But when Lerial is sent abroad to be fostered by Major Altyrn to learn the skills and wisdom he will need to fulfill his future duties, he begins a journey into a much larger world that brings out his true potential. Lerial has talents that few, as yet, suspect: He is one of those rare beings who can harness both Order and Chaos, the competing natural forces that shape the world and define the magic that exists within it. And as war finally engulfs the fringes of Cigoerne, Lerial's growing mastery of Order and Chaos is tested to its limits and his own.
About the Author
Kirby Heyborne is an accomplished actor, musician, and comedian who has received a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards for his audiobook narrations. He has had starring roles in over a dozen features and many short films. Kirby is also a cofounder and director of the Los Angeles-based improv comedy group The Society.
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By L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
The sun beats down on the palace, and Lerial tries not to trudge as he makes his way out into the private south courtyard that has always served as the arms practice area for the family — since the palace was completed some ten years earlier. The north and south courtyards are the same size, half that of the main central courtyard, with its multiple fountains and its walled gardens. The north courtyard has two fountains, making it cooler than the south courtyard, with its small single fountain, its paved open area for weapons practice, while the central courtyard boasts four fountains, spaced so that their mist cools the entire open space.
The wooden wand Lerial carries feels heavier than the cupridium blade he will use once his father has decided he is accomplished enough to ride with the Lancers on patrol missions, against either Heldyan border forces or the nomadic raiders that occasionally make their way northward through the grasslands of Merowey.
Lerial knows the heavy feel of the wand comes from what awaits him in sparring with Lephi, who is only three years older, and not that much taller, but far more at ease with a weapon in his hand than is Lerial, whether the weapon is a sabre or a bow or lance, not that Lerial has had any practice with a lance, and little enough with a bow.
"Are you ready?" asks Lephi from the sunlit center of the courtyard, where he stands waiting, raising the heavy wooden wand that approximates a Lancer's sabre.
"I'm coming." Lerial walks from the shadows cast by the three upper levels of the palace and into the sunlight, a brightness whose intensity always seems to surprise him. He can feel the fine grit under the soles of his boots, grit that is everywhere no matter how often the rough courtyard tiles are swept.
Lephi, of course, stands with his back to the sun. Lerial takes a position with the brilliant white sun to his left and motions with his wand for Lephi to move to a point directly across the circle marked in red and black tiles.
"You can't do that in battle," observes Lephi.
"No ... but I can choose to fight or not and take a position."
Lerial just waits for Lephi to move or attack.
After several moments, Lephi moves, taking a position directly across from his younger brother. Lerial sets his feet, lifts his blade, and concentrates on Lephi and his brother's wand.
Lephi half turns, starts to do what looks to be a thrust, but Lerial knows the movement is a feint, because his brother's feet do not move, nor does he shift his weight. Instead of trying to block a thrust that will not come, Lerial merely holds his guard. Then Lephi suddenly drops and brings his wand up, and Lerial barely can beat down the thrust and has to move to the side.
Wands move quickly, and then even more quickly. Lerial is already sweating heavily with the effort of countering Lephi's constant attacks, thrusts, and counterthrusts ... and just trying to react.
Abruptly, Lephi turns a thrust into a twisting move that rips Lerial's wand out of his sweaty hand. The older youth grins. "You didn't see that one."
Lerial doesn't reply but moves to the side of the circle to recover his wand. When he picks it up, the grip of the hilt feels rougher in places where grit has clung to the dampness from his hand. Maybe that will help.
In the shadows, he can see Amaira, and her mother, his aunt Emerya, and Ryalah, all three sitting at a small table. Amaira and Ryalah are playing pegboard, but Emerya has been watching the sparring. Why? The other courtyards are cooler. He is still wondering when Lephi speaks.
"That was quick. Do you want to try again?" Lephi lifts his wand.
Lerial considers the invitation, ignoring Lephi's tone, a tone that implies that Lerial is smaller and weaker, and always will be. He smiles, painful as it is. "I won't get any better if I don't keep trying."
"That's the spirit."
Again, Lerial can sense the undertone by which Lephi suggests all the trying in the world won't help Lerial. He finds his teeth clenching. He takes a deep breath and tries to relax before he slowly walks back and takes a position on the edge of the circle.
Lerial and Lephi spar for almost a glass.
By the time they are both exhausted, Lerial's shirt is dripping wet, and he has bruises in too many places. Those bruises would be far worse if Lephi had not pulled his strikes, Lerial knows, and that leaves him feeling even more despondent when he leaves the circle.
Ryalah and Amaira have left, perhaps following Lephi, but Emerya remains at the table near the small fountain.
"You worked hard, Lerial," she says kindly.
"Hard, yes, but not good enough to hold my own." Lerial takes a deep breath. "There ought to be a way for me to do better against Lephi." He tries to keep his words from sounding despondent, even though that is how he feels. He glances at his aunt, whose once shimmering red hair is now mostly white, although he can sense that she still is a strong healer with a core of black order.
"There is ... if you're willing to work at it," Emerya says quietly.
"There is? Really? Can you show me?"
"If you're willing to pay the price."
The utter seriousness of her tone and the feeling of truthfulness behind her words cools his enthusiasm almost as quickly as a bucket of winter water from the Swarth might have.
"Come see me after dinner. If anyone asks, tell them that I think it's time for you to learn something about battlefield healing."
"Won't that be lying? If it is, Mother will know." If she concentrates.
"I'm supposed to begin teaching you about some healing, and I will. That will help you with bladework."
Lerial can't help but frown.
"Trust me. It will. It will also be harder than practicing with Lephi ... until you learn how." Emerya smiles. "That's true of every skill worth having, you'll discover."
"You sound like Grandmere."
"Where do you think I learned such matters?" For a moment, Emerya seems to be somewhere else. Abruptly, she smiles. "After dinner, then? My apartments?"
"Thank you. I'll be there." What other choice does he have? No matter how hard Lerial tries, no matter how much instruction he gets from his father, or from Undercaptain Woelyt, Lephi seems to be getting better faster than he is.
He takes his time walking back to his room up on the third level, where the breezes are stronger, but it is a good glass before he has cooled down enough to wash up and change into trousers and a plain pale green shirt for dinner. He walks to the window and stands there, letting the light spring breeze flow past him as he looks to the north, out over the small city that Cigoerne has become just in the years he can remember. Once there was the single pier where the Kerial had been moored until operating the fireship had become too dangerous, and Lerial's father had ordered it dismantled and the fittings and metal turned to other uses, with the limited amount of cupridium remaining being chaos-forged into Lancer sabres, lighter and stronger than the heavy iron blades of Afrit or Heldya. Now there are two shorter piers, used mostly for trading vessels ... and the handful of craft used by the Lancers to patrol the river.
Finally, Lerial makes his way down to the small dining terrace off the main courtyard. There, every evening when the weather is good and when his father is in Cigoerne, the family shares refreshments before dining. At least, Lerial reflects, they have for as long as the palace has been complete, and that has been for not quite eleven years, not that he can remember those first years very clearly.
His mother is already there, sitting at the largest table and talking with his aunt. Unlike Emerya, Xeranya is blond, with shoulder-length curly hair, and freckles that Lerial has inherited across her nose and below her eyes, eyes that are a watery but penetrating green. She has a strong nose, like Lerial, and an equally strong chin, unlike Lerial, whose chin is more modest. She wears a green blouse and loose green pantaloons, what most healers wear, especially in public, where all women also wear loose silky scarves that cover their hair and lower face — or are supposed to do so.
Emerya, dressed in similar fashion, although the green of her garb is slightly darker, nods to Lerial and then looks back to Xeranya. Amaira and Ryalah are at another small table, moving the pegs on the circular board.
"I won!" declares Ryalah. "This time I won!"
"Good, dear," says Xeranya, in the calm voice that Lerial associates with healers, since both his mother and Emerya speak that way, and so did his grandmother, and all were healers. "But please don't shout it to the world. Boasting is very unbecoming."
The brown-eyed and dark-haired Amaira offers an amused smile, and Lerial understands that Ryalah's victory might not have been entirely due to her skill.
That's fine when you're six, but if Lephi tried that now, you'd be furious. As it is, Lerial bridles at his older brother's condescending attitude when they spar.
"Good evening, Mother, Aunt Emerya!" Lephi's cheerful voice comes from behind Lerial. He strides past Lerial toward the refreshment table. There he picks up a glass carafe — the crystal carafes are reserved for meals with officials from Swartheld or with important merchanters — and starts to fill a squarish tumbler with a pale red vintage.
"If you're going to drink wine, Lephi," Xeranya says, "water it."
"Yes, Mother." Lephi smiles.
Lerial can order-sense his brother's anger, and that means both his aunt, and possibly his mother, can as well, but no one says a word.
Lephi pours a small amount of water into the wine and swirls it, then walks over to the large round table that will seat eight, but is occupied only by the two women. He takes a seat on the far side of the table, facing the nearest fountain in the courtyard, a fountain with a set of nozzles that encircle a statue of Lerial and Lephi's grandsire, the Emperor Lephi, and spray a mist that both shrouds the statue and helps cool the courtyard. In turn, Lerial steps to the refreshment table and half fills a pewter mug with the light lager. He joins the others at the "adult" table, taking a place beside Emerya.
"It's been a cool spring, don't you think?" asks Xeranya, clearly changing the subject from whatever she and Emerya had been discussing.
"Cooler than last year, but warmer than two years ago," replies Emerya. "I still think we'll have a hot summer. The river's lower, too, a good yard."
"You think that will affect the maize?"
"Not here, but it will farther downstream, especially south of Luba." Emerya glances toward the archway that leads to the main corridor of the palace.
"Will that mean raiders from Afrit?" asks Lephi.
Lerial can sense the eagerness in his brother's voice. Because Father has said he can ride on some Lancer patrols?
"The arms-commander of Afrit has sent a dispatch to your father saying that, if there are raiders, he will be pleased to execute publicly any who are captured, either by our Lancers or his armsmen." Xeranya smiles. "I suspect that dispatch was posted in every Afritan town on our northern border."
"That might not stop them," Lephi declares.
"It will," says Emerya. "The Duke's arms-commander is a man of his word, for better or worse."
Lephi starts to say something — until Xeranya looks at him.
"We don't have problems with Afrit, and we don't need them," Xeranya says, as though Lephi had not even opened his mouth. "If there's a hot summer again this year, we'll have to deal with more marauders from Merowey ... and who knows what the Duke of Heldya will do?"
At that moment, Xeranya glances in the direction of the archway, then smiles in pleasure as a tall and broad-shouldered figure steps onto the terrace. "Kiedron, dear, I was getting worried."
"There's nothing to worry about." The Duke of Cigoerne offers a smile in return as he nears the table. His dark brown hair still shows not a sign of silver, nor do his thick dark eyebrows, nor would any beard he grew, although he has never grown one, not that Lerial recalls. "The tariff inspectors found finished cloth inside cotton bales in a Meroweyan flatboat headed to Swartheld. The trader who owns the flatboat insisted that he'd taken the cargo on good faith ..."
"I still don't like the idea of the Duke of Cigoerne acting as a tariff justicer for Afrit," declares Xeranya.
"We can use the golds, and they only call for me when it's a question of law."
"But Afrit gets half the golds," says Xeranya.
"We'd both suffer if they paid tariffs to us and then to Afrit," replies Kiedron. "We'd have to patrol the Swarth day and night. Whether they port here or in Swartheld or any of the Afrit river towns, we get a share of the tariffs."
"Not a huge share," rejoins Xeranya. "And we have to rely on the Duke's count."
That, Lerial knows, is always less than it should be, but it is another matter never mentioned except among family — and never by any children.
"It's better than fighting over it, don't you think? Besides, the arrangement means that more traders from the south stop here for provisions and other goods that they can sell downriver without paying tariffs. That's helped build Cigoerne. We can't afford to dream about what cannot yet be. We just need to build, brick by brick. Those tariffs are what funded the ministry building and what pay for not only the river port inspectors but also for some of the tariff collectors and others."
"What did you decide on the cloth smuggler?" asks Emerya smoothly before Xeranya can say more.
"We took a tenth part of the cloth and fined him two golds. He should consider himself fortunate."
Even Lerial knows that the cloth or the proceeds from its sale will not be reported to Duke Atroyan's inspectors. The golds will, because they are recorded on the passage documents.
"He should indeed," declares Xeranya.
"And for dinner?" asks Kiedron, before turning to the refreshment table and pouring a full tumbler of the deep red wine.
"Goat biastras," replies Xeranya. "Young goat."
Lerial wonders from where the cooks had obtained the marinated sweet peppers that surround the strips of braised goat before each tube is batter-dipped and fried. It seems early for peppers.
"The peppers came from the sheltered garden on the south side of the palace, Lerial," explains Emerya.
Her reply to his unspoken question reminds him, again, of how really good healers can sense how people feel even when they say nothing or their faces reveal little, although he suspects his expression might well have been less than impassive.
"Better biastras than burhka," says Kiedron with a smile.
"I think I'd actually prefer the burhka." Xeranya smiles. "We're having that for dinner tomorrow, but I'll tell the cooks to be sparing with the chilies."
Before long, everyone is seated at the long dining table, with Lerial's father at the head, and his mother to his right, and Lephi to his left. Emerya sits beside Lephi and Lerial beside his mother and across from his aunt. Amaira is seated on Lerial's other side, with Ryalah beside Emerya.
Because he serves Amaira before himself, Lerial is one of the last to try a biastra. He hopes that the "young" goat is less gamey than what he has tasted before. Not only is it barely gamey, but the white cream sauce he has drizzled over the biastra is excellent, with the piquancy of a good cheese and a hint of mint. He finishes the first and begins on the second, noting that Amaira has also finished her first. He serves her a second one.
"I see this version of biastra meets with your approval," murmurs his mother with a smile.
"It's excellent," he returns in an equally low voice.
"Have the river patrols seen any signs of raiders or Heldyan patrols?" Lephi asks Kiedron.
"Not so far, but it's not likely to be long. The planting season is over, and usually that's when the raids begin." Kiedron turns to Xeranya. "This is a great improvement, dear. If the cooks can do the same in the future, we should have biastras more often."
"I think that can be managed," replies Xeranya warmly.
"Excellent." Kiedron looks to Emerya. "Have you found any more healers for your school?"
"There are two village girls from Ensenla. They show great promise."
"Ensenla? That's in Afrit," declares Lephi.
Excerpted from Cyador's Heirs by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Copyright © 2014 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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