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Which future would you choose if you found yourself caught between parallel universes?
Sixty generations have come and gone but still the Children
of Orion battle each other for powera campaign begun
in some long forgotten age. Intrigue after intrigue continue
to plague the descendants of the Lynns, Kerrys, Cha’nyas
and Aarrsts, heirs to ever changing political dynasties;
their struggle played out among the five great islands known
as the Bryadies.
the flames of revolution, a Lord-Governor is betrayed
by a spurned lover while his son Erish, secret heir to the Winter
Kingdom, unknowingly travels one step ahead of an assassin.
Captain Sean Kerry who would secure his own son's future,
finds himself caught between two women of the Great Hall, both determined
to remake the world in their own image. And watching all
is the Time Weaver; she who must keep Erish alive if he is to unlock the futire.
“I’ll see ya six. Damned if ya’s luck will hold.”
“Now there’s what I’d like to see on close inspection. Hey, ya, Missy!”
The serving maid twisted from the offending grip with deft expertise, her hood flying back as her glossy dark braids whipped across her face. The pot of Hegon ale she carried chopped into the pitted table top, foam spattering over closely held cards.
“Sir, ya’s three be strangers here!” she hissed.
Again the arm reached out, her veiled threat unheeded. “How’s about we celebrate tha end of tha world, my Nor’wall beauty?”
She made no pretext of politeness now.
“Ya stinking fisherman! Ya keep ya’s hands on the table or Jonz, there, will have ya’s out on ya ear.”
Her sharp protest penetrated the dimly lit room, severing a dozen conversations with the ease of a hunter’s lance. Just as quickly a roar of laughter shook the waterfront tavern, applauding her outburst. Instantly her tormentor’s anonymity was cast aside; his indiscretion marking him for all who would come to her defense.
Sean Kerry slouched back against the tavern wall, carefully shifting position on the wooden bench as he surveyed the two card players visible through the taproom doorway. Had they kept to themselves they would have attracted little notice in this smoke filled warren of tiny rooms. Short cropped hair, baggy canvas work pants and open necked blouses were of a cut favored by fisherman throughout the island archipelago know as the Briadies. Yet their clothing appeared hardly soiled enough to have worked a net. Kerry’s bemused expression faded, becoming one of casual scrutiny.
Perhaps not all they seemed.
But then who here was not?
That he chose life as a simple ship’s master was belied by his appearance. Pressed linen trousers bloused into knee high shiilskin boots proclaimed his appreciation for the finest hand-tooled leather and fine silk. His long sleeved shirt was embroidered with a traditional Wai’min design, the interlocking olive ovals known as big fish/little fish.
Though beards were in fashion among society’s well to do, his personal standards aboard ship decreed that all aboard be clean-shaven though the look served to accent the youthfulness of his thirty two summers. His one concession to individuality was his shoulder length dark hair tied back with a family keepsake, a silver Rowsegh clasp embossed with three eight pointed stars; the sign of the Wai’min Majiska, those who worked the dark mysteries.
A table of Lord-Governor Devereaux’s Militia raucously jeered from the back of the tavern as the barmaid stalked across the low-beamed room. Kerry eyed them with calculated interest, his suspicions now fanned to the utmost. Too early to be in from their night shift.
By chance or on someone’s order?
He fingered his half-emptied ale mug, drawing it up on edge, his gaze returning to the young woman as she levered the tap for another tray load of drinks. She was known as Swee; a dark haired Nor’wall beauty indeed; thin as forestay; a bare twenty summers if that. She had not exaggerated her husband’s prowess. Big boned Jonz stood poised behind the serving divider, one meaty fist frozen above the counter in mid-wipe.
Good fortune to have snatched such a lovely. Kerry smiled grimly...
Bad fortune that day he and Jonz clung to the same broken spar, both swept seaward by the sluggish current of the E’dahn River, its waters assuming a crimson cast not of the Nameless Sea but of blood from a battle gone wrong. They had both been but eighteen summers that day, each thinking himself a man following a righteous cause.
Kerry had commanded a stone lugger, one of fifteen such vessels serving as a troop transports for the forces of the island province of Rowsegh. Their mission: to put a massive party ashore on this Northern river delta; test the mettle of occupying troops belonging to the House of Kaodah; even drive them from the Bht Hoshe Territories if possible.
That so many lives had been sacrificed for a hodgepodge of mountainous domains was testimony to a mismanaged campaign fought by children. In the space of a single morning he and Jonz had joined the initiated; both chance survivors among two hundred and fifty slain during that ill-fated sea born invasion that would come to be known as the Battle of Biele Isle.
That they’d been on opposite sides?
Though a decade plus four had passed, they remained brothers, sired by the greed of powerful old men who little appreciated the tenuousness of life, one of whom bore his own surname. While a few self-styled “Kings” claimed family lines leading back to the beginnings of Orion’s so-called coming, his father insisted on a more humble title.
Lord-Governor for Life.
This time Kerry slugged down a drought of ale, waving off Swee’s proposed refill as she swept along the opposite side of the tap room.
Trust in no other but one’s self; a code that served him well since that fateful day. For all the current hysterical talk of the impending end of the world, he found it hard to believe that the dark suns known as the Twins Above would choose his own lifetime to work their wrath. Not that those of Orion did themselves proud; their shabby treatment of the indigenous Mateek humanoids and seafaring Wai-peoples wasan indictment beyond logical defense. No matter whether one believed Orion to be a true god or merely the name of some undistinguished vessel that had long ago made landfall on these shores.
The Children of Orion deserved whatever their fate.
Nonetheless the prospect of whatever was to come, had forced him to take stock; seriously consider what gains he had acquired during his thirty two summers. For too long he had let chance rule; let others dictate to which corner of the Nameless Sea he’d sail to next. Why should he get involved? All in all, his existence was comfortably unpredictable as it was.
A boisterous chorus echoed from the back room.
Bye the bye, fair maids of the town,
Fare the well, I say oh,
If I be dead in battle, you’ll a babe in your arms,
Chances are he’ll look like me, oh!
Truth indeed that in a waterfront tavern more counsel might be gained from a single off-hand verse than from all the self-serving speeches of powerful despots. A lesson he would pass on to his son.
He gently rolled the name across his tongue, imparting a clicked “Naah” to the single syllable, much in the manner of the Wai’min of old. His son, T’Nosh lived here in Nor’wall, a child fostered by an innkeeper’s wife in honor of the promise he’d made to the birth mother: that never would he take the boy from Hegon Island though she herself refused to acknowledge the child publicly. To this day Kerry remained sworn to secrecy; T’Nosh believing his mother dead.
Sixteen summers old now.
He had done well by the lad. Had his son not been privileged by the Kerry name to attend the Great Hall here at Hegon; accept an offer of tutoring as well as companion to none other than Lord-Governor Devereaux’s son, Erish? Kerry could hear Swee laughing from somewhere in back, the incident of moments ago seemingly forgotten. Again he toyed with his ale, lost in contemplation. Was it communion with shore bound humanity he had sought at this predawn hour or was it companionship?
“Weep not for me...”
That song a cruel mirror.
In a few days he’d be away once more; make passage for the north. He meant to take T’Nosh with him, no matter the consequences. No doubt the boy would be thrilled to sail with his father at long last. Little chance anyway of finding a proper charter in Hegon the way things were--the end of the world and all that. Why not cover his bets? Still there was another matter he had to face; a certain woman…
Most likely she would refuse to leave.
Acutely aware of his fatigue, Kerry again turned his gaze to the card players beyond the taproom. They had already been seated when he had first entered the tavern, having turned over the evening watch to his mate.
“It’s not fish they reek of,” muttered someone at his elbow.
The tavern owner had moved forward, a short wooden cudgel clutched tightly in one hand, its knobby head held low against his knee.
Jonz would always be the survivor.
“It’s beasts they carry, Captain Kerry.”
“I wondered,” Kerry concurred in a low tone. “Not like fishermen to spend the entire night in a place like this. Strangers you say, Jonz?”
“They be off the Himorsse, that black three master out of Longwalk. She put into port this afternoon.”
Kerry nodded in recognition.
The ancient Mateek lands of T’Lon Wak lay up on the Northern Continent, as far west of the Zhul & E’dahn Rivers as one could get, well beyond the reach of the House of Kaodah. A further element of mystery had been added.
“A slaver’s stench that vessel,” came a husky female voice from across the divider, her breathy accent devoid of the clicked syllables associated with Wai-speech. She was a thin graying woman with tanned chiseled features; hair wrapped in a black headband, military style.
From an island fortress far to the south.
Had her words referred to the Himorsse or were they chance fragments of a private conversation? Kerry took careful note of her companion.
A desert man...
An Emzebee trader by his look: gray hooded robe; blue checks on white designating the trading House of R’aal. He was most likely from Casset, the first port of call when traveling to the desert lands far to the south. From his waist dangled a jeweled knife--deliberately visible.
“Tha old bitch. Slaver indeed.”
Kerry raised the mug to his lips.
The third card player leaned into view, a look of alarm on his face.
“Hush… Mind my warning, Stehil.”
“Naustic bedamned! Himorsse’s no slaver vessel.”
“Don’t mess with an Ash’elon Navigator,” warned his friend in a strained voice. “Be they men or woman, they’s tha dark power ta slam ya’s across the room. Majiskalas tha lot of them.”
Good advice that, grinned Kerry.
The man in question threw down his cards, eyeing his new adversary, the barmaid forgotten. “I’d take her on,” he hissed.
“Got powers of my own. She’s not that long in tha tooth.”
“Long? Ya’s sword’s not long enough for her, Stehil.”
Kerry suppressed a smile.
Not likely those words had been swallowed in this hubbub. He risked a sideways glance at the woman navigator. She’d actually grinned though her eyes remained averted.
He fervently wished he possessed her abilities to manipulate the crystals known as sea stones; to extract from those wave tumbled facets the select inner sight that allowed one to envision the forces governing weather and tide. Though his own artisan mother had been a fervent believer in the occult--had sent him to Ash’elon for schooling--his tenure had been brief, the arrogant blue robed priests proclaiming him without aptitude.
“... grab Swee and come north with ya myself, Captain, but what would I have?” The tavern keeper loomed over him; one hand swept through his thinning hair in exasperation. Kerry looked up, startled. Had he been that lost in concentration?
What had he offered Jonz?
“My life and living’s here, Captain. No one up north remembers me now. Most I was close to perished at Biele Isle as ya’s well know.”
Indeed Kerry did.
The searing flash of a devil’s weapon surviving the Orion’s landfall; its power equaling the Twins Above… the heat gun’s deadly torch blasting his sloop apart… blackened bodies floating at the river’s mouth… wavelets lapping at blistered flesh, powerless to soothe.
He’d rather face the wrath of the twin suns any day.
Jonz’s sharp laugh echoed his thoughts.
“We both know what we survived, Captain. I’ve ya’s to thank for that. My boarding party had just grappled on to ya vessel; then before ya’s could think there was just tha two of us left in tha waters. Ya knew who I fought for and still ya reached out ya’s hand. Course I’d done tha same. No man should have done that what’s happened to us; used such weapons on his own kind.”
“Those men mean trouble with Swee,” said Kerry deliberately.
The square jawed tavern owner grinned.
“Those three? Got my own aces tucked away, Captain. Can afford me Militia protection. Thanks to them doomsday prophets, business is better than ever.”
If true a promise that would not come cheap. Still he himself had had two militiamen forced on him while his schooner, Onrust, remained docked on the quay. Jonz suddenly turned to the entrance, his boisterous greeting a warning to all within.
“Good welcome, Sir! What brings you down the hill to Nor’wall this late?”
In the doorway stood a powerfully built stranger; short curly gray hair and beard, his skin as dark as the harbor behind his shoulders. The man shrugged back the hood of his forest cloak and squinted beneath the overhead lanterns, satisfying himself that all present were visible.
Kerry nodded in recognition.
Justin Aarrst; Hawk Master to the House of Devereaux; the training of birds but one of his talents. Though professing to be a tutor of spoiled children, Kerry knew the man to be skilled in the art of the Mahldenh throwing knife as well as the Emzebee short sword. It was said that Aarrst possessed darker talents learned directly from the Mateek; that he could give the Priests of Ash’elon a run for their money when it came to occult powers. An undercurrent of speculation already rippled the length of the tavern.
“...from the Hall! Ya catch Jonz’s warning?”
“Best not stare; curse ya’s with them gray eyes, he’ll...”
Kerry risked a sideways glance, concentrating intently on the card players, scrutinizing their reaction. The three exchanged discreet glances as Aarrst began to make his way toward the serving counter, choosing his path between tables with overt care, each step carefully balanced as if expecting to be challenged.
“I want’s no trouble!” Jonz swung around the end of the counter, meeting the newcomer dead center. “My pleasure ta serve Lord Devereaux hisself if that’s all’s required. Those of tha Hall merit complimentary service.”
Aarrst eyed the three fishermen who were departing hastily through a rear door. Beneath the drab cloak, Kerry could see the gleam of fine metal mesh.
“My time’s short, Jonz. So’s my patience.”
The tavern keeper drew back, starting at his own name.
No soft palmed nobleman this one. To know a man’s name implied that he would be easy to find in the future. The room had returned somewhat to normal, the remaining clientele quick to adapt.
“Something stronger than ale,” Jonz ventured, “Some T’ev ek perhaps?”
Aarrst ignored him.
The words were addressed in T’ran, the language of the ruling elite, the Children of Orion.
“You’ve left your hawks on the hill, Justin?” Kerry deliberately responded in Wai, the language of the common people.
“Captain, a word with you, alone,” Aarrst continued in T’ran, ignoring Kerry’s Wai-speech.
Fifteen summers ago he had given Aarrst passage south, a clandestine rendezvous in an isolated cove on Reshegon’s north shores. The man was to tutor Lord Devereaux’s son, Erish as well as his own son, T’Nosh. Highly unusual that Aarrst’s reputation proclaimed him no less than a Shaman, the shadowy Mateek counterpart to the Wai Sagaman, the tellers of epochs pas, and, some said with a measure of fear, of times yet to be.
Most memorable indeed had been the pair of golden eyed Ost-Hawks whom Aarrst left uncaged for the duration of the passage. They had proved themselves unmerciful hunters much to the delight of Kerry’s crew, insuring Aarrst an additional title upon his arrival; that of Hawk Master to Lord Devereaux. Indeed Aarrst now studied him with an intensity equal to those fearful birds of prey, strange gray eyes flecked with gold. What business had this man with him?
“Perhaps outside then, Justin?”
Formality belying his own curiosity.
Kerry shrugged as the Hawk Master abruptly turned and strode toward the door, aware of Jonz’s curious stare as he dug into his pocket for the price of an ale.
Only a full credit piece.
“No bother, Captain. It’s good to see ya’s down our way.”
Kerry slid the coin across the counter.
“You said it yourself, Jonz; we were offered a second chance. Keep it.”
“Agreed, Captain,” the man grinned, pocketing the gold coin.
“What’s say I run ya’s a tab for next time should the world continue its miserable way.”
“Done,” Kerry smiled in spite of himself.
He made his way across the taproom and ducked through the open doorway leading to the waterfront. As the smoke filled room receded behind him, Kerry caught his breath. A warm sea breeze hit full on: tepid, almost adhering to the skin. No doubt it would be hotter on the morrow, unstable winds for sure.
Where were the cooling nor’westers?
Already it was well into autumn and still the Nameless Sea had not reverted from red to its customary winter blue; its present bloody coloration one more reminder that this particular summer would not easily give way. To seaward the dusky horizon presented a subtle delineation of gray on dark; warning enough that the world’s double suns, the Twins Above, had begun to stir just over the horizon, their daily ascension more recently regarded with apprehension than welcome. He could see Aarrst waiting on the wooden footbridge leading to the quay, his cloaked figure silhouetted against the distinctive bi-pod masts of the Onrust, his shallow draft coastal schooner.
As if on cue a figure separated from the darkness.
“T’Nerra, Shanakerry; twenty seventh son of Shr’ka bd Ze’zhel.”
Words spoken in a lipless hiss.
Kerry cursed the unfathomable lineage as he regarded the non-human figure before him. Mateek spoke in a fashion, yet the words also reverberated in the mind in what might be described as a dull echo. Had it been daylight the Mateek’s skin would have appeared a grayish-blue; the creature’s head encased in smooth wet flesh devoid of human features. Its green eyes were now closed, hidden beneath twin mounds of flesh, an indication that the being was simultaneously in telepathic communication with its own kind. By the illumination of the coldfire lamp he could see the three fingered hand clutching a small crossbow, a saddlebow. The readied bolt glinting with the same dull sheen of the being’s protective vest.
T’Nerra; a clicked rush of syllables, almost Wai’min in character.
But a name Kerry recognized.
This was the Commander of Devereaux’s personal guard, a mercenary force from the northern mainland provinces of the Ulechk-E’dahn; their presence bought and paid for since the beginning of the coming of Orion. Not only that; T’Nerra had been at Biele Isle.
“T’Nerra. I’ve business with Aarrst over there. What’s all this about?”
“The World cleanses itself, Shanakerry. Nubb’laa once more reclaims the day; she is ready to vanquish the Twins Above. It’s why we are both here.”
Obviously the Mateek referred to the red moon Zhaine.
“What has this to do with Aarrst?” he said in an undertone.
“I’ll speak for myself, Captain.” The Hawk Master’s voice cut through the darkness. “Guard that door back there, T’Nerra. No one leaves until I’m finished here.”
The Mateek retreated in resolute obedience.
“Let’s hear it then!” Kerry strode rapidly across the rough planking, deliberately stepping around the man so that he might stand with his back against his vessel as they talked. Inside the tavern Aarrst had appeared alert, fit, almost youthful. Out here he looked haggard, far older than his forty some summers. Gloom clung to the man’s face like a funeral shroud.
“A most difficult request, Captain. I need your vessel.”
Kerry grinned in relief.
Aarrst had lapsed into Wai; all the more expressive for such dealings.
“Cheaper to negotiate by daylight, Justin.”
“I’ve not the time for levity, Captain.”
Must the man be so pompous?
“No doubt,” Kerry agreed, adopting a graver tone. “Then again, Devereaux is known to pay fairly.”
Aarrst turned back to the rail, staring into the wavering blackness of the millrace below. “Lord Devereaux knows nothing of this.” Kerry kept his face a mask. “You’re an educated man, Captain. It’s said that you were tutored under the Priests at Ash’elon; that you yourself possess Navigator status.”
What was the man driving at?
“If it’s a Navigator you seek,” Kerry replied innocently, “she sits just inside Jonz’s Tavern at this very moment.”
“No matter,” Aarrst shrugged. “You’ve no doubt studied The Book of Logs while at Ash’elon. In the Chronicles of Jazen there’s a passage referring to the true nature of the Twins Above.”
That much he was familiar with.
“Jazen speculates that the suns are a force victorious over Time itself.”
“You’re well read indeed, Captain. However such assessment is fact, not speculation. In times past the Twins Above drained the true sun of all its power and light, relegating Nubb’laa--Zhaine if you prefer--to the status of a moon for a hundred summers at a time. Yet for generations now the Twins Above have slowly released their grip. Nubb’laa has begun to stir.”
Kerry felt a wave of fatigue. He’d intended to have an ale, turn in; awake at first light. Impossible to follow the man’s reasoning.
“I admire the Mateek’s respect for nature, Captain; the delicate self-balance which they and the Wai’min refer to as T’eesee. During my sojourn on Reshegon, I sat in a fire-circle; saw the matrix of time unravel; saw the very threads that control our existence writhing uncontrollably. Yet there was one thread that defied eternal blackness. In the conflagration to come, only one world will survive of the many that might have been.”
“The Wai’min offer a similar view,” Kerry agreed. “Like a hunter’s blanket, the various threads of Time are woven together to form the whole. Yet the Wai’min were no more than crude villagers when Orion first arrived on these shores. Their social progress was crippled by their reliance upon...”
It was no longer Aarrst he stared at! Another face swam in its stead; his now the boy’s mother, her eyes wide in indignation, her anger swirling like a dark eddy.
Kerry fought to keep the man’s face in focus.
“And what of the metal roads and fortresses, Captain, like the one that stands above us?” Aarrst seemed bent on debate. “We attribute these works to the so called Ancient Ones.”
“Ash’elon’s Priests proclaim the Ancient Ones to be the Mateek.” Again Kerry’s impatience showed. “According to legend the Mateek have experienced this so-called end of civilization before. No doubt they are well equipped to survive the heat to come. They are aquatic in nature. They are able to breath under water.”
“No doubt, Captain. No doubt.”
Was there just the barest hint of a smile?
“Still there’s a narrow path by which we may yet flee.” Aarrst’s voice resonated assurance. “But I need your schooner, Captain. The revolutionary ferment that lies within these streets has forced me to move up my time schedule.”
“You plan to convince Governor Devereaux to sail north?” He had deliberately left off the “Lord” portion of Devereaux’s title.
Aarrst turned from the rail, his eyes sunken hollows against even darker skin. “Someone else, Captain, someone who must be spared this coming destruction if the Winter Kingdom is to survive. I speak of young Erish. We will sail to the Byh’points.”
Now here was a surprise.
Aarrst, an agent for the Winter Kingdom?
“Devereaux knows you plan to take Erish?”
Aarrst drew forth a small leather bag.
“I repeat, Captain, Lord Devereaux knows nothing of this. There’s gold enough here to buy even your silence.” He tossed the pouch in Kerry’s direction, the younger man grasping it automatically; tossing it back in a single motion. He snorted aloud...
“Most risky, Mr. Aarrst. Once Devereaux hears of this, the Onrust will be banished from Hegon’s waters.”
Again the man almost smiled.
“You intend to return? Your manner betrays you an optimist, Captain. Like myself you look beyond the immediate moment. Lord-Governor Bednar, your father, left his stamp upon your soul whether you wish it or not.”
He needn’t be reminded.
“And if I refuse?”
Aarrst turned to him abruptly, his eyes visible for the first time: not gray but miniature versions of the Twins Above. Kerry felt an explosion of heat against his back.
Reflected in Aarrst’s eyes was his vessel; the schooner’s bipod masts and woven-wire standing gear writhing in flames. Sixteen years ago he had coaxed her lines from a singing scroll, sent from beyond the grave.
Kerry found himself unable to move; hearing Aarrst’s words as if in a deep trance: “Even now, your vessel has been secured by the Mateek Guard under my personal order of, should we say protection? They have their instructions should you refuse.”
Kerry swung about...
The Onrust lay untouched beneath the cold-fire lamps. Kerry cursed aloud.
“I’ve been called far worse than a black sorcerer, Captain. We are the sum of our fears. Only you know what you truly saw.”
“I’ll not be threatened, Aarrst.”
“I’ve no choice, Captain. I am charged to punish those responsible for Chansalee’s death; then return her son, Erish, to his proper House. But it’s more personal than that, Captain. My father’s ship was never heard from again after that night she died on the sands. I owe him his peace.”
Aarrst’s father was involved with Chansalee? Devereaux’s first wife?
“Erish know about this?”
“Even now, he thinks he’s making his escape off-island. He’s unaware of his role in our destiny, Captain. Your son intends to accompany him.”
The man was mad.
“Who do you intend to punish for Chansalee’s death?”
Sixteen years of rumor raced through his brain.
“To this moment I am still uncertain, Captain.”
Aarrst walked to rail and peered down into the running waters beneath the bridge, his hunched shoulders blending with the faint blue ripples highlighted by the cold-fire lamp. Even as Kerry watched, the light wavered, beginning to pulsate erratically. The man had done nothing to instill any assurance.
“You’ve not enough gold, Aarrst.”
“I’ve walked a parallel path within the fire-circle; Captain. I’ve seen only my own private hell. Still I am honor bound to stand by my commitments.” Aarrst turned abruptly, striding rapidly toward alley beside the tavern. The Mateek was nowhere to be seen, undoubtedly anticipating the Hawk Master’s intentions, securing safe return to the fortress.
Kerry looked to the Onrust.
He could make out Ay’rn Arbor by the after-house, the master’s mate bathed in the warm glow from the open companionway. At the head of the gangplank stood a horned white beast, its Mateek rider motionless as if one with his mount. The metallic glint of a saddle-bow was warning enough to those who lurked in the shadows. The two militia guardsmen who had been assigned by the harbormaster were nowhere to be seen.
Was it chance that had brought him to Hegon?
Chance had left him alive at Biele Isle. He’d subsequently allowed chance to rule his life, his energy and outlook renewed with each subsequent encounter. He’d never demanded an option.