As the Silver Fleet made its journey to the enemy territory of Rune, its passengers got to see the true power of the ancient ships. Lord Rakad’s loss of power meant that while he was capable of raising and controlling the ancient dead of men he also inadvertently raised prehistoric animals that decided to maintain a will of their own.
Almost immediately, they were accosted by skeletal pterodactyls and pterosaurs while flying over land, and by sea they faced the trumpeting menace of the vicious manticore. The smaller ships were able to outmaneuver the flying dinosaur skeletons, but one of the larger ships lost many men, goblins and orcs before Isabel was able to figure out how to engage the fleet’s weapon system. The map room had also served as a war room for convenience and when she, as captain, waved a hand over the gyroscope, it whirred and buzzed and cannon doors appeared along the sides of the great ship. The mast glowed and sent a signal to the masts of the rest of the fleet, who then sprang their cannon doors. Massive silver cannons peeked out and fired on their attackers, their aim true each and every time.
The manticore proved more of a challenge as they were smaller and quicker, easily dodging the cannon fire and swooping down to take large bites out of the men or carrying them off across the sea to feast on later. Isabel made good use out of her daggers, slicing and stabbing the horrid beasts as they whipped past. One manticore effortlessly dodged Isabel’s thrusts and grabbed her by the throat, pinning her against the wall of the pilothouse.
“What a lovely little morsel you will make!” It hissed, bearing sharp rows of teeth as it smiled.
The tip of a sword plunging through its belly suddenly quenched the manticore’s appetite, however, and the monster sank to the floor in a pool of blood leaving the prince and warrior queen facing each other.
“Thank you.” Isabel gasped, her eyes as round as saucers but she resisted the urge to fling herself at him and burst into tears. Now was not the time.
“At your service, milady.” Alaric replied softly, disappointed she hadn’t flown into his arms and covered him with kisses of gratitude.
Noticing the last rays of the setting sun, Isabel was struck with an idea. She hoped it wasn’t too late. She scrambled up on top of the pilothouse and raised her amulet over her head. Before dying out, a beam of light caught the amulet and set its stones ablaze. The bright light caused many manticore to reel back in horror as another beam shot from the amulet to the ruby embedded in the ship’s mast. The ruby blazed forth not just on the great ship but the others as well. The masts glowed bright silver and beams of light shot out from the top, disintegrating their attackers instantly. What manticore didn’t burst into flames blasted their retreat and fled into the horizon.
It was a long day and even Lord Rakad looked drained as he rested in the captain’s chair. When night fell the prisoners were sent to their chambers where Isabel endured a fitful sleep. Thanks to her the enemy now had control of the Silver Fleet. Witnessing the power it wielded first hand she knew they had lost the war and there was nothing she could do about it. She had failed.
“I guess I take after my father after all.” She muttered.
Isabel sat up and looked around the darkened room. “Mom?”
The water inside the goblet sitting on her bedside table began to glow and when she looked she saw the face of her mother staring back at her.
“Mom!” She whispered, careful not to alert the guards outside her door. “Am I glad to see you!”
“Are you alright, mija?”
“No ma, I’ve screwed everything up! I pissed off the Alliance, I lost Nancy and Iskander and we’ve been captured along with the Silver Fleet. I’m being forced to fly it across enemy lines now! I don’t know what to do!” Isabel hiccupped as a tear ran down her cheek.
“Hush now, all will be well, I promise.”
“Let me worry about that.” Leticia smiled. “You just remember what I said to you before you left.”
“What, about nothing being more destructive than hate? Believe me I’ve seen what hate can do.”
“Right, so how do we combat hate?”
“I don’t know.” Isabel sighed and laid back in her bed. “You just said hate was the most powerful.”
“Not so, I said hate is the most destructive, not the most powerful.”
Isabel sat up again. “So what are you saying, love is the answer? Mom, this isn’t Woodstock.”
“How are things between you and the prince? I understand you got married.”
“How did you know that?”
“Mirror Mages know everything, hon.” Leticia smiled.
“Well then, you must know the prince used me like he uses all women. Oh yeah and he hates me. Of course I didn’t find that out until after I had it out with his mother in front of everyone!”
“I know, I saw the assembly. Nena, have I ever told you that sometimes you have the subtlety of a sledgehammer?”
“You’re blaming that on me?” Isabel exclaimed then lowered her voice after footsteps outside caught her attention.
“No, the prejudices of others are not in your control but you’re dealing with diplomats which means you’ll get farther being, well, diplomatic.”
“Yeah but it worked. I got in their faces and they accepted my terms. The Shumkarja are now an accepted part of the Alliance.”
“So to convince the Alliance that your newfound subjects aren’t barbarians, you came at them like a barbarian.”
Isabel opened her mouth and snapped it shut again. Her mother was right again, damn it.
“As for Prince Alaric, the man doesn’t hate you. He was very impressive when he spoke to the Dowager Empress later on. He was masterful but respectful and he had some very wonderful things to say about you.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say he loves you, Isabel.”
She shook her head and turned her face away, steeling her heart as it lurched in her breast.
“I think he regrets how he handled the situation between you two.” Leticia said softly.
Isabel shook her head violently, squeezing back tears and stifling a sob. “Well he really has a lousy way of showing it!” Her voice wavered.
“I also think you love him.”
Again, her mother was right. She had to be right, why else would she have been forced to turn the Silver Fleet over to the enemy. Isabel couldn’t bear to see Alaric harmed and the thought of him being out of her life forever tore her heart out. She didn’t know what she was going to do when the time came for her to return home.
“Mom, I can’t do this. I need to be strong now. What happened to the amulet giving me strength when I need it?” Isabel sniffed as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Since your father returned home I did what I had to do to survive, to raise you on my own, protect and defend you when it was necessary. At any time did I ever come across to you as weak?”
Isabel shook her head. Leticia was the strongest person she knew. Yes, at times she could be exasperating, even embarrassing but throughout her life, Leticia had been a rock. Even during their most difficult times when she had seen her mother cry, Isabel could not say she saw the woman have a weak moment. Yet here she was giving in to the enemy and weeping like a child over some man.
“Oh mom, I wish I could be strong like you.” She sighed.
“But you are, baby, that and so much more. Look at what you’ve accomplished, look at what you’ve become. You are loyal and trustworthy and have an entire nation at your feet. Do not doubt yourself, Isabel, you are a queen!”
Isabel smiled, wondering if her mother ever tired of being right, and dried her tears suddenly feeling stronger. “You’re right, mom, I am a queen, and I think maybe it’s time the enemy learned this.”
“Be careful, mija. I’ll see you soon!”
Leticia kissed her fingers and placed them on the mirror and Isabel kissed her fingers and touched the surface of the water, which rippled and went dark.
The sun was low in the horizon when Lord Rakad’s undead monsters resumed their attack on the fleet and Isabel decided this would be the chance she needed to shake themselves loose from enemy clutches. She had been learning the weapons system and discovered how to set it to destroy everyone she deemed an enemy.
Isabel bolted to the pilothouse when something dropped onto her from above. She hit the deck heavily, all the breath knocked from her lungs, and she found herself pinned beneath the fist of a massive orc. His great scaly head and fearsome armor glistened in the sun. Tufts of grey hair sprouted from the pointed ears jutting from the sides of his head. His bright yellow eye winked at her beside the dried out socket that once housed the other. His upturned snout wriggled over a wide sharp-toothed grin.
“My dear lady, there was no need to trouble your sleep, everything is well in hand.” Laughter from the Lord of the Underworld echoed in the dawn.
Isabel struggled but the orc simply laughed, a series of guttural barks, as his massive belly jostled about.
“But we’re under attack!” She squeaked beneath the weight on her chest.
“Fool, do you think the Lord of the Underworld incapable of controlling all within his dominion? T’was merely a ruse to study the ships’ weaponry, watch.”
The orc hoisted Isabel to her feet and thrust her towards the railing as Rakad crossed to the helm. The Silver Fleet approached a scene that was truly horrific and assaulted the senses. Bodies carpeted the scorched and broken earth as man and monster were locked in battle beneath skies red with flame. The air was filled with the stench of sulfur, blood, smoke, and the screams of the dying. The ships shimmered reddish gold in the light and the masts lit up. Lord Rakad raised his arms, his face twisted into a maniacal expression.
“No, you can’t!” Isabel cried rushing forward, and was caught by the orc’s hand as beams fired into the crowds below.
Explosions rocked the ground below, sending shockwaves into the air that caused the ships to bob around.
“Unhand the queen at once!” Isabel heard faithful Nadhir yell as he approached them, carrying a scimitar twice his size. Although her emissary barely came to the orc’s knee, he continued to advance undeterred.
“Nadhir, don’t!” Isabel cried, gasping from the force of the orc’s grip.
“Release her, now!” Nadhir commanded, completely focused on the orc. “This is your final warning.”
The orc threw his head back and roared with laughter as the goblin army formed a circle on deck but would not come any closer. Isabel realized they had no intention of interfering with the orc and his prey. Nadhir’s lip curled and he rushed forward, spun, and slammed the scimitar’s blade against the back of the orc’s heel. His laughter instantly turned to howls of pain as the little warrior sliced his way repeatedly into the orc’s leg at speed. The orc shoved Isabel into the crowd and focused his attention on Nadhir. Trapped by sword and spear wielding goblins, Isabel could do nothing but watch in horror. She scanned the crowd to find Prince Alaric and the other Shumi were also barred from interfering.
Nadhir continued to slice and dance his way along the orc’s legs and feet as the monster swiped at him angrily. His roars blended with the hoots and hollers of the goblin horde that were thoroughly entertained. The orc swung his fist, which Nadhir deftly avoided by leaping onto his arm and scrambled up like a spider. So covered in the orc’s blood was he that Isabel could only make out his wide grin as he continued to slice and stab his foe. Nadhir clamored onto the orc’s shoulder and raised the scimitar to split its throat when the orc’s massive hand swatted at the little warrior. He caught Nadhir in midair and flung him to the deck of the ship as if spiking a football.
“No!” Isabel screamed as she stared at his lifeless body.