In the show, we never get to see what happens during King Obrik's feast, and I wanted to fix that! Hint: the King is not impressed by Ren's crew :)
I came up with some original stuff they never discuss in the show about Andorus and its people. You'll find some notes about it at the end of the chapter.
King Obrik had shown them around the royal palace as he told them more about his kingdom of caves and his people.
The Atani took offense at being called Pale Warriors, but that was not far from what they were. Their skin and hair were as white as milk, and warriors they were, all of them. Ren had learned the Atani were trained from a young age to master both the lance and the longbow. Their marksmanship was infallible, the king had bragged, and their eyes easily hurt by the sunlight could see clearly in the darkness of the cave. No unwanted guest had ever departed their kingdom alive.
Ren had never heard a word about the Atani, but he guessed they were not famous for their hospitality. The thought made him smile, and he wished he could share it with Ioz. His shipmate had never been so quiet. From the moment the king had begun their tour around the palace Ioz hadn't stop gaping around. It was the gold; Ren had noticed that too.
The walls of the palace were made of pure cold stone, and the spectacular carvings adorning the pillars and the architraves did little to make the place look any more welcoming. Although the gold, scattered everywhere, warmed the palace like a great fireplace. Ren soon lost count of the golden plates, cups, goblets full of gems of every color and shapes, and golden statues in the shape of fruit and boats. King Obrik's royal palace must have been heaven for pirates.
"Since the Year of the Black Tide, Bloth has warred with us. He can harm us little inside our tunnels, but outside, he sinks ship after ship until no fleet will trade with us," said King Obrik. "I would welcome any effort to stop Bloth once and for all."
"There's enough gold here to sink the Maelstrom itself!" Ioz finally spoke, and Ren wished he hadn't.
The king's eyes, red as fire, sent a chill as cold as steel down his spine. Ioz didn't seem to mind.
"The sun, source of life as it might be, hurts us. It caresses your skin and stabs ours with burning blades. It kisses your eyes and blinds ours. We don't deny its importance though; our curse is that confined here, in the darkness of our caves, we will always yearn for the kiss of sun. The gold, with its glow, reminds us of it. An unworthy replacement, but it soothes our longing."
Ren opened his mouth to say something, anything to distract King Obrik from Ioz' lingering looks when Niddler's stomach growled.
"Enough talk about gold." King Obrik voice was gentle and collected, but his burning eyes conveyed a different kind of feeling."Let us feast."
There was a giant table in the dining room. Its legs were carved into the shapes of waves so realistic Ren could almost hear them crush upon a shore; although his eyes were soon lured by what was on top of it. Six golden trays lay on the table, and no carvings would ever have his mouth water as the smell of roasted fish and clams did. There was fresh bread as well, and a golden cauldron full of soup. Ren's stomach roared, he hadn't realized how hungry he was until now.
They took their places around the table, and the Captain of the guard joined too. The man hadn't stopped eyeing them suspiciously, his mouth was still set in a hard line. It wasn't just for Ioz; Ren knew that heir of Primus or not, the Captain did not trust him. Perhaps the Captain had never trusted king Primus either. Ren didn't care, his stomach growled again and he had to fight not to launch himself at the food. He looked at King Obrik, hoping he would soon give permission to start the banquet.
The king, however, was too busy surveying the room, his white forehead furrowed. That was the moment Ren noticed the empty chair. Somebody else was supposed to join the banquet, and whoever that person was, Ren thought he'd be in serious troubles for letting the king wait.
King Obrik exchanged a questioning look with the Captain, who shook his head. Ren took advantage of the moment to share a look with his crew. Ioz and Niddler were there, waiting for the permission to start the feast. And then Ren realized.
"Where is Tula?"
"She said she wanted to look closely at the carvings," Niddler answered, unable to take his eyes away from the food.
"You must have heard about the Atani's carvings, Prince Ren," said the king, his face now warmer. "They are said to be the most precious in all the realm of Mer. Your father had many in his royal palace, his praises still fill my heart with honor."
Ren had never heard about the carvings, he hadn't even set foot in his father's palace, whatever was left of it after the year of the Black Tide and the fall of Octopon.
"I wish to admire them later," he lied.
"You will, but let our feast begin."
A lean page who'd been standing in the corner of the room grabbed the golden jar from the table. He then walked around filling their goblets with red wine.
It was after their first round of food and Ren's second golden goblet of sour wine that Tula showed up. She was beaming as she took her place at the table.
"Did I miss something?" she finally asked while filling her goblet with what seemed to be an unladylike amount of wine.
King Obrik's jaw slightly dropped before he quickly put himself together. "I was told our carvings enthralled you." His voice was poison.
"Charming work indeed, I can drink to that!" she said raising her cup.
"I can drink to that too!" Ioz mimicked her.
Ren's crewmates gulped the wine down and slammed the golden goblets back on the table. He saw Ioz caressing its stem.
"Ay, wine!" Tula exclaimed. "Real red, I missed it!"
Her smile was so lovely Ren would have smiled back and poured her a second glassful, had they been in the intimacy of the Wraith. Instead, he took a look at their hosts. The Captain's upper lips quivered, the man didn't bother to hide it.
"Yes," Ren stuttered raising his goblet. "A toast... To the Atani and His Majesty's generosity!"
He brought the goblet to his mouth and realized it was empty.
"And to you, Prince Ren." the King said reaching for his own goblet. "And to your quest."
King Obrik and his Captain went back to their watched as Tula filled her plate with a generous amount of clams and then reached out for the jar of wine. That was when the Captain spoke. "The page will refill your glass, my lady."
Ren's blood froze in his veins. He needed more wine.
"It is his duty and honor."
"Honor?" Tula smirked. "Here boy," she shrugged while gesturing at the goblet. "Let me honor you."
The boy's face turned almost as red as his eyes as he hurried to serve Tula.
"I couldn't help but notice you have a peculiar accent, my lady," said King Obrik.
Tula stopped chewing on her food. She seized the goblet, washed the morsel down and turned to stare at the king. "How peculiar?"
"Andorus is Tula's homeland," Ren intervened before his crewmate could say something irredeemable. "She's one of the finest warriors I've ever seen. And her knowledge of seafaring has already helped us out of many tight spots."
"Andorus, I see," the king lifted his chin. "Does my lady like our modest royal palace?"
"I find it most exotic," Tula shoved a forkful of food into her mouth.
Ren wondered why King Obrik looked so hostile to Tula. Modest royal palace, Ren hadn't missed the mockery in the king's tone. How did the royal palace of the king of Andorus look like?
That was the moment when the realization struck him. The Andorians were the only people in Mer who didn't recognize the authority of a king. The kingless folk, Jenna's lessons were coming back to his mind. The wild folks, the people who lived in the trees. The people who spoke a language nobody else in Mer could understand.
"Talking about a royal palace," said Ioz. "Don't you get bored living in this cave?"
"Bored?" spat the Captain.
As the future king of Octopon Ren knew he would have many royal banquets to attend, he just hoped they wouldn't be as long and painful as this.
"As I said," King Obrik spoke. "The sun burns our skin. We cannot live outside. Like you do."
"You can sail by night and sleep by day," Niddler spoke for the first time.
"By the two moons, for once, monkeybird, we agree! The night is the best time to explore. Taking in the local color, if you know what I mean!" Ioz chuckled.
"Ioz!" Ren couldn't restrain himself from scolding him this time.
"Your Majesty," his crewmate added as if that could make his remark any more proper.
"And who are you," King Obrik sighed. "My lord, accompanying the Prince of Octopon on his perilous quest?"
"The name is Ioz. That's all there is to it," Ioz moved to refill his plate. "Your Majesty."
"And you," the king went on, addressing Niddler. "Never have I seen one of your kind before."
The monkeybird looked like he had frozen on the spot.
"Niddler is the reason I'm still alive today, Your Majesty," Ren said. "He flew me away from the Maelstrom. I owe him my life."
"Very well, Prince Ren," the king gestured to the page to refill his cup.
"Captain," Tula spoke. "When will I get my blades back? You see, I'm fond of those babies."
"If the Captain has half the brain of a barnacle, he'll throw your babies down into the abyss, and you after them," said Ioz.
Ren felt suddenly tired, he wouldn't have minded retiring to bed.
"Your weapons will be returned to you by the end of the feast," the captain's voice was as friendly as the sight of the Maelstrom on the horizon.
And Ren had had enough. Exhausted as he was, he vowed to occupy the rest of the meal with polite and shallow conversations with King Obrik. He was not a talker, but he tried to talk and talk and talk all over again, filling every moment of silence, so that his crew wouldn't get a chance to take part in the conversation. The wine helped him; it helped him a lot.
And finally, once the trays were empty and not a drop of wine was left, the King stood up to signal the end of the feast.
When Ren pushed his chair back to follow, the room around him swayed. He was exhausted, and worst of all, he was as drunk as a gantha pig. Fleeing the Constrictus' pit had been easier than facing King Obrik's feast after all. He couldn't restrain the laughter.
When the king set his red eyes on him, Ren was quick to apologize. "Forgive me, Your Majesty, after all those days of sailing and fleeing from Bloth, a belly full of warm food and wine feels like pure magic. And isn't magic a delicious thing? I'll never thank you enough, Your Majesty. Never enough." He bowed his head, hoping his body would stay still.
King Obrik gurgled something along the lines of doing the least for the son of Primus and wished them all a good night.
Another scrawny page showed them to their rooms, and as soon as he crushed on the bed Ren was fast asleep.
"We should have never trusted Tula. She's from Andorus, you know." This is what Niddler says in the episode Victory, and this single line gave me a lot to think about.
It would seem Merians don't think very highly of Andorians, so the next question I wanted to answer to was: why?
The first and most evident reason could be their different ways of life. While Merians live in towns with street markets, taverns, harbors and so on... Andorians live on their island in strict contact with nature, which might be the reason why they're seen as wild, and probably uncivilized.
However, I couldn't leave it at that, and even if it's never mentioned in the show, I tried to develop other ideas for the story, coming up in the end with two other reasons why Andorians have a bad reputation in Mer.
The first one is the absence of an authority. We encounter different Kings and Queens in the show (the King of Octopon, King Obrik of the Atani, the Queen Mother of the monkeybirds) but - please correct me if I'm wrong - it's never stated in the show whether Andorus has a king or a queen. So, I decided to make Andorus a "kingless land".
The second reason is that Andorians speak their own language. In the World Book I've found on piratesofdarkwater .net (shoutout to that website and its creator!) there's a section about Ecomancers where it reads: "In addition to the common language of Mer, Ecomancers speak a distinct language of their own. This language is used for all spell casting, incantations, and when conversing with other Ecomancers." This last bit gave me ideas about Andorians (and not just ecomancers) speaking their own minor language, which would put another barrier between Merians and Andorians.
All of this explains why in the first chapter of Dishonor I had Tula address Ren as "my king", and not "Your Majesty". First of all, she wasn't speaking her mother tongue; and second, she's from a land where there's no such thing as a king. It was fun for me to think she might have been misled by the form of address "my lord".
And that's all. It would be nice to know what you think about it!
The next chapter of Dishonor will be up on November 15.