Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


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EPISODE 30: A DESPERATE DECEIT


When Seagrave next opened his eyes, he thought he had only been unconscious for a few moments. His would-be saviour still stood over him clutching an empty cup; cool water trailed down the pirate's face and chest. But then the Trayken spoke in an urgent hush.

"It is time to go." Nas Klarak put aside the cup and began feverishly working at the thongs which bound the pirate's ankles. "It is midnight, Korash is full and we are now within reach of Ayskar on narseback."

As Seagrave's muddled thoughts slowly spun together, a wrenching anger surged up in his breast. It was midnight! Thanks to this Trayken, Seagrave had lain unconscious all day long -- all day while Shyrin Shas suffered in the killing furnace of her prison. Before he might have saved her -- now it was surely too late.

"Damn ye," hissed Seagrave. "You killed her. As surely as if you stabbed her in the heart, you killed her!"

Nas Klarak hardly reacted to the pirate's rising fury. Having freed Seagrave's legs, he set to work on the cords around the pirate's arms. But barely was Seagrave's right arm loosed than his hand leaped out, the fingers constricting around the sailor's throat.

"What are you doing?" gurgled the Trayken in astonishment. With his greater strength, he easily twisted free of the savage grip, tumbling back against the opposite side of the pen. The narses stirred restlessly. "I am trying to free you."

Seagrave's chest rose and fell with his emotions, his teeth grating whitely in the gloom. His left arm was still trussed, otherwise he would have pursued the sailor across the pen.

"Blast you!" he snarled. "Don't you understand -- I wanted to save that girl's life! All you care about is whether you pay off your debt to me -- don't you care about anything else? When I first saw you standing up against that manatyr, I thought I was seeing courage. Now I see, you don't know the meaning of the word. You're no better than an animal."

He spat the last word in disgust, then began fumblingly untying the bonds holding his left arm. The sailor watched him in frowning silence, still seated as he had fallen.

As Seagrave finally freed himself, Nas Klarak spoke in an injured tone.

"Perhaps I don't understand what you mean by courage," he said, "but the repaying of a debt is very important to my people. I am doing the best I can to rescue you, even if you don't recognize it. I don't understand why this slave girl should be so important to you but, since she is, I can tell you that she may still be alive."

Seagrave stiffened. "Alive? How?"

"There have been heavy clouds for most of the afternoon. The heat in the vat may still have killed her, but it is just possible the cloudcover kept the temperature from rising to deadly levels."

Seagrave shot to his feet, galvanized by this unexpected hope, however faint. "Then what are we waiting for? We've got to get her out of there."

Nas Klarak ruefully shook his head. "I merely told you this so that you would not say I had killed her," he explained. "But there is no way for you to rescue her. The vat is locked and Jyleesha is the only one with a key aboard this ship. Please --" He rose and gestured to the ladder. "-- will you allow me to save your life now?"

But Seagrave's spinning thoughts were already at work on the problem. After a moment, he sat back down on the floor and leaned back against the slats of the pen, spreading his arms along the board. "Quickly, tie me up again."

The sailor stared at him in disbelief, making no move to comply.

"Damn it, man," Seagrave hissed. "First you tie me up, then you tell Jyleesha I've decided to agree to her wishes. Tell her I wish to speak with her right away. If I know that vixen, she won't wait until morning to invite me to her cabin. While I'm with her, you can get that narse ready for me."

"But --"

"To get the key from her, of course!" replied Seagrave irritably. "Now, retie these cords, damn ye! Even if the girl is still alive, every moment we waste lessens her chances."

The slump of his shoulders registering his protest, Nas Klarak nonetheless reluctantly secured the pirate to the wall of the pen, then replaced the cords around his ankles.

"I think this is foolish and doomed to fail," the Trayken commented resignedly. He straightened and surveyed the pirate meditatively. "What is so important about this slave girl that you would risk your life for her? Did she save your life?"

"As a matter of fact she did," Seagrave replied. He was tempted to add: But that isn't why I have to save her. But then Nas Klarak nodded thoughtfully, as if finally everything had come clear to him -- and Seagrave decided to leave well enough alone. If debt was all this Trayken understood, why should Seagrave make matters more complicated?

The Trayken clambered up the ladder and Seagrave was left alone, his thoughts a whirl of anticipation and fearful doubt.

How was he to get the key from Jyleesha? Even if he could do so, how was he to use it to free Shyrin Shas without someone spotting them? And, worst of all, was he allowing himself false hope in thinking the fragile princess might have survived her captivity? Even with the cloudcover, the temperature in that vat must have been horrendous; it had been murderous even when he had seen her before.

But so long as there was even the slimmest chance...

***
As time passed, Seagrave began to worry that he had misjudged Jyleesha and that she might not call for him tonight. But then, two Trayken sailors climbed down into the stable, untied him and led him up onto the deck.

He had previously tied the pouch containing the Earth tal-stone to his wide black belt. The feel of it jostling against his hip gave him a sense of confidence he hadn't known for some time.

A steady breeze tumbled coolly over the flush deck, the only indication of the wingship's rapid passage through the roseate night. The cloud-banked sky was tinged with carmine, and the full face of Korash burned behind the wispy mantle beyond the two-headed bow like a torch brandished in a fog.

Four of the eleven moons were strung in an arch across the vault, each one smoldering nebulously through the trailing clouds, imparting their own particular hues to compete with the encompassing scarlet -- cerulean, peacock, violet and amber clouds in a lush foam of frosty red.

A glance over the port rail showed Seagrave a slim, black ridge perched on the crest of the distance horizon. No doubt that was the island of Ayskar, or the top of it, at any rate, its great hovering height allowing it to peer over the horizon like a child peaking over a fence.

Farther aft, the long-limbed Lan'lans clustered around their flaming braziers, the thrashing glow playing over their dusky cloaks and shining on their slitted visors. They conversed in a curious musical piping, like flautists warming up before a concert. Only one bothered to glance over as Seagrave was led across the deck, and even then, the Lan'lan's other head lolled in slumber.

For a moment, Seagrave's eyes fixed on the dark triangle set in the wooden deck, and he grimly fought down the urge to break away from his captors and rush to the hatchway. If the princess was still alive down there, there was nothing he could do for her without the key...

He was led through a triangular doorway in the starboard turret, then down a slim ladder to the deck beneath. They followed a narrow corridor dully lit by glim-gems set behind lacy brass screens in the walls. By the time his captors halted him before a door, he judged they were nearly to the ship's stern. One sailor thrummed his claws on the wooden door. After a notable pause, a woman's voice barked something in Trayken.

The door was slid open, Seagrave was roughly shoved over the triangular threshold and the door swished shut behind him...

***
Jyleesha's cabin was surprisingly cramped, even the captain's comforts being sacrificed for the sake of increased cargo space. Still, she had made the most of the room afforded her, piling the floor with lush carpets and heavy, embroidered pillows and bolsters.

Gold, gem-crusted globe lamps dangled from the beams, turning gently, throwing a speckled drifting light over the richly tapestried walls. There was none of the hanging furniture which Seagrave had seen in Jinja Khyam, but a gilt food-rack hung suspended from a chain, adding succulent odours to compete with the scent of perfume spicing the air.

Jyleesha reclined on a shimmering cluster of pillows, the dappled lights slowly gliding over the liquid curves of her lithe blue body. She wore a similar garment to the one she'd worn earlier, a narrow fabric between her legs, slim straps crossing from the rings on her hips, behind her spine, over her breasts and around her neck -- but the scarlet fabric was more sheer and flashed like tightly drawn satin.

She still wore the gold wrist bracelets with gossamer veils strung to the rings on the straps across her ribs; but now she added similar ankle bracelets from which pink veils flowed to the rings on her hips.

For a moment, Seagrave's eyes fastened on the iron-grey lodestone key which hung from the ring over her hip -- but then he forced his eyes to her face, recognizing that even so slight a glance might reveal his true purpose in coming here.

Jyleesha's darkly exotic eyes merely threw back his stare, narrowing slightly as if puzzled, but with no hint she suspected his hidden motives.

Delicate curtains of silver and gold beads hung over her cooling gills, rustling like glittering tresses with every movement of her shapely head. Her gills served to reflect her moods, and Seagrave found the concealing beads added an unexpectedly coy accent to her costume.

On one fine hand, she wore a strange metal device fitted over her thumb and forefinger, the two jointed digits tipped with flashing metal claws. With a sybaritic stretch, Jyleesha reached out to the food-rack and used the metal claws to draw a steaming chunk of meat from a gravy boat whose bottom was fashioned into interwoven narse-heads. She popped the meat between her lips, then carefully licked the sauce from the metal claws with a lewdly taunting sensuality.

She grinned and lazily gestured for him to approach.

He hesitated only long enough to indicate that he had not entirely come of his own free will. Too eager, and she would be sure to suspect.

She gazed up at him. "I understand you have agreed to sail with me," she commented searchingly. "I must admit, I am surprised -- and perhaps a little disappointed."

Seagrave's eyes narrowed and a low chuckle rose to his lips. "You haven't given me much choice, have ye?" he asked. "I don't relish being handed over to Dol Hashar again. I'm a pirate -- I know when to reef the sails."

His response must have been somehow less than she had hoped for. She frowned, pensively tapping the gleaming forefinger claw against the moist crest of her bottom lip.

"Is that the only reason you have agreed?" she asked. "Because I threaten to hand you over to Dol Hashar? Is there no other reason you might agree to remain with me?"

Seagrave paused before answering. He could have made up any lie, anything just so long as it got him close to the lodestone key -- but somehow he found himself speaking the truth.

"You want me to sail with you willingly," he said. "I can't give you that - - not willingly. But just the same, I won't pretend there aren't reasons why I might have been tempted by your offer even without the threat."

Slowly, he knelt beside her. His slitted gaze stole up and down her long, rippling figure, forcing his eyes to pass the key at her hip without pausing.

"You're a magnificent creature," Seagrave admitted grudgingly. "There's no denying that." His glance fixed on her intently listening face. She seemed breathless. "But you're also cruel and vindictive. I've known plenty of men like you, and none of them ever came to any good. One way or another, their vicious streak caught up with them in the end and left them stretching a rope at Wapping Old Stairs or buried to their necks in sand waiting for the tide to roll in."

"I am only hard because I desire you," Jyleesha contested huskily, her tone suddenly injured. "Is it wrong for me to fight for what I desire? When I first saw you, I sensed that you could understand me as no other man could. In your words, you merely prove that I was right. You do know me, perhaps better than I know myself."

She twisted lithely on the pillows almost onto her belly, smooth muscles swelling under the glossy mantle of her blue skin. Her arm shot out. Seagrave felt the cool pressure of the metal claws on his shoulder.

"Don't you see?" she breathed. "We are meant for each other. Perhaps I am overly cruel at times, but you could change that. With you beside me, I could change. I could learn from you, even as you could learn from me. I could become whatever you wanted me to become." The metal claws dug sharply. "For you, I would become whatever you desired. I can change -- just tell me how."

Her breath had quickened with the rising intensity of her passion. Now it was the only sound in the cushioned chamber. Seagrave studied her in steady silence. He found it required an effort to remember why he had come. There was such urgent willingness in her tone, such honest heart-breaking conviction, that he found himself attracted to her all the more. There was a softer side to her, after all, it seemed; a plaintive, needing creature lurking beneath the surface.

Perhaps she could change...

But then he remembered that terrified whimper which had risen from the sweltering vat as the hatch was replaced -- and his features hardened imperceptively.

He reached out and cupped her chin in his fingers, lifting her head so that she twisted back onto her side. Caressing her lips with his thumb, his voice was a dull rumble.

"You drive a hard bargain," he muttered. "Why don't we wait and see how this night goes?"

Even as the words fell from his lips, he fought down the bitter taste in his mouth. He concentrated on the memory of Shyrin Shas' frightened whimper, thought of her terrible suffering and what this cruel creature might yet do to the princess if allowed to.

He had killed many men during his career, in many different ways, for many different reasons. Now his fingers stole from Jyleesha's up-pointed jaw to the straining crest of her throat. Her sloe eyes stared up at him with a strange animal innocence, her lips parted in anticipation. His grip tightened imperceptibly until he could feel the pulse shivering beneath her skin, the taut cords surging against his palm as she swallowed. He told himself there was no other way to obtain that key.

He would have to kill her...



Next episode..."You Will Spend the Night With Her Corpse!"


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Savage Miraya is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)