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Corrandion, Corridane
I am JT, Ringer, nutjob, and archer, in that order. I like animated films, epic films, book films, movie music, folk music, and the occasional random other thing. I make friends by accident and like it that way...

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27 March 2015

The Price of a Throne: Chapter 20

Chapter 20

It was high noon when the boat arrived at Miran’s island on the usual day two months after Miranda’s last visit. This time, rather than delivering supplies for the island’s lone human resident, it had come to take him off. The crewmen on the boat did not yet know this, but such was the decision of the prince, even as he had promised to his sister when she had last come to visit him.
As the boat began its final approach into the little bay of the island, Miran stood watching on the high shore. His quiver of arrows, with the bowstring, were stowed across his back. All the carvings, both complete and unfinished, which he had accumulated in his time in exile, and the tools which he needed to complete the work, were in a different bag hung over his left shoulder. The staff of his unstrung bow he held in his right hand, but he was not putting his weight on this. Having waited some time already, he had moved to stand under the oldest tree near the bay, and was leaning against its trunk now as he watched the boat approach. It should only be minutes now before he began his journey home.
In short order, the boat was moored, and Miran became aware that the men were preparing to go through the same unloading of supplies which had been done without fail every time the boat came to the island, regardless of whether Miranda had come along. Refusing to allow the men to make the usual effort, which would be of no use today, Miran let go the bowstaff to make a trumpet of his hands and called down to the sailors.
“Cease your work, men! There is no need of that today. I wish the master to come up and speak to me.” Clutching again at his staff just before he lost his balance, the prince heard a single voice reply in the affirmative and saw that activity on the boat came suddenly to a halt. A few moments later, one man emerged from the small cabin and began to make his way up to where Miran waited, now sitting and resting his back against the tree.
It was merely a minute more before the chief of the boat was standing before Miran in the flesh. The man wore a faded stocking cap over a face which was as rough and weathered as the seaside cliffs of Corridane where Conan Trondale had been raised. His air was that of a man who takes insults from no one and offers respect only to those he judges to have earned it. He stood now before the seated prince, hands on his hips, visibly impatient at the delay and demanding an explanation.
“Tell me, what is the meaning of this? Do you want your supplies or do you intend to starve yourself up here instead?”
Making no effort to stand up again, Miran replied “I am a man now, I’ll have you know, and quite capable of making wise decisions. Has it crossed your mind that perhaps I don’t want to live on in this hermitlike existence any longer? With no one for company but a sister I barely know who cannot afford to stay longer than the tide? I want to go home, and you are taking me.”
The boatman relaxed both his manner and his tone. “Well, if you had said that at the first call there would not have been any trouble from me. To my way of thinking it takes a strong man to live through what you have till now. Though you know you haven’t got home yet by any means. There’s the great lake and the desert to cross yet. Are you really up to it, you think?”
“If I am not now I never shall be. I have heard that the king and queen my parents may be in danger of death if I do not return myself to them with all speed. You may help me up.”
Before offering a word in response, the boatman moved closer and grasped Miran by the wrist of his outstretched arm. The man’s strength and steadiness brought the prince to his feet in a moment, at the end of which they were standing side by side, looking down toward the boat.
“Have you ever tried to go down the steps? They look dangerous from here.”
“How else would you propose that I get down? I suspect that your vigilance from below will be enough to get me down safely. I will descend by my own effort if I have to use my arms to do so. Go on, let us proceed.”
Again the sailor replied with actions rather than words, taking Miran’s cue and leading him toward the steps. At the first step down, Miran reached out gingerly with his bowstaff to lend some support to his feet. At the same time, the boatman, who had recognized the staff for what it really was as an unstrung longbow, reached out from the lower step and pressed against the prince’s shoulder so that he could lower himself without leaning too hard on his bow and possibly fracturing it. After a tense moment, Miran was safely on the next step, and the whole process was repeated carefully once more.
Miran felt as if much of an hour had passed by the time he reached level ground again, though in reality it had been just ten minutes since he had stood under the tree for the last time. The real danger and disaster came when he tried to cross into the boat. There was no opening for him to hobble through and no means had been found to help him, as the crew had not expected this abrupt departure. As the chief of the boat came behind to support his attempt, Miran tossed his bow into the boat, where a crewman carefully picked it up again to stow it, and prepared to try to swing himself over the railing. As he did this, his satchel of carvings slipped from around his neck and fell, missing the boat, straight down into the bay.
Miran himself landed safely in the boat, but he could not speak for several seconds, shocked at the loss of his life’s work. He refused all offers of assistance, only standing and staring down at the water where the bag had left him. 
The chief of the boat, who had still been on the dock when the bag slipped, had made a desperate attempt, unnoticed by Miran, to keep it out of the water altogether, but he had reacted but a second too slowly and missed his chance. However, by the time Miran was safely on board, he had disappeared from view, having taken the first opportunity to dive down after the bag, which was clearly the most important thing to his passenger next to the great bow and arrows he carried.
Five minutes passed as Miran stood silently at the railing waiting for the sailor to return with the satchel. The man had, of course, already emerged once, but without the sack he was looking for. However, at his second emergence, he proved to have been finally successful, holding it up proudly as he climbed aboard by way of a rope the crew put out to him. Bringing the now dripping sack over to the prince, he said “There you have it again, and it took a great effort to get it, it having slipped beneath the keel into the mud below. I hope whatever you carry has not been damaged too much.”
Taking the still-muddy bag back from the man, Miran said “It probably has, it being wood, but many thanks for your effort. I am sorry I have no money to give you for it.”
“That is of no consequence to me, so long as you give no trouble during the voyage.” Offering no further words, the boatman left Miran alone where he stood leaning against the railing. 

        Left to himself, Miran immediately opened the recovered satchel to examine the contents. The bag had been closed with a clasp, and was still closed as well as this would allow. However, the cover over the opening was nothing more than a flap, and the space it left was more than enough to allow water to reach the contents. In consequence, a dangerous amount of water had collected at the bottom of the sack. Miran plucked the contents out as quickly as he could without injuring himself, and proceeded to pour the water back into the lake. Hailing a crewman, he asked the man to take the bag and hang it on the mast spar, so that the wind might eventually render it useful again. This the man did, and it was not long before Miran was able to make out the thing dangling by the strap about thirty feet above the deck.

This done, the prince advanced to examining the carvings and tools. The tools were still in good condition, being mostly metal which had not had time to be greatly damaged. The carvings themselves, however, were a different story. They were made entirely of wood, and had all been submerged from the start. Those that were finished were not affected as badly as the others, but in testing the unfinished ones, on some of which a more pliable inner layer had been exposed, Miran found that most of them could not be relied on to maintain their shape and were lost to him. Despondent, he slowly separated the ruined pieces from those that might perhaps still be finished, and took up his tools to continue his work.
He quickly became so engrossed in the work that he was startled when a crewman approached some time later and announced that it was nearly the supper hour and asked whether he would like it brought to him. Setting his things down gently, Miran answered “That will do, thank you. I do not relish the idea of falling somewhere in the dark.”
Accordingly, the seaman then left and returned a short time later with a bowl of stew. Tasting it carefully, Miran announced “Well, this is fine stuff. As good as I have made myself, at least, though I do not know if that I made for myself would be considered good anywhere else.”
The crewman, who had stood by to wait on the prince, replied “Thank you, sir. I will convey your sentiment to the cook. Is there anything else I can get?”
“Can you perhaps tell me just how many days it will take to reach our land from here?”
“That I can. I have done this journey many times now, and it takes us six days with good weather. If we hit a storm it may take ten.”
“Very well, if such is the case, I want a shelter arranged for me here on the deck. I will not go below, unless the weather demands it for my safety. Tell your captain this.”
Taking the bowl back, since Miran had now finished the meal, the sailor bowed to him and answered “Very well, sir. It shall be done.”
The man left and Miran was once more alone with his carving. Determined to make this one piece he had chosen a success even if all the others were ruined, he continued to work hard at it until twilight had fallen and he could no longer be sure of his accuracy or his safety. By this time, however, he had worked at the carving nearly all afternoon, a much quicker pace than he was wont to make of the work. On his island he had often stopped suddenly to practice with his bow or simply to take a walk to the far coast of the island, where he had enjoyed sitting in the grove of trees, which had housed a few songbirds along with those that thrived on the coast. 
At the same time that crewmen came out to set up the shelter Miran had requested earlier, he received a visit from the chief of the boat. 
“I trust nothing has been amiss yet?”
“No, thank you, nothing that you could have easily remedied.”
“Oh, so there is something. I’ll not have that. What is it?”
“My work is spoiled, and I need to know where my bow is kept.”
“You need more wood, eh? Well you said as much earlier and I suppose I ought to have done something about it then. However, I’m afraid we haven’t a piece small enough for what you do, though I shall search on the morrow. As for your bow, there is no difficulty about it. I had it placed in my cabin. Safest place on board. Though of course that I should have mentioned earlier also. Is this sheet all you need?”
“I have slept in the open before, and I will not go below. I am content with this.”
“As you will, though don’t send to me later with complaints. I bid you a good night, then.” Having said this, the sailor departed. Seeing that his shelter was erected, Miran then gathered up his things with more than his usual care and moved under the provided shelter.
The night passed in fits and starts, and he slept but little. It was true that he had slept in the open before, but he had never tried to camp out on a log. His limited store of life experiences had left him unprepared for anything like what he was doing and later intended to attempt. 
Determined as he was to make the best of his situation, the change of the watch in the midst of the night found Miran sitting near the prow of the boat, staring out over the open water, despite the fact there was nothing to see. The watchman asked him what the matter was, prompting him to reply “I want for nothing now, save to know whether my parents live.”
“And who would they be, sir?”
“I am the son of the king and queen. If my father’s designs have succeeded at all, that fact has been kept secret too long now. Did you not know that the princess came to the island but two months past?”
Saluting despite the darkness, the seaman replied “I did not know of that, my lord, for I have only done this journey once before. There had been no news of the death of king Torlan or his queen when we embarked, but news travels slowly in Gairadane.”
“Such news as that would ride with the wind. You have done me a service, but for now keep away. I want to listen to the silence.”
The sailor saluted again and backed away into the darkness without another word, and Miran was again alone with the sounds of a slowly moving ship.
Little of import happened for several days after this incident, until finally in the later hours of the fifth day, the chief of the boat brought Miran the news that they were to make landfall in Goman harbor either the next day or the day after. Miran greeted this news with enthusiasm tempered by subdued decorum.
“Thank you for that news. To whom should I go to make arrangements for the journey to the capital?”
“You need not look farther, for I’ll take you to him myself. My own uncle is the man for the job. You can trust us. It was he who suggested my ship to the princess, and she has returned under his care safe every time.”
“That is enough for me. But what does he ask? For I have no money with me.”
“For this he will insist you do not pay, as you will soon find for yourself.”
At this point the conversation was cut short by a cry from the lookout. “I see a sail! aft and to starboard! It seems to be sailing fast!”
The chief of the boat heeded the cry at once, veritably leaping to the wheel as he cried “Hands to the deck! Hands to the deck! We have a pirate upon us!”
Rising and following the other man as well as he was able, Miran called out “Bring my bow and arrows, a dark lantern and some galley rags! Perhaps we can stop them.”
The chief of the boat, who understood immediately what Miran intended to do, confirmed the order from his position at the ship’s wheel. ”Yes, bring all that, on the double. We’ll let them come!”
By this time the whole crew had been turned out, and three of them hurried to fulfill Miran’s order as the rest set about working to keep the boat within shooting distance of the attackers while at the same time maintaining the best readiness to escape that their intentions allowed. When all that Miran had requested had been brought to him, he made his preparations without hesitation, despite his own private knowledge that he could not count on hitting his target. Striving to maintain his calm demeanor, he strung the bow and gave it back to the one who had brought it as he next drew an arrow from his quiver, wrapped a rag damp with galley oil around the point, thrust the head into the flame of the lit lantern, took back his bow with one hand, nocked, drew, and shot his fire arrow into the sky, only to watch it fall harmlessly yards away from the enemy boat. At this, Miran turned back to the assisting crewmen, disgusted.
“We have lost the surprise, but I must keep at it. I think I will hit them the second time.” Almost as soon as he said this, another shaft, already lit, was thrust at him as a crewman replied.
“We cannot wait. Our lives and freedom are at stake. Wait for the up-swell this time, sir prince.”
Accordingly, Miran nocked the new shaft and then held it drawn until he felt the boat rise slightly. Taking full advantage of the slight increase in range this afforded, he let the shaft fly, and was rewarded for his extra care with the sight of the burning shaft hitting the enemy deck. More proud of himself than he had ever been before, Miran quickly took the next shaft, which was already prepared, and sent it whistling up into the higher reaches of the other ship’s sails. After sending one more shot into the sail, Miran halted his attack and handed his equipment over to be stowed away once more.

Having done this, he made his own way over to the side of the boat’s captain, who had not yet relinquished control of the wheel. Bracing himself against the nearest rail, he reported on his efforts.
“The flame has caught their sail well. I am sure they will have to replace it. And that means they’ll never catch us now. Have there always been pirates in this sea?”
Keeping his eyes on the water ahead, the boatman answered “Yes there have actually. There are more islands than yours in this water, and some of them are pirate hideouts. All we can do is try to outrun them.”
“And if we have done that, do we have clear sailing home?”
“Aye, it looks that way. Now you go back to your fire and warn me if they look to be catching up.”
Miran complied, for the other man was the chief of the boat. He leaned heavily on the rail to take some weight off his feet and looked out toward the other boat. He was not surprised to see that the other crew had indeed taken down the burned sail and were now divided between rowing their craft and replacing the sail. However, at the head of the ship, there were two men occupied with neither of these tasks, and they were looking back at Miran. 
As the two ships were nearly a hundred yards apart by this time, Miran harbored no anxiety about their intentions. But even as he watched, one of the men on the other ship gave a wave of his arm, apparently directed at someone atop the mast. Following the motion, Miran became aware of an archer preparing to fire. Lurching back from his position, Miran cried a warning to his companions. A moment later, it proved to be unwarranted, as the shaft proved to be unlit and hit no one. As Miran struggle to regain mastery of his balance, a crewman retrieved the shaft and read the message which had been tied around it.
Run, hide. We will find you all anyway. There is no stopping the wheel of fire. Hail the emperor!

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