THE LOMBARDIA’S LAST VOYAGE
Adol Christin loved adventure—the thrill of discovering new lands, venturing into the unknown. But some of the challenges he and his
friend Dogi faced in their travels had nothing to do with danger and exploration. Finding a ship in the port of Xandria willing to ferry two armed, tough-looking young men across the Gaete Sea proved be one of those.
Adol and Dogi felt lucky when, after too many aggravating ex- changes, they finally found a solution to their transportation prob- lem. The captain of the four-masted passenger liner Lombardia, about to set sail to Eresia, offered to enlist them as temporary members of the crew. After all the hassle, Adol was looking forward to a quiet journey, with nothing to do but swab decks, coil lines, and enjoy the sweeping sea views.
In hindsight, he should have been experienced enough to realize that this peaceful state of things wasn’t going to last.
It all started with the land Adol spotted on the horizon a few days after they left the port.
He had just finished swabbing the quarterdeck and was heading down the ladder when he paused by the rail to steal a look at the view.
Sun blazed in the clear afternoon sky, coating the calm water with a soft velvety sheen. A fresh breeze cooled his face, leaving a subtle taste of salt on his lips. Seagulls soared over the masts, their cries accentuated by the rhythmic splashing of the waves against the hull. One of the birds dipped gracefully into the water and emerged with a silvery boleh squirming in its beak.
Adol peered into the distance. What was that bluish shape, barely
visible off the starboard bow? An island? A very large one, by the looks of it. He hadn’t realized that the Lombardia was scheduled to pass a major destination so early into the voyage. Strange that he’d heard no mention of it after he came aboard. He glanced around for a crewman to ask about it—and froze at the sight of the tall, middle- aged man approaching from the direction of the helm.
“Adol Christin, is it?” the captain asked.
“Yes, sir.” Adol stood to attention, looking at him in surprise. He hadn’t expected the captain would remember his name from their brief conversation back at the port. But even more curious was the captain’s casual smile, as if stopping to chat with a simple deckhand was part of his normal routine. The twinkle of humor softening his stern, weathered features, the quiet interest in his gaze, made for quite a difference from the other sea captains Adol had encountered in his travels.
“As I recall, you introduced yourself as an adventurer,” the captain said. “Do you know of the Isle of Seiren?” He gestured to the distant shape.
Seiren. The name did ring a bell, but Adol couldn’t quite place it. “I don’t, sir.”
“Understandable.” The captain leaned on the rail next to him, looking toward the horizon. “The Gaete Sea is home to many is- lands, treacherous to navigate. But none of them have a reputation as fearsome as Seiren.”
“Fearsome, sir?” Adol raised his eyebrows.
“Yes.” The captain looked at him appraisingly, as if deciding if he was up to the information. “Every ship that sails too close sinks un- der mysterious circumstances. Rumors speak of a curse that plagues its coastal waters. Some sailors believe even talking about Seiren brings bad luck.”
Oh. That would explain why Adol hadn’t heard anything about it from the crew. He met the captain’s gaze. “I assume you aren’t one of those sailors, sir?”
The captain chuckled. His face lit up with a new expression. Ap- proval? Adol had a strange feeling he had just passed some sort of test.
“Well, we’re talking about it, aren’t we? And—anticipating your next question—I don’t believe in curses. There’s definitely a mystery about Seiren, though. No one ever walked its shores and lived to tell the tale.”
“No one?” Adol echoed, his eyes glued to the distant shape. “Has no one ever tried to explore it?”
“Oh, they tried, all right. The last attempt I heard of was a Romun exploratory vessel about five years ago. It approached the island in calm weather—never to be seen again. To this day, no one knows what happened.”
Wow. Excitement rose in Adol’s chest. A ship, vanishing without a trace on a calm day. A mysterious island no one had ever escaped. What could possibly lie out there?
“There must be some explanation,” he said.
The captain’s smile widened. “Oh, definitely—many explanations, actually. The most popular one comes from the pirates who first dis- covered the island and declared it cursed ground. They claimed that it was inhabited by Seiren—monsters from Greshun legends, whose songs lure ships to their doom. But if you asked a boring person like me, I would probably speculate that this island harbors an anomaly, perhaps a tide or a current around its shores that draws the ships in if they ever get too close. I would never risk the Lombardia by sailing any closer than a few krimelye away, and even that distance is only safe when the sea is calm, like today.”
“I wonder what the island’s like.” Adol didn’t actually mean to voice the thought. Nor did he intend to sound so wistful. He glanced sideways at the captain, surprised to see the same longing stir in the older man’s gaze.
“Every time I sail these waters,” Barbaros said, “I wonder the same thing. No one alive knows the answer to that question. But if you are truly that curious, come out to the deck tonight after the eight bells of the First Watch. We’ll be passing Seiren around that time. It will be dark, of course, but this is the closest you’ll probably ever get.”
Eight bells of the First Watch. Midnight, in land terms. Adol nodded. He wouldn’t miss it for the world.
“You may be interested to know,” the captain went on, “that I often share this tale with new members of my crew. It seems only fair to alert them to the worst. Many are so terrified that, when we sail past Seiren, they are reluctant to leave their quarters. But I see you come from sturdier stock.”
“Thank you, sir.” The captain’s intent gaze was so captivating. No wonder the crew spoke about him with such fervor. This was probably the only conversation Adol was ever going to have with the man, but he knew he was always going to remember it.
“And now,” the captain said, “I must resume my duties—as I’m sure must you. I expect I might see you patrolling at my passenger welcoming party this evening?”
“Not in the saloon,” Adol said. “I’m assigned to the decks.” “Oh?” The captain raised an eyebrow. “A punishment already?” “A favor, actually. I’m not much for parties.”
“Interesting.” He measured Adol with a thoughtful gaze.
The captain must surely be as aware as Adol was of the perks of patrolling the saloon during a party—such as leftovers from the food trays, or the large flask of grog stashed at the back of the bar. But he didn’t comment further, simply gestured dismissal, watching Adol pick up his bucket and mop and descend the ladder to the main deck.
A group of crewmen were hauling crates into the saloon, directed by Katthew, the ship’s first mate. Dogi towered at least half a head over the rest, his shirt opened down the front to expose his immense muscular chest. As Adol headed in their direction, Dogi set aside the crate he was carrying and waved. One by one, his companions disappeared through the hatch leading to the cargo hold, but he and Katthew held back.
“Yo, Adol,” Dogi called. “Was that the captain talkin’ to you up there?”
“Yes, it was.” Adol looked from Dogi to Katthew, both of them frowning in disbelief.
“What was it about?” Katthew asked.
“That island, mostly.” Adol gestured toward the horizon.
“Oh. The Isle of Seiren.” Katthew’s face slowly drained of color. “Seiren?” Dogi shielded his eyes with his hand, looking into the
distance. “It looks as large as Creet. How come I’ve never heard of it?”
Katthew threw a nervous glance toward the quarterdeck. “Talking about it is bad luck, especially at sea. I wish the captain took those warnings more seriously.”
“Bad luck?” Dogi frowned. “Why?”
Katthew shifted from foot to foot. He looked uneasy. Gosh, was he one of those fearful sailors the captain had spoken about?
“Many say it’s cursed,” Adol said. “Every ship that sails its waters sinks, and no human ever landed on its shores and lived to tell the tale.”
“Holy cow.” Dogi’s face lit up in fascination.
Adol grinned. “I knew you’d be interested. We’ll be sailing past it after the eight bells of the First Watch. I intend to be on deck to see it. Want to join me?”
Dogi rubbed his forehead. “I think I might just wander up.”
“Just make sure not to take too long with it, you two,” Katthew said. “Don’t forget, we all have patrolling to do . . . Which reminds me.” He turned to Adol. “Are you certain you don’t want a turn at the saloon? Most crew are fighting for the assignment. We had to assign shorter shifts so that everyone gets their chance. I could still arrange—”
“No thanks,” Adol said. “I prefer the decks. Let others have their fun.”
Dogi laughed. “Adol wouldn’t want to parade himself in front of the ladies and steal all the attention, see? It could get downright ugly if they all—”
“Hey,” Adol protested. “I’m not the one walking around with my chest exposed.”
“You would be, if you worked in the cargo hold,” Dogi retorted. “The place’s stuffy as hell. Besides”—he smirked—“unlike you, the rest of us here have to actually put effort into being noticed by ladies. I figured if I show myself on deck, I’d better—”
“Oh, look at the time,” Katthew said quickly. “They’re about to ring three bells. Let’s all return to our duties, shall we?”
The party in the saloon was still in full swing when Adol finished his rounds. He could hear laughter and the clinking of glasses. Per-
haps he should stop by for a glance, but he wasn’t about to miss his chance to see the mysterious Isle of Seiren.
As he headed past the open doorway toward the ladder leading to the main deck, he nearly collided with a young lady who sped out of the saloon, looking backward, as if she were being chased. She tried to sidestep him and tripped on the hem of her long dress, grasping his arm for support.
“Careful, miss,” Adol said.
“Oh.” She steadied herself against him, then drew away abruptly. “How dare you touch me?”
Adol spread his hands to the sides with exaggerated care. “Please forgive me. You looked like you were about to fall.” And no wonder, with the kind of dress she wore, its puffy skirt large enough for three. Something in the way she held herself gave him a feeling she wasn’t used to dresses. Curious.
She drew herself up. “I am perfectly capable of walking on my own, thank you very much.”
Adol looked past her into the saloon. He couldn’t see anyone chasing her right now, but he was sure something in there must have disturbed her. “Are you all right?”
“Are you questioning me?”
Her voice had an edge, as if she were about to burst into tears. It probably wasn’t any of Adol’s business, but he couldn’t help taking a closer look. Her sharp-featured face looked drawn, suggesting that she wasn’t getting enough sleep, or had cried recently, or both. A thin layer of powder did a poor job of covering the freckles under- neath, as if applied half-heartedly. Wisps of blond hair escaped from the elaborate arrangement around her head. A lady in distress, if ever he saw one.
“I am patrolling the decks,” he said, “to make sure there’s no trou- ble. If anyone in there is bothering you—”
Her gaze wavered. She surveyed him for a moment, as if deciding whether she could trust him, then stepped back and drew herself up again.
“I am a lady,” she snapped. “A common sailor like you has no business talking to me at all, let alone asking personal questions. Now let me pass at once, or I will have you thrown into the brig for insolence.”
The threat was so ridiculous that Adol couldn’t help a smile as he stepped aside, giving her as wide a berth as possible in the narrow passageway.
“Oh, you find me funny, do you?” she demanded.
“I find you curious,” he said truthfully. “And—with no intention to delay you any longer, my lady—my offer stands. If anyone in the saloon, or anywhere else on this ship, is giving you trouble, I will deal with them for you. You have but to say a word.”
Again, he sensed a brief hesitation before she scoffed and lifted her chin, marching past him toward the passenger quarters. After a few moments, he heard a distant door creak open and bang closed. Oh well. At least she’d reached her cabin safely.
The ship’s bell rang overhead. Eight bells. Time to see the myste- rious Isle of Seiren. Adol did his best to put the strange young lady out of his mind as he ascended the ladder to the main deck.
Everything there was peaceful and quiet. A few passengers were gathered near the rail, soaking up the night air. Two crewmen crouched at the mast, coiling lines. The helmsman stood at the wheel, peering ahead. In the darkness, brightly lit windows in the saloon and upper cabins made the ship gleam like a holiday tree.
It was darker up on the bow. In the light of the rising moons, the view out to sea was as good as possible at this hour. Adol leaned over the rail, peering into the gloom off the starboard side.
The dark shape of the island was much closer than earlier this evening when Adol had commenced his patrol below decks. Despite the darkness, he could even make out some of the shoreline, a deep bay framed with a set of jagged rocks on one side and a long sandy beach on the other. The water in the bay gleamed in the moonlight, with a dot of a tiny islet in its center the only blemish on its mirror perfection. The rest of the island lay in shadows, dwarfed by a mas- sive mountain range rising in the distance. From here, it looked like the spine of a giant beast curled up to sleep.
The Isle of Seiren. Strange how in the short time since Adol had learned about this mysterious land, he had come to think of it as a living thing, a magical creature waiting in the darkness to lure ships to their doom. Or perhaps the island was more like a trapped beast, yearning for an adventurer to free it from its curse. Most likely the captain was right, and it was all about weather anomalies and underwater currents, but it was hard not to wonder if there was more to it. Adol wished he could walk on those shores one day.
Dark water swirled and churned around the distant reefs—too far for the Lombardia to worry about but definitely dangerous enough for any ship that dared to steer into those waters. Straining his ears, he thought he could just make out the sound of splashing over the jagged tips that poked out of the sea like the claws of a submerged beast.
Wait . . . Was the splashing getting closer?
It certainly seemed that way. The waves lapping against the hull had a new tone, as if a large shape were approaching underwater. Adol leaned over the rail, trying to spot the source.
The ship jolted, the impact so strong that Adol nearly fell over- board.
What in the underworld . . . ?
A door banged in the distance, followed by an erupting concert of voices and the pounding of running feet.
“What’s happening?” the captain bellowed on the quarterdeck. “I don’t know, sir! We seem to have run aground!” “Impossible. We’re in open waters.”
“Assess the situation at once!” “Aye-aye, sir!”
The ship shook again, harder this time. A piercing scream cut the air. Adol rushed down the ladder to the main deck, skipping several steps.
The deck was in complete disarray. Sailors ran frantically between their posts, while passengers mixed into a disorderly crowd. Broken rigging rained from the masts. Had something just hit them from above? At sea? Adol looked up but couldn’t make out the cause.
With a crack, a long piece of a spar tumbled down the foremast, tangling in the furled mainsail as it fell. He dodged to avoid it and nearly ran into a log that had somehow planted itself across the deck. No, not a log. Wet and leathery, it twitched and slithered, glisten- ing with a sheen of slime that brought to mind the skin of deep-sea creatures.
A giant tentacle?
A chill ran down Adol’s spine. He looked up just in time to see another tentacle rising out of the water. Its end looked wide, like a club, covered with suction cups bigger than his head. He drew his dagger, aware of how inadequate the short blade was against an opponent this size. If only—
“Adol!” Dogi rushed out to the deck with a long object in his hand. It gleamed as he flung it toward his friend.
My sword. Adol tossed the dagger into his off hand and caught the Isios Blade by the hilt, its curves settling familiarly into his grip. Just in time. The tentacle descended toward him, seemingly intent on taking him out. He slashed and it retreated, then whipped toward him again. The ship shook.
Adol’s attempts to sever the flailing tentacle quickly proved insuf- ficient. Its slimy surface was curiously resistant to steel. Despite a series of mighty hacks, Adol was only able to open a small wound, oozing with greenish-blue slime. A tremor echoed through the ship in response. Blast it. Probably all he was doing was getting the owner of the tentacles really mad—not a good idea, unless he could do some actual damage.
He spun his blade, but none of his moves made any difference. The tentacle attacking from the air kept lashing out. The other one, lying log-like across the deck, twitched and rolled in a seemingly concerted effort to knock him off his feet. He had no choice but abandon all finesse. The only effective tactics proved to be hacking and slashing to match the tentacles’ moves.
It was hard work, less like sword-fighting than cutting timber, but at last the tentacles slithered back along the deck and disappeared into the inky blackness overboard.
The tremors stopped. The Lombardia was moving again, with no interference from below.
Was it over?
Adol slowly exhaled. Focused on the fight, he had almost forgot- ten about all the people on deck, the crewmen with their daggers out and the panicking passengers. He lowered his sword as people rushed toward him from all sides.
“Nice work, Adol.” “Impressive!”
“You are so brave!”
Dogi emerged from the crowd and patted his shoulder. “Good job. I knew you could handle that thing, Adol.”
Adol looked at him thoughtfully. When this was over, he was definitely going to ask how Dogi had managed to get his sword out of the trunk in the crew quarters and make it on deck in time for the fight.
“What were those tentacles?” Dogi wondered. “Some kind of a giant squid?” His gaze trailed upward, his jaw falling open.
“Dogi?” “Uhh . . . ”
Adol looked up.
More tentacles were rising out of the ocean on both sides of the ship. One, two . . . five . . . Adol stopped counting. Too many to han- dle, even with the entire crew’s help. Some reached higher than the masts. They all closed in at once, grabbing the ship in a chokehold.
The deck buckled and tilted under their feet. The ship moaned, listing dangerously to one side. The foremast snapped like a match- stick. The main mast tilted, showering rigging and spars on the panicked crowd below. The entire railing peeled away, followed by a shower of bodies tumbling overboard.
The ship was sinking too rapidly to do anything at all. Waves lapped over the deck, washing off more people. Dogi slipped and fell, sliding down the wet boards. As Adol reached to catch his friend’s hand, a piece of rigging struck him from behind. He swayed and let go, tumbling into the dark water.
Giant birds with long tails circled over a sunlit valley that stretched all the way down to the sapphire-blue sea. A beautiful city in the
distance rose out of the morning haze, its domed roofs and ornate towers reaching up to the sky.
A young girl stood on the cliff looking at the view, her long dark hair streaming in the wind.
Adol’s eyes snapped open, the view dissolving into a blaze of sunlight beating down from the clear sky. Was that a dream? And if so, why did it feel so realistic?
Where in the world was he?
He tried to move, but his body wasn’t quite working the way he expected. It took him some time to figure out that he was lying in the surf, sand chafing his skin, cool waves splashing rhythmically over his feet. Smells of kelp and sea rot mixed with the bittersweet aromas of wildflowers carried on the breeze. For the life of him, he didn’t remember arriving at a beach. What in the world happened?
The dull pain at the base of his skull messed with his sense of orientation, sending the world spinning every time he tried to get upright. He waited for the dizziness to recede, then clambered up and surveyed his surroundings.
The beach was small and secluded, flanked by a strip of rocks on one side and a grassy hill on the other. A mountain range rose in the distance, tall peaks reigning over the peaceful landscape. To his left, the shore curved into a deep bay, with a small islet in its center.
Wait. Wasn’t this the scenery he’d spotted last night from the . . .
Memories snapped back into his head with nauseating force. The fight with the giant tentacles. The shipwreck. Falling overboard after Dogi and grabbing a piece of floating debris to hold on to.
He staggered into the surf, peering out at sea. No sign of the ship or any wreckage that could give any clues about the Lombardia’s whereabouts.
With everything that happened, it was a miracle he’d survived. But if he had, then surely others must have survived too. He darted around frantically, but could see no sign of people or even anything man-made, besides a tangle of old fishnets and rotten wood boards stuck in the rocks at the side of the beach.
After a while, he waded ashore, trying to settle his thoughts. Sur- vivors from the Lombardia could have washed up anywhere along this coastline. Dogi, at least, had to be out there somewhere. He was a good swimmer—and he always tended to land on his feet. Adol just needed to find him, and all the others. For now, he decided not to think about what the captain had told him, how no one had ever returned after landing on Seiren. That was something to worry about later.
He stumbled toward the pile of driftage at the edge of the beach— old and rotten, definitely not from the Lombardia. A rusty metal rod wedged between the rocks caught his eye.
Adol leaned over and pulled it out.
An old broadsword—or what was left of one. Part of the blade had broken off, reducing its length to that of a one-handed blade and completely messing up the balance. Its edge was eaten away by rust. No Isios Blade—probably lost forever at the bottom of the sea— but still, better than nothing. He forced all thoughts of the legendary blade out of his head as he tucked the rusty sword into his belt next to his sheathed dagger and made his way up the shore.
The sand at the back of the beach ran into a wide strip of grass and toward a passage between two large boulders, blocked by a fallen tree. A stream flowed down a gully on his right and into the bay. Fresh water. Adol followed it uphill until he found a flat shore with easy access. He waded in and scooped a few handfuls, gulping greedily. The water was clean and cool—it felt like the best drink he’d ever had.
He had to look on the bright side. Just last night, he had been longing to explore the mysterious Isle of Seiren—and now he was doing just that. Strange how one’s wishes sometimes came true in the most twisted of ways.
Laxia von Roswell was a proper lady, thank you very much. And a proper lady had to maintain her bearings in every situation—even
when shipwrecked on a deserted island. After washing up on the beach, she’d spent what felt like hours rushing around in a vain search for other survivors. Now she felt absolutely exhausted. Her salt-encrusted clothes creaked with sand, chafing in the most uncom- fortable places. She needed to wash it all off if she wanted to restore her ability to think straight.
Last night on the Lombardia, Franz had infuriated her so much by showing up out of the blue. Being her butler didn’t give him any right to follow her everywhere. She probably shouldn’t have said all these things to him before storming out of the saloon, but she fully expected to straighten them out in the morning, as well as to give him a proper scolding for disobedience. And now she didn’t even know what had happened to him. She refused to entertain the idea that he hadn’t made it ashore—but given that, so far, she hadn’t found any trace of survivors, she had to at least acknowledge the possibility. The thought brought tears to her eyes, even though crying was absolutely unseemly for a proper lady.
She supposed she should feel grateful that leaving the party early and being in her stateroom when the disaster struck had allowed her to change out of that ridiculous dress into a comfortable pair of breeches and shirt, strap on her rapier and belt pouch, and grab a few necessities, such as a scarf and a life vest. This had made her as prepared as possible when she rushed on deck and into all the chaos. She would never forget the screams, the breaking masts, people falling overboard. What a horror! And now she was alone, possibly the only survivor, with no idea what to do. Tears welled in her eyes again, and she vigorously wiped them away. First things first. A bath.
She found a clean stream and followed it to a secluded glade where a big boulder at its bend marked a wider pond she could use to wash properly. Glancing around to ensure that no preda- tors would disturb her at a vulnerable moment, she unsheathed her rapier and set it within easy reach, then quickly took off her clothes, rinsed them, and spread them over the boulder to dry before step- ping into the water.
It felt so good to wash off the crust of sand and sea salt, the cool water soothing her parched skin. She always got sunburned easily, and of course she’d left her creams and ointments on the Lombardia, but that was something to worry about later. She knelt, plunging her whole head beneath the water. Then, standing knee-deep in the pool and lifting her face to the sun, she wrapped into her scarf to dry off.
Rocks clattered behind her. A predator? A wild beast? She grabbed her rapier and spun around.
A man emerged from behind the boulder. His eyes widened when he saw the rapier pointed at him. His arm blurred as he drew his sword and knocked it out of her hand in a fluid move too fast for her to follow. Shocked, she stumbled backward, releasing the scarf she was using for cover. It slid down into the water, leaving her stark naked.
The stranger’s eyes grew wider still. His cheeks flared scarlet, and the jagged tip of the rusty sword in his hand—how had he managed to draw it so quickly?—dipped to the ground.
She screamed, then grabbed her clothes and sprinted for the nearby bushes. She recognized the man—that insolent crewman from last night, who had interrupted her so rudely on the way to her cabin. A swirl of emotions swept through her head. Relief at seeing another survivor of the shipwreck. Annoyance about their previous meeting, when he’d talked to her like an equal and showed much more perception and insight than a simple crewman like him had any right to do . . . Disappointment that this wasn’t Franz.
Deep in the leafy thicket, she hastily pulled on her damp cloth- ing, unsure what to do. Should she keep running? Probably a sen- sible course of action, considering she didn’t know this man at all. But then again, a villain trying to take advantage of her probably wouldn’t look so terrified or blush so deeply after catching her at an inappropriate moment. At present, the two of them seemed to be the only survivors from the Lombardia. It seemed like a better idea to stay together.
She supposed, worries aside, she should be thankful that it wasn’t Franz who’d discovered her. She would never live down the shame of being seen naked by her own butler. Still. Facing that arrogant man was hardly any better. Last night he had acted so boldly around her, as if he considered himself to be superior, and now . . . Why did men have to be so . . . so disgusting. Tactless. Domineering. Ogling every woman they came across. A lady was entitled to privacy when taking a bath.
She clung to her anger as she finished dressing. Without the anger, she’d probably burst into tears—with a witness this time, which would be completely unforgivable. Anger helped her to hold it together as she finally allowed herself to face the full extent of her predicament—shipwrecked and stuck alone with an arrogant stranger, on a deserted island notorious for being cursed.
When she finally emerged from the bushes, the man was standing a few feet away, his back decisively turned. She carefully checked her clothes and hair before approaching him.
“I suppose I have kept you waiting long enough,” she said. “You may turn around now.”
He kept his eyes down as he obeyed. His cheeks were still red. Good. At least he’d learned a lesson. In fact, he looked so embar- rassed she almost felt sorry for him, even though she was still reeling from the memory of the incident.
Last night in the dark hallway she hadn’t had a chance to see him clearly. Now that she did, the first detail that caught her eye was his distinct hair color—flaming red, gleaming in the sun like fire. She’d never seen anyone with hair this red before.
He looked younger than she’d originally thought—three or four years older than herself, at most. She was good at telling people’s age by small signs—like their skin, which always accumulated wrin- kles and blemishes over time. This stranger’s skin was surprisingly smooth, but his hands, callused from manual work, betrayed experi- ence.
Tall and well-muscled—but not overly so—he held himself with the grace that brought to mind the renowned fencing teacher her father had once invited to Roswell Manor all the way from Romn. She’d already witnessed the ease with which this stranger had disarmed her—a nearly impossible move when wielding a heavy broadsword one-handed against a rapier. How had a swordsman of his skill ended up as a simple crewman on the Lombardia?
“We should introduce ourselves,” she said. “I am Laxia von Roswell, a noble lady from Garman. And you are a sailor, I pre- sume?” She drew herself up, looking at him down her nose—not an easy feat, considering their height difference.
He finally raised his eyes, their clear blue a vibrant contrast with the red of his hair.
“I’m Adol Christin—an adventurer, actually. I only enlisted as crewman for this one trip.”
“An adventurer?” Laxia scoffed. “What sort of an occupation is that?”
“One that lands you in all kinds of unpredictable situations.” Adol’s eyes trailed to her belt. “Is that a book?”
Laxia stepped back, placing a defensive hand over the tome in its waterproof covering, sticking out of her belt pouch. “Yes. Why?”
He frowned. “You fell overboard off a sinking ship carrying a
“And my rapier, yes. When I realized we were in trouble, I made sure I was prepared.”
His lips twitched in disbelief. “What does a book prepare you for, on a deserted island?”
Laxia drew herself up again. Was this . . . this commoner going to lecture her on priorities? “I’ll have you know that this book is the foremost scientific reference on the wildlife of all Gaete islands. Of course, on this particular island a lot of the vegetation seems indige- nous, but still, one could gather a lot of useful information about ed- ible and medicinal plants, as well as dangerous predators, and . . . ” She paused as Adol’s eyes widened, trailing past her to the bushes behind.
A cloud of bats swarmed out, circling over their heads. Laxia scurried over to Adol’s side. The bats looked as big as hawks—larger than any species she knew, armed with sharp teeth.
“I think I can recognize dangerous predators without a book.” Adol drew his sword in a deft, easy move. A rusty piece of garbage, even though the graceful way he wielded it made the weapon look better than it actually was.
“Stay behind me,” he said.
Oh, the protective kind. Laxia rolled her eyes. She should have gathered that much from his remarks last night. Probably the type who thought all girls were fragile and vulnerable and needed a big strong man to stand up for them, even if the rapier at her belt should have been a hint to the contrary. Well, she’d had enough of that attitude—from father, from Franz, from pretty much every- one around her up to now—and she was going to have none of that from this arrogant crewman who obviously thought very highly of his sword skill.
“No, thank you,” she snapped. “I don’t need to be protected by an adventurer.” She drew her rapier just as the bats swooped down, cutting the nearest one in mid-flight. The rest of the creatures clearly thought better of it as they turned around and darted out of sight.
Laxia sheathed her rapier and regarded the leathery shape on the ground. Nausea rose in her throat as she watched its blood ooze into the water of the stream. She crossed her arms over her stomach and looked away.
Adol stepped forward and turned the creature over with his boot. “What does your book say about these? Are they edible?”
He shrugged. “Since we’re stranded on this island, we should be thinking of a reliable food source.”
“I’d rather starve than eat these, thank you very much.”
Now that she had a chance to calm down, she felt a bit embar- rassed about the way she had behaved. This man, Adol, seemed all right—for an adventurer, that was. And yes, perhaps he was a tad too protective, and a better swordsman than her, but here in the wilderness that wasn’t a bad thing. All in all, if she had to be stranded on a deserted island with someone, he seemed like better company than most. She should at least try to make amends.
“Your swordsmanship is rather impressive,” she said. “Clearly, it was no accident that you managed to parry my attack.”
Had she seen him grin when he said it, or only imagined it? She hoped the latter, but she wasn’t quite sure.
“I . . . I wasn’t complimenting you,” she added, just to make sure he didn’t get any wrong ideas. “Incidentally, these bats—or a species very close to them that I’m more familiar with—are more intelligent and aggressive than people commonly realize. This area must be their territory. Let us relocate somewhere safer, Mr. Christin.”
He put away his sword and leaped over the stream. Laxia fol- lowed. They crossed the glade toward an opening between the rocks on the other side.
“You seem to know a lot about bats,” Adol observed.
“I’m simply speaking from common sense.” Laxia lifted her chin. “Let’s get one thing straight. Given the circumstances, a temporary alliance is our only rational course of action. But this doesn’t mean we will be taking it all the way to easygoing camaraderie. Do we understand each other?”
Once again, she thought she caught a smile sliding over his lips, but his face was straight again when she looked closer. Honestly. Who did he think he was, to act this way around a highborn lady?
“Good. Then I suggest we stop wasting time on small talk.” Well, that probably wasn’t the friendliest thing to say to the man who might turn out to be her only companion for a while. But she didn’t feel settled enough to let go of her anger at him just yet. Besides, what would a commoner like him expect from a lady of Laxia’s sta- tion? He should be grateful she was talking to him at all. Yes, that seemed about right. Laxia raised her head high as she brushed past Adol and walked ahead.
- Full title: LACRIMOSA OF DANA
- Author name: Anna Kashina
- Publisher/Imprint: Dragonwell Publishing https://publishing.dragonwell.org/
- Pub date: October 18, 2023
- Page count: 466
- Note if illustrated: Yes, Illustrations by Nihon Falcom Co.
- Price: $34.95 (Hardcover), $19.99 (Paperback, $7.95 (EBook)
- ISBN: 978-1-940076-98-0 (Hardcover), 978-1-940076-88-1 (Paperback), 978-1-940076-99-7 (EBook)