Updates:  Chapter 17 of Mystic Seasons Series Mythopoeia Book -8 posted, chapter eight of Lady in the Labyrinth posted high fantasy booksyoung adult fantasy books

William Myrlhigh fantasy books, young adult fantasy books

Chapter Eighteen


       Lanolier is a quaint and unimposing place beside the moldering grandeur of Petronica. It is a city built on the bones of Linnaea, the city that came before, that was decimated in some forgotten war and all but obliterated in some since unnamed cataclysm. The buildings that did survive were only ossatures and cellars. The flesh of the city is relatively new, and its stones are absent the magic that makes the old roads and Petronica so unassailable. There is only one exception. The castle of Lanolier was not rebuilt. It is in fact, the castle of Linnaea. Never did it die.

       Rising out of Lanolier like the fabled Kulu of the deep ocean, it sprawls eight irregular wings like tentacles gripping the sides of the grand motte on which it was built. The central keep is like a bulbous head, dwarfing the arms, rectangle stacked on rectangle, each level three quarters the size of the last, with its far end and final block rounded into a flat topped tower. The fifth and final tier, the roof without rampart, is open to the sky. Here there is a stone table hewn of a single piece, ringed by twelve staid thrones of the same granatic finish. In a circle about these is another ring, this one of freshly cut grass. Delivered from a special garden that grows through all ten months of the year, this ring is called the Wheaten Crown. It belongs to no one, and to all. Carrolan can have no king. The king sits in Petronica. But the king does not rule here. His influence ends on the other side of Skreeholm. The wardens are the masters of Carrolan. 

       Twelve wardens meet upon this rooftop. From this vantage, should they so choose, they could survey the whole of Lanolier. They rarely so choose. They have recieved dreadful communication, these dozen lords and ladies of the most noble and most ancient names. A messenger arrived not two days past at the home of Gowry Ormin, first among the equals of the Wheaten Crown, and told him of the happenings at Loesser.

       A Lord murdered. In truth, Lord Ormin did not much care for the House of Loss, and he was not much dismayed by its fall. In truth, it had fallen long ago. The death of its last son was merely the terminal sighing of its frail old body. Lord Ormin chose not to have this death investigated closely. The holding was too small to warrant his interest. It was better to smile at the opportunity afforded him than scowl over a rash of strange deaths. Sickness could strike anyone, after all. Servants talked, but not even they paid themselves any heed. Lord Gowry had maneuvered the crown into granting Loesser as a fief to one of his favorite bastards. Gravus was more rightly his seed than any of the youths born by his wives. He deserved a knightly home. He had been taken captive.  

       He had been taken captive by a serf. The serf had claimed Loesser as his own. The serf's name was Mok, of all things.

       "This is an affront to decency," Lord Ormin said. His baring was proud, his steel shot hair still leonine in it's fullness. He was aged but not weak, possessed of a strong, handsome jaw, and instinctively regal bearing. Most of the others followed him, hanging onto his horses tail to supplement the momentum they lacked. Bel el Allal was one of his stoutest hangers-on, both for his tenacity and his billowing layers of flesh. He had a magnificent mustache. 

       "What do you propose, Gawry? You are absolutely right, of course, but we can hardly raise an army to deal with a serf uprising. It would be..." he made a gargling sound deep in his throat, like a toad preparing to mate, "ah, aha, excuse me, indecorous." The man wiped at his watering eyes with the end of his mustache.

       Gawry leaned back into his throne, resting his elbows on the armrests graven into rampant lions. Steepling his hands, he cast Allal an acute glance. "I am aware," he said, "that this Mok represents only a small, miniscule threat to the peace of Carrolan, to the peace of the crown. It is the offense, however, the odiousness of the act, that should stand warning to us all." The hands came down to grip the lions. "He has taken a knight hostage!"

      The arch of heaven was clouded, the branches of the Tree hidden by gray pillars and fog. The air was humid and thick, an odd evening for early winter. Lord Ormin's words fell away from the tower unanswered.

      "Loesser needs to be made an example. There are many empty keeps in our realm. This one will serve a purpose. I intend to send twenty lances to finish this sickness. I ask for only a token force from each of you to bare witness. Enough to hold your banners."

      "Yes, yes, of course," Allal said, with Lord Lumin and Maker behind him. Lord Godelae Questler insisted that he attend personally, offering himself to lead Lord Ormin's lances. It would have been all of them, if not for Lady Sordwyr, who stemmed the tide. 

     "No," she said. "This is your personal dispute. I will not be party to it." Soessa Sordwyr was the youngest of the thrones. Her families shield displayed a white dolphin on a red stripe, with white again on each side. She was a lithe, sinewy girl, who had come to the chair by a series of deadly accidents afflicting her elder kin. She had made a good showing of herself in the tourneys as well and did not hold her peers in high regard. They did not much consider her a peer.

      "You would have eleven go?" Lord Ormin asked her. "With the twelfth to stand aside?"

      "Eleven fools does not a twelfth make," Soessa said. "Sir Gowsson deserves his shame. I can't imagine how it took so long to come about."

       Lord Ormin's jaw clenched so fiercely that it was difficult for him to speak. "You disrespect me, Lady. Was that your intent?"

      "You, my Lord?" Soessa covered her mouth with a deceptively delicate hand. "I would never so intend. I spoke only of Sir Gowsson, who is not of your House. If you wish him freed, then by all means, go about it, but this is not business for the Wheaten Crown, and less for me and mine. Don't we have other matters to discuss?"

       Lord Ormin frowned, but let it pass. A part of him knew that Soessa would kill him if it came to a match. Besides, eleven was more than enough.


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      The latticed blade of the House of Loss was sheathed at Mok's side. He had no need of it, but it was proper, and it seemed to do something for Kevon, as well as many of the older servants. Cook, and Chops, whose original names he had striven to discover in vain, teared up whenever they saw him with it. In Mok's left hand was the crystal blade. It did not take to sheathing.

      The gate of the main wall was closed, and Mok stood over it, looking out past Loesser. Word of the impending show of force had given them ample time to prepare. The disciplinary lances hailing from Lanolier were in no hurry to arrive, and had made no secret of their purpose when stopping in towns along the way. Riders had come ahead. 

      "They will kill you, Lord Mok." "They will burn you out." "They say they will raze the Keep to the ground and take the lives of all who dwell in Loesser."

      No, they would not. Mok did not even believe they would do serious harm to the townsfolk. They were too valuable as commodities to be awarded to whomever took the place from Mok. He had prepared his people as best he could, though he did not have arms for them all. He had two hundred he could put to fight, but nearly all of them were without any real skill. Kevon had not had many weeks to work with them and  was unused to managing so many. 

      They were mostly armored by tunics made of twisted leather cording and leather strips arranged in a crisscross fashion. Some had bucklers, or larger shields; most did not. There had been enough shortswords for the original guard, not nearly enough now. Slash hooks were made for the rest by reaffixing scythe blades at 108 degree angles to their poles. Wood axes and hunting spears filled the gaps. The men who had come from the woods and the heath to join and swear under Mok had brought some weapons with them, mostly bows. There were fifty among his followers that Mok would count as archers. He wondered if they would be enough.

      His eyesight was keener than that of other men, and already he could see the approaching train, though not with clarity sufficient to gauge their number. From what he had heard it would be good luck to see only two hundred. And these were lances, it would be thirty or so... Mok had none himself, for his only knights were captive. A knight, a squire, a halbredier, and a few bowmen; this was the standard unit of warfare in Carrolan's courtly disputes. Loesser's defense would have to be organized in another fashion. 

      Sadly, they lacked the stores it would require to sustain everyone for a lengthy siege. He could not afford to bring everyone into the Keep yard when the knights were already inclined to leave the townspeople unharmed.

      Mok turned to one of the guardsmen on the ramparts beside him. "Send criers into the town. The people need to go into their homes and bar their doors, go into their cellars if they have them. We don't have much time."

      "I will, my Lord." The man saluted, and was off. Mok watched him bemusedly. He still was not accustomed to being a Lord, if he was at that. It was strange to be addressed as such, and always would be. 

       He saw Kevon ascending the wall stair. There was vigor in the older man's step. Mok's reign, though brief, had been healthful for him. Many of the denizens of the Keep seemed to have forgotten there had been another master here. Kevon Quick was one who deigned not to remember.

      The master at arms reached him. "You have seen them?" Mok nodded, and gestured to where he could already begin to decipher the forms of horses and men. It was common knowledge that Mythopoeia was essentially flat, and some people said that from a mountaintop one could see from rim to rim. Even on a clear day, however, most men could not see father than a Walk or two at the very maximum no matter their elevation. Vision loses itself in a horizon the color of the violet streaked sky, as if the sky itself was the sheerest skrim of mist that gained solidity only at a distance.

      "I see nothing," Kevon said. "My old eyes betray me."

      "No," Mok said, "you will spy them soon enough."

      Mok rested the tip of his crystal blade on the top of a merlon. His body was relaxed. "You are my general, if it suits you. You certainly have more years of fighting experience than I do. When they come, I expect they will spend some minutes blathering at our faces about rights and honor. When they're all in line I'd like to send down rocks and arrows, do as much damage as we can without engaging. I'd rather not have an open battle at all."

      Kevon considered this. "And if they wait us out?"

      "Night raids." Mok tapped the stone. "The knights are most dangerous on horseback in their white harnesses. In the middle of the night they're only men with fancy swords and sleeping shirts. I don't believe they'll be expecting the tactic."

      "It's hardly chivalrous."

      "Exactly."

      "I think I can see them now, Lord. Or at least their dust."

      Mok pulled the blade back to rest its flat on his shoulder. He sensed that it liked to be in motion.

      "Good," he said. "Gather all the men who can hold a bow up here at the forward walls, and have the rest gathering rocks. I want to make sure we give them a few strong volleys before they pull out of range."

      "As you say." As Kevon turned away he thought he heard Mok say, 'I wonder what he wants.' So he stopped.

      "What was that, my Lord?"

​      "Nothing, Kevon. Speaking to myself." His gaze sharpened. "See to the men."


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      Godelae Questler was a Sir among Sirs. Lord, knight, and tourney champion, he was known as a man who would slay dragons, if there were any such things. His armor was fashioned of oricalcum, the famed white tallo. Plates like polished marble veined with gold; they were free of ostentation, their very being was artistry enough. He wore no helm, for the helm of this suit had been lost many generations past and he would not sully it with replacement. Even his destrier was decked in full and fluted barding, though this was of a lesser metal merely painted white.

      With him rode thirty knights, though at the moment each Sir was surrounded by his own lance, so that the battle he led was more like a parade. Each ten or so lances was loosely organized into a banner, under the command of a single well-appointed knight Of course the whole battle was under his own pennant. He did not use a shield, but his surcoat was that of his house; a grey squirrel on a mauve field. He secretly despised how it covered his armor, which was a prouder oriflamme itself than any belonging to his house. But tradition, as always, took precedence.

      The knights joked as Loesser came into view, and their squires laughed appreciatively, as squires are wont to do. Many of the lesser men were not mounted, being that they could not afford to keep a horse, so progress had not proceeded apace thus far. Questler was not unduly disappointed by this turn, as it had been some time since he was able to go out in the country. The duties of a landed Lord overtook those of an arrant knight, but he had never fallen out of practice. With the lance and sword Godelae still worked each morning, rising earlier than many of the servants so that it would not interrupt his public duties. He was not old yet, only thirty, his body as well taken care of as his miraculous armor, a metal that would not stave or break. He was ready for battle, and ready to do the Justice of the Crown.

       They were close enough now to see the Gates of the Keep were shut. The main street of Loesser was deserted. Ambush? Godelae's hand went to the well-oiled hilt of his ancestral sword. Their lances were with the baggage train. They would not have been useful in the close quarters of the town and in the Keep. In any case, Godelae had not expected it to come to open battle. He'd expected this Mok and his closest associates to have fled as soon as they realized how great a force was arrayed against them. Then would the lances have come out, to aid in the hunt over the rolling ground.

      This though, was something unexpected.

      "Ready arms!" he shouted, his battle voice such that the men repeating after him were superfluous echoes. Polearms were hefted, and swords unsheathed. Godelae stalled his mount a moment just outside the town so that the train could gather at his back.

      What did this emptiness signify? Some secret and inchoate sense told him that the townsfolk were not gone, but only hiding. He could sense their lives as if they were candles in the night. Godalae had developed this ability over his long years of questing on behalf of his family and the crown, though he spoke of it to no one. It had saved him on more occasions than he could count. 

      Why were they hiding? Could they not be Mok's own bandits, as it had been rumored he was gathering to himself, closeted in those houses and shops?

      The seasoned knight smiled beneath his great mustache. Light blue eyes sparkled with the joy of hunts renewed. He raised his hand for silence, and with his battle voice said, "Lances surround Loesser. On my signal, set the fires." 

      The banners divided into groups of fewer than ten, the mass of the soldiers becoming a thinning crescent cupping the town all the way to the corners of the motte on which the Keep stood. Godelae felt the anxiety of the souls trapped in their houses, dithering over whether to come out. They would come out, once the walls began to smoke, and the roofs caught. Then they would be slaughtered. Then, once all these hidden folk, fighters and serfs alike, were dead; then they would move in to take the Keep. A would be lord hiding behind a tapestry, if he was there at all, is what Godelae expected to find.

      They were only peasants.


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       Archers crouched behind the ramparts, and Mok with them. He stole a short glance, a quick survey of the coming conflict, before turning back, confused. The company from Lanolier had stopped outside of Town, and now seemed to be spreading out. Was this a precaution against ambush, a clear sweep of the alleys and streets? It occurred to Mok that he should have prepared an ambush, the opportunity was certainly there. He could have lured them into town with open gates, and have built a triangular palisade inside the courtyard. He could have pushed them from behind, and herded them into the courtyard, sending arrows down from the ramparts and rocks from the murder holes in the bailey. The horses would have impailed themselves on the spears worked into the palisade, a double layer, short and long. When they finally broke through the battle would have already been decided.

       Ah, well, Mok thought, maybe next time.

      He stole another glance, and this is what he saw: The force from Lanolier spread out in small groups, ringing the whole of Loesser. It was not a thick ring by any means, but it was real enough. A quick estimate said two score of them were actual knights, or at least knights with favor sufficient to afford full suits of tallo plaqued armor. Their faces were hidden behind the angular visors of old helms, their surcoats  emblazened with the bright heraldries of numerous Houses. 

       One was different. He wore no helm, and his armor was of a kind and material that Mok had no experience of. Where the others wore armor that had been worked and cared for, passed down through families, won and lost in contests, plaques broken and replaced by new master smiths, and polished by servants with paternal pride, this knight was in possession of something entirely other. Where the others wore armor that was old, this was ancient. The material was of a brilliant marbelized metal such as Mok had never seen. White and gold, to Mok's eyes it was imbued with special radiance, and a faint vibration ran through the hilt of the crystal sword, as if in anticipation.

      Mok's eyes were keen, and he saw this man clearly. A stern, creased face, with earth brown hair swept back behind his ears; he had pale blue eyes and was clean shaven except for a thick mustache. This man was raising a torch, and Mok saw that other torches were being lit all along the line. The man raised his arm and threw. It landed on a thatched roof, rolled, and then caught. Others were thrown, many landing harmlessly, others causing small fires. A few of the lances stepped forward, a mace smashed the barred shutter of a well built house, and the torch was flung inside.

      Then there were screams. More torches were lit, and an eager squire flung a bottle of oil. It splashed, and erupted in a sheet of flame. The boy was commended, and more bottles were thrown to much laughter. The outskirts of Loesser were soon well aflame, and the fire would eat inward. Many of the buildings were brick, and many of the roofs were tile, but not so many that this would stop. Inevitably, the townsfolk, men, women, and children, came huddling out of their blazing shelters, fleeing the smoke and the heat. Some ran inward and up toward the Keep, and some tried to flee into the open. 

       Swords came out, and halbreds came down. Their were gaps enough that handfuls escaped. The bows did for most of them. The men of the lances were not concerned so much with killing as harming. A hit, any hit, would do, and they could not run any longer.

      Mok stood up. A quick survey showed him that his men were terrified. Their stares were wild, they looked everywhere, at each other and at him. Strangely, he felt a lightness in his heart. The sword at his hip, and the sword in his hand, were weightless. He bounded down the steps of the wall to the court yard, bellowing as he went.

      "Assemble! Assemble before the gate! Kevon!" The bowmen were confused, but the master of arms was there in a moment. His grey beard and grey, lined eyes a reassuring sight.

      "What would you have of us?" His expression was grim. Mok understood that this was a test, and that his handling of this crisis would define the future of his leadership. He was a slave with the sword of a master, and his people were burning.

      "Assemble a column. Spears and slash-hooks are on the outside, swords and shields in the core." He silently wished he had had a supply of pikes, so he could have reversed the order and made a hedge. In this case though... "I'll be leading the charge on horseback, and I want you all to come behind me. We have to push straight out of the flame, and give the townspeople the space to come in. Archers stay behind on the walls, and work the winches."

      Kevon gave a sharp nod and began calling out orders. The men, townsfolk and the ex-bandits and woods people alike, came into a rough formation. Mok could see the worry in their eyes, and the fear. Dark smoke had risen from Loesser in a dozen plumes. People were pounding on the gate, their cries were plainly audible in the yard. 

      Mok mounted at the stables, and was about to kick ahead when he saw Mallo on his own steed. 

       "What are you doing?" he asked the knight. "You should be with Gowsson."

      Mallo brought his horse forward. Its barding was mismatched, like the knights own armor, pieced together from multiple suits, but every piece strapped precisely in place, and burnished to obsession.

      "Give me my weapon, and I will ride with you at the front."

      Mok smiled at the firmness in that voice, and the unexpectedness of its offer. He gazed into the eyelet, trying to discern what was  behind, and saw only darkness.

      "I am your enemy," Mok said simply.

      The helmet turned from side to side. "They are killing innocents."

      Mok paused, they were wasting time.

      "Let me see your face."

      The helmet turned again, side to side. "This is my face."

      Unaccountably, Mok discovered something in that voice that he liked, that he trusted. Somehow, it made him feel at peace.

      "Get him his sword," he yelled, and one of the keep-boys, Slops, went sprinting for the armory. He grinned at the knight. "Well, Mallo of the Empty House, shall we?" A vaporous light was filling him, pouring out of him, Mok felt that he could climb the All Tree, if it was asked of him. He wondered if the others could see it.

      The creaking of a great steel winch signaled the rise of the gate. The sounds of harried voices, and of flames, magnified, and with the first inch of opening fingers were already scrabbling in the earth, as if that could bring them in sooner.

      "Hold back," Mok announced, "Let them come in!" And as soon as the gate was high as a man's knee they were already coming under, a solid spew of human panic swiftly growing taller. The tide broke around Mok and around the armed men. There were embraces and exclamations from men in the line as they met family members that were safe. The formation was breaking down.

      "Straighten up!" He raised his crystal blade. "Forward!" He could spy the lances moving for the gate that very instant. They had to push, and it had to be now.

      A word came to Mok's lips unbidden, and flew free as a battle cry, though he did not know it's meaning.

      "HIKARI"


      

© Aug. 30 2013 William Myrl