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SotS Official Snippet #15

Fans of Bahzell and Tomenack come on in! Let's talk about David's fantasy series and our favorite hradani!
SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by runsforcelery   » Thu May 07, 2015 5:34 am

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 1973
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 11:39 am
Location: South Carolina

And here's the second chunk. Its broke on a little awkwardly because of the site's character limitation on posts.
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* * * * * * * * * *

“Warlocks have an inborn sensitivity to the art. Not so great as the elves once had, but enough for them to use it as naturally as their hands or feet, without formal training. To be honest, the vast majority of them don’t even realize they’re using the art at all. They simply think they have an odd ‘talent’ or two that works for them. Only a relative handful of them ever actually progress to a deliberate, conscious manipulation of the art.

“Because of that, because they’re untrained, they’re actually less powerful than wand wizards. True wizardry requires discipline and acquired skills, which warlocks simply don’t have. But that lack of training also means they seldom know the Strictures, and they often gravitate towards the dark side of the art. Few of them would knowingly lend themselves to the sort of foulness Wulfra embraces, but the best of them are varying shades of gray.

“Wand wizards, on the other hand, have little native sensitivity. More than non-wizards, but less than warlocks. Sorcerers gain their mastery through long, hard, sometimes fatal study. They used to be well taught in their responsibilities along the way, but even then the difficulty of their studies often led them to use a little of the dark side to survive perilous moments . . . physically at least. But there’s no such thing as ‘a little’ of the dark. If you use it even once, you open a chink in your armor; it’s always easier to slip a second time. The step from white wizardry to blood magic and death magic is seldom a one-time choice, Kenhodan. It comes from slow, steady corruption, and that’s what makes it entirely too easy for all too many wand wizards to slide into the black ranks one step at a time. Few escape that fate today. Indeed, I’ve known men and women who could have been powerful wand wizards but renounced their birthright, agonizing as that was, rather than risk falling into evil.

“The last sort, the wild wizards, are another case entirely. They have no native sensitivity at all, nor do they suspect even for an instant that they might ever become wizards, so they’re totally untrained for it when it happens. Instead, their power wakes suddenly, usually under terrible stress.”

He sighed sadly and reached for Brandark’s whiskey bottle. He poured the amber liquid into his tumbler and held it up against the light from the starboard quarter windows. He gazed at it for a moment, then threw it back in a single swallow and returned his gaze to Kenhodan.

“Wild wizards are very . . . elemental,” he said. “Their power comes on them only if they have no alternative. When all hope is gone, when grief and despair bite deepest, then a wild wizard feels the birth of the power he never knew he had. It can never be anticipated . . . and it always comes with a price of pain, or grief — or hate — which few sane people would willingly pay.

“Only a strong personality can assimilate such power,” Wencit said softly. “Not even another wild wizard can help in that moment. The new wizard’s alone, and the wild magic will destroy him unless he has a powerful will and realizes what’s happening. Yet if he survives, he comes into such power as neither warlock nor sorceror can ever wield.”

“And what is the ‘wild magic’?” Kenhodan asked, green eyes intent.

“It can’t be described,” Wencit said bluntly. “Other wizards command tiny part of the force that binds the entire world together, and they learn to do that by carefully and cautiously learning specific incantations, spells, workings . . . ways to bridle and constrain that force. But wild wizards need no bridles, no spells to chain the wild magic to their will. They ride it. They can tap at all, if you will, and that means they can manipulate the very essences of objects, creatures . . . persons. They can bind and unbind them, or reduce them to dust and rip the life from them.

“But it’s a raw, brutal application of power. There’s little finesse to the wild magic, and the wild wizard’s strength is limited only by the stress he can endure. Most dangerous of all is the young wild wizard, because his body’s strong enough to absorb and channel so much power. Wild wizards live a very long time, but as they age their failing bodies finally limit their power, though even in old age they remain frighteningly strong. In combat, they generally disdain technique, at least until failing strength requires subtlety to compensate. Until then, they simply throw raw power at opponents. Their control’s instinctive, not a product of training, and their power’s virtually limitless.”

“But it can be trained?”

“Of course it can, once you know you’ve got it!” Wencit snorted. “It simply never awakens that way. Nor does it need to.”

“I can see that.” Kenhodan pursed his lips. “Can non-wizards recognize wild wizards?”

“Oh, yes,” Wencit said softly.

“How?”

“By their eyes,” Wencit said, almost whispering. “By their eyes.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Harlich of Torfo and Thardon of the Purple Lords stood in the shadow of a warehouse wall and studied Wave Mistress.

Short, chunky Thardon looked reassuringly harmless with his plump face and curly hair. Not even the dark violet eyes and angled eyebrows of the half-elven could change that, and he’d used that appearance to good purpose upon occasion. His companion was different, for no shadow could hide the lean, angular menace of Harlich’s sparse frame. Of course, once one knew them, it was another matter. Harlich’s brown eyes were merely hard and thoughtful; Thardon’s purple gaze flickered with a hungry light.

“So that’s the redoubtable Brandark’s ship,” Harlich mused.

“Yes.” Thardon’s nod was choppy, abrupt with compulsive energy. “My informant says the bullion’s already on board. They sail within the hour.”

“I see. And a full company of Axe Brothers?”

“Almost. They’re one platoon understrength, but they’re drawn from Captain Forstan’s company. Picked men, I hear, though I haven’t probed them to check. Too much chance of Wencit noticing.”

“To be sure.” Harlich seldom hid his contempt for Thardon’s penchant for stating the obvious. Now he tapped his teeth, brow furrowed.

“We’ve found them,” Thardon sulked. “There has to be a way! Once they put to sea, there won’t be any place for them to find help.”

“True, but opportunity doesn’t guarantee success, or someone would have killed Wencit centuries ago. Admittedly, they’d be isolated — but so would we, Thardon. And three-score Axe Brothers seem adequate protection, I think.”

“Not against the art!”

“No, but what about Wencit? Or do you fancy stepping out on the wharf to challenge him?” Harlich waved gently at the bright sunlight beyond their band of shadow. “Feel free, Thardon. I’ll be happy to notify your next of kin.”

Thardon flushed. The taller wizard’s disparagement was a burden he’d grown accustomed to without ever accepting. Someday he’d show Harlich how far he could be pushed . . . but not today. Not unless he wanted to challenge Wulfra by violating her orders. Or — even worse! — to anger her mysterious patron. And so he gritted his teeth and held his tongue with difficulty.

“Still, your idea has some merit,” Harlich finally conceded. “It’s a matter of using our advantages at the proper time. That bullion, now. That might be turned to use. It could provide an excellent cover, if we can capitalize on it. And I rather think we can, Thardon.”

“How?” Thardon asked sullenly.

“Come, now! We have the madwind, and not even Wencit can use the art and keep someone’s sword out of his throat at the same time. What we need, Thardon, is someone to supply the sword.”

“Who?”

“I think Tolgrim might be our man. You can find him, can’t you?”

Thardon’s face lit with understanding.

“It may take a few days,” he said.

“No matter. If Tolgrim’s ships are available, we can speed them on their way. After all —” Harlich smiled gently “— the Strictures prevent Wencit from meddling unduly with nature. Not us.”

Thardon nodded and turned away, but Harlich gripped his shoulder. The tall wizard’s eyes were bleak, but his lips shaped another gentle smile.

“Yes?” Thardon asked impatiently.

“I’m sure Tolgrim will be eager to seize the bullion, Thardon, and I see no reason to cool his ardor. Don’t overburden him with information.”

“You mean —?”

“Precisely. There’s no need to mention the Axe Brothers or Bahzell. After all, we wouldn’t want to cause our good pirate to fret, would we?”

Thardon nodded slowly, and for once the smile with which he favored his companion was bright with understanding and approval.

* * * * * * * * * *

Wind whipped Kenhodan’s hair as Wave Mistress nosed out of the bay and crewmen darted about, adjusting downhauls and braces. A steep hill loomed out of the sea to the west, craggy flanks yielding unwillingly to wind-blighted trees. The Isle of Cardos’ forbidding slopes shielded the harbor from the worst of the sometimes savage northwesterlies, and its weather-gnawed sides showed what the northern winter could do.

Beyond Cardos, a stiff breeze whipped out of the eye of the north, overpowering the easterly which had wafted them from the wharf. The wind bit with the last feeble fangs of Vonderland’s ice, and Kenhodan burrowed deep into his borrowed coat as he sniffed the salt air.

“See that orange buoy?” Kenhodan nodded as Bahzell pointed to the bell-crowned buoy. “Once we’ve cleared that, it’s into the Fraidonian Channel we’ll be. We’ll follow that south to Cape Storm, then bear well away to the west for a day or two before we make our southing.”

“Why?”

“Because this whole coast’s after being fanged with reefs. North to south, the Fradonian Banks stretch nearly a hundred leagues, and every mortal mile of them dotted with ships’ bones. Korthrala’s Teeth, folk call them.”

“So.” Kenhodan felt the grain of the rail with an index finger. “And when do we reach Cape Storm?”

“It’s over a hundred leagues, but —” Bahzell squinted at the yards “— Wave Mistress’s after being almost as fast as Brandark boasts, and the wind’s after being fair . . . Late this time tomorrow, if Korthrala heeds our prayers. Which, like as not, he won’t.”

“And from there to Korun?”

“Now that’s after being harder to say. The winds are fluky in the spring, and the trade season’s just starting, so it’s likely enough the corsairs will be out after a hungry winter. It might be as they’re even hungry enough to be tackling Wave Mistress.”

Bahzell sniffed the salt appreciatively and tapped his sword belt with a cheerful smile.

“Call it fifteen days to the White Water and you’ll not be too far out,” he said finally. “And maybe two more days upriver to Korun, with the spring flood in our teeth. Then best add in a day or two for calms and the like. Say twenty days.”

“I’ll be sorry to see it end,” Kenhodan said wistfully.

“Hah! It’s kind the sea’s been to you so far, my lad! Best be taking my word for it — a seaman’s lot is hard when Korthrala’s after growing absent-minded and lets the storms loose! I’ve seen ships this size stand on their heads and curtsy while they waved their backsides at the clouds. You won’t be finding that so pleasant!”

“I suppose not. But for now . . . .”

They watched a white hurricane of gulls dive at the wake, their voices a shrill threnody across the wind, their wings a ruffle of thunder. The sky gleamed, swept and polished by the night’s storm, and the crisp wind flowed chill from the north, stinging their cheeks as the Western Sea breathed and Wave Mistress pitched beneath them. The figurehead of Myrea, Korthrala’s mortal mistress, moved with the ship, light flickering from the gilded trident she’d “borrowed” from her lover, and Kenhodan’s heart rose despite the nagging loss of his past as his lungs ached with the savor of salt.

“Aye.” Bahzell sounded thoughtful. “My folk live inland, and other folk aren’t so wrong as I’d like to think when they’re after calling us barbarians. Mind, times change, and it’s not so barbarian we are these days, thanks to my Da and Leeana’s. Yet there it is. It’s not so easy to forget twelve hundred years and more of history, and I’m thinking — sometimes, any road — that we were after losing all those years because we lived away from the sea.” He smiled sadly. “The salt’s in our blood, Kenhodan, and we’ve the hearts and thews to fight old Wave Beard himself tooth and nail, and we never even guessed it. Instead, we were after wasting our blood and bone against folk we might’ve lived in peace with when we should have been measuring ourselves against this.”

He waved at the sea and fell silent, his mobile ears half-flattened. Kenhodan could just catch the thread of sailor’s chantey he hummed under his breath, and he felt oddly like an intruder. He turned silently to leave, but Bahzell roused and clouted him staggeringly on the shoulder before he’d taken a second step.

“Here, now! That’s no way for a champion of Tomanāk to be talking! Come on. Let’s you and I gather up some of these lubbers and be about teaching them which end of the sword’s after having the pointy bit. Who knows? It might be as they’ll need it soon, eh?”



CHAPTER FIVE: A Bit of Insight

“You and Bahzell really have been friends for a long time, haven’t you, Brandark?”

The hradani laid his book in his lap and looked up, cocking his ears at Kenhodan. The human sat across the table from him in his shirt sleeves, slowly and carefully polishing the fine-grained wood of a small harp in the golden pool of light pouring in through the cabin skylight, and Brandark smiled.

“You might say that,” he acknowledged. “Mind you, I didn’t expect our friendship to last this long when we first met. Mostly because I didn’t expect Bahzell to last very long! I know you haven’t known him as long as I have, but I’m pretty sure you can already see why he didn’t make exactly the most . . . circumspectly behaved diplomatic hostage in history.”

“Diplomatic hostage?” Kenhodan’s moving hands paused. “Bahzell was a diplomatic hostage?

“Of course he was.”

Brandark seemed a bit taken aback by Kenhodan’s surprise, and Kenhodan set down his polishing cloth, sat back in his chair, and placed both hands on the table, rather like a man bracing himself.

In some ways, he and Brandark had become even closer than he’d come to Bahzell or Wencit. Even though he couldn’t imagine what the reason was, he’d been forced to accept that there truly was a reason Wencit couldn’t fill the yawning void where his memory should have been. He didn’t like it, he couldn’t truly accept it, yet he’d come to the conclusion that he had no choice but to endure it . . . and to console himself with the belief that sooner or later, if they both survived, Wencit truly would tell him what he needed to know. In the meantime, however, the wizard’s silence was there between them, a hidden core of tension at the heart of their relationship.

Bahzell didn’t know any more about Kenhodan’s past than Kenhodan himself, and he regarded Kenhodan’s amnesia the same way he regarded the redhaired man’s physical scars. It was simply part of who Kenhodan was, a wound to be accepted with sympathy and compassion, but not some dread secret he had to juggle against other, awesome responsibilities. He’d become a trusted companion, a friend, and a source of strength, yet there was something, some constraint, in his relationship with Kenhodan, as well. It had nothing at all to do with the human’s amnesia; Kenhodan was certain of that. But at the same time, without knowing why, he was positive Bahzell had his own reasons — quite possibly reasons related to his champion’s duty to Tomanāk — that made him occasionally watch his words very, very carefully. There was no way in the universe Bahzell Bahnakson would ever lie to him; Kenhodan was certain of that, as well. But not lying wasn’t remotely the same thing as telling the whole truth. Kenhodan often wondered if his hypersensitivity to his amnesia was causing him to imagine that faint edge of constraint in Bahzell, yet each time he considered it, he came back to the conclusion that it wasn’t.

But Brandark was no champion of Tomanāk, and he certainly wasn’t a wizard. Like Bahzell, he knew no more about Kenhodan’s past than Kenhodan himself did, yet he had no secrets to protect and no divine instruction to treat Kenhodan as anything other than one of his closest friends’ comrade and sword companion. And, also like Bahzell, he accepted Kenhodan’s amnesia the way he would have accepted any other wound, and he’d extended his welcome to Kenhodan the same way he would have welcomed any of Bahzell’s other friends.

That was important. Kenhodan very much doubted Brandark even began to fully realize how important it was. To have anyone treat him the same way they would have treated anyone else would have been more than enough to make him prayerfully grateful for Brandark, but Brandark wasn’t just “anyone.”

Kenhodan had quickly discovered that Wave Mistress’ captain was even more of a challenge to the hradani stereotype than he’d first thought. He’d recognized at their first meeting that Brandark had a remarkably acute brain, but after an evening listening to the hradani and Wencit argue philosophy and ancient history, he’d realized Brandark was also a serious scholar, sufficiently informed, polished, literate, and widely read to debate Wencit of Rūm head-to-head . . . and win. That was scarcely part of the traditional hradani image!

As if that wasn’t enough, Brandark was also an astonishingly accomplished musician. Kenhodan had noticed three instrument cases that first morning; since then, Brandark had pulled out another half-dozen, and Kenhodan suspected there might be still more tucked away and overlooked in a corner somewhere. And that was another reason for his comfort with Brandark, for he’d discovered that he, too, was a musician.

It was like his sword skill, something he had no memory of acquiring . . . and that he’d never suspected he possessed until he saw the harp. Brandark had brought it out on their second night aboard, and something like an icicle of lightning had gone through Kenhodan when he saw it. He’d reached out without asking permission — without even thinking — and taken the harp from Brandark’s surprised hands. The hradani had started to ask a question, undoubtedly for an explanation, but then Kenhodan’s hands had swept across the harp strings and Brandark had sat back in his chair, his eyes wide and his ears half-flattened in pleasure, as the music poured across him.

Kenhodan didn’t really remember much from that night. The notes and the melody had flowed through him, playing him as if he’d been the harp, sweeping him out of Wave Mistress’ great cabin and into a place where, for at least those few moments, his maimed past meant nothing. A place where he was simultaneously only a single ripple of notes lost in the greater melody flooding from the harp and yet simultaneously whole — complete and at peace as he’d never been since the moment Leeana first asked him about the scars he hadn’t known he had.

That love for music was a link, a bond, between him and Brandark that went straight to the soul, and its discovery was a gift beyond price. When Kenhodan had finally floated once more to the surface of the music, opened his eyes upon the cabin once again, he’d seen the others — even Wencit — gazing at him with the rapt expressions of men who’d been transported beyond themselves on the wings of Chesmirsa herself. He’d looked back at them, wondering what had happened, his mind still hazed by a glissando of harp notes, and realized — finally — that he’d somehow ended up with Brandark’s harp in his hands. He’d flushed in embarrassment and held it out quickly, but Brandark had only sighed and shaken his head.

“No,” he’d said softly, his eyes darkly serious yet somehow brilliant. “That harp’s exactly where it ought to be. A man who can play like that needs an instrument worthy of him. Do me the honor of allowing me to give him one.”

It was only later, from Wencit, that Kenhodan learned the harp Brandark had given him had been crafted in Saramantha over six centuries before by the legendary elven harpist Wenfranos.

The memory of that moment of discovery, and of Brandark’s flat refusal to allow him to return an instrument which was literally priceless, flowed through him as he looked back across the table top and the harp at the captain, yet it wasn’t enough to damp his surprise at what Brandark had just told him.

“I wasn’t aware the Order of Tomanāk ever gave ‘diplomatic hostages,’” he said.

“Oh, it wasn’t the Order.” Brandark sat back in his own chair and shook his head. “It was his father.”

“His father?” Kenhodan blinked. Bahzell had mentioned his “Da” a time or two in passing, and it was obvious he’d respected his father a great deal, but what sort of —?

“His father,” Brandark repeated. “Prince Bahnak.”

Prince Bahnak? You mean Bahzell is the son of a prince?”

“I mean Bahzell’s a prince in his own right, as well as a champion of Tomanāk. You didn’t know?”

“No,” Kenhodan said with commendable restraint. “Somehow he and Wencit — and Leeana, now that I think about it — failed to share that particular tidbit with me.”

“Um. Should I, ah, assume then that they also ‘failed to share’ the fact that Leeana was born Leeana Bowmaster, the only daughter of Tellian Bowmaster, Baron of Balthar and Lord Warden of the West Riding?”

Kenhodan’s nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply. The title of “baron” meant different things in different realms; among the Sothōii, it just happened to be the highest and most noble title short of the king himself, the feudal lord and governor of one of their “ridings.” The Kingdom of the Sothōii took in the entire Wind Plain, and quite a few thousand square leagues around the base of that mighty plateau, and there were only four Sothōii ridings.

Which meant Leeana’s father’s demesne had been about the size of the complete Kingdom of Angthyr.

“Yes, I believe you should assume it somehow slipped their mind to mention that to me, either,” he said after a moment. “How in the names of all the gods did she and Bahzell end up married? For that matter how did the daughter of a Sothōii baron end up a war maid? And how did a war maid end up marrying anyone?”

“Forgive me, Kenhodan,” Brandark said after a moment, his tone oddly gentle, “but there appear to be even larger . . . gaps in your memory than I’d realized. You truly don’t know who Bahzell and Leeana are, do you?”

“Beyond being two people who gave shelter and protection to Wencit and a man who has no idea who he used to be, no. I don’t know who they are – what they are. But it’s just become evident to me that I know even less about them than I’d thought I did.”

“You’ve never heard why Bahzell’s called ‘Bloody Hand,’ then?”

For some reason, Kenhodan’s headshake seemed to take Brandark aback for just a moment, but then the hradani shook it off and grinned.

“Actually,” he said, “there’s an entire lengthy ballad about him. Quite flattering, as a matter of fact, and I personally think it was quite well written. You might almost say brilliantly written, now that I think about it. If you’d like, I’ll play it for you later tonight. Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a couple of the lads in to sing the words, though — Garuth and Yairdain, perhaps. My playing’s better than my singing voice, and I’m sure Bahzell would like you to hear it for the first time properly presented.”

“I’m sure he would,” Kenhodan replied just a bit warily, and Brandark chuckled. Then the hradani’s expression sobered and he crossed his legs, resting one mirror-bright boot on the opposite knee, propped his elbows on the arms of his chair, and steepled his fingers under his chin.

“All right,” he said after a moment. “I’ll tell you about Bahzell, how we met, and who he is. But if I do, you have to promise not to keep interrupting with admiring exclamations like ‘You don’t say!’ or ‘I never would’ve guessed that!’ Trust me, if you don’t, this could take all afternoon, and we won’t have that long before Bahzell gets done swapping stories with Captain Forstan. Besides, if he gets back while we’re talking about it, he’ll insist on inserting all sorts of minor, pointless clarifications that’ll just slow down the narrative and confuse you. I love him like a brother, but he has absolutely no sense of the storyteller’s art. Understood?”

“Understood,” Kenhodan replied, settling back in his chair.

“All right,” Brandark said again. “First, I’m a Bloody Sword and Bahzell’s a Horse Stealer. Do you remember what that means?”

Kenhodan nodded . . . and sternly reminded himself of his promise not to interrupt. It was hard to keep it in the face of that simple statement. Although he more than suspected there’d be plenty of other surprises along the way, this one was quite enough to be starting with. The towering hatred, competition, and blood feuds between the Bloody Sword hradani clans and their Horse Stealer rivals were fierce enough to be the stuff of legends far beyond the limits of their northern homelands.

“Since you don’t know the deep, dark secrets of Bahzell’s past, however,” Brandark continued, “I’m assuming you don’t have any specific memories of recent political events among the northern hradani, though. Am I correct?”

Kenhodan thought for a moment, then nodded again as he realized he genuinely didn’t.

“Well, some decades back, Bahzell’s father, Prince Bahnak, decided to put an end to all the nonsense our clans had been inflicting on one another for the odd eight or nine hundred years. Unfortunately, hradani being hradani, the only way to do that was for one of us to finally conquer the other one once and for all, and for some strange reason he wasn’t especially interested in being the one who got conquered. That meant conquering the Bloody Swords, instead, to which — for some equally strange reason — the Bloody Swords objected. There was a war. In fact, there were two or three of them, and after one of them — one Bahnak won handily, as a matter of fact — Prince Churnazh of Navahk — who was not a nice person, even if he was a Bloody Sword — was forced to accept Bahnak’s terms. Unfortunately, his defeat hadn’t been sufficiently severe, and he had too many allies, for Bahnak to demand his outright capitulation. Everyone knew there’d be another war, but both sides had reason to postpone it while they tried to build up their strength, so there was a treaty and an exchange of hostages, and as Bahnak’s youngest son, Bahzell was sent to Hurgrum. Clear so far?”

“So far.”

“Good, because this is where it gets interesting, since this is the point at which I enter the picture.” Brandark lifted his nose, flicked his ears, and grinned. “You see, much as it pains me to admit it, Churnazh was a member of my own Bloody Sword clan, the Raven Talons, and my father, another Brandark, was a powerful Raven Talon chieftain. Powerful enough Churnazh didn’t quite dare try crushing him the way he had his other Bloody Sword rivals despite the fact that I’m afraid I’d made myself just a tiny bit unpopular with Churnazh. I was young and impulsive in those days, not the staid and sober fellow you know today, and, as I said, he wasn’t a nice person. He was also remarkably lacking in culture, even for an old-style hradani warlord, and he had no appreciation at all for original musical compositions.”

Kenhodan winced. He’d been aboard Wave Mistress for less than a week, yet he’d come to know Brandark well enough to have a shrewd notion of the sorts of “original musical compositions” he must have produced about the “old-style hradani warlord” he’d just described.

“Because of that, Bahzell and I somehow became friends. My father always said I only did it to piss Churnazh off, but I’m sure he was wrong. And whether or not that was the way it started, it turned into a genuine friendship quickly enough. The oversized lump of bone and gristle has that effect on people. So, when he half-killed one of Churnazh’s sons for raping a serving wench and had to flee, of course I went with him. Although,” Brandark admitted judiciously, “he was rude enough not to invite me to come along. It took me several days to track him down and catch up with him.

“I managed, though, and after many adventures in which I, of course, played a sterling part — but with which I won’t bore you at this moment, due to my towering and always understated modesty — Bahzell managed to become a champion of Tomanāk, to rescue the daughter of a Spearman duke from assassins, black wizards, and the Purple Lords; kill a demon single-handed; get both of us outlawed in the Land of the Purple Lords; defeat Churnazh’s son Harnak, who happened to be armed with a cursed sword enspelled by Sharnā himself; hijack — well, ‘hijack’ is probably putting it a bit too strongly — a Marfang Island schooner from Bortalik Bay; sail to Belhadan; outrage a sizable minority of the Belhadan chapter of the Order of Tomanāk; march home cross-country in the middle of winter by way of Dwarvenhame; kill another demon and exterminate an entire temple of Sharnā in Navahk; organize the first hradani chapter of the Order of Tomanāk in history; and as an encore — probably just to keep from being bored, you understand — bring an end to the seven or eight centuries of mutual slaughter our people had been enjoying with the Sothōii.”

He paused with a benign smile while Kenhodan tried to get his mouth closed.

“While he was involved with all those other minor details,” Brandark continued after a moment, “he and I wound up adopted into the family of the Duke of Jâshân in the Empire of the Spear and first made the acquaintance of Wencit, which didn’t really do a lot to make our lives more tranquil, for some reason. But while he and I were off with the eighty or so members of his brand-new chapter of the Order accepting the surrender of several thousand Sothōii warriors — from Baron Tellian himself, as a matter of fact — Prince Bahnak was tidying up the annoying little details involved in conquering the Bloody Swords and uniting all the northern clans into his Northern Confederation. Bahzell obviously had to go home with Tellian to oversee the conditions of Tellian’s parole — don’t get me started at this point on just why Tellian chose to surrender to us; let’s just say that Wencit’s version of the history between the hradani and the Sothōii gave us all plenty of food for thought — and since he was his father’s son as well as a champion of Tomanāk, he became the logical – although I really hesitate to use the word ‘logical’ too often where Bahzell is concerned — hradani ambassador to the Sothōii. Which obviously led to no end of additional alarms, excursions, and adventures, including a confrontation with not one, not two, but three of Krashnark’s greater devils on the Ghoul Moor. That,” he added kindly, smiling brightly at Kenhodan’s sandbagged expression, “was as part of the military expedition to clear the line of the Hangnysti River so the canal from Dwarvenhame to Hurgrum, Bahzell’s hometown, could connect direct to the Spear River, which completely destroyed the Purple Lords’ monopoly on trade up and down the river and, particularly, with the Empire of the Spear. Oh, and all of that predated the formal treaty of alliance between the Northern Confederation and the Kingdom of the Sothōii.”

He paused, still smiling at Kenhodan, and the redhaired man drew a deep breath and gave himself a shake.

“I . . . see,” he said after a moment. “And I assume it was while all of that was going on that he and Leeana met?”

“Of course. Mind you, she was only — what? thirteen or fourteen at the time, I think — and any relationship between the two of them would have been grossly inappropriate. He knew that, too. And with that excess of nobility he takes such pains to conceal, he was determined not to let anything . . . improper happen. Unfortunately for his noble intentions, she ran off to become a war maid — political reasons,” he raised one hand, waggling his fingers in an airy brushing away motion, “you’d probably be bored by them — and grew up. Then she came back and tripped him into bed.”

Kenhodan surprised himself with a chuckle, but it was entirely too easy for him to picture Leeana doing exactly that.

“That was just before the bit with Krashnark and the devils,” Brandark continued helpfully. “Oh, and before Baron Cassan, the Lord Warden of the South Riding attempted to assassinate Tellian and King Markhos to stop the canal project — remember, I mentioned that earlier? — which Bahzell’s father, Tellian, and Kilthandahknarthas of Silver Cavern had hatched between them. Would’ve worked, too, if Leeana hadn’t become the first female wind rider in Sothōii history, reached her father and the King with a warning in time, and — eventually — personally taken Cassan’s head. Well, it still almost worked, but the war maids from Kalatha came along to help Trisu of Lorham thwart the assassination, which had a little something to do with certain revisions to the war maid charter that followed a few years later.” He smiled brightly. “Aside from continuing to snuff out the odd demon, help Wencit eradicate the occasional circle of black wizards, trounce an infestation of corsairs from time to time, negotiate with the Spearmen for his father and the Sothōii, and mete out Scale Balancer’s justice upon occasion, he really hasn’t done much except rest on his laurels ever since.”

He paused again, his eyes bright and his ears shifting back and forth in gentle amusement as he watched Kenhodan grapple with his concise, irreverent, but obviously very, very sincere encapsulation of Bahzell’s career. It took the human several minutes to do that grappling.

“And the tavern in Belhadan? The Iron Axe? What are a hradani prince, who’s also a champion of Tomanāk, and a war maid, who’s also the daughter of one of the four most powerful Sothōii nobles in existence, doing running a tavern in the Empire of the Axe?”

“Bahzell’s never been the sort to sit around and just collect a stipend, even from something like the Order of Tomanāk, no matter how often the Order’s pressed him to accept one,” Brandark said at least a bit more seriously. “He had his own reasons for relocating to Belhadan in the first place, and he and Leeana have had very good reasons to stay there, but I suspect the real reason for the tavern — he named it for his clan back home, of course — is Gwynna.”

“Gwynna?” Kenhodan’s eyebrows rose.

“Even today, there’s a lot of prejudice against hradani, Kenhodan.” Brandark was entirely serious now. “Bahzell — and I, to a lesser extent — are . . . outside that prejudice. We’re what some people have taken to calling ‘white hradani,’ hradani who’ve demonstrated they don’t fit the stereotype of the Rage-crazed hradani berserker. And to be fair, I’d say the prejudice is beginning to fade, although — as ridiculous as it would have seemed once upon a time — it’s faded the most among the Sothōii, not the Axemen or the Spearmen. But human-hradani marriages, like Bahzell and Leeana’s, are still virtually unheard of. I could probably count all of them without taking my boots off, and the one crime we hradani have the least tolerance for is rape. That means there have been precious few human-hradani children ever born in Norfressa.”

Brandark leaned back in his chair, his voice soft, and shook his head.

“Wencit says children like that were more common back in Kontovar, before the Rage — before the Fall and the things the Lords of Carnadosa forced enspelled hradani to do burned the hatred of us so deeply into the hearts and minds of the other Races of Man. But today?” He shook his head. “She’s a lovely, darling girl, dearer to me than my own nieces and nephews — though I’d never dare to admit that back home! — but just being what she is is more than enough to make all too many bigots — not all of them human, by any means — hate and despise her. So I think one reason Bahzell and Leeana bought the tavern — and one reason they’ve choosen to be who they are rather than who birth and accomplishment tried to make them — is to provide Gwynna simultaneously with as close to a ‘normal’ childhood as someone like her could possibly hope to have and with a window into a world where too many people will look at her askance.”

“That . . . actually makes sense,” Kenhodan said after a moment, his voice equally soft. “I wonder how many other parents would have made a similar decision?”

“Bahzell and Leeana see more deeply — and care more deeply — than almost anyone else I know,” Brandark said simply. “I expect there are more parents than I think who’d make that sort of decision for the same reasons, but to be honest, I don’t see how they could’ve made any other one.”

Kenhodan nodded slowly, but then he frowned.

“I know I promised not to interrupt, and I’m sure I could keep you busy answering questions all the way from here to Korun. But I’m a little confused about one point – well, about several points, actually, but one that comes especially to mind.”

“And that point would be?”

“Having come to know Bahzell, having met Leeana, seeing the two of them arguing with Wencit of Rūm — and winning! — I have much less trouble than I might have expected believing the two of them could’ve accomplished everything you’ve just rattled off. But how did they manage to fit it all in?

“‘Fit it in’?” Brandark repeated, arching his eyebrows.

“How did they have time for it all?” Kenhodan amplified. “I’d’ve thought it would’ve taken decades to do all that!”

“It did.” Brandark leaned back, his expression surprised. “I thought I made that clear.”

“But —” Kenhodan shook his head, and Brandark frowned. Then, suddenly, the hradani’s face cleared.

“Kenhodan,” he said almost gently, “how old is Leeana?”

“What?” Kenhodan blinked. Then he thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know. In her thirties — maybe her early forties?” he said, pushing the upper end of his estimate hard.

“She’s ninety-three, Kenhodan.”

What?!” Kenhodan stared at him, and Brandark nodded.

“She and Bahzell have been married for over seventy years,” he said calmly. “In fact, Bahzell’s only a few years older than I am, and I’ll be a hundred and twenty-three this summer.”

Kenhodan went right on staring at him. He could readily believe Brandark and Bahzell were well into their second centuries, since hradani routinely lived to be two hundred years old or better, assuming they managed to avoid death by violence along the way, and they tended to remain hale, hardy, and active right up to the end. But it was starkly preposterous to claim that Leeana was over ninety! She might be married to a hradani, but she was obviously a human, after all.

“That’s —” he began.

“Impossible?” Brandark interrupted, and snorted. “Kenhodan, you’re planning to travel to Angthyr with a wizard who’s well over thirteen hundred years old!”

“But . . . but he’s Wencit of Rūm!

“Yes, he is, but what you seem not to have grasped is that she’s Leeana Flame Hair. Tell me, have you noticed her and Bahzell’s’s wedding bracelets?”

“Of course I have.”

“Well, you might want to take a closer look at Bahzell’s this evening. Most upper-class Sothōii wedding bracelets are made out of gold, not silver, you know. And they’re not set with opals, either. For that matter, most of them don’t have Tomanāk’s mace and sword and Lillinara’s moon on them, either.”

“Obviously that’s significant,” Kenhodan said slowly.

“You might say that.” Brandark snorted. “You asked how a war maid ended up married to a hradani when their own charter prohibited then from marrying under the law? Well, when Tomanāk and Lillinara appear — in person — to pronounce a couple are man and wife, it takes a hardy soul to argue with Them. And just in case anyone was inclined to doubt Their position in this little matter, They gave Bahzell and Leeana their bracelets. And they’re very . . . interesting bracelets, too. He and Leeana have convinced them not to glow without their specific permission — which took a while; they’re almost as stubborn as hradani, those bracelets — but as nearly as I can understand what the two of them and Wencit have told me over the years, when Tomanāk and Lillinara put those bracelets on their wrists, They united more than just their lives, Kenhodan. They united their souls. Something I didn’t know until Wencit explained it to us is that hradani — and, for that matter, Sothōii coursers — live as long as we do because we’re . . . directly connected to what Wencit calls the wild magic. And now, thanks to her union with Bahzell, so is Leeana.”

“But why —?”

“Why did They do it for Leeana and no one else?” Brandark shrugged. “I don’t have an answer for that one, Kenhodan. My best guess? The gods have something they need her to do. Probably her and Bahzell together, actually. Mind you, I don’t know two people on the face of Orfressa who could possibly deserve the extra years Leeana’s been given more than the two of them do. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think the two of them have been chosen to accomplish something so important that everything they’ve already done has only been preparation.”

The hradani’s eyes were deadly serious now, and they held Kenhodan like a wizard’s spell.

“That’s what I think, Kenhodan, and I think you’ve been chosen to be a part of that same task, whatever it is.”

Kenhodan stared back, desperate to deny the possibility. To protest that Brandark had to be wrong. He opened his mouth, reached for the words to tell Brandark precisely that.

And he couldn’t.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by John Prigent   » Thu May 07, 2015 8:24 am

John Prigent
Captain of the List

Posts: 590
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 8:05 am
Location: Sussex, England

Thank you! I can hardly wait to read the complete book :).
Cheers
John
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by fallsfromtrees   » Thu May 07, 2015 9:01 am

fallsfromtrees
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1771
Joined: Tue Nov 04, 2014 10:51 am
Location: Mesa, Arizona

And an explanation as to how Leeana lived to be 93, and look 35.
The only problem with quotes on the internet is that you can't authenticate them -- Abraham Lincoln
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by ksandgren   » Thu May 07, 2015 9:36 am

ksandgren
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 314
Joined: Tue Jun 14, 2011 6:54 pm
Location: Los Angeles, California

Thanks rfc!

Even though I have the eARC, I enjoy the discussions the snippets continue to bring.
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by Peter2   » Thu May 07, 2015 1:00 pm

Peter2
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 332
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2014 10:54 am

Well, I didn't see that coming! It explains such a lot.

Thank you very much, RFC!
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by dan92677   » Thu May 07, 2015 6:04 pm

dan92677
Commander

Posts: 218
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 10:33 pm
Location: Southern California

Thank you, rfc!!!

At least now we have an idea about the whereabouts of all of the major characters. Haven't got all of them together yet, though.

I have hopes.
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by Cartref   » Thu May 07, 2015 6:29 pm

Cartref
Lieutenant (Junior Grade)

Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 10:15 pm

How does one get the eARC?

I would love to read it. I did this for War Maid's Choice and still enjoyed the book when it came out.

Cheers & Beers
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by PeterZ   » Thu May 07, 2015 7:25 pm

PeterZ
Fleet Admiral

Posts: 5644
Joined: Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:11 pm
Location: Colorado

Cartref wrote:How does one get the eARC?

I would love to read it. I did this for War Maid's Choice and still enjoyed the book when it came out.

Cheers & Beers

Baen.com will have a link to the e-arc
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by Cartref   » Thu May 07, 2015 10:34 pm

Cartref
Lieutenant (Junior Grade)

Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 10:15 pm

Than you Peter, if I had been smart enough to read the topics post on War God, I would have seen the one which gave details on how to get it.

Saw it about 5 minutes after I made my post, but could get back to change it.

Thank you for your patience in replying :D
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Re: SotS Official Snippet #15
Post by Bahzellstudent   » Mon May 11, 2015 5:48 pm

Bahzellstudent
Lieutenant (Senior Grade)

Posts: 85
Joined: Wed Jul 09, 2014 4:13 pm
Location: Derbyshire, United Kingdom

Thanks for these two full length snippets, RFC - and (as posted on the Safehold forum) get well soon
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