endaran stood on the deck of The Valiant, his mind in a daze. He could not remember the last time he felt so ill. Dozens of galleys lay partially submerged around him, waves sloshing across their decks. Weak voices cried out for help. Smoke drifted across the water, above the broken bodies and fragments of wood. Mendaran was stunned by what he had done.
An Ukuzechan rowing-boat made its way through the debris towards him. When its sailors called up to Mendaran, he dumbly climbed down the side of the ship and stepped aboard. His head was throbbing and there was a foul taste of vomit in his mouth. He had won the battle, but he did not feel like a hero.
The Glory of Zaresnar was still afloat; its carpenters had mended the hull and removed the galley that had rammed it. As soon as the sailors had ferried Mendaran back to the ship, he returned to his cabin, collapsed on his hammock and shut his eyes.
He was exhausted, but sleep did not come. Magic still sizzled queasily in his veins. Nesana’s words haunted him. He kept thinking of the corpses bobbing past the ship’s prow, their tangled limps leaking blood into the water. Had Eraquan survived the destruction of his flagship? Had he been slain in the blast? Had there been a moment when he regretted his folly?
Mendaran threw an arm over his aching eyes, hating the way his body felt so leaden.
He finally stumbled from the hammock and demanded a ewer of water, swilled his mouth out, then scrubbed his face until his skin felt raw. When he brushed back his dripping hair and peered at his reflection in the small mirror, he hardly recognized himself. His complexion was horribly pale. His eyes were bruised and blood-shot. The power of the enasaru had finally faded from his blood, leaving him feeling like a withered husk. He returned to his hammock with a groan.
After a while the door creaked open. Mendaran did not need to look up to know it was Canrasiul. He could sensed the Nayusuru lord’s heart beneath its binding spells, blazing like a fire in the darkness. To his parched energies, it seemed strangely appetizing.
“I know you’re starving, but please don’t eat me,” said Canrasiul.
Mendaran cracked his eyes open. “I wouldn’t dare try. You’d probably bite back.”
“It’s been a several hours since the battle. I’ve brought you more enasaru.”
“We still have some left?” Mendaran tried to rise, but his head was spinning, and he found himself pitched onto the floor. Canrasiul politely looked away as he climbed to his feet.
“Lord Daskesurul isn’t pleased about the Tuyaz-Oan flagship.”
“Isn’t he? What a pity.” Mendaran peered through the porthole, surprised to see that dusk had fallen. “Is there any other news? Have the Tuyaz-Oans yielded?”
“Of course they haven’t. They’re too proud.”
“But their emperor is dead.”
“They’ll choose a new emperor. Probably Eraquan’s uncle Yaruqual.”
Mendaran remembered how eagerly he had awaited his first battle against the rebels. Now his heart sank at the thought of having to fight again. The Sovereign had tried to warn him of this. She had told him it would be hard. So had his father, in a way.
“So we must capture Yhara-uza,” he murmured.
“We’ll attack the port of Jorazo tomorrow. Then we’ll portal the rest of the army here and march on the imperial city.” Canrasiul pressed a cup of enasaru into Mendaran’s hands. “You’ll need to regain your strength. The Sovereign expects a swift victory.”
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