The Fleet at Muelva

How the lords of Demonland came again to their ships at Muelva, and the tidings they learned there.

For nine days’ space the lords of Demonland abode with Queen Sophonisba in Koshtra Belorn and beside the Lake of Ravary tasting such high and pure delights as belike none else hath tasted, if it were not the spirits of the blest in Elysium. When they bade her farewell, the Queen said, “My little martlets shall bring me tidings of you. And when you shall have brought to mere perdition the wicked regiment of Witchland and returned again to your dear native land, then is my time for that, my Lord Juss, whereof I have often talked to thee and often gladded my dreams with the thought thereof: to visit earth again and the habitations of men, and be your guest in many-mountained Demonland.”

Juss kissed her hand and said, “Fail not in this, dear Queen, whatsoe’er betide.”

So the Queen let bring them by a secret way out upon the high snowfields that are betwixt Koshtra Belorn and Romshir, whence they came down into the glen of the dark water that descends from the glacier of Temarm, and so through many perilous scapes after many days back by way of the Moruna to Muelva and the ships.

There Gaslark and La Fireez, when their greetings were done and their rejoicings, said to the Lord Juss, “We abide too long time here. We have entered the barrel and the bunghole is stopped.” Therewithal they brought him Hesper Golthring, who three days ago sailing to the Straits for forage came back again but yesterday with a hot alarum that he met certain ships of Witchland: and brought them to battle: and gat one sunken ere they brake off the fight: and took up certain prisoners. “By whose examination,” saith he, “as well as from mine own perceiving and knowing, it appeareth Laxus holdeth the Straits with eight score ships of war, the greatest ships that ever the sea bare until this day, come hither of purpose to destroy us.”

“Eight score ships?” said Lord Brandoch Daha. “Witchland commandeth not the half, nor the third part, of such a strength since we did them down last harvest-tide in Aurwath haven. It is not leveable, Hesper.”

Hesper answered him, “Your highness shall find it truth; and more the sorrow on’t and the wonder.”

“ ’Tis the scourings of his subject-allies,” said Spitfire. “We shall find them no such hard matter to dispatch after the others.”

Juss said to the Lord Gro, “What makest thou of these news, my lord?”

“I think no wonder in it,” answered he. “Witchland is of good memory and mindeth him of your seamanship off Kartadza. He useth not to idle, nor to set all on one hazard. Nor comfort not thyself, my Lord Spitfire, that these be pleasure-galleys borrowed from the soft Beshtrians or the simple Foliots. They be new ships builded for us, my lords, and our undoing: it is by no conjecture I say it unto you, but of mine own knowledge, albeit the number appeareth far greater than ere I dreamed of. But or ever I sailed with Corinius to Demonland, great buildings of an army naval was begun at Tenemos.”

“I do very well believe,” said King Gaslark, “that none knoweth all this better than thou, because thyself didst counsel it.”

“O Gaslark,” said Lord Brandoch Daha, “must thou still itch to play at chop-cherry when cherry-time is past? Let him alone. He is our friend now.”

“Eight score ships i’ the Straits,” said Juss. “And ours an hundred. ’Tis well seen what great difference and odds there is betwixt us. Which we must needs encounter, or else ne’er sail home again, let alone to Carcë. For out of this sea is no seaway for ships, but only by these Straits of Melikaphkhaz.”

“We shall do of Laxus,” said Lord Brandoch Daha, “that he troweth to do of us.”

But Juss was fallen silent, his chin in his hand.

Goldry Bluszco said, “I would allow him odds and beat him.”

“It is a great shame in thee, O Juss,” said Brandoch Daha, “if thou wilt be abashed at this. If that they be in number more than we, what then? They are in hope, quarrel, and strength far inferior.”

But Juss, still in a study, reached out and caught him by the sleeve, holding him so a moment or two, and then looked up at him and said, “Thou art the greatest quarreller, of a friend, that ever I knew, and if I were an angry man I could not abear thee. May I not three minutes study the means, but thou shalt cry out upon me for a milksop?”

They laughed, and the Lord Juss rose up and said, “Call we a council of war. And let Hesper Golthring be at it, and his skippers that were with him o’ that voyage. And pack up the stuff, for we will away o’ the morn. If we like not these lettuce, we may pull back our lips. But no choice remaineth. If Laxus will deny us sea-room through Melikaphkhaz Straits, I trow there shall go up thence a crash which when the King heareth it he shall know it for our first banging on the gates of Carcë.”