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I enjoy reading the fantasy novels of L. E. Modesitt  Jr. In the Recluce Saga which covers one thousand eight hundred and fifty five years, an entire world, and nineteen books, the stories tend to be told in one or two book stand alones not published in chronological order, although the chronological order of the novels themselves is obvious, and world shaking characters and past events are referenced in novels based in their future. Two matters that I find fascinating about the Recluce Saga is that there are no Blue Meanies, even the villains warrant a few sympathetic books, and secondly that there is little sense of social progress. Things change, but the lives of most people don’t improve significantly because the world is based on the balance of order and chaos, which rhymes with good and evil, but isn’t quite the same thing. There are loopholes built into the system in the form of those entities who use both order and chaos — the Great Forest, the druids,  and the gray mages. They don’t count against the balance, tend to align with order, and their influence has increased over time. I often wonder about the mundane follow-on lives of various favorite characters and hope that at least on the small scale of their lives progress is being made. I find that when I reread his books I look forward to the quiet domestic scenes that reveal everyday life. The epilogues seem far too short. The Wellspring of Chaos and Ordermaster comprise a self-contained two-book story that doesn’t ripple through the history of the saga, and features intriguing characters that as of yet haven’t reappeared. Therefore I’ve decided to peek in on their follow-on lives. Of course I realize that the potential audience is limited. However as a fan I would enjoy stumbling across something like this. Maybe somebody else will too. I hope Mr. Modesitt doesn’t mind.

Lord Karl gazed out over the harbor from his recently expanded front porch, his wife Jeka nestled tight to him on their bench swing. In the fading light even his enhanced vision could no longer make out the Cantyl ensign at the end of the pier, three staggered hunter’s green and black crosses on an ivory background. No one knew what the demesne ensign was supposed to represent. The crosses were elongated and stylized, not at all like the cross of the one god believers. Jeka had changed the crosses to Lord Karl’s colors, but otherwise had left the demesne flag unchanged. Coopers didn’t have colors, so Jeka had chosen the green and black and designed his tartan, the same pattern which now upholstered much of the furniture in the Great House. Karl liked the tartan pattern and colors. He found green and black restful. When he’d fled Brysta, Karl had asked Gharan the weaver to hide and shelter Jeka until he could come back for her. That had taken some time, during which Karl’s fortunes had improved greatly. According to Gharan, Jeka had more than earned her keep weaving. The upholstery cloth in the Great House came from Gharan’s shop in Brysta, via Hagan’s ships.

In the fifteen years since he had been ennobled and awarded Cantyl by the then young Lord Ghrant, much around him had expanded, including his waistline he noted, no doubt a result of Adelya’s superb cooking. The porch had been the former ship’s carpenter Tarkyn’s last project, a simple straight forward job, finished just a year back. Karl had loved the old curved porch, so Tarkyn had changed nothing except the size. Now they could hold dinners and small ceremonies outside when it was nice. Tarkyn had passed away peacefully the past winter, after nine years as Cantyl’s Chief Carpenter. At first a high sounding position for a part-time job invented for him by Karl in gratitude for his own treatment as Tarkyn’s second back in the day aboard the Seastag. However the position had grown like everything else around Cantyl. Now a busy carpentry workshop stood next to the also enlarged sawmill.

Bannat, Chief Forester Dorwan’s son, managed the sawmill. Other than some pines for ship masts and related spars, Cantyl shipped very little timber anymore, using nearly all of it for its own furniture and building materials. Karl still had some difficulty thinking of Bannat and Fianna as consorted with two children, one entering his teens no less. Little Rona who used to run messages around the grounds and back and forth down to the pier had consorted Tod, one of Demyst’s city patrollers. Adelya’s daughter Heldya was the head cook at the inn and Enelya’s principle assistant. Heldya had consorted Fargen, the Second Mate on the Seastag. Since the consorting he had become First Mate on the Seamouse. That was only a slight promotion, since serving on an ocean freighter was more prestigious than serving on what was essentially a port-to-port passenger ferry. That his consort lived in one of those ports counted in the equation. Also sometimes Heldya made the tendays round trip for procurement purposes.

Lord Karl himself had built Heldya’s consorting chest at Adelya’s request not long after coming to Cantyl. Then Speltar, the steward, had mentioned that Glyan, the vintner, had mentioned how his betrothed daughter Fianna admired Heldya’s chest. The first two of many, and considered propitious, they had become a Cantyl tradition. Even Meyena, Lord Arynal’s daughter no less, had asked Jeka if she could commission one, a simple one just like all the others. “Lest it lose its magic,” Jeka had teased him with a smile. It had been Karl and Jeka’s consorting gift of course. Jeka still treasured the memory of the look on Karl’s face when she had mentioned that the owner of Cantyl’s consorting shop had asked if Karl would mind making some consorting chests for sale, even suggesting that Cantyl consider offering consorting packages which would include one of Lord Karl’s magical chests. Actually Jeka had thought that that  wasn’t a bad idea, as long as the chests were clearly marked carpentry shop copies. Karl had roared that if it was his fate to make consorting chests, by the Fallen Black Angels, he would know every recipient. Karl’s own betrothal and physical consorting had been instantaneous. Jeka had seen to that. As he remembered it, no wood chests had been involved. They did have a later ceremony at Cantyl. When he’d asked if she missed having a consorting chest, Jeka had laughed and told him that she wouldn’t have traded the voyage from Brysta to Cantyl for all the wooden chests in the world, even magical ones.

He employed one other master cooper, Turnal, two journeymen coopers, and a varying number of apprentices to make the red oak barrels for common use, including for the booming salted and pickled fish business. Turnal helped some with the white oak barrels when magely affairs took precedent, although Karl insisted on doing the finishing work on every barrel made from the rationed white oaks in the New Forest, as well as the few trees added by Lord Arynal whenever he cleared land, barrels used exclusively for Cantyl’s wine. The forest in Lord Ghrant’s original Cantyl land grant had contained only a few white oaks. At Lord Hagan’s prompting, a secondary grant of a small adjacent forest had added several stands of them. The New Forest to the north and inland was not to be confused with the New Property along the coast to the west that Jeka had purchased, which became the site of the mushrooming town of Cantyl. According to Glyan, Cantyl’s Chief Vintner, the provenance of the barrels probably added half a gold to the price. The number of barrels required had increased over the years along with Glyan’s increasing of vines on the Old Property. Karl doubted that he would be able to keep up with the coopering when Rona’s new vines started bearing in a few years, and then they would have to either import white oak or acquire more forest. Jeka was exploring the latter option. Moving the work that others did from his original cooperage on the Great House grounds to the Cantyl Administrative Center made sense. At some point he would probably be reduced to symbolically finishing a stave or two per barrel. Some of the oldest and smelliest white oak barrels bearing his mark had turned into collector’s items. Jeka had laughed out loud when Karl had stared in bewilderment at a prominently displayed stained and battered barrel in a Cantyl antique shop.

Jeka had reserved a large area of their land about one kilometer inland from the town. There she’d had built an immense rambling administrative compound, actually a series of mostly connected buildings, with offices for all the logistical and management functions, even those functions which had yet to function, as well as warehouse space for building materials, supplies, and marketable produce. A construction crew that varied in size depending on the ongoing jobs operated almost continually from there. The main building, the Cantyl Town Hall,  held a jail, justice chamber, patroller office, and an infirmary with two connected rooms with beds, as well as financial offices and a small bank with vaults. Adjacent were a training ground, barracks, and stables for the Cantyl Home Guard, all of which used only a few times per year by Arms Commander Demyst for training exercises for the Home Guard Volunteers. The exception being the stables which permanently housed some fifty mounts, the associated costs of which were partially underwritten by Lord Ghrant who wanted a mounted force not housed in Valmurl close by. Since there were no paid officers with the exception of Arms Commander Demyst, and only a few permanent troopers who filled in when necessary as city patrollers, the costs of stable hands, a few maintenance staff, and a cook were manageable. The volunteer troopers were given a nice year end bonus of two golds each, and more if the levees were called up by Lord Ghrant.

That had happened just once in the last fifteen years, when some traditionalist northern lords felt that Lord Ghrant was further weakening male primogeniture rights by allowing Lady Ananda and not her violence-prone younger brother to assume the lordship of Vertuil, a prosperous demesne east of Cassock on the Valmurl River.  A Hamorian fleet had briefly blocked the harbor at Valmurl in support of the rebels. Cooler heads had prevailed when the young man in question had died from severe brain injuries. Excessively drunk he had fallen off his horse and struck his head. One of the advantages of living in Cantyl was that Lord Karl’s movements could not be tracked easily. If a few eyebrows had been raised, they had been raised quietly. The young Lord Ghrant in a private moment with Lord Hagan would have made a veiled reference indicating suspicion, possibly with a soupçon of exasperation. Apparently the older and wiser Lord Ghrant didn’t have a clue. Hagan rightly saw that unrest as masking other issues, namely the growing dominance of the southern lords — Ghrant, Hagan, and Karl. After that Hagan had prompted Lord Ghrant to appoint a series of northern lords as Prime Ministers. That had calmed the waters long enough to permit the power and wealth discrepancy between the two regions to become so overwhelming that any rebellion would be futile. That Lord Grant ruled with a light hand helped.

When called upon Cantyl could field a hundred men immediately, a full company. Fifty would embark on the Seamouse and be furnished mounts in Valmurl. Valmurl was a two or three day pure sail away, weather depending, but pushing engines usually the Seamouse could do it in one long day. The remaining troopers would either embark with mounts on a larger cargo ship sent for that purpose, or more likely ride up the rough coast road for five or six long days to Valmurl, down at least a day due to recent road improvements. In such a case, even assuming that Lord Karl had been summoned, Cantyl would not be defenseless. Some of the informal Gray Guards would take the opportunity to beat each other up with staffs and wooden sabers and shoot crossbows, thus earning free meals and a few silvers. And there was often an order mage or two around with some abilities that might prove useful in a fight. Julien’s ordered iron crossbow darts came to mind. The earthmage who had largely built Cantyl’s new roads, and who had since returned to Recluce, Jeffrin, would have been a formidable foe. Karl always found employment for peaceful order mages. He had never forgotten the blackstaffer Jenevra. The fact that Cantyl had benefitted greatly from its policy of hospitality had not been lost on some of the more open minded Austran lords.

The carpentry workshop was currently being run in an acting capacity by Adlenta and Julien, two betrothed blackstaffers from Recluse. They had arrived separately five or six years back. Adlenta had a strong order affinity for wood. She produced fine furniture, works of art really. The wardrobe she’d made for Jeka for their tenth anniversary, featuring thirty-one (Jeka’s age at that time) different carved flowers, all common to Cantyl and each to scale, was considered priceless. Julien worked with both wood and metal, but not with Adlenta’s fine skill. Karl and Jeka had offered Adlenta and Julien permanent positions. However heeding advice he had received from the druids, Karl always advised blacks to return to Recluce before making a final decision. Julien split time at the forge and could order the iron used for Cantyl’s crossbow darts and arrow heads for potential use against white wizards and their chaos touched troopers, although none had seen battle. In fact Cantyl had no archers in the Home Guards, since crossbow use required far less training. The arrowheads were sent on to Lord Ghrant who had one company of archers.

Once the stockpiles of darts were sufficient for a multiyear siege, an unlikely occurrence,  Julien had taken an interest in ship building. He’d spent a great deal of time with old Tarkyn. The ships of Recluce were said to be made entirely of ordered iron, the armored Hamorian warships had machine tooled thin iron and/or copper plating, protection against at least the glancing blows of cannonballs, probably at the costs of some speed and maneuverability. Plating with mage labor intensive ordered iron being out of the question, Julien had invented a technique for blasting planks with bits of ordered iron. Planks soaked in a copper solution had been used for years to prevent sea worm infestations. It had taken him working fulltime, and Karl working whenever he could, three ten days to produce enough ordered iron just for the hull planks below the water line of the Tarkyn. It was doubtful those planks would stop even a glancing cannonball. So then, what good were they? Would they divert or diminish the impact of fireballs? Nobody knew, however Karl could sense a miasma of order surrounding the Tarkyn. Karl could draw on that order in battle if needed, but few other mages could. There might be consequences though. When he had drawn on the natural order in a rare and valued red pear orchid, he’d turned it to ash. Maybe a better solution would be just to take some actual ordered iron along if a sea battle loomed. Karl thought the best solution was to avoid sea battles where ship and mage numbers and the range of chaos mages gave Hamor the advantage, with the notable exception of rare black weather mages. A talent Karl lacked.

Four years in the water, so far no chaos wizards had tested the Tarkyn, but the frequently checked hull had shown no corruption, never a barnacle to be seen. That had value in itself. In that period, Cantyl had supplied treated planks for the rehulling of Lord Ghrant’s yacht below the waterline, and stockpiled at Hagan’s shipyard enough pulverized ordered iron to provide planks for the complete hulls of two schooners. Chaos wizards were not as adept at sensing order as order mages. With water being a source of order, sea water more so, that made detection of the enhanced submerged planks on the two boats unlikely. That wouldn’t continue once they started using treated planks on cargo ships with changing water lines depending on the load. As far as they knew, the Emperor of Hamor was not yet aware of this innovation. They still didn’t know exactly what they had, but they welcomed any advantage.

The former Cantyl Chief Steward, Speltar, had retired to a small cottage just around the harbor headland, still on the old property, where he spent most days fishing with a few old sailors and when available paying vacationers in the Tarkyn, a lovely sloop with a cabin that could seat ten on cushioned benches, and it even had a two-cot bed chamber below. It was all sail powered, steam engines being too cumbersome and dangerous for boats that size. Hamor did have steam powered messenger and tug boats. It was moored at the south harbor pier. There was a fine fishing ground for majestic lancefish about three Ks northeast of Cantyl’s harbor, a day trip that lordlings paid handsomely for, and close enough to scurry back when weather threatened. However trolling for leaping lancefish required a steady brisk breeze. When the winds failed or frequently shifted, they would anchor and bottom fish for grompen, a delicious large white meat fish much prized by Cantyl’s restaurants, but without the fighting spirit of lancefish. Anchored boats in open seas tended to turn non-seafarers green, much to the amusement of the old sailors in Cantyl. “As sick (or green) as a Tarkyn lordling,” was a common phrase. At least once every summer, Karl and Jeka, Demyst and Enelya, often Meyena, a few of the older kids, Speltar, an artist who could draw, and a deckhand or two would sail up and down Cantyl’s coast mapping it out and looking for signs of erosion or other problems. They’d find a scenic spot for a picnic. Usually Speltar could get the Tarkyn in close, but sometimes a little swimming was necessary. Those who could would swim and wade ashore. Anybody who couldn’t swim would row ashore with the provisions in one of the two tiny one person row boats temporarily attached to the stern, with others swimming alongside just in case the little boat showed signs of capsizing. Speltar insisted on staying onboard with his crew, but they never turned down a share of the picnic food.

Tarkyn, Speltar, and Jeka had jointly financed the Tarkyn, with Jeka/Cantyl picking up the lion’s share. The hull had been laid at Hagan’s shipyard outside of Valmurl, where Tarkyn had painstakingly overseen the construction. Jeka’s funding had taken the form of an advance payment on a long-term lease for emergency use. The boat was large enough to sail the open sea for short distances, theoretically all the way to Valmurl in anything but a severe storm, but severe storms happen. Jeka had insisted that the boat be christened The Tarkyn over Tarkyn’s objections. He’d suggested The Weaver Girl in veiled tribute to Jeka. Unlike Karl the cooper, although she’d remained interested in fabrics, she had evinced no desire to weave anything.

Some old sailors with smaller sail and row boats took people fishing in the harbor and sold fish to the town’s eating establishments. There were usually four of five boats beached in the rocky sand down by the south harbor pier. Jeka discouraged clutter on the old property, which included the harbor area, so she’d sought Karl’s advice about the boats. Karl had said to allow it. He owed many of Hagan’s old sailors for their kindness to him. Jeka had recently given permission for a bait and tackle shop to open on a seasonal basis, but within the town proper on the new property. Except for the harbor and the breakwater walls area in front of the town, the ocean was too rough for light fishing from a boat. Although some people fished the surf. Except for the summer run of redfish, catching anything edible from the surf except for the odd crab was cause for celebration.

The Cantyl Inn had become renowned for seafood, although the supply was fickle, often boom or bust until Enelya had discovered a cook in Valmurl who was an expert at smoking, salting, and pickling fish. That had grown into another profitable enterprise. Austra’s merchant fleets bought quantities of the salted and pickled fish, both for use and commerce, packed in barrels made in Lord Karl’s cooperage. Considered a delicacy, any excess smoked redfish was sold on consignment to Lord Ghrant and other favorites of Karl and Hagan, and then to the finest eating establishments in Valmurl. That Karl still had time to make the wine barrels himself was due to Jeka’s management of Cantyl. He intervened rarely. However when he’d discovered that Jeka had reserved all the shellfish (crab, lobster, clams) from the harbor proper for the Lord’s table, he’d questioned her about it. She’d told him that they were not going to allow crowds of people to work crab and lobster traps, climbing all over the piers, and digging up clams everywhere in the harbor area. Rank hath its privileges. Live with it. People were allowed to sein and work traps in the breakwater area of the new property except during the peak hours of the swimming season.

There was one bed of rare bell-shell oysters on the north end of the harbor where a small fresh water creek entered, not far from the Great House. Adelya had been most concerned when Jeffrin had improved the northeast road. Jeka had made sure that the water flow from the creek had not been interrupted or altered. Apparently Lord Juron had almost wiped the oysters out for a festival. Adelya had nursed them back over a decade. Heldya, who had developed a personality, said that they were her mother’s pets and they all had names. Karl had eaten them twice, once at his own consorting where he hadn’t tasted anything, and again at Lord Hagan’s consorting at Cantyl. They tasted good but not much different than other oysters. He kept that to himself and oohed and aahed with the others in Adelya’s presence.

Tarkyn and Speltar had become fast friends and fishing buddies the last few years. Tarkyn used to say that the gods did not subtract from a man’s allotted time, those hours which were spent fishing. Since Tarkyn’s death, Jeka had made it a point to check in on Speltar from time to time. Sometimes she called him Captain Speltar just to see him blush. Teasingly the other night, Jeka had mentioned that being given a place to live on the old property as opposed to the new property was now considered a sign of Lord Karl’s favor. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but he supposed it was true.

Black mages tended to come and go, but Cantyl had become known as a safe place to spend some time and get your bearings, especially for the newly exiled dangergelders from Recluce. Karl had been told that Cantyl’s hospitality was mildly frowned upon by the Recluce Council, but his own seminal experience with a young blackstaffer whose rape and murder had forever changed Karl’s world informed his policies. There was a resident healer of modest abilities, Alutia, who was the only Austran born mage, black or white, that Karl had ever met. From Valmurl originally, she was paid handsomely and provided a cottage in the town. She was not inclined to consorting, having a female companion who was a traditional herbal healer. They worked well together. That Jeka had personally seen that they were treated with respect was probably why they stayed on. In fact, Cantyl had become a refuge for misfits. Two dark-skinned families of slaves from the archipelago islands far to the southwest of Hamor had escaped a Hamorian slaver in the harbor of Valmurl and supposedly stowed away on the Seamouse to Cantyl. Not without the knowledge and help of the crew, Karl thought. So did the Hamorians. They demanded their return. Karl refused. Then Lord Ghrant had ruled that he only had the power to request their return from Lord Karl, since no Austran laws had been broken, and the right to grant refuge in such cases on their own lands was a traditional right of Austran lords. However he ordered Lord Karl to pay compensation of ten golds per adult and five per child. Then he officially reprimanded Lord Karl most sternly. Diplomatic relations between Austra and Hamor had only recently been renewed. Following Hamor’s assistance to two failed rebellions against Lord Ghrant, the Emperor couldn’t push too hard. The former slaves filled several needful employment slots. One lady had contributed a few exotic dishes to the menu at the Black Swan Inn. A ten year old girl named Ishushu had attached herself to the Great House, where after school she assisted Adelya and filled Rona’s old messenger runner slot.

Lord Ghrant’s resident black mage in Valmurl, Austra’s capital, Lyras, thought it a good thing in the long run to disperse a few minor centers of order throughout the world and avoid concentrating it solely on Recluce. Lyras thought more about such things than Karl. Karl was just grateful for every extended year his old friend remained on this world, out of love and the fact that Lyras’s presence diminished Lord Ghrant’s and up to his resignation Prime Minister Hagan’s demands on Karl. Lyras and his wife lived on a plot of land in the Nierran Hills just northeast of Valmurl. They grew berries there , making fine jams and jellies. They had a standing invite from Karl to move to Cantyl. Karl knew that Lyras had been born on Recluce to a prominent family. His modest order abilities notwithstanding, he had been a brilliant scholar, destined for academic acclaim. Then he had  wheedled a doting professor into allowing him to read some of the forbidden archived histories. Then during a class discussion, he had stated that although the isolation of Recluce had been necessary at the time and for hundreds of years thereafter, perhaps it had outlived its usefulness. Dangergeld had quickly followed.

According to Lyras, dangergeld, the forced usually temporary exile of carefully selected young mages, had historically been an on-again off-again thing. It served two rarely balanced purposes: First it provided a release valve for the intense order concentration in Recluce, and provided some counter to chaos in the world. Second it sent the potential troublemakers off. Many of  whom failed to return, while others returned with a greater appreciation of Recluce, and therefore maintained Recluce’s conservative political stability. Lyras saw it as an incredible waste. Many blackstaffers were killed before they could develop their talents. How many Creslins had died aborning? Yet he had to admit that they had accomplished great things. At great cost, they had provided a counter to chaos, creating a hell of lot of turmoil doing it. Lyras had returned to Recluce for one closely watched visit to his family. He’d never applied for permanent return.

The job of Prime Minister had aged Lord Hagan greatly. His return to the sea as captain of one of his merchanters had done much to restore his health and reduce his alcohol intake. The youngest brightest and nicest of Lord Arynal’s two daughters, Meyena,  clearly enjoyed the stimulus of Cantyl. Despite the fact that she had once set her cap for Karl, she became a close friend of Jeka’s and later Enelya’s. She had never seemed like a snob to Karl. No beauty, yet she was pleasant to look upon and be around. He had liked her, just not in that way. Often Jeka had invited her to stay the weekends at the Great House, where Lord Hagan was also a frequent guest.

Jeka had floored Karl when she’d told him that the two of them had become romantically involved. The old widower’s consorting ceremony had been quite the affair, but such matches between a rich and powerful older lord and a much younger lady of lordly lineage were not uncommon. Karl suspected that even in the absence of the lordly lineage they were not uncommon either. They just rarely resulted in consorting ceremonies. Karl and Jeka’s consorting gift to Hagan had been a two hectare plot of land on the coastal road about three Ks west of the town, a place for them to build a home. Meyena’s gift had been the ubiquitous consorting chest. Their plot had an incredible ocean view, with the Lord of Cantyl retaining complete control only of the road and coastline. Hagan’s family had comfortable quarters within Lord Hagan’s extensive business compound and shipyard just outside of Valmurl, which had the advantage of security, but not the advantage of a view nor the absence of nearly constant noise. They also had two always available chambers within the Cantyl Great House, one of which was in more or less permanent occupation by Jailyn during the winter school season. With the sage advice of Lord Hagan, Meyena had taken charge of building a beautifully designed house, if for a lord a modest-sized one. Other lords had taken note. Lord Innsbrook, the lord to the northwest and inland from Arynal, who previously had sold a strip of grazing land to Demyst and Enelya, was negotiating with Jeka to add another square K of land in exchange for a similar plot.

His young bride seemed to have added a bounce to Lord Hagan’s steps. Hagan never said, but Karl wondered if Hagan’s retirement from Prime Minister had been influenced by Meyena. Although she’d never cared for sea voyages, she had made a few with Hagan when he was going someplace she wanted to go, most notably a voyage to Diehl. Two years without a pregnancy, the healer Alutia had explained that at Lord Hagan’s age it was a hit or miss thing. Unfortunately, largely self-trained,  Alutia herself did not possess the requisite skills to do anything about that, few did, and trying could do more harm than good. Alutia had recommended Recluce, the druids in Diehl, or the remote Healer Monastery in high dry plains of Southwind, probably not Hamor for Lord Hagan’s consort. According to what Meyena had told Jeka, the druids had spent some time with Lord Hagan. Then one of those young looking ancient eyed females had taken Meyena aside and told her she would bear one child, healthy and talented, and then with a smile she’d explained that it was a gift in return for the good Lord Hagan had done in the world, but not to get greedy and try to come back again. Jailyn had been born nine months later.

The use of “talented” by a druid had given Karl food for thought. Even though still a boy, Karl could sense both chaos and order swirling around him. Karl had thought about making a blackstaff for the boy in a couple of years, but he didn’t really know how that might react with the boy’s chaos– pure chaos with no reddish tinge of evil, but still. The boy had the potential to become a white or black mage, or maybe even a gray. Lyras claimed that there actually was an immortal gray mage, rumored to have been one of the two mages who had destroyed mighty Fairhaven hundreds of years ago, who was more or less consorted to an immortal druid and  wandered around the island continent of Candar doing odd jobs like shearing sheep and preserving fruit. Seemed like a drunken sailor’s tale to Karl. Lyras was beyond any travel farther than Cantyl these days, and that rarely, so Karl might have to accompany Jailyn and Hagan on a trip to Diehl to consult the druids. He owed Hagan that much and more.

Hagan had been made a lord when Lord Ghrant’s father had acclaimed him so and had gifted him with about twenty-five square Ks of mountains in the center of Austra, which included the reputed source of the Valmurl River, Austra’s one great river, but nearly forty Ks from last navigable spot on it, and that only by barge and small boats. Hagan and Jailyn had trekked out to see the source. Out from a granite bluff, at least a dozen small springs bubbled forth before gathering and forming a small lake, which then overflowed to the southeast until it joined its largest tributary, The Roland River, at Cassock, Austra’s largest inland city. The Roland originated in the southwest mountains, not far from Lord Ghrant’s ancestral lands, and flowed northeastward for two hundred and fifty Ks to Cassock, though only the last hundred Ks or so were navigable. Then the enlarged river turned due east and crossed the eastern half of Austra to Valmurl. If you could get to it, Lord Hagan’s land was a paradise for hunters and fishermen, but good for little else. In the winter you had to ski in or out, and the nearest town worthy of the name was way down there where all the barges were, the road to which was never discussed in polite society. According to Meyena, there was a drafty rustic great house that obviously had been intended as a hunting lodge, not a family dwelling. Lord Hagan’s family had visited the place once in high summer. Jailyn had loved it and wanted to overwinter, school be damned, and learn to ski. It was beautiful there, but neither Hagan nor Meyena were receptive. Their family lived in Valmurl and Cantyl. Lord Hagan’s wealth lay in ships and commerce, not land. Jeka called him the first modern lord.

Meyena’s modestly attractive but shrewish older sister Jacelyna had at last consorted with the son of another minor lord and moved away. Karl could never remember his name. Lord Arynal was a practical sort and had recognized the increasing political power of Lord Karl and the business opportunity that Cantyl’s proximity represented for the sale of his fleeces, mutton and red berry juice. Early on, over the objections of his wife Norelle, he had accorded Meyena considerably more freedom of movement than was customary for unconsorted noble ladies, lest he imply that Jeka’s presence wasn’t chaperone enough and offend her. Jeka’s power in Cantyl was as unquestioned as her fierce loyalty to Karl. Jeka delighted in being the Lady of Cantyl. She took her role seriously, just not the flummery. In fact, Jeka had no desire to visit anywhere. She had nested. She only visited Valmurl when she had no choice, and then always accompanied by Karl, and they always stayed in Lord Hagan’s compound. There had been too many attempts on Karl’s life in Valmurl.

Demyst and Enelya had encouraged Arynal to branch out into cheese production to supply the Cantyl Inn and the other inns and cafes in town for now, with an eye on Valmurl down the road. Arynal’s rolling hills were great for sheep, goats, and cattle. However his lands were not extensive enough to permit more than a small herd of cattle. Demyst and Enelya had borrowed money from Jeka to finance the purchase of an additional four square K strip of grazing land just north and further inland of Arynal’s estate, and to undertake a joint cheese production venture run by Arynal with his son and heir Stephan. It had taken six years to develop three quality cheeses — a hard cheese that traveled well and a soft light-tasting fresh cheese used mostly for cooking, both from cow’s milk, and a strong flavored semi-soft goat cheese. They were just now beginning to show positive revenue. That made Demyst and Jenelya landed gentry, as Jeka never failed to remind them. Arynal and Karl had even undertaken to improve much of the road between the two estates. Karl had visited Arynal’s demesne only twice in fifteen years, both for formal occasions, the kind you can’t get out of, however Jeka and the kids had visited them frequently. Arynal’s estate was more like a real farm with animals and all. The kids got a kick out of that.

After Lord Hagan resigned, the seceding Prime Minister, Lord Askyl of Norbruel, had proven adequate to the task, and although favorably inclined toward Karl possibly because of Karl’s mentoring and promotion of his youngest son, Erdyl, he had been less likely than Lord Hagan to seek Karl out to solve his problems during his four years of service in the post, which had been fine with Karl. Also, to the surprise of many, Lord Ghrant had matured into a capable if uninspiring ruler. Karl had seen no evidence over the years of cruelty, pettiness, or vindictiveness, and that was good enough for Karl, more than good enough as the scars on his back attested. Lord Ghrant’s family had their own southern vacation estate in Dykaru, five days sail west of Cantyl, so they were not frequent visitors. Both Lord Ghrant and Karl seemed to prefer keeping some polite distance between them. Lord Ghrant was wary of appearing to come under the influence of a powerful mage, and for Karl protocol was an annoying word. Karl never set foot in Valmurl unless summoned or to check on aging Lyras. However Lord Ghrant’s family had been made most welcome whenever they had visited Cantyl. At the core of things, the fact that Karl had saved the lives of Lady Hyrietta and her two sons guaranteed Lord Ghrant’s continuing good favor. They also saw eye to eye on the important stuff. The rest was just politics.

The town of Cantyl had sprung up almost overnight. Within a few years under Karl and Jeka, Cantyl had earned a reputation for welcoming craftsmen, artists, and the more reputable old sailors and lancers who had served with Karl and Lord Hagan over the years, some of whom  were looking for a friendly affordable place to retire. Jeka had spotted the trend early on. When it became known that Sir Walton wished to sell the harborless strip of coastline adjacent to and south of Cantyl, some ten Ks of coastline by four inland, in order to finance the purchase of more useful property elsewhere, Jeka had convinced Karl to buy it. That had required considerable credit and had constrained their finances for a couple of years, but had proven to be a shrewd investment. Now Cantyl possessed almost twenty Ks of coastline. The rudimentary town had started out on the southern border and quickly expanded into the new property, the only direction allowed by Jeka. She had mandated that only vacationer oriented businesses, inns, cafes, the playhouse, a park, the town’s best tavern, etc. were allowed to front the beach. Jeka had forbidden all forms of gambling and illicit drugs on pain of exile. Cantyl would prosper or not as a family oriented vacation spot.

She left the day-to-day management of the town to Demyst and Enelya. Enelya had decided  to control development largely through tariffs, with streets being tariffed based on proximity to the beach. There were no bawdy houses in Cantyl, and the lowest end tavern was pretty high end for sailors. With the Seamouse being ported there several days every ten days and all the retired sailors living in Cantyl, they’d needed a buffer between the sailors and the primarily family oriented vacationers. So Hagan had built a Sailor’s Hall on the back end of the town and let them run it, provided they stayed within rules. The city patrollers kept an eye on the place but generally didn’t interfere. Hagan subsidized the cost of basic lager and plonk there. He said it was part of his retirement package. To Karl the old sailors gave the town texture, a depth and sense of reality that it would have lacked otherwise. He did everything he could to keep Cantyl affordable to them, including discounting the cost of lots on the back end of town and underwriting loans at the bank. At the infirmary no treatments were denied based on the ability to pay for them. Demyst or Enelya served as the justicer for minor crimes. Once an old sailor had been arrested by a young city patroller for the crime of public exposure. The Sailor’s Hall facilities being full, he had walked out back behind a tree and did his business. To her amusement, the former tavern serving girl Enelya had had to explain to the young patroller the difference between public exposure and public urination. Both the old sailor and the patroller were blushing furiously by the time she was finished. She’d ruled that due to mitigating circumstances, namely old age and a subsequent weak bladder, the sailor just had to pay a five copper fine.

Also Cantyl was becoming known for wine. With Karl’s and Jeka’s support, Glyan, the vintner, had doubled the size of the vineyards on the old property. Also he had used some toasted oak barrels made by Karl himself, the former cooper, to gradually perfect their already good Cantyl Red. So now they had a fine Cantyl Dark Red as well. Karl and Hagan still preferred the original, but it was good to give the vacationers a choice. Glyan refused to meddle with the pale amber Rhynn, already considered a fine wine, but his daughter Rona was in charge of planting vines on the new property — a little inland valley with south facing slopes had been prepared. The big debate was whether to try a dessert wine, a Sauvillona variety, or a dry white Muscadetta. Karl preferred the Muscadetta, but as long as they left him plenty of his original hearty red, he would let the staff decide. His favorite beverage was lager anyway, for the production of which Cantyl was ill suited.

With its warmer climate than almost all of Austra and Nordla , as well as relatively easy access via a regular endsdays trip by ship from Valmurl, an enterprise co-owned by Lord Hagan, Cantyl had become a vacation spot. Hagan’s fleet and Lord Ghrant’s yacht excepted, Karl had yet to allow non-commissioned portings directly at the Cantyl harbor, preferring a buffer for security purposes. Although several lords possessed more land, the increasing revenues from the town had made Karl wealthy. Wisely Jeka had maintained approval over the resale of property and any commercial usage, and Lord Hagan’s people quietly vetted their passengers. The town itself was some five Ks away from his quiet little harbor, the only concessions being the building of a second pier at the south end of the harbor and a paved road. Lord Ghrant had frequently bemoaned the state of roads in Austra, particularly the coastal roads, and he had directed that the appropriate lords improve them, providing of course no funding or assistance. For three years Cantyl had employed a blackstaffer named Jeffrin, a black mage really since he’d sundered his staff during his sojourn in Cantyl, a powerful earth mage. With additional significant support from Jeka, the result had been the five Ks of paved road south to the town, a decent packed clay road going north four Ks, completed during Jeffrin’s time, and two new Ks of clay packed road going southwest from Cantyl toward the new estate lots. To tell the truth, Karl was in no great hurry to build a coastal road to Valmurl. Cantyl was growing fast enough, maybe too fast, and Karl enjoyed the peace of mind that controlling access provided.

A covert well contained white mage, who had served for five years as the Sarronnyn Envoy in Valmurl, and before that in Brysta when Karl was the Austran Envoy, Luryessa was the only white mage permitted to visit Lord Karl’s Cantyl. Over the years as mutual interests became apparent, an informal alliance had developed between Austra and Sarronnyn. The Legend was not what it once was, having weakened in various ways over the years. The abandonment of Westwind by the descendants of the Angels, and Fairhaven’s fortunately unconsummated defeat of Sarronnyn had shaken the foundations of The Legend. Hagan said that Sarronnyn seemed tired, and yet more than most nations they still saw themselves as major players in the world. Usually after bitter struggles, elsewhere the rights of women had improved somewhat but spottily, Austra being a spot where they had improved. With the West Quadrant of Nordla stable, Sarronnyn had closed its residence there, and by arrangement their diplomatic business was handled through the offices of the Austran Envoy. Karl was not naïve. He knew that his powerful presence had forestalled further Hamorian meddling in Austra and Nordla. It was a window of opportunity to improve the lives of the common people in those two lands. Recluce could take care of itself. Perhaps he saw it in simplistic terms, but the island continent of Candar would be the place where the battles would be fought for the foreseeable future.

The Great Forest and the Druids could not be conquered by any force short of mighty Cyador of old, but their strength was almost purely defensive, anchoring the center south of Candar. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if Hamor ever established a stronghold in Candar, nearly the whole world would be threatened sooner or later, leaving the Great Forest and Recluce as isolated pockets of resistance. Even Recluse was not unconquerable. Attempts had been made. For good or ill, in the past organized forces of chaos wizards in Candar had thwarted the ambitions of Hamor. The fall of Fairhaven had ended that era. There were still plenty of chaos wizards roaming Candar, but disorganized they could be brushed aside. Lords Karl, Lyras, Hagan, Ghrant and Envoy Luryessa, and through Luryessa covertly The Tyrant herself, had conspired to strengthen Sarronnyn in the north center of Candar. Combined with the druids and the Great Forest a strong Sarronnyn  would form a bastion in the very center of the island continent, and provide them with a ready base of operations to counter Hamorian adventurism. And perhaps if they did enough to convince the Emperor that any such efforts would be countered and costly, then the present peaceful era which an amused Lyras had dubbed “The Peace of Karl” would roll on quietly till its end.

To wit, Lord Ghrant had opened an overlarge Envoy’s Residence with extensive stables in Sarron and sent mostly female staff, including the Envoy, Lady Ananda, Austra’s only female lord, since Sarronnyn still followed The Legend. She owed him one. Upon arrival she had hired twenty local guards, all female, all previously vetted by Luryessa, and planned to expand that in the near future.cargo. The hull would be order treated and the ship would be well-armed, if mostly covertly. Luryessa served as a paid advisor and facilitator for Cantyl in Sarron. The fact that Karl had named his eldest daughter as his heir had not been lost on The Tyrant. According to Luryessa, The Tyrant was well aware of the threat from Hamor. After all the Great Road built by the white wizards of Fairhaven for their conquering armies had actually reached into Sarronnyn when suddenly Fairhaven had been destroyed. With the approval of The Tyrant, Lord Hagan had made the southwestern most Sarronnyn port of Jera his secondary port to service his fleet. He had begun to buy land and build there. That pretty much closed off western Candar to Hamor, since most of the land between Jera and the Great Forest was semi-desert. And Cantyl had opened business in Sarron, promoting tourism, wine, and a growing list of other products. It was a business that likely would never show a profit, given how far away Sarronnyn was; however Jeka’s instinct for business had surprised him before. But at least it could look profitable and serve its real purpose. In Hagan’s secure Valmurl shipping yard, the hull was being laid for a hybrid passenger/light cargo schooner. It would feature fifty comfortable passenger cabins, and a cafe for passengers, and there would be space below configured for mounts that could also be used for cargo. The hull would be order treated and the ship would be well-armed, if mostly covertly.

When consulted about Sarronnyn, Jeka had begun to peck at the problem. First she’d asked for a map. “Does Sarronnyn hold title to The Roof of The World?”

” Yes, although the Prefect of Gallos sometimes makes a half-hearted claim.”

“Do people live there?”

“No, it is abandoned, too cold, except for the long gone Angels.”

“I thought common people fled to the Angels for refuge?”

“Yes, people can live there, if they have no other choices.”

“Does The Black Tower still stand?”

“Yes, intact, and there are a few outbuildings in tumbled ruin.”

“How long a trip from Sarron?”

“Five or six  days in decent weather in summer. You could shave off a day if you could change horses along the way. The Fairhaven chaos wizards did improve some of the roads.”

“How does the Tyrant feel about long term leases?”

Jeka had mulled it over. Summer pilgrimages to The Roof of The World could be organized from Sarron, after a safe scenic trip along the north coast of Candar from Recluce in Hagan’s new passenger ship. That might just winkle some black mage meat out of the conch shell that was Recluce. Despite its fundamental xenophobia, as far as anyone knew, Recluce had never prevented its citizenry from leaving. Few had wanted to leave. Historically Candar had been a dangerous place for blacks. However, itt would be hard for Recluce to prevent its people from undertaking a safe pilgrimage to their ancestral homeland. If they prevented embarkation in Recluce itself, something could be set up across The Gulf of Candar, perhaps in Lydiar. Didn’t Jailyn say that skiing looked like fun? Maybe they could do something with that. Cool weather hikes and horse rides in the height of summer to beautiful vistas? A day trip  to the ice fields that never thawed? Probably not complete overwintering on the roof itself except for a caretaker staff, but halfway down they could build an inn and keep the mounts and some men there in the winter. That would be the place for skiing. It would also keep the men out of Sarron. A bastion of order in the old days, with multiple entries into the nations of eastern Candar, they could assemble and disguise at least a full mounted company up there, and among numbers of blacks, order mages would be hard to identify.

Without Karl’s knowledge, shortly after arriving in Cantyl, and with the assistance of Lord Hagan, Jeka had requested that Erdyl, the Acting Austran Envoy, intercede with Lord West to have Lord Karl named heir to the orchard/farm at Peach Hill where his youngest son and the other members of his former wife’s family were buried. Erdyl had  marked the graves with simple commemorative stones. After Jeka informed Karl, Karl and Jeka had decided to transfer the title to the Austran Residence in Brysta, with the codicils that title to the orchard could never be transferred, and that if the Austran Residence in Brysta was ever closed, title would revert to Lord Karl or his heirs. With the new road, the farm was close enough to provide pearapples and vegetables to the Residence, and with a rebuilt farmhouse became a nice weekend get away for staff. A few farmers had returned to burned out steads and were employed on the farm until they could rebuild. Most never returned. Many like Karl’s relatives had never left. In pearapple season, if they were lucky enough to catch one of Hagan’s freighters heading home, the Residence’s staff would ship a case or two to Lord Karl. For Karl and Jeka’s tenth anniversary, The Tyrant of Sarronnyn had sent them the titles to two more farms nearby, which also were transferred to the Austra Residence in Brysta.

Lord Hagan said that conditions in Brysta had improved after Karl and Jeka had left, life there being no worse than life in much of the world, but it still seemed a gloomy place to him. Some boarded up shops had taken years to reopen, and the anachronistic harbor forts had not been rebuilt nor the land repurposed, although most of the rubble had been removed. Then after five years they’d begun to receive reports of renewed bullying and intimidation by patrollers. A Deputy Chief Patroller named Donthan seemed to be at the heart of the matter. Karl had written a letter that the new Austran Envoy had delivered personally to Lord West. Karl had closed with congratulations for Lord West’s two fine young sons, who no doubt would be worthy successors one day. Subtlety was not Lord West’s long suit. Shortly thereafter Donthan had been found guilty of theft and gross abuse of office and publically hung. There followed the sacking of the Chief Patroller for incompetence.

Those actions, satisfying as they were to Karl and Jeka, might have been anticipated, or at least hoped for, but the following wasn’t. Lord West announced that he had taken note of the efforts of the Austran Residence to revitalize the devastated area south of Valmurl. Given that no heirs had presented in the requisite five years since abandonment, and therefore ownership of the two adjacent farms had reverted to Lord West, and in belated recognition of Austra’s past efforts to support Lord West, the land had been granted to the Austran Residence in hopes that it would continue its agricultural redevelopment program. All three farms together plus the later gift of two farms from The Tyrant probably wouldn’t have qualified as a minor estate for a lord, but they represented a sizeable commoner’s holding. That announcement had caused a great deal of speculation. It seemed a most astute political move for the Lord West that Karl and Jeka remembered.

Finally a report from the Envoy in Brysta had provided some insight. Prequalifying much of his analysis as supposition, he stated that four years ago, having failed to produce heirs, Lord West’s wife had died from the flux. Not surprisingly, none of his peers or near peers had available daughters. However during the troubles a wealthy merchant who was a cousin of Lord West’s deceased mother had run afoul of Lord Egen, Lord West’s rebellious younger brother, and had managed to relocate most of his goods to other Nordlan cities before his warehouse in Brysta had burned to the ground. Brysta was the commercial center of Nordla. With Egen gone and stability returned, the merchant looked to reestablish in Brysta. Given that his third daughter was considered a beauty, her tentative connection with lordliness proved sufficient. She’d had twin boys within the year. She’d had a reputation as an astute young trader, having been trained by her father, and apparently with her enhanced status as the heirs’s mother, she was able to wield considerable influence. Maybe things were looking up in Brysta, Karl thought. When Jeka had read the report, she had perched on the edge of her chair, a raptor’s gleam in her eye, “Maybe when the boys are older, Osten will be the one who gets the flux.” Fierce. That was word that came to mind when he thought of Jeka. He wouldn’t want her as his enemy. He wasn’t sure she had ever completely forgiven him for leaving Osten, Lord West, alive.

There had been no one else. Stabilizing Quadrant West and putting an end to the destructive Hamorian meddling there had been paramount. The new road south infuriated him. Discounting the long destroyed roads of Cyador, it was probably the third greatest road in all the world, after the one that crossed Hamor and the Great Road created by the wizards of Fairhaven, and it was useless, leading nowhere. He wondered if it had been accurately measured yet, but in any case it was well over three hundred Ks of paved road going straight south in Nordla from Brysta toward Quadrant South. It had been built by chaos wizards and slave labor, much of that slave labor coming from the small farmers that had lived along the way. Had being the operative word. Those who had resisted had died. Built entirely for military purposes, he doubted that it was even half way to Surien. Surien was a sleepy town as capitals go with little economic value. For the Hamorians the value lay in a serviceable port and a foothold in Nordla. Karl predicted that another K would never be built. He imagined how valuable that road would be in Austra, say from the navigable Valmurl west to the coast, or all along a good chunk of the southern coast. He supposed that eventually agriculture would benefit from faster transportation, but the road didn’t lead to some well-watered fertile valley. Before, the area had been populated by dusty little farms and orchards, along with some sheep and goats.

Orchards held the greatest potential, and would benefit most from the road. Trees were more drought resistant, roots penetrated, and the water table hadn’t been deep on Charee’s family’s land. Unlike the average family holding, the Austran Residence could plan for the long term. A model orchard of pearapples which traveled well and some peaches should benefit from the new road. As he remembered it, they had grown quince and some red berries, but both required watering during the dry season. He had sent them a letter saying that they should try a few other fruit trees and berry bushes as well, but to double check everything with the remaining people who had lived in the area. He had consulted Lyras, Uncle Lyras the jams and jellies wizard as five year old Tomar called him, Lyras’s favored title. Lyras had suggested pecanta nut trees which grew well in places in Candar with a similar climate, which would also include Cantyl as long as they were out of any direct salt spray. The best nuts came from the druids and were grown just outside the edges of the true forest.

When asked by Karl,  Lyras had said that some of the druids did drink wine. It was usually their own wine made from gathered fruit, since common wine was often adulterated, and they saw vineyards as nearly a kind of agricultural slave labor. Still they did drink it on occasion and serve it to visitors. On the next ship of Hagan’s going to Diehl, Karl had sent ten barrels of Cantyl’s best, and a thank you letter for their advice on his returning to Brysta and their healing of his ribs. He’d also asked if they could spare a few pecanta nuts suitable for planting. The ship had returned with ten sapling pecanta trees in large clay pots and a beautiful seamless, except for a fitted lid, wooden keg containing a hundred large pecanta nuts. The druids grew and shaped with song small wooden containers on the vines and bushes. Jeka had suggested that he give the keg to Adlenta as a consorting gift, since she would appreciate it more than anyone else. That was in addition to Karl’s simple consorting chest, which even Adlenta the consummate wood mage had requested.

The druid had told the captain that each nut would sprout, and everyone of them had. They had immediately planted the saplings on the soil fill ridge behind the system of sewage ponds. The ridge had settled and stabilized over the years. Now several years along the saplings were small sturdy trees. Karl couldn’t remember having seen a pecanta tree before these, but Lyras had described them as attractive and productive, but slow growing. The Great Forest was its own world though with its own rules, and the pecanta trees had grown quickly. He had given Rona forty nuts, with instructions as to how precious they were. She had planted twenty around the administrative compound, a K from the sea. The others she’d planted just behind and to the north of the new vineyards. All fifty nuts had sprouted on the original three farms in Nordla. The two farms added by The Tyrant would await the next generation of pecantas. He had kept ten nuts that he had Glyan grow in the clay pots of the druids for a couple of years. Karl had distributed them to friends and neighbors, including Arynal, Meyena, Lyras, The Tyrant, and Lord Ghrant’s consort Lady Hyrietta who’d demonstrated a keen interest in plants, spending a great deal of time with Lyras and his consort Zera at their place near Valmurl.

Jeffrin’s pet project had been the beach in front of the town stretching some two full K’s. Complete with breakwater walls that limited erosion and permitted safe swimming, at least for the one third of the year when the water was warm enough for sane people, it became Cantyl’s main attraction. Lord Hagan used it to teach his crews to swim. Jeffrin had done most of the work to create the town’s sewage system, which had been designed by Lyras and Jeka. The ocean current flow was southwest down the coast, but Jeka did not want to pollute the coastline. Since moving earth was a simple task for Jeffrin, he’d created a low lying area for about a K to the northwest of the town, at first flowing away from valuable beach. He’d formed  a large ridge behind it with the fill dirt. He’d turned that area into a series of marshy ponds, one flowing into the next, that eventually curled back to the ocean. By the time it did, most of the pollution had been removed.

The hard and expensive part had been in the town itself. Jeka had purchased hardened clay conduit and thin copper plate made in Hamor to build  a system of tanks and pipes buried under the streets. It had been built before the arrival of Julien, so Karl had forged the bits and pieces out of ordered iron, which included hinges, nails, seal clamps, etc. The system required two large steam pumps to move the sewage up the slope to the first pond. The ponds attracted huge flocks of birds during the seasonal flyovers, and provided a buffer zone of pleasing green. Jeka said that the birds knew they couldn’t be hunted there. On the top of the ridge they installed stone and mortar cisterns that collected rainfall and fed it by gravity to copper tanks on stilts further down to supply running water to the town. The cisterns were mostly buried and opened and closed from the top to permit cleaning. For those times when rain was scarce, they had diverted water from a creek further west which normally just flowed down into the sewage pond system. When they had to use the creek water, Lord Karl or the mage healer would order spell it in the cisterns.

Karl had offered Jeffrin permanent employment, but Jeffrin had applied and was allowed to return to Recluse. Jeffrin had a sweetheart he’d been forced to leave behind. Recluce rarely permitted dangergelders to return so quickly. Carl suspected that the concentrated order of him and Jeffrin together outside of the control of the Recluse Council had given some people ulcers. Jeka had organized a magnificent farewell celebration complete with an orchestra and dancing at the Playhouse in his honor. Not knowing what Recluce might allow, five hundred golds had been deposited in his account at Cantyl’s bank.

Since Jeffrin had left some eight years back, only two additional Ks of packed clay road from the town along the coast to the south had been added, and they had managed to maintain the northern four Ks, although that road was only useful for some timber removal. The five Ks of paved road didn’t require significant maintenance.When asked why she hadn’t continued to build the road north to Valmurl per Lord Ghrant’s directive, Jeka had answered that the south road was more useful. A better road to Valmurl was Lord Ghrant’s priority, not hers. In recent years Cantyl had built more road than any other demesne. Let the other lords catch up. Karl doubted that the roads would be completed even to his border in his lifetime, and that was still far from Valmurl, unless of course another talented earthmage or maybe an engineer happened along. One could always hope. Lyras said that Karl was beyond normal classification, and that Jeffrin had the potential to develop into a once in a generation mage. The odds were against another strong black mage coming along soon. The Order/Chaos Balance usually checked that. Of course gray mages like Jailyn might become were wildcards. Karl himself had almost no talent in earth moving like Jeffrin. His own talents, Karl mused,  included assessing the loyalty and trustworthiness of people, detecting lies, shielding himself and others from weapons of all kinds including chaos fireballs, ordering and forging iron, as well as spying unseen, and of course killing people. He excelled at killing people. Valuable talents to be sure, but except for ordering and forging iron, just not so much in peacetime. He was also a damn good cooper.

Not counting Jeka of course, of all Karl’s proteges and old comrades, perhaps Erdyl, Demyst and Enelya had risen the most. After killing two of the late Lord West’s sons, a number of Hamorian white wizards, and a bunch of lancers, as well as exploding four forts into ruins, Karl had miraculously appeared in Osten, Lord West’s well guarded upper story study, where he had personally threatened him with certain death should anything happen to Erdyl, and then had admonished Osten to rule justly and he would have nothing to fear. Shortly thereafter Karl had returned to Cantyl with his betrothed, having left Erdyl in Brysta as the Acting Envoy of Austra, with the support of Demyst and Enelya. When a year had passed, it had become apparent that the stone-hearted Lord West had stabilized his rule of Nordla’s West Quadrant, without repeating the barbaric excesses of his late and unlamented younger brother Egen, and that the Hamorians were no more a threat there than anywhere.

Unfortunately the same was not true of Nordla’s South Quadrant. Lord South’s refusal to consort his daughter, Estelya, to Osten had been part of the combustible mix that had set off the crisis in Brysta. Either as a result of natural causes or Hamorian intervention, Lord South’s behavior had become increasingly erratic, until his childless loyal brother and only relative besides Estelya, Mikael, had confined him in a velvet prison while maintaining a quest for healing. Mikael had always been a father figure to Estelya and was devoted to her. Mikael had served as Prime Minister and the Lancer Commander under his brother, and was well respected by those with whom he had served. That and the fact that a female blackstaffer, Juleena, had become a close friend of Estelya’s, had allowed them to barely hold off the Hamorians, who were clamoring to marry her to one of the Emperor’s relatives, although the pressure was ever mounting.

Given Karl’s support, it had been assumed that after a year or so of competent service as Acting Envoy, Erdyl would have beeen promoted to Envoy in Brysta. However Lord Hagan had other plans. As quietly as possible, he whisked all but the resident staff from Brysta by ship down the coast to Surien, with Erdyl resuming the position of Lord Ghrant’s Acting Envoy, but now to Lord South. The positon had been vacant for years, but there was a modest Austran Residence in Surien with a skeleton staff. Lord Osten had seemed relieved to see them depart, and more than satisfied with the vague promises to fill the vacant position in Brysta when convenient. Sometime during the previous year Demyst and Enelya had consorted, so she accompanied Demyst.

The new staff had only been in Surien a couple of weeks when Lyras had arrived on the Seastag as the new Envoy. It had taken all the considerable efforts of Lord Ghrant and Lord Hagen to persuade the black mage to accept. For this and his prior service, Lord Ghrant had gifted him with a wild nearly worthless track of inaccessible timberland inland from the northwest coast of Austra, notable only for being one of two remaining habitats for the Austran golden bear. As a condition of his acceptance of the mission, Lyras had forced Lord Ghrant to declare his land a national reserve under the personal protection of the Lords of Austra,  where hunting and trapping were prohibited, and further to fund three wardens to police it. Lord Ghrant had seemed amused since Lyras was essentially handing it back to him, with a few added costs to be sure. Nevertheless that land grant enabled Lyras’s elevation to minor lord and the title of Sir Lyras, giving him the necessary status for an envoy. Lyras had protested vehemently that he was far too minor a mage to make a difference, but Lord Hagan had countered that there was value in being able to detect poisons, tell when someone was telling the truth, and at least for short periods spy around unseen. Finally Lyras had agreed with the proviso that he would leave as soon as the crisis was resolved — one way or the other. He did not bring his wife, leaving her to tend their berries. Hagan believed that appointing Lyras as Envoy would either give the Hamorians pause or precipitate a crisis before the Hamorians were fully prepared. Lyras was of the latter opinion.

Lord Hagan had planned something. He’d instructed Lyras to complain loudly about the condition of the Residence and demand that a ship return shortly with a long list of appropriate furnishings. Mikael and Estelya welcomed the new Austran Envoy. Juleena immediately informed them that Lyras was a minor black mage. Cantyl was just getting rolling at that time, and at best could field two squads of fighting men. Wishing to avoid Valmurl entirely, Hagan instructed Karl to slip aboard his local ship, the Seamouse, with thirty armed men in the middle of the night. That ship met Hagan’s Seafox at sea and offloaded, meanwhile in Surien ten mounts were being purchased and stabled at the Residence.The most they could purchase without raising suspicions. Apparently the Envoy had ordered a new luxury carriage and wanted two suitable teams trained for it.

The Seafox ported in Surien late one afternoon and that night heavy furnishings were transported to the Residency. Thin lead panels were placed on and near outer walls to diffuse and mask Karl’s powerful presence, so that no mage probing the Residence from the outside would be able to detect two distinct focuses of order. That Hagan had known that the strong natural order in lead and iron could be used to mask Karl’s presence was surprising, like much about Hagan. The next day Lyras announced formally to the Lord South’s Keep that he would be leaving shortly because his wife had had a sudden heart attack. Lord Karl would replace him on an acting basis and was even now preparing to leave Cantyl to come to Surien. Immediately Mikael saw the threat of preemptive Hamorian action and took what steps he could, putting the homeguard on alert, doubling the guard at the Keep, and housing Juleena within. Lord Hagan had decided not to inform the Keep of his plan, believing that the Hamorians would deal with the greater threat first and attack the Envoy’s Residence. Karl hoped he was right. And so the trap was baited.

Twelve days later a Hamorian warship docked unannounced and disgorged two hundred foot, fifty lancers with mounts, and three white wizards. They immediately took control of the port. In addition there were two white mages staying at the Hamorian Residence. Of course the warship could have stood off and leveled Surien with powerful guns, but such was not the common policy of any of the powers in the world. Even the long ago destruction of Fairhaven had been carried out by two rogue order mages from Recluse. In general war was still considered the purview of the nobility. Destroying a city unless absolutely necessary was poor form.

All afternoon Lyras had sat disguised as a fisherman in a small boat, then beneath a concealment shield had eased his way alongside the Hamorian warship, praying that all the white wizards were engaged elsewhere. In this case Lyras’s limited order ability played to his advantage. A mage would have had to be nearby or at least searching in his direction to sense him. However, if  a white mage had looked down on the harbor side of the ship, he/she would have easily recognize the concentrated order. Lyras began quietly weakening the order and loosening the seams in small sections of the metal plated wooden hull below the water line, very small sections but lots of them. He could have destroyed the ship with explosives, but a fight to the death with Hamor was in nobody’s interest. Two hours later he was exhausted and with his two rowers headed back away from the harbor. The ship appeared to be taking on some water. Fortunately the focus of activity was in the town. He doubted that he had done enough damage to sink the ship even at sea absent a major storm, but they might well head immediately for the nearest friendly dry dock.

That night the Austran Envoy’s Residence and Lord South’s Keep were attacked simultaneously. However the attack on the Keep had been more of a holding action, bottling up the royal family until the destruction of the Envoy’s Residence could be completed. Hamor was a long ways away. By the time a significant task force could be brought to bear, Lord Karl could well have been already ensconced in Surien. The Hamorians were not anxious to face Lord Karl again. So thinking that magewise they were only facing Lyras and Juliena, they had assembled five mages, two strong ones, the best they could gather on short notice, but none of those were in Karl’s league. Lyras didn’t believe any living mages were in Karl’s league, but Karl had faced and by technique and luck had defeated a female white, a chaos focus, who had more than matched him in raw power. The Emperor of Hamor might have several that strong, or nearly so, but thanks to Lord Hagan’s strategy none had been in Surien that night.

The two main forces met in the street near the Residence. Karl sprayed returned fireballs back over the Hamorian troops, and then when he was close enough back linked the chaos of one of the white wizards before they realized whom they faced. Chaos wizards gathered chaos from the world around them and the earth. Then they would focus it and launch it as deadly firebolts. They could launch them from long range, giving them a big advantage against all by the strongest blacks. Karl had developed a technique where he would seek out the juncture between the wizard and the chaos he/she gathered. When a firebolt was launched he would throw up an invisible curved shield that would with his direction send the chaos back and destroy that link and the wizard, though he needed to be close. White wizards would join their powers to defend against this. With three or more stronger whites it might have been a contest. If he could get close enough Karl could also suffocate them by holding invisible shields tight against their faces or sending a bolt of order through battle weakened shields, all the while maintaining broad shields protecting his own troops. The two weak whites attacking the Keep sensed the deaths of the first three and escaped back to the ship. Karl let them board in peace and no shells were lobbed back at Surien. It took Karl a day to recover fully. He hadn’t done that kind of work in a while.

Karl had made sure that Erdyl had led the victors into Lord South’s Keep. The next day all that was left was the stench of ash in the streets of Surien. Erdyl became a local favorite, and two years later consorted Estelya, becoming Lord South. It didn’t hurt that his father had become Prime Minister of Austra. Karl suspected that Erdyl’s unassuming nature appealed to the strong willed Estelya. He had been trained in all the mannerisms pertaining to a lord, and he was intelligent, kind, and handsome enough, if a bit naïve at times. She could have done much worse.

Demyst stayed on as head of Austran Residence Security Chief in Surien until Erdyl’s consorting. Being an outlander, and perhaps one too many, Demyst would never ascend far within the local military, and he had outgrown his position in sleepy Surien. Being a former tavern server girl, a fact she’d refused to hide, Enelya had never been accepted by the local ladies, even Estelya had been polite but cool towards her. So Karl hired Demyst as Cantyl’s Security Chief, Arms Commander, and Town Administrator, eventually settling on the composite title of Seneschal of Cantyl. Karl had always been impressed by Demyst’s intelligence, bravery, and loyalty. However, Demyst’s biting wit and all too obvious contempt for incompetence closed off career options. Karl fondly remembered when Demyst had kicked a blabbing young Assistant Envoy Erdyl in the shins. Within a year of his arrival, Cantyl could field a hundred mounted men if called upon by Lord Ghrant.  Enelya managed the large Cantyl Inn and the luxury vacation cottages, as well as the playhouse, and the other activities for vacationers.

The playhouse had been Jeka’s brilliant idea. Karl didn’t care for most of the plays, but he enjoyed the concerts. Being able to work both Cantyl and Valmurl supported a vibrant artistic community. And Karl mused, Jeka was delighted to have her friend Enelya near. Karl had vetoed Enelya’s zoo proposal. He could not abide caging wild animals. He did allow gentle shows featuring domestic animals, horses, dogs, etc. Instead Jeka had proposed an authentic ancient  Austran smallholding featuring animals suitable for petting. That was still under discussion. Only bow and arrow hunting well inland was permitted by Karl, and that was limited by species.

Lord Juron and his idiot friends had hunted the coastal quail to near extinction in Cantyl. On the coldest mornings of the year, with the quail huddled for warmth, they would throw nets over the meadows, trapping thousands at first, then only hundreds at a time. Finally there hadn’t been enough of them left to bother with. According to Lyras that was a potential tragedy since only the Cantyl subspecies had a faint wash of crimson at the very tip of its wing feathers. It remained to be seen whether interbreeding with some of the ordinary coastal quail that had filled the vacuum would maintain or erase that lovely variation. Karl smiled. Fallen Black Angels! How he loved his old friend! Except for Lyras, was there anyone else in the whole world who would even know that, or care?

In addition to all that, the town of Cantyl operated a school open to all children, including Karl and Jeka’s three, Hagan’s boy, and Demyst’s and Enelya’s girl. Karl and Jeka’s oldest child, Tanleea, was twelve, extremely intelligent, and she showed considerable order ability although as yet unfocused. Lyras said that she had potential to develop into a weather mage, perhaps with some healing skills as well. Karl had had Tanleea designated by Lord Ghrant as his heir. That had caused less brouhaha than he had anticipated because Cantyl was viewed as the demesne of Lord Ghrant’s sorcerer by many of the northern lords. Apparently sorcerer to sorcerer transference of title mitigated male to female. He’d wanted her title clear just in case. If she decided otherwise later, that was her business. Danye, 10, had shown no discernable order potential yet, but she excelled at music and mathematics. She was about the same age as Hagan’s boy, and they were close friends. His youngest, Tomar, five, was just a boy so far. The school had one fully employed male scholar who mostly taught the older children and managed the school, but some of the older children helped out with the younger ones, as well as occasional blackstaffers and Cantyl’s more literate ladies. Even some of the old sailors helped out with subjects like geography.

There was even talk of a library. Cantyl didn’t even have a scrivener’s shop last he looked. He missed browsing books. The library at the Great House was minimal. He remembered that the Hamorians claimed to have machines that could turn out thousands of copies of books. Maybe he would mention it to his girls. Adlenta the carpenter mage had carved a beautiful set of letter blocks for Danye’s sixth birthday. Karl had watched Danye press the raised letters against various surfaces like clay. Often Jeka said that Danye saw everything just a bit differently than most of us. Perhaps mass printing was a problem she could solve one day. In the meantime they might need  a scrivener/librarian. Absently his thoughts turned to Sanyle, the daughter of Tyrbel, the Brytsa scrivener and his old neighbor. Last he had heard she had taken refuge with an old friend of Tyrbel’s up in the fozen north of Austra. Karl had visited Taleas in Vizyn before Sanyle had sought refuge there. Taleas was a good man and would take care of her, but he would be getting old now. Taleas had been getting old then. He still felt he owed Tyrbel for Karl’s, however innocent, contribution to the events that had led to Tyrbel’s death and eventually made his daughter flee for her life. Jeka said that Karl never forgot a debt. Maybe he’d send a letter on the next one of Hagan’s ships to port in Vizyn, and if none were, Hagan would find a reputable local port ship to take it. He would include an all expenses included invite to spend a couple of weeks in Cantyl just to see if she liked the place.

Karl turned toward Jeka, gave her still gamin like face a peck, and said, “It’s getting chilly. Let’s go inside.”