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. Continue reading