I just saw that my follower count on this blog exceeded 100! I am very excited. So, to celebrate, I will post the first chapter of my nearly-completed historical fantasy: Rise of the Storm.
The street was deserted; dark cobbles shining between the tall half-timbered houses. It seemed like everyone was in the temple square. Runewald was both a temple and market town, so its main square was especially large, and today it was filled to overflowing.
He was too late to find a place anywhere near the temple, so Kendryk decided to stand where the street ended in the square. It was slightly uphill, so he could easily see the temple. Smiling at some boys jostling for position on an upturned barrel in front of a tavern, he joined a small knot of men standing on the street; local merchants from the looks of them. In his black hat and coat with its modest white collar, Kendryk thought he fit in passably well.
The men met his courteous nod with smiles and nods of their own. There was as yet no sign of the priest, and one of them asked him. “So, young man, have you heard Father Landrus speak before?”
Kendryk shook his head. “Have you?”
“Oh yes,” the man replied “I’ve been in this congregation my whole life. But of late, as you see,” he nodded toward the crowded square, “Father Landrus speaks in the open so more can hear him. The people hunger for the truth.”
“It seems that Father Landrus has interesting things to say.” Kendryk didn’t mention that what he’d heard came from his uncle’s enraged letters.
“Interesting and true. He is making powerful enemies, but the quality of those enemies makes me more certain that what he is saying must be heard.”
“Rumor is that the Duke of Emberg is one of those enemies,” Kendryk hoped he sounded casual.
The man chuckled, “Yes, the old man has been noisy about his displeasure. Do you suppose there’s anything he can do to silence him?”
“I think not,” Kendryk said. “In the end, it’s a matter for the High Temple, but the Prince will have to decide if it goes that far.”
“Ah yes, the Prince,” the man said, “I wonder what he’ll do if it comes to it.”
“Hard to say.” Kendryk scratched his nose and pretended to ponder. “But I reckon he’ll want to give Landrus a fair hearing before packing him off to the Imperata.”
“We can only hope,” the man said.
A buzz swept through the crowd as one of the temple’s enormous front doors opened. A man in the plainest priest’s robes came out holding a crate, which he placed on the ground. He climbed onto it and bowed his head until the crowd fell silent.
Kendryk smiled. He’d never heard of any temple official carrying his own pulpit, or indeed leaving the high altar at all.
Landrus raised his head. At first glance he looked quite ordinary, but even at a distance, Kendryk could see that his eyes were uncommonly intense and piercing . Unlike most priests, he wore his light hair cropped close.
“Greetings, children,” he said in a deep voice that carried across the square. “It’s raining, so I will be brief today.”
“We’re happy to hear you in the rain, Father!” someone shouted, and the crowd cheered in agreement.
“Thank you, brother.” The priest smiled, then said, “Still, I will try to speak plainly and to the point. Over the past weeks, I’ve explained the differences in worship between what is written in the Holy Scrolls and what the High Temple teaches. The Scrolls are clear that all member of the Holy Family are of equal importance and must be honored in equal measure. For centuries now the High Temple has told us that Vica should be lifted above the others. Perhaps you are wondering if this is of any importance. It is in truth very important, and I will tell you why.
“The Scrolls speak of a great battle that The Holy Family will fight with the forces of evil. When that time comes, our gods will lose this battle since they are weakened because of our neglect. And if they lose, darkness will cover the world until the end of days. The Scrolls, however, do tell us how The Holy Family may be strengthened. It is something all of us can do, although we are not doing it now. Worst of all, we are not doing it because of the orders of the High Temple and the Imperata herself.”
The crowd buzzed, and the men next to Kendryk muttered with them. Kendryk schooled his face into blank neutrality. This was heresy.
“These orders are evil!” The priest’s voice rang out across the square. “And the truth found within the Scrolls requires us to disobey them. If Ercos the Brother and the Holy Parents continue to be weakened because of our neglect, the Gods will fall in that last battle. And that battle, my children, is closer than we think.”
The crowd roared its approval.
Just as the crowd quieted, there was another clamor. From a street on Kendryk’s right were shouts of “Make way!” along with the clatter of hooves and the clang of armor. When the mounted party appeared in the square, the closely packed crowd parted.
Kendryk’s throat tightened when he saw the lead horseman. As he had guessed, it was his uncle- the Duke of Emberg- accompanied by his eldest son Raedan. The Duke’s progress slowed as the crowd closer to Landrus drew into a protective huddle around him.
“Stop speaking this instant!” The Duke shouted, even though Landrus was silent, standing calmly on his crate. Kendryk wondered if he’d expected something like this.
The Duke waved a parchment. “I represent the Prince of Terragand and have come to arrest you as a rebel and a heretic. You will accompany me to Emberg Castle where you will await the Imperata’s justice.”
A few angry shouts rose from the crowd and the knot around Landrus tightened. Kendryk’s heart hammered in his chest. If he didn’t intervene right now, Landrus could be on his way to the Imperata within hours. He knew his uncle wouldn’t bother to consult him first though he was happy enough to use his name. And once the priest was turned over to Temple authority, Kendryk’s hands would be tied.
He offered a quick prayer to Vica, asking her to give him wisdom, and to give it quickly. Then he turned to the men standing near him. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I need your help.”
They stared at him, surprised. The one who’d spoken with him earlier said, “It would seem you’re not the only one.”
“You must help me help Father Landrus, this moment, before my uncle further incites this crowd.” Kendryk said, watching recognition dawn on several faces.
“But of course, Your Grace,” the man standing next to him said. “Gentlemen, I’m sure you recognize Prince Kendryk, our ruler.” There was a flurry of nods and awkward bows.
“I need to stop the Duke before he starts breaking heads,” Kendryk said. The Duke’s party had stalled in the square. “Any ideas?”
“Perhaps Brande should use his voice,” said one man. “It’s uncommon loud.”
“Excellent,” Kendryk said. “Please shout my name and order the Duke to stop.” He looked around for something to stand on. For the thousandth time he wished he were just two inches taller. He turned to the boys on the barrel. “I’m afraid I need to borrow this for just a moment.”
The smallest of them hesitated, but one of the older ones said, “Quickly now- it’s the Prince himself!” And all three jumped down. Before Kendryk could think again, someone had boosted him up and suddenly he looked down on a sea of hats.
The man named Brande stepped forward and bellowed, “His Grace Prince Kendryk bids The Duke of Emberg attend him immediately.”
The rumbling crowd suddenly quieted. The Duke and his entourage swung as one in Kendryk’s direction.
”By the Mother, it’s Kendryk!” said Raedan, his stupid face more puzzled than usual. “Say, cuz, did you come to arrest the preacher, too?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the Duke said. “His Grace is clearly here on personal business.”
Kendryk fought back a smile. It was a strange way to describe the Prince of the land dressed as a merchant and standing on a barrel like a little boy at a tournament.
“You are correct, Duke,” Kendryk said, staying up high for the moment. “Nevertheless, I must ask you in my official capacity to please stop. I don’t recall issuing an arrest warrant. Oh, and Raedan, please refrain from taking the Mother’s name in vain.”
Raedan opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again upon a glance from the Duke.
The same man who’d helped Kendryk onto the barrel handed him down. Now the entire crowd turned in his direction and parted like a miracle from the Scrolls as he walked into the square.
He had nearly reached his uncle before he realized that he was not alone. Most of the men he’d been standing with were following close on his heels.
“The warrant, please,” he said, once he stood before the Duke. He made no move to reach for it, so the Duke was forced to dismount. It would have been a severe breach of etiquette for him to lean over his sovereign.
The Duke handed over the parchment with the barest hint of a bow.
“This bears neither my seal nor my signature,” Kendryk said as he handed it back.
“I was going to get your signature later,” the Duke said, his left eyelid quivering. “I knew you would approve.”
“I might, if I had been presented with the facts surrounding Father Landrus,” Kendryk said. “As it is, I will have to conduct my own investigation before any further action is taken.”
“If you wish. Although I’m sure this rabble-rouser is hardly worth your time. His guilt is beyond question. Dozens of people heard him accuse the Imperata of deception. How dare a common priest think he knows the truth of such matters?” The Duke’s voice rose to a shout. “We must stop this sort of insolence now and make an example of him.”
Kendryk felt heat flood his face. Perhaps the Duke needed to be reminded once again that he was no longer regent. He decided to save that for a more private occasion, but didn’t try to hide his impatience. “As yet, I am not convinced of his guilt. I will look into this myself and make a decision based on what I learn. You are free to go.”
The Duke slowly turned purple, but seemed to realize he couldn’t lose his temper with Kendryk in public. He bit his lip hard, turned away and remounted his horse. Raedan snickered.
Kendryk didn’t wait for his uncle’s party to leave. He turned on his heel and walked toward Father Landrus, who had come down off his box, and stood waiting, a slight smile on his face.by