Authors: Anyta Sunday,Dru Wellington
A Compass Tale
An Anyta Sunday Imprint
First published in 2015 by Dru Wellington (An Anyta Sunday Imprint), Contact at Buerogemeinschaft ATP24,
Am Treptower Park 24, 12435 Berlin, Germany
An Anyta Sunday Publication
Copyright 2015 Anyta Sunday
All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced without prior permission of the copyright owner of this book.
All the characters in this book are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
This book contains sex, bloody violence, and a happy end.
Other Books in the world of The Compass:
Knights of The Compass
The Knight & The Prince
The Knight & The Red Cloak
The Knight & The Bandit
The Knight & The Beast
Tales of The Compass
For Karin, winner of
This is my twisted take of the fairy tale you wished to be retold:
Snow White and Rose Red (Grimm Brothers)
Your chosen three objects have been incorporated into the story:
I had a lot of fun writing this wee novella! Thank you for the challenge.
ONCE UPON A TIME there were four kingdoms: North, South, East, and West. Together they comprised the land of The Compass, a land of Kings, Queens, Princes, Knights, Bandits, and Pirates.
For hundreds of years, magic existed only in the Northern and Southern Lights, until the Heart of the Needle—funneling light from the skies—shattered, piercing the land and half of its people. Those hit were uniquely gifted, those missed were cursed to a hundred-year slumber . . .
Four hours, and still nothing but two pieces of copper.
The moon winked brightly in the sky and waves tossed themselves against the jetties and docked ships, smelling of kelp and dried mussels. My throat stung in the salty air, and around me the planks of the wharf groaned as if to tell me to shut-up and go home already.
Passersby glanced my way, then averted their gazes to the cliffs behind me.
I sang louder through the cold, trying not to stare at the thin green scarf at my feet with it’s two coppers; trying not to calculate how much debt was owed our landlord by the end of the month.
“ . . . Needle light crosses the land no more
Gone the touch from the stars to the shore
Heart of the Needle once brilliant and bright
Shattered, cursed half our men to a hundred year night
Softly sleeping though The Compass grieves and quakes
Magic stirs though loved ones might never wake
Northern and Southern Lights once glittering and fair,
Now seem to mock, to laugh, to glare . . .”
I finished the song my brother had penned and blew warmth against my hands.
“Lights Above,” I prayed, “let me earn just one more coin.” Enough to slink into Dwharfs to stake my earnings on a game. One that I’d win, thanks to the pair of Queens tucked in my belt.
A group of people spilled onto the wharf and, hauling in a breath, I dove into another song. A few yards away, one of the men slowed to a stop as his comrades pushed on and into the tavern.
I focused on the large golden bow of the nearest ship, watching the man from the corner of my eye. Would he drop me the coin I needed?
He dressed well enough: molding over broad shoulders, a brown coat fastened with brass buttons; a gleaming golden hilt topped his sheathed sword, and his boots shone with a recent polish . . .
“. . . In the South, Lights are green and glimmer
North, they’re blue and softly shimmer
In the East, the morning dawn grins bright
West, the dusk yawns a bejeweled sight . . .”
The lyrics made me dizzy; made my skin tingle. I sang them like I knew what I was talking about, though I’d never left the East—though I’d only ever ventured so far as King Turrock’s castle, to drop off a chest my father had made.
I sang the last line and swiveled towards my one-man audience, giving him a shallow bow and a grin. “Perhaps you’d like to add to my pitiful collection?”
Chestnut brown hair framed the man’s face and a wedge of lamplight heightened the strong lines of his jaw and nose. “A gifted voice, but the lyrics are soaked in naivety.”
“Naivety?” I pocketed the two bits of copper and snatched up my damp scarf.
“The song glorifies the kingdoms,” he said. “Makes them sound beautiful.”
“Take out bastard King Maas, the greed and the violence of the North, the hatred toward the South . . . then perhaps.”
He drew out a coin and tossed it to me. I caught it against my chest. Gold. “Generous, thank you.” I eyed the bulky pouch at his belt. “You talk about the vices of the kingdoms—do you have vices of your own? I’m a good hand at cards.”
The man came forward, taking me in with a sweep of his gaze. He glanced toward Dwharfs, the tavern his comrades had shuffled into, and smiled. “I’m a better hand. You’d best keep your coin.”
I smirked back at him. “Care to put a wager on that?”
* * *
After another day’s singing, I added three copper pieces to the previous night’s winnings and bought Mother the scissors she needed.
Pouch almost emptied of coin, I headed back to my home at the far end of town. The trail curved through a mass of dense trees, opening to a view of a quaint stone cottage, two rosebushes out front. At the fringe of the woods, I breathed in the welcoming smoke that wisped out of the chimney.
Inside, my twin brother read aloud from a worn armchair—a story of hope, of gallantry, of a happily ever after. The poor commoner comes into enough riches to save his house. Hurrah. Hurrah. The good poor folk are saved.
I paced before the choking fire, threadbare rug slipping under my feet at each turn.
“Dreadfully depressing, Marc.” I swiped the book and flicked through the pages. “Give us more warmth to toss this in the fire.”
The hum of the sewing pedal stopped.
“Aaron,” Mother said, pulling at the hem of a red dress. She picked up the scissors and nipped at a dangling thread. “We’ll be . . . okay. Lauretta is a kind girl. She’ll pay generously for the dress.”
I straightened, snapping Marc’s book shut. Lauretta—Laurie—the earl’s last living daughter. A decent lady, and wiser since the curse . . .
Marc nipped his book back with fast, nimble fingers.
I grinned and rubbed my knuckles over his thick auburn hair. “Drivel is what that is.”
“To you maybe, but to me . . .” He shrugged and thumbed the edge of the leather binding. His deep blue eyes, though the same color as mine, seemed lighter on him. Seemed to glimmer with something close to optimism. “Negativity will only drive you to an ill mind.”
And doing naught would drive me there twice as fast.
The clock chimed the hour, and I slipped to the coat stand in the corner of the room. Now that mother had her scissors, it was time to head off to Dwharfs tavern. I tucked the loose flap of my shirt into my breeches, shoved on my lucky brown leather boots, and clipped on a belt fit with a short sword in its scabbard. Last, I slipped on Father’s navy coat—a woolen Great Coat with the stars stitched at the hems and around the brass buttons—perhaps the only thing of worth left to us.
My brother watched as I buttoned and then touched the star at the top button for luck. Just like Father did. Marc pushed off the armchair and came over, keeping his voice low. “Where are you going?”
Across the room, dress spread over her knees, Mother sucked on yet another pin-prick.
“Busking,” I said.
“I don’t believe you.” When I said nothing, Marc sighed, brow furrowing. “Dwharfs again?”
I nodded. The landlord was due three rents and annual fees in less than three weeks. He would sooner turn us out than take pity on us. Last week he’d tossed old maid Miller into the gutters when she failed to pay, and he’d not been decent about it either; the bruise on her cheek and the blood on her skirts had been a horrid testament to that.
I swallowed, glancing at Mother, her fragile frame and pale face.
“Aye,” I said, fitting on a tight smile. “Again.”
* * *
Misty sea air drifted into the tavern as the door opened.
The sharp-nosed, keen-eyed ruffian across the table from me breathed the salty scent, fingers drumming against the wooden length of a staff.
With a shrewd narrowing of eyes, he tossed five gold coins atop the mound on the table; they slid off the scrawled promise of my invitation to Lauretta’s ball and clinked against the coins beneath it. “Dare to match?”
Tucked into the soft folds of my belt, the winning cards cried out to do it. The empty pouch at my hip suggested otherwise. “I’ve nothing left to bet with.”
The ruffian cocked his head and tapped the end of the staff to his chin. Then, with a calculated smile, he leveled the silver snakehead at my chest. A fine forked tongue clinked against the collar of my coat.
“It’s rather frigid out,” he said.
The stool bit hard into my thighs as I stiffened and I smoothed the front of the coat. “I’m not betting this.”
His staff withdrew and snapped against the wooden floorboards, loud despite the hearty chatter of a full tavern. “Not too sure of your cards, then?”
I sipped my beer, arm resting on the sticky table. Quick fingers secured my winning cards and I set down the tankard with a laugh and subtly slipped them on the table. Ego stroking went a long way in a con, and I let the man think he had the upper hand. “You sure know how to play.”
The ruffian laughed. “Something like that. Should I collect my winnings and be gone . . .?” He lifted the staff to sweep in the pile of gold and paper, and I snatched the end, prying it back.
Standing, I unbuttoned the soft coat with clumsy fingers. Make the ruffian think I hadn’t the skill to cheat. Make him think he’d win this game.
Another burst of sea breeze flooded the tavern. I shivered at its cold licks, glaring toward the door.
The man I’d played the night before stepped over the threshold and paused, his wide shoulders propping the door open. The deep brown coat matched his dark hair, but not the dark gaze that swung around the tavern. He looked toward my corner and a scowl bracketed his mouth.
Our gazes hooked for a moment, and I sent him a somewhat apologetic grin.
Sorry ’bout cheating you. Better luck next time, eh?
He straightened, and I slipped out of my coat, draped it on the table, and focused on winning a happily ever after. Breezes billowed my shirt as I sat.
“Reveal,” I said, tapping the backs of my cards.
The ruffian’s smile darkened as he stabbed his cards with the staff’s forked tongue and lifted them—
I gasped. “No. That’s . . .”
The ruffian raised a sharp brow, and I swallowed back the accusation. No way he had those cards. They were perfect.
How had . . .? Surely I’d have noticed . . .
I flipped my cards. Two worthless spades blinked back.
“A valiant effort,” the ruffian said, standing. “And not without some skill.” He plucked up the coat, shook it, and slipped it on, rubbing the top button—Father’s lucky star. “Nice fit.”
The mound of winnings disappeared into his velvet pouch.
My stool tipped back and clattered to the floor as I stood and braced the table. “You—”
The head of his staff rapped my knuckles, cards still speared on the forked tongue. “I believe these belong to you.”
The cards were wedged under my fingers. Staff freed, he used the cuff of my father’s coat to buff the silver snakehead. “Word of advice,” he said, pivoting and striding through the rambunctious crowds. “Never play a pirate.”
The table glared at me, emptied save for my king and queen, hearts pierced. Poisoned.
The money. Our happily ever after.
Out of the tavern I shot, pushing through a bunch of hollering pirates. At least these fellows looked the part: skin stained with ink and ears flashing with gold.
Fast fingers pinched my pouch and sought to free my sword, but I gripped the hilt and shoved harder. The pouch they could have, empty as it was.
Thieving dastards the lot of them.
Salty air slammed into me as I lurched onto the groaning wharf. Lamps threw pockets of light down its length and water slapped against tens of docked ships, masts like looming black skeletons.
The ruffian sauntered toward the end of the wharf with a confident clicking of his staff.
“Perhaps we could negotiate?” I called. Seawater sprayed up through the gaps in the planks, and a few drops hit my shirt, the icy touch nothing to the cruel bite of the wind. “My coat, sir,” I headed after him. “I want it back.”
He paused, turning; brass buttons flashed under burned orange light, and his lips twitched in suppressed amusement
“In return for something else, of course.” I slowed to a stop a half-yard before him. “A cheat I may be, but I know when I’m bested.”
“What else have you to offer?”
Breath hitching, I glanced at my sword and sturdy boots. There was nothing else for it. I opened my belt—
Pain bloomed over my hand as the pirate rapped my the knuckles. The offending staff lingered in triumph. “I don’t fancy your dented blade or your scuffed boots.”
After one languid gaze, he dragged the staff up my shirt, over my throat, to my chin. The forked snake tongue danced at my lips. “Your mouth.”
“My . . . mouth?”
The ruffian’s eyes glinted with amusement. “So delicate. I should like to see just how well it could . . . keep me warm.”
I stumbled back a step, then pulled upright, flashing a firm smile. “Rather not.”
The ruffian drew back the staff. “The coat will do then. Best you be gone. I like my partners willing, but that is not a rule amongst my kind.” He twisted, and three steps later shadows devoured him and my father’s coat.
An ache I thought had lessened over the years swelled in my gut.
That’s not the last you’ve seen of me, Ruffian.
Somehow, I’d get father’s coat back.
And save our home.
Planks creaked and a rude whistle darted past my ear, followed by rough laughs. I spun. As if the ruffian had conjured it, there came a nest of rum-sweating pirates.
Hand at the hilt of my sword, I held my chin up and braced for thieving hands as I passed.