Of Warm Evenings, Strong Drink, and Murder

As I mentioned last week, I’m sharing with all of you the first chapter of my forthcoming novella, The Heart of the Goddess: An Ian Mac Roy Adventure. The full e-book will be available on March 29, 2024, and I’ll start the serial over on Substack on April 12.

In this adventure, Ian and his friend Donal find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving mistaken identities, a valuable and possibly cursed jewel, and international relations. We begin our adventure with a very drunk Prince Ian…

Chapter One: Of Warm Evenings, Strong Drink, and Murder


His Royal Highness, Prince Ian Mac Roy of Eirya, Duke of the White Isles, was drunk.

A part of his brain understood this as a reality, and it attempted to remind him that he was into his game for far more coins than any sailor had a right to be, that he should leave the dockside tavern before his debt grew worse, and that even a young man could only handle so much liquor and raw fish. Ian ignored rationality and picked up the die. He grinned at the man across from him. “You in or out?”

The dark-skinned man slapped down a handful of coins on a square of the Nine Bone board. “In.”

Ian rolled. The die tumbled across the board and came to a stop exactly where he had aimed. He laughed and threw up his hands as crewmates cheered. “The luck of the gods,” he shouted above the din. He scooped the man’s coins into his purse. “It would appear we’ve arrived on the right winds.”

The Tal’Amuni man’s blocky face twisted into a furious snarl. He shoved the table away and jumped up. Steel glimmered in the dim light.

Ian tried to stand, but his head spun, and he fell back to his seat. His fingers fumbled for a dagger. The other man’s steel flashed toward him. Ian ducked—

An enormous hand shot up to block the Tal’Amuni’s arm in midair. “Stand down, lad,” Donal’s smooth, deep voice said. “Prince Thinbeard won fairly. No cause for bloodshed.”

The man dropped his blade. Donal let go of his arm with a small shove. The man said something Ian couldn’t understand and picked up his blade. He sheathed it in his belt, spit on the Nine Bone board, and walked out of the bar into the shadows of a warm Eastern night.

Ian reached up a hand to Donal.

Donal rolled his eyes. “How much did ye drink?”

“Too much. Or not enough.” Ian laughed.

Donal grunted and pulled Ian’s arm around his neck to steady the prince. “Let’s get you back to the ship afore you start something ye canna take back.”

Ian leaned on his friend and let him lead the way into the street. “’Twas just a game, Donal. A night with the lads.”

“Aye, and ye’re lucky the lads and I had more restraint than you. You nearly ended up with a blade in your belly. Took the last of that fella’s coins, you did.”

Ian tried to shrug. “The game is cruel sometimes. Perhaps he’ll remember that before he gambles so much next time.”

“Have you taken it upon yourself to educate all men in the evils of gambling just because your friend had too much love of the dice?”

Ian burped.

Donal coughed. “Good to know royals stink as much as we regular boys.”

“I don’t stink. I smell like the sea.”

“That’s not sea. That’s rotten fish.”

Ian laughed at that. “Complain all you wish, my friend. I’ve had warm food, plenty of gaming, and enough maki to make me think I could swim back to Eirya.”

Donal fell to mumbling curses. “Time to get ye back to the ship.”

“But the night is young, and there are songs to sing and women to meet.” Ian gave an expansive gesture to encompass the entire dock and approached a very pretty, petite young woman in a doorway. “Dance with me, my lady.”

Donal steered him away. “Ye’d be in for a surprise with that one, princeling. That’s a boy.”

Ian snorted a laugh. “I’ll not be believing a pretty girl like that is—”

At that moment, the peculiar combination of maki, warm kelp, and raw oysters decided that it had reached its boiling point, and Ian’s stomach decided to turn inside out. He dove over a barrel just in time to avoid vomiting on Donal’s boots. It took several tries, but he eventually expelled all his dinner and drink into the warm seawater under the dock and then collapsed into a sweating, exhausted heap.

Donal crouched next to him. “Is that it then? You’re done?”

Ian lifted one weak hand. “Water. Kerchief.”

Donal handed him a kerchief. “Water’s aboard the Blue Horizon. We’ll be gettin’ ye back there, aye?”

Ian tried to nod, but his head refused to cooperate. Donal clasped his arm and pulled him up. Ian groaned. “Just a bit further, lad. Then you can sleep it off.”

Ian’s head lolled against his chest as Donal half-dragged, half-carried him down the pier to the Blue Horizon, Robbie Dougal’s ship. The ship had carried them from Espara without incident, and after seeing Xian Ji’ing Akmun back to his superiors in the Tal’Amuni capitol, Ian and his crewmates had been given shore leave.

Though Ian was never much for gambling, drinking, and pursuing women, he’d found some of the pleasures too tempting to resist. Games and drink were plentiful, and after the tension of Xian’s troubles in Espara, he’d enjoyed putting aside his identity as an Eiryan prince for a time. And pretty girls certainly abound. But his mind constantly returned to the saya, Ursula, who was likely settling into life on Eirya. You could go home, you know, he told himself. You could find her, pursue her. ‘Twould be a good match. But the call of the sea was more powerful than the draw of even a beautiful girl like Ursula.

Donal hauled him up the plank of the Blue Horizon and guided him down into the crew quarters, and Ian became dimly aware of his cot beneath him and mumbled voices around him. He groaned and rolled over. He heard Donal sigh. “Sleep it off, lad.” Footsteps retreated, and Ian slept.

He woke in the darkness to scuffling in the crew quarters. He sat up, clutched his head, and groaned. “Boys. Take it elsewhere, aye?” He lifted his head and blinked.

Two men fought in the corner, and steel flashed. One man suddenly drew in a sharp breath, groaned, and fell twitching and writhing on the floor. Ian tried to stand, but the other man rushed toward him, knocking him back onto his cot as he scrambled up the ladder and onto the deck. Shouting and more scuffling came from the deck. “Catch him!” someone shouted.

“Ian?” Donal crouched. “Ye all right, lad?”

Ian rubbed his head and nodded. “I am. What’s happened?”

Donal lit a lamp and pointed to the body on the floor. “Apparently, murder.”

Next week, I’ll be back with a new character profile in preparation for finishing my series on side characters. See you then!

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