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26 September 2015 @ 12:23 am
_Sea Wolves_part 1  
OK, I added a whole bunch, starting about chapter three. Tell me if it work. I'll start from the start and post it in pretty big chunks.

Chapter One

Andes Mountains, Organtes

Southern Hemisphere Late Fall 1396

Lieutenant Kara Kitha had stopped shivering. She vaguely knew this was bad, and her little horse was limping. They were closing in on her, and the record book she'd shoved down her bodice for lack of any other storage was going to be returned to the Sea Wolves.

She hadn't been ready, had assumed it would take months of patient work to find evidence that traitors in the Cove Islands' Navy were working with both the Sea Wolves and the Organtes government. Then the proof of it had fallen into her lap, almost literally, and she'd run with it. Not far enough, nor fast enough. She didn't even know if she was still on the road that climbed to the Alfashir Gap. She hadn't been ready for an unseasonally cold and brutal storm, either.

Pretty Feet slipped, stumbled, stopped on three legs. She must get off, must try . . . her brain wasn't working in the cold. Her feet felt warm though. She giggled. At least the Sea Wolves wouldn't get her. Pity about the book. "Umm God of Spies, sorry, sorry. Too cold. I'm usually better prepared . . ." Mom's silly stories and made up gods, there's no . . . She felt the shock of hitting the ground, or rather the snow. Blinked at the dark and snowy figure that loomed over her and smiled as she gave in and slept.

She was warm. All snuggled up in a blanket and sheepskin with the toasty embers of a low fire in front of her and a warm body spooned around . . . she stiffened in terror. The body that was wrapped around her stirred. A hand reached past her face to the fire and pulled a little pot closer.

"Drink this, I suspect you're pretty dehydrated." The warm deep voice reassured her. Then the perfect Cove Island cadence registered. One of the traitors.

She was awake enough to realize that she was still dressed except for shoes, and the male body was on the other side of the blanket she was wrapped in. The record book . . .

"It's right here." The hand released the pot and tapped something just above her head.

She sighed and drank the pot of hot water. The warmth soaked all the way to her toes. She curled back into the blanket, and nearly protested when the man eased over her and out from under the sheepskin, admitting too much cold air despite his care.

She forced herself to pay attention, to view her surroundings, make plans. Old Gods! With that accent he had to be one of the Sea Wolf officers. A traitor. Playing with her.

The man stepped into boots, pulled on a jacket of a black material that reflected the colors around him, nearly fooling the eye into thinking there was nothing there but the floating head. He unlashed something, a frigid wind blew in, and he returned with the pot heaped with snow. It went into the embers, and a handful of twigs from a pile nearby were added. The light flared, showing the man's shaggy hair and dark eyes, slight arch to the nose, squarish jaw. He didn't look like an Islander. A clink pulled her head around to find a horse dozing, unfettered and rather close for comfort. A stallion. Definitely too close. Her little Pretty Feet was beyond him, tied and also dozing. The man plunked something in the pot. Returned a metal tin to a saddle bag. She spotted two saddles on the ground. The nearest was her own.

The man picked up the other one, and a black saddle blanket, and stepped to the big horse. The firelight gleamed red and gold off the stallion's fine chiseled head as he looked at the man, and then down at her. The man didn't even bother with a bridle.

"I've gotten you to the Gap. The rest is up to you. Don't let yourself be caught so unprepared again." He mounted keeping his head and shoulders down to avoid the roof, and both man and horse disappeared.

She sat up startled.

Gone.

If they'd ever been there. But she was still wrapped and warm in a blanket and sheep skin. The pot was still on the fire, smelling of soup, and the saddlebags were still on the ground by the record book.

She sipped the warm broth while she inventoried the man's saddle bags, and changed into his clothes. Both shirts, and the dark sweater. A pair of wool slacks over her riding jophers, belted to not fall off. A thick pair of socks before she unlaced her boots to pull them on. Gloves. She tucked the book into the saddlebags, and used a bit of the tough line to tie it to her cinch straps. I need a saddle that looks lady-like but has rings for a saddle bag. Another length of the line went across the blanket and sheepskin before she rolled them, tied the straps that kept them rolled, then tied the roll to her saddle on top of the saddle bags. She saddled and bridled Pretty Feet, stowed the now cool pot, and looked at the oil cloth across the shed's opening. It had a familiar looking line through grommets at each corner tying it to nails in the logs. Dark in color, on this side, the other side seemed to reflect the snow in the early dawn. If she wrapped it around herself , she could let it drape over the mare's hind quarters and keep both of them a bit warmer in this freezing windy dawn.

Pretty Feet would much rather have stayed in the nice warm shed, but duty called. She had the records of payments to Officers of the Board from the Organtes Government and the Sea Wolves. With this, the Sea King could purge his government of traitors, and ready the Islands for the coming war.

The rising sun showed her the road through the blown snow drifts and they headed down the mountain.



Chapter Two

Karista, Kingdom of the West

Late Fall 1396

Xen eyed Colonel Janic warily. The head of the King's Own Intelligence had not always been appreciative of magic. But Garit being here probably meant it was going to be something social.

Janic eyed them both. "I need some royals to visit the Cove Islands and dig for information on these Sea Wolves."

Xen's grin broke loose. "I can get back to some serious spy work?"

"Start by talking to the Cove Islanders about some encounters we've had—you talked to Will Michaelson, didn't you? There have been some more sightings of Island style hulls where the traders rarely venture, and more missing ships than usual. So I figured I could send some princes that the Cove Islanders couldn't ignore. The king doesn't want Staven out of the country right now, so that leaves Garit as the highest of the princes to choose among."

Xen bit his lip. "Hmm, maybe I should go as an anonymous flunky. I can slip away and collect gossip from low class taverns."

Garit chuckled. "You really are wasted as a prince. How about I go as a visiting playboy, and Xen as my valet?"

***

Xen sighed, looking at the thick folder. "Everything a spy should know about the Cove Islands."

"That looks horribly tedious."

Prince Franki Negue had been a surprise addition to their diplomatic mission. Colonel Janic had had trouble keeping a straight face when he told Garit and Xen. "No one will believe that you are anything but a pair of princes spending ridiculous amounts of money entertaining yourselves. In fact they'll no doubt assume Franki is corrupting Garit. They know all about Franki, he's a regular visitor. Garit's discussion of the incident in the Northern ocean will make them think that Frankie is the cover for some serious concerns that we hope won't call for diplomatic action. We need to find out if they are Cove Islanders who have taken up piracy, or if they've linked up with the Organtes."

Xen nodded. "Organtes is so far south—roughly the southwest quarter of South America—that it's hard to imagine they could be behind piracy in the north Cific. Especially with Cove Island hulls."

"Indeed. So try to find out."

And Franki was good company, if one was not terribly stiff necked.

"Darling, all you really need to do is find out which of the eight ships any given person's ancestor came on, and whether officer or crew. After that you pretty much know all about that person." Franki had a mirror in one hand and a brush in the other. He was ruining a perfectly good hairstyle, with his man wringing his hands in despair behind him. "And, of course, if they came later, well, those are the dregs. Tolerated but not educated, no way out except for an occasional very pretty girl to marry up. A little ways up. Crew not officer."

Xen blinked. "Franki, if I had my eyes closed I could mistake you for an intelligent man. The pink hanky just destroys the effect. How long have you worked for Janic?"

Franki tittered. "Dear Xen, I gossip much too much for Janic to ever hire me. And face it, I'm just not cut out for the military. Even my father gave up mentioning the two year rotation by the time I was eighteen. Mind you, after every trip Janic does interview me, so I do try to collect interesting gossip. But spy? Never."

"Just don't gossip about us, please." Garit waved an apology. "Sorry, I know you don't."

"Oh, it's much too much fun to be in the know, and watch it all happen. I wouldn't spoil it for the World. But I do expect a detailed report of the salacious parts on the way home."

Xen leaned back in his chair and started reading the report, which pretty much spent twenty pages saying what Franki had just said, and then went into detail about each ship clan, officer to seaman and their typical attitudes and opinions.

"So the Sea Kings are all named O'Kar, meaning officers of the Kraken. But most other families break it up into apostrophized Tees for Captains' descendants, Emms for Commanders, Exes for executive officers, and Els for Lieutenants."

"Rather silly after a thousand years, don't you think?" Garit had already read the report.

Franki snickered. "Oh, you should read about the titles of the nobilities of Earth. The part of it called Europe had the most elaborately silly bunch of titles. And rules about who could marry whom. And marriages where the children could or could not inherit, due to their mother being common."

Xen and Garit both nodded.

"Point. Sometimes I wish we hadn't found out about Gates and all. This new history we're all having to learn is scary." Xen ruffled the pages of the report. "Okay. The Kraken, the Windrover, the Kitty Hawk, the San Jacinto, The New York, The Lincoln, The Queen Elizabeth, and The Enterprise. All eight clans are spread out over the islands, well, the eighteen inhabited islands. But the officers' descendants mostly stay in Cove City, and Cove City has the largest bunch of outsiders, AKA, dregs."

"They're like the Dukes," Franki flipped a negligent hand. "They talk about their island properties, but avoid them like the plague, preferring to play politics in the city. Or at any rate the Tees and Ems do. Think of the Tees and Ems as Grant holding Dukes, the Exes as Land Grant holding Lords and the Lieutenants as all the rest of the lesser lordlings."

Garit nodded. "The rest of the ship clans are fishermen, farmers and trades. The dregs are secondary employees—they aren't allowed to own land, employ people or own a boat."

"Good way to guarantee social unrest." Xen kept reading, pausing occasionally. "There really is doubt about the death of the previous king's only son?"

"It's one of those stories that just won't die—down in the Dregs." Franki smirked. "Don't mention it to any of the officers. If he were still alive, he'd be in his sixties, so surely he'd have shown up somewhere. You're better off carrying-on like a superstitious sailor and talking about the Sea Hag."

Garit snickered. "I don't think I'll do that, either."

Xen kept his mouth shut. Hallucinogenic smoke. I imagined the Sea Hag. There's no such thing.

They had smooth sailing with favorable winds cutting two days off the usual fifteen day trip.

The Falcon was technically the private ship of the Royal Family, but the crew, in all white with royal blue piping, was composed of recently retired navy personnel. The sloop cruised into the harbor just after noon. The circle of the harbor was offset from the circle of the island, breaching the wall on the east side. The ridges of the north and south arms thickened and rose to meet the mountain that disappeared into the clouds. The town climbed from the water front halfway up the mountain, spilling over the ridges in both directions.

"Isn't it spectacular?" Franki waved genially as an islander climbed aboard. "This one of the prettiest cities in the World. Just my opinion, mind you. Hello again, Master L'Sanjac." He minced over to meet the customs man, and Garit followed.

Xen stooped a little and tried to look inconspicuous as he picked up Garit's jacket and brushed at it.

The man never looked at him, chatting to the two Princes while an assistant gave a cursory check of the papers the Captain presented.

At the dock, Xen followed Halse's lead, dealing with the luggage while Franki pointed out the sights to Garit. Halse, being an actual valet, and well travelled, sighed and loaded Xen with more luggage than a human ought to be able to carry. No one looked twice at him. Their hotel was balanced on the south ridge, with views of the harbor one direction, and terraced fields and even more open ocean the other.

The manager was all smiles as he escorted them to the best suite. "This must be your cousin, the esteemed Prince Garit. So wise of you to get away from the intrigues at Court while you regroup for the battle, eh?"

Garit looked shocked at the Islander's interpretation of his being in contention for spear heir rather than crown.

"And you have mail. I'm sure half the officer's daughters are looking forward to your visit." He handed over a sheaf of colored envelops and bowed himself out.

Franki giggled. "Don't look so shocked! To the whole World it looks like you're about to be replaced by either a cripple or an infant. They don't understand what a relief it would be to you. Silly things! And hopefully more babies will happen, and people down the list—like me—will get bumped further down. Thank the Old Gods. Now, let's see what we have here, the news of our arrival spread fast. Twice my usual haul, you should be flattered, Garit." He spread the letters out while Halse and Xen unpacked around them.

The party invitations were whittled down to a manageable number, and acceptance and rejection notes dispatched. After a leisurely lunch on the veranda, the gentlemen rested, then dressed for an evening out.

Xen slipped away in the dusk and headed for the harbor. He slipped from illusion to illusion, fitting into five taverns in succession, and finding nothing but men complaining about work, taxes and women. The tradesmen tended to stay with the tradesmen, the fishermen with the fishermen, and finally, the dregs with the dregs. Some of the dregs. Others seemed to feel themselves superior, and were the target of resentful scorn.

"Think they're too good for the likes of us," one man grumbled. "Sons and grandsons of whores, every one of them."

Xen studied the men so dismissed. A rough group, definitely used to throwing their weight about. He faded himself from everyone's notice and shifted to a seat where he could eavesdrop.

" . . . meeting tomorrow. Settle the matter then, once and for all." He got a vague mental impression of a dark stony beach on the outer curve of the northern arm.

A big redheaded man nodded. "Not sure I trust an Officer, but better him than that trouble maker from Gendo."

"We need to avoid getting trapped by ranks that froze a thousand of years ago. There's nothing inherently wrong with the Gendo pack. They're valuable members of the fleet. But we need an admiral with real navy credentials."

"Aye, but he's still an Officer. Bet he's never seen the Sea Hag, let alone bedded her."

That got a laugh, and a call for another round.

Xen stayed and listened until they departed, but no names were mentioned. Most of the group had the glow of mages about them. Oscar and Bran, Xen thought, looking at all the red and blonde heads. Yes, the men were either in their forties or their twenties. None in between, because the sources of the mage genes had gone away. He touched the backs of chairs where they'd sat as he left. Yes, the mage Y. Two types, Bran Butcher's and Oscar Harryson's.

Oscar . . . O'Kar? One of Harry's orphans. He was the right age to be the missing prince—and odder things had happened around Harry before. The Sea King's line had lost their traditional magic. Was this infusion of mages going to restore it? Not just the magic, but specifically the Sea King's magic?

He'd better plan on joining the meeting tomorrow.

He headed back uphill, and got back to the hotel before the party boys.

Garit and Franki were both indisposed in the morning. Xen fetched them tea and slow working hangover cures that might escape their notice. They were in good enough shape to meet some of Franki's friends for lunch. Shadowing them, Xen was surprised to find that the friends were female. So much for assumptions. Apparently Franki's eccentricities stopped at frilly clothing.

Xen napped most of the afternoon, then as soon as Garit was off for the evening's entertainment, he slipped out again. This time in his invisible corduroy outfit, with an illusion of normalcy on top.

Two detours and he found a road halfway out the northern arm of the island. He dodged a man on horseback, and paced the other foot traffic, most of whom knew each other, and traveled in groups.

Gendo, according to Franki, was the southernmost inhabited island. Did the dregs or low class crew from the various islands contend with each other? Apparently. He could see that most of the men walking the road were mages, so perhaps the compasses here didn't get along with each other. One for every island? Just how busy had Oscar and Bran been? Tales of the battle had made it sound like the Westerners had come and gone quickly. He was in no position to minimize the potential for lots of offspring, but he looked at the number of people walking through the night and grinned. Two mages plus that wine. How many willing women can be found in a week at the most? Hundreds seemed unrealistic, but there were at least three hundred men gathering on the rocky shore.

A bonfire halfway between waves and cliffs marked the meeting point.

Eight cliques, by the way they were grouping themselves around the bonfire. Xen put a spell of vague familiarity over himself, and settled down between two groups to watch.

A ninth group emerged suddenly, from out of the waves. Small boats beached and men swarmed into the place between the fire and the water. They'd been expected, the place left open. Xen could see the Admiral's insignia on the leader's coat as he walked to the bonfire. Fortyish, blonde hair cut short. He cast a long searching gaze around. Pure theatre, his night vision would have been ruined by the light, and most likely he had smoke stinging them as well.

"This needs to be the last time we meet." He growled. "We risk too much, arguing among ourselves. We are the Sea Wolves, we seek the freedom of the seas, to throw off the shackles the powerless pretender to the Sea King's throne has cast upon us."

"What shackles do you bear?" A challenger from the far side. "Admiral. You have the freedom of the seas, and we are of use to you only insofar as we serve your political ambitions. How do we know you will free us, as you take the throne? I have seen the Sea Hag, and she says you refused her. How can you lead us?"

The Admiral gritted his teeth. "Do you challenge me? What do you bring to the table, Mag of Gendo."

Shuffling and growling as the Admiral pointedly didn't put a ship name to the challenger. Careful, Admiral. Don't split your revolution.

"I have known the Sea Hag." The challenger walked out of the light of the bonfire and stepped into the reach of the surf. "I cannot be drowned. I cannot be enslaved by man. No ship I am on will ever sink. Come try me, if you doubt me." A redhead, half the age of the admiral.

The admiral growled and stripped off his jacket. "I'll take great pleasure in drowning you, you down-chain son of a whore."

Got to watch those insults, Admiral. From your looks your mother went slumming one night when Oscar was in town.

Xen's sight was blocked as the crowd stood and maneuvered to watch. Splashing was added to the blows and curses of the participants, the cheers and roars of the audience as the fight ranged up and down the shore.

Silence fell suddenly. A last splash, some voices. Female? Male replies. Splashing and grunts. An uneasy cheer and the crowd retreated as if seeking the safety of the bonfire. What had happened? Both Admiral and challenger were on their feet, soaking wet. The Challenger retreated to his group and when the Admiral asked each 'pack' for support, he got it from all.

The rebel group had an undisputed leader.

Xen waited until everyone was gone, and walked down to see if he could decipher footprints. The stony rubble of the beach was uninformative.

The woman's chuckle took him by surprise. "Do you seek the Sea Hag as well? Shall we have a four way contest to see who will be the King of the Sea? Can you command the waves, Storm Mage?"

There were dolphins playing in the low surf, or were they women? One of them stood, and walked through the foam.

"Did you throw over your Gendo Lover for the admiral?" Xen studied her. Human, magical. Witch or wizard?

She gurgled, laughing, he thought. "We come when someone tries to drown one of ours. We have many lovers, but only some are in a position to command men. We shall see if he can carry out the promise." She waded out of the water, and in the dying glow of the bonfire he could see her clearly for a moment; sea hag, mermaid, siren, dolphin. He blinked. She was all at once, and whatever he was prepared to see. She reached out and stroked his cheek and he could see her genetics.

"I've never heard of a witch with an affinity for water."

"Foolish landbound man. Don't you know the tides are the realm of witches? The Moon and the Sun pull us, give us the power to live free in the sea. But we are all female, and we need men. We need men with power, and so we give favors. What do you want, man? To never drown, to never be on a ship that sinks? And you may ask for a third spell, if it is within our powers. Do you wish to always know where you are, as the Admiral asked? Or to never be enslaved by man, like the boy has wished?" She wound her arms around his neck and leaned her damp body against him.

"Umm, those sorts of spells tend to have bad sides as well. Will the Admiral know how to get to where he wants to be, and how vulnerable is the boy to the other half of humanity?" Her back was smooth under his hands, the skin warming as it dried.

She gurgled again. "Wise man, but still a man."

Xen was very late and quite damp by the time he got back to the hotel.

"And not even drunk!" Franki exclaimed.

"Fear not, I won't even have to exaggerate to make this one into a lurid tale. You will love it." Xen assured him.

Garit grinned poking the damp corduroy. "Was she pretty?"

" . . . well . . . "

Franki snickered. "It was dark on the beach. Oh, yes this tale I'll be looking forward to."

Xen described the admiral, and suggested they keep an eye open for him. "Discreetly. I'd hate to finger the wrong guy. I think he's head of a future coup, supported by part of the navy, the lowest crew and the dregs. They called themselves the Sea Wolves."

Garit nodded. "I talked, off the record, to various people all night long. They refuse to believe the riff-raff could have Island hulls. Certainly not a man-of-war. With the Sea King so old, all these other people are running the government, and they're quite certain political backstabbing is all they need worry about."

"Don't you hate it when you can see Karma coming?" Xen said.

Franki looked at him in surprise. "Philosophy? Dear me, next you'll say you believe in magic."

"It's going to take magic to save the Sea King. No sign his new wife is pregnant yet?"

"Nope. That nice healthy widow with two kids to show for her fertility has been as big a bust as the young pretty one they tried three years ago." Franki shrugged. "They're whispering about another annulment, but what that will get them is anyone's guess. Right now the Sea King's apparently throwing his weight around, so they're circling further out and ready to close in when this energy burst wears off. If not an annulment, I'd guess the older of the two step daughters will be married to the top contender—and I haven't the least doubt they can argue and politic until she's of marriageable age."

The next two nights the dockside bars were nearly empty. Quiet and peaceful. The few people he recognized talked of ordinary things, and in the background, a thread of expectant waiting. How many rebels had returned home to other islands?

He managed a few conversations in bars occasionally frequented by sailors, learned the names of the ships that were in port or nearby, the names of their captains.

But that was the limit of their findings. Xen shrugged, knowing that Janic would hold the pieces of the puzzle while collecting more. He might already have pieces with the Admiral's name on it.

Their cruise home was also smooth and fast, and Xen eyed the dolphins that escorted them thoughtfully. Franki was indeed vastly entertained when he explained why.

Garit laughed, and refused to believe him.

His official report lacked the Sea Hag, but he did clip a note to that effect to the report.



 
 
 
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on September 26th, 2015 09:43 pm (UTC)
I think this qualifies as a "as you know Jack"

==Xen nodded. "Organtes is so far south—roughly the southwest quarter of South America—that it's hard to imagine they could be behind piracy in the north Cific. Especially with Cove Island hulls."==

When you have previously referred to old Earth analogues it wasn't in conversations between two Fallen-born people but in general background ?


Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames

matapampamuphoff on September 27th, 2015 12:30 am (UTC)
Too obvious? I have all these places so firmly in mind that I never know if I've made clear where any of them are. Perhaps Xen should just picture it in his mind?
Michawl DolbearMichawl Dolbear on September 27th, 2015 11:15 pm (UTC)
Yet one more thing to consider for each book if you want a reader to be not too confused if it's their first book.

Since the Cific reference inclues where the Kingdom of the West is, perhaps just "as far south as you can get on land" for Organtes and leave out the -roughly the southwest quarter of South America- completely ?

But Xen's thoughts would also do perhaps envisaging his father's atlas (and same if we has Will Michaelson in the book).