The Devil's Concubine (The Devil of Ponong series #1)

BOOK: The Devil's Concubine (The Devil of Ponong series #1)
3.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
 

The
Devil’s Concubine

Copyright © 2013 by Jill Braden

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of
the copyright owner.

 
 

Published in the United States by
Wayzgoose Press.

Edited by Dorothy E. Zemach.

Maps by Will Mitchell.

Cover design by DJ Rogers.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously.

The Devil’s Concubine

 
 
 
 

_________________________________

 
 

Jill Braden

 

_________________________________

 
 
 
 

 
Maps of The Sea of Erykoli and The Island of Ponong

~ ~ ~

Chapter
1: QuiTai

 
 

Like
a school
of jewel-toned tropical fish on the reef, the crowd in the
marketplace suddenly veered away as QuiTai stepped off the veranda of the
sunset-pink building into the town square. They cringed back as she sauntered
through the stalls, as if instead of her bright green sarong she were clothed
in poison. She’d decided long ago it was their guilt that made them unable to
meet her gaze, not judgment. The Devil’s concubine had nothing to be ashamed
of.

Further inland, the
remains of Typhoon DirAmat still hung heavily in the air, but here the cooling
breeze off the Sea of Erykoli tousled the prayer flags strung over the market
stalls. The sing-song voices of Ponongese women who balanced wide baskets of
wares on their head rose above the din in a familiar chorus of “Mangos! Roasted
jikal roots!” The scent of hot oil wafting from a tamtuk stand made QuiTai’s
stomach growl.

A big hand clamped
onto QuiTai’s shoulder. She knew from the chipped fingernails and hairy
knuckles it was Casmir. Her nose wrinkled. She tried to shove his hand away,
but his fingers dug into her collar bone.

“The Devil wants
you,” Casmir said.

She turned her head
to look up at him. She glanced at his hand and then raised her gaze slowly to
his face again. He let go of her.

Casmir could have
been chipped from the granite Alps of his homeland by a sculptor inspired by
the mythic heroes. Like his face, his voice seemed to have been cut from rock. Most
of the werewolves in the Devil’s pack had a brooding, wild man allure, but few
had Casmir’s extra spark of malevolence. His homespun shirt pulled tight over
his muscles. Sweat stains darkened his collar. Hairy barbarians from the
northernmost realm of the continent, the werewolves had never adapted to the
humid heat of Ponong.

Ivitch, a taller,
younger man with sparse facial hair and no chin, slunk into QuiTai’s sight. When
Ivitch had come to the island with the Devil, the bloom of youth had still been
on his cheeks. Now he was old enough to have the beginnings of a moustache, but
the wisps did not cover his mouth, which often hung open. Even with his facial
hair filled in like the rest of the Devil’s werewolves, QuiTai didn’t think he’d
look any smarter. The stupidity reached all the way up to his eyes. She had to
keep reminding herself that even stupid people could cause a hell of a lot of
trouble when they wanted to, and Ivitch always did.

Although they were
Rujicks, in Levapur the Devil’s men were known only as werewolves. While few
people on Ponong could point to Rujick on a map of the continent, they knew
exactly what a werewolf was and why it should be feared. That suited the Devil
just fine.

The hairs on
QuiTai’s arms rose as a low growl rumbled from Ivitch’s chest. She scanned the
crowd around them for signs of trouble, but saw nothing that might have angered
him.

“Snake eyes make my
skin crawl,” Ivitch muttered.

The Ponongese’s
vertical pupils, surrounded by thin bands of bright yellow, often startled
visitors to the islands, but the werewolves should have been used to them by
now. And Ivitch should have known better than to call her people snakes. She
let her inner eyelid lower. The bright colors of the marketplace dimmed as her
vision clouded.

Ivitch shuddered and
looked away.

A satisfied smile
curved the corners of her mouth.

“You heard me. The
Devil says to come. Now,” Casmir ordered.

QuiTai flicked her
long black braid over her narrow shoulder and headed for the nearest tamtuk
stand. Even though Ivitch and Casmir growled, she bought one of the fried dough
balls. As her teeth cracked the golden crust, spicy steam curled up to her
nose. She strolled through the spice merchants’ stalls below the stairs of the
Thampurian government building while she savored the pork and rice stuffing.

The Devil – she
rarely allowed herself to think of his real name in public – would be
furious that she’d kept him waiting. While she knew she should have immediately
returned to his den with Casmir and Ivitch, something gave her pause. This
close to a full moon, she and the Devil didn’t usually talk. Why did he want to
see her? The question paced fretfully on the edge of her thoughts like a hungry
street cur.

As she licked the
last salty crumb of tamtuk from her fingers, she headed for the jellylantern
merchant’s stall. The light in the Devil’s den had grown so dim in the past few
weeks that she could barely see inside, which was perhaps more of a blessing
than a curse, but nonetheless someone had to buy them. She lifted a
jellylantern to inspect the tiny bioluminescent medusozoa floating in the glass
tube. She turned it to the light and gave the tube a gentle flick. A few dead creatures
settled to the bottom. The delicate, transparent bodies of the live ones glowed
faint green.

“The price
went up again?” she asked the merchant.

Color rose
in his cheeks and he lowered his chin so that he seemed to answer his rounded belly
instead of her. “It’s typhoon season. Shipping rates always go up.”

“Ridiculous,
considering we raise the medusozoa right here on Ponong.”

The
merchant said nothing. He’d probably had this argument with too many customers.
It wasn’t his fault the occupying Thampurian government had made it illegal to
sell the harvest to anyone but the Thampurian-owned medusozoa monopoly. It wasn’t
his fault that half the harvest died on the long ocean voyage back to Thampur,
where the jellylanterns were manufactured, or that the people of Ponong had to
pay shipping both ways. It was the price they paid for being a colony. And
paid. And paid. In land, in coin, in justice.

QuiTai
scanned the crowd. Shoppers seemed to have sudden urgent business elsewhere as Casmir
and Ivitch, lured by the scent of blood, wandered to a butcher’s stall several
yards from the jellylantern seller. Soon there were no other shoppers to be
seen. The men were too far away for her to hear their conversation, but the
butcher clearly didn’t want werewolves rubbing their noses against the pigs’
heads hanging from his awning.

Still
scanning, she turned in the other direction. Her expression hardened the moment
she glimpsed the Thampurian spy Kyam Zul standing among the wide, spreading
limbs of the banyan tree across the town square. He seemed to be trying to hide,
which was ridiculous: his broad shoulders and height set him a head higher than
most Ponongese.

Of course
Kyam had to ruin her afternoon. He was always the mosquito in the dark room.

As usual,
he was between shaves, and his glossy straight black hair fell into his eyes.
From the distance, his thigh-length shewani jacket and tight trousers seemed
impeccable, although she knew up close she’d see frayed hems and missing
buttons. None of that diminished his good looks, which only irritated her more.

While she
couldn’t hold the jellylantern merchant responsible for the price of jellylanterns,
she was more than willing to point the finger at Kyam Zul and all his kind. As
a scion of one of the privileged thirteen families of Thampur, he shared their blame.
His grandfather was one of the thieves who had stolen her country from her
people.

Kyam
stopped a boy playing tag around the banyan tree and spoke urgently to the
squirming child. His gaze met QuiTai’s before he looked away.

The
jellylantern merchant cleared his throat. She turned back to him.

“How much
for the blue light ones?” she asked.

He named a
staggering price.

QuiTai
carefully stacked tubes of expired green jellylanterns on his counter with a rueful
shake of her head. Yelling at him wouldn’t solve anything, even if it would
make her feel better. “More green, then. What are you giving for the old tubes?”

“Same as
always.”

She
clenched her jaw. “At least give me fresh ones. There are too many sinkers in
these.”

Perhaps if
she were not the Devil’s concubine, he might have told her in rough language where
she could take her business. Instead, he opened a crate in the back of his
stall and put twelve strong green jellylanterns on the counter. She counted out
the coins and gently placed the tubes into her basket.

A sweaty
little hand pressed something scratchy into her palm and then tugged on her
sarong. She looked down into the yellow-ringed eyes of the boy she’d seen with
Kyam.

“Pui,
auntie?” His front teeth were almost too big for his mouth, and he smelled of
salted earth, as if he’d been playing hard in the sun all day.

Her breath
caught. Despite the heat, icy fear shot through her. She glanced quickly at
Casmir and Ivitch. Their backs were to her as they held a dripping pig’s liver
high above the butcher’s reach.

Surely
someone had warned the boy to stay far away from werewolves. Unfortunately, he
was at that age when boys were fascinated by the things that scared them. She quickly
handed him a coin and pushed him away. “Go, before the Devil’s werewolves see
you, little brother.”

His eyes
widened as his smile faded.

She
shielded him from Ivitch and Casmir’s sight as she shoved him again, harder.
“Obey auntie.” She meant to sound terse, but a warble of fear made it more of a
plea.

A woman
with a basket of fish yanked the boy’s arm and dragged him further away from
Casmir and Ivitch. When she let go, an old man weaving straw hats urgently
beckoned the boy to duck into his stall.
 
From across the square, Kyam Zul nodded curtly at QuiTai and then disappeared
behind the banyan tree.

Their
sport with the butcher over, Casmir and Ivitch headed toward her.

Even
though the boy was gone, her pulse still raced. She hoped the slight tremor in
her hands wasn’t noticeable as she put the last of the tubes into her basket.

“That
better be the last of your errands,” Ivitch said.

QuiTai tucked
a cloth around the jellylanterns so they wouldn’t clank together. A broken tube
couldn’t be returned for credit.

Followed
by the werewolves, she walked past the bank and cafés where the business
district gave way to a residential neighborhood. The noise and scents of the
marketplace grew fainter as the hush of wealth enveloped her. The limbs of tall
trees formed a shady canopy over the dirt road as the tropical sun beat on the
low tile roofs of the houses behind their compound walls. She shook her head at
the stupidity. Leave it to Thampurians to get things so entirely wrong. They
seemed to think they still lived in their blustery capital.

“What did
that brat want?” Casmir asked.

Despite
her alarm, QuiTai shrugged. “Pui.”

Ivitch
chuckled. “You should have let us have him.”

It felt as
if he’d plunged his fist into her chest, but she drew air deep into her lungs
as if it were perfumed.

A few
servants walked on the wide lane between the compounds, but they were far away.
The Thampurian neighborhood slumbered through the afternoon heat.

She took
her time looking at their surroundings and sighed with great satisfaction. “I
love this part of the city. So private; and yet, still close to the
marketplace.” She opened her mouth and let her fangs spring forward. Never one
to waste what she might need later, she held back the flow of venom, but the
werewolves wouldn’t know her fangs were dry.

The color
faded from Casmir’s face. He walked away quickly. She pressed her fangs back
against the roof of her mouth then followed at a slower pace. Ivitch fell
behind her.

When both
men were at a distance, she unfolded the note from Kyam. Only a Thampurian would
use such fine stationery for a clandestine note.

Mister Zul
asked that she hire him to paint her portrait and suggested they meet at the
Red Happiness. His words were amusingly polite, given that he was asking to
meet her at a brothel. If he thought she would be insulted by the implication
that she was a whore, he was wrong.

While at
first glance it seemed a simple enough request, QuiTai and Kyam Zul both
operated in a world beneath the surface. She found his note rather cryptic.
Normally people begged her to plead with the Devil on their behalf, but he’d
called for the Devil’s arrest too many times to dare beg for that kind of
favor. No, Kyam Zul wanted to discuss something with her. How intriguing. If he’d
resorted to asking his biggest enemy in Levapur for a favor, he must be
desperate.

Desperate enough to send a child within a few
feet of the werewolves. The bastard.

The
werewolves had been too far away to see the boy slip the note into her hand,
but it would be best to be rid of it before they arrived at the Devil’s den. She
tore the thick stationery into tiny pieces and dropped them one by one into
murky puddles left behind from the monsoon rains. If Ivitch saw them fluttering
to her feet like night spirit moths, he didn’t say anything.

What was Kyam up to?

She shook
her head. She couldn’t dwell on Kyam’s note; she had to prepare herself to face
the Devil.

BOOK: The Devil's Concubine (The Devil of Ponong series #1)
3.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Mix-up in Miniature by Margaret Grace
Between Two Promises by Shelter Somerset
Love Through LimeLight by Farrah Abraham
The Armada Legacy by Scott Mariani
Wood and Stone by John Cowper Powys
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson