A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Raft? Aye, if you wanted to use the term in its loosest sense. In reality, the breeks-clad pirate balanced precariously on a flimsy platform made up of a dozen poles lashed snugly to form a flat board as long as he was tall, but barely wide enough to allow adequate footing. A rude lateen sail fashioned on the model of an Arab dhow bellied tautly in the building gusts, forcing Seagrave to lean far out over the plunging abyss just to keep the whole thing from turning turtle.
A single flat meshmel stone taken from the fenok bridge was firmly roped under the raft; that weirdly floating stone alone stood between the pirate and a long drop to the rolling swells a thousand feet below.
A dozen ordinary rocks hung on ropes beneath the contraption as a sort of keel to keep the raft upright, and to be used as ballast. For the moment, the extra weight of those stones held Seagrave to an elevation which he hoped would keep him beneath the attacking Armada; when the time came, he planned to cut the rocks away one by one until he rose high enough to board the flagship -- provided he survived the green squall, of course.
Like a colossal tidal wave, the squall line rolled in from the horizon, vast and unstoppable. It was a frosty white but with diffuse snatches of emerald rippling here and there like luminescent plankton stirred in roiling subsurface currents. The tiny island of Dis simply vanished into its flesh as if swept out of existence, and then the nearer island of Nakris was similarly devoured.
Only moments after that, the squall reached the extreme edge of Eukara.
Seagrave had used a narse to drag his raft as near to the Armada as he dared. The three Kamir sailors had remained behind and the pirate felt a vague chill to think that already the squall had rendered them frozen, their heart-gems blazing, helpless prey to the stygian things that stalked in that hurtling wall of white.
Onward the squall line rushed, washing over the lush jade underbelly of the island like a magician's flourishing hands. A moment before the storm reached him, Seagrave inhaled deeply and adjusted his grip once again...
In an instant, he found himself caught in the squall's grip, everything -- the sea beneath, the verdure above -- all concealed by tumultuous whirls of racing clouds through which emerald lightning flickered and flashed. It was like watching the exploding cannons of Spanish galleons fired in a pea-soup fog. Seagrave barely managed to hold on as the wild wind breathed into his lateen sail, buffeting his flimsy raft and sweeping him along at a furious pace.
For a moment, when the storm first hit, Seagrave had lost sight of the Armada; but now, the sinister black wingships loomed out of the clouds ahead. He had previously marked the position of the flagship, nor was it difficult to recognize even now. The great vessel was larger than the other ships, with a full six turret decks -- three to a side -- rather than the four turrets of the others.
The wind was carrying the pirate across the flagship's bow. Urgently, Seagrave hauled on the mast, the lightning playing on the tanned ridges of his straining back. The raft steered poorly, but steer it did, reluctantly veering toward the ebony fortress.
At the last moment, Seagrave drew his cutlass and hacked away some of the ballast stones. He felt the change in pressure on his eardrums as the raft surged rapidly upward. But he was not rising fast enough; he was going to pass under the flagship.
Desperately he slashed away more ballast stones. Without the stabilizing effect of the hanging stones, the raft began to wallow dangerously. He clung to the mast, praying he could remain upright just a few moments longer.
The raft rose at a steep incline. To Seagrave, it looked as if the black hull of the flagship was plunging down toward him instead of the other way around. He braced his body, dark eyes narrowed, certain he would be dashed to death against the hull...
But then, with only feet to spare, the raft swept up past the rail of the foreport turret. Without hesitation, Seagrave bounded from his craft, feeling it capsize even as he jumped.
He struck the turret with a bone-jolting impact that blasted the air from his lungs. In a jumble of limbs, he tumbled uncontrollably across the circular deck, crashed through the fiferail and landed in a shower of kindling on the waist beneath. With barely a pause, he tottered to his feet, shaking his head to clear his dazed senses, his cutlass still in his fist.
His dark eyes swept the ship, fear tightening his hammering heart.
There were Trayken everywhere, on the six turrets, on the main deck, even in the shrouds overhead. He had never seen so many, all fashioned of steely bone and iron-hard muscle -- and, suddenly, his cutlass seemed puny indeed.
But not a figure moved over the entire ship. They were all frozen by the squall, their blue heart-gems sparkling like scintillant stars in the dim hollows between lightning flashes.
Seagrave paused to note the massive weapons mounted on the raised turrets. Drawing upon the slave girl Montaz's knowledge, he recognized these as "cluster cannons". Each looked like a much larger version of a worm cannon, but with multiple hatches wrapping the body, instead of just a single hatch on top. Through the open hatches, Seagrave caught the glimmer of long worm gems. Strangely -- it seemed to the pirate -- the barrels themselves were no larger nor longer than those used for the smaller weapons. Used to cannons which fired metal balls, Seagrave found this hard to account for.
But there was no time to waste on idle speculation. Already five minutes or more had passed since the squall had reached the ship; Seagrave might have only minutes left before the squall would pass and the crew awake.
Quickly, he bounded across the deck to the nearest of ten raised and hooded vents, like the vent by which he had earlier discovered Fanas Fel, Zhanak Zen and Bishras Bid. He had hoped finding Shyrin Shas might be just as simple; but, after peering through the slits one by one, he met with dismal failure.
There was no choice; he would have to search the entire ship. He hurried to the nearest triangular door in the curved wall of a turret -- then paused. In the clouds overhead, dark ghostly shadows swirled like circling vultures, squall beasts gathering to feed.
Suppressing a shudder, Seagrave told himself it was only what the Trayken deserved.
He squeezed past a Rayver frozen while stepping through the doorway. Down a ladder he scrambled, then along a narrow corridor, roughly shouldering by motionless Trayken. He cast urgent glances through each open door he passed, yanking open closed doors with a force that tore several from their slots.
But there was no sign of the princess and, with mounting frustration, he clambered down to the deck beneath. Searching more rooms without success, he began to wonder if he had been wrong in thinking she would be taken aboard the flagship.
And then a worse thought sent a chill pulse through his veins. What if Dol Hashar had already tortured her to death?
No! She was here somewhere; he felt it in his soul!
In the end, he never would have found her if not for the ruby on her chest. He had glanced into yet one more chamber, then turned away to continue his search.
Almost subconsciously, a moment later, he registered the scarlet glow which had filtered into the room from a side chamber. He whirled with an exultant shout and rushed back.
As he sprang through the open doorway to the side room, he staggered to a halt. He swallowed dryly.
The princess was alone in the room. Her slim, fluid length lay naked and stretched on a table, her arms bound with thongs above her head. Seagrave's smoldering gaze took in the switch propped against the wall, then returned to the soft tangelo figure still trickling with sweat. He saw what had been done to her, saw the horrible agony contorting her beautiful frozen features -- and his knuckles hardened whitely around the grip of his cutlass.
But there was no time for vengeful thoughts. They had to get out of there. He had seen some narses tethered on the deck; if they could just reach those...
Quickly, he cut the thongs binding the princess's bruised wrists, then gathered her tenderly in his arms, enfolding her supple form carefully since he still held the cutlass. Now that he had found her, his mission became a mad race to reach the open deck before the storm passed.
The ship's narrow corridors seemed even more constricted, more crowded on this return journey, with immobile Rayvers cluttering the passage every few steps. Every nerve, every fibre was bow-tense with dreadful anticipation, at any moment expecting the still figures to suddenly reanimate.
And then he reached the door leading to the open deck. The frozen Trayken still poised in the threshold. Sunlight slanted through the open door.
With a breathless oath, Seagrave tried to slip past -- but, the princess's ruby dimmed suddenly and she stirred with a weak sob of pain. The Trayken, suddenly reanimated, acted as if nothing at all had happened, continuing through the doorway directly into Seagrave's path. Unable to stop in time, the pirate blundered into him from behind.
The Trayken's startled shout drew the attention of other Rayvers just awoken from their own stupors. A dozen of the nearer ones turned, their expressions registering comical surprise as they saw the breeks-clad intruder with the orange princess in his arms.
In spite of their astonishment, they recovered quickly enough. In an eager rush, they surrounded the fugitives with a rattling bristle of deadly leisters. Several uncoiled silth whips, the glass cords rasping sibilantly on the deck like slithering vipers.
Seeing the savage weapons arrayed against him, Seagrave stumbled to a halt. Grimly he recalled what he had told Shyrin Shas before. No, you did not need wings to live on Miraya -- but, at times like this, they certainly would have helped...
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!)