Book One - A Sail of Storms

With kingdoms clashing and republics on the rise, a new king attempts to step out of his late father's shadows, a daughter of nobility fulfills her duty to her people, a progressive senator fights to save the monarchy, and a young knight investigates the strange occurrences in the Great Mist. 


Prologue

It has been a year of unusual events, and this is only the beginning.  First, the fishes disappeared from the lakes, then the seabirds started flying south, soon even the forest by the coast started to die, and now there are sightings of sails in the Great Mist.  No northerner would dare enter those waters, so who would?

Ser Rodgers, along with his squire, had been riding north for three days.  As the most trusted advisor of Lord Bownass of the Great Lakes, he often carried out these inquiries on behalf of the nobles he served.  As he made the final approach to Blackstone Keep, and the northernmost outpost of the realm came into his sight, he felt a deep chill run down his spine.  The black iron gates of the former prison sit at the bottom of the cliff.  Its facade looks out upon a soundless shore, and its halls funneled deep into the earth within the cliff.  Running back and forth across the face of the cliff were stairs from within the keep to the tower that sits alone on the top of the cliff.  The stairs narrow and almost carved into the cliff wall.  It would serve as a great defense from invaders from the cliff top.  The young knight had not been back here for many years and as he came to a halt outside the gates, a sudden ocean breeze swept through the beach. 

I had forgotten how cold it gets up here.  Even in these summer months.

The gates suddenly began to swing outwards, and its heavy metal dragged on the sandstone engulfing the dead air with a deafening screech.  The two souls peered in to see the faces of their welcome party. 

“Ser Rodgers, it has been a while” the roaring voice boomed within the court of the keep.  The man behind the voice was Lord Edmund Mules, a distant cousin of Lord Bownass, who now served the realm as a warden of the outpost.  He was once known amongst these parts as a fierce warrior during the last Canton war, which took place over two decades ago.  His once smooth face and chiseled jawline are now almost entirely covered by a thick red beard, and Lord Edmund seemed larger and rounder all around.  He has gotten fat, yet by the looks of his arms and thighs, he still carries great strength. 

“Lord Edmund, it is good to see you again.  If only it were during better times.”

“Aye, these are strange times indeed.  Come, I’ll show you to the tower, then we can return to Hall for supper.  My men will show your squire to his quarters.”

The two began to make their way into the deep structure until they came upon the winding stairs that ascended its way up the cliff.  The climb wasn’t that long, but Ser Rodgers could make out that the old lord’s breathing had altered.  The knight too was beginning to feel his sore legs from the long ride as they approached the tower on top of the cliff.  From here, he looked upon the shore in the evening glow.  The Great Mist walled over the ocean stretching across the horizon.  If it weren’t for the sounds of the waves crashing unto the rocks by the cliff, one could even mistake this beach for a barren desert, and the Mist as a sandstorm. 

On top of the tower, a single soldier sat by a lit fire pit.  His duty was to scour the surrounding area from his vantage point and ring the rustic bell if enemy forces approach.  Until last week, it had been over a century since that bell was the last rung. 

The sighting of black sails peering through the Great Mist took the soldier by surprise.  He had been stationed above the tower, like his father before him, and had never had cause to worry about anything beyond the Mist.  Nothing survived out in those waters, and the stories told across the northern villages of the large ice wolves, scared everyone from venturing out into the sea. 

From the top of the tower, Ser Rodgers saw the golden light of the setting sun scraping the Mist.  It is colder up here. 

Then, a shadow seemed to have soared through the Mist.  It was hard for any of the three to make out where it came from but they all sensed it.  Then suddenly, another shadow.  This one seemed closer, and then they all saw it.  Black Sails, peered through, like shark fins breaking the top surface of the Mist.  My god. 


Astoria, Banes, and Canton

Chapter 1 - Edward

I really do hate summers in the capital.  This scorching heat, the smell, the crowds, the hustle of this grand city now that the King’s court is back in session.

Lord Edward Bownass is the second son of the Great Lakes.  While his brother governs the realm, he serves his people by representing them in the Kingdom’s capital.  As a close friend of the King, both growing up together in the West Astoria, and fighting alongside one another through countless battles, Lord Edward had also earned himself the title of Royal Advisor to the King. As the lord made his way through the balconies of the royal palace, he was stopped by two approaching figures.

“Lord Edward, I see you’ve returned to the capital.  How was Silverlake?” The greeting came from Lady Lena, a fellow representative from the South Banks.  Her familiar voice brought a certain calm into his anxiety.  She was one of the first people to befriend Edward when he first arrived in this city, nearly ten years ago.  To her right stood Lord Hullsman, Governor of the capital.  His golden robes glowed in the sun, but for a permanent resident of the city known for its endless summer, his skin was quite pale.  Perhaps, he hardly has the time to enjoy the sun.

“There was a great comfort being home for a while, but even there, matters of concern are growing.  The fishermen all seem worried that the lakes are beginning to run dry.  My brother has done all that he can to help our people but I fear things are getting worse.”

If concern were a disease, you would say it was highly contagious.  Both Lady Lena and Lord Hullsman had lost what little cheer that had prior, and now too seemed quite worried. After Lord Edward had excused himself, he continued on making his way to his chambers.  As the royal advisor and close friend of the crown, he was gifted with a chamber in the royal palace itself.  As he entered his room, he slowly made his way onto his private balcony which overlooked the city.  It seemed so peaceful, yet chaotic from here.  He could hear the muffled sounds of the afternoon bazaar below. A breeze from the Great Bay along with the radiant summer sun gently kisses his skin, leaving him feeling warm and cool at the same time. In the halls behind him, he heard metallic footsteps approaching. Four? No, five.

There was no knock.  His door simply swung open, and through it came a slim yet muscular figure, in a red tunic with golden embroidery.  The figure motioned to the guards behind him to remain outside, as he shut the door. Edward smiled upon seeing his friend.  Richard of Astor had always impressed him, even before he took up the crown.  The first time Edward met Richard was at the Royal Academy in West Astoria, a boarding school for the noble sons of the kingdom.  There, most of the young lords were usually pompous and spoiled, but not Richard.  As the sovereign prince, he could have had servants all around doing the work for him, ensuring his safety, deflecting any and all hardships, but Richard embraced the independence and struggle willingly.  He rose quickly to become one of the best in academics, sports, and combat training.  His skills in archery and horse riding superseded everyone else’s.  Edward, on the other hand always came in second, except for swimming, in which the roles were reversed.

“My dear Edward, welcome back.”

“Your majesty,” Edward responded, bowing.

“I have something to burden you with and I am afraid it can’t wait.”

The king made his way to the balcony and stood looking out towards the city.  As Edward got beside him, the king turned to look him straight in the eye.

“We have received word that the queen of Banes is dead.”

Where could this be going?

The king continued, “and, Ambassador Francis tells me the King of Banes is planning to remarry within the year.”

And? What is it that I must do?

The king looked back out towards the city. “While you were away, I discussed with the royal courtiers, and we believe Lady Cath, your niece, would be a perfect match to strengthen our alliance.”

He wants me to ask Cath to marry the old geezer?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Not too far from the palace, a traveling caravan makes its way through the bazaar.  In it, a troop of street performers and merchants from around the kingdom, along with a former knight-turned-mercenary and the troop master. The knight was known amongst the trade only as the Mascarata, the Masked Warrior.  As the caravan came to a halt and the merchants began to set up their items, the knight took a few steps away from the group and locked his gaze onto the palace in the distance.  

It seems like a lifetime ago since I was last in this city.  The aroma of spices in the bazaar, the summer heat, nothing seems to have changed, and yet, everything has.         


Chapter 2 – Lady Serena

“My lord, are you certain your brother will accept?”

If there’s one thing for sure, William and Rose will never hand over their precious Cath. Even Lord Edward doesn’t seem too thrilled about it.   Yes, she will become Queen but that old fool is bound to die soon, leaving her widowed way too young. 

“No, but I must relay the King’s request.  I may not like this, but Richard’s wish is my command.  Besides, my brother would never force any of his children to do any bidding without their consent.  If Cath does not wish to marry, he would never allow it.”   Lord Edward, replied as he prepared for his departure.  He stopped to ponder for a minute and then turned to face Lady Serena, who simply stood out of his way.  Her bright blue dress matched the color of her eyes and contrasted well with her amber hair.  She grew up under nobility, her father being second in command of the Great Lakes, and from a young age was quite socially skilled in debate and persuasion earning her recognition in the Great Hall of Silverlake and now a position to serve as an associate to Lord Edward. 

“I need you to look after things here while I am gone, Serena” he spoke cautiously, “I am not sure why the King would make this decision prior to consulting me, and I am not sure what the intentions are for marrying someone as young as Lady Cath to someone so prehistoric as King Maas.” 

“Yes, my lord, I will be your eyes and ears, here.”

“Thank you, Serena. I never imagined having to ride back north again, so soon after just arriving.”

The journey between Silverlake and the capital takes about eight days on horseback.  Assuming Lord Edward spends a week trying to persuade his brother, it will be at least three weeks before he returns.  Maybe now is the time? 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Later that evening, after seeing Lord Edward off at the city gates, Lady Serena returned to her quarters, which was situated in the inner grounds of the capital.  As she entered her chambers she saw two cloaked figures already standing there.  

“You’re late,” said the one to her left in the dark charcoal cloak.  The voice was female, and the figure was tall.  Flowing out from under her hood were sun-kissed golden locks.  The other figure standing in a pale brownish cloak was male and much shorter.  He doesn’t speak much.

The female removed her hood as Serena approached them.  Her face was bony and her neck swan-like.  Her eyes were piercing blue and in that moment, as Serena stared straight into its icy depths, she felt a sudden chill run right through her.  

“Lord Edward has just left for the north, I had to be there to see him off.”  Regardless, I do not owe you any explanation.

“We know.  With him gone, we must use this opportunity to finally push the vote to escalate things in the east.  Canton cannot be allowed to continue to plunder our borders, unchecked.  Edward always pushed for diplomacy, and he has the king’s ears.”

“Edward is weak, always have been.  Diplomacy only works on the sound mind, and Katherine has none.”  I may owe a lot to Edward for trusting me with these responsibilities, but his pacifist ideals have cost us.  Canton may be attacking us from the outside, but if we continue to bleed, we will face a civil war that the monarchy won’t survive. 

“I know what must be done.”

“We are all agreed then.”  The cloaked man finally spoke, before proceeding to walk past Lady Serena, leaving the two women.  Lady Serena turned to look towards her remaining guest and added, “see you on the battlefield.”  The tall woman popped her hood on and slid out into the streets. 

Lady Serena was finally alone.  There is no going back now.


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