Authors: Tim Stead
The Fourth Age of Shanakan
Copyright © Tim Stead 2015
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying form without written permission of the author.
Yet again I would like to thank all those who helped to make this book happen, all the patient readers whose comments, praise and criticism made this better than it otherwise might have been.
Also by Tim Stead
The Sparrow and the Wolf
The Seventh Friend
The Bloodstained God
The Pity Stone
The Fourth Age of Shanakan
The Lawkeeper of Samara
Find more at:
1. The Scar
East Scar is a valley. It is seven miles wide at its widest point, and stretches for fifty miles, running north-south along the line of the White Mountain River. The walls of the valley are steep, rising for hundreds of feet above the flat central plain, and are pierced in only three places. To the east the main road is carved into the slopes, taking advantage of a natural fault in the cliffs, rising in a series of hairpin bends until the walls are breached and it races away across the high plateau, descending gently towards the coast and the port town of Yasu. To the south there is a road that follows the river, clinging to the sides of the canyon as it climbs to meet the descending land, and then disappears into the flat, traversable plains north of Sarata and the southern domains. To the west the Ghost Road rises from the forests, little more than a track, and not much used. It crests the great walls and wanders down into the trackless marshes that cloak the Great North River a hundred miles further west. If there was once a passage through the marshes the knowledge of it has passed from human memory.
The valley lies like a sword cut in the rock, a gash that has been filled with rich alluvial soils washed from the mountains to the north. It is a green land, a fertile land, and now a happy land.
East Scar is also a fortress, and a town. The one is cloaked by the other, streets and houses gathering around the point where the road to Yasu crosses the river and the fortress walls rise from the river’s banks. The great fortress was once the seat of a Faer Karani lord, a place of fear and hatred, until the great day a year ago when the demon vanished, as all the Faer Karan vanished, defeated it was said, by the Mage Lord Serhan, then seneschal of White Rock serving the creature Gerique.
The people of East Scar believe the tale. Many of the guardsmen from the fortress went to join Serhan in his war for peace, and travelled by magical means to the plains outside the great city of Samara where they witnessed for themselves the defeat of an eastern army at the hands of Serhan, who stood alone against it, and witnessed, too the appearance of the last of the Faer Karan, now bound in service to Serhan.
So it was that peace had come to East Scar and to the world. Politically ambitious men held themselves in check for fear of the Mage Lord’s wrath, bandits had become rare, and a form of justice had spread out from White Rock like gentle rain falling on parched ground. Now any man had a right to live his life as he pleased, saving grave offence or hurt to others.
Many men had seized upon the new times, taken the opportunity to grow into their freedom, and one such man in East Scar was Marcos san Hekar Caledon, a merchant. He had risen rapidly in the town, using his gifts to their best advantage until he was now one of the leading traders of the domain, and his advice and charity were sought by those who had need of wisdom and kindliness.
Marcos had two sons, a daughter, and a wife, all of whom loved and admired him. They lived together in a house of generous proportions close to the centre of the town and only a stone’s throw from the castle walls. He also kept a storehouse on the southern edge of the town where he sold goods to the people of East Scar, and filled it with traded stuffs brought in through Yasu and carried across the wide plateau in trains of wagons. He sent them loaded with northern grains and pickles, yarns and cloths, to return with exotic goods brought to port by ships from the south.
In a year he had more than doubled his wealth, and with the coming of spring the snows melted and the road to the coast was passable to wagons again. It was time for the first trading mission to set out.
On this particular spring morning Felice, the trader’s daughter, sat at a desk in the small office at the back of the warehouse and transcribed sale notes into the master ledger, adding the totals, and noting the levels of stock after each transaction. It was a task that she knew well, and one that she did with unerring accuracy. She had taken over the job from her older brother, Todric, who her father judged to be more suited to other tasks. Felice had improved the system so that she could look back at any purchase, any sale, tell her father how much of any commodity was in the warehouse without looking at it, and provide lists of what was needed on the next buying trip to the coast.
She sat on a stool, hunched over the ledger, pinning it to the desk with her left arm while her right hand carefully filled the columns with neat letters and figures. Her brown hair was worn long, tied back so that it fell over her left shoulder, away from the scratching pen. Her green eyes flicked from the bill to the ledger and back again, and she frowned with the concentration needed to do the work well.
Felice was happy in this task. She preferred to be alone with books and numbers. Her father said that she was a scholar, the bright one of the family, but she did not feel this to be a great blessing. She knew that she was plain. In a land where tall, fair women were admired she was short and dark, her face a little too wide, and her nose too small. Even Todric, whom she loved above all her family, called her his little mouse.
Todric was as different from Felice as she could conceive. He was tall, broad shouldered, with blue eyes and a fine featured, handsome face, framed with blond curls. It seemed, when they walked together in the streets of the town, that anyone and everyone made time to greet him, to shake his hand and bask in the warmth of his smile. People listened when he spoke, and he was held to be honest, forthright, and yet possessed of his father’s kindness.
“Will you finish soon?”
Felice looked up. Her mother was leaning round the door. She glanced at the bills of sale. There were three left.
“A few more minutes,” she said.
“When you’re done your father wants you to come to the store room.”
Felice nodded and went back to the next bill. She wrote the next three entries and then put the bills away carefully in a box against the wall. She checked the figures again and closed the book, leaving it in the middle of the desk ready for the next entry. She capped the ink well and cleaned the pen, then went to the store room.
Todric and her father were eating lunch together. A selection of breads, cheeses, fruits and cold meats were laid out on the top of a packing case, and a couple of cups of wine stood close at hand.
“Ah, there you are,” her father said. “We were just talking about the trip to Yasu.”
“I have the lists drawn up,” Felice said. “I can go and get them…”
“Not now. Sit down. Eat.” He waved at the food.
She pulled up another stool and picked up a pear, bit into it and felt the soft flavour fill her mouth. It was perfectly ripe.
“I’ve decided that Todric will be leading this trip,” he said. “He’s been seven times with me, and it’s about time he tried it on his own. Besides, I have a lot to do here, and people are telling me I need to show my face more in the store.”
She looked at her brother who was grinning broadly. He had wanted this for some time, she knew, and she was certain that he would do well. His easy way with people made friends of business associates, and his directness made him easy to trade with. People trusted him.
“I’m sure that he will make you proud, father,” she said.
“So is he,” the trader replied with a shake of his head. “So I am going to send someone with him to make sure he doesn’t get carried away, to keep his feet on the ground.”
“Will you send Cedric?” she asked. Cedric was her father’s manager, a greying man of more than fifty years who was renowned for his level head and terse ways.
“No,” her father said. “Cedric rides poorly, and does not like to travel. You will go.”
“Me?” Felice was surprised, and felt a thrill run through her that was part apprehension and part excitement. “But what will I do? I am no trader.”
“You will accompany your brother. You will advise him. Nobody knows more about prices and volumes than you. If I had travelled to Yasu this time I would have taken you myself.”
Todric was grinning. “It will be fun, Mouse,” he said. “Just leave everything to me. Enjoy the sights – and the food in Yasu, well, I think you’ll love it.”
“But what do I take with me? What will the weather be like?”
“You have a week to prepare,” her father said. “There is no need to be alarmed. The journey is quite safe and it is about time you saw more of the world. Do you want to sit here in East Scar forever?”
She wanted to say yes. She liked it here. She was comfortable in their fine house, working the figures, knowing most of the people that she met, but she knew that such an answer was impossible. Her father and brother were both adventurers by nature, and her younger brother, Edwin, though still only fourteen, was inclined the same way. Felice took after her mother, who had made it clear many years ago that she had no wish to travel, and flatly refused to do so. The children needed a good home, she had insisted, and it was her place to make it. Felice could make the same stand, but it would not please her father, and it would forever be a rift between herself and Todric.
She shook her head. “Who will take over the books?” she asked.
“I will,” her father said. “I did them for years when you were a child, and I am sure that I will manage to do them again.”
“I’ve changed the way that they work,” she said.
“Then you will show me. I am sure that even I can learn your method.”
“Of course, Father.”
So it was decided, but only a week to prepare – it was not enough. Felice spent what spare time she had from her work, and the extra burden of making sure that her father did not destroy her system of book keeping, going through her limited wardrobe, and trying to find out if she would need any new garments for the trip. Her father was no help, and nor was Todric. Their answer to anything was to take off a coat, or put it on, or roll up sleeves.
Half way through the week she had packed nearly everything that she owned, and then unpacked it all again. She knew that it was a long journey, and that the men travelled light. It would not do to show up at the wagons with a huge wooden trunk full of things, even if they were essential. She decided that she must re-evaluate what was needed, and how she was to live on the road. She knew that they lived in tents, even when they got to Yasu, but she did not know what that meant.
When the day came she had whittled the essentials down to a sizeable roll, wrapped in leather to keep out the rain, and a small wooden box. She woke early, knowing that they would leave at daybreak, and by the light of oil lamps loaded her things onto one of the seven wagons that stood outside the warehouse. The yard was a scene of bustle and business, and everyone seemed to know their place and their purpose except for her. Nevertheless, she enjoyed watching her father and Todric moving from wagon to wagon, checking the items that were packed on each against her lists and the drover’s name. The air had a spring freshness to it, a lightness and an edge that made her wrap a blanket around her shoulders as she watched.
“Are you cold, Mouse?” It was Todric, his cheeks pink, his eyes bright with the excitement of the trip.
“There is a bite to the air,” she agreed.
“There is hot jaro in the warehouse, and it will be a third part of an hour yet. Get a hot drink and warm yourself by the fire. That will last you until the sun does the job.”
She did as she was told, and stood with a couple of the men in the warmth, allowing the cup to warm her fingers and the liquid to warm her from within. Cedric was there, stoking the fire to get the most heat possible out of it, wrapped in a heavy coat.
“Cedric, have you ever been to the coast?” she asked him.
“Aye,” he said, and carried on poking the fire.
“And did you like it?”
He looked at her for a moment before he answered, and she saw in his eyes that he thought she had asked a fool’s question.
“It’s right enough for some, I suppose,” he said eventually, “but Scar folk are better in the Scar.”
She nodded. “I cannot disagree with you, Cedric,” she said, and the old man looked at her again, and this time the look was less scornful, so there was hope for her after all.
There was some shouting outside, like a roll call, and Todric rushed into the warehouse, seized a cup of jaro and swallowed half of it.
“Time to go, Mouse,” he said. “Wrap up well and put yourself on the second wagon with Kendric.”
She followed him out into the dark, but now the eastern sky was turning a rich, royal blue, and the air was full of the steaming breath of horses and men. The smell was like nothing she had ever smelled before. Grains mixed with horses and wood smoke, all sharpened by the spring air. It was like a festival, a parade, and she climbed up onto the wagon with a sense of excitement and adventure. For the first time she thought that she understood what drove Todric and her father.
At that moment she felt a hand on her arm and looked down to see her father’s face looking up.
“Take care, Felice, of yourself and your brother,” he said. She covered his hand with her glove and smiled. A jolt signalled the start of their journey, and she twisted in her seat to watch as her father was left behind. He waved, and she waved back, feeling even at the very start of their journey a wrench and a sadness at leaving what she knew.
It was soon forgotten, though. They passed through the town while it was still quiet, and nobody was there to see them go. A few dogs barked at them from the cold, empty streets, but none heeded the noise. The town thinned and then was gone, and they passed through cultivated fields, the sky turning red in front of them, bleeding into the night sky as the sun rose.