Aboard the Eagle, even visiting kings did not have luxurious quarters. They were quite small, with rather narrow beds and few amenities. When Kashtiliash had asked Kathryn how people entertained themselves during a voyage, she had given him a rather wicked look.
Later, when they were curled together on the bunk with racing hearts and sweaty skin, Kashtiliash ran his hand down his queen’s spine. She made a satisfied, almost feline sound, stretching with contentment.
It was true that he had other women to warm his bed and satisfy his needs, but he did not share this sort of bond with them. Kathryn was the only woman who was truly his match, the only one who could engage his mind as much as she inflamed his passion.
Kathryn was the only woman whom Kashtiliash missed when he was away from her. It was true that he had a fondness for some of the women who had borne him sons and daughters, but not the fierce love he felt for Kathryn.
It was a sobering thought to realize that he might have lived and died, become a defeated and forgotten king, and never known this woman. Time itself had stopped to give them their opportunity, and for that he thanked all the gods.
“Tell me a story, Kat’ryn, to pass the time.”
“A story?” She gave him an amused smile, letting her own hand drift over the muscular body that was as familiar as her own. “What sort of story?”
“About Nantucket, the homeland of wonders. What sort of place is it, this mighty island?”
Kathryn considered for a long moment. Then she began to describe the island as it was now, with the rich fishing and the farms, especially her brother’s land. She was in the midst of a particularly entertaining story when she stopped suddenly.
“I’ll finish the story tomorrow,” she said with a yawn. “Perhaps I can entertain my king in some other fashion…”
He bent his head to hers. “Perhaps you can.”
So for every night of the journey, Kathryn told Kashtiliash another story.
Sometimes the story was about the Nantucket that had existed before the Event, an island dependent on flights from the mainland for all the requirements of life. Although Kash and his father had been able to grasp the technological advantages of Nantucket, Kathryn did not think he fully understood what the world had been like before the event.
Sometimes, she could hardly believe that she had ever lived in that world herself. It had taken an incredible amount of work and ingenuity to recapture parts of the world they had known, so many things that they had taken for granted. It made her shiver to wonder what might have become of them if the electricity and the gunpowder had simply been gone forever.
Sometimes, the stories concerned Nantucket as it was now, still dependent on the outside world, but on a different scale. She told him of the farming and planting and harvesting, the backbreaking work they had all put in to survive. She told him how much fun the deep-sea fishing could be, until he was convinced that he had to try it.
And one rather stormy night, she told him of the dark days directly after the Event. It was generally something that Nantucketers did not discuss outside of their own private councils – and rarely even then. There had been so many mistakes made because they simply had not thought far enough ahead, had not realized their impact. Too many people had surrendered to the dark, unable to live with their personal losses.
Kashtiliash was intelligent enough to realize that Babylon and Nantucket needed each other. His father had realized it, had cautioned him against becoming too dependent on their wonders. He knew it would always be a balancing act, but hearing Kathryn’s quiet voice in the dark as she detailed those first days made him realize what inner strength these Nantucketers must possess.
Kashtiliash desired to see the technological marvels of this small island that now ruled the known world, but it was not just the technology. He needed to see how Nantucket bred such men and women as the Hollards, so that he could bring that lesson to his people, as well as the technology.
Babylon would need both. With Kathryn as his queen and partner, Kashtiliash did not doubt they would create a dynasty that would stand.
It was difficult not to gawk as openly as some as they walked the streets of Nantucket, but he managed it. Kashtiliash was very aware that he was on display, that he represented the pride of Babylon – and Kathryn had already promised him a more anonymous tour once the formalities had been observed. He noticed that Odikweos was careful not to be caught gawking either, but he doubted that the older man missed much. It reminded him that Nantucket was not the only power in the world that Babylon needed to ally itself with. Kashtiliash and Tudhaliyas would secure the territory to their north – no upstart horse tribes would undo their work – and had begun discussing a few possible marriages of convenient siblings and children to cement their alliance – perhaps he should have a similar discussion with Odikweos as well.
The dinner at Guard House was the most enjoyable peace conference that Kashtiliash had attended – of course, much of the difficult work had already been accomplished. The spread of food at dinner was not only delicious, but represented Nantucket’s reach across the world. The array of seafood was especially tempting, although he was not entirely sure why several of the Nantucketers found his appreciation of the oysters so entertaining – including his queen.
It was not until they were back in their private quarters that Kathryn enlightened him on the subject.
He enjoyed living up to the oysters’ reputation.
Of all the sights to see on Nantucket, the one that impressed Kashtiliash the most was the library. Babylon had its collections of knowledge, but so few of his people could read, could access that knowledge.
Here, the knowledge was openly and freely available. Kathryn had told him once that her people stood on the shoulders of their ancients, including the people of Babylon. It was one thing to know that, and another to see all this knowledge in portable form. The books also were much more portable than clay tablets or scrolls – the first one he had ever seen was the battered copy of The Art of War that Kathryn had read from to him, during their courtship. He had been enthralled, not only by the practical pragmatism the writer had shown, but also by a woman who could discuss it with him.
“We must build one of these,” he told Kathryn later. “Babylon needs more books, more people who can share the knowledge in books more freely.”
“A library sounds more useful than a garden,” she said, with a laugh in her voice that made him resolve to ask later why it amused her.
As they left the library, she pressed something into his hand. He was delighted to realize that it was a copy of The Art of War.
“The first book for your library,” she said softly.
“The first book for our library, my Kat’ryn,” he replied.
As they walked through Nantucket – now much less conspicuous with both of them dressed in Islander-style civilian clothing – Kashtiliash kept remembering an exchange from the previous night between the Cofflins. Jared Cofflin had remarked how it was hard to believe it was over. While Kashtiliash felt the Nantucket ruler had been thinking of Walker and his reign of power-hungry terror, it was Martha Cofflin’s answer that was on his mind.
She had replied that it was barely beginning.
Martha Cofflin was a wise woman, he thought. Their world had barely begun. Together with Kathryn, Kashtiliash intended to make sure that whatever path this world took, Babylon would be one of its leaders.
He had been given a second chance, and he would not waste it.