So without further ado, me hearty brethren of the sea... The Quest for Rinaria: The Riddle!
The Quest for Rinaria
Part II ~ The Riddle
“This is it?” Ksheygha muttered. “Where are your translations?”
Winterblade lifted the first page to show beneath it a parchment with her translations on it. Ksheygha glanced at them, then returned to examining the original manuscript.
“It’s complete and undamaged,” Winterblade muttered defensively.
Ksheygha nodded, still absorbed in the paper. “Mm. No words missing, either. Nor is it even scrambled up. It just … doesn’t tell anything.”
“Well, that’s why we invited you,” Winterblade growled.
Ksheygha ran her paw beneath the riddles, murmuring the words as she did so:
The mist, the fire, the sea all strive
To keep the hidden Isle alive.
A smoth’ring roar, a poisoned air,
But those who can survive are there.
West past the dragon’s nested clutch,
North through the whale’s eyes,
Then league and league both north and west,
To where the sea-nymphs rise.
Sail in their realm at north and west,
Once here stray neither left nor right.
No sun, nor star, nor moon to guide
Until the Gray Shore is in sight.
Through Gray Water swiftly fly;
Light no fire, trust no ground.
Then up the icy cliff ascend,
And behold the treasured city found.
“Sail through a whale’s eye,” Eneng muttered. “That’s lovely.”
“Gray water,” Ksheygha muttered. “Gray water … that has to be some kind of swamp. And it’s on the island where Rinaria lies.”
“Is this icy cliff liter’ly a cliff of ice?” Korep asked.
“What difference does that make?” Eneng snapped.
Korep faced Eneng straight on. “Because it c’d tell us how far north Rinaria is.”
Ksheygha lifted up the other pages – there were six – to find that each one had a drawing. She flipped to the second-to-last, which depicted a tall, barren cliff with what looked like a river running down the middle. “I can’t tell.”
She laid out the first picture, which, presumably, was the dragon’s nested clutch. “Look familiar to anyone?”
About a third of the way up the page was a wavy line, which was presumably the sea. Above it was a collection of strange round mounds. They must have been islands, but there was nothing distinctive about them.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Shartalla murmured quietly. “But I know where it is.”
Korep rolled his paws in a “go on” gesture.
“Or I should say,” Shartalla amended, “I know the places they could be.”
“Before you go on, Shartalla,” Ksheygha interrupted, “there is one thing I want to get straight.”
“Name it,” Dejuday said.
“What do we plan to do with these clues?” Ksheygha demanded. “Are we all going to sail in search of Rinaria?”
“No one c’n stop you if y’ want to,” Eneng pointed out.
“That’s well and good,” Ksheygha snapped. “But I want to know who else is. Before we proceed, I want to know everything I need to know.”
She was right to be cautious. Her captain was an overbearing drunk tyrant, and her crew looked to her to lead them through murky waters. She couldn’t just sail off whenever she pleased the way the others could. Zuryzel knew very well that she would never lead her captain near the treasured city of Rinaria.
Korep, it seemed, knew this as well. “Y’ c’d come onboard Oceanflower,” he suggested. “This voyage might last three months, at most. Yer crew c’n do without y’ for that long, Ksheygha.”
“Will my captain let me?” Ksheygha muttered.
“Come on,” Korep insisted. “Yer captain’s been known t’ stay ashore drinkin’ fer six months. Jus’ tell ’im I gave ye a job offer fer a few months, an’ ’e’ll letcha go.”
Ksheygha smiled wanly at him but spoke to the gathering at large. “Do you all plan to sail after Rinaria?”
“Of course,” muttered Winterblade.
Ksheygha nodded slowly. “Then know that if I cannot come, I will not betray anything that passes here tonight.”
Korep nodded in his turn. “A’right. Shartalla, you were sayin’?”
“What was I sayin’?” Shartalla asked, looking puzzled.
“You know where the dragon’s nested clutch might be,” Zuryzel prodded her.
Shartalla slapped her paw on the table. “Right! When I firs’ came o’er to the Western Ocean, I ’ad my father’s old charts. They were drawn up in the east a long, long time ago. There’s three islands that’re referred to as some kinda dragon on those charts. One of ’em was Ribasco Island; on the charts it was called Wyvern’s Crags. Then there’s Salamander Archipelago, least that’s what it is on the charts. T’day I think it’s called the Scattered Stones Keys. Then there’s Serapis.”
“What’s Serapis?” Zuryzel asked.
“It’s a great ring o’ rock standin’ eighty feet tall in the middle o’ the ocean,” Winterblade murmured. “There’s said t’ be an entrance to the inside, but I’ve sailed round it four or five times. Never seen no entrance.”
“On the old charts,” Shartalla murmured, “it’s marked as the ’ome of a great dragon. It ain’t, though,” she added cheerfully. “I’ve found that entrance, an’ I’ve been inside. But that ain’t important. What is importan’ is that those are the three places in the Western Ocean that c’d be the dragon’s nested clutch.”
“They’re all within ten leagues o’ each other,” Korep observed.
“Three o’ them … we ’ave four ships atween us,” Winterblade murmured. “Five if y’ count Ksheygha’s.”
“But once we set sail, we ain’t got no way o’ communicatin’,” Eneng pointed out. “If one o’ us finds this whale’s eye we gots t’ sail through, how’ll we tell the others?”
This bit of logic left in its wake an irritated silence. Ksheygha frowned at the table, Shartalla glanced around the tavern for inspiration, and Winterblade gave her brother’s paw a fierce kick under the table.
“I have an idea,” Zuryzel said after a few minutes. “You all know Craic, right?”
“Lady Raven’s raven?” Korep clarified. “Yeah, I know him.”
“As do we all,” Ksheygha added.
“He’s at Arashna now,” Zuryzel murmured. “I can ask him to carry messages between ships.”
“He would, too!” Winterblade whispered. “T’ be in one last adventure? ’e’d love it!”
“Don’t say it like that t’ him, ’Blade,” Eneng advised.
“Yeah, I know.”
“I take it then,” Ksheygha murmured, “that Zuryzel and Dejuday are in on this as well?”
“Of course we are,” Dejuday replied, sounding surprised.
“Una too,” Zuryzel added. “After all, she found the clues.”
“So which ship’ll you be on?” Korep asked.
“Shartalla’s, of course,” Zuryzel replied, an amused smile playing on her face.
“An’ the queen’ll give y’ permission for this?” Eneng added.
“We think so,” Dejuday answered.
Zuryzel transferred her gaze to her mug of ale, staring at it contemplatively.
“We sh’d sail early t’morrow,” Korep said quietly. “I’ll sail for Scattered Stones Keys. I know those waters well.”
“I’ll go fer Serapis,” Shartalla added.
“An’ that leaves Ribasco Island fer ’Blade an’ me,” Eneng finished. “We leave at three bells t’morrow – unless Queen Demeda says otherwise fer Zyna an’ Dejuday.”
“There ain’t much more t’ talk about righ’ now,” Shartalla mused. “I ain’t got a clue abou’ the rest o’ this stuff.”
“Me neither,” Winterblade agreed. She rolled the manuscript back up, then stood and said, “G’night fer now. I’ll see ye at the mornin’ tide.”
With that she pulled the hood of her seacloak over her head and started for the door.
“It seems unreal t’ me,” Eneng murmured as he, too, stood to follow his sister out. “That we’ll really be the one’s t’ find it.”
“If it’s still there,” Ksheygha reminded him. “It was abandoned for no known reason, don’t forget. It may have been destroyed by now.”
“Yes,” Zuryzel added, sounding slightly annoyed. “Right at the start of the Dark Ages. What I hope to find out is why it was abandoned when it was needed so badly.”
Ksheygha smiled sadly. “One more mystery that will never be solved,” she said with melancholy. “I’ll see you around. Doubt I’ll be able to sail with you.”
With that she rose and departed like Winterblade, drawing her hood up to hide her face.
Korep waited until she was out the door before he rose. He tossed a coin on the table to pay for his drink and said quickly, “See ye tomorrow.”
He departed more swiftly than the female corsairs, and there was no doubt in Zuryzel’s mind that he was in a hurry to talk with Ksheygha.
“We do need ’er,” Eneng said reluctantly. “She knows more about the seas ’n any of us. But I’ll take my leave, too, an’ go get ready t’ sail.”
Shartalla drained her drink as he left. “Zyna,” she murmured, “yer mother. Yer sure she’ll give ’er consent? I wouln’ blame ’er if she didn’.”
“She will,” Zuryzel replied confidently. “She trusts me.”
Shartalla smiled. “It’ll be jus’ like in the Darkwoods war,” she reminisced. “When we wen’ trackin Poison’s army up inter Zinnta’s territory. Remember?”
“Yeah,” Zuryzel replied nostalgically. “It was a great time.” She glanced at the faces of her mate and her best friend. “But I think we three have adventures ahead of us that will far surpass those behind us.”
Dejuday extended his paw, palm down. “Here’s to adventures ahead.”
Zuryzel put her paw on top of his. “A long road lined with trials and adulations.”
Shartalla put her paw on top of Zuryzel’s. “An’ seas that’re never still.”
Korep caught up with Ksheygha before she hit the jetty. “Ksheygha! Wait!”
She hesitated, but she turned to face him. “Yes, Korep?”
“You gotta come,” Korep insisted. “Ksheygha, y’ can’t let yer captain think ’e commands the seas inside you.”
“Korep,” Ksheygha said sternly, “in my life I’ve learned not to expect much good. Then you’re never disappointed.”
“That don’t mean y’ can’t hope for it,” Korep insisted. “Ksheygha, please.”
“You hope, Korep,” Ksheygha said levelly. “And I will try. I will try with all my might. But I will not expect much, and I don’t see how you can.”
“I expect much because I got faith in you,” Korep replied quietly.
Ksheygha didn’t reply. She merely swept onto the jetty and started for her own ship.
The sun was bright and clear the next day, and the sea sparkled like so many diamonds. There was a brisk wind that blew Zuryzel’s fur flat. It was the kind of day that lured pirates and mercenaries to the sea. The jetty – a long wood-and-stone construction – was as busy as usual, with pirates scurrying every which way. The smell of salt and sand flooded the air, and the cries of seabirds wheeling overhead set fire in the hearts of all sailors.
Korep looked towards Wideprow every five minutes. But he saw no sign of Ksheygha coming. He delayed shoving off for as long as he could, checking and rechecking his charts, examining the supplies aboard his ship. He checked that the ballistae were working perfectly – as if they would be needed on this voyage anyway – and made double sure that the copy of the clues Winterblade had made for him were stashed safely in his cabin.
But when he could delay no longer, he said to his bosun, “It’s time t’ sail.”
The crew had just hauled up the ladders that led to the jetty and were about to cast off the lines when he heard a shout. “Ahoy, Oceanflower!”
Korep leaned over the side and saw Ksheygha hurrying along the jetty toward his ship. She stopped directly beneath him, her face upturned.
“Captain let you come along after all?” he grinned, extending a paw toward her.
“On one condition,” she said firmly. “I have to be back aboard Wideprow before three months are out. Your word on that, Korep.”
“You have my word, Ksheygha,” he replied.
She grasped his paw and he pulled her over the side. Then he turned back to his bosun. “Shove off!” he called, unable to keep the laughter out of his voice.
Shartalla’s magnificent ship, the Wynraser, was ready to go long before Oceanflower was. Shartalla hung around only long enough to ascertain that Ksheygha had indeed agreed to come along. As soon as she saw the ferret board Oceanflower, she strode along the deck of her ship joyfully shouting out commands to leave.
“Cast off!” her voice carried jubilantly across the Wynraser. “Loose the sails! Pull up the bumpers! Helm, two points to starboard!”
There was a lurch as the Wynraser dipped and turned at the same time. Una, Zuryzel and Dejuday grabbed the railing, but the sharp motion sent a thrill through all of Shartalla’s crew. They were sailing on a fine seas, and their delight was more infectious than the sea itself.
Craic the raven sat perched on the railing beside Zuryzel’s paw. “Ah, Zuryzel,” Craic murmured. “How much Lady Raven wished she could sail on this voyage.”
Zuryzel sighed. “I want to know why Rinaria was abandoned,” she murmured.
“As did she,” Craic agreed. “I am glad that someone is finally setting out to find the answers she yearned for.”
Zuryzel lifted her face to the breeze. There was another lurch as Wynraser left the harbor and hit the open sea. This time she didn’t have to grab for the railing. The thrill of adventure raced through her from nose to tail tip.
And now it begins, she thought, laughing aloud.