-23

A vision of my skin being flayed off and my bones being replaced by gears made me struggle against my bonds. I could feel the black glass of the Dvergr. Fadreel felt like the slimy bottom of a fetid pool. I felt no others nearby and wished for Zat or Vytar or even The Owl. I couldn’t loosen my bonds and my fused teeth blocked my voice.
He pushed me back on to my back. Something clicked, he moved the table from the room and down the hallway. The Dvergr followed us, chanting. We went into a lifter and it sank. Sweat pulled along my back and dripped from my hair into my eyes. I would rather be ashes blown into the wind than turned into a machine-man.
Fadreel opened the lifter doors and pushed me out into a short hallway. I could smell water and minerals. I felt other persons. One I recognized as Stygand. Another one felt familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out who she could be. Not Rhaenan, thankfully.
We entered a large cavern with a lake. The lighting, dim and flickering, reminded me of the swirling dome over the city. The flickering came from a column of wires. It connected at the bottom to a gibbet-type cage made of plas. Another cage stood open and receptive next to it.
Fadreel stopped the table and pulled out his thin knife again.
“Hold still,” he said, not looking at my face. “This won’t take but a moment.” He sliced my clothing off. My belt pouch he peered in.
“Why do you have sand in your pouch?”
Sand?
He poured some sand out and tossed it at me. The rest he dumped into the lake, along with my pouch. The lake waters churned for a moment and then stilled. A greasy film settled on the lake. I figured this was the water source for the entire city and I wondered that more people had not fallen ill. The sand settled into the crevices of my skin, itching and then burning. I felt sorry to see the last of my mother’s magic go. It had served me well. I wished she were there – at my end – so that I could apologize and gain her forgiveness.
Fadreel showed me a long metal wire ending with a clip with retracting teeth.
“This goes on your nads, so don’t expect to sire any children, my lord.” He laughed.
The bite of the clip caused me to scream through my teeth and trash about.
“I did say to hold still.” He placed cloth with physicker’s assistant over my mouth just long enough for my body to stop resisting, but not long enough to knock me unconscious. I wish it had. I guess his mechanical parts made him stronger, for he flipped me onto my stomach without straining.
“Generally we start with the brain, but I’d like you to be as aware as possible during this process, so we’ll start with your sacrum.”
Another bite at the base of my spine, followed by more, moving upward toward my neck. I realized then that I would not be turned into a machine, I would be apart of a larger machine, providing power from my life force. I would be drained to death and the tossed on a pile to be incinerated. I wondered how long it would be before Captain Vytar looked for me – or Rhaenan – and how Fadreel would explain my absence.
As if reading my mind, Fadreel said, “Your Captain Vytar has been arrested, by this point, as a traitor. You’ve been kidnapped by Vytar – assisted of course by your lovely Nord mistress – and in a day or two, reported killed. I will, of course, be very upset.” He gave a practice sniff and laughed. “I plan to attach your mistress next to you. She made such a fetching boy. Maybe I’ll let her dress as one when I use her. I cannot tell you how much more stamina I have now that I’m mechanical in that area.” He tugged on the wire attached to my nads and I screamed again.
Laughing he left me for a moment to confirm with the Dvergr priest.
Oh Rhaenan.
The chanting grew louder. Fadreel stood me up and moved me over to the edge of the cage.
“Now watch closely,” he said in a cheerful voice.
He put a spike through the base of my skull and my world exploded.

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-22

My blackout only seemed but a moment, but when I opened my eyes, I lay on a table with my hands tied out away from my body. Grand Councilor Fadreel’s face appeared above mine. I started to speak but he shook his head, reaching for my face. I tried to turn away but strong fingers pried my mouth open and spoon of something hot and nasty smelling was shoved in. He forced me to bite down on the spoon and the substance oozed around my teeth, sealing them shut. If he hadn’t titled the table upright, the foulness would have gone down my throat.
I stopped screaming.
I was in a workshop. Fadreel stood back, hands on his hips. I still had my elemental sight active and what I saw shocked me. He had two soul sparks. One dimly lit with barely a glitter in his chest, the other, red and encased like a horcine’s, set on his right side, glowing brightly. His right leg, from the glow downward, had a gray tinge. Behind him, a Dvergr stood, grinning. He was the same one who had cut the heart out of the man in Southallow, the same one who had captured Zat. He’d been at Fadreel’s side the entire time I’d been in Crown City. I’d just never noticed him.
“Angestirian, you disappoint me. I had such hopes, didn’t I, Mwaagralt?” The Dvergr priest nodded.
“But you just had to interfere, didn’t you? Like mother like son, I guess. When you said you preferred mules to horcines, I forgave that because you were ignorant. When Sentinel Ernol reported that you’d destroyed all of the horcines, I…Well, that made me angry, but I think he provoked you by stealing your lovely horse. I’ve informed him of his error. But…” He walked closer, a thin blade in his hand. He ran it down my arm, cutting me. I didn’t feel the cut until after the blood dripped. The Dvergr priest said something and Fadreel pulled the knife away.
“You just had to tell Technician Stygand to stop his projects because the elementals ‘were being hurt.'”
I tried to avoid the bloody blade as he shook it in my face.
“You’re weak and a disgrace to the Crown of Adnor.”
Blood spattered my face and I blinked.
Fadreel stood back and cleared his throat. “Of course, Stygand is being punished for his error.”
I shuddered at what that punishment might be.
“I wanted you to be a part of the technological advancements of Adnor. I wanted you to defend your country and uphold what is right and pure.” He glanced at the Dvergr, who nodded. “And so you shall.”

-21

Stygand took me to a tavern in the west of Crown City in an area that could be considered lower class. No one seemed to recognize us or had any interest in bothering us. The waitress came to our table, took our order for the house special beer (very dark with an aftertaste of cherry), and left us alone.
After taking a long sip of beer, Stygand wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said, “I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time. If you could do that to me, imagine what could be done for others.” He gestured around the dimly lit room at the drunk coughing or the doorman’s black eye.
I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d – or Fadreel more likely – find a way to harness that healing power for evil. The technician seemed genuinely upset about hurting the elemental. What was the difference between evil and ignorance?
I agreed and added, “Just to be clear, I am not in favor of torturing any creature – elemental or Nord.”
“Storm God’s Nads, man. I mean, my lord. I’m not either. But not using the elementals causes a problem for me, for everyone, but for me in particular. It’s my job to develop and maintain these ancient systems. When the Flowstoners brought this source of energy to our attention, it was like a gift from the elements.”
“Ha! Literally.”
He gave me a chagrined look and studied the foam in his beer.
“I like my job. Making ancient technology work and inventing new technology based upon that – it’s amazing and I’m blessed to be a part of the process.” He looked up at me, “Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes. I have a sincere interest in the ancients and their lives, including their technology.”
“Don’t you think that having reliable lights and lifters and advances in healing are worth it?”
I looked around the dim room and noted that the lighting came from the open door and a scattering of small candles. I thought of young elemental I’d freed.
“Worth torturing elementals? No. If we torture them, they get mad at us. Perhaps this drought is in response to that.” Although I knew it had to do with the Dvergr.
“Drought – oh yes, outside of the city.” He spoke as one of the elite of the city.
“Crown City is not the only thing in Adnor.”
He shrugged.
“If the country is not able to produce food, Crown City will starve along with its rustic neighbors.”
“Oh I know. It’s just not talked about here. People here are…”
“Near sighted,” I suggested.
“Yes.”
I thought of the poor mule seller who’d lost his arm and his expectation that all of it had to do with me, the Prince.
“Well, I can’t be. If I’m to be responsible for Adnor, I have to be responsible for the whole thing – not just Crown City.”
He nodded and finished his beer. The waitress brought us another round.
Stygand sighed. “What am I going to do?”
“Don’t make anything new, for the time being. The ancients used a different power source – we’ll just have to find it.”
“Yes, my lord.”

We left at the lunch rush and made our way, on foot, back up to the castle. We turned a corner and I spotted Captain Vytar and a familiar looking “lad” stepping into the inn where I’d been attacked recently. I felt for her and confirmed Rhaenan’s identity. What were they doing? Technician Stygand didn’t see them, so I didn’t interrupt their mystery errand. I thought Vytar disliked Rhaenan. Very odd.

We arrived back at the castle and Technician Stygand said he had somethings to look to. I offered to bust more elemental cages, but he declined saying it would be better for me to not be involved. He set off for his tower and I turned to the kitchen to get a quick lunch and some apples from Rand.

Rand wasn’t in his stall. He wasn’t in the paddock. He seemed to be missing all together. The stable man, a burly fellow with a missing front tooth, denied ever seeing my horse.
“What horse, my lord? We’ve only horcines here.”
I felt for my horse, but could only feel the man’s rainbow spark – touched with gray spots as Technician Stygand’s had been – and the solid red spark of the horcines.
Sentinel Ernol, stern and officious, came over to ask if there was something he could help with.
I, having not yet eaten and having a beer or two, lost my temper.
“I have a horse and he’d best not be turned into one of these monsters.”
Ernol smirked. The stable man picked up his rake and held it like a club.
“Ah Nordie, you lost your little horsie?” The sentinel said. “Maybe you shouldn’t have burned my friend.”
I made a rude gesture and turned to the horcines. Touching my pouch, I yelled, “Be free.”
The resistance of the case around the soul sparks made me clutch my pouch more, calling upon the green energy to help me. When it did, a beam of energy shot out of my hand and leapt from one construct to the next. Encased soul shards shattered. Some horcines, the older ones, fell dead. Others started to break their stalls down.
A blow across the back of my head made my world spin.

-20

I still had my elemental sight active, so I couldn’t help but see that parts of Technician Stygand no longer glowed with the spark of life. They’d turned grey, like cooling grease on water. His finger tips, most of his chest, the tip of his nose.
We arrived in the foyer again and he lead me upstairs to the next level. The chamber had no windows and was open to the breezes. I could see out three of the five sides and look down upon the castle and the city. The pink-purple anti-Nord dome shimmered and spun. I should have been able to see the green ribbon of the Lybar river – but of course that river hardly flowed now.
“I set up a demonstration of how the lighting system works to illustrate how most of our recovered technology is powered.” He gestured to a table near one window. A thin wire connected an unlit lantern to a plas cage containing a young fire elemental. It hissed its distress when it saw me.
Technician Stygand said, “Watch,” and pointed to the lantern. He flipped a lever on a small box and the elemental screamed. A light appeared in the lantern.
“Stop, please. You’re hurting it.”
“Hurting what? The elemental? It has no feelings. It is just, well, an it.”
“Of course it does. Can’t you hear it screaming?”
He shook his head.
I debated for a moment about giving him access to elemental sight. Would that allow him to hear the poor creature’s screams. And if he heard them, what would he do?
“May I grant you what I hear and see?”
His eyes widened and he pressed his lips together.
“Okay.” He said after a moment.
I touched his forehead with my hand and said “See and hear.” I felt the shards in my pouch grow warm and that warmth spread up through my core and out my fingers into his head.
“Whoa,” he said, staggering back. The green flickered through his body, chasing away the grayness in his chest, fingers, and nose.
“I feel amazing. Wow.” He grinned like a boy given candy. “Can all Nord do that?”
I shrugged. “I’m not all Nord.”
The elemental whined.
“Of course, my lord.” He turned, enthusiasm damped, to the elemental. It whined again. He studied it.
I flipped the lever and the elemental hissed.
“Be free,” I told it, and the plas cage broke. The elemental huddled back, afraid of the technician.
“Here, little one.” I held out my hand and coxed it to come out. It purred when I stroked it, shooting sparks.
Technician Stygand’s mouth worked for a moment and he finally said, “Nads.”
He tentatively held out a hand to stroke the elemental. It hissed but allowed him to touch it.
“Fire. I’m touching fire. How does that work?”
“It’s letting you touch it.”
I took the elemental to the window. It puffed up and floated away, going invisible. I sighed, missing Zat.
Technician Stygand stared at the now empty cage for a long moment.
“My lord, I have much to ask you. Would you join me for a beer?”
I smiled, “Technician Stygand, I knew I liked you for some reason.”

author intrusion

It seems like the story has bogged down and isn’t very interesting. I mean, I still enjoy writing it, but it’s not getting where I want it to fast enough. I fully admit that I suck at writing climactic scenes. I know what’s going to happen in this story, but I’m not sure how to get there. The Story Grid gurus would say that I should probably look back at the macro instead of concentrating on the micro. They’re probably right. Also, Steven Pressfield mentioned that if one is stuck, one should answer several questions. The second (I think) of those questions was about theme. Well, since my theme seems to waiver, that’s gonna be tough. Characters embodying theme. That takes actual brain power as opposed to back-brain-tell-the-story power, which is what this story is run on.
Yep, I’m whining. Sorry.
Perhaps I need a change of attitude? “First draft” is an okay term, implying the first of many and that’s true. “Zero draft” means notes to me and that’s not very cohesive. I think people use that term to imply that the first draft should be more structured and stuff. So, I have not written a zero draft, since I have limited notes. “Vomit draft” is kind of a revolting term. I agree with the “get it all out” but I personally don’t like that natural function and go out of my way to avoid having to do it. So, let’s call this story the “Discovery” draft. Not only am I discovering my characters and their stories, I am also discovering/rediscovering the story process.
So, what genre do you think this one is? Fantasy – yes, it’s got magic. Dystopian? Well, the world had a more advanced civilization once, so maybe – but not according to this:

Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.

So, not that. Horror? Yes, it has some horror aspects. Romance? Yes, there’s a romance but it’s not fleshed out and not the center of the story.
It only matters in that I hit some of the conventions, so that the final reader is satisfied. And then there’s marketing, but I am way too early in the process to think about that.

Okay, keep writing. Get it all out. Discover the bleep out this story. Do it.

-19

The next morning I found a pile of clothing on the chair by the fireplace. Tunics made from wool with under tunics made from linen, wool trousers, leather gloves and a vest. All had an outdated version of the royal emblem on them and smelled somewhat musty. But they fit and they had no plas in them.
I put some on and went to see if Rhaenan was in her room. She was, sleeping. She awoke at my soft movement, a knife in her hand.
I thanked her for the clothing.
“Keep the shards with you. I’m going to borrow the map, if I may, and do some research.” She yawned, “In a little bit.”
“Of course. Be careful.”
“You as well, my lord.”
“Gestin. Please call me Gestin.”
“As you wish.” She drifted off to sleep again.
I gathered the shards and put them into my belt pouch and left the map near her sleeping head. I didn’t stay to watch her sleep, although I wanted to.
Yerston brought me breakfast and a summons from the Grand Councilor. He looked me over and shook his head at my fashion choice.

“Angestirian, my boy, how are you today? I heard you had a run in with the locals.” Grand Councilor Fadreel rose and waved me to a seat across from his desk. His office had many bookshelves full of both books and items of interest. The staff I’d seen him using leaned against the wall, its purple/pink orb swirling.
I pulled my attention from it and nodded.
“It’s a good thing Captain Vytar was with you. He’s such a loyal fellow. And you met and conversed with Technician Stygand. Good good.”
I realized I wasn’t going to be required to comment, so I continued to nod.
He held up a piece of paper.
“You may want to consider what you say to the heralds. They report it and pass it all around the city. Do you really prefer mules to horcines?”
His left eye twitched.
“I’m more familiar with mules, certainly,” I temporized. “The man who attacked me had been upset at the price offered for his stock from some ‘preferred’ merchant. Are there ‘preferred’ merchants?”
He waved that concern away. “Not really. All merchants are welcome in Crown City. To restrict trade would be bad for our economy.”
I returned his smile.
“I hear your pretty little Nord lady is feeling better.”
“Yes, she is. Thank you.”
“Good.”
We smiled at each other for a moment too long.
He sat back. “So, I hear you are going on a tour of the Technician’s area today with Stygand.”
“He said he would show me its wonders.”
“I so wanted to show you myself, but I am pleased that you enjoy his company. I’ve tasked him to impress upon you the importance of this revitalized technology to the future of Adnor. We are a country without much mystical power. Should your mother’s people decide to attack us, what would we do? The populace fears the Nords’ powers of mind control. Having technology will allow us to strike back should that attack occur.”
“Grand Councilor,” I asked after a moment, “Has Adnor been so threatened?”
“Not in so many words. But the incursion of Nords in our lands has increased. One of the most evil of their assassins has been seen recently. I have no doubt that we all are in danger.”
I could guess which evil assassin he spoke of and had to agree that someone was in danger.
A knock at the door allowed me the option of not continuing the conversation. A page announced Technician Stygand.
The Grand Councilor rose and limped a little as he walked me to the door and bid us good day.

Stygand looked me up and down, similar to what Yerston did, and said “You look very dignified in that old fashion. I bet you bring it back into style.”
I laughed. Tunics and trousers had never gone out of style outside of Crown City.
He lead me to a tower near the library.
“Speaking of style, you mentioned tin hats. I assume you meant the metallic liripipe hoods I’ve seen people wear. What brought that fashion on?”
He laughed. “They think the metal keeps the Nord from reading and controlling their minds.”
Surprised, I almost said “Nord don’t do that, but then thought about it. Nord could influence people, which I supposed could be considered mind control. Metal hats, however, would not prevent that. “What a strange belief.”
He nodded and opened a door that had a metal gate and a lever on the far wall. We stepped in and he closed the gate and pushed the lever down. The sinking sensation and the hum did not startle me, although I think he expected me to jump.
“What do you call this contraption?”
“A lifter. The ancients had them in their tall buildings. It saves a lot of time and sore legs from climbing all those steps.”
“I can imagine. What drives it?”
“An engine and a system of pulleys.”
I almost asked what powered the engine, but I felt that I knew.
“Besides,” he said, “the dome protects us from the Nord, among other things.”
“Dome?”
“Surrounding the city. Grand Councilor Fadreel developed it. He is a quite a technician himself.”
“I had wondered about its purpose.”
Our downward progress stopped with a thump and he opened the gate and the next door.
“This is where we make elemental containment systems from the refined plas that the Flowstoners provide us.”
“What do the Flowstoners get in return?”
He snorted and pushed the hair from his eyes. “Money, certainly, but more importantly technology. For example, their land is arid. With the containment systems we make, they are able to transport water, which allows them to grow larger crops.”
They eat crops? I almost laughed at myself aloud. Of course Dvergr were like the rest of the peoples of the world and ate crops. I guess I assumed they ate rock or something. The stories I’d been told as a child, not necessarily from my mother, although she’d been present, implied that Dvergr were all around evil.
The well-lit and hot basement smelled of burning plas and made me cough. Technician Stygand handed me a familiar masque with silver disks, which I immediately put over my face. He lead me to a forge, where a Dvergr stoked the fire with wood chips. A large tank with a ladder attached to its side was connected to the chimney of the forge. The chimney funneled out through the ceiling. The Dvergr grabbed a shovel full of black rocks, scampered up the ladder, and dumped them into the tank. On the other side of the tank, a dark gray substance oozed from a faucet into a mold. Once the mold was filled, a Dvergr took it to a table where it solidified. The mould solidified and was connected to others and a cage emerged. I recognized it as the same type of cage that Zat had been captured in back in Southallow. I missed Zat.
Thinking of Zat made me use my elemental sight. I felt a moment of relief that it worked, followed by disgust. The forge had a fire elemental in it, and elemental sparks caused the lights to work. I controlled the urge to set them free.
Technician Stygand touched my sleeve and directed me back to the lifter.
Once inside, we removed our masques he asked, “What do you think, my lord?”
“And the black stone is plas?”
“No, the forge turns the black stone into plas.”
“The grey stuff?”
He nodded.
“And you can weave that in with wool?”
“Yes, exactly.”
I wondered if he knew that the plas acted as a block to elemental magic.

-18

Rand the Second had been unharmed. I tucked the wool-plas sling into my saddle bag and the porter helped me to mount. Vytar and the castle guards – no longer keeping their distance – escorted me back to the castle. A crowd lined the streets and several heralds yelled questions at me as I rode. It surprised me that most were positive. I assured the crowd that I had been uninjured and that the man whose arm good Captain Vytar had taken off, would receive the best care possible. It had been a misunderstanding. All the questions made for a long and exhausting ride. My fingers still shot off the occasional spark and I did my best to ignore them.

The stables bustled with activity. Many sentinels, more than I’d seen before, arrived on their horcines. Several waved at Vytar who acknowledged them with a nod. One, the female sentinel from Trommel, Elenosa, seemed especially happy to see him. He excused himself from me and went to see her. I heard her congratulate him on finding the heir. He told her he was very happy that she survived her encounter with The Owl. She put a hand on his arm and assured him that she had been uninjured. He looked like he wanted to kiss her, which reminded me of my own forbidden attraction, waiting, I supposed, up on my room.
I dismounted and Rand butted his head against me chest. I feed him an apple and promised him a real ride on the morrow. It appeared that Vytar would be a while with his old company, so I took my bloody and frustrated self off to my suite.

“My lord, what happened?” Rhaenan rose from her chair in the library – now her room – and rushed to my side.
“Its not my blood.”
She trailed me to my room, where I pondered my wardrobe. Did all of my clothing contain plas?
I told her of the attack and then the troubling, to me at least, position of the mech-mages on magic.
“Magic for the common Adnorian,” she said, sitting on the bed and nibbling on a strand of her hair. She looked healthier than before, seeming to move with more grace.
“Yes. Technology driven by magic for all. It has a certain appeal. My worry is the loss of respect, I guess you’d say, of the elements.”
She nodded. “Adnorians worship the elements, correct?”
“Nord too, I thought?”
“Yes, but our relationship to the supreme beings – the parent elements – is more direct because the gods grant us influence over the elements. There’s a level of separation for Adnorians. For example, an Adnorian would not ask the fire to light itself and expect the fire to respond.”
“Why is that? I mean, Adnorians and Nord have similar features – hands, feet, hearts, and so forth – physically the peoples are not very different. Why do the Nord have direct access to the elements and the Adnorians do not?”
“Why do song birds fly but turducken do not? I think it has to do with the ancients. I heard a story…”
I picked out a dark wine-colored doublet. As I ran my fingers across the brocade, green sparks shot up.
“Ah, my lord, you appear to have a blockage.”
“I think this fabric has plas in it.”
“Plas?”
“An ancient technology according to Technician Stygand. I think it interferes with the elements.”
She ran her fingers down the doublet and nothing happened. She took it from me, murmuring something, and stood by the fire – which she asked the light.
Flame burst forth. She reached forward to put the sleeve in the fire and I objected.
She gave me a look that indicated that if I wanted to know, the doublet had to be sacrificed.
“Okay, just don’t burn the entire thing. Its the only decent doublet in the entire wardrobe.”
The burning fabric gave off an acrid smell not normally associated with wool or flax.
“Yuck.” She pulled the burned sleeve out and examined it. It had melted rather than burned.
I pulled out the sling, which I’d retrieved from my saddle bag, and put the end of it into the fire. The same nasty smell and the same melted appearance occurred.
“And you think this interferes with elemental magic?”
I nodded.
She put the sleeve of her gown into the flame. It melted as well.
“Is nothing here made of a normal fabric?” I asked, annoyed.
She took her gown off, leaving her dressed in a short chemise that showed a lot of enticing leg. Sparks shot from my fingers again.
She helped me out of my ruined doublet and ran her fingers through the hairs on my chest. The shocks made my head spin. I leaned in to kiss her, but she shook her head, her eyes unfocused. She wasn’t, I realized, trying to seduce me but trying to clear whatever magic block I’d acquired from wearing the strange fabric. Still, her touch roused my ardor.
With a pop, a wave a relief flowed through me, much like the orgasmic release that I yearned for but couldn’t have. She seemed aware of my urges – how could she not being pressed against me – and she tiled her head, giving me access, if I chose to kiss the line of her neck. I gritted me teeth and stepped back, bumping into the bed and falling into a sitting position. She would have climbed up on my lap, but I stopped her.
“Why? I know you are as attracted to me as I am to you. Our powers confirm it.”
“I’m married.”
“What?” She stepped back, crossing her arms across her chest.
“I’m married and then there’s that thing with your sister.”
“What do you mean?” Her eyes narrowed.
I chewed my lip for a moment, trying to decide how to explain. I decided to leave most of it out. If Rhaenan didn’t know her sister to be twisted, I didn’t want to tell her.
“I think she wanted to be considered for the position of Queen, should I suddenly acquire the thrown of Adnor.”
She looked unconvinced. “Why would she want that?”
“Don’t you want that?”
“Not for all the diamonds in the garden of eternal spring.”
I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
“We’d better find you some clothing that doesn’t have that substance in it,” she said after a moment and went back into her room for a robe.
“I’m not the only one,” I yelled to her.
Neither of us, after further testing at the fireplace, had any clothing not contaminated. The clothing I’d gotten from the Loyalists had been taken away.
Then we had a small argument about who should go in search of wholesome clothing. She won that by reminding me that she had many more years of training under The Owl than I did. I watched with reluctance as she tied her hair up, put on some of my dark colored trousers and doublet, and pulled a metallic liripipe hood on. She looked boy-ish and kind of cute. I felt disturbed at my increased attraction to her. Then she did something with her powers that obscured her face and form.
“What about shoes?”
“Don’t need ’em,” she said and with a flippant wave, walked out of the suite past Yerston, who was bringing dinner in.
“Who was that, my lord?”
“Hmm?” I said, keeping my eyes pointed downward toward the stained doublet I’d worn earlier. He spotted the blood and acted as I’d predicted. He hustled me off to the bath and found fresh clothing – full of plas no doubt – for me to wear. He didn’t think to check on Rhaenan until I’d eaten most of the meal.
When asked if I knew where the lady was, I said no. I did not elaborate.
“I shall call the guards.”
I rose and stood in front of the door.
“Why? Is she a prisoner?” Am I a prisoner? If I wanted to leave and go back to Oakvale, would I be allowed to?
“She is a Nord.”
“So am I – at least partially.”
“Would that you weren’t,” he said and turned from the door to gather my dirty dishes. The clanking of the plates together emphasized his displeasure.
He paused near the door, plates in hand.
“Is there anything else, my lord?”
I hesitated. If I used my voice on him, he’d forever be against me. If I didn’t and Rhaenan were detained by the guards, I’d have to rescue her all over again.
“Please let me know if you see the lady. She is only recently recovered.”
I could tell he wanted to sneer at that but nodded and left.
I cursed her stubbornness and my ineffectiveness.

-17

A commotion at the door made me look up. A pair of men, dressed in orange, tried to brush pass the door guard. He stood up to them the best he could, but one distracted him while the other entered. The boy turned to stop the first man, only to have the second walk past him. They approached our table with determined strides.
“Prince Angestirian, Captain Vytar, we were hoping to have a conversation with you.”
The innkeeper showed up, trailed by the door guard.
“You heralds, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Leave the Prince to his lunch.”
“I tried to stop them, pa,” the boy added.
The heralds ignored them.
Vytar stood, his hand on his sword.
“What do you want to talk about?” I asked, turning my chair so that my back was to the table.
“Don’t encourage them, my lord,” Vytar said in a low voice.
“What do you plan to do about the recent tax hike on merchants coming into town who are not on the Grand Council’s preferred list?”
I suspected that “nothing” was not the answer they were looking for.
Before I could come up with any answer, the other man, who sported a black eye, said “What about my animals? Your filthy sentinels stole all of my stock. Do you know how much good mules cost these days?”
“You’re mules were stolen?” Were they making mulecines now? How did the Grand Council expect the country to run if no one had any riding animals?
“Yes, Prince. The livestock merchant – on the preferred list, note you – paid me a quarter of what they are worth. Claimed the prices of horcines were falling and that he had no need for mules now. I asked how much the horcines were and he said fifty gold pieces. Fifty gold pieces! Can you believe that? I can’t afford that and still feed my family. Is that the way you plan to run this country? By making the poor poorer?”
I tried to interject but the man continued. The herald pulled out a notepad and an inked quill and took notes.
“No average man can afford a riding animal now, and I can’t sell my mules if I’m not on your damned preferred list.”
His raised voice had caused a crowd to gather at the door.
“It’s not my list.”
“Not your damned list? Are you the Prince or not?”
“I am. I have not made any preferred merchant list.”
He cursed at that.
“I prefer mules to horcines. I do. Look I’m sorry you got fleeced but…”
“Sorry? You’ll be sorry, Nord.” And with that he swung at me.
Vytar’s sword caught his arm, cutting it off at the elbow. Blood spurted all over me. The man’s cry caused someone in the outer room to yell, “The prince is under attack.”
Someone yelled back, “Good.”
Chaos ensued with the pro-prince versus the anti-prince groups squaring off. Both groups pushed their way, while fighting, into the room. Vytar pushed me behind him and prepared to take on the entire crowd.
I recalled the last bar fight I was in and worried about Rand.
“Stop,” I said, using my voice. I felt the power build in me, but nothing happened. Vytar blocked a cup thrown in our general direction.
I tried again. No one paid any attention to my voice. I tried to call the wind. Nothing. The river of my power had been jammed, like logs in a flood. The backwash, so to speak, made me feel bloated.
The retired guardsman from the celebration came to fight near us and deflected a near-fatal cut to Vytar’s unarmored mid-section. The anti-prince group seemed out numbered and fight wound down when the our trailing guards and a few others entered.
The crowd cleared out, allowing a physicker to see to the most wounded, including the one-armed mule seller.
“Will he live?” I asked.
The physicker nodded with some enthusiasm. He gestured to the small man accompanying him – a Dvergr I realized belatedly. “And get the use of his arm back, I’m certain.”
The Dvergr gathered the severed arm and they took the man away.
“How can that be?” I asked to the mostly empty room. Vytar handed me a wet towel and I wiped my face.
“The physickers are working with a new mechanical invention,” a voice told me. Stygand, the mech-mage, entered the room, stepping over broken furniture. He had a small cut on his lip but otherwise appeared unruffled, despite his long black hair hanging in his face.
“Looks like you had an eventful lunch,” he said, bowing to me. Vytar snorted.
“What invention?” The bloated feeling I had made me short.
“They’ve discovered how to reattach limbs. Evidently the ancients knew of the technique. The Flowstoners brought it back to us.”
“Good.” My skin itched, especially my arm in its sling.
The retired guard, Boer, approached us and bowed.
“My Prince, I beg a boon.”
I was all out of boons and starting to run out of patience, but I waved him on.
“I served your father and would like to serve you, if I may.”
“I would also serve you, my lord,” Stygand said, bowing again.
“Storm god’s nads, don’t let Fadreel here you say that.” It came out and I slapped a hand over my mouth. Vytar looked at me as if I’d grown two heads. Boer pressed his lips together.
“I beg your pardon. I am a little unsettled from the fight. Vytar, would you please confer with Goodman Boer while I speak with..” I paused and looked at Stygand who had a silly grin on his face. “I beg your pardon again, I don’t know your title.”
“Technician, my lord.”
“Thank you. I will confer with Technician Stygand. And have another beer. Everyone.”
The Innkeeper smiled at that and went to fetch us a pitcher. His son started the process of cleaning up.

Technician Stygand and I sat at a righted table, while Vytar and Goodman Boer stood, each with their hands up on the hilts of their swords, nearer to the door.
I tore off my sling and sighed as I scratched.
“My lord, are you okay?”
“Sorry. I have a terrible itch.”
“You’re shooting sparks.” I looked down at my finger tips and scratched my splint. Little green sparks shot out.
“Sorry.”
With a “May I?” and no pause, Stygand picked up my discarded sling. “Ah, good. The physickers gave you a new sling. It’s made out of a blend of wool and plas. One of my fellow technicians is trying to go into the business of making the fabric into clothing. It is remarkably versatile and hardy stuff.”
“What exactly is plas?”
“Ancient technology, actually.”
I raised my eyebrow and continued to scratch. I ended up taking off my splint all together. My wrist was not as healed as I’d wished it to be, although the pain and swelling had subsided. I waited for him to go on, but he changed the subject.
“About my service to you. Grand Councilor Fadreel suggested it, so it shouldn’t cause him any dismay.”
“Actually, he suggested that I get to know you. Please disregard my outburst. It has been a trying day.”
“Yes, I can imagine. The common people’s fears are irrational. You are a man. Maybe a man with different talents than I, but a man still. Too long have the commoners thought that magic only belonged to the elemental gods. It should be for everyone. That’s what we technicians think. It took the Flowstoners showing us that magic can be harnessed – the elements can be harnessed – which allowed us to make ancient technology work again.”
“How exactly do you harness an elemental?”
“It’s a trade secret, my lord, but since you are Prince – I’ll be happy to show you.”
His words seemed harmless enough, but the memory of Rhaenan connected to some machine, her soul spark dimmed to almost nothing, crossed my vision.
“I would like to see more examples of working ancient technology,” I said with caution.
By the door, Vytar and Goodman Boer shook hands and the Goodman left. Vytar joined us.
“My lord, we should return to the castle.”
“I agree.”
We rose and Stygand bowed again. “Shall I call on you on the morrow?”
“Yes, thank you, Technician Stygand.”
He smiled and left, pausing at the doorway to say, “Don’t let the tin hats get you down.”
I really wanted to like him.

-16

Vytar found me feeding apples to Rand the Second. Rand’s stablemates, all horcines, were absent when I arrived, so I assumed that meant the Sentinels were all out doing whatever it was they did. I no longer knew for certain. I had thought that they were arbiters of the law of the realm, but I suspected that was no longer the case. Vytar confirmed this as we were let out of the castle gates.
“Our primary job was to find Nord, to protect the mech-mages, and look for you. If we happened to help out in some manner, it was by accident.”
“When we first met,” I said, looking down at him. He insisted on walking next to my horse, so I had to keep Rand at a slow pace. He didn’t like that and tossed his head with impatience. “You said the sentinels were investigating the Dvergr and the drought.”
We traveled from Crown Castle down a short slope into the city. I noted that we had two guards following us. We, by silent agreement, decided to ignore them.
“The Grand Council was in negotiations, until recently, with the men of Flowstone. They’ve reached an agreement, I gather. The drought was mentioned as an important item to us – something we were supposed to note in our reports – but nothing was ever said about finding the source of the drought. And then the council changed it’s focus more to the Nord and capturing them.”
“Is there even a council or is it all the Grand Councilor?”
He looked around, noting the populace that had either stopped to stare at us or who had hurried away. Many who stopped to stare wore the funny metal liripipe hats.
“There are three Grand Councilors today, but truly, I don’t know.”
“But there are seven provinces. Each is supposed to have a councilor.”
He shrugged.
We continued down into the city proper and he lead me to the gates of a fine three-story villa with craved stone embellishments. Several upper-story windows had balconies. I could imagine a lady sitting out in the afternoon sun, waving a long scarf down at her admirer.
“Who lives here?”
“Countess Byvora.”
When he didn’t elaborate, I asked, “And?”
“She is the author of the letter you showed me.”
“Oh.”
Vytar pulled the bell cord next to the gate. A deep “bong” sounded. A long moment later, just as Vytar had reached for the pull again, a servant, dressed in a white tabard with a green pine tree on it, came to the gate.
“The Countess is not receiving,” she said.
“But, this is Prince Angestirian.”
“She is not receiving. Good day.” The woman turned and walked away.
Vytar reached for the bell pull again, but I stopped him.
“She could be out.”
“She almost never goes out. Besides, I see her coach.” Vytar pointed through the iron of the gate to where a four-horse, round-topped coach rested at the foot of a flight of steps leading up to the house. A servant scrubbed the gilding on the wheels.
Why would the woman who wrote the kind letter to my mother not want to see me?
“Perhaps she is ill. We can stop by again later.”
“But my lord, this is an insult. All nobles of Crown City should receive you.” He seemed to be offended on my behalf. I wondered if perhaps he’d been spending time with Yerston.
“It’s not of great importance, Captain.”
He grumbled about it for the next three blocks, until he spotted an inn.
“Are you hungry, my lord? This inn is renowned for its meals.”
I stopped Rand at the entrance and got off. A porter reached for the reins and I shook my head.
“Are you sure about this, Captain? The last inn you took me to cost me my horse and gave me a horrible hangover.”
Vytar looked at me blankly for a moment and then paled.
“My lord, I am so sorry about that. I assure you…”
I cut him off with a wave. “I tease. Good man,” I turned to the porter, “my horse is to stay tied to this post until my return. Are we clear about that?”
“Of course, Prince Angestirian. No one shall touch such a lovely animal. And may I say, my lord, it is good to see you riding a real horse.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I said and handed him the reins. He tied Rand to the post and stood, arms crossed, watchful.

The proprietor, a thin man about Vytar’s height, met us and showed us through the common room, to a private back room. The patrons murmured as we passed.
The private room, furnished in gleaming wood and red velvet, had four tables, spaced so that the occupants could have private conversations. A young man stood at the entrance, guarding the occupants from interruption. Vytar selected a table and sat so that he could see the entrance and exit to the kitchen.
“You suggested this place, Captain. Surely it is safe.”
“No place is completely safe, my lord.” He relaxed a little though.
The server brought us some candied nuts and offered wine.
“Beer?”
Yes, they had beer but would my lord prefer a pink wine?
“My lord would like a beer. And so would my lord’s Captain.”
Vytar objected.
“Shut up, you’re having a beer.”
He rolled his eyes, but when it arrived, cool and frothy, he took a long sip that ended in a sigh. I sipped my own and found it to be nicely hopped and full of flavor.
The lunch offering included fowl pie, which I turned down, and a beef sandwich, which I accepted.
I almost got to take a bite before Vytar’s hand across my mouth stopped me. I should have bitten him.
“May I, my lord?” Without waiting for my reply, he cut a small piece and ate it.
I dampened my irritation, knowing that he only wanted to keep me safe, which reminded me of Rhaenan.
“Speaking of tasters, what issue do you have with my rescued woman?”
He took a sip of beer again.
“When I first met her, your rescued woman had your horse and some very deadly knives. She is a witch.”
“Temple witch.”
“A temple witch who fights with knives and steals horses. I suspect that she is aligned with that killer, The Owl. Do I need to remind you that he is the reason you are in your current status?”
I raised my eyebrow at him. “What is my current status?”
Vytar put both palms on the table and leaned forward. “Exactly, my lord. Your status is in question. You are the rightful ruler of Adnor, yet people treat you as if you are of no consequence.”
He really believed that.
“Storm god’s nads, Vytar. I’m a hospitlar. Who cares if my father was king? He’s not king now. Grand Councilor Fadreel is in charge. You expect me to oppose him? I don’t have an army, resources, or friends. I have an inn in Oakvale.” Suddenly I was homesick. I missed my own beer, Som, Dasta, and Jeslynn. My books, my bed. I even missed Torgood. I missed Zat.
He gentled his tone. “I know you find her attractive, my lord, but she is dangerous.”
Oh yes, my lord found her attracted, but my lord was still married.
“Nothing is going to happen there. She is dangerous and you are correct: she was with The Owl. I believe her to be with me – whatever that may entail.”
“The Owl should be shot like a rabid dog.”
“You know he’s my uncle, right?”
Vytar sat back in shock.
I took my sandwich back and started to eat it.

-15

Yerston moved Rhaenan out of my bedroom and into the library room, claiming she’d be more comfortable there. I think the real reason had more to do with her country of origin than any propriety. When he offered us breakfast, at the table where our mutual rooms intersected, he got huffy when she insisted on tasting my breakfast for me.
Vytar knocked and entered, and Yerston, already upset, stormed off to get more food.
“The problem with having a food taster,” I noted after he left, “is that I’d have to wait around for the taster to fall ill – which could take several hours.” My stomach growled and I stuffed a piece of sweet fried bread into my mouth. “I don’t think I could wait.”
I waved for Vytar to take a seat and passed him a cup of tea.
“I have not identified any trustworthy guards, my lord. Nor a taster.” He sipped the tea. “I think perhaps the sentinels have influenced them.”
“Why would the sentinels not like me?” I really wasn’t used to people having an opinion about me one way or the other, especially an entire group that I didn’t know.
“I think it’s Sentinel Ernol, more than the others. He is a little extreme in his anti-Nord beliefs.”
I waved my fork in Rhaenan’s direction. “See – it’s not safe for you to be my guard.”
Vytar looked at Rhaenan in surprise.
“You? You’re not fit to be his guard.”
“That’s what I told her,” I said, and regretted it when she gave me a look that, were she my wife, would have meant that I’d be sleeping in the barn for the next week.
“I may not be fully healed, my lord.” She said to me but directed her glare at Vytar, “But I bet I can still beat this one in a fair fight.”
Vytar snorted his opinion of that.
“You don’t think so, Sentinel?”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it? It wouldn’t be a fair fight,” I said. They didn’t hear me.
“You want to try me?” Vytar started to call her ‘witch,’ but caught himself. He shot of look of guilt at me.
“She is a witch – a temple witch, so it’s not an insult,” I said, trying to project calm and certainty, which I ruined with I asked, “Right?”
She sniffed and looked away.
“I caught you, girl. Don’t forget that.”
“You cheated; stealing my boots and the horse while I was bathing.”
This sounded like a story I wanted to hear.
“You stole her shoes?”
Vytar shrugged and we fell into an uncomfortable silence.
“Speaking of my horse, I think I’d like to take him out for a bit today. Captain Vytar, would you care to join me?”
“Of course, my lord.”
Rhaenan looked at the ceiling and sighed, saying “Don’t invite the Nord, she’s too weak.”
Vytar’s pithy response won a smirk from her.
Yerston returned with the Captain’s breakfast and stood by the wall, watching and passing silent judgement.
“Shall I taste your breakfast, Captain?” Rhaenan offered.
He returned her smirk and took a big bite of sausage.
The physicker showed up shortly after that and, as Rhaenan predicted, she was sent back to bed and I was allowed to resume my ‘daily activities,’ whatever those may be. Vytar went off, announcing loudly so that Rhaenan could hear, to the practice field. He’d meet me around noon for a ride into the city.

Although I wanted to know what had occurred between Rhaenan and Vytar, if neither wanted to tell me, I couldn’t force them. I sat to put my boots on and listened for signs that Rhaenan wanted my company. I heard nothing. The odd thought that Rhaenan, and certainly her sister, could have forced the story from an unwilling mind by using their witchery crossed my mind. I did not doubt our mutual attraction, but I began to understand the common Adnorian’s fear. Did Vytar fear the same thing? He didn’t seem to fear me. His apparent dislike of my would-be-but-couldn’t lover/taster/guard bothered me. I wanted them to get along.
I paused, mid-tug. I wanted Vytar to like her and I wanted his good opinion. How did I come to care about that? I didn’t care about Fadreel’s good opinion, for the most part. I didn’t care what Yerston thought about her.
I glanced at the man, currently making up my bed. Yerston seemed not fearful of her, but rather scornful. I didn’t know his history of interactions with my mother’s people, but I kind of suspected his haughtiness may have contributed to whatever bad treatment he might have received that caused his current actions.
I resolved to remember to treat him with more respect and so to perhaps change his mind about the Nord and their descendants.

The subject of poor treatment caused me to visit the kitchen to ascertain whether beatings had been handed out. The head cook, a properly plump woman who reminded me of my adopted mother, Kotja, greeted me with hesitation. After I thanked and complimented her on the tasty breakfast, she softened her stance.
The kitchen, my favorite place to hang out as a youth in Oakvale, operated much like any other kitchen. The familiarity and homeyness made me smile. Soon I talked the cook into letting me help her wash and peal root vegetables and we had a nice conversation about pastry techniques, which lead to a conversation about grains, and eventually I got to ask where the bad bread came from.
“Our bread is only as good as the water, m’lord. Can’t always tell if the water is fouled.”
“Is the water fouled often?”
“Depends on what those mech-mages are up to. Sometimes they dump things in the water supply – to keep the Nordies away, so they say. Everyone keep saying the Nordies are out to get us. Not me, m’lord. Loved your lady mother I did. Made her special treats – and you too come to think of it. I’ll make you some again right soon.”
“Did the Grand Councilor actually have someone whipped because of the bread?”
“Oh aye. He took it out on little Mahl, there.” She gestured with her paring knife toward the young boy, probably eight years of age, washing dishes. He hunched his shoulders but didn’t turn around.
I sighed. “I’m sorry, Mahl.”
He didn’t respond so I let it go.
We finished the bin of roots and I washed off my knife and handed it back to her.
“You’re a good man, m’lord. I’m looking forward to better days now that you’re here to rule us.”
Disturbed, I didn’t know what to say about that, so I nodded, thanked her again, and left.