Prologue: The Sign of a Ship at the Seaport
Valentia had the biggest harbour in the Carpa Kingdom.
This famous large city was technically ruled by the “Duke of Valentia”, but most of the time, it was actually registered to be under the direct control of the monarch.
And this extended to Aura as well, the current Queen.
She was the Queen and the Duke of Valentia at the same time.
After all, Valentia was the largest commercial harbour in the Kingdom as well as an important source area for salt. Depending on the season, it sometimes had an even greater circulation of people, goods and money than the royal capital.
It stood to reason that the previous monarchs took the view that only an extremely trustworthy somebody with adequate skill and personality could be entrusted with that region.
Having said this, Aura actually had no one to appoint, even if she wanted to, since all members of the royal family besides her died in the previous war.
Anyway, the city of Valentia was currently under the nominal control of Queen Aura, because of these circumstances. Needless to say, she was extremely busy with her duties in the capital, so she obviously had no time to take its governance matters into her hands. All affairs in Valentia were actually managed by the appointed “governor”.
Normally the governors of detached lands used their appointments to illegally amass a fortune and build a private army and nothing else, but the Carpa Kingdom was relatively free from that worry.
After all, the bloodline magic of the Carpa Royal Family was “Space-Time Magic”. That meant they could use “Teleport”.
As such, the governor would naturally hesitate to do anything illegal under these circumstances, in which a trusted retainer of the Queen could suddenly drop by at any moment.
In Valentia the majority of money and manpower was obviously expended to the harbour.
Numerous piers extended from a beautiful terraformed coast. Each of them was solidly built from stone and were wide enough to allow large dragon carriages to pass by each other without any problems.
Moreover, the water was so deep that even the big ships from the North Continent with a very large draft could moor with no problems whatsoever.
And on top of that, breakwaters were constructed off the coast behind one another in a three-layered fashion, so that they were overlapping by turns. That prevented waves from advancing into the harbour, but at the same time, it allowed an easy entry and departure for ships.
Thanks to that, not a single harboured ship had capsized in the dock of Valentia in the last decades, not even during the typhoons of the rain season.
The large lighthouse standing at the edge of a headland topped the whole thing off.
It was a columnar building, looking like a candle, with an height that would pass into oblivion amongst the buildings of a modern metropolis, but overwhelmed here, since there was nothing on par with it.
The piers, the breakwaters and the lighthouse.
All of them were beautifully built from stone to such an extent that anyone, who saw the spent budget and manpower, would feel giddy. It was not for nothing that it was the biggest harbour in the western part of the South Continent.
Even now, Valentia was overflowing with activity.
Accompanied by a cleared up blue sky and a pleasant sea breeze, a great deal of sailors and dockworkers were shouting and running around sedulous in the harbour.
“Please let me through, I got an urgent delivery!”
“Hey, are these really the barrels with the dried meat? They’re rather light.”
“You there, no fighting on the pier! Otherwise you get the sack.”
One wrong step in this buzzy atmosphere could lead to a quarrel and soldiers armed with short spears were mediating in loud voices.
The guards in the capital were only wearing leather armours, too, but in consideration for the nearby sea, the soldiers here just wore shirts and trousers too thin to expect any protection.
And on a closer look, it became apparent that the spearheads of their equipped spears were not reflecting the dazzling sunlight at all. Most likely, the spears utilized sharpened dragon bones instead of iron.
When guarding a harbour, they were naturally exposed to the sea breeze, but it was not unusual either that they sometimes got dashed with sea water. Therefore iron would start to rust in no time, unless maintained effortful.
Roughly speaking, it was a specific equipment for coast areas in a way.
Another thing worth mentioning was that amongst the dockworkers, who carried stuff around on the piers, were a few that used a “handcart”.
On sale at the merchants of the capital quite recently, that wooden gadget was quite valuable in the harbour, where large amounts of goods had to be moved around on a daily basis. The ground had to be at least somewhat even to use the handcart, which only had small wooden wheels, but fortunately enough, Port Valentia fulfilled that requirement completely.
The handcart was sparsely showing up right now, because of its high prize, but at this rate it might only be a matter of time until it became a regular equipment at the harbour.
In fact, its usefulness was painfully obvious once you used it. The majority of dockworkers worked up a good sweat by shouldering wooden crates or hemp bags. In contrast, the dockworkers with a handcart easily pushed a multiple of that weight, so its utility was beyond question.
When the dockworkers were carrying a heavy cargo, they were sweating all over their bodies and could only look in front of them. The handcart dockworkers, on the other hand, could take it easy and look around while they pushed the cart.
Therefore it was probably inevitable that it was someone pushing a handcart noticed a certain something first.
“Hm? What’s that?”
The young dockworker looked beyond the horizon and stopped in his track.
“Hey, what’cha doing? Don’t stop dead, it’s dangerous.”
Behind him, a middle-aged worker carrying a largo cargo over his shoulders called out to him, whereon the young dockworker started walking again while replying to the man walking behind him.
“Ah, sorry. It’s just, I saw an unfamiliar ship over there.”
“Huh? An unfamiliar ship?”
Without stopping in his track, the middle-aged worker, incited by these words, looked in the same direction.
Unfortunately however, he only saw the wide open sea like always.
“Dun see anything.”
“No, it’s there. It was just a mast appearing above the horizon, though.”
Thereat the middle-aged worker nodded his assent once, still carrying the large hemp bag over his right shoulder.
“Oh right, you’ve good eyesight.”
“Yes, it’s my only redeeming virtue. Anyway, it must be one heck of a big ship when I can make out its shape so clearly, even though its barely above the horizon. I’ve never seen such a big ship before.”
“Oho, I see. Then it’s probably a large sailing boat from the North Continent.”
“Large? You mean it’s even bigger than the sailing boats docked here?”
“Yeah. Whether fore-and-aft sail or square sail, the sailing ships here only have one mast. But you see, the North Continent has large ships with three masts.”
In order to prevent the forehead sweat from running into his eyes, the middle-aged dockworker wiped the sweat with the back of his left hand as he said that. Then he narrowed his eyes to slits and looked at the glistening sea to confirm it with his own eyes.
With his eyesight however, he could barely make a small dot out in the distant sea.
Left with no other choice, he asked his young co-worker with the superior eyesight.
“Can you tell?”
“Hmm, from here it’s a bit hard… wait, I see it! Ah! It really has more masts. One, two, three… four? What? It has four, not three.”
The young dockworker tilted his head puzzled as he spoke, whereupon the middle-aged dockworker was baffled.
“FOUR!? Are you sure!?”
Surprised by the shocked question of his senior, the youngster looked carefully at the ship again, but the number of masts still counted the same.
“Yes, I am. It definitely has four masts.”
The dockworker of middle age acted fast upon hearing his answer.
“Here, take this!”
As soon as he said this, he threw the hemp bag from his shoulder onto the wooden crates loaded on the handcart of the young dockworker.
“Hey! Don’t do that! The wheels will crack when it’s overloaded! Do you know how many days I’ll have to work for free if the cart breaks?”
The youngster protested desperately, but the old stager was too flustered to pay it any mind.
“Dun have time for this! I’ve gotta report this to the governor! If it breaks, you can blame it all on me!”
“The governor? Doesn’t he have a lookout on the lighthouse? I would say they notice it way earlier than me.”
“Just to be on the safe side. Later!”
After saying that, the middle-aged dockworker ran off at full speed.
He passed through the crowded pier in no time while repeatedly saying “Please let me through!”.
Left behind, the young dockworker stood in front of his now heavily laden cart with a gaping mouth and no clue about what was going on.
Who could blame him? Unaware of the circumstances, it only appeared to him as if the middle-aged man had abandoned his work in a grand fashion.
However, anyone, who knew what a “large sailing ship with four masts” signified, would sympathize with his action.
The shipbuilding was kind of inferior on the South Continent, so small ships with one mast were the norm.
Basically all large ships with three masts could be considered intercontinental cargo vessels from the North Continent. And even there, the ships were something like a leading-edge product and accordingly expensive. If someone from the plebeain could purchase it, it was because he was a wealthy merchant with influence all over the country.
On this basis, it was easy to imagine how significant a ship with one more mast, namely four, was. It was truly the cream of the crop and a state property that was not available to the private sector. Moreover, even on the North Continent, the only countries that could build and maintain these ships were major powers with a development above average.
And now, such a four-master had appeared in the harbour of Valentia of the Carpa Kingdom.
At the same time, that meant that a key figure of a major power on the North Continent had come over.
* * *
The official name of the four-master that had shown up in Valentia was “Yellow Leaves”.
It was the state-of-the-art ship from the Uppsala Kingdom, a country in the northern part of the North Continent. Although the kingdom was known for its advanced technology, it had only one more four-master besides the “Yellow Leaves”: The “Dead Soldier Claws” was the flagship of their naval force.
Standing on the deck of that large ship, Freya Uppsala seemed moved as well as relieved when saw land again at last after approximately one hundred and twenty days at sea.
“Looks like we can finally put ashore again.”
“Yes, Milady. It is a magnificent harbour. Our ship will be able to dock there without problems.”
“Indeed. But you know, Skathi, I am the captain right now, not a princess. Please do not get it mixed up.”
The girl named Freya Uppsala had her silver-blue hair cut short around her neck and kept her eyes on the port of Valentia before her while she replied to the tall female soldier standing behind her at an angle.
“Yes, my apologies, Captain.”
The tall female soldier known as Skathi showed a soft smile and bowed a bit.
Just like her name implied, Freya Uppsala was a princess from the Uppsala Kingdom. She admittedly had no claim on the throne, because women were not allowed to ascend the throne in the Uppsala Kingdom, but she was nevertheless a distinguished figure in the country.
Her straight hair had a silver-blue colour, her ice-blue eyes tended to give off a cold impression and her skin was unrealistically white.
That mysterious beauty substantiated her dignity as a “princess from a country in the north”. She would surely be quite a sight if she were to put on a dress and jewellery.
But right now, Princess Freya was wearing men’s clothing, which were kind of gorgeous, but prioritized functionality above anything else, and her beautiful hair, which originally had extended to her waist, had been cut drastically around her neck.
She was “cross-dressing” in order to act as the captain of the “Yellow Leaves”.
According to the traditional practice, the people of the Uppsala Kingdom also known as svenskar regarded their ships as women. Becoming a captain could therefore be compared with marriage, which made it necessary that the captain was a man. Consequently, a woman always had to “cross-dress” on top of the ship if she wanted to be its captain.
Needless to say, the cross-dressing was nothing but a formality and they did not have to masquerade as a man for real.
For that reason, Princess Freya simply was a “beautiful girl in men‘s clothes” right now.
If anything, she was revealing her female curves from top to bottom by wearing the male garments so casually.
When Princess Freya turned around, she called out to her trusted retainer standing behind her.
“So, do we know where this harbour belongs to?”
“Yes. Judging by the distance we travelled today and the star constellation last night, we most likely arrived in the Carpa Kingdom.”
“The Carpa Kingdom…?”
Princess Freya inclined her small head puzzled, searching her mind for it.
Information from the South Continent barely reached the Uppsala Kingdom, since it was situated in the far north of the North Continent. By way of comparison: It was the same as asking an European about Asia during the Age of Discovery.
Having said this, Princess Freya had become the captain of this ship of her own accord and was more knowledgeable about the South Continent than the average person from the North Continent.
“If I remember correctly, it is a country in the western part of the South Continent? Seems we have drifted from the course more than we thought.”
Having recalled the matching memory from the back of her mind, Princess Freya discerned that, whereupon the tall female soldier consented with a brief nod.
“Yes. I have heard that it is a prominent major power there. It is a bit inconvenient that our countries have no direct diplomatic relations, but I have heard nothing bad about them. At least we can assume that they will honour the ‘Sea Codex’.”
The “Sea Codex” was the conception that those living on the sea supported each other.
Its contents were nothing special. In short, it encompassed things like allowing even unknown ships to dock and embark in an harbour as long as there was free space.
After all, the seamanship in this world was hopelessly inferior compared to modern Earth. They technically devised a course before departing, but it was exceptionally unlikely that they travelled according to plan.
Sometimes they ran out of provisions, because the travel took longer than expected. Sometimes they lost crew members to an illness at sea. Sometimes they got into an unforeseen storm and veered completely off course. Things like that happened all the time.
Due to that, the most important thing was to be allowed into port during an emergency.
Needless to say that did not apply to recognizable pirate ships or ships from clearly hostile nations.
“It seems like I will be able to grant my crew a long-awaited shore leave then. They definitely earned it, since I have put them through a lot.”
As the princess was considerate of her crew, the female soldier consented, but also contradicted her.
“Yes, indeed. However, Captain, please apply the same attention to yourself, too. If I may say so, your stamina rather ranks at the bottom end from all our crewmembers.”
“Thank you, Skathi. But I am fine. There is barely anything for me to do on the ship after all.”
“That goes without saying. The ship would be done for if something were to happen to its captain.”
Her answer was by no means aiming to be exaggerating or symbolic.
The shipbuilding on the North Continent was around the same level as the one on Earth during the Middle Ages, but varied on two points: It had an advantage over Earth, but also a disadvantage.
The advantage was obviously the existence of “magic” in this world.
Especially the “Drinking Water Treatment” magic revolutionized the sea travel.
Throughout the history of Earth, the greatest problem for sea journeys had always been the provisioning of drinking water.
In this world however, drinking water could be obtained by treating salt water with magic, so they were truly worlds apart from each other in regards to water matters.
In case of the “Yellow Leaves”, Princess Freya was casting the “Drinking Water Treatment” magic in order to supply water.
Considering that fact, it became clear that the female soldier wasn’t joking or anything when she said that the ship would be done for if something were to happen to the captain.
Of course there were other practitioners of “Drinking Water Treatment” besides Princess Freya aboard, but even if all of them were to pool their strengths, they would barely treat enough salt water to keep them alive with restraint.
If something were to happen to herself, the whole crew would die of thirst before long. Princess Freya properly acknowledged that heavy responsibility, so she had paid heed to the warning of the veteran sailors and female soldier, and stayed out of danger during their more than 120-day voyage.
Due to that, she was not physically, but mentally exhausted, though.
“Anyway, the sea and sky are really blue on the South Continent.”
Narrowing her ice-blue eyes to slits, Princess Freya gazed at the merging blue colours on the horizon.
“Certainly. A bit too bright for us, perhaps, since we are used to the northern sea.”
As implied by her, the sky in their homeland, the Uppsala Kingdom, was covered by massive gray clouds and the sea rarely appeared blue either.
And the heat was foreign to them as well, even though the people of the Carpa Kingdom no longer conceived it as hot, since the hottest season of the year had passed.
To say nothing of how they seemed to get dizzy from the heat and force of the sunrays as they exposed themselves directly to it on top of the deck of the ship.
The refreshing sea breeze was at least a glimmer of hope, so that they had no trouble breathing.
Except for varying intensities, the tall female soldier as well as the well-built sailors tending to the sails had all dark red tanned skin, but on a closer look, you saw white arms and necks under the sleeves and collars, respectively.
Amidst that, Princess Freya revealed skin so white that it seemed out of place. Maybe she rarely ever left her own cabin or she did not tan that easily?
Her natural white face was completely untanned while she kept her gaze fixated on the nearing harbour of Valentia the whole time.
“Amazing. Not even the North Continent has many harbours as imposing as this one.”
“Indeed. I never imagined the South Continent to have such an impressive harbour either.”
Princess Freya curtly nodded her assent to the learning-never-stops speech of the female soldier without averting her eyes from the sea in front of her.
The affiliations of the North Continent and the South Continent could be described as “South-Magic-North-Technology”. It meant that the South Continent had magic developed countries whereas the North Continent had technology developed countries.
On the South Continent a unique “bloodline magic” was practically essential for royalty, but on the North Continent, royalty with a “bloodline magic” were actually scare.
As part of the Uppsala Royal Family, Princess Freya had inherited a large amount of magical power, but there was no special power in their blood, so her family could only use the common “Four-Element Magic”.
But on the other hand, the North Continent had the edge on technology. Be it shipbuilding or ironworking or architecture, they were one step ahead in every department.
Priding oneself on that entailed “arrogance”, whereupon you started to look down on others.
Princess Freya realized that her thoughts had unknowingly strayed from the right path and she took a deep breath for a change of mind. At that moment:
“A large shadow approaching from behind! It’s a Sea Dragon!”
The young sailor in the lookout reported an emergency with a loud voice.
The sudden turn prompted the female soldier to call her master erroneous again, but Princess Freya just ignored it, since she knew how foolish it would be to correct her in such a situation.
“The storm last night had carried us into his territory, so it must have chased after us.”
A Sea Dragon. It was a major disturbance to seafaring that didn’t exist on Earth.
Even in the old days on Earth, some ships sunk from colliding with large whales or people were eaten by sharks after falling off the ship during a storm, but these were no match for the hazard of a Sea Dragon from this world.
First of all, its size was different. Of course it would be considered small when comparing it to the large tankships or nuclear- powered aircraft carriers from modern Earth, but at least in this world, there was no ship bigger than the largest Sea Dragon yet.
Moreover, the Sea Dragon had a distinct territorial behaviour, so it was terrifyingly hostile towards anything roughly as big as itself that entered its territory.
To such an extent that it often got too exasperated and chased after its prey even outside its territory.
Having said this, it definitely was an exception that it continued its chase until the following day like this time.
“Milady, we still cannot use the large crossbow on the poop deck, because of the storm last night.”
Princess Freya made an immediate decision when the female soldier prepared for battle.
“Yes, I know. The defence forces of the harbour would surely have an easy job dealing with a Sea Dragon of this size, but it would be anything but desirable to cause them trouble right from the beginning.
You do not need to finish it off, just chasing it off will suffice. Do not be reckless, Skathi.”
“As you wish.”
Allowed to engage it, the female soldier saluted with her right fist held up before her left chest, then quickly ran off on the deck.
The ship was rocking quite a bit, because they were outside the breakwaters, where the waves were still high, but she moved on the deck as if she was on the ground.
“Bring me my spear!”
The female soldier let the salty air vibrate through her voice and the sailors answered her right away.
“Yes, Victoria-sama. Here you go!”
She grabbed the spear offered by a bearded sailor as she ran past him.
The spear was a little bit longer than one metre at best and had a flavescent milk-white colour. For its small size, it was actually rather heavy.
Its colour and weight were proof that this spear was made from a polished tusk of a Sea Elephant.
A wooden spear with an iron head, like it was used ashore, was extremely unsuited to use for a throwing attack against Sea Elephants or Sea Dragons living in the sea.
Of course there was the issue with fugacity, because it rusted from the salt water or decayed from sponged water, but the crucial problem was that the trajectory of the thrown spear curved in the water, because the specific gravities of the “floating wooden shaft” and the “sinking iron spearhead” were too different.
“Move it. I will handle it.”
The female soldier had reached the rear deck in no time and declared that, whereupon the gathered sailors made way.
Without slowing down in her full-speed sprint, she kicked the ground and jumped onto the poop deck.
She looked down onto the Sea Dragon as she stood there with the spear in her right hand, and mumbled.
“So that’s it. Guess I’m lucky. I should be able to deal with it.”
The Sea Dragon raised its broad green back and large neck out of the blue sea, baring its fangs.
Its kind was called “Long-neck Dragon”. As a blessing in disguise, it was a relatively small specimen of its kind. Considering that one would have to “look up” to its head from the deck if they were dealing with a large Long-neck Dragon, they definitely had a stroke of luck here.
Anyway, the dragon approached quickly by making use of its four fins in the water. It was such an overwhelming sight that even the experienced seafarers familiar with the life-endangering sea travel, winced.
Standing on the poop deck, the female soldier kept her gaze fixated on the Sea Dragon below her while she grasped her spear near its head and placed its butt end onto the bridge of her right foot.
On a closer look, it became apparent that her leather shoe had a thick dent, into which the butt end of the spear fitted perfectly. The female soldier then used her right hand to balance out the spear, so it wouldn’t fall over. Before long, she took away her hand and the spear stood upright on top of the bridge of her right foot without toppling.
That looked like a street performance taken by itself, but needless to say, this was hardly the time to perform a trick.
After bringing her breathing under control with a few deep breaths, the female soldier opened her eyes wide-open and lifted her right foot in a single continuous movement.
Upwards, forwards, downwards. If you will, it looked like the motion of a high front kick or roundhouse kick from Karate or Kickboxing.
This sequence of movements raised the spear, standing on the bridge of the foot, tilted it to a horizontal position and then launched it.
It was a kicking spear technique, which was passed down from generation to generation in the north of the North Continent.
Some people say the technique arose from when the people in the north tried throwing a spear with their foot instead of their hand because they wore gloves so thick that they could no longer move the individual fingers. Some others claim that it was devised to make up for the shortcomings in range peculiar to the physically weaker female soldiers.
Either way, it goes without saying that it was not an ordinary technique.
Launching the spear deliberately with the foot was ineffective as well as impracticable.
However, the inherited techniques coupled with the practice of talented people improved the efficiency and made the impracticable practicable.
The Sea Elephant tusk spear, launched from the right foot of the female soldier, flew straight and faster than an arrow, piercing the head of the Sea Dragon.
After a short cry, the Sea Dragon slackened his long neck and let it drop onto the water surface.
One shot one kill. She truly finished off the Sea Dragon with a single spear.
The Long-neck Sea Dragon was a large creature, but its head was relatively small and it had been far out at that.
Hitting that very head with a spear kicked by a foot and even delivering a fatal blow to the skull in one hit was truly a brilliant feat. The ship’s crew went nuts when they witnessed the skills of the female soldier.
“That’s our Victoria-sama!”
“No wonder she’s inherited the name of the Sorceress Skathi!”
Stomping on the deck with their feet, the sailors cheered, whereupon the female soldier turned around, smiled a bit and waved her hand briefly, then she jumped down agile from the poop deck.
“Well done, Skathi. An impressive feat.”
“You honour me, Milady.”
As Princess Freya approached her through the crowd of the sailors, the female soldier lowered her head a bit with these words, now that her job was done.
“Skathi, I told you to call me ‘Captain’ on the ship.”
Since the emergency was over, Princess Freya reprimanded her with a bitter smile and the tall female soldier, realising her mistake all too late, kept her head down.
“Oh, my apologies, Captain.”
“I will not bear that title for much longer, so please let me make the most of it.”
When the princess aka captain said this with a relaxed expression, even some of the gathered crewmembers started to laugh.
Matching with that, the female soldier laughed as well while she nodded.
“I understand, Captain. By the way, what are we going to do with that Sea Dragon? I would say we are allowed to claim it, because we have finished it off.”
Saying so, she looked behind her at the sea, where the corpse of the Sea Dragon floated.
The corpse of a Sea Dragon was a mountain of treasures: Its
leather was robust and repelled water, its bones were strong, yet supple and the meat was edible, albeit not very delicious. On top of that, its fat was sold at ridiculous prices, because of its nice fragrance when burned.
However, Princess Freya shook her head without hesitation.
“No, we better not do that. We almost caused troubles for the harbour, and I do not wish to push our luck in the first harbour we dock at.”
Although she replied dutiful like that, the female soldier regretfully glanced at the remains of the Sea Dragon.
Princess Freya knew the meaning behind that glance, so she smiled wryly with a hand over her mouth.
“Do not be so worried about it. I will talk to them, so that they will definitely return your spear.”
“Yes, thank you so much!”
The female soldier expressed her gratitude to her master with a red face.