Scarcely a year after the events of Cyador’s Heirs, Lerial uses his mastery of Order and Chaos, the competing natural forces that shape his world and define the magic that exists within it, to utterly destroy an Afritan military force crossing into Cigoerne.
Five years later, Lerial, now an overcaptain and a field commander of Cigoerne’s Mirror Lancers, must lead three companies of troops into Afrit on a mission of mutual interest: neighboring Heldya is threatening to invade Afrit, and if that nation falls, Cigoerne is certain to be next.
The mission is both delicate and dangerous; Lerial’s value in the effort to repelling Heldya is undeniable, but his troubled history against Afrit may reopen old wounds that will never truly heal.
From New York Times bestselling author L.E. Modesitt comes Heritage of Cyador, the new novel in the Saga of Recluce—available November 18th from Tor Books!
Lerial looks up from the half-written report before him, thinking, Saltaryn, if you only knew how all your efforts to improve my writing with precise statements are being corroded by the requirements of being post captain. Then he concentrates on the words he has just written.
…the Afritan Guard continues to patrol the top of the ridge one kay north of Ensenla. They occasionally stray across the marked boundary. They do not stay on the south side of the boundary for long, and they refrain from crossing when a Mirror Lancer force larger or roughly equivalent to the Afritan force is present…
He shakes his head. They’re not quite taunting us, but what can you do? At the same time, he worries about what he writes, because he had earlier sensed, not that much after dawn, a number of riders leaving the Afritan Guard post to the north, and now he waits for his scouts to return and report.
Lerial glances from the dispatch he is writing, the required summary of Eighth and Eleventh Companies’ evolutions and other events occurring over the previous eightday, to the dispatch he had received two eightdays earlier.
From: Jhalet, Commander, Mirror Lancers
To: Lerial, Captain, Ensenla Post
Date: Third Twoday of Winter, 593 A.F.
Subject: Border Patrols
Please find attached a map of the border between Afrit and Cigoerne, as agreed to by Duke Kiedron and Duke Atroyan. These borders are to be respected. Duke Kiedron has affirmed that no Mirror Lancer company is to cross them, even under extreme provocation. All officers and squad leaders are to be familiar with the borders and to conduct patrols in such a fashion that no Mirror Lancer evolution can be taken as provocative or as an encroachment upon Afritan lands.
Duke Atroyan has issued a similar proclamation to the Afritan Guard. Should the Guard inadvertently trespass, all Mirror Lancer squads and/or companies should offer the Guard the opportunity to retreat before resorting to arms. That opportunity need not be offered should any Afritan force commence hostile actions on the lands of Cigoerne.
If such hostile action is commenced on the lands of Cigoerne by Afritan or other forces, whatever response may be necessary shall be determined by the officer or squad leader in command of the Mirror Lancer force so attacked. In no case, however, shall a Mirror Lancer force knowingly enter the lands of Afrit. The sole exception to this directive is that a company commander or more senior officer may commission a force to recover Mirror Lancers carried into Afritan territory.
Any attacks by Afritan forces are to be reported expeditiously to Mirror Lancer headquarters, as are any border crossings for the purpose of recovering personnel. Such reports must contain the time, the location, and the complete scope of forces, both Mirror Lancer and others, involved in the action.
Lerial returns his attention to his own report and continues to write. A third of a glass later, he signs the report and eases it aside to let the ink dry before folding and sealing it for dispatch. He considers all that has happened over the past four years—and all that has not—ever since the people of Ensenla all fled Afrit over less than an eightday and subsequently rebuilt the town, or much of it, in the duchy of Cigoerne… and then demanded the right to continue to till their lands and tend their flocks on their ancestral hills.
Duke Atroyan’s response had been quick… and disastrous for the Afritan Guard. Lerial shakes his head, recalling the events that followed. Thankfully, over the last four years, he has not been required to use such force. The upside of the “effect” of such a storm has been that Duke Atroyan could suggest that the deceased field commander had been unwise to attack in such weather… and lay the blame there, with no word about the fact that the duke himself had ordered the attack while his brother, the arms-commander of Afrit, had been either inspecting the ironworks at Luba or ill with a severe flux… at least that is what Lerial has gathered over the years, from listening and from veiled hints from his aunt Emerya, who has her own sources. But the downside of letting a freak storm take most of the blame for the deaths of over five hundred men is that at least some officers in the Afritan Guard are wagering that such a freak storm is unlikely to occur again… and they are tired of being restrained from pursuing the growing numbers of refugees who have fled to Cigoerne, many of whom have been skilled crafters. Nor has Duke Atroyan grown more patient as time has passed… which is why Commander Jhalet issued the order that rests on Lerial’s desk. It is also why Lerial has insisted on training one squad from each company to use horn bows similar to those used by the Verdyn Lancers—even if it took some pressure by his sire to get permission for that… and well over a year of training.
Lerial has no desire to unleash the power of unbinding linked order and chaos again… and he has been fortunate in not having to do so. But how long will you be able to refrain?
Cigoerne has grown to almost half again its size in five years, and places like Penecca, the “new” Ensenla, and Teilyn, as well as others that had been barely more that hamlets or small towns, now are far more than that, and the factors in Cigoerne have added two more river piers to handle the trade from all over Hamor, and even from Candar and Austra.
A rap on the study door breaks through his momentary musing. “Yes?” “Captain, the watch reports the scouts are at the crossroads.”
“Thank you. I’ll be out in a moment.”
Lerial checks the dispatch, thinks about folding and sealing it, then snorts softly. No point in doing that until you hear what the scouts have discovered… or not. He rises and leaves the study, stepping into the small anteroom of the Ensenla Post headquarters building and walking to the duty desk.
“Ser.” The duty ranker looks up.
“I’ll have something later for a dispatch rider. Let the duty squad know.” “Yes, ser.”
“Thank you.” Lerial then walks out into the cold wind blowing out of the southwest and stands waiting for the scouts to ride into the post and report. He does not wait long.
The two Mirror Lancers in their greens and heavy riding jackets—and gray gloves—rein up outside the headquarters building. Both have red faces from the cold and wind. “Tie your mounts. You can report where it’s warmer.” Lerial smiles. He can recall every winter he has spent in Ensenla, and how much he appreciated the few days of leave spent at the palace in Cigoerne.
Once the three are seated in his study, Lerial nods to Vominen, the former Verdyn Lancer who transferred to the Mirror Lancers as soon as he could, even before the Verdyn Lancers became Mirror Lancers and ceased to exist as a separate force. “You look like something has happened.” It’s not that the scout looks that way, but that Lerial can sense the patterns of order and chaos that flow around him, and the turbulence of those patterns is suggestive.
“Ser… almost all of the Afritan Guard pulled out of the north Ensenla post just after dawn this morning.”
“How do you know?” Lerial grins. “Or did you sneak over there?”
“Wouldn’t call it sneaking, ser. Just rode over and asked one of the herders. Besides, there was no one about, and they do the same when they can.”
“I rode almost to the gates. They’re barred. No one’s in the watchtower. No smoke from the chimneys. No smoke in midwinter, ser?” Vominen shakes his head.
“What did you see, Naedar?”
“Same as Vominen, ser. One of the herder boys said they took three wagons, too.”
Lerial nods slowly.
After another third of a glass with the two scouts, Lerial feels they have told him everything they can recall, and he dismisses them. He looks to the dispatch he had written earlier. You’ll need to rewrite that and send it off immediately.
Why… why in the name of the Rational Stars would Rhamuel pull three companies of guards from Ensenla when for the past two years those guards have been patrolling the border and looking for any excuse to provoke the Mirror Lancers into a skirmish?
Lerial can think of only two reasons—a crisis in Swartheld, even an armed uprising, since Duke Atroyan has been far from the most effective ruler of Afrit, or an attack on Afrit, most likely on Luba or even Swartheld itself, by the forces of Duke Khesyn of Heldya. Either of those events would be far worse for Cigoerne than another Afritan attack on Ensenla or anywhere else along Cigoerne’s northern border.
Could there be other reasons? Quite possibly, although Lerial has no idea what they might be, only that it’s unlikely that they would be any better than the alternatives that he already suspects are the reasons for the Afritan withdrawal.
By fourday morning, just before muster, Lerial has still heard nothing from headquarters, not that he expected a dispatch in the morning, but he had thought there might have been one on threeday afternoon. He’d even sent lancers to check the lone pier that serves Ensenla, and the scouts had talked to more of the Afritan herders and growers, but none of them knew anything more than Lerial and the scouts. A delay in response from the commander means nothing in itself, but Ensenla post is less than a day’s ride north of Cigoerne—though a fast ride to make in that time—and Lerial sent out the dispatch on oneday.
There’s no helping that, he thinks as he steps out of headquarters to receive the morning reports. Both officers are waiting on the narrow porch.
“Eleventh Company stands ready, ser,” reports Undercaptain Strauxyn.
“Eighth Company stands ready, ser,” reports Senior Squad Leader Fheldar, who handles the muster for Lerial, since Lerial is both Eighth Company captain and post commander.
“Good.” Since Eleventh Company is the duty company for the day, Lerial turns to Strauxyn. “Keep up the scouting runs on the Afritan post… and to the west, just in case the withdrawal was some sort of feint. If anything changes, let me know. Keep someone posted at the pier as well.”
At the inquiring looks from the two, Lerial shakes his head. “You’d have already heard if we’d gotten a dispatch from the commander. He may not know anything more than we do.” In fact, he might not even have known what we know. Lerial understands the need for following the chain of command, but there are times when not following it might result in better information… and sooner, and this might be one of those times, since it is just possible that either his father or his aunt might have information that would be useful.
“Yes, ser,” replies Fheldar blandly.
Lerial manages not to smile, knowing exactly what Fheldar’s blandness signifies. At the same time, having served under Phortyn, the previous commander of the Mirror Lancers, Lerial would far rather have the not terribly imaginative, and very honest and loyal, Jhalet in that position. “I’ll be riding out on my own inspection in half a glass, Strauxyn. If you’d have four rankers…”
It is closer to a third of a glass later when Lerial rides out through the post gates on the brown gelding that has been his primary mount for almost six years, accompanied by four lancers. The post stands on high ground to the west of Ensenla, ground not quite so high as that of the rise along which the border between Cigoerne and Afrit runs, but with a swale between it and the border rise.
As always, but especially when he leaves the post, Lerial has created an order-shield that will repel chaos-bolts and iron weapons—and linked it to his belt knife. Even after five years of trying, for reasons he cannot fathom he has been unable to create shields directly linked to himself, and that could pose a problem at times, because the linked shields have a tendency to fade, unless renewed, roughly two glasses after being created. He can create momentarily larger shields, enough to protect a company, for a short time, but holding them for any longer than a tenth of a glass quickly exhausts him.
You should count yourself fortunate, he reminds himself. And he should, because his father, for all his Magi’i bloodline, has no ability to shield himself at all, and his brother Lephi’s shields, although based on chaos rather than order, are far weaker than Lerial’s.
Lerial turns the gelding onto the main road from the post through the town and to the river pier. Less than half a kay from the post gates is a dwelling under construction, its walls of sun-dried mud bricks that will be covered with a mud plaster when the house is completed and roofed and then whitewashed with numerous coats until the walls are almost a shimmering white. The walls of the older dwellings, not that any are more than four years old, are beginning to take on a faint pinkish shade from the reddish dust that is all too prevalent in summer.
As he rides into the center of the town, and across the small square, he sees that the small walled and roofed terrace of the inn on the south side of the square is vacant, as it usually is in winter, but that two men watch from the narrow front porch.
“Good morning, Captain!” calls Carlyat, the taller of the two, and the son of Harush, who owns the inn and tavern.
“The same to you,” returns Lerial cheerfully.
Carlyat grins and shakes head.
Beyond the square are a handful of crafters’ shops, and the only chandlery north of the city proper of Cigoerne. More than once when he was young, Lerial had questioned his father about why the city that held the palace and the duchy itself were both called Cigoerne, and the answer was invariably the same: “Because that is the way it has to be.”
Now… it doesn’t have to be that way, but the habit is so ingrained that it’s unlikely to change, at least not anytime soon. Beyond the crafters’ shops is the single factorage in Ensenla, and it is, given the herders, a wool factorage that sits almost at the foot of the single brick and stone pier extending some twenty yards from the shore out into the gray-blue water, which also holds a touch of brown. At the moment, no craft are tied there, as is usually the case. Lerial glances across the river toward the marshes on the far side, but he sees no fishermen or bird hunters there, nor any flatboats or trading craft.
While he has never measured the width of the river, it is more than half a kay across when it reaches Swartheld, according to Emerya, and from Lerial’s own best judgment it is not that much narrower at Ensenla or even Cigoerne, although it narrows considerably upstream of Cigoerne. That, he does recall from the few journeys he had taken with his father when he was much younger.
After a short time, he turns the gelding away from the pier and rides north along the river road, which quickly turns into little more than a trail, well before it reaches the faded green post that marks the boundary between the two duchies. He takes his time as he heads west along the border. Almost three glasses after he set out, Lerial rides back into Ensenla Post, his winter jacket loosened because the sun and the still air have made the day almost pleasant. He has seen no sign of any Afritan troopers or raiders… and he has been able to sense no bodies of men within more than five kays of Ensenla… and that worries him.
He is still worrying, sitting behind his desk and looking at maps, two glasses later when the duty ranker calls out, “Ser! There’s a dispatch rider coming through the gates.”
Lerial does not quite bolt to his feet, but he is waiting by the duty desk as a dispatch rider he does not recognize hurries into headquarters.
“Captain Lerial, ser?”
Lerial nods. “Yes?”
“These are for you, ser.” The rider hands over two sealed dispatches and a small leather pouch. “They’re from Commander Jhalet, ser.”
“My pleasure, ser.”
“If you’d arrange for food…” Lerial looks to the duty ranker.
Lerial turns and takes the dispatch and pouch back into his small study, closing the door behind himself. Then he breaks the seal and unfolds the first dispatch, a single sheet, and begins to read.
The message is brief, and the key sentence is simple and direct: “In view of your service and ability to keep the north border secure, you are hereby promoted to Overcaptain, effective immediately.” The signature at the bottom is that of Commander Jhalet.
The small pouch that has come with the dispatch contains the insignia of an overcaptain.
The unexpected promotion troubles Lerial greatly, because in the normal course of events he would not have been considered for promotion for roughly another year and a half, and also because his older brother Lephi has been an overcaptain for less than a year, having spent the full five years as a captain.
Lerial looks at the second dispatch, then opens it. The substance of that dispatch, also from Jhalet—and, unlike the first, written in the commander’s own hand—is equally brief and direct.
You are hereby temporarily recalled to Mirror Lancer headquarters for consultation, to leave no later than fiveday morning and to make deliberate speed. Undercaptain Strauxyn will act as temporary post commander in your absence.
The two dispatches could easily have been written on a single sheet, but Jhalet had not done so, most likely because a duplicate of the promotion dispatch would be in Lerial’s files, and that means that the recall dispatch is not something that Jhalet wishes to share with anyone at the moment.
An early promotion and a recall for consultations, whatever that means? Lerial has grave doubts that it means anything good. The only question is how bad the trouble is and where.
Excerpted from Heritage of Cyador © L.E. Modesitt, Jr., 2014