Extract / Preview: The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntyre

CBP - Jul - The Moon & the Sun

Prologue

Midsummer Day’s sun blazed white in the centre of the sky. The sky burned blue to the horizon. The flagship of the King crossed abruptly from the limpid green of shallow water to the dark indigo of limitless depths.
The galleon’s captain shouted orders; the sailors hurried to obey. Canvas flapped, then filled; the immense square sails snapped taut in the wind. The ship creaked and groaned and leaned into its turn. The flag of Louis XIV fluttered, writing Nec Pluribus Impar, the King’s motto, across the sky. The emblem of Louis XIV, a golden sunburst, shone from the galleon’s foretopsail.
Free of the treacherous shoals, the galleon plunged ahead. Water rushed against the ship’s sides. The gilt figurehead stretched its arms into sunlight and spray. Rainbows shimmered from its claws and from the flukes of its double tail. The carven sea monster flung coloured light before it, for the glory of the King.

*
Yves de la Croix searched the sea from the ship’s bow to the horizon, seeking his quarry along the Tropic of Cancer, directly beneath the sun. He squinted into Midsummer’s Day and clenched his hands around the topdeck’s rail. The galleon moved with the wind, leaving the air on deck still and hot. The sun soaked into Yves’ black cassock and drenched his dark hair with heat. The tropical sea sparkled and shifted, dazzling and enrapturing the young Jesuit.

Démons!’ the lookout cried.

Yves searched for what the lookout had spied, but the sun was too bright and the distance too long. The ship cut through the waves, rushing, roaring.

‘There!’

Dead ahead, the ocean roiled. Shapes leapt. Sleek figures cavorted like dolphins in the sea foam.

The flagship sailed toward the turbulent water. A siren song, no dolphin’s call, floated through the air. The sailors fell into terrified silence.

Yves stood motionless, curbing his excitement. He had known he would find his quarry at this spot and on this day; he had never doubted his hypothesis. He should meet his success with composure. ‘The net!’ Captain Desheureux’s shout overwhelmed the song.

‘The net, you bastards!’

His command sent his crew scrambling. They feared him more than they feared sea monsters, more than they feared demons. The winch shrieked and groaned, wood against rope against metal. The net clattered over the side. A sailor muttered a profane prayer.

The creatures frolicked, oblivious to the approaching galleon. They breached like dolphins, splashing wildly, churning the sea. They caressed each other, twining their tails about one another, sing- ing their animal sensuality. Their rutting whipped the ocean into froth.

Yves’ excitement surged, possessing his mind and his body, over- coming his resolution. Shocked by the intensity of his reaction, he closed his eyes and bowed his head, praying for humble tranquility.

The rattle of the net, its heavy cables knocking against the ship’s flank, brought him back to the world. Desheureux cursed. Yves ignored the words, as he had ignored casual profanity and blasphemy throughout the voyage.

Once more his own master, Yves waited, impassive. Calmly he noted the details of his prey: their size; their colour; their number, much reduced from the horde reported a century before.

The galleon swept through the fornicating sea monsters. As Yves had planned, as he had hoped, as he had expected from his research, the sea monsters trapped themselves in their rapture. They never noticed the attack until the moment of onslaught.

The siren song disintegrated into animal cries and screams of pain. Hunted animals always shrieked at the shock of their capture. Yves doubted that beasts could feel fear, but he suspected they might feel pain.

The galleon crushed through them, drowning them in their own screams. The net swept through the thrashing waves.

Desheureux shouted abuse and orders. The sailors winched the net’s cables. Underwater, powerful creatures thrashed against the side of the galleon. Their voices beat the planks like a drum.

The net hauled the creatures from the sea. Sunlight gleamed from their dark, leathery flanks.

‘Release the pigeons.’ Yves kept his voice level.

‘It’s too far,’ whispered the apprentice to the royal pigeon keeper. ‘They’ll die.’ Birds cooed and fluttered in their wicker cages.

‘Release them!’ If none reached France from this flight of birds, the next flight would succeed, or the one after that.

‘Yes, Father.’

A dozen carrier pigeons lofted into the sky. Their wings beat the air. The soft sound faded to silence. Yves glanced over his shoulder. One of the pigeons wheeled, climbing higher. Its message capsule flashed silver, reflecting the sun, signalling Yves’ triumph.

 

 

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