Tamara A. Lowery
Tamara Lowery is a former maid and current auto industry
worker. She is a graduate of Soddy-Daisy High School and
Chattanooga State, where she majored in Journalism. She is a
new author. She currently lives in Tennessee with her husband
and the Rottentots, her cats.
For more information, Check out:
Congratulations to Tamara for being in the 2011
Preditors and Editors top ten Horror Novel Category for Blood Curse.
Congratulations to Tamara for being in the 2012 Preditors and
Editors top ten Horror Category for Demon Bayou.
Congratulations to Tamara for being in the 2013 Preditors and
Editors top ten Horror Category for Silent Fathoms and
in the top ten Horror Category for Black Venom in 2014
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||Known as Bloody Vik Brandee, Viktor Brandewyne had a
reputation as a bloodthirsty pirate. The world would soon
learn just how bloodthirsty he had become. Thanks to the
vengeful curse of a powerful witch, he had become a vampire.
However, since he was cursed, rather than bitten, he was not
vulnerable to daylight or holy items. As curses went, he
didn’t think it was all that bad, until Mother Celie, his
foster mother and a witch in her own right, informed him
that the curse would eventually destroy him. Now he finds
himself in a race against time to find the seven Sisters of
Power and gain some of their magic in order to survive the
curse. He is aided in his quest by Hezekiah Grimm, his first
mate; Belladonna, a siren and sea witch; and Lazarus, a
creature that is sometimes a cat and sometimes a raven.
Pages to Print: 294
File Format: PDF
Great Minds Think Aloud
ORDER BLOOD CURSE PRINT TODAY! (ISBN
|Viktor Brandewyne’s search for the second Sister of
Power leads him to the bayou country near colonial New
Orleans. Along the way, he has his first encounter with
vampires not made by him, as well as running afoul of
smugglers. The black waters of the bayous hold their own
danger as well. An ancient demon guards the way to the
Sister. Worse, the siren Belladonna begins to die in the
swamps. Should Viktor return the siren to the sea or
continue on to the Sister? Without magic from all the
Sisters, he won’t be able to break the curse that has made
him a vampire before it destroys him. Without Belladonna, he
cannot find the Sisters.
Word Count: 76,629
Pages to Print: 257
File Format: PDF
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|Master Torbin feels honored to be accepted to a post at
the University of Cordun and eager to get there. His
greatest obstacle is the long trip around the edges of the
Forest of Narghill. Why is there no route through the
forest? No one in the village he stops in on his way seems
to know of any path through. The villagers try their best to
delay Master Torbin’s departure, at least until the after
the Solstice and the Winter Festival. Only one old man
claims to know of a shortcut through the forest, and offers
to show it to him. He soon learns why no one travels in the
Forest of Narghill, especially on Solstice.
Word Count: 4696
Pages to Print: 18
File Format: PDF
|The search for the third Sister of
Power takes Viktor Brandewyne to Mexico and the Devil’s
daughter. She sends him to find devil’s hoof, but doesn’t
explain exactly what it is. All Viktor knows is that she
will use it to try to enslave him once he brings it back to
His quest strands him in the middle of the shark-infested
Indian Ocean with no food or water, no wind . . . and no
siren to sing one up for him. Try as he might to reach her,
his bond with Belladonna has fallen silent.
Word Count: 69000
Pages to Print: 237
File Format: PDF
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|Mere Venoma Noir, the fourth Sister of Power, proves to
be the most challenging yet for Viktor Brandewyne. She sets
him to retrieve an amulet stolen by a notorious slave trader
with a reputation for ruthlessness to rival Viktor’s and a
talent for black magic. She also possesses the power to turn
the siren, Belladonna, against him, and the Sister will use
every tool and opportunity she can to kill the
pirate-turned-vampire before he can complete his quest.
Word Count: 71350
Pages to Print: 247
File Format: PDF
Price: $ 5.99
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|Viktor Brandewyne finds himself tasked with finding the
most flighty of the Sisters of Power. He tracks her from New
England to the ends of the earth. She sets him the task of
retrieving three things as the price for a portion of her
magic: a dragon's egg, a dodo's egg, and a drop of blood
from the Daughter of the Dragon, one of the few beings
capable of killing him.
Lady Carpathia has her own agenda concerning Viktor. Though
she comes to realize just how dangerous he is, she still
hopes to seduce and use him to overthrow her master before
she ultimately destroys the pirate-turned-vampire.
Fraught with danger, Viktor's chances of surviving this
quest are almost as slim as those of him completing it. How
can he acquire the eggs of a mythical beast or of a creature
that has been extinct for nearly a century?
Word Count: 77100
Pages to Print: 180
File Format: PDF
Print Today! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-282-6)
|The sixth Sister of Power presents
pirate-turned-vampire Viktor Brandewyne with his greatest
Circe proves not only hard to reach: but the quest she sets
him is fraught with peril from the very start. He must brave
a labyrinth to retrieve a puzzle box. He then must revisit
each of the Sisters he’s already faced. Five pieces of the
box were dispersed among them by order of the Elder long
before Viktor was even born.
The completion of his quest is further barred by a sea
dragon, the ultimate form of a male siren, who seeks to
claim Belladonna as his mate.
Before all is done, Viktor will lose someone very close and
important to him.
He also has to survive Circe’s powers; for she is the same
witch from the Odyssey, with the power to turn men to
Word Count: 93900
Pages to Print:
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(ISBN: 978-1-61950-298-7) SOON!
Once Upon a Tide…
On a pleasant summer afternoon in 1750, a young boy drifted
lazily among the salt marshes that inundate coastal Georgia.
He’d fished for a while that morning without any luck. Having
grown bored with the activity, he’d allowed his punt to drift
where it would in the maze-like channels between the marshlands,
tidal flats and small islands formed from the oyster shell
ballast dumped by merchant ships preparing to take on cargo in
He had no worry of getting lost. He’d been boating these waters
for as long as he could remember. The boy knew that he was
currently about three miles south of Savannah.
The warm sun and cool breeze lent themselves to napping. Soon,
the boy had dozed off. He was awakened by the sound of other
boys chattering and laughing. They sounded nearby. As quietly as
possible, he rowed toward the voices. The tide was high, and he
decided to take the little flat-bottomed punt into the marsh
grass before getting too close. No telling what mood these
strangers might be in.
Peering through the grasses, he saw two boys around his age busy
pulling up their crab traps. The wooden tub seated in the middle
of their boat brimmed with their catch. Three empty traps were
stacked in the back of their boat, and the trap they were in the
process of emptying was very full; several of the crabs were
The boy was very fond of the sweet meat of the sought-after blue
crabs. He knew old Mother would be glad of the treat, as well.
‘Although, she’ll probably grumble that I didn’t net her some
shrimp to go with them,’ he thought to himself. His decision
made, he nudged his boat through the flooded marsh to join the
“Those are some mighty fine lookin’ crabs,” he told them by way
of greeting. “I’ll have them.”
The younger of the boys, brothers, smiled at him. “You want to
The lone boy smiled back and calmly stated, “No. I’ll take them.
The older brother scowled at him, ready to defend their catch
from the young interloper. “You can’t just take them,” he
countered. “You have to buy them, if you want them. We worked
hard for these crabs, and we’re going to take them back to town
to sell them.”
The boy said matter-of-factly, “My waters; my crabs. Hand them
over. I won’t tell you again.”
Rather than comply, the older brother shouted, “I said, you
can’t have them!”
Taking his oar, the boy nimbly jumped into the other boys’ boat
and promptly used it to knock the older of the two into the
water. He brandished the oar at the younger boy. The lad quickly
decided the water was a better place to be than in the same boat
with the mad young bully. The victor then began tying their boat
to his punt, to tow it back with him and ensure they didn’t try
to give chase to reclaim their catch.
The older brother looked a bit panicked at this. His sibling was
crying in fear.
“Hey! You can’t just leave us out here! We could drown trying to
get back home,” he pled.
He looked at them, almost expressionless, and said, “You should
have given me the crabs, when I told you to.” Then he rowed
away, not caring if they made it back or not. “Whatever fate the
tide and marsh have for you is your lot now.”
Of course, the lads made it back to Savannah. Otherwise, the
legend would never have been born of how, in the summer of 1750,
an eleven-year-old Viktor Brandewyne committed his first act of
And the rest, as you soon will read, is history.
Does any man know where the love of God goes, when the waves
turn the minutes to hours?—Gordon Lightfoot
Looking for love in all the wrong places. – Johnny Lee
On August 18, 1771, the pirate ship, Redfish, limped madly
across the choppy waters twenty miles northeast of Hispañola,
the HMS Bonnie Mae closing rapidly. The Navy ship had been
pursuing her for almost five hours, since exchanging fire just
north of Tortuga Harbor.
The pirate ship had not fared well in her exchange with the
Bonnie Mae. Her topmast and mizzenmast had been destroyed by
chain shot. Several pirates were dead or mortally wounded. To
add insult to injury, a stray cannonball had blasted a
good-sized hole at her waterline. The ship’s carpenter had
managed to get a makeshift patch in place, before he bled to
death from a leg wound. The rough waters were beginning to
hammer away at it, though, and it was clear it wouldn’t hold
Already, the Redfish was taking on water. Her captain, Viktor
Brandewyne, known more commonly as Bloody Vik Brandee, knew the
ship was doomed. But, he was determined they’d not be taken to
experience the King’s “kind” mercies.
“Aft lookout report!” Brandee bellowed.
“Aft lookout, aye,” the pirate in the rigging called back. “She
be closing with us, Cap’n. Pro’ly be on us in another hour.
She’s atwixt us and the nearest land.”
“Understood, aft lookout. Forward lookout report!”
“Forward lookout, aye. That be a bad ‘un, Cap’n. Definitely a
hurricane. Heavy seas ahead. We be in no shape to tangle with
that bitch,” the lookout answered.
Brandee mulled his predicament. Navy at his back; monstrous
hurricane before him; no apparent escape. He made his decision.
“Mr. Rigger,” he addressed the helmsman, “steer me a course due
“Aye, Cap’n. Um, Cap’n, that’ll take us straight into the
hurricane,” Rigger pointed out.
Brandee smiled darkly. “Aye, Jim. It will.” Shouting loud enough
for the remains of his crew to hear, he announced, “Listen up
lads! We’re taking the Redfish right down the gullet of that
storm afore us! If the King wants our ship, he’ll have to follow
us into the mouth of Hell itself to catch us! What say ye?”
A unanimous roar of agreement rose from the crew. Each man knew
the only alternative was dangling from a gibbet in Port Royal or
at Wapping, on Execution Dock.
“Then step to it, ye scurrilous dregs!” he ordered. “We’ve a
hurricane to catch!” Turning, he faced the storm and their
certain doom. “Don’t fear, Jim. I’ve a few tricks left. We’ll
cheat ol’ Cob same as we’ll cheat the King of his prey.”
Back to Blood Curse
I dream of childhood friends and the dreams we had—Styx
Hezekiah Grimm found his captain at the railing on the fo’c’sle.
Viktor Brandewyne stood looking out at the stars, an involuntary
smile on his face. Lazarus was perched on the railing in front
of him. The huge black cat emitted a rumbling purr in response
to the captain’s strokes.
Grimm eyed the cat warily as he joined Viktor. Although he did
not know the full story behind the act, he knew the creature was
not natural and was perhaps demonic. It rarely tolerated the
touch of anyone other than the Captain.
Viktor nodded, not speaking.
As uncomfortable as Lazarus made him, Grimm had to admit the cat
had a calming effect on Viktor. It was the only thing that
convinced him the creature, which was sometimes a cat, sometimes
a bird, sometimes shadow or smoke, was at least not inherently
evil, at least no more evil than the vampire Grimm called
Grimm had never been as superstitious as most sailors and
pirates. He’d always believed in making his own luck and that
witches, ghosts and beasties were mostly stories told to
frighten small children or weak-minded fools. He’d not been
above using such stories to keep his crew cowed and in line, of
These days, however, he’d found himself forced to come to grips
with the fact that such beings did exist outside of stories and
Since joining his old friend’s crew, he’d encountered vampires,
witches, shape-shifting familiars, mermaids and a sea monster.
Granted, the sea monster might easily be mistaken for a mermaid
“It’s been quiet the past few days,” he observed. “How long do
you think Belladonna will stay gone?”
“Until I call her back,” Viktor answered. “She’s busy with some
fisherman she caught.”
“You keep surprising me, Viktor. Never knew you to share a wench
“If it was anyone other than Belle, I wouldn’t. I still won’t
share her with any of my crew.”
“But a perfect stranger?”
“Safer that way, Hezekiah. I don’t trust her in my bed.” He
smiled at his first mate. “She’s just playing with her food.”
Grimm made a face. He’d seen the siren’s eating habits
firsthand. Anyone foolish enough to go in the water with her was
fair game. Even Viktor had felt her teeth, and she was supposed
to be there to help him.
Viktor went back to petting the cat. “I was just thinking back
to when Jim and I were first starting out. Old Billy Black said
Jim was as much trouble as I was.”
“Aye and the two of you were damn near inseparable, as I
remember. You never have said what happened to Jim.”
“No. I haven’t,” his tone made it clear that the subject was not
to be broached again. “Was there something in particular that
you wanted, Mr. Grimm?”
“There was talk in the last port of a convoy. Spices mostly, but
there was rumor that some emeralds were being smuggled.”
“I heard the talk, as well.”
“I checked over the charts, Captain. The timing is right, and
we’re in a prime position to intercept.”
Viktor thought about it for a while. The right spices could
bring a tidy sum, although the emeralds, if there really were
any, would be tricky to convert into cash. More importantly,
fresh provisions would be welcome, both foodstuffs and prisoners
to feed the bloodlust of his small cadre of vampires and
“Very well, Mr. Grimm. Have the lads ready by first light. When
the convoy comes into sight, pick us out a fat one.”
“What’s the word, Mr. Grimm?”
“Sniff reports five ships in the convoy. They’re just to the
south of us on the horizon,” he answered as he entered the
captain’s cabin. “Their current heading is north. Three look to
be merchantmen. He said the lead and chase vessels appear to be
smaller gun boats.”
Viktor moved to the window, opening one of the panes to smell
and feel the wind. Five specks of white, the topsails of their
prey, were just visible where sky met sea.
“Have the riggers furl a third of the sails,” he ordered. “Give
them a better chance of catching us up. They won’t suspect our
purpose until it’s too late, if they come up behind us, rather
than if we turned toward them.”
“What colors should we fly?” Even though Sniff, using the glass,
couldn’t see what flag the convoy ran under, Grimm knew Viktor’s
eyesight was much sharper than his.
“British, Mr. Grimm.”
Even with fewer sails up, it soon became apparent it would take
the merchant ships most of the day to get remotely close to the
Incubus. Less experienced or less patient pirates might have
turned their ship toward their prey.
But Viktor didn’t want to spook them into scattering, or to
provoke their escorts. As long as he sailed as if they were of
no interest, their guard would be down when he did order an
attack. Past experience had taught him it was an effective ploy
when encountering convoys.
At midday, Sniff called down from the crow’s nest, “They look to
be changing course!”
Grimm took the glass and peered at the slowly approaching ships.
Viktor stood beside him, not needing a spyglass. They watched as
the ships made an eastward course change.
“Damn. Wasn’t expecting that,” Grimm muttered. “Most spice
traders usually don’t head eastward until they’re far enough to
the north to catch the
Trades. Something must have spooked them.”
“It is odd,” Viktor agreed, “but not as odd as how the middle
ship is sailing.”
The first mate focused on the vessel indicated. “Interesting.
Looks like she’s pulling away from the pack and returning to the
original heading. Wonder why she’d leave the protection?”
The vampire sniffed the air. Viktor’s heightened perceptions
greatly augmented his already well-honed weather eye. “The wind
is going to hold steady for at least another day. Our stray
little lamb should be pulling even with us by dusk. That should
“Thinking of trying the harpoon and counterweight system?”
“Aye. It’s set up to pull them right to us. I want to see if it
“I’ll have the lads get the buffers ready to take the brunt of
the impact. What’s the plan if the contraption doesn’t work?”
“It would do my little cadre good to indulge in a fresh feed,”
he said, referring to the five crewmen he’d turned. “The rum and
blood blend is sustaining them, but blood is much better in its
pure form straight from the source.”
Grimm suppressed a slight shudder. He’d seen the vampires in a
feeding frenzy back when Viktor had set them on the pirate
hunter who had managed to capture the first mate. He’d never
wanted to be the target of their Hunger.
“If you say so.”
It was moonless that night, a fact that normally would preclude
any kind of pirate attack. The merchantman only had one man on
Nighttime, however, was no barrier to Viktor Brandewyne. For
that matter, neither was daylight, since his vampirism was the
result of a curse placed on him by an irate witch. He had never
actually died, unlike his cadre of five. They were now permanent
members of his crew, pirates he had killed personally when his
blood Hunger had threatened to overwhelm him.
Since the five were true vampires, they had the same weaknesses
described in most of the legends: sunlight and holy objects.
There was another weakness one had discovered the hard way.
Viktor had originally made six vampires, but one had made the
mistake of trying to feed on Belladonna. The siren’s blood had
been instantly fatal to the vampire.
Brandee had the cadre assembled on deck. He’d already ordered
all the topside lamps shuttered, so as not to give away their
position to the other ship. The Incubus was a dark shadow
against the star-studded sky and all but invisible.
Silently, the pirate ship maneuvered alongside the merchant
vessel. Large cork buffers were hung over the side facing their
prey. Using the swivel guns mounted on the rails, the pirates
launched several harpoons. As soon as he heard them thud home
into the wood of the other ship, Viktor gave the signal to
release the counterweights.
Line attached to the harpoons passed through small ports in the
deck via pulleys and attached to heavy iron weights. These were
shoved out the lower gun ports. The result was that the other
ship was rapidly pulled to the pirate vessel. The cork buffers
prevented the hulls from damaging each other.
The sleeping crew of the merchantman was taken completely by
surprise, jarred awake by the collision. Within seconds, the
vampires were on board. Two quickly silenced the lone watchman;
he was drained and dead in a matter of minutes. The other three
swarmed the rigging, in case any sailors were in the crow’s
Quickly and quietly, Viktor sent a large part of his crew over,
led by the Grimm Reaper, to secure the ship. Most of the
merchantman’s crew was still half-asleep, making for a swift
The ship’s captain must have been a heavy sleeper. Not only had
the colliding of the ships not wakened him, but Grimm had to
shake him a few times to get him on his feet. The man was only
half-dressed and disheveled, when Viktor entered his cabin.
“I apologize for this untimely interruption of your voyage, sir,
but I believe you and I have some urgent business to attend to.”
Brandee gave a mock bow. Before he could continue, however,
Lazarus darted past him. In a black blur, the demon cat launched
himself at the prisoner, clawing and biting any part of the man
he could reach. This did not fit in with Brandee’s plan.
The cat abandoned his attack and leapt to Viktor’s shoulder in
one fluid movement. He glared and growled at the merchant
captain from his perch.
Brandee narrowed his eyes at the man. “My friend does not like
you, sir. Have we perhaps met before? What is your name?”
“I’ve never set eyes on you before in my life,” he spat. “I am
Captain Thomas Brumble. Who the hell are you?”
“Brumble? Brumble. Hmm, that would explain it, then. Your father
wouldn’t happen to be Tobias Brumble?”
“I am his younger son. Who are you, and how do you know my
“Captain Vik Brandee, sir, at your service. You’ve already met
my first mate, Hezekiah Grimm.”
The young captain blanched, recognizing the names of the two
most feared pirates to sail these waters.
“I don’t know your sire personally, Mr. Brumble, but an old
friend of mine once spent six miserable months as cabin boy to
that cowardly piece of shit. I promised him that I’d pay the
bastard back, with interest, for every lash of the whip he’d
given my friend unjustly.”
“Then I am a dead man. I know the reputations of Bloody Vik
Brandee and the Grimm Reaper. All I ask, sir, is that you allow
me to dress, so that I may face my fate with some dignity,”
“What say you, Lazarus?” Brandee asked, stroking the agitated
Lazarus stopped growling, yawned and stretched out one paw, toes
and claws spread. “Meh,” he mewed. Then he proceeded to groom
the paw and ignore the prisoner.
“Very well, Mr. Brumble. Mr. Grimm, if you will escort our guest
topside once he’s properly attired? I shall be inspecting our
prisoners and new recruits.”
|In the Dead of
The traveler was not surprised when the old man approached him
with word of a shorter route to Cordun. He’d made no secret of
his destination or why he was going there. And he had been
asking around the village if anyone knew of a path that would
take him through the Forest of Narghill.
No, the surprising and somewhat annoying thing was that no one
in the village of Timbro seemed to know of any such path.
Everyone thus far had told him the only route was to stick to
the main road. The problem for the traveler was that the road
skirted the vast forest. Villages were spaced three to five
days’ travel apart along the road, but the maps showed Timbro
was directly opposite of Cordun with only the forest between
The traveler had been sent from the University in Borduin. He
was to go to the University in Cordun, to assist the Dean of
Science there. He had been chosen from a large number of
candidates for this honor.
He studied the maps, and it had been his reasoning he could
shorten his journey by nearly a fortnight simply by going
through the forest, rather than following the road several
leagues to the south to go around it. Being nearly fifty leagues
west of the forest, no one in Borduin could find any record or
reason why the road had not been cut through the forest.
His friends at the University begged him to put off his journey
until after the Solstice and the Winter Festival. They knew it
might be many years before they could celebrate the Festival
together again. But he had been eager to assume his new post and
set out as soon as he could get his affairs in Borduin settled.
So it was with gratitude that he welcomed the old man to his
table in the dining room of the Timbro Inn.
“You are the young man seeking a way through the Narghill?” the
old man asked.
“Yes, Grandfather, I am,” he replied, using the customary title
of respect for the unrelated elder.
“Please, sit with me. Would you care for some food or drink?”
“No, thank you,” he said, shaking his head. “I am fasting until
Solstice night. It is my custom.”
“I see. Tell me, Grandfather, do you know of any path that leads
all the way through the forest to Cordun?”
“There are many paths in Narghill, my son, but only one that may
take you to your destination,” he said. “I was a hunter in my
youth. I have wandered farther into the forest than any other
man alive. I can lead you to the trailhead.”
“My thanks, Grandfather,” the traveler smiled. “Are you sure you
won’t dine with me?”
The old man shook his head with a sad smile. “No, my son, I must
keep to my vow. Just be ready to go at daybreak. I will meet you
at the village gate.”
“Thank you. I will.”
Shortly after the old man left, a serving girl brought a flagon
of wine to the table. She seemed nervous, darting her eyes about
as if to see if anyone was watching.
“Is it true? You plan to go into the forest?” she whispered.
“Yes. I leave in the morning,” he replied, puzzled by her
behavior. “Please inform the landlord I wish to settle my bill.”
Rather than leave to do so right away, she gave him an almost
frightened smile. “Please, sir, delay your departure for a few
days. It’s almost Solstice. Our Winter Festival is quite the
He frowned politely. “I am afraid I cannot. The Dean of Science
at the University in Cordun is expecting me. It would do much
for me in his eyes if I could reach there a fortnight early.”
Once again glancing around nervously, she leaned closer and said
in a low voice, “If you try to go through Narghill, you may
never reach Cordun. There’s an evil that stalks the forest, and
it is not safe to enter into this close to Solstice. Please,
sir, stay here for a while, or at least stay to the road.”
“I appreciate your concern, my dear, but I am a man of science.
I do not subscribe to unfounded superstitions,” he said firmly,
but politely. “Now, go inform the landlord I will be leaving in
the morning and wish to settle my bill.”
Bowing her head at the dismissal, she replied meekly, “Yes,
After a few minutes, she returned with his meal and the landlord
of the inn. Silently, she placed the food on the table and then
left to wait on another table. The landlord cocked his head
toward the opposite chair with a questioning look in his eye.
The traveler nodded, and he took the seat.
Back to In the Dead of Winter
Once Upon a Tide . . .
Hezekiah had to admit the boy had balls. He’d had his doubts
three months ago, when he’d signed on to this crew. After all,
how many fools would be willing to ship out with a
nineteen-year-old captain and a fifteen-year-old first mate? If
it hadn’t been for the fact that Billy Black had vouched for
him, he never would have considered sailing under Vik Brandee.
He still remembered the night he’d walked into the Black Flag in
Savannah, looking for a crew to sign on to. He wasn’t the only
man off that damned unlucky ship to head to the tavern, but he
still missed those who hadn’t made it. A few had been good
He felt like an old man already, at the tender age of
twenty-five, especially after that last voyage. Why had he
signed on with that idiot, Kerns? How the man had gained a
captaincy was beyond him.
Kerns couldn’t navigate, was a piss-poor pirate, and couldn’t
hold his liquor. The bastard had almost gotten them caught by
hunters. If it hadn’t been for the storm and shoals that had
wrecked them, he would’ve led a mutiny and taken the ship. Just
as well he hadn’t. Although the ship had looked seaworthy at
first glance, it had proven rotten, leaky and ill-outfitted.
Still, when the crew finally realized they were going down and
made for the boats, Hezekiah had taken great satisfaction in
slitting his former captain’s throat. He’d vowed then never to
serve under a man so unworthy of his respect again.
“Mr. Grimm.” The fat old pirate-turned-tavern-keeper
acknowledged him. “Been a couple of seasons since I’ve seen ye
in these parts. What brings you to the Black Flag?”
“Let’s just say I’m between boats.”
Billy squinted at him. “Word has it you were sailing with Rob
Kerns. I find it hard to believe. The man’s an idiot.”
Hezekiah grimaced. “Yes, he was. But, it’s true. I last shipped
“Notice ye said was.”
“I left him with a second smile, bright and red, when we parted
The old pirate smirked. “About time. Someone should have slit
the bastard’s throat years ago. Reckon the ship wasn’t worth
Grimm shook his head. “No, he ran aground, and it started
breaking up. Worm-eaten, anyway.”
“Heh. Doesn’t surprise me. Why don’t you head on upstairs?
Maggie should be unoccupied right now, provided that little
bastard hasn’t sneaked up there hoping for a free one. Told ’im
if I caught him doing that again, I’d take it out of his wages.”
“Thank ye, Captain Black.” Hezekiah knew Margery was one of the
Black Flag’s most talented girls.
“When ye come back down, come see me.” Billy tapped him with his
pipe. “I’ve got a business proposition for you.”
Hezekiah thought his luck seemed to get better and better. He
hadn’t been so sure, though, when he’d heard what the
proposition was. “Are you daft, man? I just came off a ship with
a captain that never should have been, and now you’re suggesting
I sign on under a boy?”
“Don’t underestimate the bastard,” Billy cautioned. “He has real
talent for our kind of work. Earned a berth here with me a few
years ago and has learned more about our craft in that time than
many do in a lifetime. Not just stories, either. I think the
brat was born to piracy, but don’t let him know I said that.
He’s got a big enough head, as it is.”
Grimm thought he understood what the old pirate was doing. “He’s
gotten too dangerous for you to keep him around, hasn’t he?”
Billy Black shrugged. “Voracious wencher has cost me money.
Tired of my whores being too worn out to service the paying
customers. Figure if he’s out to sea, he can’t cause trouble
here. Told him if he could secure a ship, I’d help him assemble
a crew. Damned if the bugger didn’t show up two days later with
a decent little sloop.”
“Impressive. Very well, I’ll give him a try. He’ll need
“Aye, but don’t hope for first mate. That berth’s already
“Little alley-cat called Jim Rigger. Young Vik teamed up with
the brat not long after he came to work for me.” He pointed out
a teenager lurking near a table of drunken sailors. The lad
picked a few pockets even as they watched.
“A child.” Grimm was less than impressed.
Billy chuckled at his reaction. “They’re cut from the same bolt,
those two. Closer than brothers and thoroughly wicked. Jim is
sneaky as a cat and more loyal than a dog, where Vik is
concerned. I wouldn’t suggest trying to separate them. Don’t
know about Jim, but I do believe Vik Brandee wouldn’t hesitate
to cut yer heart out and hand it to you with a smile, if you
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Looking back, he had no regrets about his decision. Brandee
truly had a talent for finding and taking fat prizes. It had
been the most profitable three months he’d experienced since
he’d turned pirate.
He was also impressed by Brandee’s intelligence, ruthlessness,
and skills. As far as he was concerned, the young captain had
earned his loyalty and respect. He had even found that Rigger
was tolerable as a first mate. Sometimes, it was easy to forget
that the boy was ten years his junior.
It became apparent that a few of his shipmates didn’t share his
views, however. He’d heard grumblings. It never ceased to amaze
him at the stupidity a man’s pride could push him to. So he
listened, he watched, then when he felt the time was right, he
“Enter,” Brandee said in answer to the knock on his cabin door.
When Grimm entered the cabin, the boy seemed calm, but alert
when he saw who it was. He could almost swear the young captain
had expected some sort of trouble from his crew, but he looked
mildly surprised to see the bastards had picked Grimm as the one
to deliver it. “What is it, Mr. Grimm?”
“I came to warn you, Captain. Some of the lads have been talking
“I see. What about you, Mr. Grimm? Are you throwing your lot in
Grimm sized the lad up. By his reaction, he was willing to bet
Brandee had known about the unrest for quite some time. “If you
had asked me three months ago, I probably would have said yes.
It did not sit well with me to have such a young captain.”
Viktor steepled his fingers and leaned forward, his green eyes
intense. His voice was deceptively calm with a hint of
curiosity. “What has happened to change your mind?”
“Old Billy Black knew what he was talking about when he said you
were born to this life. These three months have been the most
profitable I have ever seen. I also admire the intelligence
behind your way of using different tactics with each prize.”
“It’ll make you harder to predict, therefore harder for the
hunters to catch. Most pirates have one or two attacks at the
most, which makes it easy for the hunters to figure out where
and when to lay a trap. You don’t follow any set pattern.
Personally, I would prefer to remain free,” he continued, “and I
believe staying on with you as Captain will improve the odds of
Brandee smirked. “When you came in here, I half-expected you
were the one they picked to take my place.” He stood and walked
around the small desk to get a rum bottle, deliberately turning
his back on the older man.
Grimm quickly took advantage of the situation. Cat-quick, he
rushed up behind Brandee and had his blade at the young man’s
throat before he could put the bottle down. “If I’d wanted to
take this ship, you’d already be dead, Captain.”
“Then you’d have followed right behind him, Mr. Grimm,” Jim
Rigger whispered in his ear. He held his own blade’s point just
below Grimm’s ear. The boy had been silently lurking in the
shadows behind the door the whole time.
Vik slipped easily out of the deadly position. Smiling, he
picked up three glasses and said, “It’s a good thing for you
that you didn’t come here to kill me then, isn’t it, Mr. Grimm?
Have a drink. You can put your knife away, Jim.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” The boy and the man both sheathed their weapons.
“Now then, Mr. Grimm, since you’ve chosen to warn me, what do
you know about the mutineers, and what suggestions would you
make on handling them?”
“There is only a handful stirring the others up. Take them out,
and the mutiny will die.”
Jim spoke up. “Isn’t the usual punishment for mutiny marooning?”
“It is,” Vik confirmed. “But, I don’t think that is what Mr.
Grimm would suggest.”
Grimm shook his head. “I would kill them; make an example. You
have been a very generous, successful Captain. It’s my opinion
that they are ungrateful fools. That point won’t be lost on the
rest of the lads.”
Viktor looked at him without expression for several minutes.
Hezekiah never flinched, even though he could see the younger
man wouldn’t hesitate to kill him.
“I like the way you think, Mr. Grimm. Assemble the crew on deck
at first light. Be prepared to point out the ringleaders.”
“Aye, Captain. Thank you for the rum.”
“I hear some of you aren’t too happy to be sailing under my
A cautious murmuring was the only answer Brandee got. He pressed
on after making eye contact, first with Jim and Hezekiah, then
with the five men Grimm had named as the mutineers. “I make no
apologies for my age. During these three months we have taken
several fat prizes. Shares have been generous. Casualties have
been low. We haven’t been captured. What is the problem?”
There was more murmuring, mostly in agreement with the young
Captain’s words. There was also agitation among the mutineers.
They saw their hold on the crew evaporate in those few minutes.
Viktor and his mates had expected one of them to make a move at
this point. Jim and Grimm had positioned themselves by the ones
they felt to be most dangerous, but none of those men were the
one who acted.
Grimm was closest, as a grizzled pirate pulled a dragoon out,
cocked it and aimed at Brandee’s head. “Stop him!” he yelled,
even as the man squeezed the trigger.
With no time to reach the would-be killer, he jumped in front of
his Captain, taking the mini ball in the upper arm. As he fell,
he wondered why the young man was reaching to scratch the back
of his neck.
Mere seconds later, the assassin lay dead on the deck with
Viktor’s dagger protruding from his eye.
Jim had watched with morbid fascination as the sailor, who was
the closest thing they had to a surgeon, dug the fragments out
of Hezekiah’s bicep. To his credit, the older man had no more
than grunted and given an occasional hiss, as the man did his
work. Luckily, the powder had been damp and a low charge. That
meant the mini ball had stayed mostly intact and had lodged in
the muscle. The bone wasn’t even fractured.
“There, that’s the last of it I think,” the surgeon said.
“Thank ye, Gordon. Heat that knife up red hot and sear the wound
before you stitch me back up. It’ll help stop the bleeding,”
To his satisfaction, the boy winced at the smell of burning skin
and meat. Grimm grinned at the lad’s reaction.
“That’s going to leave a nasty scar.” Jim whistled as Gordon
began stitching the puckered, charred wound shut.
“Not the first; won’t be the last.” Grimm shrugged. “If it’s too
jagged, I can just cover it with a tattoo. At least I didn’t
lose the arm.”
“You could have been killed. I knew I would kill or die for the
Captain, but I never imagined anyone else would. Why?”
“Young though he is, Vik Brandee is the best Captain I’ve ever
sailed under. He deserves my respect and loyalty. Don’t worry,
Mr. Rigger, I’m not after your berth. Old Billy Black warned me
against that, and I’ve seen how the two of you work together.
But I’ll gladly sail as one of Brandee’s mates as long as he
will have me.”
Back to Silent Fathoms
Once Upon a Tide . . .
Midsummer of 1761 found Vik Brandee and Hezekiah Grimm in a
small ketch just off the southwest shore of Puerto Rico. As they
waited for dark to head to shore, they did their best to appear
to be fishermen. Once ashore, they would have to trek into the
jungle to meet their contact.
Vik showed Grimm how to use a cast net. “I can’t believe you’ve
never done this before, Hezekiah. You’ve been at sea longer than
“Never had to, Vik.” Grimm held the net like he’d been shown, or
so he thought. “Usually had enough supplies to last the voyage.
In port, I always had enough coin to get a good meal, or found
some wench willing to feed me for free.”
“You have to hold the top edge in your mouth to keep it
stretched out.” Vik put his own edge in his mouth to show his
second mate how. He held one side of the net in each hand with
the draw rope’s end wrapped around his wrist. Once he was sure
Grimm held the net correctly, he twisted to the side then
snapped back the other way, releasing the net at the apex of the
swing. The cast net spun out over the water in an almost perfect
disc before it hit the surface. The stone weights around the
edge quickly drew it under. He let it sink until the rope had no
more slack, then gave a quick jerk on the rope to close the net
before drawing it back up.
Grimm did his best to mimic his captain’s cast. He felt
gratified to see his own net sail out across the water in much
the same fashion.
“Not bad. With some practice, you could be very good at this.”
Vik praised the older man.
“How did you learn to do this? More importantly, why?”
Vik lifted his net up onto the boat. There were only a couple of
fish in it, neither an edible species. “Hmph, good thing we’re
not fishing for profit or food right now,” he grunted in
disgust. “I grew up in the salt marshes near Savannah. Learned
how to cast a net as soon as I was big enough to hold one.
Mother Celie was not a rich woman, and it was often cheaper and
easier to catch fish or shrimp than to buy food.”
“That makes sense. I grew up inland, but I took to the sea as
soon as I saw her.” Grimm began to pull his own net up. He gave
a startled cry when the draw rope went taut and began to jerk
from side to side. “Whoa! I’ve got a fighter, Vik! Strong one,
“Need some help?”
He shook his head. “No, I think I can handle it. It just caught
me by surprise.”
He wrestled with the net’s draw rope. Slowly, he managed to
bring up the net and whatever he had caught to the surface. Both
men marveled at the large ray that thrashed about in the cast
Vik whistled. “No wonder you had such a fight. Look at the
wingspan on that thing!”
The ray nearly filled the bottom of their ketch. It thrashed
about wildly, which made it difficult to remove the net. The
boat rocked so violently, it threatened to capsize.
“I think we’re going to have to cut the net, Captain.”
“Agreed; we need to get this thing off the boat before it sinks
Both men drew their knives and began to hack at the mesh of the
net in an effort to free the ray. The terrified creature only
knew it had to return to the water. The longer it remained in
the air, the more frantic its thrashing became. Suffocating in
the alien environment, it was a victim of instinct and panic.
Viktor let out a garbled scream when the ray’s barbed sting
stabbed through the muscle of his calf. Grimm reacted quickly
and slashed down with his heavy knife to sever the barb from the
The shock of the maiming caused the ray to seize up. This
allowed Grimm enough time to lever it back over the side.
The boat gradually settled in the calm water. Grimm knelt to
examine the damage his captain had suffered. The spiny barb was
lodged in his leg and stuck out from both sides of the wound.
Luckily, the bleeding wasn’t bad yet.
Vik sat covered in clammy sweat as shock threatened to make him
pass out. Grimm stopped him when he reached for the severed end
of the sting. He shook his head. “We need to push it through,
Vik. If you try to pull it out that way, the barbs will shred
the flesh and poison you. Plus, it would hurt more.”
“It can’t hurt much more than this,” Vik growled. “Do what you
have to, Mr. Grimm.”
Grimm wrapped some sailcloth around the barbed end to protect
his hands. He grasped the sting firmly and yanked it on through
the wound. This time, Viktor did pass out.
When the young pirate woke, the sun had already set. His leg
felt like it was on fire. He looked down at it in the lamplight
and saw it had already swollen to twice its natural girth from
knee to ankle.
Grimm saw he was awake and handed him a flask of rum. “Here,
this should help deaden the leg a bit. I cleaned it out as best
I could before stitching it up.”
Vik took the bottle and frowned at the lightness of it. “We
brought more rum than this.”
“Aye. Figured the rum was better than seawater for that leg.
Didn’t look like any of the stinger broke off in ye, so it
should heal clean.”
“Thank you, Hezekiah. I’d hate to lose the limb. I’m rather
attached to it,” he said in an attempt to joke around the pain.
“Where are we?”
“A couple of leagues up the river. We still have a half hour
before the rendezvous. Do you think you’ll be able to stand up
for it, Captain?”
“I’m going to have to. Carmine is not to be trusted; especially
if he thinks we are weak.”
Grimm nodded his understanding. He’d never dealt with the man
personally, but Carmine Fuentez had a reputation as someone who
wouldn’t hesitate to sell a man out, if there was a profit in
it. He also had a reputation as a coward. If he thought a deal
might come back to bite him, he would avoid it like the plague.
“Remind me again why we are even dealing with this bilge rat.”
“Because he can get what we want more quickly than we can,” Vik
answered. “And he knows not to cross me.”
Grimm laughed. “You can be a scary bastard. I’m surprised you
didn’t bring Rigger along.”
“Couldn’t; not and hope to seal the deal, anyway. Jim almost
killed Carmine the last time we had dealings. Hell, I couldn’t
even tell him who we were dealing with this time.”
“What did the rat do to anger the lad so?”
“I wasn’t in the room at the time, and Jim won’t talk about it.
The hatred is strong enough that my first mate resents the very
fact that Carmine still draws breath.”
Grimm grunted. “Must have been pretty bad.”
After they grounded the ketch in a side shallow, Grimm helped
Viktor out of the boat. The swelling in his leg had gone down
some, but it still hurt and burned. They both agreed they needed
to conclude their business quickly. The shadows would help hide
Carmine had a large bonfire going. It burned so brightly, it
blinded them to the dark jungle that surrounded them. This put
both pirates immediately on the alert. For a man who didn’t like
to draw attention, Carmine seemed to be doing his best to be
found by anyone curious about the blaze.
“Stay sharp, Mr. Grimm. This doesn’t feel right.”
“Aye, Captain, it doesn’t.”
Their contact soon showed himself along with a couple of burly
men, presumably his bodyguards. “I see you didn’t bring that
brat with you this time.”
Vik kept his voice and face neutral. “Considering how well you
two get along, I thought it best.”
“Who is this?” Carmine pointed at Grimm.
“My second mate.”
The smuggler persisted. “I thought as much, Brandee, but I’d
like to know his name. I want to know the people I’m dealing
“Will it make this deal go more quickly?” Vik sighed. Grimm
noted his captain attempting to hide his growing irritation.
Carmine was stalling, which was not a good sign. It meant either
he didn’t have the item, or this was a trap.
“Fine. Carmine Fuentez, meet Hezekiah Grimm.”
The smuggler visibly paled. “The Grimm Reaper. I’d heard rumors
he was sailing with you.”
It came as no surprise that Grimm’s reputation frightened the
smuggler more than Viktor’s did. The second mate had been
pirating longer than the pirate captain. Plus, Hezekiah was
nearly thirty, an age few pirates lived to see, whereas Viktor
was only twenty-two.
The information made Carmine nervous enough to spring his trap
prematurely. “They’re here! Take them now!”
Vik and Grimm immediately bolted for the darkness of the jungle.
They had purposely hung back from the fire, just in case
something like this happened. There was much cursing as their
would-be captors had to change course to pursue them. The two
pirates knew they’d been lucky to pick a spot that hadn’t been
closed in yet, but they also knew their luck might not hold out.
“Split!” Vik ordered as they ran. Grimm veered off away from
The younger pirate’s luck soon ran out, however. His wounded leg
betrayed him; some of the stitches popped loose, and the wound
tore wider due to his exertion. The leg collapsed under him. His
pursuers were on him in seconds and tossed a snare net over him
to prevent him from fighting back.
One of them cudgeled him, and he lost consciousness.
Grimm managed to elude the hunters chasing him. Only two had
followed. The rest had gone after Brandee. He knew his captain
had been captured. He’d heard the shout of the young man’s
Once sure his own pursuers had left off the chase, he circled
back to the meeting point and hid in the shadows. He did this
for two reasons: One, Vik Brandee had earned his loyalty. Even
though the man was younger than him by several years, he had
proved the best pirate captain Grimm had ever served under. Two,
the hunters probably had someone watching their boat in the
hopes of catching him as well.
Grimm kept his guard up to ensure no one crept up on him, and
watched the encampment. Carmine had six men with him. Clearly,
he’d underestimated the two pirates. If Brandee hadn’t been
injured, they wouldn’t have caught him. Grimm listened to the
pirate hunters and quickly formed a plan.
Grimm had been right. They’d left one man to watch the ketch.
Grimm slipped into the water several yards upstream from the
boat. He’d blackened his face with river mud so he wouldn’t be
easily seen in the water. Just as he’d figured, the guard
watched the jungle, not the river. He climbed into the boat
silently and crept toward the man.
The hapless pirate hunter never even saw the blade that slit his
Grimm stripped the body of weapons and valuables, then hid to
the side of the path. “Hurry!” he shouted. “I’ve got him!”
Soon, two more hunters ran crashing through the jungle. They
stopped short at the sight of their partner’s body. It was all
the distraction Grimm needed. He skewered one and shot the other
in the head before either could react. He quickly retreated to
the shadows and made his way back to the encampment. He knew the
gunshot would draw the others.
Once he returned to the campfire, where Vik was being held, he
saw that all but Carmine had gone to help at the boat. He also
saw that Vik was awake, but seemed to be feigning
unconsciousness. His captors had made the mistake of tying his
hands in front of him.
Carmine smiled down cruelly at his captive. He muttered to
himself as he grabbed Vik’s trousers by the waistband and pulled
them to his knees. “I’d hoped for a shot at that whelp you call
first mate, but you’re still young enough and pretty enough to
suit my tastes.”
He dropped his own trou and started working himself erect, his
attention focused solely on his victim’s ass.
Slowly enough to not draw attention, Vik eased his hands up to
his head. He managed to slip out the knife he always kept at the
nape of his neck, hidden under his hair, unnoticed.
Grimm deliberately entered the clearing on the other side of his
captain from their betrayer.
The fool still thought Vik was out of it and started to step
over him. He began to raise his weapon, but never got it
leveled. Brandee stabbed upward and caught him in the inner
thigh close to the groin. Carmine let out a strangled scream
when Brandee twisted the blade to slice open the femoral artery.
Grimm moved quickly to them and kicked the weapon out of the
dying man’s hand. He then buried his own blade under Carmine’s
The traitorous smuggler collapsed. Blood burbled from his mouth
and nose and spurted from his leg—in time with his slowing
heartbeat. As the flow slowed, his eyes glazed. Within minutes,
he lay dead.
Meanwhile, Grimm helped his captain get free of his bonds.
Brandee quickly pulled his trousers back up, but had trouble
standing. The bandages on his wound had soaked through with
fresh blood from the torn stitches.
“Do you think you can walk?”
“Aye. It hurts, but it still works. I just won’t be able to run
or move fast,” Vik replied. “We need to get into the jungle
before they come back.”
Grimm nodded. “There are only four left. I killed three by the
“I like those odds.”
By morning, the remaining hunters were dead. The two pirates
were back on their ketch and making plans to acquire what they’d
thought to get from Carmine. It ended up costing much less,
since they found a place to just steal it.
The real hold up on their return to the ship was finding a
decent physician to treat Vik’s leg wound. The infection had
reached the point that Vik feared he might lose the leg after
Grimm didn’t really trust physicians in general. He’d seen too
many good sailors butchered by them.
They were three days from the nearest port when the fever took
Viktor. Grimm knew his captain’s life hung in the balance, but
he had favorable winds to speed them to the one person who might
be able to save both Vik’s leg and his life.
Mother Celie always seemed to know when her adopted son would
visit. Grimm wasn’t a superstitious man, but even he had to
admit there was something uncanny about the old woman who had
raised Vik Brandee.
“You got him here just in time, Hezekiah.” She frowned at Vik’s
swollen leg as she spoke. “Now shoo. Go swap lies with old Billy
Black. This boy is going to need a month to heal enough to
He obeyed but made a point to come check on his captain’s
progress every day. Finally, the old swamp witch declared the
boy healthy, she was sick of the sight of both of them, and
wanted them out of her hut.
They eventually made it back to their ship. As agreed, Grimm
never discussed where they had been or what had happened, nor
Back to Black Venom
Once Upon a Tide . . .
The words struck the woman almost as forcefully as her husband’s
open palm. She stumbled to the floor from the blow, stunned more
by the accusation.
“I have been nothing but faithful to you, Nolan. How can you
call me that?” she protested.
He raised his hand again, causing her to wince. The two young
boys cowering in the corner ran to their mother. The younger one
buried his face in her shoulder. The older one hugged her from
the other side, glaring up at his father.
“You’re a liar and a harlot,” Nolan spat at her. “I’ve seen how
that rogue, Tucker, comes sniffing around here when I’m off on
my business. I have more eyes than just the two in my head,
Beulah, and I’m no fool.”
Her own temper flared. “I never said you were, Nolan; but you
are acting like one if you think I’d ever have anything to do
with that low creature. The way he looks at me makes my skin
He backhanded her, splitting her lip. “A pretty lie, that. I
confronted the bastard. Not only did he admit having you, he
told me how you’ve been bedding men from the docks for years.”
“That’s not true! Mr. Tucker is a liar! He should never have
said those things about Mama!” the older boy yelled.
Nolan jabbed a warning finger at his son. “Shut it, Britt. Get
away from that whore and get your things. Now, boy!”
“You can’t take my sons!” Beulah cried.
The scorn and hatred on his face made her flinch. “I am only
taking my son, slut. You can keep your little bastard there.” He
pointed his chin at the younger boy. “I know Britt’s mine. You
were at least virgin when we wed. As for that one, how do I know
he’s mine or not? He could be anyone’s.”
“You are Jimmy’s father, Nolan. I swear I have never been with
another man. I don’t know what evil has poisoned you against me,
but please don’t take it out on the children.” Her voice shook
“Be silent!” He struck her again, this time hard enough to knock
her against the wall. Her head caught the corner of a shelf, and
she crumpled like a rag doll, blood pouring from her scalp.
Both boys screamed for their mother.
Nolan reached down and grasped Britt by the arm, yanking him
away from his mother and brother. When Jimmy reached for Britt,
their father shoved him back. He stumbled and landed on his
mother, who didn’t respond.
Within the hour, father and eldest son packed their things and
abandoned the small house, the only home either boy had ever
Two days later, Joseph Tucker came to call on Beulah Westin. He
was sure Nolan was gone, probably for good by this time, and was
prepared to play the part of comforter to the heartbroken woman.
He knew it had been his lies that drove her husband away, but he
had a fresh set of lies to feed her that would convince her of
his innocence in the matter.
When she didn’t answer the door, he eased it open and went in.
He got no response. The house was filled with a foul odor, and
he could hear a whimper from the next room. What he saw when he
entered sickened him.
Beulah lay on the floor, a congealed, blackened puddle of blood
around her head, her body swollen and blown by flies. Her
younger son, Jimmy, sat next to her, swatting at the flies.
The child looked pale and gaunt, almost on the verge of
collapsing. Tucker must have made some noise. The boy looked up
with lost and haunted eyes.
“Mr. Tucker? Can you help? Mama won’t get up. I think she’s
sick. I’m hungry.”
Dear God, what have I done? he thought.
“Mr. Tucker?” the boy asked again.
The only answer he got was the sight of the man running from the
room to retch.
Belladonna paused as she passed Mr. Grimm’s cabin aboard the
pirate ship Incubus. The siren had been on her way to the deck,
when the sound of retching caught her attention. It was not a
sound she was accustomed to hearing from the first mate’s cabin.
A short time later, Brianna Belmont, the young Frenchwoman
Hezekiah Grimm had claimed as his share of a prize they’d taken
a few months before, emerged carrying a full chamber pot and
looking a little green around the gills. She stopped short when
she noticed the siren standing there.
“From the look on your face, I would say it is not such a good
day,” Belle commented.
Brianna shook her head. “Non, this mal de mare plagues me in the
The siren sniffed the air around the woman; then she smiled
wryly. “You are not seasick. You are pregnant. Does Mr. Grimm
“Pregnant?” What looked like panic began to shine in her eyes.
“The usual way, I imagine; and I take it by your reaction that
he does not know. You need to tell him. I would also suggest you
pay a visit to Dr. Coffin, even though I don’t think much of
these human healers.”
Brianna seemed to be in shock still. She set the chamber pot
down next to the bulkhead. When she straightened back up, her
face grew pasty and her eyes went glassy. It was the only
warning the siren had that the woman was going to faint.
Belle just managed to catch her before she could collapse to the
deck. It was one of those times she was grateful she wasn’t
human. Easily lifting the unconscious woman, she carried her
back into the cabin and laid her on the bed.
As she made sure Brianna was comfortable, she reached out along
the mental link she shared with the living vampire she called
Captain, Viktor Brandewyne. Captain, let Mr. Grimm know he needs
to come check on his woman. Send Dr. Coffin down, as well.
Belle hoped this wouldn’t prove to be too much of an
interruption of Viktor’s quest to locate the Sisters of Power.
He still had three of the seven to deal with, and not even the
old wizard on Hell’s Breath Island, Zeke, knew how much time the
vampire had before the curse that had transformed him would
destroy him. His survival hinged on finding them and earning
portions of their power.
Belle wanted him to avoid that fate as much as he did. The magic
that bound her to him notwithstanding, she had grown to love him
as much as a near-immortal siren could love a
Hezekiah Grimm and Matthew Coffin arrived at about the same
time. Belladonna was wiping Brianna’s face with a damp cloth.
Before either man could ask any questions, the woman awoke and
clutched the siren’s wrist.
“Is the bébé all right?”
“Baby?” Grimm echoed, stunned.
Belle nodded. “Yes.”
Grimm knelt beside the bed and took the rag from the siren. “I
knew you hadn’t been feeling well the past few mornings, Brie. I
had no idea. I thought it was just the food not agreeing with
“That may be all it is, Mr. Grimm,” the doctor said. “Nausea is
not exclusive to pregnancy.”
Belle stood and leaned against the bulkhead. She knew the woman
was pregnant, but she also knew Dr. Coffin was not about to take
her word for it.
He proceeded to ask Brianna, “Do you remember when your last
monthly course was?”
“Doctor!” Grimm protested such a personal and blunt question.
“It is a necessary question, Mr. Grimm, I assure you. Unless
something is wrong with either mother or child, it is usual for
her moon blood to cease until after delivery.”
Brianna rested one hand on her belly and grasped Grimm’s hand in
her other. “It is so hard to keep track of time on this ship,”
she replied, “but I think it has been over a couple of months. I
just didn’t pay it much mind.”
“Have you been craving unusual foods?”
“Non; lately the very thought of food sickens me.”
“That will change before long.” Belle spoke up. “They are going
to be hungry.”
“They?” Brianna questioned.
Simultaneously, Grimm asked, “How many children is she
Coffin protested, “We still don’t know if she really is
pregnant, Belladonna. The evidence is purely circumstantial.”
The siren fixed him with an emotionless stare, making him
nervously back up a pace. “Keep in mind, Dr. Coffin, that I am
not human. I have senses you could barely comprehend. Her scent
tells me she is pregnant. The human female body undergoes
unmistakable changes to harbor new life.”
“Very well,” he ceded.
“Belle,” Grimm drew her attention. “You said, they. How many?”
“Mademoiselle Belmont is carrying twins, Mr. Grimm: one male,
one female,” she answered.
Brianna adapted quickly to the news. She seemed happy, but also
nervous and uncertain. “What magic did you use to divine that,
The siren smiled. “No magic. As a sea creature, I am able to use
sound to see things. There are small sensory organs at the
corners of my eyes, too small for you to see, but much more
sensitive than human ears. Just as I can scream at levels that
can destroy a human mind, I can emit sounds too low or too high
for a human to hear. Underwater, it allows me to locate prey by
the echoes. In your case, it enables me to see into your womb.
There are two infants forming. The variation in your scent tells
me you carry both male and female.”
Coffin sounded intrigued. “So, it is a natural ability. You are
a fascinating creature, my dear. Perhaps we can talk sometime
about internal anatomy. I always thought I could be a better
doctor if I could just understand better the inner workings of
“An interesting proposal, Doctor. I will think about it, but for
now, I need to hunt.” She dismissed herself.
After giving general advice to avoid anything strenuous and to
eschew restrictive garments, Dr. Coffin excused himself, as
Back to Hell's Dodo
The Daedalus Enigma
Once Upon a Tide…
A pregnant woman lay in the muck of a back alley in a small
village. Torchlight flickered over her supine form and
illuminated the bright blood erupting from her torn throat. The
red, pulsing fountain pooled and mingled with her equally red
A hooded and cloaked figure held the torch and leaned over to
examine a dusty pile next to the dying woman. Light rain began
to fall which caused the torch to gutter for a moment. The rain
coupled with the blood gradually turned the dust, or more
accurately ash, to mud. As it did, four elongated sharp teeth
emerged to gleam in the torchlight.
“Interesting,” the hooded female said. “The fangs survived.”
She started a bit when the dying woman grasped her ankle. “Damn!
You aren’t dead yet?”
“B-belladonna, help m-m-meee.” The woman’s voice came in a faint
Belladonna shook her grip loose and stepped back out of reach.
Even though she could see the blood flow slow, the prone woman’s
grip had been strong. “You should not have come to my territory,
sister. I have always been free. I don’t need your mate here.
You knew he would follow you.”
“Won’t . . . leave . . . because . . . I’m . . . dead.”
“We’ll see, Marala.”
Silence reigned as Belladonna watched her sister die. Finally,
the blood flow stopped completely.
Belladonna shoved the lit end of the torch into the muck and
left it there. Along her walk through the village back to the
seashore, she dropped her cloak on the ground, as well. She
walked naked to the end of a pier and dove into the salty water.
Within moments her legs transformed to a shark-like tail, and
she headed for the open sea.
Storms raged from one end of the Mediterranean to the other for
seven months straight. Hurricane force winds crushed any ships
that ventured forth. Enormous maelstroms formed where none had
been before, and tidal waves drowned coasts which had always
enjoyed moderate weather in the past.
Sirens did battle.
The male took the form of a great sea dragon. He raged against
the female responsible for the murder of his mate. He cared
nothing for the death of his unborn offspring, however. The
three before it had been male, and he had slaughtered them at
birth. He only cared about the pleasure his mate could give him.
Human females always seemed too fragile to him, although he
found their flesh quite flavorful. They rarely survived long
into the mating. Their bodies took too much damage well before
he felt ready to finish.
No, only a female siren could hold her own with a male in the
He determined he would have the one who’d stolen his mate from
him. First he would punish her insolence; then he would make her
his new mate.
Belladonna took to land to avoid her foe. Although he could take
human form as well, she knew the transformation took him
considerably longer. She hoped to have time to hide.
She didn’t anticipate the ambush. Five female vampires, all over
two centuries old, pounced on her faster than she could react.
She fought against them; a few gained vicious slashes from her
talons. If there had been only two, or maybe three, she might
have escaped. The siren was a match for nearly any vampire in
strength and speed.
Apparently, her captors knew that and planned for it. They
subdued her by sheer numbers.
Belladonna shrieked: a shrill ultrasonic and subsonic blast of
sound. The vampires only hissed and growled. She realized then
that these creatures were not vulnerable to such an attack. Had
they been human, they would have been reduced to mindless meat
“Hold her steady!” A sixth vampire said as she stepped from the
shadows. Silently, the others obeyed. Belladonna found she could
The vampire stood before her and regarded her for some time
before she spoke again.
“You are the siren responsible for the deaths of two of my kind
seven months ago.”
“I needed them to kill my sister. She tried to hide from her
mate in my territory.”
“Siren blood is deadly to my kind.”
“I did not know that at the time.”
“And now that you know?”
Belle tried to shrug, but found the motion impossible while
still restrained. “It matters nothing to me.”
The vampire tilted her head and tapped her lower lip. “What to
do with you, then? We cannot drain you for obvious reasons. You
should be punished for your crime against vampires, yet . . .”
The siren held her silence. She allowed her muscles to go limp
in the hope it would lull her captors into believing she
accepted defeat. The ones who held her never moved or eased
“We will not kill you. You unintentionally did me a service.”
“Oh?” Belle said. “You have an odd way of showing gratitude.”
The vampire smiled. “You are an impressive predator; easily as
crafty as one of my own. What say you, sisters; shall we
initiate her into our sorority and make her a Daughter of the
Belladonna sneered. “I am already a Dragon’s Daughter.”
“Different type of dragon, siren,” another of the vampires said.
“I agree, sister; she should be one of us, since she did our
“Yes.” The other four agreed.
“So be it.” A small breeze buffeted them as she departed at
blinding speed. Moments later, she returned. In her hand, a
branding iron with an intricate serpentine design glowed bright
red, verging on white hot.
She bared her shoulder and showed the same pattern tattooed
there. “Our marks are tattoos, but I do not believe that method
would work on you. There is also the matter of capturing you
again every few decades to renew the ink. However, I do know
that your kind cannot fully heal from fire.”
Try as she might, Belladonna could not squirm away. “Hold her
firmly! I don’t want the pattern marred,” the lead vampire
The odor of burning flesh and screams of pain soon filled the
Hours later, the siren reached a secluded cove. The vampires had
released her and vanished back into the night shortly after
branding her. The burning pain on her shoulder blade made her
left arm useless. She knew salt water would ease the pain and
allow her to partially heal.
She also knew how dangerous it would be to enter the sea in her
vulnerable state. Her adversary would sense her current weakness
and use it to his advantage. The pain and wound severely
hampered her ability to defend herself.
Even this cove, far removed from any human habitation, felt too
At that thought, a thick fog formed at the mouth of the cove.
Belladonna eyed it with trepidation. Although she could do so,
she had not called it. She scented the air, but the magic did
not carry the flavor of the male she battled with.
Despite the aching pain in her shoulder it caused, she emitted a
subsonic thrum to feel what lay hidden by the strange fog.
Rather than a creature, the receptors in her sinuses told her a
landmass had appeared where none had been before.
This puzzled her. She’d never encountered a magic like it
before. She felt compelled to investigate.
To her relief, the blistered burn healed over to shiny scar
tissue the moment she immersed herself to swim to the island.
The fact she had to struggle with the swim frightened her,
however. For the first time in her existence, her body failed to
revert to its true form on contact with seawater. She didn’t
know if this was because of the unfamiliar magic or the fresh
burn. She’d never had a wound caused by fire before, either.
Finally, she floundered to the mysterious shore. It took her a
few moments to catch her breath: yet another new experience for
her. She began not to like new experiences.
She spotted a glow over a low rise. Even though it signified
fire, which raised an instinctive dread, she felt compelled to
go toward it.
What she saw over the rise and down in the bowl-like depression
made her try to turn around and flee. Some force held her in
place. An ancient, dark-skinned man sat on a rock near a
driftwood fire. He, too, seemed apprehensive about the flames.
“Come closer, girl,” the old man ordered. “We have to sort out
this little spat the two of you have been having,”
Belladonna shook her head. She moved her right hand to the new
scar and shot a fearful glance at the fire.
“You will not be harmed, Belladonna. Come here,” he said.
Against her will, she felt her feet move forward. Finally, she
stood by an adjacent rock to the one the old man sat on.
“How did you know my name? Why did you give it to him?” She
jabbed a finger toward the male siren standing opposite her.
“I am Zeke the Elder. I know quite a few things. If it will make
you feel any better, he is Xandricus.”
“You had no right to tell her that!” The male siren snarled.
“Quiet, you,” Zeke said. Xandricus opened his mouth to protest,
but no sound emerged. He extended talons. Zeke pointed a finger
at him. “Sit.” Xandricus dropped unceremoniously to a rock at
Belle took notice of the power display. She decided to be
cooperative. She sat on the rock near her without coercion. She
then turned a questioning look to the strange old wizard.
“Now then,” Zeke said, “you two have caused quite a bit of chaos
with your little lovers’ spat these past few months.”
“Pardon, Elder, but we are not lovers, nor have we ever been,”
He quirked up a corner of his mouth. “You speak respectfully,
Belladonna. You learn fast. I know you are not lovers. I even
know what caused this quarrel. However, I cannot allow it to
He turned his attention to Xandricus. “Withdraw your claws, sea
dragon. You have no need for them here.”
The male siren obeyed.
“You arrived here on Hell’s Breath first, so I will ask you
first what you will accept to end this feud.”
Xandricus glared at Belladonna. “She shall replace her sister as
my mate. She shall submit to me and cede her territory to me,”
he stated his demands.
“No.” Belle glared back at him. “I have always been free. I
intend to remain free.”
Zeke turned to her. “What will you accept to end this conflict?”
“He shall leave me and my territory in peace and never return.”
“Unacceptable,” Xandricus said. “My mate is dead because of
“That is not entirely true, sea dragon,” Zeke corrected. “Your
mate would not have entered her territory had you not
slaughtered each of your offspring upon birth. She tried to hide
to protect her unborn from you. Belladonna destroyed them both
in the hopes of driving you out of her territory.”
He turned his attention back to her. “Of course, that raises the
question:would he have left you in peace if you had turned your
sister over to him?”
She shook her head. “It is not in the nature of the males of our
species. He would have tried to make me part of his harem and
taken my territory. He would deal with any offspring in the same
manner: if it were male, slaughter; if female, potential incest
once she reached sexual maturity.”
“Do you deny this statement, Xandricus?”
“It is my right as Dragon.”
Zeke stared into his fire for several minutes. When he spoke, it
held a tone of finality. “This is my decision. Belladonna shall
cede her territory to Xandricus. He shall be bound to that
territory and shall not expand it further.”
Xandricus grinned and eyed Belle with a proprietary leer. His
expression soon changed, however.
Zeke continued, “Belladonna shall retain her freedom and not
return to her territory.”
Xandricus frowned, but said, “Very well, I accept.”
“I do not!”
“You have no more say in the matter, either of you,” Zeke
The fog manifested and obscured everything from sight. Just as
quickly, it cleared. Xandricus no longer could be seen.
Zeke looked square at Belladonna. She fumed, but held her
silence. She had not forgotten how powerful he was.
“You have your freedom, for now, siren,” he said. “Do not bemoan
the loss of your territory. The Mediterranean is small compared
to the oceans.”
“And if I try to reclaim it?”
“If you return to your old territory to reclaim it, you shall
fall prey to Xandricus and be bound to him until his death. I
will not permit the chaos the two of you caused to happen
“But I am free to swim and hunt in any other sea or ocean?”
She tilted her head. “Very well.” She turned to walk away.
“Not so fast, girl; I’m not through with you.”
She turned, but wasn’t quite able to hide her snarl of
frustration. “You said I had my freedom.”
“For now,” he added the qualifier. “A day will come—I don’t know
when—that you will bind yourself to a male and will be bound to
him for the rest of your life, or his.”
She sneered. “I have no intention of ever doing that, and if I
ever find myself in that trap, I’ll just make sure his life ends
He chuckled at her. When his laughter wound down, he said, “You
say that now; but you’ll sing a different tune when you finally
meet the One. Now, let me see that nasty burn those vixens gave
Obediently, but to her puzzlement, she turned to show him the
brand. She felt an odd tingle as he waved his hand over it.
“What did you do?”
“Although it will feel like it, I did not remove it. I hid it.
No one needs to know about it.”
Before she could thank him, the fog manifested. When it cleared,
she found herself alone in an unknown body of water. To her
relief, her tail formed immediately.
She quickly dismissed the old wizard’s forewarning. She would
worry about that when the time came, if it came. For now, she
needed to hunt.
Back to The Daedalus Enigma