Buying Time - Chapter 1




Buying Time

Chapter 2

Chapter 3






The Beginning Is At An Inn


     I am a clerk.

     It isnít glamorous; I know.  It isnít the kind of occupation that is going to leave a heavy mark on the history of the Newborn.  The king isnít going to run up from Drake's Nest to ask my opinion on how heís running the kingdom;  My family isnít going to parade through the town singing my praises.  No, it isnít heroic or glamorous.  But, it also isnít farming;  I can say it with a clear conscience and no apology.  What am I?  Iím a clerk.

     I am the largest of my brothers.  My mother once measured me standing in bare feet at six feet three inches.  Draped fairly nicely on that frame I have spread some two hundred thirty pounds and, no, I don't yet have the beginnings of my father's pouch.   I have the sandy brown hair most of us northern Newborns are blessed with that I like cut short on the neck and short on the top.  All those tresses and curls hanging down my neck annoy me more than most of the other men around here so I cut mine short.

     Two of my brothers got the blue eyes I should have.  Mom drank something wrong while carrying me so I sport the brown eyes of her side of the family.  I guess they do blend in pretty well sitting under the sandy eyebrows that are very thick and bushy making my face of a single color sort of passing from shade to shade.  If it wasn't for the crookedness of my nose I think the girls would approve of my appearance but, then, this nose is pretty bad.  It starts out okay but it soon takes a major detour to the right side of my face and then cuts back drastically to the left.  Why?  If you had three brothers you wouldn't have to ask.  I don't remember which one is responsible for the curve in my nose.  In memory, they all are.  At one time or the other they all exercised the opportunity. 
     Anyway, I became Mr. Browning's clerk.  He runs a dry goods enterprise in the village of River's Bounty.   Mr. Browning is getting on in years, you see.  He wasn't young when he opened his store and he hasn't made any progress in getting younger or staving off advancing age.  I see this as fortunate for I think it is this fact of life which prompted Mr. Browning to hire me.

     Mr. Browning serves the Vale, the massive farmland that sits below the Treebreak Forest.  Mr. Browning has served my family and neighbors for thirty years, a good man, an honest man, a man valued by the other Newborn of the Vale for his support and his interest in their success.  Examples of his concern come easily to mind.  There was the flood of "34 that could have wiped out the the Vale.  Instead, Mr. Browning extended credit, got us through to the decent crops of "35, and the farms survived.  That was twenty-three years ago but the Newborn of the Vale haven't forgotten.

     The relationship has not been one-sided.  Mr. Browning's store burned to the ground on a hot summer night in "46, victim of overabundant lightning and insufficient rain.  The Newborn re-built Mr. Browning's store,  paid bills they did not owe for goods he could not provide.  Somehow, when stock was replenished, accounts were balanced and business has continued thus for the last twelve years. 

     In the beginning, Mr. Browning had me convinced that I had chosen poorly.  Lifting and carrying are precisely the tasks his advancing age makes difficult and precisely the tasks for which he hired me.  Cotton bales should have taught me better but I must ruefully admit it came as a shock to discover how much crates of calico dresses weigh, how barrels of flour belie the powdery nature of their contents to place a strain on the back I wish to save.

     In the beginning, I said.  I should have said in the beginning, in the middle, and even to the present because I still have the honor to perform the lugging, the toting, the lifting, and the storing.  In the present, though, I am compensated by the training Mr. Browning gives me in the numbers and the plans and the management of his business.   I learn quickly.  Given the opportunity, I believe I could  operate his business as well as Mr. Browning.

     It doesnít matter.  At this moment my future prospects are no more than what Mr. Browning terms a 'thought experiment," Mr. Browning will work till he dies, that much I know.  He'll not retire to a life of ease and relaxation.  He tells those who suggest he do so that he has no sympathy for ease and relaxation.  A man is put on this world to contribute something, he says, not to take something.  Mr. Browning has every intention of contributing as long as he lives.

     I suspect there is a connection there.  Heíll  work as long as he lives;  heíll live as long as he works.

     Looking at Mr. Browning it's hard to put your finger on exactly how old he may be.  He is a little shorter than the average Newborn and a little less stocky.  He carries more weight these days than he has in the past but he attributes that to advancing age and the fact that I am the one doing the hard labor.  Like me, he has deep brown eyes that are sometimes hidden by the spectacles he wears.  He says the glasses are for reading and that explains why they spend most of their time perched on his eyebrows rather than on his nose where they might do some good.. 

     Unlike me he lets his hair grow where it will.  I don't think he's cut any part of that mat in the last four or five years.  It would drive me crazy to have hair like that but he doesn't seem to notice.  Of course, the arms of those glasses he wears do tend to keep the side tresses under control.  His hair is a brown much darker than mine, sort of the color of oak after you work some oil into it.  At least that is the base color.  There is a lot of gray mixed into the base.  His sideburns and eyebrows are wolf gray now and the outer fringes of the thickness of hair are more gray than brown but the top of his head is fighting a war of resistance against the change of color and doing pretty well.                  

     I admire Mr. Browning.  I respect him.  I believe he is satisfied with my work.  But, we are not friends.  He lacks the patience to listen to my dreams and speculations.  I lack the single-mindedness to listen to his assessments of the day's business and the probabilities for tomorrow's business and the estimates for next month and next year and the year after that.  While Mr. Browning reviews his accounts, I spend my evenings in the River's Bounty, our town's only inn.  While Mr. Browning sates his mind on accounts received, I sate my thirst on the Bounty's mead, not to excess, but to pleasantness.  It is true:  I am not Mr. Browning's friend; I am Mr. Browning's clerk.

     The River's Bounty sits astride the Road as it splits our small town into uneven shares.  The oldest building in the town, the largest building in the town, the most comfortable building in the town, the center of political and social discourse in the town, the source for our town's name, the River's Bounty reflects more than a century of comings and goings, dinners and ales, talk and song and rumor.  What an inn should be, the family Innkeeper have made the River's Bounty.  Fifth generation ownership, the Innkeepers maintain the comfort of the facilities and the quality of the food at a constant level of excellence earning a reputation far beyond the limits of our small town, even to Drakeís Nest and beyond.                 

     The family name, Innkeeper, derives from their chosen occupation and serves them now as surname, title, and self-image.  Regardless of schedule or time of day or anything else that might keep a person on the Road, travelers put aside other considerations to stop at the Riverís Bounty because it is the smart thing to do, because the family Innkeeper has made the River's Bounty one of the world's great pleasures, a pampering of one's self not to be denied..  Bypassing the River's Bounty is unheard of perhaps because no one bypassing the inn would ever admit having done so.

     That area of the ground floor not occupied by the kitchen is home to the great room.  From fireplaces on each wall and lanterns at appropriate spacing dangling from the ceiling, from the windows on the east and north walls, the room is always comfortably lighted.  The Innkeepers maintain the gathering place at comfortable temperatures banking fires when the crowd overpowers the winterís insurgence or bringing those  fires to a snapping, crackling frenzy when winter takes advantage of a thinning crowd to makes its presence felt in the great room.  From wall to wall, fifty Newborn can share meals and drinks and conversation without straining the great roomís capacity.  Most often, ten or fifteen town people and fifteen or twenty guests while away the evening singing, talking, and dining.

     We citizens of Bounty are not a forward people.  Guests in the Riverís Bounty engage us in conversation or ignore us; it makes little difference.  We townspeople talk quietly of the day's events, of the status of crops in the Vale or the weather, or the stage of the great River.  With more gregarious guests, we are content to listen to news of the outside world or news of the day's travel on the Road or news of the guest's family, whatever topic the guests is inclined to explore.  The Innkeepers believe it a major part of the attraction of the River's Bounty, the chance to regale  townspeople with whatever and be heard respectfully and fully without fear of contradiction or ridicule or disbelief.  What we might truly think, custom has trained us to keep to ourselves.  We have little need to embarrass strangers or to put pop-in-jays in their place.  For they are in their place, you see.  They are center stage in the Riverís Bounty and the world is as it should be.

     Tonight, I am seated alone but not alone at a table for two near the north fireplace away from the major door at the southeastern corner.  My conversation is supplied in spurts by members of the Innkeeper family as they move around and about the great room waiting on their customers.  We know each other well, the Innkeepers and I. Our friendship more than compensates for the distance between Mr. Browning and myself.

It is cold outside, a late blooming snow storm howling a pointed reminder that the winter of "58 still has a share of calendar to spend before it yields to spring.  The essence of toil from three wagons of goods from the capital is like smoke from tired muscles in my back, shoulders, and legs joining the rising heat from the fireplaces to work their way through the lumber and flooring into the rugs of the second floor. Wearified smoke or smoked weariness, depending on your state of mind,  will infest the carpets of tsecond level to be unsuspectingly trod on by the night's guests.   The carpet doesn't mind.  I don't think the smoke or the expelled weariness will mind.

     Saja Innkeeper, sixth generation,  opted to wait my table this evening, a special blessing for me.  Her winter's dress is pale brown and sturdy discreetly hiding a body that provides not a few of my more pleasant daydreams and quite often my night dreams.  She knows this in the manner all Newborn women have of knowing the minds of Newborn men.  The knowledge doesn't seem to offend her but, other than the occasional waiting on my table, she does nothing that I could call outright encouragement to make my fantasies reality.  Still, I am willing to take blessings as they come.

     She is dark, this Saja of mine.  Dark complexioned, dark hair that reaches mid-back when she allows, dark eyes.   Yet, her demeanor is far from dark.  She laughs easily and often and smiles when she is not laughing.  She brings humor to my meal that transforms it from a very good stew into a fantastic stew for which I ask her to be sure to send my compliments to her aunt who is doing the cooking today.  Saja doesn't linger long in our chat; she has other tables to attend to but she does smile and she does accept the compliment and seems to know the compliment is intended as much for her as for her aunt.

     "The mead and the stew and Saja Innkeeper," I think to myself, "what else could I want?"

     As if in answer, the River's Bounty door bursts open.  The storm prevents a dignified entry.  The slightest freeing of the latch transforms the great door into a tiny foresail for the sloop that is the inn.  Riding the gales of this winter blast, the door flaps in the breeze and even the strongest of men can barely contain its antics.  This time the door blows free of the hand that released it allowing three travelers and their personal wind and snow to blow into the great room.  The last one in darts after the door and snares the beast against the wall before managing to wrestle the door closed.  She manages the deed quickly with only a small inconvenience to the patrons of the inn so that the River's Bounty patrons are soon able to concern themselves with the newly arrived travelers, not the all too familiar weather.

     The travelers are an unusual set of visitors to Bounty.  One is a Newborn man which, of course, is not unusual.  But, this man is accompanied by a Duorph and an Elph and such a trio is unusual.  We see Elph and, occasionally, we see Duorph.  We sit on the Road, you know, and most travelers follow the road and, as I mentioned, few travelers bypass the River's Bounty.  So, we have seen them all, Elph, Duorph, the rare Coblan.

A dozen quiet conversations come to life as Vale men and guests begin to speculate on the composition of this party.  To my mind, it is a comic exercise, table after table speaking in muffled voice about the newcomers while obviously not wishing to be thought discussing the obvious.   They are unsuccessful, of course, but their lack of success does nothing to discourage their attempts.

      The man is huge, a tree, topped off by long curly tresses which spray snow onto the floor as he removes his cap and shakes his head to rid himself of the unwelcome adornment.  Blond hair marks him as Southern Newborn as opposed to us Northerners of the Vale.  Our hair tends from a sandy brown to a river brown.  Southerners explain this is due to our close association with Vale's soil inferring, I suppose, poor hygiene.  We, on the other hand, explain this somber coloring as strength of character derived from cooperative association with the land of the Vale allowing Southerners to draw their own conclusions as to what this might suggest of light colored hair. 

     The traveler removes his outer coat, it seems to be deerskin but a kind of deer I am not familiar with, to reveal a uniform, bright green with gold lacing and trimming on sleeves and trousers.  A crest rides prominently on his right breast, a Drake's Nest set over crossed long swords on a shield of gold.  We know this crest.; it is our King's crest.  The king these days is Garren N'Drake, a man who has yet to grace our town with his presence even though he has sat his throne these fourteen years.

     Saja and her cousin, Rakel, have gone to the party now bidding them welcome.  Saja takes the man's cap and coat;   Rakel accepts coats from the females.  I didn't mention that, did I?  The Elph and the Duorph are women.  The two cousins head for the southeastern corner where hooks abound to bear the outerwear while guests enjoy the comfort of the inn. 

     Having shed their outerwear, the newly arrived females assume positions to either side of their male companion, turned outward from him, each engaging a portion of the great room, as if protecting his back, from what I cannot imagine.  The man also engages the room, sweeping his gaze back and forth, measuring what he sees, drawing conclusions only he may know.

     Saja returns to the travelers to inquire after their needs; rooms, meals, or both?  Her voice is low and private not wishing to share their desires with the congregation without leave to do so.  Among her many talents, Saja is a consummate hostess.  This might be hereditary among the Innkeepers but I think of it as a special gift of Saja's.  Rakel could perform the service as well, I suppose. Rakel is every bit as lovely as Saja but Rakel is....well, Rakel is not Saja.  You know what I mean.

     The man listens to Saja without looking at her, hears her words, attends her meaning, understands her attempts to provide the party a meager privacy despite the fact the entire room is staring but not staring. The man disdains the offer of privacy in order to make answer to the room in general.  As strong and as solid as the beams of the River Bountyís walls, his voice fills the room in tones that ring with the timbre of a deep bass bell.  "We have need of food and lodging...." he says in a quick nod to Saja and then his head comes up allowing his eyes to roam the room taking each patron into his command.... "but, further, we have need to make announcements, announcements better left till we have eaten and you have eaten but announcements which affect all here and all in the Vale."

     Having startled those already seated, myself included, evidently satisfied with the impression they have made, the party allows Saja to escort them to a table in the center of the great room, a selection which seems to me to be not in character with the females' earlier behavior.  From protecting his back to having all their backs open to the congregation suggests a great inconsistency.  I am unequal to the task of interpretation.

     The man takes seat.  In the process  he must adjust his saber to what should be a more comfortable yet accessible position.  With his size, it is not a graceful exercise yet he accomplishes the feat with an accustomed lack of fumbling matched by his total disregard of any impression he may engender.  He may think our opinion of him unworthy of consideration or he may be truly unconcerned with appearances.  Whichever he might think is not discernible to me.

     The Elph sits on his right.  She wears no saber though a dagger rides her hip.  The Duorph also carries no saber and what weaponry she may carry is invisible to me.   Their table is round in the manner of all our tables so they are able to space themselves evenly.  I note that the spacing they take at the table provides the trio unimpeded view of the entire room.  Perhaps their efforts at security have not been abandoned.

     Saja decides that she, and only she, can provide the proper service to these unusual guests.  Rakel is left with responsibility for the rest of the room as she moves quickly here and there and to meet this need.  Rakel is a good match for her cousin.  It is like having two jewels to compare.  See, this one glints gold and silver and sparkles in the light while this second glints silver and gold and sparkles in a different way in the same light.  Did I not love my Saja, I would surely love her cousin.

     Saja instructs the newcomers in the intricacies of todayís menu.  You may order stew and receive bread and pie to accompany the pivot dish or you may order carving from the elk roasted this afternoon to which the Innkeepers will add hearty portions of potatoes and green beans and cover them all with a gravy beyond words.  Of course, Saja doesnít describe the gravy as beyond words; I supply that definition in the privacy of my own thoughts.  

     Saja accepts their orders and, as she heads for the kitchen, she passes my table and proffers to me a raised eyebrow as if to ask what I think of this.  She does not pause for my reply.

     "What do I think of this?" I ask myself.  ďA noble, a Duorph, and a Green Elph?  Not that there is enmity between these races.  None such.  There has been more than two centuries of amicable relations.  Not what you would call closeness but a reasonable relationship.  We are Newborn and they are what they are and common interests do exist.  Mostly, though, we seem content to let each go its own way.  The borders are not too strictly held and commerce is meagerly encouraged.  Oh, a year or two ago there were rumors of our normal friction escalating into something more serious.  A messenger rode from Garren N'Drake to alert us to a White Elph menace but nothing happened and we haven't talked about that for almost a year.  It was exciting when it happened but without reinforcement such excitement drains itself over time.

     In my mind I think of the world as it stands today.  We are the Newborn; they are the Elder Races.  Our Newborn history goes back twenty centuries or twenty-three centuries depending on the school to which you subscribe.  The Elder races trace their history much further into antiquity but I do not know how far back that might be.  The histories of the elder races are not an interest of mine.  They are the Elder Race;. that's seems simple enough to me.

     A noble, a Duorph, and a Green Elph.  Not since the Coblan War have the three races traveled together.  This isn't based on enmity; it's based on lack of mutual interests.  Now, such a threesome ventures into the River's Bounty with announcements to be made.  To answer my Sajaís unvoiced query my thoughts respond  ďWhat I think is that I want to know much more of what is going onĒ.  At the same time,  I also have this thought that poor Mr. Browning's fascination with his books has left him out of the mainstream on this evening.  He will not be happy to have missed this event.

     Conversation resumes its low murmur.  We Bounty townspeople afford the trio the courtesy of an uninterrupted meal.  My neighbors may be as curious as I am but they have this history of allowing travelers their privacy, you see, and it is not easily put aside.  We are not a forward people.

     I persuade Saja, in a quiet moment between serving the newcomers their mead and, then, serving  their dinner,  to bring another mead to help me occupy the time the strangers need to receive and devour their meal.  I say 'devour'.  Their manners are impeccable but their need appears to be great.  They are eating a lot of food and doing so more quickly than a child forced to have his breakfast before he can ride the new pony Dad brought home last night.  It adds to the circumstance, whetting my appetite the more to hear these announcements.

     "Announcements," I dream, "of calls to glory for surely such as these bring news of war and tragedy.  They are hardly couriers of arrangements for Birthday celebrations or  appointments of new tax examiners or  the opening of a new ferry on the Great River.  The walls of my mind reverberate with horns and drums and portentous conclusions.  "These are the minstrels of dangerous times, of heroic missions, and hopeless causes," I hear myself think and a trace of color blushes my cheeks as I realize the pomposity of my musings.

     These are the  kinds of musing I am prone to which cause Mr. Browning such disappointment; which caused my poor father to throw up his hands in disgust and herd my brothers off to the fields mumbling that disgust to the winds; which caused my mother to shake her head and turn back to the cleaning of pots and pans; which caused my brothers to shake their heads making faces to one another as they trailed my father to the fields.  These are the  kinds of musings which set me apart from other Bounty townsfolk, which cause me to have dinner this night with only my own company to fill out the table and, truth to be told, the kind of musings which all too probably have kept Saja Innkeeper - her cousin Rakel, too - at a sociable distance.

     We in the Vale have no weapons to engage in war, no training.  We in the Vale have had no war in so long a time I think we do not know its meaning.  We in the Vale are thoroughly unsuitable for war.  Yet, this trio of messengers seems to be bringing news of war to we in the Vale as if there is truly some connection between war and us.  It is absurd.  It is high farce.  Yet, here I sit, waiting for these strangers to announce war and eager for the message.

     Throughout their meal they rarely speak, not a word to one or the other, only a "thank you" to Saja as she sets down a bowl of steaming stew and a second and then a third pitcher of mead.  Fork after fork of stew, sip after sip of mead, eyes roaming the room taking in everyone, measuring, calculating, concluding, but a not a word.  Sustenance in, nothing out, so that I think when they finally speak so much energy will have been stored their announcement will explode from them in a one great burst of words that will blow the room into very small pieces.

     Hard faces, I think.  No give in them at all.  The Duorph seems angry.  Though their home is a short distance away in the forests above Bounty, I am not so familiar with Duorph manners that I may be wrong in this estimate.  I judge that she is barely restraining a raging temper.  Her golden eyes are difficult to measure because the brow is eternally clenched, narrowing the ports from which those eyes stab the food, the surroundings, the people.  Her movements with the fork from plate to mouth are quick, staccato punctuation marks to that unspoken fury, or so it seems to me. 

     The Duorph's golden hair is cut very short as if she is the male and her Newborn companion the female.  Half his height yet more than half his weight.  Broad shoulders, broad hips.  Strong arms, muscular arms, a weight lifter, perhaps, if female Duorph lift weights.  As I said, I haven't seen many Duorph before but I have heard rumor.  Their endurance is legendary; their strength the compensation for their stature.  And something else but it escapes me now.

     The Green Elph, green because there are five Shades of Elph, is slender or maybe just in comparison to her companions.  As tall as the man but not near his weight.   Green hair - the green of hers is light, nearly translucent, the green of rainbows -.framing emerald green eyes, the hair and eyes set off by the  amber of her skin.  The Elph is a portrait of light and delicacy but prolonged observation hints at something strong and unyielding.  She seems like an island in the Great River that makes you wonder how it holds position as the power of the water hurries past.  She takes her food from plate to mouth every bit as quickly as the Duorph yet she adds a delicacy her companions lack,  an innate grace she probably cannot shed even with determined effort.

     They finish their meal.  Saja clears their plates.  Now, I suppose, now comes the announcement.

     The Newborn stands, removes his sword belt taking the belt and the sheathed saber into both hands.  Most eyes are drawn to him but for those which have not yet noticed his bid for attention, he raps the point of his sheath on the table, once, twice, and a third time.  Now, all eyes are on him.

      His delivery is stern.  The message his words carry to our ears is equally stern so that delivery and message are properly mated.  "I am Kal n'Drake, brother to your King.  You may doubt this.  Your doubts change nothing.  I am Kal n'Drake."

The man ignores our reaction to his opening sally.  We feel the challenge in his words, the almost insult to our intelligence and heads bob and whispers cross tables.  Our faces do not mask our resentment to this prince's implications.

     "I said we bring announcements," the brother to the king continues, "and so we do.  They are these:  War is upon us.  The White Elph are marching. They are now at the far borders of the Treebreak Forest and only the help of the Duorph has kept them there.  But, the Duorph cannot hold and the White Elph will come.  They will come to Bounty, continue to Drake's Nest, continue until they have taken and slaughtered Garren and every Newborn he commands.  That is the first announcement.

      ďThe second announcement is that an army must be raised; the Newborn of Vale must be that army.  This is why my companions and I are here, to raise this army and then to meet the White Elph and make them pay blood price for their advance.  We may not stop them.  They are many, the entire White Elph nation.  We are few.  If we cannot stop them; we can make them pay dearly for their uninvited trek through the Vale."

     Till now I had dreamed these announcements garnishing my dreams with wonder and glory and honor like Auntie Innkeeper garnished todayís elk.  But, now the dreams are reality and the beauty of the dream has vanished into dim memory overshadowed by gathering clouds of alarm, of fear. 

     While I try to absorb what these announcements mean, my fellow townspeople do likewise.  We are not a forward people but these announcements have prodded my neighbors to question, reasonable questions reflecting the confusion our minds are straining to convert to order.  A whisper of "When do they come?' contends with an astonished  "Why do they come?" which battles an angry "Why us?" which drowns out a disbelieving "What do we know about being an army?"  Questions flow into questions, mating,  germinating,  birthing  new questions.  There is no order, no organization to the questions.  They rise and die, rise and die. 

     Kal n'Drake observes the onslaught like that island in the river with water pounding the shoreline knowing he cannot stop it, merely observe it.   His companions watch  the crowd should any of the patrons make an unwelcome move towards their table.  No one does.  We are content to question from a distance.

     For three, then four minutes, the questions bombard Kal n'Drake.  For three, then four minutes, he stands there, two hands on sword belt and sheathed sword, sheath pressing into the table as if anchoring the Newborn to his place in the midst of this consternation, denying the tumult the opportunity to wash him away.  It sinks into us he is not answering our questions.  Sinking in, it begins to mute our voices, the roar of confusion dissolving into a quietly tense expectancy.  The flood having passed, Kal n'Drake speaks again.  His words speak of an impatience that rankles even the most tolerant of my neighbors.

     "My companions and I have no time for foolishness.  You have had your time.  From this instant, no one questions what I say, what my companions say."  A murmur of protest, of dissent, of rebellion begins.  These are townspeople and farmers but they are Newborn.  Newborn cannot be treated as children.  Not even the King's brother can treat them so.

     A startlingly smooth gesture separates saber from sheath.  The sheath drops to the table, cannot maintain its purchase, and clatters to the floor.  The saber is raised in a two handed grip toward the ceiling, the pure Crystal Blade catching light from fire and lantern and tossing it around the room, playful under other circumstances, riveting under these.  Murmurs are cleaved and scattered like the reflected light beams.  Quiet ensues.

Kal n'Drake's voice shows no strain, no edge, no anger.  It is as soft and as hard as the great River's surface.  It fills the room with absolute certainty that Kal n'Drake is speaking and he intends to be heard.  "You have questions and they will be answered when appropriate.  I will determine when it is appropriate.  I determine that now is not an appropriate time.  I determine that now it is appropriate that you, each of you, spread the announcements to Vale.  Tell your families, your neighbors.  Tell every Newborn in the Vale that the Army is raised tomorrow at noon, here, in Bounty.  At noon."

     The Crystal Blade descends in a slow arc still slicing fire light and lantern light, still spewing it around the room, and then the blade rests, point down on the table.  Kal n'Drake looks expectantly around the room.  Quietly, no murmur of protest, with only the noise of scuffling chairs and shuffling feet, my friends and townspeople begin to gather coats, scarves, caps, and boots.  As do I.    No cheerful farewells and "come back soon" from the Innkeepers.  No slaps on the back and "see you tomorrow."  No last minute chugging of unfinished mead.  The Crystal Blade made its point.

      Because it is the Crystal Blade, you see.  Baring that blade was all the argument the prince needed.  We may be leagues from the capital and generations from war, but we are Newborn and we know the import of the Crystal Blade.  Only the King's Champion may carry that blade and no one questions the King's Champion.

     As I step out into the storm, my overcoat almost buttoned, my cap mostly tied down, I think to myself that calls to glory are supposed to be more glorious.


To Chapter 2


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