My Fantasy Novels– Vol. I: Heir to the March
For those that would like to sample some of my work, here’s the begininning of my Fantasy Trilogy/Series, “The Chronicles of the Lords of the March“.
You may also go to the website and read the Prelude that tells the story 50 years before the first novel.
Leave a Comment and I will contact you via eMail regarding your interest. Thanks
The Chronicles of the Lords of the March
Volume I: Heir to the March
by Kent Book
Copyright © 1992, 2002 & 2006 by Kent Book
The stone walls radiated the cold that had this accursed country trapped in its thrall. The black wool cloak that he affected in this place, in lieu of the brightly colored barding that was his rightful badge, did not retard the dark, seeping chill that added to his distaste for this tower. He had intended to hurry up the circular stairs, all one hundred and forty of them, but as on his previous visits, his courage and vitality flagged even as he entered the foyer at the bottom.
Seventy risers. Damn, he thought. Will I ever reach the top of this cursed place? Why in all the hells did he pick this place from which to achieve his revenge? I will ask him this time–but then, I say that every time I climb up here.
His breath rasped as he continued, nearing the top. He stopped just below the last turn to compose himself and try to frame in his mind what would greet him there. He climbed the last ten steps, and the impressive steel-banded door on the landing and the misshapen creature that guarded it came into sight. As before the creature made no outward sign of recognizing his arrival until he was within two paces of it.
Perhaps they have bad eyesight. I know they cannot have an acute sense of smell, as they all smell like middens left neglected too long!
The dark mass shuffled around, grasped the large turnkey in the center of the heavily rune-carved door, and pushed the massive weight as if it were merely opening a dovecote.
“I see that they do have some admirable qualities,” the bard announced as he crossed the character-encrusted threshold, noticing there were new inscriptions along the jamb. “I remember trying to budge that door at our last meeting and it was like trying to move this tower.”
His host looked at him from the chair, where he was casually draped as if someone had thrown a cloak across the arm and back.
“Yes, they do have their uses,” he said, the one eyebrow raised that always meant there was another meaning to his words. “But as to that, you may get to see firsthand some of their more exceptional abilities–if you remain alive long enough.”
The shiver that raced down his spine was that of revulsion, as he had witnessed others of this man’s creatures going rigorously at their work. How could this man still be human and have mastery over the misbegotten beasts that inhabited this place? Better yet, how had he allowed his own hatred to bind him through intrigue to these monsters? “Was that a threat, promise, or warning?” the visitor asked. “Or are you just in one of your darkly humorous moods?”
“It is of no consequence, as your usefulness has yet to bore me and there is still the matter of your final recompense,” answered the master of the tower. He brushed at some invisible speck of nothing dirtying his gown, so dark it swallowed the light. “Come, have some wine. Your ride here was long and dusty, and I’d be remiss and a bad host, to say the least, if I were not to offer refreshment to my closest friend.” He swept his right hand in a gesture that suggested that Thom had the whole of the cavernous room in which to be at home.
Again, a shiver reminded Thomyn that this room was his host’s workroom, laboratory, and living quarters as his gaze took in the large expanse. The presence of the arcane power set his teeth on edge, and he wondered if this man ever understood how much courage it took for him to come here. Initially, their meetings had taken place many leagues from here in a quiet wayside inn, the location always changing but the inns always secluded and of good quality. That had changed as Ranyl’s trust grew in Thomyn’s desire to work to the same ends and finally invited the bard to his fortress in the Devil’s Spine for their meetings. It seemed a perfect location insofar as the work Ranyl achieved was in keeping with the legends and rumors about the area. It was not on the top of anyone’s list for holidays or leisure activities, and it was a sevenday of travel from the nearest major community.
Thomyn always marveled at the room that he had entered. His look was drawn across the concentric rings etched into the stone floor to the massive alabaster table positioned directly under the seven-pointed star-shaped orifice masterfully left in the roof of the tower. By some magic, weather never had any effect on the room beneath the centered opening. From experience, Thom knew that only moonshine, starshine, and sunshine could penetrate the shield protecting the interior. Not only was it a barrier to the environment outside, but even in the worst blizzards (one of which he had had to endure, worse luck to him), there was never any accumulation to obscure the opening.
Ranyl snapped the fingers of his right hand and was pleased by the quick response of a young girl who raced to his side. She slid into position next to Ranyl’s right hand with head bowed abjectly.
The girl couldn’t have been much past puberty–her skin unblemished and youthfully smooth. The sheer garment that clothed her allowed the beholder an all-but-unobstructed view of her budding body, and this was not lost on Thom as his trekking of late had not allowed much in the way of female companionship.
“Aaly, bring our esteemed bard the finest wine we have and a platter of those cheeses–the ones your mother was kind enough to provide as a bribe for your release,” he said, stroking her fine blond hair as if he was petting a boarhound. She scampered to her feet in a whisper of gauze and hurried across the room to the sideboard against the north wall of the circular room. Even though there was no hearth and the temperature outside had been dropping all day, the room was comfortable. Thom shed his cloak as he realized suddenly that he was getting uncomfortably warm, draping it as carelessly on the chair he had chosen as his friend across from him had draped himself in his chair.
From another shadowy area in the room, a preteen boy appeared, dressed in a similar garment as the girl. It was obvious that he, also, had yet to reach puberty and that Ranyl relished his beauty just as much as the girl’s. The boy was carrying a collapsible table that he erected and positioned at Thom’s right hand, bowing first to Ranyl and then to Thom, before once again disappearing into the shadows of the room.
“I see that you have expanded your predilections, Ranyl,” Thom said, not trying to get a rise out of Ranyl but just stating the obvious.
“Well, you see, I noticed that Aaly was becoming quite listless and actually had become somewhat sullen, and I abhorred the thought of physically punishing her and possibly marring her beauty. So I acquired Rael as a companion for her and myself–for those times when she is of no use to me while I work and perhaps to give her and me another form of amusement when work is all done. By the way, the lad can be most intriguing and entertaining. I have enjoyed myself greatly since his arrival.” Ranyl again raised that eyebrow. “Would you care to have him visit you later, Thom?”
The bard’s revulsion was obvious, but he choked back the retort that raced to his lips and slowly shook his head.
Ranyl, enjoying his visitor’s unease, asked, “If not Rael, then perhaps Aaly? Though, I must say that I have never understood your less-than-adventurous attitude toward exploration of new avenues of personal gratification.”
Aaly had placed a finely crafted silver goblet bearing the fine Illini wine and a silver plate of five different cheeses, carefully sliced, on the table next to Thomyn. He took the opportunity to place a piece of cheese in his mouth and wash it down with the delicately sweet wine so he would not have to respond. Taking another sip, he stared at the man across from him and tried to remember Ranyl as he was twenty years ago, when three friends had thought the whole world was theirs and nothing would strike them apart.
Ranyl, the physician-in-training and troublemaker always thinking of ways to push aside boredom, whether during their tutored instructions or in weapons training. He always had an idea that would turn the situation toward a more enjoyable avenue, usually infuriating their instructors and bringing, ultimately, a disagreeable task upon all as penance.
Thomyn, the musician and bard, always with a lute in his possession, except in the weapons arena during training and even then barely out of reach to the side. Carefree and spirited, the middle of the trio and the anchor, mediator and rationalizer when events got to be too much of a good thing, reigning the three back in before trouble could really get started.
And Kandwyn, March Prince’s son, Heir to the March, constantly pulled in directions that required his utmost attention. Wanting always to please everyone and retain some modicum of princeliness, but also wanting to be as all the others, especially when he was with Ranyl and Thomyn. Having more responsibilities than the other two and resenting some of them, he allowed time for his friends and the trio’s fun, at the risk of naming him unworthy of his birthright.
Regretting that time had slipped by them all, Thom turned his mind to the matter at hand–the reason for his visit to this offensive tower, specifically the betrayal of his kingdom, his home, and his friends.
The temperature was still dropping and the snow was coming down harder. The strengthening wind whipped away the moisture steaming off the horses as the mounted warriors headed south toward home.
The troop’s time at the outpost was done for now. They would return when the snows in the pass had melted, again allowing traffic to journey to either side of the mountain range that bisected east from west and marched north to south; from the ice to the sea–the range from which the kingdom took its name–The March.
Not that there was all that much traffic: a few trade caravans traveling in both directions, supplying those items that each side of the March could not supply for themselves. Refugees and dissidents periodically came through, as well, seeking asylum from the dark times that had the East in their grip.
Kandwyn contemplated the tardiness of the snows. They were late in coming this year, so late the pass had not closed until the last fortnight–and it was almost All Hallowed Eve. Normally, they would have already been in winter quarters in the keeps a month ago, and the snows had just started at this more southern elevation this morning. Worse the luck also, the moisture on the road had made the early-morning travel slower than usual, but now that the temperature had dropped below freezing, the slushy mud was corrugated and had slowed them to a walk.
The murmured curses and the jingle of armor pulled him from his thoughts and reminded him of how cold full armor could get in this weather. This was the reason one didn’t wage war in the winter. He was starting to shiver even with the wool overshirt and the quilted cotton padding under his mail, and his plaid cloak closely pulled around him.
The saddle creaked as he straightened up, trying to find a more comfortable position within his armor. But the change in position made it seem colder, or maybe it was that he was even more exposed to the wind now. Nevertheless, getting warmer or even more comfortable was an impossibility, and he wished they would reach the signal tower that would tell him home was not that far away.
Was it his own fool order that condemned them to riding in armor instead of packing it away in the wains for the trip home? His cousin, Saelyl, had more sense. She had done just that at her departure for Kanvia, knowing the carts and her weaponsman would follow at their own pace, arriving a few days behind her. Of course, reavers had never attacked her as his troop had been attacked three years ago.
His mind brought forth the memory of his advance group that had continued forward a league or so and stopped to prepare the evening camp. They had left half the troop with the wains to guard them and help repair a broken axle. As they had dismounted, screaming marauders had swept in from both sides of the forested road and set upon them. Kandwyn had quickly lost five men in the initial attack but held an even hand until the rest of the troop poured in, killing and driving off the remaining bandits. He swore, as they wrapped the dead in canvas shrouds to be taken on to Taylael, that he would never again be caught divided, unprotected, or by surprise again. When traveling to and from the pass now, they did so with advance and rear scouts, armored, fully weaponed, and without wains to slow them down. They now traveled with three days’ full field rations and wore their armor, removing it only when in close camp but leaving on their mail shirts even to sleep.
Through the winter, supplies for the outpost were strengthened every month for the skeleton troop wintered there–and every two weeks throughout the spring and summer, as fifty troops were in residence during that time. Half of the pass guard were from Kanvia’s contingent under Saelyl’s command; the rest were from Taylael, Kandwyn’s father’s protectorate and home to the Prince of the March, Geored.
As Heir to the March, Kandwyn also held the position, Battle Commander of the Armies of the March– a position held not only through birth but also by right of earning it. He had held the position only since his thirty-first birthday, five years ago, and he was not the youngest ever to hold it–his father had been.
Geored had received his spurs during the Conquest of the March at sixteen, during the civil war that had ended the tyrannical reign of the emperor and the Church. Then Battle Commander at twenty-one, during the Seronian Division Wars, a bloody conflict that drew the boundaries that defined the West to this day, some forty-five years later.
Kandwyn shook his head to clear the snow off his helm and to end his daydreaming. He realized that they had passed the guard tower marking the two-league boundary of Taylael, and that meant they would be entering the gates before dinner. He noticed the rest of the troop had picked up the pace to a trot and that the snow was not falling nearly as hard as in the last candlemark. He wheeled Shaeba, his coal-black battlemare, around and headed to the rear of the column to speed it up.
Falling in beside another female cousin–his commander’s lieutenant, Kymberle–he asked, “How is the rear, Cousin?”
“It’s better than riding trail on the way up, and I doubt there is much difference in the temperature from the front to the rear. Although occasionally one does receive an unwanted clod or turd kicked up in their direction, even with this all frozen. But thank you for asking, Battle Commander.”
He laughed at her sarcasm and spurred his mount back to the front, hoping that he had not sent her one of the items of their discussion.
The road leading in from the two-league point was well cared for, as required by his father, and soon the troop was at a canter. All were looking forward to being back in Taylael and the comfort of their homes, whether home was the keep, the barracks, or one of the family domiciles supplied for the married troops that surrounded the keep’s walls and fosse.
They approached the village that supplied the merchants and tradesmen for the keep and took the left-hand bypass, another of his father’s innovations, to avoid disturbing the people within. Inside the Protectorate, every town, village, or hamlet on the main highway had a bypass around the populated area–this granted troops an unimpeded thoroughfare to travel when the need for speed was essential.
A horn sounded as they rounded the last stretch of timber preceding the cleared area before the keep, announcing the troop’s arrival. Kandwyn noticed the bridge was down and that his standard–a single white star centered over the transection of a field of blue and a field of red–was rising from the right-hand tower flagstaff; his father’s flew from the right.
The troop slowed as it started across the wooden timbers of the bridge over the moat, and by the time they had passed through the barbican they were at a walk, still in formation. Entering the bailey, Kandwyn drew rein as Taylael’s Commander–his sister’s husband, Greggor–met him at the broad stairs before the keep proper. He swung his right leg over his mare, leaving his broadsword and ax in their saddle scabbards, and slid out of the saddle. He handed Shaeba’s reins to his squire, Sajwyn, his cousin Marjyn’s sixteen-year-old son. The boy would bring the weaponry and saddlebags in later when he attended his lord.
The brothers-in-law embraced, clapping each other’s shoulders in clan greeting. “You look absolutely blue!” Greggor greeted Kandwyn, putting an arm around Kandwyn’s shoulders to lead him up the stairs.
“Aye, and I’ll be glad to get out of this chill box of armor,” answered Kandwyn through chattering teeth. Now that he was dismounted, the cold was driving hard through the meager protection of his underclothing. He unfastened the ranking badge holding his cloak as he entered the double twice-timbered doors of the keep. With a swirl to shake off what snow had clung there, he draped it over the proffered arm of the door girl standing in the entrance.
“Sure and I should have known the first you would do upon arrival is dirty up the entranceway. We just finished with the stones this morning!” exclaimed his sister, Brennyn, as she rushed up to give him a hug. “Blast and damn, but you’re cold! My skin almost stuck to all that cold metal!” She brandished the beautiful smile that had caused many a conquest, a few broken hearts, and captured Greggor for the March as her husband.
“I’m glad to see you, too, sister mine. And if you will excuse me I would like to divest myself of this chilly stuff before my blood turns to ice,” Kandwyn said as he hugged her back. He enjoyed the discomfort his abbreviated plate caused her during the brief embrace; older brothers could be like that to baby sisters.
Turning to Kymberle, he gave the orders to release the troops to their respective quarters and reminded her that her presence would be required at dinner in the main hall later. She in turn saluted and spun out the doors, shouting the appropriate orders and taking her reins from Sajwyn. The two led the mares toward the keep’s stables, where the family’s, commanding officers’, and guests’ mounts were kept.
Kandwyn climbed the left-hand staircase of the sweeping twins leading to the circular mezzanine that looked down into the vestibule and connected the three main living wings that split into cardinal points off the balcony. Kandwyn took the north corridor to his apartments.
Entering the spacious hearth room that doubled as his office, he crossed to the western-facing expanse of windows to gaze momentarily across the bailey, the top of the wall, and west towards the setting sun. He loved this view. He loved the serenity of the sunset; the muted reds and oranges looked especially like a painting tonight, framed by the earth on bottom and the cloud deck on top. Although snow was still trickling down, he could see clearing in that direction, which meant that it would probably be bone-chillingly cold tonight.
To continue reading more, ask in comments below or email me and I’ll forward the First Chapters for you; and if you’ll give some input on the story, characters, etc., I’ll send more. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.