Act Two – Scene Eleven: Last Arrangements and Ultimatums

Excerpt from Irith Queen


“It would seem not,” said Elissa. “The imperials have occupied all of Kemlane along with their port at Legionair. We would have sent a message south if we had a way. But by my advice there is no way now – even if you turned around and went back, and if you slipped past all the hordes in the wasteland, you would still come to Vestrodge too late.”

“You are right,” said Hayley. “It would do no good for us to turn around. We must push forward.”

The cook then came and announced that the meal was prepared. It was a hasty affair, thrown together quickly and with little art, but to the company it was as good a meal as they had eaten in more than a week. Elissa left them while they ate, and with Hayley’s permission, she instructed her men to unharness the dashers. The sleds were left in the middle of the courtyard, their contents untouched. Then she disappeared inside for a while, returning when they had finished their meal.

“Captain Bresh is ready to see you,” she said. “He’s inside.”

They followed her through the kitchen, and found Arlen Bresh in the large room that must have been living room or common room at one time. Now it was bare, except for a few chairs and some crates. Bresh sat in one of the chairs opposite the doorway, waiting for them. His face was drawn, but he was calm. His cutlass lay across his knees in its sheath.

“My first mate has explained your situation to you,” he said. It was a statement, not a question. “You are now faced with a dilemma. You should procure horses immediately and set out, but unless our enemies have been napping, they are already aware of us. If I were they, I would lay in wait on the road out of Soptrod with a hundred men or so, and ambush you when you rushed out. Would you not agree?”

“That is the greatest danger, I think,” said Hayley.

“Then you must not leave by land,” said Bresh. “You must procure a ship, and sail over the bay. There is a river there I know of that is wide and deep for some way inland. A ship could take you far from the ocean by night, and by noon tomorrow you would be far away indeed, and these skulking assassins might search Soptrod for a week before discovering that you were gone.”

“You’ve given this a great deal of thought,” said Hayley.

“I have,” replied the captain. “Which brings us to your last concern. There are no roads in these lands, and your dashers have reached the end of their usefulness. You have no way to transport your companion Leordon. If you strap him to a horse his wounds will bleed him to death, and you have not the time to wait for him to heal.”

“What are you getting at, Arlen?” asked Hayley a little shortly.

“Just this,” said the Pirate. “I am willing to give you the horses you need. I will take your dashers and hire Bandits to dress in appearance like your company and set out east down the coast in your sleds – away from your intended direction. I will also take you aboard Der Anjet up the river to the north and drop you on the southern border of Oomar with your steeds and supplies. My first mate will take Leordon into her keeping, and Der Anjet will depart these waters, sailing north. If possible, he will be taken to Gaeline and, if he is slow to recover, or dies along the way, left in the keeping of his brother there.”

Hayley thought for a moment. “That’s a very generous offer,” he said at last. “Our sleds are not filled with chests of gold. What price would you name?”

Arlen smiled, his speech having finally come to point. “I will not ask much,” he said. “Certainly it will be nothing you cannot give. My price is this: that when you disembark in Oomar you take me with you.”

Gail might have thought the Pirate was joking. But his face was grave and he did not smile. There was a long pause before Hayley made a reply.

“Why would the captain of the Der Anjet desire such a thing?” he asked. “And determine your answer with care, because the only way I would agree to such terms is if I felt that I completely understood your intent and motive. Do not attempt to deceive me, Arlen.”

Bresh nodded. “I have not spent much time aground since the Paladin came,” he said cautiously. “You, Caval, of all men should understand why. Now that danger has passed, and the sea has grown thick with these imperials. Der Anjet is running out of places to dock. But I am weary of the sea. I want adventure again, and adventure is something that always follows you. I have great skill with the sword; a skill that I think you have need of. You have recently lost an Elemental. Another strong companion could not hurt your cause. As a condition of my coming I say that I will stay with you no longer than is my wish or your command, but should I fall in the protection of such fine men and women as yourselves then perhaps I will find some small redemption.”

“And what of your ship?”

“I have already declared Elissa captain of the Anjet,” said Arlen. “With your leave, she will order that the horses be taken and boarded now, and we will go when night falls.”

“I have not agreed yet to your terms,” said Hayley.

“As I said,” replied Arlen, “with your leave. What is your answer, Lord Caval?”

Hayley thought for a long time. He looked to Freyn and Gail, but they made no motion, either yes or no. Then he looked back at Arlen, but he addressed Elissa. “Captain,” he said, “Do you agree to these terms, that you will care for Leordon and deliver him safely into the hands of Gomarden Varyen in Gaeline?”

“I do,” replied Elissa.

“I shall hold Arlen’s life in contempt if that promise is not kept,” said Hayley. “However, on these terms I accept your offer.”

Act Two – Scene Ten: Rats on Ships

Excerpt from Irith Queen


Hayley hesitated for a moment. “Lead on, my lady,” he said.

She wasted no time then. Turning, she left the main road and led the way down a side street, walking quickly and looking about her cautiously. Hayley followed her, and the rest followed him.

When her dasher had fallen in behind the others Gail let go of her sled and came past to catch up with Alken who was directly in front of her. “Alken!” she said when she was close, her voice little more than a whisper. “Did she just say Arlen Bresh?”

“I think so,” replied the Kanedonian, after he had gotten over the initial shock of Gail’s first words that day. “This must be the Harlon that the merchants spoke of.”

“What on earth is he doing here?”

“How should I know?” said Alken. “Not even the Bandits seem to know. Why? What’s he to you?”

“I went with Anne to visit him before we came to Vestrodge,” replied Gail. “He was in Thorangel then.”

“Thorangel!” said the Kanedonian. “What’s he doing here then?” then his words of a few moments came back to him. “Never mind,” he muttered, returning his attention to their leader.

They had come several streets over and now their guide made another turn into a larger street. They had only gone a little way when they came to a place where a large building of some sort was divided from the road by a walled courtyard. Here she turned in, and they followed. The moment Gail had passed through with her dasher the gate closed behind them and a bar dropped.

The courtyard was wide and empty. The dashers came together in a haphazard cluster, and the travelers came from among them warily, with their hands on their weapons.

There were twenty or thirty men on the grounds, some of them guarding the entrances, others peering out over the wall, and still others eyeing the newcomers suspiciously. None of them were Bandits.

Their guide now turned to face them, and removed her cowl. She was young, perhaps in her late twenties. It immediately became clear to them why she had covered herself in the street for she had long almost blonde straight hair – a thing unheard of among Bandits. As she looked at their guide, Gail now recognized her as the bartender in Hembrage.

“I am sorry for the secrecy,” said the girl. “I am Elissa, the first mate of the Der Anjet. Captain Bresh is waiting for you inside. Your animals and equipment will not be touched. I believe the Captain has a business offer for you.”

“I am sure he does,” said Hayley warily. “Freyn, let your guards stay with the dashers and our ward.” By our ward, he meant Leordon.

They began walking toward the house, but before they had gotten far, the doors opened, and Arlen Bresh came out. As if in rebellion to the Bandit culture about him he was dressed in as Pirate-ish a fashion as could be devised, complete with a cutlass at his side. Hayley was the first one he addressed. Taking the old man’s hand in greeting, he half bowed, saying as he did, “My lord, Caval, it is good to see you again.”

“Well met, young Captain,” replied Hayley, a little wryly. “I see you’re still getting around.”

“With more success these days, fortunately,” replied Bresh with an awkward laugh. “And I see you’re still keeping a fine company.”

“These are my granddaughters,” said Hayley, “Freyn and Gail.”

“The queen of Gaeline,” said Arlen Bresh, looking Gail up and down. “Fancy meeting you here. But I suppose it’s to be expected that if Lord Caval is to appear he might as well have you with him. And in that case,” he turned to Freyn. “This Freyn must be a queen too? Perhaps the Freyn who rules Kanedon.”

“The same,” said Hayley flatly.

“I see,” said Arlen Bresh, his joke cut from under him. “And who are they?” he indicated the Kanedonian warriors.

“Freyn’s guards,” said the old man.

“And the injured one – is he a guard too?”

“See for yourself, Arlen,” replied Hayley sternly. “I think this one you’ll recognize.”

Arlen Bresh shrugged, and going past them, he went among the dashers as a merchant might have, appraising products and their values. Then he came to the sled where Leordon lay, and when the Pirate saw his face, he stopped, and his smug act fell away. He turned about and his face had gone white. “Caval,” he said, still unmoving. He seemed to be locked somewhere between hatred and fear. “Where is his sword?”

“It was destroyed,” replied Hayley calmly. “Last night, by the daughter of Lord Gretnert.”

Arlen stood frozen for a moment longer. Then, as a man waking from a dream, he shook himself. “See that they’re fed and rested,” he muttered to Elissa. Then, without another word, he turned and ran past them, back into the house.

Elissa watched the captain leave, a look of puzzlement on her face. “Come with me,” she said to them. “Your business will have to wait a little.”

“We are in no particular hurry today,” said Hayley politely.

“I have seen that,” replied Elissa. “But you do not yet know your danger.” She was leading them around the side of the house where an awning had been set outside of the kitchen doors. “My Lord Caval,” she said, “Captain Bresh owes you a great debit. We both do. It has been reported that you are asking for horses and, if you will accept them, we will be pleased to make you an even trade – horses for your current mode of transportation.”

“We need five horses,” said Hayley, “and we have only four dashers to trade. In Vestrodge three dashers are traded for two horses.”

“I know,” said Elissa. “We have four steeds here at the house, and three more aboard Der Anjet. You may take them all if you desire.”

They had come to the awning, and found that beneath it was set a table with benches. Elissa called into the kitchen, and the staff replied from inside, saying that a meal was in preparation and would be served soon.

“Your offer is very generous,” Hayley said cautiously.

“Not so, Lord,” replied the girl. “We will still be in your debit, I think, when all this is done. But the matter of gifts is of secondary importance.” She took a seat at the table, motioning for them to join her. When all were seated, she leaned across the table so that they could speak quietly.

“Four days ago there was an imperial ship that came through the narrows and anchored out in the bay. It was a great ship, and sent ashore many landing parties to the different towns. The soldiers were heavily armed and they spilled more than a little Bandit blood. We’d only been here two days when they arrived, and most of the Bandits said we had brought them, but we had not been followed. We harassed the soldiers as we could with our few numbers for there were more than a hundred of them on the ground and we have only thirty. Nevertheless, we made life so miserable for them that in two days they returned to their ship and left, tired and diseased. It gave us quite a good standing among the Bandits. But,” she lowered her voice even more. “The ship has not left through the narrows. What’s more, by our reckoning fewer men returned to it than what came from it. Perhaps as many as fifty soldiers stayed aground and for all our skills we have not been able to find them.’

“To make matters worse,” she continued, “your coming was not unlooked for. When they first landed, we got a hold of one of them and beat some answers from him. He said that they’d come from Legionair; that they’ve built a great camp there for the invasion of Vestrodge. He said also that at Legionair they caught a Vessergen hunter, and learned that he was of a band of fugitives flying north through the snow. They’re here looking for you, Caval, and now that they know you have come, we think they will land their ship and swarm these shores until you are found and killed – that is if they cannot overcome us with the fifty that they already have ashore that have eluded us.”

“Then the hunter was caught,” said Hayley gravely. “And no word has gotten to Vestrodge.”

Act Two – Scene Nine: Again with the Pirate

Excerpts from Irith Queen

To the mariners of NaRasch and the Pirates of the Kemlane Islands there were no harbors between Oomar and Vestrodge beyond the barren inlets of Arme. It was held among the ship-goers that there were no inhabited shore regions about the mouth of the great river, and in fact, most of them did not dare to pass within the ring of Drapmorg. There was no reason to take the risk.

However, the lands on southern shore of the inlet where the great river issued into the sea was far from uninhabited, and the Bandits who dwelt there had many seaside towns and more than a few small ships, though they did not themselves venture near Drapmorg or attempt the passage into open water.

The word Bandit encompassed a great range of forest dwelling peoples living at different points throughout the southern reaches of Greatwood. In the far western corner near the dividing mountains were the wandering bands. It was these same tribes that had held the princess Gail captive near the river village of Wanderwash. These deep forest Bandits were perhaps the closest to the Khalad, and therefore the furthest from anyone else. It was primarily because of their kind that the name Bandit was unsavory in civilized lands.

Throughout the southern marches of Greatwood similar dwellings lay, and though most of them were far less sadistic than the deep-foresters they all knew the Khalad and had no love for men of other races.

However, the black panthers of the forest hated the ocean, and so their sway was not so strong among the seaside dwellers. Travelers would move at times among the different communities and men could by no means say that any town was purely evil or purely good. However, even the Bandits agreed among themselves that the ocean side dwellers were a great deal more like the outside world than their cousins in the west. They maintained a primitive form of government and kept their towns to a basic code of conduct. They traded much among themselves for which they primarily used the water, as they had few carts and fewer roads, and they even spoke the common language of NaRasch rather than the broken dialect of their kind. Nevertheless, for all their civilization, they were beneath the skin Bandits, and they always remembered this, holding in suspicion any outsider who attempted to enter their lands.

The greatest of the coastal Bandit cities, which nowhere else would have been large enough to be called anything other than a town, was set in a low valley at the mouth of a river issuing from one of Rejhant’s western vales. This was called Soptrod in the Bandit tongue, but the locals affectionately abbreviated it to ‘the Swamp’. Here where the peaks of Rejhant came to meet the sea the weather tended to be foul more often than not and it was not uncommon to make it through the summer without more than twenty days of sunshine. Even in winter, the snows that fell deep on the mountains held a shifting domain on the shoreline, falling deep one day, and melting on a warm gale off the sea the next. Turning to rain, it would render the entire region of Soptrod full of half-frozen sludge, too wet to be kept out, and too cold to be abided.

It was around eleven o clock the morning that a band of outlandish travellers emerged from the deep valley of the dead mountain where no Banded ever dared or desired to go, and rode boldly into the Swamp. They came in five sleds drawn by the dashers of the southern lands and there were seven of them; an old man, three women, and two younger warriors. One of these lay in the other’s sled, wrapped in bandages and unconscious, riddled with fever and shrapnel wounds. Behind him came a grey horse, unbridled and following of its free will. The Bandits had heard nothing of the coming of the Paladin and this was for the better, for in these regions they feared him as they feared and hated the Khalad. Had they known more of the Paladin they might have recognized the face of the man who lay unconscious in Alken’s sled, but to the ones that peered cautiously and suspiciously out of windows and doorways he was just another outlandish face to avoid.

The old man Hayley, it seemed, had been to the Swamp at least once in his wide travels, and remembered something about the layout of the city. He led them down among the houses, but chose for his course narrower ways about the outskirts rather than the wide lanes through the markets that were the closest thing Bandits had to roads. The snow had faded now to a thin covering when they entered the town. They found that the passing of many feet had crushed it into the mud of the stony streets and it could no longer support sleds. Therefore, they dismounted and walked alongside their dashers.

In this way, they came unchallenged through the greater part of Soptrod to the lower city where the trade of the docks was carried. As they drew nearer the water, Hayley began to enquire of the traders who might have horses. Many of them would not even speak to him, but shuffled away angrily as if to dismiss his uncomfortable existence, glancing over their shoulders with dark looks as they did so. But a few spoke, and when he had purchased overpriced trinkets without bothering to haggle too much their tongues began to loosen. There were no horses in Soptrod they said, and had not been for many months now. Nevertheless, the general agreement was that Harlon from the ship might have some. The merchants spoke of the ship repeatedly, but gave no explanation for the phrase. With great prodding and greater attention to the things that were not said than the things that were, they learned that ‘the ship’ had come to the Swamp about two weeks past, and Harlon had been causing quite a stir in town. He came with goods and soldiers, and they were rumoring that he might not be leaving.

The opinions were mixed about the outsider. Some said that he would have to be made to leave, others that he was their best deterrent against the imperial ships that were passing by on the ocean. One old trader with a friendly tongue – too friendly, maybe – said that the man on the ship had already chased off one of the imperial vessels that had ventured within the ring of Drapmorg. But even he shared the opinion of the others, that even if this Harlon was helpful for the time being he should be dealt with the moment the imperials were no longer a threat.

When it became clear that all the merchants who would speak were talking of the same man, Hayley made his decision and they turned around, returning into the city in search of Harlon from the ship. He had learned that the man they sought, or some of his soldiers, could generally be found about the main market toward which many of the greater roads ran. They found themselves in one of the Swamp’s main arteries, and many of the residents saw them, and did not bother to conceal their stares.

Gail had been silent all that day, wrapped in her own thoughts. She trailed behind the others, and for the time being they did not try to engage her in conversation. The images of the fight of the night before were as clear to her mind as the waking world was, but it was not these that she dwelt the longest on. She found herself traveling back in time over the past months and every memory she had of Anne Gretnert.

She had not until now realized how fond she had become of the Elemental. It did not help anything that Anne had not strictly been human, or alive, or killed for that matter. It did not even help that, when Hayley had done everything he could to save the unconscious Leordon, he had come and talked to Gail. He had explained to her how Anne’s purpose from the moment of her creation had been to destroy the Paladin. Gail had understood what he told her. Somehow, it made sense. If a thing was not human – not born with the plans and desires intrinsic to humanity – that it would not benefit it to go on living when it had fulfilled its purpose. It all made sense to her reasoning, but it did not help the great hole she felt inside at the loss of her friend.

The streets near the Swamp’s market were quite crowded. It was one of the busiest hours of the day, and among the Bandits there were few rules regarding traffic or the placement of merchants’ wares in the roadway. Nevertheless, they had little difficulty getting through. The crowds parted before them, and the Bandits avoided them like a plague, scampering into the corners to stare at them in fear and suspicion.

They had nearly come to the market when out of the parting crowd came a lone figure, hidden beneath a muddied cloak with cowl pulled low, who stood in their way and waited for Hayley to approach.

“Greetings, travelers,” said the stranger. They were surprised to find that it was the voice of a girl coming from beneath the hood. “You must not linger here. These streets are not safe for you. I can hide you and, if you are willing, I will take you to Arlen Bresh for he wishes to speak with you.”

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Gail has never in all her life wanted to be queen. As the twenty-third daughter of the Karbaan of NaRasch, she is neither rich nor prominent within her family, and content to keep it that way. Far from the line of succession, her only goals in life are to remain unremarkable and avoid doing anything that might cost her head. Therefore, no one is more surprised than she when a summons comes to her from the royal city, and the Karbaan gives the province of Gaeline to her for her seventeenth birthday.
An extravagant gift quickly turns into an inconvenient curse when her father dies only a matter of days later. His successor, Gail’s brother, inherits an uncertain crown and immediately sets to work securing his rule. In a midnight trial he convicts Gail of treason and imprisons her within the formidable Shadokoep, claiming the crown of Gaeline for his own.
But captivity might not be as permanent for Gail as her brother would like. The Paladin has in mind to abduct a Princess of NaRasch. When he learns that there is one held in Shadokoep, the undefeated fire-wielding warrior is faced with an opportunity he cannot pass up – to break into Shadokoep and humiliate the Karbaan by stealing his prized prisoner.