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SoftS Official Snippet #11

Fans of Bahzell and Tomenack come on in! Let's talk about David's fantasy series and our favorite hradani!
SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Mar 27, 2015 11:38 pm

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CHAPTER THREE: Shadows by Night

The storm prowled the city like a conquering army as night guttered towards a close. The City Guard changed, new men tramping miserably to their sodden posts through sheets of windy rain while others hurried back to the welcome comfort of barracks fires and hot food. Water chuckled and laughed through downspouts, then gurgled and chattered in the deep gutters, its voice lost in the storm as it spouted and fumed headlong for the sea.

Tiny lights gleamed in a smooth crystal. Their wash illuminated the stern face of a blonde-haired woman as she peered past the lights at the water-washed Belhadan streets. Her eyes were intent, her gaze questing for signs of her servants’ progress. Long, slow minutes dragged past, and she endured them with a hard-learned patience which was foreign to her nature. Fresh lightning flared, washing the gramerhain crystal’s images with blue-white glare that flickered and crackled, and her search ended abruptly. She leaned close — so close her breath misted the stone — and a hard glitter of anticipation burnished her eyes while an unpleasant smile curled her full, red lips.

Shadows gathered in the rainswept night. They moved silently through the maze of streets and alleys, picking an unseen way towards a certain tavern. Deeper dark and blackly solid, they filtered noiselessly through the wind-slashed night while Baroness Wulfra smiled upon them.

* * * * * * * * * *

Bahzell Bahnakson leaned back comfortably in a chair propped against the taproom wall. The tavern keeper’s apron had vanished, hanging on its peg and replaced by the chain mail hauberk, breastplate, and deep green surcoat of his order. The crossed mace and sword of Tomanāk on that surcoat’s breast gleamed fitfully golden through the dimness of the turned-down lamps as the hearth fire tossed fitful spits of flame among the embers. An enormous sword leaned against the wall beside him, and his eyes were thoughtful as he gazed past the spiral of smoke rising from the bowl of his carven, silver inlaid Dwarvenhame meerschaum. That pipe was a gift from a friend long dead, and its heat-colored stone was hand-polished to a fine gloss from long years of use.

The redhaired man who’d named himself Kenhodan sat across the taproom from him, the bare blade of his new sword gleaming across his thighs. The Iron Axe was quiet despite the tumult rushing and bellowing about the heavens, and the quiet ticking of the clock above the bar was clearly audible.

Bahzell frowned mentally, although his expression never flickered, as he considered the younger man and wondered what might be passing through his mind as they sat waiting for the peril of which Wencit had warned. Bahzell had learned, over the many years of their acquaintance, that one thing Wencit of Rūm seldom did was to overstate a danger or a threat. That was the reason he’d bustled the last few, diehard guests into the rainy dark and sent the staff to find lodging elsewhere. Not without protests, although the guests’ complaints had died with remarkable speed when Bahzell twitched his head sideways at Wencit and his wildfire eyes. The staff had been a bit more difficult. None of them had been willing to “desert” Bahzell and Leeana in the face of danger, and against a purely mortal threat, he would have allowed them to stay. Against this threat he’d overridden their protests with the ruthless authority of a hradani chieftain . . . and a champion of Tomanāk. In fact, he rather wished he’d had the intestinal fortitude to send Leeana off to safety with Gwynna, as well.

<And what, in all the years of your marriage, suggests to you that you could send Leeana Flame Hair anywhere she chose not to go?> a deep, silent voice rumbled in the back of his brain.

<As to that,> he replied just a bit tartly, <I’m thinking I’d’ve had a better chance convincing her she ought to take Gwynna to the chapter house or the Academy if she’d not gone and climbed up on that high Sothōii horse about honor.>

<Oh, please, Bahzell!> A laugh rolled like fond thunder. < She climbed up on a high horse about honor? And what, exactly, were you saying at the moment, pray tell, my Sword? I wonder whatever happened to that pragmatic, no-time-for-nonsense hradani I ‘pestered’ into becoming one of my champions all those years ago? Rather Vaijon-ish you’ve become in your old age, isn’t it?>

Bahzell was a wise and canny tactician. That undoubtedly explained why he chose not to reply to any of those questions, and he felt someone else’s fresh amusement at his discretion.

<Well, I’m thinking that’s all well and good,> he said then, his mood considerably more sober than it had been a moment earlier. <And, truth to tell, one thing I’ve learned is if there’s one person in the entire world as can out-stubborn me, it’s Leeana, so it’s not a task I turn to any oftener than needs must. But it’s also in my mind as Wencit might just have chosen his words a mite carefully earlier tonight.>

There was silence for a moment, and when that deep, rumbling voice, its depths pregnant with a power before which most mortals would have quailed, spoke once again, its humor had faded.

<Wencit is a wizard, as I believe he’s mentioned to you a time or two before,> Tomanāk Orfro, God of War and Judge of Princes, said quietly. <He always chooses his words with care. Indeed, with more care than he’s allowed even you and Leeana to realize, Bahzell. But he told you no more than the truth. You and Kenhodan have never met.>

<But that’s not to be saying as how I’ve never met a man he might have been, is it now?>

<No, it’s not,> Tomanāk acknowledged. <And I did tell you that you and he would meet again someday. I can’t tell you everything about Kenhodan — who he is, why he’s so important to Wencit — and I know you understand why I can’t. But you’re right. You have met the man he would have been in another time, another universe. And this much I will tell you, Bahzell Bahnakson: the man he is this night, the man sitting in your taproom, is just as much one of my own as Sergeant Houghton ever was, even if he doesn’t know it. He is space isn’t Sergeant Houghton, but in the sense you mean it, you’re right. You may not have met, but you do know him. Or, put another way, perhaps, you do know what lives inside him and makes him who he is.>

<Then that’s after being good enough for me,> Bahzell said simply, and felt a vast, immaterial hand rest lightly on his shoulder.

<I knew it would be, my Sword. But Wencit also spoke nothing but truth about the peril you and Leeana — and Gwynna — will face because Kenhodan’s come into your lives. I’m not speaking just about tonight, Bahzell. I know the temper of the steel in you and Leeana, and I have no fear that either of you will fail the Light. But know this. The moment which I warned you so long ago was coming is almost here. Events are in motion, and the confusion and the possibilities and the echoes of what might be are so sharp, so strong, that not even a god can see them clearly. The final campaign of the war between Kontovar and Norfressa — between those who stand with the Light and those who have given themselves to the Dark — begins this night in your tavern, Bahzell Bahnakson. This is the battle for which you were truly born, the challenge for which you and Leeana were bred and trained and tempered on the anvil of love and honor, and it will cost you dear. I can’t see all ends, and of those I can see, I have no way to predict which one you and she will experience, but the price will be high.>

There was no flinch, no effort to temporize, in that earthquake voice. There never had been, and Bahzell had never flinched from the iron fidelity of its truth. Nor did he flinch now. He only drew on his pipe for a moment, then blew out a thin, fragrant jet of smoke.

<Then I’m thinking it’s as well as I’ve my sword handy,> he told his deity simply.

* * * * * * * * * *

Kenhodan’s fingers caressed the wire wound hilt of the sword lying naked across his thighs and he looked across the taproom at his host.

If not for the smoke curling from Bahzell’s pipe, he would have been tempted to think the huge hradani was asleep. But thoughtful brown eyes gleamed in the light-flickers from the hearth, and Bahzell’s ears were half-cocked as if he were considering the pieces of a puzzle.

Or perhaps the piece of a puzzle.

If Kenhodan had been remotely tempted to doubt Wencit of Rūm’s word about Bahzell Bahnakson’s status as a champion of Tomanāk, he would have abandoned that doubt as Bahzell crisply — and ruthlessly — ordered the rest of the Iron Axe’s staff out of danger. They’d dispersed to other houses — and it said a great deal about Bahzell’s stature in Belhadan that those other houses had taken in hradani without even a murmur of protest — but Kenhodan suspected few of them would get much sleep this night. He’d needed no memory to understand the unwillingness with which they’d abandoned their chieftain and lady, and their reluctance had raised Bahzell and Leeana still higher in his esteem.

Now Kenhodan sat quietly, waiting, wondering what was about to happen. He’d had no armor to climb into as Bahzell had, and he eyed the great, two-handed sword propped beside the hradani with profound respect. Its five-foot blade and long hilt almost matched Kenhodan’s own height, and its hard edges were lovingly honed. The crossed mace and sword of the war god were etched below the quillons, and while Kenhodan would never have attempted to flourish so much steel about, Bahzell handled it like a cavalry saber.

The other defenders were spread about the building. Wencit sat alone in the kitchen, his own sword bare on the table while a tiny globe of witchfire danced slowly up and down it. The globe pulsed gently in time with his breathing, and his hooded eyes never left it.

A lamp glowed in a bedroom high under the eaves. It wasn’t Gwynna’s normal room, but it had no windows and only one door. Leeana, Kenhodan knew, sat in a chair between her daughter and the door, clad now in the traditional short, kilt-like chari and leather yathu of the war maids, and matching short swords hung at either hip while Blanchrach prowled the upper halls, long fangs gleaming in the lightning flashes the windows admitted. Gwynna was well protected, yet Kenhodan wished she’d been sent with the others. He suspected Wencit agreed with him, but there’d been little they could do. And perhaps Bahzell and Leeana were right. A child with her parents would do well to learn to share the risks and the love early.

The tavern felt like a huge beast around him, shoulders hunched in uneasy sleep while wind and rain pelted its flanks. The tranquility which always seemed to infuse a warm, snug roof while rain drummed upon it hovered in the corners, yet for all its peacefulness, Kenhodan felt the farthest thing in the world from soothed. He wondered what form the attack would take, but he never doubted it would come.

He snorted restlessly and shifted position.

In a sense, his life had begun this evening. He had no past, no knowledge of what he might have been or done or accomplished in those lost years, but now he was locked into a game whose rules were understood only by an enigmatic wizard with flaming eyes that radiated sincerity. It angered him to be so helpless, and the cold chill of ignorance simmered in his blood like sea ice.

He glanced back at Bahzell and smiled wryly. His harrowed and riven memory told him enough about the hradani tribes to know Bahzell’s position in the heart of Belhadan was virtually impossible, champion of Tomanāk or not. For that matter, the notion of a hradani champion of Tomanāk was even less likely than that. The hradani were masters of ambush and accomplished raiders who happened to be the Sothōii’s most bitter enemies. The hatred between them and the Sothōii —who just happened to be the Empire of the Axe’s most important allies — was cold, focused, and deeper than the sea, a thing of centuries filled with mutual slaughter. Yet Bahzell was not only a champion of Tomanāk but wedded to a war maid! The gods only knew how that pairing had occurred or how the ill-matched couple had found their way to Belhadan. He gathered Wencit had played no small part in their lives, and perhaps someday he’d learn how it all had happened. He hoped so; it promised to be a rare tale.

His thoughts returned to himself and his smile vanished. Who and what was he? One thing he’d already learned was that it cut across his grain to sit and await attack, especially when it endangered those who’d gone from strangers to friends in mere hours and of their own free will in time of peril. And he’d also learned that it galled him to take orders, even when he knew he must . . . and even from someone as powerful as Wencit of Rūm.

Not, he thought with another snort, that he had a choice. He was a chip in a millrace, careening into an unknown future from a forgotten past, and it was a journey he would not survive without the wizard. Much as he would have preferred to, he couldn’t doubt that truth anymore than he doubted that Wencit truly knew who he was. That truth, and Wencit’s knowledge, bound Kenhodan to him like a chain.

He straightened in the chair, pressing his spine against its back, inflating his lungs and tightening his arm muscles in a seated, joint-popping release of tension. He suppressed the need to run mental fingers over the raw wound of his forgotten past yet again and, instead, stroked the hilt of his sword and traced its razor edge. He found himself hoping the attackers would arrive soon. They’d be coming sooner or later anyway, and it might ease his frustration to cleave a few hostile skulls.

* * * * * * * * * *

More shadows flitted through the rain, converging on a cloaked figure in the Street of Wharves. The shadows’ movements melded into a single, perfectly coordinated whole, yet no word was spoken. A bitter cold hovered about them like arctic mist, streaming through the rain with invisible menace. The dimly lit windows of a tavern were shuttered, squeezed squint-eyed and smiling into the night through the open louvers, and their reflection gleamed on the street’s streaming pavement. The shadows halted, clustered about the living human who’d summoned them, and menace flickered in the topaz raindrops as they stood just outside the spill of light in silent communion with their master.

* * * * * * * * * *

Wencit’s eyes narrowed as his ball of witchlight blazed purple-red. He lifted his sword in a sparse, economic motion, and the blade whined softly, as though possessed of a life of its own in his sinewy hand. Blue light shimmered briefly down its edge, like a reflection of his fiery eyes, as he paused to throw a warning to the bedroom beneath the eaves before he turned to the taproom.

Leeana looked up at the touch of his magic, her green eyes calm. She stood, and his mind saw her garbed for war. Steel-fanged throwing stars glittered at her belt, and Wencit nodded approval as she loosened the restraining thongs on her sword hilts. Then he opened the taproom door.

Kenhodan rose on cat-like feet as the wizard entered. The borrowed sword balanced expertly in his hand, ready to strike, and Wencit stood motionless until the redhaired man relaxed in recognition. Then he glanced across at Bahzell.

The big hradani cocked his head, mobile ears half-flattened, and took his pipe from his mouth.

“I’m thinking you’ve the look of a man as has a mission,” he rumbled calmly.

“I always knew you were smarter than you looked,” Wencit replied with an edged smile.

“It’s here they are, then?” Bahzell laid the pipe on a table at his elbow and rose, stretching his arms in a mighty yawn while his ears shifted back and forth, alert for any sound through the pound of rain.

“Outside.” Wencit jerked his head at the windows. “Something’s out there, anyway. Part of it’s easy enough to recognize, but there’s something strange, too. Difficult to place.” He sounded almost meditative.

“What kind of attack do you expect?” Kenhodan asked tautly.

“Shadowmen, I think — and whatever else it is I sense.”

“Ahhhh!” Bahzell let out his breath in a sigh that mingled understanding with something very like anticipation. “At least your wizard friends’ve been good enough to send me something as I can get steel into.”

“So they have,” Wencit said grimly, “and one of them’s come himself — Alwith, I think. But remember: if you can get steel into them, they can do the same for you. And they’ll attack without fear, as well, so they’ve a good chance of doing it.”

“It’s been done,” Bahzell said simply, “but never twice by the same person.”

“Gods send me strength!” Wencit snapped in exasperation. “Tomanāk knows you’re almost as good as you think you are, but try to remember these aren’t mortal enemies!”

“But if I can be killing them, they aren’t after being immortal, either, are they now? And I’m thinking whatever it may be you’ve sensed out yonder in the rain, it’s not so very likely to be a demon or a devil. Not unless Wulfra’s run clean mad and decided as how she wants to see an Axeman army burning its way across Angthyr to take her head, any road.” He wiggled his ears and reached for the helmet lying on the table beside his pipe. “Taking the rough with the smooth, that’s not so very bad an outcome, Wencit!”

Wencit eyed him sourly and turned to Kenhodan.

“They’ll concentrate on you and me,” he warned.

“It’ll be a relief to have a problem I can deal with.” Kenhodan grinned, meeting Bahzell’s eyes in the dimness, and Wencit snorted.

“Solid bone between the ears, the pair of you! It’s to be hoped it at least makes your heads harder to split!” His voice was tart, but his hand squeezed Kenhodan’s forearm in approval.

“Leeana?” Bahzell had his helmet on and his enormous sword’s edges glittered in the fitful firelight. Now he moved to Kenhodan’s left, facing the windows while Wencit turned to the kitchen door and Kenhodan confronted the front door. They formed a hollow triangle of ready steel.

“She’s awake and ready,” Wencit murmured, “and Blanchrach’s in the hall. But I doubt she’ll see much of them compared to us.”

“Aye.” Bahzell shifted the great sword to his right hand and drew the hook knife with his left. “Well, as to that, they’ve business with us, tonight. And since they do, I’m thinking it’s only courteous to be giving them a belly full of commerce.” His smile was unpleasant.

“I approve,” Wencit said briefly. Kenhodan only grunted, his eyes sweeping the front of the tavern, swinging from the barred door to the corner of the windows. A flicker of light caught at the corner of his eye, and he glanced over to see red and gold runes dance quickly down Wencit’s sword, confusing the gaze that tried to follow them.

Ready!” the wizard hissed.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by cirret   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 12:47 am

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Thank you RFC for another great snippet. And a nice cliffhanger now i really can't wait for the next one.
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by dan92677   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 1:06 am

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Thank you, rfc!!!!!

Well appreciated and enjoyed.
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by GregD   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 3:16 am

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runsforcelery wrote:CHAPTER THREE: Shadows by Night

...

Ready!” the wizard hissed.


Have you submitted the final book to Baen yet? Do you have any idea when the eARC will come out?
Last edited by GregD on Fri Apr 03, 2015 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by fallsfromtrees   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 6:54 am

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GregD wrote:
runsforcelery wrote:CHAPTER THREE: Shadows by Night

...

Ready!” the wizard hissed.


Have you submitted the final book t Baen yet? Do you have any idea when the eARC will come out?

Amazon has the publish date as 4 August 2015, And I would expect the EARC sometime around the middle of April - about 4 months out, which is typical for Baen.
The only problem with quotes on the internet is that you can't authenticate them -- Abraham Lincoln
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by fallsfromtrees   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 6:57 am

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Several questions answered and a whole lot more raised. We now know whether or not Sword Brother occurred in this universe - it clearly did. KenHoden is apparently this univrse's equivalent of Ken Houghton, which is why it seemed somewhat familiar to Bahzell. That's two speculations laid to rest. only about 2000 to go.
The only problem with quotes on the internet is that you can't authenticate them -- Abraham Lincoln
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by RHWoodman   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 1:56 pm

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Excellent snippet, RFC! Thank you! :)
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by PeterZ   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 9:25 pm

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Well we also know this is NOT the same universe as War Maid's Choice. Varnaythus died before WMC occurred in the universe of Sword Brother. That suggests that the events of WMC were different.

I suspect that the Derm Canal did not happen. Had that canal been completed Kenhodan's "recollection" of the animosity between Sothoi and Hradani would have been tempered by that massive joint project. What exactly happened is unknown. I can't wait to find out.
fallsfromtrees wrote:Several questions answered and a whole lot more raised. We now know whether or not Sword Brother occurred in this universe - it clearly did. KenHoden is apparently this univrse's equivalent of Ken Houghton, which is why it seemed somewhat familiar to Bahzell. That's two speculations laid to rest. only about 2000 to go.
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by runsforcelery   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 11:10 pm

runsforcelery
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PeterZ wrote:Well we also know this is NOT the same universe as War Maid's Choice. Varnaythus died before WMC occurred in the universe of Sword Brother. That suggests that the events of WMC were different.

I suspect that the Derm Canal did not happen. Had that canal been completed Kenhodan's "recollection" of the animosity between Sothoi and Hradani would have been tempered by that massive joint project. What exactly happened is unknown. I can't wait to find out.
fallsfromtrees wrote:Several questions answered and a whole lot more raised. We now know whether or not Sword Brother occurred in this universe - it clearly did. KenHoden is apparently this univrse's equivalent of Ken Houghton, which is why it seemed somewhat familiar to Bahzell. That's two speculations laid to rest. only about 2000 to go.



Just as a matter of curiosity, Peter, how do you establish that timeline? Granted, Varnaythus died before "Sword Brother." But how do you establish that "Sword Brother" occurred before WMC? I don't believe there's any point internal to the novella that establishes that timing.

Just sayin'. :lol:


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: SoftS Official Snippet #11
Post by Lunan   » Sat Mar 28, 2015 11:27 pm

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runsforcelery wrote:
Just as a matter of curiosity, Peter, how do you establish that timeline? Granted, Varnaythus died before "Sword Brother." But how do you establish that "Sword Brother" occurred before WMC? I don't believe there's any point internal to the novella that establishes that timing.

Just sayin'. :lol:



personally i feel as if this is the universe we have known and loved for 4 books and 1 novella. the primary question i have is for the longevity of leeana, and her fertility at what must be 80 or more years of age as we seem to be 100 or so years from the events that ended WMC.
i'm saddend to hear that Kilthan has died as i really liked that character.
as to the memory of kenhodan we don't know why, where, or how he is from yet,we also do not know WHEN he is from yet should he somehow be misplaced in time (after all Wencit has been waiting 1300 years for him)
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