Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
AS AVESTINE’S SMALL entourage left Avjakar for Koledoon, Kami rode behind on a gray mare. Avestine rode ahead. Gerard rode on her right and Rook, on her left. Several small panels of scale mail protected their mares, but the riders wore leather embossed with lavender plates, gold rivets, and Avjakar’s blue-and-black royal coat of arms.
Along with the military echelon rode three dozen heavily-armed royal guards and dozens of servants. The trip would take them to the port on the Whitefish River, where they would take a barge.
When Kami tried to listen to Avestine’s thoughts, she heard only silence. Although she heard silence from Rook, too, she felt a rush of pleasure from him, and she knew that whatever Avestine’s plans were, Rook was content simply to be a part of them.
The clicking of hooves on the stone road leading toward the sea was hypnotic. Kami’s thoughts drifted, until she was in a memory from home, a day long ago when she had been in the hills near Agate Bay overlooking the red sand beaches.
She recalled having composed a song about Avestine’s great victory there. Kami had not played a dulcimer in years and had found little time to sing. She missed hearing music. She remembered the drums and the chorus of men from Harvest Festival when she was at Riverside. She let her head sway with the memory of the beat. When her mind drifted to the memory of dancing, she found herself breathless and tightened her sweaty grip on her reins.
Avestine had moved out from the queue of horses to let them pass, moving in next to Kami, who felt her nearness like fire. Avestine’s predatory instincts seemed especially keen when it came to Kami’s arousal.
Kami kicked her horse ahead and took care not to let her thoughts wander again. The uneventful journey took six days. They arrived in Star Methrea, one of the capitols of the Dalami Empire. After the crossing at the port of Star Methrea, the parties shared papers, made a headcount, and recorded names. The treaty between the Dalami and Avjakar had remained unbroken for over twenty years, and the growth of trade created a region little concerned with breaches of protocol.
The city was a fine example of a civilization at peace, despite the years it had been at war with the Tribes of the Sun. Grand sculptures topped walls, and friezes lined every entranceway. The citizens wore pale tunics and soft boots in a climate that remained mild for most of the year. The most unusual aspect of the city was that nearly every citizen was female. The Dalami were a people with an unusual birth rate. For every male, they birthed ten females.
Star Methrea was not their final destination, but they spent several days in the renowned city of women. At the senatorial palace, Avestine sought allies and enjoyed the pleasures offered as one privileged among a privileged people. Kami watched Avestine move like a predator among unsuspecting prey, except that some of the prey recognized her. Even among the far-flung tribes here at the edge of the world, there lived descendants of those who had served the court of Darklaw.
Kami learned a great deal about how Avestine managed to take control of the weak willed and manipulate the prideful. She wondered which she was, since Avestine had so easily prodded her along.
An official escort accompanied them on the final leg of the journey to Koledoon. They arrived and met with the Sovereignty’s Tribal Council. Several days of festivities followed.
The Council’s ministers assigned residences and servants for Avestine and Gerard, and the men-at-arms bunked in separate barracks. Avestine had Kami and Rook assigned to servants’ quarters adjoining her room.
With formalities completed, Avestine explained her purpose and requested to meet with the Sovereignty’s bowyers. The ministers were pleased to display their finest, bringing old bowyers to the court to discuss details of fletching and types of arrowheads and the casting distance of different bows.
The best bows were cut from heartwood when the sap had stopped running. One bow took three years to season, and the longest reached as high as a man’s chest when perched on the ground. Avestine imagined something longer, stronger, with men trained to release as many as twenty arrows a minute. With that kind of strength, an arrow might be able to penetrate armor at one hundred paces. An army of five-hundred archers, distributed in packs of twenty, could pin down an entire legion, clouding the sky at the rate of ten thousand a minute.
In ten days, Avestine knew as much about archery as anyone outside the Tribes of the Sun and more than many within. Within twenty days, she was hitting targets at fifty yards from horseback and already secretly recruiting men for an aerie of archers. She asked and cajoled craftsmen to experiment with arrow weights and bow lengths, and found a variety of styles that suited different purposes.
Gerard and Rook went where Avestine went, heard what she heard, but they remained disengaged, while she talked with the men of Koledoon in her halting dialect.
The common language was that shared by the Trade Empire, a practical form of exchange focused on commerce. Language had never been one of Avestine’s talents. Gerard provided some help, although he had lost a great deal of his father’s language in the years at Severesh’s court.
Kami marveled because, except for herself, she had never seen anyone so able to focus, so able to shut out the world. When she could sit and watch Avestine so engrossed with learning, she felt she understood her.