A sneak peek at the first chapter of my ongoing Epic Fantasy book series. I’m querying literary agents, so if you know of someone interested in representing my writing, contact me on my website www.alexisveenendaal.com
Would you rather listen to it? Check out the audio reading: https://alexisveenendaal.com/index.php/podcast/tide-of-sands-first-chapter-sneak-peek/
Somewhere in The Great Ocean
The gods’ damned storm came out of nowhere.
The Errant Pride’s crew leaned over the rail, murmuring and glancing back at their captain with unease.
Ros stood at the wheel of her ship, mouth curved in a frown and black curls whipping behind her like a dishevelled halo. Unlike the rest, she wasn’t surprised by the turn of ill luck. An effortless voyage would’ve raised her hackles more.
Lightning popped on the horizon, moving swiftly nearer. Soon, it would be upon them.
The storm was unnatural. She knew it at once. They couldn’t outrun it—she knew that too. So long as their destination remained the same—the smudge of land ahead—the storm would pursue them.
Black clouds rolled over the turbulent grey waters in the distance, consuming the blue skies. It would be on them in minutes. The ship’s sails billowed, threatening to tear from the mast under the first buffeting breaths. “Strike the sails!” Ros called.
The wind drowned out the crews’ shouts as ropes were wrestled and wrung.
“Where’d the gods’ damned thing come from?” Ardon, her first mate, slapped his hand on the rail next to her.
“You stole the words right out of my mouth,” Ros gave a dry smile.
Ardon Sutori was tall and broad-shouldered, his thick black hair pulled back in a loose tie. His expression was smooth, but she could see his hazel eyes darting with worry.
“It’ll be fine,” she assured him, not sure if she believed it herself.
He shook his head, disbelieving. “I’ve never seen anything like it—to come out of nowhere like that.”
She and Ardon had spent more than half of their almost thirty years sailing Karrun’s coastlines. Storms at sea tended to have telltale signs—until today, that was. They were far from home in unchartered waters. They weren’t the first explorers to sail across The Great Ocean, of course, but Ros was determined for them to be the first to survive the journey and return home.
Kyrie, a member of the crew whom Ros always called by her surname, Jaimins, clambered down the crow’s nest and jogged over. Her golden braid whipped in the wind. “Captain!” She spat out a strand of loose hair.
“How does it look?”
“I don’t know how we missed it. I heard the others say it’s dark magic.”
Ros quirked an eyebrow. “You haven’t been reading Ardon’s faerie stories, have you, Jaimins?” Ros ignored Ardon’s exasperated look beside her—any chance she had to tease him and didn’t was a missed opportunity. She was sure he’d throw one back at her soon enough. “No; there were signs,” Ros assured the woman, “we just missed them. Too anxious for land.”
Dark magic was a fiction told around campfires—there was no truth to the tales. At least, that’s what Ros had believed for most of her life until a certain, recent series of repeating dreams led her here.
“As you say, Captain,” Kyrie said, but her uncertain gaze shifted to Ardon, who dipped his head.
Ros set her jaw, scanning over the familiar lines of her ship. The Errant Pride wasn’t just a ship anymore. After a year on her maiden voyage with Captain Roslind Amri at the helm, she was home.
Well, Dad, Ros thought with grim determination, you’d better come through for me now. She looked back at Kyrie. “We’ll have to bear through it, Jaimins. Take Dietric and Colm below decks to secure cargo. I want everything of use stored in the boats.”
Ros turned back to Ardon as Kyrie went off with her orders.
Ardon held two important jobs on the ship: he was the first mate, and therefore more likeable than Ros, and he was their navigator. Looking at the storm now, Ros knew there’d be no navigating through it. They’d have to push through and hope Ros’s dreams weren’t a figment of her drug-induced mind.
Ros read in Ardon’s face that he knew what she planned. He also knew what she would say, but she lowered her voice and said it anyway. “We’ll have to go through. There’s no outrunning it now.” She felt a sprig of guilt at the half-truth.
“Look at those clouds, Ros. They’re not natural. Magic might not be real, but that storm definitely is.” As if on cue, the clouds churned like a pit of poisonous snakes. Ardon sighed at her immovable expression. “Captain, the ship won’t take it. Why not delay a few days? Try going around? We could bring up the sails—pull her out. There’s still time.”
Ros’s abdomen tightened. “We can’t. It can’t wait.”
“Our rations are running low.”
“A few days won’t kill us, but this storm might.”
She didn’t meet his gaze. “Make ready for a long night ahead.”
Ardon raised his thick eyebrows, his almond-shaped eyes probing her face for answers she couldn’t offer. Not yet.
His puzzlement made her gut clench tighter. She buttoned her long coat and tied back her thick curls. “We’ll get as close to land as we can. I’ll keep a skeleton crew up top.” Before he could protest, she added, “Take the rest below.”
“Ros,” he said, the lines in his forehead deepening. He opened his mouth, then closed it, shaking his head. He wanted to ask her, she knew, but the loyalty that drove him aboard her ship a year ago was the same staying his tongue now. Were she not so used to the shame, she might’ve grabbed him by the shirt: Why do you still trust me? Why are you here, Ardon? Why didn’t you run away? Why did you forgive me for leaving? Except she knew the answer to that, didn’t she? But she didn’t like to think about it.
She clutched her hands on the rail and looked out, taking in one last, long breath. “Trust me. Just a little longer.” Distant flashes of lightning cracked and popped like knuckles loosening before a fight. They were so close, now. She eyed her friend with desperate hope. “Can you do that?”
“I always do,” he answered so softly she almost didn’t catch it over the building storm. A split of lightning reflected in his dark eyes. “I guess all that’s left is to pray we make it out alive.”
“Prayer is for the desperate,” Ros said with a dry air, even as amusement tugged at her lips. Ardon was predictable. It was one of the things she liked most about him. “I prefer action.”
“‘The Nine Gods mark the wisdom of believers, and cast a light upon their path.’”
“Please don’t quote the Nine Points to me,” she pleaded. “You’ll put me to sleep, and I really need to stay awake for this next part.”
Ardon made a face and was about to retort when the air shook with another rumble of thunder, crawling ever closer. They were out of time. Ros squeezed Ardon’s hand. Forgive me, she thought, releasing him. “Prep the crew. Please. And Ardon—? Take care of them.”
Ardon offered another brief smile—a promise they’d always shared and never need speak aloud. “Aye, Captain.” The title still made her grin despite everything. He stepped away, calling to the crew over the noise. “All hands ready! We brace for the storm!”
Ros watched their reactions. A sane captain would direct them away from the storm, as Ardon had suggested, leaving land for another day. But she knew they couldn’t avoid it. No matter how many days they rerouted, the storm would come. They could sail tomorrow, or in a week’s time, and the result would be the same. Those with less wit might call it destiny, but she knew it for what it was. “You heard the first mate,” their Captain echoed as the first fat raindrops splattered over the deck. “Tie everything down! We sail for rough waters!”
Ros steeled herself for dissent, but it didn’t come. Her crew fell into line as they always did, racing to their tasks and shouting over the wind.
A year of promises: for adventure, renown, and the pursuit of new lands. It was time she fulfilled at least some of those—and got back the family she’d lost.
As the storm overtook them, Ros lost sight of the horizon. Night had fallen early, casting her ship into a quaking nightmare. The few sailors remaining above were each fastened by a short tether—as she was—to avoid being swept overboard. The rest, thank the nonexistent gods, were huddled below, saved from the sight she now saw.
A new wave swelled beneath them, sucking in her ship.
Ros’s stomach rose at the moment the ship crested the massive wave. There was a split second before they dipped over—enough time for her to wonder if she was about to die. The last look Ardon had given before tramping below decks was one of resigned exasperation. If her father kept up his end of the bargain, it wouldn’t be the last time she saw Ardon’s face.
“Gods,” she choked, the howling winds stealing the word from her lips.
The ship nose-dived headlong into blackness. For half a heartbeat, she thought it was the end.
But then the ship tore from its icy plunge, determined to stay afloat.
Heavy rain battered The Errant Pride from all sides, the world churning wildly and the waves growing stronger with each passing second. Another crack tore through the air above them, leaving ghosts of a shuddering mast behind Ros’s eyes. She could taste metal in the air and there was a ringing in her ears. Ros clutched the wheel with white-knuckled hands, muscles straining against the mounting power of the storm. Her feet slipped along the slick deck as she tried to steady herself, but the next assault came before she could regain her footing. She muttered a curse, clinging tighter. She was half blind from the sweeping rains, having no more sense of the passing minutes than one who’d gone through a long night of drinking. Her long blue coat spun in the frantic wind, whipping against her trembling legs where it wasn’t clinging to her.
The next wave came like a great wall. Ros could feel the low vibration beneath them before she saw it rise up. This is it, she thought, her mind reaching out to a glimmer that was too far away, now.
Why had she left her swords in her cabin?
Why did she need them? It wasn’t as if she could stab a storm…
Her ship was drawn into the behemoth wave. It crested. The moment slowed—and then they dropped. This time, Ros’s feet left the deck. The flight ended as abruptly as it began, the weight of the ocean consuming her.
Beneath the rocking hull, held steady only by the comfort of each other, huddled the eleven other crew of The Errant Pride. Each crash of waves against the ship was a thunderous roar within, jarring their courage.
Doctor Errin De’Car sat with a damp blanket wrapped over their shaved head for warmth. They—for they’d not been he for some time—prided themselves on a strong stomach. But each wave brought them nearer to being sick.
Ardon, perched across from the doctor with feet tucked under him, arms wrapped around his gathered knees and face miserable as he stared up at the creaking ceiling. It was like he could see where their captain stood above, pummelled by the height of the storm.
The crew’s tension was as tangible as the metallic tang of lightning in the air. Crowded under here, stuffed amongst the sealed lifeboats and swinging hammocks, with no windows for signs of what was to come, they were all silent and staring.
There was a deafening crack overhead and the ship lurched. Ropes snapped and crates slid across the floor to slam into the opposite wall, some breaking apart.
Ardon flinched, half standing as if contemplating whether he ought to run up, damned be his captain’s orders. The only thing stopping him, De’Car knew, was that blasted, unwavering loyalty. Roslind knew and had used that to keep Ardon safe on more than one occasion.
De’Car cleared their throat over the noise, forcing a steadiness into their voice. “Could I say a prayer for us?” It wasn’t for themselves that they asked. The gods were fickle, onerous creatures. But they often brought comfort to those in distress.
Ardon blinked, meeting their eyes with a thankful nod. The others murmured their agreement.
“To the Nine who watch us—” The doctor began.
Before the words were out, the ship shuddered and then they were rising. Rising. The crew braced themselves.
They were in free fall.
Ros’s body ached, and the night wore on. Once or twice, between the white foaming waves, the darkness, and the consuming black sky, she swore she saw a flash of green light. But then, just as fast, she blinked and realised she’d imagined it. All the while, she cried out through chattering teeth: “Where are you? Where are you?” But there was no answer—as useful as a prayer to the gods.
The storm slammed against the ship without ceasing, spinning her like a scrap of loose parchment on the winds. Then the mast split, breaking off and flying into the foaming waves, tearing canvas, rope, and one body from the deck. Through the haze, Ros couldn’t see who’d fallen to the waves, but she heard a woman scream.
Finally, the last wave came. Ros knew before the storm dragged them in that The Errant Pride had endured all she could. In that final dive as they hit solid water, every wooden joint and joist cracked at once and the deck splintered beneath her. Ye
Ros’s fingers slipped from the wheel as she lurched back, pulled by the rope at her waist. She felt, more than she heard the crack of something inside her. The rope snapped and she was flying.
Cold hit like a carriage running at full speed. She spun, darkness swirling around her as she kicked at the freezing water. The storm was a muffled drum and she sank deeper, her lungs now burning with the breath she’d forgotten above. Up. Which way is up? Pieces of The Errant Pride streaked past.
Something flashed in her periphery. She whirled, then—there! A faint shimmer. A green light.
Before Ros could kick toward it, something slammed into her. She spun until the light was no more, the darkness now so severe she couldn’t tell if she was swimming up or down. Her head felt like it was being pressed between two irons. She shook it, trying to clear her wits.
Swim! But her body had stopped responding. I’m dying, she realised.
A surprising calm settled in. She let herself drift back, a weightless spirit in its watery tomb, her thoughts roaming back to the hours before the storm. Ardon was right. They shouldn’t have come.
Find me… The voice from her dreams had said. My light will guide you, Roslind.
But the light was gone.
She raised her sluggish hands as if she could hear the voice speaking to her now.
A glint of silver. Something sinking with her. She held up her hands, a sudden warmth flooding every limb. She felt her fingertips brush against metal, and then… Blinding green light exploded around her. She propelled upwards. Closer, closer. There! Light above.
She felt something heavy hit, forcing out the last few bubbles, and her vision tunnelled to black.
‘The Peacemaker Chronicles’
Book 1: Tide of Sands
Book 2: Sea of Shadows
About the book:
TIDE OF SANDS is a 115k-word Epic Fantasy twist on settlers colonising the new world.
Captain Ros sails a vast ocean in search of missing memories when her crew shipwrecks on a hidden continent, where a red desert threatens the source of magic, and the magic-wielding natives blame Ros for its emergence.
About the author:
Alexis Veenendaal grew up in Canada, earning an English Literature from the University of Lethbridge. She lived in the Netherlands for three years and currently resides in Wales in the UK as a full-time writer and editor for an AI robotics automation company.