Chronicles of the Martlet Book 3
Upon the Expanse
The echoing call of the captain’s orders and stomping feet resounded over the newly-recognized Lord Roark, the Martlet of House Eyreid. He glanced out the InterRealm ship’s porthole. The crescent-shaped edge of Dynion loomed among the mists of the Expanse.
Beside him, Lady Byronia, the Martlet of House Silba, sighed deeply, the pinch on her ivory brow proclaimed her sorrow as she stroked her tri-pointed ear —a terrible habit from childhood. She never spoke of her errands, but Roark could see they rested heavily upon her shoulders. Even with her grim manner, she had been an agreeable traveling companion; she had listened to stories and played hafal long in the night. A dear friend of his sister’s, she had done nothing to arouse suspicion, but he didn’t know if he could trust her. However, Roark was confident he could best her in sword-to-sword combat if necessary.
Searching for words of comfort, he clasped his hand to her wrist and met her sapphire eyes; not even the Expanse could match their depths. She had peerless gifts in diplomacy, but by her darkening attitude, Roark was reasonably sure she had been sent to Dynion on an assassination mission.
“Byrony,” he said, using her childhood name in their mother tongue. “We do what we do for peace.”
“Gods, you’re young.”
Byronia was only twenty-three summers to his eighteen, so he replied, “So are you.”
“I’ll be in the vicinity of Denwort for a few days, perhaps longer. Do you think Mister Candlewick would allow me to visit? I wish to remain friends. So many will be lost,” she said.
Will be lost? Under Roark’s tunic, the ruby-colored quartz pendant of wisdom shivered. “Why do you speak thus?”
“I’ve foreseen the possibilities many times. The future overwhelms my courage. Uncle Corwin bade me open my mind; I wish I hadn’t taken that advice.”
Roark pulled her from the porthole to the built-in table where the steward had set grapes, cheese, and olives. She allowed herself to be led and sat on the upholstered bench.
Roark took care not to raise his voice. “Enough riddles. Will you kill me for practicing the forbidden arts?”
Byronia’s eyes opened wider, but her voice was without emotion. “If I had your contract, I would’ve just killed you here and asked the sailors to toss your body into the Expanse.” She pressed her index finger into his brow. “Uncle told me your mind is open too; haven’t you looked to the future?”
Roark didn’t want to remember the future he had seen. “Somewhat.”
“I had hoped ... you had seen too.” She fiddled with a loose grape, rolling it against the platter. “Not even Corwin has seen what I have. Alana only glimpsed the smallest truth of it.” Her eyes grew wild as they looked through him and into a destiny he couldn’t see. She lowered her voice. “Be careful whom you trust.”
The InterRealm ship jostled as it landed onto Dynion’s northern sea. She met his eyes again. Her lips trembled. “When I move beyond the Seven Realms, you must keep the future.”
“What are you talking about?”
Byronia spoke fast as if her spiraling words raced against the sailors as they docked in Port Denwort’s deep harbor. “The pre-Schism had no autonomy. Technology made decisions for you in the name of efficiency and comfort, while making you believe you had control. It was a false paradise. The Guild keeps us free, but this is no paradise either. So many suffer because we’re falling into entropy. This entropy precipitated famine, and the famine created the resurgence of slavery. Some of the old ways should not have re-risen. Why did we not learn from the Schism?
“Worse, entropic species are weak and ripe for conquering. I’ll hold them back, but you must see to the future.”
“You’re talking in circles.”
“Please, there’s not much time.”
He struggled to find a comforting response, yet not bind himself. “I’ll do what I can.”
Byronia flinched. His attempt had failed. She was too gifted in diplomacy to be fooled by any non-answer.
The steward called.
Byronia pumped his hand up and down in farewell. “I hope that in time, you will be more of a Martlet than you are now.”
He wanted to point out all the times she had been less of a Martlet, but before a single word escaped his lips, she exited the cabin. Her blonde braid sparkled in the sun before she went below to the stable deck. He waited until he was sure she was gone before he finished dressing, gathered his own gear and went below to the stable deck to collect Jaci.
Port Denwort in the Realm of Dynion
Separated from his dour and apparently half-mad companion, Roark found a ride through the bustling, shop-lined streets of Port Denwort—a good enough reason to wear his fine clothes and house colors instead of drab traveling woolens. He relished watching humans of common blood incline their heads as he rode past on his majestic black mare.
Though he did not prefer women, he adored the attention of two silk-clad human maidens of the merchant class who batted their eyes at his Fairsinge beauty. The girls seemed fragile things under their youthful, powdered, alabaster cheeks. Soon they would lose their loveliness. They would either die old or die young.
As would he. How many years would it be until all that was left of Lord Roark, the 38th Martlet of House Eyreid, was the portrait on his House’s wall which would fade until some great-great nieces or nephews would hire a new artist to restore it? Perhaps that was what Byronia was rambling about. He shuddered; thinking of his own nightmares.
His majestic Jaci would die before him. His beloved aunt Alana, his parents, sister, brothers, and all his friends—Eohan, Kian, Seweryn, Kajsa, Doriel, and even the sanity-challenged Byronia—would all die. Their souls would disappear from the Seven Realms, walk the Long Road to the Lowest Realm while their bodies putrefied. Roark had seen many dead. All of them had been just dead, except one.
He had not forgotten the maze of stone houses and neat hedgerows to the small cottage on the hill. Chamomile buds trembled in the windowboxes concealing what lay inside the curtains. He dismounted and knocked on the heavy red door where the only dead who walked lived.
The lich peeked out of the small window. His charcoal-lined obsidian eyes opened wide, and a gruesome smile exposed his yellowed teeth and blackened gums as he exclaimed, “Roark, my lad, it’s good to see you.”
“Hello, Mister Candlewick. I wasn’t sure you’d remember me,” Roark said.
“I could never forget the taste of your blood. How is your aunt? Still chasing after worthless slaves?” Edar opened his door and motioned for him to enter.
Roark noted the new blue silken robes that hung on the lich’s withered frame and wondered what Edar traded for it: a potion, a secret, another slave bled of health? Inside, the reception room was clean, but Roark felt the oppressive darkness at the edges of the room. He forced a smile to his face. “Yes.”
“Your aunt wastes her life on the unworthy. Please sit, my lad.”
“I am Lord Roark now,” Roark said and sat upon the chair which Edar offered.
“How nice for you,” Edar said.
Roark declined to answer the lich’s needling, especially since the undead human still followed human niceties of the northern providence. The lich set bread studded with currants on the table and put on a pot over the stove for herbal tea—chamomile and lavender by its smell.
“You look well,” Edar said. “And in the spring of youth. Are you injured?”
“No.” Roark took a sip of tea, confident Edar wouldn’t poison him since he cared so deeply for the bodily fluids of his person.
Edar’s face took on a look of concern. “Is Lady Alana injured?”
“Not that I know.”
“She foolishly refused the last potion I offered. A bit of blood from her pretty friend and we both might have been young for weeks!”
Byronia’s frightened expression rose in his mind; he pushed it down. “As my aunt informed me, but I gave my blood willingly; Byronia did not.”
“You’re taken with her?”
“The lady is an inseparable friend to my sister and was to my late cousin and often kind to me; I’m glad to call her my friend.”
“Friendship might become more.”
“I enjoy the company of men, and as I am thirdborn, it hardly matters for the bloodline.” Roark returned to the true subject. “Your potion worked marvelously for healing and strength. Wounds closed quickly, but the visual side-effects did not last.”
“Yes, and it depends upon the donor and the amount ingested. You were a fine donor. My potion made me appear alive for a hundred days. I even left the house several times.”
“Alana sipped hers as needed. Her sword arm grew strong and reflexes quick. It was amazing.” Roark chose his next words carefully. “When we found Kian, he was quite ill. Alana gave him the rest of her potion.”
“Wasted the potion, you mean.”
“Alana didn’t consider it wasteful. Kian completely recovered. That is why, Mister Candlewick, I want you to teach me. Necromancy is an exhilarating science.”
“Not one condoned by the Guild, Lordling.”
There it was. He might have told Edar that House Master Corwin had secretly condoned his research, but the quartz shocked him with an uncomfortable energy as it warned of the danger. Don’t give Edar any ideas about Corwin or me. Corwin would see him dead.
Edar is dead, Roark thought back.
The quartz zapped him. I might be considered proof of betrayal since you liberated me from another necromancer.
Roark spoke a deeper truth. “I don’t care about the Guild. It pays well, but the hypocrisies are many. If I were from a wealthier House, I wouldn’t soil my hands with them.”
Edar pointed at the wooden broach of an eagle holding a smaller golden swift which fastened Roark’s cloak. “And that?”
“My mother still rules; my aunt still wanders. It will be many years until much is expected of me.”
“Odd for a young man to care about necromancy. You’re what? Seventeen?”
“Eighteen summers,” Roark said.
“Still so very young. Does Lady Alana know you are here?”
Humans completed their apprenticeships in their early twenties, so he took care to mention it. “Alana released me from my apprenticeship, but yes, she does. I’ve seen death. I’ll be killing another in three weeks. I’ve a recurring vision of the Long Road where all the dead walk. Nightmares and idle thoughts haunt me.”
“Why is that?” Edar asked.
“I found happiness in Eohan and Kian’s companionship, but see the deceit in common elfkin beliefs.”
“The priests say if I live by valor and goodness, I’ll be resurrected as a Noblewoman’s son, however, if two people as good-hearted as my friends might be born commoners and made slaves through no fault of their own, how can I believe what the priests say? How do I know what I’ll become if I step into the Waters of Resurrection? The mists of the Expanse are chaotic.”
A shadow of wretchedness drifted onto Edar’s face. “You obviously expect to come and go at your convenience?”
“The Guild’s convenience, but yes.”
“What do I get from this arrangement?”
“I expected you shall want some of my blood,” Roark said.
Edar smiled. “For regular donations, I will teach you everything I know....