Chapter 2:

An Audience with the Queen

The Governor's Queen

A pair of hands grabbed him and started pulling him.

He could feel his arms were placed over something large, and someone held him in place while the storm raged on. He tried to move, or at least open his eyes, but his consciousness slipped away.

He woke up to the sound of waves crashing against the shore.
His lungs were burning.
His body was hurting.
He began coughing as he tried to push himself off of... sand?

He was alive!

He opened his eyes and pushed his long hair out of his face. The ribbon it was tied with must've fallen off. He rubbed his face and beard in a reasonably successful attempt to get the sand out, before he finally noticed a pair of boots in front of him. He stopped midway to getting up.

A few meters away from him, there stood a woman.

Her skin was tanned by the sun, covered in numerous freckles on her face and shoulders. Her short curly hair was a brilliant color of bixbite, carried by the wind that blew from the sea. She had beads made of gold braided in a few short strands, that shone in the light of the setting sun behind him.

The sky behind her was still the color of lead. The storm in which they met carried on its way, leaving behind a trail of destruction - a sky that was as torn as the sea. Her arms were crossed at her chest and her back was straight as she stared him down. She wore a simple wide white shirt, tucked in her corset and pants, with strings tightening it around her wrists. She wore a thick leather belt with two cutlasses sheathed in, and long, heavy leather boots. Her aura was imposing and the blades didn't look like they were just for show.

He let out a tired breath and pushed himself up to his feet. There was no use sitting around. No matter how exhausted he was, he had work to do. "Am I wrong to assume that I am in the presence of the pirate captain Adanita Vervain?" he asked. What an imposing woman. He wasn't short by any means, he was just about 180 centimeters. Nicely above the average height of men in this era, but not exactly tall by his standards, and yet this woman towered over him. She must've been a comfortable two meters tall at the very least, and it didn't seem it was all just the heavy boots.

"No. I am her."

Right, then. Fantastic. From a frying pan into the fire, it seemed. A fire would be welcome, he was freezing, but there was no need to ruin a metaphor. He tiredly moved his hair out of his face again. He crossed his arms in a similar pose. His hands were cold, it was better if they tucked them in. The setting sun behind him wasn't quite enough to warm him up. Where were her men?

Before he could say anything more, she continued: "And you are Alsop en la Dale, the new governor of my lands. I gracefully accept your unconditional surrender."
"Oh?" How did she know? He barely just arrived two weeks ago. Did she have spies that watched his landing? Did she see his face somewhere before? There was no internet in this world and he didn't leave the capital before. His papers were surely drenched in the sea somewhere, and he wasn't the only man in pretty clothes in the land. How did she know? "I believe those should be my words. Piracy is a crime, you know." Where was her ship?
"Hah! Are you even in a position to act like this?"
"Perhaps I might be. I presume you'd like me as a hostage of some sort, so I feel free to say I'd prefer to arrest you instead."
"Even after I've saved you?"
What did she expect? Even Stockholm syndrome should take a few days to settle in, shouldn't it? "Don't mistake it for a lack of gratitude, I am very glad I'm not dead. And yet, I have my responsibilities as well. I'll be sure to take your latest actions into account when determining your sentence... that is, if you don't try to use me for extortion of some sort."
She scoffed again. "What else should I expect from someone who led his men on a wild goose chase into a storm. You are pathetic."
"Excuse me?" She instinctively stepped back with one hand placed on one of her cutlasses, and he realized he made a step forward himself.
She regained herself quickly and tightly gripped her sword. "No, I don't think I will. What kind of scum orders his men to sail into a storm without a way out? With the Captains and Vice Admiral warning you?! The criminal here is you, not me!"
What an accusation! He calmly breathed out. A way out, is it? Mage aboard, now confirmed. Thank you, your royal pain.
"In what world does the Governor command a ship before her Captain?" he asked.
There was no need to explain himself further. What baseless nonsense.
He overestimated her, certainly.

Her face went paler, and there was a strange look of confusion replacing the confidence that was there just moments ago. Did she really think he gave orders? How could she say that with such unfounded certainty? Did she truly have spies, and if she did, why were they telling her such complete nonsense?

Something was digging at him in the back of his mind. How did she know, how did she know. She mentioned the Vice Admiral and a warning that was given by other Captains. Could she have seen the signal flags? But Vice Admiral - did she already know their ships? If it were spies, they'd have no time to tell this to her just yet. It was just the two of them on this island, and it's not like she could've called them. Telepathy didn't exist in this world, so how did she know?
...No matter. He removed his jacket as it was still wet and weighting him down. It was time to deal with this. "I'd like to formally challenge you to a duel."
"Really? With no seconds and doctors?" she asked.
"Properly observing code duello in this situation is impossible. I am aware I'd otherwise be left unarmed in your mercy. Don't you believe we each at least deserve a chance to properly request the surrender of the other one?" He knew how to use a sword. He was far from a genious, but he was well educated. Adanita was larger and in her own weight category for sure. But still, how good could someone get without a real teacher? Surely he had a chance.
"In the shape you're in, I fear I'd snap you in half," she said.
"We've both been in the same storm, have we not?" he asked. The answer was obviously not. He was now certain she'd jumped into the sea to save him for one reason or another. Despite that, she seemed as if she'd just gone for a long swim, while he could feel bruises forming on his back from when he hit the railing. And the sea. And the pain in his muscles from swimming in that weather.

And drowning...

No. No time for thoughts like those. He was alive right now.

If this pirate planned to allow a honorable fight, this was his one chance to get his hands on a weapon. He couldn't allow himself to miss it.

"Wouldn't you prefer to have us work together, considering the situation we're in?" she asked. "This is a desert island, you know."
"I did not know, but I am sure we can cooperate once we know who is captured by whom," he said. She didn't plan to kill him, he was sure now. Had she wanted to do so, she'd have slit his throat already. He must've been right, she wanted him as a hostage of some sort. Or maybe she truly wanted his help in this situation, although he didn't know whether she really needed him to survive this place. He wasn't exactly a survivalist.
"To the pain, then?" she asked, as she probably realized that there wasn't a way to have him change his mind.
"To surrender," he demanded. To the pain would mean to the first drop of blood, and a small cut on him could already mean defeat. If he manages to injure her before either of them surrenders, however, it could give him a way out later. Even if she defeats him, a duel was the best option here. Especially with all the attempts she made to try to talk him out of it. He had a chance.

Neither of them seemed to be having a handkerchief after the tumble in the nature's personal washing machine. He set his coat down on the ground, and she untied and set down her corset. Together those marked the boundaries of their dueling field.
She unsheathed her cutlasses, and for a moment he feared she'd just charge at him, but she threw one into the air. He caught it with his left hand and entered a proper fighting stance. Her stance, meanwhile, was highly unconventional. They began moving away even further to reach the distance of twenty paces before the duel began.
"We've no judges or witnesses, so I'll ask. Are you ready to begin?" she asked with a bright smile.
"Quite so," he agreed. She walked oddly as well. She must've been spending all her time on the sea, so the ground felt strange to her. He had a chance-

She slammed into him with such force he barely managed to keep standing. The distance was closed immediately.

He had no chance.

Crystal clear.

He'd managed to block her blade with his, at least, but it required strength of both his arms. He made an attempt to push her off and she stepped away, only to immediately return with a kick into his hand. His sword flew away. He tried to look for it, but it was too late. The next kick was into his chest and it sent him flying as well.

He landed near his jacket with a heavy thud. Today was the day everyone was taking it out on his back, wasn't it. And she was already above him, with the tip of her sword by his neck.

Well then.

"Again?" she offered.

What? "Certainly." She stepped away and he went to pick his sword up. There it was, piercing the mast they'd floated on.
Not the most honorable turn of events, but he wasn't going to turn down another chance. He knew better now. Maybe he'll manage to land a hit.

This time, the pirate waited for him to strike first. He approached by circling around her cautiously, both of them ready for the attack. With some luck - he swung the sword towards her eyes, and she instinctively moved backwards as she blocked him. She was the first who threw a kick, so he decided it was fair to try to trip her up now that she was off-balance. He successfully hit her leg, but she landed on her left hand and graciously launched herself into the air, landing back on her feet after a flip.

"Hah." Seriously.

She even landed within their boundaries.

He barely managed to dodge to the side when she charged at him again. Despite that, she still easily changed direction and elbowed him in the temple. He fell on his knees, barely holding onto the sword. His head was ringing and the world was spinning. Left defenseless, he got another strike in the back and fell over.

"Again," she said while he was coughing up from pain and the sand.

"Would you prefer a fistfight?" he asked, forcing himself up.
"Against you? Hah! Wouldn't it be an unfair advantage?"
"You must be joking." She was already overwhelming him with ease.
"A poor little lady like myself against a man like you? I'd certainly lose!"
Alright, alright! He got it, damn it! There was no need for mockery.

Twenty paces away.

Swords at the ready.

Another utter defeat.

They kept going once more, and he lost, and she ordered another round.

And again.

And again.

Why? Why'd she have them keep going? Every duel he'd fail to land a proper hit on her, and he was getting more and more exhausted and injured as time went on. She was getting tired too, he could tell, but nowhere near as much as he was. He couldn't win! He could barely stand, let alone hold the sword at this point! The sun was already down and they were fighting illuminated by the two half-filled moons.
Why were they-


He dropped the cutlass. He understood. It was to prove a point, wasn't it?

"I understand," he said. His breathing was heavy and his vision was blurred. He could barely see her silhouette in the darkness. "I offer... my unconditional... surrender."

At last, she sheathed her blade with her grin shining in the night.
She held her hand out, and he took it, fully admitting her victory.

"I accept."

Per Astra