The best speculative fiction, particularly of the secondary-world variety, immerses its readers in its setting, often in initially quite baffling … More
Amudr knew that their time in Tua was coming to an end. He was probably alone among the Blackswords in regretting it. The city was not large, but it was a cultured place, with booksellers and libraries, and good discourse to be found in its taverns. Soon he would be living on horseback again, and earning his way by stitching and cauterising the awful rewards of battle, or by easing its victims’ onward journeys to the Halls of Yats. At least they would be well-supplied with the smooth black wine for which the city was known, and they planned to return there when the campaign was concluded. The Barony of Minessor, of which it was the capital, was closely allied to Amudr’s home city of Megano, and he had the feeling of being in …
The dice were not favouring Rajir. He looked at yet another fistful of ones, twos and threes, taunting him from the table, and threw a handful of coppers at them, standing.
‘I’ve had enough of this, you whoresons,’ he grumbled.
‘Your luck could change at any moment, sir,’ said Falcon, the new recruit, his black hair tumbling chaotically about his face. He was no more than a footman, a spear carrier as green as his own eyes, but he had stood out from the new crop of axe-fodder for his confidence, and his skill with a blade. He also had a way with dice, and was not at all intimidated by Rajir or any of the other officers.
The cabin shutters were closed, slicing the the sunlight into a gridwork of thin lines: thicker verticals at the hinges, or where the two leaves met, and fine horizontals that passed between the boards. Ashurra’s eyes traced the lines across the wall, and abruptly out, around the lean knots and cords of her brother’s chest and arms. The swell was a nurturing, hypnotic regularity, in contrast to the chaotic chop that had carried them north up the Gulf Of Dorna, away from their destination; it helped her to lose herself, but it hindered her focus, and she realised with a small sting of frustration that she had allowed herself to be distracted by the pattern of the light. Her eyes de-focussed as she tried again to grasp the whole energy of their working …
Umbaral rode scout to the port, handing his lance to another rider and stringing his bow; being an archer usually let him keep a safe distance from the enemy, which was why he’d specialised as one, but there were other times it when condemned him to the van. It was a fair trade-off, he supposed, but it didn’t feel very fair right now. Luckily, in the confusion of the battle, nobody would be looking for their detachment, and he didn’t anticipate ambushes, but he was still alert to every alley and side turning that might let him leave the fight to his comrades if the situation looked alarming. The Suluf were large and ferocious, and he had no desire to cross swords with one if it could be avoided.
The Beroan family kept the matriarchal Roganid Custom in their domestic arrangements; Feldua sat on his wife’s right hand, and Ukhand faced him across the table, sitting, as the most honoured male guest, on her left. Shenailo directed the meal from the head of the table, beautiful, pale, and very young, her courage fragile as she feigned normality, and cast continual anxious glances at her husband. The fare was good, wrasse in a green sauce, roasted tomatoes, rice with pumpkin seeds and dried apricots; Dorna’s port remained open, the pretender having no ships. ‘With food like this on the table, we must assume the pretender intends to assault the walls,’ observed Ukhand. ‘He has no way to lay an effective siege.’
Irtain could smell burning, and hear the rumble of a crowd at war. It wasn’t so much the clash of arms, although there was that as well, muted and intermittent, but the sound of many voices; he had survived enough battles to know the difference between the note of a market, or an angry mob, or an arena audience, and that of many soldiers, shouting and acknowledging orders, calling for supplies, asking for intelligence, bellowing in pain. It was not the voice of a victorious army, but of one recently defeated, in fear of more bad fortune.