AUGUST 22nd, 2014 - The King of Winds
It had taken him years of toil and effort to find - this tiny, secret, mist-shrouded isle deep in the seas where no man came. He’d sailed all over the world hunting down scraps of the fabled Staveyand Map, months holed up with some of the finest scholars in the world (one of whom happened to be his brother, Bran) to decipher the glyphs and riddling, ancient verses on the map. He’d fought off other corsairs and treasure-seekers hunting for the Staveyand Treasure, earning himself a reputation as the finest swordsman on the seven seas. And he’d sailed to the tiny, nameless island, braving storms and whirlpools and dead calms, starvation and mutiny. And now his beautiful ship, his pride and joy, his beloved Lion’s Claw, lay wrecked and ruined upon the rocky shores of the island - giving its life in the last leg of Captain Arthur Kirkland’s treasure hunt. His crew, what remained of the loyal band, were doing their best to salvage what they could from their ship’s wreckage, and Arthur had come up to the Cave alone, as the map had directed.
But it would be worth it, he told himself, breathing in deeply in front of the great bronze gate fronting the Cave where, so the map said, the Staveyand Treasure was hidden.
He muttered the words of the old legend to himself, as he had so many times before, the verses burned into his mind and dreams.
“Alone must ye tread the Narrow Way
That winds up from the Hidden Bay
Of the misty, rock-fanged, secret Isle
Two points north of the Sea-wolf’s Smile
Then, pass the secret the bronze gate keeps
To find the treasure that ye seek
The Silver-Starred, the Glory Old
A burning fire that’s winter-cold
Shed the blood to earn the mark
Conquered seas, conquered dark
He who finds what’s hidden there
Is the King of Winds, free and fair!”
The legend had spread among the fleets for centuries - the legend of the treasure that would make its holder the King of Winds, the conqueror of the seas and the dark. It had become common knowledge that whosoever held that treasure would be the mightiest captain sailing the seas.
And now he, Arthur Kirkland, privateer, loyal subject of Her Royal Majesty, would finally lay his hands upon the Silver-Starred…
He gulped heavily, feeling suddenly very young and overwhelmed and awestruck - he, who the pirates called the Lion of the Oceans, he whose distinctive white-and-red sails struck fear into the hearts of hardened corsairs. He closed his eyes, feeling tears prickling, and with a deep breath entered the cave.
The flickering light of his torch revealed an enormous space - a flat rock floor extending to beyond the range of his light, a ceiling that arched up and away like the soaring heights of a cathedral. It was so grand Arthur gasped. And then, slowly, he began realizing something horrible - there was nothing in the cave. He took a few steps inside, peering around him. He spied a treasure chest and cried out in joy, running towards it - only to stop dead, his heart sinking, when he realized the chest was open, its red velvet interior gapingly empty.
Coming closer, he realized there was something else - someone else. He knelt beside the prone figure just in front of the chest, turning the body to see a young face and a chest rising and falling. For a moment he felt overwhelming rage, that this interloper was all he found - then, his natural honor reasserted itself, and he sighed.
He had always been fair and just, a captain whose crew followed him out of loyalty and not fear. He fancied himself a privateer, operating within the law with letters of marque and not a ruthless, outlaw pirate. He didn’t raid helpless villagers or slay unwary, defenseless civilians. He was ruthless enough with the enemies of his country and efficiently stern with his crew and allies, but he was not needlessly cruel. So he let go of the urge to blame the unconscious boy. Clearly Arthur had been beaten to the treasure by some other crew - and just as clearly this boy, barely out of childhood, had been left behind. Perhaps he’d been a prisoner.
He bent over the boy, checking him for injuries. As he scanned the boy’s chest and limbs, he didn’t notice a drop of blood from one of his recent wounds fall onto the boy’s face, nor how the boy licked it up unconsciously. But he did notice as the boy began to stir.
“Lie still,” Arthur told him worriedly. “You may be badly hurt. Do not worry - I am a friend.”
The boy blinked at him, and in the torchlight his eyes were the deep, unending blue of a summer sky. He smiled at Arthur, and Arthur’s breath caught in his throat at the beauty of it.
“Do you know,” the boy said in an odd accent, “That you are the first one here who was nice to me? The others all kicked and hit me for not having any treasure.”
“The first one…?” Arthur repeated, puzzled - but his thoughts were interrupted by a familiar laugh. He bolted to his feet, his free hand going to his cutlass, as he beheld his arch-enemy Francis Bonnefoy of the Triomphant, surrounded by his grinning crew.
“Well done, rosbif, well done! Merci beaucoup for solving the riddles and leading us to the rock-fanged Isle,” Francis said mockingly. “Only one, so the legend said, could pass the gates - but apparently a crew can follow in his wake. Now, I will be taking the treasure, so you will hand it over at once, si’l vous plait.”
Arthur snapped back with a short, concise summary of Francis’s mother’s sexual career, and Francis’s smile grew more dangerous.
“I had hoped you might say that. Foncez, mes garcons!” he cried, and Arthur grit his teeth as he prepared to fight for his life.
And suddenly, there was a whoosh and a scent like new-burned fir and ice-fields, all at once, and Arthur saw the charging French crew stop dead in their tracks. Slowly, he turned his head to look behind him…
…and saw an enormous dragon, wings flared and mouth open, exposing fangs as huge as daggers and white streamers of flame that dripped and drifted like smoke around the open jaws. And in the dragon’s eyes, a very familiar shade of blue…
The French crew ran screaming for the cave entrance, Francis in the forefront. Arthur might have joined them, but his limbs felt frozen and watery…
“I will bind myself to you,” said the dragon to Arthur. “Because you were kind to me, and because you are brave. And because you have already given to me of your blood. Your enemies shall be mine, and your allegiances shall be mine, and we shall be a force to reckon with, you and I.”
“I - I…” Arthur stammered.
“Is that not why you sailors and pirates come to this place, seeking me - me, the King of Winds? But you are the first who has been worthy. Come on,” the dragon said, and suddenly the thundering voice sounded young and playful. “It’ll be fun!”
Arthur swallowed hard. “But - my lord dragon…”
“You can call me Alfred,” the dragon said, brightly.
“Ah. Well. Um. I’m - I’m Arthur. Arthur Kirkland,” Arthur stammered in reply, groping for manners when thought and wit failed.
“Nice to meet you, Artie,” the dragon chirped. “I have a feeling we’ll have lots of great adventures together!”