Q&A on Gender at Fantastical Imaginations

Dominick's Question and Answer series on gender continues at Fantastical Imaginations (apologies to Dominick for not getting a redirect up yesterday--I was a bit under the weather). This is a three-part interview series where I join authors Francis Knight, Elspeth Cooper, Anne Lyle, and Courtney Schafer to talk about gender in SFF.

You will find all the links at Fantastical Imaginations as well, but just in case you've already read one part and not the other, I'm including links to all three: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

gender today, StellarCon this weekend

This morning, I join authors Francis Knight, Elspeth Cooper, Anne Lyle, and Courtney Schafer at Fantastical Imaginations talking about gender. Also, as much as I love that picture of the mighty warrior woman and the eviscerated male at her feet, I must warn you that no one is getting killed. Of course, there haven't been any comments at the time of this post, so that situation could change rapidly.

Moving on ...

I'll be at one of my favorite cons this weekend: StellarCon 37! I'll post my schedule as soon as I have it available. I'm greatly looking forward to meeting new friends and catching up with old friends this weekend. So if you're in the Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem area, I'd love to see you.

Gender Bending--The Big Reveal

First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you who took a moment to be my lab rat. You guys were simply awesome and gave us a great deal of material to work through. I'm not sure who had more fun with this--the readers or the authors.

So while I'm up here saying thanks, I also want to say thank you to all the authors who participated in this exercise and generously offered their books for the grand prize winner. A special thanks to Myke Cole, who went the extra mile in recruiting authors for the experiment, and to Mark Lawrence for all the wonderful pie charts that he worked up for us.

There were a total of 1,045 guesses. Of that number 535 people correctly guessed the gender of the authors.

Our scientist in residence, Mark Lawrence, kindly analyzed the data and reached the following conclusion:

"Given the 1,045 guesses and 535 correct guesses we can say that no statistically significant power to determine gender from writing has been demonstrated (under the assumption both genders were equally represented - they weren't but it doesn't introduce a large effect).

"With selection of authors drawn with equal likelihood of either gender then a random guessing machine making 1,045 guesses would expect to get an average of 522 correct answers and if it repeated the experiment many times we would expect 95% of the results to lie between 490 and 554 correct answers. So our result is well within the bounds of expected statistical variation for a random set of guesses."

In other words, people can't tell the difference between male or female writing styles based on the prose alone. Without the hint given within a name, people were guessing. Many of you, and thank you for your honesty, point-blank admitted that nothing in the prose gave you a clue. Others suspected we were deliberately trying to outsmart you, so you guessed the opposite gender in order to be right. However, that kind of thinking pushed the experiment off the rails a bit, primarily because some of you lost the prime objective of trying to determine gender through stories or excerpts. [A side note here: regardless of the rationales for answers, if someone guessed correctly, then he or she was entered into the contest.]

For some reason, you didn't seem to trust us tricksy authors, and that made me smile. Alex Bledsoe told me in advance that he was shooting for a Raymond Carver vibe with his piece, "White Spaces." Most of you guessed that "White Spaces" was written by a female. Mary Robinette Kowal submitted a piece that she had been toying with before this experiment came into fruition. She submitted Entry #4, which was a short piece that she had written for herself in an exercise to mimic John Scalzi. She deliberately picked a male pseudonym in order to fool you. When so many of you guessed that the author of Entry #4 was male, Mary chose to submit "Meghan's Bike" in contrast. The majority of you still thought she was a man.

A few of you over-analyzed the excerpts, which was okay too, with the rationales moving in all sorts of directions. A couple of consistent ideas did come up repeatedly in both the comments here and in a few of the forums where the experiment was discussed (yes, I've been-a-lurking about your forums and such). People tend to associate emotive stories with women and "big idea" or action based stories with men. There might be some basis to that argument; however, when statements like that are made, then storytellers like Patrick Rothfuss and Stephen King, who tell very emotive stories, are shot out of the picture. Likewise, people who expect anything less than "big idea" stories from women are missing out on authors like Ursula K. Le Guin or Margaret Atwood. The list of male and female authors who don't fit neatly into these two categories can go on, but the idea here is simply this: not everyone fits a niche or a certain style.

None of you can say for certain whether K.J. Parker is male or female. You can guess. You can suspect. Ten thousand different rationales can lead down ten thousand roads. I used to work for attorneys where I mastered the art of reasoning both sides of an argument with supporting documentation, so I take it all with grain of salt. As Mark pointed out in one of our emails, it's very easy--not to mention human nature--to skew the evidence to support an individual's point of view. We like to think we know the answers and that the facts support our reasoning, but in the end, it's all conjecture.

My opinion here is simply this: No matter how much we analyze story, prose, or word usage, none of us can say with any certainty whether a specific piece is written by a man or woman unless the author stands up and accepts responsibility for the story.

Perhaps the publishers are right to ask women to submit their stories under pseudonyms. If a female name automatically conjures young adult/romantic/emotive story-lines in someone's mind, and a good part of the audience suffers from contempt prior to investigation before the first line of prose is read, then the novel or story may never make it out of the gates sales-wise.

So the publishers succumb to subterfuge, the authors (tricksy, tricksy, tricksy authors) also participate in the game, and you, the reader, are left to guess. None of this is new, by the way. Female authors have been hiding their gender behind pseudonyms for over a century. Likewise, male authors who write romance or other genres with a predominately female readership are asked to disguise their gender. It may be another century before we can all come out of the closet and be judged by our prose, not our gender.

Those are my thoughts on the matter and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the other authors who so graciously offered up their stories and their time for this endeavor. I invite you to post your thoughts on the subject either in the comments here or on your own blogs. I will leave the discussion to you.

If you do decide to comment here, remember this is my online home. I will not tolerate abusive posts or trolls. All comments will be moderated, my judgment is final and is not up for debate. Be respectful of one another, both in your words and your conduct, here and everywhere.

Now for the big reveal. We will begin with Entry #10 and work backwards toward Entry #1. Since so many of you indicated a desire to read more works by the various contributors, I am including links and author bios, all of which were shamelessly plagiarized from the authors' websites.

 Entry #10 -- Meghan's Bike by Marian Westwood and

Entry #4 -- Untitled by Jackson Harris were written by the same author:

Untitled by Jackson Harris and Meghan's Bike were both written by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Mary's debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor 2010) was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while three of her short fiction works have been nominated for the Hugo Award: “Evil Robot Monkey” in 2009 and “For Want of a Nail” in 2011, which won the Hugo for short story that year. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies, as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press.

Entry #9 -- The Sea-Folk’s Price by Z. Riddle


 The Sea-Folk's Price was written by Courtney Schafer, who is the author of The Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City, books one and two of The Shattered Sigil series.

A voracious reader, Courtney always wished new fantasy novels were published faster - until she realized she could write her own stories to satisfy her craving for new worlds full of magic and wonder. Now she writes every spare moment she's not working or adventuring with her family. In her day life, Courtney is an engineer, an avid rock climber, and a figure skater.

Courtney is currently hard at work on the third novel of The Shattered Sigil series, The Labyrinth of Flame.

Entry #8 -- White Space by T.J. Breckenridge

White Space by T.J. Breckenridge was written by Alex Bledsoe.

Alex is the author of The Hum and the Shiver, which was named as one of the best fiction books of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and the popular Eddie LaCrosse series, which includes The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, and Wake of the Bloody Angel. In addition, he has created Memphis vampires with Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood. Watch for his newest novel of the Tufa, Wisp of a Thing, which is coming in June of 2013.

Entry #7 -- The Hated by A.K. Reid

The Hated was written by Damien Walters Grintalis.

Damien lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescued pit bulls. She is an Associate Editor of the Hugo Award-winning magazine, Electric Velocipede, and a staff writer with BooklifeNow. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and others. Her debut novel, Ink, was released in December 2012 by Samhain Horror.

Entry #6 -- Untitled by Kyle Schuler


Image by Ayrica BishopUntitled by Kyle Schuler was written by Shiloh Walker.

Shiloh is the author of the following series: The Ash Trilogy, FBI Psychics, Grimm's Circle, The Hunters, in addition to the novels Fragile, Broken, Voyeur, and more. Her latest release is entitled Beautiful Scars and will be released January 2013. Shiloh has been writing since she was a kid. She fell in love with vampires with the book Bunnicula and has worked her way up to the more ... ah ... serious works of fiction. She loves reading and writing just about every kind of romance. Once upon a time she worked as a nurse, but now she writes full time and lives with her family in the Midwest. She writes urban fantasy, romantic suspense and paranormal romance, among other things. Shiloh also writes urban fantasy and erotica as J.C. Daniels.

Entry #5 -- Untitled by S.A. Daniels

Untitled by S.A. Daniels was written by Diana Rowland.

Diana is the author of The Kara Gillian series and The White Trash Zombie series. Diana has lived her entire life below the Mason-Dixon line, uses "y'all" for second-person-plural, and otherwise has no southern accent (in her opinion). She attended college at Georgia Tech where she earned a BS in Applied Mathematics, and after graduation forgot everything about higher math as quickly as possible.

She has worked as a bartender, a blackjack dealer, a pit boss, a street cop, a detective, a computer forensics specialist, a crime scene investigator, and a morgue assistant, which means that she's seen more than her share of what humans can do to each other and to themselves. She won the marksmanship award in her Police Academy class, has a black belt in Hapkido, has handled numerous dead bodies in various states of decomposition, and can't rollerblade to save her life.

She presently lives in south Louisiana with her husband and her daughter where she is deeply grateful for the existence of air conditioning.

Entry #3 -- The Education of Rebecca Cavendish by Alice Leakey

The Education of Rebecca Cavendish was written by Myke Cole.

Myke is the author of the Shadow Ops series which includes Control Point and its sequel Fortress Frontier, in addition to several short stories. As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill.

All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

Entry #2 -- The Ballad of Sophie Nu by Dirigible Elephant


The Ballad of Sophie Nu was written by Mark Lawrence.

Mark is the author of Prince of Thorns, which is his first published novel. It is the beginning of a projected trilogy following the fortunes of Honorous Jorg Ancrath. The second book in the series King of Thorns was published last year and will be followed by Emperor of Thorns in August 2013.

Mark is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say 'this isn't rocket science ... oh wait, it actually is'.

Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

Entry #1 -- Bearna by Jamie Sears

The story Bearna, which was submitted by Mazarkis Williams, was written by a woman. Mazarkis is the (tricksy, tricksy, tricksy) author of the Tower and Knife fantasy series, which includes The Emperor's Knife and its sequel, Knife Sworn. The Tower Broken, book three of the series will be available in late 2013.


I almost forgot!


The great and mighty Random Number Generator chose MC from a comment on Entry #10. MC's comment was "Female, I think."

Based on that comment: can you tell me if MC is a man, or a woman?

Gender Bending Entry #10 Meghan's Bike by Marian Westwood

This is the last entry in the Gender Bending experiment. At the end of this post, I have listed the previous nine entries along with links. Everyone has until 9:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, January 3 to enter your guess as to whether the author of these excerpts is male or female. After that, I will close all the comments to all of the blog posts associated with this contest.

On Monday, January 7, 2013, I will post the big reveal.


Last post and this is how it works:

Several authors submitted pieces they had lying around. I asked only that they choose something that would not easily be identified with their writing style. Fans can easily pick up on an author's voice, and since several of the authors are very well known, I didn't want people recognizing specific writing styles.

When an author didn't have pre-written piece, they wrote a piece just for this blog, primarily because we knew that once it hit the interwebs, it would become a freebie for everyone.

We took a brief hiatus for the holidays; however, I'm back now and will be running posts until we reach the end of the contest. Please keep your comments focused on the question at hand.

As always, please don't break my website.

Here we go ...

READ THIS FIRST: The rules and the prizes. Your mission: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

Meghan's Bike by Marian Westwood

Meghan sped down the hill in front of her house on Clinton Road.  Her daddy stood at the foot of the hill, at the intersection, watching for traffic coming down Trinity Street.  Meghan pumped her legs as fast as she could, imagining that she was on a roller coaster, like her big sister rode when they went to the Enchanted Forest.  Meghan wasn't tall enough at the amusement park, but here, on their hill she could fly.  Laughing, screaming with joy, she lifted her feet from the pedals and held them out to the side.

"Look, Daddy!  No feet!"

He grinned and raised his hands over his head with his thumbs up. 

The training wheels of her bike rattled across the grate of the storm drain, as she zoomed through the intersection.  As the Clinton Road began to rise again, she put her feet on the pedals and pumped as fast as she could.  This time she would make it up the hill on the other side of the intersection.  Her bike slowed, the chain barely dragging the wheels around.  She imagined a roller coaster car, clunking its way up the rise.  Meghan stood up in the seat and pushed all her weight down with each stroke.  Slowly, achingly, she climbed the hill.  

At the top, in front of the Emerson's house, she turned her bike around and waited for her daddy to give the all clear. 

He looked both ways and then nodded.  Cupping his hands around his mouth, he shouted, "Meghan Dougherty, come on down!"

She pushed off from the curb and settled her feet on the pedals.  The pink streamers on the end of her handlebars fluttered out, snapping at her arms.  She zoomed down the hill, giddy with speed.

 As the wind roared past her, Meghan closed her eyes, imagining the great roller coaster around her as she barreled down the hill.  "Look, Daddy, no eyes!"

"Meghan, no!"

She squeezed her eyes tighter as if that would prove she wasn't afraid

Her training wheels rattled across the storm grate.  Meghan heard a car horn.  Her daddy screamed.

For a moment longer, Meghan was flying.


Now, if you've made it this far, you have one last chance to guess the gender on Entries 1-9. All comments will close on Thursday, January 3 at 9:00 p.m. EST. Click on the link to go to the entry, and remember, one comment per entry:

Entry #1 -- Bearna by Jamie Sears 

Entry #2 -- The Ballad of Sophie Nu by Dirigible Elephant 

Entry #3 -- The Education of Rebecca Cavendish by Alice Leakey 

Entry #4 -- Untitled by Jackson Harris

Entry #5 -- Untitled by S.A. Daniels

Entry #6 -- Untitled by Kyle Schuler

Entry #7 -- The Hated by A.K. Reid

Entry #8 -- White Space by T.J. Breckenridge

Entry #9 -- The Sea-Folk’s Price by Z. Riddle

Gender Bending Entry #9 The Sea-Folk's Price by Z. Riddle

A mystery author has popped into the game with a haunting post about the Sea-Folk. This adds another book to the original list of authors, but this author will remain unnamed for now.

Entry #9 The Sea-Folk's Price is a disturbing tale to set us off into the new year.

Here is how it works:

Several authors submitted pieces they had lying around. I asked only that they choose something that would not easily be identified with their writing style. Fans can easily pick up on an author's voice, and since several of the authors are very well known, I didn't want people recognizing specific writing styles.

When an author didn't have pre-written piece, they wrote a piece just for this blog, primarily because we knew that once it hit the interwebs, it would become a freebie for everyone.

We took a brief hiatus for the holidays; however, I'm back now and will be running posts until we reach the end of the contest. Please keep your comments focused on the question at hand.

As always, please don't break my website.

Here we go ...

READ THIS FIRST: The rules and the prizes. Your mission: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

The Sea-Folk’s Price by Z. Riddle

Dai stomped through saltgrass and spinewort along the sea-cliff’s edge.  He wanted to howl curses out into the basso roar of the waves below, but this was no night to say such things aloud.  The full moon rising out of the sea was baleful orange, the surf seething and clawing at the land like a wolf roused to wrath.  It was a wild night, a raidheilge night, when the sea-folk would hunt close to shore, and they loved to catch curses and twist them against the speaker. 

Dai saw no sleek dark heads bobbing in the roiling foam, but lightning flashes of green and indigo lanced along the breakers, a sure sign of the sea-folk’s presence.  At the promontory’s highest point a mile distant, where pinprick lights outlined the Dragonhead Inn’s stacked, overhanging balconies, sightseers from the city would be pressed against the balcony rails, chattering like eager children and peering out into the waves. 

Old Owain, proprietor of the inn, would’ve warned them not to climb down to the beaches.  Cityfolk might think the sea-folk were ethereal sprites who granted wishes and seduced seamen, but the fishers knew better.  They’d buried the savaged corpses of capsized friends and relatives, seen the water churn red with the blood of fools who ventured too far into the waves.  Some, like Dai, had seen more. 

Flat black shark’s eyes staring into his, a fanged grin amid seaweed hair, and blood blooming in the water, so lovely, so terrible…

Dai’s breath came short.  His stride increased until he was almost running along the clifftop despite the chancy terrain, but the desperate anger burning in his chest didn’t ease.  By rights he should be working at the inn tonight, same as he had the last two years.  Carrying cinnamon cider and mulled wine to the guests crowding the balconies, and keeping a weather eye to make sure none were so foolish as to disobey Owain’s warnings.  But his father had gotten to Owain first.

Your father needs you, boy, Owain had said when he turned Dai away.  He can’t work the nets with his hands pained bad as they are, not alone. You’re done here.

I don’t work the boats, Dai had insisted, through gritted teeth.  Not anymore. I told you that when I first asked for a job.

You do now, Owain said, a terrible sympathy shining in his dark eyes.  Or do you want those pretty little sisters of yours to starve?  Now Andras has run off, you’re the only hope your father’s got. I can’t pay you half so much as he can earn with you in the boat. 

Andras.  Without slowing, Dai snatched up a stone and pitched it off the cliff.  The rock arced through the air and disappeared without a trace into the cauldron of waves.  Better if the rock had smashed his older brother’s head.  Andras, with his hard strength from years at the oars, his rough mockery, his wild, flashing grin -

Andras, who’d run off with Dilys the butcher’s daughter, leaving only a scrawled, barely readable note about seeking his fortune in the city.  Dai didn’t hate him for running.  Didn’t even hate his brother’s typical selfishness in forcing Dai to take his place. 

Dai hated that he’d lacked the courage to run first.

He could still run now.  His steps slowed, thinking of it.  Get away from the sea, before -  

But, no. He wasn’t Andras, who never thought beyond his latest passion.  The twins’ small faces wouldn’t leave his mind’s eye.  If Dai left, six-year-old Cadi and Efa might not starve outright; the other fishers would help as they could.  But they’d see to their own families first, and coin was scarce for all living on the Skali Coast.  Even Owain, with wealthy merchants bedding down in his inn, hadn’t much extra.  Dai knew, because he’d helped Owain with the ledgers.  The inn devoured money, with all the constant repairs and food orders and wages for cook and groom and maids, and most months the rooms were near empty.  Only now, in the fall, when the sea-folk came close to shore and the idle rich flocked to the coast to see magic flicker along the waves, would Owain make enough to see the inn through the rest of the year.    

Cadi and Efa had never been strong, born early as they were.  Living on scraps, they might survive a while, but when the winter plagues swept through the village…they’d die, as Dai’s mother had the winter after the twins’ birth. 

Old grief knotted his chest at the memory.  No.  He couldn’t simply slink away.  But what could he do?  His father thought it was simple fear that kept him from the sea, and so did Owain.  None of them understood.  None knew the truth of that terrible day two years ago, when Jakin had died and Dai had rowed in alone, numb and shivering with shock.

Against his will, the sea drew Dai’s eye.  He stopped dead, staring.

Someone was walking on the slender silver crescent of sand between cliff and waves.  A girl, in a pale dress already sodden with salt spray, thin fabric clinging to breast and hip.  Tendrils of dark hair rose and whipped in the wind like kelp in a storm-tide.

She had to be one of the gapers from the city.  Dai had heard the stories they told at the inn.  Dreamy, utterly false fancies of sea-folk granting heart’s desires, healing the sick, bringing lovers back from the dead.  Just the other day, he’d been washing the common room windows and overheard a pair of city girls sighing over a tale of a maiden with a sea-folk lover – in the tale, a darkly handsome man whose cruelty was limited to simple abandonment of a maiden yearning for his touch.

Through long practice, Dai had held his tongue – helped by his desire not to lose his view of the bountiful cleavage so enticingly displayed by the girls’ tight-laced corsets.  Something must’ve showed on his face, though, because the room’s other occupant, a man with corn-gold hair and silken clothes nearly as covered in fripperies as the girls’ dresses, had cast an ironic glance Dai’s way. 

Not a fan of folk tales? the man had asked, flipping a silver coin idly back and forth across his slender knuckles. 

Dai wasn’t.  Not that he said so at the time.  Owain didn’t like him talking to the guests.  But for all the foolish tales helped Owain drum up business, Dai thought them dangerous as rip currents.  Look at that idiot girl down there.  She was far, far too close to the water.  The sea-folk didn’t often leave the waves, but on nights like this one -

She was walking into the water.  Dai’s throat locked.  Oh, lords of the ocean, no!  One part of the tales was true: sea-folk could cast illusions.  The creatures used them to lure prey into reach. 

Dai flung himself forward along the clifftop.  There, the precipice’s angle wasn’t so steep – he slithered over the edge and skidded down crumbling limestone.  Saltgrass sliced his palms, stone grating against his skin, his breath harsh in his ears as the roar of the surf swelled. 

Sand beneath his feet now, and he was running.  The girl was waist-deep, and beyond, dark heads bobbed up in the foam.

Dai shouted, wordless and frantic.  The girl didn’t turn.  What illusion blinded her, stopped her ears?  He kicked off his boots and splashed into the surf, red blooming behind his eyes.  The icy shock of the water slammed the breath from his lungs. 

A wave slapped his face.  Hungry currents sucked at his legs.  He lunged for the girl’s arm.  Her skin was icy beneath his hand.  He pulled, and she turned at last.

Bone-pale face, lightless black eyes, and a wide, fanged grin –

Dai couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, as understanding crashed in.  She wasn’t the prey.  He was. 

He threw himself backward, but she had both his wrists in an iron-hard grip.  She dragged him deeper, and the illusion blurred away, leaving dark, scaled skin and weedy hair.  He fought, not wasting breath on screams, but cold tentacles snaked around his legs, jerked his feet clear of the sea bottom. 

Ours, came an icy, alien voice in his head, just as it had that day two years ago.  Ours.  Dark heads were all around him, brine flooding his mouth and nostrils.  The creature who held him yanked his left hand up to its lipless mouth. 

A snap of gleaming teeth, and he screamed, then, as his smallest finger disappeared and blood sprayed dark into the water.

Ours, the voice said, silky soft.  We touched you once before, and we claim you now. Your bone and blood is in us.  You do our bidding, mortal man, or all who share your blood will pay the price.

A vision swam into Dai’s head, of little Cadi and Efa, his stern father, even vanished Andras: all of them shrieking, blood running black from their mouths and eyes as their flesh sloughed away.   

“No!”  Dai spat seawater, kicked and twisted in the creature’s grip.  It hugged him closer.  The stump of his finger throbbed, pain rising through shock.  Cold breath reeking of carrion washed over him.  He turned his face aside, squeezed his eyes shut.  “Don’t. Please. You – what do you want?”

Another vision: the rich man at the inn, lamplight gleaming on his golden hair, his pale eyes sharp and shadowed, the coin flicking back and forth over his fingers.

Kill this man.  Kill him, and bring us his corpse before the dark of the moon.  When we taste his dead flesh, your blood will be safe.

Dai sputtered, his surprise so huge his voice wouldn’t come.  They wanted him to murder some rich city man?  Why? 

The creature dragged Dai’s maimed hand up again.  Indigo lightning flickered, bright enough to blind, and agony melted Dai’s bones.  

The grip on his wrists, his legs, released.  The pain vanished with it, leaving Dai choking and flailing, abruptly alone in the surging waves.  He thrashed toward shore, terror still beating bright in his veins, but felt no touch other than that of the sea itself. 

He staggered up onto the sand.  Dizziness sent him to his knees, his head reeling.  How much of his blood had spilled into the sea?  He should stem the flow.  If he died here on the sand, the sea-folk might well cast their curse on his kin regardless.  He fumbled for his injured hand.

His breath stopped again.  Bone gleamed white at the severed joint, but no blood poured from the wound.  The ragged flesh was blackened – not as if seared by fire, but as if dipped in ink, or tar. 

Something was bound around his wrist.  A bracelet of smooth, dark shells, so tight to his skin he couldn’t get a finger under it.  He yanked at the shells, struck by the unreasoning, desperate conviction he must get it off – and was assaulted again by a vision of his baby sisters screaming, dying.  For remembrance, the sea-folk’s voice whispered in his head.  He retched, bile sour in his throat. 

Two years ago, as he’d been screaming the last air out of his lungs, struggling against the cold grip holding him under, they’d said, You beg to be spared? We’ll grant your wish, but there is a price.

He’d thought Jakin’s life the price.  He’d been wrong.