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 Myrl high fantasy books, young adult fantasy books
The castle Linnaea, with its eight great wings and massive head Keep-- this is where they met. Eleven Lords had gathered on this high and rampartless roof, gathered about a granite table to sit on granite thrones carved to suit their forbears' tastes. They were ringed by fresh cut grass, the Wheaton Crown.
Lord Orming, first among them, spoke in his anger. "Again! He has made us fools again, and you sit here calmly discussing his demands!" His hands whitened on the arms of his throne, digging into the lions' manes. A vein throbbed in his neck.
Bel Allal grumbled sympathetically, moving uncomfortably in all his porcine splendor. He supported Orming in all things, but he was no lackwit, and he saw the turning of the winds.
Korvus al Makor, with the body of a smithy, was hard pressed to remain at ease in his own seat. He spoke against Lord Orming.
"It is a good fief, and a well built Keep, but it is not an unbearable loss. This Mok has two worthy knights as hostage, one of them who would sit among us. What he asks is not beyond our means to give. Better to have this thing ended."
Lord Orming's face darkened a shade, and he spoke through his teeth. "He murders his Lord, and steals his house; he takes our own brother hostage and you say give him a reward? I will not have it."
Korvus shrugged. "By all accounts Midlim died of a sudden fever as did most of his blood. There is no proof that it was otherwise, whatever whispers may tell. This Mok is obviously a skilled fighter, and people flock to him. We should make him our ally rather than lose the lives of our own vassals squashing him."
"You are afraid," Lord Orming accused.
"I am pragmatic."
Kotae Kentling watched his fellow Wardens bicker. As always, he held himself above such lowly squabbling. He was growing tired though, so tired of this particular vein, and he wanted to end it. His already thin lips disappeared in a frown. "I support Lord Makor's position. Let us have a show of hands."
Lord Orming raised two fingers to his shoulder, a sort of cross salute. He voted that Mok's ransom not be met, and they instead find other means of containing the problem. With him was Allal, and Boggle the Beadle, and the grim Mag Piouster. Kotae suspected she was only siding with Orming to spite him. She could not actually agree with that headstrong bloviator.
It was seven to four at the end of things, and all of Orming's glowering could do naught to change it. They would pay the ransom requested as the price of Questler's life.
Mok would be knighted, and his adoption into the House of Loss would be rightfully recorded in the records of Linnaea. The ceremony would be public, and a Philologist would bear witness to the proceedings. Loesser and the Keep would be ceded to him.
It was all spelled out to the particular. Kotae found himself unwittingly impressed both with the hubris and the guile this Mok displayed. Soon he would not be Mok alone any longer, but Lord of Loesser.
* * *
They put out the fires, and salvaged what they could. There were not too many dead. The Keep had stores enough to feed them for now, long enough to do business with the nearby villages. There were six or seven within a rider's day, though most of those were no more than a few families working the land in concert. The Losses had bases enough to provide for Loesser a while.
The royal messengers had come and gone, then come and gone again. Mok would go to Lanolier. Quay and Kevon would manage things while he was gone.
The outgoing party consisted of Mok and his two hostages, plus Mallo and twenty other men and women to servers or guards. Mok could not say whether he would be betrayed. The field would certainly be ripe when he arrived at Lanolier, or before. There was nothing to be done. If he insisted that the exchange be done before his Keep, and his knighthood be granted there as well, it would do no good. They could always rescind it and return with a true army. Better to bargain his success for a modicum of respect, and try to deal with them as an equal. Mok would behave as if he were not an outlaw, and in so doing become accepted as a man. At least, that was the idea.
Chalice had wanted to come along, but he had insisted that she stay. He was fond of her, but she was not his queen. He tolerated her raising herself above the other people of the Keep without openly approving it. She was pleasant. He didn't give her much thought.
Mallo rode beside him, mostly silent. This was unfortunate, as Mok found he had a liking for the knight's voice. There was an uncommon music to it, a smoothness that even the ever-present helmet did not negate. Mok wondered if he was scarred, or disfigured from birth. It was difficult to think of a horror strong enough that he would have born the discomfort of a full helm at all times. The mystery interested him.
They did not hurry on the roads, and once they neared Lanolier they were able to ride along a Valanthian way. The stone paths remained from before the fall, as pristine as they had been three millennia past. There were magics in the old roads, and the journey entire took no more than a week.
The city impressed Mok, who had ever seen so many structures or so many people all at once. It surprised him to see that the walls were intermittent and irregular. They varied in size and thickness, some built for the city, others for private domiciles, but there was nowhere a complete circuit. In actuality, this was a matter of practicality. Lanolier itself had never been a place of war. Why go through all the expense of a wall when it was not needed.
Linnaea had had walls, but that was another age. Mok's party found the main street, their horses' hooves clacking on the uneven cobbling. The alleys were all of dirt, much of which had been tracked onto the main street, filling the cracks and creases all the way to the castle with tightly packed grit. The buildings were of various styles; one or two stories of wood or brick or tile. Seamed signs hung in front of inns and shops, swinging lightly as people passed. So many people, Mok thought, how can they feed them all?
It was the grandest place that he had seen in his young life. Rising above it all was the castle, a staid and bulky structure of sharp angles and little decoration. All the filigree and fancy of times past had been worn away by the rain of years.
Cityfolk pointed to Mok at the head of the procession. They cheered and called out "Godelae, Godelae!" He was wearing the white tallo armor; Oricalcum, the knight had said. Mok smiled at their misconception. It occurred to him that it must not have mattered so much to these people who ruled them, if it was only the regalia they recognized. Would they mark his face at all, or only the armor, and the sword? The crystal blade rested over his lap, against the cantle. It cut out of any sheath he found for it, though it would not cut him. Hikari. The word whispered in his mind. Hikari.
Men and women pointed at the weapon, open in their wondering. None would approach, not when they thought him Godelae, whose honor was such that he could have killed on a whim without reprimand. A victim without land or blood to claim is not a victim at all. He is an animal, and if the family presses suit the best they can hope for is a pouch of silver in recompense; the worst, poverty or death.
Before the reached the castle they were stopped by a large escort, two mounted knights and one and a half score followers. The mounted men saluted Mok with two fingers touched to their left shoulders.
"Lord Mok," the lead said. "We are to bring you to the knighting square. Will you follow us?" They wore half plate, cuirass and pauldrons without couter or poleyon or greave. Their only other protection was the coat of mail and leather leggings. They were younger sons or unblooded men-at-arms. Mok nodded to them, and waited for the about--face before following. They still rode in the direction of the castle but no longer to its doors. Their destination was the large, triangular 'square' fitted between two wings of the collossal building. Already cityfolk lined the outskirts, familiar as they were with the sense of momentous events. When they spied Mok they took up the cry again of "Godelae! Godelae!" He had returned triumphant, wherever he had gone. He was a favorite of the people, having paced and won in countless tourneys. His exploits were renowned. Mok glanced behind to where the real Godelae rode. The famous knight was expressionless, and his eyes were glazed as those of the dead. Beside him Gowsson, the other captive, hunched with his head down, glowering into his reins.
Mok raised his crystal sword, and up went a cheering, a vast ovation for the man he wasn't, and the man he was. A flock of royal looking persons and attendants were arrayed across a broad platform built into the corner of the square. Mok did not recognize any of them, no reason that he should. He knew the Wardens were all here. There was a fat man, an old woman in an austere robe, and a young woman in battle dress who looked frankly interested. Most of the rest were men, except for the attendants, who were more evenly mixed. The one that stood out, probably intentionally, was the man at their center.
Lord Orming looked calmly furious, a resting geyser. He wore full armor, and a tabard that depicted two battling lions, black and white. A small, round shield was strapped to his back, and the hilt off his sword was crusted with diamonds. The thing glittered like a crown.
"Welcome, Mok of Loesser!" He called out, and it was a credit to his control that no anger tainted his voice. The crowd quieted. "Today you will be numbered as a knight, and your hostages released to us."
There was a muttering of confusion in the mass behind them. The men who had escorted them now split off, going in two directions, so now it was Mok and Mallo and his men alone.
"Please, come forward to receive your honor and title."
Mok eased his mount to the lip of the platform, so that Lord Orming stood directly over him.
Their eyes met, Lord Orming's anger and Mok's cool regard. The Warden started at something he saw in him, perhaps a flash of violet in the otherwise unremarkable brown.
"You will be knighted, serf." Lord Orming spoke so that none but the two of them could hear. "But you will still die, and I am the one who will kill you."
Mok seemed effected not at all, and only continued his equable stare, until the Warden broke it off.
Lord Orming addressed the crowd next. "Hear all of you the naming of a new name, as a man who was not becomes a knight in full, with rights and privileges as a Lord and Sir. The one who sits before me was once called Mok. He has been rightfully adopted by the noble and most ancient House of Loss. In full knowledge I name him Potenmok of the House of Loss. In full rectitude I call him Sir. He is sole heir to his house, and a loyal knight bound to the Wheaton Crown. On this day, I do assert it, and let any who deny come forth!" He raised both his arms to the mob, and all was still with them. He paused a breath, and drew his sword. Mok strangled the reflexive motion of his own left hand. The blade touched one cheek, the tallo cool, and then the other. Lord Orming sheathed his weapon, and each warden followed to repeat the gesture in turn. Mok didn't bother to memorize their names and faces as they were announced and stood before him. He was meditating, after a fashion, though one did roust him briefly out of himself. Soessa Sordwynr did not quite smile as she measured him, pressing the flat of her thin, silver blade against his face. "I hope he doesn't kill you," she said."Not before I've had a chance to play with your sword."
She winked at him.
There were more words, and more gestures of empty meaning. It was a long practiced charade this making of higher men. It was a full turn before they were finished, and the two hostages were brought up onto the stage and formally embraced by Lord Orming. Only by this point had a few of the cleverer people in the crowd realized the gist of what had transpired, and excited talk prevailed. Surely this Potenmok would be the source of a whole host of new legends. "He took Godelace hostage," they told each other, "and he was given a name for it." There were smiles and laughter. No one had died, and someone had risen. Once the details were known, it would make the perfect tale.
"Potenmok, of the House of Loss," a voice rang out, "I challenge you to a Test of Arms for the grievous insult you have dealt my House." Mok pulled back a step, his mare's ears perking. It was Lord Orming who had spoken, of course. Mok's reserve was not broken. The sword smiled through him.
* * *
The Testing ground was not far from where the knighting took place. It was a dais raised two paces off the ground, the fitted stone stacked so that it came to the chin of most men. It was occupied by the two combatants, and their chosen witness. Those were one of the Orming's many sons, and Mallo, who had volunteered to stand beside Mok. The fifth and final one to ascend the red brick steps to the dais was a tired looking philologist, who served the Wheaten Crown. His name was Pedious. His white robe and golden chain, the ruby hung against his breast, appeared to task him with a terrible burden.
"Yes, well," he said mostly to himself, "I suppose these two young men want to kill each other." He raised his hands to their fullest extent, making himself a Y.
Lord Orming had unstrapped his shield, a circle only half a pace in diameter. It was detailed with an artisan's skill, with the three dimensional representation of a roaring lion and its flowing mane, as if it were bursting free of the flat prison. It was oricalcum. Mok felt heavy in Godelae's armor. He could have been carrying a small person on his shoulders, but the sword made him strong and unafraid.
He wielded it two-handed, his first swing to his opponents left side. The shield met it and came up again. Mok pulled his sword across the shield, bringing it down to parry another attack. He retreated a few steps, feeling sluggish. He had not trained in the full suit, and he was regretting it immensely.
"Is that all?" Lord Orming scoffed. "Either you are very cunning to disguise yourself, or very lucky to have somehow bested Questler by chance alone." His anger had evaporated now that he was in control. He would enjoy this fight.
They moved forward at the same moment, Mok with an overhand swing, and Orming with a quick thrust. Mok's full strength was behind his attack, and the crystal sword slammed into the face of the lion with enough force that Orming's shield arm nearly buckled. Nearly, but not quite. The thrust ran home, but did not find a seam in the oricalcum plates, and thus slid harmlessly away.
They exchanged careful blows in the minutes after this, Mok hoping to push under the shield, Orming merely playing. He slapped Mok's shoulders and arms any number of times, knowing full well that the white-gold armor would absorb any blow he gave. He seemed to be advertising how easily he could finish things, if he so chose, by simply aiming the next one at Mok's unprotected head. He wanted Mok to know, absolutely, that he was the better of the two.
Once again Mok found himself facing an opponent of far greater experience than himself, and it showed.
"Everyone who followed you," Orming whispered in the space between them, over the edges of their locked blades, "I will see them hung. The lands of Loesser will be stripped by fire and salted so that nothing new will grow there. You are a serf. You will always be a serf. And nothing will ever change."
They broke apart, and Mok saw the lion hurtling toward his face. Too late, it smashed into his cheek and mouth, splitting skin and knocking him from his feet.
He blinked, and Lord Orming was standing astride him, the point of his blade pointed at his throat.
"How sad. It is time to end this."
Lord Orming's boot was on his sword arm. Mok, quite without thinking, angled the crystal sword as best he could with his wrist so that it was directed at the knight's lower back. He could not reach him, and if he could, there would not have been force enough in his arm to pierce the back plate or the guardrene. Still, the sword knew what it was doing.
The crystal shimmered, rippling as water, then lancing forward without motion. The over wide, awkward seeming blade was now a sapphire spike extending all the way through Lord Orming's chest plate and a full pace into the air beyond. It's terminal point was no thicker than a seamstresses needle.
The Warden's sword clattered onto Mok's cuirass, and his shield fell to the dias with a solid clank. It did not bounce or roll. Lord Gowry nae Orming followed.
The crystal had already returned to it's accustomed shape; an arms length and a five finger blade.
The philologist blinked like a startled owl. Then raised his arms. "Lord Mok of the House of Loss stands victor in this Test of Arms. By the Lord and Lady sleeping, I witness."
There was clapping and roaring and stunned silence aplenty in the gathered crowds. Yes, they had all expected someone to die, but not Lord Orming, and not this way. As many as not were trying to piece together exactly what had happened, in those last seconds. Eyes roved the rooftops in search of Nihonese assassins.
Mok attained his feet. At the moment of the Warden's death he had felt a surge of power through the sword. He felt stronger and haler than ever in his life. He felt enormous, as if he could reach out with the hand of a god and crush the very palace Linnaea. Lights danced in the crystal like a host of ghostly stars.
"Philosophe, what is your name?"
The man jumped. He startled easily, or it was something about Mok.
"Pedicus, Lord." The man had a wide, aged face, and rheumy eyes. He squinted.
"Is the custom the same for a Test of Arms as it is for the taking of a hostage?"
"What do you mean, Lord?"
"The taker of a hostage can freely select one item in the possession of the taken, in addition to a ransom. Isn't that so."
"Yes, and you chose Godelae's armor."
"I took it before I knew about the custom. I took it because I wanted it. They explained to me that it was my legal right afterwards. Is it the same for the Test? Can I now choose something of Orming's?"
"Well, oh, yes, actually. Though it is rarely done after a death. The life is the thing taken, you see. But techincally you are entitled to something material as well."
Mok nodded. "Then I will have his seat on the Council of Wardens."
Pedicus blinked vociferously. "I am not sure that..." his voice trailed away. "Actually, that will work. Potenmok indeed. How embarrassing for everyone." He turned back to the crowd, raising his hands one final time, and when he spoke his voice was magnified beyond what it seemed a mortal throat could produce.
He told them,
Lord Orming's son, who had stood witness, broke free of the lethargy instilled by his shock and pain. He charged at Mok, screaming, his sword coming free of its sheathe, and Mok watched him without alarm. The crystal sword was ready in his hand.
Mallo flashed forward, ramming pauldron first into the maddened young knight. He went down, there was a moment's scuffle, and Mallo rose.
The helmet and the hidden face said, "Congratulations, Lord."
Mok nodded and looked to the raised stand where those of the blood most noble and most high were seated. Eleven Wardens watched him there, and only one of them, a young woman, was smiling.