Here's an exclusive sneak peek at L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s forthcoming Recluce novel, Cyador's Heirs, courtesy of the author! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Decades after the fall of Cyador, its survivors have re-established themselves in Cigoerne, a fertile country coveted by hostile neighbors in less hospitable lands. Young Lerial, the second son of Duke Kiedron, lives in the shadow of his older brother Lephi, the heir to their father's realm. Lerial's future seems preordained: He will one day command his brother's forces in defence of Cigoerne, serving at his older sibling's pleasure, and no more. But when Lerial is sent abroad to be fostered by Major Altyrn to learn the skills and wisdom he will need to fulfil 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.
The boy and the girl sit on a carved wooden bench in the shade beside the small courtyard fountain. He has pale white skin, unruly red hair and a strong straight nose just short of being considered excessive. Her hair is black, as are her eyes, and her skin is smooth, if the light tan of aged parchment. Her name is Kyedra. His is Lerial.
Four guards watch them. Two wear white long-sleeved tunics with faded green trim, and bear scarce cupridium blades in worn scabbards. The other two sport silvered iron breastplates over dull crimson short-sleeved tunics. Their shortswords are of dark iron, carried in oiled leather scabbards that are more like large knife sheathes. The Lancers in green watch the guards in crimson, while the guards in crimson watch the boy. No one watches the girl, who fingers a heavy brocade head scarf that she has let slip to reveal some of her hair and her lower face, an act that would be severely condemned were she of lesser rank, older, or in public.
“Why are your guards called Lancers?” She finally breaks the silence.
“They’re supposed to be called Mirror Lancers, but no one except the family or other Lancers calls them that. I forget why.” Lerial has not forgotten. He would prefer not to explain, especially when speaking the Hamorian of Afrit, but since the girl just introduced to him as Kyedra less than a quarter glass before speaks no Cyadoran, he has no choice but to speak in her tongue.
Once more, the two do not speak for a time, until the girl asks, “Does your name mean something special in your tongue?”
Lerial considers what he should say for a moment before replying. “My grandfather was the Emperor Lephi. One of my ancestors was the Emperor Kerial. My grandmother felt I should be named after both.”
“There are no Emperors in Hamor. There never have been.” Her voice is firmly serious.
“They were Emperors of Cyador,” declares Lerial.
“The land that the sea destroyed?”
“The sea only destroyed Cyad. That was the capital… and maybe Fyrad. The Accursed Forest destroyed most of the other cities and covered the land with endless forest. That was why we came to Hamor.”
“My father says you never should have come. He says that Afrit will never be the same.”
Lerial knows not to say anything about that. “Why did your father bring you here?”
“He said I should see Cigoerne. He said it was different.”
Lerial can feel that there is more she has not said. “Is it?”
Kyedra nods solemnly.
“How is it different?”
“I thought it would be smaller, and that all the people would be taller.”
“Why? Because we have held the river for years against the Heldyans?”
“Father doesn’t like them. He likes them less than you.”
“What about the raiders from the south?”
“He doesn’t like them either. They smell bad, he says.”
Lerial nods and waits.
“How did you come to Hamor?” Kyedra asks after another long silence.
“You don’t know the story?” Surely, the daughter of the Duke of Afrit should know that, thinks Lerial.
“I know the sea destroyed Cyador… Cyad, anyway. You came across the Great Western Ocean on a white metal ship. You threatened to sink all the ships in the harbor at Swartheld. My grandfather allowed your father –”
“My grandmother. The Empress. Go on.”
“My grandfather allowed your grandmother to purchase these lands. That’s what I know. Tell me something I don’t know.”
“My grandmother was the Empress. She gathered the Mirror Lancers and the Magi’i onto the Kerial. That was the last fireship. They got out of the harbor at Cyad just before the big waves smashed and swallowed everything. Then they took the ship to Fyrad, but the entire city was gone. There was just a big bay there. All the towns along the coast were gone, too. So she ordered the captain to cross the ocean to Hamor. Some people died. When they got to Swartheld… well, you know that part. Then the fireship carried them up the river here, and the Magi’i and the Lancers began to build. My grandmother told them what to do. The fireship stopped the Heldyans and the raiders from Merowey from coming downriver and bothering people. That was what Grandmother promised.” Lerial stops and looks at Kyedra, then says, “It wasn’t that simple. That’s what…” He does not finish the sentence, realizing that he doesn’t want to admit that it was his mother who had told him that building Cigoerne and expanding the lands controlled by the Magi’i had been anything but simple.
“What about your grandmother?” asks Kyedra.
“I told you about her.”
“You said what she did. You didn’t say what she was like. Was she ugly, the way…” The girl stops.
Lerial does not press, knowing that someone, perhaps her father, had said that about his grandmother. “She was kind to me, but she didn’t put up with any misbehavior. She even swatted my brother.” Lephi deserved it. He was hurting the cat that lived in the stable. “She was grand and tall, and no one argued with her. Not any of the Magi’i or the Mirror Lancers. Not even my father, and certainly not my aunt.”
“She was the healer who saved Uncle Rham, wasn’t she?”
“She is.” Lerial knows he should not mention that Rham had attempted an ambush that would have killed his aunt, not when his brother the duke – and Kyedra’s father – is meeting with his own father. He still thinks Rham was sneaky and evil. He does not even consider saying so.
“Is she your favorite aunt?”
“I suppose so. She’s my only aunt. Do you have a favorite aunt?”
“Father only has brothers. They can’t have consorts unless he doesn’t have children. I have two brothers. They’re still little. Do you have other brothers or a sister?”
“Besides my brother Lephi, I have one sister. That’s Ryalah. She’s just two.”
“I wish I had a sister.”
Thinking about Ryalah, Lerial can’t imagine why anyone would want a sister. He also doesn’t want to talk any more to the strange girl he is supposed to be nice to, but he dutifully asks, “Why?”
“My brothers are always fighting. They play rough.”
“Sisters can play rough.”
“Not in the Palace of the Duke of Afrit. Not in Swartheld.” She pauses. “This isn’t much of a palace. It’s nice, but it’s small.”
Lerial glances around the north fountain courtyard, some twenty yards on a side. It doesn’t seem that small to him, although his mother has told him that it is tiny compared to the vanished Palace of Light.
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 wall 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 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 blade work.”
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?”