On a long, 3 day weekend several years ago, I wrote a book. Called ‘The Queen of Shadows’, it was intended to be the first in a series of adventures of a Wizard named ‘Darius’. As you might expect with a book written in just 3 days, it wasn’t very good.
Having said that, it wasn’t all terrible. I realized that really, it was the outline for something far broader than what I’d originally conceived. With that in mind, I broke the story out into parts and started rewriting things (this is after I’d already started ‘book 2’ – but more on that tomorrow). As I said, not everything was terrible. Whole swaths of the book are actually quite good, but you have to read through the crap to get to it. Well, YOU don’t. See, I pulled one of those ‘good parts’ out just for you. These characters appear in the new ‘Chronicles of Darius’ novels I’ve outlined (and written quite a bit of), though they are slightly different than you will see them here.
Take a read and hopefully you’ll like and enjoy it.
© 2010, Patrick Hester – All rights reserved.
The Queen of Shadows
Jared wanted to die.
All of his life, he had worn clothes made better than those worn by most other people simply because of this station in life. It was something required of him being that he was the adopted son of the Lieutenant of the Guard. Allan had suffered along with him, wearing the same stuffy coats and too-tight breeches along with polished knee high boots that chafed and soft, silken shirts. But as Prince and Heir to the throne, the clothing normally worn by him to state functions had become inappropriate overnight, along with everything else that he owned.
He could still remember the look on the face of the Mistress of the House, Elsa Fenweit, when he came back to his rooms after speaking with the King and found her going through his things. She had a rather large pile of his clothes, all good shirts and coats and pants, sitting in a pile in the middle of his room like so much rubbish. To his horror, his best pair of boots, the ones with the caked on mud that fit his foot just right and he could walk for hours while wearing them in the hardest country, were in the pile along with all of his underclothes and two out of his three good cloaks. She looked scandalized that his things would be in such a state, as she put it.
He’d asked her what it was, exactly, that she thought she was doing and she informed him, in no uncertain terms, that his old clothes were to be taken away and burned. She then made a comment to the effect that she couldn’t believe he still wore some of those things, ratty as they were, and that none of it was fit for a person of his newly announced rank and standing in the household, being Heir to the Throne and all. Her stout little body jiggled as she poked a finger through a hole in his favorite shirt before tossing it into the pile along with the rest. That these were the same clothes her maid washed week in and week out for him without so much as a word seemed no longer of consequence.
Shocked beyond the ability to move, he stood dumb and mute as two of her maids came in and swept the pile up in their arms and hauled it off. Elsa eyed him up and down as he stood there, her swollen cheeks puffed up, hands clasped before her, light brown hair done up in a tight bun. He suddenly realized that she was appraising the very clothes he was wearing and, looking to the now empty wardrobe in his room, a tinge of panic ran through him at the thought he would have nothing at all to wear should she demand the very clothes off his back.
As if she had read his thoughts, she smiled and told him that she would return for what he had on after the tailor delivered the new clothes that had been ordered for him. When the tailor delivered the new clothes, he stared silently at them. A half dozen coats with high collars and silver embroidery along the lapels and cuffs with two shirts for each coat, the shirts having buttons all the way to his chin. They were of a finer cut than anything he had seen before and had matching pants as well. Three traveling coats were also there, though of simpler design, they were no less grand in tailorship than the embroidered coats. A pair of fine cloaks replaced the two thrown away, both of plain, stout wool and of a color between dark green and black, only one of which had a hood. His new wardrobe was rounded out by four pairs of knee high boots that fit better then any he had had before, much to his surprise.
And now that he had to wear these clothes, and the shirt and the coat took turns choking him, and the breeches were too tight and clung to his body far too much to his mind, and he was the object of every conversation winding around the room, he wanted nothing more than to die.
From across the crowded room filled with dignitaries from all over the Kingdom, Allan gave him a lopsided grin to let him know that he shared his pain. His clothing, too, had been replaced, and he now wore a fine cut red coat with the same brocaded patterns on cuffs and lapels as Jared. After all, if Jared became King, Allan became Captain of the Guard. He shared a moment with his brother before yet another woman trotted her daughter in front of him in order that he might take notice of the ugly thing. This one had a snout where a nose should have been along with beady little eyes and bad teeth when she smiled. He tried not to grimace as he kissed her hand and gave her a polite smile of his own before hastily moving away.
In different corners of the room, minstrels plucked away at gentle tunes while the Lord’s and Ladies sipped wine and spoke often in hushed tones meant for no one but themselves, or laughed uproariously for all to see. The King, wearing a robe of red velvet with wolf fur at the fringe and collar, stood in conversation with the Baron Modred, a dozen or so feet away from Jared. The Baron wore all black, not even attempting to put on the finer clothes customs demanded at such a gathering. His long sleeve shirt with a high collar was covered partly by a leather vest and he wore small, black leather gloves on his hands. His pants were dark as well, as was the cloak he wore that was so long it dragged the ground when he walked. The only thing that seemed appropriate for the party were his brightly polished, knee-high boots.
Jared had been afraid of the Baron nearly all his life. The man had a scar running the length of his face over his right eye. The eye itself was completely white, and the Baron attributed the wound and scar to a group of now dead Orcs who came upon he and his kinsman while hunting in the lands of his Barony. Like most tales of heroic endeavor, the number of Orcs had grown over the years from the first telling of only twenty, to the current telling that it was nearly a hundred, and he and his men were outnumbered four to one, and yet held their ground and won the day.
But whenever the man turned that white eye toward him, Jared always shuddered and found himself trying to take a step or two back and away. He did not like to be caught in that gaze.
He jumped when he felt a sharp poke to his left kidney. A flash of red hair accompanied by a wolfish grin announced Allan’s presence as he took a spot next to Jared. His brother rocked on his heels, slowly letting his gaze drift along the gaggle of people sipping wine from silver goblets, resting for a short moment on the Baron before continuing on.
“You know,” he whispered conspiratorially, “He’s gonna notice you staring at it one of these times and then,” he slashed a finger across his neck in slow imitation of a knife.
“That’s not funny.”
“Depends on where you’re standing,” he smiled again. Allan had that twinkle of mischief in his eye that was infectious and Jared couldn’t help returning the smile.
“I met your future wife tonight,” he said, and the grin on his brother’s face died instantly. “Not too bad, really, if you can get past the snout.” Allan shuddered and closed his eyes. Jared was glad, it meant that he, too, had seen that particular offering by one of the Ladies of the Court.
“Do you feel like a piece of meat too?” Allan asked suddenly. Jared nodded a yes and they both took to watching the crowd again. There seemed to be quite a lot of older women watching them, their eyes scanning them up and down the way meat buyers weigh the worth of cattle and sheep. It made the back of Jared’s neck itch to no end, and the hairs on his arms stand straight up. Each of the women had a daughter, or younger sister, or cousin, or niece that she wanted to introduce him to and she just knew that he would instantly like the girl and that they would become fast friends, if not more. They always punctuated the more.
Not to say that he didn’t want . . .more, not at all because he did. It’s just that, well, he liked to be the one doing the chasing, not the other way around.
“I need something to drink,” he said, noticing the cotton-mouth he had developed.
“I’d stay away from the wine,” Allan cautioned. “That’s the last thing you need in this place. It’s more dangerous out there than fighting a thousand Orcs.”
“Agreed. Stay sharp.”
Jared moved away, catching the arm of one of the servants as he went. He asked for some punch and the servant said he would bring a cup as fast as he could and he was left standing there in the open again, a lamb waiting to be slaughtered. No sooner had the thought formed in his mind, then he saw one of the Ladies break from the rest of the hunting group and make a straight line for him. He realized that he had started to think of them each as a lioness, slowly stalking a lone victim across the plains.
Min cut directly in front of her and stood facing him with a smile, the Lady huffing behind her as she moved away. He didn’t hear exactly what was said, but he knew it to be something truly nasty.
Min wore the same type of clothes she always wore, loose fitting breeches and soft leather shoes with a long-sleeve tunic cinched at the waist with a belt. The only difference was that this outfit was made of fine blue silks and was decorated with intricately embroidered patterns of dragons and flowers, of all things. A few, scant wildflowers of yellow and blue decorated her hair which was held away from her face by a white band of lace, the rest of it falling straight behind her shoulders.
“I owe you,” he said with a smile.
“I know,” she returned his smile. “I have watched these women,” she spat the word, “Parading their daughters in front of you and young Allan for the better part of the night and decided to take pity on you.”
“And I thank you,” he said with a slight bow. The servant soon came running up carrying a tray filled with goblets of punch. Taking two and offering one to Min, Jared began to think he might have to find a better way to defend himself against these women. Before he knew it, Min had agreed to begin teaching him her way of fighting hand to hand. He stared at her, wondering how he got backed into that corner when Agden came up and stood beside them.
Jared had been told since he was old enough to hold a sword about the kinds of creatures he would have to defend the realm against as a soldier in the King’s Guard. Among the nastier of the Foul Folk, were the Trolls. Standing seven to eight feet tall with hides as hard as rock and able to turn the most determined blade aside easily. With huge hands for crushing and legs the thickness of tree trunks to smash you with. A thousand tales of Trolls and Troll cookpots – they ate any meat – flashed through his mind whenever the man standing before him looked him in the eye, because he would rather face a thousand Trolls if it meant he didn’t have to face Agden.
The man stood a good head taller than he, and if black on the Baron looked frightening, this man made it look terrifying. Black leather armor over a dark shirt with a high collar, undecorated by brocade or other distractions along with good, stout breeches and knee high, weather worn boots with a daggers’ hilt barely discernable in each. His cloak hung from his shoulders like a cape, well away from the sword belted on his hip instead of his back where it usually rested.
His eyes held an intensity that one shied away from immediately, and his face was often stark and grim, especially under torch or candlelight, the flames casting wicked shadows across those deep lines. Dark hair fell well below his shoulders and held dozens of tiny braids throughout indicating that he held to the old traditions. Jared didn’t know whether to believe that he did or not, for each braid was meant to remember a battle fought and won. There were so many, he dared not count them for fear of losing his place, or embarrassing himself by gawking.
To see the man smile, pleasantly, at Min, nearly made him choke on his punch.
“And where is our charge?” she said icily. Jared frowned, not understanding.
“There,” rumbled the big man, finger pointing across the room. Jared followed that finger and saw the Wizard Darius seemingly lost in conversation with Enmaleth. In the weeks since his arrival, the two had become nearly inseparable. In fact, the only time he didn’t see them together was when he and Allan were receiving their lessons from the old Mage.
Both men had taken to wearing long sleeve shirts made of wool that fell as far as their knees and were cinched at the waist with a cloth belt. Under it, they wore close-fitting breeches and soft leather boots laced up to their knees. Over this, Enmaleth had his usual cloak of crow feathers, and Darius wore a hooded robe of black with the front open and the hood thrown back. With all of that, and Darius’ silver hair all frizzy and in disarray, and Enmaleth’s bald dome sparkling in the torchlight, no one could mistake them for anything other than what they were – Wizards.
Sliding a finger between his collar and his neck, Jared gave it a little tug and tried to ease the choking feeling. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one side of Agden’s mouth begin to curl and quickly pulled his finger free. He could feel the heat as his face flushed, and tried to look away long enough for it to go away.
“Feeling a little constricted?” Agden asked. Had Min snickered at him?
“I’m fine,” he croaked. The man was so bloody intimidating.
“This is a different battlefield, this room, but one you must learn to maneuver just the same.” It was a surprising insight from the man, but Jared should have known he would say something like that. He was always saying something strangely profound and meaningful when least expected, or was quick with a piece of advice Jared cursed himself for not thinking of on his own. The man had an air about him, whether it was self-assuredness, or plain old arrogance, he wasn’t sure. He only knew that he had learned to take him seriously and show respect while he was shaking in his boots. Triss had told him to listen to the man and pay attention to what he had to say because he just might learn something.
“I know,” he said. “I just don’t like the feeling that I’m the prized bull being shown at market.” The laugh from Agden was so loud it drew stares from all the corners of the room, his deep voice rumbling like thunder even when he laughed. Min refused to meet his eye and stared at her punch as if it held the secrets of life.
Jared blushed furiously.
With a start, he noticed a liveried servant threading his way through the masses and heading for the King. He held a long brass staff in his hand and looked straight ahead as he walked, never seeming to notice the people parting to make way for him. His strides were long and measured, his pace set exactly as he crossed the room and came to stand before the King. Bowing low before the King, he came about after a slight nod of acknowledgement and brought the staff down on the stone with three, sharp thrusts, the sound bringing everyone’s attention to him.
“Stand and attend!” he said in a booming voice as a hush fell over the crowd. “Hear ye! Hear ye! The High King is about to speak! Stand and attend! High King Aron, son of Oden, son of Agnoth, shall speak his wisdom for all to hear!”
The King drew himself up as Baron Modred took a few respectable steps away. For a second, the King’s eyes met Jared’s and a smile touched his lips, but just as quickly as it happened, he turned and began to scan the crowd. Jared wondered what the man might have to say. The announcement had already been made about him, that was the reason for all the parties going on in the city night after night, and this gathering of nobles tonight.
“It has been nearly five hundred years since a True Wizard walked the Tower,” the King began. “His presence has started me wondering about the past, and the future. I have come to realize that many traditions and customs held close to the throne for centuries have been displaced or discarded over the years. Granted, some were quite foolish, while others make sense even today, though they are not used.
“It is for one of these latter that I have called you here tonight.”
The crowd murmured and Jared saw many an eye flick back and forth between himself and the King.
“Long ago, a young Prince would travel in the company of a Wizard for a period of time, along the Road to Faloan,” gasps took the crowd and Jared suddenly wondered what the King had in store for him. All the eyes in the room were now riveted to the King, and that made his stomach go queasy. Travel with the Wizard? To this Faloan? He had never even heard of it before!
“In this journey, it was hoped that the Prince would cast off the last vestiges of his youthful exuberance, and begin to take his first steps toward the wisdom needed to rule the land justly.
“And where better to learn patience and wisdom, than in the care of the Elves of Faloan?”
Jared reached for a goblet of wine as the astonished gasps became louder voices decrying disbelief. Drinking it in one gulp, he grabbed another. Within heartbeats, he was on his third.