And promised more. I'll see you receive a handsome payment when we reach Micia's court." He did not mention the jewels hidden beneath his shirt. His hand rested lightly on the hilt of his sword. An unspoken threat. He doubted he had the strength to enforce it, but Grimandi did not know that.

"It's a fortune I'll not see if we go down and don't make it to Allesarion." Calculating, Grimandi scratched his chin, nails rasping against stubble.

"The risk is as great if you return to Fourges, and you'll have no chance of profit," said Edouard. "My uncle will see you and your crew in chains." He watched Grimandi's face as the Captain weighed the odds.

Grimandi would have seen the soldiers searching the dockside the night they left Fourges. Perhaps he and his crew had been questioned. Edouard realised how careful Roslaire de Lyon had been, bringing him aboard moments before The Maria sailed. De Lyon had known how to work Grimandi, that the prospect of a fat purse and another to follow would convince the Captain to overlook his concerns. It was a harder call now.

"King Ferdinand is not a forgiving man." An understatement. He could imagine his uncle's fury. And he could not claim it was without cause. But Ferdinand knew only one side of the story. Edouard could not deny he had made mistakes; that did not make him a traitor or a murderer. His mistakes had had terrible consequences. The memory of leaving Michel to die alone was with him constantly, something he could never change. He would return and answer for what he had done when he could offer the whole story and identify the real traitors to Ferdinand. He had no idea how he would discover the truth, no idea what awaited him in Allesarion.

For a moment it was too much. The thought came to him he could go back. In many ways it would be easier to face the charges than live with the guilt. It would take one word to Grimandi.

He kept silent. If it had been only his future at stake he would have let Grimandi turn back. Face whatever was to come. But there were others who would be caught up in his disgrace. His father and family, even if they did not stand by him, they would suffer. And if they were foolish enough to defend him they would be at odds with the King and at risk; the thought made Edouard shiver. He had no choice; it was simple. He must convince Grimandi.

"Ferdinand will know by now that I have escaped his net." It was likely if not certain. De Lyon might even have told the King, covered his own position. "In time he may learn on which vessel." To an extent he was at Grimandi's mercy. Injured, he did not have the strength to force the man's obedience. Not through a storm and six day voyage. He needed the Captain, was not such a reckless fool to think he could do this without him. But Grimandi did not know that, could not be sure he was safe. Edouard hoped that for once his ill-deserved reputation might work in his favour.

The Maria pitched and rolled, timbers groaning as if she expressed her Captain's bad temper. Grimandi cursed again and smacked a fist against his thigh. He cast Edouard a venomous look. "You and de Lyon have done me a fine service and now you would threaten me?"

"I just ask you to honour the bargain we made. It was your choice."

"Ferdinand's mercy or the sea's. Now tis not much of a choice." Grimandi scanned the horizon, scented the wind like a hound. His hands busy with the wheel.

Edouard guessed the man was a fine Captain. Capable of seeing The Maria through a storm. He resettled his sword, hoping the reminder would be enough to convince Grimandi.

Grimandi watched him. "Are you threatening me?"

"Of course not." Edouard said sweet and reasonable, knowing the point had been made. "It was a fair bargain, a quick run to Allesarion for a fine reward," he said. "No one could have foreseen the storm. I'll see you profit for helping me, and cover any damage. I'll wager Ferdinand will not be so generous.  But it's your choice."

"I should throw you overboard now."

Edouard laughed, as if he did not have a care in the world. "You could try." His fingers caressed the hilt of his sword. "But even if you lived to succeed it would not earn you any profit, and you'd still have to give Ferdinand an explanation. And he would not be the only one. Roslaire de Lyon, my father…" He let the words sink in. "Surely there is a way to avoid the storm without turning back. Roslaire spoke highly of your skill." It was a weak and belated attempt at flattery.

Grimandi eyed him sourly. "And if I say no?"

Edouard did not answer. Grimandi watched him for a moment and then shook his head, growling like a dog who had lost a bone. "Very well, damn you. There's a chance the storm will blow itself out by nightfall. You best pray it does, boy. Now stay out of the way, we've work to do."

Edouard was glad to. The weakness that had threatened throughout the discussion hit him. He found a sheltered corner and sat down before he fell down, trying to protect his shoulder from being buffeted as the ship plunged like a wild horse.

He hoped Grimandi was right about the storm. He did not want more men to die because of him. He closed his eyes and saw Michel's face, felt the stickiness of Michel's blood on his hands.


Golden Hind