The Sea Peoples336
The Sea Peoples336
The spirit of troubadour Prince John, the brother of Crown Princess "rlaith, has fallen captive to the power of the Yellow Raja and his servant, the Pallid Mask. Prince John’s motley band of friends and followers—headed by Captain Pip of Townsville and Deor Godulfson—must lead a quest through realms of shadow and dreams to rescue Prince John from a threat far worse than death.
Meanwhile, across the sea, Japanese Empress Reiko and "rlaith, heir to the High Kingdom of Montival, muster their kingdoms for war, making common cause with the reborn Kingdom of Hawaii. But more than weapons or even the dark magic of the sorcerers of Pyongyang threaten them; "rlaith's lover, Alan Thurston, might be more than he appears.
From the tropical waters off Hilo and Pearl Harbor, to the jungles and lost cities of the Ceram Sea, a game will be played where the fate of the world is at stake.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||A Novel of the Change , #14|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
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Capital City, Aupuni o Hawaii
(Kingdom of Hawaii)
Change Year 46/2044 AD
Crown Princess"rlaith Arminger Mackenzie looked south and shoreward towards the Hawaiian capital of Hilo, shading her eyes with a hand. The planks beneath her feet were the quarterdeck of the frigate RMN Sea-Leopard, pride of the Royal Montivallan Navy and new-built in the Astoria yards; eighteen hundred tons of Douglas fir and Garry oak and Sitka spruce, cordage and sailcloth and copper sheathing and brass and steel salvaged from the dead cities, at nearly three hundred feet from bowsprit to rudder the most powerful warship afloat in the Pacific.
It had also been packed to the gunwales with double its normal complement on the trip across from Montival, nearly seven hundred souls, since there weren't enough transports to spare the warships. The Sea-Leopard wasn't as busy or as crowded now: the sails on the three towering masts were furled as she lay at anchor, and all the extra personnel plus the liberty party were ashore. Most were members of the crowd whose surf-murmur carried over the thousand yards or so to the docks, apart from the ones whose main ambition on dry land was to find a bottle and go from upright and sober to horizontal and unconscious with the least possible interval in between.
After this trip I find that a wee bit attractive, "rlaith thought dryly. Sure and it would be the more so if I'd been sleeping in a hammock in the hold with two inches' space on either side and someone on a pallet on the deck below and nobody washing much for that there's not enough fresh water for anything but drinking. Even the rats are probably swimming for it.
She'd been in a bunk in the Captain's cabin, sharing the space with the Admiral and six others, and had gotten admiring looks for not taking the whole for herself. Now everything on board was squared away and shipshape, down to the neat coils of cable and hawser, and the pyramids of roundshot and racks of bolt next to the long rows of massive catapults on the gun-deck below. There had been a good deal of coming and going by everyone except "rlaith herself; her setting foot on Hawaiian soil was a political matter, and had to be staged with due ceremony.
Shore leave or no, the Sea-Leopard could still be ready to sail and fight in the very short time it took the topmast hands to run up the ratlines and reach the gaskets on the sails; the catapults would be cocked and loaded by then and the anchors cast off with empty casks to float the ends of their cables for later attention. The Montivallans were among friends . . . but it never hurt to be ready.
Admiral Naysmith had been standing with her hands clasped behind her back, hard-featured square face with the little blue burn-mark of the Bearkiller A-List between her brows impassive above the white linen tropical-service uniform jacket and gold-braided epaulettes. Now she nodded at the signal-flag that went up a mast rigged on the dock ashore and turned to the ship's captain.
"We're ready to proceed, Mr. Edwards," she said. "Make it so. And a signal to that effect to the Japanese flagship, in the Crown Princess' name."
Naysmith cocked an eye at "rlaith, who nodded approval. The orders ran down the chain of command, more and more specific as they did. Signal-flags of their own went up the halyard to the mizzen-peak. "rlaith politely ignored the exchange, studying the town instead; she liked and respected the blunt-spoken Bearkiller's professionalism but they weren't close, and she was careful not to infringe on her area of authority. As overall commander of the expedition"rlaith was entitled to tell her what she wanted to accomplish, but how to do it was the Admiral's business.
She suspected that the middle-aged Naysmith had doubts about someone of the same twenty-two years as her own eldest child-who was a lieutenant somewhere in the fleet-being in charge of a major expedition, bearer of the royal Sword or no, though of course she'd never say a word to that effect. Looking at it from the outside she had something of a point. "rlaith had grown up watching famously good strategists in action, but she knew she wasn't equal to either of her parents.
Yet. And they started as young as I am now, overshadowed by their famous parents . . . two of whom . . .
Her maternal and paternal grandfathers had been deadly enemies from the Change on and had ended up killing each other in single combat with several thousand witnesses in their respective armies whooping them on.
Ah, well, youth is the one disease age always cures . . . and we of House Artos are not a long-lived breed, anyway . . . and besides, it's an interesting view. It's my first time off the mainland, even if I'm not traveling just for the pleasure of it.
Hilo was a very substantial if not huge city of more than twenty thousand souls, low-built and spread out amid trees and greenery and gardens ornamental or practical or both. White walls and roofs of tile or palm-thatch showed through the greenery and even at this distance you could see the purple and blue and crimson of banks of flowers and blossoming trees, citrus and tropical fruits, jacarandas and flamboyants and flame trees.
Southward loomed the peaks of massive mountains, not steep but very high; snow glittered from the tops of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The sight made the hair prickle on the back of her neck, and she felt a return of that sense . . . a feeling of chambers within her mind opening . . . that she'd felt when she first took up the Sword of the Lady after her father's death. Her hand went to the crystal pommel at her side, the symbol of the High Kingship that Rudi Mackenzie-not yet Artos the First, High King of Montival-had won on the Quest of the Sunrise Lands. In form it was a knight's longsword, save that the guard was shaped like a crescent moon rather than a cross, and the pommel at the end of the double-lobed horn-and-silver hilt was moon-colored crystal cradled in a stag's antlers rather than a metal ball.
Beneath that seeming . . . it could be and do many things, and you could never entirely disregard the sheer presence of it even when it was quiescent. She'd often thought that it wasn't really a thing of matter as most understood such things, but a thought in the mind of the Goddess made manifest in the world of common day.
Now it let her sense . . .
That's sacredness, she thought.
She inclined her head towards the peaks of the volcanoes and made the Old Faith's gesture of reverence with the back of her hand to her forehead.
As she did, images flashed through her mind: a great canoe's prow grinding ashore on a beach of blinding white sand, its grotesquely carved figurehead alive somehow; a giant figure roaring in mirth as he wrestled with a huge eight-eyed bat; a man of stern kingly majesty raising a carved staff as his black hair blew around a tattooed face and the sea broke at his feet in a storm of terrible power; a woman of unbearable beauty whose eyes were the fires at the core of Earth, walking atop the surface of a river that ran with molten stone . . .
But a sacredness that is not mine. Not hostile and not bad, but Powers fierce and wild and strong and . . . foreign. Stories I haven't heard, walking the ridge of the world once more. The Change opened many doors, and the world is very wide.
The warm moist air from the shore fluttered her long hair beneath its plumed Scots bonnet, locks yellow-gold with a slight hint of copper. It bore scents from the land, some homely enough from cooking and people, others spicy and sweet and wild, welcome amid the usual war-fleet smells of tar and smoke, bilgewater and imperfectly clean sailors and troops packed in too tightly and rancid canola-oil smeared on armor and blades against the corrosive salt of the sea-spray.
And the overpowering stink of the horse-transports, which was like a badly-kept stable on a huge scale no matter how many times the bilges were flooded and the animals were put to work on treadmills pumping them out. Rank gave her a bubble of space on the warship to enjoy the contrast.
Some of Hilo's buildings were from before the Change, though none of the really tall ones you still saw now and then on the mainland, even in living cities like Boise or Portland. Those had probably been dismantled for their metal and glass, since without artificial ventilation and cooling they'd be even less practical in this climate than at home. More were new, and the great stepped stone platform in the middle distance was just finished, judging by the remains of bamboo scaffolding and hoisting cranes still being taken down. That was a heiau, a temple to the Gods who were worshipped here once more.
Unlike all of the cities and many of the duns and towns and steadings she knew at home there was no encompassing defensive wall to make a sharp distinction between dense-built settlement and open countryside, despite the obvious technical capacity to build one. The plots around buildings just got bigger, until you could say they were small farms and country villas rather than houses with gardens, and they started to include pastures for cattle and horses and runs for swine.
Which means they haven't had war here lately, probably not since right after the Change; not great wars with massed armies and strong siege-trains, at least, "rlaith thought. Lucky them!
There had been little peace in what was Montival-to-be until her parents and their comrades had brought the High Kingdom's order with the Sword of the Lady. She had grown up among the veterans who'd fought the long grim death-grapple of the Prophet's War across half a continent, starting with her parents, and there had been the wars against the Association before that in the time of her great, wicked maternal grandfather. Her generation had lived in a spreading peace, but the memories remained.
The most familiar single sight was a massive modern fort on the peninsula to the westward where the maps of the ancient world showed a golf course, not much different save in details and decoration from the castles in the northern parts of Montival. An orca-shaped observation balloon hung high in the air above it, tethered by a long curve of cable.
Form follows function, she thought. Everyone makes their wheels round and everyone puts a pointy stabby thing on the end of a spear.
The towers there flew the bright striped flag of the Aupuni Moõo Hawaii, and as a courtesy the green-silver-gold banner of the High Kingdom of Montival and the Hinomaru of Japan.
"rlaith knew that the kingdoms of Hawaii and Montival had been friendly as long as they'd been aware of each other's existence. Since not long before her father Rudi Mackenzie's accession-as Artos the First-in the year of her birth, in fact. There had been a king again in Hawaii well before that; since right after the Change, as folk turned to ancient things as an anchor in a world gone mad. Their current ruler, Kalakaua II, was his grandson and only a few years older than"rlaith.
But that friendliness had been confined to good wishes, resident merchants who doubled as ambassadors, growing trade and a little cooperation against the pirates and raiders who grew right along with the traffic they preyed on. Just exchanging messages at this distance was hard and slow, despite a more or less common language, and the chances of misunderstanding vast.
It was a good sign that the vanguard of the fleet and army of Montival-frigates, smaller warships, scores of merchantmen turned troop-transports-had been welcomed within the long curving breakwater that guarded Hilo's harbor. Many were already tied up at the wharfs, and boats and barges plied busily back and forth to the others. And there was other shipping here too, dozens of hulls and a forest of masts, the Royal Navy of Hawaii and traders from here and around the world and others down to little fishing boats and outrigger canoes, all amid the raucous swarm of gulls and seabirds that marked a rich port.
"I wish we had more troops ashore," her liege knight-and aide-de-camp and Head of Household and childhood friend-Heuradys d'Ath grumbled beside her.
Heuradys was trying to look everywhere at once without being obvious about it and preparing to be even more overburdened ashore, with the mixture of irritation and slightly self-mocking amusement of a hyper-competent person in a position where they knew full well no amount of competence could ever be enough. In a sense it was easier for"rlaith to ignore the prospect of assassins popping up with daggers in their teeth-or waiting with concealed crossbows and poison darts-than it was for those around her. All she had to fear was death; they had the much stronger terror of living long enough to know they'd failed in their duty.
After all, the Crone comes for us all, soon or late, she thought. I don't expect to make old bones myself, even if the Powers haven't warned me about it the way they did Da. Either I'll have children by then to take up the Sword, or one of the sibs will.
Then she went on aloud: "We've got thousands of troops ashore," she pointed out cheerfully. "And glad to be out of the transports they are. The horses especially, poor things. We'd have lost half or better if we couldn't stop here to let them pasture and run, and the survivors would have been useless for weeks on the other side."
Heuradys snorted. "To clarify: more troops besides the ones in their shirtsleeves seeing the sights . . . and chatting up the better-looking locals . . . and trying to eat bananas without knowing how to peel them . . . and sucking rum out of coconuts in the shade of the palms . . . and frolicking on the beaches."
"The beaches are wonderful here. And the oceans. The levies deserve some time off after the voyage. Fair winds and a quick passage, but it was hard sailing at times. Four hundred cases of seasickness at the same time . . ."
"Seawater warm enough to swim in! Athana witness, that's just not right, proper or natural."
"You just want some company for your ironclad misery, Herry," the Crown Princess said with a smile.