“The Silver Fleet!” Alaric exclaimed as they lifted into the air. “I cannot believe it actually exists!”
“What is the Silver Fleet?” Isabel asked.
“An ancient legend.” He replied. “Long ago, almost to the beginning of time, Baelcrest encompassed both worlds, Isabel, yours and mine. There was a great battle amongst the gods that nearly destroyed everything. A group of seven gathered together, master carpenters, shipbuilders, and conjurers to create the Silver Fleet. They were large silver ships that sailed on air with unlimited firepower and speed. With the aid of the Silver Fleet mankind fought against the gods and banished them. Baelcrest cracked from the force and the veil that separates this world from the Mundane appeared.”
“Legend or not, the Oracle says we can find it on Mount Osera.”
“Home of the Eagle Lord, Caeronvar!” Alaric spat. “Why should he have access to such power?”
“You mean instead of you?” Isabel quipped, raising an eyebrow. “Power of that magnitude probably belongs on top of a forbidden mountain. Besides, if he actually had access to the power of the Fleet, wouldn’t he have used it?”
A knock on the door interrupted the conversation.
“Your highness,” Lennox called, “there is an emissary from Mount Osera to see ye.”
“Ah, we must be close.” Alaric said to Isabel before raising his voice in reply, “Send him in, Captain.”
The door opened and in strode a man so decorated Isabel thought he belonged on top of a Christmas tree. A silky powdered wig sat above a drawn face that was slathered in white makeup. He wore a long coat that bore an elaborate weave of gold and jewels. A perfectly manicured alabaster hand stuck out of the ruffled sleeve cuff and held a pair of golden-framed glasses on a stick through which he peered at them with a pair of black beady eyes. His bony bird-like legs were clad in white tights and upon the man’s feet were a pair of silken slippers that curled up at the toe and were just as elaborate as the coat. The emissary measured the worthiness of the sedan’s passengers, sniffing through his beak of a nose. His mouth, slathered in bright red lipstick, was pulled into a discriminating frown that made the mole to the left of it twitch. “Mm, cozy.” He murmured as he lowered his spectacles.
“Prince Alaric of Lothiari and Lady Isabel of Kendra, I presume.” His voice held the bored tone of the privileged. “I am Finchley, Emissary to the Eagle Lord, Caeronvar. What is your business on Mount Osera?”
“We wish to gain audience with the Eagle Lord.” The prince replied.
“Well of course you do, dear boy, else you would not be here. What is your business with milord?”
“Tis a matter of great importance, not for the ears of a simple emissary.” Alaric sniffed. He could be just as arrogant when he wanted to, though Isabel suspected he didn’t exactly relish being talked down to by a lackey.
“To you perhaps.” Finchley sniffed back, his feathers unruffled. “Caeronvar, sees no one today. You will vacate the vicinity immediately.”
“Caeronvar will see us,” Alaric countered, “or on your head be it.”
Finchley chuckled. “Do not think to threaten me, m’lad. Hardier ruffians than you have tried and failed.”
Alaric grinned. “Tis no threat. When your master discovers you have barred him access to the power of the Silver Fleet, he will tear you to shreds.”
Finchley started, his black eyes narrowed and his head cocked, birdlike. “The Silver Fleet is a myth.”
“Is it?” Isabel piped up, fixing her face into a smile of serenity.
The emissary’s eyes flicked back and forth between them. Alaric leaned back against the cushions, crossing one leg over his knee, and with a bored expression waved a dismissal towards Finchley.
“We mean to make landfall on Mount Osera and thought to pay a call to the Eagle Lord out of courtesy. Neither his participation nor his assistance is needed. Good day.”
The door opened and Lennox hovered just outside menacingly, looking ready to grab the scrawny bird-man and fling him from the sedan at a moment’s notice. Finchley twitched nervously, his composure slipping.
“Yes, no, of course.” He stammered. “I will alert my master to your arrival.”
Alaric nodded curtly and when Lennox clapped a beefy hand onto Finchley’s shoulder to escort him out, Isabel swore the man actually cheeped.
“Highness,” Isabel gasped as the door closed again, “we can’t let Caeronvar have access to the Silver Fleet!”
“We may have no choice. Only the Eagle Lord can tell us where it is located and he will not show us unless we let him gain access to it.”
“Won’t that be as bad as handing it over to Phaedra and the Goblin king?”
“My God, how could it be worse?”
The Eagle Lord, Caeronvar, was once the God of Flight, but fancying himself more powerful than the other gods he constantly ran up against them. He seduced their women and stole from their temples until finally they had had enough. Rather than destroy him utterly, the gods devised a far crueler punishment. A high priestess of Orax, father of the gods, enticed Caeronvar into her chambers where she was able to massage a magical salve into his body. This salve sapped him of his powers and doomed him to an unnatural span of life as a half mortal in order to endure his punishment.
Orax then transplanted him to the summit of Mount Osera where he was to live out the rest of his days. Caeronvar soon discovered this was also the resting place of the Silver Fleet but he had no power to activate it for his own use. Knowing he was so close to such awesome power, feeling its seduction in the night, drove him to the brink of insanity. It was well known that Caeronvar could not be trusted but for a price he would assist anyone who asked for his help. Of course, not just anyone could go to the Eagle Lord for assistance, they had to be worthy or they would be supper.
The dragon squadron landed on the summit of Mount Osera and Prince Alaric was the first to emerge from the sedan before helping Isabel down from the dragon’s back. Soldiers clad in white togas and golden breastplates stood in two lines along a polished walkway leading to a large ancient looking temple that had been carved into the mountainside. Their heads and faces were shielded by shining gold helmets with large beaks and golden winged sandals adorned their feet. The doorway itself appeared to be the open mouth of an eagle with a pair of large emeralds placed in the eye sockets above the overhang. Finchley scurried up to them, panting and sweaty, while trying to right his disheveled wig. Blood pooled just below the man’s large nose before he dabbed it away with a handkerchief.
“His lordship will see you.”
Isabel had felt uneasy when she learned they would be visiting a god and not just any god, a fallen one. There had been so much to take in lately that she wondered how she wasn’t losing her mind. Alice and Dorothy have nothing on me!
For one brief moment she considered the possibility that none of this was real. That she had actually been rendered unconscious by the large bird that flew into her and she was really sprawled out on her dining room floor.
Surprisingly, that thought so depressed Isabel that she shrugged it off and figured if she was suffering from a fever dream or a blow to the head, she might as well enjoy her time in fantasyland while she was still there.
Seeing Finchley in his current state, Isabel nearly lost her nerve again. The Eagle Lord was dangerous, as deities were, but Prince Alaric was so self-assured that she knew he would never let anything happen to her. She kicked herself then for even having that thought, reminding herself that prince or no, she didn’t need a man’s protection. She could take care of herself.
As they were escorted into the temple and down a cool, torch lit path a soft melody, as if birds were singing through wind instruments instead of beaks, met their ears. They entered a clearing filled with an unusual array of finely dressed people of all shapes and sizes. Some men and women were very tall and lanky with long noses that they looked down with beady eyes as they spoke. Some of the younger attendees of the court seemed to find it hard to keep still and waved their limbs about animatedly as they giggled and chattered on with each other. Isabel also noticed a few portly women wrapped in feather boas and furs, which made them look larger still with brightly colored hair standing in large bouffants on their heads. They were the opposite of the chatterers and appeared to speak in slow, languid tones with bored expressions on their faces.
On the edges of the clearing were long tables decorated with beautiful arrangements of exotic plants and golden platters containing food that would satisfy a Vegan’s dream. A variety of seeds and nuts had been baked into crisp honeyed crackers and the largest array of fruits and vegetables Isabel had ever seen were artfully arranged on other platters. Several slight young women sauntered among the guests carrying crystal goblets on golden platters. They were clad in thin blue sleeveless gowns with long slits in the skirt and gold bands clasped on their triceps. Their hair was bound tightly in a long braid that brushed the backs of their feet as they walked. The goblets contained sweet aromatic liquids fermented from the nectar of flowers native to the realm.
A trill of flutes caused the din of the room to quiet as everyone turned to where a curtain of moss parted beneath a massive tree limb. Several dewy eyed young maidens emerged in two lines, clad in long skirts made from shimmering peacock feathers. Across their shoulders rested capes of intricately woven blue feathers, which flowed down their backs and arms, leaving their ivory torsos completely bare. Behind them came the tan and rugged physique of a man clad in a simple loincloth, fur lined boots, golden wristlets, and on top of his head he wore the head of an eagle. The procession fanned out on either side of a large golden throne perched on a tall dais.
The Eagle Lord, Caeronvar, stood on the dais and spread his arms in greeting. A pair of white wings unfolded themselves from his back attaching themselves to his arms as he did so.
“Welcome honored guests!” he boomed. “We are privileged to have in our presence Prince Alaric of Lothiari and Lady Isabel of Kendra.”
Isabel jumped, unnerved as the crowd turned in unison to focus their gazes on the new arrivals, and followed the prince as he approached the throne.
Prince Alaric bowed and the demigod returned the gesture. “Thank you for having us, milord.”
Caeronvar turned to Isabel, his eyes locked with hers as he bowed and kissed her hand, and the woman felt a light tingle run through her body. Isabel could see how the women of the gods had been so easily seduced. The Eagle Lord was undeniably the most beautiful man she had ever seen. His body was muscular and well formed, his tanned skin glistened in the sun, his jaw was wide, and his nose sharp and slender. His smile could turn a woman to jelly. His eyes, however, gave Isabel the creeps. They were a bright gold, almost too bright, and looked as if they could see right into her soul.
“My palace has many lovely adornments, Lady Isabel, but their beauty pales in comparison to yours.” He purred, his velvety voice flowing through her.
Staring into his eyes, Isabel maintained her revulsion. The audible sighs coming from servant and guest alike only furthered her rancor.
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t swoon immediately, milord.” She replied, her tone flat. “I don’t exactly find being compared to mere trinkets to be altogether flattering.”
Alaric smirked and Caeronvar’s face twisted with fury, his eyes blazing. Suddenly, he threw his head back and laughed. “Ha! The woman has spirit!”
He turned his attention back to the prince. “That idiot, Finchley, tells me you have business regarding the Silver Fleet.”
“Indeed,” Alaric replied. “We were sent by the Oracle to rouse the Fleet to assist us in our war with the sorceress.”
A murmur rose from the gathering crowd.
“Plume-plucked hedge pig!” The demigod spat. “Such power is wasted on the likes of that whore and her demons! Oh, what wonders I could perform if the Silver Fleet was mine!”
“Yes, of course, my Lord.” Alaric interrupted before the fallen god really got going. “If you gave us the location of the Silver Fleet you could see it in action.”
Caeronvar seemed preoccupied now. His brilliant eyes dimmed as he muttered to himself for a few moments before snapping back to reality. “Yes, but if I told you where it was, how would you move it?”
Isabel pulled the amulet from the bodice of her modest periwinkle gown. “With this, my lord.”
Grasping it by the tail, she raised the amulet up for the Eagle Lord to see and immediately his eyes lit up. Utterances of admiration erupted from the onlookers surrounding them.
“Ah,” he hissed almost salivating, “that is a beautiful little bauble you have there!”
The sense of unease and foreboding that had plagued Isabel dissolved into cold, naked terror as the amulet’s eyes glowed red in response to Caeronvar’s molten gaze. She cupped the amulet in shaking, sweaty hands and brought them to her chest. She bowed her head in deference to the demi-god, and managed to stammer, “Thank you, milord. You humble me.”
Alaric glanced at Isabel and frowned. “Yes, the pleasure of the great Eagle Lord humbles us all!”
The spectators murmured in agreement, distracting him long enough to miss Isabel tucking the necklace back into her bodice. When he did turn back to Isabel his eyes narrowed momentarily before he smiled, chucked her chin lightly and invited them to partake of some refreshment.
“We shall talk business later!”
The soft music returned as the members of the Eagle Lord’s court went back to their merrymaking. The sweet amber nectar in Isabel’s glass made her feel extremely giddy and she couldn’t help but giggle at one point.
“What is so amusing?” Alaric asked.
“I was just wondering, is this all you do here in Baelcrest, just have one party after another?”
“Not always but often enough within the circles I travel.” Alaric smiled. “Is this not so in your realm?”
Isabel shook her head and giggled again. “Everybody works for a living within the circles I travel.”
She hiccupped and swirled the liquid in her goblet before placing it on the platter of a passing servant girl.
“That’s some potent stuff, I think I’ve had too much.” Isabel giggled again.
The Eagle Lord laughed heartily as he approached them.
“Ah yes, Prium nectar is very potent, especially if one is not accustomed to its effects. It happens to be a personal favorite,” he leaned forward and winked, “particularly for its effects on my female guests.”
Prince Alaric bristled and took a half step between them before catching himself, causing Caeronvar to throw his head back and guffaw. “Relax good sir, I will not interfere with your conquest! Besides, I understand the Lord of the Underworld met his match with this little chickadee. I would have to plan my approach very carefully.”
Isabel and Alaric exchanged glances.
“What do you mean? You know about my run in with Lord Rakad?” she asked.
“Of course! Anything that is carried upon the wind always reaches Caeronvar, the Eagle Lord, gossip especially. You should count yourself lucky, my dear, had the man not been drained of most of his power you would now be a resident of his domain.”
Isabel frowned. “How did he lose his power? He never did tell me.”
“Of course not, tis not a story he would be proud of!” Caeronvar laughed.
The laughter of the members of the court joined his and everyone turned their attention to their master as he told the story.
Like most deities, Lord Rakad was vain and headstrong. He reveled in the fear his presence caused in those he claimed for the Underworld. More than once he had wondered why panic was almost always the first instinct of those he visited. Rakad didn’t just take anyone, he was far too important and would be far too busy if he did. Upon the death of the average individual he had scores of minions to transport the soul. No, Lord Rakad typically came for the influential, the highbred and the cultured. Dignitaries, royalty and truly powerful conjurers were his specialty and he thought if these people only realized just how much of a privilege it was for them to be taken by the ruler of the Underworld himself they would revere him instead of panicking. The surge of energy he absorbed from the truly fearful was a heady elixir but after countless eons it was becoming trite.
The night he had come for the Duke of Kendra, Lord Rakad knew he was in for an extraordinary experience. Ordinarily a mere duke would not be worthy of his attention but a disheveled Reaper had returned with news that the man’s essence was too powerful for him to collect. Upon arrival, Rakad found at the duke’s bedside the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. Her ethereal beauty captivated him while stirring a powerful lust he had never felt before. After partaking in spicy and exotic libations beside the cooling body of her master, Rakad made love to the medicine woman who had been trying desperately to save the duke. What he hadn’t realized was the young maid was none other than Phaedra, daughter of the Fae and Sister of the Church of Ore. Using her knowledge of a deity’s natural arrogance and heightened arousal, Phaedra initiated an ancient and powerful spell using both fragrance upon her person and the libations to quietly absorb the god’s power as he emptied his seed inside her.
“She became the most powerful sorceress in the land and he became her slave!” Caeronvar howled and was promptly mimicked by the crowd.
“T’was lucky for you that the Lord of the Underworld did not see your amulet, he might have slit your throat on the spot rather than hand you over to his mistress.” Cooed a large bird woman as she ambled up to Isabel.
The woman nudged her with her hip hard enough to send her stumbling into the arms of the Eagle Lord. Holding Isabel’s gaze, he sent a shiver through her body as he caressed her cheek with a finger before sliding it down her throat to where it met her shoulder. He fingered the chain that rested there and drew the amulet out of her bodice. As he held the pendant in his hand, his eyes blazed again.
“Such warmth,” he murmured feverishly. “The power, I feel it! I must have that amulet!”
Alaric leapt forward and snatched Isabel out of his arms, sweeping her behind him.
Angry, Caeronvar shrieked, “Why did you do that? Get out of my way!”
Alaric drew his sword and shouted for Isabel to run into the woods. Feathers flew and rained down as the Eagle Lord’s court shrieked and fled in panic causing Isabel to have to dodge a multitude of bodies. As she approached the entrance to the tunnel, two of the chattering giggling young men she had noticed earlier barred her path.
“We cannot let you pass, chick chick. Give us the amulet or we shall take it from you!”
“Try it and you’ll pull back a nub!” she sneered.
A solid pair of arms grabbed her from behind and as the two men rushed forward Isabel clutched the muscular forearms that held her and kicked out, sending her attackers flying. She felt her captor stumble back beneath her weight and as her feet came down again, she dropped to one knee and flung the hulking beast from her person. By the time he had crashed against the wall, Isabel was off and running again. The Eagle Lord shrieked, shoving the prince to one side as he went to follow but Alaric slashed at him redirecting his attention.
“It was a mistake to come here. Bringing the amulet here was too much of a risk.”
“Yet, come you did!” He laughed, foam lining the edges of his mouth. “Fool, did you really think I would allow you to leave my island alive?”
He shrieked again, a piercing squawk that rattled the prince’s bones, as sharp talons sprung from his boots. Alaric suddenly realized Caeronvar wasn’t actually wearing boots at all. His enemy lunged, aiming to tear the flesh from his body.
Armed guards at the entrance of the temple barred Isabel’s escape.
“Lennox!” she cried and could already hear the sounds of clashing metal as the Lothiarian guards attacked the enemy.
Suddenly, the amulet flashed a bright red light that blinded the guards. Tears sprung from her burning eyes as Isabel desperately blinked to get her sight back. She felt Lennox’s massive hand take her arm and pull her from the entrance. By the time her vision cleared she saw the man was rushing her towards the trees.
“Go find the fleet!” he shouted to her, pushing her through the tree line. “We’ll hold them off!”
“Find the fleet, he says.” Isabel grumbled as she dashed through the woods. “I thought the whole point of meeting that feathered schmuck was because we didn’t know how to find the fleet!”
Isabel ran until a stitch formed in her side and her lungs burned for air. Gasping, she leaned against a tree and wiped the sweat from her brow with her sleeve. How the hell was she supposed to find the Silver Fleet? She knew it had something to do with the Heart of Kendra, whatever that was, and the amulet. She thought about how active the amulet had become of late as well. Holding it in her hand, the pendant was still and cool to the touch, yet it seemed to respond fiercely to Caeronvar’s desire as well as her own need to escape. Suddenly she righted herself as an idea dawned on her.
Isabel had not made a wish since blowing out the candles of her cake on her 10th birthday. Her only heart’s desire had been as a child who desperately wanted to find her father, but now she closed her eyes and focused on how badly she needed to find the Silver Fleet. She thought about the people of Kendra living in fear and agony for decades. She thought of how the fate of both worlds, billions of people, could be in jeopardy if Phaedra and Torquil weren’t stopped and suddenly she felt heat emanate from the pendant. When she opened her eyes, she found the amulet’s eyes blazing back at her and the orb in its tail was glowing and warm to the touch. She let it fall against her breast and a thin silver light gleamed from the orb through the trees like a thread. Isabel couldn’t help but smile.
She spent half the day climbing through brush, down steep inclines and through ancient tunnels. She stopped to rest very briefly before coming to a dead end at the mountain face. It loomed above her and there were no paths around or through yet the light thread went right to it.
“It must be buried in the rock.” Isabel surmised as she felt around for any knobs or notches. She stepped away again. How do I get it out?
Turning around, Isabel spied another rock looming upwards facing the mountain. Above it, in the distance, the light of the setting sun was just beginning to peek through the trees. Suddenly, scenes from adventure movies she had seen all her life flashed through her mind. It was corny, but it just might work. The young woman climbed upon the rock, stood tall, and held the amulet above her head. As the light hit the amulet, it cast a large shadow upon the wall. She thought she heard a deep but distant roar, then a rumble and a loud crack. The ground shook violently as a large fissure formed in the wall and the individual pieces moved away from each other. Isabel slipped down from the rock and when the dust cleared the sunlight glinted off a magnificent armada of enormous silver masted ships.
“The Silver Fleet!” she breathed.