Soldes 16, 5681---Great King Derkias paced back and forth across the deck of his flagship. It was about a month and a half since he embarked from Atalan with fifteen ships. The Queen of the Sea left Atalan with the same number of ships, but her fleet seemed to more than double once they began sailing along the chain of islands that led southwest to their destination. He wasn’t certain if the additional ships sailed under her direct command, or if they were just allies or mercenaries. Either way, the threat to the royal navy increased almost daily. The increased numbers of pirates sailing in the armada, however, did not intimidate great King Derkias. Any move against the Great King would bring about such harsh retribution that most pirates would hang within the year, and any who escaped would lose their livelihood. The balance was tenuous at best.
However, the increasing numbers of pirates sailing with the flotilla did not frustrate the Great King. He had dealt with their kind previously, and understood their quirks. What left him pacing the deck was the Queen of the Sea’s reluctance to meet following their encounter on the night of their departure. She was ignoring his invitations to meet that he signaled almost daily. He now planned a show of power and influence that would leave her furious or demonstrate just how much she needed his support to take Irata, perhaps both. Unfortunately, today provided the opportunity he needed. Tonight they docked at an island called Aanuun, and the Queen of the Sea was at a tavern meeting with many of the others who allied with her. The Great King planned to enter the meeting unannounced and uninvited. He hoped things would not go wrong.
When the time was right, Great King Derkias disembarked with his ten best bodyguards, and marched up the dock. He doubted there was a need for the bodyguards, but it made for an official presence in places where he might not otherwise be recognized.
They quickly reached the tavern. Five bodyguards entered first, then the Great King. The other five remained outside. The tavern contained a common room and several private meeting rooms. Finding the right one was not a problem. One of the bodyguards slammed the door open and entered the room filled with pirates. “Great King Derkias of Atalan,” the bodyguard announced loudly, interrupting any discussions already in progress. “Give homage to your king.” The room was suddenly quiet.
The Great King stepped into the room, and glanced around at the pirate captains seated around the table, faces with every type of expression. He walked toward the head of the table where the Queen of the Sea was sitting, while others bowed, or greeted him respectfully. As he approached, she stood up.
“The Great King graces us with his presence,” she said with a flamboyant bow. “For what gracious purpose do we merit such favor?”
The Great King smiled at her. He knew she was trying to maintain control of the situation, and position herself as being more in touch with those gathered. He knew he could beat her at her own game. “Ivee’Lyn, Queen of the Sea,” he began, stressing every word in her title, “I am most disappointed by the lack of courtesy you’ve displayed toward my throne since the start of our voyage. I doubt many of the fine captains in this room would have agreed to sail with you had they known of your continued refusal to meet with me since we left Atalan.” He heard some murmuring around the table, and knew his words had the intended effect.
“Such meetings at sea are dangerous,” she replied cordially. “Can I be blamed for avoiding the execution that awaits pirates at the whim of the royal navy?”
The Great King turned his head, and glanced around at the captains. “You men are undeserving of the term pirate,” he announced. He thought otherwise, but would tell them what they wanted to hear. “You know of the relationship between Atalan and Irata. You are ambassadors, merchants, governors, all speaking for a region determined by the Overlord sitting at Irata. You maintain order within your region, and keep the Overlord’s heavy fist appeased with your tributes. You also know the Overlord passes a portion of those tributes to Atalan, and in return, we turn a blind eye on your business. The royal navy hunts down the real pirates, the thieves and villains, who give an undeserved name and reputation to those of you conducting honest business throughout the seas.” He paused to let the words sink in. “Of course, I wonder if the Queen of the Sea would show such distinction. I expect her reputation pressured each of you into joining her force.”
“My reputation does not overshadow their desires to see the overthrow of Irata,” the Queen of the Sea interrupted.
“Indeed not,” the Great King agreed. “In fact, your reputation conflicts with their desires to see Irata overthrown. If any of these noble captains suffered an unpleasant interaction with the royal navy, such violence is accidental based on the undeserved name of pirate. It is you, the Queen of the Sea, who claims to indiscriminately hunt and kill pirates, leaving them wondering why you would seek the position you despise. I expect every captain present wonders how you managed to woo the Great King into giving you support for this endeavor.”
“It’s true,” one of the captains said. “She threatened me, but I cannot imagine her threatening Atalan.”
Another nodded in agreement. “We suffer under the current Overlord, but what would happen under the rule of someone who spent her life waging war against our kind?”
The Queen of the Sea frowned at the poor opinions of her character. “My war is with Irata. I make no secret of that,” she said sternly. She turned to the Great King. “If you feel so strongly against me, why does Atalan show support?”
Great King Derkias knew not to reveal too much of the reason, but he still needed to provide the answer the pirates needed. “Atalan is not deaf to the pleas of merchants across the seas,” he began. “We know you fear the Overlord’s wrath should you turn against Irata or fail to meet his demands. Ever since the destruction of Eranithon, Atalan has grown increasingly displeased with Irata, and sought a worthy candidate for the Overlord’s replacement. It is my belief that the Queen of the Sea is the worthy candidate. Who but the Queen of the Sea has a reputation for openly defying the Overlord? Who but the Queen of the Sea poses a significant threat to Irata? Who but the Queen of the Sea has the power to enforce her rule across the seas? The Queen of the Sea does not have the support of Atalan because of threats or requests or favors. Atalan supports the Queen of the Sea because Atalan believes she alone has what it takes to rule the waves. Of course, it would help her case even more if she would welcome an open dialog with Atalan.”
The room was quiet for a moment while the captains considered the Great King’s explanation. Finally, one of them spoke up. “Why would we prefer the Queen of the Sea over the current Overlord?” he asked. “Neither tends to treat us particularly well.”
The Queen of the Sea scowled, but the Great King answered the question. “Atalan is not blind to events on the seas,” he said. “There is evidence from several sources of Irata reopening old ties with the Dark Magicians over the past decade.”
This statement surely obtained the Queen of the Sea’s attention since it meant he hadn’t learned of it from her. “Several sources?” she wondered.
The Great King nodded. “This is a war to rule the seas,” he answered, looking at the captains in the room. “You can side with Irata, or you can side with Atalan. Put aside the distrust you have among you. Make haste, and spread the news. Let every ship loyal to Atalan sail for Irata and war. We will remove the threat of the Dark Magicians from the seas for the last time. We will overthrow the Overlord sitting at Irata, and instate a replacement, and she will rule the waves. Join this alliance for your ships, your lands, your families. We are making the seas a better place.”
The speech motivated the captains more than any threat the Queen of the Sea could make. “Ready your ships,” she ordered. “We meet again briefly again just before dawn. Tonight’s meeting is concluded.”
She looked at the Great King while the captains left the room. “I expect an explanation of what just happened,” she told him.
“I work with you, not for you, and expect the same in return,” the Great King answered gruffly. He sat at one of the emptied chairs, and ordered the bodyguard at the door to bring them wine. “I’m here mostly because I need to know your plans. Take a seat.” He motioned to the chair across the table from him.
“My plan is to take Irata,” she replied. “I intend to sail up the river to Irata Lake, and full speed to the city. Every ship with us will do the same.”
The Great King shook his head. “Irata is not so simple a target. If we sail en mass up the river, Irata will bring in a flotilla behind us. Divide the fleet now, before we get to Cott. Send some around Yannara. You sail north of Cott. I will take the royal navy past Patara. It adds time to our voyage, but keeps Irata unaware of our plans until we near the shores.”
“I will have no part in that plan,” the Queen of the Sea argued. “I would sooner sail three months from land than divide our forces. How am I to know you don’t have additional ships in these waters to bring against me when we reunite our fleets?”
“Very well,” the Great King agreed. “However, I still recommend sending ships to those islands to gather more to your cause.”
“Speed brings victory,” she replied. “We gather ships as we continue toward our destination. There is no time to make additional stops and detours. Others sympathetic to my cause will rally later as the news spreads to ensure an easier transition of power throughout the seas.”
The bodyguard returned with the wine. He poured the beverage into a goblet, and handed it to the Great King before setting the bottle on the table. “My doctors claim too much wine shortens my life, but it’s how I cope with the likes of you,” the Great King told the woman sitting across the table from him. “You have a singular goal blinding you from seeing the greater picture. Irata is just the noticeable head of the Overlord’s influence. Supplant the Overlord, and another immediately rises to the position, and brings an army to retake Irata. I cannot say if an attack would come from land or sea, but you must hold Irata against at least one, and probably more of such attacks to cement your position on the throne.” He took a sip of his wine.
“Why did you not tell me of this threat before?” she asked him.
Great King Derkias frowned at her. “There is only one reason why I have not previously provided you counsel on this endeavor. I have half a mind to turn the royal navy back toward Atalan since positioning you on the throne at Irata is not a guarantor of my success.”
The Queen of the Sea leaned forward in her chair. “You cannot blame me for being upset after my mother’s executioner handed me the last letter she ever wrote to me. I had half a mind to leave the royal navy in Atalan, but you spoiled that plan. Now we’re halfway to Irata, and you’re still trying to spoil my plans. If you want to sail back to Atalan, do so. I can take Irata without you.”
The Great King pushed the bottle of wine across the table to the Queen of the Sea. “Drink up, and perhaps it will calm your nerves enough that you can cope with the likes of me.”
“I’ll do just that,” she said quickly, picking up the bottle, and taking a long drink. She ignored her usual distrust of strange drinks, and set down the bottle after drinking more than the Great King expected she would. “Now, what do you have to tell me that you don’t think I could cope with?”
“You’re an undisciplined girl ignoring the rocky shoals surrounding your life,” the Great King told her. “You do things your way without regard for my authority or the reality of the dangers you face. I am not here because of any affinity toward you or your kind. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, you and your kind are, as the Barbidons say, shigshig gul . If you cannot learn to take orders from Atalan, I will find another to instate as Overlord in your place.”
“I don’t think your wine is helping me,” the Queen of the Sea growled. She leaned her chair back against the wall. “Why did you come?”
“I am here because Irata has an ally that threatens us all. Attacking Irata is a diversion to ease my son’s expedition to Eranithon. I aim to draw attention to Irata so my son encounters little resistance. I will sever this alliance, or die trying,” the Great King explained.
The smallest hint of a smile flashed across the Queen of the Sea’s face. “You’re a secretive old man with a reputation for cowering behind the walls of Atalan,” she told him. “You should have told me we needed to create a diversion. Otherwise, I’d just assume you’re only here for show, and planned to leave all the hard stuff for me.”
“Then you understand why I suggest we divide the fleets?” he asked her.
She nodded. “You are using my assault on Irata as the cover-up for a covert operation. The more noise we make here, the less anyone hears of something happening in another part of the world.”
The Great King took another sip of wine. “Then you agree to divide our forces as I suggest?”
The Queen of the Sea shook her head. “I can send ships to spread the news, but I will not divide our forces. You should issue a royal decree of your support for me. That would lend credence to the tales such news is sure to spread.”
The Great King stood up. “Very well. I will agree to your proposal. I expect you to be more cooperative the next time I request that you meet with me.”
“I’ll do what I can,” she decided, “not for your sake, since I really don’t like you, but for Nomolo. He was quite the looker when we met in Atalan. If he hadn’t married that palace whore Hudena’Sor, he’d make a fine specimen in my...” She paused, and looked curiously at the bottle of wine on the table. “What is in that wine?” she wondered. “I’m never this liberal with my tongue.”
“It’s simply the best wine in the world,” the Great King grinned. “Unlike that swill you drink on your ships, it’s not wise to do more than sip at this.”
The Queen of the Sea stood up, somewhat shakily, and picked up the bottle. “Do you mind if I take the rest of this?”
“Take it,” the Great King told her. “Send out some ships to spread the news tomorrow. I will send one of mine to spread a royal decree. If everything works according to plan, there will be no warning at Eranithon of my son’s approach.”
The Great King turned, and walked out the door with a small smile. He was finally beginning to get the Queen of the Sea to take his orders.