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27 September 2015 @ 06:02 am
_Sea Wolves_part 2  

Chapter Three

Cove Islands

Late Fall 1396

"No, sir. I did not have relations with either prince." Lieutenant Kara Kitha managed to keep her voice mater of fact. Barely.

Admiral Chris T'Sanjac eyed her with disapproval, but didn't interrupt her boss again.

Colonel Met T'Enterp looked back down at her report. "So Prince Franki was his usual chatty self. Did you draw any conclusions about their relationship?"

"Prince Garit seemed to be amused by his cousin, but there was respect not disdain there, a bit to my surprise. I did not detect any signs of sexual attraction between them, and Prince Franki is, after all, well known as a womanizer, despite his . . . idiosyncrasies of dress. Prince Garit found the ladies attractive, but was surprisingly wary. I suppose he'd been warned, given the heir confusion in Karista, to look but not touch."

The admiral nodded. "Good thing Princess Carmen is underage. I suspect she'd have no trouble hooking him."

The colonel looked skeptical. "She's only the king's stepdaughter."

Only? Poor girl is going to be auctioned off to the most likely contender for the crown, unless her mother can finally give the king a son. Or even a daughter of the blood, so we can pretend we still have the magic. And she worries me. Fourteen year olds should not think so much and say so little. Damn the pirates who killed King Virgil, so long ago. We all pretend to disbelieve those old stories about the old Queen's disloyalty, but we also think King Leon bears only a faint resemblance to his putative father or the brother he was always at odds with.

She turned her eyes back to the Colonel, but much of her attention remained focused on the admiral. The Boss warned me to not speak of my mission to Organtes, and especially to know nothing about any records stolen from the Organtes.

So. One of our best admirals. One of the men sure to be in contention for the hand of our quiet step princess. A traitor.

"When they spoke to men in the government or the navy, even casually, the subject of piracy always came up. I think the Kingdom is getting upset with the number of ships they are losing. They specifically spoke of an incident in the North 'Cific." She nodded politely to the admiral. "Which I'm sure you've heard of. Island hulls flying the Organtes flag."

"Attacking a lightly armed Western Navy training ship. Indeed. Assuming they correctly identified the hulls. I suspect the Organtes are experimenting, trying to duplicate our designs. But so long as their internal bracing remains standard, no pretty work on the bowsprit will make them our equal."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." The Colonel returned her salute, and she stepped out glad to be done, and this late, done for the day.

Most women in His Majesty's Navy were . . . not beautiful and dainty. They served on ships, but more often ashore. Kara had been viewed with suspicion at first, and was still considered to be sleeping her way to promotion. But three years of just being nice and quiet had earned her friends and general acceptance in the single women's housing. Just a single room . . .once sparsely furnished, the sheepskin the God of Spies had left behind made an opulent rug, here in the tropics . . . apart from the color. Her friends had laughed themselves breathless when they saw it. And laughed harder when she refused to say where it had come from.

"Why purple?" She glanced toward the wardrobe where the folded oilcloth with its odd reflective properties lay beneath a very large sweater, in a dark ugly shade of purple. "I think I hallucinated the whole thing. My mother's silly stories about brave spies getting their sorry incompetent asses saved by their deity. I was just freezing, and my mind played tricks on me." She made her voice firm. But the lavender sheepskin remained. I'm going to be forced to decorate around it.

She changed out of her uniform and hung the jacket carefully. The shirt was a bit damp with sweat and she added it to the basket . . . thought about it.

I should pick up some gossip, if Admiral T'Sanjac is going to be involved in my work. Is he going to be involved? Why?

She put on her lightest shift, and took the basket down to the laundry. Exchanged a cheerful greeting with the girl on duty there, then sought the shaded patio. Three other women were relaxing there. Samah waved a lazy hand.

"Rumor has it that a cool breeze was felt for nearly five minutes, before it died with a whimper."

"Must have been higher up the mountain than I was. And I had to be in full uniform, too. Who is this Admiral T'Sanjac. I mean, I know who he is, but why is he getting intel briefs?"

One of the other women snorted. "He got a bit frosty with the King. Now he'll be the King's errand boy until he learns his place. Then they'll send him back out to sea."

"Oh. I see. Guess he lost some polish out to sea. The shore duty is bad enough. Political flunky . . . heh. Explains his ill temper."

Samah shrugged. "The court exposure will do him good. He'll wind up in the admiralty soon enough."

Kara made a dubious humm. "He's the youngest admiral, isn't he? He's got plenty of time to lose and regain court manners before he gets permanently grounded."

"Sounds like you don't like him?"

"Oh . . . let's just say I hope he gets sent back to sea soon."

Chapter Four Yellow

Karista, Kingdom of the West

Late Fall 1396

"So, Lady Yellow." The Organtes' lieutenant was an incredibly arrogant child. Just tall enough to leer down her cleavage. "What is a woman like you doing at the Winter Ball?"

Yellow chuckled. Stupid little ass. "Oh, I came to meet important men." She let her eyes say "like you." Oh what an ego. "You're very young for your rank, aren't you?"

He smirked and told her all about how important his family was and how his own exploits at the military college had been nearly heroic. Organtes is less than a quarter of the old Auralian Empire, but they look to be just as much trouble, now that they've had twenty years to stabilize their territory.

Yellow had convinced Sandy that however brilliant her designs, some people simply could not wear purple. The deep emerald green and black dress went spectacularly with her red hair. The cut went spectacularly with her figure. The over-all impression went spectacularly well with the aura of a witch who'd been sleeping alone for much too long and thought she should be spying, not making charms.

Easterly had laughed at her desire to seduce information out of men, and challenged her to get info any Auralians or Cove Islanders had about each other. And she was going to, damn it.

She diverted the twit away from college idiocy, and asked if he'd ever traveled. "I want to see the World! And I'm going to start with the Cove Islands."

He snorted and got closer to her cleavage. "Better go soon, they're ripe for revolution."

"Really?" A deep breath and he nearly drooled. "Now how did an Auralian hear about that."

"Oh, let's step out onto the patio, I wouldn't want anyone to hear."

The patio was too well lit, and he convinced her to walk in the garden, and sweet talked her into a little gazebo, and forced her to listen to everything he knew about the Cove Island Rebels.

Yellow was highly entertained.

"It was so easy." She smiled as she handed over her report. "I couldn't stop him from bragging about how they were using the rebels to get the ship plans and how, after the rebels and Cove Island Navy had seriously damaged each other, they were going to waltz in and scoop up the prize."

Easterly boggled. "Mata Hari, I salute you, and hope you had fun."

"Oh, he wasn't bad, but he just wouldn't shut up. Can I pick up a Cove Islander at the next big soirée?"

Easterly looked at the report in his hands. "Certainly."

The Cove Islander was contemptuous of the Auralian's ships in general and Navy ships particularly. He claimed the Islands were the most beautiful place on the World, and attempted to kidnap her.

"I left him with a memory of a fight with a man. So he wouldn't suspect me of being a trained fighter, and thus an agent. Was that bad?"

Xen and Easterly exchanged glances and shrugged. "A false memory is tough, but with the physical reinforcement of bruises and so forth may stick. I wouldn't recommend it in general."

"I, umm, hit him over the head first thing, so he was pretty much unconscious. I screamed and well, had a bit of fun and then reinforced with the memory of a nightmare, you know, the sudden looming figure . . . " She squirmed as Xen laughed.

"Yellow, you are evil. Poor fellow will probably have nightmares for a month."

"Oh, I do hope so. He had bad breath."

More snickers. Xen read over Easterly's shoulder. "So, they think the rebels have a shipyard on the Fashir coast. We'll have to do something about that."

Chapter On Guard

Cove Islands

Winter 1397

Kara had close in guard duty, in plain clothes, with Ann and Samah in uniform hanging around the queen and her two daughters.

Kara was not sure her clothing was an improvement. It was meant to help her blend into the mob of governesses (one each) and maids (2 each) and friends (6 total). The "friends" were women five to ten years older than the princesses—hoping to gain a position of influence. Kara's split skirts would allow freedom of movement in an emergency, but they marked her as a guard. Her corset was strictly for show, so she could breath. The shoulder straps unfashionable, and not nearly enough jewelry on her otherwise fashionably bare arms. For these brief few winter months, Mount Du Mer sported a crown of snow, and the wind sweeping down and through the open windows was as close to chilly as the Islands ever got. I've got it backwards. I need to spend the winter in uniform, and the summer with bare arms.

Princess Carmen was ignoring the chattering women and staring up at the throne, where her stepfather was hungover instead of the more usual drunk. Her father, Admiral T'Windrover, had been a master strategist. He'd married in his dotage and died happy, leaving a young wife and two daughters. I'm beginning to think Carmen might be a very good queen. If only she's allowed a good and responsible consort. One worthy of the title Sea King.

Princess Amelia was eleven, and already squirming. She's uncomfortable, and too young to consciously know why all these grasping, power seeking women make her uneasy. She needs friends her own age. Real friends. I'll have to give this some thought. There are children underfoot in the married officer's quarters. Not the richest families, obviously, but that means they aren't obsessively power seekers, either. Crewer wives, in a "casual marriage" for the most part. If their husbands gain promotion, or they come into family money, those wives will be divorced and they'll marry an Officer's daughter. And of course any children of the casual marriage have their mother's family name—couldn't possibly be allowed to claim to be descended from an officer, after all . . . As I should know. The colonel rarely mentions his half sister, my mother. And I pretend that I got to where I am on raw talent, not because my uncle sees me as a useful—beautiful—tool.

When Carmen edged closer to the throne, Kara tossed a glance to check that Amelia was covered—Samah caught her eye and nodded—then she moved closer to the older princess.

"Interesting group of men trying to influence the king today." She kept her voice down to a faint murmur.

"I don't recognize the Admiral." Carmine kept her voice down as well.

"Admiral Chris T'Sanjac. He's done a lot of exploring to the west. Three months ago he was reassigned to headquarters here."

"Ah. So that's him. Everyone says he's wasted on shore, and will be reassigned again soon." Carmine edged further up the room.

Kara sauntered after her, turning her back on the men who were glancing their way. She gestured at the tapestry. "And this is my favorite of them all. The Kraken, in full sail."

The men turned back, indifferent.

"The colors are brilliant." A corner of Carmen's mouth was tucked in hard to suppress a grin.

They admired the ancient weaving, speaking very little.

"We do need to investigate these sightings." The admiral sounded a bit irritated.

The hovering bureaucrats sneered. But spoke politely.

"The fancies of a Western Prince, and his experts on that training ship are hardly a reason to stir up trouble so far from home." one man shrugged and turned a should to the admiral as he spoke to the King. "Especially since we've had reports of a record crop of oranges, ripe and ready to be shipped north to the Kingdom. The merchants are starting to adjust their ship schedules already. Shall we alienate their so-called Amma and let foreign merchants reap the profits?"

"And taxes." Another bureaucrat waved his notepad. "We should increase our take to nearly . . . "

Carmine turned away. "Money. I know it's important, but . . . "

Kara nodded. "Ignoring something this potentially dangerous is none-the-less not wise. However the King knows what his intelligence people are doing, and the admiral does not."

Carmine's eyes slid toward Kara, even as her face turned up as if to admire another tapestry. "But you know."

"A bit. And no, even that little I cannot tell you." Nor can I tell you that the admiral may be neck deep in it.

"Can you tell me about the Sea Wolves?"

"Umm. Well, I doubt I know much more than you. Some down chain dregs, workers in the fishing fleet claim to have the power of the Sea Kings."

"Oooo, yes. And have they lain with the Sea Hag?"

Kara gave the girl a repressive glower. "First they wanted the right to join the navy, and work to earn the same status as Crewers. When their petition was refused, and the few who had somehow acquired boats had been punished, they vowed to overthrow King Leon, and, in their words, return a Sea King to the throne. Of course they avowed this from a safe distance. And most of them haven't been seen since."

"Hmm. I wonder where they went. Those northern islands they were lurking about seem unlikely."

Kara raised an eyebrow.

"I looked up the detailed map. There's only a very small and exposed anchorage. Uninhabited, unfarmable. The islands in the southwest seem more likely. Where else could they seek refuge?"

"With a foreign government. Organtes . . . would be far enough away if they wished to also keep close contact with the Islands. If they truly wished to be done with us, they'd have been better served to have hazarded the passage to the East and taken up with Demonia, Discordia or Fascia."

Kara eyed the girl. Clever, going to be close to the throne, whether our next king is her husband or a brother. "The cost of equipping a sizable campaign against pirates is high. Especially since we don't have a piracy problem."

The girl nodded. "But the Kingdom of the West does? What will we do if they raise a huge fleet purportedly to fight pirates?"

"Indeed. No one will be allowed to build up a navy large enough to threaten us. They know that."

Carmine frowned. "So . . . if not a fleet, what can they do?"