Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major
For disclaimers, see Chapter 1
"The wine-maker said to him, 'Gilgamesh, there is no crossing the Ocean; whoever has come, since the days of old, has not been able to pass that sea. The Sun in his glory crosses the Ocean, but who beside Shamash has ever crossed it? The place and the passage are difficult, and the waters of death are deep which flow between. Gilgamesh, how will you cross the Ocean? When you come to the waters of death what will you do? But Gilgamesh, down in the woods you will find Urshanabi, the ferryman of Utnapishtim; with him are the holy things, the things of stone. He is fashioning the serpent prow of the boat. Look at him well, and if it is possible, perhaps you will cross the waters with him; but if it is not possible, then you must go back.'"
- The Epic of Gilgamesh, c. 2500 BC
"Earlier this evening Dame Alleandre Tretiak, recently knighted by Her Royal Highness Evelynne deMolay of Atlantis, attended a gathering in her honour at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa." The television cut from the image of the balding, low-voiced news presenter to footage of an older man standing on a stage, reading from a speech. His accent was very thick, and understanding him was made even more difficult by the fact that one side of his mouth appeared unresponsive.
As much as Evelynne tried, she could not really make out what he was saying. She knew that part of the problem was the stroke which had paralysed one half of the Canadian Prime Minister's face, but then remembered Ally saying that even once one got used to his manner of speech, he was still quite often incoherent. The princess chuckled to herself when she recalled seeing a Canadian political satire show, and how the actors had exaggerated Jean Chretien's mannerisms to truly comedic proportions. While Evelynne had been slightly shocked at how irreverently the program treated its subjects, Ally had assured her that few people were ever truly offended. In fact, a number of politicians and public figures made regular appearances for the express purpose of mocking themselves! Only in Canada, Evelynne thought.
Returning her attention to the screen in front of her, she saw that Mr Chretien had apparently finished his speech. It had obviously been in praise of his guest of honour, who was sitting uncomfortably nearby, though her demeanour was outwardly calm and collected. The audience applauded as the young woman stood with the aid of her cane and shook the Prime Minister's hand.
Evelynne watched the television more intensely, her eyes drawn to Ally's image on the screen. She was glad that she had the study to herself at this late hour, because if anyone else had been present, they would have easily seen her soft and affectionate expression. While Ally started rather stiffly into her own prepared speech, Evelynne concentrated instead on her friend's less obvious expressions.
It was immediately obvious - at least to Evelynne's eye - that speaking in front of several hundred people was the last thing Ally wanted to be doing. Still, she managed to keep her voice clear and steady. Despite that, Evelynne could easily see the strain the other woman had been, and was still, under. The newly raised knight had deteriorated slowly but steadily over the week she had been forced to play the Canadian media circuit. Initially she had not even needed to use her cane, but as the days went by she depended on it more and more. Ally and Evelynne had spoken on the phone several times, and each time the fatigue in Ally's voice had become more and more pronounced, and part of the princess hated the Canadian media for what it was doing to her friend. Unlike the Atlantlan press, which, while still completely free and independent, tended to restrain itself from interfering too much into a subject's life, other countries obviously felt less constrained. Still, it could be worse. She could have gone to the US.
Ally had finished her own short speech, and the news program cut back to the anchor. He spoke some more on the story, but Evelynne had stopped listening.
That decides it, she thought. She needs a break. Ally would be returning to Atlantl in three days, and the princess had already arranged to have her friend taken directly to the Summer Palace. She had also made plans to move herself and her Advisors to the Government Offices in Kilim. That way, Evelynne would be able to continue her administrative duties, and spend time with Ally at the same time.
And hopefully they would be able to take things up again where they left off.
Absently turning off the television, Evelynne thought back to where their relationship had been before Ally had left. Seeing each other the morning after the ceremony had been... awkward at first. Throughout breakfast Evelynne had been almost physically unable to tear her eyes away from her... What is she? My friend? My girlfriend? Not my lover... yet. However, mindful of the additional company, in the form of both sets of parents plus Patrick, Maïda, Sir Arthur, and a number of other relatives, the princess had been able to remain relatively discreet. Seeing Ally's shy, uncertain glances in return had nearly made it impossible, though.
Afterward, they had managed to steal some time alone, under the pretext of Evelynne helping Ally change for the short press conference which had been arranged.
Evelynne knocked on the door to Ally's bedroom, entering when she heard the call, "Come in."
The room's occupant stood by the bed, laying out some of the clothing she was going to wear. Ally was already dressed in her deep blue trousers and a simple white dress shirt. She looked up as Evelynne came into the room. "Um, hi," she said softly.
"Hi," Evelynne replied.
The two women spent several uncomfortable moments just standing and looking at each other, uncertain of how to proceed from the night before.
"Um... do you think you could help me with this tabard?" Ally finally asked hesitantly. She grimaced. "They want to show me off for the cameras again." She indicated the heavy shirt, a near duplicate of the one she had worn the previous day, which was draped across the bed.
"And so they should," Evelynne declared. "You need to look god, you know. Your grandmother would never forgive you otherwise."
That evoked a laugh. "You're right. Grandma is always more concerned about my appearance than I am."
Evelynne clucked reprovingly. "You know she loves you. Even if you are going to Hell." This was better; this relaxed banter put them both on more familiar ground. Moving to the bed, the princess picked up the heavy material. "Go sit on the bench there," she ordered, "so I don't have to reach up your gargantuan frame."
Ally smiled wryly and obediently sat down on the cushioned bench with her back to the princess. She heard Evelynne behind her and felt her presence coming closer. There was a pause and the sound of the princess fiddling with something on the tabard, then silence for several seconds. Ally could feel Evelynne standing right behind her, and could feel her heart rate speed up at the proximity, but sternly told herself to calm down.
The silence stretched on for several more seconds, and Ally was about to turn around to see what was happening, when she suddenly felt the soft brush of lips against the back of her neck, and could not contain the quick gasp that escaped. Her head reflexively fell forward, inviting further contact. Evelynne complied by placing more feather-soft kisses along the arch of Ally's neck, and the tabard fell unheeded to the floor.
Reaching up, Evelynne gently tilted Ally's head to the side and proceeded to bestow the same favours along the side of her throat. She had no clear idea of what she was doing, acting only on instinct, and was gratified when she brushed over a sensitive spot just behind Ally's left ear and heard the other woman's breathing hitch again.
Ally slowly turned her head, allowing Evelynne to softly nuzzle the side of her face, and then their lips met once more, letting them start again where they had left off the night before.
Long minutes passed as lips teased and nibbled, and then, by mutual consent, the two women pulled back slightly. Ally looked over her own left shoulder into Evelynne's eyes, whose owner was pressed up against her back. Ally smiled. "Hi," she said again.
"Hi," Evelynne replied, her eyes dancing. She darted in for another quick kiss. "I've been wanting to do that all morning."
Ally flushed in pleasure. "I've wanted you to do that all morning," she admitted, ducking her head shyly.
The princess used a finger to raise her chin again. "I love you," she said seriously.
"I love you too." Ally's eyes met Evelynne's once more, allowing them both to see the truth of both their statements.
Both of them becoming mildly disconcerted by the intensity of the moment, Ally turned her head forward again, and Evelynne let her. It was enough for now for both women to know that what had been confessed the night before was still true in the light of morning.
And how true it was, Evelynne mused. Similar scenes had played out in the days leading up to Ally's return to Canada. They had been very careful to avoid what Ally termed "Public Displays of Affection", Ally because of her natural shyness, and Evelynne because she was still uncertain of the public response if their relationship became known. Until she was surer of what the popular reaction would be, she was not going to expose either of them to possible public scrutiny or censure.
Despite their best efforts, Evelynne felt sure that Catherine Tretiak suspected that something was going on. She wasn't sure, but based on some of the looks she and Ally had received... The princess shrugged. If she knew anything about Ally's mother, it was that she would do nothing to cause her daughter undue distress. She might say something privately, and if she did Evelynne would deal with it, but until then there was little the princess could do.
Suddenly realising what time it was, Evelynne winced. She had wanted to stay up to see The National's coverage of Ally's last formal appearance, and given the time difference the decision had meant staying up far later than was probably wise. The princess was going to be busy tomorrow - or today actually - to get matters arranged to move back to the Summer Palace by the weekend.
Standing and stretching, Evelynne made her way out of the study towards her bedroom.
Once finally in bed, she sent a thought into the night. I love you.
Just before she dropped off to sleep, she thought she heard an answer. I love you too.
Ally knocked on the door to the apartment in front of her.
She was alone in the tenement's corridor, but if she extended her perceptions just slightly, she could detect the presence of at least two people nearby with their attention focussed on her. The first time she had felt them she had been alarmed, but a quick scan of their surface intentions had told her that they meant no harm. On the contrary, both people were undercover agents of the Atlantlan Guard with the specific orders to protect her - as discreetly as possible, of course. The young woman had briefly considered confronting the agents and demanding to know who had assigned them but had then decided against it. If they were anything like Sir Arthur, they were unlikely to reveal anything about their assignment without specific orders, and revealing that she knew they were there would likely only get them in trouble.
Instead, Ally had made a game of seeing how quickly she could detect them using her strictly mundane senses whenever she felt them come into range. Unsurprisingly, both agents - they always operated in pairs at the least, she had discovered - were highly skilled in remaining out of sight, and Ally had only been able to see them on two occasions. She smiled wryly and wondered if she should compliment Sir Arthur on the quality of his fellow Guards when she saw him again. Maybe not.
As she considered this, the door in front of her swung open. The apartment's occupant had already been alerted to Ally's presence when she had buzzed at the front door, so her appearance was hardly a surprise. Still, the green eyes of the tall, muscular blonde standing there widened as soon as she saw the other young woman at her door.
"Ally!" she exclaimed, and rushed into the hallway to envelop her in a strong embrace.
Ally returned the hug slightly awkwardly, her cane dangling from one hand. "Hey, Annie," she said into the nearby ear. She felt her body react involuntarily to the familiar form pressed against her, and felt a moment of guilt. Annie broke off before she could become truly uncomfortable, however, and stood back to look at her ex-lover.
"You look good, Ally," Annie said. She indicated the doorway. "Please, come on in."
Ally did so, looking around the apartment. It was smaller than the one she and Annie had shared a year before, but then right now Annie wasn't sharing it with two other people either. "Nice place," she said.
Annie shrugged, guiding her guest into the living room. "It's okay," she admitted. "I miss the balcony we... uh... had... You know, in our apartment," she finished as Ally took a seat on the couch. She seemed uncomfortable talking about their previous life together.
"Nothing will beat that balcony," Ally admitted. Changing the subject, she asked, "Have you seen Phil recently? I've tried to get in touch with him, but I don't know where he is." Phil had been the third person sharing their university apartment.
"Oh, didn't you know? Phil's in New Zealand. He got a job at one of their thermal power plants."
Ally's eyebrows rose. "Really? I thought he was going to Brazil."
"He was," Annie confirmed. "But then six months ago he met a New Zealander who was attending a conference here, and the rest, as they say, is history. They're engaged now."
Ally almost choked. "Phil? Engaged? You're kidding." Annie shook her head. "My God, old Phil-anderer getting hitched. Wow. This has been quite the year, hasn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess it has." Annie's voice was quiet, and her eyes strayed involuntarily to Ally's cane. She jumped up suddenly and asked, "Do you want something to drink?"
"Sure, whatever you're having."
"Ally, please, this is me." Annie's face had a sad tinge to it. "You say 'Whatever you're having' to strangers. I'm your friend still. I hope."
"You are." Ally paused, then smiled. "Bring me a beer, woman!"
Annie broke into laughter. "Better. Much better." She left momentarily and returned a moment later with two bottles and glasses. "I have Keith's," she announced.
"Oh, bless you," Ally said. "Say whatever you want about Atlantlans, but their beer is crap." She shuddered. "It should be poured back into the horse."
Annie chuckled. "That bad, huh?" Ally only reply was a long sigh as she took a long sip of her beer. "So... I saw you on TV when you were knighted." As Ally rolled her eyes, the blonde woman made her eyes comically round. "Dame Alleandre," she said breathily, "can I have your autograph?" She mimed passing over a pen and paper.
Ally stuck her nose in the air and took the imaginary items. "Jeeves," she sniffed, holding them out to the equally imaginary servant, "sign these for me will you? Then remove this peon." She waved dismissively in Annie's direction.
The 'peon' snorted. "Oh, that's good. Did your princess teach you how to do that?"
"She's not my... princess..." Ally trailed off. Is she? Oh God, if we're involved... She looked up to see Annie staring at her intently. "What?" she asked, flushing intensely.
"Madre de dios," Annie said softly. "I've seen that look before. Of course, the last time it was directed at me." Ally averted her eyes and blushed even deeper, but couldn't find the words to refute her ex-lover's observation. "Ally, you're in love with her, aren't you?"
Ally was silent for several moments, still not looking at her hostess. "Yes," she mumbled.
"Oh, Ally... I warned you about this. Does... she know?"
"Yes." This time the word was even quieter.
Annie inhaled quickly. "Is she... okay with that?" She watched, fascinated, as Ally reddened further.
"Um... yes." Ally took a deep breath. "You might say she's... happy about it."
Annie's jaw hung open in shock. She made a couple of attempts at speech before finally saying, "You mean you're... She's... Are you a couple?"
"Um... I'm not really sure," Ally said quietly. She looked up finally, and the other woman could see the naked uncertainty in her eyes. "I mean... I love her. And I know she loves me. And we've... kissed." Oh my, how we've kissed. "But nobody else knows, and it's not exactly as if we can go out on a date. So I guess we're... involved, but does that make us a couple?" She shrugged helplessly.
"Madre de dios," Annie breathed, slumping back in her chair. She had been prepared to hear that her ex-girlfriend had resolved her feelings towards the princess, or even that she was still "admiring from afar", but to think that she was... That she had... The dancer shook her head in an attempt to order her thoughts. "You know for sure that she feels the same way?"
Ally nodded emphatically. "Oh, trust me, I know."
Realising how that knowledge had been obtained, Annie accepted it. "I hate to suggest this, but... do you think she might just be reacting to the fact that she saved her life?"
Ally shrugged again unhappily. "It's possible." She paused. "There is something else, though." She hesitated again.
"Yes?" Annie prompted.
"We're... linked," Ally said finally.
"Linked. Joined. Bonded. Soulmates. I don't know what to call it. All I know is that there is some kind of incredibly strong psychic connection between us." Ally tapped the side of her head. "I have no idea how it got there, but I'm pretty sure it can't be broken without some serious psychological damage, at least on my side." When Annie looked sceptical, she closed her eyes and concentrated. "Evelynne is right there." She pointed, her arm to the east, but also downward, through the earth, at a fairly steep angle. "She's... annoyed with... somebody. Arguing, I think. She's... hungry." Ally opened her eyes to meet Annie's shocked gaze.
"Jesus, Ally, she's practically on the other side of the planet! You could never read anyone that far away before."
"I still can't. I can only do it with her."
Annie shook her head. "Ally, I'm not the person to be talking to about this. Have you talked to Mrs Chen? She helped you before."
Ally smiled ruefully. "Mrs Chen's visiting her family in China. Believe me, I wish I could ask her."
"Damn. So does Evelynne know about this? About you?"
"No. Not yet." When Annie looked concerned, Ally quickly added, "Believe me, I want to tell her!" She sighed. "I have to tell her. Especially now that we're... involved." She laughed harshly. "You know, half of me wants to tell her so badly because I love her so much, and the other half is scared to death. She's exactly the kind of person I've been afraid would find out about what I can do. You know, a powerful government type, with the resources to bring a lot of pressure to bear if I don't do what she wants. Oh, I don't think she would do that," she said quickly, "but the people she associates with... What if one of them found out?"
Annie forced a smile. "Well, if any of them try, let me know, and I'll turn your mother and Mrs Chen loose on them. And that Kung Fu master you met in Thailand. Trust me, they won't know what hit them."
Ally laughed, and the germ of an idea took root in her mind. It disappeared before she could focus on it, and she let it go for the moment. "Thanks, Annie."
"And as for your... relationship with Evelynne... I can't believe I'm going to say this." Annie drew a breath. "Go for it." When Ally looked up in surprise, she continued, "You're special, Ally. You should be with someone else who is special, and I'm not it. No, don't argue. I'm not on your level, and I know it. I'm not necessarily any less than you are, but... Anyway, like I said, you need someone special to complete your life, and if the Crown Princess of Atlantis isn't special, I don't know who is. But -" She held up a warning finger. "- you need to tell her. About you, about this... bond, everything. I know it won't be easy. Heck, I know how I reacted! But unless you're going to break this off she deserves to know. She needs to know." Ally opened her mouth to speak, but Annie forestalled her. "Now you're going to ask, 'What if this whole thing is only because of this link? What if she only loves me because we're bonded somehow?' See, I'm telepathic sometimes, too. The answer is that it doesn't matter. If she loves you, she loves you. Are you in love with her only because of this bond?" Ally shook her head. "Good. Don't assume that she is, either." She reached forward to take Ally's hands. "Whether you believe it or not, you are a very attractive person, Alleandre Tretiak. Believe that she can love you just for who you are."
Ally squeezed the hands in hers. "Thanks, Annie," she said, her voice husky. "I'll try."
"Good. And as for what might happen... No matter what, I'll always support you. If you need help, any sort of help, just get word to me. Your parents, Mrs Chen, Kung Fu man, Phil, myself... Heck, a whole bunch of Australian mothers and fathers... We'll be the Marines if you need it. Just remember that you have powerful friends."
Ally couldn't speak and just got up to wrap her friend in a warm hug. Annie held her until she moved back and brushed her hand across her eyes. For several minutes Annie allowed her to regain her composure. Finally she had herself back under control.
"So," Ally said, "enough about my life. What's yours like? Did anything happen with Ms Cello Player?"
Annie let her friend change the subject. "Alas, no. It turned out she was just curious, and I'm long past my experimental stage. However, on a non-romantic subject, there is one of the dancers in my troupe by the name of Aaron who I think you might be interested in talking to when you're back this way again."
"Really? You think he's... special?"
"Well, I'm not positive, but he seems to stay up in the air during jumps just a mite longer than he really should. As I said, I'm not sure, but something just seems a little... off."
"It would be interesting if he was. I always thought some of those really good ballet dancers could levitate just a little."
"Ally, you're back," Evelynne breathed as the woman walked closer from where she had disembarked the helicopter. She held out her arms in invitation.
Ally hesitated for just a moment before allowing the welcoming arms to wrap around her. She revelled in Evelynne's closeness for several long minutes, feeling much of the stress of the past two weeks ebb out of her body. "Hi, Evelynne. I'm home," she whispered, marvelling at her use of the word. Home. I'm home.
"Yes, you are."
The two women held each other, perhaps for longer than was strictly appropriate, considering the Guards and servants nearby. Finally they broke apart when Ally shivered in the cold winter air.
"Come on," Evelynne urged, offering her arm in support for the walk from the helicopter pad back to the Summer Palace. Ally accepted the help gratefully.
Behind them, the servants who had gathered to carry Ally's baggage were briefly stymied when they realised that there were only two small suitcases to go among the four of them. Accustomed to dealing with much larger amounts of luggage, they seemed unsure of how to divide the current task. One servant could easily have carried both bags, and they finally settled on two servants each carrying a bag, while the other two trailed awkwardly behind. The scene caused much amusement - carefully concealed, of course - amongst the watching Guards, while the princess and the owner of the baggage remained oblivious.
"It's so good to see you again," Evelynne said as they carefully made their way up the pathway to the Palace. The morning's rain had made the way treacherous, and a chill breeze threatened snow. "I really missed you." She cast a surreptitious glance at her companion.
A tired smile played at the corner of Ally's mouth. "I missed you too," she admitted. "I thought about you all the time."
Evelynne smiled in pleasure. "So did I." Looking up at Ally again, she noted, "You look tired."
Ally sighed. "I am tired. Very tired. I thought that would never end. I need to rest. Please." Her voice was more serious and plaintive than humorous.
"I know," the princess soothed. "I know you probably would have liked to go back ho... to your house, but I thought if you stayed here for now you wouldn't have to worry about anything like cooking or cleaning. And I've told everyone to leave you alone as much as possible. Besides, I wanted you nearby." Evelynne flushed at the admission.
Ally smiled. "I'm glad. Are you going to be here for long?"
Evelynne scowled. "Yes and no. I was supposed to have everything set up to work from here. Unfortunately, I have to go back to Jamaz tomorrow for a few days to figure out some unfinished details. After that I'll be back here full time." She paused. "I was thinking that when I get back we could go and see the excavations at Aztlan. It would be completely low-key," she hastened to add. "No official meetings or press affairs. More like a museum tour... with really good tour guides." She waited apprehensively for Ally to respond.
Ally thought for a moment. "That sounds okay," she admitted. "I think I'll be rested in a week or so. And I am really interested in seeing the site... Sure, sounds good. As long as it's no problem for you."
"No, no problem for me," Evelynne said as they walked up the front steps to the Palace. "Now that my administration has been set up, I actually don't have a huge amount to do. Right now I mostly just catch things that my father's and aunt's offices are too busy to deal with. Formal protocol stuff, mostly."
As the two women approached the door, it swung open smoothly to reveal Nancu Ylan just inside. He bowed formally and stood back to allow them to enter. "Your Highness. Dame Alleandre," he intoned.
"Hello, Ylan," Evelynne said. "As you can see, she got here safe and sound."
"I am gratified to see that, Your Highness," the Seneschal said, though his even, dry tone displayed no real gratitude. Ally knew better than to take offence; he rarely showed emotion of any sort. "It is an honour to see you again, Dame Alleandre."
"Thank you, Seneschal Ylan," Ally replied. Knowing his penchant for formality, she used his full title, and was pleased to see the merest glimmer of satisfaction in his eyes.
As the Seneschal went to take charge of Ally's luggage, the women moved further into the warmth of the Palace, shedding coats and boots as they went.
Ally chuckled suddenly.
"What?" Evelynne asked.
The taller woman shook her head. "I'm still not used to being 'Dame Alleandre'. I keep looking around for some old woman with my name. It's a little disconcerting."
"Ah. Well, if it's any consolation, I am a princess. Mere knighthood doesn't impress me." Evelynne affected a supercilious air.
Ally laughed again. "Oh, I see. An Amazon Queen trumps a Warrior Princess, eh?"
Evelynne looked at her quizzically. "Pardon?"
The other woman waved away the question. "Never mind. It's just something from a TV show."
"Oh. You know, one of these days you'll have to show me that program." She stopped in front of the door to the study.
"I'll see what I can do."
Her hand on the doorknob, Evelynne said, "Well, there is one other person here who won't be impressed by your new titles. She's been missing you too."
In answer, the princess opened the study door and waved her companion to enter. Ally walked in, immediately appreciating the blazing fire shedding warmth into the room. She obviously was not the only appreciative party, as a small grey cat perked up from where it was lying before the fireplace at the noise of the door opening.
"Cassie!" Ally exclaimed excitedly.
Cassiopeia appeared less thrilled at the interruption, and slowly stood up, taking the time to stretch thoroughly before walking over to her human, complaining loudly at the interruption. Ally scooped up the cat, who deigned to forgive her when she began to scratch the feline behind the ears and was soon purring loudly.
"Hey, Cassie, did you miss me?"
The cat did not answer, but Evelynne came close after carefully closing the study door. "She did, you know," she whispered. "We both did."
Ally looked down into the other woman's eyes, and saw Evelynne's hand slowly come up to gently stroke her cheek. She sighed and leaned into the slight pressure, turning her head to press a kiss to the princess' wrist. Evelynne tugged her down softly to bring their lips together. Ally willingly followed the urging, mindful of the cat still in her arms. Soon, though, she lost track of her burden, instead concentrating fully on the lips and body against hers. A plaintive cry finally interrupted them, and the two young women reluctantly broke apart before looking down at the source of the sound.
Evelynne started to laugh, and Ally was not far behind. "Oh dear. Are we neglecting you?" the princess asked. She reached out to rub Cassie's head, and the cat closed her eyes in satisfaction. "Too much mushy stuff? You're going to be spoiled, you know? At least you'll get to sleep with Ally at night." Suddenly realising what she had said, Evelynne blushed and looked up quickly to see Ally's equally red face. "Um... well... yeah. She is lucky."
Ally took the opportunity to sit down on a nearby sofa. Cassie promptly curled up in her lap and went to sleep. Evelynne hesitated, then deliberately sat down next to her. She tentatively placed an arm around Ally's shoulders and rested her head on the taller woman's shoulder. Ally paused, then took the princess' other hand in her own. They both smiled.
"This is nice," Evelynne said softly. "It's so good to have you here." She turned her head to place a kiss on the cheek by her head. "I love you."
Ally felt a part of herself relax. "I love you too."
Evelynne felt the subtle release of tension. "Were you worried that I'd changed my mind?" she asked quietly.
"No... Well, a little. I mean, when I left we hadn't really talked about... this. I thought that maybe in two weeks you had... reconsidered. Maybe you had realised that you weren't gay after all. Maybe you had decided you could do better than me. Maybe you were... I don't know." Ally avoided her companion's gaze. "I'm sorry."
Evelynne squeezed her a bit more tightly. "Don't be sorry. I've been scared of the same thing. Although I didn't think you would decide you weren't gay." That earned a slight laugh. "But I did think that maybe you had decided that a... relationship between us was going to be too hard... you know, because of who I am. Maybe you'd meet up with Annie again and realise you still wanted to be with her. Um... you don't, do you?"
Ally chuckled again. "No. I did go and see her, but... that ship has sailed." She started to shrug, then realised that the princess' head was still on her shoulder. "We're still friends - good friends, I think - but that's all we are. That's all we need to be."
"Good." Evelynne sighed. "I suppose we never did talk about... us before you left, did we?"
"No. And we have to."
"But not right now. I'm too tired right now, and this is too serious. There are things I want to tell you... need to tell you. Things that you need to know. Nothing bad!" she said when she felt Evelynne stiffen in mild alarm. "At least I hope not. I don't have a disease or anything, but there are some... psychological things that need to be exposed."
"And I suppose we also have to talk about what this might mean if it gets found out." Evelynne grimaced. "I don't really want to keep it a secret, but..."
"I understand." There was silence for several minutes. "For now, can we just sit here?" Ally shifted to a more comfortable position, eliciting sleepy protests from both females resting on her.
"I'd like that," Evelynne said. She listened quietly while the breaths beneath her ear became slower and deeper, until they evened out into sleep.
Far in the middle of Haperu Bay, on the west coast of Lyonesse, a boat of the Royal Atlantlan Coastal Service drew closer to the bulk of what appeared to be a medium sized fishing boat. The other craft was running without lights, a flagrantly illegal practice, especially on a night as dark as this, and Ensign Cal Pratt swung the powerful spotlight mounted on his boat to shine on the dark trawler. Next to him Ensign Alice Rawlings manned the small craft's single mounted machine gun.
Below him, on the bridge, Captain Reeves, RACSS Siren, spoke into the microphone of his powerful amplifier. "Unknown vessel, this is the Royal Atlantlan Coastal Service. You are running without proper lights or identification, in contradiction of Marine Regulations. Heave to and prepare to be boarded." The Captain spoke to his second in command, and fourth crewman in the small patrol boat. "Well, Janet, it looks like we've got another poacher. You up for some excitement?"
"I suppose so, Skipper. Personally, though, I like boredom better."
Reeves tsked. "You're getting soft, Janet." Speaking into the loudspeaker once more, he ordered, "Unidentified vessel, I say again, heave to and prepare to be boarded. You are in violation of Atlantlan Marine Law. If you do not halt I will fire a warning shot. That will be your final warning. Further refusal on your part will force me to open fire."
Illegal fishing was irregular, if persistent, problem in this area. It was serious enough to be a nuisance, but not serious enough for more intense military policing of the region. Which left the matter in the hands of patrol boats like the Siren. And frankly, that was how Captain Reeves preferred it. The last thing he wanted was a bunch of stuck up Navy types telling him how to patrol his bay.
As it was, illegal boats would be intercepted regularly, and the owners would be fined or indentured, depending on the size of their catch. The serious ones would be back as soon as they had finished paying off their debt, and the cycle would begin again. The fact was that the most regular offenders were always extremely careful of just how much they caught, and not just because of the possible repercussions when they were caught. They were also very aware that if they did overfish the area, there would be no more to poach later, and therefore saved their... extracurricular activities for times when there was an abundant supply anyway.
Captain Reeves was actually familiar with most of the more notorious poachers on a first name basis.
Most of them also knew when they were caught, which was why the Captain was getting annoyed with this particular customer. Just as he was about to repeat his order to heave to - he had never yet had to actually fire a warning shot, much less sink a boat - the other craft suddenly cut its engines. Reducing his own speed, he brought his own patrol boat alongside, while the spotlight kept the other boat firmly in its beam. The Captain chuckled internally. His two Ensigns were so new they squeaked, and were obviously being as precise as possible.
"Okay, Janet, it's your show."
"Yes, Sir." Lieutenant Janet Devereaux settled her firearm snugly in its holster. In all her years as a Coastal Service agent she had never had to draw the weapon, let alone fire it, but regulations forced her to carry it on any search. She made her way to where the Siren nestled against the larger trawler and called out over the side, "Ahoy! I am a member of the Royal Atlantlan Coastal service. I am going to board your vessel and search it under Marine Regulations. I am armed. Please assemble your entire crew on deck immediately."
There was no reply, and Devereaux frowned at the empty deck of the boat, brilliantly lit by the spotlight. She was about to repeat her challenge when an answer came, but not in the form of words.
There was a rapid, heavy phut, phut, phut which she had no opportunity to identify before a barrage of bullets streamed out of some hidden location and impacted her in the centre of her body, sending her flying backward. She was dead before she hit the deck. Captain Reeves only had time to gape, stunned, before a second stream of shots shattered the cabin's window before plowing into him. Simultaneously, separate sustained shots killed Ensigns Pratt and Rawlings before they could even begin to react. A bullet impacted the spotlight, throwing the entire area into darkness.
Then the silence was broken only by the slap of water against the sides of both boats.
Several dark figures emerged from where they had been crouched on board the trawler and quickly made their way to secure the patrol boat. A few minutes later one approached a tall man who had remained behind on the fishing boat's deck.
"They're all dead, sir," he said in English.
"Shit," the other man swore. "Do we know if they radioed for help?"
"No, sir, they didn't. Davy was monitoring their transmissions the whole time. Their last was that they had intercepted a suspected fish poacher and were about to search."
"Shit. So their base knows they met someone. Any chance we could fake a message? Make them think their boat was mistaken?"
"Unlikely, sir. The Captain sounded pretty chummy with the guy on the other end."
"God damn it. Okay, get someone on that boat. We'll take it as far from here as we can and sink it. We'll have to send a message back to Control that this route will be cut off for a while. They'll have to find some other way to get our people in."
"Yes, sir. Our contacts on this side will probably do that anyway, though."
"Maybe so, but I'm not trusting a bunch of Anties." The dark man swore again loudly. "Okay, fuck it. Get that boat and let's get out of here."
A short time later the fish had the area to themselves again.
Continued in Chapter