Anybody like a good pirate story? Yeah, me too. That’s how I ended up writing “Shalimar.” Well, sort of…
Maybe you remember your granny wearing Shalimar, the perfume: sweet, musky, very la-di-da. That’s not the what I’m talking about here. My Shalimar exists in the air, a fantastical city inhabited by, well, I’m rushing ahead. Let me start at the beginning. Some days are tougher than others. We all have those days. And when they pop up and threaten to ruin your week (or month), you stop working on your book, look to see who’s buying what genre at whatever magazine or literary journal, and go write that instead. This is the most productive procrastination. Ever. Because you can justify it, and maybe make a buck or two as well.
I saw a call for sea-inspired fantasy stories (ooooohhhh!) and so I thought righto, yeah, can do. Except, um, I don’t really write fantasy. I skate it, walk along the finest lines, look at it a lot, and even write about angels (which you’d think would qualify me, at least a little) but straight-up fantasy has never been my thing. Probably for the same reasons I only like certain kinds of humor: I’m very very very serious and overly rooted in reality. (And also sometimes humorless, but that’s for another day.)
But I liked the project and I needed a break so I fell into this idea that I would write a fantastic pirate story (YAR!) about a stowaway (meep!) but, hold on, the stowaway…needed to be a girl. Yes! An unappreciated, undervalued runaway girl whose powers nobody could even fathom. Ok, that works, but what about the rest? I knew I wanted strong women, a kitten (no pirate story is complete without requisite meow-meow), and a cool, weird, oooh how about a watery blue main character.
Since it was a pirate story, I figured I needed a ship—check—some mates to hoist sails and do piratey things—yes, check check—and a storyline about…unrequited love. Wait, what? Well, why not? I don’t love love stories. At all. Which is why you might notice that most of my characters in any of my writing don’t dance much to that song. But just this once, I thought it might be ok, so a romance between a die seejungfrau, a man made entirely of water, and his lost love was born. Ta-DA!
You know, instead of my blabbing, just read it for yourself…
“Shalimar” (from Goddesses of the Sea Anthology)
Phen lets out the topsail, ducking in time to avoid the boom that swings dangerously through the humid, dusky air.
“Get up to the nest, boy, and tell me what you see!” Phen jumps at Captain Raulo’s command. She’d watched men linger and shuffle when given an order and had seen the consequences. In fact, the wool cap pulled down on her greasy blond curls had once belonged to such a malingerer. Hustling up to the nest, sliding her hands along the greasy mast, Phen reaches the top and looks around with dread in her heart.
Raulo squints upwards into the dusky glare. “Report again!”
“Uh…nothing, Cap’n!” Phen shouts, barely hiding the shake in her voice. She might get thrown in the hold two stories down, deep in the boat’s foul belly, for reporting nothing. It had happened before. She hated reporting from the crow’s nest, but Raulo always sent her. A small, wiry – and unbeknownst to any of the squat, drunken men below – lithe girl, Phen could shimmy up the mainmast faster than any of them.
Phen sighs. Dark mountains raise their woolly peaks in the distance, while forested land cuts dark streaks against the horizon. Always at dusk, and always the same. Forty days at sea, and nothing. Oh, there was plenty of land in the sights, but Raulo wasn’t interested in that. Phen had overheard the crew in their hammocks one night as she squatted over the side, fitting in by pretending to do her business.
“The fairy hold on old Raulo’s heart won’t break,” Bald Jonny had said, rubbing a dented coin against a blackened tooth stub. “But he makes good when we land.”
“Not a single storm since I sailed with Cap’n Raulo, except when he gets that mist in the eyes,” added Slice, a stooped man with one eye and huge fists like sides of smoked meat. And no one had dared respond as Raulo, smooth as silk, slid onto deck to make his rounds. The crew of The Celeste, Phen had quickly found, made up some of the greatest wealth on the seas, due in large part to Captain Raulo’s uncanny ability to stop a storm in its tracks and send waves barreling away into the paths of other ships.
The next day, Raulo had pulled The Celeste 164 degrees to port. The men grumbled quietly and watched in misery as the ship sailed alongside but never stopped at the docks of Bedrock, away from the easy money to be made from whiskey and hand-milled flour in the hold. Away from the famous green-eyed beauties who danced with even the lowliest sailor for half a sovereign. But they understood Raulo’s desperation. He wanted Finlay.
That had been forty days ago, at least, by Phen’s count. Stormless though the sea was with Raulo as captain, Phen felt restless. Reaching up to scratch her dirty curls, she wonders. Maybe it was the way Raulo walked the deck, slick as ice, never pitching or rolling with the rest of the crew. Or the way his face turned the deepest shade of black-blue when infuriated. Phen wasn’t sure it mattered. She only knew that the day she had boarded The Celeste, running down the docks looking for safe passage away from her father’s debt and the filthy prison cell that waited for her, Raulo had saved her.
Continue reading Phen’s story in Goddesses of the Sea from Amazon!