But there was one scene in Veiled Rose that particularly intrigued me, featuring a character who, though he only appears briefly, captured my imagination. That character was Captain Sunan, a man of mysterious powers and intellect.
Here is the scene from Veiled Rose which inspired the story of Goddess Tithe . . . though you will see it in Goddess Tithe from a very different perspective!
“Shall I bring him in, captain?”
“He’s a sullen one. Not trustworthy. Shall I bind him?”
“That will not be necessary.”
Captain Sunan of the Kulap Kanya sat at a narrow desk in his cabin, keeping the ship’s log. Today’s entry noted, among other things, ‘Stowaway finally too much of a nuisance. Time to bring him in.’
Sunan always knew what went on his ship, from the lookout in the crow’s nest to the lowliest ship rat’s thieving activities. His crew would swear on their mothers’ graves that he possessed an intuitive sixth sense if not a full-fledged mind-reading capability. They feared him, they respected him, and they were fiercely loyal to him.
Thus, when he boarded his ship after dining at the Duke of Shippening’s, beckoned his first mate to his side, and said: “There is a stowaway in the hold. Pretend you do not know and leave him alone until I say otherwise. We sail at dawn,” no one had questioned him. No one wondered how he knew about this stowaway whom no one else had spied; of course, Captain Sunan would know. No one wondered why he did not have the wretch tossed over the side into the murky harbor along with the rest of the ship’s trash; Captain Sunan always had his reasons.
And if he decided now, six days into the voyage, to drag the foreign creature up to his cabin and (presumably) split him from stem to stern, Captain Sunan always knew best.
Two weathered sailors dragged the stowaway suspended between them into Sunan’s cabin and dropped him at the captain’s feet. The brown foreigner barked a string of angry curses in his foreign tongue. One of the sailors kicked him in the ribs. “Stand in the presence of your betters.” The foreigner cursed again. Though the words were strange, the tone was unmistakably rude. The sailor kicked him again.
“Enough,” said Captain Sunan. He rose. Sunan was a tall man and very thin, though, despite the thinness, he gave the impression of great strength. He dressed, as always, impeccably, even amid the rigors of a long sea voyage. He looked down at the stowaway, and his piercing gaze was worse than the sailor’s kicks. The stowaway shut his mouth.
“Leave us,” Sunan said. The sailors did not hesitate to obey, though they may have thought in the private depths of their minds that it was unwise to leave their captain alone with the foreigner. But if Sunan read minds as easily as they suspected, these were private thoughts they dared not long entertain. They stood outside his cabin door, which clicked shut behind them.
Lionheart gathered himself up from his pile at the captain’s feet. The jester’s garb was stuffed inside his server’s shirt, though the brilliantly colored fabrics spilled out the front. He looked a fool, and the merchant captain could not fail to notice.
“Rise, boy,” Sunan said, using the western tongue which Lionheart knew. Lionheart hastened to obey. He stood as straight and tall as he could, calling into play all his princely bearing. But somehow, in the merchant’s presence, he still felt as insignificant as the kennel hand he had been these last many months. Sunan took a seat at his desk again and regarded Lionheart as would a king on his throne regard a supplicant.
“Do you know,” said Sunan, his voice just as comfortable in the western tongue as it was in his native dialect, “the enemy you have made?”
“I beg your pardon, captain,” Lionheart said, bowing quickly, “I meant no disrespect, I—”
“Not in myself,” the captain said. He was the sort of man who, when he started speaking, other people stopped. It wasn’t that he interrupted. Anything he had to say was certain to be more important than anyone else’s, so how can that be called interrupting? “In the Duke of Shippening.”
“That was a brave thing you did,” Sunan continued. “Liberating a Faerie slave. Where I come from, it is a sin to keep such people captive. A dangerous sin. Perhaps your people do not believe this way.”
This seemed like a question, so Lionheart dared reply. “I don’t think my people have any particular views on the subject. We . . . we don’t interact with people of the other worlds. We don’t usually believe in them . . . beyond superstition.” He shuddered at the memory of the Dragon. “Until recently, that is.”
“Strange,” said Sunan. “Strange, for you live very close to the other worlds.” His hands rested on the arms of his chair, his whole body like a carved statue. “It takes great power to keep hold of a Faerie slave.” His black eyes were narrow as he regarded Lionheart. “Mortals cannot do so unless they are themselves very strong. Or allied with someone stronger. You have made yourself a terrible enemy.”
In the silence that followed, Lionheart considered Sunan’s face, trying to gauge whether or not he was supposed to respond. He said at length, “I am not afraid of the Duke of Shippening.”
“You should be. He is not the buffoon he projects to the world. And his alliances are strong, though even I cannot guess at them.” Sunan’s eye fixed on the bolt of brilliant-colored fabric escaping from beneath Lionheart’s plain overshirt. Lionheart wished that he dared either stuff it back in or pull it completely out, but he did not move. He simply stood there looking like an idiot and hating his life.
His life which, now that he was a captive stowaway, stood a good chance of being abruptly ended.
But Sunan said, “It was a foolish but brave act to liberate the duke’s slave, and for this reason I have hidden you on board the Kulap Kanya and will bear you to safer lands. We will stop at many ports on our voyage back to the city of my emperor. You may disembark at the harbor of your choice.”
Lionheart stood without breathing for a long moment. Then he managed, “You—you will give me passage?”
“I will. You have the word of a Pen-Chan, which is word you may trust.”
Lionheart did not know what this meant exactly, but somehow he believed what the captain said. “I am trying to reach Lunthea Maly.”
“The city of my emperor,” said Sunan. “I will take you there.”
“I seek Ay-Ibunda. This temple is in the city, yes?”
For the first time in the course of their conversation, Lionheart saw Captain Sunan’s expression change. Only for a moment. But in that unmistakable moment, Lionheart saw a flash of fear, or dread, like lightning across the captain’s face. Then it was gone, and Sunan spoke in the same even tones. “The Hidden Temple. You will not find it.”
“It is in the city, though, isn’t it?”
“Lunthea Maly shelters the abode of the Mother’s Mouth, yes.”
“Then someone must know where it is. I’ll find direction.”
“No one may find the Hidden Temple of Ay-Ibunda,” said Sunan. “No one knows where it hides save for Emperor Molthisok-Khemkhaeng Niran himself. And he will not tell you.” Sunan rose suddenly and took one stride across his cabin, standing nose to nose with Lionheart. His gaze was nearly unbearable, and Lionheart only just managed to meet him eye-to-eye.
“You are not a serving boy,” said the captain. “No one would mistake you for the person you have disguised yourself as. And you are not a man of Shippening. You hail from Southlands. The stink of dragon smoke lingers about you.”
Lionheart said, “I hail from Southlands, yes.”
“Who are you truly?”
“I will not tell you.”
“What is your name?”
“I will not tell you.”
“What has the Dragon promised you?”
“The Dragon has promised me nothing.” Lionheart swallowed and almost immediately regretted his next words. “I am going to kill him.”
Sunan drew a long breath. But his face did not alter as he stood mere inches from Lionheart. When next he spoke, his voice was very low. “There are those among my people who worship the Lady and her Dark Brother. The Dragon.”
Lionheart said nothing.
“But,” Sunan continued, “I will, nonetheless, bear you to Lunthea Maly. You have liberated a Faerie from the Duke of Shippening’s enslavement. Perhaps you will liberate others. But be forewarned, man of Southlands: should you, by some miracle, find your way to Ay-Ibunda, and should you speak to the Mother’s Mouth, you will be given what you ask. But the price at which it is given will be terrible.”
Lionheart nodded. “I’ve been warned. Thank you.”
“What will you call yourself now you have left behind all you know?”
“I am . . . .” Lionheart paused a moment and licked his lips. “I am Leonard,” he said. Then he smiled. “Leonard the Jester.”
“You are Leonard the Fool,” said Captain Sunan.