Monthly Archives: April 2013

Tabor (Chapter 4, Part 1)

Here, we’re introduced to Tabor, the Protector’s son. The chapter is from his perspective, though it harkens back to the plot line established in Chapter Two.

This scene takes place in a brothel, so please don’t read on if you’re likely to be offended, though it’s fairly tame.

As always, your constructive comments are helpful and much appreciated!

***

With their clothes on, the twins were indistinguishable, but Tabor was aware of the important differences. While Jayne had plumper breasts, Bethe tasted sweeter. Bethe, though less adventurous than her sister, was more enthusiastic, while Jayne let him roam her body freely. Alone, each was well worth a silver argen, but Tabor didn’t mind shelling out a full golden crest to enjoy the company of the two together. Nowhere but the Hammer and Anvil could offer such a treat, and he had plenty of crests and afternoons to spare.

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This image is of an actual hotel, called Medieval Hotel Detenice.

As Tabor made his way down the staircase to the tavern’s gathering room, he noticed his stonefather seated at the bar. A nubile South Island beauty was vying with an ample Hrundl dame for his attention. Racine was awkwardly perched between the two, uncomfortably focusing on his stein of ale rather than the women at his side. Tabor stifled a laugh. Although Racine was more than twenty years his senior, he was clearly as out of place at the Hammer and Anvil as a greenhorn farm boy looking for his first romp. Tabor paused on the stairwell, wondering if he should leave Racine alone a bit longer, as his stonefather had obviously been sent to the tavern to look for him. Perhaps it would do him some good, make him a little less on edge.

A split second before Tabor turned to make his way back to the pair of beauties waiting upstairs, Racine caught sight of him. The old bachelor cumbersomely attempted to disentangle himself from the South Islander’s vines, which had managed to creep their way around him in an obscene manner – by “downstairs standards” at least. Leaving his drink behind, Racine made his way to a table near the fire, and Tabor followed suit.

The boy gestured to the barkeep, who promptly filled two more steins and brought them to the table. Tabor took a swig of the ale, waiting for Racine to begin his lecture.

Racine looked around the room with distaste. “It appears you’ve been keeping yourself quite busy.”

Tabor smirked. “How did you find me?”

“Where you spend your days is no secret, son. Your father is looking for you.”

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Image from Hans Holbein (1538). Title “The Drunkards.”

The boy took another long swig. “Are there more stables to muck or horses to be shod?”

“He didn’t inform me, but I’m sure he’s aware of your lackluster performance with Captain Hammon.”

“I have better things to do than practice dressage.”

As if on cue, Jayne and Bethe descended the staircase. Racine raised his eyebrow and stared pointedly at Tabor.  “So it seems.”

Though Tabor had only been out of the academy for nine moons, he’d already held four different posts in his father’s service – each more mundane and tedious as the last. He’d shown much promise as a young lad, practicing with Captain Essex in the yard and Racine in the classroom. At the academy, he progressed quickly in his courses, excelling in weaponry and battle tactics. But, upon graduation, there was little activity that spoke to his skills.

He’d begun as a Guide, leading tithes across the Spine. The assignment proved riveting for only two quick romps to Rana and back, after which he learned that the stories of the Spine were things of the past. The mercenaries seemed to have settled into respectable businesses, where they could rob travelers under the guise of free trade. When he failed to show up for his third trek, his father assigned him to two consecutive posts in the Naval Guard, neither of which lasted a moon. To better keep his eye on his son, Shorack finally placed him with Captain Hammon in the Equestrian Guard – which just happened to be annexed to the palace. Already a seasoned horseman, Tabor learned to parade around after the royal carriage on official outings and ceremonies, but he preferred to ride with his family and hated the pompous formality of the post. Needless to say, he shirked his duties as often as he attended to them.Image

“He likely has need for an errand boy, rather than something that will actually rely on my talents,” Tabor said acridly.

“Drinking and whoring?” Racine grabbed Tabor’s stein and emptied the remains on the floor.

“And how else should I be spending my time? The realm has no use for me, and, until it does, I prefer to spend my time here than with tithes and old men.”

Racine shook his head and rose. He knew it was no good to lecture the boy, so he took his leave, having delivered the summons.

Tabor downed what was left in Racine’s mug and motioned to the barkeep, who brought him a fresh brew.

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H is for Heikegani

Technically, today’s animal isn’t a mythological creature; it’s a folktale from Japan.

H is for Heikegani.

Image The Heikengani is a crab specific to Japan. Their shells resemble a samurai warrior’s face, so they were thought to be the reincarnated spirits of fallen soldiers.

Specifically, the Heikengani are the spirits of the Heike soldiers who drowned during the Battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185. The Heike controlled Japan under the Empire, while the Minamoto were trying to destroy the empire and implement their own government. The Minamoto eventually won the war, which is how the first Shogun was put in power.

The drowned Heike samurai were transformed into Heikegani, who now patrol the ocean. Folktales say that the crab came into existence directly after the battle.

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An image of the battle by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The crab is seen on the far left panel in the center.

Carl Sagan popularized these crabs in 1980 when he discussed them on his television show, Cosmos. He used the Heikegani as an example of artificial selection, claiming that the Japanese would not eat the crabs. Thinking they were spirits of soldiers, the fishermen would throw them back into the water. This allowed the species to flourish. However, others have pointed out that Heikegani are too small to eat (the shell is about an inch in diameter), so Sagan’s theory has some holes. The creases in the shell are actually points of articulation for the crab’s limbs.

Seeing human qualities in inanimate objects (such as a crab’s shell) is called pareidolia. It’s believed that this trend was popular in early cultures, especially those who believed in the supernatural. It is a way of making sense out of the world and seeing connections that are easy to recognize in natural phenomena.

Sources:Andrew Kincaid. “Heikegani – The Samurai Crab.” (2013)

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G is for Ghaddar

And we’re back to the Middle East for today’s letter…G is for Ghaddar.

ImageThe Ghaddar is one of many pre-Islamic djinn (or jinn) – evil demons that inhabit the earth. While scholars quibble over the details, a few general attributes of the Ghaddar appear: they kidnap and torture their prey, ultimately leaving them alone in the desert.

As the children of Iblis (the devil), Ghaddar are hideous beasts, often depicted as giants. While no one is sure, some seem to think that the creatures are only female. Unlike more alluring female demons (such as the succubus), Ghaddar are horrific and framed to terrify rather than entice. (The image is obviously not of a female demon. Most artists create seductive female demons, so I included this one instead.)

The type of torture they inflict varies from myth to myth. Many stories focus on the Ghaddar eating the genitals of male travelers. No matter the form of torture, they leave their victims alone (sometimes alive, sometimes dead) in the middle of the desert. The creatures, then, serve as a cultural warning about traveling alone, popular in myths from around the world (e.g. Little Red Riding Hood).

If the myth that Ghaddars are women is true, then the moral becomes slightly different. It’s still warning travelers, but about an all-too-real phenomenon – prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases. I’ll let you figure out the link with that for yourself…

Sonia Nimr has taken this myth and re-framed it for children in her book, Ghaddar the Ghoul and Other Palestinian Stories.  Of course, there is no genital eating in this edition.

Sources:
Theresa Bane. Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures. (2012)

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Oren (Chapter 3, Part 3)

The end of chapter three…wherein I try my hand at poetry…

***

1

Oren felt the vague sensation of movement. He slowly opened his eyes, but could only make out a blur of greens and blues and browns. His body was a strange mix of numbness and stabbing pain at different locations. Realizing he was lying on his back, Oren attempted to sit up, but his muscles would not comply. The clop of a horse’s hooves and a merry whistling filled his pounding head. At the very last second, Oren turned his head to the right and vomited. His headache subsided a bit.

“Whoa!” came a voice from behind him. The movement came to a halt with a jolt.

Soon, a stranger was kneeling next to him, wiping the boy’s face and shirt. “So you’re awake then?” the man asked.

As his sight began to clear, Oren realized that he was strapped into a litter in the back of a shoddy two-wheeled cart. Instinctively, he began pulling against the restraints.

“Best to stay put, if you asked me,” the stranger informed him. “I’ll loosen ‘em if you want, but the apoth says that the less you move, the better. With all this bouncing around from travel, any unnecessary movement may be your death.”

“Where am I?” Oren asked groggily.

“Somewhere in the Spine, I’m sorry to inform you. But we’ll be passing through a gate to Agralax within the hour if you don’t go spewing your guts up every five minutes. I thought you’d be out of it until we could reach a surgeon. Actually, I wasn’t sure you’d ever be waking up. But, then again, I’m no surgeon myself.”

“What happened?” Oren asked as the man passed him a canteen of water. He rinsed his mouth out and spit.

“Hell, boy, I was gonna ask the same from you. We were supposed to meet your group at the Feldeen gate but were waylaid by a downed bridge spanning the Equinox. Showed up the next morning, and everyone was dead – soldiers, tithes, horses, you name it. Looks like you were hit by some pretty nasty archers. There were arrows sticking out everywhere. Had a few of ‘em poking out of yourself as well, though our apoth was able to remove them and cauterize the bleeding. Seems that horse landing on you was the luckiest thing that could’ve happened. Likely saved your life.”

Oren’s memory started to return, and he flashed back to the mayhem in the camp.

“The apoth says you’ve got some busted ribs and broken bones, but we’ll have to get you to the surgeon before we can see if there’s any permanent damage.”

Oren tried to wiggle his toes, but couldn’t see if his efforts were fruitful as his mud-covered boots were still strapped to his feet. “So you’re a Guard?”

“Sure am. Ensign Rodger Downs. I was a tithe from Feldeen, just like you. I was one of the first batch to go into service. Just one more turn before I get to go home again, but they up and promoted me. Haggled me into three more years of service. Not that there’s much left for me to go back to. My family’s lands were burned during the war, and we just didn’t have the money to start again. I decided to try my luck as a Guardsman and make my way in the world.”

Oren tried to nod, but the effort proved too much. “We’re going to Agralax?”

“Yep, Temple to be exact. We’ve already gotten two days of travel done.” Downs held up his water skin to Oren’s mouth. The boy gagged on his first two attempts, but was able to swallow a little on the third.

Oren tried to do the math in his head, which proved more difficult than he anticipated.

“We bickered back and forth for a while about where to take you – on to Vustania or to Agralax. The marshal wanted you to report directly to Llewling to fill the captain in on what in the seven hells happened out there. But the apoth seemed to think that the surgeons at Temple could do you the best service, especially if your back is damaged. I spent my first two years of patrol in Temple, so I offered to take you up there myself. When you feel up to it, we can send a hawk to the powers that be about the massacre.”

“I don’t remember much,” Oren said, trying to hold onto the snippets of memory. His pounding head and rolling stomach weren’t making it easy. The flashes contained horses and arrows and fire, but he couldn’t put them in order or make sense of them.

“Maybe that’s for the best,” the ensign offered. He sighed and urged Oren to take one more drink before strapping the skin back to his shoulder pouch. “For now, let’s focus on getting you put back together. We’ve got a rough road and a long way to go, but I sent a message to the wasals at Temple. Someone who can help should be meeting us at the gate. The apoth says you should try to stay awake on account of that nasty lump on your head. Though I don’ know what good it’ll do you, seeing as you’ve been out of it for at least three days already. I was beginning to think you’d turned into a vegetable on me, son.”

Downs smiled compassionately and returned to his mount.

As they made their way through the Spine, the guard continued to prattle on, but Oren couldn’t tell whether the words were meant for the horse or for himself. It didn’t matter. Oren slipped in and out of consciousness, finally letting a sweet dream overtake the harsh reality. He was a child back in Daley, sitting in the schoolyard, where his sister and her friends were skipping rope and chanting a simple rhyme they’d heard a thousand times from minstrels stopping though on their way to nowhere and everywhere.

Beware the wild world

Unto travelers unfurled.

Each stronghold unique,

Its own brand of mystique.

 

In Agralax rich,

Your wounds surgeons will stitch.

But wizards and priests

Wear the mark of the beast.

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Oren (Chapter 3, Part 2)

Finally, some action. I am planning on revising Chapters One and Two to be less “talky.” I just haven’t hit that creative point yet!

I know I just posted the first part of the chapter yesterday, but I won’t be around much this weekend. You’ll have to wait for the third and final installment of Oren’s chapter on Monday. 🙂

***

ImageOren wasn’t sure what woke him, but he sat up and looked around. The moon was still high in the sky, and the pastels of sunrise had yet to grace the east. Aside from the remains of a dozen or so campfires, all was dark and still. Brewster stirred beside him.

“What is it?” he whispered, still half asleep.

Oren listened for anything out of place. Aside from a whicker from one of the soldier’s horses, there was silence.

“Nothing,” Oren assured his friend. “I just have to piss. I’ll be right back.”

He stood and walked down the slope to the area where the horses were corralled. As he was unbuttoning his pants, one of the horses let out a wild scream. Startled, Oren looked over in the horse’s area, just in time to see the stallion crumple to the ground, continuing to writhe and snort.

Oren stepped into the corral to see what was wrong with the beast. The commotion was infecting the other mounts, as they backed away from their fallen comrade, wildly rolling their eyes and snorting. Two more horses dropped just as quickly as the first, shrieking in pain and rolling on the ground. The remaining creatures became frenzied, pawing at the ground and circling riotously, trying to pinpoint the invisible attacker. Oren shared the horses’ fear, darting his gaze from left to right. Only when a fourth steed fell directly in front of him did Oren realize what was happening.

Three arrows emerged from the palfrey’s withers. The animal screamed out into the night, wheezing as it attempted to suck in air. Its eyes fixed firmly onto Oren’s, as if calling out for help.

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The melee at the corral had spilled over into the main camp. The guards ran back and forth, barking orders at the young men – none of whom had had a day of military training in their lives. The boys did their best to assemble as ordered, but with so many people shouting so many different orders, it was hard to tell whose commands trumped whose. Men ran amok around the campsite, yet there was little they could do to prepare for battle, as the boys hadn’t yet been armed. They were just farm boys who knew more about soil composition than warfare.

Amidst the panicked yelling, an earsplitting shriek pierced through the cool night. Oren couldn’t tell who had let out the bloodcurdling screech, but he was certain the sound was a harbinger of death. Then another and another cry added to the symphony of death. As Oren attempted to regain his footing, the wails increased, mixed with the sounds of the tithes’ prayers and cries for theImageir mothers. The eerie sounds seemed to invade the very air of the night, coming from multiple directions and yet nowhere at all.

The same arrows that impaled the horses now struck the tithes and soldiers. The boys he had grown up with were becoming human pin cushions right in front of his eyes. The lucky ones fell to the ground dead, while the unlucky slowly bled out, sobbing and praying for death. Still, Oren could discern no archers, no enemy.

Oren was frozen, watching the carnage in front of him. He pissed his pants, unable to make a move either towards his dying friends or away from the gruesome scene. We’re farmers, he thought. Who would want to kill farmers?Image

To his left, a black destrider reared back on its hind legs as an arrow sank deep into its crest. Oren fell backwards to avoid being kicked in the head, stumbling over a fallen mare as he lurched back. The nape of Oren’s neck connected with a large rock as he fell to his back. As he gazed up at the sky above, the last thing he recalled was the muddled sense that the sky itself was raining down the arrows.

[To be continued…]

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Oren (Chapter 3, Part 1)

This is the last shifting in storyline for a little while. Overall, there are six character perspectives, but chapter four starts tying them together. (We go to Nikolas’s son and the continuation of the plot line in chapter two.)

My question to you: Do you think that three plot lines is too overwhelming at this early stage in the book? Might it be better to go back to Makenna’s plot line (chapter one) or continue with Nikolas’s plot line (chapter two) rather than add the third one here? Your honest, critical opinion would be helpful. Thanks!

***

Yorkshire_Dales_by_deBurcaOren Sarsguard shifted his pack to his right shoulder as he continued down the gravel road. An excessively wet winter had left the road a slurry of mud and pebbles, which squished around Oren’s boots and made an oozing slurp as he lifted his foot. He couldn’t decide whether it was a good thing that he was in the rear of troop, as the road had been tramped down a bit by the hundred other men in front of him, or if it would have been preferable to march in the front and not trip on the occasional boot print.

Normally, Oren would not have been part of the tithe troops. As the oldest son, he was responsible for studying for the Farmers Guild exam in anticipation of taking over his father’s orchards one day. But as the number of required tithes had been raised in anticipation for the anniversary of the Unification, the Bakers, Vintners, and Farmers Guilds located in Feldeen had offered to double the price for any goods purchased from families where the tithes had volunteered. Although the Sarsguards had never wanted for money, the cold winter had pushed the growing seasons back at least three weeks, which meant that their annual profit was in danger. And with all of the competition from foreign goods stemming from the new trade agreements, even a slightly postponed harvesting season could open the door for their competition to take over the market.

orchard2So Oren had enlisted, promising ten years of service to the realm for the welfare of his family. It wasn’t such a bad trade off, in actuality. Since the Unification, few soldiers saw action. The military was more akin to a local militia force, keeping the peace on a smaller scale, acting as communications liaisons between strongholds, repairing fallen segments of walls, and, in the case of this new troop, ensuring the safety of the Neban capitol during the anniversary festivities. Oren’s sister, Tasha, could take over the orchard when the time came. And his own pension would allow him to purchase another plot to expand the family business upon his return.

Oren’s boot made another perfunctory slurp as Brewster Jefer slid next to him. “Blast this bloody mud,” Brewster complained as he shook his left boot in an unsuccessful attempt to clear the tread of the slop. “No matter how tightly I tie the laces, it seeps into my sock.”

“You’d better get used to it,” replied a young soldier on horseback from behind them. “It’s like this all the way to Vustania. There’s been talk of paving the main thoroughfares, but, with the Unification ceremony, that isn’t likely to happen for a while. And, of course, when they do finally pave the roads, we’ll be the ones out here laying the rock.”

Brewster murmured something under his breath, low enough for the soldier not to hear. As his name suggested, Brewster’s family belonged to the Brewers Guild, though they were one of the lesser houses. Unlike the larger families who sold their ale throughout Nebe, the Jefers were content to keep their business within Feldeen’s borders, even within the confines of their hometown of Daley.

Brewster’s and Oren’s families owned adjacent land plots, though the Jefers’ land was significantly smaller and less fertile. The boys had grown up together. Like Oren, Brewster had joined the army to help out his family – or, rather, his family had compelled him to go. As the youngest of six, Brewster was just another mouth to feed on a scant income. His father persuaded him that joining the army would provide him with more opportunities than were available in Daley. At the moment, though, all Brewster was gaining was a leg cramp and mud between his toes.

They band of tithes had been walking for three days towards the central gate leading from Feldeen to the Spine – or the no-man’s land between the strongholds that spanned the innermost regions of Nebe. When the strongholds were formed thousands of years earlier, the Lords squabbled endlessly about the appropriate borders of the six lands. To appease everyone involved, the concept of the Spine was introduced and finally ratified. Each stronghold’s border would open into the Spine, rather than jut into another stronghold. The neutral area allowed travelers and soldiers space to move between strongholds without having to enter another’s territory.

Of course, rather than providing a space for movement amongst the lands, the Spine served to keep inhabitants within their own strongholds. As a lad, Oren heard exciting yet terrifying tales from his grandmother about the people who inhabited the Spine – mercenaries, who, under no official rule, could literally get away with murder, rape, and general mayhem. After the Unification, Protector Shorack attempted to quell the rumors and “clean up” the Spine. Since the underlying agenda of the Unification was to unite the strongholds and promote free trade, the citizens had to feel safe upon entering the Spine to do business with the other strongholds. Oren wasn’t sure whether to believe in his grandmother’s boogeymen or the Protector’s propaganda.

After another hour of weary travel, the band of would-be soldiers stopped to make camp for the night. They chose a spot about two miles west of the central gate, so they could meet up with a second batch of Feldeen tithes on the morrow and march directly through the Spine and into Vustania without having to stop. Whether the captain of the guard was fearful of what they might run in the Spine or didn’t want a hundred frightened young men spending the night in the area between the strongholds, Oren couldn’t tell. He was, however, pleased at the thought of spending one last night in his native land before embarking on the newest phase of his life.

72754081.NCg9Hb31.english_countrysideOren and Brewster found a grassy hillock on the outskirts of the camp where the mud wouldn’t infiltrate their sleeping packs. Several other boys from Daley joined them, and the group started a campfire to begin heating their rations. The yeast rolls, salted meat, and beans were a far cry from what the young men were used to, as Feldeen was a veritable cornucopia of farmland. Fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables graced even the poorest tables in the stronghold, as the locals bartered in the town markets. Although Neban officials attempt to stop the practice of bartering after the Unification – preferring all transactions to be completed with the new currency – old practices died hard. There just weren’t enough guards to close down the markets completely, and those that were present would turn a blind eye for a share of the fare.

As the boys dined on their “feast,” they recalled past times spent together in their small town as well as the fetes of daring that they would perform in the service of Nebe. They stayed up late into the night reminiscing about past loves and schoolboy pranks and harvests. But when the subject shifted to their families, the boys became quiet and subdued. More than a few sniffles went around the group as they realized what they were leaving behind. Despite their false bravado, they were still young men who had never traveled far from Daley. The prospect of being away for ten whole years was daunting to even the bravest among them.

Long after sunset, the lads crawled into their sleeping packs and drifted off to dream of the schoolgirls who would be wives and mothers by the time they returned.

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Nikolas (Chapter 2, Part 2)

The end of the second chapter…

***

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A hearty laugh sounded behind the Protector. “My Lord,” Sar Racine said as he took a place next to Shorack. “What do you think of our new lot?”

“Green,” Shorack replied. “Hrundhl provided many of the best warriors in the land at one time. Remember the Siege of Offed?”

Racine chuckled. “That was many years ago, my Lord. Hrundhl raises their young men for lumbering and leatherwork now. But they still come from solid warrior stock. They’ve got fighting blood in those stocky bodies somewhere, and, if anyone can bring it out, Essex can.”

Shorack silently agreed. Essex had guided both him and Racine in their own courses as young men. If he could take the sons of shipwrights and fishmongers and turn them into two of the most experienced and feared swordsmen in the land, he could polish these Hrundhl turds into diamonds as well. Or, at least costume jewelry that would pass as diamonds to keep the public in order during the festival.

The two friends nodded at Essex as they turned from the courtyard.

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“I thought you were supposed to be in a cabinet meeting, my Lord,” Racine said as they sauntered through an archway that led to the green.

“I’m fairly certain those misers and toadeaters can handle the current affairs on their own by now. My involvement in Neban affairs is a pleasantry the Guilds extend to me. I’m aware that I’m an unnecessary vestige of times gone by. I won them their freedom and power, so they are compliant with my position within the country, but they know as well as I do that there’s no need for a warlord Protector any longer.”

Racine began to make a polite rebuttal to ensure his comrade of his necessity to the realm, but Shorack raised a hand to silence him. “The last thing I need right now is another flatterer or rhetorician. We all know that I hold no true power any longer. And I have no taste for bureaucracy or economics. Why do I care whether the crops are flourishing in Feldeen or the acolytes have enough tallow in Agralax or the moneylenders are charging high interest rates in Rana? The realm is at peace.”

“You always were a ‘big-picture’ man, Nikolas,” Racine noted, dropping the pomp of titles while they were out of earshot from bystanders.

“I’m old and bored. Even if I wanted to launch a crusade to ‘save’ the handful of unhallowed tribesmen in the north or wage a land war with the south islanders, I couldn’t physically do it. I’d have to sit on my hollow throne, living vicariously through the feats of young men who were still being swaddled when we had our chance twenty turns ago.” He sighed. “When did we get so old, Peder?”

“A long time ago, my friend, a long time ago. But I bear news that might provide you with a little amusement for the moment.”

Shorack raised an eyebrow.

“We are expecting the shipment from Feldeen within the week, and another hundred set out three days ago from the Agralax Gate,” Racine offered. “Instead of letting Essex have all the fun, get out in the yard again. I’m sure your presence would boost morale and solidify the men’s faith in you. As you know, your position will always be stronger than that of the guilds as long as you control the military. Make the men worship you and secure your future.”

Nikolas shook his head. Somehow, the thought of farm boys and magicians did little to raise Shorack’s hopes for the next lot of tithes. He was never meant to be an instructor. He was a warrior and had no patience for training recruits, especially as there was no real purpose for the training. No, the Protector knew that his was a dying breed and his art would die along with him.

“It’s not my future I’m worried about. I have children to think about now. What is to come of them? Tabor especially. He knows no trade and scorns the guilds. He’s too much his father’s son, I fear. There is no precedent for the Protectorate. Will he ascend to the title, or will the guilds choose one of their own? Perhaps the office will be complete once I am done.”

Racine understood. Tabor was Shorack’s eldest son, and his own stoneson. He was born of Shorack’s first wife four years before the first regicide, when the men were at the peak of their military careers. At the time, war was mounting and hit full stride soon after. War was a way of life until Tabor was near ten. The father and stonefather instilled in the boy a love for weaponry and battle, never thinking that the time would come when those skills were no longer necessary. Now, at seventeen, Tabor had graduated from his military courses, having trained directly under Essex for years. He had only been out of school for a few months, but already he was bored with routine scouting missions, city guard duty, and escorting tithes across the Spine. Both men were afraid that the boy’s restlessness could lead to resentment between the Protectorate and the guilds, as Tabor was wont to get into mischief when left alone for too long with nothing to occupy his energy.

“Have we heard from Goffany?” Shorack asked, suddenly interested in the tithes.

Racine paused, trying to read his old friend. “We’ve sent a second ship.”

“And what of the first ship?”

“No word, my Lord. But we’ve had reports of foul storms near the cape. I personally sent another hawk to cross the Pentheas this morning.”

Shorack knew as well as Racine that the ship had not been delayed by weather. “Send another hawk to the outpost at the central Ranan gate. Have them prepare a party for a westerly march if necessary.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“And have Tabor report to my study first thing tomorrow.”

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