Read an Excerpt From H.M. Long’s Black Tide Son


We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Black Tide Son, the second book in H.M. Long’s epic fantasy Winter Sea series—out from Titan Books on July 9th.

Samuel and Mary are thriving as privateers on the Winter Seas. As they navigate the complexities of their growing bond, in a world that would see Mary as chattel to be traded, the pair are forging a new, better way to live, under the sails of Hart.

But when their latest prize brings tales of Benedict’s capture by Mereish forces, they must make an impossible choice: to serve their nation or save Sam’s brother.

Thrust into a mission of intrigue and infiltration, they seek to break into the most secure prison on the Mereish Coast. But as they sail deep into enemy territory, they find themselves hunted by a cunning and mysterious new foe—an enemy who seems to know their every secret, and who will kill to keep their own.

As the Black Tide rises, and fleets take to the water, Samuel, Mary and Benedict are on a desperate race for survival—both their own, and the free nations of the Winter Seas.


ONE

The Demete

SAMUEL

The hush that followed the wind was portentous and thick with drifting smoke. The guns fell quiet in their cradles and the rush of water against the hull ebbed as Hart slowed, nosing alongside his drifting prize.

No roar of victory came from the dozens of armed men and women crowding the waist of my ship. Neither I nor their former captain had been a miser for discipline, so their mutters were low, their muskets primed but at ease. Nor did I hear defiant or vengeful cries from the pirates on our prize’s deck, though they were slung about with pistols, cutlasses and machetes, and marksmen hung in their rigging. Outnumbered, outgunned and exhausted from two days’ pursuit, the flag flying from their mainmast was white, crosshatched with red—not a flag of surrender, but of parley.

Their captain stood on the quarterdeck with two helmsmen, who cradled muskets and held their posts with resentment in their eyes.

She called in accented Aeadine, “I am flattered you risk so much for my head, Aead,” as she came forward to lean on the rail, her voice easily carrying the dozen yards of docile waves between our ships. Her greying hair was braided, its length tied by a black silk ribbon, and she wore a felted, cocked hat with a blue overcoat faded to spruce. Her eyes were rimmed with black against the usual glare of sun off snow and ice and Winter Sea.

The pirate continued with feigned apprehension, “Bringing the Fleetbreaker’s daughter into Mereish waters?” She gestured to the woman beside me, in her pale-blue calico skirts and oversized wool coat.

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Black Tide Son

Mary Firth, daughter of the infamous Stormsinger known as the Fleetbreaker, had her arms crossed over her chest, but at this she raised one hand a margin and fluttered her fingers in a wave. She was tall and dark haired, her head uncovered to the wind in a way that no mother on the Winter Sea would condone.

“She knows who I am?” Mary squinted at our would-be captive, speaking quietly to me. “We may soon be notorious, Sam.”

“Is that not our intention?” I murmured back. “If you wanted obscurity, you should have gone south with your mother.”

Mary hid a smile and called over the water in her rounded, inland accent. “Mereish waters, you say? I see nothing but fog. Though, we’ve a Letter of Marque from the Usti queen and the right to be wherever we see fit.”

The pirate captain snorted. “The fog that you called yourself, witch. And letters can burn. Captain, let us resolve this before we have a patrol on our heads.”

“Very well. Ophalia Monna.” I drew up to the quarterdeck rail and faced the othercaptain over the stretch of sea. Mary stayed where she was. “I am Captain Samuel Rosser of  Hart, privateer under commission of the Usti Crown. Surrender yourself. You are taking on water, you have no Stormsinger, and falling into the hands of your countrymen will be your death. Come with me back to Hesten and you will face fair trial under the Usti for your crimes against their ships. Or we can wait here, becalmed, until a patrol sets to blowing us both out of the water.”

The pirate replied, “Would you perhaps be related to a Benedict Rosser?”

There was no question in her voice. She knew who Mary was. She knew who I was. And evidently, she knew something of my brother, too.

A whisper of premonition swept over me, blurring the edges of the world—the lines of the rails and rigging, the masts and lifeless sails, the waves and Monna’s fixed gaze. Then my fingers brushed the long, oval coin in my pocket, and the whisper faded. The world took on clear edges again, and I realized Mary had drawn up to my shoulder.

“Someone is coming,” she murmured. “Ghisten ships.”

I cursed. The fog shrouded us, but it also limited what we could see of the world around us. By natural means, at least.

“Can you delay them?” I asked, equally low.

Mary gave a nod and stepped back. I heard the smooth intake of her breath, then the first notes of a song slipped into the still air. They were low and melancholy, drawing in the hushed solemnity of the sea and returning it in sympathetic kind.

“There is a voice among the trees, that mingles with the groaning oak, that mingles with the stormy breeze…”

The wind stirred and damp air prickled across my cheeks. Monna lifted her chin, sensing the change at the same time as one of her crewmen murmured in her ear.

“We will surrender,” Monna decided. “No more storms, guns or bloodshed. I will peacefully come aboard, then I will tell you how I met your twin in the belly of a Mereish frigate.”

* * *

Monna sat at the small table in my cabin, fishing a pipe and pouch from her pocket. Ice rimmed each small windowpane, further obscuring our foggy view of open sea and pursuing ships beyond. It was cold; the iron-girded woodstove had been smothered for action and not yet rekindled. But at least we were out of the wind.

Distantly, I heard Mary’s song above deck, accompanied by the rumble of footfalls and the piping of the bosun’s whistle. Her witchwind was up and we were well on our way back to safer waters, with Monna’s ship in convoy.

“I am surprised they came upon us so quickly,” Monna commented as she stuffed the pipe. “But it is a time for surprises. I also did not expect you to chase me beyond Aeadine waters, yet here we are. May I?”

I nodded and the pirate leaned in to steal a taper and flame from the lantern suspended low over the table. Meanwhile, I shed my outer coat and sat across from her, leaving my cutlass and pistols in place.

Her mention of my brother itched the back of my mind, dredging up question after question. I held my tongue for now, sifting through tactics.

Monna was at least thirty years my senior, and, judging by her ease and the weathered condition of her light-brown skin, she had been at sea for longer than that. She had also evaded capture more than a dozen times and showed no sign of fear or tension—save the methodical way she puffed on her pipe, one finger tapping on the table. Dusky, rich smoke drifted up towards the hefty beams above.

“My commission is from the Usti, not Aeadine,” I reminded her. “Neutral in the conflict between our peoples. I have the papers to prove it. You, a hunted brigand, are in far more danger from your people than I am.”

Monna grinned around the pipe bit and relaxed in her chair. “As I said, papers may be burned, young captain. Then we have only our word to protect us: the word of pirates and privateers. And what is that worth to the mighty navies?”

“Very little,” I acknowledged. “Now, you mentioned my brother.”

“Yes. It is uncanny, how you two are alike. Mirror twins?”

I nodded, carefully stowing all emotion. “You saw him aboard a Mereish frigate?”

“His ship was wrecked at Eldona Island. That happens to be my winter harbor, and the locals pay well for my protection. The tides have been rather high; your brother’s ship struck our hidden reef and was dashed to pieces. What was I to do but investigate? Pity the Navy came upon us, and I found myself a prisoner alongside your brother.”

Concealed under the table, I unclenched my fist and stretched it across my thigh. The shock of such loss of life was an old one, dulled with familiarity, but still present. A vessel as large as Benedict’s had nearly a thousand men and women aboard, many of whom I knew from my own naval days before I had resigned my commission in the face of rumors and disgrace.

“How many of his crew survived?” I asked.

“All the boats were gone,” Monna replied, her tone losing a little of its uncaring mildness. She was not impassive to the deaths of fellow seafarers either, regardless of their nationality. “I cannot say what befell them. There were many dead. Some made it to shore and escaped inland, I am sure.”

“Mean comfort.”

She nodded, exhaling twin swirls of smoke through her nostrils.

“Was my brother given parole? Was there any mention of ransom?”

“All I know is where the ship that took him was bound. I am happy to tell you, in return for my freedom.”

“If I believe you.”

“Your brother spoke of a child dependent upon him, playing upon our captor’s sympathies. Josephine, he called her. And he was a Magni, though I assume that is common knowledge. He compelled the guards to release us, though there was an unfortunate mix-up with the keys, and only I managed to escape.”

At the last she smiled, flat and feline, and I had no doubt as to the cause of that confusion.

“In return for my freedom,” the pirate repeated, “I am more than happy to tell you where your brother was headed. Perhaps you can even rescue him before the Mereish shoot him like a mad dog.”

A sea of possibility spread before me, and with it, a new course. I could barter with this pirate, choose not to hand her over to the Usti as I was being paid to do, and try to save my brother. I might even succeed. But my crew expected payment, deserved it, and not every tongue could be trusted not to wag even if I paid them off myself. Furthermore, in my last report I had noted how close I was to capturing the pirate. An Usti ship likely already waited at Tithe to take her home and give me my next task.

Mary was another factor. Her contract was upheld by the Usti Crown and tied to my commission. Without it, Mary would once again be little more than a commodity in the eyes of every captain on the Winter Sea. As it was, we walked a fine line every time we were in port, every time we crossed paths with another ship.

I sat still for a long moment then smiled, small and grim and a little melancholy. “It is a pity, then, that I do not care whether my brother lives or dies. Make peace with your saints, Captain Monna. You have nothing I want.”

Excerpted from Black Tide Son, copyright © 2024 by H.M. Long.



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