(This is not my best cover, but it was the best I could do on the budget I had at the time. I spent a ridiculous amount of time finding the right font to make it look as good as possible, anyway. And the print book does look pretty good, I have to admit.)
This one was hard to pick an excerpt from, as my favorite bit is very near the end and would be a major spoiler. I narrowed it down to three possible scenes and Jaye chose this one. Enjoy!
The trip to Mugdar was uneventful after that, for which Jake was grateful. He wanted very much for this whole thing to go smoothly so he could go back home and retire as planned. I’ve gotten too old for adventures, he thought as they docked at Mugdar’s main spaceport.
His audience with the emperor wasn’t until the next day, so he decided to spend some time playing tourist. Zardel was quite happy to show him around the empire’s capital city, being somewhat familiar with it as she had family who lived there. After several nulaire spent at museums and such, she suggested they get some drinks at a nice little bar she’d discovered the last time she was there.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let you get too drunk,” she said.
Jake shrugged. “Just a couple of drinks won’t hurt. You order for me though; I wouldn’t want to accidentally call someone something rude.”
She laughed. “Your Mugdaran is nowhere near that bad. Just keep your order simple and you should be fine.”
He stared at the drink menu and finally had to concede defeat. He could speak Mugdaran still, but he hadn’t thought to worry about whether or not he could still read it. “Zardel, what do you recommend? I can’t make heads or tails out of the menu,” he finally asked, quietly, not wanting his ignorance to be obvious.
Fighting back a smile, she said, “Order the zitka. It should be mild enough for a Human.”
He sipped at his drink after getting it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t something he was in any hurry to drink again. Tastes like cinnamon mixed with pepper, he thought.
The evening was passing uneventfully, and then, as Jake was just about to suggest leaving, a crowd of young Mugdarans in uniform came in. One of them saw him – the only Human in the place – and grinned. “Hey, Human,” he said, in rather good Galfarran, poking Jake in the shoulder.
Counting to twelve first, Jake replied, “Yes?” He pretended not to notice Zardel reaching for the knife at her belt, ready to jump to his defense at any time.
“What you doing here?”
“I was having a drink with a friend. I’ll be leaving in a moment though,” he said, and started to stand.
The young Mugdaran grinned big enough that his fangs showed. “Nuh-uh. You hang out in a Mugdaran bar, you got to prove you could be a Mugdaran, right?” His friends all cheered and nodded agreement. Jake suspected from the general look and demeanor of the group that this wasn’t the first bar they’d been to that night.
Zardel growled. The young man looked her over appraisingly. “What’s this pathetic Human got that I don’t, sweetheart?”
“A brain?” she ventured.
“I got better than that,” he said, gesturing to what he meant.
She rolled her eyes. “Jake isn’t my lover. He’s my commander. He’s been the equivalent of a hulvim since you were nothing more than a dream of Belthis’.”
“So he’s old. Thought he might be. Looks out of shape,” one of the pest’s friends added.
“Sir.” Zardel warned as Jake stood up the rest of the way. It wasn’t, he assured people often, that he was sensitive about his weight. He knew he was heavier than he’d been in his youth. He just resented people assuming it meant he was too old and out of shape to still kick ass when called upon to do so.
The young Mugdaran laughed. “How adorable! The elderly Human wants to fight me!”
Zardel said, “Jake …” with a warning tone, but it was too late. He’d already landed the first punch.
Jake may have been in the later years of middle age; he may have been overweight; he may have been drunker than he should’ve gotten as Zardel had been a bit confused about how high the alcohol content of zitka was, but he could still fight. Alas, the young Mugdaran was no slouch in that department either. As those two fought, proving that a lack of honor is not unique to Humans, two of the young man’s friends tried to attack Jake too. Needless to say, Zardel didn’t stand for that. Nor did many others in the bar. In Mugdaran culture, there are very strong concepts of right and wrong. To violate those once you have passed the tagreeth and thereby proven you’re an adult is to invite the wrath of all. Making a fight unfair is one of the wrongs.
When the fight was over, the young men – those still conscious anyway – admitted the error of their ways and promised to refrain from such behavior in the future, or they’d turn themselves over to the gethane
and accept their punishment without complaint. Jake had one eye swelling shut and a nasty bruise forming on his jaw. Zardel had bloodied her knuckles on the belt of one of the youths but otherwise was pretty much unscathed. “Well, that was fun,” Jake quipped.
Zardel sighed and chuckled. “I just can’t go anywhere with you, can I? C’mon, let’s get back to the ship and let Angel take a look at you.”
“Hey, look on the bright side: Neither of us is in jail this time,” he said, referring to what had happened on Gressit after his previous first officer, Gerard, had accidentally been rude while propositioning the king.
And here are the links to where you can get your very own copy of this story! It’s free! And, while I can’t guarantee it’s free from spelling and punctuation errors – I know of one extra comma and one missing one at least – I do promise it’s got less errors than “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” has.
This novella – and the short story in the book as well – are under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial, Share Alike license . . . which basically means you can do whatever you want from it, just so long as you don’t charge for it.
Also, an expanded version of this story should be coming out at some point in the next year or so, so if you want to wait for it, that’s cool. The story is still the same, the main changes have been switching it to first person and adding more scenes from Emperor Kristark’s point of view to give a better perspective on what was going on back on Mugdar.
I’m also planning – and have a partially completed first draft of the first few chapters of the first book of – a series following Jake’s life, starting with him as the kid of an impoverished ranch hand on a world that is a multi-week trip from Sweytz. My working title for the first book is Little House on Perlithis, which should tell you everything you need to know about it.