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About the Author
Kirby Heyborne is an accomplished actor, musician, and comedian who has received a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards for his audiobook narrations. He has had starring roles in over a dozen features and many short films. Kirby is also a cofounder and director of the Los Angeles-based improv comedy group The Society.
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Beltur sat bolt upright in the dark, sweating and shivering, the echo of thunder in his ears so loud that it took a moment before he could hear the pelting of heavy raindrops on the split slate roof. Even so, he first wondered where he was, before realizing he was in his bed in Athaal and Meldryn's house.
Except Athaal is dead ... because you couldn't save him.
Beltur took a deep breath. He knew, honestly knew, that he'd done everything in his power to try to save Athaal, and it hadn't been enough. It might not have been enough if he'd been almost beside Athaal ... or you both might have died. But he'd been where he'd been, and Athaal had been where he had been, and from fifty yards away Beltur had only been able to contain the chaos of the Gallosian mage, but he hadn't had enough power from that distance to also protect Athaal when the order of Athaal's shields had meshed with the chaos of the Gallosian's shields. He could still see that awful moment when that mixed order and chaos had destroyed both Athaal and the white mage. And nothing was going to change what had already happened.
With that realization, one that he had experienced more mornings than not over the two eightdays that had passed since the defeat of the Gallosian invaders, he slowly rolled into a sitting position with his legs over the side of the bed. Dark as it seemed, he had the feeling that it was close to the time he needed to be up, a feeling reinforced by the odor of baking bread that drifted upstairs from the bakery.
Beltur washed and shaved quickly, pulled on his clothes, except for his tunic, yanked on his boots, and hurried downstairs to the kitchen, where Meldryn had started the fire in the kitchen hearth. As quickly as he could, while being as careful as he could be, he fried some mutton strips, sliced the small melon into strips, and scrambled eggs and cheese.
Then he walked down the side hall that led to the bakery, stopped at the door, and said, "Breakfast is ready."
"I'll be there in a few moments," replied the gray-haired and bearded baker and black mage.
Beltur had only been back in the kitchen long enough to pour the hot cider into mugs and seat himself before Meldryn appeared and sat down at the table. He set a small loaf of bread on the end of the table. "This is for you. You have City Patrol duty today, don't you?"
"The first time since before all the fighting. This eightday, my duty days are threeday and sevenday. Patrol Mage Osarus requested that I be transferred back to patrol duty as soon as possible. He never wanted me to leave."
"He was wrong about that. Without you, things might have been very different."
Beltur couldn't argue about that. Whether, in the end, they would have been better for Athaal and Meldryn was another matter.
Meldryn took a sip of the hot cider. "You know I appreciate your staying and helping."
"It's the very least I could do," replied Beltur, not for the first time. And it was, given that Athaal and Meldryn had taken him in when he'd had to flee Gallos with nothing but the clothes on his back and a handful of coppers in his wallet. Besides, more practically, where else did he have to go? "I don't cook as well as you do." Beltur had almost said "as well as Athaal," but managed to change his words, knowing that Meldryn would still likely choke up at any mention of Athaal. That wasn't surprising, given that the two had been together for more than twenty years.
"I still appreciate it." Meldryn took a bite of the eggs, nodded, and then said, "Is it tomorrow when you go back to work with Jorhan?"
"Just for the day, unless he gets more copper." Beltur didn't want to dwell on that. "Have you talked to Cohndar recently?" He doubted that had happened, but he definitely didn't want to mention Athaal, and he did want to know anything Cohndar might have said, since Cohndar was the senior black mage in Elparta and wasn't exactly the most favorably inclined toward Beltur.
"No. He's been noticeably absent since before the invasion, except when he's had no choice, and he was cool toward ... us, even then."
"Since Waensyn arrived, really," Beltur pointed out.
"Waensyn's a strong black, but ..." Meldryn shook his head. "And how he could believe that Jessyla would ever be attracted to him is beyond me. She's much more suited to you, and everyone can see that."
"He's one of those people who only believes what suits him. That makes him very dangerous as far as you're concerned."
Beltur nodded as he took a mouthful of cheesed eggs. He didn't need to be told that, not after he'd heard Waensyn's and Cohndar's maneuverings during the invasion, maneuvering that had led to Beltur being given the most dangerous assignments possible for a mage-officer. A very temporary mage-officer. And one quickly returned to nonmilitary status as soon as possible. "I've got to leave early, especially in this rain. I'll need to see Raymandyl at the Council building before I go to the Patrol building."
Meldryn frowned quizzically. "You're still in the same duty period."
"I got a message saying I need to report there first before going to Patrol headquarters."
"They didn't even give you an eightday off after mustering you out."
"No, but they did pay me through the end of this eightday." And at three silvers an eightday, his mustering-out pay had amounted to over two golds, which Beltur could definitely use, especially since he hadn't been able to do any work with Jorhan forging cupridium. Still ...
"What ever happened to that horse of yours?"
"Slowpoke? I don't know. By the time I was on my feet, Second Recon had left to return to Spidlaria. He wasn't in the stables. I went to look." Beltur had at least wanted a last moment with Slowpoke, especially since he doubted he would have survived without the big gelding. "They must have taken him with them."
"From what you've said, he was something."
"He was." Beltur would have liked to have kept Slowpoke, but he couldn't have afforded to feed him, and the bakery had no stable.
After he and Meldryn finished eating and he quickly cleaned up the kitchen, Beltur went upstairs and donned the mage's black tunic that matched his trousers, then pulled on the visor cap he'd been issued as a mage-officer — since he'd been told he should wear it when he was working with the City Patrol, but only then. He almost forgot his whistle, but pulled the lanyard over his neck and slipped the whistle inside his tunic.
He left the house at slightly after sixth glass, wearing a waterproof that had been Athaal's with the loaf of bread wrapped in cloth inside his tunic. The rain had subsided to a cold drizzle, all too common in mid-to-late fall, Meldryn had told him. He checked his shields, not that they were much use against rain, but he'd only been able to hold a full set of shields in the last eightday or so, given how order-depleted he'd been. Early as it was and with the rain, there were few people out on Bakers Lane. The north wind made the air feel even colder, even when Beltur's back was to it when he climbed up the street to the Council building.
When he stepped inside the door on the north side, he took a moment to shake the rain from the oiled waterproof, then walked toward the desk where Raymandyl usually sat. For a moment, Beltur didn't see the Council clerk, but then the black-haired clerk sat up straight from bending over, retrieving something from the file chests flanking his desk.
"As always, at the last moment," said Raymandyl, smiling, as Beltur stopped in front of the desk.
"I didn't get the message until late yesterday," replied Beltur. "You would have been gone by the time I could have gotten here."
The Council clerk frowned. "I gave the message to the runner on oneday. I'll have to look into that." He gestured to the single straight-backed chair in front of his table desk. "You have to sign some papers, and pick up your medallion."
Beltur had forgotten about the medallion worn by all mages working with the City Patrol and was glad to be reminded, but ... "Papers?"
"You have to acknowledge that your duty has been extended to end seven eightdays from now."
Beltur frowned as he seated himself. "I thought it was six."
"The Council gave you an extra eightday's pay as a mage-officer."
Beltur almost shrugged. An extra eightday of patrol duty meant another two silvers, and he couldn't work every day with Jorhan in any event. Assuming he can get hold of more copper.
"I'll sign whatever you need me to sign."
The clerk handed across the record book. "Sign under the words that say you understand your duty has been extended."
Beltur signed and handed the book back. "Payday is still the same?"
"Starting next eightday for you." The clerk placed his seal beside Beltur's signature.
"Is there anything else I should know?"
"Not yet. I've heard that there's some disagreement about how to pay for all the expenses of the invasion."
"What's the problem?"
"The traders in Spidlaria and Kleth feel that those in Elparta should pay more." The round-faced clerk added, "They don't say it that way. It's something about payment corresponding to benefit. Councilor Jhaldrak's anything but pleased."
"They don't think it wouldn't have cost them far more if the invasion had dragged on or the Gallosians had taken Elparta?"
"They're traders," replied Raymandyl, as if that explained everything. He extended the silver medallion. "Don't forget this."
Beltur took it and slipped it over his neck and inside the waterproof. "Thank you. I'm glad I'm just a poor black mage." He rose from the chair and inclined his head.
"You're likely happier."
"But poorer." Beltur grinned before he turned and made his way toward the door.
Outside the Council building, the cold drizzle still fell, and Beltur couldn't help but wonder how many vendors would actually be at the market square. He walked steadily down the hill and past the north side of the market square on Patrol Street, where, somewhat to his surprise, he saw a number of vendors setting up stalls and carts and tables despite the rain. He glanced to the north, where the sky seemed a little lighter. Or was that his imagination?
He shook his head and kept walking. Five long blocks later, he reached the City Patrol headquarters, roughly halfway between the square and the River Gallos.
He entered by the north door, which led into the duty room. Immediately inside the door was a modest open space. A table desk was set forward of the single other door in the foyer, which opened onto a hallway leading deeper into headquarters. Behind the desk sat the duty patroller, uniformed in Spidlarian blue, as were all patrollers.
While Beltur didn't recognize the duty patroller, the man immediately smiled. "Welcome back, ser."
That surprised Beltur. He didn't recall any of the patrollers calling him "ser" before. "Thank you. I'm glad to be here." Even as he said the words and moved to the side of the desk to sign the duty book, he realized that he was glad to be back. Was that because the worst he ever had to do to someone was to restrain them with shields? While that was likely part of it, he felt that there was more, although he couldn't have said why at that moment.
The patroller eased the ledger-like book toward Beltur, and he dipped the pen lying on the blotter in the inkwell and signed. "Do you know who I'm working with?"
"No one's told me."
A voice behind Beltur said, "Who do you think?"
Beltur turned and couldn't help grinning at the sight of Laevoyt — tall and thin, long-faced with a beakish nose between two pale blue eyes and beneath reddish-blond hair. Even with his dark gray waterproof over his uniform, he still reminded Beltur of a river heron.
"I didn't expect that I'd be working with you again," said Beltur.
"Osarus thought it would be best for a few eightdays. After that, it might change."
Beltur couldn't help but wonder why Osarus had felt that way. Because of Athaal's death ... or just because it would be easier for Beltur to get back to being a patrol mage? "I'd just as soon it didn't, but we don't have much say in that, do we?"
Laevoyt laughed. "We don't, and we'd better get moving." He turned and headed for the door.
Beltur followed, noting as he stepped onto Patrol Street that the rain seemed lighter. Since Laevoyt didn't speak again, Beltur asked, "Have there been more problems at the market square?"
"I wouldn't know. They had me on the waterfront with Dorryl."
"Is he big and tall?"
"Of course." Laevoyt laughed. "I'd rather be here."
The patroller didn't speak for several moments. "The word is that you saw a lot of action ... and that, for a while you were in pretty bad shape."
"That's true," replied Beltur, "but the injuries were because of magery. That means ... well ... you either die or get well. I was fortunate. Athaal ... he wasn't." That was an oversimplification that bordered on untruth, but Beltur really didn't want to explain. "Lhadoraak just barely made it. I understand another mage died also, but I never knew who it was."
"We heard about Athaal. He was a good man. Quiet, but good. He'll be missed."
"By more than a few people."
"I saw there were a fair number in the market square already," Beltur observed, "even with the rain."
"Rain'll likely let up. Then it'll get colder. But folks will be trying to stock up on things before the snows start in earnest."
"I suppose I ought to show my face and medallion before I raise a concealment." Beltur eased the medallion out from under the waterproof.
"That will make the lightfingers more cautious. The ones with any sense."
By the time the two reached the square, Beltur could see that more people had appeared, both buyers and sellers, although the numbers seemed to be only a little more than half those he'd seen on his patrolling during harvest. While Laevoyt continued east on Patrol Street, Beltur strolled down the edge of the square on West Street, letting both vendors and sellers see him, listening and trying to hear what was said.
"... mages are back ..."
"... good thing, too ... last sixday ... and sevenday ... musta been four cutpurses here in the square ..."
" ... think it's the young one ..."
"A mage is a mage."
Beltur winced at the last words, knowing that wasn't so, not that he would have contradicted the old woman, because it was likely better that people in the market square didn't really think about the different levels of ability between mages. When he reached the south end of the square, he raised a concealment and eased into the square itself, trying to sense the flashes of the kind of chaos indicative of cutpurses or lightfingers. Usually there weren't that many attempts at straight smash-and-grab thefts in the market square, because with the crowds, escape for an obvious thief was problematical. Lightfingers were the biggest problem. Even with the two of them patrolling the square, some of the most accomplished lightfingers likely would still make a score.
He moved slowly through the aisles and spaces between stalls and carts, grateful that the drizzle finally dribbled to an end, heading back toward the north side of the square, where those who sold more expensive wares located themselves, unlike the produce sellers, who congregated more on the south side. While he'd been recovering from the effects of the last battle, he'd thought about patrolling the market, and he'd realized that he'd often been looking in the wrong places. The reason the lightfingers were around the stalls that carried more expensive goods wasn't because they wanted to take those goods. It was because that was where those with silvers and golds were most likely to be, and lifting wallets and golds was generally easier than boosting well-watched goods. Also, coins were far less identifiable, which meant that, unless the lifter was caught in the act, wallet in hand, proof of the theft was harder to establish.
Once he neared the tables with the more costly items, he dropped the concealment just so he could get a better impression of the people passing by, since he could only sense people as patterns of order and chaos when he was under a full concealment. Also, he had to admit, he wanted to see what might be available from the silks vendors. He could still recall the intense green shimmersilk scarf he'd once admired and had wanted to buy for Jessyla. He hadn't been able to afford it, and probably still couldn't, not and have enough coins to be able to pay Meldryn and meet other obligations with any certainty.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Outcasts Of Order"
Copyright © 2018 L. E. Modesitt, Jr..
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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