Sunday, March 7, 2010
Storm Approaching Excerpt
I posted an excerpt from And Gladly Teach some days ago. Here is one from Storm Approaching--not Chapter 1, but Chapter 5 (pp. 19-26). I hope it entices some folks to risk buying the book.
5. THE SILVER HAWKS
After eighteen years at the Institute, Andiriel was exhilarated to be on her own. She lived in a tenement on Larch Lane, off Gold Street, a building with six respectable households and a vigilant concierge. She had two large rooms for two silvers a week, which was more than she could have afforded had she not been willing to dig into her savings.
She worked at the Wizards House each morning. She spent almost as much time reading as cataloguing. These books, all neatly printed and beautifully bound—she had never imagined such riches. As Garjon had said, they were on multifarious topics. There were even books by contemporaries who paid the Imperial Press to publish their writings, like Farewell to Alms, the autobiography of Rellas Shai, the Institute’s benefactor, who had begun life as a beggar. Some were in Old Imperial but most of the Classics were translations, for it was the intent of the Ministry of Culture, whose imprint graced the title pages, to make these treasures available to the literate population. That population was certainly a minority of the Emperor’s subjects, but she was part of it; she would sit reading until her conscience made her take up a pen and another card.
In the afternoon came lessons at Mohar’s Equestrian Academy. This establishment was not quite so grand as its name implied—the staff was Mohar and his son—but it certainly taught a lot of people to ride. Most, of course, were men; but Andiriel’s money was as good as theirs, and Mohar did not mind humoring her eccentricity, even in not riding sidesaddle. She discovered that she had no hidden talent for equitation, but on the other hand horses seemed to know she liked them, as she did all animals, and as the days went by she found herself more often in the saddle than out of it.
In the evening she practiced at the archery range near the west wall. She was glad to have her old bow back, for she could not yet draw Sir Branlor’s magnificent gift. This inspired her to work hard, and she made progress. She entered a contest for beginners and won second prize: a quiver and fifty arrows. So encouraged, she redoubled her efforts.
On Sundays, after early service, she would read, or walk in the woods near the town, thinking indecisively about her future. She often had supper at Nella’s little house, where Jon and his wife made her feel an honored guest. (Jon deeply appreciated Andiriel’s wedding present, so useful to a man starting in business.) About once a week she would stop by the Happy Tankard for a meal, and to say hello to Boggus, whom she remembered as a kindly boss. He was always glad to see her and to provide a free cup of root-tea, her favorite drink. He also retailed the latest stories and rumors, such as the troubles in the north.
“They say the Ferals have been attacking Red Tooth Pass more strongly now. The Chancery is hiring more mercs to help out. You’ll probably see some pretty strange characters marching through Javakis soon.”
In four days there appeared in the streets 200 ferocious-looking men, dressed in an assortment of leather armor, armed with javelins and swords, called “Gambog’s Maulers.” The city authorities hustled them to a camp outside the walls and hurried them on their way the next morning. Later came some cavalry, the Coursers—lithe men on small horses—who were allowed to spend the night near the Old Gate and were likewise sent off at dawn.
Then one sunny afternoon, as Andiriel returned from her riding lesson, she heard music. A column of perhaps 400 soldiers was marching in step down Gold Street to the bracing rhythm of drums and fifes, headed by a man carrying a big blue flag on which was a white bird with golden claws diving on its prey. Officers rode beside their units. The troops wore matching equipment—helmets, mail shirts, and greaves—and carried large shields and long spears. Others, including a few young women, were archers in leather jerkins.
“Who are they?” she asked another onlooker.
“The Silver Hawks. You never heard of ‘em? Very famous they are. Fought in the Isles, and Castle Garmal, and all over. They took Vorgast and won the famous fight at Gorodel. The Pass will be well-guarded if the Emperor’s willing to pay for the Hawks.”
She walked along the broad avenue, next to the soldiers, enjoying the rhythmic music and the ordered progress of the men. They halted at the big field near the West Gate. An officer with a red crest on his silvered helmet spoke to them; then they broke ranks and started to set up camp with practiced efficiency.
Andiriel watched all this with great interest, then headed home. As she passed the Happy Tankard, Boggus trundled out to ask if she would work that evening. “We’ll need experienced help tonight. I’ll pay you C6 and there’ll be lots of tips.” She agreed, pleased to be wanted.
Boggus was not wrong. At liberty that evening, the Silver Hawks swamped every inn, tavern, and shop. Andiriel and the other four girls had their hands full taking care of customers—not only mercenaries but lots of citizens eager to hear news and stories, of which there was no shortage. Andiriel listened eagerly to snatches of talk about affairs in far-away places.
One table was occupied by a trio of bearded men. Two had three white stripes encircling the left arms of their blue supervests; the other had four. As Andiriel served them their latest mugs of ale and another chicken, one of them said, “How long have you been an archer?”
She stared at him while his companions laughed at her surprise.
“No, I’m no mage,” continued the man. “But I spent five years with the Golden Bows, and now three in the Hawks, and if I can’t tell an archer by her chest and upper arms, my name’s not Arvis Gelman.” (Andiriel blushed slightly. The costume of a Happy Tankard serving-girl was not as modest as the smock she had worn at the Institute.)
“Actually he’s Ralph Ondos,” said the four-striped man, which led to more laughter. “Tell him you’ve never fired a bow in your life and I’ll give you part of the bet I’ll win.”
“I’m afraid you lose, master. I’ve been practicing the bow for over two years.”
“There, you see? I am Arvis Gelman. And a fine archer I’ll bet you are, a tall, strong lass like you. Thinking of joining up?”
“Joining up? You mean become a mercenary?”
“It’s more exciting than carrying ale mugs to old coots like us.” More laughter.
“Is it all that much fun, Sergeant Gelman?”
“Sit down here. Your name? Sit down, Andiriel. Here’s a copper to buy you a break.”
She took the coin to Boggus, left her big tray on the counter, and joined the men.
“You must meet my friends,” said Arvis Gelman. “This brawny guy is Willem Bolton, who leads a section of heavy infantry, and the fellow with four stripes is Thrale Jermis, who’s the sergeant-major of 1st Company. We have to be respectful to him because he outranks us.”
“You’re respectful because I’m older and smarter,” said Jermis with a grin
“So why are you mercenaries?” asked Andiriel, accepting a slice of meat pie and a cup of ale. “You were going to tell me, Sergeant Gelman.”
“My dear, it’s a fine life. You travel all over the civilized lands—and some not so civilized, too. The pay is very good in a crack unit. The comradeship is wonderful. You have respect and honor from everyone. Now, I’ll bet you’ve never been far from Javakis, have you?”
“You’re right, I haven’t. Barely a mile, in fact.”
“But surely you’d like to travel? You don’t want to stay here all your life.”
“Oh yes, that’s true...”
“See the world and be paid for it: the spires of the Capital, the palaces and castles of the great lords, the cities of the Isles. Friends you can always depend on, the pride of doing a manly, I mean a difficult, job well.”
“But there aren’t many girl mercenaries, are there?”
“Very few, very few, but a small number of brave and daring women serve in fine units: exceptional women, like you, Andiriel.”
She couldn’t help smiling. Sgt. Gelman raised his arm and his voice. “Bravery calls, honor demands, glory awaits, my young friend, my future comrade-in-arms. Rise above the common herd. Embrace the life most suited for a man or woman of spirit and pride. Set your feet upon the path of glory!”
Patrons were listening. A corporal at another table began to sing:
Up, heroes, to battle, seize bow or spear!
Set your feet on the true path of glory!
Let cowards hide now and tremble with fear.
We’re the Hawks! Let the foe feel our fury!
With our weapons in hand and a song on our breath
We will vanquish the foe while we laugh at death!
Other Hawks joined in.
The world is balanced on a long sharp sword,
So hail! to the mightiest bladesmen.
The strong, brave, and skillful will gain the reward,
Not peasants or fat, greedy tradesmen.
No prize on the earth is so great or high
That heroes can’t seize it, if only they try!
And finally every mercenary in the Happy Tankard united, more or less in harmony:
A soldier of fortune alone can feel
Full life in its vigor and spirit.
We carve our future with guts and steel,
And as for Fate, we don’t fear it.
All men die but some die without being alive.
Long live courage and pride! May the Hawks always thrive!
The song ended with cheers and applause and shouts of “Hail the Hawks!” Sgt. Gelman, quite flushed after accompanying his lusty singing by pounding his tankard on the table, said, “Our hymn, Andiriel. We sang it while we broke Prince Ednis’s line at Gorodel and won the battle all had thought was lost. Ah, that was a day of glory.”
Sgt.-Maj. Jermis, who had sung out as lustily as any, spoke up: “Yes, and a day when we lost over thirty per cent. Arvis didn’t mention that he’s our senior recruiting sergeant.”
Andiriel, on the point of asking how to sign up, said, “Do you like being a mercenary, Sergeant Jermis?”
“It’s been a fine life for me. I escaped being a farmer, I met my wife—she’s one of our sutlers—and I’ve been places and seen things that were wonderful. And you can’t do better than the Hawks, if you’re infantry. But it isn’t all fun, and women have a harder time than men.”
“But what career is all fun?” asked Sgt. Gelman. “However,” he went on, calming down a bit, “you don’t have to run off with us tomorrow. But I’d like to see you shoot. We’ll be leaving Javakis about noon, won’t we, Will?”
“Yes. The commissary wants time to lay in some vegetables and wine.”
“Could I see you tomorrow at nine, at those butts near the wall?”
“Certainly, sergeant. I’ll be there.”
The sound of fifes and drums, soft but moving closer, filled the room. “That’s our song,” said the sergeant-major. “Tattoo. Twenty minutes to get back to camp.” He drained his mug, smacked his lips, got up, and bowed to Andiriel. “A pleasure to meet you, young mistress. If you want some advice from an old campaigner, keep practicing the bow and learn to ride. You may have a real future as a soldier.”
The other mercenaries were also leaving. Before Sgt. Gelman reached the door several young men came up to him. At least he recruited somebody with his eloquence, she thought. Maybe I really should... No, not yet. I wonder if Sir Branlor will come back?
Most of the townsmen also left. Andiriel and the other girls began cleaning up.
“How did we do, Master Boggus?” asked Chandra.
“Ha! Four days’ profits in one good night. A windfall. You’ll all get an extra C2.”
“And nice decent fellows, too,” said young Terini. “Hardly a broken bottle.”
“Mercs are like anyone else: there’s good and bad. Those Maulers a while back—they might’ve burned Javakis down if they’d been allowed to run loose. The Hawks are crack troops.”
Next morning Andiriel found both Arvis Gelman and Willem Bolton waiting for her. Arvis examined her old bow and said it was a decent beginner’s weapon. “But you certainly have a grand case for it,” he went on. “Must have cost much more than the bow.”
“Oh, this is for my other one.” She took out Sir Branlor’s gift.
Arvis gingerly took the bow, exchanged glances with his comrade, and exclaimed, “Dragonsteeth! You didn’t get this in Javakis.”
“No. It was a present from... from a friend in the Capital.”
“A friend? Are you a countess in disguise, my lady? Do you know what this is? It’s an Imperial Battle Bow. They only make ‘em at the main armory.” He pointed to the little green eagle below the grip. “That’s the hallmark. They cost near G30, and cits can’t buy ‘em without a warrant from the Marshal’s office. The Imperial Guard uses ‘em. There are no better bows.”
“Can you actually shoot this?” asked Sgt. Bolton.
“Not too well yet. But I practice every day, and I’m getting stronger.”
“May I try a few shots?” asked Arvis.
He fired thrice at the thirty-yard target: two in the second ring and one in the bull.
“Ah,” he sighed happily. “Like a dream. Beautiful weapon.”
“Didn’t we come to see Andiriel shoot?” asked Sgt. Bolton with a grin.
“Uh, oh yes, of course. Please, show us your skill.”
Using her old bow, she put all five arrows into the forty-yard target, two quite near the bull. The men watched her closely. “Yes, she has the talent,” said Arvis. He moved her right arm a bit and her sixth arrow grazed the bull.
“You keep it up, young archer. Keep at it until you can use your Battle Bow as well as you do this one. Then you’ll really be ready for the Hawks.”
“Yes, and be nice to that friend who gave it to you,” said Willem Bolton. “Maybe you’ll get a set of Vlaster’s Plate next.” Both men laughed.
She walked with them back to camp, filled with curiosity about where the Silver Hawks were going and what they were going to do when they got there.
Arvis laughed. “You should ask our colonel,” he said. “We underofficers don’t worry much about stuff like that. Our job is to see that our men are in good shape wherever we go, and we know that wherever it is we’ll be fighting someone. Unless it’s what we call a ‘soft mission,’ like guarding a palace or escorting a caravan. But I guess that the Ferals are getting noisier than usual so they need some really good men to quiet ‘em down.”
“There was trouble in April,” said Willem. “Lots more Ferals than usual, and some of the provincial levies didn’t hold up. The Chancery must have decided to send better troops.” He smiled. “And they’re sending the best.”
“Have you ever been to the Pass?” she asked.
“Not me,” said Arvis. “Will has.”
“Twelve years ago. I was with the Savage Spears then. The Duke of Corm hired us instead of sending his levy—wanted to give his people time to get in their harvest. The Pass is quite a place. Huge fortress, of course, but so desolate—dusty plains next to an endless forest. You can stand on the battlements and see trees as far as the horizon. We were there three months and saw action on at least ten days. Got a nice scar on my leg to remember it by.”
“And did you see much of the Sovereign Order?”
“The Sovereign... You mean the Glory Knights?” asked Willem. “Sure. They command the fortress and the army. A privilege to fight alongside ‘em. But the garrison is about 3,000 men, and there’s only 300 Glory Knights. The rest are mercs or levies.”
They were near the camp; the two sergeants took their leave. “Think about what I told you,” said Arvis Gelman. “We can always use eager young archers, especially when they’re as smart as you, and anyone will tell you that the Silver Hawks are the best regiment in the Empire or the Isles. Practice. You’ll be damned lethal if you can master that grand bow of yours. And keep the Hawks in mind. We’ll be up at Red Tooth Pass for a good while, just fifty miles away.” He grinned. “I think you might become our first female officer.”
“We’ll meet again,” said Willem. “The Hawks fly all over.”
She went home, wondering why Sir Branlor thought she was worthy of so splendid a gift as her Battle Bow. Over thirty gold!
The next day, instead of riding, Andiriel shopped. She came home with a helmet, a hauberk, a sword with a scabbard and silvered belt, a dagger in a sturdy sheath, three hunting shirts, two pairs of riding breeches, a pair of knee-boots, twenty days’ supply of cured beef, spurs, a haversack, a tinderbox, a riding crop, and a small tent. After paying the porters who carried all this to her rooms she found she had spent G31/S9/C6.
She sat sipping root tea in her stuffed chair near the open window, contemplating her impedimenta and wondering what had possessed her. I spent over a third of my money and I don’t even know what I’m going to do with this stuff. I’ve got spurs and no horse. I’ve never even held a sword. What’s come over me? I’m a little orphan girl—well, maybe not so little, considering all the trouble they had finding a hauberk that fit—and I’ve never traveled anywhere in my life. I’ve got a ton of work yet to do at the Wizards’ House.
She put on her gear and posed before the mirror. At least I look like a fighter, she thought, smiling. She adjusted her helmet, thinking that she had made a good choice of the four available. It covered the skull, the cheeks, and the neck to the shoulders, and had a flat visor that left the face open. Master Ordel, the proprietor of Javakis Arms and Armor, had called it a “burgonet.” (He also said there was a ‘falling buffe’ that could be attached to the cheek plates and raised to shield her lower face, but he didn’t have one in stock.)
She took off the equipment, ate supper, and set out for an archery lesson with her Battle Bow, determined that today she’d get her thumb somewhere near her nose. And she resolved to wear her hauberk for a couple of hours each day, to get used to its weight and to moving in it.
Two weeks passed.