Pelthe 12, 5682---“Heave!” The cry from across the black stone pavement at Irata echoed off the large stone wall cut from the same quarry. Irata was busy with workers repairing ships and cleaning up what little damage still remained from the battle three weeks before, neither of which piqued Terli’Dab’s curiosity, but now a group was busy with the throne while the Great King and the Queen of the Sea argued about something off to the side. She moved closer to hear what they were saying, although it was not a problem since she needed to talk to the Great King anyway.
“It is time I returned to Atalan,” the Great King said. “You will sit on that throne we fought to give you, and rule Irata as you intended.”
“Sitting on the throne is no problem,” the Queen of the Sea argued. “I have no problem sitting on a throne, but I will not do so in this dump of a city.”
“The Overlord of Irata is the power of the seas,” the Great King replied. “Without Irata there is no Overlord.”
“Without that throne there is no Overlord,” the Queen of the Seas corrected, “and the power of the seas is not the city here, but the ships operating at the Overlord’s command. I was born on the sea, and I will die on the sea. I will not stay ashore longer than needed.”
“And how would you rule without your throne tied to a fixed location?” the Great King said. “No one would know where to find their Overlord in times of urgency.”
“The throne is going on my ship, and that’s final!” the Queen of the Sea told the Great King.
Terli’Dab cringed inwardly at the woman’s disregard for the Great King’s position and power, and at his apparent failure to notice it. The two were growing too familiar. She stepped up beside them. “My King, the wine you requested,” she interrupted, holding out a goblet for him to take.
“It’s about time,” the Great King snapped, snatching the goblet from her. “On busy days I need this early in the morning, not at midday.”
“You now have the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar working as your cupbearers?” the Queen of the Sea wondered as the Great King took a long sip.
“Try some,” the Great King urged, holding out the goblet toward her.
“If you think too much wine will shorten your life, anything those women give you is apt to provide a much swifter end,” the Queen of the Sea scoffed. “Thank you for the offer, but I would much rather drink something familiar.”
Terli’Dab silently noted the woman’s prudence. “The wine contains a rare herbal mixture to boost one’s energy and intellect,” she explained. The Queen of the Sea was right, however, and both Terli’Dab and the Great King knew it. The potent mixture could one day kill the Great King, although there was no way to predict if or when it would happen. Even so, he accepted the risk in return for the benefits from the drink, and demanded the Sisterhood provide it to him on request.
The Great King took another long sip, and finished the wine in the goblet. “Terli’Dab, did you overhear our discussion as you approached?”
“I did,” she admitted, “but I know better than to interject my opinions into someone else’s conversation.”
“Then tell Ivee’Lyn why she has to stay in Irata,” he ordered her, handing back the goblet.
“You have to stay because the Great King commands it,” Terli’Dab said.
The Queen of the Sea scowled, but the Great King briefly looked at Terli’Dab as if her response puzzled him. “Then you disagree,” he finally decided.
Terli’Dab nodded. “She’s Queen of the Sea, a tempest who’s free, the storm from which everyone flees; but tie down her feet for a symbolic seat, and she’ll suffer rapid defeat.” It was a hasty use of the tune she had learned in the past couple months, but the effect worked. The Queen of the Sea smiled at Terli’Dab. The Great King was slower in his appreciation of the rhyme.
“If Nomolo is doing his part, she shouldn’t face war,” he said. “The enemy should be cut off from their access to Irata.”
“You know as much history for this land as I do,” Terli’Dab added. “Standard successions are easy, but every time someone fought for this throne, they faced several challengers in the following months and years. From Great King Turos the Mighty facing Bozorg the Bad to Elimah’s wars against Jivog and Wulga’Vil to the blood feud between Overload Telim and his older brother Yarl, each succession that required a battle to instate a new Overlord left the matter unsettled for others, and not just enemies like the Dark Magicians. I know I said I was keeping my opinions to myself, but since you asked, I will tell you what I think. I have no doubt the Queen of the Sea is a capable commander and willing to fight for what’s hers, but she and her crews are accustomed to fighting on the waves, not the unmoving land. The strategies, tactics, and even the feel of battle will be different and strange to them. Let her go to sea and she will keep the throne to her death, but keep her here and someone else will take the throne from her.”
“Fine,” the Great King scowled. “I’m leaving this land with my ships. Do what you want with the throne; go where you want to go,” he pointed at the Queen of the Sea, “but I will hold you personally accountable for the tribute Irata owes Atalan each year. Fail to wield the power of your position and the Royal Navy will hunt you down.” He turned with a huff and started to walk away. “Move that throne. So says the Queen,” he said, sarcastically waving his hand in the air.
“You shouldn’t treat him with such nonchalance,” Terli’Dab scolded the Queen of the Sea. “For good or ill, the decisions of the Great King should never be questioned outright. It lessens the value of his rule and disrespects his position.”
“And here I thought you were on my side,” the Queen of the Sea said coldly.
“No,” Terli’Dab told her. “My agreement on this particular matter does not suggest I approve of you or your decisions. I provide my opinion if requested, but always abide by the decisions made by the Great King.”
“I will consider your opinion,” the Queen of the Sea replied diplomatically after a long pause. “Now you should probably return to your ship before your fleet departs.”
“I have time,” Terli’Dab said. “The fleet won’t depart until tomorrow morning. I actually wished to ask you something of a more personal nature, something I once asked before but quickly dismissed as there were others around who did not need to know.”
“You want to know how I learned to use the same powers as you women from the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar,” the Queen of the Sea realized. “Perhaps we should discuss this aboard my ship.”
“All I ask is a name,” Terli’Dab told her. “You said you only learned it was possible last year. If we start with Josloy’s account of you repairing ships along the coast of Etnyben early last year, since then you’ve been to Meda, perhaps a brief foray to Eranithon where you found the woman who set this expedition in motion, Atalan, and a variety of islands between here and there. Since you spent most of last year at sea, who in those few places was willing to teach you?”
“When you’re Queen of the Sea with nowhere to be, the strangest things you’ll see,” she answered rhythmically. “While you and your cohorts in the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar pretend to keep the lands relatively free of influence from the Dark Magicians, a vicious war rages across the seas.”
“I’m sure the Sisterhood would know if such a thing were true,” Terli’Dab said. “We have operatives in almost...”
“The Sisterhood does know,” the Queen of the Sea coldly interrupted. “Storms grow worse each season, shipping lanes are disrupted, sailors fear the open seas, and the screams of the damned carry across the waves, but it seems only the daughters of Mara’Uto are doing anything about it. I joined with them in this war last year, which is why I so quickly acquiesced to the Prince’s request that I search the seas for openings to the Underground.”
“The Awa allied with you?” Terli’Dab wondered. “I thought they shunned anyone with feet instead of fins. Are you suggesting they taught you to use our powers?”
The Queen of the Sea nodded. “The Awa do not shun everyone with feet; only those of you who believe them inferior because they have fins. I met them shortly before I met Josloy, and several have stayed with my fleet ever since. It was they who discovered I was capable, and taught me.”
“That is an interesting story,” Terli’Dab said skeptically. “Who else among the women on your crews knows how to use our powers?”
The Queen of the Sea shrugged. “Would you be so quick to share your own secrets if I asked? If someone wishes to join my crew, I make no formal inquiry into their past. If the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar is in the habit of removing women from their ranks, those women might find their way to me. No one with feet, however, has shared any secrets of your organization with me.”
“Well spoken,” Terli’Dab grinned. “You just told me nothing and everything. I hope you realize that the connection between Atalan and Irata will result in the Sisterhood seeking a presence among your ships, not as insurance for cooperation and alliance, but as an incentive for you to continue operating in the ways Atalan requires. If there are former Sisters among your crews, you may wish to appoint them as your representatives on such matters to avoid our choosing and sending our own representatives who you may not desire. Of course, such is all my own speculation. You will do as you see fit, and we will do as we see fit. I only hope we can arrive at a mutually acceptable understanding.”
“You cannot force someone onto my ships,” the Queen of the Sea replied caustically. “I deal harshly with anyone who attempts to join with permission from myself or one of my captains. Even so, I will consider your proposal. Perhaps there are former Sisters among my crew who could find new purpose in your suggestion. If so, they will contact the Sisterhood the next time I sail into Atalan.”
“Then time will tell what course of action we require,” Terli’Dab decided. “I wish you a safe voyage wherever you go, and perhaps we’ll meet again in a year or so.” Terli’Dab gave a slight bow before turning, and walking away.
Ila’Mun stepped up beside the Queen of the Sea. “What was that about?” she wondered.
“I don’t think she bought the story about the Awa teaching me to use their abilities,” she answered.
Ila’Mun looked confused. “But that was the truth,” she said. “None of us taught you, and I was there when the Awa were talking to you.”
“That’s not the problem,” the Queen of the Sea told her. “Terli’Dab just said that I have to choose between exposing you and the other Sisterhood rejects or provide the Sisterhood the opportunity to find you themselves. Neither of those options is particularly agreeable.”
“It sounds simple to me,” Ila’Mun said. “They removed me from the Sisterhood before my training even started, so I don’t fear them learning my past or my current whereabouts. What I do not want is one of them sitting aboard your ship eating your food and questioning your orders.”
The Queen of the Sea smiled. “I always value your insight,” she said. “I take it you volunteer for the role they require. The others will need to make their own decisions on the issue.”
“How long do they have?” Ila’Mun wondered.
“Until we next put into port at Atalan,” the Queen of the Sea answered. “That could be up to a year from now.”
“Then there is time to decide how to go about appeasing their request,” Ila’Mun decided.
“We’ll figure something out,” the Queen of the Sea nodded. “In the meantime, finish putting this throne on the ship. I want to set sail from this land by the end of the week.”