Ranthe 2, 5682---Great King Derkias stood on the deck of his ship gazing at the sea of wreckage bobbing up and down with the waves. Pieces of flotsam bumped constantly against the ship as it floated, anchored in the field of debris. It was only a day following the second-most violent battle he’d ever seen at sea, and he was thankful his ship hadn’t been in the worst of it. The earliest report from the battle suggested a minimum of twenty warships from Irata, but the latest tally put that closer to thirty. The Queen of the Sea was victorious, but the cost to her fleet of twenty ships was almost crippling. If anything, it underscored the need for her to improve coordination with her allies.
“How long before we can continue to Irata?” he asked one of his advisors.
“Three weeks minimum, assuming her carpenters are unharmed,” the man replied. “Two if we lend assistance with repairs.”
“How many did she lose?”
The advisor looked over a piece of parchment with some figures scrawled on it. “I was prevented from meeting with her directly, but Fulara’Tol, her third in command, claimed she lost two ships, and almost all the rest require extensive repairs before they will be fit for battle once more. They are beaching the ships to make the repairs, but some are so badly damaged that they can’t do much more than drift with the tide. She also said the final tally is not yet complete, but she estimates a loss of up to a third of her crewmembers across all her ships.”
The Great King breathed in sharply. “I knew Ivee’Lyn wanted to take the seat at Irata, but I had no idea how dedicated she was to that task. If I didn’t support her before, I certainly do now. Did her third in command mention why the Queen of the Sea refused to meet with you? Why not even the second in command?”
The advisor shook his head. “Fulara’Tol claimed the two were still recovering from the fatigue of battle, but I also overheard one of her crew mention that the Queen of the Sea defeated three enemy ships with an arrow sticking from her back.”
“So she’s wounded or dead,” the Great King decided, “but my fat gut says three ships in that condition is unlikely. Fetch me a boat. I think it’s time I paid another visit to her flagship.” The advisor bowed, and went to prepare the boat.
The Great King turned to his guards. “I’ll take three guards, and Terli’Dab,” he ordered. He didn’t like the cranky, old witch from the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar, but understood their capacity for protection and other strange abilities. He hoped her presence would be influence enough to find out the truth about the Queen of the Sea’s condition.
An hour later, the Great King stepped aboard the Queen of the Sea’s listing flagship, and looked around at the horrific scene. Blood and ash discolored the rubble-strewn deck. The sails were tattered, and although the great banner with the skull and diadem still fluttered from the mast in the weak breeze, the holes singed through its fabric were large enough to show the sky it would otherwise hide. The ship creaked with each wave, sounding as if the mast was ready to collapse or the hull break apart. Wounded women lay on mats along the deck, while others tended to the injuries. The Great King wondered how many would survive as two women picked up one of the bodies, and heaved it over the side of the ship into the watery grave. One woman hung stiffly in the rigging with several arrows sticking from her body. She was already dead, so bringing down the corpse was low on the list of priorities.
The Great King kicked aside an empty wine bottle. “So this is how the Queen of the Sea celebrates the New Year,” he said, “with battle and bottle.”
A dark-haired woman hurried over to them with a scowl on her face. “You should not be here,” she said. “We have too much to do without your interference.”
“And you are?” the Great King asked.
“Fulara’Tol,” the woman answered. “I’m in charge here, and I say get off this ship.”
The Great King raised his eyebrows. “Is that how you address your Great King?” he asked.
“What are you going to do about it, have me executed?” the woman snapped.
“Perhaps,” the Great King replied nonchalantly. “First, take me to Ivee’Lyn. I must see her myself.”
“The Queen of the Sea is not accepting visitors at this time,” Fulara’Tol argued. “She is in no condition to speak.”
Great King Derkias frowned. “You will do as I command, or the royal navy will crush your weakened fleet with little effort.”
Another woman walked over to them. “Just do as he asks, Fulara’Tol,” she said, looking tired and sounding frustrated. “It can’t hurt anything.”
Fulara’Tol hesitated with frustration. “Very well,” she eventually agreed. She glanced at Terli’Dab, the woman from the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar that arrived with the Great King. “You might be able to help. We lost our best doctor during the battle, and none of the rest of us knows how to deal with the Queen of the Sea’s injury.”
She led them into the cabin, where the Queen of the Sea lay face down on one of her smaller banners, an arrow sticking from her back, and blood staining her clothing. The banner was dirty, and draped across several pillows placed on the table. Another woman lay wounded on a mat at the far end of the room. The Great King recognized her as Ila’Mun, the Queen of the Sea’s second in command.
“Tend to Ivee’Lyn first,” the Great King ordered.
Terli’Dab walked over to the table, and picked up a small jar of ointment. “Hagsnik?” she asked.
Fulara’Tol nodded. “I can bring more if you need it.”
“That will not be necessary,” Terli’Dab decided.
She pulled out a small knife. She bent over the table, and cut away the cloth where the arrow stuck from the body. “The arrow will be difficult. The leather armor kept it from penetrating very far, but it also keeps me from examining the wound. Why did you not extract the arrow yesterday?”
“We tried,” Fulara’Tol admitted, “but every time we jostled the arrow, the wound seemed to bleed very badly. As long as we leave it alone, the bleeding is slow.”
Terli’Dab pulled open one of the Queen of the Sea’s eyelids, and looked into the eye. “I’m fairly certain it’s a poisoned arrow,” she finally said, closing the eyelid, “although I haven’t heard of anyone using this specific poison in a number of years since it tends to have too slow an effect to be useful in most cases. The poison comes from the pirate isles west of Sarda, where they call it the ‘sleeping bleeder.’ The poison first puts its victim to sleep, and if any allies attempt to remove the arrow, the poison keeps the blood from thickening. She’ll survive, but removing the arrow will be complicated.”
“How do we do that?” Fulara’Tol wondered.
“We’ll get back to her,” Terli’Dab said, straightening up. “What types of wounds does the other woman have?”
“Ila’Mun was unprotected from the flying splinters thrown out from the kickback of a falling mast,” Fulara’Tol answered. “Some of the splinters were quite large and deep. We spent most of yesterday evening pulling them out.”
“I assume you used some hagsnik on her wounds?” Terli’Dab guessed.
Fulara’Tol nodded. “A little hagsnik on the bandages helps speed the healing. She’s resting now, and is not threatened by her injuries.”
“Good,” Terli’Dab decided. “I won’t have to tend two people at the same time. However, I cannot tend Ivee’Lyn here. We need to get her to shore.”
“I cannot permit that,” Fulara’Tol protested. “She is to remain here, surrounded by people she trusts.”
“Listen to the woman,” the Great King growled at Fulara’Tol. “If I wanted Ivee’Lyn assassinated, I’d have done so long ago. If Terli’Dab cannot tend the wound here, then do as she says, and get Ivee’Lyn to a place where she can work.”
“Apologies, my king,” Fulara’Tol said, with a slight bow, almost mockingly. “If you wish to do anything to the Queen of the Sea, there is little I can do to stop you.”
Great King Derkias frowned at the woman. “May the Lunari strike me down if I have ill intent toward Ivee’Lyn,” he said. “She has my full support and protection so long as I live, which is longer than you’ll live if you keep on with that attitude.”
“Help me carry her,” Terli’Dab said to no one in particular. “We’ll take her to shore in the boat.” She grabbed one corner of the banner by the Queen of the Sea’s head, and Fulara’Tol took the opposite corner.
Great King Derkias took the two corners of the dirty banner by the Queen of the Sea’s feet, and together they lifted her from the table. “Ready the boat,” he ordered his guards. He led the way to the door as they carried out the Queen of the Sea.
“My king, you would dirty your hands to help her?” Fulara’Tol wondered.
The Great King glanced back at her. “Curious, isn’t it?”
It did not take long to lower the Queen of the Sea into the boat, but they had to sit sideways with her on their knees for everyone to fit. They also had to hold her steady so as not to jostle the arrow, while the Great King’s guards rowed the boat to shore.
They reached the shore in the middle of the Queen of the Sea’s fleet, where sailors were busy making repairs to the beached ships. “Bring me a barrel,” Terli’Dab shouted as the Great King’s guards pushed the boat closer to the shore, hoping someone would obey. “Bring a barrel, and fill it with cool, clean water.”
“It’s the Queen!” someone shouted from the beach, recognizing the cargo of the boat. “The Queen of the Sea is hurt, bring that barrel fast!”
Sailors rushed to help them out of the boat, and more stood anxiously nearby. Several sailors set a large barrel further up the beach, and began filling it with bucketfuls of water. As the Great King and two women carried the Queen of the Sea toward the barrel, the Queen of the Sea’s sailors formed two lines, one on either side of the path to the barrel. Many of them bowed as they passed, although the Great King believed it was more for her than him.
“Bring two tables, and put up a tent,” Terli’Dab added to her previous request. Several sailors ran to find the supplies.
“What are you planning?” Fulara’Tol wondered as they reached the barrel.
“We can’t just remove the arrow, or she’ll bleed to death” Terli’Dab said, “so first we need to remove the poison. We’ll do that by laying her across the barrel so the cold water can soak into the wound, and begin to wash it out.”
“How long will that take?” Fulara’Tol asked. “How will you know the poison is gone?”
“That might take a while,” Terli’Dab answered. “All the blood around the wound and in her clothing will soak out into the water first, and once the water makes it into the wound, it will begin to clean that out. She’ll bleed pretty bad at first, but soon it will slow to a trickle. That is when we’ll know she’s ready for us to remove the arrow.”
They set the Queen of the Sea down beside the barrel, still on the banner, while the sailors positioned the two tables on either side of the barrel. Others began erecting a tent over the area.
“This is where it gets tricky,” Terli’Dab said. “We need to pick her up, flip her over, and be sure not to bump the arrow against the side of the barrel when we lay her across the top. If Fulara’Tol takes the feet, and the Great King takes her head, I will take the middle, and keep the arrow steady.”
They switched places, and slowly picked the Queen of the Sea off the banner. After flipping her so the arrow was hanging from her back, they lifted her higher, and onto the barrel, with her feet on one table, and her shoulder and head on the other. Blood seeped out of her clothing and wound, leaving swirling streamers of red as it spread to darken the water in the barrel.
By then, the tent was almost finished. “Now we need to wait,” Terli’Dab said. “In the meantime, have someone fetch me clean bandages, a needle and thread, and another jar of hagsnik so I have them ready when I need them.”
Fulara’Tol quickly stepped from the tent, gave the order to someone nearby, and returned. “Will she wake?” she asked.
Terli’Dab shook her head. “That part of the poison is already throughout her body, and will wear off in time. It might be soon, or it might take another day, but we cannot hasten that process. You two should wait outside the tent. I’ll call for help when the wound is done soaking.”
The Great King did not particularly like the woman giving him orders, but felt it best not to complain given the circumstances. He stepped out of the tent with Fulara’Tol following behind him, and found two of his guards standing outside. “Go to the boat, and signal the ship,” he ordered one of them. “The royal navy is to provide assistance and aid where needed, and I want my ship here on the beach immediately.” He leaned closer to the guard. “There is no immediate danger, but sooner or later one of these pirates will realize how vulnerable I am,” he whispered. “Request as many guards as you think necessary.”
“Yes, my king,” the guard replied. He hurried down to the boat to send the signals.
Fulara’Tol stepped up beside the Great King. “I’m still curious why you would personally make an effort to assist the Queen of the Sea when your throne could benefit with her loss.”
The Great King looked at his dirty hands, and shrugged. “What are kings for, if not to do the things no one else will do?” he asked. “Besides, I believe she would do the same for me if the situation was reversed.”
Fulara’Tol looked confused. “No she wouldn’t.”
The Great King glanced at her. “Ask her sometime. Anyway, I want to hear about this rumor that the Queen of the Sea took on three enemy vessels before she succumbed to her injury. Is that true?”
Fulara’Tol nodded. “The first ship faced our standard attack; brute force to snap the mast, and leave the ship a burning wreck. We then passed behind the second ship, but only managed to destroy the rudder. Without control, they were out of the fight, so our archers worked on setting that ship ablaze. We tried to snap the mast of the third ship, but were unable to do so, and resorted to boarding and fighting on the deck. The Queen of the Sea killed the captain of the enemy ship, but then succumbed to her wound.”
“At what point during the battle was she struck by the arrow?” the Great King wondered.
“She was the first casualty,” Fulara’Tol answered. “It was right as we sailed within range of their archers.”
The tent flap opened, and Terli’Dab stuck her head out. “It’s time to remove the arrow. Where are the supplies I requested? We’ll also need several buckets of clean water, and some towels.”
“I’ll see what’s holding them up,” Fulara’Tol decided.
As Fulara’Tol hurried off toward the nearest ship, the Great King stepped into the tent. “How do you plan to do this?” he asked.
“I thought to put her face down on a table, and extract it like any other arrow, but that will be hard since we need to remove her leather armor at the same time,” Terli’Dab said. “So, I think it will be easier extracting her from the leather and arrow.” She began to unfasten the Queen of the Sea’s clothing.
“Perhaps you should find another woman to help,” the Great King said. “I might be an old man, but I’m not sure my wife would approve of this.”
“Nonsense,” Terli’Dab quickly replied, not looking up from her work. “Not only are you as competent as anyone else I might find to assist, but you’re also saving a life. I’m certain Queen Orlo’Van would approve. In fact, I believe she would be proud of you.”
Fulara’Tol returned with the requested supplies and several sailors carrying buckets filled with water. She stopped quickly when she saw Terli’Dab undressing the Queen of the Sea, and told the sailors to stay outside and leave the water by the tent. She walked over to the nearest table, and set down the supplies.
“This is where it gets tricky,” Terli’Dab told Fulara’Tol. “I plan to extract the arrow without taking it out of the barrel. You two be ready to lift her when I tell you to, and then set her face down on the table closest to the door. The Great King can take the head and shoulders, and Fulara’Tol can take the hips.”
The Great King moved into place, and stood ready with their hands beneath the Queen of the Sea. Terli’Dab pulled out her knife, and reached into the barrel with that hand. With the other hand, she slowly pulled back the Queen of the Sea’s leather armor.
“I seriously hope she doesn’t wake for this,” Terli’Dab muttered, slowly sticking the knife through the hole in the leather with the arrow, and into the wound. When she decided the blade was in the wound as deep as the point of the arrow, she looked up at the Great King. “Lift,” she ordered.
The arrow came out easily, although the Queen of the Sea began to bleed harder than before. “Get her on the table quick,” Terli’Dab said. She hurried to move the supplies out of the way, and while the other two set the Queen of the Sea on the table, quickly stepped outside for two buckets of water.
“Are we going to put a towel beneath her?” Fulara’Tol asked.
“No,” Terli’Dab said, setting the two buckets on the table. She briefly examined the wound, pouring on some water to help clear away the flowing blood. “First we staunch the bleeding, but I think she’s lost enough blood that it won’t take long.” She took one of the towels, smeared some hagsnik on it, and pressed it tightly on the wound. “Fulara’Tol, you should see about getting her some clean clothes and a bed. The Great King can help me from here.”
Fulara’Tol frowned, but didn’t protest. “If anything bad happens to the Queen of the Sea while I’m gone...” She decided not to finish her threat, and stepped out of the tent.
“What would you have me do?” the Great King asked Terli’Dab.
“Ready the needle and thread,” she answered, lifting up the corner of the towel to peek at the wound.
He reached over the Queen of the Sea, and picked up the needle and thread from the table. “This is women’s work,” he said, examining the eye of the needle. “I have no experience with sewing.”
Terli’Dab looked up at him with raised eyebrows. “I heard what you said to Fulara’Tol. What are kings for, if not to do the things no one else will do? Well, I don’t see anyone else in here.”
The Great King chuckled as he tried several times to thread the needle before he succeeded. “Terli’Dab,” he said. “I may not like you, but you’re one of the few from the Sisterhood who I sometimes find amusing.”
She smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment. As the Great King, you don’t trust the people you like, and you don’t like the people you trust. I think this bleeding is as slow as it’s going to get for now.” She lifted away the towel. “I’ll take the needle and thread. You pick up a bucket, and slowly pour water on the wound to wash away what little bleeding continues as I stitch.”
The Great King handed her the needle and thread, and picked up one of the two buckets. While she stitched, he kept the area around the wound clean of any flowing blood so she could see what she was doing. “Do you always make such an analysis of the mannerisms of political figures?” he asked her.
She promptly finished her stitching, and placed the towel over the wound once more. “Hold this here,” she said. “I’m going to give the rest of her body a quick wash and dry.” She grabbed another towel and a bucket of water, and began to wash. “To answer your question, I am a member of the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar. Our training teaches us to be perceptive of many things beyond the usual combat or healing roles in which people picture us. Fulara’Tol was right to question your willingness to assist Ivee’Lyn. The Queen of the Sea is a woman you have every right to like but distrust, and yet you trust and dislike her. I am sure she is not the only person wondering what purpose or reason might lie behind your choice to support her attempt for Irata.”
“I only know of two people who know that reason,” the Great King said, “me and her, and she only learned it the night we left Atalan. It’s a secret, and I intend to keep it that way.”
Terli’Dab shrugged. “There are others who know, but not many. I understand your reason for secrecy on the matter, and will not tell anyone.”
“You know?” the Great King wondered.
Terli’Dab nodded. “I have a basic understanding of what happened, which is why I was not surprised like Fulara’Tol.”
Terli’Dab finished her washing, and set the wet towel and bucket of water on the ground. She picked up a clean, dry towel, and spread it on the second table. “So the Queen of the Sea now knows. How did that affect her designs for Irata? Help me lift her onto the other table.”
The Great King helped as requested. “She is stubborn,” he answered. “She resists my orders, tests my limits, and probably wishes she never learned about it.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Terli’Dab realized. She smeared a large quantity of hagsnik over the Queen of the Sea’s wound. She then pressed on a piece of padding, and tied a bandage around the woman to hold it on. “How does that knowledge change her plans for Irata? Once she has it under her control, what then?”
“I can’t say,” the Great King shrugged. “I figure by the time she consolidates the power of that position, it will be Nomolo’s problem to deal with. She might declare war on Atalan, or she might become a valuable ally. Either way, she has no heir that I know of, so her influence dies when she dies.”
“That is unfortunate,” Terli’Dab decided. “Atalan would do well to retain control of the seas, the only way Atalan could truly retain its control over the world in an age when so many lesser kingdoms are breaking away from your rule. I really think you should tell your son when you get a chance.” She started to roll the Queen of the Sea onto her back, and the Great King helped.
“Atalan was never in control,” the Great King argued. “It is nothing more than a symbol, a shining light where the world looks for help during the worst of times. They can call me a Great King, and other kings will bow before me, but my reign only exists within the shores of Tanarad. When the world has crisis, they go to the Great King for help, but at any other time they think of the Great King as nothing more than the title of a fool living in a faraway land.”
“Do you truly believe that?” Terli’Dab wondered. She picked up the last dry towel, and spread it over the Queen of the Sea. “That’s all I can do for her. Now we’re just waiting for the bed Fulara’Tol is finding.”
The Great King placed his hands on the table, and leaned toward Terli’Dab. “Would you suggest I’m wrong?”
Terli’Dab looked him in the eyes. “It was only a question, not an insinuation. Still, if what you say is true, then I expect Atalan’s influence will decline greatly over the next few centuries. Perhaps that is what is meant by the as yet unfulfilled prophecy that states, ‘A king departed.’”
“If you’re done here, get out,” the Great King growled, pointing to the tent opening.
Terli’Dab rolled her eyes as she walked toward the entrance of the tent, but Fulara’Tol returned first. “Is the Queen of the Sea alright?” she asked.
“She’ll be fine,” Terli’Dab answered. “She just needs some rest. Did you bring the bed?”
Fulara’Tol nodded. “Yes, but I wanted to make sure she was decent before these men carry it in. I also brought the clean clothes.” She handed the bundle to Terli’Dab.
“Very good,” Terli’Dab said. “Help me get her dressed. As soon as we’re done, we’ll have the men bring in the bed, and remove the barrel and the wet table.” She glanced at the Great King. “You’re welcome to wait outside if you’d like to.”
The Great King frowned. He stepped away from the table that held the Queen of the Sea, and stood by the side of the tent without making comment on the matter. He would let the two women work without interfering. His mind was busy unhappily thinking about the things Terli’Dab mentioned about Atalan declining. It was true, and nothing he could do could change that. He was just one in a long line of Great Kings who ruled more symbolically than actually. Whichever Great King defeated the Dark Magicians he guessed would be the last Great King with a truly global influence. It was so; prophecy ordained the Great King’s departure from the throne. His only hope was that it would not happen during the reigns of his son or grandson.
His mind moved off the topic, and he began to think about the Queen of the Sea. How would Nomolo react if he learned the truth about her, or for that matter, how would anyone else in the world react? It was a quandary. He guessed Nomolo would find it quite interesting, and make the most of it, but if anyone else learned the secret, it would be scandal, and after the things that peasant Josloy wrote in his journal while exploring Etnyben, Great King Derkias was through with scandal. It would be best to continue keeping what he knew a secret.
He soon realized the two women not only had the Queen of the Sea dressed, but they also had her lying in the bed. “Bring me a chair, and I’ll stay in here,” he told them. “I’m sure you two both have many other things to do.”
Terli’Dab quickly agreed, and left the tent, probably to seek out other wounded pirates to mend. Fulara’Tol was slower to accept. “What could be more important for me than to ensure the safety and care of my queen?” she asked.
“Will you not trust an old man to ensure no one disturbs her?” the Great King asked. “You have repairs to make, her entire fleet to command while your queen remains incapacitated. My ships can operate without my presence, but your ships need you. Go do what you can so the Queen of the Sea will be proud of your actions in her stead. I will be sure to tell her of your loyalty when she awakes.”
“You are a persuasive Great King,” she slowly replied, with a slight bow. “I will do as you suggest.” She turned and left the tent.
The Great King walked to the entrance of the tent, and looked out. His ship was just reaching the shore as requested, and several of his guards were nearby. “Bring me some wine,” he ordered one of the guards. “Tell Commander Pyron where I am, and that he’s in charge of the fleet until I return to my ship.” The guard bowed, and ran toward the ship while the Great King stepped back inside the tent.
He thought he heard the Queen of the Sea move, and walked over to her. He bent down, looking at her face, to see if she was waking. Her breathing was strengthening.
The Queen of the Sea opened her eyes. For a brief moment, fear filled her eyes, but it soon faded. “That is not a nice face to see when waking up,” she said weakly.
The Great King chuckled. “My wife often tells me otherwise,” he replied with a grin.