Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Personal Note

So yesterday, I lost my day job. It was a messy situation and I really did hate that job, so at least I don’t have to deal with that stress anymore.

And, while I hunt for a new day job, I’ll have extra time to write. I’ve already got a short story idea written down and a blog post for Guild of Dreams done today. I’d really like to get a total of 10k words done this week and double my output on The Hydra Rebellion.

Thoughts/Prayers/Good Feelings would be appreciated in my search for a new job. I have a very solid work history so I don’t expect to be out of work for very long, but it wouldn’t hurt!

Thanks!

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History as Inspiration

When I first started building the world of Zaria, I was just putting ideas together to see what worked. I weeded out the ideas I didn’t like and added new ones.

Once I had fully (well, I thought fully) developed the two halves of my world I started to see two patterns developing in the two story lines.

One half of the world was developing in a manner that loosely followed the events of World War 2. A nation that invades its smaller neighbors, a coalition of nations (including one across the sea) that join together to stop their common enemy.

On the other side of the world, the nation of Ansgar and the trials that it goes through are somewhat similar to the American Civil War (there are some very noticeable differences). It was made even more acute by the fact that the Ansgari-Rebellion series (name-in-progress since I decided to use my original idea “Griffins & Gunpowder” as the universe name) uses technology that was used in the American Civil War. I’m a huge American Civil War history buff, so it really doesn’t surprise me that my subconscious worked this into my world.

And I’ve decided to use the similarities to draw inspiration from the battles and events of the American Civil War, albeit with a decidedly Griffins & Gunpowder twist. You’ll just have to read it to see… The Hydra Offensive is at 8k words and counting!

Hydra is Underway!

Having completed Battle for Broken Plains yesterday (just over 18,000 words, before editing) I decided to spend today getting The Hydra Offensive plotted out.

I had about half of it done last week, but I realized that I needed to stretch out my series’ plot by rearranging which books were going to be #3 and #4 and that meant that I needed to change how Hydra ended before I even started writing it.

Well, I got the plotting done and now it’s time to write!

The Lost Chapter!

When I had finished writing The Cerberus Rebellion, I thought that I had a pretty solid build on my hands. So I sent it off to my Beta-Readers and waited for it to come back.

Ergodic Mage had contacted me through my contact form and offered to beta-read for me. His feedback was invaluable in cleaning up Cerberus before it went to Edits.

One of his suggestions was that Chapter 2 really didn’t serve much of a purpose other than to introduce characters. So I cut it and folded the important information into subsequent chapters.

I still like Chapter 2, but I agree that in context it didn’t do much. So I’ll post it here! Without further ado, Original Chapter 2 (a Hadrian POV)!

 

-02

The Temple was the central point of worship in any settlement in the nation of Ansgar, though the size of the structure varied broadly and generally reflected the wealth of its patrons. The Earl of Odwolfe was a wealthy man, and that fact was reflected in his offerings to the Temple: the Odwolfe Temple was not a modest structure. Nearly as large as a Baron’s Keep, the temple was built with obsidian stone brought from the coastal volcanoes hundreds of miles away, and timber from the great red pines in the north of Ansgar. Rich tapestries and golden ornaments, studded with gemstones and inlaid with silver, adorned the walls and the pillars. The Temple could hold nearly two hundred people comfortably; there were nearly three hundred people in it now.

To either side of the main aisle, rows and rows of guests had been packed into the temple. Lesser lords sworn to the two noble houses that were to be joined, along with their families, were seated directly behind the immediate families of the betrothed. The lesser lords held castles and ruled cities in their noble’s stead. More than two dozen of the lesser nobility, and their families ranging from one to a dozen members, had been invited. Behind the lesser lords sat knights of various houses, nearly fifty of them all together; most of them had brought their wives, those who had them. The rest of the benches had been filled with merchants and other important members of the Western Ansgari community. Some of the lesser merchants stood against the walls of the temple.

Lord Hadrian Clyve, Baron of North Griffin Cliffs, escorted his youngest sibling and only sister down the center aisle of the temple toward the rest of the party that stood before the priest. Hadrian was a massive man, like his father had been. A thumb more than seven feet tall, Hadrian had taken the body that he had inherited from his father and improved on it through constant training and physical work. Even at forty years old, Hadrian could lift more than any of his guardsmen. He wore his black hair like his father had: in a long ponytail that reached to the middle of his back. Gray had crept in at his temples and his hair had started to recede from his forehead. He had inherited brilliant blue eyes from his mother, like sparkling sapphires set under thin eyebrows.

Hadrian wore the official clothes of his position: a satin white shirt with a red rampant griffin sown over his breast, black trousers, silk and well tailored. His full-length white cloak, lined around the neck and shoulders in light brown fur, was also emblazoned with a red rampant griffin. He wore the amulet that every Baron of North Griffin Cliffs had worn: a golden griffin nearly a foot tall clutching a massive ruby and several rings that came with his titles and accomplishments.

His younger brother, Lord Raedan Clyve, Baron of Broken Plains, stood at the head of his family’s party. He was seven years younger than Hadrian, but he did not look his age. His shoulder length hair had once been merely black, now it was almost blue. His green eyes, inherited from his father, now glittered a brilliant emerald color, with the glow of one knowledgeable beyond his years. He was half a foot shorter than Hadrian, and not nearly as massive, but was still an imposing figure.

He also wore clothes fitting of his position. His satin shirt was black, the three boulders on his chest were a brilliant white, his trousers were black satin as well, with a thick white stripe down the outside. His jet black cloak was lined with black fur and had clustered white boulders across it. He wore a more modest amulet around his neck and his griffin clutched an onyx stone that was nearly half the size of the ruby that his brother’s griffin clutched. An ornately carved staff, with a large ruby held in the top, rested in the crook of his arm. Hadrian had never understood why his brother carried staff with him at all times. The only time Hadrian had asked, Raedan had brushed the question off with whispers of magics and orders.

Their youngest brother stood beside Raedan wearing a black wool suit with Raedan’s symbol on his breast. He was six years older than their sister and six years younger than Raedan. He had taken after their mother in many respects, including his blue eyes. He was shorter than Hadrian by a full foot, with had a more modest build and auburn hair that was cut short, a concession to his station as a member of Raedan’s Guard. He wore only the onyx-set silver ring of an heir; Raedan had not yet married nor fathered a son that could take on the mantle of Baron Broken Plains.

On the opposite side of the aisle, Lord Alistair McKinley, third son of Lord Wallace McKinley, Earl Odwolfe, stood before the priest. He was a thumb more than six feet tall and well built, though he looked tiny compared to his soon-to-be brothers by marriage. Some generations back, the McKinleys had married four generations of Earls to women of Nordahr and Beldane; their golden blond hair and crystal-clear gray eyes were a family trait passed on from that heritage. Alistair kept his locks tied in a short ponytail behind his head. He wore a black satin tailcoat, the black wolf of his father’s crest across his breast was flanked by two large gold bags. His red satin trousers had a thick black stripe down the side. He served in his father’s guard, as a lieutenant, but was being groomed to serve as his father’s representative to the king in Aetheston.

His eldest brother, Cedric, stood proudly beside his younger sibling. The heir to the Earldom took after his father, some might say too much. He was shorter than Hadrian by a full foot and could only be called stout by the most charitable person; most called him fat. He wore a black wool tailcoat with a red cloak attached at his shoulders by wolf’s head broaches, his father’s badge was sown over his heart and the symbol adorned the back of the cloak.

Their father sat before them, in the first row of benches. He was of even larger girth than his heir and eldest son. He wore a satin shirt and a flowing cloak, attached at his shoulders by a pair of black iron wolves. The Earl’s thick fingers were adorned with rings that had been specially forged for him and his signet ring hung suspended around his neck on a thin silver chain.

The party’s last member of note was Stephanie Clyve, the bride. She wore a perfectly cut white gown, sown from satins, silks and lace. A seated wolf broach adorned one breast, a seated griffin the other. She was the youngest of the Clyves, just past her twenty-first year, and though she had been betrothed to the Earl’s son for nearly seven years, she had only met him a handful of times. Her hand trembled slightly and tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.

Hadrian squeezed his sister’s hand gently and nodded to her. And with that they started down the aisle toward the priest and their gathered families.

The marriage would cement the bond between the two families that had shared a border for more than a thousand years. As part of the marriage arrangement, Hadrian had secured trade and loan agreements for himself and Raedan. Their merchants would get special consideration from the earl’s moneylenders and merchants. In exchange, Odwolfe had been granted one of Hadrian’s southern towns and the fertile farms that surrounded it. He had also agreed to provide the merchants of Odwolfe with special prices for minerals extracted from the mines of the Griffin Cliffs.

Heads turned as the bride was escorted through the assembled crowd, her face covered with a lace veil. The musicians played a tune, The Lovely Maiden, if Hadrian was right.

Many of the lesser nobles of the southern territories had tried to marry themselves, or their sons, to Hadrian’s youngest sister. But his father had told him that all marriages needed to be carefully considered before they were agreed to and needed to benefit both sides of the arrangement equally. The Earl Odwolfe’s son had been the most promising prospect for Stephanie. It would cement an already close relationship between the two houses and she was likely to be the wife of a lord at the king’s court. The Earl of Odwolfe was one the wealthiest nobles on this side of the West Valley and Hadrian was very soon to be a very powerful member of the Western Ansgari nobility: his wife’s father was elderly and would soon pass the South Griffin Cliffs to Hadrian.

So the wedding had been agreed to, the preparations made and now Hadrian escorted his sister to her marriage ceremony.

They stopped just short of the stone altar and waited for the music to die down.

“Who gives this maiden to be wed?” The high priest asked. He was short and bald and even the flowing white and red robes of his order weren’t enough to hide the fact that he was nearly as heavy as his patron.

“I do,” Hadrian announced. He smiled at his sister and then he placed her hand in her groom’s. He stepped away from the couple as they stepped up to the altar and then took his place between his sister and eldest brother.

 ***

The celebration hall was much larger than the Temple, Hadrian would have estimated that the hall was nearly twice as large, but it had been filled with even more people than the smaller structure. The hall was separate from the rest of Odwolfe Castle; hundreds of years earlier it had once been Odwolfe Keep. Ancient engravings in the stone walls had long ago been worn smooth and the timbers supporting the roof had been recently replaced, likely in preparation for the wedding. The hall had been filled with long oaken tables and sturdy benches. Dozens of lanterns burned on the walls, their light reflected off of mirrored backs into the middle of the room.

Against the back wall, on a raised dais, sat the bride and groom flanked on either side by their families. The Earl Odwolfe sat to the left of his son, his plain-faced wife to his left. Lady Elizabeth Odwolfe worn her most elegant silk gown, the deep blue highlighted by a white pearl necklace. Her brown hair was starting to gray and the wrinkles around her green eyes were prominent.

To her left was her oldest son and his wife, Sarah, a much more beautiful woman than her mother-by-law. She wore a ruby gown and a simple gold chain hung from her neck. Her red hair was pulled up in an elegant bun, held up by gold and silver pins and broaches. She was great with Cedric’s third child.

Hadrian sat to his sister’s right, even seated he towered over her. His wife, Lady Alicia, sat to his right. She wore a much simpler gown than their hosts, but it wasn’t her place to try to look better than either the bride or their gracious hosts. The emerald gown was flattering, if on the conservative side for her usual fare. Her auburn hair was nearly as long as her Lord Husband’s and was intricately woven into a long braid. She had inherited her father’s pale green eyes and his small stature: her husband made her look a dwarf and many wondered why they had been paired so many years earlier by their parents.

Raedan was the last of the noble families seated on the dais, no wife to join him at his place of honor.

The lesser lords and their families were spread out around the dais, the most important were placed closest to the table. Knights of all orders and ranks were spread out further away from the dais toward the outer edges of the hall. Hundreds of stewards, serving girls and cooks made their way between the tables serving meat, bread and mead to those gathered.

The Earl Odwolfe had spared no expense for the marriage of his youngest son to one of his family’s closest allies: massive boars roasted on spits over open fires, fruit and vegetables had been gathered from the best farms in the Earldom and wines and beers had been brought up from the Earl’s personal cellar and were being served in his finest drinking horns.

Toasts and speeches had been made by the two families and pledges of loyalty before gods and men had been exchanged. All of the formalities had been dispensed of and all that was left now was to eat and drink until there was no more to eat or drink.

Hadrian had stepped down from the dais to talk to one of his lords, a man that served his father before him as the Lord of Wilshire, the second largest city in the barony. Malcolm Dowell had managed to fight the signs of aging that had claimed the vitality of so many of his peers, even at more than twice Hadrian’s age he had made the journey without trouble. He ate and drank more than his share and thought nothing of it. Hadrian made it a point to greet him at every opportunity, and to get to know his heir, Thomas.

A close working relationship with the lord who controlled nearly a third of the barony’s taxes, and was the commander of the largest levies, was essential to the successful rule of any territory. As he spoke with Malcolm, he saw Raedan rise from his seat and slip through a small exit behind the dais

“My Lord, you must excuse me, I must have a word with my brother.” Hadrian bowed to his elder and his son and then turned toward the exit.

Stephanie’s look of worry was quelled with a subtle shake of Hadrian’s head as he slipped past the dais to the door. He lifted his cloak off of a hook behind the dais and flung it over his shoulders.

Hadrian nodded to the two guardsmen outside the door, huddled next to a brazier. One man wore a heavy white greatcoat, a rampant red griffin emblazoned on a badge over his heart. The other man’s greatcoat was red with a black wolf and two gold bags sewn into a badge. Their rifles hung on straps over their shoulders.

A storm had passed through after the wedding ceremony and had blanketed the castle grounds in thick wet snow. A light wind still blew across the castle yard and Hadrian pulled his cloak in tighter to keep out the cold.

“My brother passed this way,” he said to his guardsman, a veteran of his guard named Arian. His words frosted in the chill air as he spoke.

“He’s on the wall, My Lord,” the guard said and pointed to a ramp to the top of the wall. Hadrian could just make out the shape of his brother against a torch high above them

“Carry on,” Hadrian nodded and started for the ramp.

Like many fortifications in Ansgar, the Odwolfe Castle, and Odwolfe Keep before it, had been constructed on an artificial rise of dirt in open land. Foraging teams maintained a healthy distance between the castle walls and the nearest forests to provide a buffer against surprise attacks.

The hall, as the former keep, had once been the main structure in the enclosed area of the castle. Now, it was just another out building tucked near the rear corner of the massive open area, enclosed on all sides by walls fifty feet high and ten feet wide. A hundred feet to the east, the new keep had been built in the center of the area, its high stone walls and massive wooden doors were less than three centuries old and still had a new look to them.

Hadrian passed a massive mortar; the anti-siege weapon looked rather new, a surprising expense for the normally frugal Earl Odwolfe.

“I thought you’d see me leave,” Raedan conceded when Hadrian reached the top of the ramp. The younger brother leaned against the parapets and looked out on the moonlit plains. Between the first two fingers on his right hand was one of the small cigars that he liked so much. They were rolled with a sweet leaf and then soaked in cherry juice.

“It’s rather hard for either of us to sneak out of a room, even one so crowded.” Hadrian joined his brother and looked down from the walls. The wall stood fifty feet from the base and stood on a sharply sloped rise. Beyond the twenty foot slope, a dry moat had been dug and maintained, filled with sharpened spikes to prevent cavalry from riding through it. Further out, trench-works had been dug for soldiers to use in the defense of the castle.

The fields beyond the trenches were ablaze with hundreds of campfires. Hadrian had brought his entire guard, a full two thousand soldiers plus stewards to serve them all. Raedan had brought two companies of own his guard, two hundred men and their attendant servants.

“Stephanie was worried.”

“I just needed some air, brother.” Raedan stepped back from the wall and looked in on the castle grounds. More than a thousand guards stood watch on the walls and another five hundred encircled the keep and the celebration hall.

“I know it wears on you, Raedan,” Hadrian looked over his shoulder. “Seeing everyone around you married. You should reconsider.”

“We’ve been over this, Hadrian.” An edge of frustration crept into Raedan’s voice; he twisted the large onyx ring around his finger. “I will not subject anyone to such a life. Growing old while I remain the same.”

One of the effects of the magic that flowed through Raedan’s body was that he would age at less than one fifth of the rate of those around him. He would live at least four hundred years, and closer to five hundred if Damon was correct.

If Raedan were to marry, he would have to watch his wife grow old and die long before he did the same. He would likely outlive any children, and any of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“You must have an heir at some point. It would be unwise to give Franta another chance at reclaiming your barony when you finally pass. I know I won’t be around to see it happen, but those Clan-Lords pass their grudges well.” Hadrian knew that they had been over this ground more times than either of them could remember, but still they had these conversations.

“Raedan, there is another option.” Hadrian turned and rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Yes, you will likely see your wife grow old before your eyes, but if you find the right woman, and tell her what to expect, then it can be less painful. And when your first son is of age, pass the Barony to him and become his advisor, or my son’s advisor if you wish.”

“That is an idea I have considered,” Raedan admitted. “I-”

The screech that cut through the night air was unmistakable, even for the Earl’s guardsmen who had never heard the cry of a griffin before; it was the cry of a predator, and a large one at that. Raedan looked to the skies. No one else would be able to see the great beast, but he didn’t need to see it to know where it was. The hounds in their kennel across the yard barked furiously as the creature neared the castle.

“Kiis,” Raedan whispered and Hadrian looked to the sky as the beast swept into view. The Earl’s guards had been warned that an appearance by one of Raedan’s companions was possible, but experience would still be jarring to anyone not familiar with the beasts.

The griffin was the smallest of the three that their father had captured twenty years ago, but she was fast, and clever. She often flew out ahead of Raedan to scout and she was also able to show Raedan what she had seen.

As she swooped toward the courtyard, Raedan and Hadrian started down the ramp to meet her. The Earl’s guardsmen were hesitant as the griffin landed, but Hadrian’s guards were accustomed to the grand beast. With a final beat of her wings, the griffin blew a billow of snow into the air.

Raedan ran his hand along the griffin’s neck, the ruffled feathers soft beneath his palm. She had the golden hind quarters of a lion and the fore of a golden great-eagle with a white head and sharp blue eyes. Even as the smallest griffin of the three, Kiis was a massive creature.

At her shoulders she stood five feet tall and nearly six feet long; her wings spread nearly ten feet across and she had talons larger than even the oldest of great-eagles. Raedan whispered to the beast in the Elf tongue, a language Hadrian had never learned. The beast shook its shoulders and tucked its wings close to its body.

“She has something she wants me to see,” Raedan whispered to his brother.

Even among the guardsmen that protected Hadrian, the full range of Raedan’s abilities were carefully guarded. He pressed his hand to the griffin’s heart and closed his eyes. Hadrian had seen his brother do this before and wondered what it must be like to suddenly gain the memories of another creature. To see things as they had seen it. He knew that the time it took for Raedan to gather those memories varied greatly. He had seen his brother stand beside one of the griffins for nearly six hours at a time, gathering days of vision and memories. Other times, it took mere moments.

Fortunately, Kiis’ ability to collect her memories and visions to pass on to Raedan was better than either of her siblings. Raedan stood for only a few minutes beside his griffin as he gathered the visions that Kiis thought that he should see.

“Messengers from the capital. A King’s train departed from Aetheston.” Raedan slumped against the griffin for a moment; the interaction with the minds of his griffins took a toll on his body.

“When?”

“Six days ago. Enough messengers to reach every lord in Ansgar and they carry satchels.”

“Letters from the King.” Hadrian’s eyes grew troubled. “Did she see the emblems on their gear?”

“A gold man with a spear, on a white and green banner.” The symbol of Eadric Garrard, Duke Elsdon and King of Ansgar.

“I would say the train will arrive at Orintown in no more than fifteen days.”

“If they push the train hard, it will be more like twelve days,” Raedan noted. “We’ll need to tell Wallace.”

“And Cedric,” Hadrian added. “Tomorrow. Tonight is for our sister.”

“You’re right.” Raedan nodded and stroked Kiis’ hind legs. “I’ll have the stewards inform their lords in the morning. We have many of the lesser lords from your lands and Wallace’s lands here. Best to inform them as well.”

“We should rejoin the celebration,” Hadrian said after a moment.

“Let me make sure Kiis gets bedded down. I’ll be in shortly.”

 ***

Earl Odwolfe had retired to his chambers early in the night, but Raedan and Hadrian still had to wait for him at the table in the great hall to break their fast the next morning. Both had risen with the sun, Hadrian had sent his men to pass the word that there was to be a meeting, with the Earl’s permission, after midday. Raedan had seen to it that his griffin had been cared for and then sent her back to his keep.

The great hall was nearly as large as the celebration hall. Heavy iron chandeliers, their candles unlit, hung from timber beams and light streamed in through colored glass windows in the top half of the walls and reflected off of polished silver mirrors that had been hung on gray stone columns. Hadrian and Raedan were seated at a long table on a raised stone dais. A few other tables were spread throughout the hall, but most had been moved to the celebration hall for the wedding.

Hadrian was dressed in black wool trousers and a white wool shirt, his fur-lined cloak thrown over his shoulders. The cold from the storm had not gone with the clouds that had born the snow. His brother sat beside him, dressed in a thick, black wool shirt and brown wool trousers. He had laid his cloak over the back of his chair. Raedan had a better tolerance for the cold than his brother.

The brothers sat in silence, each with a steel cup of coffee before them. They had finished a full pot of the sweet black drink and had the second before them.

“Ah, I see the Clyve lords rise early.” The Earl finally entered his dining chamber, assisted by his steward, and sat in the great stone chair at the center of the table. He had his thick red cloak wrapped about him. “Stewards, bring us meat and bacon and bread. I see they already have coffee; bring some for me as well.”

“My Lord, there is much to be discussed this morning.” Hadrian spoke first, as was his place as the elder brother. “A message came in the night.”

“My steward told me nothing of a message.” Lord Wallace leaned forward in his great chair.

“The message was carried by one of my griffins, My Lord,” Raedan announced. “We thought it best to let your son and our sister enjoy their wedding night and the attention of the gathered families and lords and knights.”

“Very well,” Wallace said and leaned back. “What word did this message bring?”

Stewards entered, carrying a pot of coffee and cups to drink from, plates of bread and trays of butter.

“Riders and a King’s train have left Aetheston carrying marked satchels and wearing the King’s symbols.” Hadrian poured more coffee into his cup. “Enough messengers to reach every noble house in Ansgar.”

“Well, I suppose His Grace the King has something that he wants us to hear,” Wallace said and then let out a loud, booming laugh.

“Father, what has you laughing so loudly, so early this morning?” His son entered the great chamber, sleep still heavy on his eyes. He wore red wool trousers, thick and warm, a white wool shirt and had a fur-lined cloak wrapped around his shoulders.

Raedan hid a small laugh with a cough; it was nearly four hours past dawn, more late in the morning than early.

“A message was delivered last night, Cedric. Messengers have poured forth from Aetheston to bring marked satchels and letters to our doors, and the doors of our peers.”

“How long ago did they leave?” Cedric asked as he broke off a chunk of bread and poured a cup of coffee.
“They left Aetheston six days ago. They should reach my doors fifteen days,” Raedan announced. Stewards brought plates of bacon and meat into the hall and set them before the nobles.

“There are few matters that would trouble the King so much that he would send messengers to our far keeps,” Cedric noted.

“War.” Hadrian suggested. He dangled his pocket watch on its gold chain and watched it twist as if of its own accord.

His father had given him the silver plated watch when he had celebrated his eighteenth year. A rampant griffin was etched into the outside cover and the hands were made of ebony. Hadrian made it a point to carry it with him everywhere as a reminder of his father’s wisdom and advice.

“With whom?” Wallace was skeptical. More than one hundred years had passed since the Lords of Ansgar had last called their levies and marched to war, when William the Defender had summoned the armies of his nation together to expel the invaders from Kerberos and then had captured the northern nation. Those armies had been away from their lands and homes for nearly thirteen years. Only the weak, the old and the young had been left to tend the fields and the crafts. By the end, women had turned to do much of the work in their villages and on their farms. “Franta has felt the power of our guns, Nordahr is one of our great allies and Beldane could not be bothered to come against us. They have their own strife to deal with.”

While Beldane was more stable than the nearby nation of Franta, it still had its shares of internal conflicts and was ever on the verge of going to war with either Steimor or Nordahr. Of late, certain factions of the nobility had refused to pay the taxes that they owed to the Grand Duke and the situation had escalated to the verge of a civil war before the offending nobility had surrendered and returned to the fold.

“A Great Council?” Cedric took a drink of his coffee and poured a heaping scoop of sugar into it. “Perhaps the King wishes to bring new laws to us?”

“That is more likely,” Wallace agreed. “Little else that would warrant a summons to Aetheston. Perhaps he has decided to betroth his son to some noble’s daughter.”

“Whatever the cause may be, it would be wise to speak with those lesser lords that have gathered here with us,” Raedan offered. “If His Grace has taken the trouble to send marked satchels, he will likely request our audience in Aetheston. We will need a column of soldiers if we are to travel so far.”

“I agree,” Wallace nodded. “We will gather the lesser lords for the midday meal, and discuss whose soldiers will accompany us to Aetheston.”

Hadrian and Raedan remained silent as they ate while the Earl and his son discussed their choice of lesser lords and knights to accompany them to the capital, nearly ten thousand miles away. Hadrian had a feeling, deep in his gut, that the messengers brought word of war, and a summons for the levies of the Lords of Ansgar.

 

 

Upcoming Blog Tour!

As a way to promote The Cerberus Rebellion, I’ve set up a couple of blog tours through Goddess Fish Promotions and two book sponsor days with Kindle Fire Department and Kindle Author.  The blog tours (a blurb blitz, a review blitz and 2 weeks of interview only blog posts) will be running from September 3rd to September 28th. The KFD and KA sponsors spots are both running on September 14th. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on each stop as they come up.

Here are the images that Goddess Fish have set up for the tour.

Giveaway Winner!

I’d like to congratulate Matthew Lakanen for winning his choice of Short Story from my Products Page!

Thanks everyone for your participation and be sure to check out Chapter 1 of The Cerberus Rebellion Here! and buy it on Amazon Here!

My interview on A Way With Worlds (a world-building blog).

Sample: Chapter 1

Below, you’ll find Chapter 1 of The Cerberus Rebellion. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1 – Eadric

 

 

The day was cool and dry but a stiff wind heralded a storm. Cold; the kind that would ride over the northern mountains from the tundra beyond and blanket the city of Aetheston in snow.

His Grace Eadric Garrard, King of Ansgar and Duke of Elsdon, was deep in thought as he read a large, leather bound book. He was taller than most, and broader too, with a full head of chestnut hair and vivid green eyes. He wore loose green trousers and a white cotton shirt, buttoned three-quarters of the way to his throat.

The wind howled outside the thick window.

The study was small, meant only for the king and a single guest. A long desk cut the room in two; on one side, the King’s massive leather chair, a smaller on the other. Book-lined shelves were built into two of the thick black stone walls from floor to low ceiling and a pair of lanterns flanked the oak door on the third wall. Behind the King, a stained-glass window stood in for the fourth wall. The room was near the top of Old Keep and faced north; sunlight filled the room from sunrise to sunset.

The tome was the abbreviated history of every king of Ansgar.

Robert the Unifier, the Thirty-Fourth King of Ansgar, ascended to the throne one thousand, one hundred and fifty-nine years after the founding of Aetheston, at the age of thirty-four years, Eadric read. The book had been printed, not handwritten, so it was easier to read than most of the ancient tomes in his study. Robert was so named after he married Helena of Agilard, the first daughter of the first Duke of Agilard, the Last King of Kerberos having died thirteen years earlier. Robert dedicated his reign to bringing peace and stability to the conquered lands of Kerberos. Robert fathered three sons and two daughters that survived to adulthood, including Charles, his heir.

The study door groaned open and Eadric looked up. It was his steward; the only person allowed to enter without permission. The man’s leather shoes scuffed at the stone floor as he shuffled across the room toward the King’s table. The man was short, stout and bald. He wore a simple green robe and carried a silver carafe, a cup, a dome covered plate and a folded newspaper on a tray. He set the tray on the desk and lifted the dome. Steam rose from the plate beneath; the bacon still crackled, there was some sizzle left to the small strips of steak, and scrambled eggs covered the rest of the plate. Eadric looked the tray over.

“Has it been tasted?” he asked. He saw the chunk of steak that had been cut at one end of the thick strip, and a piece of bacon half as long as the others.

“Yes, My King,” the steward confirmed.

“You may go,” Eadric said curtly. The steward nodded and turned.

Eadric waited for the door to close behind the man, then sighed. He pulled open the small drawer at the top of his desk, reached inside, and retrieved a small round tin.

He twisted the lid off the tin with practiced ease and sniffed at the black and red powder within. Satisfied that it had not been tampered with, Eadric took a heavy pinch and sprinkled the powder across the plate, careful to get every part of the meal but waste none. Another heavy pinch went into the carafe of coffee.

Eadric spent a small fortune every year to keep himself supplied with Dragonsalt. The powder was ground from the seeds of the Dragonleaf plant, which only grew in high mountain caves and passes. Each flower only produced enough seed for a pinch of salt and each plant only flowered twice a year. By itself, the powder had a bitter taste to it, but when it was mixed with anything else it had no taste at all. It had taken years of practice and experience to find the right amount: too much and his stomach burned for days, too little and it would have no effect on the poisons that it was meant to counter.

He didn’t know if he’d ever been saved by the salt, but he wasn’t about to go without it. Every meal that the King ate was prepared and escorted to him under the watchful eyes of his guards, but even with all of those precautions, Eadric knew that poisons could make their way into his meals.

Eadric poured himself a cup of coffee. The cup was made from the talon of a particularly large griffin; another method of warding off poisons. He sipped the coffee then lifted a piece of bacon and took a furtive bite; it was still floppy, the way that he liked it. The Dragonsalt had dissolved enough that all he tasted was the grease and black pepper seasoning and pork. He nodded in satisfaction to no one in particular and unfolded the newspaper.

A fist banged on the door.

“Enter,” Eadric called, his voice thick with irritation.

The door swung open again and his captain of guards stepped through it. Kendall Shield was a broad shouldered man with a strong jaw, cold gray eyes and coal black hair. He wore a green, double-breasted frock-coat with a double row of golden buttons down the front and green trousers. Over his heart was the sigil of House Garrard: a golden man with a spear in hand, set on a white and green checked field. Above it was a smaller symbol: a plain brown shield with a golden crown in the center.

Eadric could see the handle and pommel of Kendall’s greatsword Guardian over his shoulder. Kendall was the perfect fit for the gargantuan weapon: he stood more than seven feet tall. The blade was hereditary, as was the title of Lord of Shields and Protector of the King.

The Shield clan had once been called something else, but whatever that name had been, it had been lost to history twelve hundred years earlier when they had sworn themselves and their descendants to the protection of the King of Ansgar. From the twelve men that had sworn their service, a clan had emerged that now included more than twelve hundred men-at-arms. And chief among them was Kendall Shield. He was called Lord, but he held no lands; only the right to be the personal guard to the king.

A much smaller man stepped through the door behind Kendall. He was olive skinned and of average height, his brown hair damp with sweat from climbing the winding tower steps. He wore a blue sack suit with the symbol of the nation of Welos sewn over his heart. He kept his green eyes focused at Eadric’s feet. A mere messenger.

Eadric stood to greet his visitor.

“Your Grace.” Kendall went to one knee; the man behind him followed suit.

“Rise,” Eadric instructed.

“Your Grace, I bring a request from Lord Wyne,” the messenger announced.

“Considering your attire, I wouldn’t have expected it to be from anyone else,” Eadric said and snorted.

The messenger frowned. “Your Grace?”

“Never mind.” The King shook his head. Messengers, after all, were not the smartest. “Well, out with it.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” The messenger’s eyes returned to the floor. “Lord Wyne and Lord Biton Savakis wish to have a private audience with you.”

Eadric’s eyes narrowed. While it was not uncommon for the ambassadors from other lands to request audiences with him, they usually did so while he held court, or through one of his council members.

“It’s still early,” Eadric pointed out with a glance at his pocket watch. “I will see them after I break my fast. I will send someone to get them.”

“Your Grace, his Lordship—”

“His Lordship,” Eadric interrupted, “is an ambassador. A visitor in my land. I will see them when it is convenient to me. You are dismissed.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” The messenger bowed and backed out of the study; Kendall stayed.

“Have my steward prepare my parlor for visitors,” Eadric said.

Kendall nodded and withdrew.

Eadric drained his cup with a single drink, picked up the newspaper, folded it and turned for the door. Kendall waited outside with his arms folded. A guard stood on either side of the door; they stiffened when the King stepped through the doorway.

Both guards wore green frock-coats with a single row of buttons down the center, green trousers, and, unlike their commander, carried rifled muskets and had holstered revolvers on their right hips. The weapons rested on the stone floor and the guards held them near the end of the barrels.

At the end of the hall, a young squire shot upright and hurried to the King’s side. He was small even for twelve, with short black hair and green eyes. The boy was the son of one of Eadric’s more important lesser lords, though the King always had trouble remembering which.

“I need to prepare for my visitors,” Eadric announced.

“Yes, Your Grace.” Kendall nodded. Landon and Radnor shouldered their rifled muskets and the five of them started down the passage.

The Old Keep was a tall, round structure with wide stairs along the inside of the thick walls. Kendall led the way down the winding stairwell. Eadric was a handful of steps behind him with his squire on his heels, Landon and Radnor another few steps further still behind. Servants and pages pressed themselves against the wall of the stairwell as the King passed, their heads bowed to their sovereign as he made his way toward the bottom of the tower.

Kendall stopped and held up his hand. The screeching laughter of a child washed over the party as Crown Prince Tyler barreled up the steps, his sister Kara close on his heels. Behind the girl were the children’s guards. The four men breathed heavily as they worked to keep up with the children.

The boy was near his eighth year and was already the spitting image of his father: the same brown hair, green eyes and square jaw as his sire, and he was nearly as tall as his sister. She was eleven, with their mother’s chestnut hair and blue eyes.

“Your Grace.” Sir Vance Shield led the guards assigned to the Crown Prince.

He was Kendall’s half brother. The former Lord Protector had remarried after his first wife had passed away in childbirth. Where the first Lady Shield had been a woman of Kerberos, tall and broad of shoulders, the second was a native of Ansgar’s central region. Tonya Shield was barely five feet tall, with auburn hair and green eyes.

Vance had inherited his mother’s hair and was nowhere near as tall as his older half-brother. He barely surpassed six feet. He had the same coal gray eyes, though, and his arms were as broad as a smaller man’s legs. An Elvish broadsword hung from his left hip in an ornate scabbard. Not as impressive as Guardian but a symbol of his status nonetheless.

The other guards carried rifled muskets. They all had the same plain look as most of the Shield clan: they were shorter than Kendall with dark hair and dark eyes.

Eadric inclined his head in greeting.

“Papa,” Tyler said as he wrapped his arms around his father’s leg.

“What is it, son?” Eadric asked as he mussed his son’s hair.

“Kara said that if I close my eyes at night, a manticore will come in and eat me!” The boy shot his sister an accusing look; she smiled sweetly at her father. “Tell her the manticores are all gone! That’s what Altavius said.”

“Altavius is right,” Eadric confirmed. “All of the manticores have gone from this world.”

“Are there any great creatures left, Father?” Kara asked.

“Griffins still live, far to the west along the sea cliffs. The dragons are all gone, though.”

“See, I told you there were still griffins!” Kara laughed at her brother. “Altavius told us of a noble who rides the griffins. He says that the noble has magics!”

Eadric frowned. “I would take what Altavius says about magic with some caution, child. He is prone to overstate things.”

“Yes, Father.”

“Run along now,” Eadric instructed. “Papa has work to do.”

The children gave him quick hugs, then continued their screaming run up the tower steps. Their guards tried to keep up.

At the base of the Old Keep, outside of the King’s Chambers, two men stood guard that Eadric had never seen before. They wore the uniforms of his guard, and even had the look of first branch Shields. They were tall and massive, with dark hair and wide brown eyes, but he didn’t know them and didn’t know that Kendall had made a change in his protection.

The men inclined their heads as the king strode by them wordlessly into his chambers. His squire and Kendall followed him.

Eadric didn’t have to ask if the men were trained. Kendall wouldn’t bring anyone into consideration for the King’s protection if he wasn’t sure of their abilities. Nonetheless, Eadric was hesitant. He disliked change in the group assigned to protect him. The men that served him were a critical part of Eadric’s day-to-day existence, a part on which he relied heavily. If he didn’t feel comfortable with those who protected him, how would he feel safe?

“Dalton, get me a wool shirt and trousers. It’s cool today,” Eadric instructed his squire. The boy nodded and hurried to the King’s clothing room. When the squire was out of earshot, Eadric said, “Sir Randall and Sir Vincent have been on my guard since my father passed away. And they were on his guard before that.”

“Sir Randall and Sir Vincent are getting old. I wanted to replace them with younger, more capable men.” Kendall stood at parade rest, his hands clasped in front of him. “They are the twin sons of Sir Leopold.”

At nearly five years younger than Eadric, the King had watched Kendall grow up. Eadric had known that the man would become his Lord Protector from the day he knew what a Lord Protector was. He had treated Kendall with more respect than he treated anyone outside his own family.

“What would you have them reassigned to?”

“They have been assigned to protect your lady sister, Katherine.”

The lesser branches and older of the first branch of the King’s Shields were generally assigned to protect those lower in the line of succession to the throne. While Katherine had once been the eldest child of King Charles, she was now further in line of succession, after Eadric’s son and daughter and his nephews.

“Very well.”

 

***

 

Sometime later, Eadric finished the last of another glass of whiskey. A half melted ice cube was left alone in the small glass. Even during the winter, ice was an expensive rarity shipped down from the north in massive chunks, but if anyone in Ansgar could afford the luxury of a cool drink, it was the king.

He nodded to his steward, tucked neatly into a corner away from the King and his guests. The man disappeared through the huge door and closed it behind him. Eadric had taken off his tailcoat, though he still wore his crown on his brown hair. The white wool shirt that Eadric wore was large, even for his well muscled body, and green wool trousers were cut loose enough to provide plenty of circulation.

Eadric had decided to meet with his current guests in his parlor, a small room far from the noise and activity of the throne room or the council chambers, because all of the rooms beneath the castle had been built with the magic of ancient Elvish wizards. The Elves had cast powerful incantations on the thick black stones so that they were always temperate to the touch. Tiny gemstone flecks in the stones sparkled in the lantern light.

Eadric stood at the only real table in the room, pushed against the back wall of the parlor. A grand map of the world was laid across the massive surface, each nation intricately drawn and painted on what Eadric supposed was an old leather hide. A box of markers was tucked beneath the table, used when troop movements and activities were discussed. Those markers were worn down from their once grand carving, the black stone smoothed from more than a thousand years of handling by kings, generals and advisors beyond Eadric’s count.

The nation of Ansgar occupied the entire southern half of the continent and stretched more than fourteen thousand miles from Agilard in the east to the West Shore at the other end of the continent. In the west, the territories loyal to him reached from the Griffin Coast on the northern shore, nearly four thousand miles to Sea Watch Castle as it faced the south on the Vast Sea. His nation was the most narrow at the Tirrell Barony, only a few hundred miles from the coast to the nation’s border with Franta. Ansgar was home to more than seventy-five million citizens, and Eadric was their king.

The parlor had once been a dark, empty place. When he had been crowned, Eadric had ordered tapestries hung to celebrate his family’s many accomplishments in the twelve hundred years that they had ruled Ansgar. One of the massive hangings depicted his great-grandfather’s victory over the Last King of Kerberos, the banner of his house raised above the red three-headed hellhound against black of Agilard. Another tapestry was a scene from much further back in the history of Ansgar: the first landing of settlers after the long and perilous journey from Welos.

Kendall stood in a small alcove near the door. His arms were crossed and his eyes watched the king’s guests with a flicker of suspicion in his eyes. He did not concern himself with matters of foreign relations, but the law stated that when the King received guests, the Lord Protector was to be present. He wore a gun-belt with a pair of revolvers holstered on his thighs; their grips were made of ivory and their barrels were iron.

Four over-sized dark red leather chairs were arranged in a rough circle in the center of the small room to allow for conversation. Each had a small, dark wood table beside it to hold drinks or a small plate. The floor was bare stone.

Each of the two guests occupied one of the large chairs. Both held a glass similar to Eadric’s, though they remained on their first while Eadric was on his third. They had brought him heavy news and a grand request, but seemed to be at peace with the words that they carried.

Lord Thomas Wyne, ambassador to the nation of Welos, sat nearest the door. He was much smaller than Eadric, with short brown hair well salted with gray and dull brown eyes. He had the look of a career diplomat, one who had spent his life working outside his own nation with those whom his king needed a trusted advisor near. He wore a white collared shirt, blue wool trousers and a blue tailcoat with two rows of golden buttons.

Unlike most ambassadors, he wore only the signet ring that came with his office and a thin chain that hung loosely around his neck. He was a quiet man that chose his words carefully. He was more than twice Eadric’s age; sixty-five if Eadric’s memory served him.

Lord Biton Savakis, ambassador to Istivan, was as close to opposite of Wyne as could be. He was a huge man, one of the largest Istivani that Eadric had ever seen, with arms like trees. His skin was a medium olive, his hair dark and his green eyes sharp. He wore a brown leather vest and brown wool trousers. His massive arms were heavily tattooed. Eadric could see the tattoos that marked him as a husband and father, a warrior that had spilled the blood of an enemy, and one that Eadric thought meant that the man had stood as a judge before the King of Istivan.

He was as loud and boisterous as Thomas was quiet and reserved. Nearing forty, he was only a few years older than Eadric, but he had garnered enough power in his homeland to earn his role as ambassador to Ansgar.

The two ambassadors had insisted that they meet in private, and at their request Eadric had left his closest advisors in the antechamber. Now he wished that his advisors had heard everything the two ambassadors had said. And what they had asked for.

“You realize what you’re asking for?” These were Eadric’s first words since his second glass of whiskey.

Thomas spoke first, as was his place as the senior ambassador. “We do realize that it would require a great investment on your part, and on the part of your people.” His baritone voice was thick with the drawl of his homeland.

“We would not have come to you if we did not need your help, Your Grace.” Biton was uncharacteristically soft. His accent was stronger, the sounds bunched closely together. “But the situation is dire.”

“Indeed it is,” Eadric said as he slipped his left hand into his pocket. He found the smooth stone there and rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. The stone had been in his family for centuries; it was a rare gem from across the Vast Sea that had been given to one of his predecessors as a good luck charm. “If what you say is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then I’m astounded that King Mercer has been so short sighted that he has refused to join with you.”

“King Mercer is supremely confident in the strength of his army and the walls of his fortresses. We have offered him our help, before this storm descends upon him. He has been warned that once he is embroiled in conflict, we will not lend our aid to him. Maybe once the famed Citadel falls, he will consider his mistakes.”

“Why let him fall? If he is invaded and you add your armies to his, there is no way the Citadel will fall.”

“To teach him a lesson about pride.” Biton shrugged. “And once he falls, his lands are subject to whoever is strong enough to take them.”

“And the Citadel is a massive fortress. If Mercer can hold The Pinch with just his forces, all the better for us to not have to throw our armies into the fray. And if he falls, he will take enough of his enemy with him that we’ll have much less trouble cleaning up the mess. If you join with us,” Thomas added.

“I’d like to bring my council in on this before I decide.” Eadric paused when his steward opened the door a crack and slid back into the parlor with a bottle of whiskey and a glass of ice on a tray. He took Eadric’s empty glass and slid back out into the hall. Eadric quietly sprinkled a pinch of Dragonsalt into the bottle and poured some over the ice.

“Of course, Your Grace. It is a massive undertaking that we’ve asked of you.” Thomas stood and Biton followed his lead. “How long do you think that you would need to join us, should you decide that you wish to take that course?”

“It will take some time to get my nobles and their levies assembled, and I’ll have to find the vessels to carry them across the Straits of Steimor.” Eadric took a long drink from his glass. “I would say a year is a safe estimate, though it will likely be longer than that.”

“Very good, Your Grace. We will await your word.”

The two ambassadors bowed and Eadric nodded a dismissal.

Eadric set his glass down on the star that marked Aetheston’s location on Zaria’s northern continent. More than thirteen thousand miles separated Ansgar from the Istivani capital of Kirton, if one sailed through the Strait of Steimor and marched overland; another eight thousand overland laid between Kirton and the Ehtroyan fortress known as The Citadel. Even by rail it would take his armies nearly a month to reach the Istivani capital.

The option of sailing his armies to Ehtroy was an alternative, although that too would take almost a month of sailing, and finding the ships to carry almost two hundred thousand soldiers would be nearly impossible.

“Your Grace.” Eadric’s steward had entered, as silent as a whisper. “Would you like me to summon your council?”

“Yes, please do, Charles.”

Studying the lands he ruled, Eadric took note of the various sigils that marked the holdings of his many lords; the shields that marked the holdings of his dukes were the largest. The sigil of House Jarmann at Agilard, the only duchy east of Aetheston; the black Pegasus against white of House Chalmer in the West Valley, the castle nestled into the Spine Mountains against the border with Beldane; the blue hydra against orange of House Seward at Sea Watch, on the southwestern coast of Ansgar; the red centaur on a blue field of House Ridley in White Ridge, nestled between the Vast Sea on its south side and the three peaks of the White Ridge on its north. The golden hammer on gray of House Croutcher was last; despite its grand size, in the far western corner of the nation the Arndell Duchy was sparsely populated.

Smaller shields marked the eleven earls of Ansgar, two east of Aetheston and nine to the west. Shields smaller still marked the forty-two baronies that divided the rest of the nation. He was not as familiar with the baronies as he was with the earldoms and duchies, but then he rarely had the occasion to deal with many of them.

He had, of course, met every one of his sworn nobles at his coronation, or their ascension, but the lesser nobles had smaller estates to care for and could scarcely afford frequent journeys to the capital to pay homage to their king.

Eadric was still focused on the map when the door groaned open and his council entered.

“Your Grace.” Lord Alden Hanley, Earl of Hamilton, was a tall, slender man who leaned heavily on an ebony cane as he walked. Gray colored his brown hair and full beard, but his brown eyes were still sharp and careful. He wore a white shirt, brown trousers and a blue tailcoat with the symbol of his house sewn over his heart.

Before Eadric’s ascension to the throne of Ansgar, Alden had betrothed his oldest daughter to the Crown Prince. The move had established the earl as a close advisor to the new king when Eadric had come to power and the King gave extra weight to his opinion.

“Lord Hanley.” Eadric clasped the man’s hands and inclined his head to his father by law.

“Your Grace, you are looking well today,” Lord William Richards said as he bowed.

Baron Saxan had long been one of Eadric’s closest advisors. He had been brought to court at the age of five by his father to learn the ways of the capital and the court of the nation’s ruler.

William and Eadric had been tutored by the same teachers, taught of swords by the same master at arms, and had ascended to their titles at nearly the same time. Eadric had raised him to Lord Councilor as one of his first acts.

He stood nearly the same height as Eadric, with a similarly athletic build. He was shaved bald, the thin mustache and well-kept red beard the only hint of his hair color. He wore a pair of simple glasses over his crystal blue eyes and blue tailcoat with a double row of golden buttons.

“Thank you, William.” Eadric presented his signet ring for his friend to kiss.

“My King, I see that the sums you have been spending on Dragonsalt have not been in vain,” Lord Peter Wellstone said with a smile. As the Chancellor of Ansgar it was his responsibility to keep the kingdom’s books and accounts.

He was the youngest man in the room, only just into his twenty-fifth year, and wore the black tailcoat and trousers of the style popular with the Court as of late. He had been an apprentice to the last Chancellor, his childless uncle the previous Earl Colby, and had taken to his studies with fervor.

He carried a stack of ledgers with him, books filled with figures on the kingdom’s incomes, expenses and coffers. He was a small man, not very assuming at first glance, with well-combed black hair. His blue eyes glanced back and forth every so often as if of their own volition.

“A pinch before bed helps me sleep,” Eadric lied.

“Your Grace,” said a lilting, sweet voice.

Altavius Dohr’s accent was less pronounced than it had once been, or so Eadric was told, but it still marked him as one not native to Ansgar’s common tongue.

The Elf was the oldest member of Eadric’s council. He was, in fact, the oldest person on this side of the world, at least as far as anyone knew. He had traveled across the Vast Sea twelve hundred years earlier with the first colonists to leave Welos.

Altavius had served as advisor to every king since Liam the First King. Hundreds of years ago, one of Eadric’s ancestors had tried to grant him a small estate on the ocean shore in the Elsdon Duchy, but the Elf was a High Priest in some Elvish order, and they were not allowed to hold lands.

Altavius’ eyes had once been a deep sapphire; they were now a pale blue. His once brilliant red hair was now silver and white and was tucked behind his long, tapered ears. Once he stood over a foot taller than anyone in the room; now he was hunched with age and leaned heavily on his staff.

The apple sized emerald held in the staff’s heavy iron setting pulsed gently. He wore the brilliant green robes of an Elfish priest. Half a dozen heavy amulets hung on golden chains and jeweled rings sat on each finger.

Eadric’s four advisors sat in the leather chairs. Each took a moment to adjust to the thick cushions in their own fashion. Lord Wellstone rested his stack of ledgers on the small table beside him. Altavius leaned his staff against the chair’s arm. Lord Hanley hooked his cane on the back of the chair, and Lord Richards pushed back into his chair and stretched his legs out before him.

“Would you care for refreshments, my lords?” Eadric’s steward asked with a low bow.

“A flagon of chilled wine,” Eadric said before any of his council members could make a request.

“Yes, Your Grace.” The steward bowed again and disappeared through the door.

The nobles made small talk with their king while they waited for the steward to return. He was only a few minutes in retrieving the chilled flagon, four silver cups and one griffin talon horn. He poured each a cup and retreated against the wall.

Eadric set his cup untouched on one of the side tables.

“My Lords, I suppose you are all wondering why the ambassadors from Welos and Istivan requested a meeting with me,” Eadric began. Altavius nodded; William grunted. “They bring grave tidings from across the Vast Sea,” he continued, “and a request of our people.”

Altavius’ eyes glittered and William sat up in his chair.

“Emperor Frederick Maximilian of Chesia has invaded the nations of Jarin and Malkala, and he has been amassing forces to push into Andivar or Garton.” Eadric shook his head. “The other nations are becoming worried. Andivar has mustered its armies, which should dissuade the Emperor, at least for a time.”

“The Emperor would be a fool to invade the Andivari,” Altavius agreed. He was the only one of them that had ever seen the other side of the world, even if it had been twelve hundred years prior. “The Andivari armies are the best trained and best armed on the other side of the Vast Sea. The lack of prospects to his south will more likely push the Emperor east.”

“That is what many others have decided as well,” Eadric confirmed. “But if Chesia invades northeast, into Garton, there is only one goal which they would have in mind.”

“Ehtroy and the Pinch,” William said. “But the Pinch is flanked along its coast by massive mountain ranges, and the pass through them is protected by two massive fortresses at the west end and the Citadel to the east.”

“No armies have breached the Citadel, nor made their way past it, ever. But it has been hundreds of years since the last attempted attack, and gunpowder weapons have come a long way since then.” Eadric picked up his wine and took a sip. “The rulers of Istivan and Welos do not seem to hold to that opinion of the Citadel’s defenses.”

“Istivan and Welos have never been terribly friendly,” Altavius pointed out. “More than a few wars have been fought between the two, and much of the southeastern Welosi territories fell under Istivani control three centuries ago. If those two have come together, the threat is indeed perilous.”

“Eighty days ago, Grand Duke Acantha, his ambassador to Ehtroy and the ambassador from Welos had a meeting with King Mercer. In it, they detailed their plans for the defense of the Pinch, using the combined armies of Ehtroy, Welos and Istivan. King Mercer has decided that Emperor Maximilian is not a threat to his people, and that he does not require the aid of his eastern neighbors. And he will not let them pass the Citadel, lest the Emperor hold him and his people responsible for it.”

“He has refused to allow them passage?” William shook his head.

“And they have told him that when the Emperor does invade, they will lend him no aid,” Eadric added.

“Damnable fools,” Alden swore. Then his eyes narrowed in realization. “Sharing that information was not the point of their meeting. We could have read it in the papers, or heard from our own ambassadors across the Vast Sea.”

“You are correct.” Eadric nodded and took a drink. “The Grand Duke of Istivan and the King of Welos have asked that we call our levies to arms, sail them across the Straits of Steimor and march them overland to join with their armies in preparation for the invasion by Chesia. Their message comes with the endorsement of the Triumvirate of Lot’Mai-ron and the Sea King of Laine.” Altavius took in a great gasp of air. His eyes widened and his knuckles whitened, so firm was his grip on the arms of the chair.

“Those endorsements do not come lightly,” Altavius said after a moment. “No one has ever received the endorsements of both the Elvish realms.”

The two nations of Elves held wildly different opinions of the men that they shared this world with. The Sea Nation of Laine was a great naval power with swift warships and deep hulled merchant ships. They took part in the wars of men more often than their southern kin would have approved.

Lot’Mai-Ron’s three-headed council held its nation out of the struggles of men. They provided wisdom and knowledge to those who asked it of them, but nothing more. And they rarely agreed with their estranged relations.

“Your Grace, it is a great undertaking to call up all your nobles and their armies,” Alden noted as he rubbed his chin. “I don’t believe that we will need the whole of our levies. One hundred and sixty thousand soldiers will be difficult to camp, difficult to feed, and very difficult to move to the front.”

“If we’re going to throw our lot in with Istivan and Welos, we need to make sure that we are not wasting whatever we send across the sea. Those men are going to have to return and till our fields. We need to send an overwhelming force,” Lord Richards pointed out, as if everyone in the room didn’t already know that.

“I think we should reconsider this course of action,” Alden said, the hesitation in his voice evident. Even his closest advisors rarely dared to oppose the king when his mind was set on something. “There is no benefit to sending our armies across the sea for a war that may never happen.”

“Even if the war does not develop, the goodwill that we will gain with Welos and Istivan will more than account for sending our troops to their aid.”

“Your Grace, we already have strong trade and diplomatic ties with King Caerwyn and Grand Duke Acantha,” Alden said. “What more can they provide us that they do not already?”

“If the Chesians are content with the conquest of Jarin and Malkala, the goodwill with Welos and Istivan will do nothing. If, however, the Emperor invades Ehtroy and is repelled by Caerwyn and Acantha, they will control the Pinch and many of the harbors that our merchants frequent.”

“Your Grace, even if the benefits of aligning ourselves with this coalition have great potential, it is not Welos or Istivan that will bear the burden of sending our armies across the sea,” Alden said. “When the time comes to pay our soldiers, the gold and silver will come from our coffers.”

Peter spoke for the first time since the council had entered the small chambers. “The coffers could handle all the expenses of the sailing the army across the Straits. And feeding them while they are on the boats and in Welos or wherever they end up. But it would be up to the Lords to pay the wages for their soldiers, and feed them and march them to the nearest ports.”

Peter’s ledgers were always impossibly accurate, so if he said that the royal coffers could withstand a cost, then it was true. Eadric had audited the accounts, more than once, and every time the numbers had come up correct. He wondered, as he watched the man flip through the pages of one thick leather tome, how it was that someone so honest had come to become a master of accounts. And what the man was hiding behind his obvious facade.

“I would want them to gather here before they make the journey across the Straits,” Eadric said after a moment. “And the year has been plentiful. Our granaries were overfull and many of my nobles sold their spare grain to merchants. Their coffers wouldn’t suffer too greatly from the cost.”

“I think we should offer to pay a portion of the soldiers’ salaries,” Altavius suggested. “It will take some burden off the nobles. We could raise some form of tax to cover it if we need to.”

“The coffers could sustain the cost of the basics of transport, but—”

“The coffers will recover,” Eadric interrupted. “We’ll cover the first year of the soldiers’ pay once they reach Istivan. After that, the nobles will be responsible for paying their troops.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Peter nodded and jotted this down in one of his ledgers.

“Very well.” Eadric stood. His closest advisors followed suit. “Lord Hanley, send out the riders to the nearby nobles and dispatch a messenger train to the West. I want the letters to be sealed until they are delivered. Instruct the nobles to call their levies to arms. Tell them to meet with their dukes while they are waiting for their soldiers to gather. I want all of the planning and organization set before they march. Charles, please get word to the High Priest. I would have his blessings.”

Altavius winced at the reference to the High Priest of Elsdon. The Elven priests did not get along well with the priests of the various gods that were worshiped in the lands of men. The High Priest of Elsdon led the largest temple in Ansgar, dedicated to Tyro, the Ansgari God of Justice. The Elsdon sigil had been taken from the symbol of the faith of Tyro: a giant with a spear in hand.

“William, if you would stay a moment longer?”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

“You are dismissed, gentlemen,” Eadric said.

“Yes, Your Grace.” Alden Hanley and his colleagues bowed, and the three advisors excused themselves from the chamber.

Eadric stepped back to the table he had been studying before his advisors had joined him.

He had heard reports from his spy masters that the nobles of Western Ansgar had grown increasingly bold in their expression of discontent with his rule. Most were wise enough to have kept their feelings to themselves, or to express them only in private council. A handful, however, had railed against his policies in public meetings. Their representatives in the castle had downplayed their lords’ indiscretions; one had claimed that his lord was one of Eadric’s staunchest supporters among the nobles in the West.

This would be an opportunity to send some of those malcontents away to see what it was like away from their warm castles and servants. It would do them well to get their hands dirty.

Sending his armies across that sea was a risky maneuver. If he were attacked by any of his neighbors while his armies were away, it could take months to get his armies back.

But it wasn’t his neighbors that he was worried about, and he was afraid to admit that to his advisors.

“Your Grace?” William asked.

“William, I’d like you to meet with the Welosi and Istivani ambassadors and inform them of our decision,” Eadric said.

“Of course, Eadric,” William said with a nod.

“I want our levies to be recognized as a force to be reckoned with,” Eadric said. “I will not have the other nations laugh at us behind our backs—or worse, think us weak because some western contingent can’t keep themselves straight.”

“Our armies will have months to train before they cross the Straits,” William said.

“I want you to lead our armies,” Eadric said after a pause. “You’re my right-hand man. If there is anyone who knows what I want accomplished, it is you.”

“I’m honored, Your Grace,” William said. “But who will remain here to advise you?”

“That is no issue; I have more advisors than I can count. What I need is someone that I trust leading my armies when they are tens of thousands of miles away. We grew up together, we learned from the same teachers; there is no one better qualified.”

“There are plenty of generals with more experience than me,” William pointed out.

“Your battlefield experience is the least of my concerns,” Eadric said. He placed a hand on William’s shoulder. “I need someone that I trust intimately and I need someone that my nobles will accept as my surrogate on the other side of the world.”

“Let me think about it,” William said. He stood.

“There is one more thing,” Eadric said. “I’m concerned about the nobles in Kerberos.”

“Your Grace?”

“I have heard whispers that they are making plans to reassert their independence. If we are going to move our troops across the Straits of Steimor, they will have to march through Kerberos. Should Duke Jarmann truly have plans to revolt against my rule, I think that it is likely he will take advantage of this situation and may attack our armies while they are surrounded by his own.”

The nobles that once called themselves the nation of Kerberos had never been fully trusted in the halls of Aetheston and Founder’s Castle. They had fallen under the control of Ansgar after William the Defender had repulsed their invasion and countered with his own. When Sigurd Jarmann had knelt before William, he had pledged that his lands and those of his nobles would forever swear allegiance to the crown of Ansgar.

Eadric doubted their resolve. He had no firm proof of their plotting, but he had heard whispers from his lesser advisors that those nobles were planning something, something that would put them back in control of their own lands. Alone they were not a threat, but their long-standing relationships with the neighboring nations, nations that shared a common ancestry, were a danger.

They were not of the same blood as the people of Ansgar, who had come across the Vast Sea more than twelve centuries ago. If the Lords of Kerberos were able to convince King Penn of Steimor or Herzog Renwyk of Beldane to join their cause, they could field an army larger than any that Eadric could hope to muster.

The soldiers that would sail across the sea would include the levies sworn by Kerberos and, if after the armies returned to their lands the Lords of Kerberos decided to press their independence, Eadric would have a favor owed by the Kings of Welos and Istivan that would give him additional forces.

“Magnus is your family,” William reminded his liege. “He married your sister; their children are your blood.”

“My sister was never a strong soul,” Eadric said. “That’s why I forced her out of the regency when I was sixteen. Her children will be worse. My nephew Roland has only been to Aetheston twice in his life, and I’ve never even seen the other two. They have spent their entire lives with the Kerberosi, reading their accounts of history, listening to them complain about how we’ve had our boots on their necks for a century.”

“I doubt that Magnus will be foolish enough to mount a rebellion when we have our levies assembled and trained,” William said. “He is a bold man, but he is not stupid.”

“I want you to draw up plans to deal with the Kerberosi. If Magnus decides to take advantage of our current situation, I want him crushed.”