Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Beautiful Persons: Valentine's Day 2018

Ok, so technically, this isn't a real Beautiful People post because Cait isn't doing Beautiful People anymore. I'm not sure when or why she stopped, but yeah. However, for the last two years, I've used the Couples Edition question set for a Valentine's Day–themed post, and I didn't want to give up the tradition. So, I've pulled questions from all three Couples sets to create my own Beautiful Persons interview! Today, I'll be interviewing Xiang and Baili from Blood in the Snow, mostly because getting into their headspace is currently really easy. As things turned out, writing their responses was also super fun because I've never had the chance before to write about them when they aren't stressed and on guard and so on. Anyway, hope you enjoy!

To start off, how long have you been a couple?
Xiang: I believe that depends how you define a couple. We were betrothed when we were fairly young, but we did not meet and fall in love until much later.

Of course. So, how and why did you meet?
Xiang: If I recall correctly, we met on the riverbank by the goose pastures because one of Baili's companions pushed her into the river and I happened to be walking nearby.
Baili: *blushes* I don't believe it was quite like that . . .
Xiang: But that did happen, did it not?
Baili: Well, yes, but we'd known of each other before then. We were betrothed, after all, even if that was our first real meeting.

Well then. What were your first impressions of each other?
Xiang: That, even soaked, in rough robes, and very flustered, she was every bit as beautiful as she was said to be.
Baili: Xiang!
Xiang: *innocently* The Zuòjia asked, Baili-qīn. Would you have me answer untruthfully?
Baili: No— I just— *gives up* I thought he was very kind to help someone who surely seemed to be the lowest of his servants.

Indeed. And now that you've had much more time to interact, how committed/loyal are you to each other?
Xiang: Very. I would have gladly searched to the furthest reaches of the realm to find my lovely bride.
Baili: As he said, but . . . Our match was political first, even though it turned to love. To be unfaithful would have consequences reaching far beyond just our personal relationship. So, our love is in many ways how we remain committed, not merely why.

I see. So, how would you prove your love for each other? Would you die for each other?
Baili: Yes. Absolutely, yes.
Xiang: Baili speaks for both of us. As for how we prove our love, spending time with one another is part of it. In our culture, emperors who barely see their wives are very common. But we're both committed to sharing our lives as much as possible.
Baili: *nods* For us, it truly is the smallest things that mean the most.

They often are. So, is there something you emphatically disagree on?
Xiang: Thus far, we have had few major disagreements, merely instances in which one of us felt strongly about a matter and the other was indifferent. We both pray that will continue.

So do we all. Now, fun question! List 5 “food quirks” you know about each other.
Baili: Xiang has a special fondness for exotic fruit, more than anyone else I have met.
Xiang: I believe Baili enjoys it nearly as much as I do. However, she no longer eats apples, ever since a certain turn of events that I believe I am forbidden from going into detail on.

Oh, yes, you definitely are. But go on.
Baili: Xiang doesn't seem to care for fish or seafood, which I find odd.
Xiang: No doubt, Baili-qīn, I would like it as much as you do if I had grown up as near the sea as you did. I do not think there is anyone in my father's court who enjoys such dishes as much as you do.
Baili: They do remind me of home, yes.
Xiang: Is that four quirks or just three that we're up to?
Baili: Four, I believe. Can you think of any other?
Xiang: No, unfortunately. Zuòjia, perhaps we can move on?

Of course. Next question: Are you ever embarrassed of each other?
Baili: *blushes* I do not think I should answer this question.
Xiang: *pulls Baili closer to his side and smiles down at her* I fear that Baili-qīn is easily flustered whenever I happen to display affection with people around, no matter how subtle I am.
Baili: I can't help it! It doesn't just happen with— with what he said. He says things, quietly usually, but always just loud enough that I'm afraid someone else will hear.
Xiang: You enjoy my little words of affection, though!
Baili: Of course, but I would rather others not hear them.

All right, enough! What’s one thing you know about each other that no one else does?
Baili: I know that Xiang is not always as formal and serious as he shows himself to the court.
Xiang: Of course I am not. As for myself, I know that Baili is far stronger than most realize. She always makes much of the help given her by others, yet she has endured much which would have caused others to despair.

Last question! What would you consider an ideal date?
Baili: A private meal, just the two of us. A picnic by the river's edge would be nice.
Xiang: And after that, a walk beneath the stars.
Baili: In short, we would prefer something simple, quiet, and private.

That sounds lovely. And now the interview's over! Say goodbye to the readers!  
 Baili & Xiang: *both bow*
Xiang: Farewell, honored readers. May your Valentine's Day be blessed, no matter who you spend it with. *smiles at Baili* I know mine will be.
Baili: *blushes* Yes, farewell, and thank you very much for reading!

Thank you indeed! And as Xiang said, happy Valentine's Day! Do you have any plans? Do you think Xiang and Baili are a couple you'd enjoy reading about? Please tell me in the comments!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Worth of a King Cover Reveal!

Hey'a, everyone! So, most of you probably know this, but Kendra E. Ardnek is currently working on a new novel in the Rizkaland multiverse, The Worth of a King. I'm an alpha reader for Worth, and let me tell you, it's pretty awesome— on the same level as Lady Dragon, Tela Du, honestly. And today, we're revealing the cover!

Release Date: August 27 

About the Book:

Princess Obsidia’s father was killed the night she was born. Since there was no male heir, the crown went to the man who killed him, by Dialcian law. This never bothered her, growing up, and when it comes time for Obsidia to choose her husband, she chooses Prince Delaney, the son of that man, with little hesitation. Only then does her life start crumbling around her.

Adrian expected to live a normal life, taking his father’s place at the print shop when his father retired. But, on his eighteenth birthday, when the princess’ engagement is announced, his world is ripped out from under him when he learns that his life was a ruse, and he is the twin brother to the princess – and expected to take back his father’s throne.

Delaney knows that his country is hovering on the brink of war – and that his father may harbor murderous intentions towards his intended bride due to her Zovordian blood. He wants nothing more than to protect Obsidia and his people, but as merely prince, he has little power against his father.

The ancient war between the Dragons and the Immortal King and Queen is nearing its climax, and the three are already caught in it.

Read the opening chapter || Add it on Goodreads

About the Author:

Kendra E. Ardnek loves fairytales and twisting them in new and exciting ways. She's been or acting them on her dozen plus cousins and siblings for years. "Finish your story, Kendra," is frequently heard at family gatherings. Her sole life goal has always been to grow up and be an author of fantasy and children's tales that glorify God and His Word.

Find her online at: Website || Blog || Goodreads || Facebook || Twitter || Amazon  

Isn't the cover gorgeous? Definitely my new favorite of Kendra's covers. I love the colors and the crown, and the dragon eating its tail seems very fitting for reasons that y'all will figure out once you read the book . . . hopefully, anyway. It has a very different feel than most of Kendra's other covers, but then again, the book is pretty different as well (even if it does feature some familiar characters). 

In addition to the cover, Kendra has provided some bonus goodies for y'all to enjoy: a snippet, a mini-interview, and one of her inspiration Pins!


“Well, that’s one village down – just eleven more to go,” Nadilynn declared once they were well on the road again the next morning. “Del, I don’t know that Sidi will be able to survive it. Whatever shall be done?”

“I think that, if you’ll just leave her alone between now and this evening, she might actually make it,” Delaney suggested.

Nadilynn pursed her lips. “She did well and enough during the speech,” she mused. “It’s just after we talked to the printer about his sons that she went all quiet.”

“Obsidia is generally quiet,” Delaney pointed out, folding his arms over his chest. “Maybe you’ve finally been quiet enough to notice.”


This interview features the voices of Kendra and three of her main characters! First up, Kendra! What was your favorite part of writing Worth? 

Kendra: The relationships. Adrian and Obsidia as they discovered each other. Delaney and Obsidia's sweet romance. Adrian and his adopted brother, Jerolin. Adrian and Christa, the girl he only realized he loved after he found out that he's a prince and will likely have to marry some princess. Adrian and Delaney, now that was an interesting pair. Obsidia and Christa. Obsidia and Nadilynn. Delaney and Nadilynn. All the relationships. 

Also, I got to write a world that took place in an inverted sphere. That was awesome.

And for the characters: Pick one of your fellow main or major characters who’s especially important to you and describe them in one sentence.

Adrian: Obsidia, the twin sister I just found out that I have. The reason that I'm willing to face up to my true ancestry and do this whole prince thing. She's ... quiet. And confusing.

Delaney: Obsidia, who I'm pledged to marry. I'll do anything to keep her safe. Like Adrian said, she's quiet, but she's smart and intelligent and I value her knowledge of history immensely.

Obsidia: *glances between the two* I suppose I'm now expected to choose between my twin brother and the man I plan to marry? Well, I refuse. The person most important to me is Nadilynn, Delaney's younger sister. She's an incorrigible ray of sunshine who's going to land herself in a heap of trouble one of these days.

And now we see why Obsidia is, in many ways, the main-main character of the novel . . . but let's move on, shall we?


And that's it! Thanks for stopping by, and don't forget to check out the rest of the cover reveal stops for more exclusive content!
Have a great day!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, February 2, 2018

January 2018 Doings!

Hallo, all! So, January is a weird month. The first half, the holidays are over and you're on break and everything's chill. You've got plenty of time to read or write or whatever you want to do, and you're only really limited by the hours in the day. And then halfway through the month, you head back to school, and suddenly it's all due dates and reading assignments and your professors start off the first non-syllabus class with "so your first project is . . ." and it's honestly a little overwhelming. And it doesn't stop. It doesn't even slow down. You just get used to having too many things to do and accept that it's going to be that way for the next several months. And, on that note, let's look back and see what my too-much-to-do looked like!


  • If you remember, I said at the end of December that my first writing goal of 2018 would be 15 hours of writing and editing over the whole month, or about half an hour per day. I didn't quite make 15- I ended up with 14.86 hours- but I think I still did pretty well. Most of that was spent in editing, but I did have a few really awesome writing days when I got in a solid hour or two.
  • That said, after spending all of November and December working on Blood in the Snow edits and all of 2017 in general working on either writing or editing 30K+ stories, my inspiration kind of revolted against long projects. So, a lot of my actual words this month were tied up in four short stories.
  • Two of those short stories are for the Indie e-Con writing contest, which is kind of cool in that it gives you a prompt that seems pretty characteristic of a particular genre and then tells you to not write in that genre. The other two short stories are just random bits of narrative that I came up with. One, "I'll Take the Lashes," I posted here earlier this month. The other is urban fantasy involving dragons and was going to be posted here, but then it informed me that it has a sequel, or might possibly be the start of a novella, and now I don't know what to do with it. So, yeah. That's a problem.
  • I did manage some editing on Fight Song, though! Updates will hopefully resume by the end of February, assuming I don't get hijacked by short stories. I'm currently in the middle of what is simultaneously one of my favorite and least favorite scenes in the novella- favorite because I like what happens as a result, least favorite because it contains a more physical fight scene and is therefore very hard to write.
  • And I finally downloaded Grammarly, after being told by multiple people that the ads actually aren't lying. I'm . . . not sure how I feel about it. For the web, it's great. For Word . . . Well, it's better than the default spellcheck, which was starting to mark errors that weren't there, but it's not as context-aware as I'd been led to believe.


  • So, the picture is a little deceptive, because it says I read ten books, but one of those was a short story (A Blazing Seal of Approval; it's fun and on C.B.'s blog; go read it), and another I actually only read about 300 pages (out of 1200-some) of in January and the rest in December. For those who can't guess- yes, I'm talking about Oathbringer, which is amazing and awesome and the best in the series and ADSLKJFLKSDJF. There's intrigue and politics and epic battles and Kaladin and Important Revelations and Shallan and Dalinar having crises and humor and Lift and new places and an absolutely magnificent climax and more info on surges and Wit and screaming spren. Also, Taravangian is a dragon-kissed snake and I want to scream in his lying face.
  • Anyway. Obviously, nothing else I read this month could top the magnificence of a new Stormlight Archive novel, but there were some other pretty fun reads. The rewritten My Kingdom for a Quest is good, though I almost think I like the new Sew better. Exiles wasn't my favorite in the series, but it did show us around more of Ilyon and put more spotlight on Daniel, both of which I enjoyed. I also finally got around to Magician's Rivalry, which Deborah O'Carroll has been recommending to me for absolute ages, and I quite enjoyed it. The Prisoner of Azkaban was also good, but it suffered from the fact that I've seen three million and fifty-one Mauraders headcanons on Pinterest and therefore know exactly who Sirius Black is and what he did and did not do and yeah. Also, Remus is kind of a wonderful person and needs a hug.
  • As you might notice, I did start rereading Tolkien, but only finished The Hobbit this month. Then Fellowship of the Ring got interrupted by my newspaper-review book for the month, An Enchantment of Ravens, which I just finished yesterday and am a little in love with. It's an excellent story on its own, with a sensible artist heroine and a dramatic faerie prince (as if there were any other kinds) and intrigue and excitement and snark. However, it also critiques a trend I'm growing increasingly tired of and frustrated with: recent literature's obsession with fair folk and other magical, immortal beings. Now, I will readily admit that I enjoy a good portrayal of the darker side of faerie courts as much as anyone, and faerie princes tend to be snarky-but-noble, which is just plain fun. However, I do think that a lot of literature lately has taken those things to an extreme, and An Enchantment of Ravens nicely shows the folly of such obsession, with a heroine who succeeds not by finding some hidden magical power within herself but by her own humanness.
  • And, yes, as you've noticed, I didn't really manage a classic for every three new books . . . hopefully February will go better.


  • I started off the year right by watching the Lord of the Rings extended editions with my sister! Other than FotR in September, I haven't watched the trilogy in a couple years, so revisiting it was definitely awesome. And the fact that my sister was watching for the first time made it extra special. The Lord of the Rings trilogy remains my absolute favorite movie ever (yes, I qualify it as a single unit), and it just gets better the more times I watch it.
  • Otherwise, my watching has just been more of the usual: lots of Fairy Tail! The S-Class Trials arc was pretty awesome, even if it did include an angsty emo villain. Actually, come to think of it, there were multiple angsty, emo, or just weirder-than-usual villains . . . but there was also Gildarts and Loke and Freed, who haven't been getting enough screen time lately, so I'm not going to complain. The current arc, Key of the Starry Sky, is . . . less impressive. Still not bad, though, so far.


  • So, like I said, the month started out pretty chill: writing, reading, watching LotR, and so on. My dad and I attended a portrait photography workshop, which was . . . well, not exactly what I expected, but still cool.
  • And then I headed back to college and CUE THE PANIC THE CLASS SYLLABUS SAYS WHAT?????
  • So, yeah, long story short: I decided to pick up a minor in graphic design, having been assured that my total lack of drawing skills wouldn't matter except in maybe one class. Then I looked at the syllabus for what should've been one of my two easiest classes this semester, and I HAVE TO KEEP A SKETCHBOOK what I did not sign up for this!
  • Thankfully, the professor is very understanding and assured me that I don't have to be a good artist to do well in the class; I just have to improve. And, since there's nowhere to go but up from my current skill level, I should be fine. It's still magnificently stressful, though. So is Professional Editing, which is absolutely, without a doubt, my least favorite class of the semester. The material isn't hard to understand, but it's arguably the least creative of anything I've learned so far in my major, and it requires a particular type of patience which does not come naturally to me. It's not that I hate editing as a whole; I'm happy to go over a friend's paper or story or whatever else and help them make it better. I actually enjoy that, but my enjoyment comes more from my investment in the person (or sometimes the story) than from the actual editing. Do I get some satisfaction from correcting a mistake or finding a way to make an idea more clear? Sure I do. But that satisfaction is compounded according to how much I care about the piece I'm editing or the person I'm editing for, and so the class, in which I'm pretty detached from everything I edit, causes more stress than pleasure.
  • On the upside, the two classes I thought would be most stressful- Documentation Design and Adobe Illustrator- have actually been super fun and chill, so that's nice. Apparently "documentation" includes a lot more than I thought it did? So I just finished making a cookbook with recipes that can be made in the college dining hall and I'm super happy with how it turned out. And now I'm working on a quick reference guide to go along with the cookbook. And I can make things in Illustrator now,  and they look actually nice and it's so satisfying even though half of what I'm doing is really just tracing or shape manipulation and yeah. I love it.
  • In non-class-related news: I got to do a lot of board- and card-gaming this month, which was super fun! One of my hallmates owns Exploding Kittens, and my roomie got Codenames for Christmas, so I've been playing a good bit of those. Plus, the roomie introduced me to Fluxx, which is a super-fun card game with ever-changing rules and objectives, and I love it. Hopefully I can find an excuse to play it again soon . . .
  • I'm still doing martial arts, of course, despite a few hiccups with the instructor not making it to class. Thankfully, another student (who also teaches martial arts when he's at home) filled in and showed everyone some jiujitsu-based self defense. While I really like the usual instructor, and I look forward to his return next week, I enjoyed getting some lessons from another perspective. The substitute instructor basically built on what we'd already learned in the class, showing us what to do if some of the self-defense we'd learned didn't work and how to actually use some of the other moves we'd gone over, along with answering random questions about how to defend ourselves in this, that, or the other situation. And the way he had us practice felt sort of like sparring, which was exciting . . . and also exhausting, but you know. It was still good.
  • In addition to continuing martial arts, I decided on a whim to finally give swing dancing a try as a sort of reward for finishing my first big project of the semester. Friends have been telling me since last school year how fun it is, but I just never made time to try it. Now that I have, I really enjoyed it- but I'm also glad that I waited, so I could have someone show me the basics one-on-one, instead of trying to catch up with the rest of the group. I'm definitely going to continue to go to the class the rest of the semester, as long as time allows.

February Plans!

  • Aaaaand now it's February, which is arguably the dullest month of the year. For being two or three days shorter than all the other months, it always feels astonishingly long. Classes will keep me plenty busy, though; I have reasonably large projects coming up in almost all of them.
  • Outside of schoolwork, I intend to keep my half-hour-a-day goal but modify it slightly. I'm now aiming for a half hour a day, five days a week. That'll give me a bit more buffer for when schoolwork (and, occasionally, events) keep me busy but still ensure that I'm keeping a regular schedule.
  • I also hope to join in on the February is Fantasy Month festivities hosted by Jenelle Schmidt. Last year, I didn't do much, but hopefully that'll change this year. We'll see. Jenelle is hosting word wars on Facebook, so I'll definitely try to take part in those, if nothing else.
  • That's . . . pretty much it, honestly. Like I said, February isn't all that exciting a month.
How was your January? Any plans for February? Are you excited for February is Fantasy Month? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Favorite Webcomics

Allo, everyone! So, I don't mention this much, but I really love webcomics and graphic novels. There's a lot of variety- it seems at times that people will try in webcomics and graphic novels what they wouldn't dare in a normal novel- and, obviously, they have a very different feel than a standard book. And, yeah, there's some that fall flat for various reasons, but the ones that are done well put me in awe of the artists/writers' skills at conveying so much with just pictures and dialogue bubbles. And webcomics in particular are made sweeter by the anticipation of the next installment, yet they're also super easy to binge-read (which is how I do a lot of webcomic reading, honestly). Anyway, since I enjoy them so much, I thought that I'd share some of my favorites.

Favorite Webcomics

1. The Silver Eye (Laura Hollingsworth). I'm pretty sure this is one of the best webcomics on the entire internet. The Silver Eye features the quality storytelling you'd expect from any great fantasy novel, with lovable characters, mysterious backstories, startling plot twists, masked figures (ok, one masked figure), humor, and a healthy dose of magic. On top of that, it has absolutely gorgeous artwork, especially in recent chapters. (And Laura is currently redrawing the first several chapters, so it'll soon be the same quality all the way through.) Seriously, though- the colors! The expressiveness! Everything! I would hang it on my wall if I could. (Actually, I can; I just don't like spending money. That's also the #1 reason I don't have more problems with a lack of bookshelf space, for the record.) As I said, Laura is currently redrawing and reposting some of the first few chapters, but she's almost back to normal chapters- which means this is the perfect time to start reading, so you have some time to get caught up!

2. West of Bathurst by Kari Maaren. Why, yes, this does happen to be created by the author of one of my favorite books of 2017! And, honestly, West of Bathurst may be my favorite of her stories so far. It contains an astounding amount of weirdness, yes, but it also has folklore references, colorful characters (including one infuriating, wonderful, and mysterious Casey Mulligan), a magnificently mind-bending plot, a healthy dose of humor, an emotional rollercoaster of feels (particularly if you binge read it, which I tend to do), and an astonishing amount of weirdness. The comic ended in 2013- I actually started reading it the day it ended, if I recall correctly- which means that it's the only webcomic on this list that won't make you wait for updates.

3. Runewriters by Shazzbaa. Hello, least-angsty of my favorite webcomics! The panel right there sums up the interactions of the main characters (and the comic in general) pretty well, honestly. It's got its share of danger and creepiness and mystery, but Runewriters is also a generally fun story with equally fun characters (including a deaf girl and a grumpy necromancer/healer) and some pretty cool magic. So, yeah. I like it. Shazz went on hiatus for a few months last year, but she's back now with weekly updates.

4. It Never Rains by Kari Maaren. I just really like this author's work, ok? It Never Rains is slightly less convoluted and slightly more frustrating than West of Bathurst or Weave a Circle Round, in my opinion anyway, but I still enjoy it. It's got unlikely friendships and time travel and sisters and characters who are kind of geeks and humor and basically all the things a webcomic needs. (As a side note, it also has a main character with two mums, so . . . yeah. It's not exactly a major part of the story; I just don't want someone yelling at me because I didn't warn them.) Anyway. This one updates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, usually, though Maaren occasionally does a week or two of daily updates. Those are delightful.

5. True Magic by Aja. This is arguably the most plot-focused, least character-focused of my favorite webcomics. It's not even that convoluted a plot, compared to some? It started out pretty simple, just some inventive village teens off to try to stop nobles from terrorizing their village. But then people started disappearing, and our heroes got a little sidetracked, and . . . yeah. (My favorite character also got separated from the rest, and now I'm impatiently waiting for the focus to shift back to her.) Anyway. This comic usually updates on Tuesdays, but occasionally the author skips a week for reads of his (or her? not really sure?) own.

6. NaNoToons by Errol Elumir. I think this is probably the most widely-read of the webcomics on this list? It's also the most comic-y of the webcomics, if you get what I mean. But that's part of what makes it so much fun to read, plus it's a nice little destresser during NaNoWriMo. Again, I'm a little disappointed that the storyline is focusing less on my favorite characters, but it's still fun. (Plus, NaNoToons indirectly led to my discovery of Kari Maaren's comics, so I guess you could say I owe it a debt of gratitude? 'Cause if you haven't gotten this already, Maaren's works are awesome.)

7. Darths and Droids by the Comic Irregulars. I . . . don't even know how I started reading this? Like, all the others, I can point to something and say "Oh yeah, I found out about it through this" but not this one. I'm pretty sure it was the first webcomic I ever read, which doesn't help matters. Anyway. It's funny, it's Star Wars, and it started my interest in tabletop RPGs, which . . . still hasn't gotten anywhere, but I'm working on it. Sort of. The current arc isn't my favorite, but that's mostly because I'm less familiar with the base story.

Do you enjoy webcomics? What are your favorites? Please tell me in the comments; I'm always looking for more recommendations!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

I'll Take the Lashes

A short story set in the Berstru Tales universe. Inspired by:

I'll Take the Lashes

            “Well, Captain, seems we’ve caught ye at last. All that runnin’ ye did for nothing.” The pirate captain smiled like a shark in a school of fish, sunshine glinting off gold in his smile and the sharp blade of his saber. “And now ye’ll make me an’ my crew rich as the Deep-Keeper with his hoards of sunken treasure.”

            Makatala Lea’li glared, kneeling on the rough deck, her black braids falling past her bandana into her face. She’d evaded this man— Black Montego, he called himself— and his crew for months now. Months! And now she and her crew were caught, thanks to an hour’s inattention. A rueful glance around showed the cost all too clearly: the Windrunner’s mainmast broken in two, her forecastle a shattered wreck. Half Makatala’s crew dead or wounded; all of them captives on Montego’s vessel. Serpent’s currents! If I’d been more careful—

            “Nothin’ to say?” Montego asked mockingly. “Ye had plenty earlier. Right colorful too.” He leaned in closer. “Hope ye find yer tongue again later. Ye and I are goin’ to have a chat ‘bout what yer islands are hidin’.”

            Like I would—! No. She’d correct him on that point later. Now, she had more important things to consider. “Let my crew go. Keep me, but let them go. You don’t need them.” She had to force the last word out. “Please.”

            “Tryin’ to be noble, are ye?” Montego laughed. “I’ll be keepin’ a few a’ them for leverage later. The rest . . . As ye say, I don’t need them. I was thinkin’ a’ just tossin’ ‘em off the side for the sharks. But . . .” His smile widened without becoming less cruel. “I’ll give ye a deal, Captain. Pick one a’ yer men to take a floggin’. Every lash he takes ‘fore he cries mercy, I’ll spare one a’ yer crew. Let ‘em go back to yer ship and sail off, even.”

            “Son of a sea snake!” Makatala spat. “The Keeper of the Deeps makes better bargains than that.” Then again, what more could she expect from a pirate?

            “Some a’ yer men’ll get their chance with him soon enough.” Montego shrugged. “Take the deal or leave it. Yer choice.”

            Makatala clenched her fists. “Fine. I’ll take the lashes.”

            He laughed. Laughed! “Ye will, and take enough to kill yerself before ye can make me rich. Try again, Captain. I need ye in one piece.”

            Makatala hesitated, glancing over her crew. It’s our best chance. But who was left who could take a flogging? If that traitor Spayne were still on her crew— but even if he were, he’d back out before he took a single lash. Who was loyal enough to take it, then? Enele or Tamoto would. The two of her brothers who sailed with her were as dedicated to the crew as she— but Enele had been run through by Montego himself earlier, and Tamoto wasn’t much better off. And the rest of her crew? Wounded and battle-wearied, the lot. Plenty loyal enough, but how many strong enough to do any good?
“Make yer choice, Captain.” Montego’s voice drew Makatala’s attention back to him. “I won’t wait ‘round bloodied water ‘til sunset.”

Makatala gave him a poisonous look. But before she could speak, another voice called out from among her crew. “A man freed for every lash, you said?”    

She didn’t have to look to identify the speaker— but she did anyway. The Berstruer, Jaku, had pushed his way to the front of the crowd of captive crewmen and faced Montego, steady and unwavering as a mountain. He appeared mostly unwounded— small wonder; with that massive sword he wielded, most enemies couldn’t get close enough to touch him while he brought down one pirate after another. And Berstruer though he was, he was nearly as tall and strong as the largest of Makatala’s many brothers. If anyone among the captives could survive enough of a flogging to save most of the crew, he could. And yet . . .

“You swear it, Montego?” Jaku went on. “They’ll return to the ship, unharmed, and be free to go?”

Serpent’s twisting currents, what are you doing, Jaku? He was no islander like most of those above the Windrunner. He wasn’t even part of her crew; he was only aboard her ship because she’d taken him captive— though she’d freed him from confinement within a day, realizing that he wasn’t an enemy, that he was fighting the Li’o Val just as she was. And now he would take a flogging for her men? What was he thinking? She opened her mouth to tell him to stop— but couldn’t. He’s our best chance, fool though he is . . .

“As ye say.” Montego grinned. “Are ye offerin’, boy?”

“Swear it.” Jaku crossed his arms. “Unharmed, no pursuit, one lash for every member of Windrunner’s crew. Swear on your ship and your honor as a captain. Then— yes, I’ll do it.”

Montego’s brows drew together beneath his black hat. “Strong oaths ye’re askin’ for there, boy.”

He was right. No sailor or captain on all the endless seas would dare break them, not even a pirate with no other honor. Stories circulated in smoky taverns about what befell those who did— strange storms full of green lightning; whirlpools that appeared suddenly to swallow ship and crew.

“I don’t intend to be whipped only for you to turn around and throw everyone off the side,” Jaku replied. “Swear it and I’ll take every stroke you give me.”

Montego snorted. “Fine. I swear, by ship and captain’s honor, to release one a’ the Windrunner’s crew for every lash ye take, ‘til ye call for mercy. I’ll not harm ‘em, nor pursue ‘em. This I swear.” He sheathed his sword. “Now, let’s get on with it. Bring ‘im!”
Two of Montego’s crew approached Jaku, but he stripped off his shirt and walked forward willingly. As he passed Makatala, he nodded to her. “Captain.”

Makatala shook her head. “You’re no island’s son, Jaku. You don’t have to do this.”

“With due respect, Captain, yes I do,” he replied, and moved on.

Makatala watched as Montego’s men tied Jaku’s wrists to the mast so his arms stretched above his head, while one other fetched a long whip from a bag beneath the steersman’s post. This he handed to a man who Makatala presumed to be Montego’s first mate.

And then it began.

The whip snaked through the air and struck Jaku’s back with a snap. A streak of red blossomed where it hit. Jaku sucked in a breath with a hiss of pain. Montego smiled and called out, “One!”

A pirate escorted one of the captives back to the Windrunner as the whip fell again, then again, then again. Makatala wanted to look away from the site, but couldn’t. She owed that much to Jaku. And, too, the scene held her gaze even as it horrified her.

Jaku never cried out, that was the worst of it. Other than those sharp intakes of breath, he never made a sound at all, even as the captain cried “Twelve!” and the first mate swung the whip with particular force. He clenched his fists; his face screwed up with pain; he jerked with each strike— but he remained nearly silent as the whip cracked and red ribbons of blood trickled down his back and dripped onto the wooden deck, where they joined other, older stains.

On the fifteenth lash, Jaku at last let out a deep moan of pain. Montego held up a hand, and the mate paused. “Had enough, boy?”

Jaku shuddered and tried to pull himself up straighter. “No.” He shook his head, wincing. “Keep on.”

Montego shrugged; lowered his hand. “Yer funeral.”

The whip fell again. There seemed to be more blood than skin on Jaku’s back now. He clung to the rigging to which he was tied as if it were his only lifeline in a storm. Still, he did not cry out— but small noises that somehow conveyed more pain than any scream escaped him every few minutes.

Another three strokes and Montego again stopped his mate. “Enough yet?”

Jaku hesitated, glanced towards the few remaining crewmembers, then shook his head once more. “Keep on.” The words came out in a gasp. “Keep on.”
You’re mad. Makatala clenched her fists, still staring. She should stop this; order Jaku to give up. How much longer could he hold on? But she couldn’t; she couldn’t give that command, not if she wanted the rest of her crew freed. She couldn’t doom her crew to save one man, no matter how much her conscience protested. Deep-Keeper take you, Montego, for forcing me into this choice!

The whip fell one last time, and the final captive climbed back aboard the Windrunner. Makatala slumped in relief. They’d be safe, even if she wasn’t. Jaku dangled from his ropes, slumped, head hanging forward, shuddering with each shallow breath.

Montego scowled, a hand on his saber. “Now ye did it. Cut ‘im down.”

“Wait,” Jaku mumbled, his voice barely audible. “Wait. Two more.”

Montego snorted. “What’s wrong with ye? Ye freed yer mates. Now I want ye off my ship.”

“Two more,” Jake repeated, words slurred from pain. “One for me. One for the captain.”

“Not happenin’,” Montego snapped. “Ye— I’ll let ye go without the lash, serpent’s son. Get back to yer ship before ye do me any more damage. But yer captain stays here.”

“You swore,” Jaku’s hands tightened on the rigging. “You swore. One lash to release one of Windrunner’s crew, until the one being lashed gives up. Captain Lea’li’s part of the crew. And I’m not giving up.”

Montego drew his saber, looking like he wanted to run Jaku through. “You can’t—”

“You. Swore. On your ship and your honor.” Jaku twisted to look directly at Montego. “You know what happens if you break that vow.”

Montego glared, then abruptly sheathed his saber. “Captain’s worth more than a crewman. Five lashes, and if you make one sound, it stops.”

“Done.” Jaku gritted his teeth, obviously bracing himself. The whip fell again: once, twice, thrice. Jaku shook, his face pale, eyes shut. Fourth lash; he jerked but didn’t make a sound. The fifth stroke fell, and he at last went limp, silent save for his shaky breaths.

Montego muttered several curses. “Release ‘em both, and toss their weapons back after ‘em. I won’t have any trace of their blasted madness on this ship!”

The men holding Makatala released her. She dashed forward to catch Jaku as another sailor cut him free. Jaku nearly fell to the deck before Makatala pushed under his shoulder to support him. “That,” she hissed in his ear, “was the most reckless, terrible foolishness anyone on my ship has ever committed. I might have to let you join my crew now.”

“Had to do it,” Jaku mumbled, stumbling along as she dragged him towards the Windrunner. “Your brothers couldn’t. Crew couldn’t. No one could. But someone had to. So I did. Couldn’t leave you all in a pirate’s hands . . . I’ve seen what they do . . .”

Makatala guided him across the gangplank. “I would’ve managed.” Behind them, two of Montego’s pirates bundled up the Windrunner crew’s weapons and tossed them onto the Windrunner.

“’Course. But someone has to look out for sisters . . . Couldn’t’ve faced mine again if I let you down . . .” Jaku sagged, but gave her a delirious half-grin. “’Sides . . . I think I’d do anything for you, capt’n. Anything you asked. I . . .” He slumped and collapsed to the deck, slipping out of Makatala’s support.

Makatala knelt anxiously— but no, he wasn’t dead. Just unconscious. It was a miracle he’d held on this long. “Naea! Ala’i! Get this man to my quarters and tend his wounds. The rest of you, get to work. We’ve got our freedom, thanks to Jaku. Let’s not waste it.”