For potential Kickstarter backers, here’s an excerpt from On Discord Isle, my latest novel. Second in the Dawnhawk Trilogy, this scene takes place shortly after Captain Fengel and Natasha Blackheart have been marooned upon a jungle island to work out their differences. Naturally, this does not happen right away and after an initial spat over who go them thrown off the airship, Natasha has gone off to make a camp of her own…
The parrot was screaming again.
Natasha rolled over to glare at it. The motion made her shirt bunch uncomfortably between her body and the dusty earth. A root now stabbed at her ribs. She ignored these things to focus her hate upon the avian above her.
Die, damn you.
The creature was colorful. Its stumpy legs were a bright orange. The great over-sized beak was a soft butter yellow. Whenever it stretched, brilliant plumage stood out in a vibrant explosion made all the more intense by the soft green backdrop of the foliage.
But the bird was also loud.
It had a raucous, piercing cry that shattered any sense of peace in the jungle about her. Since just before dawn when she’d finally fallen asleep, it had sat in the canopy above Natasha’s head. Periodically it broke out into a harsh, ear-splitting racket, no doubt attempting to attract some tone-deaf mate.
Her father would have wanted to kill it. This would have been a rare point of agreement with the old bastard. Natasha fumbled for something to throw at the bird, fingers searching across the ash-dusted earth and finding nothing that she could use. Irritated, she rolled back over and glanced around her encampment. It was small and mean, positioned under the spreading branches of an ancient baobab. The tree had outfought all competitors, leaving the ground beneath it a bare clearing covered with deadfall and surrounded by the thick green jungle. Directly above, the branches were burned and bare of leaves. A slant of early morning light filtered in through this hole to brighten the space.
She grimaced as she took in the damage. Trying to make a fire had seemed like a good idea last night, in the dark and in the cold. How was she supposed to know that a bigger pile of wood would burn hotter, not longer?
Her unused tent lay against the base of the tree trunk. It had collapsed again, an ugly and misshapen thing she’d gotten fed up with trying to fix sometime after midnight. Seeing it in the daylight just stoked her anger. A tent shouldn’t have been that hard to throw together, not with the cloth and twine left behind by her rebellious crew. Just before the cobbled-together thing lay her ill-conceived fire-pit, an ash-covered scar she’d failed to dig nearly deep enough. Amazingly, when things had spiraled out of control, the tent had not caught fire.
Other bits scavenged from the beach lay about the clearing. Most were garbage now, trod into the ashy dirt and broken, burned, or inedible. After putting out the blaze she’d not bothered to reclaim them before collapsing to the dirt in exhaustion.
Her eye landed on a piece of hardtack biscuit only a few feet away. Natasha grabbed it up and looked back to the parrot, invoking a prayer of pain and spite as she threw.
She missed. She could almost hear the voice of old Euron her father berating her for it. The parrot ignored her missile and puffed itself up into a riotous ball of color. Then it shrieked in indignation. Natasha winced at the sound. A small lizard fell from some upper branch to land in the dirt, stunned.
Goddess on high I need a drink. Natasha cursed the bird silently then pulled herself up to sit cross-legged. Her tongue felt swollen. It tasted like something had crawled down her throat and died. Her neck was still sore from yesterday’s argument with Fengel. Every inch of her back ached from sleeping on the ground. The leaves and dirt in her hair made it a tangled mass.
Sitting up hadn’t helped. A dull throbbing began at her temples and it grew with every passing moment. Natasha pulled up a hand to rub the headache away, then stopped. Her whole arm shook with a slight tremor.
Natasha closed her eyes. I just need a drink.
The parrot screamed again.
“Would you just shut up and die?” she snarled.
It stopped and looked around. Then it squawked and flew off. Natasha blinked in surprise before sighing in relief. Now maybe she could get some peace.
Another sound broke the silence. Something crashed through the jungle underbrush. It was large and getting closer, no mere parrot. Natasha looked about for a stray branch to use as a weapon. She found nothing; all of the deadfall had been burned last night in that bonfire. Instead she took a breath and scrabbled to her feet. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t find her unawares. Her father always said to meet trouble standing.
Fengel pushed out into the clearing. He stumbled a bit at the sudden lack of foliage and staggered to a halt. Regaining his balance, he glanced up and around. His eyes landed on Natasha.
He gave a disappointed sigh.
“I was afraid that was you,” he said tartly. “Even on a deserted jungle island, your screech could wake the dead.” They’d only had their… discussion… on the beach yesterday afternoon, but Fengel looked far worse for wear than he should have. His clothing was torn in places, and there was a scratch on his monocle.
Of course. This is all I need today. Their most recent argument had not been the worst they’d ever had, or the most violent. She still did not want to have to deal with him right now, though. “That was a bird,” she hissed. The pounding at her temples grew stronger. What was he even doing here?
“Yes, yes,” Fengel replied with disinterest. He glanced around the clearing. “Goddess above. What happened here?”
Embarrassment encroached on her irritation. I’m a pirate captain, not a damned woodsman. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She folded her arms.
Fengel gave her a vicious, mocking smile. “What I’m talking about, is the utter devastation of this patch of woodlands. Almost like someone started a bonfire underneath a tree and didn’t think it through.”
“Like you could have done any better,” she replied through gritted teeth.
“I did just fine last night,” said Fengel. “Thank you very much.” Her husband straightened a little, tilting back his head.
She recognized the mannerism. He was lying. “Like hell you did,” she said, breaking out into a wicked smile of her own. “You never could rub two sticks together to save your life, no matter how many times Lucien showed you.” Folding her arms, she rocked back on one heel. “Tell me, when did you slink back to the beach for the supplies you thought I’d have missed?”
Fengel flushed and looked away. “I was only going to watch you go through alcoholic withdrawal. But it turns out you’d left. Along with pretty much everything that wasn’t ruined.” He looked around the clearing. “The tinderbox, at the very least, you found.” Fengel stared abruptly at something behind her. “Oh my goodness. What is that?”
He strode further into the clearing. Natasha glanced over her shoulder. The only thing behind her was her tent.
“Is that… some sort of barbaric lean-to?” He grinned viciously back at her. “It must be. It’s got the blanket and twine from the crate.”
“It’s a tent,” she said flatly.
“Of course, of course,” he replied. “Only, it appears to have died of something. Some horrible tropical disease perhaps.” He rubbed his beard. It was scruffy and unkempt. “No, I revise my earlier statement. Its demise appears to be due to an acute case of incompetence.”
Natasha glared at him. “What are you even doing here?” she growled. “I thought you were going to ‘show them all.’ Shouldn’t you be dashing into the waves after our loving crew?” He looked back at her, startled embarrassment plain upon his face. “Oh, that’s right. It’s funny, how far the wind can carry things. ‘Lads, lads come back.”
Fengel flinched. He pretended to ignore her. “It just so happens,” he said after a moment, “that discovering you here is merely an unpleasant surprise. As any right-thinking person would expect. I have decided to explore the rest of the island. And the only pass through the ridge I can see is a hill in this direction.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to explore the island?”
“Yes. And thank you for reminding me of that. Cheerio.” He gave her a mock salute and crossed to the far side of the clearing. Without a backward glance Fengel pushed into the greenery and was gone.
Natasha frowned. Something wasn’t right. Her barb hit home, that was obvious. Their abandonment had affected him deeply. So why isn’t he sulking on the beach for another two days? Why this sudden urge to search the island? It’s not even noon yet, for Goddess’ sake.
That had been her own plan, after he’d strode off down the beach yesterday. Establish a camp and find something other than rocklike hardtack or murderous salted jerky to eat. There had to be fruit, or something here. But there wasn’t any reason, at least so far, to cover half the island for that.
Maybe he just can’t stand being stuck so close to me. The thought was strangely angering. Well fine then. The farther away he was, the better. She’d do just fine on her own—
It came to her in a flash. He‘s thought of another way off the island!
Natasha dashed across the clearing and into the underbrush after her husband. Dense vines and thick ferns pushed her back. She fought them aside only to find more in her way. “Fengel!” she cried. “Get back here!”
His only reply was a hurried thrashing through the jungle.