Nalil 19, 5681---Outside of the throne room, the most luxurious room in the palace contained the bed of Great King Derkias. His health was poor following several scandalous revelations publicized by a journal kept by Josloy, an intrepid man who explored Etnyben and discovered the passage mentioned in prophecy. Great King Derkias bore no ill will toward Josloy, and actually thought quite well of the man despite the problems resulting from his expedition. Josloy didn’t cause the problems, he just announced them. Unfortunately, it’s always up to the Great King to fix problems, which ultimately left Great King Derkias spending most days in bed.
As he gazed out the window, contemplating the problems he’d dealt with over the past several years---the worst of which was that infernal discovery about the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar being responsible for the Dark Magicians---he looked toward the port. Something big was happening, and not even his tired, old eyes could miss it. A pirate fleet brazenly docked without a second thought of the nearby royal navy, their flags flying proudly. Pirates never sailed near Atalan, let alone anywhere in the proximity of the royal navy. He recognized the flag from a description in Josloy’s journal, the watery skull on the violet background flown by a woman delusional enough to call herself the Queen of the Sea. He knew she came to seek audience before Prince Nomolo.
That was the other problem left by Josloy. Prince Nomolo endorsed the man’s expedition right after the Great King himself turned down Josloy’s request for endorsement. The entire world now preferred to beseech easily swayed Prince Nomolo rather than Great King Derkias. The loss of respect was almost infuriating, but he understood the sentiment. People looked to a leader for quick decisions and action, two things Great King Derkias avoided during his entire reign. Still, Prince Nomolo seemed quite capable, and the Great King wanted to see his son become a successful heir.
A knock at the door pulled the man from his thoughts. He turned around, and picked up a goblet of wine. “Come in,” he said. The door opened, and Prince Nomolo stepped into the room. Worry and indecision crossed the Prince’s face, something the Great King rarely saw. “Close the door, and tell me what brought pirates all the way to Atalan.” He motioned to a chair beside his table.
Prince Nomolo closed the door, and walked over to the table. “I gave the full support of Atalan to the instatement of a new Overlord at Irata,” he said, pouring himself a glass of the wine. He didn’t sit down.
“Providing the support of Atalan never bothered you before,” Great King Derkias said. “Is the Queen of the Sea an adequate replacement for the fat churl currently sitting at Irata?”
Prince Nomolo frowned. “Father, she had me committed to her instatement at Irata before I even placed any conditions on our support. She is both adequate and dangerous.”
“I’m glad you made that assessment,” Great King Derkias decided. “I’d rather you realize someone is dangerous while they’re still amicable than when it’s too late. You did place conditions, though, didn’t you?”
Prince Nomolo briefly smiled at the compliment, and took a sip of wine. “In return for the support of Atalan, she is to send ships to seek and destroy openings to the Underground in the seas surrounding and the waters within Etnyben.”
Great King Derkias gave his son a questioning look. “Do you think anyone would take that request seriously? Almost everyone believes the rumor that Josloy made up the tale of the Underground and Tora’Sor’s captivity.”
“The Queen of the Sea spent time with both Tora’Sor and Josloy, but I believe she already knew of the Underground by that time,” Prince Nomolo explained. “An interrogation of Tora’Sor is all she would need to confirm any suspicions.”
The Great King took a sip of wine. “Then I believe the Queen of the Sea brought up the topic.”
Prince Nomolo nodded. “She mentioned the bat, which Josloy never wrote about. I made the mistake of not sealing the discussion right then.”
Great King Derkias turned to look back out the window. “Even Great Kings make mistakes,” he said softly. “Tell me what else she knew.”
“I doubt she knows much of the Underground,” Prince Nomolo decided, “but she discovered a link between the Underground and Irata.”
The Great King quickly turned back toward the Prince. “A link?”
“Yes,” Prince Nomolo affirmed. He took out the folded parchment, and tossed it onto the table. “One of her sailors found that on Eranithon, and died of fright several days later.”
The Great King set down his goblet of wine, and picked up the parchment. He briefly looked at both sides before unfolding it to see the three symbols. The old man spent a moment examining the symbols. “Are you certain of your interpretation of this?” he finally asked.
“The ship of Irata is on top,” Prince Nomolo said, “so it links the Underground with Eranithon. Why do you ask?”
“A triangle does not prove a link,” the Great King explained. “It would be a link if these were in a straight line, but a triangle shows a different type of connection. This parchment signifies the power of Irata over the other two. We know that Irata left Eranithon a barren wasteland, although we do not know how. This image also shows that Irata did something to position itself over the Underground, although we do not know what that might be. With that in mind, are you so certain you wish to overthrow the Overlord?” He set the open parchment on the table between them.
“Yes,” Prince Nomolo decided after a moment. “Turn the parchment, and the Underground would be on top. I do not want that to happen.”
“Then you would leave Irata as the peak,” the Great King said. “In that case, perhaps the Queen of the Sea as the Overlord is your best option.”
Prince Nomolo shook his head. “There is no other option when it comes to the Overlord. We must replace him, if not for a link with the Underground, at least to appease public opinion following several pleas for his removal mentioned by Josloy. However, I would not leave Irata on top.” He turned the parchment so the Great King saw the flying horse of Eranithon at the peak of the triangle.
“Don’t be a fool, boy,” the Great King said. “Eranithon is dead. You can put all the colonists you want on that rock, but it will not rise again.”
Prince Nomolo shook his head. “Never to its former status,” he argued, “but I saw a woman captured in that land, and heard of others.”
The news troubled Great King Derkias, but he maintained his demeanor. “How can you be certain? A person from one land is often very similar to a person from another land. There might be differences in dialects and mannerisms, but those are not always distinguishing characteristics. How could anyone survive in that barren land?”
“The parchment was discovered in a cave,” Prince Nomolo explained. “They captured the woman in the same place. The Queen of the Sea claims there were many others, but their encounter was violent.”
“I trust you spoke with the woman,” the Great King said. “A person can easily feign their origin.”
Prince Nomolo nodded. “Her mannerisms were quite degraded, and her speech was consistent with the lack of knowledge I would expect from someone living in a dark cave. It was her reaction to light that convinced me the story was true.”
“Is the sun too bright for her? That is not as uncommon an affliction as you might think,” the Great King said.
“It wasn’t the sun,” Prince Nomolo explained. “I dimmed the throne room as much as I dared, and even that was too bright for her, even while wearing a blindfold. I forced her to show me her eyes. They are completely white, uncolored with exposure to light, and yet I know she is not blind since light bothers her.”
The Great King sat down, and leaned back in his chair. “This is most interesting,” he decided, not divulging any other thoughts on the issues. “I take it you feel a need to oversee personally both Irata and Eranithon.”
“I do,” the Prince admitted, “but I do not know which to give preference.”
The Great King lifted his goblet. “You never will know which to give preference when both are of equal importance. The trick is finding someone to deal with one while you take care of the other.”
“I was thinking about sending Commander Pyron to Irata while I go to Eranithon,” Prince Nomolo admitted. “He is quite capable in both diplomacy and war.”
Great King Derkias smiled and shook his head. “Enforcing a transition of power requires someone with a higher position than the seat of power. Even if Commander Pyron goes with your authority, he will never be more than a puppet. The Queen of the Sea will think of him as an equal at best, leaving you with diminished influence in Irata. The transition might succeed, but Atalan suffers in the process.”
Prince Nomolo frowned, obviously disappointed. “Then I must go to Irata, and leave Eranithon to someone else.”
“It’s a good thing you are not yet the Great King,” the old man said.
“What do you mean by that?” Prince Nomolo wondered.
Great King Derkias took a sip of his wine, and grinned. “Who then could give you advice?”
“And what advice would you give me now?” Prince Nomolo queried.
“Have you ever wondered why I refused to commit myself to war against the Dark Magicians?” the Great King began. “I was two years older than you when I took your grandfather’s place on the throne. During his twenty years on the throne, your grandfather embarked on several lengthy expeditions against the Dark Magicians, dealt with some warring islands far to the west, and oversaw the formation of thirteen separate kingdoms across the world, however small they might be, all while trying to train me to be a better Great King than he ever was. For all that he did, do you know how it left him? He died of exhaustion, worn out from his life of action. When I put on the crown, I refused to follow his example. I would not send countless soldiers to their deaths in a futile attempt to defeat the Dark Magicians. Instead, I would bide my time, give the world a respite from the constant war, and hope one day there would truly be an opportunity to defeat the Dark Magicians.” He paused and took another sip of wine.
“For all my attempts to be a wise ruler, do you know what it gave me? I am now an old man, plagued by problems I never caused, with a reputation of being less helpful than my son is. My advice is not to burden yourself with more than is absolutely necessary. Let this old man accomplish something before he dies.” He pushed the parchment back toward Prince Nomolo. “Eranithon is your adventure. I will deal with Irata.”
“Are you sure?” Prince Nomolo asked as he picked up the parchment. “Are you well enough to travel?”
The Great King grinned. “Son, Irata will be a quick war followed by days of meetings and deliberations. I can handle that much easier, even in my condition, than I could handle exploring treacherous caves in a dangerous wasteland. I’ll be more worried about you than you should be about me. Now tell me more about this woman you saw from Eranithon.”
Prince Nomolo took another sip of wine. “She said her name was Sushala’Mol,” he began, “although I had a difficult time getting that much from her. I think her knowledge is limited only to what is in the cave, and even then only to what she knows from senses other than sight. I asked what she eats, and her explanation of her response left me even more baffled.”
“What kind of food would be in a cave?” the Great King wondered.
“Something slow,” Prince Nomolo answered. “That’s what she called it. She tried to show me with my hand. My fingertips remind her of the top, although she said it’s much sharper. The back of my hand reminds her of the sides, but my hands are not smooth or rough enough, which makes no sense to me. She then grabbed my thumb, and said that was like the back of it. She also said something about needing a long breath before she could go down to catch whatever it was.”
The Great King started laughing. He placed a fresh piece of parchment on the table, and picked up a quill. “The sides are like the palm of your hand,” he said, drawing a circle the size of his hand. “Then the top resembles your fingertips.” He traced his fingertips above the circle. “The back is long like your thumb.” He added what looked like a tube to one end of the circle. “I don’t know about you, but I had this for lunch!” He held up a rough drawing of a fish.
Prince Nomolo grinned sheepishly. “Rough and smooth, the deep breath before going down; it all makes sense now. I just don’t know why she called it slow. I’ve never seen a slow fish.”
“You wouldn’t swim fast if you couldn’t see the rocks around you,” the Great King said. “You’d go slow so you didn’t hurt yourself. Now tell me, what did you do with the woman?”
“I confiscated her from the Queen of the Sea,” Prince Nomolo answered. “Then I had her placed in the darkest room the guards could find, and released from her bonds. They are to stand guard, and won’t let anyone in to see her without me.”
“Very good,” the Great King decided. “However, I doubt you will learn to communicate well with her by yourself. I will send an emissary to the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar. I want you to have their best healer to see if something might be done for the woman’s eyes, and Tora’Sor to help interpret between you and the woman.”
Prince Nomolo nodded. “I thought about introducing her to Hudena’Sor,” he said.
“Feel free, I’m sure she could use a friend,” the Great King agreed. “Now that we’ve settled this business with Irata and Eranithon, tell me of Hudena’Sor. You’ve been married how long? When do I get to see my first grandchild?”
Prince Nomolo grinned. “The midwife said it could be any day now.”