Divulging Secrets

Jurdes 4, 5681---The Queen of the Sea stepped impatiently onto the deck of her flagship. After spending two weeks ashore in Atalan, it was a comfort to have the gently rolling deck beneath her feet. She was home---almost. All she needed to do was sail her fleet south to open seas. The difficulty was she did not have leave to do so. She wondered what went wrong. When she arrived in Atalan, she used everything at her disposal to convince Prince Nomolo to give her the support of Atalan to overthrow the pirate Overlord sitting at Irata half a world away, even giving up two keys to the mysterious destruction of Eranithon, her grandfather’s homeland. Prince Nomolo gave her the requested support, but the next day she learned the Great King would handle the issue, not the prince. She didn’t complain, but the change was unexpected, especially considering the old man’s health and a reputation toward being uninvolved. She never met the Great King, but he did send her several messengers to begin coordinating the eventual assault on Irata.

Both moons shone bright in the early night sky as the Queen of the Sea put her hands on the gunwale and gazed back toward Atalan. Several of her crew worked to stow the boat that brought her out to the ship. Lights lit up the city against the surrounding dark countryside and the Bay of Anamnesis. Atalan was a grand city, but the Queen of the Sea had enough of the splendor. She needed to escape the city, and return to the sea. Tonight provided the opportunity she desired. As soon as she’d learned of the events earlier that day, she sent word to her ships to prepare in secret for departure.

“The fleet is ready, my Queen,” a woman announced from the rear of the ship. It was Ila’Mun, the Queen of the Sea’s closest friend and advisor. She walked toward the Queen of the Sea. “There were some complications, but every ship reports ready. As soon as we drop sail, they will do the same.”

The Queen of the Sea turned her head. “Complications? The only complication I know about involved the time the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar plans to celebrate the birth of Prince Nomolo’s son with their skyfire display from the White Tower. No one seemed to know when it would start.”

“That’s because no one knew when you planned to leave,” a man said.

The Queen of the Sea whirled around to see a man step out from the cabin. She guessed his age was near hers, but he seemed feebler. “A man on my ship? Who is he? How did he get here? What do you mean no one knew when I planned to leave? Get him off my ship!” She reached for her sword, but hesitated as soldiers from the royal navy emerged behind the man.

“I told you we had complications,” Ila’Mun whispered.

The man took several steps toward the Queen of the Sea. She couldn’t tell if his smile was genuine or just a forced aspect of his charisma. “I had a grand day,” he said. “This morning I saw the face of my grandson Solihas, and tonight I sail away to deal with problems so he won’t need to. Now get the fleet underway so we can get a better view of that skyfire display than all of Atalan.”

“No man gives orders on my...” she paused. “You are the Great King? Aren’t you supposed to wear a crown?”

The man laughed. “I am indeed Great King Derkias, but you can’t expect an old man to always wear a heavy crown.”

She stood surprised for a moment, and then bowed. “Forgive my outburst,” she said.

The Great King walked over to her. “Rise,” he ordered softly. “You are the Queen of the Sea, and this is your ship.”

She looked up at him. He was reaching down to help her back to her feet, but she didn’t take his offer. She stood up on her own. “Thank you, your highness.” She wasn’t certain on the proper way to address the Great King, but hoped it was good enough. “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you aboard my ship instead of at the palace with your son?”

“I won’t let you sail to Irata without the support you were promised,” the Great King said. “No matter how badly you want to get away from Atalan, I learned you were planning to leave secretly so I made my own preparations for the royal navy to join you. There is more, of course, but let us discuss those matters in private.”

She nodded. “Inside my cabin will suffice. I’d say make yourself comfortable, but I feel you already have. I will be inside in just a moment.”

The Great King turned, and went back into the cabin. The Queen of the Sea leaned close to Ila’Mun. “Complications indeed! You should have warned me.”

“It wouldn’t have turned out well,” Ila’Mun replied. “Not with three archers watching me.”

“How many soldiers did he bring?”

Ila’Mun shook her head. “I couldn’t say for certain, but I can tell they don’t want to take any chances with the Great King among pirates.” She paused and took a quick glance around. “Not that we are pirates,” she added.

The Queen of the Sea nodded. “Raise the anchor, drop the sails, and get this ship moving. Ensure the rest of the fleet follows. Put us on a course to pass close to the White Tower as the old man requested. I will see what he needs to discuss so urgently.” She turned, and walked to her cabin while Ila’Mun began to shout orders to the crew.

It was warmer inside the cabin, more so because it sheltered against the cool evening breeze than the abundance of body heat and candles. She refused to hand her sword to the guard at the door, and pushed her way inside. It was her ship, and she would come and go as she pleased. The soldier did not attempt to stop her, but she did push back her coat far enough for him to glimpse the large dagger strapped to her hip.

There was a lengthy table in the center of the room, surrounded by a score of chairs. With as many ships in her command as she had, meeting with her captains usually filled all the chairs. On very rare occasions, she had enough others to meet with that she had to hold the event on shore, but her business tonight was very unusual. Her meeting was with a single man, and against her expectations, he was not sitting at the head of the table. Instead, the old man sat in the middle of one of the sides, with several old maps and parchments scattered on the table in front of him. Two glasses of wine sat beside an ornate bottle, making it a vintage she did not keep aboard her ship. The Great King motioned for her to sit in the chair across from him.

The Queen of the Sea slowly made her way to the chair, taking the time to glance at the maps on the table. There was no mistaking the outline of Eranithon on the largest of the maps, and the others appeared to be maps of smaller portions of the land. So that was what the old man wished to discuss. She took a drab bottle of wine and a goblet off a shelf, and poured herself a drink before taking a seat. She rarely trusted drinks offered by others, especially those she thought might feel the world was safer without her. She knew it was rude to refuse the Great King’s hospitality, but it was rude for him to visit her ship uninvited. There was little room for proprieties between them in private.

“Eranithon?” she asked, taking a sip of her wine. “I already told Prince Nomolo all I know about it.”

Great King Derkias raised his eyebrows. “I hardly consider mentioning the land and thrusting a captive in front of my son to be telling him everything. He knows something bad happened there, but lacks the details. Now, I think you should start by telling me exactly where you found that parchment and captured the woman.”

The Queen of the Sea took another small sip of her wine as she stared at the Great King. She wasn’t sure what to make of him. He knew much more than he let on, but how much she could not determine. Providing the demanded information while keeping her secrets would be a gamble. If she were fortunate, the Great King would never find the other secrets she uncovered. If she wasn’t fortunate, well, she didn’t want to consider that possibility. She took a deep breath, and leaned forward in her chair. “It was here,” she said, pointing at a place on the map. “Long Sound. I was sailing up from the south toward a destination just south of Lonely Point when several of my ships struck a sandbar. We put to shore hoping to check the ships for damage, and make any necessary repairs.” She leaned back, and hoped the Great King believed her.

The Great King stared at her several moments. His face displayed no emotion that she could discern. He finally leaned forward, and turned the map around. “It was here,” he said gruffly, pointing at a place on the opposite side of the land. “Ijelon Sound. You were sailing south to Vorin Cove, and found the caves just north from the ruins there.”

The Queen of the Sea shook her head. “I wouldn’t pass through Ijelon Sound except to escape the strongest storm. Those waters are...” she paused to consider her choice of words, “...unsafe.”

“Unsafe indeed,” the Great King agreed, “but so is this game you play.” He picked up his goblet of wine, and leaned back in his chair. “Did you ever learn how your mother died?”

The Queen of the Sea froze. The old man had picked apart her lie and figured out the truth without any trouble. She was in a very treacherous place. Still, curiosity about his last statement had the best of her. “My mother? I heard she died in battle with the royal navy.”

“That is partially true,” the Great King admitted. He finished his wine, and set down the goblet. “The battle actually began after her execution.” He motioned for one of the guards to fill up his goblet.

“And you wonder why I despise the royal navy,” the Queen of the Sea hissed. “I don’t know what happened to Eranithon, nor do I care. All I know both Irata and the Underground were involved, and the people are living in total darkness in those caves. Eranithon was my grandfather’s homeland, and I plan to avenge the loss of that land by removing the Overlord. If it takes support from the royal navy to do that, fine, but don’t think for a moment that mentioning my mother’s death makes me more willing to cooperate.”

“Your mother was executed for lying to a prince,” the Great King said, glancing toward the far end of the room to avoid seeing her eyes widen with realization. “I only tell you so you know not to make the same mistake. As for you, I always wondered if you would turn out just like her.”

“You... killed... my mother!?” the Queen of the Sea stammered.

“Not personally, no,” the Great King explained. “I’m not into that sort of business---blood and guts is not my thing---but I did order the execution.”

The Queen of the Sea tried to regain her composure. “What lie did my mother tell that warranted her execution?”

“Her involvement in the destruction of Eranithon, for one,” the Great King answered. He picked up his goblet and sipped at the wine while his announcement worked its way through her head.

The Queen of the Sea was unsure how to react to the sudden news. The man across the table from her was admitting to executing her mother for being involved in the strangest disaster the world had seen in centuries. He obviously knew more about the circumstances of Eranithon’s destruction than she did, and if her mother helped cause that destruction, why was he planning to support her overthrow of the Overlord at Irata? Questions whirled through her head, but what should she ask first? She eventually picked up her goblet of wine. “I think you need to tell me what really happened in Eranithon,” she finally decided, glaring at the old man.

“I only know bits of it myself since Eranithon was destroyed four years before my birth while my grandfather still reigned,” the Great King admitted, “although I probably know more than anyone alive. According to my father, it was a battle against the Dark Magicians that destroyed the land, one of the only successful battles against that foe. Some tales suggest the Lunari were involved, but I always considered those to be exaggerations until I heard about the woman you captured earlier this year.”

He took another sip of wine. “You told my son that Irata allied with the Underground to destroy Eranithon. The truth is Eranithon conspired with the Underground to destroy Irata.”

“You tell a good story,” the Queen of the Sea decided, “but you haven’t explained my mother’s alleged involvement.”

The Great King set down his goblet, and looked her in the eye. “You mother, your grandfather, came from the Underground,” he told her, “not Eranithon. I assume he died in battle as the song depicts, but she escaped and avoided capture for two and a half decades.”

The old man leaned forward. “Do you know why the Queen of the Sea is always associated with storms?” She shook her head. “The few who survived her attacks always claimed a storm overtook them, and they encountered her in its midst,” he began to explain. “Ships don’t sail near storms, let alone inside them, without good reason, and certainly not on a regular basis, but for her and many in her crew who were too sensitive to sunlight, it was necessary. That is how she managed to evade us for so long. When the royal navy finally managed to locate her, it was determined she kept a Dark Magician aboard her ship to maintain the storm in perpetuity.”

He leaned back and picked up his goblet, once again staring into the distance as if reminiscing. “We surrounded her just west of the Kiremo Desert, eighteen ships against her five, braving the wind and waves, hoping every moment not to sink. We signaled for her surrender, but she signaled intent to negotiate first, and soon came aboard. She first tried to bribe her way out. Then she tried to plead for the release of her crew. Then she tried to exchange the Dark Magician for her release. She finally disavowed her involvement in Eranithon. Most of it was a lie.”

He turned his head and pointed at the Queen of the Sea. “If you ever want to know if someone came from the Underground, look into their eyes. The color won’t be as vibrant or dark.”

He looked back toward the end of the room. “I originally planned to take her prisoner, but her words convinced me execution was necessary. Following that was the ugly battle to subdue and defeat her Dark Magician. It took two days and twenty operatives from the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar, but they defeated him.” He paused for a moment before looking back toward the Queen of the Sea. “When the storm dissipated, only three of our ships remained. Fifteen ships and their crews lost to catch and defeat the last remnants of the disaster at Eranithon.”

The Queen of the Sea began to understand the real reason for the Great King’s reputation for refusing to engage in battle the Dark Magicians in Etnyben. However, it did not excuse his execution of her mother. “If my mother came from the Underground, why did the royal navy ignore me? Why assist me against Irata”

The old man stood up. “We should be nearing the White Pillar, and I should be returning to my own ships,” he decided, ignoring her questions. He shuffled through the maps, and found one showing the details around the area of Vorin Cove. She noticed a number of caves marked throughout the area, along with underground tunnels and caverns. “I don’t care what secrets you keep hidden in the ruins around this area, but tell me quickly in which cave your man found that parchment. Nomolo might not know what truly happened fifty-six years ago, but I will not send my son to Eranithon blindly or unprepared.”

The Queen of the Sea picked up a quill, and made a mark on the map. “This was the cave,” she said. She slowly traced a path through the tunnels and caverns, and paused at one point. She felt confused, but decided the map was old and inaccurate. “The tunnel actually splits at this point,” she explained, marking the area. “I thought I saw a light down the tunnel not shown on the map, probably a new entrance opened by a recent cave-in, so we turned to go down the other path. That is where I captured the woman, and fought off the others.”

“Thank you,” the Great King said. “That is all I needed to know.” He picked up the map, and handed it to one of the guards for safekeeping. “My support of your instatement at Irata is for discussion at a later time. As for ordering the royal navy to ignore you, that was Magda’Lyn’s last request before her execution.” He pulled a folded parchment from his cloak, and tossed it on the table in front of her. “She left that on my desk in the hour before her execution.”

She picked up the parchment while the Great King walked toward the door. The seal of violet wax was broken, but she expected it considering the circumstances. She hardly heard the Great King order her to send a signal when she was ready to meet with him later in the week, and never noticed when he stepped from the cabin. Instead, her focus was on the strange signet stamped into the broken seal. Instead of a diadem, the bat of the Underground crowned the watery skull representing the Queen of the Sea. The old man was telling the truth of her mother’s origin. As the skyfire display from the White Pillar began outside, Ivee’Lyn opened the parchment to read the last words her mother ever wrote.