THE SEA WASP, by Robert Rhodes:

An hour after sunset, I lingered by the ship’s rail.  The eastern sky had long since blackened, but in the distance, the King’s Lantern burned like a star trapped in mid-fall.  Tomorrow would bring us to the coast of Armitane and into Port Royal, the brightest and loudest of cities, the city I once called home.

With my arms folded on the sun-bleached wood, I let my mind wing across the dark sea until buildings of ivory stone ascended from Crown Harbor like the tiers of a majestic theatre.  At once came the bluster of haggling and the bells of harlequins.  Arch-framed fountains glittered in the courts of the Scriptorium, and the air was fragrant with wine, smoked fish, and cinnamon fry-bread.

Too late, I smelled sweat and leather and winced as two thick fingertips pinched my earlobe. Sistarl grunted and slapped the rail.  “Take a good look, boy.  This’s as fine a view as you’ll be getting.”

I bowed my head.  “Yes, captain.”

The men of Guelon are known for their height, especially in Cape Mourning; but even in his birth-town, Sistarl Gorgonil would have been a giant.  His shoulders and thighs supplied his frame with stores of muscle, and though forty-odd summers and a lust for rum and salt-pork had swollen his gut, he was easily the strongest man onboard.

“At sunrise, take your bread and go below deck.”  He stroked his bristling, tawny beard.  “Stay down till she’s in open water again.  Two days, likely three.  Long enough to sell our cargo and pick up new.  Understand?”

“Yes, captain.”  I nodded to double my acquiescence.  Strong men braved the seas in droves, but Sistarl also owned a mind keen as a gutting-knife.  He knew when to bribe a dockmaster and when to insult a loafing crewman or hand him over to Pierce for something worse.  The past two days, I’d avoided Sistarl as best I could, dreaming he’d overlook me in the chaos of shore-leave and trading.  Outside of my dreams, though, Sistarl missed nothing.

And perhaps desperation gleamed in my eyes, for he bent lower and said, “Good.  Do not think of escaping or crying out once she’s in port.”  He grinned, his teeth a yellowed scythe-blade in his beard.  “The men’ve grown fond of our living charm.  And I swear by the Wild Ones, cross me and you’ll answer to Pierce.”

Sistarl clapped my shoulder and lumbered past the mast-lantern.  Again I lamented how the Creator had colored my eyes.  In Port Royal, strangers simply blinked at the blue of my left eye and the green of my right; and during my first days in the Scriptorium, my peers placed mock bets as to whether I was the bastard of an illuminator, harlequin, or both.  (Neither, and my parents toiled long to pay my apprentice-fee.)

But nine months ago, bound and gagged in Sistarl’s cabin, I discovered blue meant fair sailing and green safe return to Guels who worshipped the Wild Ones.  And when he passed me in the harbor district that midsummer afternoon, Sistarl noticed not only my eyes but also my ink-stained fingers and apprentice’s habit.  I was none the wiser, though, when the grinning giant took my elbow and said, “Pardon, young master, but there’s an old book on my ship I can’t fathom.  Do you think you could . . .”

A gold crown between his thumb and forefinger eclipsed his next words — a bait for greed as well as vanity.  Time and again I’ve answered since, Of course, Captain.  Please bring it to the Scriptorium later . . . or bolted into the nearest tavern, shop, or any other place where someone might protect me.  If only I had done the latter.  If only I hadn’t lost the music of Port Royal, its sunlit fountains, its lamplit books, and the comfort of my parents’ home.

I sobbed for these things my first nights on the Sea Wasp and begged for my freedom, but Sistarl shook his shaven head.  What were a plump boy’s tears beside the fury of Karn Stormfist or the hunger of Xavus, ruler of the sunless deep, master of Xuverec, and lord of the drowned?  (Did Sistarl fear the gods of Guelon?  Regardless, most of his crewmen did.)

I gave the King’s Lantern a last look before quitting the rail.  Once more, I thought of mounting it and plunging into the darkness, but cowardice halted me.  I climbed into my hammock near the mizzen-mast and listened to the whine and whisper of rigging and sail, the flow and slap of water against the hull.  Yet I remembered Port Royal in sunlight, my mum and dad who surely thought me dead . . .

And before I slept, as on my first nights aboard, I wiped drops of the sea from my eyes.

* * *

I woke from a nightmare of the Scriptorium, its arches shattered and veiled in fog.  The moon, round as a noblewoman’s mirror, had risen high, and beyond its ghostly halo blazed countless stars.  In the West knelt the Angel of Sorrows with her bowed wings and three gleaming tears, shed for those lost in water and war.  The crewmen, however, knew her as the Scarred Queen, who had watched from an ancient tower while her husband beheaded her lover and who had flayed her own face, slice by slice, with a shard of crystal.  A Guel looking heavenward thus would see, instead of tears, three drops of defiant blood; and in that one small imagining somehow lay all the difference between Guelon and Armitane — now and likely forever.

But my bladder ached, so I shook my mind free of dreams and starlit tales.  I touched my feet to the cool planks, padded to the rail, and began unlacing my breeches.

When I saw a shadow on the moonlit sea.  A shadow that, as it drifted into a wash of moonlight, became a skiff of sleek black wood.  I knew it — what else could it be? — as a funeral-craft of the Forbidden Isles, yet it wasn’t the skiff itself that turned my skin to gooseflesh.  Rather within, where in tales traditionally reposed grey-bearded kings or wave-knights in glistening armor of shell and steel, I beheld a girl with long, pale hair.

Like the silvered waves, one-hundred questions dazzled my mind.  Who was she?  How had she died?  And when, to have floated so far?  But in an instant, silver faded beside gold — a girdle of golden links, a tiara, and on the breast of her black gown, in hands smooth as ice, a scepter studded with jewels.

At that moment, her funeral-craft became my hope.  My greed had trapped me on the Sea Wasp; Sistarl’s could set me free.  I scrambled down the closest ladder and ran through the dark passage to his cabin door.  Just as I raised my fist, a palm clamped onto my mouth, and the cold edge of a blade crossed my throat.

“What shite you about, piglet?” Pierce hissed into my ear.  Her breath was rum-spiked and hot.  I knew the She-Wasp slept little, but to meet her here?  I trembled and bemoaned my black luck.  “You ought to be deep in the dream-sea.  Up to rob the captain?  Up to kill him?”  She pressed the knife until my flesh stung.  “Talk quick,” she said as her palm loosened.

“In the water!” I blurted.  “Tell the captain!  Boat — a boat with gold!”

The corridor tilted, and I fell against a wall, my cheek burning from a backhanded slap.  My shirt tightened, its collar clenched in her fist.

“Fool piece of shite!  Wake up!  Boat of gold?  Ha!”  Flecks of spittle struck my forehead.  “What — Xavus just floated one up from his bunghole?”  She released my shirt, shoving me toward the ladder and moonlit hatch.  “Move!  If I see your hammock bare again . . .”

I should’ve been halfway up the ladder then, or when she pretended to draw the knife across her neck and mimicked a death-rattle.  Instead I swallowed and held my ground.

“I — I wasn’t dreaming.  It’s a funeral craft from the Black Isles, just like in the stories.  I saw an illumination once in a book in the — ”

In the Scriptorium, I tried to say before she grabbed my shirt again, but this time she also kicked out my legs.  When I opened my eyes, her leathery face and knife-cropped hair filled them, and in her dark, devouring pupils, I saw my mistake.

Pierce had reasons for despising me.  I was worth little as a deckhand, but the colors of my eyes harbored me from the Wild Ones’ wrath — so the crewmen believed — and thus from the fullness of hers.  Good reasons, but small beside the one of which I’d just reminded her.  I, unlike Pierce, could read.

And in her eyes and lips, in the flaring of her nostrils, I saw murder.  Pierce was steel-cored bone and whipcord muscle; she could hurl my body over the rail, and the cold shard of her heart would never twitch.  Blood throbbed in my ears, and my still-full bladder spasmed.  But she whipped her head around as Sistarl’s voice filled the corridor.


She growled and loosed my shirt, letting the back of my head thud against the floor.  Then she stood and told Sistarl how she’d caught me sneaking into his cabin.  Which led to me sitting against the ladder and describing the skiff again; but without Pierce’s knife at my throat, I named the treasures and ended, “It’s passing us now, captain!  Please believe me . . .”

Sistarl grunted, stroked his beard, and nodded at the hatch.  “Let’s have a look.”

Had I dreamed it after all? I wondered as I climbed the ladder between Pierce and Sistarl.  I offered a silent prayer to the Creator and led them to the rail.  Sistarl said nothing.  Pierce’s raw-boned cheeks shifted as she gritted her teeth.

Not only was the skiff real, it would soon pass behind us.  Sistarl sent Pierce to rouse the closest man, and he the others, and presently all gathered by the rail — scarred and tattooed, shirtless or shirts stained, scratching and grumbling.  Their bleary eyes narrowed at me, then widened when they saw the skiff.  At once the air writhed as their fingers traced or curled into crescent moons, rams’ horns, self-devouring serpents, and other wards against evil and death.

Most of the crewmen stepped back from the rail and turned away from the skiff, muttering to let it pass.  Pierce spat and stalked past them, jabbing chests and glaring into swiftly-lowered eyes.  Jarus, one of the oldest sailors, held her gaze a moment too long, and she grabbed his matted grey mane and thrust downward with such force that he cried out and fell to a knee.  (Jarus had broken his shoulder and hip in a fall long ago, and his bones could sense approaching storms.  Pierce surely remembered this; it was her way to make a man suffer for the smallest weakness.)

Sistarl’s voice boomed over the deck then.  “A quarter of the selling price for the man who brings up the treasures — and a share for the rest of the crew!”  But even as he said this, his huge hand sweeping toward the skiff as if it were only a wayward keg of rum, his eyes locked onto me.

There was a breath of moonlit silence as the crewmen’s minds, like moneychangers’ scales, weighed the offer against the cost of spiting the dead.  Jarus was first to shake his head; he warned the others to leave the girl in peace, and the men beside him nodded.  Another began babbling about a sorcery that swallowed ships, prompting two of his friends to point at each other and name the tavern in Cold Harbor where they’d heard the same tale from a stone-sober mapmaker.  The mention of whom, a man of parchment and ink, at last tore a curse from Pierce’s throat and a curved knife from her belt.  She hissed at them and swept the blade toward the skiff as if to dapple the girl with blood.

“Fart-sucking bitches!  Worthless smears of shite!  I’ll go then.”  She set the knife between her teeth and was reaching for the rail when Sistarl spoke again.

“And we know you would, Pierce.  More times than we could say, you’ve shown the winter sea’s in your blood — is your blood.  But there’s no need tonight, not — ” his hands clamped onto my shoulders like a stockade ” — when one of the gods-marked can go instead.”

I’d expected Sistarl to decide as much, but his words chilled me nonetheless, as did the contortions of Pierce’s face as she spat out her knife and jammed it into the rail.  She mocked me and the gods with equal venom, and in their subdued fashion, the crewmen protested her words and my election.  But Sistarl had given the order; and after a succession of dreamlike moments, I dropped, naked, into the cold and glittering sea.

I clenched a sack in one hand, and as I panted and treaded water beside the ship, someone threw down the end of a long, rough rope.  This I grasped with my other hand before turning toward the skiff.  I swam on my belly with my face in the salt air, my arms and legs sweeping away the water, gliding with an ease I could hardly have managed before my abduction.  I, once a plump apprentice whose fondest pleasures were books and fry-bread, never suspected that a ship’s waif lived inside me, save for my nimble fingers once-stained with ink and honey.

As I swam, I used the cover of the moonlit waves to relieve my bladder.  The water near my hipbones warmed before I moved forward and the insatiable coldness returned.  Soon enough, my knuckles touched the skiff, and my heart jumped.  Once I knew I still lived — “Up, boy!  Up!” Sistarl’s voice carried over the water — I draped the wet sack and the rope over the skiff’s slim rail.  A hand on each, I held my breath and pushed.

With a splash, I tumbled into the skiff.  It lurched and spun, though not as much as it should have, I thought.  Its wood was smooth as fine-blown glass against my ribs, though iron-hard and neither warm nor cool.  It simply was.

I turned my head, and my nose almost grazed a black slipper, embroidered with golden thread.  My breath burst out, and I scrabbled onto my knees, turning awkwardly so as not to touch it.  With my feet apart, I gained my balance — easier again than I’d have thought — and stared down at the girl.

She was close to my own age of fifteen summers, perhaps one fewer.  On the Sea Wasp, I’d supposed her hauntingly fair, but she was not.  Her lips were thin, her nose broad, and she must have been at least a fortnight dead.  I tried to pretend she was only sleeping, but her pallor and complete stillness thwarted me.  Decay had not touched her, though, and her long hair was glorious with moonlight.  Moreover, she was the first girl before whom I’d been naked, and while my body shivered above the midnight sea, my face smoldered as below a desert sun.

I fastened the rope in a simple anchor hitch to the skiff’s prow, where the rails met below a carven osprey, then crept forward to lean over the girl. A seeming eon later, I eased the scepter from her hands and shoved it into the sack along with her girdle and tiara.  My heart pounded as I knotted the sack, and my mouth felt lined with ashes — because I had robbed a dead girl, a daughter of a realm notorious for its sorcery and contempt for outsiders.  But not only that.

The moment to win my freedom had come.

I drew myself up and faced the Sea Wasp.  A dull tumult arose from the ship — the men wondering why I was breaking from Sistarl’s orders, which were to wind the rope around my waist and let them reel me back.  Instead, I shivered and swallowed, trying to find my voice.  My plan, such as it was, consisted of shouting to Sistarl and having him swear by all the Wild Ones that he’d release me in Port Royal.  If he refused, I’d threaten to drop the sack into the deep.  And I, if it finally came to that . . . I didn’t dare imagine what would happen to me.

I outstretched my arm and held the sack above the water to convey, I hoped, the gravity of my demand.  Though when I opened my lips, I was startled to hear not my voice but, from inside the sack, a sharp whining like the anger of a sorcerer’s hornet crafted from slivers of jet.  I stared dumbly at the sack, as if it were hanging from a harpoon instead of my living arm, while my mind juggled its poor choices like a harlequin’s torches — to drop the sack, open it, or toss it at the girl and swim madly for the ship?

The sorcery of the Forbidden Isles chose for me.  The whining peaked in a pulse of shattering glass — a cry like the yelp of a mongrel bitch gutted with a white-hot knife or the keening of a newly damned soul.  I gasped and covered my ears, a reaction that dumped the sack at my feet.  An instant later, I tasted salt and copper, and when my fingertips touched my nostrils, they came away stained with the ink of my blood.

“Pull!  Pull me in, you mangy curs!” I screamed at the Sea Wasp.  I grabbed and waved the rope also, for I could hear nothing save a distant droning.  Someone had heard me, though, because the rope soon grew taut and rose from the sea, and I wound it around my forearms, clutching it with both hands, as the skiff glided toward the ship.

When the prow bumped the side of the ship, I feared the men would haul me into the air, scraping my body against the hull.  Instead, a rope ladder tumbled into the skiff, and I gripped the sack and climbed.  The droning filled my ears and brain, and I crept haltingly from rung to rung, as if I might discover another escape ploy etched into the shadowed planks.  My original plan was ruined, but whatever happened, this I knew:  I could not lose control of the sack.

The crewmen, their lips moving silently — the droning in my ears drowned out their voices — in panicked faces, helped me over the rail and wound up the rope ladder, and Jarus and his young cousin, Marne, stood by with my clothes and a leather jack filled with rum.  Sistarl also loomed near, of course, with Pierce scowling beside him; and as soon as my feet were aboard, he opened his huge hand to relieve me of the sack.

Something in my mind burst then, as a lantern might break and expose the flame within.  I jerked the sack to my chest, waved away Sistarl’s hand, and let words pour from my mouth.  Because of the droning, I could hear it only in my mind — that is, the tale I was spinning of the girl’s spirit.  Who, I revealed, had spoken to me of the Wild Ones’ displeasure at their marked one’s — my — imprisonment.  Who promised the Wild Ones’ wrath would destroy the Sea Wasp unless her burial treasures remained in my hands and unless I were freed tomorrow.  And finally, who gave me a bitter kiss — I indicated the bloodstain above my mouth — and keened a “Farewell!” so that no one would doubt the truth of her words.

Or, I prayed, of mine.  But Sistarl frowned as I spoke, his face cold as a gravestone, while Pierce’s glare and twitching hands racked me with waves of nauseating heat.  At last, Sistarl pursed his lips and nodded and waved his hand at Jarus and Marne.

“Get his breeches on then,” he told them, “unless you like his looks” — at which I blinked, not because of the captain’s words, but because I could hear them, faintly, below the droning.  So I laid the sack in my hammock, put on my clothes, and quaffed the rum so quickly that the ship and sky rocked and rocked around my lightened head.

For a moment, I worried the liquor had affected my hearing, for the droning began to crest again.  I shook my head and rubbed my ears with my fingertips, but it was even louder when I stopped . . . and Marne and Jarus were staring at me.

Jarus, Marne, and others had come, and my eyes turned to the sack, nestled in the web of my hammock like a devious spider, until a vile oath and the parting of crewmen drew them back.

Sistarl and Pierce broke through the gap.  The captain’s fists hung like mallets at his sides, and his features were still and dour, in stark contrast to Pierce’s knife and sinister grin.

“You tricksy little bilge rat,” said Sistarl.

I licked my lips and lowered my eyes, for as it had in the skiff, the whining from the sack intensified.  I feared it would soon peak and bloody my nose again or worse, so I took a breath and lunged.

My hand closed on the sack and flung it toward an open hatch, just as Pierce’s steel grip closed on my nape.  She twisted me, and her knife rose, a sharp silhouette against the moon.  But then the whining from the sack exploded.

And with it the sea.

That scream!  All the red-fanged nightmares of the world, if trapped in a sorcerer’s globe and shattered on cold marble, could never match the shrill fury of that scream.  And another, and another!

I lay at Pierce’s feet on the pitching deck as the third scream echoed, trembling and blinking away tears.  Pierce’s eyes were enormous, her mouth dumbly open, and my gorge rose as she whispered, “Xuverec.

I stared at her, not turning, believing she’d finally plummeted from the cliff-edge of sanity.  But the ship lifted then dipped on a swell, and the crewmen yelled and scurried as in the fist of a storm.  I rolled onto my belly and stared.  I stared yet still saw nothing . . . save three fingers of darkness wherein it seemed the stars had been flayed from the night’s face.

And as the darkness writhed, my eyes beheld the horror.  Xuverec!  Never had I believed in Guelon’s Wild Ones, nor the serpent said to guard Xavus’ realm of the drowned — but there it was!  Black as the abyss, its three sleek heads towered above the waves, higher than the deck, on necks like the trunks of ancient yet impossibly pliant cedars.

I blinked, and stars reappeared where one head had been — a head that, before I blinked again, withdrew from the deck with a crewman shrieking in its jaws.  A severed arm spun and splashed into the silver-black waves.

I dove behind two lashed barrels of drinking water.  The deck became chaos, rocking and swarming with men.  In an instant, darkness devoured one from head to thigh, and his naked feet thrashed as the monster tore him from both his ship and life.

Then I saw the captain.  He stood behind the rail, legs braced, a rock among the rushing crewmen, with a harpoon readied in his fists.  Xuverec’s middle head coiled, and Sistarl drove the shaft upward to impale its throat or mouth — which never completed its strike.  Instead, it hovered over him and opened its jaws, bared its hideous fangs.  And screamed.

An eternity of rage in a single heartbeat — such was the power of its scream.  I slapped my hands over my ears and pinched my eyes shut.  When I opened them, the harpoon dropped from Sistarl’s hands, and he crumbled to the deck as if his bones had turned to milk.  He toppled with his face toward me, blood gushing from his nose, and when his cheek hit the planks, his eyes spurted loose from their sockets.

I doubled over and vomited between the barrels.  As I knelt, panting, a scream tore the air above me, lower than Xuverec’s but no less fierce.  I looked up to see Pierce twisting in the moonlight, swinging on a rope fastened near the crow’s nest, drawing a knife from her teeth even as she flew.  You fool! I thought as she neared the monster, for she had no hope of holding onto its writhing, glistening neck — no hope, but apparently no intention either.

Pierce arched her back and rammed her blade into the side of the middle neck.  She stretched and clamped her other hand onto the hilt, adding her full weight and strength to the force of her fall.  The blade sliced the black neck as Pierce slid toward the water, and she howled in triumph and lifted her face as if to meet the monster’s eyes.

“Drown yourself, you bloody shite-lick!” she yelled.  “Go tell your master I’ve a blade for his balls!  Tell Xavus — ”

But as the monster hissed and roared, its outer heads snapping the air around Pierce, the middle dove.  Its neck bowed toward the water, then whipped and flung Pierce high above itself.  Again the She-Wasp flew, twisting and howling amid the stars, and as she reached her zenith, I thought another knife glinted in her hand.

It glinted for only a moment.  One of Xuverec’s outer heads lunged and caught her legs even as the other engulfed her head and chest.  With a muffled rip, the heads flew apart.  And Pierce was gone.

I had no time, though, to imagine what curses she was spitting at Xavus’ lightless throne, for suddenly all of the monster’s heads fixed the Sea Wasp with a predatory glare.  Its maws tilted toward the moon, tainting the sky with a soul-chilling chorus of moans, before it vanished beneath the waves.  A spark of hope kindled in my heart, and I climbed to my feet behind the barrels, only to crash on my bottom as an impact shook every plank of the ship.

Men boiled onto the deck, rising from hiding places and hatches.  Jarus cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “It’ll break us apart!  Every man for himself — and beg peace from Xavus for our crime!”

He hurried to join others, struggling to board and lower the ship’s shore-boat, and I simply watched them.  For suddenly I understood.

I stumbled and slid toward the hatch near my hammock.  I climbed down the ladder, leaping from a middle rung and falling as the ship shuddered again from the monster’s assault.  Moonlight still clouded my vision; I could see nothing in the passageway — but I could hear the accursed sack.

I crouched and groped, snatched it and climbed back to the deck as its whining grew.  My fingers trembled and tugged to unknot the wet cloth, slipping as the ship shook again.  With a curse, I jerked it open and dumped the treasures on the planks.  The scepter fell last and rolled to reveal scarred golden hollows where two of its gems once shone — and another gem in which a sea-green rune was pulsing ever more quickly.  Its whining pierced my skull with needles of pain, and blood trickled into my nostrils.  I grabbed it and dashed toward the rail, cocking my arm with a desperate cry.

I meant to hurl it as far away as I could — till Xuverec’s heads burst from the sea, hissed and lunged at me with their wide, fanged maws!  And into the middle one I flung the scepter.

Its jaws snapped shut, and the gem exploded in a deadened pulse.  Xuverec’s middle head quivered and stretched toward the sky, an instant before the outer heads ripped open its throat.  Then they moaned and thrashed, churning the sea into foam.

The skiff raced down a frothing wave like a black leaf, the girl still resting within.  But the monster’s tail erupted from the water, slamming down beside the skiff and flinging her toward our ship.  My fingers gripped the rail, and below me, her pale hair darkened with water.

I stretched out my hand as if I could reach her, gasping as a wave drove my belly into the rail.  But the sea devoured her as an inkwell might consume a crystal of spun sugar, or an indescribable dream, and beyond my dreams, her face was lost.

Slowly the sea calmed, and I turned at the touch of a hand on my shoulder.  Jarus looked down at me and smiled; he eased himself onto a knee.

“Tobin, lad.” He nodded once and sighed.  “Well done. With Sistarl passing, I’m like to be captain now.  But if you ask me, ask all of us, we owe you a life-debt.”  He cocked his head toward the King’s Lantern, ever-glowing in the distance.  “I reckon then, Sea Lord, your command is to bring you home.”

I bit my lip and nodded, time and again, shivering with delight.  The light of the Lantern blurred in my eyes, and I remained by the rail, staring as it slowly brightened, until I finally hauled myself back to my hammock. For the last time aboard the Sea Wasp, I sank against the rough cords and slept, without dreams, as peacefully as the child I had forgotten.

* * *

Five years have passed since that bloody night.  The crewmen set me free in Port Royal, though not before helping me sell the girl’s tiara and girdle for a startling sum.

My parents wept and laughed to find me home, gasping at my coin-purse and the tales I told.  Days later, I returned to the Scriptorium and studied ardently there . . . and with other masters as well.

This evening, I am sailing on another ship and can see the indigo shadows of the Forbidden Isles in the distance.  Tomorrow, I’ll bid the ship farewell and row toward them.  For just as the plump apprentice knew nothing of the ship’s waif inside him, the waif suspected little of the young adventurer.

I am fluent now in four languages.  My cloak and boots are of quality, and at my side are a pouch containing cut amethysts and a rapier forged by Master Parr himself.  I know three distinct counterspells, a charm to purify saltwater, and another to blend silently into shadows.

I have learned much, most importantly how our imperfect bodies and choices often lead us into peril, and how our hope and courage may lead us out.  But I am going to the Isles to learn still more, to understand their people, funeral rites and sorceries, such as the aural runes that summon creatures — creatures and not mythical guardians — from the deep.  But foremost, I am going for one of the best and most discreet of all possible reasons.

I am going to learn the name of a girl.


Robert Rhodes is an attorney who lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and prosecutes child and elder abuse cases. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in several markets, including Black Gate. He has been named a finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest and is a guest lecturer at the Shared Worlds creative writing camp. He is also the author of the ongoing series “20 Heroes in 2010” at, and his essay “Servants of the Secret Fire: Why Fantasy & Science Fiction Matter” recently won second-place in Pyr’s fifth anniversary contest.

To learn more about Robert, please visit his website:

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