Exclusive excerpt from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s ARMS-COMMANDER


The latest volume in the bestselling Recluce saga by L. E. Modesitt, jr., Arms-Commander, will soon be released, and the author was kind enough to provide this extract for your reading pleasure. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Arms-Commander takes place ten years after the end of The Chaos Balance and tells the story of the legendary Saryn. The keep of Westwind, in the cold mountainous heights called the Roof of the World, is facing attack by the adjoining land of Gallos. Arthanos, son and heir to the ailing Prefect of Gallos, wishes to destroy Westwind because the idea of a land where women rule is total anathema to him.

Saryn, Arms-Commander of Westwind, is dispatched to a neighboring land, Lornth, to seek support against the Gallosians. In the background, the trading council of Suthya is secretly and informally allied with Gallos against Westwind and begins to bribe lord-holders in Lornth to foment rebellion and civil war. They hope to create such turmoil in Lornth that the weakened land will fall to Suthya. But Zeldyan, regent of Lornth, has problems in her family. To secure Zeldyan’s aid, Saryn must pledge her personal support—and any Westwind guard forces she can raise—to the defense of Zeldyan and her son. The fate of four lands, including Westwind, rests on Saryn’s actions.

Enjoy!
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The sun was approaching the western horizon, seemingly barely a hand above the highest peaks, turning the glistening ice needle that was Freyja into shimmering golden white, when Suhartyn, flanked by four armsmen, walked onto the arms field. Ryba and Saryn stood waiting with ten guards from Llyselle’s second squad. Behind the envoy and his guards followed four other better-dressed men, also with guards. All wore heavy winter leather jackets, unlike the riding jackets of the Westwind contingent. Two of the four Suthyans following the envoy wore uniforms, and two wore more ornate riding garments.

“We are here at your pleasure, Marshal.” Standing before Ryba, Suhartyn was slightly shorter, and considerable more rotund. His ginger beard was well-trimmed and shot with gray, and his wary eyes were guarded by dark pouches beneath. His voice was high, not quite unpleasant. “What are we about to behold?”

Saryn felt Suhartyn’s company would prove wearying over time.

The marshal gestured to the south end of the arms practice field, a good half kay from Tower Black and the stone road up to the stables. Ten woven brush and wood targets, each roughly the size and shape of a mounted armsman, stood solidly anchored in the stony ground. The section of each target that resembled a rider had a tunic and a breastplate and a battered helmet. “In a few moments, you will see. We should walk a bit closer.”

Suhartyn nodded, then inclined his head northward. “I see that you are building a larger hold uphill from the black tower.”

“After a time, any successful community finds it must grow,” replied Ryba, moving toward the targets. “Growth on the Roof of the World requires solid stone and careful planning.”

“I can see that you have, what, several full companies of your guards?”

“We do, and we will have even more before long. Guards are not our only defense, as you may recall. Our abilities do not lie in just the numbers and skills of the guards, as Lord Sillek and his sire discovered.”

“Ah, yes. How could anyone forget that? Still… that was some time ago.”

“You should watch the demonstration, Envoy Suhartyn. It might answer some of your questions. If not, afterwards, I will be more than pleased to do so.” Ryba’s voice was calm and cool, like a polished shortsword.

Saryn had stepped back, matching steps with the four men behind Suhartyn, the closer two of whom wore officers’ cold weather jackets of a dark green wool.

One inclined his head. “You’re the arms-commander?”

“I am. Saryn. And you?”

“Lygyrt, Captain of Horse. This is Undercaptain Whulyn.”

Lygyrt was young, barely twenty local years, while the grizzled Whulyn looked to be a good ten years older than Saryn… and probably wasn’t. Saryn marked him as the equivalent of a noncom who’d come up through the ranks, even more rare in Candar than in the UFA.

“Then you both should find the demonstrations of interest.”

“I’m certain we will,” Lygyrt replied.

Whulyn nodded brusquely.

Ryba stopped in the middle of the field. Almost as she did, the twenty riders of Hryessa’s first squad, two abreast, started down the stone road at a quick trot. Lygyrt and Whulyn immediately began to watch the guards. The other two Suthyans, more richly dressed in golden brown leather coats with black brocade-trimmed sleeve cuffs, did not survey the riders, but kept their eyes on Ryba and Suhartyn.

Saryn glanced to Catya, the nearest guard, and then inclined her head toward the two civilians, both with short trimmed beards, doubtless the equivalent of Suthyan gentry – or dressed to convey that impression. Catya nodded and dropped back slightly, easing gradually westward so that she took position behind the two. Another guard – Trecya – joined her.

Whulyn’s eyes flickered toward the two guards as they shifted position, then back to Saryn, before returning to scrutinize the mounted squad as the riders turned onto the packed gravel on the west end of the arms field.

Just before the southwest end of the field, the column turned, and the riders urged their mounts into a canter, then a gallop, with the guards on the north side holding their mounts back just enough that each file was staggered, but with each rider maintaining the same interval between mounts.

Each target received two flung blades, released from ten yards away. Every one struck the torso area of the designated target.

“Rather impressive,” offered Suhartyn, “if not terribly practical in large battles.”

“They’re not finished,” said Ryba.

At the end of the field, the squad turned right and then headed back westward along the south end. They continued due west up the long slope that served as the archery range.

“Bows?” asked Whulyn, looking at Saryn.

She nodded. “At two hundred yards.”

Near the top of the slope, short of the cliffs that formed a natural backdrop, the squad turned and reformed. Barely had they done so than their bows were out. Each guard loosed three shafts.

In instants, every single target had sprouted shafts.

“You will notice that every shaft penetrated a vital area,” Ryba said conversationally.

“Picked squads can do that,” noted Suhartyn.

“Have you ever seen one that could do what that squad did?” Ryba looked hard at the Suthyan.

“I’m certain it is possible,” Suhartyn said pleasantly.

“Indeed it is. We just proved that. But have you seen any other squad do that?” She paused. “Still, we have another demonstration.”

Two guards ran across the field carrying a leather-covered sphere slightly less than a yard across. They set it on the ground twenty yards in front of the marshal, then ran back to their positions with a squad to the east of the marshal.

“Do you see the ten archers on the road above the smithy?”

Suhartyn turned. “Yes.”

“They are a different group, and the distance is about three hundred yards.” Ryba raised her arm, then dropped it.

In instants, the wicker globe became a hedgehog of feathered shafts.

“One hundred shafts in a target a yard across at three hundred yards in little more than a score of heartbeats.”

Saryn could sense the concern and the tension in the two Suthyan officers, but none from Suhartyn. Didn’t the envoy have any idea just how accurate the archers were?

“That is most impressive marksmanship,” acknowledged Suhartyn.

“In the field, of course, they would all target different armsmen, all across the front lines, so that any charge would slow, if not halt. Then they would pick off those trapped behind.”

Whulyn nodded, if almost imperceptibly. Lygyrt glanced at his undercaptain, but Whulyn did not look at his superior.

“We have one last demonstration for you, Envoy Suhartyn. Would you indicate an officer to accompany my arms-commander?”

Suhartyn turned. “Undercaptain? If you would?”

One of the junior guards led two horses out onto the field. Saryn mounted her gelding, where the heavy black hood was draped over the front of the saddle. Whulyn was almost as quick with the other mount, and he rode beside her as they headed uphill on the road.

Less than a hundred yards above the northwest corner of the field, Saryn turned her mount and reined up. Then she extended the heavy black hood to Whulyn. “Look it over, then put it over my head.”

Whulyn edged his mount closer with an ease of long experience, then bent forward.

Saryn leaned toward him, waiting until the hood was in place. “Is there any way I can see?”

“No.” Whulyn’s voice contained veiled amusement. “There wouldn’t be, would there?”

Saryn managed to keep from smiling, not that the undercaptain could have seen her expression under the hood. “No. There’s no trickery involved. You can follow me to watch and see what you think.”

“Thank you, Commander.” The amusement had vanished from Whulyn’s voice.

Using her senses, Saryn guided the gelding back down the road toward the arms practice field. Her free hand checked the blades in the shoulder harness and then the one in the sheath at her knee. At the west end of the field, she turned south, then, once she was past a point even with Ryba and Suhartyn, she urged the gelding eastward and into an easy canter.

When she was still a good twenty yards from the wicker target, she released the first blade, smoothing the flows and sending it toward the breastplate once worn by a Lornian lancer. The second blade was away at about fifteen yards. Then she turned the gelding, and with her back to the target, flung the last blade.

She slowed the gelding gradually, wishing she hadn’t had to ride on the field, then turned and rode back to where Ryba, Suhartyn, and the Suthyan captain stood. After reining up, she removed the heavy black hood and gently tossed it to the captain. Ten yards away, all three blades were buried to their hilts in the iron breastplate, each spaced two fingers from the one beside it.

She dismounted, and a guard hurried up and handed Saryn another blade, which she slipped into the left shoulder scabbard one-handed. The guard took the gelding’s reins and led him away. Saryn walked forward to Suhartyn, inclining her head politely. “I trust that these small demonstrations provide some idea of what our guards can do.”

Suhartyn, a good half-head taller than Saryn, smiled politely. “You are all most impressive. But there are not that many of you.”

“There were less than forty of us when we destroyed the thousands of Lornth,” Ryba replied calmly. “We would prefer not to fight, because fighting wastes golds and resources. That is why we destroy all those who try our patience. It keeps us from wasting resources too often.”

“Ah… yes.”

Saryn slowly drew the shortsword, then looked to Lygyrt. “Would you like to see if you could put this blade, or your own, through the breastplate of the target?”

“I’d prefer not to dull my own.”

Saryn reversed the shortsword and extended it, hilt first, to the captain.

She and Lygyrt walked to the target.

There captain jabbed, and the shortsword skittered off the iron. “This is a useless blunted weapon.”

“Please return it to me, then.” Saryn extended her hand.

The officer reversed the weapon and offered it.

Saryn took the shortsword, stepped back some three paces, summoned the blackness around her, and released the blade. It turned exactly once before the tip sliced through the iron, directly below the middle blade of the three she had thrown from horseback. Like the others, it buried itself up to the hilt.

Lygyrt swallowed.

Saryn smiled. “It doesn’t seem that blunt to me. All the shortswords are balanced to be used as both blade and weapon.”

“…demon-woman… all of them…”

“… wouldn’t have one chained and stripped bare…”

Saryn ignored the mutters her senses picked up and walked back across the field to where Suhartyn stood beside Ryba.

The marshal turned to Suhartyn. “Do you still think it was a trick?”

“Perhaps… I should have said that it was a form of magic.”

“And all of the archers were using magic?” Ryba paused “I suppose skill with weapons is a form of sorcery.”

Whulyn had dismounted and returned the mount to a guard. He said nothing when he rejoined Lygyrt and the two nobles.

Ryba half-turned so that she could speak to both Suhartyn and the others. “That concludes our little demonstration. We have tried your patience, and it is time for your men to be fed in the main hall at Tower Black. The rest of us will meet there in two glasses for the banquet. Perhaps we should call it a dinner. There will be places for you and up to a halfscore others.”

“We will be there, and we look forward to conversing and enjoying your hospitality.” Suhartyn inclined his head.

Saryn could sense something, particularly from one of the two well-dressed men who had said nothing, not while she had been in earshot, anyway. But she said nothing until the Suthyans had left the field and she and Hryessa walked toward the tower, following Ryba.

“They’re planning something,” Saryn told the guard captain. “Have two squads watching their armsmen at all times. If they try anything, kill anyone who lifts a weapon.”

“Yes, ser.”

Once she entered the tower, Saryn went to the armory. There, she drew another shortsword, before heading up to her small corner of the tower, where she slipped out of the riding jacket and battle harness and donned a formal swordbelt, slipping the blade into the scabbard. Then she walked down to the main hall, to wait and watch while the Suthyan armsmen were fed, followed by the Westwind guards.

Almost two glasses later, Suhartyn appeared, accompanied by seven others, including Lygyrt, Whulyn, and the two bearded nobles who had watched the demonstrations. As the Suthyans entered the tower foyer, Saryn noted that all wore blades, if single, and all weapons were sheathed in highly ornamental scabbards.

Once inside, the envoy inclined his head to the marshal, then nodded toward the blond bearded man. “This is Lord Calasyr of Devalona, the most distinguished of our party.”

“Not lord,” protested Calasyr, who wore a blue and green tunic trimmed in silver. “My father is lord. I might be such if I live long enough.”

“And High Trader Baorl, of the House of Aramal.”

The older dark-haired and bearded man smiled and bowed to Ryba. “Marshal. Word of your abilities has spread far, but not of your impressive personage.”

“Thank you, Trader.” Ryba gestured toward the main hall. “I believe a modest dinner awaits us.”

Saryn flanked Ryba as the marshal led the way.

Those from Westwind at the table were Ryba, Saryn, Istril, Llyselle, Siret, Hryessa, Huldran, Ydrall, and Duessya. Suhartyn was seated to Ryba’s right, with Calasyr to her left. Saryn sat to Calasyr’s left, with Istril across from her. Trader Baorl sat down the table from Istril, while Lygyrt was on Saryn’s left, and Whulyn to Istril’s left.

At each place was a crystal goblet and a large porcelain plate, bearing the crest of Westwind that Ryba had designed. The formal dining accessories were seldom used, and only for comparatively small dinners, since there were settings sufficient for just twenty-five.

Once everyone was seated, and the goblets filled, Ryba raised hers. “A welcome to our guests, for you have traveled far through rugged terrain.”

What was served in the ceramic pitchers was not properly wine, but more like an ice-wine from the bitter wild grapes that Istril had managed to use her senses to, as she put it, “tame.” The resulting liquid was half table vintage and half brandy, odd but smooth and drinkable. Far too drinkable in larger quantities, Saryn knew.

“And our thanks for your hospitality,” replied Suhartyn, lifting his goblet.

Saryn but sipped from her goblet, as did Undercaptain Whulyn, she noted, while the captain drank less sparingly.

“How did you come to be a captain in the Suthyan horse?” she asked.

“A younger son in a trading house has few honorable options. That is most true if one’s talents do not run to trading and counting.” Lygyrt lifted his goblet slightly. “And you, Commander, how did you come to command the arms of the Roof of the World?”

“The marshal commands, Captain,” Saryn replied evenly, almost softly. “I do what is necessary to carry out those commands.”

“But… you are most talented with arms.”

“The marshal is also most talented with arms, and she has had many more years experience in fighting and leading.”

“It is said that you who are true angels were born on another world.”

“That is true, and we have fought in the darkness and cold between worlds. But all at Westwind are angels.”

“Yet you remain here?”

“We had no choice. The vessel that carried us between worlds failed, and we made landfall here.”

The servers appeared with large serving platters, holding sliced wild boar that had been cold-marinated for several days, then slow-roasted. Another set of platters held fried lace potatoes, and another a heap of mashed local turnips, in a white sauce. Two baskets of fresh-baked bread also appeared.

“Excellent,” exclaimed Suhartyn after a bite of the boar.

“Simple as this is, our usual fare here is even simpler,” Ryba said. “We can only maintain a small herd of cows through the winter, and the chickens are not grown this early in the year.”

“Early in the year?” asked Baorl. “This is late spring.”

“It is late spring for you in Suthya,” replied Istril, “but the last of the snow and ice around Westwind melted away but two weeks ago. Some snow in the shaded areas above us may last all summer.”

“It is chill indeed here,” observed Calasyr, “and yet some of you wear but summer garments.” The young noble lifted his right hand, and a reddish-whiteness swirled around it – except the chaos wasn’t from his hand, Saryn realized, but from his large and elaborate gold ring.

“That is why they need trade, Lord Calasyr,” said Suhartyn. “The season is too short here to be certain for them to grow the wheat corn.”

“Ah, yes,” added Baorl, “trade. But trade can also be uncertain, even in the best of times. And it is said that Lord Karthanos is loathe to let traders travel from his lands to the Westwinds.”

“It is no secret that the lands of Gallos are not as amicably disposed toward us as are… others,” replied Ryba. “Still, many do trade with us.”

“Mainly through Lornth, I believe,” suggested Suhartyn. “If any ill should befall Lornth, as might have happened had Cyador not collapsed in ruins, even the most doughty of traders might find it difficult to reach the Westhorns… except, of course, from Suthya.”

“What ill might befall Lornth?” asked Ryba. “Its regents have offended no one, so far as we have heard.”

“One never knows,” said Calasyr, gesturing extravagantly. “It is said that some of the older holders in Lornth fear that the regent’s rule may not lapse even when Lord Nesslek reaches his majority.”

“We, in Suthya, of course,” added Suhartyn, “would like to remain on good terms with all, especially with Westwind, whatever might occur in Lornth.”

“Unlikely as that might seem at the moment,” continued Calasyr.

Even though she followed Calasyr’s gestures closely, Saryn couldn’t determine how he managed it, only that the chaos – poison presumably – was suddenly in Ryba’s goblet. Before Ryba could lift the goblet again, Saryn half-stood, turned, and grasped it with her left hand.

“What…?” The marshal half-smiled, but immediately released her grip and let Saryn take the vessel.

Saryn set the goblet before Calasyr, the shortsword in her right hand. “You, Lord Calasyr, have a simple choice. You can swallow what you put in the Marshal’s goblet or you can swallow cold iron – ”

The blond man bolted to his feet, a poignard coming up and aimed toward the marshal.

Two blades went through him, one from in front and one from behind. He stood there… wavering, then started to topple forward. Hryessa stepped forward and grabbed the back of his tunic, pulling him away from the table. Saryn eased her blade from between his ribs.

Llyselle’s blade tip was at the back of Suhartyn’s neck, and Huldran had cold iron on Baorl. Ydrall and Duessya had moved behind the two officers.

The envoy paled, and the high trader slowly put his hands on the table, palms up.

"Suhartyn…” Ryba said coldly. “I expected better of you.”

“I didn’t know. I didn’t!”

“Siret?”

“He’s telling the truth about that. I’d guess he suspected treachery, but not by Calasyr. I don’t think he was told.”

“Of course. They feared that we’d detect any lies on his part.”

Ryba’s smile was cold as she stood. “Does your council fear a collection of distant women so much that they would try such treachery?” She shook her head. “I doubt it. Like all thieving merchants, they merely looked for the cheapest way to their ends. And like all dishonest traders, you and they will end up paying far, far more as a result of your dishonesty. As for you, and your men, you have one glass to depart Westwind. You may leave the tower now.”

Suhartyn inclined his head.

“And take that carrion with you.” Ryba glanced toward Calasyr’s corpse.

3 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Pat! I always wondered what happened at Westwind after Nylan left, so am really looking forward to reading this one.

Colin said...

I have to say, I have never thought these looked very good at all. Am I wrong? Would a fan of Erikson find anything to like in them?

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading both writers, but they are a world apart stylistically.

If you are looking to something akin to Malazan, you'll hate Modesitt. His books are intelligent but not flamboyant...

Rick