Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 29

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Mara lay awake through the night, furious and heartsick. The words she and Kat had spoken to each other tumbled thorough her head. She reviewed them countless times. Where had her arguments failed? What might’ve been said instead to sway Kat? Could she still turn her cousin from this folly even now?

As the sky grew grey in the hour before daybreak, she rose to put on her battle-gear. Kat awoke and, untangling herself from the cloak she had wrapped around her in the night, rose too. Side by side, they armored themselves. The breach between them wasn’t healed, but had instead grown during the hours of silence. Neither was yet willing to break it. Both were cool, formal, and distant. This coming battle with the Spanish took precedence over the argument between them; private differences must be suppressed. And what could be said before Arthur? The sleepy squire assisted with the most difficult straps, catches, and buckles, but even after he left them to fit up the horses, they didn’t speak.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 28

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After the last of her party had gone, Mara kicked out her bedroll by the dying fire. She didn’t expect to sleep. How could she with the dawn only a few hours away and Kat still absent?

Oh, she knew where Kat had gone. It wasn’t difficult to see; even the Shieldmaids had guessed. They might laugh, but Mara was troubled. Kat had been out with Frederik before, but never so late.

These past six weeks, the relationship between Kat and Frederik had grown alarmingly intimate. Though they must work together in coordinating the Border Guard with the Norman troops, Mara observed that they quickly passed from professional courtesy to casual friendliness—and perhaps to more?
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 27

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Six weeks later, the armies of the Northlands began to cross the Shieldwall. They had mobilized with astonishing swiftness; Mara had deployed cohorts of one hundred each at intervals along the border with Arnauld commanding a legion at Delta fortress on the coast and Brachis in command of another in the western mountains, but the main Northlands’ force crossed at the vulnerable point where the Shieldwall was narrowest. Spainfort lay directly south. The invasion of Terrojos would commence at dawn.

So enormous an undertaking was impossible to overlook. Spanish troops had taken up defensive positions along the southern boundary of the Shieldwall; flickering orange pinpoints of campfires were visible in the darkness. Messages had thrice been sent to Spainfort, demanding surrender and promising peaceable passage to any who disdained Norman rule. This gesture was required by long-established codes of conduct between civilized nations, but it was understood that Spanish honor would never allow these terms to be accepted. Terrojos meant to hold back the invasion for as long as they were able. Their numbers were much smaller than the combined might of the Normans but, while they couldn’t hope to prevent the onslaught, they could hinder the progress of the invading army. Crags and outcroppings in the river-cut hills provided a hundred strong strategic points for barricades and ambushes. The most recent intelligence reports revealed that reinforcements had been sent for from Spain and would reach Terrojos within the week. Mara knew that she must strike now.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 26

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The Marchion’s frontier manners were more direct than Mara and Kat were used to, but neither took the young man for an ill-bred rustic. Mara quickly grew to like him; the fact that he was a cousin, though this could not be acknowledged, gave him a higher standing in her eyes. It was impossible to think the great-grandson of Denys any less refined than his venerated ancestor. Frederik was open, affable, eager to please. His unguarded remarks were refreshingly different from the obsequies of the men they knew at court. Frederik was no flatterer. He recognized their superior rank and extended the requisite courtesies, but he wasn’t afraid of them. He meant to be friends and, receiving no immediate rebuff, assumed that they were.

He was not the image of Denys, Mara decided. No, he was more like her father had been in his youth. She’d seen portraits of Dafythe in his twenties and thirties; Frederik might easily be taken for a son of that young Duke. He might be taken for her own younger brother. Though Frederik didn’t possess Dafythe’s courtly sophistication, he had the same affection, sense of responsibility, and concern for his subjects’ well-being that Mara had only recently learned to appreciate in her father. He carried himself with the graciousness of one well-born and the confidence of one brought up to command and defend. He was as much the proud master of Dennefort as Dafythe was master of Pendaunzel.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 25

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They approached the old fortress. The walls were thirty feet tall, huge piles of mortared stone, enormously thick to support their own weight and capable of withstanding the full battery of an invasion. Nearly so broad at the base as they were tall, no catapult nor cannon could knock them down. Though they loomed too near for Mara to examine their configuration and, at any rate, were obscured by the buildings crowded about their base, she thought that the fortress must be star-shaped; each massive wall lay at an acute angle to its neighbors. The entrance lay between two of these jutting points. Squat pennant-capped towers stood atop each point, and two more towers flanked the great, oaken door.

The herald shouted up, “I escort the Princes of the Northlands to audience with My Lord Marchion!”

The great doors swung open. The herald turned his horse and bowed slightly from the saddle as he gestured for the Princes to enter before him.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 24

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Adyna Alekeep consented reluctantly. She didn’t wish her young daughter to go so far away with the armies, but she acknowledged that Ren was growing into a pretty maiden; some of her customers had begun to pay too much attention to the girl. If the Prince herself should take a kindly interest in Ren’s future, who was she to spoil the opportunity? Both Mara and Captain Alyx promised that Ren would not come to harm. Ren was to be the Prince’s gentyl-maid and page. She wouldn’t see battle.

Though she had no official duties yet, Ren accompanied Mara while the army remained in Storm Port. When Mara went out to greet the officers of the Guylleshire troops, Ren stood unobtrusively at her side. She attended Mara during the long conferences that weekend in which the Prince and her commanders planned the next phase of their journey.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 23

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The War in the Marches

1954

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“It’s her! That’s the Prince!”

The crowd in the Huitelm murmured excitedly as Mara and her Shieldmaid companions descended into the cool relief of the basement tavern. They’d been eagerly awaiting their first glimpse of her for days, since the first soldiers’ encampments had appeared in the fallow fields, pastures, and woodlands beyond the city walls. Thousands of soldiers were camped around the city now, for Mara’s army had increased three-fold since they’d begun the long march from Pendaunzel. Though they were prepared to march again at a day’s notice, they waited here for the Guylleshire troops to join them before they continued their journey south.

The Prince had arrived at Storm Port that morning. Alyx, Captain of the Storm Port garrison, had gone out to greet her sister-Shieldmaids and escort Mara, Bel, and Kat into her city.

Though they were not in full armor, they were a stunning quartet: long braids bound in bronze, brief soldiers’ kirtles covered by studded leather tuilles, boots tall and swords agirt. To the common folk of Storm Port who had awaited Mara’s coming, they seemed more than mortal women. History walked before them. These were warriors out of legend—Mildred and the first band of Shieldmaidens, Hippolyta’s Amazons, Brunhilde’s Valkyrie—or at least their daughters incarnate.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 22

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The heralds milled about the state hall, waiting for Dafythe to emerge. The eldest boys diced against the wall. Others were engaged in some childish boasting contest. A few conversed with the courtiers who had remained to accompany the Duke. At Dafythe’s entrance, they all drew to attention. Andemyon had been seated at the window with Lord Rafenshighte; when he rose to take his place, the Diplomatic Officer detained him and spoke urgent words too soft for anyone else to hear. Andemyon whispered a reply, and Rafenshighte released his arm.

As Dafythe ascended the curving stairway to the rostrum atop the palace gates, Ambris at one elbow and Martleanne at the other, he wondered why he’d ever thought it a good idea to address his subjects from a position so far above the ground. Each time he made this climb, the stairs grew steeper and there seemed to be more of them. Seventy years ago, when the platform had been newly built according to his own design, he’d leapt up these same steps two at a time without a thought. At least, he’d had the foresight to keep his new palace on the hill and set the gates at the foot of the slope; from the inner side, the climb was much shorter than it might have been if the stairs had begun on level ground. Once atop, he stood thirty feet above the crowd.

The streets of Pendaunzel thronged with people. Townsfolk hung dangerously out of upper-floor windows and leaned over the rails of the shop porches in hopes of seeing the young general lead her troops out. The Processional directly below had been cleared by those constables who remained in the city; the Prince could ride unhindered from the palace gates down the Avenue of Heroes, where her glorious ancestors were commemorated in marble, and pass under the stony gaze of the enormous monument to Eduarde Redlyon in the square.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 21

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War! Dafythe made his announcement that evening and the court hummed with the news by late morning. From Pendaunzel, word spread quickly to the neighboring cities and countryside. By the end of March, all the Northlands was in an uproar. No one could talk of anything else. It seemed too wonderful. Could it be true? The Duke had released troops to Prince Margueryt. The armies of the Northlands were to march to the southern border. At last, they would give Spain a taste of what they deserved and Norman honor would be avenged!

For sixty years, there had been no standing army in the Northlands proper, and only a few thousands stationed with the border guards in the marches. Retired soldiers from the frontiers and youths who would train for soldiery served as auxiliaries to the city constabulary. Through these garrisons, elite corps such as the Shieldmaids, and the various orders of knights, the arts of warfare were passed on through the peaceful generations. Young guards learned their profession from their elders. Archery, fencing, and jousting were encouraged as sport, so that these skills would not be lost, but none had practiced them in earnest for decades.

In the months since Juan’s betrothal, however, the city garrisons had swollen to twice and thrice their normal complement and adventurous youths traveled to join the guard at the Eduardesmarch and Uoldor. Scores of knights had been newly consecrated. This spring, hundreds more—retired soldiers, young hopefuls, and many who had no martial training—swarmed to enlist. Overwhelmed captains absorbed as many of the most promising applicants as they could into their companies; others were given non-combatant positions in transportation or requisition or the courier relays. The rest were sent home to their shops and farms. But for every one turned away, another arrived with the same aspirations to serve the Prince. Their eagerness astonished Mara. Had they waited so long for her?
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 20

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Prince Juan and his bride went to Paris at Christmas and, in January, Juan’s son Eduarde was sent to serve as a page in Kharles’ court. Pendaunzel didn’t know how to interpret this gesture. Was the boy taken as a hostage? Or had Juan offered him as a token of his loyalty? It seemed to indicate only one thing certainly: the war had been averted. Kat’s betrothal was not mentioned again.

Then, as the winter melted away, Mara was called to her father’s chambers. Dafythe dismissed Martleanne and his attending heralds before he told her, “There was a courier from Paris this morning. A message from Kharles, for you.” Dafythe gave her the folded vellum square bearing the imperial seal.

Mara had never received a personal missive from her cousin before and, given the current, peaceable political situation, she couldn’t imagine what Kharles had to tell her.
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