Good news! Or should I say, "Good news that has nothing to do with the title!" I'm successfully moved into college, and I survived my first day of classes. My room is great and so is my roommate.
Today it was impressed upon me just how much work I'm going to have in the upcoming months, so I decided to start this before I get slammed with homework. Since I have no idea when I can get Graystone out, I decided to make up for it by writing a series of Zuryzel short stories.
Before I launch into the story, here is a bit of an explanation of what's happening. It's after the war with the Darkwoods foxes, and the Darkwoods castle has been retaken by its original inhabitants and is once again called by its original name. Taking a leaf from her mother's book, Zuryzel has befriended creatures from all walks of life, including a considerable amount of pirates. Some of these pirates aren't really friends; some of them, including Shartalla, are as true as steel. Some friction has also arisen between Princess Zuryzel and her older brother, Crown Prince Mokimshim. So far it isn't too serious, but Zuryzel is definitely loosing trust of her older brother.
So, without further ado .................. The Quest for Rinaria!
The Quest for Rinaria
The cells of the castle of Lunep remained as they had for a long time; utterly deserted. Zuryzel wandered through the lower passages, her friend Una at her side as they examined several locked cabinets. “Old recorder’s records, I guess,” murmured Una. She peered closer. “I can open this one!”
“You are a raccoon,” Zuryzel teased. “You can open anything!”
“Not always,” mused the raccoon. She looked at her mistress, the princess of the Wraith Mice, mice of the night. “I can’t open anything in Arashna that is locked!”
“Because there’s always someone watching,” Zuryzel smirked.
“Mmm.” Una frowned at the lock and inserted one of her claws into it. Next moment there was a resounding click! The door swung open and smashed full-force into Una. The raccoon went flying back and landed on the stone floor with a gasp of shock.
“You all right?” Zuryzel laughed, trying to help Una up.
Paws pounded on stone as Dejuday, Zuryzel’s mate, and Eneng, a ferret corsair captain, raced down the passage. They both stopped dead at the sight of the chaos. “What happened?” Dejuday demanded. His eyes darted from Una, sitting dazed on the floor, to the open cabinet. “Tried to open the door, did you?”
“Something like that.” Una stood up groggily. “Who would have thought such a small door weighed so much?”
“The door don’t weigh nothin’,” Eneng chuckled, flicking the door open and closed. “It’s what’s leaning against the door that weighs something.”
Una looked at the boxes littering the ground at her paws. “I don’t know if I want to open these.”
Eneng picked one up as his sister, Winterblade, panted down the hallway. Her eyes took it in at a glance, but before she could speak, Una threw up her paws.
“Yes, I tried to open the blasted door and got nailed by the blasted boxes! Don’t ask!”
“I wasn’t going to,” Winterblade chuckled. She picked up a box and rattled it. “Made out o’ copper, I’d guess, full o’ paper. Story, maybe?”
“Recording, `Blade,” Eneng corrected. “Old kings kept the ’istory of their kingdoms in fancy locked boxes t’ keep ’em safe.”
Una held the box Winterblade had picked up at paws length and slid the tip of a dagger into it. It clicked and opened.
“Oh my!” she gasped.
Winterblade looked in and gave a high-pitched cry of delight. “Look at this! This must be older than Lunep itself!”
Zuryzel looked at it. It was indeed a stack of parchment faded with time and written in the ancient tongue. Zuryzel recognized the figures, but could not read it. Except for one word at the top.
“Rinaria,” she breathed. The name jumped out to her on other various sentences on the page.
“This is directions leading to the lost city of Rinaria!” Eneng whispered.
“More like a stack of riddles,” Dejuday muttered back. “That’s how the ancients wrote their maps, of course. They used riddles rather than pictures.”
“Because no picture could be entirely accurate,” Zuryzel said impatiently. “Never mind that. Until now, everything we’ve heard about Rinaria has been completely a legend!”
“This ain’t a legend,” commented Eneng matter-of-factly.
“If we could find someone to read this,” Zuryzel added, “it would be better than anything. Do you suppose Ksheygha can read this?”
Dejuday shuddered. “I wouldn’t trust Ksheygha to have the only copy in her paws.”
Ksheygha was one of Zurizel’s friends, a corsair, who had aspirations to a captaincy of her own. She could read in any tongue- including all the ancient tongues that others had long forgotten- but she was about as trustworthy as the weather. Dejuday was right to not trust her with the precious manuscript.
Eneng and Winterblade spoke at the same time. Eneng said, pointing at Winterblade, “She c’n read it!”
Winterblade said, shrugging, “I c’n translate it!”
Zuryzel blinked in surprise. “Where did you learn to read the old tongues, Winterblade?”
“There was dozens of islands untouched by the Dark Ages, Zyna,” Winterblade shrugged. She called Zuryzel by the nickname the corsairs used. It meant ‘Jewel’. “There are books and the like for children on Pelleck Island, though not many bother. I learned t’ read there.”
“Why didn’t you learn, Eneng?” Dejuday asked.
“Never had a reason to,” Eneng shrugged carelessly, though the corners of his mouth twitched.
Zuryzel caught on. “Why did you learn, Winterblade?”
“Ah, well, y’ know,” the corsair dithered, “useful thing t’ know, y’ might say-”
“Tell `em the truth, `Blade,” Eneng chided. “No one’s gonna believe y’ learned cause y’ thought it would be useful. No one even uses the ancient tongues anymore.”
“Snowhawk doesn’t know how to read, does she?” Una inquired icily.
“No,” Eneng laughed. “Of course not.”
“Yeah, well,” Winterblade grumbled.
Snowhawk was, in a word, Winterblade’s arch-rival. Winterblade worked very hard to be superior to the other pirate on all possible counts. It often amused her friends that she should be so zealous about it.
“So does Snowhawk know you know how to read?” Zuryzel asked now.
Winterblade glared. Then she said primly, “I’ll take these t’ my ship, if y’ don’t mind, Zyna, an’ have `em translated in about a cycle.”
“A cycle!” Zuryzel gasped.
“Lots o’ pages, Zyna,” Winterblade chided. “An’ I wanna make sure I do it right. I’ll also have to make sure cert’n creatures don’t know what I’m doin’ – ’specially Arasam ’n’ Snow’awk. Or Ksheygha.”
“I don’t care if Ksheygha knows,” Zuryzel promised. “But having the only copy in her paws is… risky.”
“Tell me about it,” Eneng agreed.
A cycle and a half later, a darkly cloaked ferret glided smoothly up a pathway from some docks to a cavern by the sea. The ferret walked brazenly into the tavern and made for the table at the back. She needn’t have bothered with the cloak; no one was in the tavern except for those she came to meet.
Winterblade sat quietly at the table. On her right sat Dejuday, at the head of the table. On his left, also at the head of the table, Zuryzel was tentatively sipping at a mug of hot seaweed ale; it was good, but very strong. Next to Zuryzel sat Korep, one of Eneng’s corsair friends. Beside Korep there was an empty spot. Next to this spot sat Eneng, looking nothing but nervous.
“This had better be good,” the newcomer warned.
“Y’ made it, Ksheygha,” Winterblade chuckled. “I was beginnin’ t’ wonder. But this is good.”
Ksheygha threw herself down into the empty spot beside Korep, throwing off her hood to reveal her amber eyes smoldering with frustration. “Good enough to bring my ship and crew within a league of Arashna when the Crown Prince wants my head? Good enough to take us off a hunt for treasure? Good enough to drag us into waters that are patrolled?”
“Better than that, I promise,” Zuryzel grinned.
Ksheygha took stock of who was present. “Shartalla not here?”
“No,” shrugged Dejuday, though he kept his voice quiet
Ksheygha scowled. “I thought you said she’d be here.”
“She’s patrolling the waters north of here,” Dejuday explained, “so we have warning in case Arasam or Snowhawk decide to show their ugly face around here.”
“That’s another thing,” Ksheygha added. “Why was it so important they not know about this?”
“You did what we asked you to,” Dejuday surmised.
“Yes, and I burned the letter afterwards. And before I came up, I had my crew stay sentry on Wideprow and around the jetty. Why?”
“The thing is a little delicate,” Korep began.
“They’d turn it over to my brother,” Zuryzel answered. She flat out refused to say Mokimshim’s name.
“Why is it so important he not have … whatever it is?”
“Because Mokimshim could do just about anythin’ ’e wanted to if ’e ’ad it,” Winterblade explained. “An’ we don’ want our waters bein’ patrolled even more ’n’ they are now.”
She took a large rolled stack of old parchment papers from inside her cloak. She unrolled the first page and passed it to Ksheygha. “Have a look at this!” she explained in a whisper.
As Ksheygha looked it over, her amber eyes widened and her breathing quickened. She was about to say something when the tavern doors opened again.
Winterblade snatched the papers and hid them inside her cloak again where they hardly showed. Ksheygha took the paper she held and slipped in up her voluminous sleeve not a moment too soon.
Snowhawk the ferret and over half of her crew of two hundred sauntered in. The captain herself approached the table. “What’s up?” she asked conversationally, though ruining the conversational aura somewhat by keeping her paw on her sword hilt.
“So much for some warning,” Ksheygha murmured.
Snowhawk’s crew dispersed into the tavern. Some went to the bar and shouted until a sleepy-looking bar-fox emerged and began handing out drinks.
Winterblade met Snowhawk’s cruel black eyes with pale blue angry ones. “If it was any o’ yer business, I’d’ve told you.”
Snowhawk surveyed the faces of the others, taking into account Zuryzel’s frustrated face, Ksheygha’s rapturous face, Eneng’s nervous paws shaking, and Korep’s utter blankness. “Something being hided here, eh?”
“If it were,” growled a voice from behind her, “you would be the last creature to know, Snowhawk!”
Snowhawk suddenly arched her back and her eyes suddenly popped. Her paws reached behind her back and tried to push away the blade that pricked at her back.
Unknown to Snowhawk, the tavern door had opened again. Corsair ferrets were pouring in, all of them well armed. Zuryzel grinned when she recognized the voice of Snowhawk’s new assailant.
“You know, Dejuday,” Snowhawk warned, trying to ignore Shartalla’s blade, “as I am officially in the service of the prince of the Wraith Mice, I might have to turn you in! Fraternizin’ with his enemies, I think?”
“Be my guest, thick’ead, if y’ manages t’ get out alive,” snarled Shartalla.
Zuryzel’s best friend jabbed hard with her sword at Snowhawk’s back. “Don’t expect such luck, though!”
“If you do anything to me,” Snowhawk warned, “my crew will not ’esitate to jump on you.”
“Yer crew,” Shartalla laughed, “are sittin’ around, singin’ shanties at the bar, drunk, whereas mine are upright armed an’ ready t’ take out any who try to attack us! Do you really lets them drink at sea, Snowhawk?”
“Get out now,” Dejuday warned, “and no one will know how threatened you were.”
Snowhawk tried to take a step forward away from Shartalla’s blade at her back but Zuryzel could stand the tension no longer and sprang up to press her own sword against Snowhawk’s stomach.
“All right,” she said finally. “I’ll get out!”
She turned and called to her crew. In heartbeats they were gone and Shartalla’s crew were the only ones left. Silence reigned in the tavern, broken by Ksheygha.
“She is one bad actress.”
The tension was broken along with the silence. Good-humored chuckles broke out among Shartalla’s crew.
“Get yer drinks!” Shartalla called to her crew. “But stay sober!”
They let out a whoop and raced toward the bar-fox, though more polite than Snowhawk’s crew.
“Good plan, Shartalla!” Korep roared. “Did y’ see Snow’awk squirm?”
“Yeah, I `ad a front row seat,” Shartalla grinned.
Korep toasted Shartalla as Dejuday drew up the chair next to Zuryzel’s near the head of the table, and Shartalla sat down. “What did her face look like?” Shartalla grinned. “I didn’ see!”
“It looked like scared out o’ her wits,” Eneng laughed. He sounded giddily relieved. “You could’ve thought of a plan less unnerving, though!”
“Is that what you were nervous about?” Ksheygha queried, feeling very left out. She had no idea of any of the plan.
“Shartalla,” Winterblade complained, “I don’t see why I couldn’ta been the newcomer wi’ my crew. I would’ve loved to make her squirm!”
“For the last time, `Blade,” explained Shartalla patiently, “you’ve only got fifty crew, not enough to challenge Snowhawk, and she’d’ve guessed there was a plan if she saw you coming in with ferrets who weren’t wearing your uniform!”
Winterblade looked down at her outfit. It was all pale blue, the kind of color that was invisible at sea from great distance. Her ship, including the sails, was all dyed the same color.
“So Shartalla, could one of your ferrets run down and tell my crew they can come up?”
“Sure thing, Ksheygha. Oi, Skorlaid! Find Wideprow and tell the crew to come up. Tell the others to keep watch on the jetty and make sure Snowhawk leaves!”
The mention of the ferret seemed to be a spell, because silence reigned once again at the table. Worry flashed from Zuryzel and Dejuday as well as the other pirates in attendance. What if Snowhawk had found the manuscript?
“Anyway,” Shartalla continued, shaking off the spell, “the map. Where is it?”
Ksheygha took the single page from her voluminous sleeve and Winterblade took the rolls from her cloak. “We found this at Lunep,” Winterblade explained to Ksheygha. “We haven’t read it yet. I translated it as best I could, but I’m not so sure I did so well. Think y' c'd check o'er my work?”
“You’re holding onto it?” Ksheygha guessed.
Winterblade nodded. Ksheygha leaned forward “Lets read!” she said, barely able to keep her excitement under control.
“All right,” Winterblade said swiftly. “For those ’o don’ know, especially Shartalla an’ Ksheygha, the city of Rinaria was rumored to be a beaut’ful city on an island in the western sea. S’posedly the island was surrounded by mist an’ whirlpools, but a skilled cap’n could make it t’ the shore. Sometime before the Dark Ages, all the charts an’ maps to it were lost. All we ’ave left t’ know about it is sealore, an’ unfortunately sealore don’t include useful charts. Now, this list o’ riddles an’ such is from an older time than the seagoin’ pirate. It was kept safe an’ forgotten.”
“Because at that time there were better maps and charts,” Ksheygha inferred. “It was kept because they kept everything, but it was forgotten because it wasn’t needed.” Her amber eyes were bright, and quite suddenly she looked less like a pirate and more like an excited scholar. Her eyes were bright and the grin on her face gave testament to her true age. Her scowl usually added ten seasons to her face.
“So the city of Rinaria was abandoned before the Dark Ages,” Winterblade persisted. “An’ all traces of it were lost. This is it. This is all the world ’as that tells us where this treasurely city is!”
“Treasurely ain’t a word,” Eneng frowned.
“Who cares?” Korep exclaimed quietly. “Open it, ’Blade! Let’s see what there is t’ see!”
Winterblade glanced at Zuryzel, who nodded. Then, very slowly, she unfurled the scroll and laid it on the table.