Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


EPISODE 34: THE INVISIBLE ARMADA


"It must be huge by the look of it," Seagrave said. "What is it -- a manatyr?"

Jyleesha shook her head slowly, not yet certain herself.  "It could be some sort of sea creature," she said thoughtfully, "except there's still the bizama to explain."

Baffled, Seagrave looked at her.  To his surprise, he found her eyes fixed, not on the shape moving under the water, but on the sky above the water.

"Well, whatever it is," he said uneasily, "at the speed it's going, it will be under us in only a few seconds.  If it is a manatyr, shouldn't you get this ship out of its reach?  I saw what one of those things did at Jinja--"

"There!  Up there, look!"  She pointed excitedly to a small dot flying swiftly over the waves, a dot which soared over the ship's two-headed prow, then curved up sharply before affixing itself to the vast gasbag.  "A bizama!"

She whirled, sprang across the turret, shouting in Trayken as she raced.  All over the ship, both Traykens and Lan'lans scrambled, momentary pandemonium quickly settling into orderly, though frantic response as everyone bustled to obey her furious commands.

Seagrave watched as Lan'lans used their long, hook-tipped forelimbs to swing out onto the wingmasts, their dusky cloaks flapping, unfurling the canvas with their prehensile feet.  The deck shuddered beneath him.  He glanced over the railing to see arcing ivory torrents of water ballast curl from ports in the hull.

He felt a pain in his ears.  The wingship was rising, but not fast enough according to the anxious glances Jyleesha cast over her shapely shoulder.  Still bewildered, Seagrave turned to stare ahead.  The dark patch of water was almost underneath them now.

Strangely, this close, it no longer looked like something under the waves.  It looked more like a shadow cast from above, or even a reflection.  But there was nothing out there to cast a shadow--or a reflection...

All at once, Seagrave threw himself to his knees, covering his head with his arms.

Out of nowhere, wingships appeared, six of them in two columns, colossal, four turrets to a ship, their hulls shod in dazzling gold.  They swept magnificently over the much smaller Empress of Shek, blotting out the sky, nearly striking the gasbag with their massive keels, the air electric with the sudden thunder of bellying sails.

Instantly, Jyleesha saw that her ship would crash if it continued to rise.  With hoarse cries, she shouted to Lan'lans up amongst the netting on the gasbag.  Even before she had finished, Seagrave heard the hissing of gas being released to slow their ascent.

After his initial surprise, Seagrave had shot to his feet.  He rushed down to the main deck.  Shyrin Shas still lay where he had left her, beside the port turret.  He knelt beside the princess and drew her into his arms.  His eyes blazed as they studied the immense wingships overhead.  Was this some new threat--or salvation?  He supposed the situation could hardly get any worse.

But how had the wingships appeared like magic out of the clear sky?

Thinking back, he dimly perceived the answer, if only partly.  He recalled watching as the ships materialized just over the bow.  It had almost seemed as if they had been concealed behind a shield, a vast round shield, itself clear but capable of rendering invisible whatever lurked in its wake, bending light perhaps.  It was a crazy theory--were it not for the fact that he had glanced up just as that shield passed overhead.  Looking up through it, he had sensed a shape, like a lens, like a thickening of the air, the light rippling opalescently within.

It was fantastic.  Six titanic wingships lurking in plain sight, yet hidden behind some invisible bulwark, hanging suspended just beyond their bows.  True, the ships were given away by their reflection on the sea beneath and, true, they would be visible from all directions except straight ahead--but the pirate in Seagrave ached to think of the rich plunder such a device might win on Earth.

The gilt-hulled wingships couldn't quite stop overhead, but they hauled in their canvas and began to circle tightly, preventing the Empress of Shek from rising, three ships descending to see she didn't try to run.  Round hatches sprang open along the keels of the upper ships and small skeletal platforms dropped down--gleaming worm cannon with gunners arrayed in gold armour.

Seagrave saw Jyleesha poised on the turret, hands gripping the fiferail, sloe eyes grimly surveying the weapons trained on her ship.  Her pink veils looped out behind her, tugging at her ribs and wrists, her ankles and hips.  She inhaled deeply, her slim back defiantly erect, magnificent even in defeat.

Shyrin Shas stirred weakly in his arms.  He glanced down to find her eyes widening as she stared straight up, the gold hulls reflecting fiery flecks in her emerald vision.  Feebly, her pink tongue moistened her parched lips as she struggled to speak, her voice hoarse with thirst.

"Moryan, am I dreaming?" she asked faintly.  "Is it really the Royal Fleet of Eukara?"

***
Admiral Nisram Nyl, commander of the six wingships of Eukara's Royal Fleet, crossed the main deck of his flagship, the Gilded Holix, in a brisk march, his spurs jingling a military tattoo.

He was a brawny man, deep chested with heavy limbs, his skin a rich jade, slightly darker than Khomas Khan's.  His apparent age--if that meant anything on a world where men emerged full grown from chrysalises and might live a thousand years unchanged--was around forty or so.

He stopped sharply, not slowing but as if encountering an invisible wall.  His eyes widened as he saw the slim, near-naked girl draped in the powerful arms of a brown-skinned, wingless stranger strangely garbed, with a scarlet head-scarf barely confining a thick black mane.

"Princess?"  Momentarily, his composure unravelled in his surprise.  "Princess Shyrin Shas!"

Out of the corner of his eye, Seagrave saw Jyleesha tense, inhaling as she realized how she had been tricked.  He could well imagine what she would have done had she known the truth about the "slave girl".  A faint smile twisted his lips.

"Your majesty," Nisram Nyl continued, his starched demeanour now comfortably back in place.  "How did you come to be aboard this Trayken vessel?  The last word we had from a passing ship said Khomas Khan had deposed the queen and you had vanished.  Khomas Khan had sent word on all ships leaving Eukara, instructing me to return with the fleet--some sort of mad pact he'd made with the Trayken.  Of course, my loyalty is to you and the queen, not to Khomas Khan--but I feared the worst for you."

Shyrin Shas had lifted her head from Seagrave's chest, grimly determined to show a brave face for her admiral.  But she couldn't hide the breathless suffering in her voice, nor the way her lashes drooped as she spoke.

"You have done well, Admiral.  I will see you are rewarded somehow--provided Eukara is still standing when we get there."  She frowned, her eyes closing a moment.

Nisram Nyl scowled.  His gaze flicked to Seagrave's face, wondering whether to reward the stranger for rescuing the princess or to toss him to the waves for daring to touch her.

"You are hurt," the admiral said, searchingly.  "This man--"

Shyrin Shas's eyes leaped open and she hurriedly shook her head.  "He rescued me," she explained emphatically.  "His name is Moryan.  You must accord him every courtesy."  Then she hurled an accusing glare at Jyleesha.  "But this vicious captain tried to kill me.  She tired to kill us both.  See that she is confined until some punishment can be decided upon."

"Right away, Your Majesty."  Admiral Nisram Nyl nodded curtly to the Kamir guardsmen flanking Jyleesha.  They moved closer, seizing her sapphire arms with unnecessary roughness.

With a furious snarl, Jyleesha twisted free, half-turning, her claws springing up on her fingers.  A third guardsman thrust out with his leister, the prongs barely parting against the back of her slim neck.

Jyleesha froze, inhaling sharply.  Cautiously, she dropped her hands and retracted her gleaming talons, then turned back to face the admiral.

Nisram Nyl had stumbled back at her unexpected resistance.  Now he stepped forward again, then studied her coolly a moment, a bare nod of his eyes taking in her sleek, dangerous thews.  After a pause, he instructed: "Use full restraints.  Remember, she is a Trayken and as strong as the strongest of you.  If she tries to escape again--kill her."

Seagrave watched this with darkly glinting eyes, his features grimly set.  He knew the admiral was probably right; Jyleesha shouldn't be underestimated.  But he hadn't liked the way the guardsmen had grabbed her just then.  If he had not been carrying Shyrin Shas, he might have sprung at them himself.

Just before Jyleesha was led away, her exotic eyes caught his.  It was a momentary look, made even as she turned her back.  There was no anger in that glance, nor resentment, but the subtlest shaded hint of something else--an emotion he hadn't seen her display before, for all her changeable moods.  There was fear in her gaze, lost, plaintive fear.

"Now, Your Majesty," Admiral Nisram Nyl continued, when Jyleesha was gone.  "We must discuss this matter of the pact--"

"Enough of this bloody yapping," interrupted Seagrave, angered as much by his own weakness over Jyleesha as by this ridiculous delay.  "The girl needs some food and drink in her, can't you see that?  It's a miracle she's survived this long."

The admiral wasn't accustomed to taking such abuse from strangers, and certainly not on his own deck.  His jade features momentarily hardened, one brow cocking imperiously.  But, at that moment, Shyrin Shas settled back with a suffering whimper, snuggling her head against the stranger's broad shoulder in a way that caused Nisram Nyl to shift uncomfortably in his spurs.  He cleared his throat, and nodded reluctantly.

"Bring her this way," he said.

***
Even after she had eaten and slaked her thirst, the princess lacked the strength to speak with her admiral for more than a short time.  It made little difference.  In the end, Seagrave knew more about the situation at Eukara than Shyrin Shas did and, once she had gone off to her cabin, the pirate proceeded to relate what he knew, which itself wasn't much.

He knew that the entire Trayken Armada--their whole fleet for the moon Miraya--was lurking hidden atop the island Nakris, poised to invade the main island, Eukara, as soon as they could be certain they wouldn't have the Eukara fleet at their backs.

Seagrave himself had sent word to Khomas Khan about the Armada, but it was possible Dol Hashar had already killed the advisor in revenge for freeing the slave girl Montaz.  If Khomas Khan was still alive, he was probably doing what he could to prepare for the expected invasion--if indeed the invasion had not already taken place.

The pirate sat alone with the admiral in Nisram Nyl's cabin, a berth considerably larger than Jyleesha's cabin on the Empress of Shek.  Seagrave's report brought a troubled tightening to the admiral's jade features.  He pondered the news in silence, then shook his head, baffled.

"But why?" he asked, clenching his fists.  "Why are the Trayken going to so much trouble?  The entire Armada?  It is madness, sheer madness.  To bring the Armada to Eukara, they had to abandon other far more volatile areas of our moon.  What can they possibly hope to gain by all this?  We are such a tiny state.  The queen knew there would be retribution when she chose to stand against the Trayken, but we never expected anything like this!"

"Whatever his reasons," Seagrave muttered, "Dol Hashar means to take your state, there's no denying that.  Your only hope, for the moment, is that he doesn't know where you are.  He tried to catch the princess, thinking, with her out of the way, you would have to return.  Now she's safe, so that's one problem taken care of."

His brows frowned, his voice lowering ominously.  "But I can't believe Dol Hashar has come this far to be beaten this easily.  Sooner or later, he'll opt to take his chances--after all, he still outnumbers your fleet.  Eventually he'll attack Eukara, even with the risk you might come up behind him."

Admiral Nisram Nyl nodded grimly.  "The only thing we can do is start for Eukara tonight.  It will take us two days to get there, with favourable winds.  We can approach hidden behind our veil lens, so the Traykens still won't know where we are."

Seagrave looked up at the mention of the invisibility shield.  "This veil lens," he asked; "how does it work?"

The admiral seemed surprised by Seagrave's ignorance.  "It's standard equipment with most naval fleets," he explained mildly.  "The Trayken have one or two for their Armada.  We mount a lens projector in the bow of the lead ship.  When the projector is activated, the lens forms out of the air ahead of the ship, and anything just behind the lens disappears when you look through it from ahead.  It's not very complicated really.  But, of course, lenses interfere with each other if they're brought close together, so most fleets never carry more than one or two.  The other ships just line up behind the lead vessel."  He shrugged dismissively.  "It works well enough, so long as you can manage to come at the enemy head on."

There was a long pause.  Outside the cabin, Seagrave could hear the musical trilling of Lan'lans, the snap and thunder of canvas.  Night was coming on.  He shifted uncomfortably, his back a steady ache as his wounds began to knit.

Finally, guardedly, he asked, "What about the Empress of Shek--and her captain?"

The admiral eyed him, a brow raised questioningly.  "You have an interest in the Trayken woman?"

"I want to know what's to become of her."  Seagrave's deep mutter sobered the other quickly.

"That will depend what we find when we reach Eukara," Nisram Nyl replied, after some thought.  "Officially, we aren't actually at war with her people.  The only reason we captured her ship was that her course would have passed us, giving our position away.  We couldn't risk her sneaking back to Eukara to tell Dol Hashar where we were."

He hesitated, considering, bowing his head so the lantern light draped shadows over both eyes.  "For the moment, she is merely a hostage to ensure her crew doesn't try to escape with their ship.  But, if the Trayken should attack Eukara openly--"  He looked up, spreading one hand, palm up.  "--she becomes a prisoner of war.  After what she did to the princess, I should think she might lawfully be executed.  We'll just have to see how things turn out--won't we?"

He said the last part with a noticeably searching tone.  Whatever he was expecting from Seagrave, he was doomed to disappointment; the pirate just sat in brooding silence, his features inscrutable.  Finally, determined but cautious, the admiral asked, "And what is your relationship with Princess Shyrin Shas?"

Seagrave's dark eyes barely shifted under his lowering brows, but his lips hardened at the tips.

"I have no relationship with your damn princess," the pirate replied.  He was surprised himself by the bitterness in his voice.  "I come from another world, a planet called Earth.  I only saved her because she had the tal-stone that can get me home."

Nisram Nyl nodded slowly.  Seagrave had already asked that a party search the Empress of Shek for a purple tal-stone with gold flecks--that and a strange stick made of metal, along with his punch spike.  The admiral seemed relieved by Seagrave's response.

"I see."  He unhooked a pointed cup from a food rack hanging beside him, drinking deep before continuing.  "I just wished to make certain there was nothing more between you.  You understand, Shyrin Shas is a princess, after all.  In the event anything should happen to the queen, Shyrin Shas instantly assumes her place as leader of our people.  The princess herself is very young.  She emerged only recently and hasn't yet had time to grow in wisdom, to comprehend her responsibilities.  I shouldn't like to think that someone such as yourself might take advantage of her innocence.  It would be impossible for you and her..."

Replacing the cup, Nisram Nyl allowed his voice to trail off, his point made.  But now Seagrave turned slitted eyes on the admiral and his voice grew deep.

"And what if there was something between us?" he asked.  "Just what would you do about it?"

Nisram Nyl faltered, his gaze flicking at the door to the deck.  He was suddenly made aware that he was alone with this alien stranger.  Swallowing, he noticed how Seagrave's lean thews rose beneath his smooth skin, gliding like gathering serpents as the stranger straightened in his hanging chair.  The admiral suddenly wished he had not finished his drink.  He licked his dry lips and managed a tight smile.

"Well, as you said, there isn't anything between you.  So the question is mute."



Next episode...Jyleesha in Chains

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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!)