Archive for Eddison

The Queen of Mastakara – Chapter 1

Posted in Unpublished Works in Progress with tags , , , , on April 14, 2008 by craigherbertson

In which are introduced the Land of Leath, the Lady Leath and her three sons

The village of Leath was located on the wide plain of Great Leath. In summer, the plain was a golden meadow. Its unique yellow flowers spread like a vast blanket to the foothills in the north and to the south, where the flowers gave place to coarse sea-grass near the white sands of the Mouth of Leath.

The River Leath, known to the local folk as ‘The Golden River’ because of the peculiar stones of the riverbed, was cool and lazy at these seasons, but in the autumn and the spring, it would often break its banks and inundate the great plain of Leath. For that reason, and incidental defence, the houses of the scattered small villages and the small farm holds were built either on short but broad oak stilts or raised hummocks.

In winter the river was frozen. Folk would come a long way from the Manor then to compete with the staff or play curling on the broad expanse of frozen water that spread out like a sleeping mirror at the mouth of Leath. The farmers and smallholders would complain that the tourists from Manor ‘borrowed’ too much firewood from the Greater Leath forest that shrouded the Eastern bank of the Golden River all the way from the mouth to the foothills. Worse, the younger men were apt to disfigure the best oaks in search of good branches for the following winter’s weapons. Then the tourists from Manor were quick to point out that they brought business, news and gossip, small trading, poached keefer, rabbits and other game from their eastern land.

The rivalry was mainly friendly but of course, the young lads who competed in the hurling and the roustabout contest of the winter sports would occasionally lose their heads in open violence, more often than not over a pretty lass. The older folk of the rival communities were apt to criticize the violence as barbaric and then reflect with humour on the golden days of their youth and their superiority to today’s champions in both violence and vigour. What with the barbecues, the night fires and the glamour of contest the winter was made all the more bearable.

Folk often said that most of the babies born in the following summer were the result of a hurling contest or a staff fight that continued a little later into the night than the young folk expected and in that folk were mostly correct.

They could not however attribute the birth of Lady Leath’s children to a staff fight. The doings of the White Castle were above farmers’ brawls and Lady Leath herself was beyond any vulgar criticism. She had ruled the Leath estate with a hand not of iron but of lace and such fine filigree that it breathed an innocence and humility that could only command respect.

The white walls of Castle Leath were small, built as it was on the sweeping western hill just at the spur where the white cliffs began and the plain ended; but the walls were strong, compact and had never been breached by foe since the building of the White castle in the year of the Raven. In a similar vein, some of the more vulgar Leathites, those who frequented Black’s tavern, were wont to say that Lady Leath had never been breached since the disappearance of her husband, the lamented Baron Leath, who had not returned after the failed Canope expedition of the Pack war.

Lady Leath had remained inviolate, charming but distant, almost queen-like, never unfriendly but clearly touched by a great sadness. It was not a question of honour. The story of his disappearance was never fully broadcast and Baron Leath was simply never mentioned. His portraits were taken down from the cold hallways and his name, doubtful but not disgraced was buried with his spare armour and weapons in the lumber-rooms and attics. Suitors came and went but Lady Leath, a great beauty – who had once caught the eye of the king but had thrown it back unrepentant – remained as unobtainable as a portrait of Baron Leath. Eventually, it became accepted fact that she would never remarry and the local villagers ever independent in their will, became proudly defensive of the great lady. She became a myth in her own lifetime. Folk were content enough.

The baron, prior to the Pak war, was a powerful if not well liked man. It was partly under his auspices that the Canope expedition had been organised. It was no small undertaking and the part might have made him high amongst the great and wise. He might too have been completely forgotten under the indomitable chill of Lady Leath if he had not left his presence, a constant reminder in the three boys, his sons the last of whom was born without seeing his luckless father.

These boys were the great hope of Leath.

The oldest, Granville had been ten when Baron Leath had ridden out to join the young Prince at Manor. Now at the age of twenty-eight he was in the prime of life, a slim but strong young man who had eyes older than his face. He was known as a shrewd man, a man who knew the forms of life but not its content, a gambler and a drinker and a womanizer but not ruled by any of these vices which were common in any case to the Leathites, and something to respect rather than condemn. He was fond of curling and at the age of sixteen had fought a good bout or so with the staff in the winter competition. He would have won his way through to the later rounds if Lady Leath had not discovered his youthful escapade and had him recalled. The incident was remembered with fondness by local folk and he was forever known as the people’s man.

Granville’s boyhood and youth were times of great promise. There was a certain wildness and keenness about him. He was a great wanderer; forever taking trips as a boy to the Mouth of Leath, hitching rides on the fishermen’s boats to the islands, helping with the long rods, collecting birds’ eggs and hunting the fox and the hare with his favourite dog. Folk said you could hear his whistle from the strand to the Cuff, which was the farthermost island in the chain that swept out to the Southern Sea. He was a likeable young boy, lithe, fleet of foot, and full of fun. His favourite trick was to put a pin in the map and take his knife, his dog and his rod to the water nearest the pin. By the age of ten, he knew the lands of Leath as good as any poacher and the lands beyond as much as any of the traders or hunters. He knew the newts and the frogs, the songbirds and the bright fish, the deer and the red fox.

But when the Baron left, a darkness fell on him.

Granville’s youth saw a changed temperament. He was still well liked but he saw folks’ pity and his hatred of it began to dominate his open character. He smiled less, was wont to fight to prove himself. Instead of looking out beyond the Leath, he looked in to the dark places in his heart. His eyes betrayed emptiness. Lady Leath expected him to become the baron of the household and at the age of ten, he began to take on these unexpected responsibilities. It cost him his youth. He gained in power but lost in heart.

Still, some echoes of the man he might have become remained in his nature.

He loved horses, became a competent rider; he was accomplished with the sword if not brilliant and had an aptitude for the mace, a difficult and unsubtle instrument in the hands of a fool but a deadly weapon in his strong hands. In the battle of the Manor when the Pak marines had landed on the western shores of the manor under cover of darkness it was Granville and his companion, Arnot who had seen the invading forces first. They were both only thirteen but Granville had the presence of mind to wake the soldiery of the great Castle of Manor while sending Arnot to Leath. In the ensuing night battle, Granville by some chance killed the Lord Compesta with his mace when that tyrant had been edged off his horse by Arnot. The rout had been complete and the slaughter on the beach was terrible. Lord Manor had personally offered the freedom of his household to the two boys.

They never took up his offer. Arnot was wild and lawless and hated any form of authority. Granville remained in his gradually darkening world. Liked but not liking. For some reason, which only Granville knew and maybe not even he, his hatred extended mostly to his younger brother, Barrister. It was the most unlikely hatred of all.

Barrister was unlike Granville in that he was quiet and academic but like him in his physical form. He was of the same stature, middling height unlike their giant of a father. The same jet-black hair and deep blue eyes, but he was stockier and stronger, broader in the face and more powerful of leg and arm. He could never run as fast as his older brother or follow him to the hills at a perpetual trot but he had stamina and strength for wrestling and the Staff. He was less skilful though and less sure. He spent his time buried in the many volumes in the Baron’s library. Folks said he looked for the Baron there although he was less like the Baron in temperament and looks than his brothers. For himself he was content with philosophy and learned occult texts. It was the inner self he sought and that perhaps was the key to it all. His brother hated the inner self because it was a mirror of his own betrayal and maybe he hated his brother because he had the courage to look.

The youngest brother, Macool, had never seen his father. He was well beloved by the whole family but perhaps because they had seen his father, he was left more alone than anyone in the household. Macool was born a dreamer and he was allowed to dream. His dreams he kept to himself but folk noted that his deep blue eyes were looking not at the fields or the hills, the sea or the sand.

They always watched something else.