Book: Hero & Heroine (Anthology of Short Reads) - Paranormal, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazinecategories: Book, Fantasy, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Anthology, Short Stories
Rayne Hallabout this anthology: This anthology contains stories in the paranormal, fantasy and science fiction genres:
• A Lady of Many Charms by Heidi Kneale
• A Taste of Earth by Justin Tyme
• Scylla and the Pepper Pirates by Rayne Hall
• Noah 17 by L.K. Pinaire
• Electric Hatsuyume by Deborah Walker
• The Wooden Dragon by Martin Bueno
• Woods Beyond The Wall by Alex Binkley
• Blightslayer by Vashti Valant & Tara Maya
Here's the beginning of the lighthearted fantasy story "Scylla and the Pepper Pirates" by Rayne Hall:
I marched along the harbour, sniffing the dawn smells of seaweed, coal tar, and sailor's piss. At the Spice Traders Dock, I spotted my chosen vessel: the caravel Hippolyta, three-masted and sleek as a pickled herring. She was due to sail to the distant Pepper Islands where my beloved was languishing as a slave until I could rescue him from his chains.
I savoured the sight of seamen shifting barrels and stacking crates on the Hippolyta's deck, biceps bulging, linen shirts plastered to muscular chests. They spared me scarce glances, no doubt warned by their master not to slow their labours even for a nosy blonde.
At last, one of the sailors took notice. He had a weedy torso, gangly limbs, and an air of authority. "You there!" he barked. "What do you want?"
"Is this the Hippolyta, bound for the Pepper Islands, captained by Fidelius Foxhead?"
"The captain's on shore." He went back to shoving a barrel painted with purple pigs and grunted over his shoulder, "Try the Dancing Mermaid or the Golden Shark. Now off with you."
I strode across the gangplank, dumped my cloth-sack at his feet, and spoke through haughtily pursed lips. "Who is Foxhead's current mistress? Get her on deck."
Now I had his attention. His green eyes sparkled, and a tongue-tip flickered across his lips. "Will there be a fight?"
Leaning against a stack of crates, I twirled my long golden braid and tapped my foot.
"I'll get Mimibella at once. First Mate Hulbert at your service." He doffed his pointy cap and scurried down the hatch.
Moments later, a woman came flouncing out, hooped petticoats whipping, curves heaving like waves on a stormy sea.
"I'm the master's mistress," Mimibella squealed. "Get off my ship."
I pulled off my crimson gloves and tossed them at her velvet-slippered feet. "I invoke the Ancient Law of the Sea. If you want to keep your captain, get ready to fight."
I could already taste the honey sweetness of an easy victory: this puppet in frills and flounces was no fighter.
"Do something!" she demanded of the sailors who swarmed around our show like flies around a cow-pat. "You know me. I've sailed on the Hippolyta for eight months! Mr Hulbert, throw this bitch off! Boolibar, cast a spell on her!"
Hulbert dragged a coil of rope out of our way and rubbed his hands. The ship's wizard, a small black-skinned man whose chest gleamed with silver amulets, heaved himself onto a pork barrel to watch. The others glanced from my opponent to me, shuffled their bare feet and shrugged.
With leather boots, breeches and jerkin, I was more suitably dressed for the occasion than the floozy in her finery. While she fumed and stamped, I went into fighting stance, legs braced, knees bent, fists balled in front of my face.
Instead of trembling, she snapped her fingers. "Mr. Hulbert! Slice my laces!"
Lip-licking, he applied his dirk, and the corselet dropped to the planks. Her storm-wave breasts, no longer restricted by whale-boned brocade, bounced freely in her chemise. Another dozen sailors clustered around us, pretending to scrub the deck.
A quick fumble at her waist, the skirt clanked to the ground and Mimibella stood in her fetching frillies. Swiftly, she stepped out of her hoops and bent her legs into a fighter's crouch. "You daughter of a brain-dead bat want to take my captain?"
Before I could attack, her head rammed into my belly.
Gasping for air, I stumbled back. A right jab followed so fast I had no time to sidestep it. Her fists were steel hammers used to work. Maybe I should have chosen an easier target.
I got a good punch under her armpit that sent her howling. She responded by crashing a hammer fist on my head. A door slammed shut behind my eyes. All went dark. Then I saw sparkles.
The darkness cleared, and I remembered my purpose. I simply had to win my place on this ship, or my beloved would be lost.
I grasped her raven locks and yanked."Piss-soup dumpling!"
She retaliated by grabbing my plait. "Stinking mother of a mule!"
I got in several good punches. Droplets of blood oozed from my knuckles. Her chemise clung, wet with sweat. We punched and pulled, cursed and kicked. She had the better curses. I had the better kicks.
With a kick to her buttocks, I sent her slithering across the planks. I grabbed her by the chemise, pulled her up, clamped one arm around her neck. Then I ran, yanking her with me, and rammed her head into the stacked crates. Once, twice. Once more. I heard the wood crash and let her limp body drop.
Not long after, she roused herself, groaned and counted her bruises. Her black eyes shot me a hateful stare. "You bitch born from a rotten snake egg!" she cursed as she limped off the ship, not even trying to retrieve her belongings from the cabin. "Spawn of a thousand harpies! Barnacle-crusted flax-wench! Clapper-clawed harbour rat!"
I wasn't worried about Mimibella's fate. With a chest like hers, displayed in battle-soiled frothies, she'd soon find another captain, even if the ship wasn't as fine as the Hippolyta.
With as much grace as my battered bones permitted, I strode aft to make myself at home in the captain's cabin. My nostrils noted rose perfume and candle grease. The space was cramped, with barely enough room to stand between the two bunk beds and the sea-chests, and made to appear slightly larger by a dozen looking-glasses on the walls. I threw one of the chests open, rifled through frills and flounces, periwigs and perfumes, and found nothing of interest. I wiped my sweaty face and my bloodied hands on the dresses. Once on the open sea, I would toss those fripperies overboard.
Heavy boot steps thudded down the stairs.
"Who are you?" the man in the door-frame barked. "And what are you doing in my cabin?"
Obviously his crew hadn't dared to tell him.
I studied him: flame-haired, copper-bearded, with more freckles than a blanket had fleas, a broad chest in a blood-red doublet, and arms tattooed with mermaids and monsters. Nice, but not my type. His eyes pierced like a pair of sharpened dirks.
I stared right back. "I'm Scylla. Your new mistress."
I waved my hand as if flicking away a flea. "Two women fight over a sea captain, the winner owns him and gets a bunk in his cabin. You're mine."
"I was quite fond of Mimibella."
I shrugged one shoulder to show how much his previously held loyalties bothered me.
His gaze travelled over my leather-clad body, pausing at the creamy cleavage, and his lips pursed with appreciation. Reaching behind him, he pulled the door shut. He plunked himself on the second bunk and inflated his chest. "Tell me, Mistress Scylla, where I caught your attention." His admiring glance turned from my bodice to the big looking-glass above his bunk. "What is it that makes you want me so much?"
"I've never clapped eyes on you before, Foxhead. I want your bunk, not your body."
His red brows pulled together. "Not my body?"
"I'm on a quest to the Pepper Islands," I explained patiently. "The Hippolyta is the only vessel sailing there this year. By invoking the Ancient Law of the Sea, I had to fight only one woman, which was less work than battling a whole crew and hijacking a ship."
A flush of angry blood coloured his face, and his chest deflated. "You deprive me of my lovely Mimibella, and move in as my mistress, just to get a free passage?"
"That's right, Foxhead. A passage to the Pepper Islands."
"Goldie, you don't know you're in for," he said. "Storms, slavers, shipwrecks and salt pork."
"Not to forget the fearsome Pepper Pirates. I'm aware of all that, and to get to the Pepper Islands, I'll brave any dangers." Since he was admiring himself again, I met his eyes via the looking-glass. "Sorry about Mimibella, but she had to go. There's only so much space in your cabin, and I really need the passage. I could have donned male garb and hired on as a ship's boy, but I don't fancy hard work. Besides, I wouldn't have made a convincing boy, would I?" I placed my hands under my breasts and pushed them up. Though not as big as Mimibella's, they were nicely sized.
He was still gazing at the mirror, but the gleam in his eyes became friendly again, and he pursed his lips. Then he crossed over to my bunk and draped an arm around me. "I'm sure we'll get on fine, you and I, Goldie. Once we're acquainted, you'll discover I have many attractions beside my ship. Now, alas, I have to go back on deck to make sure my men handle those crates of porcelain with care. But tonight, Goldie ..."
I glowered. "Don't call me Goldie. Scylla is an honourable name from ancient poetry and I expect you to use it."
The captain of the Hippolyta straightened his doublet, muttered something that didn't sound like ancient poetry, cast one more glance at his looking-glass, and retreated to the deck. Soon I heard him yell curses at his men.
To prevent boredom, I had Mr. Hulbert string up a hammock for me on the poop deck. As a fisherman's daughter, I was familiar with boats and could have found ways to make myself useful if I wished, but it was more pleasant to watch labouring men sweat.
The little black wizard donned his rose-pink turban. A dozen amulets and talismans bounced on his chest as he danced around the deck, chanting and waving for a favourable breeze.
I smiled at his efforts: wind wizardry was empty ritual. The few magicians who could direct winds commanded huge salaries on board the Queen's own ships. Yet merchant captains had to employ wizards, because superstitious sailors would not board a ship without one.
I wasn't surprised when I learnt that Boolibar was really the ship's cook. For a ship that had only space for a crew of eighteen, carrying a token wizard would have been a luxury.
At noon, we queued outside the galley where he ladled portions of the midday meal into wooden bowls. "Pork stew," he announced. "After my late great-grandmother's recipe."
One spoonful of the greasy gristle, and I realised my assumptions were wrong. Boolibar had to be a brilliant magician to justify his pay.
Soon the crew rushed around to the master's orders, unfurling and trimming the sails. As if in response to our little wizard's request, a southerly breeze rose and billowed our canvas. The water chuckled and the wind sang in the rigging, and the Hippolyta glided out of the harbour and forged through the placid seas at a steady pace.
Night approached, and with it Fidelius Foxhead.
"Goldie," he purred, sliding his hand around my shoulder.
"Don't Goldie me!" I snapped. "Let's be clear about this: I'm your mistress in title only. I want your bunk, not your body."
He glanced at the mirror. "How about the time-honoured tradition, Mistress Scylla-From-Ancient-Poetry?"
"Tradition gives the woman rights over the man. I choose not to exercise them." I balled and flexed my fingers. "You're not my type, Foxhead. I prefer pale, delicate men with silken locks and unblemished skin. Gentle, poetic souls."
"Poe-eh-tick?" he repeated. His frown and raising brows told me he had not heard that word before.
"Never mind. As long as you understand that I don't want you in my bunk. If that's not clear, I know where to kick you to provide clarity."
He leant forward. "What, Mistress Scylla, would stop me from unloading you at the next harbour?"
"Vanity, dear Foxhead. You've had two females fighting over you. Keep me in your cabin and your mouth shut, and I'll play along. Your erotic attractions will be the talk of the seven seas."
While Foxhead trimmed his beard and rubbed muscle oil into his chest, I dreamed of fair-skinned, silken-locked Pelisander. My poet had found life in the fishing village dull and gone to sea in search of inspiration. On his third voyage, he was captured and sold by pirates. Now he languished, chained and abused, in the terrible Pepper Island lead mines where he would die unless I found and rescued him.
A fair wind carried us to Meribay, the fabled city of green-coppered roofs and silvered domes, where the Hippolyta delivered sixty crates of broadcloth and porcelain, and took on a cargo of singing-wood and coconuts.
Foxhead dabbed rose oil behind his earlobes and posed in four different jerkins in front of the looking-glass before deciding to wear midnight-blue.
Playing my role as adoring mistress, I linked my arm through his as we sauntered into the town's best tavern. The place was so fine that it had real glass in the windows, brass goblets so polished they gleamed, and hardly any cockroaches.
People glanced our way. In their whispers, I caught the words 'captain', 'mistress' and 'duel'. Clearly, the news had flown faster than a cormorant. Foxhead patted his hair, posed his biceps, and ordered the most expensive items the kitchen could provide. The crisp-fried termites and jellyfish pie tasted yummy after fifty-one days of Boolibar's gristle and grease.
I fed Foxhead's mood with flattery. "You know so much, captain. Few seafarers have made five voyages to the Pepper Islands and avoided the pirates every single time. What are the Pepper Islands like? Have you per chance seen the lead mines?" Leaning forward, I whispered confidentially, "My beloved, the poet Pelisander, joined a voyage of exploration on a Queen's ship five years ago. They were captured by the Pepper Pirates. A sole survivor escaped and brought word. Ever since, I've practised fighting so I can free him. Pelisander is a tender soul and will suffer so much. Every night I dream of Pelisander, of his pale skin, his golden locks, his delicate figure, his gentle touch. Will you show me how to find the mines?"
"How do you know this Pelisander is in the lead mines?"
"That's where the slaves go, isn't it? The pirates attack ships because the lead mines need slaves. Most slaves live only six or seven years, so I must get to him soon."
"Those pale delicate types last even less." He crunched a termite between his teeth. "Anyway, after five years in the lead mines his skin is surely shrivelled green."
I wanted to punch the unfeeling smugness from his face. For Pelisander's sake, I curbed the urge: I needed the passage to the Pepper Islands.
Foxhead raised his goblet, tilted it this way and that, studying the sparkling reflection of his handsome profile. "I propose a deal, Mistress Scylla. I'll take you to the Pepper Islands faster than you can dream, provided you earn your passage with honest work."
Work? I didn't like the sound of that word, though I would do anything to speed up my reunion with Pelisander. "I suppose I can cook. Better than Boolibar, anyway, even if I have to use pork from barrels painted with purple pigs."
"Cooking would be a waste of your talents, Mistress Scylla. I want you to do your duty as master's mistress." He steepled his fingers and assumed a dignified expression, no doubt refined by practice in front of the looking-glass. "I'm told you have a wicked pair of legs, and your kicks are something to behold."
I relaxed. "Count on me, captain. It'll be my pleasure to defend and protect you. Woe the pirate or mutineer who dares lay a hand on you!"
"I need you to defeat another female. This is your chance to serve your queen and your country, making a name in seafaring history." Smiling mysteriously, he ordered cardamom-spiced coffee. "When the time comes, I'll tell you more."
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