Nov 24

Kieri’s First Command: Part X

Posted: under Background, Characters, Contents, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  November 24th, 2022

Part X

One evening, coming out of the daily conference, Duke Marrakai asked Kieri to walk with him.  “The lad’s different.  I thought he’d sulk and complain and you have him smiling and cheerful.”

“He’s a good boy,” Kieri said.

“Sometimes,” the Duke said.  “And sometimes I’ve wanted to put a knot on his head.  You have no children, yet, do you?”

“No, but I watched Aliam Halveric and his wife with theirs, and I remember them with me.  I ignored your lad’s sulks and treated him as a sensible person, which he’s turned out to be.  I’m going to put him back on his horse tomorrow.”

“Well.  You should have a horse.  You ride very well and you know horses. And apparently, boys.”

“I will have again someday.  Someday, I want one of your breeding.  That horse is the best I’ve ridden.  Aliam had a halfbred of yours.  Tell me, what do you charge for the fullbred colts?”

The Duke looked at him squarely.  “They don’t come cheap.”

“No good horse does, but by accident. I will have one someday, and you can tell it will be treated well.”

“Indeed.  The Prince says he’s thinking of giving you that barren mess up north as a grant, if you do well in this campaign and another one or two.  No one else has wanted it, at any price or reward.”

“It would suit me,” Kieri said.  “In time it would thrive, with good management.  Hard at the start, of course, but are not the best horses often those difficult to train well early on?”

“You are not afraid of challenges.”

Kieri laughed.  “No, my lord, I am not.  Challenges come to all, early and late, and Aliam taught me that the measure of men is how they meet them.  Let me have some land, or a young horse–”

“Or a young boy?”

“I cannot speak of your son in such terms; he is yours, and a future Duke of Tsaia.”

“Well.  I see him as a challenge; he has been for me.  And I like what I see, Captain.  Teach him to ride better, and care for horses better, and we shall be friends a long time.”

“If you knew Aliam, my lord, he would tell you tales about me at your son’s age that would curl not only your hair but your horse’s tail.  If I am able to help him through this, I am happy to do so.”

Later that evening, the boy said, “We should not have done what we did.  I should not have done what I did.”  None of the boys had spoken to Kieri about it before but there was no doubt what the boy meant.

“You’re right,” Kieri said matter-of-factly, setting the stallion’s saddle on its rack.  “But you did, and it’s done, and you’re not doing it now.”

‘No, but I…I needed to say that.  I’m sorry I did it.  I’m sorry I spied on you.  I’m sorry…”

What would Aliam say to that?  What had Aliam said to so many of his own unwitting cruelties, blunders, thoughtless deeds, including those that got men killed?

“Listen to me,” Kieri said.  “You did something you knew was wrong, and you know that some things cannot be undone.  You can’t forget what you saw, can you?”

The boy’s head shook side to side; his eyes glistened.

“So when I was your age, and Aliam Halveric’s squire, I did things I knew I should not do, and some of those things could not be undone.  Men died, for some of my mistakes.  To be good men, when we are grown, we must learn to think.  Beyond what feels good, beyond what feels like fun, beyond what feels like it will win us points: we must learn to look ahead and think.  And it’s hard.  You have learned important things in these days: about your horse, about me, about yourself.  Now you know you can learn.  And I know you will learn.”

“Will I make more mistakes?”

“Oh, yes.  If you’re like me you will make mistakes over and over.  Men do.  Women do.  Everyone does.  It’s how we learn.  When you started riding, you fell off a lot, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“So as you move into adulthood you will continue to make mistakes, and when you don’t make any mistakes at all, you’ll have made the worst, because you’ll have quit learning.  Keep learning, keep failing, but then go back and get it right.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to ride my horse again.”

“Why not?”

A mischievous grin this time.  “Because I’m still making mistakes here, walking.  Because my horse shouldn’t suffer for them. Teach me to ride your way, please, and show me by riding him yourself.”

“Now that will require your father’s permission: who’s going to ask him?”  Kieri grinned back at him.

“I will,” the boy said, with no hesitation.  “I will, and he will say Yes, and then he’ll tell me he told me the horse was too much for me in this situation, and I’ll say he was right, and then he’ll say I can ride his old horse, his second.  We can ride together.”

The End

Happy Thanksgiving

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Nov 23

Kieri’s First Command: Part IX

Posted: under Background, Characters, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: ,  November 23rd, 2022

Part IX

“It’s a long story.  How much farther, do you think, and which will be first, your father’s wagon or the saddler’s?”

“The saddler’s.  Well, the Prince’s wagons of horse feed, tack, and his grooms and saddler will be there.  See that pennant?  That’s the royal one, so it’s one of those.”

The saddler, when they found him, had spare halters; they borrowed one.  Then he went to work quickly, explaining to Kieri–and Kirgan Marrakai, when reminded that this was the Kirgan’s horse–what needed to be done and why, and what exercises might help even out the muscling of the horse’s back.  Kieri and his student, as he now thought of the boy, walked along behind the saddler’s wagon with the horse, now tied to the tailboard, while the saddler worked in his shop, built into the wagon.

The boy now seemed less angry and fragile than he had earlier.  “Why is he using different colors of wool?”

“Let’s ask him,” Kieri said.  “You or me?”

Me ask?”

“Surely.  You want to know; I’d like to know.  You can do it.”

The boy did ask, and the saddler explained, even handing the boy small tufts of wool to feel: the dark, the light, the softest, the springiest.  Several times the saddle went on and came back off the horse, then the saddler said, “Now, Kirgan, time you get up and let me see how it compresses as you ride.”

The boy looked sideways at Kieri.  “If you don’t mind,” Kieri said to the saddler. “I’m a little heavier, and will compress it faster.”

“Oh.” The saddler looked back and forth at them.

“It’s all right,” the boy said.  “My father wants him to ride him for awhile anyway.”

“Ah. Well, then.”  He offered Kieri a leg up and then walked beside the horse, feeling under the saddle as the horse walked along, seemingly quite calm.  “Like you to give him a bit of trot and canter,” the saddler said, and unfastened the halter.  Kieri turned the horse out of the line of wagons and trotted him in circles both directions, then cantered, then a hand gallop both ways. The saddler checked again, made one more adjustment, then nodded.  “Should be good for today.  Bring him back to me tomorrow, after he’s ridden, or any time he kicks up again.”

“We’ve a walk to catch up with my group,” Kieri said.  “To keep our senior commander happy, I’d best ride the horse, but you can tail or use the stirrup leather if you like.”

“Tail?”

“Have you never?  When you have reason to move faster than walking is comfortable, and not enough horses for all, a horse can carry a light rider, and help along two more at least.”  He slid one foot out of the stirrup.  “Put your hand there, and see.  He will walk faster than either of us would want to.  If you were taller, you could hold onto the stirrup leather; right now it would make your shoulder sore.  You can also, going uphill, catch the tail and let one pull you along.  They won’t kick if the tail’s being pulled–smoothly, not jerking.  It doesn’t hurt them.”

The boy did that, and they passed wagon after wagon, until Kieri saw his troops again, and the prince’s wagons just ahead.  They slowed to match them, and Kieri said “It’s our secret, eh?  If anyone asks, you’re just good at walking fast,” and when the boy pulled his hand free, set his own foot back in the stirrup.  “I suspect many of your friends don’t know about the kinds of wool the saddlers use,” he added.  “Now you know some new things.  Here’s another.  Come meet my sergeant.  He used to be in Halveric Company in Aarenis and Lyonya.”

Over the next few days, the boy asked question after question, mostly reasonable ones, as if he’d been told before that asking questions was unsuitable.  Kieri and Siger–and several of the troops–answered as if he were any new recruit or squire.  Kieri, remembering himself with Aliam–at first afraid to ask anything and then, in a flood, asking questions all day long and into the night–found the boy far less arrogant than he’d thought earlier.  The boy was quick to take suggestions, and Siger treated him like a junior squire.  To Kieri’s surprise there was no sulking, no sneering, just a willingness to learn.  Why had he been so touchy before?  Had it been the other boys, or something else?

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Nov 22

Kieri’s First Command: Part VIII

Posted: under Background, Characters, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  November 22nd, 2022

Part VIII

Kieri knew that despite the acquiescence the boy was boiling with indignation: he had been humiliated in front of everyone by his horse, Kieri, the prince, his own father, and he was in no state to think clearly.  “Do you have a halter or lead for this horse, so we can take him to the saddler?”

“In my father’s wagon,” he said shortly.

“I don’t know which it is,” Kieri said.  Ahead of him, the Prince’s wagon lurched into motion and he turned to his sergeant.  “Sergeant, take over for the moment. The Prince has ordered we get this horse to the saddler.”

“Captain.”  Siger’s face was as blank as his own, he saw.  They were all on bog ground until they got the boy and the horse both sorted out.  One wrong step and they could be in it to the neck.  And no grant of land.  And a boy mired in helpless anger, and a horse mired in bad training, bad riding, bad saddle fitting.  He understood now, though he still wished it to have been different, Aliam’s refusal to hire him as a junior captain.  He pushed that aside and looked at the boy again.  “Can you take me to it–either your father’s supply wagon with horse tack in it, or the Prince’s saddler?”

“They’re both with the other horse supply wagons,” Kirgan Marrakai said, with slightly less stiffness.  “Back this way.”  They walked toward the tail of the line, the horse snatching now and then at grass.

“How old is he?” Kieri asked.  “Five?  Six?”

“Five.  He was backed last year by the trainer.”

“Still quite young, then.”

“Yes.  I thought–the trainer let me sit on him last year, because I was so light.  Then I grew, but he was a year older and also grew two fingers, so I thought–I thought I was doing well.”

“You grew taller; did your trainer explain what that does to your seat?”

“Taller?  I thought only heavier mattered.  That’s all the trainer talked about, how young horses should never carry too much weight.”

“That’s so, but when boys grow into men, they change the shape, where the weight is, as well as how much.  Where you can put your leg on a horse, how your balance changes when your shoulders broaden.  When did you start drilling with the sword you carry, instead of a boy’s shorter one?”

“Last winter; it was a Midwinter gift.”

“And have you done mounted exercises with it?  Knocking rag balls off poles?”
“Yes.”

“So you have more weight in your sword arm and as you reach out to do that, more weight shifts onto that side of the saddle and your horse tries to hold steady–with the muscles that are now developed more than those on the other side.”

The boy stopped short.  “I–I never thought of that!  The riding master never mentioned that!”

“And then after a few minutes it doesn’t feel good, so he hollows, to avoid the pressure–”

“Yes!  I know he does, and when I try to make him lift his back he bucks.”  He looked at Kieri wide-eyed.  “How do you know that?  Why doesn’t our riding master?  He just says ‘More leg, more leg, ride him into the bit.'”

“Did he tell you to wear spurs?”

“Yes. Because my legs aren’t strong enough, he said.”

“Um.  There are ways to strengthen legs, if you care to try.”

“You don’t have spurs.”

“I did.  I sold them”

“Because you don’t use them?”

“No, because I needed the money for something else.”

“What?”

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Nov 22

Interruption…Once More in Revision

Posted: under Horngard, Revisions, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  November 22nd, 2022

NewBook I has had a partial read by Agent now, and I called to find out what his reaction was so far (about 1/3 through it.)   Still some concerns, things to work on, so I’m back in revision mode sort of,  hoping to also get back to work on NewBook II while it still has life in it, so I don’t have to revive it from coldsleep when NewBook I is deemed ready for its debut in the market.   NewBook I needs to read like the new beginning of something that it is, and now like the added-on “tail” of Paladin’s Legacy, which finished with Crown of Renewal.   Yes, there are carryover characters from earlier books…Aris Marrakai from Divided Allegiance for instance, as a young schoolboy in Fin Panir, right the way through Paladin’s Legacy where he’s a page in the palace in Tsaia growing older through those five volumes and developing a close friendship with Prince Camwyn Mahieran.  That friendship, and the future of both boys (Camwyn’s older by three years but they’re both too young to be squires, for instance)  is left in doubt at the end of Legacy, after Camwyn’s critical injuries from an iynisin attack and his removal by Dragon for a chance at life.

So far, Agent says, the first chapter or two of the book doesn’t feel like a new start.   And, of course, if it IS a new start, that means it’s a new entry point (potentially) to the entire story-universe for potential new readers, and new readers need  some background (can’t insult them with “You should’ve read the previous 10 books”)  without boring those who’ve read the previous ten books repeatedly and know exactly who all the repeat characters are.   The question of “simple straightforward “Here’s the background you may need” vs. trying to slot in 10 books’ worth of background without reducing the story proper to endless lumps of infodump” has been raised, and when raised in this blunt fashion makes it clear that “Background in the forward” would be kindest to all.  If it’s short enough.  (It’s also becoming clear to me that with this many books–and words!–in print,  there needs to be some kind of place where ALL the stuff new readers need is in one place.  I thought I’d done that–before even starting the Paladin’s Legacy group–in the Paksworld website, but it’s not working as well as I hoped, even considering that Legacy doubled the number of volumes and the wordage.)

So…once again into the breach to build the story-wall up so the whole thing is sound and will work for most (never all) readers.    No writer really enjoys the moment at which “Needs more work” (whether in those words or couched more gently)  is uttered instead of “Amazing, wonderful PERFECT in every way!!” but every writer with some insight knows that books (and stories) DO need more work more often than not, and that reflection will show how true it is that this one (whichever one you just finished) does in fact need more work.   (The same is true in every craft and art.  A choir full of really good singers still doesn’t sing a big piece perfectly at the first…or second…or fourth…rehearsal.  “Begin at measure 83, all the way to the solo…” and everyone suppresses a groan but then sings it better.  The best riders in the world on the best horses are told by their coaches “Need more work on your core, horse needs more work bending through the body to the [left/right], less rein and more leg.” etc.)

I will be more absent than present unless I have more news, which isn’t likely anytime soon.  Agent’s buried in work, and I’m about to be.   This is also posted in the Universes blog, for the benefit of anyone dropping by either location.

 

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Nov 21

Kieri’s First Command: Part VII

Posted: under Characters, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: ,  November 21st, 2022

Part VII

The horse walked over calmly as Kieri led it.  At the Crown Prince’s prompt, he pointed to the curb chain, which they agreed was correct, and then put it in the position he’d found it.  They nodded, then put it back.

“The saddle?”

“May I take it off completely?”

“Of course.”

Kieri showed the underside of the saddle, to all appearances, ordinary for a Tsaian war saddle.  But Duke Marrakai frowned and turned to his son.  “That’s not his saddle, is it?”

“No, sir.  His was being re-flocked and the groom said this one, Blink’s saddle, would fit well enough.”

Kieri laid the saddle on the horse’s bare back and felt under it.  “It’s wide enough and not too wide…this side has contact, no lumps.”  He went to the off side.  “It’s…my lord Duke, would you feel this?”

The Duke ran his hand between horse and saddle.  “Well.  Take it off; I’ll feel his back.”  Kieri took the saddle down, then moved behind the horse to look along the spine.  He could see what he’d felt. Uneven muscle development meant the saddle would pinch here where it did not on the near side.  “That’s why his own saddle was being restuffed,” the Duke said.  “And that–and the curb–is why he started bucking.”

“If there is a saddler with the army,” Kieri said, “He should be able to restuff this today, and then adjust after a ride.”

The Crown Prince looked at him.  “My saddler is with us.  But you, could you ride him without that?”

“I could, but it would be uncomfortable for the horse.  I can sit differently, take some of the pressure off, but not all.”

“Try.  A few minutes only; I want to see and so does the Duke.”  A sharp glance aimed at the Duke, who nodded.

Kieri saddled, accepted a leg up from his sergeant, and picked up the reins.  The stallion came up into his hand, flexing correctly; he could feel the horse react to a different seat.  Walk, easy.  Trot, no shaking head, no hollow back. Turn this way, turn that, halt, back.

“A short canter only, heart lead, I think,” said the Duke.  Kieri nodded, asked for it from walk, and the horse bent to it and bounded off correctly in the first stride, bent away from the side that needed a little more room. “Who taught you riding?”

“Aliam Halveric’s horsemaster and Aliam himself, when I was his squire,” Kieri said.  “And then, in Falk’s Hall, we learned saddle fitting and bitting as well as advanced riding.”

“Such as?”

Kieri named the figures they’d been taught.  “But this fellow needs more training before he’s ready.”

“Agreed.” Duke Marrakai turned to the Prince.  “I yield to your judgment, my lord prince.”

“Well, Kirgan,” the Prince said, turning to the boy, standing pale and miserable before them.  “This man you do not respect rode your horse better than you do, and with more concern for the horse.  What do you say for yourself?”

“I was wrong.”  The voice sounded even younger, choked even. “I–I trusted others and should have trusted my father first, to know I needed an older, quieter horse.”

“Well, then, I have a plan for you, so you do not waste your opportunity to learn.  You will not ride your horse for five days, during which its saddle will be restuffed and adjusted until the saddler’s satisfied, and during which you will walk with Captain Phelan’s cohort. You will watch the saddler do the restuffing, and he and Captain Phelan will instruct you in saddle fitting.  You will observe how Captain Phelan handles the horse, how he tacks it up, how he cares for it, and you will take over from him when he permits.  You will then–until we are within a league of the Pargunese border–listen and learn from him, what you may be doing as a rider that makes the horse uneasy.  It is my command that Captain Phelan report to me and to your father any errors you make that may injure this or other horses, and by the time we reach Pargun, you should be far advanced in your horsemanship.  Do you agree?”

What was there for a boy to say but what he said?  “Yes, my lord Prince.”

 

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Nov 20

Kieri’s First Command, Part VI

Posted: under Uncategorized.
 November 20th, 2022

Part VI

So when he heard the rapid hoofbeats coming up from behind, and the voice yelling at the horse, followed by a dust-blurred  sight of the horse bucking along and the rider finally being launched, he knew both who it was, and what had happened. The Marrakai were known for breeding good horses, but this kirgan was not, Kieri thought, a good horseman.  The horse was, obviously, both young and difficult, a red stallion with one white foot that had traveled hollow-backed and crooked every time Kieri had seen it pass.  He’d seen the young man launched before, and noticed the same pattern every time.

Except that this time the horse ran toward his unit, and Kieri caught the trailing rein.  One problem was obvious and he reached out to fix it.

“Let go of my horse, you–!” The young man stumbled toward him.

“I’m but settling him,” Kieri said, in as easy a voice as he owned.  “The curb chain wasn’t adjusted correctly.”

“What do you know about curb chains!  You don’t even have a horse.”  The young man was angry, having been launched right in front of everyone clustered around the prince.

“I have had,” Kieri said, unhooking the chain, giving it a twist, and hooking it again with the chain flat and the hook pointed away from the horse. The horse bumped him with its nose.  Most horses liked him, he’d found out at Aliam’s.

“I suppose you think you can ride better than I do!”  Still angry, still not thinking, was Kieri’s analysis, and he saw other faces turned to this conversation.  Oh well, sometimes truth hurt.

“I can ride; I do not judge myself an expert.”

“Well, I am,” the youth said, just as loud, and having come near enough grabbed the opposite rein and yanked hard.  The horse threw up its head, half-reared and bumped the youth with its shoulder.  He lost his grip and went down again.

“YOU did that!” he said, even louder, reaching for his sword.

This was not, Kieri told himself, going to end well whatever he did.  He flipped the reins over the horse’s head and his sergeant ran up and took them, clearing space.  He rocked just a bit, heel to toe, finding his best balance on this uneven surface, but not moving to draw. Four inches of steel showed above the boy’s scabbard.  But out of the dust another voice intervened.

“Kirgan Marrakai! Do I see you drawing on one of my commanders?  Stand where you are, sir.”

“Sir prince, I was only–”

“Silence.” Then, to someone else, the Prince said “Tell Duke Marrakai I would speak with him.” A man ran off to the side.  The entire procession had stopped by now; the dust settled slowly.  Kieri looked at the Prince, who looked back at him and nodded at Kieri’s empty hands.  “Is the horse hurt, Captain?”

“No, my lord prince.”

“Good.  Did I hear you correctly, there was an error of adjustment of the bit?”

“The curb chain, my lord prince.  It had not been twisted quite flat, and the hook pointed inward.”

“Anything else?”

“If it were my horse I would check the saddle adjustment; it seemed to me that it had perhaps slipped a bit to one side while being girthed.  But the dust could have obscured my view, and it was bucking.”

Duke Marrakai rode up.  “My lord prince.”

“Yes, I wish your opinion.”

The Duke’s gaze shifted from his son to the Prince, Kieri, the horse, and back to the Prince.  “Yes, my lord.”

“Who is at fault if a horse is bitted incorrectly, perhaps not girthed correctly, and bucks in consequence?”

“The rider,” the Duke said promptly.

“Even if a groom tacks it up for the rider?”

“Yes, my lord, always.  The rider must check everything before mounting.  May I ask what happened?”

“You know your son’s horse bucks frequently?”

“Yes.  It is young.  I advised him to bring a more experienced mount, but he insisted on bringing this one.”

“If it is shown that someone else, someone who adjusted or adjusts the tack, can ride the horse the rest of the morning without it bucking…what would you think.”

The Duke scowled at his son.  “I would think the rider–in this case my son–had been negligent in checking his tack.”

“And what would you do?”

“I could send him home,” the Duke offered.

“And what good would that do for the horse?” the Crown Prince asked the sky, and then went on without giving the Duke time to answer.  “I tell you what, Duke Marrakai: if you will allow, I will set this rider’s punishment myself.  First we shall see to the matter of negligence.  Captain, bring the horse here.  Duke, you and I will inspect the tack.”

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Nov 19

Kieri’s First Command, Part V

Posted: under Characters, Excerpt, Story, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  November 19th, 2022

Part V

The next day, marching once more at the head of his company, dusty, unable to see farther than the Crown Prince’s entourage ahead of him, he was caught between annoyance and amusement at himself.  Who did he think he was, indeed–as he’d heard others say–he who did not know, could not name, either of his parents, or his place of birth or anything remotely respectable in his past until his arrival at Aliam Halveric’s home as a starveling.  How could any of these people respect, let alone admire him?

Yet here he was, with an independent contract, and the promise of a chance to earn–in good time–a grant of land.  He had seen it, even.  “Go take a look,” the prince had said.  “It’s empty, cold, near barren.  But it’s the largest area in my father’s realm not already occupied, or at least claimed. No one has wanted it.  No fields, no orchards, no towns: barren, some say, and too much work, say others.  Yet it is my father’s, and I would see it useful and well-governed.  Go see.”

And he had borrowed a horse–after the horse-master had checked with the  Crown Prince yet again, and given him, he was sure, the worst horse in the royal stables, gray about the muzzle and eyes, with splints in both forelegs and a hitch of some kind in the off hock.  He had ridden, at a pace that let the old horse loosen up and enjoy the trip, day after day through forest and hills, until on a wet day the view had opened to a broad plain with hills off to either side, a brisk little river…that might, someday, run a mill.  Hills on three sides, then, and a wide, presently soggy, plain rising slightly to the north, where it disappeared into a dank mist.

His mind produced an image of the mill on the river, near a town…here.  A bridge over the river, wide enough for wagons to carry supplies and troops to march. Another town over there–out of sight except in his mind.  He rode out onto the soggy plain: even this early in the year, it had grass the old horse was glad to eat.  And ample room for any number of troops to drill.  He could see it all: a big walled fort to guard the land and the track–that would become a road–to Vérella.  His mind built it quickly into what it could be.  A base for protection and for training.  Aliam’s home was crowded between a mountain and the dense Lyonyan forest of elventaig: this would be open.  Colder, yes, but then his troops would be fit to fight Pargun over there to the east in those hills, hold off the horse nomads, if any threatened.  His horse’s hoofprints and the grass showed that the land was fertile enough for grain.  And in the shelter of the hills the towns would have walled gardens and fruit orchards.

He rode back to Vérella, treating the old horse so carefully the horsemaster was amazed at the difference in the animal.  “He’s not limping at all–what did you do?  What poultice?  A special herb?”

“No, just careful riding, never fast and not too long at one time. He’s a good fellow, this one.”  He patted the horse and it rubbed its head on him.

And so the offer of a chance at a land grant had become a promise of one…in good time, which meant at the Crown’s convenience, but at least it would not be given away, he was assured.

Reason enough to keep his temper with those boys and their arrogance, reason enough to keep a smooth tongue to all.  Aliam would be happy with him, if he knew, but he was not minded to write Aliam about it, not until the grant was actually his.  Still the dust was annoying, and he did wish the nobility would not make it worse by galloping past him every time they wanted to come to or leave the Crown Prince’s presence.  If he’d had a horse–he’d sold his along with all the other gifts Aliam had given him to outfit his troops for this very mission–he could have seen over some of this dust.

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Nov 18

Kieri’s First Command, Part IV

Posted: under Background, Deed of Paksenarrion, Excerpt, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  November 18th, 2022

Though Kieri Phelan, captain of Fox Company, was confident he had behaved well in the matter of raw youths spying on his bath–and just as glad it had not been a murderous attack by Pargunese soldiers–he was not at all sure the youths had really understood the magnitude of their error or his reaction to it. Of equal interest, a youth he would have expected to be with them…had not been.  Duke Verrakai’s kirgan, usually one of that group in the commanders’ tent…usually, in fact, standing next to Kirgan Marrakai and Kirgan Serrostin, sometimes between them…had not been with them.  Duke Verrakai and Duke Marrakai appeared to occupy a secondary level below that of Duke Mahieran, and slightly above Dukes Serrostin and Elloran.

A mercenary commander, Aliam had told him, must know as much or more about the power structure of employers as the employer knows about the commander.  You’ve met a prince of Tsaia, a future king, and he’s mentioned offering you a contract?  Pay attention whenever you see him among his nobles.  So Kieri had, and knew that Verrakai and Marrakai were rivals, and not friendly ones.  That Serrostin and Marrakai were friends, and Elloran was afraid of Verrakai.  That Kirgan Verrakai, whose father was not friends with Kirgan Marrakai’s father, had been cultivating Kirgan Marrakai for some purpose not yet clear, and yet…had not taken part in yesterday’s hunt.  Had the others told him?  Deliberately not invited him?  Or had he chosen not to go for reasons of his own?

He puzzled over this and the currents of ambition that swirled among the older men, not just the dukes but the counts and barons.  The nobles were not skilled at war of the type he himself knew best, but quite skilled at the methods of courtly intrigue, wielding small units of influence as skillfully as a man might use a small weapon–a dagger–to penetrate the weak points in armor. As in fighting physically, some were more direct and others more apt at ruse and guile.

Verrakai was certainly that kind.  For himself, he knew Verrakai deeply resented his having a direct contract.  His attempts to discredit the upstart mercenary were not so obvious as to catch the prince’s attention–always courteous, always mild, little corrections that weren’t, seeming deference to Kieri’s practical experience, but with little suggestions and questions that hinted at his concern Kieri–so young for such expertise but of course mentored by the famous Halverics–might not quite measure up to the task they laid on him. Under them, Kieri sensed both hostility and more military knowledge than most.  He had found the man annoying, but he found many non-soldiers annoying–a risk of his experience, Aliam had said–but now he wondered if Verrakai and his Kirgan were part of a coordinated attack…but on what?  The Marrakai family as a whole?  Or more?

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Nov 14

Kieri’s First Command, Part 3

Posted: under Background, Excerpt.
Tags: , , ,  November 14th, 2022

He was wet, naked but for boots, and armed, already out of the water, partway to them, sword in one hand, dagger in the other.  His clothes lay on the grass at the water’s edge; he had stamped back into his boots without their hearing or seeing him do it. He stopped when they rose from the grass, some of them already turning to flee.  Kirgan Marrakai frankly stared; the man’s pale skin was finely striped with scars, perfectly aligned, overlain by later scars clearly from war-wounds: larger, more irregular, one or two still colored darker.  And yet the body itself–he had never seen such perfect balance of muscle and bone and sinew.  Or such a perfect mask of indifference to his situation: naked and alone before wealthy men clothed.

Then he grinned.  “Oh, come, gentlemen, as I suppose you to be.  Sons of nobility.  Surely all of you are not afraid of one man, even if he holds a sword!  Draw yours, if you would feel more comfortable, while I go and dress.  If you want to enjoy the water, I am through bathing, and the pool has been refreshed by the river’s flow; it will not taint your…purity.  And it is a perfect coolness today, refreshing without biting.”

Every syllable etched as finely as any courtier’s, with a precise fraction of indulgence, courtesy, scorn, and humor; Kirgan Marrakai felt striped by it, as the captain’s body by whatever had scarred it so.  He felt his face heat with a telltale flush, and his friends, he saw, felt the same.  Damn the fellow!  And then the fellow turned his back on them, heedless of their reaction, and walked back to his clothes.  There on his back, the same pattern of fine scars as on his front, and on one firm buttock, what could only be a brand.

Horror forced the indrawn breath he heard from all of them.  The man shrugged, pulling on a shirt, toeing off his boots, carefully holding his sword in one armpit and dagger in the other, while pulling up his trousers, his socks, fastening the belt on which hung the scabbard, and sliding his weapons home, stamping back into his boots, then turning around.

“So, then: have you seen enough? Is your understanding now complete? Because if you want to see anything else–”

What else could there be?  What other horrors?  Kirgan Marrakai felt sick, and saw that Kirgan Serrostin, his closest friend, was faintly green around the lips.  Had he actually thought of what else there could be?

“–Then we must come to blades,” the captain said.  “I think we would all benefit by not doing so, do you not?”

None of them had drawn a blade.  None of them wanted to draw a blade now.  They all, knowing each other well, had the certainty of nervous cattle that what they all wanted was to get back to the army, their safe herd, and never speak of it again, at least to anyone else.  Maybe someday, when two or three were alone together, it might be mentioned but…not now.

He gave them a long, level stare out of grey eyes feral as a wolf’s.  Then a sharp nod.  “Good.  We understand one another.  I am returning to my unit.  Please do not follow me closely.  You may go ahead, or aside, as you please, of course, but I really can commend the quality of the bathwater here.”

As he came up the rise, they parted, as for a prince, and when he had gone by they did not turn to watch, but stared at the ground awhile.  No one wanted to bathe there.  Kirgan Marrakai wondered if he would ever be able to strip off in front of his father’s body servant–or anyone else–again.  Inside his clothes, his body felt alien to him, wrong in some way.  He knew it wasn’t flabby or misshapen, but he felt ashamed even so.  It was days before he realized that what it lacked was scars.

They came back to the camp slowly, reluctantly.  Would the captain have reported their spying on him? There was nothing wrong with seeing another man bathing naked in a stream…they had played in streams and ponds naked before.  But they knew–and knew they had known when they did it–that sneaking after someone, some particular person, to peer at his nakedness, hoping to see something laughable or disgusting, was different.  Not honorable.  The Crown Prince would not, they knew, approve.  Their own fathers would not approve.  They could not approve themselves, or each other, and each one sought for another to blame. Kirgan Marrakai saw them glance at him and look away–he was the one who had told them about the captain.

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The other parts will come later this week, God willin’ and the power stays on, the roof stays on, and I get some other critical things done.

 

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Nov 14

Kieri Phelan’s First Command, Part 2

Posted: under Background, Excerpt, snippet.
Tags: ,  November 14th, 2022

 

“And yes, Gerry spent a campaign season studying something military with them down in Aarenis a few years ago, but that doesn’t explain it, really.”

It didn’t explain anything, Kirgan Marrakai thought.  As Kirgan, he could attend the daily briefings.  His father had a seat at the table with the other senior nobles, the lesser standing behind them, while he–and other kirgans–stood silent, backs against the canvas wall, supposedly learning something from watching their elders give way to the Prince and this stranger, this mere Captain Phelan,  who had the Prince’s ear when it came to matters military.

Well, he was a professional, after all.  A hireling soldier, fought for money: not honor, not loyalty.  Rumor, gleaned from servants, was that the man had squired for Aliam Halveric in Aarenis, that he had attended the Falkian equivalent of the Bells.  But he displayed no ruby.  Had he dropped out?  Been thrown out?  Had Halveric refused to hire him?

Arrogant young cock, thought Kirgan Marrakai, seeing the back of the man’s head tilt toward the Crown Prince.  And nothing to be proud about.  Couldn’t even keep a horse.  Probably rode as badly as any farmer’s brat.  He amused himself that afternoon, imagining how his own stallion, who regularly threw him, would throw the arrogant young cock faster and harder.

The army moved slowly, leaving plenty of time for the young men of noble families to amuse themselves with sport: hunting and arms practice and mounted competitions.  They had servants to set up and take down their tents, cook their meals, care for their horses and their clothes.  They were–barring the arms practice all their fathers insisted on, under direction of an armsmaster or Girdish Marshal–on holiday.  When they came to a tributary of the river behind them, flowing from the north, the army paused to water the stock and the people, and some of the servants went to washing clothes.  The younger men found places for water play.

Kirgan Marrakai noticed that Captain Phelan let his men take quick baths, but did not bathe with them.  Arrogant, he told himself.  He bathed every day from a tub in his father’s tent, water brought in by his father’s servants, the proper way to bathe.  He told his friends.

They noticed the red-headed captain–hard to miss that flaming hair in the sun–heading still further upstream, with a rag of some sort over his shoulder.  Too shy to bathe with his men?  Well.  It would be good sport to know why.  Maybe he…lacked something.  They sniggered over that delicate suggestion.  Maybe he was disfigured in some way not visible when he was covered neck to wrist and head to heel in cloth and leather or metal.  Perhaps he was a branded criminal and the Crown Prince would definitely need to know that.

They turned aside, walked fifteen strides back toward the army, and then back around.  He was out of sight; the stream here ran lower than the rest, and they headed that way, but at a distance, sure he could not see them, moving as quietly as dozen young men with no training could.  One would go ahead, bending low then taking quick looks, until he could see the red head and if it was moving, then signal the others.  Finally, their forward scout waved them down and forward, and they came crawling through the lush grass to where they could see a wider space of moving water.  And their target.

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