The trip to the Sunlost Isles was far faster and more efficient than Dae wished for it to be. Once the Queen’s Guard had their orders and their plan worked out, the rest of the preparations had flown by with the help and support of various members of the Royal Cabinet.
The queen’s staff had been talented and far reaching enough in their influence to secure both transport and lodging for the trip for the entire route to the port city of Brights Harbor on the eastern edge of the Sunlost Isle.
Dae, Jyl and May had ridden quickly, and then sailed on a fast merchant ship, clothed in the guise of couriers until they reached the rooms reserved for them on the foreign shore of Brights Harbor. From there they were on their own though. Passage to Paxmer was, by necessity, going to require transit on a ship which had no connections to Gallagrin.
They’d arrived early on the tide and had found few ships heading out immediately for Paxmer, which meant a night spent at their apointed lodgings. It was an expected part of the trip but not one that any of the Queen’s Guard happy about.
“This is the first time we’ve been outside the boundaries of Gallagrin,” May said. “It is not an entirely comfortable experience.”
“That’s a good sign,” Dae said. “It says that you remember what home felt like. Hold onto that while we’re here, it’ll help keep keep you from getting entangled in any stray glamours.”
Kirios, Dae’s pact spirit wasn’t, able to rest easily outside the boundaries of his native realm and for May the unease was even more strongly felt. Despite that though, all three women and their pact spirits could function, unlike Paxmer’s dragons which were tied to their home or the magic weavers of the Sunlost isle who had no material to work with in other lands.
“I’ve never encountered a glamourist,” Jyl said. “I gather they don’t like my sort of people though?”
“Elves? No, glamour weavers are just fine with elves,” Dae said. “Or at least the few I’ve met were.”
“I thought they hated people who could resist their magics?” Jyl asked.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Dae said. “Elves are naturally resistant to glamour magics because they fit into the weavings so easily. If someone casts a glamour around you, you’ll be able to see it for what it is but that won’t harm the magic. It’ll welcome you into its folds. If they try the same thing on me, the glamour will probably shred, and the sleeping gods can only guess what’ll happen if they try to ensorcell May.”
“So we should basically all try to stay away from spell casters here then?” Jyl asked.
“That’s an excellent rule for life in general,” Dae said. “Each country has its own magics and none of us play all that nicely with the others.”
“That is by design is it not?” May asked.
“I thought it was only since the Gods Night that the Blessed Realms started fighting?” Jyl said. “The realms’ magics were designed well before then though.”
“Yeah, it’s almost like the Sleeping Gods weren’t so friendly with each other even while they were still awake,” Dae said. She thought back to the ancient tomes she and Alari had plundered from the Gallagrin castle archives. From the accounts of people who lived before the Gods Night, the “Divine Peace of the Blessed Realms” was more fiction than fact even when the divine patrons of the realms were still around to manage things.
“How hostile are the glamour weavers here likely to be?” Jyl asked.
“If they discover us as Pact Knights?” Dae said. “They’ll be a little miffed. Foreign agents traveling through a country without properly notifiying the authorities are technically considered spies. In practice though, as long as we’re not caught spying on people here in Sunlost, the local noble’s will turn a blind eye to us.”
“Don’t their interests align with Gallagrin’s in this matter?” May asked.
“That’s a delicate subject,” Dae said. “On the one hand, it’s not like Sunlost enjoys losing their trade with us. On the other, none of the realms can condone actions against another realm since that would threaten the ‘Divine Peace’.”
“We’ve spent centuries fighting with Paxmer over our borders though!” Jyl said.
“Border fighting is like a sport as far as the monarchs of the realms are concerned, apart from our queen that is, she doesn’t believe in playing games when it comes to people’s lives,” Dae said. “For the rest though, win or lose, it’s just a number of extra subjects more or less and some won or lost trade. It becomes steadily more difficult to gain terrain the farther into a country an army tries to advance and so far no crown has ever faced the possibility of losing their power to an outside force.”
“There is a great disturbance on the waves,” May said, her gaze growing distant.
“Yeah, the ocean is no one realm’s domain, so that’s where the most serious conflicts take place,” Dae said. “We can’t rule the waves themselves, but we can exact tarrifs for traveling through waters we control if our navy is strong enough.”
“I thought Sunlost had the biggest navy on the seas?” Jyl asked.
“They do, and they cast the widest net, but they also charge the highest tarrifs so ships still choose to sail through the waters we control,” Dae said. “Also they have a better chance of out running our tarrif ships than they do Sunlost’s boats.”
“I speak not of far off places or distant days, but to our immediate horizon,” May said and rose from the table in their private room.
Dae and Jyl followed her out of the door of the inne they were staying at and saw that the waves of the eastern horizon were ablaze with fire.
“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Jyl said, her almond eyes wide wide with unease.
“Huh, gouts of green flame,” Dae said. “I guess that men’s they’re sending out the youngling dragons now.”
“Aren’t they a little close to Sunlost to be fighting a pitched battle?” Jyl asked.
“I would have thought so,” Dae said. “There must be something special on the Sunlost-bound ships for the Paxmers to have pursued them this far.”
In the distance, a series of bells started ringing.
“They’re calling for all the fighting ships in port to sail against the tide and aid the inbound ships,” Dae said. “Let’s head back to the harbor. This might be the opportunity we need.”
The ringing of the bells grew louder as they reached the docks and the bustle of the city turned into the pandemonium of an impromptu war exercise. Dae scanned the crowds and the ships that were being prepared for a minute before focusing on one of the larger boats that was berthed about a quarter mile down the docks from them.
“Let’s go see what’s happening out there,” she said and set off at a brisk jog.
Moving through the crowds took coordination and agility and strength (in Dae’s case) or a palpable aura (in May’s) or the ability to nearly vanish from view and slide through gaps too small for a full sized human (Jyl’s preferred method). Using their preferred techniques, each member of the Queen’s Guard managed to make roughly the same time through the crowd but it was Dae who arrived first and spoke to the Quartermaster in charge of loading the Fearless.
“What are we supposed to do to help?” Dae asked halting in front of the large, night dark quartermaster.
“Who in the hells are you?” he asked without looking up from his inventory list.
“New marines,” Dae said. “We were just signing up when the bells started ringing and we were told to come down here and do whatever you told us to.”
“Spit an iron spike in my eye, but that’s good timing,” the quartermaster said. “Each of you grab a crate and get it back on the ship. We leave these here and the wharf rats will eat us out of our bunks.”
Dae saw the quartermaster’s dilemma. The Fearless had to leave as soon as it could, but half its cargo was already unloaded onto the docks. In theory, since it was their berth, the cargo would be safe and protected by the dock patrol, but it was a rare-to-unheard dock patrol that could prevent heavy pilferage, especially in a chaotic situation like an unexpected battle.
To the quartermaster’s delight, Dae, Jyl and May managed to load in about half of the crates before the Fearless got underway.
With the tide against them, the ships in Brights Harbor were required to utilize alternate means of locomotion to reach the site of the ongoing battle. Like several others, the Fearless met the incoming waves with a host of water sprites at its sides. The human-sized water spirits grabbed onto the hull and hauled the boat along, providing enough force to put it in the lead as the makeshift armada rolled out to sea.
“Who are you?” the Fearless’ Sergeant-at-Arms demanded when he saw Dae and the others at the railing, looking at the battle they were rapidly drawing nearer too.
“New marines,” Dae said. “I’m Kor. Where are we supposed to fight?”
“Don’t know about any new marines,” the Sergeant-at-Arms said. He looked like he was going to tell them to take a flying leap off the ship, but then he saw May. “Beasts of the blue. Where’d they find you?”
“We volunteered,” May said with a disarming smile. The quartermaster blanched.
“You’re on the ropes,” he said, referring to the boarding ropes. That would give Dae the opportunity to be the first one to make it over to one of the Paxmer boats. It would also remove May from the quartermaster’s presence as soon as was practically possible. That the ropes were the single most dangerous position for a combatant during a boarding action was merely a necessary part of the job from Dae’s point of view and an added bonus from the quartermaster’s perspective.
By the time the Fearless reached the site of the battle though, the fighting had ended. In its wake, only the burning remains of a half dozen ships still bobbed on the surface, with a like number already sinking to their fiery graves below.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” the Sergeant-at-Arms said. “There’s no chance these ships were looted properly.”
“It looks like they burned them just to burn them,” Dae said, watching one of the fiery wrecks fall to pieces as the flames destroyed the integrity of the hull.
“Where’s the profit in that though?” The Sergeant-at-Arms said.
“They’re not looking for gain,” Dae said. “They’re trying to send a message.”
“And probe Sunlost’s defenses,” May said.
“This’ll mean war though,” the Sergeant-at-Arms said.
“Only if those were Sunlost ships,” Dae said. “I think we’ll find that they belonged to Gallagrin though.”
“I don’t think Gallagrin’s going to respond to it any better than Sunlost would,” the Sergeant-at-Arms said.
“From what I heard when last time I traveled through Highcrest, it doesn’t sound like there’s any love lost on Paxmer by the crown of Gallagrin,” Dae said.
“Typical continentals,” the Sergeant-at-Arms said. “Should be the best of neighbors but they can’t wait to kill each other. Savages.”
“It’s a savage world out there,” Dae said. “Makes it easier to make a living through fighting.”
“You’re too young to be that smart,” the Sergeant-at-Arms said.
“I got started early,” Dae said.
“Didn’t we all,” the Seargeant-at-Arms said. “When we get back to shore, let me buy you three a drink. I should get to know what you can do if you’re going to be fighting under our flag.”
“We’re not heading back to shore,” the First Officer said. “Orders from land, we’re to pursue the attacking force and identify the vessels involved.”
“They’ve got quite a lead on us,” Dae said.
“Not for long,” the First Officer said. “Keep sharp. We’ll be passing them within two hours. If the glamours hold, we’ll be berthed in Windsmer before they are. If not we’ll have a rather interesting battle on our hands.”
Dae considered that news, especially the fact that apparently the glamour weavers of Sunlost had discovered a method of working their magics outside their home realm. It wasn’t likely that anything good was going to come of that, but Dae tucked the knowledge away for later use anyways.