FROM THE TRELAN DOCKS, on the northern bank of the great Maradaine River, the city of Maradaine smelled of tar, horses, burning oil, and sweat. The scent hit Dayne Heldrin like a wet sack, but he was amazed at how much he missed it, how immediately he recognized it. This wasn’t home, but it was very close to it. It was far more home than Lacanja had been for the past two years.
A small crowd gathered right at the foot of the gangplank, demanding the attention of the ship’s recent passengers. They shouted and waved, ready to sell trinkets or sweets. Several old men were waiting with rolling carts, anxious to help people with their trunks. Dayne had let most of his fellow passengers leave the ship first, partly from politeness, but mostly in the hope it would thin out this crowd.
“You, you!” one old man called out to him. “You need help, yes?”
Dayne was carrying his trunk over his shoulder. Heavy, but nothing he couldn’t handle. If this man tried to carry it, Dayne feared it would break his spine.
“No, thank you,” Dayne said and continued to walk by.
The man pulled his cart along as Dayne walked. “No, sir, please. Allow me.”
“I’ve got it.” Dayne knew this aggressive helpfulness was simply this man’s way of making of living. The old man’s arms were bare, wearing short sleeves in the warm spring sun. A faded tattoo of a ship’s helm and hash marks showed he had given twenty years to the Druth Navy. Given the man’s age, that had to have been during the war years.
“Then maybe you need a carriage? Or a room to rent?”
“No to both,” Dayne said. “I know where I’m staying, and it isn’t far.”
“Where’d you come from?”
“Oh, lovely city,” the old man said. “Tell you what, I should have gone there when my tour ended. Could have gone to any city on the coast, and I chose here. Stupid mistake.”
“I didn’t care for it,” Dayne said. That was an understatement. Enough misery and failure had befallen him in his two years in Lacanja to last a lifetime.
A pair of newsboys came up to Dayne as well, holding out newssheets from rival presses.
“Where’d you come from, mister?”
“Why you got a shield, mister?”
“You want to know what’s going on, mister?”
“That a real sword, mister?”
“Off, scads,” the old man said. “The man’s a Tarian Knight. Don’t you know anything?” He then snarled, and the boys ran off.
“Tarian Knight” was not the proper term, even if he had been an Adept or Master in the Order. It was a common mistake that Dayne wasn’t going to bother to correct. Instead he handed a half- ick coin to the old sailor, and pointed to the small group of men standing on a low crate holding up a crude wooden placard. “The True Line Lives” was painted in blue letters. “I want to know what that’s about.”
“Foolishness,” the old man said, taking the coin. “How long ’ve you been gone?”
“This doesn’t make it down south?”
“First I’ve seen it.”
The old man chuckled. “That’s comforting. The stupid hasn’t infected the rest of the country.”
“Is it dissent against the throne?”
“Against the king, not the throne, to hear those folk. Their whole point— ’m just telling you what they say, I think it’s bilge.” There was something in his tone that was a bit too apologetic, like he was telling Dayne what he thought Dayne would want to hear.
“I understand,” Dayne said. He noticed a few men— dockworkers, oystermen, something of that nature— moving over to the men on the crate, walking with the predatory swagger that comes with a few beers. Men who had the intention to start things. Keeping an eye on them, he nodded for the old sailor to go on.
“It’s popped up since the old king died,” the sailor said. Dayne had already left for Lacanja before King Maradaine XVII died, and his son took the throne as Maradaine XVIII. Some major news of the royal house had reached him: he knew the new king had married, and then the queen had died in childbirth. He had heard some talk about the Parliament wanting to force the king to remarry to produce an heir. “This sort of thing was even around when Seventeen first took the throne back in the day, but I think you’re a bit young for that.”
“Yes, but I read about it,” Dayne said. The dockworkers were moving in. Dayne got a count of them— eight men, all stout of arm and back. One of the drunken dockworkers had picked up a rock from the ground. Dayne put down his trunk. “One moment.”
The dockworker had wound back his arm and hurled the rock at the men on the crate. Dayne dashed across the distance, bringing up his shield. The rock clanged against it and dropped to the ground.
“Step away, gentlemen,” Dayne said. “No need for this to escalate.”
“Who are you to say what?” the main dockworker asked. He came up, puffing up his shoulders in his approach. This was a man who was clearly used to intimidating people with his height and muscles. With most people, he’d probably succeed.
With Dayne, he had to crane his neck. Dayne was at least a head taller.
“I’m the one who said ‘step away.’ ”
“Ayuh, what’s with this fool?” another dockworker said. “Who carries a rutting shield anymore?”
“He’s got a sword, too,” the third said. That one looked a bit nervous. “And he’s in uniform.”
“Ain’t a constable or river patrol.”
“He’s a Tarian, you dunces!” the old sailor shouted.
“Look,” the lead dockworker said, still trying to stare Dayne down. “We’re going to show these traitors we don’t like their kind on our docks.”
“They have a right,” Dayne said.
“You’re going to stand up for their disloyal sewage?” He glanced around Dayne to look at the three men on the crate. “You’ve got a thrashing coming, you do.”
“I’m going to defend their right,” Dayne said. “Even if they’re wrong.”
“Wrong to want an unsullied bloodline on the throne?” the center man on the crate snarled back. Dayne sighed a bit. He feared that was what this was about. Some people never move on.
“Shut it,” the lead dockworker said.
“You aren’t helping,” Dayne muttered.
“Come on, boys,” the lead dockworker shouted to his mates. “We’ve still got numbers here.”
“No,” Dayne said firmly. “You will leave these men unmolested.”
“You’re going to stop us?” The rest of them found their courage and took a few steps forward.
“I’m a Tarian,” Dayne said. “And I will stand between them and harm.”
Dayne wasn’t being completely honest with them, but he doubted any of them were familiar enough to read the pips on his uniform collar. To truly call himself a Tarian, he’d have to have reached the rank of Adept. He was just nearing the end of the second year of his Candidacy. He might be promoted to Adept in a few days, but . . .
But that was definitely not why he had been recalled to Maradaine.
“You’ll get a thrashing, too, Tarian,” the dockworker scoffed. “We’ll knock you back a whole century, where you belong.”
Dayne knew he had to disable the leader in a way that would dissuade the rest from fighting. He knew he could hold off all eight of them, but not without hurting them. And that would hardly be fitting for a Tarian, especially a second- ear Candidate hoping to make Adept.
As the dockworker took a swing at Dayne, Dayne crouched down, bringing his shield into the man’s chest. Rather than knocking him to the ground, Dayne went up, raising his shield high with the man on top of it.
The man flailed about uselessly while Dayne held him nine feet off the ground.
“Stand down and disperse,” Dayne said firmly to the rest. “Before anyone gets hurt.”
The dockworkers scattered.
Dayne smirked. Feats of strength usually let him avoid an actual fight. He looked up at the leader. “I’m going to put you down, and you’re going to walk away, yes?”
Dayne tilted his shield and let the man slide to the ground in a crumpled heap, and then he scrambled away.
“Thank you—” the leader of the True Line started.
“It’s what I’d do for anyone,” Dayne said. “No matter how distasteful I find their views.”
He went back over to the trunk, which the old sailor was diligently guarding. “So you see what that’s about,” the old man said.
“I thought it had gone away,” Dayne said.
“Yeah, well,” the old man said. “New king, he . . . he’s not who his father was, you hear? Doesn’t inspire the same adulation.”
“There is a proper line of succession!” a man on the crate yelled. “You should know, Tarian, of Romaine’s Gift.”
“Shut your blight hole!” the old man shot back. Dayne had had enough of this encounter. It was well past time to make his way to the Tarian Chapterhouse.
“Thanks, sir,” Dayne said, giving him another coin. “You’ll excuse me, but I think I see a friend here for me.” The man let him go, not arguing with getting two ticks for little effort. And, indeed, on the far side of the dock, standing up on a tall crate, there appeared to be a Tarian Initiate, searching the crowds.
Grandmaster Orren had sent someone to escort him. Even if it was just an Initiate, that could not be a good sign. This was not to be a joyous homecoming.
Jerinne Fendall hated running errands for Grandmaster Orren. Especially when the errands were clearly pointless. Escort an arriving Tarian Candidate from the Trelan docks. Jerinne failed to see why she was needed for that. This Candidate— ayne Heldrin— as more than capable of getting to the chapterhouse on his own. He would hardly need the help of a second- ear Initiate. And it seemed like it was always Jerinne who got this sort of assignment when she should be running drills.
Not that she voiced such complaints. There was no chance she would let the Grandmaster have any idea that she was anything less than thrilled to go to the docks and wait the entire day away for Heldrin. Miss today’s training session? More than happy, Grandmaster, don’t think a thing of it. Never mind Second- ear Trials. Never mind that Shield Sequence Eight was still tripping her up. If she could please the Grandmaster with a pointless waste of time, then that would be what she would do.
Madam Tyrell was probably showing all the other second- ear Initiates some special maneuver right now. The secret to passing Second- ear Trials. All because Jerinne was missing session. She was doomed to wash out, and Madam Tyrell would make sure of that.
Where the blazes was this Heldrin fellow? Not that Jerinne had any idea what the man looked like. He could have walked right past her and Jerinne would never have known. That would be a laugh. She’d lose the whole day for nothing. All the Grandmaster told her was, “You can’t miss him.”
The Grandmaster was clearly underestimating Jerinne’s ability to miss someone. She still had the worst record at archery amongst the second- ears.
The Trelan docks were choked with people. People of all shapes and sizes and hues pressed and pushed their way on and off of ships and barges. Several merchants tried to shove dead fish or live boys at Jerinne. She politely declined all offers. Not that she could purchase such things— ven if she wanted them— aving no money on her person. Life as a Tarian Initiate wasn’t supposed to involve poverty, but in Jerinne’s case, that was her only option. Her Initiacy had barely been sponsored, with no further stipend beyond the most meager of living expenses. What would she do if she washed out? Would Baroness Fortinare even take her back into the household? Probably, out of pity, but she’d surely never rise higher than kitchen maid. Cheese in the rain would have better chances.
She couldn’t let that happen. She’d find Heldrin, get him back to the chapterhouse and work Shield Sequence Eight until her arm fell off. She’d go to blazes before she’d wash from Trials.
Jerinne pushed her way over to a pile of crates and climbed on top. Then, at least, she could get a better view, and Heldrin might notice her Initiate jersey and approach her.
Glancing about, she saw a flash of metal in the morning sun. Was that a shield? Who else would even be carrying a shield but a Tarian, even if he was only a Candidate? She put her hand over her brow to cut back the glare. Definitely a shield. And a traveling cloak of Tarian gray.
Also the man in question towered head and shoulders above everyone else around him, traveling case over one shoulder. Blazes, the Grandmaster was right. She couldn’t miss this one. Plus, since the man had a shield on his arm and a sword at his belt, the crowd give him a wide berth that they didn’t grant to anyone else. Maybe if Jerinne had come armed as well, she’d have had an easier time with the crowd.
He had looked up and noticed Jerinne. That made it easier.
Jerinne cupped her hands around her mouth. “Mister Heldrin!”
The man gave a sharp wave and crossed through the sea of people to Jerinne’s crates.
“You have me at the advantage, Initiate,” Heldrin said.
Jerinne climbed down most of the way, standing on the lowest crate so she could approach eye level with the man. Saints, he was absurdly tall. “Jerinne Fendall,” she said, extending her hand. “I was sent to escort you to the chapterhouse, Mister Heldrin.”
“It’s Dayne,” he said. He put down his case, which Jerinne realized was a full steam trunk, and took Jerinne’s hand with his massive grip. “I’m sorry they wasted your time on that. I know my way around perfectly well.”
Jerinne jumped down to the ground, pointing to the trunk. “I presume you don’t need a hand with that, either?”
“Not really,” Dayne said. “But the Grandmaster sent someone anyway, right? I imagine it was inevitable.” He said this last part to himself, resigned.
“I wasn’t told much anything, other than to meet you, and escort you back.”
Dayne picked the trunk up with ease and hoisted it back over his shoulder. He gave a gesture toward the main street. “This was the Grandmaster’s way of making sure I knew that he knew I was arriving today. I’m familiar with his methods.”
“I thought you were from Lacanja,” Jerinne said. Dayne spoke like he was familiar with the Grandmaster and the Maradaine Chapterhouse.
Dayne’s face fell slightly as he led Jerinne out of the crowd. “I was there for my Candidacy. I did my Initiacy here.” He sighed. “Of course, where I’m from is Upper Kisan, about a hundred miles northwest of here.”
Jerinne grinned. “Trenital, myself. Small manor house in the same vicinity.”
Dayne nodded. “I thought you might be from the Sharain.” He narrowed his eyes at Jerinne. “Let me guess. Noble house, you the promising child of a loyal member of the staff?”
“That’s right,” Jerinne said. “My mother was the baroness’s lady’s maid, and my father the under butler.”
“My father was the horse steward,” Dayne said. “You and I, we’re special cases in the Order. You’ve probably noticed.”
Jerinne would be lying if she said otherwise. Most of the other Initiates, if they didn’t come from the city, were from the gentry or at least artisan families. There were very few people born to the service class in the Elite Orders.
Such as the Orders were in this day. But for Jerinne, it was the only chance to improve her station.
Dayne looked at her like he understood all that at a glance. “That’s probably why Grandmaster Orren sent you to fetch me. Come on, we shouldn’t waste any more of your time. I would guess you have Trials coming soon.”
“Next week,” Jerinne said. “I’m missing a session right now. Even under Grandmaster’s orders, I’m sure Madam Tyrell will grind me down for it.”
“Madam Tyrell?” Dayne’s deep voice cracked. “Would that be Amaya Tyrell?”
“I’m not supposed to call her that,” Jerinne said.
“Is she the Initiate Prefect?” he asked. “That’s usually a job for a first- ear Candidate.”
“No, sir, she runs the training drills.”
“As a Candidate?”
“No,” Jerinne said. What was this guy on about? “She’s an Adept, of course.”
Dayne stopped dead for an instant, bright face darkening. After a moment, he pursed his lips. “Let’s hurry up. You don’t want to keep Madam Tyrell waiting.”
Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King’s Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.
When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.
Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.