Category Archives: Alandar
Stories and documents pertaining to the fantasy world I have created.
I’ve always loved history; the story of our species’ activities, decisions and beliefs over the vast span of time and continent is riveting, compelling, and wonderful to know. Understanding history is essential to understanding art, literature, culture, and human beings in general. No artist, in my opinion, can be ignorant of history and successfully depict human societies in any real or convincing way. This is as true of the science fiction and fantasy author as it is of anyone else, perhaps more so, as they must frequently invent new history that, in their world, serves all the same functions as real history does in ours.
Few understand this or use it better than Tolkien. When Rohan rides to help Gondor, it’s a nice story; if you know of the relationship between Rohan and Gondor, their shared history, and their challenges, it becomes an even better story. If you know that Aragorn is the heir to Isildur, that’s fine; if you understand the significance of Aragorn as the last of a thinning bloodline that traces all the way back to the doomed kingdom of Numenor, the pathos of his duty and quest becomes that much more powerful. The Silmarilion, while not a read for everyone, establishes a mythic and historic baseline that colors the whole of Middle Earth; it has resonance in every song the elves sing, in every major conflict that develops, and in every cultural behavior of every people in that world. Even if you haven’t and don’t plan to learn about the history of Middle Earth, you are experiencing its power from the moment Thorin and company sing “Far Over Misty Mountains.”
For the rest of us writing fantasy or science fiction, we can take a lesson from Tolkien that is important to remember: Your world should be bigger than what happens on the pages. Just like you should know your characters like they’re real people, you should also know the history of your setting. All of this falls under David Eddings famous quote about writing 1000 pages about a world before you can write a story set there. This sounds like work, and it is, but if you’re a lover of history, it’s great fun, too. It’s an instance where you can take your understanding of history and try to apply some of those same concepts or, if you like, mess with them. It’s the most thorough kind of ‘what-if’ building you can do.
Take, for instance, the existence and study of magic – elemental forces contained within the fingertips of a special few. How does that change the course of history? What kinds of things does it result in or not result in? What kind of world is one where magic exists? I consider this pretty closely in my world of Alandar, which grows and changes with each passing year as I continue to flesh it out and establish its history. In The Oldest Trick, my first novel set in the world, we visit the world almost three decades after the ages-long prohibition of free sorcerous study began to be relaxed. What was once a medieval world of simple people ruled over by the magical elite is beginning to shift. A middle class is being born. Sorcery is being used by the common people with greater frequency. Businessmen and entrepreneurs are taking the once-restricted arts of alchemy and thaumaturgy to new heights, a Reniassance of sorts is developing, and all of it goes back to a war. In this war there were pivotal historic figures (Landar Marik the Holy, General Conrad ‘Mudboots’ Varner, the Mad Prince Banric Sahand), famous battles (Atrisia, the Sack of Tasis, the Siege of Calassa), and events of contention still debated into the modern day (Who really killed Perwynnon? Why did Landar Marik abdicate? Did Banric Sahand really sign the Treaty of Calassa?). This, I hope, should give my world a sense of presence, of legitimacy, and of gravity. It lets me understand my characters better, and hopefully lets the readers understand them better, too.
The trick is, of course, finding a way to tell them about all this without boring them to tears. Some people, as you know, don’t really like history all that much. That, of course, is the ultimate challenge of the fantasist – to bring someone into a world without barraging them with facts like they’re studying for an exam. It is a challenge I believe I have done well at, but I could always do better. For inspiration, I need only gaze at the great world-builders: Tolkien, Martin, Herbert, Jordan. They are the framers of my own personal history, the teachers of myth that shaped my own understanding of the art, and beside whom I hope one day to be mentioned without sarcasm or irony.
Recently finished The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (loved it, by the way – highly recommended). In it, music and, in particular, songs play an important thematic and stylistic role in the tale. Among his many other achievements, Kvothe is a musician second to none and the Four Corners of the World are awash in stories and ballads, many of which are set to music.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a contemporary fantasy novel incorporate the lyrics of songs into the text, and I enjoyed it, in general. Rothfuss is far from the first to do this and will not be the last, but the inclusion of the song lyrics in the tale reminded me of an old frustration I had with this technique: I wish I could hear the music. To Rothfuss’ credit, he frequently describes songs rather than simply transcribe them and, when he does include the lyrics, it is usually because the lyrics are important in and of themselves – they illuminate aspects of the world, give us hints into Kvothe’s next move, and so on. It is, however, very difficult to hear the music, since music is not easily described. At best, what we can get is a sense of rhythm and, perhaps, be treated to particularly evocative poetry (though few fantasy authors are also fine poets). Music is, of course, something far, far beyond that. There’s nothing Rothfuss (or anyone else) can really do about that.
Take this classic example from Tolkien:
Ho! Tom Bombadil, Tom Bombadillo!
By water, wood and hill, by the reed and willow,
By fire, sun and moon, hearken now and hear us!
Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!
This song, taken from the chapter “Fog on the Barrow Downs” in The Fellowship of the Ring, has rhythm, has a degree of vivid imagery, but can you actually make a tune? Maybe, yes, but it’s a tenuous thing. You’re grasping at straws. You have no idea of key, tempo, or how the melodies and harmonies interact. It’s interesting, yes, but it’s also frustrating to me. I feel like I’m not in on the joke.
Now, I’m not proposing that authors need to provide sheet music or anything like that. I honestly like songs when they show up in fantasy – they give the world a life and vibrancy beyond the characters’ immediate experiences. I’m just saying that there’s an extra mile that can’t be traveled in text. This is why I’m unreasonably pleased that the upcoming Hobbit movie is going to include the dwarves singing “Far Over Misty Mountains Cold” and they appear to have given it the feeling of a dirge, which it is. Love it. I only wish all the music of those fantastic worlds could be given the same treatment!
In closing, and for no reason whatsoever than I find myself humming this song on occasion, is a song I wrote for my own fantasy setting, Alandar. It is a march, and is intended to be rhythmic and loud. Imagine a column of a thousand men braying it at the top of their lungs as they march in time down a long, dusty Illini road, General Conrad ‘Mudboots’ Varner at their head, their pikes set on their shoulders as they head towards the distant deserts of Kalsaar and, likewise, march to their glory.
Oh well, oh well,
It’s off we march to hell,
As war, they say,
ain’t never the way
Old Timer’s tell!
But when arm in arm
with our brothers (HEAR HEAR!),
And fightning ‘neath the Elk and Star,
We know that we are
the finest near or far,
Make Way for the Army of Galaspin!
Oh my, oh my,
We’re marching off to die,
And none of us
will curse or ‘cuss
when in the dirt we lie!
But when arm in arm
with our brothers (HEAR HEAR!),
And fightning ‘neath the Elk and Star,
We know that we are
the finest near or far,
Make Way for the Army of Galaspin!
Oh no, oh no,
It’s to our ends we go,
By bow or spear,
or a mage’s sear,
we all will be laid low!
But when arm in arm
with our brothers (HEAR HEAR!),
And fightning ‘neath the Elk and Star,
We know that we are
the finest near or far,
Make Way for the Army of Galaspin!
-Traditional Galaspiner Marching Song
So, I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction recently. Well, I am usually writing a lot of short fiction, but I’ve been thinking about it more than usual. Planning my strategy, as it were.
Like a lot of writers, finding inspiration for a story is a key part of the process. I’ve a wide variety of ways I do this, many of them too arcane and fuzzy for me to accurately describe. I do, however, have a pretty tried and true method for producing work, much of it quite good. What I do, in a nutshell, is set a story within a world I’ve already developed/am in the process of developing.
This serves two purposes. First is world building, which is essential in any good fantasy or sci-fi novel. To paraphrase David Eddings, you need that 1000 pages of stuff before your world is likely to seem real, so you need to get cracking, right? Second is that is gives the story a sort of built-in background. It anchors it and allows it to seem more alive, better situated.
So far, my most successful stories to date have been the ones I’ve written this way. Now, I can’t say for certain that this method is the cause of that or, indeed, if this method of mine is holding me back or propelling me forward – I haven’t had enough success yet to tell – but I do think it makes it easier for me to produce material. Besides, I happen to love Alandar… and the Frontier universe, and the Quiet Earth, and the Multiverse of the Rubric. I’m at home in these places, I know them, and you’re supposed to write what you know, right?
Well, anyway, I’ve got some more stories cooking, some set in Alandar, some set in the future, some set in parallel dimensions, but all filling out a kind of grand map of my worlds. Perhaps, if I’m very lucky, some fan of mine will sit down and map them all out on some kind of branching timeline. That would be cool. Especially when I go and compare their timeline to mine.
Never mind looking around for me; I’m currently invisible. No, no, I’m not doing it to impress you or frighten you or any of that nonsense – it’s part of an experiment. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Just sit down, will you? Not there, thank you very much – that’s where I’m sitting – try over there. On the books.
To begin with, let me make one thing abundantly clear: You aren’t special. Well…perhaps that’s not entirely true; allow me to rephrase. There is nothing genetically or mystically unique to your person that indicates that you can become a mage. It is a common misconception among the common folk that magi (or wizards or sorcerers or warlocks or what-have-you) are somehow ‘born’ with a special gift that sets them apart. That, at least, is the clap-trap peddled in the Twin Kingdoms and in Kalsaar. We live in the West, we are civilized and intelligent beings, and we ought not believe a word of that nonsense.
Please look over here where I’m sitting. I despise speaking to someone who is looking elsewhere. No, not there - a little higher. Yes, quite right. Thank you.
Anyway, as I was saying, what you refer to as ‘magic’ (but what we refer to as the High Arts) is accessible to anyone with a studious disposition, a strong work ethic, and other things that make people good students. It is, at its heart, an academic discipline (well, barring those brutes who focus on channeling the Fey, but that’s a topic for a different time). The point is that anyone with a good head on their shoulders and a good teacher can learn sorcery. This, historically, has been a troubling fact to many rulers, as the prospect that any number of ornery peasants might learn how to conjure demonfire or toss lode-bolts around was enough to give them permanent indigestion. Indeed, that is where the whole ‘wizards are born, not made’ myth originated, no doubt. Better to convince the populace that they have no hope than allow them the knowledge that they might re-make the world as they see fit if only they hit the books hard enough.
Am I still invisible? Good. Be certain to let me know if I start to appear. It might be a bit grisly, mind you – the digestive tract is usually the first thing to show up. If you must, there’s a basin beside you. Make certain not to vomit on any of the books, or I’ll turn you into a frog.
Just kidding. That’s enormously difficult to do and it wouldn’t be worth the effort. I’d probably just Shroud you so you looked like a frog to everyone else. Just as frustrating for you, but much less likely to freeze my lungs solid as I channel that much of the Dweomer.
Now, where was I? Ah, yes, wizards. Well, the first thing you ought to know is that I can’t, technically, train you to be a mage. It’s something of a semantic distinction, unfortunately. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but such is the world we live in. There are three ‘titles’ affixed to practitioners of the High Arts. The first, most common, and lowest is ‘wizard’. A wizard is anyone who can utilize some aspect of the High Arts, no matter how meager. It’s a catchall term. Call an alchemist a ‘wizard’ and he’ll be pretty flattered, since he probably only knows how to use the Low Arts. Call a staff-bearing mage a ‘wizard’, and he’ll react as if you spat in her soup. Fair warning.
The next up the chain is a ‘sorcerer’. A sorcerer is any wizard with some degree of formal training; a conjurer who can only conjure up water is a wizard, a conjurer who’s studied the Art of Ilticaci, a Kalsaari sorcerous art dedicated to desert survival, itself a derivative of the arts practiced by the Salasi Sandmagi of the Century Desert, can rightfully be called a sorcerer. It is a serious term for serious practitioners, not dabblers, and it is that which I could promise to teach you to become, should you pass my tests.
Finally, of course, is the title of ‘mage’, bestowed only upon those sorcerers trained in the ancient halls of the Arcanostrum of Saldor and who have achieved their second mark and, thus, earned their staff. I did this myself, and I have the staff to prove it. It is a unique and special distinction and, should you show talent, I might suggest you tender your application to the Arcanostrum yourself, that, however, is for another time.
In any event, what is most important to remember is this: the High Arts, and the profession of sorcerer, is the most important profession in the world. One man with vision can reshape society, history, and even the land itself using these arts, and this is not to be taken lightly. No, we are the safeguards of the future and it is our purpose, more than any priest, to shepherd humanity to a brighter tomorrow. To become a sorcerer, you must cast off your personal concerns, your lusts for power, your ambitions for wealth, your…AGH! Kroth dammit!
The cat jumped on me again! Stupid animal! Did you let it back in the room? Hann’s Boots, boy! I’ve totally lost my concentration! You can see me, can’t you? You can! I can tell by the way you’re making eye-contact. Dammit all to bloody hell! I was on my way to a record, too. I spent the past three weeks without being able to see my own hands. Do you have any idea how hard it was to get dressed? Kroth, Kroth, and bloody goddamned Kroth. I knew I should have sent the cat to stay with my brother. Dammit.
How can a people who have so much always be trying to get things? Where are they going to put all the things that they want? If their house burns down or is washed away in a storm, how will they carry the things away? Why, if they have so many things, are they so upset when one of the things is taken or goes missing?
I have seen so many starving humans steal small things from rich humans and then get badly punished for it…by humans different than the humans who were stolen from. This makes no sense. Why do those humans care if the rich humans are robbed of the tiny things they shouldn’t need anyway? Why don’t the rich humans, if they are so mad, track down the poor humans and kill them? That would make much more sense. This way is stupid.
Humans always seem to be getting other things to do their jobs for them. They have ‘servants’ who are supposed to bring them food. They have ‘armies’ who are supposed to kill their enemies. They have ‘courts’ who solve their problems. In the Taqar, we solve our own problems. If I am hungry, I kill something and eat it. If there is a gnoll who has angered me, I hit his face until he admits I am in charge. If there is a dispute, I wrestle with the other one until I win or I lose, and that settles that. This way is simpler.
Perhaps the trouble is that there are so many humans and they all live in the same place. The human nomads who live on the Taqar are more like us than their sea-dwelling cousins, though even they are strangely obsessed with owning and controlling things. Perhaps if humans spread out more or had fewer pups, everything would be better. Then, though, a lot of humans would have to die. This usually upsets them. Not always though. Why they cannot leave their dead for the birds and rats is also very confusing. All that trouble to bury or burn perfectly good meat? If they did those things on the Taqar, they would probably starve.
Anyway, the only thing I have is a human sword and a gnoll sling. The sling is more reliable, and I don’t need to worry about it rusting. The sword, though, is useful for killing humans, which I have to do a lot. I am frightening to them, which is the smartest thing about them, and it is useful to kill them from time to time so they know not to trouble me. I carry their skulls around, which is annoying, but I got tired of trying to explain about all the ears I had collected. The skulls do not need explanation. They still say I am a bloodthirsty monster, but they would say that anyway without the skulls, and at least this way they know that if they try and touch me, I will rip off their heads and wear them on my belt. This lets them know where they stand, which is good for all creatures to know.
In some ways, it is unfair that the humans fear me so much. They are far crueller than I am. I do not kill pups, or those bearing their tiny human litters. I do not kill those who have not harmed me. I do not steal from those who have little. I do not destroy things unless I have good reason. How am I the monster, then, when I have seen human armies torch poor farm villages and sell the survivors like they were things? This is cruelty.
I may be a bloodthirsty monster, but at least I am not cruel.
Taken from Chapters 177-179 of the Book of Hann, the Verisi Standard Translation, in the 23rd year of Keeper Estherick II
So it came to pass that the Hann, God of Men, called Longstrider, came to lead mankind out of the Taqar and to the shores of the Sea. Long had been the journey from the Hearth, and the race of men had swelled to many multitudes. The young men had become grandfathers; ancestors of great families, accomplished in deed and bravery.
The land was as Hann had described it – lush and alive with fruits and game. The great beasts of the Taqar were behind them, as were the barbarous children of Melich and of Xarn. They pitched their tents, and a great cheer went up among the people. There was feasting and dancing. Hann’s great pavilion was at its center, and there the chiefs of men attended him and heeded his counsel. This continued for days.
Then came Ulor, the Lone Wanderer, Speaker of Truths, to the great camp. The faithless God, the cause of the Exile, was waiting for them here, in the promised land of Alandar. Though the sentinels of the camp challenged him, none could hinder his passage, for he was the blood of Ozdai, All-Father, and no mortal was his equal.
Hann welcomed his brother, as was fitting, but all knew that Ulor, the Thankless, held no love for his brother. They went outside the camp, and there strove with one another with word and body and art, for three days. The people dared not come close, for the skies cracked and thundered with their anger.
On the morning of the fourth day, Ulor was gone. Hann returned, weary from his struggle, seated upon Equ, the Father of Horses. When the people had gathered, he spoke to them.
“I must leave you now. A father must always know when to let his children earn their own place in this house. So I have led you out of suffering and hardship and into the sun, and now I leave you to make your own fortune. Remember my wisdom and my faith in you; be not greedy and selfish, but defend one another and love one another as I have loved you. Guard your souls from the predations of the world and the temptations of darkness. Seek not ease, but kinship. When you die, I shall come to guide your spirits home to the Hearth, where you shall sup with my Father. This I swear.”
“In time you shall fall upon one another with dagger and club. You shall spill the blood of your cousins and your sisters’ children. You shall take dominion of the world and squander it on yourself, for deep in your hearts Ulor has placed a dark seed – love of yourself. This I say will come to pass, and those who succumb to the dark whisperings of my brother I shall not guide to their reward. They shall be left to wander back alone and lost. This I swear.”
There was much weeping. Hann silenced them with a thunderclap, and spoke a final time.
“When, after the long age of struggle, you have once again united yourselves; when my children stand united against the lesser beings of the world and when you join again as one tribe under the wide sky, then I shall return to you. For at that time the goodness of your hearts will be smiled upon by my father, and the Exile will be at an end. Then we shall once again travel across the vast wastes of the Taqar, and brave the same dangers, and walk the same stony paths, but this time to return to the Hearth, and there dwell for all time.”
“This I swear.”
It is more dearly bought than thou thinkest.
A son wishes to know his father’s secrets. To learn them is cheap – time, patience, vigilance, cunning are all in ready supply. These are not the price. The price is in the knowing.
The son learns the father is a cheat, an adulterer, a coward, a liar. Or the son learns the father is a hero, a paragon, a faultless man of integrity. Or the son learns his father is exactly as he appears, and nothing more. The exact fact does not matter.
To know is to cease to hope. Learn, and kill possibilities with broad strokes. Slay thy dreams with every learned fact. Build thy prison out of truth and evidence. Watch thy youth die at a pace with thy tutelage.
Think thou that I and my brethren were ever thus? We once walked with men in an age before thy reckoning. We were scholars, prying at the seams of Truth, seeking the answers to all questions. We learned them. We Know.
The Knowing had a price. Death became our slave, pain our tutor, power our currency. We were undone; our humanity withered with our imagined wisdom. We cared not. We wished to Know, and there was no price too high. It is only now, with the perspective of aeons, that we can savor the rich irony of our quest. We wished to become gods through our learning. Instead we have become servants; slaves to the Truth. Custodians of the Answer.
The wonder in our souls is but a half-remembered whisper. Our curiosity is as dead as the cities that birthed us. We are men no longer. We are husks, hollowed out with secrets. Thou cometh hither to seek such secrets; for them thou shalt pay. This, though, I give thee for free:
Ask not. Let thy secrets lie. Dwell in the possible.
The plain, wooden letterbox on Banric Sahand’s desk was so nondescript that a visitor to his voluminous field pavilion might have noticed it anyway, given that everything else in the tent was unforgettable. An educated person would quickly note that the contents of his bookshelf ran in two varieties—military strategy and proscribed magical texts—and that the vast majority of the books there had long been thought lost or had been banned throughout the West. A businessman or merchant would have noted the ostentatious quality of the Kalsaari rug that covered the ground, or the expense and rarity of the iron-and-mageglass chair that loomed behind his massive, hand-carved desk. A soldier would note the rune-inscribed broadsword on the rack by the fire not only for the weapon’s quality, but also because it was clearly kept sharp, oiled, and in regular use, as were all of the various weapons and armor supported by racks and stands and attended to by invisible specters bound to Sahand’s will. An uneducated person, meanwhile, would have likely been distracted by the imposing person of Sahand himself—his heavy fur cloak; his polished, silver-shod boots; the dark, iron circlet resting on his rugged brow; the goblet he drank from, made from a human skull. All of these things were amazing, terrifying, and incredible to varying degrees, and then, as some kind of strange, mundane joke, there was the plain wooden letterbox, sitting alone in a corner of the desk of a man who had once sought to conquer the West.
Of course, few ever noticed it, or anything else at all about the room. They were usually too busy lying on their faces before the Mad Prince, groveling for their lives, to take in the finer points of His Highness’s personal living quarters.
On this particular afternoon, the groveler was a warlock from Ayventry named Hortense. Hortense was perhaps forty, with a wife and a teenage daughter, and had come highly recommended as a man of skill, principle, and noble bearing. Sahand’s right-hand man, the towering Gallo, pressed a heavy boot into the small of the man’s back, pushing his face towards the floor; watching this, Sahand noted yet again how quickly one’s ‘bearing’ slipped when faced with imminent death. Hortense was weeping tears, drool, and snot on Sahand’s expensive carpet. “Pl…please, Your Highness, permit…just…just permit me one more chance….I, I, I know we’re close…”
Sahand sighed and looked out the open tent flap, where the snow was falling in heavy sheets along the upper slopes of the Dragonspine mountains. “Hortense, what did I tell you last fall?”
Hortense tried to look up, his eyes blinded by tears, but Gallo pressed his face back down. “Oh! You said…that…that I had one year to get the machines to work.”
“And how long ago was that?” Sahand asked calmly.
“Silence.” Sahand nodded to Gallo, who pressed harder on the engineer’s back. “Now, I am not certain how they read contracts in Ayventry, Hortense, but if it is anything like in the rest of Eretheria, twelve months equals a year. That means you are two months behind schedule, which means I am two months behind schedule. This strikes me as unfair, Hortense. Doesn’t that seem unfair?”
“V-very unfair, milord…”
“I agree, it is very unfair. It seems that you are in a breach of contract, even after I so graciously granted you an extension to complete your work and even went to so great a length as to kidnap numerous thaumatuges to assist you and procured literally scores of wild beasts from all over the world to make your work possible. Are you aware of how much such activities cost me?”
Hortense’s voice was mangled by his cheek being pressed into the carpet. “A great deal, milord.”
“Do you hear yourself, Hortense?” Sahand asked, standing up. “Are you aware of just how cavalierly you just uttered the phrase ‘great deal’?”
Hortense’s breath heaved in heavy sobs. “I…I didn’t…I don’t…”
Sahand crouched besides the prone warlock. “Of course you don’t, Hortense—this, I believe, is the problem we are having in our professional relationship.” Sahand grasped the man by his hair and jerked his head back until Sahand could see his eyes. “You simply do not appreciate my problems. My goals, my aspirations, my operations, my finances are abstractions to you, aren’t they?”
Hortense didn’t answer save to produce a nasal whine through his running nose.
“I have a solution to this problem—a way to bind your self-motivation more closely with my own interests. Now, of course, you are too valuable to punish physically—an injured, ill, or starving man does not work well. However, I have found men with families in jeopardy show a great will to succeed in their tasks.”
Hortense’s bloodshot eyes widened and his face crumpled into an even less flattering expression. “Oh…oh please, Hann, no! Anything! Anything but…”
Sahand permitted himself a tight grimace. “For every day you do not meet the goals I set for you, on that night I grant my officers access to your daughter. It is my understanding that they are not gentle lovers.”
Sahand rose and nodded to Gallo, who released the sobbing warlock. Hortense simply sat in the center of the room, tears streaming down his face, his palms upwards in his lap. “It’s…it’s impossible! It cannot be done! I…I…can’t!”
“Well, then, Hortense,” Sahand said, sitting behind his desk, “Congratulations—you will soon be a grandfather.”
Gallo seized Hortense by the scalp and dragged him from the room like a sack of grain. The tent flap closed behind him, leaving Sahand alone. He glowered at the dark stains on the rug where the warlock had been. Ten years! He had spent the past ten years of his life painstakingly preparing for this winter, and now to think he might fail just when success was closest. He wanted to flay the skin of that inept fop of a warlock himself. He wanted to make the entire city of Freegate wade in rivers of blood. He wanted to call down all the powers of the world to crack the fortresses of Galaspin open and feast on the flesh of the fools inside like a bird cracking open a snail. He clenched his fists and teeth until he heard the leather in his gauntlets cracking and heard his teeth grinding with the stress.
He stood up and released his rage into The Shattering. The heat and raw power of the Fey roared through his blood and blasted forth into one of his bookshelves with a spectacular boom, reducing the shelf and the books to flinders and torn pages. The Mad Prince watched the paper flitter around the tent for a moment before taking a deep breath and sitting down. Then he heard something drop into the letterbox.
On the inside of the lid of the plain wooden container was a spider web of intricate astral runes that, when the lid was closed, linked the interior of the box with a spatial rift through which secure messages could be sent. It was, without a doubt, the most expensive object in the room. Even the mighty Arcanostrum of Saldor did not possess such devices. The Sorcerous League, however, possessed many secrets the magi of Saldor did not.
The letter inside had a red seal, marking it as important and specifically addressed to him—the whole League would not be privy to its contents. Waving his hand to seal the tent from intrusion, Sahand broke the seal with the proper word of power and flipped open the letter:
6th Ahzmonth, 33rd Year of Polimeux II
Our friends in Freegate have come upon a unique and unusual opportunity regarding your operations in the mountains. A meeting is requested this very night for those involved to discuss the situation.
Curse the Name of Keeper,
The Office of the Chairman
Sahand frowned, pondering the implications. The vague wording wasn’t unusual for a letter from the Chairman, of course—it was the highest priority of the League to maintain its secrecy, and so any official correspondence would lack detail in case the message were intercepted. The League was, of course, aware of his actions in Freegate—they had afforded him material support in the form of a variety of magecraft—but what they would consider a ‘unique and unusual opportunity’ was very much a mystery. Especially since they had no idea what his real plan was, else they never would have agreed to support him in the first place. Whatever the reason, the meeting would have to be attended. As usual, the timing was very poor.
Sahand summoned Gallo back into his tent. Gallo was a man of similar stature to his lord, but far less social grace. Even in this cold, he wore dull and dented plate and mail with a wolf’s-head helm that only partially hid his horrendously flame-scarred face. His breath was a choking rasp that gurgled and wheezed constantly, as though the man were constantly drowning in his own saliva. His face was a ruin of burn scars, with only a ragged hole for a mouth and two, dark, fish-dead eyes. Of all Sahand’s underlings, he knew he could rely on Gallo. Gallo was that rarest of creatures—a man without ambition or compassion. Whatever fire had melted off the warrior’s face had also taken with it whatever made him human.
“I am not to be disturbed for the remainder of the evening for any reason, on pain of death.” Sahand ordered. He found threatening death to be the most reliable way to keep his idiot underlings away from him for any lengthy period of time, and he knew Gallo would follow through without hesitation. Referring to the spirit clock in his tent, he saw that he had only seven hours before midnight—just barely enough time for the ritual to be completed. Again, he wondered what could be going on for the meeting to be called on such short notice.
Gallo’s voice was a hollow rasp. “Is that all?”
“No. Keep Hortense working, and inform the city that we will need to get the idiot more help. You are dismissed.”
Gallo executed a stiff bow and went out.
“This had better be good.” Sahand grumbled to himself. He sealed the tent, threw the letter in the fireplace, and got to work.
Author’s Note: This is the first half of a chapter from Tyvian Reldamar and the Iron Ring (working title), an Alandar novel I’m currently putting through it’s final revision (hopefully) before it’s healthy enough to send out. Sahand is one of the major villains.