Coradel (bites the dust)

Coradel is a character I love, but for Book 1 at least, he’s going to have to be cut as a point of view character. Since this scene diesn’t contain anyone else, it has to go. So I thought I’d put it here instead; it makes the loss less painful.

Coradel checked his uniform one last time, locked the empty house and walked towards the centre of the town. Several neighbours waved as he passed them, but although he acknowledged them, he didn’t smile.

The duke would arrive home today, and there was no knowing if he would demand an immediate report of events during his absence, or ignore the existence of his guard for several days.

Perhaps Gairhard had been rude or dismissive, and the duke would return in a fury, renounce Gandor, and everything could go back to how it should be. Coradel grimaced. You could always hope, no matter how ridiculously unlikely your wishes.

He had taken the detour past the graveyard without being aware of where his feet were going, and he stopped at the lowest part of the surrounding wall, bending his head and trying to think of something to say. His thoughts were still bitter, though, and he walked on, quicker now, locking the anger down where it couldn’t betray him.

The guard saw him coming up the hill, and there was a flurry of activity around the mansion gatehouse. When he reached them they were lined up at attention, and he was obliged to stop and inspect, pointing out a frayed cuff here, a mud-spattered boot there. At the end of the line he nodded at the sergeant, who saluted him, and then left them to their repairs and complaints, heading through to his ‘office’, a small room squashed between the store and the stables.

Lew was there, standing in front of the door and pissing against the stable wall. He didn’t stop when he saw Coradel, but gave him a jaunty salute with his free hand. Eventually the stream ran slack, and he tucked himself in, shaking his balls into place before sauntering away. Coradel kept his face impassive as he walked into his room, but once the door had shut behind him he leaned his sword against the desk and slumped into a chair. How the hell had it come to this? His oath was held by a man he loathed with every inch of his being, who employed brutes and criminals to guard his own family, over and above the guard who were trained for the purpose. The duke had at least stopped making him the brunt of public indignities, but only when Coradel had pointed out that a guardwith no respect for its commander was a very dangerous beast.

And that man, locked in the cellar. If only the woman had come to him; he’d have got them away safely, provided them with horses, even. The man was no criminal, or he’d have had a trial. And the lady Ketten looked close to breaking point now, prisoner to the duke’s cruelty and greed. He could have found her a husband easily, had he been willing to dower her. She might not be pretty, but what he’d seen of her showed good sense and kindness. He might, in another life, have been tempted to woo her himself. He grimaced at that thought. Edril was the sort of man who would have his head if he even tried such a thing, yet at the same time would slap his daughter’s face as if she was the meanest drudge.

We are all trapped, he thought bleakly, by birth, by circumstance and by the past. We cannot move on until scores are settled and justice done.

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Magic

Seremon was sitting with a cup of coffee when Tiel knocked on the door the next morning. He drained it quickly, pulled on his robe and followed the child outside. The grey robe –the smallest the seamstress had been able to supply—swamped him. It was the right length, but looked as though it would go three times around his skinny frame. Seremon repressed a laugh as he looked down at the eager figure. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Yes.’ Tiel looked up at him, his eyes shining. He was practically bouncing with eagerness.

‘You’re very happy today.’

‘I want to do magic,’ was all he said.

The block housing the practice rooms was different from any other part of the Castle. Heavy with physical and magical reinforcement, it was a squat, ugly extension between one of the larger buildings and the outer wall. It had two floors, and its corridors and staircases were empty and echoing.

‘We’ll be upstairs,’ Seremon said. ‘The lower levels are for the senior mages.’ The room they were to use had Seremon’s name chalked on a board beside the door. Seremon added a tick beside his own name, wrote Tiel’s under it and ticked that, too. He had done the same on another board outside the building.

‘What’s that for?’ Tiel traced the first letter of his name with one finger. ‘That’s my name, isn’t it?’ He traced the S as well. ‘And yours.’

Seremon considered trying to teach him another letter, then thought better of it. ‘It’s so that if there’s an accident, they know exactly who is in the building.’ He expected Tiel to show some uncertainty, but he was already pushing the door open. Seremon followed him, closing the door behind them and latching it on the outside with a simple spell.

‘Now,’ he said. ‘The first thing you learn is how to produce a magelight.’

‘Like this?’ Tiel held out his hand. There was a sullen pop, and a globe of blue-white magefire appeared, about six inches across.

Seremon managed not to react although how, he never knew, then or later. ‘No. That’s magefire, not a magelight.’

‘Oh.’ Tiel looked disappointed. ‘What’s the difference?’

‘Can you make it go away first? Then I’ll show you.’

‘Yes, of course.’ The magefire vanished, and Tiel wiped his palms on the seat of his trousers.

Seremon wished he could do the same. ‘This is a magelight,’ he said, creating one.

‘It’s not as bright,’ Tiel said critically. ‘And it doesn’t make a noise.’

‘That goes to show that appearances aren’t everything. Magefire burns things, which means you have to be careful how you use it. Magelights don’t. You can use them anywhere, to see where you’re going or attract someone’s attention. You can play with them, too.’ He made the magelight shrink to the size of an acorn, and sent it scooting round his fingers.

‘Can I hold it?’

‘Well, yes and no. I can put it in your hand,’ he rested it on Tiel’s palm, ‘but you can’t do anything with it, because it’s my power and so only I can make it move. Do you understand?’

‘I think so.’

‘Good. Now, hold your hand out, and think about what you’ve just seen. You only need a little bit of power for this, it’s not like magefire. Imagine your power flowing into a ball over your hand. It’s a little ball of energy, and it has to release somehow.’ He paused, raised his eyebrows. Tiel nodded. ‘That energy can be turned into heat, or light. What you begin with is letting it turn to light, gently, so that it glows. It’s not always easy when you start, but we’ll keep at it. Do you want to try?’

Tiel held out his hand. He stared at a point a little way above it, a crease appearing between his brows.

Seremon could see the slight distortion the magic was causing, but nothing else happened. ‘You’re getting it,’ he said. ‘The power is there, over your hand, but it’s leaking away so you don’t have enough to use. Try and pack it tighter, that’s—no, stop!’

There was a sharp crack and a brilliant flash. Tiel cried out and leapt backwards. Seremon had turned his head away in time, and he caught hold of Tiel, who had pressed his arm across his eyes and was swaying, his other hand held out in front of him.

‘Stay still,’ he said. ‘Your sight will come back in a few minutes.’

‘What happened?’

‘You packed the power a bit too tight, that’s all. In fact, for certain uses, that sort of effect is perfect, but obviously you have to know when to shut your eyes.’

Tiel let his arm drop. ‘It’s getting better,’ he said, blinking. ‘So that’s it? That’s magic?

A musical interlude from Caedun…

There is a city by the sea
That shines on the horizon clear.
The city where I long to be,
The city to my heart most dear.

A place in every sailor’s breast
For Raeval, city of the rose.
A man can come at last to rest
And shelter as the wild wind blows.

When I’ll no more the ocean brave
And turn my boat towards the bay,
Let me go home across the waves
And let me safely stop and stay

A place in every sailor’s breast
For Raeval, city of the rose.
A man can come at last to rest
And shelter as the wild wind blows.

One day I’ll come at last to land,
With heavy heart my sail I’ll fold,
But I’ll step sure upon the sand
For Raeval’s mine, and more than gold.

A place in every sailor’s breast
For Raeval, city of the rose.
A man can come at last to rest
And shelter as the wild wind blows.

(Sung to the tune ‘O Waley Waley’, a medieval folk melody)

Stringy Eating – another Caedun song

A farmer went out with his old dog
To bring in a cow whose days were long past
The knife it was sharp
And the farmer was hungry
But the dog took one look and said don’t make me laugh—

She’ll give a good chase, but she’ll be stringy eating
She’ll give a good chase for she’s lean and she’s fast
She’ll give a good chase but she’ll be stringy eating
And men of the north prefer meat on a lass!

A huntsman went out with a pack of hounds
To catch an old doe in the long spring grass
His bow it was new
And his stomach was empty
But the hounds took one look and cried don’t make us laugh—

She’ll give a good chase, but she’ll be stringy eating
She’ll give a good chase for she’s lean and she’s fast
She’ll give a good chase but she’ll be stringy eating
And men of the north prefer meat on a lass!

The innkeeper sighed as he served the merchant
I think that the new maid is smiling on me
Her eyes are so blue
And I’m lonely, it’s true
But the merchant said man, are you really that blind?

She’ll give a good chase, but she’ll be stringy eating
She’ll give a good chase for she’s lean and she’s fast
She’ll give a good chase but she’ll be stringy eating
And men of the north prefer meat on a lass!

[edit] Caedun has asked me to note that no, it was never supposed to rhyme…

The Golden Horn

That evening he pelted back to the palace, changed into his one decent set of clothes, grabbed his instruments and then raced down to the Golden Horn. The doors of the inn were open, but flanking the entrance were two men who looked as if their only purpose was to keep itinerant bards from bothering the customers. They eyed him as he approached, but made no move until he started to step over the threshold, when a meaty arm was abruptly extended in front of his chest.

‘No beggars,’ the man on the right grunted.

Caedun gaped at him. It was one thing to be refused admission, but that was downright insulting. ‘I’m a bard,’ he said, unable to keep the indignation from his voice.

‘He’s a bard,’ the man informed his colleague. ‘Look, kid, we’ve had a couple of dozen minstrels try their luck since Rellsar had his accident. None of them has lasted more than an evening, and they were all a lot older than you. The Golden Horn has standards. Now go home.’

‘How do you know how good I am if you haven’t heard me?’ Caedun demanded.

The men exchanged amused glances. ‘Trust me, we know,’ the second man said.

‘Caedun, my friend! Have you come to take a drink with me?’ The voice was deep and familiar.

Caedun turned round and looked up…and up. ‘Good evening, Eryion.’

The healer smiled. Now he was no longer forced to stoop in a confined space, he seemed taller than ever. ‘Are you having problems convincing these gentlemen of your merit?’ He rested a hand on Caedun’s shoulder. ‘This young man is bard to King Rhofarn. Did you not mark the dragon?’ He twitched Caedun’s jacket, where tiny gold dragons were embroidered along the seams. ‘He is a young man of exceptional talent, brought by your king from the Sealands to entertain the highest nobility in his house, and you would bar him from your door?’

‘Well, no. But…we’ve been told…’

‘Inside, Caedun,’ Eryion said, pushing him forward.

Living in the palace had blunted his appreciation of wealth, but the interior of the Golden Horn was like no inn he had ever encountered. From its floor of pale, polished wood to the high, whitewashed ceiling, it had an atmosphere of airy light. The room was big enough to hold around two dozen tables, each with a complement of padded chairs, while leaving space for two servingmen to pass abreast between each. The windows were curtained with pale gold silk and the walls were hung with narrow tapestries depicting courtly scenes.

It was fortunate Eryion kept hold of his shoulder, for he would otherwise have stood and gaped for a full ten minutes. The healer gave him no opportunity to stop, however, guiding him to a vacant table and pressing him into a seat.

‘Wait here,’ he said shortly. He vanished off through a door at the far side of the room. Caedun hunched down in his chair, uncomfortably aware that he was the focus of a lot of attention. He didn’t mind it when he was performing, but it was different when he had the feeling that any minute he would be unceremoniously ejected into the street.

It was a while before Eryion returned. He waved a serving girl across and ordered ale for them both.

‘I can’t,’ Caedun said awkwardly.

Eryion glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. ‘Can’t what?’

‘Can’t drink with you. I have no money to return the favour.’

‘Then you had better sing well, Caedun the bard. I have spoken with the innkeeper. A hard man, and all my persuasion could only bring him to allow you two songs. He will then decide if you can continue to perform. I suggest you choose wisely. And take the drink as a gift from me, with no obligation attached.’

Stormwatcher

He climbed to Ferline’s Point, and sat on one of the stone benches.

Below him Raeval lay, its rose-tinted marble buildings pouring from the gorge, washing up around the valley and then down to the sea. All was towers, spires, pillars. Windows glittered in the sun. The white sand of the bay narrowed as it curved away, then almost looped back on itself to form a harbour. Three ships rode at anchor, another tied up at the quay. Sails glinted at the horizon.

Soon it would be autumn, and the trees would turn gold, then red, and from up here it would look as if the buildings were on fire. The sea would turn grey and wintry, and as it grew colder the houses would become caves of warmth and light. And he wouldn’t be here to see it.

‘It is beautiful.’

The voice made him jump. He glared at the speaker, a thin man in charcoal jerkin and trousers, who looked back at him without resentment.

‘The Rose City,’ he said. ‘You live here, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ Caedun said unwillingly. The man wasn’t a Sealander. His face had a strange angularity to it, and his green eyes were narrow and slanted. He had long brown hair, unbraided, tied at the back of his neck with a strip of leather.

‘You’re very lucky. Most of the world knows only life in a hovel. Not many have the knowledge of a birthplace like this to sustain them on their travels.’

‘On their trav—who are you?’

‘A friend.’

‘I’ve never seen you before.’

‘No,’ the man agreed cheerfully.

‘I—’ he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He turned away, looking down at the city, his vision blurring.

‘You’ve been thinking about running away,’ the man said. ‘Or refusing to play music for them. You’re looking for a way out.’

‘I don’t want to go,’ he said without turning round.

‘You must go. Caedun, there are so many things that rest upon your going to the Northlands.’

He looked back over his shoulder. ‘Like what?’ He thought about asking the man how he knew his name, but then realised he must have been at the duke’s celebration.

‘It’s difficult to explain. Do you know that sailors can sense a change in the weather long before it happens? Something, some tiny thing that passes most people by. They notice it. And then they start to look out for more signs, in case a storm is on the way.’

The stranger looked down at his hands, rubbed at an odd pattern of calluses on his right palm. ‘Well, I’m like that, only what I see is a change in…history, if you like. Small things, things that others ignore. But I’m looking for them, so perhaps that’s why I see them sooner. So then like a sailor, when I see those tiny signs of an approaching storm, I look around for things I can do to the ship to make the storm pass more easily. I might try to sail away from its path, or I might decide that’s not possible, and that I need to make preparations for when it arrives.’

Caedun frowned, trying to understand. Without intending to he had walked back to stand in front of the man.

‘I’ve seen a storm coming. I need to move people to places that they might not otherwise go, to make it easier to survive the storm. You’re one of those people.’

‘Why should I believe you?’

‘I don’t know. Why shouldn’t you?’