Winds of Change, Part 4
It’s another lovely day aboard ship. But a storm is coming…
Queen Elsa was enjoying being on board a ship at sea, even more than she’d thought she would. Captain Dezhnev’s crew had seemed a bit surprised at first that she’d wanted to be up on deck, watching the sea flow by or asking questions about this or that, but once they’d gotten used to the idea they hadn’t seemed to have a problem with it. “The only royalty they are used to ferrying around is my cousin, who would turn green as a piece of jade if he sat at the bow the way you do,” Dezhnev told her. “He spends all of his time on board ship holed up in his quarters wishing for death, honestly – seasickness is a curse on some men, and he is one who has it worse than many of those.”
“Poor Ivan,” Elsa commiserated. Dezhnev’s cousin, the Tzar of Rasseeyah, had made an official visit to Arendelle on the occasion of William’s christening, and she’d quite liked him. He had a reputation for being a hard man and not very friendly, but in Arendelle he’d been a polite, gracious guest and had thawed considerably whenever the baby was present. “I wish I’d known that before, I wouldn’t have kept pressing him to come visit us again.”
“He was flattered that you appreciated his company enough to want him to return,” Dezhnev assured her – which was the truth, Ivan had even joked that he should be on his best behavior more often. He had liked the young king and queen of Arendelle, however, and had said he thought they were going to do well. “Perhaps someday.” He squinted off toward the horizon, frowning. “Hmm, that storm is coming up fast, and it now seems larger than I would have thought it was going to be. You may need to return to your quarters sooner rather than later, Your Majesty.”
“Of course, Captain,” Elsa agreed at once. She peered out at the growing billow of clouds boiling over the horizon herself, shading her eyes with her hand in order to see better. “Those look black. The last time I saw clouds like that, they brought winds with them strong enough to batter down a stone tower.”
“We will hope this is not like that storm,” Dezhnev said. “In my experience, however, a storm which blows up quickly, as this one is doing, will also blow quickly back out.” He was still frowning, though. Those clouds were very black. He stood up, bowed to her. “I must set my men to readying the ship for this. You should go below deck soon, Queen Elsa.”
He hurried off, and Elsa looked back at the clouds with a frown of her own, shaking her head. They really did look like the ones she’d seen years ago in that little northern cove…
Two hours later the storm was upon them, and Captain Dehznev would not have hesitated to admit he was frightened. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before. The winds were battering his ship and whipping the waves higher and higher, and although the skill of his crew had kept them safe so far he wasn’t sure skill would be enough soon. He could see no break in the storm, in fact it seemed to be getting stronger instead of weaker.
He threw the wheel hard aport to avoid being broadsided by another huge wave, riding up it instead. For just a moment in the lightning’s flash a watery hellscape spread out before him as far as his eyes could see, but then it was dark again and he and his first mate were fighting the wheel to turn the ship. Another of his men leaped to help them – even two men together couldn’t hold the wheel against a storm such as this – and together they managed to avoid two more waves large enough have bowled the ship over like a toy boat in a puddle. The main mast and the mizzen were creaking ominously, though, and the fore mast had already cracked and might give way at any time; the wind had torn loose one of the furled sails and was ripping it back and forth with great violence. The next wave was followed by a blast of wind that howled over the deck and the fore mast splintered and fell away, taking ropes and sailcloth with it. Two men screamed as they were swept off the deck toward certain death in the rough black water…
…And then someone else screamed, and what looked like glistening white ropes dragged the two men back on board. Dehznev couldn’t turn his head to look, but he had a feeling the loud noise he’d just barely heard over the wind’s roar had been the heavy door which led below deck being blown off its hinges. “Tie yourselves down!” he roared. He’d just seen the next oncoming wave, and it was huge. “We can’t ride this one!”
Lightning flashed, revealing the wave thundering down on them…and then there was a flash of white that split it in two and the ship rocketed through the opening. Dezhnev’s mouth fell open. He’d heard the stories, of course, but he’d never seen it for himself and had never expected to. Queen Elsa had walked out onto the lower deck, presumably so she could see better, and from her outstretched hands were pouring veritable fountains of elemental power. Another huge wave split, and then another. A man’s rope came undone when the rail it was tied to splintered away, and a chain of ice anchored him to the deck before he could be blown off the side. The main mast was making ever more ominous noises, Dezhnev was afraid the wheel was about to give way as well…and then lightning flashed again and he and his men screamed at the same time Elsa did.
The oncoming wave loomed larger than anything he’d ever imagined, an impossible mountain of water towering into sky. And there was something in it,something huge that was aimed at the ship like an arrow. A fourth man joined them at the wheel, trying desperately to turn the ship. Spars snapped, wood and metal groaned and shrieked, a tunnel of ice was forming but seemed to be battling the wind and water…and then it snapped into place and several men screamed again anyway. Dezhnev almost joined them, because the huge thing in the water was now flashing past on their starboard side, a massive beaked squid staring through the wall of ice with an eye as large as a serving platter, tentacles streaming out behind it to an impossible length. Which was when Dezhnev realized that the tunnel of ice was still being formed, because they weren’t yet through the base of the wave. How was it possible?
As it turned out, it wasn’t. Just when he was beginning to wonder if the young queen would tire before the wave ended and they’d all be drowned, the storm just…stopped. The impossible wall of water fell back into the sea. The ship rocked hard for a few moments, finding her footing again on the suddenly flat, calm waves, and Queen Elsa tentatively lowered her hands, letting the flow of ice stop; the tunnel of ice melted down into the water and vanished. She looked around, then looked back up at Dezhnev, plainly puzzled and also a bit frightened. He immediately left his men at the wheel and vaulted over the rail to get down to her. “I don’t…I felt magic, in the storm, so I came out,” she told him. “I don’t know what made it stop, though. Was that a sea monster?”
“It was a squid,” he told her. “I had never seen one so large, but I have heard tales of them. These are not the waters such things are known in, though. Magic?”
She shivered. “I think the storm started out as a real storm, and then magic…blew it up into something else. Making a path through it was the only thing I could think of.”
He shook his head. “My lady, I cannot think of a solution which would have been better. And you have my deepest thanks for saving my ship and my crew.” He looked around, frowning. The stars were out, the moon bright, and not a cloud was to be seen. “I do not understand this. It just stopped!”
“I stopped it.” The voice made him start – it had seemed to come from the very water that surrounded them – and then a figure leaped out of the water onto the deck before them, growing legs as it did so. A massive man with dark hair and a dark beard was standing there, naked, holding a wicked-looking spear in one hand, and he nodded to them. “Captain Dezhnev, that was fine sailing indeed.”
Dezhnev blinked, then went to one knee; the queen had done the same. “My Lord…thank you.”
“My Lord Sel,” Elsa said. “I felt the magic…”
“Thank goodness you did,” the Lord of the Northern Waters said, holding out a hand to lift her back to her feet and indicating with a nod that Dezhnev might rise as well. “You were right, it was a regular storm until magic twisted it into something monstrous. And I had no knowledge of it until it was almost too late.” He shook his head. “I and the other Lords of the Seven Seas had banned the fairies from interfering with our domain or our people, but even then I knew they would plot and plan to find a way around us. This, however, was not what I expected.”
Dezhnev nodded. “I myself would not have thought any living thing, not even a fairy, would disturb the Deeps,” he said. “Where the gigantic squid came from, my lady,” he explained to Elsa. “Many monstrous things are said to live in the Deeps, and the waters above them are dangerous places where most ships which venture there will not return from.”
“And the ones that do know luck alone saved them,” Sel confirmed. “The Lord of the Deeps has no love for men, or their ships. It wasn’t the fairy folk themselves who disturbed the deepest waters, though; it was a djinn, a spirit of the air they had summoned to do their bidding. He fled from my rage, but his surprise told me he did not expect it – he had not been told he was being used to challenge me, and once he tells his own lord we won’t need to worry about the djinn helping the fairy folk ever again. The Lords of the Air don’t want a war.”
Elsa’s eyes had gone wide. “That was what was fighting me, a spirit of the air? They blew up the storm to stop me from attending the summit?” Sel cocked his head, puzzled. “We received an invitation to attend a summit, a meeting of rulers to discuss matters of sea trade.”
“Tzar Ivan received the same invitation,” Dezhnev said. “I was sent in his place, as I usually am in such matters, and Queen Elsa came with me that I might also act as her advisor. Was the intent to stop us both from being present?”
Sel shook his head. “No, I doubt it. Their intent was most likely to kill the queen as a punishment for her husband – I already knew the one fairy bitch hated him, but I had thought my claim would hold her off.”
Elsa’s blue eyes had gone even wider, and Dezhnev saw frost spikes emerging from her clasped hands and a ring of frost crystals forming around her feet on the sodden deck. “Is John in danger? Are the children?”
“He may still be, but your children aren’t,” Sel assured her. “He saw the trouble coming and had them whisked away to safety before it could reach them. The one I had watching told me the man Fritjof came back as a traitor, working with other traitors and hired soldiers besides to take over the kingdom.” Surprisingly, though, he smiled; it was a sharp smile, showing sharp teeth, but there was amusement and pride in it all the same. “I’ll let him tell you the full tale of what he did, but I will tell you that he ended the threat and was still standing ready with a sword in his hand when his loyal subjects finally managed to reach him in the throne room. And the leader of the mercenaries named him the true king to the traitor’s face and offered apologies – their services had been bought under false pretenses, it seems.”
“He must have greatly impressed them, then,” Dezhnev said. “Men who fight for gold do not normally apologize for it. So should we go back, or continue on to the summit?”
“Go back,” Sel said at once. “I am not certain there is such a meeting. My watcher thinks, and I agree, that the timing of all this was far too close to be coincidence. I’ll keep the sea calm until you can patch things together enough that your ship can make it back to Arendelle.” He put a finger under Elsa’s chin. “You’ve done your ancestors proud, Queen of Arendelle,” he said, looking her in the eye. “It is not your fault the fairy bitches do what they do, understand?” She nodded tearfully and he smiled at her, then walked to the rail and jumped. He changed in midair, legs becoming a powerful, sleek gray tail, and then he pierced the waves and was gone.
Dezhnev knew there were times when propriety was necessary, but he also knew there were times when it wasn’t; he gave the young queen a gentle hug. “He is right, other people wanting to kill you is not your fault,” he assured her. “When they try to kill my cousin it is his fault, but that is just Ivan.”
That made her laugh, as he had known it would. “I liked him.”
“A fact which is amazing even to him.” He patted her back, then moved away again. “You may stay on deck if you wish, Your Majesty, but the men and I will have no time to talk. You may have Ivor for company if you wish, however, and I am sure he would greatly appreciate it.”
She nodded. “I’ll go let him out of your cabin, but there are things I can do to help,” she said, and raised her hand. A light appeared above her palm. “See, I can make light for you to work by, to spare the lamps.”
Dezhnev smiled, and bowed. “As you wish, my lady.