Sea of Swords

PROLOGUE
He worked his scimitars in smooth, sure circular motions, bringing them through delicate and deceiving arcs. When the opportunity presented itself he stepped ahead and slashed down at a seemingly exposed shoulder with one blade. But the elf, bald head shining in the sunlight, was faster. The elf dropped a foot back and raised a long sword in a solid parry, then came forward in a straight rush, stabbing with a dirk, then stepping ahead again to thrust with the sword.

He danced in perfect harmony with the elf's fluid movements, twirling his twin scimitars defensively, each rolling down and over to ring against the thrusting sword. The elf stabbed again, mid-torso, then a third time, aiming low.

Over and down went the scimitars, the classic, double-block-low. Then up those twin weapons came as the agile, hairless elf tried to kick through the block.

The elf's kick was no more than a feint, and as the scimitars came up, the elf fell into a crouch and let fly the dagger. It sailed in before he could get the scimitars down low enough to block, before he could set his feet and dodge aside.

A perfect throw for disembowelment, the devilish dagger caught him in the belly.

* * * * * * * *

"It's Deudermont, to be sure," the crewman called, tone growing frantic. "He's caught sight of us again!"

"Bah, but he's no way to know who we are," another reminded.

"Just put us around the reef and past the jetties," Sheila Kree instructed her pilot.

Tall and thick, with arms rock-hard from years of hard labor and green eyes that showed resentment for those years, the redheaded woman stared angrily at the pursuit. The three-masted schooner forced a turn from what would certainly have proven to be a most profitable pillaging of a lightly-armed merchant ship.

"Bring us a fog to block their watchin'," the nasty pirate added, yelling at Bellany, Bloody Keel's resident sorceress.

"A fog," the sorceress huffed, shaking her head so that her raven-black hair bounced all about her shoulders.

The pirate, who more often spoke with her sword than with her tongue, simply did not understand. Bellany shrugged and began casting her strongest spell, a fireball. As she finished, she aimed the blast not at the distant, pursuing ship - which was long out of range, and which, if it was Sea Sprite, would have had no trouble repelling such an attack anyway - but at the water behind Bloody Keel.

The surf sizzled and sputtered in protest as the flames licked at it, bringing a thick steam up behind the fast-sailing ship. Sheila Kree smiled and nodded her approval. Her pilot, a heavy-set woman with a big dimpled face and a yellow smile, knew the waters around the western tip of the Spine of the World better than anyone alive. She could navigate there on the darkest of nights, using no more than the sound of the currents splashing over the reefs. Deudermont's ship wouldn't dare follow them through the dangerous waters ahead. Soon enough Bloody Keel would sail out beyond the third jetty, around the rocky bend, and into open waters if she chose, or turn even closer inland to a series of reefs and rocks - a place Sheila and her companions had come to call home.

"He's no way to know 'twas us," the crewman said again.

Sheila Kree nodded, and hoped the man was right - believed he probably was, for while Sea Sprite, a three-masted schooner, had such a unique signature of sails, Bloody Keel appeared to be just another small, unremarkable caravel. Like any other wise pirate along the Sword Coast, though,