Topic Actions

Topic Search

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

Officla SotS Snippet #14

Fans of Bahzell and Tomenack come on in! Let's talk about David's fantasy series and our favorite hradani!
Officla SotS Snippet #14
Post by runsforcelery   » Thu May 07, 2015 4:30 am

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 2418
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

This one is going to be a bit long. I decided that if Baen has the first five chapters up, I might as well catch up with them in my snippeting, so here's the first of two chapters back to back.

Don't get spoiled into thinking there are going to be any more snippets this long, though! :lol:

____________________________________________________
CHAPTER FOUR: Designs and Departures

Wencit might have accepted that he had no hope of convincing Bahzell to stay home in Belhadan, but he remained determined to set out as quickly as possible. Personally, Kenhodan would have preferred to let the last of the rain wear itself out, and he wouldn’t have objected to a few hours sleep, either.

Bahzell, obviously, agreed with him, and unlike the majority of people faced with Wencit of Rūm, he was completely prepared to argue the point. In fact, he spent fifteen minutes trying to convince Wencit to send a messenger to Brandark while the prospective travelers got some of that badly needed sleep for which Kenhodan longed. Kenhodan lent his own arguments to the effort, but Wencit was adamant. Speed was evasion, and evasion was salvation. They must leave at once! When Bahzell (inevitably) proved stubborn, the wizard turned to Leeana.

“. . . so you can see why we have to hurry, can’t you, Leeana?”

“No.” Leeana’s response robbed Wencit of breath — momentarily, at least — and she pressed her advantage ruthlessly. “For once, my rock-headed husband is right. Not even you can speed the tide, Wencit, and you know perfectly well no ships will leave harbor before the ebb.” She shrugged. “Since that’s true, there’s no point sending you out exhausted, especially when Brandark doesn’t even know you’re coming yet! I’ll choose a discreet messenger to find him and warn him about what you have in mind while you three sleep.”

“But —”

“Best be giving it up, Wencit,” Bahzell rumbled. “There’s no budging her when she’s after using that tone of voice. Tomanāk knows it’s often enough I’ve tried, and I can’t recall as I ever succeeded.”

“Once,” Leeana told him, green eyes glinting with humor. “Twenty-five years ago, I think it was.”

Bahzell flattened his ears impudently at her, and she grinned, then folded her arms and returned her gaze to Wencit. There was much less humor in it now, and the toe of her right foot tapped gently on the floor as she waited courteously for his response.

The wizard looked back and forth between his hosts for perhaps fifteen seconds. Then he puffed his lips and threw up his hands.

“Oh, all right!” he said with scant grace . . . and yawned. His eyes widened, and then he smiled sheepishly. “Maybe you’re right. The gods know I can use some sleep, too. Where’s my room?”

Leeana smiled back serenely and pointed at the stairs.

* * * * * * * * * *

Kenhodan needed sleep badly, but his rest was uneasy. Dying mutters of thunder thrust him into a dream world of unfamiliar sights and sounds — sights and sounds he knew even as he dreamed that he should have recognized . . . and would be unable to recall clearly when he woke. Nor could he. His only memories were images of war: blows and counter blows, death and destruction, and a haunting, crippling sense of guilt, as if he were personally responsible for all the blood and suffering of the world . . . .

He soaked his blankets in sweat and half-woke endlessly, but always fell back into haunted slumber. None of it meant anything to him, yet he sensed uneasily that it should have. It was tempting to ascribe it all to the taproom battle, but he couldn’t. Somehow he knew the vague, terrifying dreams spoke directly to his maimed memory . . . or to his unknown future.

When Leeana finally called him to breakfast, he was at least somewhat rested, physically, but his inward exhaustion was even worse. It showed in his weary eyes and slow responses, and Leeana cocked her head sympathetically at him.

“You slept poorly?” she asked as she and Gwynna bustled about the kitchen. Others might cook, but only she and her daughter served food to their guests. It was that sort of kitchen.

“I had dreams,” he replied evasively.

“Dreams?” Wencit arched an eyebrow. “What sort of dreams?”

“Unpleasant ones,” Kenhodan said shortly.

“Never have bad dreams, myself,” Bahzell said cheerfully around a thick chunk of rare beef. He swallowed and downed half a tankard of ale. “Would it happen they told you aught of your past?”

“I don’t know,” Kenhodan said slowly. “Maybe. If they did, I’m not surprised by all the scars anymore. They were . . . violent.”

Wencit chewed expressionlessly, and Kenhodan felt a fresh stab of frustration. He had no choice but to accept that some compelling reason kept Wencit from telling him more, but what possible threat could force the world’s premier white wizard to keep silent on so vital a question?

A flash of humor came to his rescue as he considered what he’d just asked himself and reevaluated his own importance to the world. But it was still vital to him, he thought wryly, even if no one else cared.

“You and Poppa are going on a trip, aren’t you?” Gwynna’s voice broke into his thoughts as she climbed onto the bench beside him.

“Yes, we are.” He made room for the long-legged child, struck once again by a prevision of the lovely woman she would one day make.

“Momma told me,” Gwynna confided. “She wanted to go, too, but Poppa said no. They had what Momma calls a ‘discussion’ about it. A loud one.”

She grinned, and Kenhodan almost choked on a mouthful of exquisitely fried potatoes. He swallowed, then looked at her.

“A discussion?” he repeated carefully.

“Yes. That’s when they spend an hour telling each other the same things over and over and then decide to do what they knew they were going to do all along. When I have a discussion like that, Momma calls it a quarrel.”

“I see.” Kenhodan managed to keep his voice level, but his face ached from suppressing his grin when he tried to picture Bahzell as a harassed husband “discussing” things with the cool and independent Leeana. It was surprisingly easy. What was hard was imagining him winning the argument, but Gwynna’s next words explained it.

“Momma doesn’t travel with Poppa as much as she used to. I think she’s worried about leaving me with Farmah and Lentos. She says I’ll drive anyone mad if they have to take care of me long without being rescued.”

“I can understand that,” he said feelingly.

“Me, too.”

She wiggled her ears at him, disturbingly like her father, and grinned impishly.

“Let me see,” Kenhodan said. “I’ve met Farmah — that’s her over there, isn’t it?” He gestured at a middle aged hradani woman with dark hair and a checked apron, and Gwynna nodded. “But I don’t think I’ve met Lentos.”

“Oh, he’s away this week. He’s my teacher, from the Academy. He’s nice, but he must be almost as old as Wencit, and he gives such good advice I can hardly stand it.”

“I see,” Kenhodan said politely. It hadn’t occurred to him that Gwynna might be old enough for a tutor. He smiled at her, touched by her mixture of precocity and whimsy — and privately sympathizing with the tutor responsible for her. “I’m sure he only does it because it’s something you should know.”

“Oh, I know that.” Gwynna waved airily. “But I really wanted to talk about last night. I wanted to apologize for dropping your stew.”

“That’s all right. You did bring me another bowl.”

“I know. I just wanted you to understand it was only because your scars surprised me. I mean, Poppa has a lot, too, but not like those.” Her brows knitted in a troubled frown, but his smiling nod erased it magically. “Good! I wouldn’t want you to think they scared me or anything. Well, not much, anyway.” She leaned closer to whisper in his ear. “I used to think Poppa had all the scars there were, but he doesn’t have as many as you do. I don’t think they’re ugly or anything, though. They just surprised me, is all.”

“They surprised me, too,” he told her with a certain edge of sinceity.

“Then you’re not mad at me? Really?”

“Really,” he assured her, and she heaved a sigh of relief and smiled.

“Good! Because I’d like you to do something for me when you go with Poppa.”

“Do what?”

He was amused by her assumption that he was going with Bahzell rather than the reverse, but he concealed it carefully.

“Well . . .” Gwynna doodled a fingertip on the table, studying her invisible design intensely. “Farmah knows lots of stories, and she tells them in the kitchen sometimes. Lentos knows more, but his aren’t as interesting, because he only ever tells what really happened. But Farmah says warriors used to carry things with them to remember ladies back home. She says they called them ‘favors’ and they were things like handkerchiefs or veils.” Her lip curled disdainfully. “I think those are dumb things to take on an adventure!”

“So do I,” he said gravely, and she regarded him suspiciously.

“Well, it is dumb to take useless things. What good’s a handkerchief, unless you need to blow your nose? But I thought it would be nice to have someone carry my favor. I know I’m not a lady yet —” She broke off with a silvery giggle. “Momma says I’ll never be a lady, but I think she’s wrong, and so does Wencit. Anyway, I wondered if you’d carry my favor?”

Her blue eyes looked up very seriously, and he was deeply touched, as if a warm finger had brushed his cold amnesiac world. He felt a surge of grateful tenderness . . . and protectiveness.”

“I’d be honored to carry your favor, Lady Gwynna.”

“You don’t mind I’m only ten?” she asked anxiously. “I’ll be eleven in a few weeks.”

“I don’t mind at all,” he told her solemnly.

“Well, good! I mean, you’re the only one I can ask. I can’t ask Poppa, because he’s already Poppa. And Wencit is . . . well, he’s just Wencit. I can’t imagine him being anyone else. Not even for me.”

“I understand,” Kenhodan said, but he didn’t, really. He could feel the girl’s presence himself, an acute awareness of the happy deviltry which followed her around. He wasn’t even surprised by his own sense of protectiveness, yet it seemed strange to see such tenderness from the ancient wizard, and Gwynna’s choice of words suggested something even deeper.

Don’t go reading too much into things, he chided himself. It’s obvious he and Bahzell and Leeana are close. It’s probably just friendship.

“I thought you would,” Gwynna said cheerfully, “and I won’t give you anything dumb, either. I brought something special. Here!”

She handed him a straight, heavy object fifteen or sixteen inches long. It was wrapped in oiled silk and weighted his hand with the solidity of tempered steel. He recognized the dagger instantly, and his eyebrows rose.

“Momma and Poppa gave it to me two years ago. If we were still on the Windy Plain I’d already be training as a war maid, so Momma said I might as well start here, and Lentos agreed. It’s hard, but it’s fun, too. But this is special – a corsair dagger Captain Brandark brought back from his last big sea fight when he was still captain of Poppa’s ship. He gave it to Momma as a souvenir when he bought his first ship. I thought you’d like to have it, since you already have his old sword. And it’ll be lots more useful than a stupid old handkerchief!

Her scorn was withering.

“I agree,” he said, touched by her hardheaded practicality.

He unwrapped the sheathed dagger, drew the blade, and examined it carefully. It might have come from a corsair, he realized, but it was dwarven work, and an outstanding example of it. It carried the rippled pattern of water steel, and the double-edged blade was sharp enough to slice the wind.

He looked up to find her gazing at him just a bit anxiously and slid the weapon back into its scabbard. Then he stood, unbuckled his belt, and threaded the free end through the sheath’s belt loop. He re-fastened it and sat back down on the bench.

“I shall carry your favor everywhere, Lady Gwynna,” he told her gravely.

“Good!”

She patted his elbow and climbed down to help clear the table, and Kenhodan looked up to meet Bahzell’s eyes. The hradani’s gaze measured him thoughtfully, then moved to his daughter. Kenhodan felt a little abashed by the fierce love on Bahzell’s face, but there was something else there, too. An inexplicable sadness, perhaps.

“It’s a good lass she is,” Bahzell said softly.

“Yes, she is,” Kenhodan agreed.

Bahzell nodded sharply. Then he drained his tankard noisily, thumped it to the table empty, caught Wencit’s eye, and jerked his head at the door.

“Young Frolach was after finding Brandark. He says Brandark told him it’s pleased he’ll be to give us ship room as far as Man Home, as he’s a cargo bound there. If we’re wishful, he’ll bear us farther — to Coast Guard, say. But it’s in my mind you’d be minded to go the last bit by land?”

“Good thinking,” Wencit agreed. “Angthyr’s so unsettled merchants will shun the ports, so any arrivals by ship will certainly attract attention. We can go overland through South Pass, instead.”

“So I thought my own self,” Bahzell nodded. “What do you say, Kenhodan?”

“One route’s the same as another.” Kenhodan shrugged “I seem to recall a little about Angthyr, but not enough to make suggestions.”

“Aye.” Bahzell tugged a watch from his pocket and glanced at it, then rose. “Well, let’s be taking our leave, then, and I’ll be telling you what I can about Angthyr as we’re walking.”

Kenhodan and Wencit rose with him and began gathering the gear Leeana had chosen while they slept. Each had his personal weapons, but Leeana had also provided Kenhodan with a longbow of Vonderland yew. Bahzell carried a huge composite horse bow (one far beyond his own strength, Kenhodan suspected), but Wencit had neither requested nor been offered a missile weapon.

The new bow suited Kenhodan. It was a magnificent weapon, and though he’d had no opportunity yet to try it, he’d felt a sort of natural affinity for it — almost, but not quite, like the one he’d felt the night before for Brandark’s old sword — the moment he touched it. It wasn’t quite the heaviest he could pull, but it felt good in his hands, and he liked the supple way the wood yielded to his muscles. Vonderland provided the best of the Empire’s archers, and they were one reason even the heaviest cavalry extended profound respect to an Axeman army.

In addition to weapons, each had a heavy pack of concentrated food, two or three changes of clothing, and two blankets, plus other incidentals required for a comfortable camp. Kenhodan belted on his water bottle and checked his coal oil-filled fire striker and the small pouch of medicines Leeana insisted each of them carry. Clearly she knew what was needed for moving quickly but comfortably through rough terrain. Which, he reflected, shouldn’t have surprised him in the least in a war maid commander of a thousand.

He glanced doubtfully at his heavy riding boots. They were scarcely new, but they were still serviceable — with a little mending, at any rate — yet they seemed out of place on a ship. Nor did he wish to trudge too many leagues wearing them.

“Don’t be worrying,” Bahzell said, following his gaze and thoughts. “It might be they’re not much for walking, but once we reach Man Home it’s horses we’ll need.”

“Ah, yes. Horses.” Kenhodan’s tone was noncommittal, and Bahzell grinned at him.

“Don’t you be fretting about a thing, Kenhodan. It’s years ago Leeana’s folk taught me as how they’re a sight better under a man’s seat than in his belly.”

“I wondered about that,” Kenhodan admitted.

“Aye, I thought as how you might.” Bahzell slapped him on the shoulder. “Mind you, I’m thinking Walsharno and Gayrfressa’d’ve had a sharp word or three for me if I’d not gotten that straight! But now, if you’ll excuse me?”

The hradani swept his wife and daughter into a universal hug. Gwynna brushed away a few tears and hugged him strangulation tight, yet she seemed confident her father could deal with anything he encountered. Leeana was less tearful, but her strained eyes showed a clearer appreciation of the risks.

“Only small pieces of hide this time, now!” she admonished him.

“Not enough to patch a shoe,” he promised. “I’m after needing what I have — I’ve big bones to wrap it around.”

“See you remember!” She tugged his ears fiercely, her eyes bright.

“And how should I forget, with you so ready to tan it for me if I should?” He gave her a final kiss and set her on her feet, then turned to his daughter. “Gwynna, you be minding your mother.”

“Like always, Poppa,” she promised demurely.

“Don’t you ‘Like always’ me, wretch! I said to be minding her!”

“Yes, Poppa.”

She giggled, and Bahzell frowned at her. She only grinned back, cheeks dimpled and ears twitching gently in amusement. He sighed and closed his eyes in mock exasperation, then smiled back and touched her cheek.

“All right, then,” he said more gently, and turned back to his companions. “Let’s be off — if we’re after missing the tide, Brandark’ll tan my hide before Leeana does!”

The trio set out briskly. The rain-fresh air was cool about their ears and the sun was bright. Workmen labored to replace the shattered windows and broken door, their sober expressions eloquent of their opinion of the night’s events. It was a common Belhadan belief that offering any sort of violence to anyone on Bahzell’s premises went far beyond foolishness. An attack on his own family was as near to suicidal as anyone was likely to come. Yet their sobriety stemmed less less from the fact that someone had been mad enough to attempt it than from the fact that, for all the damage, only a single body had been delivered to the Guard. But when they set eyes on Wencit, a fresh mutter went up. They all respected Bahzell, and Wencit’s reputation was known throughout Norfressa, but they were understandably eager to have such a chancy citizen as far from their city as possible.

Bahzell exchanged words with their foreman before leading off down the street, and Kenhodan was amused by the way the man’s eyes followed Wencit in passing. He could almost feel the foreman’s fingers itch to sketch a sign against evil, but the man’s awe of the wizard clearly held him in check.

Kenhodan was unhappy to leave the Iron Axe. In a sense, it was the only home he’d ever known, and Bahzell and Leeana — and Gwynna — had made him truly welcome. He laid a hand on the dagger hilt at his belt, and a warm awareness of acceptance wrapped itself about the ice of his missing memory. But he noticed that Bahzell never looked back. The hradani’s spine was pikestaff straight as he stepped out down the street, yet his ears — expressive as always — were half-turned, as if to catch any sound from behind as he strode away.

Kenhodan wished he remembered having loved someone that much.

* * * * * * * * * *

The busy streets were a waking dream for Kenhodan.

Every sight was new, as fresh as the air he breathed, yet none of them were completely out of context. It was as though he’d read bits and pieces about a hundred subjects, not as if he’d actually seen or experienced them. He knew Belhadan was one of the great cities of Norfressa, but the wide, clean street was totally new to him, and the neat buildings with their bright roofs, mingled with the shops and houses burrowed into the mountains’ bones, delighted him. The cool air of the northern spring was like wine, and the vitality humming about him gave him a pleasure he couldn’t describe. It was almost . . . possessive, as if Belhadan were his and his alone, the product of his own labors.

The absurdity of that thought appealed to him somehow, and he chuckled as he contemplated it.

They turned into the Street of Merchants, a wide avenue of shops and counting houses. The crowds were thicker, and the mingled scents of cargoes from half a hundred ports blended with the morning. Kenhodan shook his head, about to laugh in pure delight, and then they turned another corner.

Blue and silver flashed before him in a wrinkled blanket. They stood high on a steep hillside, the paved street falling away to Hirahim’s Wharf and the vast Bay of Belhadan, where the sea thrust deep into the land. The sight hit Kenhodan like a hammer, and his pulse leapt, his eyes glistened, and his throat filled with an indefinable ache of longing that struck him motionless.

He stopped so suddenly that Bahzell walked straight into him. Kenhodan stumbled at the impact — a hradani well over seven feet tall took some stopping — and would have fallen if Bahzell hadn’t caught him. The hradani held him upright as he gasped for breath, the wind knocked out of him, then chuckled gently and set him on his feet.

“Well, now,” Bahzell said softly. “I’m thinking you’re a man might love the sea — and she’s enough to strike anyone dumb on a morning like this.”

“I never dreamed —” Kenhodan said softly, then chopped off. How could he say what he’d known in dreams? He was a man-shaped emptiness . . . yet not even the bitterness of that thought could quench his wonder and an awe that was almost reverence.

“Aye,” Bahzell said, drawing him into motion once more. “I know. She takes some learning, the sea, and there’s some as curse her when they know her, but even they can’t leave her. Not and live happy.”

Kenhodan glanced up and surprised a look in the brown eyes which humbled him. The hradani looked back down at him and grinned suddenly, driving the longing from his own face, and shook Kenhodan gently.

“Well, now! If it’s your feet you’ve found again, I’m thinking I offered to tell you a mite about Angthyr. Would it happen you’re still minded to hear it?”

Kenhodan nodded, grateful for the change of subject. He’d felt as if too much of Bahzell’s soul had shown itself when he looked at the sea.

“Now Angthyr, that’s after being a tangled subject,” Bahzell mused, tapping gently on his sword belt and humming for a moment as he ordered his thoughts.

“Aye, then,” he said finally. “Angthyr’s after being one of the Border Kingdoms, as folk call them — one of the smaller states on the King Emperor’s borders. Angthyr’s the largest of the lot, and one of the most important, I’m thinking, for it’s a buffer ’twixt South Province and the Empire of the Spear. And Emperor Soldan, as took the throne some fifteen years back, is after being as expansionist as old Phrobus himself. Not that he’s the first Spearman as thought such as that, you understand. Truth to tell, most of the King Emperor’s treaties with the Border Kingdoms are aimed at keeping Soldan at home, if you take my meaning.”

“And since Angthyr’s the biggest Border Kingdom, it’s also the one Soldan wants worst, right?”

“Aye.” Bahzell pulled out his pipe and packed it with coarsely cut black tobacco as he went on. “There’s naught but two ways to Angthyr from here: the sea and the South Road. The sea route’s after taking you to Coast Guard, the capital of Angthyr’s West Barony. It’s a tall city, that is, strong enough to make armies weep, but we daren’t go so far by sea, so I’m thinking we’ll take the South Road from Man Home. It’s after crossing the East Walls at South Wall Pass, the King Emperor’s southernmost fortress.”

Bahzell thrust the pipe stem into his mouth, and Kenhodan kindled a light with his fire striker, then sneezed as the strong smoke burned his nose.

“I can see how a journey that long offers plenty of room for attacks,” he said, maneuvering to stay upwind. “But just what’s going on inside Angthyr?”

“Ah, you’ve set your hand on the meat of the problem,” Bahzell agreed, his eyes gleaming as Kenhodan dodged his smoke. “Angthyr’s after having an internal crisis of its own just this minute, you see. King Faltho took and died unexpectedly four years back, and there’s some as question the illness that took him off so sudden, as you might be saying. But what’s after worrying folk most is that his only heir was a daughter, Fallona.”

“Really? Was she crowned?”

Kenhodan found a position which let the wind carry the smoke away and hid a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that it smelled all that foul, but simply that it was so strong. He wondered what Bahzell was smoking. Condemned cordage came to mind.

“Aye, that she was. But, you see, while there’s no law in Angthyr as says a woman can’t hold the crown, there’s no law as says she can, either, and Fallona’s succession has the nobles all a-twitter. There’s some of them only accepted her to avoid civil war, and even the most of those were none too happy when she wed Prince Altho — or Duke Altho, as he was then. He’s after being young, and they’d no mind to see one of their own raised above them. Besides, he’s no man to stand for foolishness, and he’s a name as a soldier troublemakers aren’t so very likely to find comforting.”

“Is someone actually disputing the succession, then?”

“In a manner of speaking, but there’s the rub. King Faltho’s brother up and died as a mere lad and his sister’s no child of her own, so there’s not a man at all, at all, as has any blood claim to the throne. If it’s not after being Fallona and Altho, why, then it’s every man for himself, and Phrobus take the hindermost.”

“Messy.”

“It’s a gift for understatement you have,” Bahzell observed. “I’m thinking it’s only the fact no one’s sure he’d be the one as ends up on top as has kept swords sheathed this long, and even that’s not so likely to keep them there much longer. And to be making bad worse, Soldan’s taken an interest. He knows the King Emperor can’t be intervening unless the royal house asks it, but Fallona’s people daren’t ask. One sniff of Axemen in the kingdom and hell wouldn’t hold the trouble as would break loose.”

“I see. And we’re going into that?

“Oh, aye. Wencit’s not one to let a little thing like that natter him, lad. And there’s more to tell. Don’t be blabbing it about in Angthyr unless you’ve a liking for dungeons, but Soldan’s after having his hooks into some of the great nobles. Duke Doral of Korwin’s as deep into it with Soldan as Wulfra or Ranalf of Carchon, and Tomanāk only knows about Earl Wullem. I’ve my doubts as Wullem knows himself! And as for Baron Shaisan —!”

Bahzell removed his pipe from his mouth and spat into the gutter.

“I’ve the Order’s reports about Angthyr, lad, and the way it’s looking, the only help Fallona and Altho can be counting on are her mother’s kinsmen, Darsil of Scarthū and Baron Rochfro of Coast Guard, and probably Baron Ledo. But Ledo’s problems enough of his own for any man along the marshes, and Darsil’s as good as at war with Doral already. The blood’s always been hot betwixt them, and now it’s after starting to flow. And behind it all, Soldan’s after sending in money and advice and generally giving the fire a kick whenever it looks like dying down a bit.”

“I see,” Kenhodan said again. “And Baroness Wulfra?”

“There’s one foul enough for Sharnā,” Bahzell said bluntly. “A sad thing it is, too, for her father was a good enough man. I knew him well, and her family’s one as has served Angthyr well in its time. But she’s a bad one. She’s one of the few rulers as allows sorcery to be practiced in her lands, and that’s after telling you something. Come to that, it’s not so very long ago — no more than a year or two before Faltho’s death — as Wulfra admitted she practiced it herself, although to be hearing her tell it, her magic’s white as new fallen snow.”

His tone made his opinion of that particular claim abundantly clear.

“She’s all sugar to Fallona since Faltho died, but I’m thinking she’s only biding her time. They say Fallona trusts her, but Altho’s not one to be fooled by her promises to be ‘helping’ Fallona with sorcery. But what’s he to do? Here’s Fallona, desperate for friends amongst the nobles, and here’s Wulfra, always prating about her loyalty to the throne. Aye, and Phrobus was after being loyal to Orr, too, wasn’t he just?! She’s after being loyal to the throne, right enough, as long as it’s in her mind she can ease her own backside onto it! And Altho knows it, too. He and the Queen had a rare set-to in public when he was after wondering – in a formal audience, mind you! — about Faltho’s illness. It seems he mentioned the fact that the same strange illness carried off Wulfra’s father . . . that and the matter of her older sister’s mysterious disappearance long before that. I’m thinking it must’ve been a rare set out when Fallona took Wulfra’s side! Phrobus to pay and no pitch hot, and no mistake about it! Altho only said what needed saying, mind you, but there’s no denying as how his timing might’ve been a mite impolitic. And it’s after adding another problem, you see, for Fallona and her consort — who’s also her most powerful vassal – don’t agree on what to do about their worst enemy. Tomanāk! They’re not even after agreeing she is an enemy!”

“I begin to question the wisdom of this trip,” Kenhodan sighed.

“Wisdom?” Wencit turned his head and spoke suddenly, though he’d seemed unaware of their conversation. “It was never wise. Only necessary.”

Bahzell grinned and wiggled his ears at Kenhodan as the old man turned back to the street. Kenhodan chuckled at the hradani’s expression, but he couldn’t shake a sense of unease as he considered what he’d just heard. There’d been moments during Bahzell’s explanation when he’d felt as if he were watching a play he’d seen entirely too many times, which was absurd — wasn’t it? — in a man who couldn’t remember even his own name!

He shrugged his sword belt more comfortably into place and made himself step back from the problem of the future before it could spoil his walk. After a moment, he even managed to begin whistling through his teeth as they turned a bend at the foot of the hill and fresh-washed cobbles glistened in the light, mocking his qualms while the vast Bay of Belhadan opened wide before him.

It seemed even vaster seen at its own level, dancing in the spring morning. White wave crests chased themselves across the broad bay on a northwesterly breeze that fingered his hair and tightened his throat with an inarticulate longing. Did his hunger mean he’d known deep waters before his memory was stolen? Or was this indeed his first glimpse of tidewater? He stared out over the crinkled blue mirror and smelled the salt — rich as wine and wood smoke — as he searched for his past.

“This way.”

Bahzell’s voice broke his thoughts as the hradani pointed out a large square rigged ship. She towered above the coasting schooners, her yards proud with the furled yellow sails of Belhadan. A banner snapped briskly at her foremast, displaying a crossed black axe and fouled anchor on a blue field, and the crossed axes and crown of the Empire floated from her mizzen, the banner’s red field blood-bright in the morning light.

[i]Wave Mistress[/i],” Bahzell said. “Brandark’s pride and joy. The axe and anchor’s after being his house banner.”

“He’s a good friend of yours?” Kenhodan asked.

“Well now,” Bahzell smiled slowly, “I’m thinking that depends a mite on just exactly what it is you might be meaning by ‘friend.’ I’ve a bone or two to pick with the little man, and he’s the sort of sense of humor as needs a ready sword to keep its owner alive. But it’s a long time the two of us’ve known each other, and there’s not a man alive I’d sooner have at my back in a fight. Aye, and I’m thinking he’s the finest ship handler you’ll ever meet. He was after captaining Sword of Tomanāk for me before he ordered Wave Mistress built right here in Belhadan.”

“He was your captain?” Kenhodan couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice. Gwynna had said something about “Poppa’s ship,” but he hadn’t actually paid it that much attention. After all, what sort of hradani owned his own ship? He flushed ever so slightly as he considered the implications of his own assumptions, and Bahzell’s eyes glinted with laughter.

“Aye, so he was. That’s after surprising you, is it?”

“Well . . .”

“Last count, I had ten captains,” Bahzell told him affably, “not counting the Belhadan ships of the Order, but it might be I’ve fewer. The corsairs’ve been wicked this past year, curse them, and I’m thinking they’ve forgotten to leave my ships alone. It won’t be so very long before the King Emperor’s after having to deal with them, and if he doesn’t, I’m thinking as the Order will. Tomanāk knows they’re a plague on the sea, and they’ll be starting shore raids again if they’re not re-taught manners soon. Maybe when we return you and I might take the Sword and one or two of the Order’s other ships to reeducate them, eh?”

Kenhodan glanced at him, decided he was serious, and filed that thought away with all the other indications that Bahzell was nothing if not direct . . . and far more powerful than his tavern keeping role suggested. In fact, it suddenly occurred to the redhaired man that as a champion and the local chapter’s swordmaster, Bahzell commanded all of the Order of Tomanāk’s armed forces in Belhadan, and he reminded himself once more to take nothing for granted where this particular hradani was concerned.

He chewed on that thought while he turned his attention to Wave Mistress, and as he studied her, he understood her master’s pride. Though she loomed above her smaller neighbors, she had the sleek lines of a greyhound — broad enough in the beam to carry profitable cargoes, but also with the elegant sheer, raked stem, and graceful run of a thoroughbred. Her masts raked sharply, her tall yards and great spread of sail spoke eloquently of her speed and, unlike many smaller ships, her black hull boasted no oar ports, for sweeps would have been little use to a ship her size. Her arrogant masts disdained the strength of anything less mighty than the wind itself, and two large, tarpaulin-shrouded shapes bulked on her decks, one well forward and one just aft of the mainmast. Kenhodan suspected the canvas hid powerful ballistae — heavy armament for a merchantman, but certainly in keeping with the bulwark mountings for dart throwers. Wave Mistress was a direcat of the deep, and only the heartiest — or most foolish — of pirates would cross the path of a vessel as heavily armed as most imperial cruisers.

His mouth curved wryly as he pondered the ship and his fragments of assessing memory proved this wasn’t the first time he’d seen the sea after all.

“There’s Brandark,” Bahzell said, and Kenhodan blinked, recalling his earlier thoughts about hradani shipowners.

You really do have to work on that, he told himself. Of course, no one ever said he wasn’t a hradani, but still . . . .

“Never a hradani went willingly to sea before Brandark and I did,” Bahzell continued. “Not that we were after going willing just at first! All the swords of the Purple Lords were nipping at our backsides, they were, and it was only a ready tide and a schooner crew we could . . . convince to be giving us room aboard as took us out of their reach. But here we are now, and while I’ve not so much seawater in my veins as Brandark, I’ll not deny there’s little in the world to equal the feel of a deck under my feet. I’m thinking it may be the tales are true and we hradani were after swimming all the way from Kontovar because no one would give us room aboard ship!

“Brandark, now, he went for a sailor years before ever I did. Old Kilthan — Kilthandahknarthas of Silver Cavern, that would be — was after taking him on as one of his ship captains, and truth to tell, he’d reason to be seeking a home elsewhere at the time. It wasn’t so very long before that that my Da’d gone and —”

Bahzell is based !” Brandark’s lungs were clearly equal to Bahzell’s, Kenhodan thought. “About time you showed your face down here! Come aboard! Or has the salt gone out of your blood?”

Bahzell bounded up the gangway, his weight sending the stout plank into wild gyrations. Wencit and Kenhodan waited for the vibrations to die down before following him more sedately, and Brandark met him at the entry port in an exchange of insults, arm clasps, and back-slapping blows fit to shatter lesser spines. They took the time to do it properly. In fact, they were only getting well started when Kenhodan stepped around them onto the spotless deck.

Brandark was considerably shorter than Bahzell. In fact, he was shorter than Kenhodan, no more than an inch or two over six feet. But his shoulders were far broader and more powerful than the human’s, and Kenhodan sighed. He knew he was tall, for a human, but next to Bahzell and Brandark he felt half-grown.

Yet that wasn’t the thought foremost in his mind as he studied the shipmaster with a certain degree of resignation, for Brandark was every bit as atypical for a hradani as Bahzell himself.

He bore the marks of his trade — his left cheek was seamed with an age-smoothed scar that drew that corner of his mouth into a slight, perpetual grin, his right ear was shorter than his left, where some long-ago sword had claimed its tip, and he lacked the last two fingers on his left hand — but that wasn’t what struck the eye most forcefully. No, that was left to his exquisite tailoring.

Kenhodan shook his head. The thought of a hradani dandy, he’d just discovered, was even more outré, somehow, than the thought of a hradani champion of Tomanāk. Yet outré or not, “dandy” was the only word fit to describe Brandark of Belhadan. He was perfectly groomed, from the soles of his brilliantly polished, hand tooled boots, with their silver tassels and repeating motiff of lotus flowers, to the top of his jauntily plumed velvet cap, and the heavy golden chain of a pocket watch, draped across his magnificently embroidered waistcoat, boasted a handsome, sapphire-set fob. He should have looked like some sort of parody, standing on a ship’s deck beside Bahzell’s plain hauberk and unornamented steel breastplate, but instead he only managed to look inevitable.

And not all the fine fabric, embroidery, and stylish tailoring in the world could have hidden the toughness they were wrapped about. The scars, the missing fingers, did more than proclaim his violent past; they made him look indestructible, like an ancient tree which had lost limbs without losing an ounce of strength, and Kenhodan saw why one might not trifle with a ship he commanded.

Bahzell interrupted his greetings to introduce his friends.

“My fellow passengers, Brandark. You’re after knowing Wencit, of course.”

“Of course.” Brandark clasped forearms with the wizard. “It’s good to see you again, Wencit.”

“And you,” Wencit agreed, clasping Brandark’s forearm in return and simultaneously drawing Kenhodan forward with his free hand. “And this is Kenhodan.”

Brandark gripped Kenhodan’s arm in turn, and smiled as he saw the sword he wore.

“Kenhodan,” Bahzell said, “Brandark was after carrying that blade once, and a mercy he didn’t lose fingers to it. Bloody Sword or no, it’s in my mind as a proper blade . . . overtaxed him, just a mite. An axe is more his speed, I’m thinking. No sharp edges near the hilt.”

“Bilge water!” Brandark’s laughed. “Welcome aboard, then, Kenhodan! Does me good to see that old sword again.”

“And it’ll be do you even better when you’ve once seen it used properly for a change,” Bahzell assured him solemnly.

“Maybe I will, since someone besides you will be using it!”

“Hah!” Bahzell reached up to slap the hilt of the huge sword across his back and smiled benignly down on the lesser beings clustered about his ankles.

“Well, come below. We’ve an hour before slack water, so let’s find some whiskey while you tell me what in Korthrala’s name you’re up to this time.”

“I don’t think old Wave Beard wants to know,” Wencit said with a grin.

“Oh ho! It ought to be good, then.” Brandark paused in the open hatch to yell at one of his men. “Tobian! Tell Hornos to break out that Old Halahrn — the Grand Reserve, mind you — from Silver Cavern!”

“Aye, Captain!” the crewman acknowledged.

“I think we’ll need something special for this explanation,” Brandark said more quietly to his guests, and waved them below with a toothy grin.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Angthyr?” Brandark sipped from a carved crystal tumbler of whiskey as he considered. “Not the spot I’d fancy for a visit just now, Wencit.”

“Agreed.”

Wencit’s eyes glowed in the dim light, sparkles dancing before them as he nodded, and Kenhodan leaned back comfortably and gazed about the cabin while he listened. Racked books lined the bulkheads and thick carpet covered the deck. Intricately-paned stern and quarter windows flashed with sun on the seaward side, flooding half the cabin with brilliance, but dark shadows covered the larboard side where the wharf blocked the light. Wrought silver lamps hung from the deckhead on chains, and there were at least three cased musical instruments tucked away in various corners.

“Bahzell’s right,” Brandark said. “You’ll do better overland from Man Home, but I can cut your trip forty leagues shorter if I detour up the White Water as far as Korun.”

“You could,” Wencit agreed, “but that takes you far out of your way, and the White Water isn’t safe so early in the spring.”

“Wizards have their art, and seamen have theirs,” Brandark replied. “If I say I can take you up White Water, then I can take you up White Water.”

“I don’t doubt it, but it still takes you out of your way.”

“Don’t compound the insult,” Brandark said cheerfully. “You’re daft to go into Angthyr at all. You know it. Kenhodan knows it. Korthrala, Wencit, even Bahzell knows it! But if you have to go to Angthyr, you’re more likely to get there intact if you stay away from tidewater ports. If you’ve got enemies in Belhadan, let them know you’ve sailed for Man Home in Wave Mistress. Let them search there while you go elsewhere. And, Wencit —” he overrode the wizard’s attempted interruption “— do me the courtesy of letting me get you there in one piece as quickly as possible. I suspect there’s more to this than you’re ready to say, and that’s your business. But if you think it’s important — and if Tomanāk and this overgrown lump think it’s important — it’s my business, too.”

“Very well, but you leave me deep in your debt.”

“Oh, please!” Brandark rolled his eyes and flattened his ears. “Do you really think Bahzell or I are keeping score?” He snorted. “I could do you favors for the rest of my life without coming close to matching the ones you’ve done for other people. For that matter, I can think of the few ‘favors’ you’ve done for me upon occasion. And, come to that, I suppose I might owe the Mountain a favor or two, as well.”

“Aye, so you might,” Bahzell acknowledged, holding out his empty glass suggestively, and Brandark laughed and poured again.

“To Korun, then.” He raised his own glass.

“To Korun, and our thanks,” Wencit responded, and all four of them drained their glasses.

“Then if you’ll excuse me,” Brandark said, setting his glass back down on his deck, “I’ve got the last of the cargo to stow. You’re in luck there, too. Duke Lainton’s chartered me to deliver a shipment of bullion, so we’ll have the better part of a company of Axe Brothers on board to keep an eye on it.”

“Bullion?” Wencit frowned. “Why send it just now, I wonder?”

“Ask Axe Hallow.” Brandark shrugged. “When the King Emperor says send bullion, Vonderland sends it. And when the Gut’s frozen, they send it overland to Belhadan, then someone has to take it to Man Home so they can send it to Axe Hallow so someone can make coins out of it and send it back to Belhadan. A wonderful thing, high finance.”

“The Axe Brothers won’t mind your detour?”

“All they worry about is their chests.” Brandark chuckled. “How they reach their destination’s up to me — and so it should be! Until later, then.”

He waved a cheerful hand and left.

“I don’t like this bullion,” Wencit said thoughtfully.

“Why not?” Bahzell asked. “As Brandark says, when the King Emperor commands, folk tend to be doing as he asks. And if I were after being the Duke, there’s no captain I’d sooner trust with my bullion shipment.”

“True, Brandark does have a habit of getting where he sets out to go. But it offers an unfortunate pretext, Bahzell.”

“Pretext?” Kenhodan was puzzled.

“For a traceless disappearance he means, I’m thinking,” Bahzell murmured.

“Exactly. If someone — with command of the art, let’s say — discovers where we are, we may bring Brandark more trouble than he’s reckoned for. It would surprise everyone if Brandark failed to complete a normal voyage . . . but if we don’t arrive now, people will simply assume we met more corsairs than even he could handle. And the bullion offers a perfect bait for an ill-intentioned wizard to inspire the corsairs to make the attempt.”

“And be helping us to the bottom by unnatural means with no one the wiser,” Bahzell grunted.

“But why?” Kenhodan asked. “I mean, why should anyone need a ‘pretext’? You’re a wizard — a white wizard — and you’ve spent the gods only know how long dealing with one rogue wizard after another. Surely no one would be surprised if one of those rogue wizards used sorcery against you.”

“Surprised, no,” Wencit agreed. “But angry? Yes.”

“If they’re worried about making someone angry, then why did they use sorcery last night?”

“As far as last night goes, that was very carefully chosen sorcery,” Wencit replied. “Shadow chill is lethal, but they also carried swords. The shadowmage was a last-ditch weapon they didn’t want to use, because what he would’ve done would have been unmistakable sorcery. But if we’d been cut down by blades, who could prove they hadn’t been honest steel?”

“But why would it matter? Let’s face it, Wencit. If they’d succeeded in killing you, who’d be in a position to do anything about it?”

“The Council of Semkirk, lad,” Bahzell said. “They’d not be so very happy about that at all, at all. I’m thinking they’d have no choice but to stand by and watch if someone was after being so cork-brained as to be challengeing our Wencit to a formal duel. They’d not like it, you understand, but it’s little choice they’d have. But a sorcerous attack without challenge? In the middle of a city with never a wizard of its own? No, they’d not be standing for that, and I’d not like to be the black wizard as got the lot of them set them on my trail.”

“What’s the Council of Semkirk?” Kenhodan was puzzled. Semkirk was the god of wisdom and mental and physical discipline. It was true that, before the Fall of Kontovar, he’d been the patron of white wizardry, as well, but the art of wizardry had fallen on hard times since. He rather doubted any of the Gods of Light would have desired the worship of most of sorcery’s present practitioners

“The council of mishuki and magi sworn to destroy black sorcery and any who practice it,” Bahzell replied grimly.

“Magi? Isn’t that just another name for wizards?”

“I’m thinking your memory is after having some holes,” Bahzell said gently, yet with an edge in his voice. Not one aimed at him, Kenhodan was sure, but it sounded like hurt . . . or fear. “No one’s been after using ‘mage’ that way in centuries.”

“No? Then what does it mean now? And why should wizards be afraid of mishuki? They’re only weaponless combat experts, aren’t they?”

“As to fearing mishuki, why, I’m more than a little fearful of such as they!” Bahzell’s levity felt strangely flat, and he went on more slowly. “As for magi, now, that’s another matter. A mage is after being a mental adept, one as can do some of the things a wizard can, although it’s not the same thing at all, at all.”

“Indeed,” Wencit said dryly.

“Magi can duplicate some wizard’s powers,” Bahzell said slowly, “but sorcery’s after being the furthest thing from their way. And most folk think of them as natural allies against wizards. There’re after being . . . exceptions, though.” His voice was suddenly very low. “And a mage pays for his power.”

His soft voice faded, lost in the faint background noise of shouting longshoreman as they swayed the last of Wave Mistress’ cargo aboard. Kenhodan felt the hradani’s withdrawal without understanding it, but something in Bahzell’s face kept him from probing. Instead, he simply waited, and finally Bahzell shook himself and resumed more briskly.

“But to be answering your question, lad, both mage and mishuk follow Semkirk, and his Council’s a powerful thing. Black wizards fear it like death, with good reason, and I’m thinking the Council would be after taking violent exception to our unnatural ends. Especially if someone else was after going with us.”

“Then why hasn’t it already gone after Wulfra?” Kenhodan demanded.

“Because the Council bears the King Emperor’s commission,” Wencit said sternly, “and such responsibilities have limits which may not be overstepped. Magi may be born anywhere in Norfressa, Kenhodan, but all of the major academies are either located in the Empire of the Axe or —like the Jâshân Academy in the Empire of the Spear — were founded by and associated with one of the Axeman academies. Whether the Council likes it or not, it’s firmly associated with the Axe in the mind of every Norfressan, and the King Emperor recognized that two hundred years ago when he formally vested it with the authority to investigate charges of black wizardry anywhere in his territory.

“But because he gave them that authority within the Empire, and because that means they act in his name when they exercise it, they can never act beyond his borders without the permission of the ruler whose land they’d enter . . . or on the King Emperor’s direct orders. Obviously Fallona won’t ask them to attack someone she thinks is her friend! And the King Emperor can’t send them in against her will unless he has an ironbound case. Mind you, if he had that ironbound case, he probably would; black wizardry’s something the Axe has never tolerated anywhere on — or near — its soil. Of course, that would be an act of war, however justified it might be, and he could be confident Soldan would invade Angthyr to ‘protect’ it.”

“And so far, Wulfra’s avoided any open violations of the Strictures where there’s eyes as might see and tongues as might wag,” Bahzell observed gloomily.

“Indeed she has,” Wencit agreed. “Officially, her magic’s white as the snow, though it stinks of the dark to another wizard, and I doubt she could hide the evidence of her use of the Dark if anyone with mage or wizard’s training got close enough to Castle Torfo to see it. But as baronness, she has the authority to bar magi from Torfo unless the Queen herself overrules her, which means none of the Council’s wizard sniffers are likely to get close enough to provide the proof of that. That means it would be my word against hers, and more than a wizard’s word — even if one of the wizards is me — is needed to launch the Council at someone’s throat. Wulfra won’t give me that. She was leagues away when Alwith attacked us. She had nothing to do with such a heinous act! Why, if she wanted me dead, she’d use the Duel Arcane, exactly as the Strictures allow!”

Wencit’s irony was withering.

“I’m assuming from your tone that she’s . . . unlikely to do anything that open,” Kenhodan said. “If she were, though, how would it work?”

His curiosity was obvious, and Wencit’s nostrils flared.

“Not well for her,” he said flatly. “The Duel Arcane is a formal challenge to combat to the death between two wizards. The Strictures permit it, although mass combat’s forbidden, along with anything which might endanger non-wizards. I’ve . . . had a few of those of my own, over the centuries, but if another wizard wanted to challenge me formally, the Council would have to be consulted.

“You see, after the flight to Norfressa, they were too few white wizards to police the new lands against black wizardry, and even if there’d been more of us, it really wouldn’t have mattered. I told you what it cost us to strafe Kontovar. After that, there was no one to form a new White Council with me, and there were few new wizards in the years that followed. The refugees saw to that; enraged and terrified people take few chances. It was almost three hundred years before any of the new rulers in Norfressa were willing to trust even me, Kenhodan, outside of the House of Kormak, at least, and even Kormak and his son were unwilling to trust me openly, for fear of how their people might have reacted. It took that long for the survivors’ children to forgive me for the Council of Ottovar’s failure — my failure — to prevent the Fall. By that time, virtually all knowledge of the art had been lost in Norfressa, and to be honest, none of the new realms wanted that knowledge rediscovered. Yet they knew at least some scraps of various wizards’ libraries had made it out of Kontovar — some people will seek any means to power, however dark, after all. So when the magi emerged, we turned to the Council of Semkirk to assume the duties the White Council could no longer discharge. In fact, the two councils merged, after a manner of speaking. I’m the last member of the White Council, whose authority’s never been revoked, and I’m also the only non-mage member of the Council of Semkirk. I can do — and I’ve done — things in my personna as the Last Lord of the Council of Ottovar that the magi can’t do, though, because for the reasons I’ve already explained, the Council of Semkirk’s authority — its ‘reach,’ if you will — is far less extensive and far more hemmed in by restrictions than the White Council’s authority was under the House of Ottovar.”

“But there’s still provision for the Duel Arcane?” Kenhodan asked. Wencit nodded, and the redhaired man shrugged. “So why doesn’t someone challenge you and have done with it?”

“I’m thinking there’d be few dark wizards left if it so happened they were stupid enough to be doing that!” Bahzell snorted.

“I see.” Kenhodan considered that statement. “Look,” he said finally, “I understand that sorcery isn’t something you can explain in an afternoon, Wencit. But if I’m going to be mixed up with wizards, can’t you give me at least some idea about how it works?”

“I imagine I could give you a fair idea in a decade or two,” Wencit said.

“Once over lightly’s all I need, thank you!”

“All right, let’s see how simpleminded I can make it.”

Wencit steepled his fingers under his beard and smiled, then cleared his throat.

“Wizardry is a human talent,” he began, “All wizards have been either entirely human or at least partially so, just as all sarthnaisks — ‘stone herds’ — have been dwarvish or half-dwarvish, and there are three kinds of them. Once there were four, but the ancestors of the elves traded their special art for long life when Ottovar and Gwynytha declared the Strictures. So, these days, there are first, warlocks and witches, then come wand wizards — often called ‘sorcerers” or ‘sorceresses’ — and, finally, wild wizards. Of the three, the first two are most feared by normal folk, but the wild wizard is most feared by those of the art.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Top
Re: Officla SotS Snippet #14
Post by fallsfromtrees   » Thu May 07, 2015 7:37 am

fallsfromtrees
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1923
Joined: Tue Nov 04, 2014 9:51 am
Location: Mesa, Arizona

Two at once - Thank you, Thank you, Thank You. Although I suppose this now means four weeks before the next snippet.
========================

The only problem with quotes on the internet is that you can't authenticate them -- Abraham Lincoln
Top
Re: Officla SotS Snippet #14
Post by lyonheart   » Mon May 11, 2015 7:06 pm

lyonheart
Fleet Admiral

Posts: 4838
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:27 pm

Hi RFC!

Wow!

Neat!

Cool!

Thank you so much!

That was great!

I'm really looking forward to finishing the rest of the book in July.

L


fallsfromtrees wrote:Two at once - Thank you, Thank you, Thank You. Although I suppose this now means four weeks before the next snippet.
Any snippet or post from RFC is good if not great!
Top

Return to War God