Savage Miraya


A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE

BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA


EPISODE 36: "IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU, THEN NEITHER CAN SHE!"


Seagrave awoke to find himself face down on the turret, warm blood blurring his vision.

With a snarl, he staggered to his feet, shaking the blood from his eyes.  He swept the flush deck below.  The air rang with urgent hollers, and Kamir guardsmen rushed madly back and forth across the waist, still securing their lacquered shoulder plates, lantern light flickering off the glass spikes of hastily grabbed leisters.  A group had congregated near the stern, clustered like a wolf pack around four prone bodies.

A cold hand closed around Seagrave's heart.

With a muttered curse, he sprang down from the turret and bounded across the deck.  A forest of leisters bristled at his approach, the guardsmen made jumpy by the unexpected attack in the night.  Then the gold-armoured sergeant recognized the pirate and ordered the men to let him through.

Seagrave barely faltered, a glance taking in the four dead Trayken sailors sprawled in the mirrors of their black blood.  Then he was through the crowd and hurtling down through the hatchway into the prison without using the ladder.  He alighted in a deep crouch.  Discarded shackles gleamed amongst the tangled straw in the corner, as if left to mock him.

Jyleesha was gone.  Her sailors had given their lives to set her free.

But where?  Where...

Seagrave's features grew pale beneath his tanned skin, his breath hissing with sudden fearful apprehension.  Wheeling, he scrambled back up the ladder.

"Don't worry," the sergeant assured him as he surfaced; "we have men searching for her.  She can't have gotten far, not with her wings cropped like --"

But Seagrave barely heard the man.  If he knew Jyleesha, she didn't need to get far -- not to accomplish her goal.

He sent men stumbling back as he passed in a wild hurricane rush.  Across the deck he flew, then through the circular door into the foreport turret.  Everything seemed to whiz by in a flash.  Down a companion ladder, along a narrow corridor, then down a second ladder, and another corridor -- and then he burst through the open doorway into Shyrin Shas's cabin.

Somewhere along the way, his cutlass had found his fist.  Now it shone like a fiery thread before his slitted eyes, so that even Jyleesha, who didn't know what it could do, fell back with a startled sob.

But the fear in her eyes was a pale shadow compared to the stark terror in the emerald eyes of her naked and shivering captive.  Recovering from her surprise, Jyleesha constricted her arm cruelly around Shyrin Shas's straining midriff, lifting the princess so her small feet danced in the air.

"Let her go."  Seagrave's tone was deadly.  He advanced a step, lowering his cutlass so she could see the glinting point -- so she could not mistake his purpose.

Jyleesha hissed like a cornered cat, her white teeth flashing.  Smooth muscles rippled as she savagely squeezed the princess about the waist.  Shyrin Shas gasped, her head thrown back.  Seagrave halted reluctantly.  The Trayken captain could easily use her woven-iron muscles to crush the girl to a pulp.

"You can't fly," Seagrave reminded her grimly.  "There's nowhere you can go.  Don't be a fool."

Jyleesha snapped a brittle laugh.  "I don't need to fly," she shouted fiercely, triumphantly.  Like a victorious gesture, she spread her free hand.

Seagrave's eyes flared at the sight of the sparkling green gem rocking in her palm.

"My men brought me this tal-stone when they freed me."  Jyleesha trembled with angry passion.  "It is a Eukara tal-stone.  With it, I will deliver your precious princess into the hands of Draykhis Dol Hashar.  I think she will find his caress less to her liking than yours."

"You damn --"

"If I can't have you, then neither can she!"

Even as Seagrave bounded forward, the tal-stone was folded in Jyleesha's fist.  A spectral emerald glow washed up her arm, spread over her shoulders and spilled down her chest.  Where Shryin Shas's naked flesh squirmed hard against Jyleesha's, the weird light surged between the two women.  In an instant, both figures were encased in a ghostly radiance, hiding them from view.  Seagrave heard Shyrin Shas wail his name, her voice sounding distant, as if carrying across a vast chasm.

With a dazzling flash and a shivering clap like thunder, the green glow winked out.  A gust momentarily flurried to fill the empty space where the two women had stood a heartbeat before.

Seagrave struck at the empty boards with his cutlass, angry, futile blows that served no purpose.  Again and again he cursed his stupid weakness in not killing the Trayken captain when he had had the chance.

Then, gradually, his rage gave way to cold, numbing fear.  This very moment Jyleesha might be delivering Shyrin Shas into the hands of Dol Hashar.  With mounting horror, Seagrave recalled what nightmarish tortures Dol Hashar had worked on poor Montaz in a single day.

It would be two days before Seagrave could reach Eukara...

***
Khomas Khan, the former advisor to Queen Itazara Tal, knelt on one knee, his impassive features stoically concealing the terrible pain he suffered where his wings had been torn away.

He was intensely aware of the blue-gold posts which flanked him -- where his slave girl, Montaz, had suffered and died because of him.  Even after his own torture, even with his wings destroyed forever, he wished there might be some way to prevent his wound from healing -- a perpetual reminder of his crime.

He raised his eyes as the queen glided gracefully down from the dais.  As men said, she was truly the most beautiful blossom under Eukara.

She wore only a gold spangled thong garment that glittered magically between her long, carmine legs; that and a high tight collar of gold scales that formed a shimmering bib draping both shoulders down nearly to her full, upturned breasts.  Gold bangles shifted luxuriously on her wrists and ankles, and a frothy cap of snow-white beads nearly concealed the black fur of her head, a single strand dangling to the tip of her nose.

To Seagrave's eyes, she would have appeared little older than Shyrin Shas, nineteen at most.  In truth, Khomas Khan knew she was considerably older, for he had been there when she emerged as a princess.

He had served as advisor to Queen Yasmin Yen before her.  And when that fair beauty had died during the War of Echoes, it was his council which had seen the fresh princess through the difficult period of transition as she took her place on the hanging throne.  Since then, Queen Itazara Tal had trusted him through many perilous times, looking to him for advice, for strength...and for friendship.

In the end, he had repaid her with betrayal.

Now, as Itazara Tal paused at the foot of the steps, Khomas Khan lifted his glass punch spike and held it out with the two deadly tips pointed toward his naked jade breast.  Try as he might, he could not make himself meet her amber eyes.

"I have betrayed you, my Queen," he said, straining to hide the quaver in his voice.  "You trusted me and I turned on you.  You believed in me and I imprisoned you.  Now, it seems, I have doomed Eukara to defeat through my pact with the Trayken.  I wish I could undo the damage I have done.  I wish I might turn back time and once again know your trust."

He swallowed stiffly.  "But I cannot.  Forgive me for all I have done.  Please, find it in your heart to forgive me.  There is only one honourable course left to me -- and I take it now, in your presence, that you may know my sincerity...and my sorrow."

His fingers tightened around the handle of his weapon.  He inhaled, his eyelids twitching but not closing.

"Wait."

Slim ruby fingers settled on his hand, their touch light but insistent.  He looked at the queen, his brows rising.  There was none of the anger he had expected in her delicate features.  Intently, she seemed to search his face, seeking something there.  After a moment, she spoke with a calm assurance to bely her apparent youth.

"Indeed, you have betrayed me, Khomas Khan.  More than anyone else, I trusted you.  You don't know how many tears I have shed since you imprisoned me.  Day after day I have wept bitterly at the helplessness to which you reduced me.  At a time when my people needed me most, you took away my power.  For that I will never forgive you."

She paused, breathing so shallowly the ruby heart-gem barely stirred on her chest.  Her amber eyes drifted to Khomas Khan's shoulder and the scarlet cape that draped his back concealing his wound.  Sadness grew in her gaze.

"But it is also true, you have already known terrible punishment.  I know what the Trayken did to you.  It is...unimaginable."

"My Queen --"

She silenced him with a gesture.  "Then -- your wings..."

Her dark lashes covered her eyes, the pain of her empathy causing her to falter.  After a moment, she opened them again.

"I can never forgive you for what you have done to me, Khomas Khan, but I also know you -- and I know that you will never forgive yourself.  I know that you betrayed my trust, my love, only because of a greater love and a greater trust.  I have known you all my life.  Always when I needed you, you were there for me.  It became easy for me to forget that you had served Yasmin Yen before me, and Saudia Sai before her.  Too easy to think of you as mine and mine alone, when in fact, in truth, you were never mine.  These days of confinement, I have come to understand that; and to understand that I must accept second place in your heart behind your one true love -- Eukara."

For a moment, she fell silent, sorrowful.

Softly Khomas Khan said: "But I have betrayed Eukara, as well."

Itazara Tal shook her head, the beaded strand swaying delicately over her forehead.

"You did not betray Eukara, Advisor.  You did what you thought was best.  I chose to stand against the Trayken, believing it was better to die free than to live as a conquered people.  I was forced to make that decision for all of Eukara.  I don't know if I had the right to make that choice, but I made it just the same.  I cannot fault you for following your heart and seeking to save that which you loved more than me."

A sweet smile moulded her full lips and her eyes sparkled fondly.  "Indeed, if you had not done so, you would not be the Khomas Khan I know and love."

"My Queen," said Khomas Khan quietly, "the Trayken Armada sits atop Nakris ready to invade any moment now.  Under my command, our guardsmen have secured Jinja Khyam, imprisoning those Trayken Rayvers whom I had allowed Dol Hashar to bring here -- but against the Armada we have few defenses.  This is what my love for Eukara has wrought.  Our defeat and destruction are inevitable!"

Itazara Tal nodded soberly.  "I said I could not fault you for following your heart, my Advisor," she told him.  "I did not say you hadn't made a terrible mistake."

Her tapered fingers still rested on his hand with the punch spike.  Now, with the gentlest of pressure, she forced him to lower the weapon.

"Please -- do not compound that mistake by deserting me when I need you most."

Khomas Khan hesitated as grudging tears blurred his vision.  Reluctantly, he returned the punch spike to its sheath.  Itazara Tal took his hands and drew him to his feet.  Her amber eyes slanted up into his, her slim wings gracefully opening and closing behind her shapely head.  Then her glance took in the three figures waiting near the round door at the far end of the throne room.

"Who are those men?" she questioned.

"They rescued me from the Trayken," Khomas Khan replied.  "The blue man is called Pallin Pol; the green one is Zhanak Zen; and the large one is Fanas Fel.  It was they who delivered the Lin tal-stone from Jimnyr.  When they learned I had imprisoned you, they assisted Princess Shyrin Shas in escaping.  The princess hoped to fulfil your mission of travelling to the moon Lin to forge an alliance with the Naxas."

Itazara Tal smiled proudly.  "So young and already a hero -- Shyrin Shas will make a great queen someday."

"Unfortunately, the princess was betrayed by Jakar Jet."  Khomas Khan was relating things he had only just learned himself.  "Jakar Jet offered the Lin tal-stone to Draykhis Dol Hashar, but, something went wrong, and Jakar Jet fled without revealing where he had hidden the tal-stone."

The queen nodded soberly.  "That is one small mercy.  There is only one Lin tal-stone that I know of.  The Naxas trusted the Kamir to keep it safe.  I should hate to be the source of the tal-stone that finally gave the Trayken an invasion route to that distant moon."

After a moment's thought, she continued puzzledly.  "The Trayken have gone to extraordinary lengths in their bid to subdue us.  They have surely run a terrible risk bringing the Armada this far north, away from traditional areas of resistance.  If the Archipelago of Aswanya were to find out..."

There was no need to complete the thought.  Aswanya had never truly accepted its defeat.  Rebel pirates continued an unofficial sky war, sporadically striking at Trayken bases with their lensed wingships.  Only the eternal patrols of the Trayken Armada prevented Aswanya from openly renewing the conflict.

The queen frowned, pensively.  "Why are we so important to them?"

Khomas Khan shook his head.  "I have asked myself the same question many times.  I don't know.  Perhaps they fear even our puny resistance may serve as an example to others."

Itazara Tal seemed unconvinced but, after a moment, she put the question aside.

"You say you have secured Jinja Khyam?"

The advisor nodded.  "We have prepared the manatyr worm cannons to defend the city," he explained.  "But the Trayken Armada carries cluster cannons with vastly greater range and destructive capability.  With cluster cannons, the Armada can stand off at a distance and easily pound a city into the sea without even bothering to come under the island -- as so many states have discovered to their cost."

Itazara Tal had never heard Khomas Khan so bereft of hope.  She thought of all he had been through, all he suffered, and she prayed it was not too late to give him back at least some of what he had lost.

"I have always trusted your wisdom, Khomas Khan," she said, her tone one of injured pride.  "I wish that you might have been prepared to place so great a trust in mine."

The advisor looked at her questioningly.  She smiled gently.

"I did not expect to stand against the Trayken without some sort of plan, you know.  Even if the Naxas had agreed to help us, there would not have been time for them to come to our aid before we would have been forced to defend ourselves.  You are right; the situation is bleak.  But there are things about this island that even you do not know."

Her eyes sparkled at his baffled frown.  Her slender hands squeezed his in silent encouragement.

"Come -- I will show you."



Next episode...The Savage Switch!

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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!)