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Authors: Robert V. S. Redick

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The Ruling Sea

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THE CHATHRAND VOYAGE
The Red Wolf Conspiracy
The Ruling Sea

Para Kiran, de corazon nómada

 

And then the deer and birds were told by the Maker, Modeller, Bearer, Begetter: “Talk, speak out, don’t moan, don’t cry out. Please talk, each to each, within each kind, within each group,”—they were told, the deer, birds, puma, jaguar, serpent … But it didn’t turn out that they spoke like people: they just squawked, they just chattered, they just howled …

POPOL VUH
,
translated by Dennis Tedlock
The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason. The passionless cannot change history.

CZESLAW MILOSZ
Editor’s Note
The final, disastrous voyage of the IMS
Chathrand
gave rise to many myths. It is my singular honor to be tasked with setting a more truthful account of the journey before the world.
In Book I of these recollections,
The Red Wolf Conspiracy
, I limited my personal comments to the odd footnote. The complexity of this second volume, however, persuaded me to be more generous with my remarks: two hundred pages more generous, to be exact.
I regret to say that the worth of my commentaries has eluded the team of younger scholars on whose goodwill (and laundry services) I most tragically depend. Their cheek is frankly astonishing. Some have gone so far as to suggest that my remarks did not so much illuminate the tale as put one in danger of overlooking its existence.
Of course I fought this sabotage, this so-called “petition for readability.” But the upstarts held firm. Only a few, absolutely essential notes have I guarded from their merciless shears. The rest has been stripped down to story. An awful deed, of which I hope never to stand accused.
Prologue: Treaty Day
A cup of milk tainted with blood. Pazel looked down into the steaming chalice and felt trapped, an actor in a part he never wanted, in a play full of violence and rage. They were waiting for him to drink: the priests, the princes, the three hundred guests in the candlelit shrine. His best friends were waiting, and a few men who wished him dead, and one man who wanted everyone dead and just might get his wish. The guests were staring. A red-robed priest gestured firmly:
Drink
. Thasha herself glanced back from where she knelt on the dais, beside the man who thought he would be married in a moment’s time.
Thasha was radiant. Sixteen, golden hair bound up impossibly with orchids and lace, gray gown sheer and liquid as mercury, silver necklace dangling innocent at her throat. The lips he had kissed the night before were painted a dark cherry-red. Powder hid the welts on her neck.
He could still stop this. He could break the chalice on the floor. He knew the words for
Lies!
and
Treason!
in twenty languages; he could tell them all how they’d been tricked. But he could not just wish the necklace away. Thasha was still looking over her shoulder, and even though half the blood in the milk was hers, Pazel knew what she was telling him.
It has to happen, you know it does. Every other door is locked
.
He raised the chalice. The hot milk burned his tongue. He clenched his jaw and swallowed and passed the cup on.
The priests resumed chanting: “We drink to the Great Peace. We drink and become one family. We drink that our fates be mingled, nevermore to be unbound …”
Pazel slipped a hand into his pocket. A ribbon lay coiled there, blue silk, with words embroidered in a fine gold thread:
YE DEPART FOR A WORLD UNKNOWN, AND LOVE ALONE SHALL KEEP THEE.
It was the Blessing-Band, a gift from the crones who ran Thasha’s old school back in Etherhorde. He was supposed to tie it to her wrist.
Pazel imagined an old woman—bent, wrinkled, nearly blind—sewing those ornate letters by lamplight. One of thousands who had worked for this day, Treaty Day, the day four centuries of war would end. Outside the shrine, a multitude; beyond the multitude, an island; beyond the island, a world waiting, holding its breath. He looked at the faces around him: great lords and ladies of Alifros, rulers of lands, cities, kingdoms, waifs by candlelight. How had Hercól put it?
Possessed by a dream
. The dream of peace, of a world that could stop shedding its own blood. It was good dream, but it would kill them. They were chasing it like sleepwalkers toward a cliff.
There was a man at the back of the shrine who was making it all happen. A well-fed merchant with a soft, boyish face. An innocent face, almost amusing. Until he looked at you with a certain intent, and showed you the sorcerer inside: ancient, malicious, mad.
His name was Arunis. Pazel could feel him watching, even now. But when he raised his eyes he found himself looking instead at Thasha’s father. The admiral sat stiff and grim, an old soldier who knew what duty meant, but the eyes that swept Pazel were beseeching.
I have trusted you this far. How will you save my child?
Pazel could not meet his gaze.
You’d never understand, Admiral. And if you did, you’d try to stop us, and no one would be saved
. Kings, peasants, enemies, friends: Arunis was marching them all toward that cliff. And over they’d go, with their dreams and their children, their smiles and songs and memories, their histories, their gods. In short order, a year or two at the most, unless he let Thasha die.
So Pazel stood, motionless, silently screaming, and the cup went from hand to hand. At last it returned to the red-robed priest, standing before Thasha and her groom. The priest cleared his throat and smiled.
“Now, beloved Prince,” he said, “what would you avow?”
The prince was gentle as he took Thasha’s hand. But before he could speak she pulled it roughly away. There were gasps. The prince looked up in shock.
“Your Highness, forgive me,” she stammered. “I cannot wed you. This marriage is a
tr
—”
The last word had no chance. Under her gown, the silver necklace moved like a snake, and Thasha rose with a little twist of breath, clawing at it, unable even to scream. Her eyes wild, her face the color of a bruise. Pazel howled her name and leaped to catch her as she fell. Voices exploded around him, her father’s and the priests’ and three hundred more.
Sorcery get it off her cut it off the girl’s going to die
. Hercól was beside him, Arunis was battling forward; the elder priest was waving a knife and shouting
Betrayed, betrayed, if she dies the peace dies with her
.
Thasha kicked and flailed and arched her back in agony. But death was the answer, Pazel knew; death was the one door left unlocked; and so he held her, in the tightest grip of his life, as the thousands massed outside the shrine caught the rumor and sent a wail up to heaven, held her and absorbed her blows, and told her several things he’d never dared to, and waited for her struggles to cease.

1
Dawn

 

7 Teala 941
86th day from Etherhorde
(Treaty Day—six hours earlier)
            

 

“Eyes open, Neda.”

The Father had come to her alone. He held his own cup and candle, and he smiled at the girl asleep on the granite slab under the woolen shift, who obeyed him and smiled in kind and yet did not wake or stir. Her eyes when they winked open were blue; he had seen nothing like them in any other living face. A strand of weed in her hair. Dry streaks of salt water on her neck and forehead. Like his other children she had spent the night in the sea.

She was twenty-two, the man six times her age, unbent, unwearied, his years betrayed only in the whiteness of his beard and in the voice deep and traveled and kindly and mad. The girl knew that he was mad, and knew also that the day she revealed such knowledge by glance or sigh or question would be the day she died.

She knew many secret things. Until the Father woke her she would sleep like the other aspirants, but there was a disobedient flame in her that gleamed on, thought on, insensible to his orders. She wished it out. She tried to snuff it with meditation, inner exorcisms, prayers: it danced on, full of heresies and mirth. And because the Father could peer into her mind as through a frosted window it was but a matter of time before he saw it. Perhaps he saw it now, this very minute. Perhaps he was considering her fate.

She loved him. She had never loved another thus. It was not an earthly or a simple love but he could read its contours in her sleeper’s smile as he had on his children’s faces for a century.

“You dream, do you not?”

“I do,” she replied.

“And yet the dream is unsteady. You are nearer to waking than I’ve asked you to be.”

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