Kieri’s First Command, Part 3

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


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.



  • Comment by Caryn — November 15, 2022 @ 4:55 am


    Thank you!

    I foresee another reread in my future.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 15, 2022 @ 9:26 am


    If someone finds major inconsistencies, this story–not being official canon yet–can be wiggled into conformance. But to the best of my admittedly damaged memory, it does hold together. Kieri by this time has had more time with Aliam, and the Knight-Commander of Falk, both of whom moderated his early tendency to take the nuclear option when his blood was up. He will not know Aliam’s real motive for the combination of both generosity in his late training and determination to get him settled away from Lyonya until *much* later.

  • Comment by Annabel — November 15, 2022 @ 11:15 am


    Thank you for this. Poor Kieri; much as I know the young aristocrats (presumably “our” generation’s Dukes, having inherited from their fathers in due course) will soon accept him as one of their own, he did have to run a terrible gauntlet of suspicion and prejudice. Remind me, who is the Crown Prince – presumably the current king of Tsaia’s father?

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — November 15, 2022 @ 5:26 pm


    Elizabeth, since you asked, minor inconsistency: when did Arcolin join Kieri? Siger was first, yes. So Stammel said in Oath of Gold. He also said Kieri hired Arcolin away from the Tsaian Guards. Hearsay, because this was before Stammel enlisted. (At the time of this war against Pargun, he is too young.) I presume you hadn’t realised then about Arcolin being a southerner from Horngard, which you’ve made the canonical story. But Kieri himself said that Arcolin had to scour the streets to make up their numbers to a full cohort for this war, his first big independent contract after a couple of years of caravan work and of garrisoning forts no one else wanted to bother with. Does this mean Arcolin is here, but as junior sergeant rather than junior captain?

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — November 15, 2022 @ 6:20 pm


    Found it, in Echoes of Betrayal, from Arcolin’s own mouth: Arcolin was sergeant before Kieri made him captain, and like Siger (before him?) had come from Halveric company.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — November 15, 2022 @ 6:51 pm


    Siger before Arcolin, I meant. Or if both of them together, Siger must have been in Halveric company longer, when Kieri was Aliam’s squire.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 16, 2022 @ 9:10 am


    As a squire, Kieri sometimes overstepped (boy, did he!!) and one way was finding people he kind of liked and thinking they’d fit into Halveric Company. He found Arcolin in Valkdaire, fresh from traveling from Horngard and very much the backcountry curiosity: braids (dreads, more like), wearing a leather kilt, speaking in a thick dialect no one could understand, and skittish. Aliam was appalled; Arcolin was tall enough but skinny and too young. Long story short, he was willing and smart, just needed time and education, and he was in Halveric Company for some years and made sergeant.

    When Kieri went off to Falk’s Hall, Arcolin was a little older and much stronger; he made junior sergeant in those years. When Kieri finished Falk’s Hall, Aliam wanted him out of Lyonya; his father had died and his sister was either already queen or about to be…Aliam hadn’t gotten any guidance from the elves, wasn’t sure, and anyway, Kieri looked too much like his father and would be taken for a bastard. So he helped Kieri get a start and sent him off to Aarenis to begin to grow his own company.

    Arcolin wanted to go with Kieri, but Aliam wanted him to have more seasoning and was also working on a way to get Kieri into a good position in Tsaia. So he sent Arcolin to Verella, where he knew people, and Arcolin did become a non-com for the Royal Guard, knowing the Aliam was going to try to place Kieri there.

    Meanwhile in Tsaia, there was constant pressure from Pargun north of the river, and Pargun had encroached on Tsaian territory repeatedly. Aliam had been asked if he could be hired, but his kind (at that time, while still alive) did not want Tsaia to think of Lyonya as a a source of troops, and neither did the elves. That might, they thought, suggest to Pargun that it should invade Lyonya as well.

    So the king of Tsaia sent the Crown Prince to Aarenis to learn better ways of training and commanding troops, and hence Aliam became a remote resource for military training. Aliam immediately saw the potential for Kieri to thrive, ensured that he and the prince met. Aliam was/is always good at seeing the potential of young people; Arcolin, he thought, would make someone a good captain someday, and Kieri had all the innate talents of a commander.

    Yes, I can easily put Arcolin as junior sergeant to Siger, and Arcolin as someone knowing which people in Tsaia might be recruited for more serious service (or those in Aarenis *from* Tsaia…) because that’s what happened and the possible timing varies.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 16, 2022 @ 11:07 am


    Oh–and THIS Crown Prince could be Mikeli & Camwyn’s father; he’s older than Kieri, though, and Kieri’s 55ish when Mikeli is crowned, at 21, which means this prince would’ve been more than 35 when his first kid was born and Mikeli would have to be 7 at the time of this story. So I think his father must be this prince’s younger brother (mentioned as “younger prince” here.) And thus died in a different encounter.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 16, 2022 @ 10:55 pm


    Richard…Siger was in Halveric Co. long enough to become a senior sergeant before going w/Kieri when he finished Falk’s Hall and Aliam said “Go forth and become a great commander.” Or something like that. Arcolin may have been only a corporal while w/Halverics since he’s younger than Kieri and moved to Tsaia (I think) while Kieri was in Falk’s Hall, and was promoted there. Kieri offered Siger a captaincy, but Siger suggested Arcolin instead…Siger didn’t WANT to be a captain. He was looking forward to being an armsmaster.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — November 17, 2022 @ 1:57 am


    Elizabeth, sorry, I seem to be arguing with you rather a lot. And I do miss things myself – one I’ve just found, Arcolin confirming (to Janis, early in Crown of Renewal) that he was indeed in the Tsaian Guard between Halveric Company and Kieri’s.

    Was that when he became a Girdsman, or was it later, when Tammarion was turning most of Kieri’s company Girdish? The impression I’ve got is that Girdsmen in Aarenis are more common – but do not dominate even there – in the merchant cities and towns closer to Valdaire, than in the still-aristocratic places like Andressat. Or Horngard? Especially the royal palace? Maybe we’ll find out when NewBook Horngard I comes out.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — November 17, 2022 @ 3:51 am


    So far as canonical goes, new story trumps old plot hooks and casual remarks, but THIS Crown Prince – Gerry – cannot possibly be Mikeli’s and Camwyn’s father. Not with what we know is about to happen. Changing the outcome of that now would be a major inconsistency. I was trying to find if Mikeli (yet to be born, see the dateline below) ever confirms Gerry was his grandfather, but in any case Maris Mahieran-Verrakai did confirm it, to Arian at the picnic in Limits of Power, provided it was Gerry the Crown Prince, not his king, who hired Kieri. “The younger prince, two steps farther from the throne” in the Part 1 posting I took to mean Sonder Mahieran.

    (Is the third brother also with the army, or is he too young? The Beclan who will become Knight- Commander of the Bells and die to Haron Verrakai at the start of Oath of Fealty.)

    The last thing Mikeli remembered his father saying to him was to look after Camwyn. Which makes it a comparatively recent event. Also Kieri mentions his relations with the man, his king, over the years. And there has never been any hint of a violent encounter killing this king – I always assumed an unknown illness, or accident?

    Gerry being Mikeli’s grandfather (Mikeli himself is yet to be born, by the way, see the timeline below) means Gerry’s own father, the current king, must be quite old? – which fits with him not commanding the army himself, and with the Pargunese sensing weakness and opportunity these last few years?

    Here is Kieri’s timeline, reconstructed from the Deed (Oath of Gold). Did you have it written down in one of your now-misplaced notebooks? Because it all fits together:

    Year 14 Kieri came to Halveric steading in the fall (calling it 14 for convenience, because that is how old Estil and Aliam judged him to be. If they were a few years out, through not realising Kieri is half-eleven, that is immaterial.)

    Year 52 (fall) (38 years later, interval from Estil) Paks killed Venner and healed Kieri. When she met Crown Prince Mikeli during the winter, he was nearly 20, according to what Kieri told Paks. (Not 21, so 20 is the Tsaian age of majority for Mikeli to rule as king. And what you hadn’t shown then, but comes from the Order of Attainder in Oath of Fealty, is that Tsaian law reckons age by winters, not birthdays.)

    Year 47 Paks’ recruit year.

    Year 37 Kieri’s family killed (date interval from Kieri himself).

    Year 29 Kieri’s daughter born (going by her age, as Kolya remembers it), which means
    Year 28 (latest) Kieri married Tammarrion after the campaign season (Kolya’s first).

    Working forward now
    Year 18 (or 19? – depends on whether Garris was 16 or 17 before Aliam took him to war in Aarenis) Kieri saved Aliam at Hakkenarsk Pass.
    Year 19 (or 20?) Aliam sent Kieri to Falk’s Hall (for 2 years?) so Kieri graduated in 21 (or 22?) (but too late for campaigning? in which case:)
    Years 22 and 23 small-scale merc contracts in Tsaia.
    Year 24 (or 25?) this war with Pargun, Kieri’s big break.

    Two more details – Haron’s father was alive, and Duke of Verrakai, just a few years before, but Dorrin hasn’t told us when he died. And Maris’ husband killed during the campaign was Barholt Verrakai, I’m guessing from that family’s untainted junior branch.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — November 17, 2022 @ 9:46 am


    There is also the short story about mercenaries honor when, apparently, Kieri was senior squire and sent to scout the border, was captured, escaped and captured the “count” which turned into the parley that helped keep Aliam’s “honor” with the Southerners while not distroying his company in a suicidal assault.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 17, 2022 @ 9:17 pm


    Daniel, yes.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 17, 2022 @ 10:47 pm


    The Crown Prince’s father, the Old King, had two brothers. I need to think about names for a bit if I’m going to create an actual genealogy. The Mahieran family–chosen originally because they lost their magery early (not as early as Marrakai, but then Marrakai had aided Gird directly and was considered…too biased toward peasants). At any rate, for 3 generations the Mahierans had produced no mages, so they got the nod. The kingline has shifted from one branch to another more than once. I was thinking of the Mahierans that would have been Mikeli’s father’s age (roughly) as being descended from the Old King’s brothers, not his own sons. Sorry, got to quit for the night…other stuff has come up.

  • Comment by Leslie — November 18, 2022 @ 10:03 pm


    This is fascinating, thank you all for sidetracking me from writing the final exam for my biology students. I wonder if the short story Mercenaries Honor is still around anywhere.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — November 19, 2022 @ 1:50 am


    Leslie, Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams, 2015. Should still be available on Kindle at least.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — November 19, 2022 @ 7:46 am


    When first working out Kieri’s timeline, my interest was in the wriggle room between his starting to expand his company (on being granted the North Marches for his part in this war) and starting his family.

    Here’s the last half-remembered remark I was trying to find: “Mikeli’s father … had lost his own father to the Pargunese and had little patience with them.” (Echoes, Kieri talking to Arian about Elis and other ambassadors, or rather the lack of them.) So many died, as Maris reminded us, that this is no obstacle to whatever family tree is wanted.

    “I knew Kieri when he was a brash young soldier come to beg a commission from our king’s [Mikeli’s] grandfather.” (Maris to Arian at the picnic, Limits of Power.) That is the remark to be gotten round, explained away or deliberately forgotten if neither Prince Gerry nor the Old King is to be Mikeli’s grandfather.

    After drawing the elven sword, Duke Kieri addressed the Tsaian council (in Oath of Gold),”Lords, when our prince’s [Mikeli’s] father first gave me the grant I now hold …” the easy answer is that one crown prince (Gerry) having not survived the war, Mikeli’s father had become crown prince, acting for an incapacitated Old King, if not already king himself.

    “The Mahieran brothers–the former king, Duke Mahieran, and the brother who was head of the Bells–were very close and genuinely fond of one another. When Mikeli’s father died, both the surviving brothers took seriously their duty to prepare Mikeli for kingship and neither considered advancing their own–or their sons’ own–interests over Mikeli. When the Duke’s younger brother was killed in the assassination attempt on Mikeli, and the treachery of the Verrakai was proved …” not from any of the books, but a forum comment here, marked in my scrapbook as from November 2013. You were teasing us in what followed, Elizabeth, because while we knew then that the younger Beclan had been cast out, we did not know, but you did, about Camwyn also being a mage.

    Mikeli had inherited the crown, Rothlin his cousin was in line to inherit from Sonder, and Camwyn (before Dragon took him away) to inherit – nothing? If that is how it works, then Mikeli’s and Rothlin’s prospective sons on inheriting in turn would be second cousins, and so on down future family lines to third cousins and beyond; so for one king (Mikeli’s father) and duke (Sonder) to be brothers, obviously something had happened to one former branch of the family or another.

    Have I missed anything?

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 21, 2022 @ 10:28 am


    Princes and kings fell to the Pargunese (much more rarely to conflict w/in Tsaia) with depressing regularity for a little over a hundred years–when Achrya had convinced the Pargunese to push for gaining land beyond the great falls on the Honoorgat. The Pargunese had (for good reason) a bitter hatred of magelords and did not trust the Tsaians even though they were not (most of them) magelords.

    In this story, the Crown Prince is not Mikeli’s father or grandfather. Mikeli’s father is a younger prince, younger brother of this Crown Prince, and quite possibly (with his brothers) the child of the king’s second marriage after the Crown Prince’s mother dies in childbirth. You bring up issues that deserve a longer answer, but it’s complicated and this week is full of “stuff” already, not just Thanksgiving prep. I’ll do a long post on this later, but in the meantime, just dumping a little more of Kieri’s story will give you more to chew on. Hope that’s OK.

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