A reminder that Fryte’s Gold is now available for free via Smashwords.
In the meantime, here’s a quick preview, introducing you to the Sisters Darkstone:
FRYTE’S GOLD: A TALE OF REALMGARD
For the Sisters Balkovec.
Kat Darkstone would like to tell you about her sister.
For the first five glorious years of her life, Kat had the three storeys and modestly-sized yard of Darkstone Manor to herself, along with the undivided love and attention of her parents. But for the past ten years, ever since the arrival of a certain Dunstana Felicity Darkstone, Kat has had to share both Darkstone Manor and her parents.
It hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing, it’s just that of all the kid sisters in Realmgard, Dunstana is the… well, Kat isn’t really sure how to describe what exactly Dunstana is.
Dunstana’s definitely the most something of all the little sisters out there.
Something indescribable, occasionally infuriating, but always exciting and equally excitable. Being Dunstana Darkstone’s big sister keeps Kat’s life undoubtedly interesting. And puts her training as a fully-licensed adventurer to good use. Of course, Kat does love her little sister, but Dunstana is not a normal little girl.
Normal little girls don’t pretend to be reasonably successful pirates. But, then, strictly speaking, neither does Dunstana.
She is a reasonably successful pirate.
Kat blames that on their father, Admiral Dorian Darkstone, once a widely-feared, but now happily-retired pirate and current purveyor of artisanal tea-cosies.
The Darkstones have a long family history of piracy. Though she had been regaled nearly every hour of every day as a little girl with her father’s stories of his own daring exploits and those of countless generations of ancestors, Kat has never had much interest in carrying on the family tradition.
She gets seasick whenever she steps onto a boat, she can’t stand the taste of fish, and she only likes getting wet when she’s in the bath.
She’s quite content with her chosen career of freelance adventurer, part-time sales associate at her grandparents’ store, and professional layabout.
As far as Kat can tell, it’s because of her own lack of interest in the family trade that the Admiral has always tried especially hard to turn Dunstana pirate and ensure that the Darkstone family tradition keeps going strong. He’s been largely successful.
He decorated baby Dunstana’s room with images of ships and waves and treasure chests and hung a mobile of famous pirate flags over her crib. The first book Dunstana ever read by herself was the Big Book of Pirates. She’s barely ever put it down since.
She still gazes up in wide-eyed wonder at the Admiral as he tells his pirate stories, even though Kat is sure she has heard them all somewhere between thirty and thirty thousand times.
Kat wonders if the Admiral knew ahead of time that Dunstana would be the one he’d love best. It’s the only explanation she can think of for why she got named after the Admiral’s own beloved grandfather, the legendary Dunstan Darkstone, while Kat got saddled with the absolutely monstrous ‘Hortensia’. She takes some solace in the fact that it’s her middle name, which allows it to be her deepest, darkest secret instead of common knowledge.
Kat doesn’t think she could survive as a Hortensia.
For seven years, little Dunstana was just a girl with a vivid imagination and an inordinate interest in pirates.
But then came the day when she won herself a pirate ship.
Each year, to celebrate Porthaven’s Foundation Day, the office of the Prince of Porthaven gives away all sorts of fabulous prizes through the time-tested method of pulling names from a hat.
Three years ago, the Porthaven Shipworks donated a sailing ship as one of the prizes.
When the time came for the draw for the ship, it was Dunstana’s name that came out of the hat. Clearly, somebody up there wants Dunstana to be a pirate just as much as the little pirate herself does. Thankfully, the Powers gave the world at least enough sense that Dunstana is only allowed to take her ship sailing under the Admiral’s direct supervision.
Like any pirate worth her salt, Dunstana lives for adventure. As the little sister of someone with an Adventuring Licence, that also means she lives for dragging Kat along with her.
And, like any other good pirate, Dunstana thrives on danger and laughs in the face of death. And, like any other good big sister, Kat’s job is to keep Dunstana as far away from the face of death as humanly possible. Dunstana laughs at the face of death. Kat tends to punch it.
Dunstana lives for adventure because of the prospect of fortune and glory promised by those adventures, always on the lookout for whatever treasure she can find. Of course, the treasure isn’t her main concern. It’s the ability to use that treasure to buy things she wants.
That usually means Princess Moonflower dolls.
In a mere three years, with only a little help from her family, Dunstana has found enough treasure and displayed enough business acumen to cover every available surface of her room with Princess Moonflowers.
There’s more pink on Dunstana’s shelves than Kat would have thought possible. It would be impressive if it weren’t so terrifying.
Dunstana may be a mere ten years old, but she’s an endless fountain of energy and determination. Plus, she has — in Kat’s humble opinion, at least — the very best big sister in all of Realmgard watching her back on her adventures.
It seems like the Sisters Darkstone have their latest adventure looming ahead of them.
Last night before bed, Dunstana told Kat to meet her today in the dockside pub.
Katherine Hortensia Darkstone is nothing if not a dutiful big sister, and so, per her sister’s request, she finds herself waiting over a bowl of soup in Porthaven’s inexplicably most popular public house, the Hammered Nail.
She has a feeling she’s going to end up regretting this, but it’s what big sisters are for. Besides, after all she’s gone through with Dunstana, Kat figures she’s due to catch a break.
She can only find herself in mortal peril so many times before her luck finally starts to turn around. For all she knows, Dunstana just wants to go the library.
Kat can only hope.
There are definitely nicer places in Porthaven than the Hammered Nail. The Nail is dingy, poorly-lit, begrimed with no less than three kinds of dirt, and crowded thanks to too many people trying to fit into not enough space. The food, however, is shockingly adequate.
The Nail has one redeeming quality. It’s a good place for an aspiring — and recently fully-licensed — adventurer like Kat to hang around. There’s something special about taverns that way; they attract adventurers the same way fish heads attract sharks — with a slightly less powerful stench.
For all its faults, the Nail remains one of the best places in Porthaven to meet other adventurers looking to get up to something. There’s a notice board on the back wall where people with problems post their requests in hopes of getting the attention of adventurers with potential solutions.
Most days, all Kat has to do is stand near the notice board looking busy for a few minutes to get invited along on some job or other.
Usually, there’s at least one group willing to give an inexperienced adventurer like Kat a chance.
Today must be a slow day, though, because Kat hasn’t heard anything that might lead to a job. There are a few groups of adventurers mulling around idly picking at various appetiser plates and just generally doing nothing.
She’s wondering if it’s worth it to try to talk to them when the door of the Nail slams open. Kat jumps at the sound, almost tumbling from her stool. If the little shadow stretching across the floor is any indication, Dunstana has arrived.
Kat instinctively tries to make herself invisible.
“Kat!” the little pirate calls eagerly. “Where are you?”
Kat tries to make herself invisibler.
It doesn’t work. Mostly because she’s too tall to hide among the crowd.
“Hi, Kat!” Dunstana exclaims eagerly. Kat waves without turning around.
Even without looking at her sister, Kat can tell Dunstana is excited about something. That’s a bad sign.
Kat has had ten years to learn that the things that make Dunstana excited are usually the things that Kat finds terrifying. Dunstana hops onto the barstool beside Kat.
The old bartender turns to her. “Well, hey there, Captain Kid. What’ll you have?” he asks from behind a colossal beard
“Juice!” she declares. A heartbeat later, she has her juice.
Kat still has to shake her head in bewilderment at how everyone still plays along with Dunstana.
Sometimes, she wonders if she’s the only person in Porthaven to realise how ridiculous the very notion of a ten-year-old pirate is. But at this point, it’s too late to sit Dunstana down and give her a talking-to about how piracy is not a particularly healthy activity for little girls.
Dunstana wants to be pirate, so she’ll be a pirate — and there’s nothing on the Powers’ green earth that could hope to tell her otherwise.
At this point, Kat feels sorry for anyone who would try. It’s a lesson she learned the hard way and after much kicking of her shins.
At a glance, it’s not particularly clear that Kat and Dunstana are sisters, if only because of the age difference – Kat is five years and a few months older than Dunstana. There’s a certain family resemblance, but it’s easy to miss beneath the obvious differences.
Kat’s hair is black. Dunstana’s is somewhere between red and brown and the differences only grow from there. For one, Kat is taller than her sister — about the size of one Dunstana sitting on another Dunstana’s shoulders.
Of course, the tall, wiry Kat manages to be taller than most people and has been for most of her life. The only people she tends to feel anything near short around are very tall Elves; and Elves are always tall.
Kat is the tallest one in her family and has been from a startlingly young age. The other kids had a song about it: “Katherine, Katherine, we agree,” she remembers them singing, “You’re thin as a sliver and tall as a tree.”
That was usually the point at which they got punched. Thankfully, the other kids never learned her middle name. Even if they had, she doesn’t think they could have found anything to rhyme with Hortensia.
While the mocking rhymes are largely a thing of the past, she still tends to get looks for the unusual tallness; and to hit her head on door frames every now and then.
Dunstana’s eyes are green and often widened in wonder, while Kat’s are brown and more often narrowed in bemusement. Usually directed at Dunstana.
Kat tends to wear different shades of black: black pants, black boots, black vest, black gloves. The ribbon keeping her hair in its ponytail changes colour every day, though.
Dunstana wears a miniature pirate outfit: big-buckled boots, frilly-sleeved shirt, brown vest, red overcoat and three-pointed hat. The overcoat is about three sizes too big, meaning her hands tend to vanish into the recesses of her sleeves. The hat, however, makes Kat just a little jealous.
It is a nice hat.
Dunstana looks up at Kat. “What’s wrong, Kat?” she asks.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Kat answers.
Dunstana continues staring at Kat with those big green eyes of her.
“Yes?” Kat asks.
“I was exploring on the beach,” Captain Kid reveals. “And I found a cave. I want to go look inside.”
“Have fun,” Kat says, going back to her soup.
“I need your help, I can’t go alone,” Dunstana states.
“Why not?” Kat asks.
Dunstana blushes a little. “The cave’s too dark. It’s scary,” she admits quietly. The thought of the usually headstrong, often reckless Dunstana actually slowing down long enough to get scared is novel enough to make Kat chuckle.
“It’s not funny,” Dunstana insists, puffing up her cheeks indignantly. It makes her look like some kind of angry chipmunk pirate. That makes Kat chuckle, too.
She doesn’t have much of a choice. Bad things happen when Dunstana goes around unsupervised.
Of course, it would be equally irresponsible to let Dunstana go on a treasure hunt alone. She’s only ten years old and much of Realmgard, especially the parts best-suited to treasure hunting, is filled with hungry things with lots of teeth.
This has historically been a harshly-learned lesson for generations of Realmgard’s aspiring adventurers.
It’s also technically illegal for Dunstana to go adventuring by herself. She isn’t old enough to qualify for an Adventuring Licence, but she is allowed to accompany a licensed adventurer as long as they aren’t gone for more than three days at a time.
Kat turns to the bartender and holds up her empty bowl. “More, please.” After she finishes her new serving of soup, she turns to Dunstana. “Fine. I’ll come with you,” she concedes.
Dunstana’s face lights up like the sun. She leaps from her stool and hugs her big sister, almost knocking Kat off her own stool. “You’re the best, Kat!” she exclaims.
“Yeah,” Kat agrees humbly, gently patting Dunstana’s back. “I am.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to have a pirate for a little sister. It has, on various occasions, led Kat to get stuck waist-deep in a swamp, covered in spiders, or chased by furious hogs. There was also that time she got bit by a spider while being chased by hogs through a swamp. She still isn’t entirely sure how that happened.
It isn’t the best job in the world, but it comes with the territory. That’s what big sisters are for, after all. The little sister does something crazy and the big one makes sure she comes back home in one piece.
If the Sisters Darkstone have caught your attention, you can keep reading here. And the story page for Fryte’s Gold is here.
And all my other stories so far as here:
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