As always, I’ll start with the links, just in case that’s what you’re really here for. :)
Once upon a time my oldest nephew asked when I was going to write books for little kids. He’s no longer a little kid, and I’ve been working on the Guildmaster Saga for years, handing early drafts over to him and getting the rest ready for the world. I’m SO EXCITED to release this book, which is the kind of thing I’d have been reading from about age eight, and would still be reading today. :)
(My sister may even feel the Guildmaster Saga are her favourites of the books I’ve written. I’m quite proud of that, actually. :))
Rasim is no stranger to bad luck. Orphaned at birth, he holds his place in the Seamasters’ Guild by dint of quick thinking and sheer stubbornness. Possessed of little magic but a sharp mind, his greatest talent seems to be finding trouble—or perhaps escaping it just in time.
No one is more surprised than Rasim when he earns a place on the fleet’s flagship, sent North for a daring mission. Storm, treachery, piracy, and outright war sail with them. One half-strength foundling can’t hope to save the fleet, his friends, or even himself.
But Rasim is determined to try. He’ll use every bit of cleverness and magic he has available to outwit his enemies and protect his friends. In doing so, he just may save his country, and become what he’s always wanted to be…
Strong hands grabbed Rasim’s ankles and hauled him backward. His shirt rucked up, sticking to tar-soaked wood as he scrabbled for a grip. A splinter jabbed under his fingernail. He shouted and let go, blood welling through dirt and tar as he was yanked out from between the ship’s ribs to land on its salt-damp deck.
He barely caught himself with his hands, saving his nose from the same bloody fate his fingernail had met. A big foot, bare and topped with rough toenails, caught him in the side. Rasim grunted and flipped sideways, avoiding the brunt of the kick.
Desimi stood above him, of course. Like Rasim, Desimi would be thirteen tomorrow, but he already had shoulders that promised the size of the man he would be. He had an angry man’s scowl, too, burned into his face all the time and darker than ever when he laid eyes on Rasim.
Rasim wheezed, “Desi, wait—”, remembering too late that with their birthdays coming up, the bigger boy no longer liked that nickname. It was too small for such a large lad, and recalling that half a moment earlier might have saved Rasim from another kick to the ribs. He coughed and used the ship’s wall to push himself up, then scrambled away. “I’m not going to fight you, Desimi!”
“Coward.” Desimi jumped after him.
Rasim, smaller and more lithe, caught a low-hanging beam and swung himself out of immediate danger. “Don’t be stupid, Desi—Desimi—you’ll get us both kicked out—”
Desimi grabbed for Rasim’s ankle. Rasim scampered away again, slithering over beams and through narrow joists. They’d played keep-away like this as children, learning the ins and outs of the fleet’s ships. It had only been recently that their friendship had soured. “Your mother was a Northern hag!” he bellowed after Rasim.
“I’m sure it was my father who was a Northern dog!” Pale Northern merchants had once been common along the Ilialio’s banks and in the great city it had spawned, but there had been few indeed since the great fire that had orphaned not just Rasim and Desimi, but hundreds of other children as well. Few indeed, since the king’s Northern wife had been unable to command Ilyaran magic and save the city. There was no telling which parent had been responsible for the copper tones to Rasim’s skin and hair, or the green scattered through his brown eyes, but if Ilyara could blame Queen Annaken for failing to stop the fire, then Desimi could freely insult Rasim’s unknown mother, and too many people would say he had the right of it. Desimi spat another curse as Rasim darted through another tight spot, then crowed triumph as Ras realized he’d wedged himself into a corner. When Desimi’s fist flew, Rasim tucked himself down, arms protecting his head, and told himself again why he refused to strike back: “There’s no fighting shipboard, lads, or you’ll lose everything you’ve worked for.”
A deep voice spoke the very words Rasim thought, making him lift his head in confusion. Desimi was hauled backward as unceremoniously as he’d yanked Rasim moments before, his final blow swinging wide. He kicked, twisted, saw who held him, and whined like a frightened puppy as Hassin dropped him to the deck.
Hassin, second mate on this ship, was ten years Rasim and Desimi’s elder and much-admired by his younger crewmates. He was tall for a sailor, his shoulders unbowed by bending and twisting through narrow ship passages. Like all the older crew, he wore his long black hair in a tight-bound queue at his nape. Rasim curled his fingers at the base of his own neck, feeling the short-cropped hair there. Not until he became an official member of a crew could he begin to grow the long tail they wore.
And that would never happen if he was caught fighting with Desimi. Or anyone else, for that matter, but Desi seemed determined to fight whether Rasim would or not.
Even now the bigger boy got to his feet, defiant as he glared up at Hassin. “I’ve been stuck with this, just like we all have. We didn’t work for having lost our parents, and that,” he said with a thrust of his finger back toward Rasim, “is the fault of people like him!”
Hassin’s long face grew longer. “The tide’s washed that sand smooth, Desimi. The Ilialio saved you from the fire and brought you to the Seamasters’ guild. You’re barely a day from becoming crew, and you have worked for that, whether you’d have chosen this life or not. Don’t destroy it now. Rasim,” he said in nearly the same tone.
Rasim startled guiltily and pushed his knuckles against his mouth. Insisting he hadn’t been fighting would do him no good. There would be a chance to explain, if he didn’t blunder by trying to make Desimi look worse and himself look innocent.
“The captain wants to see you.” Hassin looked Rasim over and sighed. “Immediately, but if you turn up in his cabin covered in tar and stick to any of his papers, he’ll take them out of my own skin. Hot water, as hot as you can stand, to get that muck off you, and then to the captain’s cabin as quick as you can.”
“Yes, Hassin.” Rasim slid from his perch and hit the boards below with a thud that matched the nervous thump of his heart. The day before new crew members were selected was not a time anybody wanted to be called before the captain. He ran from below decks, trying to think of any recent guild transgressions he’d committed. Up the steep-pitched stairs to the upper deck, not touching the smooth banisters with his sticky hands. Across the deck with his feet smacking hollowly on good solid teak, then distance-eating strides over the ridged walkway that held ship to shore across a depth of dark blue harbor water.
Ilyara was at its best at the waterfront, where the sea was so clear that anchor chains could be seen to thirty feet. The scent of fish was heavy in the air, but no offal from the fishmongers stained the yellow stone sea walls.
That was the work of water witches. Rasim had heard that other port cities lacked enough sea witches to keep the harbor waters and sea walls clear. In Ilyara the job was done by those whose water weaving skills weren’t strong enough to do shipboard duties.
Barely a day from becoming crew, Hassin had said to Desimi. Everyone knew it was true: Desimi, bully or not, could already command the brute force of waves. He would become a cabin boy tomorrow, and, in time, a captain able to steer his ship through the most dangerous waters and the worst storms.
Rasim’s place was less of certain. His witchery skills were modest at best, though he loved the feeling of salt water coming to life under his fingertips, responding to the cool magic in his mind.
Not that any of it would matter if he didn’t get clean and get back to the captain as quick as he could. The bathing rooms were staffed by sea and sun witches, their magic working together to turn water to steam. It softened the tar on Rasim’s skin, and he scrubbed it off with rough cloth before daring to jump in a bath to rinse the last scraps away. Masira, a good-natured witch whose preference, rather than lack of skill, had settled her on land instead of a ship, grumbled at him for leaving flecks of black goo in the water. He offered his most winning smile and she laughed, scooping the tar remnants from the water with her magic while he dried and scrambled into the soft-woven linen pants and loose shirt that were his guild’s usual ship-board garb.
The sun hadn’t traveled a hand-span in the sky by the time he skidded back on deck. No longer sticky, he slid down the steep banisters to below-decks. A whisper of wisdom caught him, and he took a moment to rake his hands through wet hair and catch his breath before knocking politely on the captain’s door.
“Aye,” said the man within, and Rasim pushed it open a few inches.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Aye.” Captain Asindo leaned over a table covered in maps, his broad hands holding curled corners flat. He was short, barely taller than Rasim himself, but he had to turn sideways to fit his wide shoulders through the narrow shipboard doors. A lack of height didn’t mean a lack of presence, which gave Rasim some comfort. Maybe he would grow up that way, too. The captain lifted a fingertip from his maps, invitation to enter his quarters. “You were fighting Desimi again,” Asindo said neutrally as the door shut.
Offense rose in Rasim’s chest as he let the door close behind him. “No, sir.”
Asindo’s eyebrows twitched upward and a small gesture invited Rasim to speak. The captain rarely spoke when a motion would do, which made his crew watch him carefully. It made them watch themselves carefully, too: they were a quieter and better-behaved crew than many with more blusterous commanders. Rasim would remember that, if he ever became a captain himself.
Which he would never do if he couldn’t explain the fighting. “Desimi was fighting me, sir. I was running away.” He winced as he said it. Running away sounded cowardly, even if it had been smart.
To his surprise, Asindo chuckled. “So Hassin said. You’ll have a reckoning with Desimi someday, Rasim, but you’re wise to not let it be now. He’s a lot of trouble to have on board. I’m thinking of recommending against him tomorrow, prodigious wave witchery or no.”
Asindo straightened from his maps and turned slowly to Rasim, incredulity straining his thick features. He looked like a man who had been in—and won—a lot of fights, and he looked like they’d all started when someone gave him an impulsive command like the one Rasim had just blurted out.
Rasim still said, “Don’t,” again, a little desperately. “Desi’s angry at me because he doesn’t have anybody else to be angry at. I’ve got Northern blood and everybody knows it was the Northern queen who couldn’t stop the fires when they swept the city, so I’m easy to blame. He says he doesn’t care about making cabin boy, but it’s not true, Captain. It’s the only thing he’s got, just like all of us. If you turn him away he’ll only be angrier, and in the end it’ll make him—”
Rasim ran out of words suddenly, miserable with uncertainty. He had seen men drunk along the docks, bitter and sharp with regrets. It wasn’t hard to imagine Desimi, already angry, joining those men, though it was harder to really understand the path that would lead him there. Rasim faltered in trying to explain, instead seizing on what he was certain of. “Desimi could be a good captain someday, sir. He could keep his crew and ship safe in the storms. If you take that away from him now, even for a year, it’ll only make him angrier, and he’ll blame me. I’m not big but I can take care of myself.” His mouth twisted wryly. “At least, I can if you don’t make Desi so angry he comes after me with a boat hook.”
“Hnf.” Asindo sounded amused. “Kind words for an enemy.”
Rasim shrugged uncomfortably. “We used to be friends.”
“I’ll think about it, but it’s not why I called you here. I—”
“Captain.” The door burst open and Hassin, grim-faced, ducked in. “Captain, the fools have done it. They’ve lit the memorial fires early, without supervision, and they’ve gone too high. The city is burning.”