It’s time for some ‘Tarot Kings’ goodness! Nico, our bad ass Sea Serpent, is going to be out on November 14th and I couldn’t be more pumped! Despite all the unforeseen delays this year, I seriously loved writing this piratey adventure and didn’t want to wait to share it. There is a pre-order for those who want it, it will be in KU, and yes, the paperbacks will be releasing at the same time as the ebook. Phew!
The other good news is I have started writing Arkon’s book (King of Coins) so fingers crossed you will see his adventure with the Wolf Mage in the next few months as well.
Here is a sneak peak of Nico for you!
The Gods of the Canals
Long ago, before Rome’s constant wars pushed people to hide amongst Veneto’s protected islands, there lived incolae lacunae—the lagoon dwellers. They survived and thrived off the bounty of the sea, and they paid homage to Reitia, the sea serpent mother, who protected them in her sheltered waters.
It didn’t matter when the golden shedu came from Constantinople or when the grim-faced priests came from Rome. The sea serpents were not only protectors of Venice; they were Venice. It was their sharp fanged ferocity and love that kept the whole Veneto safe.
The most powerful of all the serpent families was the Serpente D’Argento. The Silver Serpents believed in trade and democracy, but they believed in Venice most of all. From the doge to the beggar, everyone knew in their hearts that the minute the serpents decided things were not being run properly, there would be no saving the condemned.
Venice was their god, and they served her in the great blue waters of the Adriatic.
Commander Nicolo D’Argento was a prince amongst his people who would maim, kill, and destroy whatever threatened his city.
The Varangians had been careful to keep their war with the Republic on solid ground, but it wasn’t Venice’s war ships they feared. It was Nico and the sea serpents he could command.
Just one of the dragons of the sea could turn a ship to kindling, and they delighted in doing it. It was because of their destructive power that the doge kept them on a tight leash.
It was therefore highly unfortunate news for the pirates of the Adriatic to learn that the doge had finally set his feral commander loose on them. The Pirate King had finally pushed the Republic one step too far, and all of them were going to pay.
There was blood in the water.
The Silver Serpent was free to hunt. And not even Fate herself was going to be able to stop him.
The hot wind blew tendrils of Nico’s dark hair free from the knot that held it back from his face. It was the kind of wind that people in Venice saw as a bad omen, and they shut their doors and windows against it.
Nico loved the sirocco wind. It held a wildness that whipped up a kind of madness in the men and made them even more vicious in battle. He wanted that ferocity and lack of mercy.
Nico was finally leaving Venice to hunt the Pirate King, and he welcomed the chaos that matched his inner serpent. After months of cat and mouse games, it wanted pirate blood on its fangs.
The dromon warship was full of men ready to fight and die for the Republic. Two mages strolled about the deck, making sure that the high winds caught the sails properly and they had maximum speed.
The ship sailed through the blue-gray waters like a blade through butter. They slowed where the lagoon opened out to the sea at the Lido and the two waters met. Nico walked to the front of the ship, carrying a jar of holy water, salt, and a bundle of olive branches. The men all bowed their heads as he tossed the items into the sea as an offering to Neptune, Poseidon, or Saint Nicholas—the saint of the sea—whichever way the men’s faith swung. In Nico’s mind, it was always to Reitia, the goddess of Venice, who would protect her sons out on the water.
“We pray the sea is always calm and quiet for us and all who sail upon it,” he whispered. To his goddess, he added, “Let the hunting be good, and my prey be worthy of the fight.”
Nico had heard many rumors about the Pirate King, but sailors were the worst of gossips and superstitious to a fault. If he believed them, the king was ten foot tall and breathed fire. Even Arkon, the supposed spy master of the Republic, couldn’t seem to separate fact from fiction. In any case, he was too focused on the Wolf Mage to worry much about bothersome pirates sailing up and down the Croatian coast.
They had been a minor annoyance in the past, but three major acts against the Republic had pushed Nico over the edge. The first big mistake had been when they had kidnapped an artifice inventor and his daughter from a boat carrying them from Constantinople to Venice. The intel they had received afterwards was that the Varangians had been the buyers. The inventor had been working on magi-tech that would create stronger magical-powered engines for warships. Now he was in the hands of Venice’s enemies.
The second mistake the Pirate King had made was sneaking a Varangian mage into Venice. Less than a week ago, that blasted mage had almost bound Zahir, king of the djinn, to a ring to take back to his emperor. He had also tried to kidnap Zahir’s consort and a brilliant magician, Ezra, to force her to make golem soldiers for the Varangians.
The final mistake had been that the Pirate King had flown Nico’s flag so all eyes looked to him. It had been a clusterfuck and an absolute embarrassment for the navy that a pirate had gotten into Venice so easily.
After months of trying to warn Gio, the doge of Venice, that the pirates needed to be dealt with, he’d finally listened. If one Varangian could get in, that meant many others could too. The fact he was a mage was a whole other mess that was up to Arkon to deal with.
As far as the Republic knew, the Varangians didn’t have magic users in their military, apart from their much beloved Wolf Mage. The Varangian emperor openly spoke against magic and persecuted his own people that were found wielding it.
Nico could sense when there was blood in the water, and the Republic’s safety was starting to fray about the edges.
Focus on your own fight. Let Arkon and Zahir worry about the Varangians, Nico scolded himself.
The pirates needed to be dealt with now, especially because they were no longer harassing the occasional merchant. They were war profiteering, and Nico couldn’t abide a traitor. He’d devoted his entire life to Venice, and to see how some pirate was putting his people at risk for money was like sand grating against his skin.
Savio, his first lieutenant, moved up beside him. He was a good-natured sea serpent who gave excellent advice and often was the one to cool Nico’s temper when it got out of hand.
“Fine weather for sailing, commander,” Savio commented, looking out at the clear blue sky. “We are lucky that the doge gave us the go-ahead to hunt before the fall storms decide to cause trouble.”
Nico nodded, not taking his eyes off the horizon. He was impatient, his beast clawing under his skin, desperate to be free.
“Any more news?” he asked.
“Since the raven from Arkon reported that the pirates were seen near the coast of Pag? No. That’s their last sighting. I know you don’t listen to rumors, but the pirates apparently get a lot of their supplies from Novalja,” Savio replied, his dark eyes scanning the deck before going to Nico’s face. “Should I be worried about that gleam in your eye? I’ve known you since we were boys, and it’s never led to anything good.”
“My beast is restless, that’s all. It’s distracting me. How long do you think it will take us to get to Pag?” Nico asked.
“The day at least. I don’t think going into those waters in the dark is a good idea. It’s their territory, not ours.”
Nico’s teeth ground together. “No. It’s the Republic’s waters, and I refuse to be afraid of them.”
“I’ll tell the mages to hurry us along then, shall I?” Savio didn’t argue with him, he knew better when Nico was in such a shitty mood. He just gave him a small smile and continued his rounds to make sure the ship was running smoothly.
Nico went back into his cabin and stared at the map of the islands spread out over his small dining table. The islands dotted the Croatian coast like confetti. They had been the home of pirates for as long as history was recorded. If the war front wasn’t slowly creeping to the coast, maybe it wouldn’t be such an issue.
Technically, the Republic still had the coastline, but smugglers and pirates knew the waters better than anyone in the navy. They could sell and steal from both the Republic and the Varangians, making money off both before retiring to their hideouts and strongholds.
Nico didn’t want to go into a fight against their own people. Maybe he would be lenient if they gave over their king to him. One neck for the noose instead of hundreds. They hadn’t bothered their own people and had steered well clear of the navy before the damn Pirate King came into the scene. They had made it personal. He didn’t have many friends, but Ezra and Zahir were counted among them. To use Nico’s personal flag to hurt them… Claws burst through Nico’s fingers before he could stop it.
“Enough. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe,” he whispered. He hadn’t lost control in years, but with each passing day, he felt he was wound tighter and tighter. God help whoever was close by when he finally exploded.
* * *
The sun was setting by the time they sailed through the still waters between the islands and the mainland.
In the days to come, Nico would often regret running his mages ragged in an effort to reach the islands the same day as leaving port. If he hadn’t been so pigheaded and agitated, he would’ve made better decisions.
The mages were close to exhaustion, swaying on their feet and ready to drop. It was why they didn’t sense the illusion magic until it was too late. They had sailed the ship in between a merchant galley and the island.
It was a small vessel that barely registered next to the big warship. Nico wasn’t ready for the huge chains that lifted from the water. The hull of his ship crashed into them. He was flying out of his chair and was on his feet and running before anyone had a chance to raise the alarm.
“Rowers! To your position! Reverse the ship,” Nico shouted, the men already scurrying. He could sense the trap, and when the second chain lifted behind them, the ship was pinned.
Savio was calling for weapons, sending the gunners to the cannons to prepare for whatever came next. The illusion melted off the merchant vessel to reveal a warship flying a black flag.
Nico stripped off his jacket, ready to dive into the water, but he hesitated. The pirates weren’t attacking him. They were just…waiting. Nico had rules about not firing on ships that weren’t attacking him. No, this was about something else.
That something else soon appeared.
A woman strode across the deck, her red hair blowing like blood in the breeze. She wore black knee-high boots, well-cut black pants, and a dark red shirt with a black vest that accentuated the shape of her hips. She had a blade on her hip and at least three daggers that Nico could spot from the small stretch of water separating them.
“Nicolo D’Argento,” she called in a teasing voice, “I thought you would be taller.”
The hair on the back of Nico’s neck stood up. There was something familiar and knowing in her tone that made him curious and uneasy at the same time.
“You have me at a disadvantage, my lady,” he said, his voice carrying across the water. “Who are you meant to be?”
“Sophia Osara, but you might know me by my other title.” The woman smiled. It was violence and beauty combined—the divinely terrifying embodiment of feminine rage. “The Pirate King.”
I can say with all confidence that none of you are ready for these two! You can pre-order their adventure right here.
I’m off to keep writing and to pack for Italy next week, I’m so ready for a holiday to re-fill my well. Nothing like Italy to a spring back in this writers step!