Libbie Hawker

Independent author Libbie Hawker blogs about her books, the publishing industry, writing, reading, and her personal life here.

New book, new chapter

Started the next historical novel today. It's about Zenobia, but I still don't have a title for it! Anyway, here's the first draft of the first chapter if you want to check it out. Enjoy!


Chapter 1: Purple 

The season had changed, and life with it. This was the time when winds came from the east, from Persia, from India beyond, slow and languid and heavy with the odors of spice: the bitter taste of golpar, the bright bloom of coriander; saffron and peppercorn; the low earthy hum of rose. Cinnamon, sweet and compelling as a lover’s voice. These were the odors of wealth, of gold – which was also the odor of blood.

Zenobia leaned across the stone sill of the narrow window, drinking in the scent of spice and change. Her deep breaths calmed the pounding of her heart and warded the sting of tears away from her eyes. She concentrated on the wind, its fragrance of fortune and its tang of power, so that she would not hear the weeping in her father’s palace.

In the baking sun, Palmyra was redolent with the smell of brick, the bones of the city – the hot white fastness of limestone from the fine homes of the merchants, the dry yellow clay blocks that made up the warehouses and market shops and the humble huts crowded along avenues and splaying from the edges of the city like the fringe of a dropped shawl. The heat of the day, reflecting from the carved and painted bricks of Palmyra, beat upon Zenobia’s face, while her father’s store room was dark and cool at her back. Her fingers trailed a length of Serican silk. It was as light and fine as the evening vapors that drifted above the Euphrates, and it reached from the window’s pool of light back into the store room’s dimness, coiling itself like a snake inside the cedar chest where Zenobia had found it.

She rubbed the silk between her fingers, wondering absently at its slippery smoothness while the crying in the palace doubled. Word was spreading among the servants. It pushed out from the mistress’s chambers like ripples in a cistern – out from the place where Zenobia’s mother and sisters keened a grief which was not unexpected, but cut deeply all the same.

“Our good master,” a man’s voice moaned from somewhere in the walled garden. “Cut down by the Tanukh – for shame, for shame!”

“Dead,” a woman’s voice called from a lower chamber. Her voice floated up toward the store-room window like the cry of an evening bird. “Zabbai, dead!”

Zabbai. The sound of her father’s name shattered Zenobia’s studied calm. She turned quickly from the sill, jerking the streamer of silk behind her back so her hot, heavy tears would not mar it as they fell.

Zabbai was not his true name, of course. He was ’Amr Ibn Zarib, sheikh of the ’Amlaqi tribe. But everyone in the city of Palmyra, from the wealthy merchants to the brawling caravan guards, referred to him affectionately as Zabbai. Even his daughters and his wife called him Zabbai, and he was more loved than ever a father or husband had been.

It was no great shock to learn that the Tanukh tribe had done for Zabbai at last. Jadhima, the sheikh of the Tanukh, had hated Zabbai for years, ever since Palmyra’s governor had raised Zabbai to great favor. Zabbai had been granted not only the fine palace where his family now dwelt, but oversight of the river of wealth that coursed through Palmyra. Jadhima and his tribe – scraping, howling animals of the desert that they were – coveted the goods that flowed down the Silk Road and the other routes of distant trade. The Tanukh wanted for their own the fine cloth of Seres, the spices and precious stones that crossed the burning dunes in single file, the endless casks and bundles of riches strapped to the swaying humps of dromedaries.

Under Zabbai’s rule, the Amlaqi thwarted Tanukh ambition. For though Zabbai, with his full gray beard and long-sleeved tunic, was an Arab to any eye that looked upon him, the grandfather of his grandfather had been the great Antiochus IV Epiphanes, companion to Alexander the Great and father of the Seleucid Empire. Zabbai’s roots among the Amlaqi had made him a great trader, cunning and hardy, at home in the desert where the dry sands and harsh sun had darkened his olive skin to the burnished brown of worn cedar, and carved into his face the deep traces of his ready smile. But Zabbai’s Seleucid heritage had given him a certain erudite grandness, and a respect for all things civilized and orderly and fine.

It was his Seleucid blood that had compelled Zabbai to stand in the path of the Tanukh, for Jadhima hungered after chaos and wild fear. Only in chaos could such an uncivilized creature hope to reign – and Zabbai would not suffer glorious Palmyra to fall into that sorry state.

Zenobia could hardly recall a time when the Tanukh had not threatened Palmyra – had not threatened her father. Even when she was a small child, when Zabbai had been only a merchant-sheikh with his caravans, when he had kept his wife and daughters in a narrow, stuffy mudbrick house that was scarcely more luxurious than a nomad’s tent – even then, Zenobia had known of the threat. Zabbai had hired guards to watch over his three girls as they lugged water from the cisterns to the caravans’ camels. At the evening meal, their mother Berenikë, as splendid as the Egyptian queens from which she claimed descent, would stroke her belly beneath her robes and promise the girls, “Soon I shall give you a brother to protect you from the Tanukh.”

 But Berenikë never had produced the promised brother – not one who had lived long enough to walk upon his own little feet. Zabbai had buried three baby boys, one for each of the daughters who lived and thrived. And now he would go into his tomb without a son to carry on his legacy.

Zenobia pressed a palm against her chest, as if she might push back the sobs that grew there. The cries of the household servants rebounded from the garden walls. She twisted the length of silk around her fist and steadied herself in the darkness of the store room, for through its door she could hear footsteps approaching: two sets of feet, light and sure in their step, and just before the door swung open she heard a sniffle, a feminine sigh.

Her sisters entered the store room with a flash of light that bounced off the adjoining hallway’s mirrors. Zenobia blinked in the sudden dazzle and wiped the last of her tears from her cheeks.

“Where have you been?” Nafsha demanded. Her eyes were red from weeping, but the eldest of Zabbai’s daughters was impeccable in appearance, now as always, with a saffron silk veil falling in precise pleats from the flat top of her turban to the middle of her back. The brilliant blue wrapping of the turban could just be seen, peeking out from the wealth of medallions and chains that adorned it. Nafsha’s robe, the same sun-gold hue of her veil, was exactly as loose about the shoulders as fashion demanded, cinched tight below the breasts with a blue sash bearing a carved plaque of Egyptian electrum.

Zabibah, the second-born, was disheveled in her sorrow. Her face was pink and swollen, and she swiped at her fine, sharp nose with the back of one hand as she sniffed. She had cast her turban and veil aside; thick waves of deep brown hair streamed about her shoulders, tangled here and there with a thin golden chain or a strand of tiny seed pearls, as if she had torn at her lush ornaments in a fit of grief.

Zenobia’s fist tightened around the silk. “I have been here.”

“Here?” Nafsha said, glancing around at the stacked trunks of imported goods and the unlit lamps. “In the darkness, all morning? Don’t you know what has happened?”

Zabibah pressed her hands to her face and moaned.

“Of course I do,” Zenobia said calmly. “Father has been killed.”

Zabibah seized locks of her own hair as if she might tear them from her scalp, but she only swayed, eyes closed, her hands trembling like a boy’s on the lead rope of an unruly camel.

“How does Mother take the news?” Zenobia asked.

“Terribly,” said Nafsha. “The moment we heard, she threw herself onto her bed and wailed, and none of us can persuade her to get up.”

“Leave her be,” Zenobia said quietly. “She will come around with time. After all, it is nothing more than we expected. Father is not a young man any longer.” Was, not is. Zabbai was gone now – he would forever belong to the past. She resisted the urge to press her welling sorrow away again, and left her hands hanging at her sides, hidden in the flowing skirt of her rose-colored robe. “Each time he rode out to meet the threat of the Tanukh, for so many years, we feared he would not come home again.”

“Yes,” Nafsha snapped, “but he always did come home.” She rounded on Zabibah, whose face had crumpled, and who had begun to make a thin, wavering sound in the back of her throat. “Stop now,” Nafsha said brusquely. She reached up to untangle Zabibah’s hands from her own hair. “Enough of your crying. It does none of us any good.”

“You cried, too,” Zabibah protested.

“Yes, but not any longer. There is work to be done. Pull yourself together, Zabibah; there’s a good girl.”

Dull curiosity shouldered through Zenobia’s grief. She eyed her eldest sister, half-suspicious. “What work?”

“It was no mistake that Jadhima attacked that caravan while the Governor of Palmyra was on the Sasanid front. He knew Father would rush out to defend the traders – he always does. Always did.”

Zabibah whimpered again, but subsided when Nafsha cut her a stern glare.

“It would have taken only one lucky blow to bring the great Zabbai down,” Nafsha went on, less harshly now. Even she, matter-of-fact as she was, lowered her lashes in sadness.

 “Do you think the Tankuh will actually attack Palmyra?”

“Why else have they wanted to kill Father for so long? Get rid of the sheikh, and the whole tribe of Amlaqi will be in disarray – at least for a short while, until we sort out who’s to lead next.”

Zenobia considered what she knew of tribal politics. “The next sheikh ought to be…”

“Antiochus. My husband. I am Zabbai’s eldest child, so my husband will be the next to rule. Assuming…”

Great gods, Zenobia scolded herself, her face heating in sudden shame. I did not even ask how their husbands fared in the battle. “Is Antiochus well? I pray it is so. And your husband, Zabibah – have you any word of Wakat?”

“We’ve no word yet,” Nafsha said. Her face was pale and grim. When she spoke again, there was a distinct barb in her words. “But it is good of you to ask.”

“Ah – I who have refused to marry. Are we to have that argument again, Nafsha, even now, as our father is carried toward his tomb?”

“If you had married when Father wanted you to, the Amlaqi and Palmyra would both be safer now.”

“Safer?” Zenobia could not help but laugh, even if it was a short, sharp, bitter sound. “How? How can the well-being of the desert’s greatest tribe and the finest, richest city in all the world depend on the wedding of one seventeen-year-old girl?”

“You are not a girl, Zenobia. You are a woman of marriageable age, and yet you scorned every suitor Father brought before you.”

“They were all beneath me.”

“Any match Father had presented to you would have done nicely. Zabbai was no fool. If you had a husband, the tribe would still pass without pause or conflict to a new sheikh, even if Zabibah and I were both made widows this very morning.”

Zabibah gasped, but Nafsha’s words trampled on like horses cut loose from a chariot. “And do you forget that you are the daughter of a caravan merchant? What sort of husband are you holding out for, Zenobia – the Emperor of Rome?”

“I am the daughter of ’Amr Ibn Zarib, the greatest sheikh of the greatest tribe of the greatest city in the whole of the world. I am descended of the Seleucids, and of the Empress Julia Domna, and of Cleopatra and Queen Dido.”

Nafsha snorted. “Do you still believe Mother’s tales? If she were truly the great-great-granddaughter of Cleopatra, why would she have wedded a camel handler with sand in his beard?”

“Look around you, Nafsha. We live in a palace – a palace Father earned by his own greatness.”

“And what of it? I still remember hauling water for the caravans. I remember the blisters on my hands from the weight of the buckets. I remember the stink of camel shit beneath my feet. And yet you forget where we came from. How pleasant it must be for you, to have such an agreeably selective memory.”

“What does it matter where we came from? We are here now, and I will not marry below my station.”

“While you swoon over your imagined station, the Tanukh gather in the desert. They eye our city – defenseless, with the leaderless Amlaqi and the Governor far away – like a jackal eyes an injured lamb.”

To Zenobia’s surprise, Zabibah laid a hand on Nafsha’s arm. Zabibah had composed herself – a rare occurrence during the best of times – and looked between her sisters with earnestness in her dark eyes. “Please don’t scold, Nafsha. It’s only your anger and fear that make you so harsh. We must come together today as grieving sisters, not poke at one another’s pride. Even if Zenobia had a husband, what could she do about the Tanukh and the Amlaqi? After all, she is only a girl of seventeen.”

An especially loud wail of mourning rang from somewhere close by. Zenobia started at the sound, and the long swath of silk fluttered beside her skirt. Nafsha’s eyes locked on the sudden movement and stared.

“What is that?”

Zenobia lifted her fist until the light falling through the store-room window pierced the fabric. The silk seemed to ignite in the sun, bursting into a bright, shimmering glow. She saw – she had not noticed before, as she rummaged through Zabbai’s storage chests, blinded by sorrow – that it was dyed imperial purple. The color was as deep as the skin of a ripe fig, and yet as vibrant as a polished mirror. As she stared at the purple silk, the plight of Palmyra seemed to unfold before her, spreading itself to the brilliance of her understanding like a jasmine bloom opening to the sun.

Indeed, Nafsha was right: the Tanukh had not timed their attack frivolously. The Governor was gone. Valerian, current Emperor of Rome, had allowed himself to be captured by the Sasanids. Zenobia’s mouth tightened in scorn. Count on a Roman Emperor to achieve such a pinnacle of folly. There had been a proliferation of Roman Emperors in recent decades, none of them strong enough to rule an empire.

But the Palmyrene Governor was ever faithful, and had sent gifts to the Sasanid emperor, hoping to buy Valerian free with the wealth of Palmyra. Shapur the Sasanid had spurned Palmyra’s gifts – Sasanids were a haughty and ungrateful lot – and the incensed Governor had struck out to free Valerian by his own sword.

A man who is as erudite and fine as a Seleucid, and as brave, as able as an Amlaqi. That is the man I shall wed – a man as great as my father.

The Tanukh were a real, immediate threat. Zenobia saw that clearly now, tearing away the veil of her sorrow. If they could, they would fall upon Palmyra while the city was weak and helpless, and rape Palmyra of every bright and good thing she possessed. The Tanukh would scatter her worth across the desert sands, dissipate her culture until there was nothing left of it. Only a man of refinement and ferocity could keep the Tanukh at bay. And neither of her sisters’ husbands was the equal of Zabbai – of that, Zenobia was certain.

The gods kept me apart, she thought, dizzied by the realization. I have been saved for just the right bridegroomI have been saved that I might defend Palmyra, as my father defended her.

“What is that?” Nafsha said again, advancing a step into the store room. “What are you holding?”

Zenobia gave the silk one great pull. It snaked from the cedar chest and lifted in the air, a drifting ribbon of purple fire. Her sisters gasped at the color. The richness and rarity of the dye made the silk a treasure almost beyond value.

She caught and stretched the purple length in her two hands as it floated down before her face.

“It is my bridal wealth,” she said, and winding the silk in her arms, she brushed past Nafsha’s red-eyed fury and Zabibah’s delicate grief toward her own chamber, trailing purple down the halls of her father’s palace.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Kindle Unlimited (For Writers)

Hello, everybody. I know I don't usually make posts about writing here, or I should say, I don't typically post stuff that's really only of interest to other writers, and not to my readers. However, there's been a lot of confusion and speculation on all my usual online writers' hangouts about Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited service. I have books to write, and I can't spend any more time helping to keep my fellow authors from panicking -- so I decided to write out all my thoughts on how to utilize KU effectively. I'm posting this ginormous dissertation here so I've got a link to point people to when they freak out.

If you're not a writer, this will probably bore you, so I direct you instead to this incredible video of Stains the Dog, staring in consternation at a plate of cupcakes. (I can't get enough of this video, and I guarantee you, it's way more interesting than what I'm about to say below, if you're not a writer.) (Plus, Joel McHale is really cute.)

If you're a writer concerned about how the heck you can turn KU into an effective selling tool, rather than allowing it to suck all your profits away, read on:


Okay. This is how you make this work for positive discoverability, even on other platforms. This will take a little bit of setup to explain properly, so bear with me.

Let’s say your current list looks like this:

Stand-Alone Titles*:
Book A
Book B
Book C


You could utilize KU in three different ways:

1) You could put all your titles into it. I wouldn’t recommend that, because even though you’ll still get regular (non-KU) sales, it’s likely that most of your income from KU titles will come from the KU pot, just as the KOLL currently generates income from the monthly pot. The pot will probably be pretty lucrative at first, but as more authors join the payments will decrease, due to distribution among a larger number of titles/authors.

So instead of looking at it as an all-or-nothing participation, look at it as a discoverability tool to funnel NEW readers toward your other, full-price titles. This is exactly the way people are currently using Permafree. That strategy leaves you with the other two options for utilizing KU.

2) Put the first in a series in, and treat it like you’d treat a Permafree title. This means you don’t expect that title to earn you any significant money by itself — its purpose is to act as a loss-leader and to direct new, exploring readers toward your full-priced items.

This seems like a great idea on the surface, and it’s not a terrible strategy, but there’s a way to make this strategy work smarter and more effectively to increase your brand awareness — even on other platforms.

And that way is to utilize KU in the following way:

Option 3) Rotate your stock in and out of KU on a regular schedule.

So going back to that hypothetical list of titles I mentioned at the head of this post, maybe that means your rotation schedule looks like this:

Jan – March: Book A
April – June: Book B
July – Sept: Book C
Oct – Dec: Book A

OR, if your series doesn’t happen to sell gangbusters on other platforms and you’d rather increase the series’ visibility on Amazon, it might look like this (see my double-asterisk note below for more info on how to make this work):

Jan – March: Vol1**
April – June: Book A
July – Sept: Book B
Oct – Dec: Vol1

Meanwhile, on all the non-Amazon sites, you are likewise rotating your stock off and back on the sites. This means you probably won’t retain reviews on those sites for whichever books you’ve chosen to be your loss leaders, but I’m not convinced that reviews are such a strong driver of sales on those sites, and in any case, the “newness” of your rotation books might actually be an advantage there. Bear with me; I’ll explain further.

In ALL your books (not just the Loss Leader titles), stick in some brief, clear front matter that says something like “More books by Libbie Hawker are coming for your Kobo reader (or Apple, Nook, etc.) all the time! To find out when new books will be available on your favorite ebook seller, join Libbie’s mailing list (link) or visit (link). Reader satisfaction is very important to me… if you have any questions about my books, please contact me directly at (email).” Obviously, you also want the mailing list call to action at the end of the book, too. But the invitation to contact you directly to ask you any question is important at the FRONT of the book — something the reader will see in a sample, before they buy.

Then on your site, when a reader clicks on the title of any book, you have this quickie note at the top of the page — something they see before they see any other information about the title:

“Dear Reader, I occasionally rotate my books in and out of exclusivity on Amazon. That means sometimes this title is available on other sites, and sometimes it’s not. Right now, this title is available here: (link to all places it’s available, whether on Amazon or elsewhere.) This title will be returning to (all other sites where it’s currently NOT) on this date: (Date it comes off the Amazon rotation, according to your schedule.) If you’d like to be notified when this book returns to your favorite ebook retailer, please join my mailing list! (link.) If you have any questions about this book or any others, please contact me directly at (email.)

The two clear invitations to email you directly are crucial. Once in a while you’ll get emails (maybe angry emails!) asking why this book isn’t available on Kobo or wherever, when all the rest of your books are. Find out which book they’re after, then send them a free copy of it. Don’t balk at this. If it’s not available on Kobo that quarter, it’s because it’s in rotation on Amazon, and you’ve already designated it as your Loss Leader for the quarter anyway, so you should have no problem handing that title out without any expectation of profiting from it directly. It’s a gesture of goodwill toward a customer, and giving miffed or confused readers free books is a great way to ensure their future loyalty to you.

The net effect of this type of front matter will be to generate more mailing list sign-ups. And I love this rotation thing, because it gives even the authors like me, who don’t send out a mailing list alert unless they have meaningful news to share with their audience, a reason to shoot out a newsletter. Now I’ll have a newsletter going out not only every time I have a new release, but also every time I change the Amazon rotation. It creates a natural and welcome relevant opportunity to keep your brand in front of your readers.

And it helps you subtly “push” titles some of your established readers may be ignoring. If they keep seeing the title “Book A” in your newsletters (i.e. “Just a heads up, gang! Book A is now available once more on Kobo, etc.!” and then a few months later, “Now is your last chance for a few months to get Book A on Kobo! It’s going back to Amazon exclusively for a short time.”) they are likely to finally try that book of yours they’ve never read, Book A.

This actually can increase sales from your non-Amazon readers. The suggestion in all your front matter that new stuff is always coming, plus the repeated contact about the rotation schedule, can remind your non-Amazon readers that you’re out there, and stimulate them to buy more of your titles. Sure, at the moment they can’t have access to whatever your Loss Leader title is, but in the meantime you’ve got all these other titles available, right?

* Asterisk The First: Clearly working with a series can pose more of a problem when you take KU and a rotation schedule into consideration. If KU turns out to be a bigger game-changer than I think it will be (I’m anticipating a moderate game-change, but I don’t think the sky is falling), then the current strategy of writing in series might be less of an advantage than it used to be.

You might be wise to take your Loss Leader titles from your pool of stand-alone titles. If you don’t have any stand-alones at present, take heart: it only takes one to kick off the stand-alone-as-loss-leader. And you only need four of them to keep a fresh rotation going in and out of KU all year long. So get writing, son.

**For series, yeah, it’s a sticky wicket, but it’s not the end of the world, either. You can do a few different things:

Series Thing A) If you have more than one series, dedicate one to Amazon. But only put the first volume into KU as your Loss Leader. Keep the rest at full price/paid-only access on Amazon only, since the first in the series is in Select.

Series Thing B) Write an small exclusive piece that leads into your series (such as a novella prequel, or a companion novella… which is what I’m planning to do with my Egyptian series.) Enroll the exclusive piece in Select as your permanent Loss Leader to funnel Amazon users into your series. The whole series will still be available elsewhere, but KU users get a little juicy bonus material. Do not put this Loss Leader into rotation; it remains in Select permanently, for as long as KU remains profitable to you.

Series Thing C) Put Volume 1 into Select, leave the rest out, and keep all the rest available on other ebook sites. When angry customers contact you to ask where Book 1 is, send them a free copy and explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.

I don’t like Option C all that well, but if you only have one series and no other potential Loss Leaders, *and* you really want to try KU out NOW instead of waiting for a few months (and writing a stand-alone in the meantime), it probably won’t sink your business to do it this way. It’s just not as elegant as Option A or Option B.

So there it is: my dissertation on how to make this work for you.

I’ve noted that the people who have the bleakest outlook on this are assuming they’ll have to enroll ALL their books in Select in order for it to be effective, but I actually think that’s the least effective thing you could possibly do. By maintaining a rotation, you keep content fresh for the more established KU users, and you keep ALL your titles popping up periodically on non-Amazon sites, to continue to net readers there.

AND, by seeing “new” books pop up from you on Kobo, etc., those readers perceive it as new content. Remember, the pool of readers is always growing and changing and fluctuating. You might put Book A into rotation on Amazon for three months, and when it goes back to Kobo, Reader Bob, who’s just joined Kobo and has never heard of you before, finds it and thinks it’s a great deal. By the time Book A rotates again nine months later, it’s had a lot of time to find you some new readers on all the non-Amazon sites, and they’ve now moved on to your other books which do NOT rotate. Book A comes back around again after three months on Amazon, and Reader Amy, who is new to Kobo, finds it and discovers all your other titles. And so it goes.

Also remember, any book you designate as a Loss Leader will have the primary purpose of netting NEW readers. That’s its job. You have to think of this as a continual chumming of the waters with an ever-rotating selection of delicious fish heads and guts. You’re not trying to make all your money off of KU; you’re trying to use KU to funnel readers toward the place where you make all your money: full-price, paid books.

Peace out.


Vlog: How to Write Awesome Blurbs

...Even though they're not actually called "blurbs." ;)

I hang out a lot of writing and self-publishing forums, and fellow authors are often stumped by how to write a good product description for their books...or query letters if they're pursuing agents. It seems like a really tough proposition on the surface, but these two videos show how to distill your book down to the features that are guaranteed to be compelling to your target audience. And the trick is, ALL books have the same compelling features, no matter what the genre!

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Pssst...wanna read a prologue?

Work has begun on writing Tidewater (as opposed to just researching and outlining it), and I am having a blast! I haven't felt such a sense of adventure with my writing for a long time. It's refreshing to put my brain into a different historical setting and to spend time with a new set of historical characters.

I just finished the prologue, and thought it would be fun to share it. Keep in mind this is a totally unedited draft...I literally just finished writing it a few minutes you'll probably find some mistakes, and it will probably be polished up and changed some before I publish the entire book. But for now, it's kind of fun to take a look at the raw beginnings of a new novel.





APRIL 26, 1607



He was far away, reclining on a bed of cool silk, the sweat drying on his skin. The window was unshuttered. A breeze moved the long wisp of curtain, carrying a scent of rosemary into Antonia’s chamber, bringing with it the rich perfume of Constantinople in elegant decay: the dust of hot brick; ancient incense from the church on the hill; fish offal sharp and salty at the wharf; the inoffensive, homey tang of horse dung drying on the bare streets. Antonia moved from behind her screen, dipped a rag into a basin, and the water fell like stars over her smooth skin.  I should like to see it, she said, her voice distant and wavering in memory, an echo from a lost shore.  He could no longer recall her face – not with any accuracy, though he remembered that she was beautiful. He did know her voice. The subtle rich smoke of it. The water pattering down her shoulder, tracing over the curve of her hip, puddling under her small foot.  See what? he asked. His Greek was near as bad as his French, but she understood him well enough. The world, she said. All of it. I want to see it all.

He could smell her still – her and Constantinople, and the rosemary. The memory shut out the stink of the brig, the reek of peat tar and his own piss. Antonia’s bed was softer than the narrow plank where he huddled; he no longer felt the damp roughness of the wood, nor the splinters pressing through his clothing. The Susan Constant heeled. He cursed and braced himself; the chains of his fetters clanked. A cry came through the thick boards of the deck, muffled, but even in the brig he could hear the joy and relief in the man’s voice.


He pressed himself against the Susan Constant’s curved rib, bobbed his head to peer through a chink in the wood. But only sunlight came through. It hurt his eyes, made the tears stream down his face and into his long, matted beard.

Footfalls on the deck above. A grunt, an oath, and with a squeal of hinges the trap opened. Light as bright and shocking as the flesh of a lemon fell into the small chamber. With it came a great gust of fresh air, carrying the scent of a new world. It was rich and green, damp, spicy, fertile. It startled him, how much it smelled like the coast of England.

“John Smith.”

“Aye.” His voice grated like the hinge.

He waited for an explanation, perhaps even a word of congratulation that they had made it, after all, to the New World. Instead a ladder dropped into his rat-hole, a sad thing made of worn rope and faded dowels. He climbed it gingerly.

Wingfield was waiting. He stood straddle-legged, the sun gleaming on the neat jut of his red beard, his body moving with unconscious ease as the Susan Constant dipped into the gentle trough of a wave and rolled up to its white crest. Edward-Maria Wingfield rode a ship as easily as some men ride horses. The damnable creature pointed ever upward as surely as a compass needle points north, as if God Himself had tied a line to Wingfield’s helmet and kept him permanently in divine plumb. He was the only shareholder of the Virginia Company to set sail for the New World, and he thought his wealth had given him the right of leadership. Some of the men, fivescore and four all told, agreed with him. Wingfield did cut a dashing figure, Smith grudgingly conceded, in his perfectly polished steel armor. A foolish figure, too. One storm, one slip on a wet deck, and Edward-Maria Wingfield would find himself and his fine armor beautifying the sea floor. Smith had warned him not to wear the stuff on the Susan Constant. The warning had been scorned and dismissed, as ever.

All the men were on their feet, swaying with less grace than Wingfield, even after so many months at sea. The deck was crowded – the whole ship was crowded. It was a freighter, a trade ship, and not a large one. Its hold was outfitted to transport goods, not men. The Virginia Company had purchased it for a song, and songs were a good bit less dear than gold.  Beyond the crowd, Smith could make out the two sails of the Godspeed beating toward the deep green arc of a bay. A thrill of dense forest spread north and south, fading far off into a blue haze. Southeastward, lagging behind, the Discovery was a smudge on the horizon.

“Clackety-clack,” one of the men jeered, pantomiming his own hands in chains.

“In fetters again, Smith,” another called – a smoother voice, one of the many useless gentlemen who plagued the voyage.  A smoother voice, aye, but no less mocking.  “Just like in the Ottoman, eh, lads?”

The men laughed. No one believed him about what had happened after Antonia. He was already a slave when he’d been gifted to the Greek woman, taken as booty after a misstep with the Tartars. His too-trusting master had sent him to Constantinople to guard the door of his mistress. It wasn’t Smith’s fault that she had fallen in love, though what Antonia had seen in Smith, short and broad as a half-grown bear, he never knew. But once his master knew, it had been the cane for Antonia – that soft white flesh raised in red stripes – and a sale into hard labor in the Crimea for Smith.

Let the men laugh. Their scorn changed nothing. Their mockery was a good deal easier to bear than the iron collar round his neck had been. They did not believe him, when he told them how he’d taken up his scythe in his Turkish master’s field and struck the man off his own horse, even as he rode to beat Smith for insolence. Let them call him a fool and a knave. Smith still could hear the rush of his scythe through the air, the crack of it upon the Turk’s head. He could see even now, five years later, the stillness of his master as he lay in the furrow of his own field. He recalled how his master’s horse had shifted and pranced when Smith had raised his foot to the stirrup and clambered aboard. Muscovy and freedom were not far off.

Laughter changed nothing.

“And here we are at last, lads,” Wingfield said. He spoke in his gentleman’s voice, the orator’s voice, booming out across the waves as if an audience of fishes might hear and applaud.  “The New World. Each man behold it – even,” with a glance at Smith, “mutineers – and give thanks to God.”

“Amen,” the more pious sort murmured.

Smith kept his eyes on Wingfield, but in his heart he did thank merciful Christ. They would go ashore soon, the locked box with sealed orders from the Virginia Company would be opened, and Wingfield would no longer hold sway, by order of their employers. Smith didn’t need to hope for it; he knew it would be so. God had shown him favor in the past, and He would again. Smith’s days of wearing chains, whether in the Crimea or Constantinople, or in a ship’s brig, were over.

The Susan Constant breasted the last high wave at the bay’s mouth and sailed into smoother water. Wingfield set about ordering the men, placing them in ranks according to class, eyeing them with all the pomposity and bluster of a general. “We will send a party ashore,” the man declared, tugging at his red beard.

Smith shifted; his chains rattled. “I would advise against it.”

Wingfield rounded on him. “Shut your mouth, Smith. I’ll deal with you later.”

“No doubt,” said Smith, half feeling the bite of a rope around his neck, but unable to stop himself from speaking on. “Still, I would advise against it.”

“I have no use for your advice.”

“You might, if you had any sense.”

Wingfield was on him in two furious strides. Smith did not cower, but he braced himself for a blow. It never came. Wingfield’s face was very close to his own, and his breath was hot with anger.

“You tried to set my men against me…”

“I did not, and they aren’t your men. You aren’t even the captain of this ship. It’s Newport’s command, or had you forgotten?”

“Shut up. You incited mutiny. Why in God’s good name you believe I should have any use for your advice, or for any part of you, is a mystery to me. Now keep your mouth well shut when your betters speak.”

Matthew Scrivener cleared his throat. “Your pardon, Master Wingfield. Perhaps we ought to hear Smith’s reasons.”

Scrivener, sallow though he was from the long voyage, still held a gleam of bright awareness in his eye. He was possessed of that trait which was most scarce in gentlemen: intelligence.

Wingfield’s eyes narrowed with anger, but Scrivener spoke on:

“After all, sir, the box has not been opened. You are not the governor of the colony yet.”

Wingfield fairly choked on his red-faced rage. Smith ran his fingers through the mess of his beard to hide his grin.

“Very well. Advise us, John Smith, you font of wisdom.”

“We don’t yet know the state of the naturals. Be they friends or be they foes? None of us can say. We ought to anchor in the bay, as near as we might come to the shore, and bide our time. The naturals will show themselves, soon or late. They know we are here already, or I’m a virgin girl.”

One of the men grabbed his cod through his trousers and waggled it in his fist, shouting to Smith a most indecent proposal.

“The state of the naturals? Friends or foes? Don’t be a fool. You’ve read the reports from Spain. They’re eager to trade, and once we bring them the Christ, they’ll be more eager for us still. They’re savages – they need our guidance, Smith. They’re like babes in a wood, waiting for a guiding hand to raise them up to civilization, to show them the light and the path.”

“Truly?” said Smith. “You don’t suppose they may be hostile to us – see us as invaders?” He cast a significant glance about the crowd. There were plenty in London – even in King James’ court – who disparaged the very thought of colonization. If the Virginia Company had faced such widespread opposition to the colony – resistance on the grounds that England had no right to wrest from the naturals their own God-given land – then surely at least a few of the men on this voyage felt the same.

“Don’t be naïve.” Wingfield pointed into the crowd. “Archer, choose five men. You’ll go ashore with me. I’ll need two sailors to row the landing boat. Smith, allow me to offer you advice in turn. Keep your useless thoughts to yourself unless the governor requests them.”

Smith watched from the rail as Gabriel Archer directed his men into the boat; he stood well back from the lines when the sailors lowered the little vessel to the waves. A pair of brave oars ran out, and the silent sailors in Archer’s crew began to row.

Scrivener made his way to Smith’s side. “The mutiny charges are thin, Smith; we all know that, even the men who hate you. We’ll be on land soon, and they’ll be in a generous mood. It will come to nothing – nothing but Wingfield’s spite.”

“I know it.”

Scrivener looked at him steadily for a long moment. Smith could feel the intensity of the man’s gaze, but he kept his eyes on the boat. It was small now, making haste for the yellow line of the shore.

At last Scrivener said, “It’s only your tongue damns you.”

“My tongue, and my common birth. You’re the only one of them who doesn’t think the slit he came out of confers some divine aura.”

Scrivener sniffed at the indelicacy.

“Sorry,” Smith said.

“Listen, old boy: if you’d only give over to Wingfield once in a while, be more cooperative, less…less haughty…”

“I’ll be hanged if I let that red popinjay strut about the colony as if he owns it.”

“He fair does. He is a shareholder.”


“And it might come to hanging one day, Smith. Not this time, and maybe not the next. But soon or late…” Scrivener trailed off. The boat entered the surf, grounded on the strand. “I’d be sorry to see you hanged. Christ knows there aren’t enough good men on this voyage. We can’t spare a one. Not even the commoners.”

Smith turned to him with a rebuke, but he saw the humor sparkling in Scrivener’s eyes. The man laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Though Scrivener was slight and only a gentlemen unused to real work, his grip was hard and sure.

They watched in tense silence as the landing party made their way up the strand. The men on the shore arrayed themselves in a rough half-circle and moved tentatively toward the dense stands of salt grass and wiry brush. After a time they ventured further, poking about with the muzzles of their matchlocks, turning this way and that to stare at the landscape which was suddenly surrounding them, holding them, lulling them.

“So far, so well,” Scrivener said.

And in that moment, Smith caught a quick blur, a black shape slipping between the trunks of two thin trees.

“Merciful Christ,” Smith said.


“They don’t see….” He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted with all his might. “Ahoy!”

But the landing party could not hear him over the pounding of the surf, and neither did they see what Smith could see from the vantage of the Susan Constant’s deck: the glide of tense, muscular bodies approaching, the sinister crouch, the flick of a deadly hand-sign among the seaside brush.

One of them rose up from the seagrass, a full head taller than any Englishman, the glaring face split red and black like a devil from a child’s nightmare. In one rapid, unthinking movement the natural raised a bow, drew, released; before Smith’s eyes could track the first arrow another was on the string, and then it was flying. The strand exploded in a confusion of bodies, the red-and-black of the naturals rising from concealment, the panicked flash of sun on armor as the men turned and cried out and blundered into one another. Somebody got off a shot; a ball of powder smoke expanded in slow motion; an instant later the report of the fired matchlock cracked across Smith’s ears. Somebody – Archer, Smith thought – held aloft both hands in a pleading gesture, and fell back on the sand, writhing.

Cannon,” somebody bellowed in warning. Smith clapped his hands to his ears in the same instant the cannon fired. The Susan Constant shuddered, a deep, bone-jarring, sickening tremor. The sulfurous stink of gunpowder burned Smith’s nostrils and eyes.

The devils on the shore fled.

The landing party scrambled back to their boat and rowed frantically for the Susan Constant. By the time they were hauled aboard, Wingfield was shaking and pale. He kept whatever great oratory he’d composed to himself.

The men hauled Archer out of the boat, lay him carefully on the deck. The man made a repetitive rasping grunt which now and then turned to a high-pitched squeal of panic before he controlled himself and fell back to his gentlemanly grunting. Smith pushed through the crowd and gazed down at Archer. Each hand streamed blood, pierced right through the palms with a pair of sturdy arrows. Another man, one of the sailors, clutched at his thigh where another matched set of arrows bristled.

“Right,” Scrivener shouted. “Bring some rum to dull their wits. Russell, boil a pot of wine. We’ll need to clean their wounds. Where’s the ship’s boy? Thomas Savage, bring me your sewing kit.”

Wingfield turned to stare out at the shore, and made no move to direct the men. Smith sidled up to him.

“Unfortunate,” Smith said quietly.

The glare Wingfield turned on him was sharp and dangerous, thick with loathing.

“I do think,” Smith murmured, trying, for Scrivener’s sake, to put some deference into his words, “that now would be an ideal time to open the box.”

“The box,” Wingfield burst out. He took a threatening step toward Smith, and Smith thought for one welcome moment that Wingfield might strike him, might give him the chance to retaliate. Then the man reined himself in, and seized the point of his beard in a shaking fist. “An excellent idea, John Smith.”

The sealed box was sent for, and once the men’s wounds were well in hand, Wingfied unsheathed his dagger, broke the wax with a flourish, and pried open the lid. The parchment inside was tidily rolled. It hissed as it came open in Wingfield’s hands.

“By decree of the Virginia Company,” Wingfield said, voice booming, “a ruling council of seven is appointed. The council shall consist of: Edward-Maria Wingfield, gentleman and shareholder…” he took a long and savory moment to stare into Smith’s eyes. “Bartholomew Gosnold, gentleman and shareholder; John Ratcliffe, gentleman; Christopher Newport, captain of the Susan Constant; George Kendall, gentleman and investor; John Martin, gentleman…”

Wingfield stopped short. The men on the deck shuffled, jostling one another, murmuring.

“And?” Matthew Scrivener prompted.

“And John Smith, soldier and adventurer,” Wingfield concluded. His mouth twisted, a sour, hate-filled leer.

Smith stepped to Wingfield’s side. He held out his wrists to his fellow councilman, presenting the fetters lock side up. He had come to a new world, and John Smith would never wear chains again.