by Den Valdron
“Noble warriors of virtue,” I announced, “your prayers to great Issus, have been answered. She has heard your call, and we have come to your rescue.”
The Orgus delegation cast uneasy glances at each other. The were completely lost. I started to sweat a little.
“Your Holiness,” Aguus rumbled thoughtfully.
“These vulgar creatures should kneel before their betters,” Latta said piously.
Several of the Orgus scowled. I assumed that the airmen had little experience with the Orgus tribe.
“Issus loves all her children, even the meanest,” I said piously, staring at Aguus. I tried to blink a coded message at him. Don't screw this up, I tried to convey.
“The very odour of them repels me.”
The Orgus started to scowl and rumble. I glanced around at the flight officers and airmen. They gripped their weapons too tight.
“We kneel before her Holiness,” Aguus announced suddenly, going slowly down to one knee. He looked behind him, glaring fiercely until his followers, with confusion and reluctance, followed suit.
“But we kneel to no other,” he growled menacingly at the red air men.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“How is it, that every time I throw my life away, you are there to catch it and hand it back to me.”
Aguus leaned over the rail, looking down at the barren rocks far below. I'd wanted to hug him, to wrap my arms around him and embrace that massive hulking body, but I dared not. Still, trapped aboard this fleet, every face a stranger, living on the knife edge of lies, it was so good to have a familiar ally.
“Perhaps your captive Admiral is right, Princess, and you are a supernatural creature,” he said.
“Not supernatural,” I whispered, “And not a Princess, you are confused.. I am a high priestess of the holy Therns, as well you know..”
We seemed to be alone, but you never knew. My situation was precarious enough, I didn't need him calling me Princess or Demon.
He thought that over and nodded, finally.
“No one's noticed that's real hair?”
“Therns have very good wigs.”
“I remain astonished.”
We had taken the rest of the Orgus on board the fleet, moving marines out of some of the heavy ships to make quarters for the Orgus. I'd managed to piece together their story. They were the Orgus legions of Diome, now in revolt under Aguus. The other side had been Orgus remnants committed to the deceased Konand Oyl, and Diome forces. Outmatched by the fleet, they had either surrendered or dispersed.
Shortly after my departure, Aguus had gathered up the balance of his Orgus followers and broken out of the city, taking a huge convoy of fleeing Orovar slaves with him, taking what provisions they could. I nodded. We had discussed a break out during the rebellion.
“And then you abandoned them?” I'd accused Aspar Aguus.
“Diome's soldiers followed hard on our heels,” he'd replied, “we took the Orovar as far as the Jagged lands and sent them into the rocks, where they could escape. Then we pushed to the west, drawing them with us.”
I wasn't so sanguine. As glad as I was to see a familiar face, he was still an alien creature and still pursued his own goals. We were allies, forced together by circumstance, I had to remind myself.
“Women and children,” I snapped, “untrained city dwellers. What provisions did they have, what leadership? What chance do they have without your help?”
“Not much, perhaps. Many will die, I assume,” he shrugged callously. “But then again, these Orovars have surprises in them, they are full of hidden resources and surprising cunning.”
I grunted, staring over the side.
“You have your own goals,” I said, “my people were just a means to an end.”
“That is the way of things, P... Priestess,” he replied, “even the gods plot against each other.”
“They could have stayed in Diome,” I said, “and perhaps survived.”
“Perhaps,” he replied, “or perhaps not. Was rescue coming from Shiaze?”
I looked directly at him. He regarded me levelly.
“Did you know?”
“That there would be no help from Shiaze?” He answered. “It seemed highly unlikely. Improbable, perhaps impossible.”
There was a moment of silence.
“I believed,” I said softly. “Maybe I shouldn't have. But I did believe. I think that I was scared and that made me want to believe. I should have been better.”
“You are not the first, Priestess,” he said. “I have made that mistake, and another suffered for it.”
This was the first time he had ever shared anything personal. Did this have something to do with the dead body I'd found when I first encountered him chained to a stone. Should I ask? We watched the desert hills creep past us.
“You have a fleet.” He said.
“How did that happen?”
“It's kind of complicated.”
“It usually is,” he nodded.
“They believe you to be a High Priestess of the Therns. What would happen if they learned otherwise?”
“It would be best if they didn't.”
“Keep them on this heading skirting the jagged lands, I will tell you where to go next.”
“The Admiral's cartographers say that there is nothing out here.”
“Nothing that they know of.”
“We were thinking of heading south, finding allies.”
“Can we discuss this?”
“No,” he said, “just do as you are bid?”
“Or else. What if we head south now.”
“That would not be good.”
“Where do you want to go?”
He did not answer. I was remembering what a pain he'd been.
“Well,” I said bitterly, “so much for all that ‘throwing your life away and me catching it and giving it back to you’ stuff.”
He looked over at me.
“It's not going to be easy,” I said, “they don't really listen to me. My position is precarious. It could fall apart at any time.”
“I have scores to settle, I have a place I need to be,” he said. “I will not speak of it further.”
“Next time I find you chained up to a rock,” I said, “I should just leave you there.”
“Admiral Latta,” I said, “blessings upon you.”
“You seem troubled, Admiral,” I asked. “How can I assist you?”
“It's about these course changes that you have insisted upon, I confess, that I am quite confused.”
“As I have said, Admiral, they have come to me in visions, we must trust to the will of the Divine.”
“Erm... Yes,” he replied. “But where exactly are we going? We are on the very edges of the safe borders of the Jagged lands. We already struggle with treacherous air currents. Why, just this morning, a sudden gust almost brought two of our ships into collision.”
“But they did not collide,” I replied. “I trust to the skill of your men, and the purpose of Issus. All will be revealed, at the right moment.”
He bit his lip.
How could I tell him where we were going. I had no idea myself.
“All will be revealed,” I promised. “...at the right moment.”
“Very well,” he said. “But about these creatures.”
“The Orgus,” I said.
“And their mounts, those slidars and thoats, the creatures they insisted on dragging on board.”
Dragging had been right. The mounts had put up a ferocious fight, much to the short lived amusement of the crews. Unfortunately, they'd been so large we'd had to evacuate staterooms and cargo holds to stable them. And of course, the Orgus had insisted on staying close to their mounts, so more crew barracks had to be evacuated, their populations and stores distributed among other ships.
“Yes?” God, how they'd smelled. I thought Thoats were bad enough. But confinement had produced the most unearthly stench imaginable. The breeze wafting from certain decks made my eyes water. And the creatures never ceased their barking and neighing, it was a ceaseless cacophony.
“Well, the Orgus have been insisting on taking their animals to the upper deck, to exercise them. They claim it calms them.”
They were calmer now? I shuddered.
“Perhaps,” I said, “some of these creatures will be motivated to jump off.”
Latta gave a timid little chuckle.
“We can only hope, your Holiness. But nevertheless, the practice has been causing problems.”
“What sort of...”
I looked down.
“Precisely,” Latta said.
“It doesn't seem to want to come off,” I said.
“It's very sticky, so we've found.”
“Now its on the other boot.”
“Careful Holiness. You're just spreading it around that way. Let me help”
“I can't believe it smells even worse now!”
“I can scrape most of it off with my knife,” Latta offered.
“Wait, wait, watch your uniform!”
“Admiral, I am so sorry.”
“Well... We have excellent laundry facilities, I suppose.”
“I'm getting out of these boots.”
“Are you sure that's wise?”
“As opposed to wearing them? Oh by Issus, it reeks.”
“I'm sure we can have them cleaned.”
“I'm not sure I can imagine that.”
“As you wish. But to return to the matter at hand, your Holiness, I must advise you that there are tensions and resentment over these interlopers.”
“If they can't even bother to clean up after themselves, I'm not surprised.”
“I notice that they do not attend your sermons.”
“Yes, their ways are unlike ours, they receive the word of Issus in a different fashion. But I will be speaking of this. To them.”
“There are many other complaints.”
“Give them to me, I shall see that they are addressed.”
“There is much muttering, Holiness. Doubters speak freely now. I would not say that there are conditions of mutiny, but nevertheless... There is unrest.”
“Would more sermons help?”
“It might, Holiness. But I must ask: Are they truly followers?”
“Strange and awful as they are, Admiral? Unfortunately yes.”
“Will they be leaving soon?”
“By the will of Issus.”
“Thank you, Holiness.”
“You are welcome, Admiral. Now about those boots?”
“Have them burned. I shall be watching my step from here on.”
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