The Marauders, the Daughter, and the Dragon
by K.R.R. Lockhaven
Series: The Azure Archipelago #1
Intended Age Group: Adult
Published: August 20, 2022
Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing
Content/Trigger Warnings (on page):
- Racism (Shown as Speciesism)
- 2-3 instances of gratuitous violence
- Animal violence
To say that Azure Brine is at odds with her father would be an understatement. His recent spiral into the “Humans First” politics of League of Islands’ new governor has strained their once-strong relationship to the breaking point.
Their connection is truly put to the test when her father decides to join the governor’s ship on a voyage to the Capitol Isles for the inauguration. But when Azure learns that the governor has nefarious plans for the islands, and that her father is in mortal danger, she and her best friend (a shit-talking bird named Robin) set out across the archipelago to save him.
Along the way they meet a reanimated skeleton with confidence issues, a group of “pirates errant” who just want to sing and have adventures, and a dragon with an emotional arc.
Come Sail Away • Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum • Rockin’ Robin
The Governor’s Ship
From a small window on the seaside of the Red Dragon Inn, Azure Brine watched as the massive galleon slowed to a stop near her town’s only dock, the flag of the capitol fluttering in the breeze from its stern. Aboard, a methodical crew numbering in the dozens prepared the ship for its landing. Men moved about the rigging like spiders in an intricate web, furling sails and securing innumerable lines, while others along the port rail heaved thick ropes to workers on the dock, who helped pull the ship in to rest.
Azure stared at the scene, spellbound. Nothing like this had ever happened in Barren, and the chaotic crowd circling the calm bay affirmed its strangeness. Both cheers and curses could be heard from Azure’s vantage point—about fifty feet above the water, atop sheer white cliffs. Many people waved the light-blue flag of the capitol, several shot pistols in the air, whooping and hollering, while a smaller contingent of protestors held signs over their heads, only one of which Azure could make out. It read, “We Stand With Non-Humans!” Several ciguapa women, and at least one faun, stood with the mostly human dissenters. This, too, was far from normal. She hadn’t seen a single ciguapa person in at least five years.
Azure took in the commotion with bittersweet anxiety. On one hand, it was exhilarating to see a spectacle like this in her sleepy hometown. Azure couldn’t help but picture herself at the helm of the giant ship, barking orders to her loyal crew. On the other hand, this meant the thing she had been dreading for months had finally come to pass. Reginald Pratt had likely just been elected Governor of the League of Islands.
She tried to push the thought away, letting her eyes wander over the view. The sun had begun its descent into the western sea, and the sky along the horizon was awash in vivid oranges and pinks. The Ring rose out from these brilliant splashes of color and continued in its constant arc across the heavens, upward and northward until the frame of the window cut it off from sight. Further west, the ever-present column of smoke poured from the volcano on Amenaza Island.
A breeze wafted the salty sea air up to where it mingled with the aromatic blooms in the window-side planter, creating the perfect, familiar scent. A little, red-breasted bird hopped along the windowsill, taking in the scene as well.
As Azure leaned out the window to get a better view of the maelstrom below, the door of the inn crashed open, causing her to start and nearly fall from her perch to certain death. She caught herself and turned to see a man with a curled white mustache enter the premises. His white hair, probably a wig, was coiled into rolls along his temples. He wore the red silk cape of the particularly pious—or at least those who wanted to be seen that way—over his expensive-looking white waistcoat and breeches. He had heavy golden chains around his neck, and a golden wand tucked into his red silk belt. Azure hated to judge people based on looks alone, but this was too damned much. This guy was obviously wealthy, biased, and a “Humans First” Pratt follower.
Reginald Pratt had whipped up a religious fervor amongst the devout in the islands, even though Azure doubted he could name all thirty-seven gods.
The man scanned the empty inn, disappointment written on his well-creased face.
“Get me a beer,” he said without a hint of warmth.
The little, red-breasted bird flew from the windowsill and alighted on Azure’s shoulder. “Do you want me to peck his fucking eyes out?” the bird said as the man sat down.
A smile tugged at the corner of Azure’s lips. “No, Robin, that’s alright.”
“Well… can I?” Robin said as Azure meandered to the taps in the back room.
“We can’t attack customers, no matter how much they may deserve it.” Azure kept her voice low while pouring the beer.
“Here you go, sir,” Azure said in her most monotonous voice, setting the thick-headed beer down just hard enough to slosh some onto the table.
The man looked her up and down without a hint of shame. He seemed unimpressed, not that she cared what he thought.
Azure was short—just over five feet—and, by her own estimation, a little overweight. She wore a home-spun white jacket, with sleeves a touch past her elbows, over her stay and gray skirts, and a dirty white apron tied askew around her waist. Her long black hair was weaved into a simple braid.
She turned away from the man, head held high.
A gunshot followed by a cheering crowd sounded from the street.
Azure was heading back to the window when the man asked, “Why do they call this the Red Dragon Inn?”
After sighing, Azure turned around. “A red dragon was seen flying over our town years ago. Many people saw it, and for a while, this area was a tourist destination. We still have souvenir spyglasses for sale if you want to search the skies.”
“Interesting.” It was clear the man had barely heard a word she had said. “Well, since there isn’t anyone else in here, would you like to hear a proposition?”
Again, the man seemed to not hear her, because he launched right into a spiel. “My name is Paul Sancti, and I am here on behalf of the newly elected Governor Pratt.”
So, her guess was right.
“He has authorized me to invite you aboard his magnificent galleon to sail to Whetstone for his inauguration festival.”
“For agreeing to go on this voyage, you will receive a free golden wand.”
Azure’s knees wobbled beneath her, her breath caught in her throat.
A golden wand cost what she made in an entire year. She had always assumed that she would never be able to afford one, that using magic would always be just beyond her reach. Of course, that wasn’t exactly true. She and her parents had scraped enough money together to buy a conjuring wand when she was little, but those were smaller, much cheaper, and made of silver. A golden wand is needed to do any magic beyond basic conjurings.
“Yes. If you promise to use it as directed in the inaugural festivities.”
“What do you mean by use it as directed?” Robin asked the man.
“Not that I owe an explanation to a talking bird, but the young lady will find out all the details once we are underway.”
“I… uh… I’ll get right back to you.” Azure bolted for the back room.
“A golden wand!” Robin said as she landed on a tap. “It’s what you’ve always wanted. Well, that and to sail on a real ship.”
“I know…” Azure stared out at the galleon, her mind a tangled knot. She watched as workmen with golden wands used magic to detach the figurehead on the front of the ship—a beautifully carved, topless mermaid—while another man on a ladder painted over the ship’s name, the L.O.I. Valorous.
“So, what are you going to do?” Robin hopped about from tap to tap.
“Well, you’re right; I have dreamed of going to sea and of practicing real magic. But I’m not sure I could live with myself getting it all… this way.” She pointed to the main room.
“That guy out there is a prick, and I know Pratt is even worse. And that thing about using the wand as directed bothers me a bit. But can’t you just, like, smile and endure until the crap is over with? I mean, it’s kind of a small price to pay to have an actual golden wand, and get to see the Capitol Isles.”
“But my dad needs me at the inn. I can’t just run off, or I would have a long time ago.”
“I’ll say what I always say about that sentiment: bullshit. He can hire anyone off the street to do the half-ass job you do around here, and you know I mean that with love. Your heart’s just not in it, Az. You were meant for different things.”
Outside, through the small window facing the town, a capybara strolled by with a squirrel monkey napping on its back. Azure couldn’t keep the corner of her mouth from quirking up, again. This kind of thing was what she loved about this place. There was a lot to love about this place, just not the people.
Nearly everyone on the island was a fervent Pratt follower these days, making interaction with them difficult. Azure tried her best to look past this, to avoid the topic with them, to talk about sailing, or magic, or capybaras, but it always came back around to Pratt, no matter how hard she tried to steer it away.
Azure’s mom had died years ago during an anti-faun protest, and ever since, Azure’s relationship with her dad had been deteriorating, their once-strong connection all but lost. If she was being honest, she could barely stand to be around him anymore.
Her two best friends had gotten married to each other and weren’t coming around as much these days. And as far as romance in Azure’s life, there wasn’t much to speak of. She was much too busy fantasizing about getting out of The Red Dragon Inn, out of Barren, and off of the Nameless Isles altogether. Unfortunately, her fantasies, like her, lacked direction. Azure felt lost in a place she had known since birth, and the worst part, she didn’t truly have her father there for her anymore.
Another gunshot startled her from her reverie.
“Sorry, Robin. I’m thinking. This is a huge decision, out of the deep.”
“Yeah, I know,” Robin said in a comforting tone as she hopped to the sea-facing window. “What… the unholy fuck… is that?”
Azure peered out to see the workmen who had taken down the mermaid figurehead installing a new carving on the front of the ship. This one was a somewhat realistic depiction of Governor Pratt holding a sword out in front of him in a ridiculous—but apparently meant to be triumphant—pose. The man painting over the old ship’s name was just finishing up, too. The new name of the galleon, which made Azure snort with derisive laughter, was The Savior.
“He didn’t even let them leave the L.O.I. on there. That’s him in a coconut shell. It’s all about him, always. It’s not about the League of Islands at all.” Azure turned away from the window. “Okay, forget it. I’m not setting foot on that thing, now.”
“I get it.” Robin shook her tiny head in disappointment.
Azure stepped back out into the seating area where the man sipped his beer while waiting for her. “I can’t go on the trip,” she said, hanging her head. “I’ve got to stay and work at the inn.” She didn’t know why she avoided telling the man her real reasons, but it was probably rooted in her usual desire to avoid conflict. Speaking her mind was difficult, especially, and seemingly paradoxically, when the topic inflamed her passion, like her hatred of Pratt.
“Well, that’s unfortunate. To pass up an opportunity like this is…” Paul finished his beer. “I see the decision has not come easy for you.”
“No. It didn’t.” She felt like she should say more, but also that she didn’t owe this guy anything.
“Do you really want something like this low-paying job to keep you from getting something you want?”
“My father and I are co-owners of this inn, so it’s not just a job, if that’s any of your business.”
“Oh, I see. I don’t intend to be intrusive, but I still don’t understand how you could let your co-ownership of this small inn hold you back from giving the proper respect to the savior of our islands. He—”
“The savior of our islands?” Azure didn’t hide the sarcasm or anger in her voice.
“Absolutely. I believe he has been chosen by the gods to lift our race up where we belong.”
A near growling noise came from Robin, who bounced irritably on Azure’s shoulder.
Azure glared at the man, almost pitying him for the unequivocal stupidity of what he had just said.
“You’re not one of those Harm-Phonies, are you?” Paul said, smirking.
Azure rolled her eyes at the toddler-level wordplay. “I don’t belong to any political group, but yeah, I tend to agree with the Harmony Faction more than the Cocks.” She was, after all, not above using juvenile wordplay herself.
“The Hawks are the only ones keeping the League of Islands together.” His level of calm enraged her. “And Governor Pratt is putting humans first to make us stronger.”
“Give me a fucking break.” Her reluctance to engage in conflict had been buried by her righteous indignation. “He thinks strength can only be gained at the expense of others.”
“Others? Like who? The ciguapa, who have been hoarding magic and keeping it from us? Or the fauns, swarming over our islands, taking more than their share? And now there are tales of orcs trickling in, invading our islands, too. And they almost certainly bring dark magics with them. Do we not deserve access to magic, too?”
“We have access to magic! But it’s rich assholes like— You know what? I don’t know why I’m having this conversation with you. The beer will be half-a-copper.”
“His eyes are looking awfully soft and vulnerable,” Robin said, not bothering to keep her voice down.
“That’s okay, Robin. He’ll be on his way, now.”
The man chuckled as he stood and fished a copper from his pouch. “The scales have tipped, little lady. Don’t let your weak ideas keep you from claiming what every human deserves. Good day.” He flipped the copper to Azure, who let it clatter against the stone floor, not taking her eyes off of him.
“What a prick,” said Robin as the door shut behind the man.
Azure picked up the coin, then marched to the taps and poured herself a beer. She slumped onto a chair at one of the tables and splashed some beer into a little saucer for Robin, who flew down to the table and began drinking.
“Cheers,” Azure said, holding her cup in the air. “To being trapped on this tiny island forever.”
Before she could take her first drink the door swung open again. Her father rushed in, an excited grin on his tanned and lined face. A majestic tiger strolled lazily behind him.
“I’ve got big news,” her father said, his movements manic. “I have been selected to go with our newly-elected governor to the Capitol Isles to participate in his inauguration! We’re leaving in a few hours!”
Azure chugged her entire beer. “Who’s we?”
“Well, of course Thunder Paws is going.” He glanced down at the tiger, who was gracefully licking his own privates. “I was hoping that you would go with me, too.” He looked at her with a very cautious optimism while holding two golden wands out in front of him.
“Gods damnit.” Azure buried her face in her hands.
What inspired you to write this book? Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.
There are two things that inspired this book. The first is the fact that I’m fascinated by all things nautical, pirates, and tropical, and that there are relatively few fantasy worlds where such things are the main focus. The second involves the main plot line, which is the fractured relationship between the main character and her father. The relationship mirrors my relationship with my dad in the last several years. Unfortunately, an ideological divide has made things extremely rocky between us. I think that political divisions between family members are happening more and more these days, and I wanted to explore potential paths to love and reconciliation that may overcome those divides.
What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
I learned a lot about world building. I had never created a world from scratch before, and had to learn that nothing can be taken for granted. Every detail has to make sense in the world, and things just aren’t going to work unless they are really thought through.
I also learned a lot about searching for common ground with estranged loved ones. I’ve had to swallow my pride and establish my priorities in life. It hasn’t been easy, but I think it’s been worth it. I hope that this book might inspire others to do the same.
What surprised you the most in writing it?
The thing that surprised me most was how easy all the fun came. In my previous book, there was a lot of humor and silliness and fun, but in this one, I wanted to tone all of that down, and really let the emotional through lines shine. What I found was that I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, shrink away from the fun. I found a balance between emotion and fun that I’m really happy with. I think it’s easier to root for characters when they’re able to make you smile, and I hope that many of my characters are able to do that for readers.
If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
Titles are tough! In a way, I think mine’s a bit too long, but I really thought it encapsulated the book well. The marauders are a group of “pirates errant” who would rather sing and have adventures than do any real pirating. They are the main drivers of fun in the book. The daughter is the main character, and her journey across the archipelago to save her dad (and their relationship) is the main plot line. The dragon is a dragon, so his presence alone warrants a place in the title ☺
Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
Azure, the main character, is loosely inspired by myself, and therefor her father is inspired by my dad. He doesn’t know! But I hope that if and when he reads the book, he’ll finish it and realize that the conflict at the start of the book between the two does strive for a resolution. In our real lives, I have been able to find common ground with him, and we’re actually doing much better. I think the catharsis of writing this book helped a lot with that.
Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
Yeah, maybe. One is that fun and adventure and love should be more highly prioritized. That’s something I have always felt pretty strongly about. Another might be that we should do our best to find common ground with those we love when conflicts arise.
What is your favorite part of the book?
It’s probably a relatively mundane part in which Robin, Azure’s talking bird best friend, is telling this story about her and Azure when they were younger. It’s a silly story about a capybara, and the audience aboard the ship finds it less than compelling, but there is so much subtle meaning, wistfulness, and hope in it, and it really shows how much the two characters mean to each other. I love it.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
I think Pratt, the main antagonist, was probably the hardest to write. With a villain, it’s important to make sure they’re not one-dimensional. But it was difficult to humanize a character who was so easy to hate. I tried, but it was tough! But really, in this book, the villain didn’t need to be sympathetic, because the more important dynamic was how his rhetoric effected the relationship between father and daughter, and how that could be resolved.
What are your immediate future plans?
I’m sending Book 2 of the trilogy off to the editors next week. And I’m concurrently writing Book 3 and a stand alone cozy fantasy set in the same world. I love this cozy idea so much! I absolutely loved Legends and Lattes, and this book will have a similar vibe, although it also has pretty heavy tropical and capybara vibes.
Thank you so much for this interview! It was challenging and fun!
Author Bio & Information:
K.R.R. (Kyle Robert Redundant) Lockhaven writes humorous, fun fantasy books with ever-increasing infusions of heart. He lives in Washington State with his wife and two sons. When not writing or raising kids, he works as a firefighter/paramedic.
Starts: August 29, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: September 4, 2022 at 11:59pm EST