Authors: John Crandall
Copyright © 2014 by
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To my own Andric Stormweather: I never knew how much you
contributed to what I do until it was too late to tell you. Not only is a
large part of Andric drawn from my memories of you, but the goodness and the
perseverance prevalent in the heroes of this story are all drawn from the type
of person you inspired in me. Thanks, Pop.
raced upon the wind. Selric Arnesson Stormweather, his hair whipped
by the breeze, held the wheel steady and on course, guiding the ship home. Though
his shoulders ached from piloting
, such labor was Selric’s
best effort at keeping his mind off the last few hours of his exile.
“I’ll take it from here,” Dalrin called
over the sporadic, gusting wind and rippling sails as he climbed onto the
deck. “You should go pack your things.”
“Already done,” Selric said. “Two days
“Let me take the helm anyway, Master
Selric. It is my job after all,” Dalrin said, then changed subjects and tone,
conversing with his superior and friend. “You’ve quite a life to return to.
After two years you must be eager to get back.” Selric’s grin grew to a
full-fledged smile as the first mate stepped up to take the helm. “Now let me
get to work and you go get ready to dock. With these favorable winds, we’ll be
there under three hours.”
“Hours…it’s been so long since I've heard
the clock tower I’m not sure I can even tell the hours anymore,” Selric sighed
happily. “So Dalrin, did you enjoy your years abroad?” Selric asked, turning
so the wind blew his hair back out of his face instead of across it, though it
meant looking away from his friend while he spoke.
“Aye. It wasn’t the life you lived, but
was interesting. Lovely girls. And they know their place! Will take some
getting used to: these headstrong Andrelian women.”
“Andrelian women,” sighed the youngest
Stormweather. “Aye. I have missed them. The women of the east are fine and
demure and subservient, for sure. But I have missed the fire. The challenge.
The hunt!” he finished, turning to grin at his mate.
“Give me a subservient woman any day,
Dalrin glanced back to where Selric had
deviously slid. “Don’t even think of doing it,” Dalrin warned. “I hate it.
You know I hate it. Don’t. Don’t!” he screamed, avoiding Selric as best he
could without losing grip on the wheel, and subsequently, their course. Selric
succeeded in grabbing Dalrin’s neck where it met the shoulder. Using only his
thumb and forefinger, he quickly immobilized the mate, leaving him unable to do
anything but stand, though Dalrin could still laugh nervously. Selric beamed,
leading the mate away from the helm and around in a small circle, as if he were
on a leash. “You bastard. I hate those people for teaching you these things.
Up there in that palace learning who knows what…and in that monastery. I
always wondered what in the world you, of all men, would be doing locked up in
a monastery with no women. Was it just to learn how to torture me?” he said
with considerable gasping indicating his discomfort. “Now let me go before
Perriwimple comes on deck!”
“He won’t care,” said Selric, continuing
to move his friend about playfully. Dalrin could only go where led; if he
resisted, the pain became tremendous. “Haven’t I told you not to give me
“I forgot,” said Dalrin sarcastically,
“your daddy owns the ship. Now let me go,” he said louder, “I’m getting mad!”
“Say please and...”
“Selric Stormweather, cease this childish
behavior immediately. Have you learned nothing in our time abroad?!” Selric
relinquished his grasp, whirling to face Captain Perriwimple Suffolk who had
emerged onto the main deck below and was at that moment striding for the
stairs, stepping over the coiled ropes and tarp-covered gear in his path.
Dalrin scuttled back to his post as Perriwimple stomped up the steps. “Eager
are we gentlemen?” Perriwimple asked sternly.
“Most definitely,” Selric said, not
intimidated, but spry, as he walked to meet the captain. Dalrin, a simple,
studious mate, could do nothing but stare ahead, hoping above all to avoid the
captain’s wrath: unlike Selric, whose sailing days were likely over, Dalrin
would be working for Perriwimple for many years to come.
“I think that your father will be
pleased,” Perriwimple said, his face as stern as it invariably seemed, though
showing no anger for Selric’s lack of professionalism. “I believe that you
have finally found your trade. You are a very promising navigator, Selric.
With this journey you have proven your ability. Now all that has to follow is
the desire to pursue it,” he said, his brows raised.
“It was an enlightening experience,”
Selric said, barely able to hide his sarcasm. While Selric did actually like
the sea, navigating and the new lands he encountered, months, even years, away
from his life in Andrelia was too heavy a price to pay.
“Well, carry on,” Captain Suffolk said as
he turned to leave, “with your work that is.” He stopped and cast the younger
men a warning glance, for while he knew that the young nobleman might one day
be his employer, Selric’s father, Lord Stormweather, would support the ship’s
captain in making sure that order and discipline had been obeyed.
Selric turned toward the seacoast several
miles off to the east and watched it roll by, his mind flooded with thoughts of
his Andrelian acquaintances. He could never have imagined how much his home
had changed in his absence.
Selric had washed in his room as the crew
docked the ship so that he could depart as soon as the gangplank went down. Selric
was normally hard working and not one, despite his station, to shirk his
duties. But in this one instance, his eagerness bursting within
his…chest…Selric allowed his employees to complete the journey’s last few
tasks. So, with a sack weighted down with assorted treasures collected from
his ports-of-call thrown over his shoulder, Selric sprang down the plank and
sped up the dock as quickly as his unsteady sea legs allowed.
Andrelia was a tremendous city of over a
hundred thousand souls—several hundred thousand at the height of trading season—that
lay on the northwest coast of the most settled continent on its world. It was
the capital of one of the last remaining true kingdoms, Mendanar, and was ruled
by a true royal family, with power passed from father to son, generation after
generation for over four-hundred years. Most often these kings were good and
kind and liked by the people, if not loved, and all was well. When the monarch
was not so loved, there were perhaps a dozen noble families of worth who banded
together to steer the floundering throne off any course seen destructive or
even disruptive for the nation.
These nobles held little power in
government, the king reigning supreme. But together these landed knights and
gentry fielded nearly as many men as were in the royal army itself, and
commanded these men during battle at the king’s orders against enemies of the
realm. When joined strongly together for one common goal, this feudal class
could often persuade their ruler to look more closely at any actions that
seemed to threaten stability.
They were warlords and protectors,
politicians and social animals of the highest caliber, as unable to resist a
good party as they were a good war. These families dictated fashion and
mannerisms and provided the commoners with almost as much employment as they
did gossip. Most of these self-interested families were tolerated for all
their ancestors had done in establishing and protecting the kingdom during past
wars, but a few families were not only respected, but revered as noble not only
in blood and title, but in honor and deeds as well. It was to one of these
families, perhaps the kingdom’s foremost, that Selric belonged.
Andrelia was home to most of the
kingdom’s ruling noblemen, even if the majority of their holdings lay elsewhere
in the vast realm, and they all possessed at the very least small manorial
estates in the city for when they needed to attend the king at court. These
homes and manor houses lay on the prosperous upper side of the city, away from the
air and the manner of the waterfront that looked then so wonderful to Selric’s
eyes that he gazed all about with glee, scampering on his roundabout way home.
His eyes drank up the old, leaning
buildings; lapped the crooked cobblestone streets; imbibed the prostitutes who
accosted him: some knowing him by name and welcoming him home. In fact, his
name was soon ringing up the streets and echoing off the mostly wooden
structures there on the seedy waterfront. “Oye, that looks like Master Stormweather
‘is self, don’t it?”
“Master Stormweather is home?” the cries
went up, and many more.
Selric recognized every brilliant spire
of the dozens of cathedrals making up most of Andrelia’s crowded cityscape and
the towering palace in the midst of it all, visible above the behemoth walls
for leagues in all directions. Around him, beggars rooted through heaps of
garbage for some scrap to eat and dogs tore one another’s fur for a dead and
potentially diseased, rat.
But this youngest Stormweather swilled
the very air and sounds of bustle, and argument, and pleasure, and displeasure,
and toil, and decadence, and prosperity and a host of other worldly things
common to such a place of habitation; the squeal of children at play, the
rumble of carriage wheels, the creak of laden axles, the arguing voices of two
merchants plying themselves to their trade of bartering, red in the face and
wet in the armpits, their eyes aglow with eagerness for the game itself.
Several times day and night while on his
voyage, Selric had rehearsed, in his mind, the exact path he would take,
winding his way to the family estate: the route picked so that he could most
efficiently “touch base” with his most memorable acquaintances and friends.
So, Selric hurried, though attentive, through all this that he had not seen for
many months and he did not slow until he had reached the architectural firm of
Benjamin Orlitz. “Is Ben in, beautiful?” Selric asked the assistant, Sandra
Arlow, with a wink as he came to stand before her counter. Sandra’s eyes
sparkled when she looked up and saw who it was who had come through the door.
“No, Master Stormweather. He’s working
on a project up on Page Street. He won’t be in until after dark.”
“I’ll stop in to see him another day. It
“Welcome home,” Sandra said softly with a
smile to which Selric produced a small but precious stone, placing it on the
desk with another wink, bending over and kissing her cheek softly. Then he
turned and walked quickly out, an extra skip in his step. Selric was hoping
that Benjamin Orlitz would not be in: he seldom was, but Selric needed to be
sure. He walked to the nearby alley and through it to the back of that same
building, then laid his sack aside, knelt down, and produced a lock pick hidden
in the seam of his sleeve, using it on the door. In a moment the portal nudged
open. Selric looked left and right down the alley then slipped inside, closed
the door, set his bag by the coat rack then headed for the stairs; the familiar
Stealing up the steps, Selric’s ears
strained for any sounds indicating that someone was home. He checked the first
door he encountered after mounting the stairs; the sewing room. Empty. Next,
the bedroom. He opened the door, peeked inside and, seeing it empty as well,
closed it once again. “Where?” he thought. Then it hit him. “Bath time,” he
murmured, opening the bedroom door again and going inside. He crept past the
neatly made bed; past the nightstand covered with cosmetics; past the dressing
screen draped with feminine finery; he turned and went past the wardrobe that
sat next to the mirror. Smiling at his reflection, Selric quickly undressed,
fixed his hair and stepped to the door. Bursting with anticipation, Selric
opened it. Sitting in the bath and facing away from him was a petite figure,
blonde hair in a bun, humming happily. Slowly, silently, Selric slid up to her
and placed his hands over her eyes.
“Ben?” she giggled. Selric swung around
before her and plopped into the tub and into her lap, lying like a babe in the
woman’s arms. She gasped; astonished. “Selric, great gods! What are you
doing here? My husband?” She tried to sit up.
“He won’t be back for hours, my dear,
dear Alicin,” Selric assured her, batting his eyelashes playfully.
“You’re back?!” she then asked with a
surprised smile. Alicin’s expression softened, then brightened as she wrapped
her arms around him then puckered her lips, eyes closed, awaiting the kiss she
knew forthcoming. Selric Arnesson Stormweather, second son of Lord Andric
Stormweather, was now officially home.
Sweat ran down his face, the summer heat
and humidity pressing down on him as he stroked her nose. “Ready to go home,”
Dirk whispered in her ear. Candy simply snorted as he climbed up into the
wagon, and with a light flick of the reins the old draft horse started off once
Dirk had to get back to work; back to the
largest store in all of Andrelia to finish delivering its goods to customers.
The heat was stifling, so on the way he stopped for a drink at a place where
the sign over the door read,
. He set the wagon’s brake,
leapt down and strode inside, having made sure that Candy was resting in the
shade. The shop was still warm despite the shade and the open shutters, so
Dirk was all the more eager for a drink. He was surprised to find Barnabus
tending the bar. More often, Malchor, the owner, worked days, using Barnabus
on the night shifts.