endaran stood on a sunlit rampart overlooking the port of Ekakras. A sea breeze ruffled his hair, bringing back memories of Sarekordia, which lay on an island further south. Mendaran grinned as he cast his gaze across the city’s bustling markets, wharves and thatched stilt-houses. Palm-fringed beaches spread along the coast. The Ukuzechan fleet lay out to sea – five hundred war-galleons dominated by Daskesurul’s mighty flagship, The Glory of Zaresnar.
The sight sent a thrill through Mendaran’s heart.
He had already met Admiral Yekachua and General Kahezen, who would lead the campaign against the Tuyaz-Oan rebels. They had greeted him with a great show of respect, listening attentively to his remarks, smiling at his attempts at humor and answering his questions in detail. Beneath their deference, they probably thought him an ignorant boy, but he would prove his worth soon enough.
“Lord Mendaran?” Canrasiul ventured over, followed by his entourage of human guards and attendants. Unlike the Kaniyari lord, he had been forced to bind his energies to keep them from burning away in the barren atmosphere of Udaris. His human guise looked strangely frail to Mendaran, like a cobweb that could be pulled apart.
“Yes?” Mendaran asked.
“Admiral Yekachua tells me that the fleet is almost ready to depart. We should probably make our way down to the harbor and board the ship.”
Mendaran strode down to the courtyard to meet his Ukuzechan entourage, trying to mask his excitement. He was pleased that the Gabakaruans had brought his favorite horse from the stables at Sarekordia. Mendaran mounted his steed as the banners of Shekruvaris unfurled behind him. His ornate silver armor felt uncomfortable, but even this tropical land was not as hot as Karazran, and he knew he must make a magnificent spectacle.
A crowd had gathered outside the white-walled fortress to watch Mendaran leave. Their voices rose in a cheer when he emerged from the gatehouse into the dazzling sunlight. Unlike the treacherous Tuyaz-Oans, the people of Gabakarua wished to see humankind united in harmony, and they understood that this could only be achieved through loyalty to the immortals.
Pipes trilled and drums pounded as the procession made its way through the streets. Women stood on the wooden balconies, tossing down basketfuls of petals. Mendaran felt swollen with pride as he dismounted by the wharf, where a boat waited to ferry him and Canrasiul across to The Glory of Zaresnar. A company of leathery-winged yuyarni soared above them. More of the draconic warriors circled over the fleet, calling to each other in their harsh voices.
There were not as many yuyarni fighting for Shekruvaris as there should have been. Scores of clans had forsaken Askamar, blaming the Ankaykari for the storms that blighted their hunting-grounds. Most now lived by raiding human lands or fighting for mortal kings. Some had joined forces with the Tuyaz-Oan rebels, but even this thought did not dampen Mendaran’s mood. Those who had fled to Udaris would be brought back under Ankaykari rule soon enough.
Mendaran’s heart soared like a gull when the fleet finally set sail. He stood on the prow of Daskesurul’s flagship and gazed across the sparkling South Gahuzan Sea, dreaming of the glory that would soon be his. In his imagination, he could already see the ballistae firing on rebel ships, smell the smoke and hear the clash of blades.
The Ukuzechan fleet would cross a short stretch of open ocean, then follow the swampy coast of Aozanghra north until it reached the Jahanzan Sea, which lay between Tuyaz-Oa and the Wayaiquahan isles. There, at last, they would meet the enemy.
Admiral Yekachua had said that the voyage would take two weeks or so, if the weather remained fair, but that suddenly felt like an age. Mendaran glanced over his shoulder. The fleet was still within sight of the coast. Ekakras spread out behind him, with its fishing boats, colorfully-sailed trading vessels and stuccoed buildings. Days of idleness stretched ahead.
Mendaran’s excitement gave way to restlessness as the hours passed. He paced the decks, watching the sailors at work, envying their sense of comradeship. He challenged Daskesurul’s soldiers to sword-fights, but found them feeble and inept. He talked with several Ukuzechan noblemen, but soon tired of their deference.
Finally he sought out Canrasiul, who sat beneath an awning on the upper deck. The Nayusuru lord was huddled in a cowl, his narrow, dark-skinned features concealed beneath his hood. He cringed slightly as Mendaran approached.
“Do you enjoy sword-fighting?” Mendaran asked.
Canrasiul blinked. “It’s not one of my skills.”
“Would you like to duel with magic, then?”
Canrasiul looked even more alarmed. “No, Lord Mendaran. I could never defeat you.”
Mendaran inwardly rebuked himself, realizing he had been an idiot. He had hoped to befriend the Nayusuru lord, but instead he had just humiliated him. Canrasiul probably thought he wanted to assert his power over him – that was how the Nayusuru maintained their hierarchy.
Mendaran decided to talk about something else. “What’s it like in the Court of Zaresnar?”
Canrasiul regarded him in anxious, angry silence for a moment, then stared out to sea. “I serve a most glorious court.”
“Carashanza used to serve in Zaresnar, didn’t she?”
“That was long ago. She left during the Ceyth-Janzarian Wars. Tuyaz-Oa didn’t even exist then.” Canrasiul reached for his goblet of enasaru then saw that it was empty. He closed his eyes, looking slightly sick. Perhaps he was already feeling suffocated by the lack of magic.
“Shall I pour you some more enasaru?” asked Mendaran.
“No, thank you. I can’t afford to squander it.”
“It seems wrong of Lord Daskesurul to make you undertake this voyage when you could just as easily have joined us in Tuyaz-Oa.” Mendaran bitterly wondered if Canrasiul had been sent to spy on him. He turned his gaze towards the horizon. Nothing lay ahead but sea and sky, as if they were sailing to the end of the world. “Why did Carashanza leave Zaresnar, anyway?”
“Carashanza was Lord Daskesurul’s highest-ranking servant for a time, but… she likes to speak her mind, while he demands unquestioning obedience from his followers.”
“It’s not like that in Nezruthar. We’re more enlightened.”
Canrasiul tensed. “Are you insulting Zaresnar?”
“I… no, of course not.” Mendaran rebuked himself again. Takanepi would not appreciate him upsetting a powerful Esu like Daskesurul. “My father just thinks the Nayusuru should be treated with more respect. He says they’ve been badly oppressed down the ages.”
“He still follows Lady Liralian’s philosophy.”
“He does what he feels is right.” For a moment, Mendaran felt ashamed of the times he had considered his father weak and useless, but then he remembered Takanepi’s lack of loyalty to Shekruvaris and felt angry. “I don’t know anything about Lady Liralian’s philosophy, but I do believe that it’s wrong for the powerful to oppress the weak.”
Canrasiul said nothing.
Mendaran paced over to the ship’s railing. Waves slapped against the hull as the wind drove the vessel onwards. Time passed and the view did not change. Carashanza had said that these waters were home to sharks and other interesting sea creatures, but Mendaran saw no sign of them. After a while he returned to Canrasiul. The Nayusuru still regarded him warily.
Mendaran slumped down on the rug and demanded a jug of wine. When he looked up, the sunlight dazzled his eyes. He listened to the ship’s creaking timbers, wishing the voyage was already over. It would be weeks before they reached the Jahanzan Sea and got to fight the enemy. Mendaran fashioned an orb of fire between his hands, then let it disperse.
“Lord Daskesurul assisted the Sovereign’s army in the campaign against Karuduan a few years ago,” he remarked. “Carashanza thinks that’s why he’s been granted Tuyaz-Oa.”
“It’s one reason, yes. Lord Daskesurul stands high in the Sovereign’s favor.”
“Apparently they were old friends before the time of Shekruvaris.”
“That’s true. When they weren’t rivals, they seemed to enjoy each other’s company.” Canrasiul laced his fingers. “Lady Ruzenathra is more daring than Lord Daskesurul, and… and less harsh towards those who displease her, but they’re both very clever and ambitious. I did served her, once. She’d captured me during one of her battles against Zaresnar. Of course, Lord Daskesurul reclaimed my allegiance after he’d made peace with her.”
Mendaran sat up. “That must have been terrible. Being captured, I mean.”
Canrasiul looked away, wrapping his arms around himself.
“It disgusts me when I hear how the Nayusuru used to be treated.”
“Used to be treated?”
“Before Shekruvaris.” Mendaran looked at Canrasiul uncomfortably. He knew things were better now. Even his father did not deny it. Ruzenathra could be a harsh ruler, but there was stability in the realm. No Nayusuru needed to fear being seized by an enemy and forced to serve in another court. “You must be grateful that the Sovereign has brought the wars to an end.”
“Of course. We are all very grateful.” Canrasiul picked up his goblet, as if he had forgotten it was empty. “We did establish a truce before Shekruvaris, but…” He fell silent.
“The Truce of Elanthar was falling apart – at least, that’s what I’ve been told. The Sovereign has brought lasting peace to Askamar, and soon she’ll bring peace to the human world, too.”
“Ah yes.” Canrasiul smiled weakly. “No mortals will dare defy us, and there will be peace.”
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