Kalo Patwa hunched in shadow on the eastern horizon, the sun rising behind it in eight rays of golden light. The good omen lifted Arnol’s spirits as he pulled his coat tighter around him in the chilly dawn air. Wilan had said it was always hot here—or rather, he had written it—but this weather pleased Arnol greater. He was one for snow and rain, for cold days in warm inns. Already the heat of midday here was intolerable, but he would endure, at least until victory would make it so.
Luvic stood beside him at the rail. The once-pale skin of his bald head had already turned red and peeled away, leaving behind mottled flesh that made him look even more the animate corpse than his gauntness did. Had his lieutenant not been known to him for so many years, Arnol would have been frightened of the man’s appearance alone. Instead, he knew to be more frightened of his heart.
“Cold today,” Luvic said.
“It will warm up again in a few hours. Then we will wish it were dawn again.” Luvic grunted, then picked at his teeth with a long fingernail.
There was not much to say that would keep them from the inevitable: how to proceed with the war. It was to be a war, what with such a large force under Arnol’s command. Even the two carvels lost to storms with all hands and natural losses to disease were not enough to diminish the might Arcinia would bring to bear on this petty island king. And all they needed now that Keranta had proven himself was to take the capital from men who fought with sticks.
“Did Keranta say where we should land?” Luvic asked.
“Somewhere on the north shore. His friend is not expecting us, but he will come soon enough when he sees our ships on the horizon.”
“True.” The wind picked up again, and Arnol thought them only an hour from the coast. It was hard to tell in these strange waters, so unlike the calmer Great Bay. Out here, far beyond the narrow gap between Corastia and Callira, the sun was harsher, the winds fiercer, and no chart yet made could tell of all the reefs and shallows that threatened to end any voyage nearly before it began.
Yet providence had shone on them thus far, and there was no reason to suspect that it would cease to do so. Providence meant victory; revenge; the wealth of kings. For Arnol in this moment, the shore of Kalo Patwa may as well have been the shore of paradise.
Two hours passed on the waves until the island was finally within range of their landing boats; time enough for each of the thirty men Arnol had selected to put on their armor and prepare their arquebuses for anything they might encounter here. But the closer they rowed, the more Arnol’s heart sank within him. What began as a few men on the beach swelled to a dozen, then a mass of brown flesh that he could no longer enumerate. Only Lati and Keranta’s presence at his side kept away the worst of his fears, and even that did not diminish the lingering thought that this was where he would be betrayed.
Men with skin the color of dark wood met their boats in the surf, taking hold of lines and boats to pull them ashore. There must be fifty such men here, though only a few were armed. Anxiety mixed with wonder on the faces of his own men; Arnol’s attentions, however, were only for Keranta. Any hint of trickery would mean their deaths. For his part, Arnol would do his best to add this pretender to the list of the dead before he fell himself.
But once all his men had disembarked safely and assembled on the sand, he began to feel that his fears were unfounded. At the highest point of the beach, surrounded by guards decked in feathers and some sort of spiky helmet, stood a man who could only be the chief of Kalo Patwa. His own clothing was grander than any Arnol could see, with gold hoops thicker than a man’s thumb hanging from his distended ears. Arms of thickly corded muscle rested on a strange wooden club in the shape of an axe, to which were tied feathers in hues rarely seen outside of Irritaschia. It was this man who Keranta approached first.
Lati was at Arnol’s side in an instant, pushing through the growing press of bodies on the beach. His accent as he interpreted for the pretender and chief was just as thick as ever, but Arnol knew that he would lost without him.
“Keranta just greeted the man, calling him Juyata. He says we are his allies and that we are on our way to the City of the King. He asks that Juyata let us purchase supplies here for our journey.”
Keranta had said nothing of purchasing, Arnol thought. From the man’s assurances back on Kalo Malut, he had made this place sound like a paradise of fruit and fresh water, where men could take and take and never come up empty. But Arnol reasoned it was no matter; even the meanest Corastian trinkets could command a high price here, where their like had never been seen before. He would need to meet with Luvic about this later, for the chief was speaking again.
“What is he saying now?” Arnol asked Lati. A few seconds passed.
“He says Keranta is welcome again after a long absence, and that he will be glad to sell us whatever we require. Also, he asks if we will stop at Kalo Nubi on our approach to the City of the King.”
“And we shall,” Arnol said. A sudden surge of confidence swept him from his place in the rear of the company until he stood at Keranta’s side. His voice betrayed none of his fear.
“I am Arnol Geserren of Gorram,” he announced as Lati struggled to join him and translate.
“Arnol Geserren Talgorram eje.” Certain that Lati was prepared, Arnol continued.
“I come from a land far across the sea to punish the King of Jewaktana for a grave insult to my country and my own blood. With me are thirty-six ships and over a thousand men, who you see there beyond the shore.” He turned briefly, pointing to his armada at anchor in the distant waves. Looking back to Chief Juyata, the man must have been trying hard to hide his reaction to such an impressive sight. Certainly, a man such as he could not appear weak in front of his men.
“Keranta has told me,” Arnol continued, “that in order to secure your help, we must first attack your enemies to the south. This we will do gladly. Are we agreed?”
“Mudeli hede?” Lati asked. The words hung in the air as Arnol’s breathing slowed once more, the spirit which possessed him now diminishing. It was the first time he had looked to Keranta since their landing, and the man’s face was serious; not quite grim, but lacking all friendliness and amusement. Arnol’s confidence wavered.
Had he broken some tradition? Infringed on some code of etiquette these people held? Perhaps so, but Keranta’s pleasantries would not win them the support and supplies they required; only a show of force could do that. After all, if offense was to be taken and then avenged, the men who surrounded them would need to defeat over half their number armed better than these island people had ever seen. They looked brave and strong, but Arnol knew of no valor that could pierce iron.
It was Chief Juyata who spoke first.
“Hala re ruja, Keranta?”
“Haye,” the pretender replied.
“Rase piki. Rapiki yiguguya iyimari.” The man’s gaze fixed on Arnol and those firm muscles tensed slightly as he took up his wooden axe and turned to face Keranta again.
“Follow,” Lati said, making a pointing motion with his chin. He did so, shouldering his arquebus and falling in behind the translator and Keranta. One glance at Luvic and the other men did the same, forming a tight bunch around their commander. If there was to be any trouble here, then it would not be his men who came out the losers.
The bay and its fleet of warships fell behind them as they made their way up the beach and into a thin forest of strange trees, their green branches rattling in the northwesterly wind. A few minutes’ walk brought them near indications of a village: where only a few little houses stood watch with nets and halved fish drying in the morning sun, now they grew more dense. Fields of some leafy vegetables could be een still farther off, but the island chief did not lead them that way. Instead, they turned and came to a stop at a large open space before a large house on stilts that could only be his. It stood higher than a man with steep, narrow stairs leading up inside, and a half dozen more armed men waited outside bearing spears and swords. This would not be the place to start any trouble, if indeed it was his men who started it.
“Iyijake,” the chief said, pointing to Keranta and Arnol.
“Enter,” Lati added, moving to do so, but Arnol was more cautious.
“What about my lieutenant?” he asked, motioning with his head toward Luvic. The chief did not falter, nor did he wait for Lati to translate.
“Bagi tui,” he replied. The meaning was plain enough on the man’s stern face. He turned to face his guards and said something to them which Arnol could not hear, then ascended the steps and bid Arnol follow him.
Looking to Luvic, he did not need to tell his lieutenant to be on his guard outside. He fell in beside Keranta with Lati behind him, wondering if this is where he would die.