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Behind the Scenes: Ancient Nebe

Please see the post on Neban Religion to better understand this post.

ImageAfter Azed’s sons taught the Unhallowed the ways of their father, they took wives and settled in different lands, hoping to spread the message amongst the various tribes. However, Nebe was still one land. The walls had yet to be built, and the sons and their followers shared amongst each other, despite the distance between them.

Hundreds of turns later, man forgot Azed, remembering only his sons and their differences. The sons had been fruitful and filled the land with generations of children who honored their forefathers. How could the farmer Amir be the same as the shipwright Aded? What could the priest Abiel have in common with the scribe Abrien?

Fighting broke out amongst the land as man forgot their connections, for how could a priest praise without written language or how could a ship sail without the builder? To better honor their own god, each land formed mighty walls to keep the others out. Thus, the Strongholds were formed.

According to Neban historians, an unbroken line of fathers and sons can trace their lineage back to the son-gods. Those men became the first lords of the Strongholds.

In Vustania, the Llyr dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Willif Llyr, who was the first to fall in Shorack’s Revolution.

In Feldeen, the Lagier dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Burl Lagier, who fell in the first turn of the Revolution.

In Rana, the Fazil dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Valin Fazil, who fell in the second turn of the Revolution.

In Hrundl, the Zimmer dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Padrik Zimmer, who fell in third turn of the Revolution.

In Agralax, the Pfaff dynasty began. The last Lord was Simonis Pfaff, who fell in the third turn of the Revolution.

In Goffany, the Taksony dynasty began. The last Lord was Lord Garret Taksony, who fell in the fourth turn of the Revolution.

While there is much more to Neban history than this simple overview, suffice it to say that the Stronghold stood for almost two millennia before Shorack’s Revolution (which happens approximately ten turns before our tale begins).

Shorack’s Revolution and the Unification will comprise the next “Behind the Scenes” post.

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Van (Chapter 5, Part 2)

I’m pretty stuck with Van at the moment, so there may be no continuation of this chapter right now. I’ve already skipped ahead to writing chapters six and seven. I keep hoping something will come to me so I can finish this chapter…some kind of conflict. Sigh. But here you go…

***

287117-36817-13The deck was buzzing with life and excitement as the soldiers made ready to put to shore. Everyone seemed to feel the same way as their commander – the sooner they got off the boat, the better. From below the decks, Van heard the telltale rattling of chains. Soon after, some of his more seasoned soldiers brought forth a haggard group of men, all chained together by at the wrists and ankles. The shirtless captives squinted and tried to block the sun from their eyes as they rose from below deck. While their unshaved faces, bare feet, and soiled clothing attested to their week in the bowels of the ship, their upright posture and muscular build hinted that they were no ordinary prisoners.

“What would you like us to do with them, Lieutenant?” asked Marshal Leuke Green, Van’s second in command.

“I’d like for you to tie weights to the chains and throw them in the ocean,” Van replied coldly. “Be done with them once and for all.”

Something akin to fear crossed one or two of the chained men’s faces, but the others gave no sign of weakness.

“However, General Walters has ordered them to be delivered in tact. He seems to think they’ll make a nice bargaining chip.”

He walked up and down the line of prisoners, eyeing each one closely. He needed to choose his next steps wisely.

Van turned his back on the prisoners, looking over the deck and the rising land in the distance. “You are now in Goffan waters and, as such, under the jurisdiction of the Stronghold’s Courts.”

The ship swelled as the beginnings of a rolling wave lifted the boat and set it down quickly. Van’s stomach turned, and he struggled to hold down his lunch. After making sure the bile was back in his stomach where it belonged, he faced the men once again. “You have been placed under the Goffan Guard, awaiting your trial.”

“On what charges?” spat a lankly man whose hair was obviously blonde under all the dirt from the brig. Van had picked him out earlier as one of the group’s leaders. His tanned and well-defined upper arms revealed his tattoos – two black diamonds, one on his right shoulder and one a little further down. The second was much darker than the first, informing Van that the man’s promotion from ensign to marshal had come recently. The shine of the kraken ink still gave the diamond the appearance of being wet when the sun hit it. Everyone else in the group displayed only one diamond or the simple cross where a diamond might one day appear.

warVan still had the vestiges of his former life emblazoned on his shoulder – a single black diamond, though it was much faded. He’d attempted to remove it using every old wives’ tale in the book – Doxal flames, a bitter tonic purchased from an unhallowed tribesman in the Spine, a thrice-daily rub with gopher root. Aside from the rash the last had produced, nothing seemed to dull the seemingly indestructible ink. However, he hid the black tattoo under an intricately woven wool tunic that displayed three maroon diamonds along the arms, denoting his status in the Goffan Guard.

Van stood toe to toe with the marshal. He had to admit that, despite the man’s chains, the Neban soldier cut quite an imposing figure.

“What is your name, Marshal?” Van asked without breaking eye contact.

“Marshal Gaven Haft of the Neban Guard.”

“And where are you from, Gaven?”

A flame briefly lit in the soldier’s eyes when Van addressed him by his familiar name, but he doused the blaze with a single blink. “Nebe,” he replied flatly.

Van smiled as the man provided the answer he’d expected. “Yes, of course,” he said, turning to the right and walking causally up the line, gesticulating flippantly. “But before that. What stronghold do you hail from?”

“I belong to no stronghold. I am Neban.”

The standard Neban soldier’s answer.

“Well, Marshal Gaven Haft of the Unified Nebe and not a stronghold, let me introduce myself.” He turned back to face the line of men. “I am Lieutenant Van Ludlow of Goffany. And the lot of you are under my protection until you are safely delivered to Captain Bryce Walters and the Goffan Court on the charges of kidnapping and slavery.”

He heard some of the prisoners suck in air when he announced the indictment, but the marshal merely chuckled haughtily.

“Something funny?” asked Van, looking down his nose at the man.

“You’re in deep shit, Lieutenant.” He spoke Van’s title as if it acid on his tongue.

“You best watch your tone, Marshal, lest I add insubordination to the list of infractions.”

“You’re local militia. The lowest piss-ant private in the Neban Guard outranks the highest captain amongst you. Hell, a callow tithe outranks your captains.”

trial_scene_1809_webVan knew Haft was technically correct. The local stronghold militias were established as a supplement to the Neban Guard. Since the Protector couldn’t keep all his hands in all the pies around the realm, he’d consented to local militias and courts – so long as they upheld the Neban laws. And that was precisely what Van and his soldiers were doing. Both slavery and kidnapping were, according to the letter of the law, illegal and tried before the local courts at the Quarter Sessions. A bit more problematic was the legal interpretation that tithing was a form of slavery and kidnapping. Haft was well aware the charges would never hold up in a Neban court, but Van was equally secure in the knowledge that his prisoners weren’t going to a Neban court.

“I’m sure the figurative shit I’m in is nothing compared to the literal shit on your pants, Marshal. Didn’t they teach you the importance of cleanliness in your courses?”

The time below deck had not been kind on the prisoners, and Van almost felt sorry for them based on his own lackluster voyage. Haft couldn’t keep the pale pink from rising in his cheeks, though he continued to stare stonily ahead. Van had him where he wanted him.

“Well, Gaven from Nebe, judging by the lilt in your accent, you’re Vustanian. Raised on pomp and circumstance, no doubt. Mommy and Daddy fed you bedtime stories about chivalry and honor. I’m sure you enlisted as soon as you turned seventeen. Probably on your nameday. Probably got a fancy horse and bag full of coin as a reward. Probably have a sweetheart waiting back home and counting the days til you make Lieutenant. I wonder what Sweet Sally would say if she could see you now, covered in your own excrement.”

Another prisoner coughed in a feeble attempt to cover obvious laughter. Van smiled to himself, now able to pinpoint his true target.

[To be continued, but I don’t know when…]

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Van (Chapter 5, Part 1)

Here, we meet Van. It is a continuation of the plot line in Chapters Two and Four. We’ll return to Makenna in the next chapter (which is still in progress…actually, so is this chapter!).

To make things easier on you, the novel has three plot lines – Makenna’s trip to Llewling, the politics of revolution (Nikolas, Tabor, and Van – as well as Makenna and Oren to a lesser extent), and Oren’s trip to Agralax. They all tie in together eventually – though I’m still working that out. The characters like to defy my plans for them as I write…and then I have to rearrange everything!

I have no background in maritime culture, so the ship and it’s layout are a bit confusing to me. I read Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea yesterday, and I learned a few things that I’m going to work in. I’ve also been reading up on medieval ships, but I’d appreciate any feedback you could give!

***

ship“Prepare the men immediately. We’ll be docking within the hour.”¹

“Yes, Lieutenant,” the soldier replied before saluting, turning on his heels, and exiting the cabin.

Van said a silent prayer of thanks that they would at last be on dry land once again. He’d spent the last fortnight with his head hanging over the hull, losing what little he was able to stomach when he wasn’t retching.² A fine sight he made as a commander. At least most of his men had been right alongside with him.

Goffans had never been seafaring folk, though the stronghold was bordered by the ocean to both the south and the west. The currents didn’t favor the land the way they did in the eastern strongholds of Vustania or Rana. The coasts of Goffany were rugged and rocky. A handful of Goffans lived in small villages that spotted the coast, but they were mostly immigrants from the south who’d left when the Doxa took over their homeland in a futile attempt to convert them near a hundred turns ago. While most Goffans adhered to the Doxa, they were more accepting of other walks of life than the South Islands’ other neighbors to the north.

No, most true Goffans preferred the foothills of the Pentheas to the sea any day. The Unified Guard established Vust Goffany – the only city even remotely resembling a true sea port – as far east as possible to avoid the choppy waters that increased in intensity the further west one travelled. Before converted into a Vust, the town was little more than handful of traders’ houses and a few Ranan sailors who chartered voyages to the islands or the eastern Strongholds for a hefty sum. Now, Vust Rana was nearing the size of Goffany’s capitol, Haverty, but neither came close to the size, population, or grandeur of the realm’s other major cities.

PU0267Of course, Van and his crew weren’t putting in at the Neban Guard’s major foothold in Goffany. In fact, they’d spent an extra two days in deep waters to avoid being spotted. This likely saved their lives, but did little to help the seasickness.

Van read over his letter to Captain Walters to make sure everything was in place. It contained a brief account of the mission’s progress and confirmed the rendezvous place and date in Haverty. Once satisfied, Van rolled the scroll and set his seal upon it.

He left the cabin for what he hoped would be the last time and handed the letter to the guard posted at the door. “Make sure this gets sent the moment we make land.”

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

[To be continued in Part 2…]

Notes
¹Is “docking” the proper term? The boat is out in the water, and the people on land send longboats out to get them.

² Would “hull” be the correct term? He’s basically throwing up over the side of the ship.

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Tabor (Chapter 4, Part 3)

This post contains foul language, so please read on at your own discretion. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

***

0928_map_crop

Not my map (which is not ready yet)

The pair walked down the hallway towards the Protector’s study. Tabor suddenly felt like a young boy again, trailing behind his father on his way to be reprimanded for pulling his sister’s braids. It was a walk he knew all too well. A guard opened the door to the study and stood back so the men could enter.

Shorack walked to a corner table and poured a single goblet of wine. Understanding that he was not to partake in a drink with his father, Tabor sat down and glanced around at the maps that donned the walls to his right. An immense map of Nebe hung in the center, while smaller renderings of the different strongholds and major cities were draped around it. He could feel his father’s icy blue eyes on him. When he realized that his father’s attention was not going anywhere, Tabor turned to face him.

“The Hinder Blue is missing.”

To Tabor, the sentence sounded like an ancient riddle or secret message that required a precise response. Unfortunately, he had no idea what the reply should be. What in Azed’s name was the Hinder Blue, and what did it have to do with his spending too much time at the Hammer and Anvil? Tabor scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head slightly to the right. His father continued to look him straight in the eyes as he took a sip from his goblet. Tabor fumbled for the correct response.

“She left Vust Goffany near a fortnight ago and hasn’t been seen since.”

Oh, a ship. Of course. Tabor nodded.

“She was carrying a hundred tithes here to Llewling. They were supposed to make landfall in Vust Rana on their way, but they never showed. That was seven days ago. We thought perhaps they decided to forgo the mid-journey stop and head straight here. They were due three days ago. We haven’t heard word of them.”

He paused to let the import of the situation sink in.

“Shipwreck?” Tabor asked.

“We’ve had reports of a series of spring storms reaching the Cape, so it’s possible. However, no scouting parties have found any wreckage washed ashore. There certainly would have been something if that was the case.”

Tabor nodded.

EuropeanShips3“To make matters worse, Racine has sent two hawks to Goffany. We’ve heard no response. All communication with the vusts there seems to be at a halt. The last message from the other side of the Pentheas came when the Hinder Blue set out. Since then, nothing.”

“You think someone is intercepting the messages?”

“Either that or there’s no one capable of responding.” The Protector took in a deep breath, weighing his options. “I’ve sent word to the Neban Guard in Rana to prepare for a march westward through the mountains.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to send another ship, father? We could bypass the rough terrain altogether.”

“I am. One will leave from Vust Rana for the Cape, to see what they can find. Another will leave from Vust Wasland to enter the Goffan port. However, what concerns me most is not the missing ship. We can always gather more tithes. My worry is the lack of communication from Goffany. If Vust Goffany has been taken, then sending another ship will be an expensive waste of time.”

Tabor thought for a moment. While there were only two vusts in Goffany, it was unlikely that a band of rebels could overtake both camps without word getting out. There had been a few squabbles with traditionalists in the strongholds, but nothing to lead Tabor to believe that a formal rebel faction existed. Certainly, whatever separatists were out there didn’t seem large or powerful enough to overtake two cities full of Neban troops. Unless there was something his father wasn’t telling him.

“You and Racine will be leaving in the morning to join with those congregating at the Central Ranan gate. From there, you will march through the Pentheas into Goffany and attempt to re-establish communication with the troops posted there.”

This what it! What Tabor had been waiting for. A chance at a purposeful mission and some action. A Cheshire cat grin spread across his face, which he quickly checked for fear that his father would renege on the offer.

Shorack stiffened and looked at his son sternly. He seemed uncertain whether to address his next words to his son or his soldier. “You will be under Racine’s direct command. Your track record has been less than stellar recently.”

Tabor winced and looked to his feet, unable to meet his father’s gaze.

“No fuck ups.”

“No fuck ups,” the boy repeated.

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Tabor (Chapter 4, Part 2)

I’m quickly running out of chapters to showcase. I need to start writing more…

***

By the time Tabor arrived at the palace, it was well into dinnertime. He had spent the rest of the afternoon with the South Islander, seeing no reason to leave a good woman wanting. If nothing else, it was the chivalrous thing to do, and he was the son of the Protector, after all.

He sauntered into his father’s private dining room, where he found an open seat at the round table between the aging relic, Glandare, and his father’s newest acquisition, Larissa. A serving girl brought him a plate of braised pheasant over a bed of greens while another poured him a goblet of red wine. Tabor set into the plate immediately, having worked up quite a hunger from his busy afternoon.

Nikolas didn’t look up from his plate when his son entered, though he certainly noticed his presence. Aside from Tabor, the other Shorack children dined separately. Tabor had never been formally invited to his father’s table, but he had never been formally turned away either.

Tabor noticed that his mother was missing from the table, as was Wilona – neither of which surprised him. Kantessa and Wilona rarely deigned to dine with the other wives, preferring instead to take their meals with their respective children or with their own company. Tabor, as well, typically ate abroad or with his mother. Shorack’s Seraglio, as the realm derisively referred to his father’s unorthodox marital arrangements, was a sticking point with the boy. Plural marriage was not unheard of in Nebe, as it was practiced amongst the unhallowed and certain South Island immigrants, but it definitely went against the grain.

regicide-3

I’m an eighteenth-century scholar, so much of my novel is drawn from the English period of the Regicide of Charles I (1649) through the end of the eighteenth century. Charles II plays a major part in my characterization of both Nikolas and Tabor.

After the Unified Army’s conquest in Rana and Shorack’s appointment as the High Protector, the Doxal Eminent had issued a special dispensation allowing him to marry the wives of the three fallen Lords. Shorack deemed the marriages a political necessity. The act allowed him to avoid the appellation of a violent tyrant, as he did not have to try them for treason alongside their husbands. His scriveners wrote day and night, publicizing broadsides and chapbooks regaling Shorack’s clemency – and downplaying the unconventional consortium. Further, Shorack argued that the marriage would be a symbolic representation of a Unified Nebe. As the six strongholds would come together to form one country, the former Ladies and the Protector would come together as one family. Traditionalists could hold on to a part of the old regime while embracing the change.

Of course, it hadn’t been that simple. In addition to the outcries of many Nebans – the wasals in particular – Shorack had the difficult task of convincing the Ladies that aligning themselves with the man who essentially “murdered” their husband and children was sensible. On the eve of the ceremony, Lady Perle of Vustania leapt from her chamber’s window to her death. Tabor was not sure how his father had managed to convince Lady Becca of Feldeen and Lady Glandare of Rana to go through with the sacramental function (which had not been postponed despite the death of Lord Willif’s widow), but he had.

Two years later, when Hrundl fell, Lady Meaghan chose to follow Lady Perle’s example and sliced her wrists while her husband awaited beheading. Steps were then taken when the fifth stronghold, Agralax, fell and Lady Mallary was to wed the Protector, though they were unnecessary. Lord Simonis effectively sold his bride to Shorack in return for a life of exile in the South Islands. Mallary seemed unconcerned at the shift in husbands, as she had previously been sold to Simonis before her first blooding. Rumors abounded regarding the Lord’s harsh treatment of his wife – his third in a line of Ladies who had all succumbed to untimely deaths. Mallary became even more endeared to Shorack when she was allowed to issue the orders to the executioner upon Simonis’ assassination, a wedding present from the Protector to his newest bride.

But it was Wilona Taksony’s marriage to his father that puzzled Tabor the most. The Goffans fiercely outlasted the other strongholds’ unification, and Wilona had fought alongside her husband the entire way. Of all the former Ladies, Wilona was the only one whose marriage had not been arranged. She and Lord Taksony had been childhood friends whose relationship blossomed over the years, or at least that is what Tabor had heard. Why she had married his father was a mystery to the entire realm, who assumed she would rather die alongside her first husband than marry another. Rumor suggested that it had something to do with her daughter, Makenna, but other rumors suggested something more nefarious. As Wilona only had a tiny threshold for Tabor’s presence, she had never confided in him.

87

James Gillray is one of my favorite artists of the eighteenth century. This is a depiction of the French Revolution, based on Edmund Burke’s interpretation.

Of course, there was no love lost between Tabor and any of his father’s wives. He had been five when his father took the first two of his new wives, and he always took the action as a slight against his own mother, the original Mrs. Shorack. Kantessa never complained in public against her husband’s proclivity for taking on new wives (or even in private for all Tabor knew), but her eldest son was sure that his father’s marriages had to be a source of pain for his mother, especially when the Protector continued to take on additional wives after all the former Ladies had been incorporated into the “family.”

Endia was a South Island native, whom Shorack wed in a failed attempt to expand his reach across the sea, and Nance was a merchant’s daughter, whom his father had no good political excuse to wed. His newest marriage to Larissa Sem, the bastard daughter of the Doxal Eminent – the very man who had signed the original marriage dispensation – was just folly in Tabor’s opinion. However, he did hope it was a kick in the teeth to the old wasal. With each new wife, Shorack made himself a target for public satire and hatred. He just couldn’t see how his sham of a family no longer represented unification, which Tabor thought could have disastrous fallout.

The women were chatting about Larissa’s pregnancy as the servants cleared the plates from the table in preparation for the third course. She looked ready to pop any day – and about two moons too soon, according to Tabor’s calculations. They were discussing remedies for her swollen ankles and sore back.

“Did you have a productive day?”

The table went quiet as Shorack finally addressed his son.

“Yes, father,” Tabor replied, stuffing in one final bite of salad as his plate was taken from him.

“Tell me, is Merry Moll still working down at the Hammer and Anvil?”

Tabor nearly choked on the greens. Apparently his father had been following his comings and goings more closely than he had anticipated. “They call her Poxy Moll now. She’s taken in one too many sailors in her day, or so I’ve heard.”

Satirical print by Gillray - British Museum - 1796

Another Gillray. For more information on this particular story, see http://www.regencyhistory.net/2013/04/frances-villiers-countess-of-jersey.html

Shorack surveyed his son. “Follow me,” he said slowly, rising from the table as the serving women were bringing out platters of aromatic blue-gill tuna.

Tabor sighed. His father rarely missed a meal, and tuna was one of the Protector’s favorites. He knew he was in trouble if his father was skipping out on it.

[To be continued in Part 3]

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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.

Image

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.”

Image

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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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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