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Daughters of Fate (Chapter 30)

Dark clouds.  Smoke on the water.  And the sea will burn. 

Lar Colari – Vision 10-146   

Chapter 30 (17th of Alshu in the year 6199) 

“Ah,” King Turon beamed at Reane as she entered his private study, “there you are.”   

“Yes,” Reane grumbled, stopping to stand before him, annoyance hanging in the air around her.  “See,” her foot tapped as she looked away and then back to him, “funny thing. I’m trying to find out why, rather suddenly, it’s so hard for me to find the supplies I need to finish the repairs on the Oracle.”   

The king motioned for Reane to sit, but she did not take him up on his hospitality.  “Well, I guess there’s no beating around the bush anymore,” he sighed, but also slightly laughed at the same time.   

“I know you’re stalling me,” she accused.  “What do you want?  Why are you trying to keep me here?”   

“Why are you in such a hurry to leave?” King Turon asked.   

The king cocked his eyebrow at her. Shaking her head, Reane replied, “Because, I’ve got a sizable crew that would like to be paid.  Just because I delivered the Child of the Storm to you, doesn’t mean I don’t have other obligations. I’m not running a charity here.”   

The king cocked his eyebrow at her. “You sure this isn’t about running away from a future that scares you?”   

“Not again,” Reane groaned at the topic.   

“You know,” he said, “I’ve known you for a long time, Reane.  Sheala isn’t the only one that likes to turn tail when things get tough.”   

“Look,” she snapped, “I’m actually thrilled for Sheala.  And I’m glad that she’s agreed to become your ambassador to the elves.  Beyond the fact that it’s her destiny and all?  I think she’s finally realized that there are still people in this world that actually do care about her. She’s always kept people at arm’s length.  Even me and Brentai.”   

“Brentai is a good man,” King Turon added.   

“The best man, I’ve ever known,” Reane doubled down on that statement.  “Had a hunch of it the day I saw him standing there on display in front of that slave ship that had come to town.  Was certain of it when I took that key and removed his chains and told him he was free to go, but I had honest work for him if he wanted it.”   

“Pelsans are like that,” he reminded her.  “They do what needs to be done.”   

Reane sighed and shook her head.  “So, what do you want me to do?”   

“Told you before,” King Turon reiterated, “I need a captain to lead the expedition. Once Sheala is ready, of course.”  

“You’ve got a whole fleet of captains,” Reane pointed out.  “And ships.”   

“But none as good as you at running Imperial blockades,” he commended her. “Nor any ship as fast or superbly outfitted as the Oracle.”   

Reane shook her head again.  “No.  I’m sure I’m already wanted for helping Anthony flee Catersburg. And I’ve seen some of those reports your scouts brought in. That blockade is too tight, even for me.  Plus, I hear that there are at least a couple cutters sailing around by the reef trying to get through.”   

“What if,” the king proposed, “I offered to hire you?”   

The smuggler’s ars perked up at the proposal.  “Hire me?”   

“Yes,” the king said. “On a long-term contract. And retain the services of the Oracle, her captain, and her crew?  Say for the next year?”   

Eyes widening, Reane warned him, “Do you know how much that would cost? Especially with the hazard you are asking me to undertake?” 

With a gentle push from his fingers, King Turon took a piece of paper laying on his desk and moved it towards Reane.   

“What’s that?” she asked, walking over to look at the mostly blank form.   

“An official Royal Requisition Request,” he told her.  “Just put your price at the bottom. And I’ll fill out the paperwork.”   

“You’re serious?” the captain replied.   

“Do I look like I’m joking?” the king countered.  

Pulling the paper towards her, Reane pondered the blank canvas he was offering her.  “Any number I want?” she clarified.   

The king shrugged.  “I’d prefer it to at least be a reasonable sum” he admitted.  “But you also know how badly I want your services.”  

Reane hesitated, but only for a moment before she fetched a quill from a nearby inkwell, and scribbled her number.  She then returned the quill to its place and folded her arms, allowing King Turon to recover the document himself.   

He glanced at what she had written and nodded. “Done!” he proclaimed without so much as a pause.   

“Not so fast,” Reane chided him.  “That’s contingent on a few things.”   

“Such as?” he asked.  

Reane was ominously silent as she thought.  “First,” she informed him, “I want the remaining repairs to the Oracle covered.”   

“Agreed,” he said, again without any delay.   

“And I’ll need maps,” Reane added to the list. “I’ve never sailed to an elven port, and I am unfamiliar with the region.”   

“And you’ll have them,” King Turon responded, making the negotiations breeze right along.   

“As well as any current, official, even classified information on stationary ships, blockades, fleet strengths, and patrol schedules,” Reane amended.   

“I would never dream of sending you in unprepared,” King Turon didn’t even flinch at the growing list of requests.  “If I get you those things, then you accept?”   

Reane eyed him.  “I’ll think about it.  After I’ve studied the maps and intelligence, I’ll let you know.”  

Sheala’s uncle stood.  “I’ll have my men begin on those repairs immediately,” he said.   

“I haven’t accepted yet,” Reane warned.   

“Just like your father,” King Turon’s words rolled out as a slight laugh.  “Always trying to hold some cards in reserve.  Now, if I can get you to settle down a little, like Sheala.”   

“You’re probably going to hate me for saying this,” Reane added, “but I actually liked her better before she agreed to do this for you.  She’s just too moody now.  Like she’s got the weight of two ghosts now hung around her neck.”   

“I’ll have a talk with her,” taking her concerns to heart, he nodded.   

“Please do,” Reane implored.  “I’ve tried.  But haven’t been successful.  I just don’t want that fire inside her put out.  She’s going to need it.”   

“Brentai?”  The sheets tangled up around them, Sheala pressed her slender form against his as the two lay in the bed at her newly assigned, luxuriously appointed quarters in the palace.  “What’s wrong?”   

Lost in his thoughts, Brentai stared at the ceiling.  “I don’t know.  Everything is just so different it seems.  It’s just — I don’t know…”   

“Don’t know what?”  She laid her head on his chest, listening to the beats of his heart.   

Running his fingers through her red hair, Brentai continued to try and express his feelings.  “This,” he waved his hand at everything around them from the fabulously crafted poster bed and silk canopy to the various other high-end furnishings about the room. “It’s not you. Ever since that night at the Yule Festival – well – you just haven’t seemed yourself at times.”   

“Don’t worry,” Sheala closed her eyes.  “I haven’t changed.”   

“I wish that were true,” Brentai sighed.   

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  Sheala bolted up and hovered over top of him, seeing his eyes as they seemed to drift away at her.  “Brentai, look at me.  What’s wrong?”   

“Nothing -,” then he changed his mind. “Alright, something is wrong.  I always wished you’d be more serious about things.  But now?  Now that you are, I’m not sure that that’s what I wanted at all.  And I definitely never wanted you to get involved in a war.”   

“Brentai,” she reminded him, “I’m not involved in a war.  I’m just going to be my uncle’s ambassador to the elves.” 

“Which means you’re involved in a war,” he chided her.   

Sheala shook her head.  “No, no I’m not.  Don’t turn this into something that it’s isn’t.  All I’m doing is trying to deliver a message and help mend some fences and finish my father’s mission.” 

“Sheala,” Brentai moved some of her hair from in front of her face, “the Child of the Storm? If that’s what you are? Is a legend. Someone who is foretold to be instrumental in undoing Lord Hedric’s reign. If you’re caught -”  

“I’m not going to get caught. Damn it, Brentai!”  She pounded her fist into the mattress.  “I’m not a little girl.  I can make my own decisions.”   

“I know that,” Brentai amended apologetically.   

“Then why are you treating me as though I can’t handle my own problems?” she whined.   

“Because I care,” hetold her. “And I don’t want you to turn into some prim and proper woman who is just doing something because she wants to make a ghost proud of her.”  As he reached up to touch her cheek, she pulled away.   

“My mother and father are not just ghosts,” she whispered with a tear forming.  “They were my family.  I need you to understand that, and I know that because of where you come from, your culture, family isn’t a thing.  But to me it is.” 

A heavy breath escaped Brentai’s lips.  “I do understand loyalty, Sheala.  I understand loss.  For you, it’s called family.  For my people, it’s called clan.  I just don’t want to lose the wild girl who stood at my back and helped me get out of that bar in Catersburg alive.  And I want her to never lose that fire.”  Again he reached up to touch her face, and this time she did not turn away.   

“I know,” she said.  “It’s just hard.  I’ve learned so much about why my life is the way that it is that maybe the truth has caused me to act a little hectic.  But I have to make things right.  Don’t worry about me.”  She returned her head to his chest.   

“As soon as the repairs to the Oracle are complete, I’ve got to go. You know that,” her lover reminded her.  

“You don’t have to,” Sheala countered his claim.  “You’re a free man.  All you have to do is turn in your papers.”   

“You know I can’t do that.  Reane is counting on me and I owe her that freedom; my freedom.” Brentai held her tight, “It hurts not knowing when I’ll see you again after we set sail.  If anything ever happened to you, and I wasn’t there to at least try and prevent it, I don’t know what I’d do.”   

“Will you stop worrying,” Sheala smiled. “I’ve got everything under control. You just keep yourself from getting killed.  Do you hear me? And you make sure you come back to me as soon as possible. I’ll be waiting for you.”  

Thick, tar-like grease and the soot that stuck to it covered everything.  Cassandra started to reach for the railing to lean against for support but retracted the second the skin of her fingers even grazed the disgusting substance. 

The clanking and banging from under the monstrous mass of metal, pipes, gears, and shafts mounted in every which direction in the aft section of the incomplete Juggernaut’s lower hull was beginning to sound like a badge of failure to Cassandra.  “Do you think,” she grumbled, “you’ve got it figured out this time?”   

“You know the old Dwarven proverb, don’t you?” Cabbat called from somewhere within the contraption, followed by more seemingly nonsensical noises.  “Twelfth times a charm!” he replied to his own question when she did not.   

“I think,” the Sub-General groaned, “we’re well past our twelfth attempt at making this work.  Do I need to remind you that we can’t afford for this to be a failure?”   

With a final resounding bang on something unseen, the dwarf crawled out from underneath with a series of strained grunts and groans.  “Failure,” he commented, himself a filthy mess, “is only a temporary setback on the way to success.”   

His constant answer for everything and his dwarven optimism was grating on Cassandra’s nerves.  “Just tell me you fixed it so that we don’t have any more of this,” she motioned to the crud that covered everything, “going everywhere.”  

“What do you expect for a rush job?” Cabbat rang his hammer on the large, horizontal cylindrical tank with crude riveting and less than perfect shape.  “This is just to act as proof of concept.  It’s not meant to be the final design.”   

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to justify any more failures with Lord Hedric,” she lamented the situation.  “Or any additional costs.” She remembered her Lord’s less than enthusiastic tone during her latest report two days ago. His palpable anger was seared into her memory.  

“Stop yer bellyaching,” the dwarf scolded her.  “Not like anything like this has ever been built before.  Now get into position, and let me know if that wheel starts turning once I get this beauty fired up.”   

Cassandra’s head bowed in preliminary anticipation of another defeat. Exhausted and more than a little frustrated at the lack of progress they had made in the past month, she sighed, perching herself against the doorway-sized opening in the hull. Looking out, she reviewed the rest of the massive contraption Cabbat had built.  He called it a “paddle wheel”, and it was mounted to the port side of the vessel on an enormous shaft. 

The plan was for there to be one on each side in the final design. But for this test, only one had been rigged up.  The problem was that it still hadn’t turned, not even once.   

Cassandra waited, staring back to the metal tank holding large amounts of water.  Cabbat had called it a ‘boiler’ … or something like that.  He claimed it was essential to what he called his ‘steam engine’.   

As she stood there, feeling useless, the dwarf was busy tending to a firebox, stoking a bellows like the ones on the furnaces at the palace and pumping air into a fire he had started.  Then he took to adding any large scraps of wood laying around to supply the fuel.   

Nothing was happening.  Nothing other than the heat from the fire starting to fill the space and making it uncomfortable. Cassandra imagined it like the underworld where cursed souls were doomed to spend eternity.  

There was a sudden bang, that brought Cassandra out of her thoughts, and the whole contraption began to rattle. The Sub-General could hear the dwarf cursing. “Cabbat?” she called.   

He was running about in a frantic pace, examining the device with intent and purpose.  “Not now,” he warned her.  “Can’t you see I’m busy?”   

There were more sounds. Bad sounding sounds. Loud creaks and pops that hinted at metal straining beyond its limits.  They were eerily similar to noises Cassandra had heard before the last spectacular failure.    

Cabbat was tracing a pipe, pounding on it with his hammer along the way.  Every strike produced a high-pitched ringing of a different note that it appeared only he could decipher.  Then, seeming to have found something that interested him, he repeatedly struck the same spot multiple times. Each successive whack produced the same teeth grating tone.   

The dwarf pulled out a small spike of metal, and with a knock from his hammer, he used it to punch a small hole that hissed out steam like an angry baby dragon trying to spit fire but failing.  Everything shook in that instant, and a large piece of the mechanics that had never moved before started to slide slowly forward.  Reaching the end of its length, it dipped and began to reverse course, slowing gaining momentum.  Time and again it went through the cycle, the hull of the once worthless ship rocking in unison with it.   

Seeing Cassandra staring at the movement, Cabbat reminded her, “Check the wheel!  Is it turning?”   

Cassandra snapped out of her awe that the whole thing was actually doing something other than blowing up and looked as she had been instructed.  Indeed, the massive paddle was turning in the air and also gaining momentum as the massive arm on the inside did.   

“Yes! It’s moving!” she called back excitedly.  “It’s moving!  You did it!”   

Cabbat was back on the bellows, pumping them hard.  “Yeah, well, success was never in doubt!  Get up on the deck!  Check and make sure the stack is drafting!  Should see a bunch of black smoke if it is!”  

Cassandra nodded.  Happily grabbing hold of a rope ladder hanging just outside the hull’s opening, she swung a foot out onto it, swayed a little, and then started to climb up the massive side of the ship.  At the top, Deran was there to greet her, and help her onto the deck.  The instant she was up, Cassandra noticed the thick, billowing cloud of putrid black smoke coming out of a metal pipe that ran through the decking and down to the lower parts of the ship.   

“The damn curt did it,” Deran smiled while also shaking his head.  “I thought for sure I was going to lose my head over this.”   

Laughing, Cassandra took a moment to ease his concerns.  “You and me both!  But now, we will bring Fimmirra to its knees,” she glowed with glee at her plans finally making progress.    

Then, she caught sight of the setting sun on the horizon of the sea.  The sight of it entranced her, pulling her toward the rail where she just stood, watching as it dipped lower and lower.  Her mind started to feel calmer, more at peace as worries and fears started to feel like they melted away.   

She hadn’t noticed as Deran came to stand next to her, also watching.  It was at that moment that Cassandra felt his fingers trying to entwine with hers.  After a brief moment of shock, she gave in, allowing her fingers to mesh with his, enjoying his touch and having him beside her. They stood there, together, taking in the moment that had nothing to do with war or destruction – only with them. 

<< Back to Chapter 29

The End of Book 1. Thank you for reading. Book 2 coming soon!

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