“The headwoman had brought out her best mugs, blue-glazed treasures from the artisans in Duscapi. No doubt they’d been purchased at great cost to this tiny village and were brought out only to honor guests. Guilt pricked Jaena. The headwoman might not be so welcoming if she knew Jaena would be taking a child away from Bless-us-goddess.” — Taylenor
I’m happy to announce that my new stand-alone fantasy novel, Taylenor, is now available on Amazon in print and Kindle editions!
This is the story of Jaena, a young priest who travels to isolated villages, blessing births and singing the souls of the departed to her goddess. In one village she finds Wiel, a teenager with the rare mage talent known as taylen.
Jaena takes Wiel to the city to try to save his life. Too late, she discovers that she has delivered Wiel into the hands of the Mage Defender, who rules by stealing the magic — and the lives — of children.
My two Color Mage novels have been reissued with great new covers, and are now available on Amazon!
These are the same complex, character-driven fantasy novels about Callo and Kirian, fleeing from the wrath of a Collared Lord into even greater danger. Now published by Hydra Publications and re-issued with new covers. They’re also available in ebook versions.
Here’s the cover image for my new fantasy novel, Taylenor! The novel is in the final stages of preparation for release and will be out very soon. You can read more about the novel on my blog page, here.
Bradzar and the Dragon
by Anne Marie Lutz
Bradzar Authentine made his way up the boulder-strewn path to the dragon’s lair.
He was no longer a young man, as he’d been the last time he’d come this way. Then, he’d trembled with fear as he inched past sections of rock that glowed red with the heat of the dragon’s flame. Now he also trembled, but this time it was all in his legs, unused to the strain of the climb. And the rocks were cold enough on this winter’s day that Bradzar could have plopped a couple of small ones in his water bottle to keep it chilled.
There was no sign of Paissen the Feared. In fact, there had been no sign of the dragon for a long time now.
Bradzar had been nominated by the townspeople to go up and see what was going on. Nominated in lieu of harsher punishment, rather — the townspeople hadn’t taken kindly to Bradzar’s latest money-making scheme. These people had no respect for a man with a bit of entrepreneurial spirit. Besides, anyone who gave out their information so easily online deserved to be fleeced.
Bradzar reached the entrance to the cave that led into the black interior of the mountain. A few bones were strewn around the outside of the hole, surely very old, Bradzar hoped.
He turned and looked over the edge of the cliff. Far below, people stood at the foot of the trail and waited for Bradzar’s report. An angry buzzing sound grew louder as a drone ascended up the cliffside and hovered over him. That was the news crew’s drone, recording Bradzar’s every move.
Bradzar sighed. He stretched the ache out of his legs, set his shoulders and crept into the fissure in the mountainside that led to the lair of Paissen the Pitiless. He inched along the tunnel, then peered around the corner into the cavern.
Last time he had come this way, a foolish youth on a dare, the very walls of the mountain had pulsed red with heat. Now, an oil lamp hung on a golden chain from the ceiling, casting a circle of wan light that didn’t reach to the far edges of the cavern. It shone dully off heaps of gold and gems.
The dragon was curled on his hoard, the arch of his back curving up toward the roof, his wings tucked tight against his green-scaled flanks. He opened one huge yellow eye. “Back again, are you?”
Bradzar’s heart skipped a beat. Paissen remembered him? It had been forty years or more. What was he to say to the monster now: We noticed you don’t come around to see us much anymore?
Paissen the Terrible stirred and resettled himself on his hoard. As he moved, there was a crackling, rustling sound Bradzar didn’t recognize.
“Um, we haven’t seen you for a long time.”
“You aren’t flying over the town breathing flame down at us anymore.”
“That’s right. Doctor’s orders.”
“So to speak.” Paissen lifted his huge head, opened both baleful eyes and stared. The stink of his breath enveloped Bradzar. Old smoke, sulfur, and … nacho cheese?
“I’m sorry,” Bradzar said. “We missed you singeing the roof shingles off the town hall. And there hasn’t been a stink of brimstone in the air since forever.”
“You should be overjoyed,” Paissen the Death from Above said. He lay his huge head back down on his front legs, like a dog.
“Well, we’re not. Tourism revenue is down one hundred percent. Tourists want to see the dragon breathing fire, scaring the crap out of them. Without you there’s not much to bring them to our little village. All the hotels and restaurants are empty. People are unemployed. The mayor is at her wits’ end.”
Paissen’s tail swung back and forth. “I’m very old, you know. More than a thousand years. A disease of my kind has afflicted me. I have high blood pressure now.”
“High — ”
Paissen breathed out a puff of angry smoke. “No need to ridicule me for it. You try manufacturing flame in your body for years, flying around all the time in a rage of destruction, and see how it affects you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Bradzar said. “So you can’t breathe fire anymore, or you won’t?”
“One of my ancestors terrorized his community, breathing a raging inferno down on them yearly. He ignored the signs of the plague of our kind. He kept going, slaying and destroying, until one day he exploded, raining fire and ash down on Stolit until the town was destroyed and so was he.”
“I thought a meteor destroyed Stolit.”
“No, it was a dragon. One who ignored the inevitabilities of age and kept going until he went out in a blaze of annihilation.”
“Well, we don’t want that.” Bradzar thought a moment. He’d read up a little on hypertension lately, his doctor having warned him he was courting an early death if he didn’t change his habits. “Have you tried meditation? Maybe changing your diet?”
“I understand that green vegetables and lots of unprocessed grains can help.”
Paissen the Disastrous snorted in annoyance. “Dragons eat meat.”
Bradzar sighed. He looked around for a place to sit as he considered the problem. There was a distinct possibility he would have to go back down the mountain and tell the mayor and the council that the village’s glory days were over.
Paissen stirred, and Bradzar heard that crinkling sound again.
He strolled around to the side of the cavern so he could see what was making the noise. His eyes opened wide.
A huge drift of packaging lay heaped behind Paissen, rivaling the dragon’s hoard in size. The bags were brightly colored, red and yellow and silver in the low light, blaring out names like CRISPY CHIPS! or CHEEZ-FILLED NUGGETS or YUM! CRUNCHY COOKIES. All the bags appeared to be empty.
“You stinkin’ idiot!” Bradzar exclaimed. “Dragons eat meat, do they?”
Paissen the Horrible’s massive head lifted, and a warning flame scorched the air. “How dare you?”
“Look at all this junk food!” Bradzar strode into the pile of trash. Crinkling bags crushed beneath his feet, wafted around his legs. The aroma of stale toasted corn and fake sugar drifted to his nose. “Ugh! Why?”
“I may take only so many cows per year,” Paissen the Slayer said. “It’s not enough for a dragon of my size and strength.”
“The news has been reporting multiple accidents on the cliff road, mostly trucks supplying our convenience stores. I bet that’s all you, trying to feed your habit. Why?”
Paissen rose to his haunches, looming in all his terrible magnificence in the gloom of his lair. His scales scraped against the rock. Bradzar remembered exactly whom he was berating: the Merciless, the Ancient, the Destroyer from Above, who had terrorized the village since time immemorial. Only in recent years, as time and technology marched on, had they grown to value Paissen, who brought wide-eyed tourists to town to spend their currency. But they had not succeeded in taming him.
“Do you think a measly cow a month is enough to maintain my strength? It’s barely enough to sate my appetite. And tainted, always, with the stink of antibiotics and hormones. And if I stray from our agreement and take more than I am allotted? Or even a — ” Paissen licked his lips – “A plump middle-aged man like yourself, or a virgin as in the days when I was young?”
“The mayor wouldn’t stand for it.” Bradzar considered. “Well, neither would I. And we’d be after you with tanks and missiles before you could say Paissen the Dead.”
“Indeed.” Paissen curled back down and away from Bradzar. A depressed dragon if Bradzar had ever seen one, which he supposed he had not, but the signs were all there.
“We miss you,” Bradzar said. “The town is as empty as a church ten minutes after service is over.”
“I have been thinking about leaving this area,” Paissen said. “It will be hard, as I have many fond memories of breathing my fire upon your village.”
“No, no.” Bradzar thought. “You know all this junk food is what’s giving you high blood pressure?”
“It is a disease of my kind.”
“Maybe, but you’re making it worse. Look at all the salt in this stuff. If you laid off the chips and pretzels you could be back in action in a few weeks.”
“Do you think so?”
“Yes, I do! And more exercise is what you need, not just lying around mooning over your hoard all the time.”
“I would not like to go out like Zinaroth the Feared.”
Bradzar was almost afraid to ask.
Paissen slanted a look at him. “Zinaroth melted into a molten chasm and sunk into the earth, destroying his lair and everything within a ten mile radius.”
“Oh.” Bradzar was at a loss. “My condolences.”
“I must eat,” Paissen rumbled. “If not these foods that are making me ill, then good food. Meat. Or I must leave this place.”
“Look, I’m sure we can come to an agreement. You should have told us. Communication is key! We can raise some food for you. In fact the mayor would be happy to, if we can stoke our tourism again.”
“None of this antibiotic-tainted meat. No starveling cows that sate me for but a day. And the pigs! Someone left me a crate of pork tenderloins, an abomination! I need meat, on the hoof, fat and squealing.”
“Oh, lord.” Bradzar paced. “It will be a fight with the Council. Two of the representatives are vegan.”
Paissen’s head snaked around. One huge yellow eye regarded Bradzar. A low rumble began to build in the dragon’s throat. “You look very plump, and I am sure you would squeal.”
“Aaah, aaah, no! I know they’ll do it, to keep your mighty presence with us, O Paissen the Ancient!” Bradzar stumbled backward, tripped over a heap of gold bars, and fell on his rear end. “But you must let me go to tell them about our conversation!”
Paissen regarded him. “You have not aged well.”
“You’re one to talk, lying here moping and eating junk food.” Bradzar pushed back to his feet. “Do we have a deal?”
“Come back to me with terms, and then we will make a deal,” Paissen the Ravenous said. “I need real meat, on the hoof, as in the days of old. Once a month is insufficient. An occasional virgin — ”
“Your Mayor looks pleasantly fat. A sign of good faith, perhaps?”
“No people! That’s off the table. Totally!” Bradzar wiped sweat from his forehead. Dragons were known to be shrewd and wily. He didn’t want to accidentally promise Paissen one of the villagers.
“We will talk, then.”
“No more salty snacks! Burn all that packaging, will you? And fly around to see us now and then, get the blood moving, it will be good for you!”
“I hear tell of a nice marbled beef from the far East.” Now Paissen was looking dreamy.
Kobe beef? “We can’t afford it. Now listen, you must improve your health. We want you around for a long time. So, we’ll get you more natural meat and you lay off the junk food. Exercise! Lots of it. And would it really kill you to eat a vegetable?”
Paissen the Perilous harrumphed. “I suppose I could eat a potato.”
“Good, that’s good. Potassium!” Bradzar envisioned the vegan members of Council sneaking kale and chia seeds into Paissen’s diet. “How about some meditation? I can send up a friend of mine to guide –”
Flame seared the air too close for comfort, making Bradzar cough. “Okay, okay! No meditation! Even though it will reduce your blood press –”
Another blast of fire, this one closer. Bradzar turned and scrambled for the exit, his skin tingling from the heat. His throat burned from breathing in the dry, heated air. Behind him as he ran for the exit, Paissen chuckled, a deep, resonant, frightening sound.
Bradzar ran out of the lair into the gray winter’s light. He slipped down the mountain path, catching himself often with shaking hands, ignoring the cuts and scrapes he was accumulating.
Far below, the observers from the village waved and chattered excitedly. The camera drone buzzed over Bradzar’s head as he descended the mountain path at speed. This would do nothing for his dignity, that was for sure. But at least he’d completed the quest! And that meant there would be no prosecution for his last money-making scheme.
After a few details were negotiated, Bradzar would be famous as the man who’d rescued the village’s wrecked tourist economy. Maybe he would be the next mayor! Hell, maybe he could finagle a position as dragon-liaison, and they’d set him up in style for the rest of his life.
Bradzar reached the knot of observers. He grinned at the mayor’s anxious inquiry. Just as he began to reassure her, a roar blasted through the crisp mountain air. A massive shape blotted out the sun as Paissen the Scourge of Men spread his wings and swept down from the heights toward the village.
The Mayor and the assembled observers cheered. The military defense system in the village would be on alert, but Bradzar knew there would be no need for them to take action. Paissen would do no harm today.
The dark shape drifted here and there on the winds, a familiar sight in the village for a thousand years. The news crew filmed it all, a reporter grinning as she reported the news that Paissen the Ancient was back, and all was as it should be.
Also: Thanks to Libby Lutz for mentioning the idea of a dragon with high blood pressure!)
My short story, “As if the Universe Listened”, has been published in Strange Fictions ‘Zine. Strange Fictions is a free-to-read online magazine that publishes short speculative fiction, poetry and essays.
You can check out my story here!
“The Summer of Growing Up” has been reprinted in this quarter’s edition of Mirror Dance Fantasy, a wonderful online fantasy magazine!
The story was originally published in the Columbus Creative Cooperative’s anthology, “For the Road”.
Mirror Dance has several other stories on its beautiful website. Check out the Autumn 2017 issue!
It’s been quite a while since I’ve done this, so I thought I’d post an excerpt from Color Mage.
Color Mage is set in a world where Collared Lords have absolute power in their own lands — at the same time as they’re kept in a kind of magical servitude, unable to leave their lands as they keep a never-ending Watch for magical attack on the borders of Righar.
Seagard’s Collared Lord, Mikati, kept watch for the Black Tide, an attack by the psychic mages of the island of Ha’las. In Book Two, Sword of Jashan, Lord Zelan struggles with his magical binding against a foe that no longer exists.
In this excerpt, Healer Kirian experiences an attack of the Black Tide, first hand.
Kirian had never been in a boat, not even the little mage-powered sailcraft that drifted in circles around Lake Heart in Sugetre. There, the sailcraft were rented by the hour to those who were willing to pay a few coins for the pleasure, and never had a sailcraft been lost or even capsized on the calm little lake. So Kirian had boarded the Homebound with some trepidation. But after a few hours of sitting at her ease on deck, soaking up the sun and delighting in the beauty of the smiling sea, she was reconciled. She loved the feel of the sun, and the shouts and calls of the fish merchants at Two Merkhan were a pleasure to hear after the quiet of little Seagard.
After the pair had sold their catch, the Homebound turned south again, heading for home.
“I envy you,” she told Rashiri when the other woman took a break from her work to sip a jar of cold honeyed tea with Kirian in the bow. “You’re surrounded by such amazing beauty here.”
“We’re very lucky to be able to do this together,” Rashiri said. Her face was creased and deeply tanned from exposure to the sun and wind. Her uncomplicated smile showed strong white teeth. “But don’t think it’s all like this.”
“There must be storms, and rain and wind.”
“Those are bitter cold days indeed,” Rashiri said. “And there are days with no fish, and days when one of us gets sliced by one of our own knives or the teeth on some unexpected catch.” She held out one arm to show Kirian the frightening white scar that ran around her forearm in an arc. “That’s teeth,” she said.
“I see,” Kirian said faintly.
“Spilled right out of the net with the catch and bit me before I could say aye. Kin got it off me, but Ruthan was busy that day and a few after, I can tell you.”
“Fishing isn’t so peaceful, then.”
“It’s hard work. But I love it, Hon Kirian, and it’s the blessing from the Unknown God that I can be out on the bright sea every day with my love. How many can do that? Here, have some more tea.”
Kirian held out her mug and let the other woman splash some caramel-colored tea into it. The Homebound was approaching port now, steered by Kin in his stained, fishy tunic. Kirian looked straight ahead, to the clutter of houses on the shore that was Seagard Village, then up and up, to the castle that looked out like a hawk on the promontory. She wondered how the newly-bound Lord Arias was progressing, and remembered Lord Callo’s amber eyes.
Behind them, the sun sank hotly to the edge of the sea.
Out on the far horizon, like a pencil-line drawn by an artist to delineate the sea, lay a mark between sea and sky.
“Rashiri! What is that?”
Rashiri stood and craned her neck, then cried out to her husband in the bow. “Kin! Black Tide!”
The line grew thicker, as if the artist inked it, a black border lying on the surface of the ocean. Kirian stared as the line widened, broad as a brush now, and felt her breath torn away by a freshening wind or by fear, she could not tell which.
Then it seemed to rush toward them, speeding towards the craft as Kin and Rashiri rushed to push all possible speed from the Homebound.
“Gods! We’re in its path!” shouted Kin, and the sheet of black drawn over the ocean sped closer.
Kin shouted orders and the wind rushed louder. Kirian, trying to stay out of the way, felt the boat surge forward under their expert handling. But the dock was too far away, and there was no way to beat the accelerating darkness. She watched in paralyzed shock as the whole western sea turned black. A tumble of stunned and helpless fish were washed along in the front of the blackness, those creatures already experiencing the deadening effects of the Black Tide. The Tide was so close she could see its odd matte surface, which did not reflect the rays of the setting sun.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flare of brilliance from the Castle. Someone there, one of the Alkirani mages, was on duty. A wave of energy swept off the shore and onto the sea – glorious reds, blues, greens, golds. The colors overtook the Homebound and swept her with radiance before meeting the Black Tide in an inaudible crash. A vibrant shield rose into the sky. Through the translucent colors Kirian saw the Black Tide curling back, retreating against the strength of the defense.
“Jashan and all the gods,” whispered Kirian.
The Homebound reached dock. Helping hands grabbed ropes to moor the boat, and grasped their arms to hustle them to shore. They left the Homebound bobbing, at the mercy of the stiffening wind, but not even Kin and Rashiri dared to wait outside to put her properly away.
“Did you see that?” cried Elder Hame, his white hair whipped in the sudden gale. “Did you see that?”
“Couldn’t help seeing it old one, we were almost eaten by it,” Kin said. He sat down abruptly on a stool in the house they had been ushered into. He put his head in his hands. Rashiri stood behind him and put her calloused hands gently on his shoulders.
“I take it,” Kirian said carefully, “That doesn’t happen, uh, often?”
Hame laughed. “Never seen it, though they say it happened once ten years ago. What power! My lord mage was brilliant! That’ll teach those Ha’lasi not to sneak up on us that way!”
“It was too close,” Rashiri said.
“I need to go back to Ruthan,” Kirian said. “Kin, Rashiri, you get yourselves home and a warm mug of wine. That’s from your Healer, now!”
“We have to tend to the Homebound,” Kin said.
“Leave her. Someone else will take care of her for you this time. You’ve had a shock, you know.” Two men nodded at her and went out to take care of the Homebound.
Rashiri nodded, hands still on Kin’s shoulders as he slumped on the stool. “I’ll get us home, Hon Healer,” she said. “We’re fine though. Get to Ruthan, she’ll be worried about you.”
Kirian backed away, her eyes still on Kin, torn between her duty to old Ruthan and the possible need for her here. The door opened and Ruthan stood there, bent with age and the struggle against the wind, cloaked for a journey.
“Young Kirian!” she said. “Come! They will be calling for us at the castle.”
“We’re fine,” Rashiri said. “Go.”
Kirian waited only to grab her cloak and she was gone.
Last weekend at Cleveland Concoction I was fortunate enough to be on panels with some interesting authors. My favorite panel was “Best Fantasy Worlds” — because I find the complexities of worldbuilding endlessly fascinating.
The fantasy worlds that we remember tend to be carefully crafted, with lots of attention paid to how its characters — not just the main character — live, work, and travel in them. Some of the treasured fantasy worlds mentioned in the panel were Middle Earth, Narnia, Hogwarts, Discworld, Camelot, Oz, and Earthsea.
I kept thinking about this after the panel, so here are a few other worlds that are special for me:
- Riverworld. Created by Philip José Farmer, the first book is To Your Scattered Bodies Go. It’s a fictional planet with a long river valley where every human being who ever lived is resurrected, young and healthy again. In the novels, historical figures interact as they travel and try to find out why they’ve been returned to life.
- Amber. From The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny. In the series there are two true worlds, Amber and the Courts of Chaos. Parallel worlds (including Earth), which are only shadows of the two true worlds, lie between them.
- The world of the Silence Leigh trilogy by Melissa Scott, beginning with Five-Twelfths of Heaven. It feels like science fiction but there’s clearly magic, as Silence, who is a pilot, discovers when she attempts to become the first female magus. There’s also a brilliant system of space travel, and an Empire that relegates women to second-class status that Silence must struggle against. This is a multilayered world, beautifully done. I am seeing online that parts of the original series may have been rewritten, so I’ll clarify that I’m referring to the original books.
- The world of the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde. These are very funny fantasy novels based in an alternate England which is so closely interwoven with literature that characters can jump into and out of books. There’s a bureaucratic entity called “Jurisfiction” that makes sure the plots of all the novels continue operating properly even after multiple readings. This is a very well-done world, filled with literary allusions and a lot of humor.
If I went downstairs and began looking through my books I could come up with many more, but I’d better stop there. I’m pretty sure most of us have our own favorites. In fact, I think that’s half the pleasure of talking to other readers — sharing our favorite fictional worlds.
I haven’t done this for a while, so I thought I’d blog an excerpt from Sword of Jashan. This section is from Chapter One, immediately after young Ander is wounded by unknown attackers on a night patrol with his father, Lord Zelan of Northgard.
Sword of Jashan Excerpt (by Anne Marie Lutz)
The old Hunter walked over to offer an arm for Ander’s support. With a nod of thanks, Ander accepted. He felt shaky, either from the effects of the wound or from his use of color magery, he did not know.
What kind of heir would he be to the legendary Sharpeyes, King Martan, strong in arm and in his magery, if he couldn’t weather what his stepfather said was a scratch? With this thought, Ander mounted his mare and urged her on.
The fallen Hunters and the dead attackers lay sprawled across the trail. He clenched his jaw tight against the onset of tears as he thought of the fallen Innes. He knew Lord Zelan would send men back from Littleseed to bring back the honored bodies of the dead Hunters, and to bury the attackers somewhere in the woods. He slumped in the saddle, afraid in spite of what his stepfather had said. After a few moments he began to feel lightheaded.
The trees thinned out. The farmland belonging to Littleseed stretched out dark and lush with the summer’s crops before them. Beyond the fields was the village itself, just a few huts and a central guesthouse visible in the black night only because of the candlelight in their windows. Ander followed Zelan toward the low building in the middle of the village. As they approached, a woman of middle years walked out from one of the huts closest to the guesthouse. She held a lamp.
“Is it Lord Zelan, then?” she asked, holding the lamp to illuminate their faces. “And five others?”
“One of us is wounded, Morem,” Lord Zelan said. “My son.”
Morem peered back through the darkness at Ander. She did not smile, and Ander thought her unwelcoming. Then she said, “My lord, we will make room in the guesthouse.”
Ander slid off his mare and was grateful when someone led her away to be cared for. Hon Kirian led the way into the guesthouse and pointed toward one of the cots that lined the walls. “Sit there,” she said. “This wound needs cleaned better than I could do in the woods.”
“Thank you, Hon Kirian.”
The thin man, Chiss, had gone out as soon as they arrived and now brought in a tub of warm water. Kirian dipped a clean cloth in the tub as Ander pulled his tunic away from the wound. He shivered as the water touched his side. Averting his eyes from what Kirian was doing, he watched the newcomers to distract himself.
Ander knew of Lord Callo ran Alkiran. He was actually his distant kin — the bastard nephew of King Martan, born of Martan’s sister, Sira Joah, by some unknown father. A bastard righ was rare; usually any such complications of righ affairs were disposed of, so as not to weaken the bloodlines and the precious mage talent. This one had been allowed to live, and not only that but had been raised in the palace, under the King’s distant supervision. Ander had met Callo back in Sugetre; the man was almost thirty and had paid little attention to Ander, but Ander remembered the man’s amber eyes and the impression of his almost unbreakable control.
Lord Callo was in some kind of disgrace, Ander thought. He had disappeared from Seagard without leave, and the King had declared his estate forfeit. Now he was here, in tiny Littleseed of all places, by this Kirian’s word on his way to see Lord Zelan.
Kirian put away the wet cloth. “It’s not so bad. It’s done bleeding, and seems to be a clean wound. But see where it is, across the ribs? If it had been deeper, it would’ve been serious. You had a close call. I don’t have the proper herbs with me, so you’ll need treatment from Hon Jesel in the morning, at Northgard.”
“Who sent those men?” Ander asked.
His stepfather replied. “I think they were Sword of Jashan. They wore gray, and no badge. One of them rode off when the color magery was loosed. Did they come through here?”
“We’ve seen no one else,” Morem replied. “But we have your prisoner locked up in the root cellar. A couple of our boys are watching to make sure he doesn’t escape.”
“I’ll see him in the morning,” Zelan growled. “Get out of him whatever he knows. The rebels have an encampment somewhere nearby — I’ve begun to hear rumors.”
Callo grimaced in distaste. “No need, Lord Zelan. We can find out what we need by other means.” He glanced over to where the narrow-faced man worked on the packs. “Chiss, let us go and see if we can identify the rest of those men, before any of their friends return for the bodies.”
Chiss handed Lord Callo his sheathed sword and sword-belt.
Before he left, Zelan gestured to his remaining Hunter. “Go with them. Take a couple of men from the village to help you bring back our own.”
The Healer paused and glanced over at the group as they walked outside. Ander told her, “My father does not trust Lord Callo. He wants witnesses.”
“He does not know us. But I can assure you that Lord Callo had nothing to do with the attack on you.”
Ander winced and pulled away. The Healer was wrapping the wound, and it hurt. She looked up at him with an apology, her eyes smiling. He gave back a tentative smile. She was young, maybe in her mid-twenties; her face was slightly round, her skin fresh and clear, and her eyes a soft brown. He looked down at her hands as they finished their work, admiring their grace.
She stood. “Now, do you want some mellweed?”
“No. There’s hardly any pain.”
“If you change your mind in the night, send someone for me. I will be on the other side of the guesthouse with one of Morem’s daughters. Just behind that door, see?”
“Will I sleep in here?” he asked, looking around. With Lord Callo, whom I do not trust? he wanted to add.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be perfectly safe.” She took her leave and headed for the other side of the guesthouse. In the center of the room, his stepfather stood eating bread and drinking ale, talking to Morem.
One of the village women brought Ander bread and fruit. Ander thanked her and settled back on the cot, exhausted. His side did ache, but he wanted no mellweed. He wanted to wait until Lord Callo and the others had returned, to find out who had dared try to kill him. A sense of foreboding hung over him, as if his life was about to change in unpleasant ways.
He awakened sometime in the night. Booted feet echoed on the wooden guesthouse floor. Lord Callo and the others who had gone out to investigate the attackers had returned. A single lamp was still lit. Ander watched through sleepy eyes as the men took ale and bread from the table and began to report their findings. There seemed to be some disagreement; he heard Zelan’s low voice, tense with disbelief, although the men tried to keep their voices low to avoid waking the sleepers.
Lord Zelan stepped back from the others, shaking his head. Ander heard the words “King’s man” and all at once was awake, eyes wide, feeling as if the world had shifted beneath him. He drew a blanket around him and sat up to watch the others argue. Apparently, Lord Callo did not think the attackers were with the rebel group Sword of Jashan. Lord Callo thought the King his uncle had sent men to murder him.