Part One: Nobalos, the Real Enemy
Chapter 1: The Councilor’s Ambition
Kordo-Strî woke suddenly, as if shaken. She could no longer feel her husband lying beside her. She could hear a gong being struck over and over again. The alarm at the shipyard! She sat bolt upright in her bed. By the light of a lamp on a stand, she saw him dressing with haste. “Bashânîr! What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going down to the shipyard to find out.”
She threw off the sheets. Her bare feet hit the floor. “I’m going with you,” she said.
She knew how important the warships were to him. Still under construction, they were based on his own revolutionary design. She dressed quickly, covering her hair with a black chador, and followed him out the bedroom door. They entered the central atrium of the house, open to the sky. The bright yellow moon above them was two days from full. Over the tiled roof of the house, the moonlight illuminated several columns of smoke reaching into the night sky. She smelled burning wood.
“Something’s burning!” she cried out. “Could it be the ships?”
“Yes, can’t you smell the burning wood?” Bashânîr shouted. He ran across the courtyard to the gate, opened it, and ran out without securing it. She ran after him, locking the gate behind her. It annoyed her that her husband wasn’t more security-conscious.
The Council of Forty-Two, of which Kordo-Strî was an eminent member, had granted them the privilege of residing where they could watch Bashânîr’s dream become reality. She turned and looked down the hill toward the shipyard, which was encircled by a stone wall and had only nine ships under construction. This secret installation was specially designed to make new warships of Bashânîr’s design. Powered by steam turbines, they didn’t need hundreds of men to tug the oars. Smaller and more maneuverable than the great galleys which were the capital ships of the Nobalan fleet, they would make all other warships obsolete. They were the key to Nobalos’ victory in the war … and they were on fire.
Over the edge of the shipyard’s protective wall, she could see flames eating away at the wooden hulls, climbing their masts, and heating the metal parts until they glowed bright red. By the light of the flames, she could see shield-bearing men throwing their torches in the water and climbing into small boats that began rowing out to Sea. The reek of burning wood grew stronger as she approached. Smoke began to obscure the stars, and was threatening to blot out the moon.
She lowered her gaze, and saw her husband hurrying down the moonlit path from their house to the shipyard. She followed him, walking at fast as she dared without stumbling. Soon the stone wall towered over them both. Security at the shipyard was tight, lest spies for the Hegemony discover the secret of the new ships.
Bashânîr stopped at the guardhouse by the gate in the wall. She caught up with him, panting. A frustrating conversation was in progress.
“… Can’t let you in, My Lord,” the guard was saying. “It’s not safe.”
“I understand, Lieutenant,” Bashânîr replied. “But you know who I am. You can trust me. I designed those ships! I must get in.”
“Enemy raiders landed from Sea. They are inside the yard, setting ships on fire. They’d gladly kill you, My Lord.”
Kordo-Strî was ready to talk. “Lieutenant, from the top of the hill we could see the raiders throwing down their torches and escaping on small boats. My husband needs to inspect the damage. We’ll be careful in there.”
“My Lady Councilor, I’m not authorized to let anyone inside tonight.”
She wanted to know if the raiders were barbarians or from the Hegemony, but he obviously didn’t know that either.
Bashânîr turned to his wife and muttered angrily, “Nine warships of my new design, burned to ashes. My creations!”
Kordo-Strî took an opportunity to use her mental powers on the young lieutenant. You can trust Lord Bashânîr and Councilor Kordo-Strî, she told him in his mind. Let them in. They’ll use their influence in your defense if your superiors discipline you.
The Lieutenant glanced away and nervously sucked in his lips, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not authorized to let anybody in. I’m a soldier. I have to obey orders.”
Kordo-Strî admitted defeat. The young lieutenant was a disciplined soldier, and when in doubt he relied on the chain of command. She could plant ideas in people’s heads, but she could not compel another person’s will.
She turned to Bashânîr, reached up, and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, dear. The Council will gladly authorize nine more to replace them.”
The ships were just as important to her as they were to him. She was a prominent member of the Council of Forty-Two, whose members would choose a new Grand Vizier when old and infirm Jeikupîr died. She hoped to replace him. Her sponsorship of her husband’s new warship design was one of the steps on her path to power.
“Think of the time lost!” Bashânîr barked.
“How much time have we lost, husband?”
“About two months.” His voice dropped to the point where she could barely hear him over the roar of the flames in the distance. “More, if we can’t salvage the boilers and turbines. Those fires may be hot enough to fuse the metal parts.”
“When I looked down from the top of the hill, I thought I saw glowing, hot metal on those burning ships.”
“I hope you’re wrong,” he said. “We’ll have to come down here in daylight and get a complete report.”
The ships would have to be rebuilt. Tomorrow Bashânîr would learn the extent of the damage. She yawned. Now, the best idea was to get some sleep, and rise tomorrow refreshed and ready to take on the new challenge.
“Let’s go home, Bashânîr,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do here, now.” Tomorrow they would learn the extent of the damage, and estimate a new launch date for the ships that would make Nobalos’ navy invincible.
He sighed. In the moonlight she could see the tears on his face. She hugged him for a long moment. Then they started back up the path, side by side. Her hand found his and squeezed it. He sighed again, louder. He dropped her hand, reaching around her waist to pull her close to him as they walked. They began retracing their steps back up to the house.
Kordo-Strî realized they’d forgotten to say, “Peace be unto you” to the Lieutenant as they left. She regretted forgetting her manners. Her parents had raised her to treat everyone with basic courtesy, even if you didn’t like or respect them.
“What I want to know is,” she asked, “how did they know the shipyard was here?”
“If it’s the barbarians, Creator alone knows how they knew, but if it’s the Hegemony, then the World-Queen could have found the location using the Oracular Topaz.”
“Yes, we know she has the Topaz,” she replied. “It’s the only way to explain Prince Torûn’s rescue.” It was not a pleasant thing for her to think about, since the policy of Nobalos towards the Hegemony for the last two decades had been based on the assumption that the World-Queen’s father, the last World-Queen, lost the Topaz while swimming in a river. His claim to have recaptured it wasn’t taken seriously, because the Nobalos-led rebellion had driven him away to the west.
Bashânîr’s voice rose a bit, as his spirits rallied. “If any doubt remained, after the rescue of Prince Torûn, that she has the Topaz, that doubt was consumed in tonight’s flames.”
“If only there was some way to shield ourselves from the view of her Topaz!” Kordo-Strî said.
“To do that, dearest wife, we would have to know how the Topaz works. I’d like to find out.”
Kordo-Strî shook her head vigorously. “Bashânîr, the Topaz is a miraculous artifact – or else a diabolical one. Either way, it’s certainly beyond human understanding.”
He stopped. His long, narrow, moonlit face spun toward her. “Is it? The Creator gave us brains, didn’t He? It would be blasphemous to refuse to use them.” She loved having such a brilliant and creative husband, though at times she wondered if he was too curious for his own good. This was one of those times.
“Whoever thought,” he asked, “the power of steam could make a ship move on Sea, until I showed it was possible? There may be a way to discover the secret of the Topaz. We know that a transmitter, if he concentrates hard enough, can produce flashes of light in a diamond or other precious stone. Therefore, the power of the Topaz is in some way connected to the psychic gift of message transmission. If I could just find a Topaz of the right color and cut it in exactly the same way as the Oracular Topaz …”
“Bashânîr, it wouldn’t work for you. You’re not even royalty, and the Oracular Topaz is not just another jewel. Only the heir to the throne of the Hegemony can use it.”
“We’ll discuss it some more in the morning.” He looked down at her in the moonlight and smiled. “You may be the most promising young member of the Council of Forty-Two, but don’t forget, you’re married to Malga’s greatest philosopher. If I can find out how this mighty bauble works, I may find a way to shield Nobalos from the World-Queen’s prying.” He kissed her, briefly. “You need sleep, my love. I’ll put you to bed.”
“Aren’t you coming back to bed too?”
“In a while, maybe. I want to spend some time in my study. I have some calculating to do.”
Kordo-Strî smiled back. “If any mortal can figure out how the Oracular Topaz works, you are the one to do it.”
She respected a man whose ambitions were as vast as her own. She wanted most of all to govern the most powerful kingdom in the world of Malga – and through that, Malga itself. He wished to understand the world. Of these two aspirations, she thought, his was certainly the nobler. Her calling was to find practical applications for his discoveries, and thereby help maintain Nobalos’ dominance over Malga.
You have just read the first chapter of my Young Adult Fantasy Mistress of Land and Sea. To download the whole ebook, go to http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com and search for “Mistress of Land and Sea.”
Mistress of Land and Sea is the second novel of a projected series of books, The Hegemonic Tales. The first two books are now available for download from Double Dragon.
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Recommended for Ages 15 and up.