Chapter 23: Grathen Harbour
Edya had no desire to go Grathen Harbour and give orders to the Admirals of the Imperial Navy, especially Grand Admiral Tarick Jreshti, whom she knew only by reputation, but Daliana had given her specific instructions. The navy was to sail to the Dragon’s Claws and destroy any Deshik ships that they encountered. The guards looked suspicious, but she was riding a Mordak, as were her four companions, so they did not dare stop her. They also no doubt noticed the medal for valour she had earned, as well as the High General’s insignia on both her chest and shoulder. Riding through the town, which was larger than she thought it would be, she looked side to side, as though expecting an attack. Everyone here carried swords, and they all seemed suspicious of her. She doubted, though, that anyone would be stupid enough to attack five Mordak Riders of the Spear, one of which was clearly Drogoda’s High General. She stopped at a tavern called the Mermaid’s Rock, which looked less rundown than most other places, and went inside. The air inside was thick with smoke and heavy with the smells of tobacco and rum. It was loud, too. Many of the patrons had formed a large circle, pushing the tables against the wall. They were singing, swaying drunkenly, and watching several barmaids dance. The music, coming from two men and a woman along the far wall, was offensive to her court-trained ears. “Probably to get whoever comes in here to drink more,” she said out loud to Regath Encarthian, whom she had appointed her second in command. Drinking was the only thing that would make the noise they called music bearable. The tavern, and most of the people inside, looked ready to fall over, but she needed information, and a tavern was a better place than most to get it, especially in a harbour town. The bar, little more than a barrier between the patrons and the drinks, looked like it had once been a wall that had collapsed after one too many drunks had fallen, or been thrown, against it. The owner, Edya could tell because she was the only one who looked sober, soon walked over to them.
“Can I get you anything?” Though she spoke basic Morschen, her accent was definitely not Drog, or any Anarian accent she had heard before.
“I’m looking for Grand Admiral Tarick Jreshti.”
A louder than normal burst of song forced the owner to wait to be heard. “What d’you want with him?”
“Orders from Alquendiro.”
“Figured. Only time we see soldiers from out west is when Garrenin wants us to do something.” She stopped talking, staring at Regath. “Reg?”
Regath took a minute to recognize the woman. “Doma?”
Doma started laughing and gave him a hug. “’T’s been a long time Reg.”
“Not that long.”
“You’ve nay been near my pub in two hundred years, if it’s been a day. But I ne’er forget a favourite, especially not someone who used to come through those doors as much as you did.”
“Has it really been that long? Ah well, Taren and his wars. You understand.”
Doma laughed again, but Edya was getting impatient, and coughed at Regath to get him to move along. Doma got the message. “Sorry. Old habits of an old pub keeper. You’ll find Tarick at the Broken Rudder. Spends half ‘is time drunk, an’ the other half complaining about not being drunk. Don’t think he’ll be much good to you.” She finished speaking just as the musicians in the corner began another song, clearly a favorite of the patrons, who all began to sing loudly.
Hoist the colours
Out to sea
Looking back towards the dancers with distaste, Edya asked “Where do I find the Broken Rudder?”
“Up the street, nearer the docks. My daughter will show you the way.”
“I know my way around Grathen Harbour, Doma.”
“T’s been two hundred years since you were last here. We’ve grown a bit since you left for Alquendiro with those recruiters.” She whistled, and a youngish girl came out of the back. She looked much like her mother: high cheekbones, long brown hair that she wore in a braid, and a slim figure, but she carried herself with strength and authority. “Beinra, this is an old friend of mine. Regath Encarthian, my daughter, Beinra. Show ’em around the city if they want to see it, but get ‘em to the Broken Rudder alive.” Doma winked at Edya, who was distracted by Beinra. She could tell that the girl only took orders from her mother. Doma turned and walked away. She looked over her shoulder, pointed at the dancing girls with her thumb, and added “Don’t worry. This kind of thing only happens in most o’ the taverns.” She did not say whether or not the Broken Rudder was one of them.
Edya looked at Regath, and then walked out of the building with Beinra almost flouncing along behind them. Her three men had drawn a crowd, which moved off when they saw her. Mounting quickly, she looked for the girl, who was already well down the street, and waiting for them to follow. Edya reined her Mordak after the girl, while her Riders fell in behind her.
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “I used to be a pirate under Tarick Jreshti. The navy caught us, but Taren offered us a deal. Join the Imperial Navy, or die in prison. It was only three years before Tarick had proven his skill and Taren named him Grand Admiral.”
“And who is Doma? She seems to get what she wants, if her daughter is anything to judge by.”
“I had no idea that the girl existed, but Doma is … Doma. She’s respected by everybody in Grathen Harbour. Here, even more than in Alquendiro, a name and a reputation mean everything. And she comes from an important family in this area.”
“Do I dare ask what that means?”
“Actually, Doma is a member of Taren’s court. Taren recognized her as the Princess of Grathen Province, but he still appointed a governor. She refused to leave her pub to become some noble.”
“I have no idea why she’d want to stay in that hole she calls a tavern, but I can see why she wouldn’t want to be one of Taren’s courtroom butterflies. She is of noble blood though. She’s descended from the first Morschcoda not of Garrenin blood, Vecktar Grathen. The town was named after him because he was responsible for Drogoda’s turn towards economic dominance instead of military.”
Edya still did not understand, but Beinra was clearly not waiting for them. She was standing in front of another old building, much closer to the docks. It was a derelict place, leaning heavily to one side, supported by another building leaning the other way, against it. She dismounted and thanked Beinra, who quickly ran back to the Mermaid’s Rock. Regath dismounted to follow her, but this time she ordered him and her other three men to wait outside. Regath followed her anyway.
The Broken Rudder was nicer inside than appearances suggested, having not only clean tables, but a clean floor as well. That being said, it smelled the same as the Mermaid’s Rock: heavy with tobacco and rum, thick with smoke, though not quite as much, and saltier, which she attributed to being closer to the docks and the ocean. Most people in the Broken Rudder had the look of seasoned seamen of rank, as if mostly officers frequented it. Most of the patrons wore heavy clothing. Oilskins for rain and seawater hung on a number of pegs near the door, and as often as not, the men had bare feet, though the rest wore tall boots. A group of women, clearly mercenaries, likely ship captains of one pirate fleet or another, with long swords or heavier cutlasses crossed on their backs, caught her eye for a moment. One woman with two longswords seemed especially interested in Edya, and Edya returned the woman’s scrutiny. They were all watching her intently, knowing from instinct that she would be a dangerous enemy if it came to a fight. Several people, men mostly, looked more respectable, merchants possibly, or ship captains. Quite a few were heavily armed with cutlasses and knives hanging from leather belts wrapped around their torsos. Once again, the owner was a woman with an accent she could not identify.
“What can I do for you?”
“I am looking for Grand Admiral”
As soon as she said ’Grand” the woman turned and shouted “Tarick!” A man in the back that she had not noticed before, dressed in the blue and green of Drogoda’s navy, looked up. “That be him.” She turned and walked away.
Edya walked over to the table and studied its one occupant. The two men he had been drinking with had edged away as soon as they had seen Edya making her way over to the table. The man, Tarick Jreshti, she had to assume, had a dark tan, and looked like a seasoned sailor. The tarnished gold knot on his shoulder, which blended well into the dusty brown wall behind him, marked his as an Admiral. The elaborate colour scheme formed by various medals and other insignias that decorated his jacket’s right breast meant he was in charge of Drogoda’s entire fleet. He did not wait for Edya to say anything. He merely placed his foot on the front of the chair across from him and pushed it out.
“What d’you want?” As with the two tavern keepers, he had an accent she could not place, though his was more noticeable, as if he was newer to Drogoda than the women, and sprinkled with the salty language of a seaman.
“Are you Grand …”
“Aye, I’m Tarick Jreshti. Who’re you?”
“I am High General Edya Reeshnar.”
“Well, then ‘High General’,” he placed an elaborate emphasis on the title, “I think I should warn ye about catching the eye of that group of females over there.” He pointed with his mug. Several of the women looked over. Two or three of them smiled at Tarick, who winked back and mouthed a private message. “Nasty bunch, them.” He added a wink in her direction after he said this, followed by a drink, only slightly smaller than his first. “Especially the one you locked eyes with. Carde ’as killed people for less. Though, she do nay seem to mind a few people.” Tarick laughed, which Edya took to mean that he was one of those few. But she had never heard the name before.
“Carde Deithara.” He pointed with his mug. “She with the two swords crossing her back. Mercenary Captain o’ the good ship Vengeance. I’d o’ thought even in Alquendiro her name would be known.”
Edya did not doubt that there were many people in Alquendiro who were interested in all of the doings of the Vengeance and its Captain; Merchant Princes, most of them. She had avoided all of her country’s Merchant Princes, and lesser Merchant Clan Lords, with the same passion that many other Drogs did. “I’m recently ascended to the position of…”
“By the gods woman, I can tell that.” Here he took a long draught from his mug. “What happened to that other one? Druoth.”
“Makret Druoth is no longer a member of the Drogodan Army.”
“Dead is he? Good. Never liked ’im. Always sticking ’is nose in to our business, telling us how to do our jobs.” He took another long draught from his mug, clearly not filled with rum that most other patrons seemed to be enjoying in smaller quantities. “So, what d’you want?”
“I have orders for you.”
“Not you. Only time a soldier of any rank comes this far east into Grathen Province is to give the Admiralty orders from Garrenin.” He pointed behind Edya, at Regath. “I meant you, Reg. You’ve been gone a few hundred years. Heard you were killed a few times. Not entirely sure I can’t say I’d have been sorry to hear it.”
“Well, from you, Tarick, that almost passes for a compliment.”
“What drove a decent sailor like you inland, Reg?”
“So, nothing to do with Doma? I heard rumours …”
“You heard rumours about me being dead.”
“Heard them from outlanders. Not Drogs, and not soldiers either. These rumours started a good bit closer to home than that. Just up the street, you might say.”
Edya, though she was intrigued by the rare glimpse into Regath’s former life, was annoyed at the delay the two old sailors were creating. “Admiral Jreshti, I have orders for you.”
“Only Garrenin gives me orders.”
“Morschcoda Garrenin is dead.”
“Well, isn’t that just too bad. I guess ye can take those orders back to Alquendiro with ye and throw ‘em in a fire.” He took a hearty swig from his mug then slammed it down on the table. Then he laughed and pointed her to the far wall. “Or save yourself a trip an’ do it here.”
Edya was getting frustrated. “These orders come from Taren’s heir.”
“An’ who’s that. You?” He laughed again at the thought.
“His daughter, Morschcoda Daliana Marcarry.”
“She’s Dothrin,” he said, spitting on the floor for emphasis as he leaned his chair back to place his feet on the table.
“She is the daughter of Taren Garrenin. Now, you will follow these orders, or I will rip that knot off of your shoulder here and now?”
He turned his head so that he could admire the tarnished knot on his shoulder, and then gave a drunken sigh. He stretched out his right hand, which bore a Morschledu Ring and a Signet ring that she did not recognize. “Alright, let’s have ’em then.”
Edya handed over the paper carrying Daliana’s seal, an oak leaf in the center of a thick vine which formed a circle. Tarick looked them over.
“And why, in the name of Caltia, may she forgive me for invoking ’er name in such a place,” he gestured around him, swinging his arms around wildly, “am I to command my sailors to go to the Dak Starba Shne?”
Edya was unfamiliar with most of the lesser deities worshipped by the Morschen, having distanced herself from religion, but she did know that Caltia was supposed to bring luck and good weather to sailors. She did not believe in luck.
Lowering her voice so that only he could hear her, and cursing Daliana for not putting that information in the orders she carried, she answered him. “The Deshika have returned to Anaria, Admiral. We’ve had news of a large fleet sailing for our shores to reinforce an army that’s already here. We believe that they’re going to make landfall near the Dragon’s Claws sometime within the next week, if they aren’t there already.”
“That changes things,” he said, turning pale. He drained what was left in his mug to fortify himself after her unexpected explanation. And then, standing up, staggering up, most might say, he addressed the room. “Gents, listen up.” The mercenary captains and merchants in the room pointedly ignored him, but they lowered their voices before continuing their discussions. Obviously, Tarick was a respected man, although from what Edya had seen so far, it might easily have been from his drinking prowess instead of his rank. “Orders from out west. We’re sailin’ north at first light. Prepare the ships, and I want all of ye sober come time to weigh anchor. Spread the news up and down the taverns.” The Broken Rudder was empty of navy sailors within minutes, though the mercenary captains and merchants had not moved. Anywhere else, Edya would have said that the men did not take the order seriously. Here, she had to forgive them their exaggerated care in getting up. Each of these men probably consumed more alcohol in two days as she and most of her friends did in two months, though she had seen others, Taren especially, drink sailors like these under the table and be little worse off for it. Sitting back down, he lowered his voice and spoke to Edya for another minute. “I can’t be at the Claw in one day.”
“I don’t expect you to be, Admiral.”
“Just how big is this fleet I’m risking me ships against?”
“It’s rumoured that it carries as many as four hundred thousand Deshik warriors. If their ships are comparable to a Dreshna …” She paused and made a few estimates. “Over four thousand ships, Admiral.”
He looked like he had been hit in the face. “If I didn’t need to be sober, I’d need a drink on hearing that.” Just then a barmaid walked over and, with a wink at the Admiral, refilled Tarick’s mug. “Bloody hell, I’ll have one anyway.”
“All you have to do is destroy as many ships as you can and see that none escape. The Brotherhood of the Mordak and the Dragon Hearted will be marching to the Claws to fight any warriors that do land.”
“I do no’ envy you. Tis a fool’s errand, yours.”
“Maybe, but I won’t order my men to do something that I won’t do myself.”
Tarick nodded. “You western types are all the same. ‘I am a leader, so I must lead in everything, from cleanliness to death.” He did a remarkable impression of an ordinary Drog accent, even for a drunk. “You’re too serious. Need to lighten up, take a puff o’ smoke every so often. Have a drink now an’ again, an’ toss some dice around.”
“I don’t need anybody, least of all a drunk admiral, telling me how to live my life.”
“No,” he said, pulling out a stained leather purse filled with salty tobacco and a short, stained wooden pipe. “But ye need one to tell you how to relax.”
Edya and Regath left the pub. Her men were no longer mounted, but sitting on benches that ran along the front of the Broken Rudder. She sympathized with them. They had had a long and hard ride to get to Grathen Harbour from Alquendiro, and she did not want to spend more nights on the ground any more than her men did. But the rest of the Brotherhood was riding for Airachni, and she wanted to be there by the time her men reached the city, if not before.
“Mount up.” Instead of saying nothing, which she had expected, all of them groaned at the thought of riding on through the night and sleeping on the ground at least two more times. She did not blame them, though, for she felt the same way, but she knew that they could not afford to waste time. And the route that Edya had planned to take would lead them under the knees of the Dragon’s Roost Mountains. The ground would be unforgiving to Riders who were travelling light.
“Edya, we should stay here for the night. We all need rest. I know that my Mordak would appreciate one day of not having to carry me, and I’m sure that yours feels the same.”
“But nightfall is still hours away. We could be out of Drogoda tonight.”
“Or, we could take the rest tonight, eat hot food that we don’t have to kill ourselves, and make better time tomorrow.”
Edya did not waste any time in agreeing with Regath. “Fine.” To her three men, she said “find whatever rooms you want for yourselves. I don’t care where you sleep, as long as you are prepared to leave Grathen Harbour as soon as it’s light tomorrow.” The men all went off in different directions. “So, Reg, you used to live here. Is there anything to do besides drink, smoke, and sleep.”
“Not with how little time there is before the sun goes down tonight. It’s too late to move on, but there really is nothing to do in this town that has no relation to ships. If Doma started selling better rum, the sailors would stop going to her pub, because they like things the way they are.”
“So, what do you suggest we do?”
“It’s too late for anything besides sleep. I guess, though, it’s still a little early to go to bed.”
Edya laughed, knowing what he meant. “And how many women have you tried that with?”
“What?” He tried to look confused.
“You know what I mean. ‘It is too late to do anything, but too early to go to sleep.’ How many women have fallen for it?”
He shrugged. “A few.”
“So the girl, Beinra? Is she …”
“I have no idea. She looks about the right age, I suppose. But I had no idea that she existed.”
“Would Doma have told you?”
“She knew it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was a Mordak Rider already, and I’m still too young to resign from the Brotherhood.”
Regath said that with a sense of finality. Edya did not ask anything more.
Despite Regath’s assurances that Grathen Harbour boasted no entertainment other than a main street lined with taverns, Edya could not let herself sit still while it was still light outside. She had to do something, so she left her room and went for a walk. She left her armour and uniform behind, and instead just tried to look like a mercenary. That got her into trouble. Three men, all clearly drunk, but still sober enough to stand and hold onto their swords, walked out of an alley right in front of her. She knew it was not a coincidence.
“Bit late for a young thing like you to be wondering around, isn’t it?” The one who spoke was the largest of the three. She could tell by his accent that he at least was a Drog, but that only made her angrier. If not his two companions, he at least should have been able to tell she was Tai-Aren Coda. She sighed and drew her sword. “Now, little lady, there’s no need for that. You put that toy away and behave, and we won’t make you do anything too difficult.”
“If you want to keep your tongue, I suggest you keep it inside of your mouth.” Edya clenched her teeth. She knew that she would have to kill at least one of them, but that was only if she was lucky. These men were sailors, they were large, and they were drunk. She would likely have to kill all three if she wanted to live through the night.
“And I suggest that you keep a civil tongue, or you’ll lose it yourself.” The two others laughed at how their boss had managed to turn Edya’s threat around on her. She failed to see the humour. “I’m going on now. Good night.”
“I didn’t say you could leave.”
He reached to grab her, and she brought her sword up, but one of the other two caught her hand and pulled her into the alley. As he did, two more men came up behind her and tried to grab her neck. She kicked one in the stomach, causing him to double over, gasping for breath. She aimed a kick at the other one, but he stayed out of range.
She fought to hold the four men away from her for half an hour before she heard any other sound. Someone had drawn a sword. The cold ring of the steel as it was pulled from a scabbard had been lengthened as much as possible, to ensure that every one of the six people in the alley heard it. They all stopped and turned towards another woman who was walking towards them. Without stopping, she drew another sword from a sheath that hung over her right shoulder. The man who had grabbed Edya’s sword hand whispered hatefully. “Deithara.”
“Evening boys. Got a new toy, have we?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, as it seems I’ve interrupted something, I’ll try to keep this short.” Her tone was condescending. She spoke like a great lady talking to men who just were not quick enough to catch all of her meaning. Edya, though, caught everything. She ducked her head as Carde whipped one of her swords forward and threw it through the man holding Edya. Her sword arm released, Edya stabbed the man who had been in charge as he tried to punch her in the head. The one who Edya had kicked still was not able to get up or breathe properly, but as the two other men ran away, Carde gave him a hard kick in the ribs for being part of the group. Edya winced as she heard bones crack. The other two were already long gone.
Carde stopped a few feet from Edya and looked her up and down. “Gods, Reeshnar. You are a mess.”
“How did you know it was me?”
“Tarick asked me to keep an eye on you. He said you wouldn’t know how things worked in this town, and he seemed to know you’d do something stupid.”
“But, I was trying to blend in. I left everything but my sword behind.”
“And that was smart, otherwise they would have killed you first and let people ask questions when they heard about it in Alquendiro, if news of it even made it out of the city. But your little meeting with Tarick pointed you out to me, so I knew who I was looking for. I watched you leave your room.”
“If you were following me that whole time …”
“Why didn’t I come sooner?” She shrugged. “Wanted to see if you Spears are as good as your reputation makes you. Haven’t seen one woman hold off five men this size in centuries. You’re good, Reeshnar. Maybe as good as me.”
Edya decided to take it as a compliment, but almost felt duty bound to challenge Carde. “Maybe as good as you? I’m Tai-Aren Coda.”
“And I am a pirate. I fight with people that I know I can lose against, people that I know can kill me. You have ninety nine other Tai-Aren Coda watching your back all the time. You know that the odds of you getting killed, or even injured, are nonexistent. When is the last time you actually fought someone one on one who you knew could beat you?”
Edya did not answer. She did not have one. She had only three times in her life fought to kill, and if she was honest with herself, she knew that nobody who had stood before her had been even close to her equal. “I …”
“You haven’t, have you? That’s why I’m better. I may be a plague on Merchant Princes like Ren, and even a nuisance to the Garrenins, if I may brag, but I’ve looked death in the eyes. I don’t rely on your Ringlord magic. I rely on instinct and I rely steel.” She studied Edya as the two women walked out of the alley and towards the Mermaid’s Rock, where Edya’s room was. “I wouldn’t wander around anymore tonight. Any thugs see you like this, and you’ll be dead before you know what hit you. Especially if they’ve heard about what happened back there.”
“Won’t they attack you too? I mean, they’ll know you helped me.”
“I have a long reputation in Grathen Harbour, Reeshnar. I’ve killed more men than you’ve seen die.”
“You know, I might be older than I look, Deithara. I am a Spear, and I’ve been one for the last two hundred years. Death and I have been introduced more than once.”
“Well, whatever else you are, stubborn is on the list.” Carde was quiet for a minute as the two walked up the street. “So, how is the old bastard?”
“Not Druoth. That goes without saying. I’m talking about Taren. How is he?”
“I meant Taren. He’s dead.”
“Oh. Are … are you sure?”
“Unfortunately. He fought a Deshik army by himself at Agrista. He took the city with him.”
“I know. I didn’t think it was possible ...”
“Because Taren was just one of life’s constants.”
“I know. I was there when he rode into Alquendiro as a conquering hero at the end of the Drog Civil War. For a long time now, I sort of expected that I would die before he did.”
“I’m a pirate, remember. We don’t tend to have long lives. And I’m notorious. Famous pirates don’t live as long as others do.”
“I should’ve known that.”
“It doesn’t matter. Who succeeds Taren?”
“The Drog Imperial Throne has passed to Daliana Marcarry, his daughter. As for the Flowing Throne? The Mordak Council will have to be called. They’ll all try and take it for themselves.”
“So, the old man named an heir after all. That is interesting. But, if you need to ‘persuade’ the Merchant Clans to back you, I know a few ways that get their attention that work better than others.”
“You think I should try and take the throne?”
“The world looks different from the two sides of the palace walls. I know. I’ve seen it from both. You’d do well. I can feel it.”
Edya shook her head. “Even if you threatened the Merchant Clans and forced them to back me, none of the Provincial Governors would give me their support. The Morieden Throne is vacant, and the military advisors already don’t trust me because of how I took power as High General. My taking the throne would start another civil war, which we can’t afford.”
Carde did not say anything more. She turned around and headed back to the docks. Edya looked back at her, but Carde had already disappeared into the night. She thought she caught the sound of a sword being drawn, but she did not hear anything else, so she went inside to get whatever sleep she could.
Edya left Grathen Harbour later than she would have liked the next morning, but before the day’s end they had left Drogoda, and they were well north of the border by the time the sun went down. Riding through the night, at the fastest pace they could set, they found themselves by dawn near the bases of Eagle’s Roost Mountains. Hugging the base of the mountains shaved leagues and hours off of their time, even though they were forced to travel slower in the rougher country. By nightfall of their second day from Grathen Harbour, they were nearing the northern end of the mountains. Edya looked at her men. Their mounts were standing tall and proud, but she could feel her Mordak’s pain through the bond. Her men did not even try to hide the stiffness and pain they felt at riding two days and a night without rest. They were stooping, on the verge of collapse. She suspected that she looked as bad, if not worse, than her men. “We will rest here tonight.” Here in the wild, her men attempted to protest, but their voices, weak from lack of use, only made her more certain that to go on would gain them no time. The army would not march without her, and anyway, it would be better to wait until they knew where the Deshika were before marching. Just as she finished her thoughts, one of her men looked up. “Dragon!” he whispered, pointing. Following his arm to a point barely two miles away, she saw the beast as well. The dragon clearly had seen them, and took off. Seconds later it was landing near to their fire, and Edya was relieved when she noticed the Rider on its back. As the Rider dismounted, Edya saw that it was a woman, small and frail looking, though dressed in armour, not an ordinary messenger’s outfit. She was almost a foot shorter than Edya herself was, and thin. Edya almost laughed as she pictured the small woman being pushed around by a gust of wind.
“I’m looking for High General Edya Reeshnar.”
“General, Morschcoda Calmi has sent out many Riders in the past two days. Several flew well out to sea, and all have returned. Our search was thorough, but we saw no sign of this Deshik fleet that your Rider brought word of.”
“That can’t be. Are you sure?”
“I’m only telling you what I was instructed to say when and if I found you. I will return to Airachni now, and inform my lord that you will be arriving after midday tomorrow.”
The woman turned and mounted. Edya barely had time to register that the Rider was no longer standing in front of her before the dragon’s massive wings had carried the Rider far out of sight.
“We’re still many leagues from Airachni” she said, turning to face her men. “Can you ride?”
“We will ride.”
“Then mount up. We have little time.”
High above them, a man watched the dragon fly away from the five Mordak Riders. The dragon rose high and turned to pass through the mountains. The man uncurled a long whip and pointed it at the sky. The dragon’s wing shattered and the beast plummeted to the ground inside of the mountains. The man smiled cruelly, and faded into the night.
“I don’t understand this, Morschcoda.”
“I trust my Riders, High General.”
“And I trust mine. If Regath Encarthian says this fleet exists, then it does.”
“What if it was a trick? I am not saying he isn’t trustworthy, but Makret would have known that if he escaped, he would tell you anything he heard. Maybe he and The Kindler staged the conversation. Maybe there is no fleet, maybe there is, or maybe it is coming a year from now. Either way, Edya, the Deshika are not coming yet.”
Edya sighed, defeated for the moment by lack of information. She knew that Daken’s arguments were perfectly reasonable, and also knew that she should have thought of them herself. “I’ll need to take the Brotherhood back to Alquendiro. Even with the Crystal Sword marshalled right outside the walls, the city is vulnerable.”
Just as Edya was about to leave, a young Dragon Rider entered. Edya waited to hear what he had to say, knowing from the expression on his face that it would not be good news.
“My lord, we found her.”
“Where is she?”
“Rider Tiella Veenia is dead, my lord. Her dragon fell from the sky inside of the mountains, it seems, though I felt something wrong when I found her. She had been dead no more than twenty hours, but the dragon’s broken wing was not the one it landed on.”
“A Rider left my camp about that long ago. A youngish woman, short and thin?”
“So, she did find you.”
“Yes. We left as soon as she did so that we would be here when she told you we would. Her dragon looked fine, and she was flying straight here.”
“Where was your camp, General Reeshnar?”
A servant brought a map and laid it on a small table. Edya pointed to a spot half hidden behind the peak of the eastern most of the mountains. “About here is where your Rider found us. So, this is the path that she would have taken. Why?”
“Several Riders have reported dead or badly wounded dragons in the past few months, all of which had a broken a wing and had fallen from the sky. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence, but I don’t know what could cause it. It takes immense power to kill a dragon with magic, High General. I fear that there is a great evil lurking in our mountains. Taren felt it too. He talked about how the damage to the city after the Deshika’s first invasion felt wrong. He thought it wasn’t Deshik shamans, but he didn’t know what else it might have been.”
“I could send in the Brotherhood. They could find whoever, or whatever, it is.”
“Twenty thousand Riders couldn’t thoroughly search the Dragon’s Roost Mountains in one lifetime, let alone before they’re needed on the battlefield. Whatever is hiding in the mountains will reveal itself eventually. I just hope that when that happens, we’re still strong enough to deal with it.”
“Well, in case that day comes soon, I will leave half of the Brotherhood here under your command. They may be able to do some good if Makret marches southward.”
Edya arrived back at Alquendiro just days after Daliana. They were in deep discussion when Marrdin walked in.
“General Reeshnar, your Majesty. There is a man at the gates demanding to speak with the Queen of the Morschen.”
“Does he give a name, Marrdin?”
“I don’t think that his name is unknown, my lady. May I send him in?”
“Of course. But Marrdin, why come yourself?”
Marrdin did not answer. Instead he turned to the doors and nodded. Three Drog Tai-Aren Coda, with hands as close as they dared to their swords, entered the room walking backwards, to face whoever it was that was coming. Two Morschledu, on seeing this, took up positions on either side of the two Morschcoda and their general. Edya herself stood up and waited with her hand on the hilt of her sword, drawing on her magical power so that she too would be ready to use it if needed. Three more men walked in, this time facing forwards into the room. Two were guards all too obviously hoping that the man between them and a little ahead would not try anything. The third was a man she thought never to see again.
He placed his right hand over his heart and bowed, bending from the waist, as any ambassador might. “Hail, Daliana Marcarry, Queen of the Morschen of Drogoda and its Empire.”
Before them stood Makret Druoth.