24. Slow to Anger

Chapter 24

Slow to Anger

Oddly enough, after all was said and done, I didn’t feel as angry as I probably should have. When Rutan had died, everything around me faded into a burning white hot rage, and before I knew it, I was covered in blood. When I came to, I was standing in a smoldering city, my head pounding and my heart hurting before I collapsed into Satel’s arms. Then I remembered crying all throughout the next day before planning the funeral.

But all of that happened in an instant- I never had a chance to really think until everything was over. At least as of right now, Jasco, Pao, and Fiet were still alive, and I had more than enough time to reflect on everything. I already knew why Bardam was doing this, and I already expressed my anger over it in prior months.

The idiot believed he could have my power and my non-existent rule over all pirates if he married me. He was in for a rude awakening now that I was answering his call. If only he hadn’t involved others into this petty power struggle, I wouldn’t have paid him any attention.

Some part of me wondered if my anger lessened because it wasn’t all Bardam’s fault. …But if he wasn’t so stubborn about having me, then Delar wouldn’t be so desperate. The whole reason this was happening was because the prince needed to marry and have heirs. This was all so that the Fodaren clan had control over one bloodline for the throne. But with the way they were limiting themselves to one bloodline, I had good reason to hate them, too.

And I couldn’t forget what Delar did to my mate, let alone forget that his clan had once been in possession of the very cannon that killed Rutan. The problem was that I was in this too deep, and knew that stalling was only going to make it worse. Even if I let Satel rescue my friends, the issue wouldn’t be resolved, and Bardam or Delar would just start yet another plan to capture me. This had to end.

I was determined to punish Bardam, as it was my right, but I was nowhere near mad enough to take it out on his kingdom. It seemed extreme, but it was Elati’s will to take away what was precious from the one who committed the crime, and his kingdom was it. I had no trouble feeling anger towards him, but it was hard to punish those who didn’t do anything to me personally.

It was different when Rutan died; I wasn’t in control of myself then. Even now I didn’t feel like there was anything that could send me back into that bloodlust.

However, I was upset enough to want revenge. Perhaps destroying the city would be enough, so long as I was careful with the lives within. It was the property that was valuable to the prince, not the people. Also, the damage I might cause would make a statement to Delar that I wasn’t someone to use as mere breeding stock.

Unfortunately, my ire would only cool the longer I had to wait. It was foolish to think that I would be in battle by the next day. Poor Satel needed rest after teleporting a total of four ships. He was only able to get mine and Gisette’s ship over to the enclave before he needed to rest for the night, then he spent most of the next day slowly recovering between jobs as he sought out Jasco, Pao, and Fiet’s ships.

He was more powerful, and his tricks were new, but he wasn’t omnipotent. What he’d accomplished in two days was far more than what an ordinary falucite could pull off. I didn’t mean to push him like that, so I was more than willing to hold off one more day so he could rest. After all, he still needed to get me to Barcilica, and while that was barely a dent in his power, there was still the likelihood of him having to face Delar.

This time it was my turn to give him a rub down from his feet to all the way up his back. Because he was exhausted – and because it wasn’t the right day – my massage stayed innocent. But he appreciated it nonetheless. When it was over, he turned over under me, forcing me to straddle his torso as he gripped my hips to keep me in place.

“Mine,” he muttered happily, his fingers drifting down my thighs to explore. I held back a sigh, noting that no matter what good intentions we had, we would always end up having sex after a massage.

“Ah thought ye were tired,” I said as one of his hands drifted up to rest at the small of my back. Actually, he didn’t say a thing about being tired. When he returned from his last teleport, he headed to our cabin without a word and collapsed on the bed.

He smirked up at me before he raised his hand to the back of my neck to pull me down. “Quit confusin’ mental fatigue wit’ physical. ‘Sides, we’re goin’ into battle tomorrow- this is the perfect time ta fool ’round. Don’t want regrets y’know,” he replied, rubbing noses with me.

“That’s quitter’s talk,” I muttered, putting my hands on his chest so I could hover over him. “Ye shouldn’t need ta worry ’bout regrets ’cause nothin’s gonna happen ta us.”

“Ye shouldn’t get too cocky, even if ye are right,” he told me, wrapping his arms around my back so that my body was pressed against his. He took the time to lick my cheek, working his way up to my ear before he blew into the shell of it. “Ride me,” he requested with a moan.

“Satel,” I groaned, keeping my resolve together to stop him. If only I couldn’t feel what he was doing to me. That damned heat that always curled in my belly when he’d say those naughty words kept alerting his senses, telling him that it was okay to seduce me. I was ready to compromise to have him hold off until everything was over, but I didn’t get the chance. He surprised me with a gentle kiss on the lips before he rolled us over to our sides.

He draped his still clothed arm around my waist and hooked a leg over mine, ensuring that I was snug against him. When our kiss broke, he smiled blissfully, using the thumb of his other hand to trace my lips.

“Ah know ah’ve been givin’ ye a headache these past few months. Ah’m gettin’ better control o’ meself, so ye won’t have ta think so hard ’bout me advances. Ah’ll earn yer trust in bed again,” he vowed. “Ah’ll be satisfied if yer jus’ sleepin’ in me arms tonight.”

The mate I knew was finally back. I relaxed against him, relieved that that I didn’t have to worry as much anymore. It was really wearing me down trying to be conscious of his actions and fighting his seduction. Some part of me was going to miss that dark beast, but I knew that side of him wasn’t going away forever; it was just staying in his subconscious until he wanted it out.

We were left in a comfortable silence after his declaration. If I – we – didn’t have to go out and sing our dedications with Rutan, I would’ve let myself drift to sleep. Now that Satel was an official member, he was also required to sing to Elit.

“Did ye think o’ wot yer gonna do tomorrow? Ah know ye know better than ta storm the place an’ attack Bardam immediately,” Satel inquired, ending the silence.

If there was anything I learned from Cegil’s old stories, it was to never storm an enemy’s stronghold, especially if they had valuable hostages. As long as they had the illusion of control over the situation, they wouldn’t resort to hasty measures. That meant that I had to be crafty. I couldn’t act until my friends were in my sight and within my reach of magicks.

“Ah have an idea, though it depends on how patient ye are. Ah might end up sent ta the dungeons if all goes right,” I replied, fighting a grin. It would be like me to deliberately get arrested. After spending the first two decades of my life getting in trouble without really trying, it was easy to know what to do or say to get thrown in jail.

“Oh? Do tell,” my mate prodded, completely interested. Though he had his own role to play, he still wanted to do what he could to make my mission as simple as possible. But I had pleaded with him to stay out of it unless it looked really dire.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want his help at all, but that if I kept using him for problems that I could take care of myself, then I might get too dependent on him; just like when I depended on him when I sailed Tiata and Naia’s waters. Besides, it wasn’t as if he didn’t have anything to do, so there was no need to add to his plate. I told him my plan, and what I was hoping would happen so that he wouldn’t worry about me and accidentally interfere.

Of course, I didn’t think my idea would go so smoothly, so I had backups in case it didn’t. Satel was satisfied enough, save for the parts where I might be end up in a private setting. The less people around would mean an increased chance in meeting Delar in person.

“Actually ‘Tia-dear, ah do have a plan o’ me own that ah’d like ta try before ye start. Ah’ll take ye ta the nearest port town ta Barcilica an’ order ye a carriage instead o’ takin’ ye straight there. That way ah can distract Delar an’ lure him away from Bardam before ye get there,” the blond told me, grinning mischievously. “It’ll be fun damaging a few cities ta the north an’ leavin’ jus’ before he gets there ta investigate.”

While Satel didn’t have much allies on land anymore, he still had earth dragon friends that lived in Rynrir and were neutral to falucite clan alliances. He found a few that knew Delar and what territories he possessed, giving Satel the perfect targets. And since the damn man nearly killed my mate, Satel was entitled to some retribution; his elders couldn’t retaliate unless they wanted a goddess’ wrath.

“Yer gonna have so much fun,” I commented with a laugh. I was already picturing the playful, child-like look on his face as he phased in and out of different cities, causing massive damage wherever he went. Unfortunately for everyone, he now had the ability to teleport large amounts of water, so even landlocked towns far beyond the coast were not immune to tidal waves now.

“Not as much fun as ye’ll have, ah bet. Ah expect ta see piss stains on Bardam’s trousers when yer through wit’ him,” he replied sounding pleased at the thought.

Despite how serious it was going to get tomorrow, we couldn’t help but indulge in silly fantasies of what was to come. We could’ve been overconfident, but we also knew that this wasn’t going to be any big deal. Destroying cities and castle towns were part of the power deal Elati had given us. And as long as we didn’t actually claim and conquer lands in the name of Elit, the earth gods wouldn’t care.

No, this was but a small task; one that would get us noticed by the other races and have us put to the test. We were ready to play our roles, but the question still remained if we were ready to defend our livelihoods in the face of those who didn’t agree with our existence. But that would come much later.

********************

The next morning was all theatrics. Satel had his fun in dressing me himself, picking out a fancy dress he acquired from his remaining sole territory. Since he was no longer part of the clan, he couldn’t keep all the territories he had previously owned on their land. He was allowed one city as a gift, and he picked Osel, despite its location in the Wastelands.

Osel was his first territory and his most successful project. It was a magnet for inventors, and had all the latest gadgets and stores offered to humanity. The city not only gave him a final link to Orja, but it also offered him an advantage when it came to inventions and trends.

The dress he procured for me was a black and white lacy number- an almost vintage blast from the past that seemed to be popular among the upper class. Covering the neck seemed to be coming back into fashion, though it was just in the form of a detachable collar. The corset was black with silver clasps down the middle and decorative buttons and chains lining the sides. It covered enough of my breasts to only show a tasteful amount of cleavage, while the rest of it was covered in an off-the-shoulder shirt made of white see-through lace.

The shirt had long sleeves that gathered mid arm with black ribbon and then flared out over my hands. The ends hemmed with more ribbon, thus covering my tattoos. But since it was an off-the-shoulder, some of my armband tattoos were peeking through, yet at first glance they seemed to be a nice design to the shirt.

Covering my shoulders was a black sleeveless short jacket with frills that came to my mid back. Attached to the corset was a long half-overskirt that mimicked a tailcoat design. It complimented the flowing black skirt underneath. The ends of the skirt had a pleated hem that used to be popular almost fifty years ago. Back when I used to travel with Cegil, my favorite dress had that same pleated hem motif.

Finally, to top it all off was the lace collar at my neck. It was a black leather band with white frilled lace. There was also a small silver link from where a tiny glass bottle hung from. Inside that bottle was seawater from Elati- for my protection of course.

“Geez,” I muttered looking down at myself. “Ah wasn’t aware ah had ta dress ta impress Bardam.”

My words shocked Satel out of his admiring gaze. “Who?” he asked incredulously.

I sighed and hid my grin, wondering if Satel only got this dress so I would be eye candy. He did seem to like seeing me in older period clothing even though this was the hottest trend going on in landlubber cities. Well, at least I knew I didn’t look bad; Rutan just shrugged while Rosie admired the dress adoringly when I showed them.

At least the outfit served its purpose. The point was to not attract attention to myself until I reached the castle. All I had left of my ‘pirate proof’ was my gold earring, and it barely looked out of place on my person.

“Ah want ye treated wit’ respect ’til ye get there, so it’s better ta dress as a noblewoman. Ah can’t help that ye look lovely in nearly everything ah put ye in,” the über hat man argued as he opened the door of the steam powered carriage for me.

I obediently climbed in like a proper lady. At least I had a shorter skirt and stockings on underneath. While the long skirt was a flowing type, I wanted my legs free to fight and run when I needed it, so the shorter one was necessary.

Once I was settled in, Satel pressed a kiss to the back of my hand before pressing the cane he had into my palm. “There’s a rapier hidden inside- jus’ twist the knob on top,” he told me, demonstrating it for me.

My gun was hidden between the layers of the corset tail and the skirt, but the cane might also come in handy. After I took it from him, I wished my mate luck on his endeavors, earning a smirk from him.

“Ah’ll be givin’ that prat nightmares,” he promised, leaning up to give me a quick kiss. He jumped down from the carriage and closed the door. I watched him as he headed over to the driver and paid him for the trip.

It had been a while since I acted like a highborn lady, and I found myself easily acting the part by sitting straight with my chin up. The only reason I didn’t feel out of place was because I was focused on my goals. That, and it could be because I was alone for the moment; I had no one to ‘impress’.

When the carriage started to move, I glanced out at Satel as he watched me go. He also put on a change of wardrobe, mixing his new seafarer styles with the old.

He had his seafarer shirt on, with a new black vest with straps down the center. His chest was woefully covered with his tucked in ascot, and he gotten himself a new pair of leather trousers that allowed for more room, but still shaped his butt nicely. But the best feature was his new long coat, the tail of which fluttered in the breeze ominously behind him.

It was midnight blue with gold trim and a black silk lining. I could almost swear Pappy had a coat like that once, and I had to wonder if Satel had gone to one of his treasure vaults and stolen it. On one hand, I was a little excited to see Satel embrace his inner pirate, but on the other… once Pappy resurfaced in Rutan, he might try to kill him if that was indeed his jacket. No one stole treasure from the Lord of the Sea, not even his son-in-law.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him as I rode away. He stood there with the rim of his über hat tilted enough to cover his grey eye and had an evil smirk on his face, probably imagining what he was about to do. He disappeared before the carriage could pass the gates of the port town. Thankfully no one noticed, as the crowds continued on as if nothing happened.

I turned to face the front of the small carriage and prepared for the long, boring journey to my enemy’s castle.

********************

Barcilica was very far from the coast. So much so that it would take two days on foot and half a day on horseback. Thankfully the technology on steam powered engines improved, so the steam carriage I rode reduced the travel time to just four hours (not counting the time needed to refuel).

About an hour or two into my trip, I came to the realization that, for the first time in a long time, I was actually alone. Satel was gone, Rutan and the crew were safe in the enclave, and the mermaids were left behind in the surf. It was a strange sensation to be alone and for a moment I felt perturbed.

This was only temporary, and Bardam and his men didn’t scare me at all. I was more afraid for the lives of my friends than for myself, and that mellowed me out enough to really think through my actions. Until my friends were in my sight, I had to pretend Bardam was a threat, because while he really was insignificant, he did have the power to kill Jasco, Pao, and Fiet.

I would be crushed if something happened to them. I didn’t know Gisette personally, but even she didn’t deserve to be in the middle of a battle that had nothing to do with her. These revelations further cooled my anger, but also strengthened my resolve. I couldn’t act as the embodiment of Elati’s Wrath if I wasn’t livid, but my pride as a seafarer refused to back down while other seafarers were being tortured.

So the question was what would happen to Barcilica? Could I still destroy her? Was it even necessary? I was just going to have to go with the flow and see where my path would take me.

I was pulled out of my thoughts when the carriage stopped. The driver climbed down from his compartment to help me out of the carriage. Like a good ‘helpless’ lady, I took his offered hand and stepped down demurely. A quick glance at my surroundings told me that I was in front of an important building, likely the castle where Bardam resided.

As with all castles, it was located at the center of the city, and in front of its gates was a huge town square with a massive spitting fountain and small wooden and straw stalls for selling wares. It was surprisingly quaint and rustic considering the modern technology that was spreading. It seemed many of the buildings and street fixtures had survived for many years. Perhaps Bardam and his citizens didn’t like change and stubbornly clung to their traditions.

Beyond the stone streets and brick buildings, I could see traces of machinery, street lamps, and a few gear powered contraptions – of what I wasn’t certain – but it did show that the city wasn’t backwatered. Towering above the shingled roofs was a lone tower that held a giant clock face and showed that it was now high noon. I couldn’t believe it was still so early in the day.

Satisfied with my observations, I nodded my thanks to the carriage driver and turned on my heel to face the castle. Now that was ancient. Most castles bore remnants of their original design, but because of age or war damage, their appearances changed due to rebuilding. It was hewn of old stone and had many towers and turrets surrounding a cube, and on top of that cube was one massive tower that ended with a pointed dome.

At least, this was one part of it. There seemed to be three more identical to it sitting at the four directions; and at the center, connecting them all together, was a tall building with more pointed domes and arches on every level. This architecture was found approximately three thousand years ago, judging from the drawings I’ve seen in history books.

I wondered how something like that survived for so long. Could it have been the falucite? If so, then perhaps it wasn’t the humans that valued traditions and old antiques. When I thought about it, the Fodaren seemed to have a one track mind when it came to preserving history. They didn’t trust new inventions or new blood. Maybe they didn’t trust Satel because he was ‘new’, too.

I ‘hmph’ed as I waited for the carriage to drive away. Once it was out of my way, I headed toward the gate that led inside. There were two armored guards standing on either side of the opening, and they did nothing to stop me as I headed in.

I discovered that the many courtyards appeared to be open to the public, as there were many elegantly dressed ladies, gentlemen, and children walking along the cobblestone paths and through the gardens. I stayed on the straight path that led directly to the first building. There was a set of stairs about six feet high, and at the top double doors made of some rich red wood.

Once again I was not stopped; some servants even rushed to open the doors for me. Either this was yet another public place I was entering, or my prideful stride tricked them into believing that I belonged here. I ignored the interior design. I always saw the same artistry, ordinate furnishings, and gaudy decorative fixtures in every nobleman’s mansion I’d raided.

Every window opening had a plush couch under it for visitors to sit, and there were paintings or sculptures covering every open space of wall. Every stretch of floor had an intricate roll of carpet with knot designs lining the edges. It may have pleased the land dwellers, but I wasn’t very impressed. The most beautiful landscapes in the word were at or near the sea, after all.

I was able to ask some people for directions, and they had no qualms about leading me in the direction of the throne room. But they did warn me that I was not likely to get an audience unless I had arranged for one long in advance. I snorted to myself. I wasn’t going to have a hard time gaining an audience.

It wasn’t until I reached the large arched doors of the throne room was when I was halted. Two armored knights barred my path with their spears without so much of a glance at me. I glared, ready to give them a piece of my mind, but a much shorter man appeared from behind one of them with a scroll and a feather pen tucked into his curly brown hair.

He stared at me, his bulbous nose turned up before he questioned, “Do you have business here?”

“I do,” I replied, curbing my accent for now. “Your prince committed a crime against the sea, and I’m here for retribution.”

“…Excuse me?” the man intoned, confused and surprised.

“I’m the Lord of the Sea, surely he’s expecting me,” I commented.

I wasn’t that surprised when the man chuckled in disbelief. Even one of the guards snorted. “You cannot possibly be the Lord of the Sea, silly girl!”

“And why not?” I said coolly, curious about his response. I wasn’t sure what the landlubbers knew of me, but if Bardam wanted me to be his bride, then they should know better.

“W-well, the Lord of the Sea is a woman who acts like a man, and you’re clearly too feminine to be her,” he replied, holding back his laughter, “Also, I hear that the Lord of the Sea cannot leave the ocean, or else she’ll get sores and grow weak like the pirate criminals in the east courtyard.”

“Wot?” I inquired darkly as his words registered. Sores and weakness?

There was only one disease that would cause those symptoms in seafarers: Seafarer’s Madness. It wasn’t surprising to hear that Jasco and the others were ill. Nearly all seafarers in the world had the sickness in their bodies, hence why it was torture to imprison them on land. Criminals should be sentenced to a quick death, not tortured mercilessly. Even we pirates wouldn’t be so cruel to an enemy.

“Out o’ me way,” I growled, stepping into the man’s space. He was caught off guard by the change in my demeanor, but held his ground until I punched him in the gut and shoved him to the side. The two knights straightened up, too stunned to do anything else but stand there and block my way.

I scowled as I glanced up at them. I summoned the water from my hidden armor to knock them aside. I only had enough to crash one into the other, but it was enough to disable them. They hit each other hard enough to cause dents in the chest area of the armor.

Now that they were disoriented, all I had to do was push them both with my own strength and let them fall against the door. Since they must’ve weighed a lot with all that metal, the massive doors opened, allowing them to fall through into the throne room with a deafening crash.

There were more people inside than I expected. There was a red carpet that led to the throne, and a line of knights stood at attention on both sides. Beyond them in the spacious room were people ranging from servants, vassals, nobles, and whoever had an appointment with Bardam. I could tell that they had been chatting as they socialized with each other but everyone was silent as I boldly stepped in and walked on the nearest fallen knight, the heels of my boots clicking on the metal.

Well, at least I made quite the entrance.

The air felt heavy as I proceeded down the line, everyone too stunned to stop me. Unlike before, I had a stirring of fury as I thought about my friends suffering on land. Maybe Bardam didn’t know any better – Seafarer’s Madness was a disease kept under wraps, after all – but if he was actually serious about bartering with me he should treat them better than that. Damn it, he could’ve kept them in a jail near the coast!

Though maybe that was the point. It would have been far easier for me to rescue them by the coast where I would have access to my ship and mermaid army. I was going to make the man regret summoning me.

As I slowly approached the high seat on the pedestal, I took my first real good look at the man sitting on it. Though I had been toying with him for several years, and he chased after me with a vengeance, we never met face to face before. The only visuals I had on him were through spyglasses.

Bardam was a little younger than I thought, though he had all the maturity of a man. There was a beard on his squared chin that only followed the jaw line, but never crept past an inch above it. His hair was a sandy blond, apparently a common color among royals. I had to wonder if that was a coincidence, or if falucite deliberately bred them from one common ancestor. His eyes, which sat under thick brows, were a dark forest green. A true color for one born of the earth.

He certainly was handsome, and it stunned me to admit that. Perhaps I was expecting something ugly or bratty because he annoyed me. He looked as stunned as everyone else but he sat upon his throne as regally as one could muster, his head held up and back straight.

He was dressed in royalty’s finest with a green jacket and white trousers, almost reminiscent of what Satel wore to his birthday, but of a different design. Upon his brow was a thick golden circlet with his kingdom’s crest and a few jewels. He didn’t need those clothes and accessories to prove anything; his whole demeanor screamed ‘royalty’.

It wasn’t until I was close to the stairs of the dais when his knights finally reacted and moved to bar my way. A simple wave of Bardam’s hand told them to stand down.

“The Lord of the Sea, as I live and breathe,” the prince said, standing from his throne. Since he was able to name me without a prior introduction, he somehow knew me by sight even though we never met face to face.

But I was a little put off by his tone. He should have only seen blurred images of me through a spy glass, so he couldn’t possibly be attracted to me. But then, a man didn’t need much to fall in love with power. He was probably lusting after my position.

“If you know who I am, then this should be brief. You know why I am here,” I told him evenly, raising my head to meet his gaze.

Bardam smiled slyly before he shrugged and hid his hands behind his back. That can’t be good… I wonder if he was hiding something. “I wonder why you choose to come before me now, when I have captured other pirates before?” he inquired, his tone betraying his true intentions. He wanted me to admit that Jasco and the others were specifically important to me.

“That’s because you’re not capturing them with the intent of protecting your people. You’re just playing a selfish game with them. When you’re just fooling around with seafarers’ lives, I get mad,” I replied, standing my ground as the human prince began to descend from his dais.

“Oh? So then does that mean when you’re raiding my ports, harming my citizens, and stealing valuable resources, you’re protecting your people?” he countered, expecting me to flinch. Under any other circumstance, he might have had a point, but… for one, pirates did have a dragon to feed.

“Yes, though you wouldn’t understand why. In a way, our actions protect your worms as well as you, for as long as we do our job, beasts far more powerful than I will not ravage your lands. Furthermore, we don’t do anything that truly damages your economy. We’re not mass murderers, and we don’t steal necessary resources beyond what feeds us. All we take are baubles and trinkets that do no one any good in the long run; they’re food to pacify the beasts.

“I won’t stand here and excuse our acts as righteous, and we recognize you filths have every right to fight back. But if you were seriously trying to stop us, then you wouldn’t simply take the captains of a ship and tell their crews to send me in order to save them. Taking them won’t stop us, as every captain has a replacement. What’s the point of working so hard to capture a ship, if you’re only going to let them and several other criminals go free after?” I asked, keeping my voice loud and clear so the entire court could hear.

Bardam was supposed to be their ‘righteous prince’, and while they didn’t have to believe the words of a pirate, I did bring up some good points. He wasn’t working for their benefit, only his own, and his actions were most certainly not good for his people. His face betrayed confusion, but he hid it quickly behind a mask of indifference.

He let out a chuckle, not one bit worried even as the people began whispering amongst themselves. “And how do you know, my lady, that my ploy wasn’t only made to lure you here? You ARE the greatest criminal known to man, and now you are here, powerless and at my mercy.”

“Someone thinks far too highly of themselves,” I commented sarcastically, “Even I have a replacement, so in the unlikely event that I die here, he will take over. His first act as the new Lord would be to destroy you.”

Of course, that’s what Rutan would do once he was of age. Unfortunately, Satel might take care of that long before then… and probably right after he would destroy Delar and his clan in his rage. But the point was that the title of Lord of the Sea wouldn’t die with me.

“Then I suppose it is a good thing that I have no plans to kill you,” he responded in amusement as he reached the last step so that we were face-to-face on ground level. “I’ve also no interest in taking the lives of your men, if you would be interested in making a deal with me.”

Thanks to Satel’s investigations, I knew what ‘deal’ he was working up to. If not marriage, then he was seeking to ally himself with me so that I would be able to make all pirates serve his kingdom. He was a fool through and through. He wouldn’t have access to pirate treasure through me, nor would I consider forcing them to serve two masters. In a choice between a spoiled human prince and a hungry dragon, the dragon would win.

But I wasn’t in the position to give an outright refusal until I was sure that my friends were safe. Even if I attacked everyone here, there was no guarantee that Bardam didn’t plan for it and had men ready to slaughter them the first chance I slip up.

“Before I even consider it, I want to see them. I refuse to make any deals regarding dead men,” I said. I needed to see where they were being held, how they were, and how many were watching over them. Depending on what I saw, I might save them as soon as I saw them, or I would have to wait and come back.

Bardam apparently thought that was fair and nodded. “Follow me,” he ordered as he turned to the side and strode towards a door near the back.

The guards moved aside quickly and formed a corridor to guide us. As I began to walk, the bailiff announced that the court was over, earning many protests from those who were waiting for their turn to see the prince. Some even tried to chase after Bardam, but the knights were more successful in stopping them than they were in stopping me.

I was led into a plain looking corridor that led to stairs. It seemed to be a shortcut to go outside. I made sure to follow after Bardam a few steps behind, making sure there was considerable distance between us. A small company of knights followed, likely for his protection… not that they could subdue me if I actually attacked.

I couldn’t tell how long we walked, but it felt as though we were outside before I knew it. We didn’t seem to be in a courtyard, but rather a small training ground for knights. It was close to the outer walls and had a dirt path that seemed to circle around the castle. To the left, I could see a small gate that did lead to a larger area- likely one of the courtyards.

Bardam turned to the right and revealed a line of posts decorating one side of the path. My eyes widened when I realized that there were people tied to those posts. Each post was about as tall as Cegil, making the victims seem small. Upon further inspection, I discovered that it was Jasco and the others.

It appeared that they didn’t have strength to stand, so they were completely supported upright by the rope tied around their middle. I wasn’t sure why but they had blindfolds over their eyes, covering some of the red sores that were lining their faces. On the furthest end from me, I could see the lone female, Gisette. For a seafarer, she had fair skin, but it was sunburned from being out all day. The blisters from the Seafarer’s Madness was probably making her feel worse.

Some part of me was pleasantly surprised and pleased that they treated men and women the same here, but at the same time, Gisette didn’t deserve it. None of them did.

Before I could stop myself, I began to walk over to them to get a better look at them, but Bardam seized forward to grip me tightly about my upper arm. His hand was almost large enough to wrap around my limb. I glared up at him in warning while he put on a dark and threatening look.

“Do not even think about trying anything,” he muttered before he let go.

“Don’t worry. Even if I did, they’re too sick to get far,” I replied coolly. Seafarer’s Madness drained one of strength, so they couldn’t even crawl away if they wanted to.

It had been a very long time since I was in the grips of the disease; I barely remembered it. It was a bug that was still inside me, kept at bay for as long as I stayed in the sea, and for as long as Satel and I remained intimate. It caused painful, itchy bumps and blisters all over the skin, took away all strength, and the victim would suffer a light, but constant fever. All I remembered was that I was bedridden as we figured out a way to fight it.

With the poor fools blindfolded, they were probably drifting between reality and delirious thoughts brought on by their fevers. Without any kind of treatment, they might die within the next few days. Ordinarily, Seafarer’s Madness didn’t kill a person, but if there was no one there to take care of them, they would just sit there until the lack of nourishment killed them. It seemed Bardam was allowing for minimal care in the form of feeding, but being exposed to dry land air and full sunlight wasn’t good for them.

The first one in the line was Fiet, and he was just was muttering under his breath- likely talking in his sleep.

“Granny…forgive me. …Ah haven’t touched… an unwillin’ lass… e’er since…”

“Wot a vial o’ kwiad rue- ye really are delirious,” I muttered. I had hoped he was awake, but it seemed he that really was asleep as he continued to whisper his regrets and apologies.

He must be referring to when I had scolded him half a year ago about raping women. He acted as if he didn’t listen to me, but could it be that he did take my advice? I knew there was a good man in him, but I didn’t know he actually valued my opinion. So there was room for respect in his dark pirate heart. Though there was no telling if he really felt bad for what he did to other women, or if he was just hoping to be a good pirate and not anger me. I really hoped it was the former…

Jasco was next to him, then Pao, and finally Gisette. All of them looked as though they had lost a few pounds and they were clearly suffering. I couldn’t imagine even a landlubber not feeling sorry for them. My hands slowly clenched into tight fists. Seconds later I heard thunder in the distance.

Now I was truly angry. Only when I felt indignation could I summon the goddess and borrow her powers. This was what it meant being the hand of Elati’s Wrath. The goddess was more than happy to supply as long as it meant I would be the ultimate enemy to the soon-to-be victims.

…But there was one thing that stopped me from destroying everything right then. No matter what I did, I couldn’t save those four while they were like this. Even if I summoned the sea here, it would take a while for them to recover and be able to leave with me. I couldn’t take the chance; I had to stall for a little longer.

Until then there was something I could do for them. I turned to face Bardam, noting that it had suddenly gotten darker because thick storm clouds were rolling in quickly.

“I will hear out your proposal under one condition,” I began, earning an incredulous look from him.

“Hear me out? No, if you want to save them, then you must agree to my-” I cut him off before he could finish.

“I’m not asking for that,” I snapped before I touched the small bottle hanging from my neck. “Let me give them medicine so that I can be sure that they’ll live. Then we can begin negotiations. They won’t be free yet, but at least I can momentarily ease their suffering.”

He looked stunned, them amused before he nodded his consent. There was no way for him to tell that the fluid in my clear bottle was seawater. But it was the only thing – other than taking them to the coast – that would help them. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough for all four of them. I had to sacrifice some of my water armor.

This water was supposed to be my weapon and for my protection, but… they needed it far more than I did at the moment. I was careful as I administered the water, portioning it perfectly with my magicks and adding a little from my armor. I made sure to cup the chin and let the stream float between my hand and the bottle so that Bardam couldn’t see.

I went in order, starting with Fiet, then moving on to Jasco. Poor guy. If he hadn’t had such an active lifestyle, he might’ve been worse off due to his age. His successor probably already taken over his ship, so he might not have a home to go back to. He’d be forced into retirement early. It was a good thing we were starting to build that settlement. Maybe he would like it there.

When I reached Pao and touched his cheek, he didn’t move or make a sound. For a moment I was worried he was already gone, but I discovered that he was still breathing, his chest moving against the binds. This wasn’t surprising to me; I found him sleeping in stranger places back when he was my quartermaster. I had to get him home, lest he lose the dream he worked so hard to get.

The last one was Gisette, and while I felt a little bad that she was in that predicament, I didn’t feel sorry for her. She should know the consequence of being a pirate and be prepared for times like this. So, the fact that she appeared to be holding up just as well as the others was very promising. She may not be nice to the other men, but she had the guts and endurance to be one of us. I could respect her for that much.

As I reached out to touch her, I found that she was actually awake. With a snarl – and strength that she shouldn’t have in her condition – she turned her head and bit me. I clamped my jaw shut to keep from hissing in pain as her teeth tried to dig into my thumb. She was probably expecting me to pull away instantly, but I held my ground to show her that I wasn’t a threat. And I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the prince.

Her strength left her quickly, her jaw loosened. As her head fell away, she whispered harshly, “Back off ye barnacle. Jus’ cause ah’m tied up don’t mean ye can take advantage o’ me.”

I felt a rush of pride for her and forgave her just a little. I figured the bite was out of self-defense, but I thought it was done out of fear, rather than her confusing me for some passing pervert.

“Calm down lass an’ take yer medicine. Ah promise this’ll let ye feel better fer a while,” I told her, earning a gasp of surprise, either because she heard a seafarer accent or because it was a woman that responded. I quickly forced the water in her before she could close her mouth. She coughed, not expecting it, then resumed her shocked features.

“Who are ye?” she inquired softly.

“Don’t worry ’bout that fer now. Jus’ focus on recoverin’ an’ ah’ll be back fer ye later,” I replied replacing the cork on the bottle before I re-hooked it to the choker. I turned and walked back to where Bardam was standing while lamenting the lost water. I was a little weaker without it, since I had no control over fresh water unless it came from Elati.

My powers were over seawater because it was in control of the sea gods. But fresh water that soaked the land was a product of Kotija, the earth goddess of purity. She was the one who ‘purified’ seawater so that it could be consumed, and the only other one with a similar power was Elati, as her rains were also purified. When we lived in the homestead, Satel was only able to use rain water to fill our bath.

But the only way I could tell the difference between the two was if I tried to control it. If it didn’t respond, then it was Kotija’s water.

Well, I had the coming storm to back me up, and Satel if things got dicey. I still had a gun and the rapier within the cane to aid me. I didn’t need magicks to deal with humans; I shouldn’t need them. As long as my fist was still strong enough to break a jaw, I should be fine.

I stood before the prince and inquired, “All right. What is this deal you had in mind?”

He turned back to the door we’d come from and gestured me to follow again. “Let us retire to a more comfortable and private setting.”

“…Very well,” I replied reluctantly, moving my feet. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of ‘private’. If Satel wasn’t doing a good enough job distracting Delar, then it might be a private enough setting for the falucite to appear and meet with me.

No matter. I would have to cross that bridge if I got there. For now, I needed to stall and let the four recover, even if that meant playing the defenseless maiden.

To the Next Chapter

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