At the request and kind but persistent nudging of readers of “Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest”, ( I LOVE you all!) I intend to post previews from the upcoming Book Two in the Quintspinner series beginning…. TODAY!! And so, Wednesdays will be Chapter Days here on this blog, BUT only until the book is ready to be published. Keep in mind that the finished product (ie the published form) may undergo significant changes from what you read here, but, then again mebbe not! However, in exchange for these previews, I would ask that readers ( again kindly, please, my ego is still kinda delicate…) pass on any thoughts you have about the characters, where the plot’s going ( like it? hate it?) typos, etc. Ready? Here goes …
The man stared at the woman, momentarily caught off guard.
She sat upon the ground, her torso resting against the moss covered tree trunk, and his eyes roved over her.
Such perfection. Attractive face with small nose and plump lips parted slightly as though poised to speak. Cinnamon skin dappled from the filtered sunlight in an intriguing pattern of tawny, dark, and gold. Thick tendrils of coal black hair curling softly over her bare shoulders, her breasts defiant and full in their youthfulness.
Except for the musketball hole blasted squarely into her shattered breastbone.
He blinked in surprise. Catching his breath, the hunter dropped into a crouch as he slid back into the protective camouflage of the jungle’s foliage. He reassessed the scene, his heart pounding, his senses on full alert.
Damn it! He cursed this part of his job. Competition. Incompetent fools! He was the best–everybody knew it–and if he had found this pretty little Maroon first, he’d still have her to collect the bounty on. An’ make no mistake about it, the bounty on this one woulda’ been worth plenty, that‘s fer sure. His annoyance at such a loss edged him towards a full-fledged temper fit.
I coulda’ kept her fer a little fun myself, fer awhile anyways! Shit! What the bejeezes happened here? She ain’t even armed. She escaped with nothin’ more than the rags on her back. What a total friggin’ waste!
He shook his head. What was there to salvage? He’d tracked someone, something, from the plantation in the lower land, up through this godforsaken hothouse–who knew it was gonna be so damned hot this far up the mountain–for nearly a day and a half, following subtle signs through the misery of clouds of biting insects and, in his haste, brushing up against clusters of poisonous leaves that caused his hands and arms to blister, only to come upon this disaster.
He peered over at her corpse. Now all that he had to show for his time and effort was the tiny scrap of a baby still cradled in the crook of her lifeless arm.
Mewing brat! That was what had drawn him in this direction in the first place, only a heartbeat before the sound of the musket blast.
An’ that sucklin’ ain’t gonna’ last long neither, he grumbled to himself. Unless he could find a wet nurse back at the sugar mill, there wouldn’t be a hope in hell. The thing would starve. And if it didn’t quit bawling right now, he might just have to put it out of its misery himself. He squinted over at the baby, its tiny mouth stretched open in a primitive howl. And then he saw it.
The sole of a boot.
Tension crackled through him, the shock of his discovery hitting hard. No Maroon, this body. The boot’s leather had been shaped by a reasonably skilled cobbler. Its style practically shouted ‘bounty hunter’ to him. His rival probably. He frowned, his forehead wrinkling up in confusion.
What the hell happened?
Cautiously emerging from his hiding place, he stepped forward for a closer look and squinted down at his newest discovery. His eyes suddenly bulged with comprehension, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling with fear. His rival’s shirt collar was wrapped around a bloodied stump of a neck, the slain hunter’s head nowhere in sight. He had only a moment to consider this as the swish of a machete blade closed in around him. The sharp blow to his neck felled him and he pitched forward, dead before his own body crashed down upon the corpse at his feet.
Laying down his machete, and repositioning the baby boy in the dead woman’s arm, Jacko held the infant in place while the child nursed greedily for what would be the last time at his mother’s breast. When at last the child’s belly was sufficiently full, Jacko dipped a moistened finger into a leather satchel tied at his waist, and slipped the powdered fingertip into the baby’s mouth, feeling the reflexive tug of the baby’s sucking. The calming effect of the powder was nearly immediate and he wrapped the now sluggish child in a chest sling, before turning his attention to the young woman’s body.
Glancing at the clotting wound in her chest, white-hot grief stabbed him in his own, and for a moment he clenched his eyes shut, dizzy with the effort to suppress his rage. Taking deep breaths, he forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand.
It would not do to have any bodies found so close to the secret village. The bounty hunters had nearly discovered the small encampment of Maroons, only another valley away from here. Making a separate trip with each head and a corpse, he dragged them deeper into the undergrowth.
Limping heavily with the exertion, he recalled his own near death during an attack from a bounty hunter. The flesh on his thigh and buttock had never fully recovered from the gunshot and knife wounds he had suffered at the hands of such a man, although he had miraculously lived through his injuries. Had it not been for his mate’s potions and prayers to the gods and the healing powers of the white woman who called herself Tess, Jacko knew he would have been just another body left to feed the jungle’s spirits.
He breathed up a prayer of thanks and a request for continued safety for himself and the village’s people, before rolling each set of body and head down into a steep crevice at the bottom of a narrow ravine. Not even the dogs would be able to track the missing slave hunters any further. And they would come, he knew. With more trackers. They always did.
Returning finally to the remaining body, he bent down and gathered the woman in his arms. Holding her close, her child between them, he nuzzled her cheek with his own, inhaling deeply in an effort to capture her scent one last time. His nostrils flared and the crushing grief returned, scalding him as it bored deeper into his chest.
She smelled only of death. Her spirit had left the body, but was hovering nearby he thought, waiting for the appropriate rituals to be performed by Mambo. Without those, the spirit could not be set completely free from the physical body, and it would be forced to roam in the darkness of night forever. Mambo, his mate, would know what to do to ensure that would not happen–she would ensure that this woman would not suffer such a fate.
Mambo would release their daughter’s soul.
With a heart that was as heavy as the body he now carried across his shoulders, Jacko staggered deeper into the foliage and up towards the hidden village. His sorrow drilled into his chest, morphing with every breath into a focused rage.
It was time.