The Defender of the Waves

The Tuyaz-Oan fleet waited on the horizon, pennants streaming proudly from its masts. Emperor Eraquan had mustered five hundred galleons to keep the human soldiers of the Ankaykari from reaching his shores. Three hundred swift war-galleys had come from Wayaiqua to aid him, while the nearby island-kingdoms supplied a further two hundred vessels. Lord Daskesurul’s Ukuzechan ships were sorely outnumbered, but Mendaran did not fear defeat.

The rocky coast of Wayaiqua lay to the east of the two fleets, waves surging around its cliffs. To the north was the glittering Bay of Gara Zhar and the harbor-town of Jorazo. Beyond Jorazo, near the mouth of Iyuan river, stood Tuyaz-Oa’s capital, Yhara-uza.

Mendaran could not see the great city from where he stood on the prow of Daskesurul’s flagship, but he had read descriptions of it in books. He could picture its pale towers and battlements. Prince Yaruqual Ghaz Ahaya was there, guarding the city while his nephew Eraquan prepared to face the might of Askamar. For a moment, Mendaran felt moved by their courage. Eraquan could have cowered behind his walls, sending others to fight, but he had come in person.

Mendaran recalled his own words to Ruzenathra. In their arrogance, the Tuyaz-Oans threatened everything the Ankaykari sought to achieve. The immortals longed to see the world united. The Tuyaz-Oans would see it fragment into a thousand petty, warring states.

Canrasiul crept to Mendaran’s side, holding the train of his robes above the deck. “See the Tuyaz-Oan flagship?” he asked, gesturing to the vessel as he handed Mendaran a telescope.

Mendaran nodded. The Defender of the Waves was a beautiful, sleek galleon. Its sails were deep blue, emblazoned with the silver eagle of Tuyaz-Oa. Through the telescope, Mendaran saw armored figures crowding the upper deck. One of them must be Eraquan, but at this distance it was hard to distinguish him from his nobles. The Tuyaz-Oans did not care for ostentation.

“Lord Daskesurul does not want you to damage any of the ships, if you can help it,” said Canrasiul. “Especially not that one. He wants to keep that one as a trophy.”

Mendaran felt irritated. “He expects me to win this battle without destroying anything?”

“Just kill the crews. Men can easily be replaced. Ships are expensive.”

“What about Emperor Eraquan?”

“He must be brought back to Askamar alive.”

Mendaran frowned. He had heard how Ruzenathra liked a make a spectacle of defeated mortal foes. The emperor would be dragged before her court in chains, forced to beg forgiveness, then hacked to death. It did not seem an honorable way to treat a captured enemy.

Mendaran turned to study the Wayaiquahan galleys. They were lighter than the Tuyaz-Oan galleons, equipped with rams and bristling with oars. Gilded ornamentation gleamed upon their prows.

According to Carashanza, the Wayaiquahans had a long-established alliance with Tuyaz-Oa. Lady Liralian had frequently tried to persuade their kings to join her empire, but they were determined to remain a sovereign state. Now that Eraquan was urging all mortals to unite against the Ankaykari, Wayaiqua had eagerly pledged to support him.

Mendaran handed the telescope back to Canrasiul. He took a deep breath, feeling the polished, sun-warmed railing of the prow beneath his hands. The Tuyaz-Oans were said to be a proud, stubborn people – just like their former ruler, Liralian. He hoped Prince Yaruqual would have the wisdom to surrender once he destroyed the imperial fleet. He did not want to attack a mundane city, even if its people had defied the Ankaykari. He knew how frail humans were.

The yuyarni had already begun the attack. The loyal clans of Zaresnar clashed with qua’hanakai in the sky, locking claws, spitting fire and tearing at each other. Those who broke past swooped down to snatch men from the Tuyaz-Oan ships. Arrows struck them, sending several plunging into the waters.

Drums started pounding on the decks of Daskesurul’s war-ships.

Mendaran’s heart leapt as The Glory of Zaresnar moved forward. Magic burned in his blood, flaring up like a storm until he dragged it back under control. Canrasiul stood by him, clutching the railing with slightly widened eyes. With every heartbeat the enemy ships came closer. Orders rang across deck as the ballistae were cranked. Mendaran chose his first target.

“Just disable it,” Canrasiul reminded him. “Destroy the artillery, destroy the rigging, kill as many of the crew as you can, then our own men will be able to board.”

“I heard you the first time,” said Mendaran tersely.

There was a wizard aboard the Tuyaz-Oan vessel, but Mendaran easily sliced his wards apart. His first bolt of magic punched through the ship’s hull. His next spell slammed into the main deck, hurling men into the air. It was hard to aim accurately at this distance, so he just bludgeoned the galleon, sending bodies and shards of wood flying. The mast cracked.

“That was ridiculously easy,” Mendaran remarked to Canrasiul.

“Look what you’ve done! It’s sinking!”

Mendaran watched the Tuyaz-Oan war-ship begin to list. In his zeal, he had inflicted too much damage. “Don’t fear. There’ll be plenty of others for Lord Daskesurul to gloat over.”

“Clumsy, reckless –” Canrasiul fell silent when Mendaran glared at him.

“Perhaps you’d like to demonstrate your superior skill?”

“You know I don’t have the strength!”

Mendaran chose another ship. Within moments he had smashed its decks apart, destroying its artillery and slaughtering much of its crew. By now, ballistae were raining their missiles on the two fleets. Canrasiul skittered back with a screech as an iron-headed javelin thunked into the deck beside him. Mendaran felt scornfully amused by his cowardice.

“You’re the one who’s immortal!” he chuckled.

“That thing could have torn me in two!” Canrasiul began drawing magic from his azuhans, weaving a spell that would help shield The Glory of Zaresnar from further missiles.

Arrows flew as the ships came within closer range. The Wayaiquahan artillery fired pots of naphtha that exploded when they hit the Ukuzechan ships. Qua’hanakai yuyarni wheeled overhead, dropping missiles onto decks and hauling men from riggings.

Mendaran laughed as he blasted the rudder from a vessel that was trying to turn. He felt giddy, his heart thundering with the thrill of battle. The screams of the enemy no longer sounded human. Ukuzechans drew up alongside the ships he had crippled, swarming aboard. The Glory of Zaresnar surged on, leaving broken vessels with stricken crews drifting in its wake.

Mendaran’s delight in battle quickly soured. This was nothing like the epic struggles he had read about in his books. There was no glory in smashing helpless ships. Mendaran finally understood what Carashanza had always told him – war was nothing but a painful duty.

Mendaran began to feel nauseous. Perhaps he had used more of his power than was wise. When he glanced over the prow, he saw bodies floating face-down in the water. Sharks gathered to feast on the corpses. Wounded men thrashed among the waves or clung to bits of driftwood, gasping for help. Swords clashed and shouts rose as soldiers fought on the decks of the surrounding ships. The breeze stung Mendaran’s eyes with smoke.

Canrasiul handed him a cup of watered enasaru. “Drink this. Slowly.”

Mendaran tried not to gulp the liquid magic down. It seared his throat. His energies revived, yet there was a part deep inside him that still felt ill.

Up ahead was The Defender of the Waves, decked out in the banners of the self-proclaimed Emperor of Tuyaz-Oa. Mendaran remembered that Daskesurul wanted it undamaged. The Esu wanted Eraquan taken alive, to be broken in some dungeon before being publicly executed.

Mendaran glanced at the wreckage around him, suddenly angry. The Tuyaz-Oans were brave, yet they had never stood a chance against him. Soon their flagship would be flying Daskesurul’s banners. It seemed more fitting that The Defender of the Waves should go down gloriously.

The ship was warded, but Mendaran found the spells of human wizards pathetically simple to unravel. From where he stood, he could see people arguing on the deck, trying to convince their proud young emperor to withdraw. Mendaran raised his power and blasted the ship apart. Wood rained down as fire engulfed the vessel. Weariness settled over Mendaran.

Canrasiul looked stunned. “How could you…?”

“I’m going to my cabin to rest,” said Mendaran. “Tell me when we reach land.”

He strode across the deck, strangely upset that the rebel leader had been so easily vanquished. He had wanted Eraquan to flee back to his palace like a self-serving coward. He wanted to be able to hate him for all the lives he had squandered in his reckless stand against the Ankaykari.

Canrasiul gave a sudden screech. Mendaran turned. A Wayaiquahan galley was bearing down on them at ramming speed, shedding the invisibility spells its wizards had used to conceal it. Even now Mendaran’s gaze tried to slide away from it, dazzled by the sunlight on the waves.

“No!” shrieked Canrasiul at the other end of the deck. “Not The Glory of Zaresnar!”

Daskesurul’s flagship shuddered as the enemy vessel rammed into it. Mendaran was almost thrown off his feet. The hull groaned, wood splintered and men screamed around him. Within moments the Wayaiquahans were pouring aboard, cutting down everyone in their path.

Mendaran drew his sword and charged. The enemy must have been watching him, waiting for him to exhaust himself before they struck. Rage burned away his fatigue. He would show these humans what it meant to challenge a Kaniyari.

Mendaran’s sword danced in his hands, slick with gore. The finest warriors from the enemy vessel closed with him in combat. Yuyarni mages flew above, trying to entangle him in spells. This time, Mendaran was fighting for his life. He felt no remorse in cutting down his foes. He hurled the yuyarni back with the dregs of his magic, then glanced around the deck, panting.

Several more enemy vessels were bearing down on Daskesurul’s flagship. A pot of naphtha spattered its fire across the deck. Sailors dashed back and forth, trying to quench the flames with buckets of sand. As Mendaran watched, one of them fell with an arrow through his leg, letting the bucket tumble from his grasp. A javelin struck the deck nearby. Mendaran’s wards were failing. He did not think he could survive another onslaught, but he felt unafraid.

At least this was a battle worthy of him.

Canrasiul had dragged his chest of enasaru up from the hold. His hands shook with panic as he tried to unlock it. “Mendaran, help me!” he called.

Mendaran sprang over and ripped open the lid. Without thinking, he grabbed a flask of enasaru, pulled the stopper out with his teeth, and gulped it down. The liquid almost choked him. Power roared through his blood. Mendaran reached for another.

“We must save the ship!” cried Canrasiul.

“No, we must win the battle.”

Another javelin slammed into the deck. Mendaran turned with a snarl, unleashing his power against the nearest oncoming vessel. It exploded. Mendaran raced to the railing and leaped into the air, letting his magic carry him across the waves. He handed on another deck and sent a spell slashing across the ship like a razor whip. Masts, riggings and bodies fell in half.

Mendaran instinctively leaped free before the sails could collapse on him. His head swam. The power of the enasaru felt like it was devouring him from the inside; he had to use it up.

Mendaran landed on an abandoned galley, focused his power and blasted through the hulls of the surrounding enemy ships, striking them below the waterline so that they would sink.

Beyond them was The Valiant – the ship of the Wayaiquahan admiral Lord Nesana.

Mendaran flew through the air and landed on the deck. Soldiers charged at him, but he hacked them down. Lord Nesana stood before him, a grizzled old man with nothing to defend him but a mundane blade. He met Mendaran’s gaze proudly.

“Why?” roared Mendaran, stepping over the bodies of his guards. “We are trying to bring unity to your world. Why would you fight that?”

“We want to be free,” said Nesana simply.

“We would bring you order, justice, civilization –”

“You think our kingdom is without civilization? You think we don’t have our own language and literature, our wise men, our cities, our great kings?” Nesana’s jaw clenched. “Can you truly tell me that we humans are lesser people than the Ankaykari?”

Mendaran hesitated. He did not know what to say.

“Your mother was human,” Nesana reminded him, “and you are mortal. You are as much one of us as you are one of them. Join us. Help mortal-kind reclaim its dignity.”

“I’ll not side with traitors!” Mendaran plunged his sword through Nesana’s chest. It was only when the old human crumbled to his knees and fell forward onto the deck that he realized what he had done. A pool of blood spread beneath Nesana as he drew his last breath.

Mendaran stared at him, then leaned over the rail and was violently sick.

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An epic fantasy saga