GRAY WARRIOR CHAPTER 1
Tap, tap, ching..., tap, tap, ching..., tap, tap, ching... The tinny percussion grated Thaemal’s senses as would a stone scraping glass. “Stop it,” he ordered. ***
Tap, tap, ching...
Tap, tap, ching..., tap, tap, ching...
“Great Mother, do as I say!” Thaemal was certain his shout resonated, and yet somewhere under his voice he heard his throat croak out half-whispered words. He was not fully awake, and still the taps and chings chimed in ever-even rhythm, their reverberations stabbing his inner ear.
Tap, tap... then a pause. Thaemal braced for the incessant ching that caused him to grind his teeth. Were he able to see--
He could not see, not one damned thing. Pitch haze hooded him, causing him to gag as he inadvertently inhaled it. His breastbone ached, but he could not massage it for his arms were pinned to his flanks. His legs were cramped together, knees and ankles forced bone to bone, and as the tap, tap, ching..., tap, tap, ching... resumed, stinging nerves until all cried for cessation, a thought took hold – he was captive.
Adrenaline shot through Thaemal’s heart, but he caught hold of himself to ascertain his position. Tap, tap, ching... Only one labor produced such meter – he must be in a forge. Tap, tap, ching... He stood upright, but felt neither floor beneath his feet nor weight supported on his frame. The pitch writhed over his skin, all skin feeling exposed, coiling tightly to heft him.
How could this be? He had been with the Mountfolk repelling a foothill onslaught, standing with those remote clansmen to prove once and forever that the First Sword of the Rhue could be worthy of their rustic maids – one maid in particular with milk white hair and eyes of liquid blue flecked with chalk, Crystla. But in the heat of battle her own father’s mace had knocked the wind out before a shadow had descended. The man had ‘poured false waters’! Mother damn him and every one of those feculent goat-eaters!
“Hate them,” a low voice encouraged.
Thaemal saw scarlet even as the thick tar lifted from his face, and in a slowly-focusing blur, the forge’s fire caught his eye, its black and blood red flames reflecting against the ten thousand mirror points of a cavern’s semi-crystalline shale. A craftsman stood at a lump rock anvil, a nascent blade’s white steel before him.
The rage of betrayal burning hot, Thaemal stared beyond sweat-plastered raven bangs as the craftsman tapped his hammer twice, his hand shifting from view before returning to ching out a spark; and in a heart’s beat Thaemal’s rage gave way to a bolt of fear for he knew that inconsistency of being just as he knew that flash of gold in the craftsman’s mildewed hair, the tone of flesh chasing across his grayed cheek.
Lifting the white steel in a bare, shape-shifting grasp so that the glow highlighted an evanescent forearm, the craftsman examined the blade from tang to tip and then banished the hammer and bade his miasmic ether to unspin down Thaemal’s torso to bare him naked to the waist.
Thaemal might have taken the opportunity to fight for freedom were he not transfixed on the craftsman’s face, still fair despite ages of straddling life and afterlife, still radiating the Rhue’s hidden efficacy; and as a shot of the craftsman’s smoked-aqua eyes met his own of jet, Thaemal Airlight convulsed from an inner jolt.
“Avenge my death,” jarred Traevis from the night terror’s perennial images of black and blood red dancing against naked shale as tar-pitch tendrils unraveled down naked flesh.
“Wake, my son!” roared through Traevis’ forward thoughts while a brilliant flash ripped behind his eyelids, startling him awake with such dynamic that bed sheets flew aside as he leaped from repose to en guard, alighting on a woven runner. Propelled by his momentum, the rug slid along polished floorboards. As to the obstacles before him, Traevis could only discern latent images; the U-chairs at a conference table, the breadth of a large desk. He sprang sideways to avoid all, landing in semi-crouch and grasping for the graywood handle of the Alleman long blade in his boot cuff.
He grasped neither handle nor cuff for he wore no boots. He wore nothing save a linen shift, and standing alone and exposed, he readied for hand-to-hand should the attack be upon him.
Another white-blue bolt brightened the darkness, refracting through a window bay’s cut diamonds, and in the sting of after-sight Traevis recognized his Manor suite. He was home. Hancock or one of the staff would come at his call. Ten of his Guard bunked in their old barracks while his two point men, Adair and Lothan, slept in an adjoining room. There was no danger here.
“Avenge my death.” The living words called to Traevis - then exploded along every nerve as their rush shot for his heart. Battle lust coursed through his body to compliment a mental image of the craftsman’s white steel thrusting toward Old Thaemal’s heart so seemingly real that his own chest felt the point’s searing incision. “Avenge my death!”
“Damn it!” Traevis yelled, throwing palms to his forehead. Tensing, voiding his lungs to forbid breath, Traevis froze, toes gripping the hardwood as he fought the call of his blood’s curse, the geas, that wretched afterbirth spawned from Old Thaemal’s murder. Great Mother take him! He was too tired for this.
“Avenge my death.”
“Oh, shut up!” Traevis demanded as he paced across the dead black to his desk, heightened awareness guiding as one hand tipped a sparkstone from a striking tin and the other lifted mottled glass from a lamp and set it on the blotter. A few rough bites against the tin’s abrasive under plate were enough to catch the oiled wick and bathe the suite in soft gold.
Lightning attacked again, and so Traevis paced to the window bay to slide Sword Red brocade over the cut diamonds with a few shinks of rings along curtain rods. He brought more lamps to life and then paused to center, suppress and hold fast to sanity as he hoped creature comforts might ease the geas from his mind.
This place had once been his playground, his wrestling paddock and more recently his tactical center. His middle brothe, Caerl, had suggested the black cherry paneling and coffers, his taste always spot on. His mother had painted the self portrait which hung above the hearth’s carved mantle, her pale brown gaze ever reminding him of duty.
Ghislaine had commissioned the Valley Rose tapestry above his bed’s headboard, two lovers in a bower of whitekiss but her meaning was clear.
The Mother cursed “avenge my death” dulled as Traevis savored her hair’s golden lines which always caught the sun, and conjured the feel of her body’s perfect warmth. It was now or never. The past two years had been for this moment. From Rhueatha across the Rhue to Rhuethalan and the West; back and forth, up and down. This time he would have her.
And yet the geas was calling, which meant geists were about - but they could not reach this far east and even if they could the safeguards mixed into Airlight Manor’s mortar would prevent them from effecting a breach. Hell. Traevis knew why the geas droned its unrelenting mantra of vengeance. Old Thaemal’s sword rested in the family nichevault, and being in such close proximity with the thing always spurred his blood’s plague.
A survey of his desk set Traevis’ mind to petitions and correspondence. He was the Swordson, after all, and had factions to maintain. His eyes ached to close, neck tension spreading to his jaw as he glanced at his bed.
“Death. I know, I know.” Traevis lifted a stack of parchments from the Central States. His cousins at the Comraderie had sent more than expected but replies would take place later today in The Hedm, Heaven’s Dome, where Andrés and his cadre of clerks would address every request with practiced quill nibs. Traevis sifted through subsequent updates sent by his more Westward kin, from Grain/Grassland inventories to west coast barge manifests. He skimmed letters of recommendation to his guard, one from RhueMaster Marrion putting forward his daughter Ondelisse... daughter?
Traevis reviewed the word to ensure taxed vision had not misinterpreted the line, then smiled as he tri-folded the parchment. Progressive as he was, he was not about to shock the Rhue with the sight of a woman bearing arms in his company. Let the Mountfolk and Teethmen do as they will. If Ondelisse was a woman of magic, she might be suitable for his network. If not, the letter would receive a politely enigmatic refusal.
Lightning flashed behind the Sword Red so soundly that it felt nothing short of a whip’s lash.
“Avenge my death!”
Traevis spun about, expecting to find shattered diamonds littering the floorboards, shocked that projectile shards had not cut into him. The geas overwhelmed his mental check, and he spun back toward the door. Fortunately the distance was sufficient to realize his idiocy and he stopped short. What was he to do, fight geists in his sleeping shift? It’s just the sword.
Traevis thought of Ghislaine’s eyes, pure lavender wells in which he could utterly disappear. Laine.
He turned back to his desk, and passing his bureau, he backed a step to gaze at the mirror. Jet eyes behind raven bangs returned his stare from its matte silver pane. He was a mess, unshaven and unkempt. Were she here, there would be no end to Laine’s chiding him about his ‘lack of care for his well-being’. Bed or desk, covers or quill?
“Avenge my death.”
“Great Mother, leave me be! Is one night straight through too much to ask?!”
“Not now, my son,” whispered to him. Traevis straightened. That voice was not the geas. That voice was a direct response to a direct question, and Traevis knew better than to question further. Something was on the wind in these early morning hours, and he trusted in the fact that Airlight Manor had never, nor would ever, portray a falsehood.
Traevis summoned the Rhue’s essence to fill his fatigued flesh, cheating exhaustion for what would amount to a third night. The land’s living power came first to his fingertips then to his palms where he gathered it as he placed his hands over his solar plexus so that the Rhue’s swell could wash away the stain of weariness.
His jet eyes snapped open. His muscles rebounded with manufactured vigor, and lines of strain vanished, momentarily, from his face. He cast his shift to his bed’s useless comforter, and moved to his standing closet where he opened a door bearing his T-N-A monogram. He threw a long-sleeved, gray shirt over his shoulders, his fingers passing over the cuff buttons to fasten their loops before he donned ashen trousers, tucked in shirttails, and tightened the front lacings.
His charcoal boots rested against the closet’s baseboard, gray stockings draped over each, and with a few deft pulls he was ready to pace darkened halls so long as he had his Alleman and Tryee. The rapier hung on a wall hook beside his glove table, and the long blade rested atop his gloves. Flexing fingers into the ash-dyed leather, Traevis slipped the Alleman’s gray sheath into his boot and buckled the Tryee’s gray belt so that its swept hilt rested within easy grasp. A mage of war and the battle and the fight, Traevis Airlight ventured into Manor’s residential wing, ready for any surprise in the night. To read more, visit www.ravensdaughter.com/world