Last week, readers voted for Shirrin to go the Great Hall. The story continues…
Shirrin creeps along passageways and down stairs. Finally she finds the right staircase which takes her down to the Great Hall. It is dark and silent, the smell of old candle wax and smoke tickling her nose.
There is movement to her right and she stifles a shriek.
“Please!” A shadow moves in shadow, darker against the deep grey of stone walls. “I want to help you.”
Shirrin frowns. She recognises the voice.
“It’s you! You almost got Karista killed!”
“Karista? Oh, your dragon…”
She bites her tongue in fury at herself. Until now she had not mentioned his name.
“I did not give the order to attack. The men panicked. And I couldn’t…”
“You could have stopped them. You only had to give the order.”
“I couldn’t! I made a mistake but I couldn’t order them to stop when he was already attacking them. It was my fault and I’m sorry, but my position here is very difficult.”
“Your position? You’re in charge of the soldiers! How difficult can it be?”
She hears a sigh.
“Things are not always as they seem. My name is Kirrun. My father was executed for treason by Lord Jephruth. I was made head of city security in his place.”
“Doesn’t sound bad to me.”
“You don’t understand. As head of city security I live in the fort and I only leave when ordered to do so. I am trapped here. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to you.”
“What do you mean?”
Shirrin wakes early, curled within the protective embrace of Karista’s tail. Kirrun told her she must sleep with her dragon. After hearing what happened to the last dragonrider who enjoyed Jephruth’s hospitality, she believes him.
“You slept well?” she asks Karista who blinks at her in the morning sunlight while she checks his wounds.
“Yes. It hurts a little, but…” He stands and opens his wings. “This does not hurt. How long must we stay here?”
“I don’t know. Maybe longer than we want.”
“We have already been here longer than that,” Karista tells her and she smiles.
She is seated on the High Table for breakfast and doesn’t like it at all. Technically it’s an honour, but after last night she knows it’s more about keeping an eye on her.
“My lord,” mutters Kirrun, having just appeared. “A delegation from Ship Halrathith has arrived. They wish to speak with you urgently.”
Jephruth frowns. It is easy to see him for what Kirrun says he is when he looks annoyed. The small mouth pouts and draws attention to the extra flesh hanging around his jawline. When he smiles she doesn’t see it, but now he looks like a spoilt child.
“Send them in.”
A group of around twenty enters, a mix of men and women. Shirrin is surprised. A delegation which includes women? Maybe the Sea Folk are worth knowing better. The dragonriders never include women in important matters such as this. She smiles as she remembers the upheaval when Karista chose her over all the young men lined up for him.
“My lord.” It is a woman who speaks, tall and confident, her long black hair in multiple braids with gold and silver thread running through them. The braids are braided into a thick rope that hangs below her waist. She wears a shirt and trousers and a wide belt. There is no doubt that she is a woman, for all she wears men’s clothes.
“My lord, something terrible is occurring in the ocean to the west. As I am sure you know, waterweed grows on the surface but only close to the shoreline where it is usually broken up by the action of the waves. But now it is growing in huge quantities out in the ocean itself. It is not breaking up and the fish are dying.”
Jephruth looks bored.
“And how does that affect us here in the city of Jalrath?”
The woman’s jaw tightens.
“You also eat fish, do you not?”
“Of course, but there are other sources. If you cannot find fish in that area, why don’t you fish elsewhere?”
“The weed is spreading, my lord, where there was no weed before. The problem must be stopped if we are to avert a catastrophe. We have made calculations according to the wind and currents. Whatever is causing this is coming from Jalrath.”
“That is ridiculous!” Everyone looks shocked at Jephruth’s anger. Or maybe they are afraid. “Do not blame us on land for problems in the ocean!”
“My lord, water runs from the land into the ocean. If you are using some kind of fertiliser on your trees…”
“Leave us. I have no patience for this foolishness during my morning meal.”
“But my lord…!”
Jephruth slams both fists down onto the table. Everything on it, and everyone around it, jumps.
“Enough! Leave. Solve your ocean weed problem yourself. It has nothing to do with us.”
The woman’s chest heaves as she struggles against herself. From somewhere there comes a tiny metallic sound, like a strop against a knife blade, or a sword against a scabbard. The man beside her touches her arm and the group turns away.
As they reach the doorway, Jephruth calls out.
“The catch this last year has been excellent. There is a bonus waiting at the gates.”
Shirrin watches them leave in sorrow and excitement. She wants to go with them or at least talk to them before they leave. Would they answer her questions? Would a dragon be welcome on their ship?
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Jephruth catch someone’s sleeve.
“Was it all prepared?”
“Yes, my lord. They won’t sail far.”
Shirrin’s mouth drops open and she snatches up some food to put in it. The bonus, whatever it is, will kill the visitors. Can she warn them? Jephruth will kill her for such a betrayal, she knows it in her heart. She sees Kirrun walking towards her.
What am I going to do?
Excellent question! You decide!
1/ She asks Kirrun to warn the Sea Folk
2/ She gets up and leaves to warn them herself
3/ She leaves and goes straight to Karista in order to escape
Voting ends Saturday midnight (US Pacific Coast time)