"Can't you speed this damn bucket of bilge any faster man?" Ciarghuala paced the poop deck with ill-concealed frustration, barely registering the captain's obsequious excuses.
"Oh what care I man for the backs of your rowers! Whilst we bob hither and thither with the tide my countrymen mount the last stand of humanity in the west. What harm do you think your rowers' backs will suffer if they fail?"
In the past weeks her party had crossed more than a thousand leagues, marching hard to Luria Nova as bodyguard to King Falco. She could still taste the thirst which had cost so many lives in the trackless wastes of the Desert of Silhouettes, itself but a shadow of the sense of betrayal when promises made by allies proved false. Too many friends had been lost to remain with the exiles, forever remembering the lost steppes but never able to reclaim them.
The fleshpots of Askileon were a brief and welcome distraction but it wasn't long before the numbing effects of alcohol and whores wore thin and the thoughts of her grizzled veterans turn homeward. The Dubhaine family name was less known here than in some parts of the world but its gold opened doors and an expedition was prepared, across the deep sea to Port Raviel in the heart of D'Hara. There a chance meeting at an inn near a certain crossroads had secured passage with a smuggler sailing via Golden Farrow and to Eidulb, itself no short voyage.
Under different circumstances Ciarghuala might have enjoyed the calm of the central ocean, but today all she could think of were the monstrous hordes besieging her beloved Gaston and mocking Niselur's hard won victory over the Blood Star cultists. Whence had this nightmare came upon the noble horse lords? Had it been the folly of the Prophets of Tor? Or had the star worshipers summoned their demon gods to wreak vengeance?
From what she'd heard their blood-soaked faiths each seemed of a kind with the death cults of ancient times, when inhuman kings had ruled the fertile lands of Dwilight and humans were hunted for sport. Her mother's advice on such matters had been grim, born of wisdom hard won hunting with blade and bow and steely resolve: "If you would face death daughter, you must do so as death. Become the mirror in which he sees his own reflection, and make him shudder for the fear of you."
It was a strange twist of fate indeed which had brought the former Supreme Justice to Dwilight, there abandoning her noble birthright to hunt the fell beasts of the Zuma lands and bring The Law to the savage tribes. Stranger still that she raised a daughter in that cursed earth. There it was that Ciarghuala learned to trade in steel, nurtured amidst wild hills and glassy escarpments where even great Kings feared to tread without an army at their back.
Had ever an upbringing better prepared a young knight for the nightmare which now beset the western continent? Only time would tell. But try as she might to see a future amongst the soft, decadent gentility of the east, she could find none. What use had she for silk gowns and lace ruffles?