Reflections on the book at this point: this is essentially Magelord II, or Meanwhile, Back At The Castle . . .
Minalan is grounded. He has to sit at home and hear about other people's adventures, and it's frustrating. But he's also got a chance to do some truly innovative enchantment, and he takes that opportunity in a big way. This is NOT an exciting adventure novel - it's more like the first Iron Man movie. Lots of world building. But lots of psychological stuff, too.
I'm tempted to say "nothing much happens" in this book, because in some ways it sets the action up for the next two. But that's not true, of course. Stuff happens. But some of it is subtle and some of it is disappointing, and a lot of it concerns Min's mental landscape because of some stuff that happens. So . . . stuff happens, just not drop-a-boulder-on-a-dragon stuff. More like you-summoned-WHAT-deity? stuff.
I admit, there's a bit of a risk of doing a novel without a high body count, but I think the next two will make up for it in intriguing ways. This is the story about Min coming into his power as a regional player, as well as a kingdom-wide player. Church-state issues come to the fore, as does the nitty-gritty of feudal politics. The Dead God is still quiet. Murmurs and rumors of dark things in the Penumbra are overtaken by an era of prosperity as the new kingdom enjoys a honeymoon period along with the Prince And there's a plot - a wicked, wicked plot against the Spellmonger.
And then there's that Snowflake thing in his basement . . .
Just to tease you a bit, here's the working map of Sevendor Town I'm using, and will likely publish (with a few embellishments) with the novel. It should be around 150-175000 words. And I'm thinking about kicking the price up a buck. Thoughts?
UPDATED: Well, why not let y'all see a sample chapter? I told you nothing much happens,
A Theological Debate
The Domain of Bastidor enjoyed the distinction of being the gateway to the Sevendor Vales, which until a few years ago hadn’t been much of a distinction. It’s a gently sloping land that follows the Ketta from where it emerges and joins three sister streams, before slowing, flattening, and watering the slanting vale below and churning north to Kest, where it joined the larger Ardriole river from the eastern hem of the mountains.
It’s not a rich land, but the wide vales did contain pockets of arable land that sustained a decent agrarian economy – enough to support a couple of small estates and a single castle, before I selected Sevendor to be my home. The villagers used the river to water their crops during the dry season (making them particularly susceptible to upstream interference, a fact we’d used against the Warbird, when he’d owned the domain) and took enough fish from the streams and enough game from the scrublands and forest to the east to supplement their barley-and-oat diet.
All of that changed, when I came to Sevendor. Within two years Bastidor had gone from being the sleepy road to nowhere to being the staging area of a major offensive against a formerly harmless little vale. But its very proximity had protected it from my full wrath, when I had come to lift the siege of my home, leaving a trail of conquered domains behind me. I knew the Lord of Bastidor was in a tough spot, and I didn’t hold that against him. I didn’t destroy his castle when I conquered his land, and gave it back to him in vassalage to me when he swore fealty.
Since its conquest, Bastidor had become a changed land. The small village there had grown as my domain had prospered, merely on the number of passerby. After the war and the new snowflake banner overhead, it had prospered far more as the land most proximate to my personal domain.
Bastidor’s central village, Anilupe, had grown two inns in the two years that I’d owned it. Bastidor Castle overlooked it, half a mile off the road on the western ridge; it had doubled in size itself in that time under my direction, as I encouraged LordMotaran to guard my approach. A larger keep was being built, far more slowly than mine, behind the modest tower keep I’d inherited. The bailey was also being doubled in size, to accommodate the vale’s greater population.
That was difficult, up on the ridge. Far beyond the skills of the homegrown masons in the area. Sire Motaran had instead hired a trio of monks to direct the work. We had agreed upon a long, narrow bailey flanking the tower on the opposite side of the present works, and that’s where the monks had dedicated their efforts. That might seem unnecessarily vulnerable, even with a decent curtain wall, but the monks had cunningly laid the foundations for a large, three-story gatehouse at the far end of the wall.
The gatehouse would face south, at the top of a steep incline that forced any approaching foe to show their flanks (and in some cases at the switchbacks, their backs) to the long crenelated wall they were building. The gatehouse itself would eventually sport machiolations that would allow defenders to pelt invaders as they tried to bash in the heads of anyone who made their way across the rocky moat. And then surmounted the drawbridge. And a double portcullis.
Sire Motaran and his kin had held this land since Lensely times, his family reluctantly succumbing to Sire Gimbal’s threats and demands to take his colors when he had little other choice. He had been equally reluctant to be a player in a war against a neighboring domain, but had pleaded with his liege on behalf of his people to settle the matter peacefully. Once he had been conquered, he had been willing to swear again, to keep his lands, and he had feared my retribution mightily when he took his oath.
But since his submission, his little domain had done well. Not only the inns, where travelers awaited the morn to take the Bastidor Pass through the Enchanted Forest, but the smith, the tradesmen, even the villeins who lived in hamlets along the Ketta or in freeholds up on the ridges had prospered under my rule. Especially after I had subsidized the new construction of the castle for their lord, and Banamor had begun expanding his business interests here.
Now the Snowflake flew over Bastidor’s red stag on a white field as we rode up to the gate of the castle late that afternoon. Of course we’d been spotted as soon as we’ crossed the frontier, and the sentries in the tower had seen the banner Sir Festaran carried, so the keep had at least a little warning of the impending arrival of twenty five unexpected guests, but Sire Motaran accounted himself well.
The man met me at the gate of his keep, on foot, and personally led my horse into the bailey, welcoming me to his hall with formal respect. He seemed genuinely pleased to see us, if surprised.
“A brief inspection tour of the eastern domains of the barony,” I assured him. “You heard, I take it, that we have western domains, now?”
“Scarce has a tale come of anything else since Duin’s Day,” he chuckled as he helped me down from my mount. “The minstrels say you built a wall of gold between Sashtalia and Sevendor.”
“That would be overstating it – but not by much,” I agreed. “I see it as a wise strategic investment. And it vexes Sashtalia, so it was worth the expense.”
“Does this mean we enter the war on the side of Sendaria?” he asked, his emotions concerning the matter hidden as best he could behind his beard.
“No, it means we watch from the sidelines, unless someone does something untoward. Then I’ll consider the proper response.”
“I am relieved to hear it, truth to say, Excellency,” Motaran said with a bit of a sigh. “I see little gain in the exercise, save entertainment . . . but if the honor of my baron demands it . . .”
“The honor of your baron demands a drink for me and a meal and a bed for my men,’ I dismissed.
“If I wanted glory in war, I’d set my sights higher than Trefalan and his cronies. But that doesn’t mean we cannot remain vigilant, nor do I wish my existing vassals to feel slighted over the expense I’ve devoted to the new. I bring some gifts, after the inspection.”
“As fortune would have it, Landfather Miton is at the castle, returning from blessing the fields of Trestendor. Would you mind if the good abbot shared our table?”
“I’d be more than pleased,” I agreed. “I’m anxious to hear how this year’s services went.”
The actual inspection took three hours, and mostly consisted of me following Motaran around and listening to how well construction was going on the wall. I met the monks in charge of the construction, three swarthy-looking Remeren devotees of Avital, the Imperial god of engineering, math, and magic.
Now there’s a deity I would love to speak to, I recall noting at the time.
The three gray-robed monks oversaw an encampment of masons and peasant laborers at the far end of the new bailey, where they were laying the foundations of the gatehouse. They were intelligent fellows, professional engineers who had that Imperial disdain for anything Narasi overlaid liberally with an obsequious manner reserved for employers who paid in cash.
The Avitalines had a reputation as an officious bunch, compared to most of even the other Imperial clergy, but you couldn’t argue with their results. Masters of organization and meticulous record-keepers, they had contributed brother engineers to every major construction project in the Duchies since before they were duchies.
Except mine. I’d hired the Karshak instead, and that proved to be something of a problem for the monks, as I disovered. After indignantly (and very politely) chewing me out for using non-human labor and management for the project, they then begged by the many long names of their god for a chance to tour the great work.
I consented only after getting them to agree to use magic in the construction of the new section of castle, though I didn’t put it that way. They made the usual complaints about the low quality of the local labor. When they got to how long it took to shape a single stone for inclusion in the wall, that’s when I produced a Bricking Wand and showed them how they could quadruple their production with magic.
I had Erenwal the Wall demonstrate the technique – he’d be the new castle warmage, after all. Sire Motaran was certainly impressed, when the warmage deftly broke five different rocks into near-perfect building stones in less than five minutes.
“Amazing, Excellency!” the head monk, Brother Iral, declared, as he brushed the rubble away from the smooth surface. “But have you not deprived a common man of five days’ work, now?” he asked, in almost a hurt tone.
“Do you think we lack for work, Brother?” I countered, gazing around at the three hundred feet of curtain wall they were slowly building. “A man now has five days to lay and place the blocks, and perhaps enough gold will remain to build a few towers along the wall, eh?”
“I . . . see your point, Excellency,” Brother Iral said, doubtfully. “The wall can be built more quickly, this way. Far more quickly. And you can build it more elaborately,” he conceded.
“And the more elaborate the fortification, the more intelligent monks I must employ,” I reminded them. “I now have many more castles to repair and reinforce – why would I waste money on doing it the old way, when magic can speed the process?”
The three of them glanced at each other. “Just . . . how many more castles?”
“Three, four lifetimes’ worth,” I shrugged.
They reconsidered their objections, and after that were quite happy having Erenwal use the wands for them.
Erenwal the Wall was a good warmage – of the six I’d hired, he was the one I knew best. He’d been all the way to the City of Rainbows and back with me, and had never once asked for a witchstone. To my mind that made him not just trustworthy, but demonstrated amazing control. I wanted that kind of man in charge of my domain’s outer defenses.
Bastindor Castle was of sudden strategic importance because it overlooked the easiest route to my domain. A stout defense here by determined vassals could keep anyone from ever getting to the Diketower, not to mention the lands and castle beyond. I needed a loyal lord, a stout castle, and a strong warmage overseeing this piece of our defense, and Erenwal was the man for the job.
They didn’t call him The Wall for nothing. He’s a big, broad-shouldered man, but that wasn’t what named him. He did specialize in defensive magic, actually, but he got his nickname for his combat style. Early in his career he and his squadron had been pinned down in a barn by crossbowmen. Unable to see a better option, He cut the leather hinges on the barn door, wrapped his broad arms around it, and charged his attackers with no better weapon at hand. His mates fell in behind him and not only secured escape, but captured most of the archers.
That was the kind of man I wanted to pay a lot of money to sit on his arse and guard my front door.
As most warmagi Erenwal had a non-combat specialty too – not sex magic or thaumaturgy, as I’d explored, or even enchantment. His interest involved the lore of the stars, and he found Bastindor’s secluded environs ideal for viewing the sky at night.
Sire Motaran did not see much utility in such study, but he appreciate a veteran warrior when he saw one, and the two men got along well from the start.
“A warmage, Excellency?” he asked, as he washed my hands for me before dinner. “Here in Bastidor?”
“This is a mageland now,” I observed. “Having a few magi around keeps people from talking. Do you object?”
“Me? Nay, Sire! Object to the expense it must cost you, perhaps,” he said, warily.
“I have no intention on passing that cost along to you, Motaran,” I assured. “It’s matter of baronial security, so it will be a cost borne by the barony – which has better ways of making money that squeezing it from peasants and smallholders. Can you house the man?”
“Oh, aye, we’ve the room – we’ll have plenty, when the new section of keep is finished. He can stay in my hall until his own chamber is complete, of course. And you say he’ll be mine to command?”
“Your advisor, more than your servant,” I corrected. “These men have been schooled in my policies and have been given what tools I can provide them to make them formidable in their posts. But while they answer to me, alone, I have instructed them to lend their aid and assistance to you with magic as they can – and anything they cannot do, they shall pass along a request to my Court Wizard, Dranus, for consideration.”
“I aim to be an asset, not a burden, my lord,” Erenwal assured him, politely. “Nor a spy – I will tell my master what he wishes to know, but I do not linger here to put my nose in your household business. That was made quite clear to me by the Spellmonger.”
“It’s not that I don’t welcome the assistance,” Motaran said, as he walked me to the high table where his wife, daughter, sister, two brothers, and young son all sat with Brother Miton. He gave me the courtesy of leading me to the awninged chair which was clearly his, and sitting in his wife’s less-ornate chair beside me. “Never has a knight been so pleasantly conquered. My domain has never thrived like this before.”
“It sounds as if there might be a ‘but’ in that sentence, my lord,” Landfather Miton said, bowing to us formally with the rest of the household. “Do you still bear the Spellmonger some doubt?”
“Not doubt, Father,” Motaran sighed. “Just suspicion born of ignorance. My villeins were shocked when you plowed their fields in a day, depriving them of weeks of toil. Now the baron has given my masons a tool that will deprive them of yet more labor – yet that labor is owed. And the men who once counted on my reeves hiring them to plow the remainder of my demesne are now wondering how they will survive the spring without the pay work.”
I cursed in my mind, and then absently shot my eyes to Brother Hotfoot, who looked amused at the end of the table. “Well, then they can apply to the castle works, where they can earn the given wage instead; or they can work for hire on improving the road through Bastidor, as I’ve had my villeins do; or they can take their plows up to the ridges and plow for the smallholders, if they have the fortitude to go so far for so little.”
“They will not like that, my lord,” Father Miton observed.
“They would not like a great many things,” I countered. “Indeed all my life I’ve heard that plowing is the most hateful toil – sorry, Father – a man can be condemned to. Here I’ve lifted that from them, and they complain. Let them complain further, when the harvest is twice as abundant as last year.”
“There are worse burdens to bear,” conceded Miton. “Father, will you give the blessing?”
The meal was a fine one, casual and formal at the same time. Motaran did his best to honor both his secular master and his spiritual advisor. I learned, in fact, that not only did Bastidor have close ties to Seratodor, the tiny ecclesiastic estate he ran two domains to the west, but Motaran and Miton proved to be both first and second cousins, on different sides of the family. Miton had become Motaran’s spiritual advisor not only because Motaran was a pious – and openhanded – worshipper, but because they were kin. That kinship had been part of the basis of the good abbot’s attempt at intervening in Sire Gimbal’s aggressions. This had been in his family’s backyard.
Since then, the abbot had been a good friend to Sevendor, and I’d made sure that his temple had prospered accordingly. Every major holiday Sire Cei had sent a present to the man’s estate, and many of my people had done likewise. That didn’t necessarily buy me the favor of the Divine Tiller, but it did give me the attention of his important clergy. Father Miton rumbled through a powerful and moving blessing of the bread in the name of the Tiller, and praised his name for the fruits of the earth he was to bless us with at harvest.
Of course the actual god at the table couldn’t resist shooting off his mouth.
“Landfather, Huin the Tiller has never been known as a god of magic . . . how do you think he would feel, to have one of his sacred precincts overtaken by mere enchantment? Spiritually speaking, is it the grain that grows from soil that hasn’t been plowed truly a blessing from the Divine Tiller?” he asked, as he held his cup out for wine. The bastard.
“I anticipated such spiritual questions, Brother . . . Hotfoot, did you say? Which is why I plowed the First Furrow around the entire perimeter of the fields to be prepared. Huin’s demand for the sacrifice of sweat in the soil was thus fulfilled,” the hardy old priest assured, equally amused. “I prayed long and hard to reach the solution, but as long as some sweat is mixed with the land, then the prescription is fulfilled. And it was quite the warm day, when I plowed that furrow.”
Motaran’s family kept quiet – theological debates were entertainment, for the aristocracy. Never much favored them, myself. The monks kept at it.
“Oh, I have no doubt as to either the piety or the sincerity of the sacrifice,” chuckled the masquerading god. “No doubt the peasants are satisfied by the boon of freedom, at your expense. Yet . . . is Huin satisfied?”
“Huin’s blessing is the weight of the grain in the fields,” Father Miton observed, wryly. “Come harvest, we shall see if the sweaty feet of one priest is equal to that of hundreds of peasants. Come, does your own lord discount the travails of those who journey by cart, horse, or wain, merely because they chose a more expedient method of travel than their feet?”
Hotfoot conceded the point with a nod. But the bastard couldn’t leave well enough alone. “Yet those who journey by foot are accounted the most pious, in his estimation, from what I understand. The sacrifice of human effort for the journey is what supports his power, not the sweat of a roncey or the squeak of an axle.”
“That would be Kulin’s province, if I am not mistaken, in this land,” Brother Iral said, hesitantly. “The gods are a bit different, where we come from.”
“Yet are you brothers not concerned with using arcane devices in pursuit of your divine orders?” Hotfoot asked, holding out his cup again. “Do not the Bricking Wands and other toys of the enchanters spoil the pious nature of the work?”
Brother Iral shrugged in his oversized gray clerical robe, complete with ceremonial smock embroidered with the compass-and-square symbol of his temple. “Brother, Avital is a god of magic as well as the deep craft of engineering. While few of our brethren have followed that path in the last few centuries, there is no spiritual sin in using the arcane forces of nature to aid in the Holy Work.”
“It just seems to be cheating a bit,” Hotfoot observed, airily, “depriving the human soul of its natural challenges through the expedient of the supernatural.”
Brother Iral, may his god bless him, snorted derisively. “Why, would you have us eschew the forces of gravity or friction or leverage in the completion of our rites as well? The purpose of our order is to build to the glory of Avital’s holy vision, using his divine teachings and lore to improve the lot of man through sacred geometry, engineering . . . and magic. Our novices learn the Laws of Magic as faithfully as they learn the Laws of Motion, and memorize the Padu and the Parensi as faithfully as they do the Periada.”
That was impressive – there were few outside of scholarly magi who even knew what the basic Imperial system for channeling magic was, or the twenty basic laws of how magic affected the physical world – the Padu and the Parensi, in the Imperial school of magic – though many were familiar with the more well-known Periada, the Periodic Table of the Lesser Elements. Why, I realized, these fellows had half of Imperial magic down, if they but had the rajira to use it!
“Yet from his reputation, he delights in honest toil,” Hotfoot insisted, as the porridge course was served.
“Yet he also blesses those who use their ingenuity and the principles of engineering to fulfill his divine vision,” insisted Brother Iral, confidently. “Inspiration and ingenuity are always preferred to needless toil. Indeed, to indulge in such inefficiencies when better ways are available is an affront to Avital’s grace.”
“I concede the point,” Hotfoot sighed, with a punctuating belch. “Bloody Imperial gods . . .” he mumbled under his breath.
I breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing I wanted was for a spirited theological debate to turn into a referendum on mixing magic and the other crafts just as I was trying to push forward the art of enchantment to new levels.
I would have words with Hotfoot. Bloody Narasi god. Of magic, no less.
But Herus’ interest in magic was very specialized, and limited by his folksy nature. The spells he was devoted to overseeing were the common-man’s enchantments and simple resource charms, tailored specifically for travel. The magic of the common footwizard. And he was one of our major gods of magic.
I had to admit, though my people’s pantheon was robust and lively, they had a barbaric understanding of magic that I would have to constantly struggle against, I realized. The institution of the Censorate had given a presence to their superstitious fears, developed over centuries of being blasted on the steppes by Imperial warmagi, but the cultural bias against it was stronger than the stubborn pride with which much of the minor aristocracy boasted of their illiteracy. A knight might grudgingly allow his son to study his letters with the priests, to better rule his estate -- but any interest in the study of magic was met with revulsion, thanks to the Bans.
At least in the largely-Narasi duchies of Castal and Alshar. The remnants of Imperial culture in Remere had allowed that duchy and its theological descendants of the Magocracy to thrive with a far more enlightened attitude, as Brother Iral demonstrated. But that did lead to my inevitable question.
“Tell me, Brother,” I asked, casually, as I pushed away my empty bowl, doing my best to maintain my composure, “do any of your initiates ever demonstrate rajira? I assume they come to you early in their youth, as most young monks do.”
Brother Iral looked uncomfortable, for a moment, then glanced around at the table at the magi and priests and nobility of magelands. He sighed, as if revealing a closely-held secret.
“There is a temple to which these young initiates are sent, if they show signs of displaying Talent. Once such monks were carefully cultivated, back in the days of the Magocracy,” he explained, reluctantly, “and before the Conquest they often arose to the highest ranks of our small order. Magic and engineering, together, accomplished the greatest of glories when Avital’s hand is involved in the work, our rites declare.”
“But what happens to them now?” I urged, genuinely curious.
Iral was nearly trembling, so great was the weight of his revelation. I don’t know if Herus had a hand in his decision to tell us or not, but he is surprisingly persuasive. “They are sent to a small temple on an island estate, off the coast of Remere, where brothers experienced in such matters observe them during sacred mysteries and trials. Those who prove to have an . . . over-abundance of rajira, such as to attract undue attention to our order, are sent beyond the sea, to our sister-temples in Unstara or Farise.”
“But I was at Farise during the war with the Mad Mage,” I protested. “I saw a lot of temples there – some to gods that haven’t been worshipped since the Early Magocracy. I don’t recall seeing a temple to Avital there.”
“It is not presented as such,” the Remerean monk said, guardedly. “Due to the nature of the politics there, and our desire for seclusion, security and secrecy for that element of the Sacred Mysteries, it is known as the Order of Fullr the Geodesarch,” he explained. “One of our most ancient and sacred temples.”
It was as if a magelight suddenly illuminated over my head.
I spent about a year in Farise as part of the occupation – a lot of us did, as the city was crawling with the Mad Mage’s spells, and our assistance was needed. Me, Terleman, Sandoval, Azar, we all had the run of the city in that pleasant, I’m-In-Charge sort of way that occupying armies do. We spent a fair amount of our time looting, drinking and whoring in the subtropical clime, of course, but even grog and beautiful bronzed maidens could get boring. Those of us of a more scholarly bent would occasionally interrupt our stupor and our duties to study the ancient enclave, last bastion of the Imperial Magocracy.
Among the many ancient wonders that didn’t elicit immediate desolation or looting were the city-state’s large accumulation of temples, shrines, abbeys, and other ecclesiastic estates. Of course the Street of Temples was rife with gaudy celebrations of the divine, but some of the more intriguing houses of worship were beyond the city wall, among the various estates and plantations. From various vantage points around the beautiful, war-torn city you could see their spires and towers, their grand halls and serene enclaves peeking out over the jungle, trailing off into the mountains.
In the distance, miles from the city, one building in particular had always intrigued me, an impossible-seeming dome of pale white. With only the mountains in the distance for scale, it was hard to estimate – even with magic – how large the thing was, back then, but it seemed massive beyond the possibility of stone to bear.
Sandy and I made inquiries – we were both interested in that stuff – and discovered it was the Temple of Fullr, known locally as the Gray Dome, a contemplative and scholarly order that had existed in quiet solitude in their remote estate for centuries. They took no part in the affairs of the world, it was said, and their only interaction with Farise involved biannual trips to the city market by a senior brother and manciple to secure supplies.
No one knew how they selected their initiates, the priests on Temple Street told me, though there was plenty of entertaining speculation. The most likely story involved temples in other lands who sent their worst offenders – or most pious saints – into the mysterious jungle dome, never to be heard from again.
I like a good mysterious cult as much as the next mage, and perhaps if I’d stayed in Farise longer I might have eventually learned more about them, but homesickness and tropical fevers were more compelling.
“You mean . . . the Quiet Brothers of the Gray Dome are, in fact, Avaltines? Magical Avaltines?”
“They study the Higher Mysteries, along with their fellow sages. The Order of Fullr is open to a few other small orders who did not wish to see their brightest stars enshadowed by the clouds of the Censorate,” he conceded. “A tradition that evolved in the wake of the Narasi Conquest. I know little enough about it, but I do know the place exists, and has since the founding of Farise. Or so it is written,” he added, with a shrug.
“Thankfully,” Father Miton said, smoothly, “my own order is rarely bothered with such machinations. The Tiller demands a simple life, and gives simple blessings in return,” he said, with a nod toward the stylized plow-and-pole symbol Lord Motaran displayed proudly on his hall’s chapel altar. “This is the first time, I’m aware of, that magic has ever been used in the service of the fields. Usually the concerns of magi are for the wealthy and powerful, not the humble farmer. Now, Brother Hotfoot, what can you tell me of Sister Bemia’s plans for a greater baronial ecumenical council?” he asked, intrigued.
Later, after wine, dessert, wine, a song or two, closing prayers, and more wine, we retired to the roof of the castle to overlook the vale by night. I held back a bit, feigning some trouble with my pipe, and caught Hotfoot by the shoulder, pulling the itinerate deity into an alcove for a chat.
“Just what in the name of Briga’s better nature were you trying to pull in there?” I demanded, hotly. “I’ve spent the last six months trying to coax the peasant clergy into accepting my enchantments! In the course of one conversation you could have destroyed all of that!”
“Calm yourself, Spellmonger,” the monk said, wiping his lips. “Just a little friendly debate among theologians,” he dismissed as he took out his own stubby pipe. “Father Miton has already committed to backing your enchantments with the force of his authority . . . which won’t be far, admittedly. But he’s invested in the idea. The point of that conversation was to begin another,” he said, deliberately. He waited for me expectantly to follow his logic.
I’d had a few cups, but I wasn’t beyond simple reason. “The Avaltines,” I replied, dumbly.
“Ah, yes! The Aveltine monks, who just happened to take the wrong fork at a road in Remere and learned about Sevendor as a result, two years ago. Who just happened to lose their contract with Sire Gimbal just as they were considering a new project . . . and who just happened to learn about the mysterious Karshak Alon building the Spellmonger’s palace in a third-rate shrine of mine in Fleria. The Avaltines, who just happened to be one of the very few Imperial cults left who have preserved some of the very ancient-most knowledge and lore of humanity, within their most secret vaults. One of the very few cults who managed to escape much scrutiny by the Censors, thanks to their utility to the regime, who managed to maintain chapterhouses throughout the duchies and in places like Farise, Unstara, and outposts even farther away . . . and who just happened to take a job working for you, just outside your doorstep, waiting for you to happen along and ask the precisely the right question concerning the precise bit of obscure ecclesiastic lore from just the right man in the organization to have some knowledge of it,” he sighed, exhaling an impressive cloud of smoke. “The Avaltines,” he concluded, sagaciously.
I stared at him, trying my best to follow the logic of the drunken god. “And you had to start a religious debate to get there?” I finally demanded.
“Gods, you’re dim! I’m a monk! Should I have discussed her ladyship’s hooters? Of course it was going to be a theological debate! That’s what monks do! Look,” he said, impatiently, “it got the job done. Through no fault of my own, thanks to the constraints of the nature of human divinity on this world, I am bound from just telling you anything I want, any time I want, but I get the damned job done!”
‘Why?” I demanded.
“I can’t bloody explain it!” he burst out. “It all happened before my time, when I was just another simple priest hoofing it along the Vore, staying one step in front of the magistrates. That’s when the rules, such as they are, were set. Among them is the restraints upon how and why and what we can impart to our worshippers and such. In short, I can lead you to the bloody monks, get them drunk enough to tell you their secrets, charm them with my wit and entice them with my theological rigor, but it’s your bloody job to actually ask the sodding question, Spellmonger!” he snorted.
I blinked. “You know, that would be quite impressive if I still wasn’t reeling from the insight you dropped in my pocket this morning. That the Sea Folk are the real danger to humanity.”
“No, no, no, no, no, you bloody dim mage, no!” the god fussed, frustrated and exasperated. “The Sea Folk, as you call them, as powerful as they are, are not the real danger. They are but the emissaries of the real masters of Callidore, to whom both we and the various Alon are mere tenants! For countless ages before humanity spat forth from the Void on this thankless rock, Callidore was ruled from the seas, the land an inconvenient afterthought!”
“But the Alon—”
“The Alon? Even the highest Alkan prince or aronin has no more right to this world than a villein has to his rented plot!” he insisted, his words speeding together dangerously. “You think you’re doing magic? Even now, the Sea Folk and who they truly represent, as powerful as they are, are the remnants of a race whose mastery of reality and the intricacies of those forces you label as arcane were so vast they shifted the courses of the very stars, so legend says. Under the seas, the lore says, long before any of the Five Races came to Callidore, the great Ostolumak Mothers of ancient ages sat in their watery kingdoms among subjects from a thousand aquatic species, contemplated the universe, and shifted the courses of suns,” he said, his eyes going wide in wonder and disbelief.
When you see a god – even a minor god – enrapt in his own sense of insignificance, it’s telling.
“So what do we have to fear of them?” I asked, my voice tight and quiet.
“No more than the fleas have to fear the temper of the dog they live upon,” he said, quietly, his voice discouraged. “That’s what you are, Minalan, you, the Alka, the gurvani, all of you: fleas on the back of a dog that could go for a swim at any moment. Make the dog itch . . . and it will scratch. Perwyn made it itch, the bastards,” he said, with an angry sneer. “Almost killed every human in the world with the resulting scratch. Not that the damned Alka Alon didn’t help us out . . . that’s what I’m trying to avoid, Min,” he sighed, wearily. “That’s our job, the gods. You’re all just a bunch of fleas on this dog, and we’re the ones in charge of keeping you from getting scratched off.”
“Thanks,” I said, weakly. “That’s helpful.”
“And I’m sure I broke a few rules,” he dismissed. “Not that it will matter, in the long run. Really, who the hells cares about those rules, anyway? You go contemplate that cosmic wisdom I just gave you,” he said, turning back to me, then starting up the stairs. “I’m going to go pee off the tower,” he said, with the force of divine mission in his voice.
I watched him haul himself up to the platform where our host awaited with his other guests . . . when I realized that I wasn’t alone. I turned, startled that I hadn’t realized someone was listening. My new apprentice was standing quietly in the shadows, almost a shadow himself.
“Master, that monk . . . his pattern . . .” he said, struggling with the new words, his eyes shifting uncomfortably under his long black hair. “You know how I can see ‘em? I can see his, but it’s not like yours. Or mine. Or anyone else’s at the table tonight.”
I sighed. Of course he’d see Herus’ enneagram differently – from what I knew about the subject, divine enneagrams were far, far more complex than a humans, a reflection of all of the prayers and devotion of their worshippers over the years absorbed in the divine . . . matrix? See, I still knew almost nothing about the subject I was supposed to be an expert in.
“Yes, he is different,” I agreed. “And someday I will explain exactly why. For now, it would be best that you didn’t discuss this observation with anyone but me, Apprentice,” I said, casting my eyes on him to ensure that this directive had force.
The lad swallowed, then shrugged. “Not a problem, Master. You know, he’s kind of an asshole, too,” he added.
“Another excellent observation,” I chuckled. “But sometimes spiritual counseling can take strange forms. Let’s go up and look at the stars, now, before someone moves them around on us.”