Dynol, Quirst. The coast.
The Red Dragon burst into a flurry of action as it caught sight of land. Nevena Proksch, captain of the Dragon, had been sent by the queen of Nubik to land in the small country of Quirst. It was a strange little country, run by men rather than women. Better yet, it had resources that Nubik could use, and the queen was hoping that forming a relationship with the small country could be both informative and economical.
They travelled up the coast a few miles until the Dragon found a place to dock. Rorik lowered the anchor, and the Dragon fell still a short distance from the shore. The landing party would consist of Nevena’s best: her first mate, Rorik; one of the Queen’s Inquisitors, Danika; and her two best fighters, the siblings Lyubin and Sanja. Marah, Nevena’s second mate, would command the remaining crew members until Nevena returned. The landing party climbed into the rowboat, and Rorik and Lyubin lowered them down into the water.
The port was busy this time of day, with long boats anchored down, and little dinghys a short distance out, casting their nets in search of fish. The seamen in the small boats saw them pass and their jaws dropped at the slender faces of the crew-women. The men were shirtless, which Nevena’s Inquisitor, Danika, quickly scribbled down.
“Have you ever been to a male-led country before?” Nevena asked Rorik, Lyubin, and Sanja rowed their vessel towards the shore. Nearby, a boat they had passed paddled with impressive speed towards land, the men aboard gesturing wildly and shouting in their native tongue.
Danika shook her head. “Other Inquisitors have, though. I read some of their writings before leaving for this expedition.”
Nevena barked orders to her crew to prepare for landing, and they sprung into action. “Well,” she said to Danika, “Hopefully their words of wisdom will help guide us here.”
There were no docks in the water for them to tie their boat down, so Rorik let them run aground the sandy banks, and the five splashed into the ankle-deep water so Rorik and Nevena could haul the boat out of the sea.
They had a bit of a welcoming party, though nothing Nevena had been hoping for. The port itself was filled mostly with men, every one of them barrel-chested with only a simple garment wrapped about their legs. The few women who were with them were more modestly dressed, but instead of trousers, skirts hung from their hips. Skirts were useless, confining pieces of clothing, usually only reserved for Svelti’s Day or parties held at midnight on the equinox. Nevena couldn’t fathom why these women would wear them here or now.
People gathered around the five of them, and Nevena could feel Lyubin and Sanja tense behind her. They were outnumbered, though all of them, even the Inquisitor, were armed.
“We are from the north,” she said slowly. Danika’s voice rang out after her, first in one language and, when that did not clear up the confusion, a second, then a third. The men spoke quickly among themselves, clearly surprised. One said something that made Danika’s face flush red. When she said the word Nubik, the men sobered.
“My name is Nevena Proksch, and I’m looking for whoever is in charge of this settlement.”
Danika translated for her.
For a moment, no one moved. The women glanced at each other, as if wanting to help but fearing retribution. Finally, one of the men pointed away from the coast, to a pathway up into the hills. The others parted to allow them through. Nevena thanked them, with Danika’s help. Every pair of eyes stayed on them as they walked between the men.
She heard someone whisper something, and then Danika crashed into Nevena. One of the men snickered. The laughter was short-lived, however; Sanja jumped forward with a scowl, knife in hand. “Step back, primitive.”
“Sanja,” Nevena barked.
Danika, however, wore an expression that Nevena had yet to see on the Inquisitor. She looked ready for murder. She wasn’t the only one; Sanja’s tone had set the other men on edge, and they looked ready to back their friend. “Curse these heathens,” the Inquisitor snarled, her sword half-drawn. She spoke heatedly in their language. A few men barked out a laugh, but not the one that Sanja threatened. He took a few steps back, hands raised in surrender, and Nevena strode through the crowd before things could get out of hand.
“Want to tell me what that was all about,” Nevena hissed, conscious of the native crowd following them up to the hills.
“The great explorer Miesha wrote about such countries as these. The men are mindless in their lust.” Danika’s face was red with anger. “That man spoke an insult, and tried to claim what was not his. I should have cut off his fingers to prove a point.”
Nevena was half-tempted to turn around and follow through. Men in civilized countries would never dream of laying hands on a woman. Not without her express permission, at the very least. They weren’t here to establish a matriarchy, however; not unless Nevena’s queen sent such an order.
She held up a hand and stopped her crew. “We’ll let that one instance pass because it would be a bad way to introduce ourselves. The next person to so grievously insult any one of us will pay the blood price, and they’ll continue to do so until they learn.”
Sanja smiled wickedly.
Nevena motioned for them to move, and they all fell back in line behind her as they traveled the rest of the short distance to the closest thing this small country had to a capital.