A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
Each evening, the princess Shyrin Shas took a stroll along the ropebridges surrounding the palace complex. With her state officially at war, she was never without an escort of well-armed guardsmen.
Shortly before dark, Seagrave took up his position in the hanging trees beside the path. He crouched in the snarled branches, eyes burning, and waited patiently, as motionless, as invisible as a black panther poised above a watering hole stalking its prey.
Gradually, the sun settled, spreading velvet shadows and wakening the cool fragrances of night beneath the great canopy of the air-borne island. Hanging lanterns illuminated the ropebridge with soft topaz pools.
Suddenly, he heard footfalls approaching along the bridge. It swayed with the weight of the advancing party. Seagrave unfolded slowly, his smooth muscles tensing, his nostrils flaring as he smelled her lilac scent on the restless air.
In a steady line, Kamir guardsmen trooped past, leisters casually raised, blissfully unaware of the bronzed stranger crouched so near. Abruptly, Seagrave glimpsed tangerine curves flickering through the nodding boughs, the iridescent glint of slender wings...
In an instant, he sprang from his perch, pouncing down onto the ropebridge full in the midst of the astonished party.
His entrance was so unexpected it was a heartbeat before the escort could react. In that space, Seagrave saw the doe-like fear that dilated the princess's emerald eyes. He heard her startled gasp, a hand leaping to her lips, her supple length cringing almost to her knees.
With blinding speed, the pirate snatched her into his arms, easily subduing her struggles in the tight crush of his powerful thews. He bounded lithely back into the dark trees, then sprang surefootedly away through the tangled darkness, the horror-stricken guardsmen howling wretchedly in his wake.
At first, the princess fought and squirmed, writhing to be free. Again and again, she flexed against his embrace, whimpering as she strained with her arms -- but it was no use. He pinioned her with only one limb, but that was like a thick python around her sleek waist.
Then, for the first time, Shyrin Shas glanced down and saw the glimmering black waters through the passing branches below. The unseen sky reflected on the distance swells, stars and moons scattering into an endless varicoloured wash of dazzling jewelled sparkles. She moaned in horror, her slim arms suddenly clasping frantically around his neck.
On a solid platform or ropebridge, the princess was fearless, but the interwoven branches bucked and dodged under Seagrave's agile feet, some crackling ominously, threatening at any moment to shatter and spill them both into the windy void. Just as she had clung to him in the chute aboard the Empress of Shek, his lithe thews all that stood between her and a plunging death, so now she buried her face against his neck and hung on with all her trembling strength.
Even with the soft light slanting up from below, it seemed impossible that anyone could move as surely as Seagrave bounded through that dark, unstable world. And yet, his tread never faltered, his pace never slackened. Clinging to him, the princess could soon feel the sweat slicking his skin, the heat of his rolling muscles radiating like sun-warmed stone against her naked length.
Onward and onward he carried her, until all sound of pursuit had long since faded away. Gradually, Shyrin Shas noticed a subtle rustling sound that grew steadily louder as they approached. The sound resolved into the musical whisper of water tumbling down from a hole in the overhead rock, the torrent streaming through a mesh of bowing branches before spilling vaporously into the abyss.
At last, Seagrave stopped, his chest heaving from his exertions. Still terrified, Shyrin Shas sobbed as he pried away her arms, gently setting her on a heavy branch. She shrank against a tree trunk, glancing down with enormous shining eyes.
Seagrave crouched on an adjacent branch and studied her silently, his features hung with deep shadow. She looked at him, her folded body tensed with fearful expectancy. Green smears stained her long tangerine limbs from her rude passage through the dense forest.
Seeing this, Seagrave silently took her in his arms again, then shouldered under the luxuriant curtain of water.
The princess exclaimed as the cold, frosty torrent enwraped her torso like wind-lashed silk. The water cascaded voluptuously down her smooth belly and arching spine, flushing coolly between her legs, exploding into sparkling spray off the curves of her bottom.
For a moment, she forgot all fear, all care in the sensual caress of the soothing flow. She closed her eyes, moaning, and flung back her head so the water flashed in her face and raced white fire down the svelte arc of her throat.
After a time, Seagrave drew her gently to the edge of the waterfall, out of the torrent, but still immersed in a magical mist deflected by the branches. The green stains were gone. Shyrin Shas blinked as if woken from a dream, water beads sparkling on her long lashes, glittering like frost on her collarbone. As she looked at the grim-featured pirate, she recalled how she had been brought here -- and fear returned to her gaze.
Seagrave's eyes narrowed and he rumbled menacingly, like the preparatory snarl of a jampan.
"Khomas Khan told me I was not to see you, girl. He said it was by your order. But I want to hear it from your own ripe lips. Well, girl -- is it true?"
She regarded him silently a moment, beads trailing down her satin face like rain on a window. Finally, she dropped her eyes and nodded abjectly: "Yes. I ordered that you were not to be allowed to see me."
Seagrave's frown deepened. "But why, girl? What have I done to make you angry this time? If it was something I said, something I did..."
She shook her head vigorously. "Oh, no! It was nothing you did, Moryan. Please don't think that."
Now Seagrave was truly baffled. "But, if not that, then what? Why the devil don't you want to see me anymore?" Shyrin Shas dropped her head again, refusing to meet his eyes. He could feel her trembling, but not with cold. His tone hardened angrily.
"Damn it, girl, I've just finished fighting fenoks, and fenfyr, and a crazy Trayken woman, and the Trayken Armada, all for your pretty orange hide. I snatched you right out from under the noses of your own guardsmen and I can imagine all Eukara is turned out looking for you and me. I've dared a lot to have you and, right now, I'm tempted to take your splendid body under my arm and keep right on going until I reach Nakris or Dis; I could keep you hidden in these thick woods indefinitely if I wanted to, and there's not a damn thing you or anyone else could do about it!"
He paused, breathing fast, then inhaled deeply. "But all I ask is a straight answer from you. If you truly hate me, I'll take you back and you'll never see me again. You have my word on that. Just tell me the truth. Why don't you want to see me?"
For a space, Shyrin Shas hesitated, the spray glittering like diamonds on the black fur of her bowed head. At last, she raised her eyes. Unbearable sorrow clouded her gaze.
"I cannot see you again, Moryan," she explained, "I must not, because..." Her damp lips quivered. "...because I already have a life-mate."
The answer was so unexpected, it was a moment before Seagrave even managed to grunt in surprise. Then another moment passed before he finally blurted, "A life-mate? You mean a husband? You're married? But how? When?"
"Since I first emerged. I have been bonded to him all my life. Nothing can change that union. I am bonded to him until I die."
Seagrave opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. His heart rocked suffocatingly against his ribs. After all he had gone through for this girl, after all the battles and all the hair-breadth escapes, for the first time he truly felt beaten. This was not an enemy that could be defeated with a keen blade or a strong back. She was already married -- for life. She had been lost to him from the very beginning.
Bitterly he muttered: "I don't suppose I've met this life-mate?"
"You met him, yes." She mouthed the beads from her lush lips, and swallowed tightly. "My life-mate is Jakar Jet."
Seagrave exhaled explosively, his eyes flaring. "Jakar Jet!"
She nodded solemnly.
"But, girl --" He struggled for words. "-- that bastard betrayed you. He stole the Lin tal-stone, he attacked you, he would have killed you if I hadn't fought him off. You said it yourself -- you called him an evil man!"
"Nonetheless, he is my life-mate and I am bonded to him until I die." Her voice trembled miserably.
Seagrave's eyes slitted. "What about if he dies?"
Horror flashed across her face, her body stiffening. "Oh, no, Moryan! You cannot kill him -- you must not. If you kill him, I am honour-bound to take my own life. That is the way of our people. If one man murders another man for the sake of that man's life-mate, she must hurl herself into the sea. That was why I stopped you when you would have killed him in the glade."
"But that's insane, girl. What sort of a mad law is that?"
"It was designed to ensure men did not kill each other to win a woman."
Grudgingly, Seagrave reflected it was a damn effective law too; and, in a better world, it might have served to prevent a lot of suffering. But all it had done was fetter this poor creature to a madman and leave Seagrave helpless to free her.
"The man's a monster," he snarled tightly. "I can't just walk away. Besides, he's a fugitive, probably long gone by now. Even if he comes back, he'll be arrested. Surely the Princess of Eukara can't be expected to stay bonded to him then."
"He will be punished," Shryin Shas agreed. "His wings will be permanently removed so he can never fly again. But I will remain his life-mate. It is our way."
Passionately, Seagrave's fists clenched her smooth shoulders making her wince.
"After what he's done, that's all they'll do to him? And he still gets to keep you?!"
Shryin Shas nodded bleakly, fatalistically resigned to her fate. But even her courage had its limits. With a despairing sob, she settled her damp head against the pirate's arching chest, one small fist pressed wretchedly to her lips.
"Hold me, Moryan," she whimpered softly. "Hold me while you can."
In an instant, Seagrave's anger softened, melted by the water-spangled form quivering in his arms. He stroked the slender curve of her spine, murmuring in her ear. "Don't cry, girl. After all we've been through, you can't fall apart on me now. Come on -- let's get you dried off."
Gathering her in his arms, Seagrave climbed out of the cool spray, his tanned thews dripping with silver light. He glided lithely into the dark woods. A short time later, he came upon the stone ruins where he had first met the rebels. The only doors were inaccessible to the flightless pirate, but he located a side window and slipped inside.
A gilt lantern globe breathed soft effulgence over the creeper-thick walls -- the light evidently left by the rebels during the rush to rescue Shyrin Shas from the fenoks. Gently, Seagrave settled the princess in a bed of soft vines. She looked around anxiously as he straightened.
"That's all right, girl," Seagrave assured her. "There's nothing to be afraid of here. These are just old ruins. Stay put while I scout around. I think there may be some food left behind from when your friends made their hideout here."
Seagrave padded across the chamber and ducked through a star-shaped doorway. The adjacent room was lit only by the dull light that filtered through the door at his back. Still, it was more than enough to discern the jumble of belongings spread out against the far wall. Seeing these, Seagrave's brow furrowed uneasily.
These had not been left by the rebels. In fact, it looked like someone had been making their home here. But who--
A startled cry rang out behind him. He whirled around. Shyrin Shas!
Cursing his stupidity, Seagrave bounded back through the doorway, his cutlass flashing in his fist.
In an instant, he took in the scene.
Jakar Jet held the writhing figure of the princess, his ferret eyes burning exultantly. Obviously he had seen the pirate enter with Shyrin Shas, waiting until Seagrave left the room before pouncing. The purple Kamir's lips curled fiercely, wild laughter spitting through his gritted teeth. He pressed a punch spike ruthlessly to the princess's straining flank. She gasped, and Seagrave staggered to a halt.
"She is my life-mate," Jakar Jet gloated, as if daring Seagrave to contradict him. "She is mine, and always shall be. You--" His voice became a low purr. "--you came between us once before, but you won't keep me from her this time. If they catch me they will destroy my wings. I can never again show my face on Miraya. But if I am an outcast, then so is she."
Dimly, Seagrave discerned chilling significance in the traitor's wild ramblings. An outcast? From Miraya? But where else--
Jakar Jet continued, his voice rising, barely aware of his captive's frantic writhing.
"I will take her where no one can follow -- no, not even the alien who breaks Rayvers in half with a stick. There I will make her suffer for every day of my exile. In her savage unending punishment, in the sweet peals of her lingering torment, I will have my revenge -- on you, on Eukara."
In the fist clenched in the pit of Shyrin Shas's stomach, something sparkled with lavender and gold. Jakar Jet closed his eyes, and a violet glow washed liquidly over the two struggling figures. In the glow, gilt flashes leaped and played.
Seagrave recalled that the Lin tal-stone was said to look identical to the Earth tal-stone. Lavender with gold flakes.
His blood chilled.
With a formless cry, the pirate hurtled across the chamber. Shyrin Shas's horrified sobs seemed to dwindle even as he moved, as if she were plunging away from him in the grip of a whirling gale. In blind desperation, he struck out with his keen-bladed cutlass. It flashed once, cleaving through Jakar Jet's wrist. The hand, still clutching the Lin tal-stone, tumbled away on a shower of spurting gore.
Released, Shyrin Shas fell forward into the pirate's arms. But the process, once begun, could not be so easily halted. The violet glow still enwrapped Jakar Jet, but whatever forces shaped that glow, they no longer had the guidance of the tal-stone. Jakar Jet screamed once, a long, blood-chilling shriek...and then the violet glow vanished with a sharp crash of thunder.
For a moment, air flurried in the dark chamber. Then stilled. His severed hand alone remained on the floor -- still grotesquely clutching the Lin tal-stone.
Holding the trembling figure of Shyrin Shas, even the pirate felt a queasy shiver as he stared at that grisly clenching hand. Without the Lin tal-stone to guide him, where had Jakar Jet gone? Not to Lin. But where then? Was he still alive? Alive somewhere out there...in the infinite?
After a moment, Seagrave touched the princess under the chin, raising her eyes to his. He forced a weak smile.
"Well, girl," he told her grimly. "You can't say I killed him, can you now?"
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!)