The smell of blood and burning flesh hangs heavily over the deck of The Scarlet Lady. Only moments earlier, the air rang with the screams of the dying, but now, calm has fallen over the scene of carnage. Floating down gracefully through the smoke and haze, Alayna Alberran alights upon the bloodstained boards. Her face is calm. She begins to move down the length of the ship toward the bow, nimbly picking her way through the severed limbs and spilled entrails that cover the deck. With a smirk, she uses the toe of her well crafted doeskin boot to nudge the dismembered hand of an Orc Pirate over the edge of the gunwale and into the sea.
Alayna mounts the fo’c’s’le and proceeds to the bowsprit. In the distance, the great city of Karshum awaits, like a smear of filth on the horizon. She breaths deeply, enjoying and welcoming the temperate weather that she has sorely missed for many long months. It is good to finally have the frigid northern climes and the bleak sunless days behind her. She has discarded her fur lined cloak for the time being and wears only her green velvet bodice and trousers, snug and slung low on her hips. The sun caresses her flesh, pale and flawless as the finest ivory. The breeze, vaguely laced with the tang of spices from the distant port, stirs her lustrous red hair.
The past few weeks have been a torment for her, but now she feels calm and resolute. Ever since she discovered that her mother, Cinna, had been taken as a slave and held within the very ship upon which her daughter now stands, Alayna has wrestled with many conflicting emotions. When not needed on deck, Alayna spent most of the long and stormy voyage from Tigalda brooding below. Now, however, she knows the time for brooding is over.
As she gazes upon the scene before her, Alayna’s fingers inadvertently stray to the scale of brass that hangs about her neck, safe on its leather thong, nestled between her ample breasts. She traces the edge of this cherished item with her finger tip and thinks of her mother.
So much has changed in the last year. Tigalda has taught her so much. Strange as it may sound, that weathered rock on the edge of the world had taught her more than she had ever learned in ghost haunted Zuwarah, the city of her birth. In Zuwarah, she had been a victim, living in fear, hoping for the best. When her magical abilities manifested themselves, she knew that it had been time to leave. On Tigalda, she had finally been forced to admit to herself that her mother and all of the women in her family had been fools. Clinging to miserable and meager lives, hoping for better days to come, refusing to take the initiative and seize control of their own destinies, they deserved what they got in a very real sense. Even her great grandmother Chessa, the one who had coupled with a dragon and given Alayna her sorceress heritage and powers, had ultimately been a mere pawn and plaything for that mighty beast.
It had taken the nightmarish horrors of Tigalda to teach her that one must act upon life before it acts upon you, that one must take what they want and never show remorse about it. On that bleak rocky island, Alayna had vowed to break all ties with the past. She would live for herself and no one else. When she and Kier had robbed that foolish magician in Cold Harbor, she had realized her new path in life. A lust had awoken in her on that day, a lust that she intended to satiate.
Then, in a most incredibly improbable coincidence, her mother appeared. How could it be possible that here, at the almost opposite end of the world from Iberia, Alayna would again cross paths with Cinna Alberran? Such an unlikely coincidence can only be the work of Fate admonishing the young sorceress for her decision to live according to her new found principles of selfishness.
Well, as far as Alayna is concerned, Fate can go to hell and it can bring her mother along.
As much as it pains her, she will not lift a finger to free her mother. It is not that she wishes her ill by any means or that she does not hope for Cinna a speedy release from bondage. But everyone has their troubles in this world and Alayna refuses to be bullied by fate into renouncing her true destiny. Cinna has simply traded one form of slavery for another.
Rask, also enjoying the warmer climate, crawls from his pouch at Alaya’s hip and twists around her arm, slowly climbing until his tiny wedged shaped head is level with her neck. His tongue, dry as ancient parchment, lightly and sensuously caresses her earlobe. Alayna smiles with pleasure, enjoying this small affection from her loyal servant. A long gentle swell slowly lifts the ship beneath her. The timbers creak.
Again, she regards the city of Karshum looming before her, filled with wonder and possibilities. Within that city are thousands of fools willing to be separated their coin. Within that city are thousands of adventures for those bold enough to have them. Within that city are thousands of sensual delights to be enjoyed, slowly and luxuriously. This is surely no place to be with ones mother. Besides, Cinna would not likely understand what her daughter Alayna has become and, to be honest, Alayna does not relish the prospect of explaining it to her. No, that is an explanation that will not be made. The past is dead and will remain so. She is very sorry for her mother, so very sorry. But to follow her new path, she knows she must be hard and unyielding as cold forged iron.
She turns, leans against the weathered and paint peeled railing of the bowsprit, and regards the blood stained decks below her. Her comrades are busy preparing for their imminent arrival in port. Hrolff sits cross legged on an anchor chain windlass, his face and beard spattered with the blood and the brains of Orcs. The brawny Northman carefully sutures a gash in his forearm with a needle and a length of twisted catgut, whistling some strange and haunting melody from his distant and ice rimed homeland. Perhaps sensing her gaze, Hrolff looks up and flashes her a broad and gore-besmeared grin. Alayna laughs, infected by her friend’s good spirits, and turns back to the railing to stare across the greenish, silt filled waters of the Gish Delta. She feels Hrolff’s eyes exploring the shapely terrain of her backside and smiles.
“Ah Rask” she says to the glossy black serpent still nuzzling her ear, “Isn’t it good to be alive?”