The Pealsong Refounding fantasy trilogy by Michael Warden. Gideon's Dawn, The Waymaker, The Word Within.

Inherited Lands


0 comments | Posted: Novel-Entry-The-Word-Within, by Michael D. Warden

By most accounts, Lord Rachel Alli was a hedonist. Axis records chronicle her regular and elaborate orgies—not only with her mon’jalen and other guardians but also with assorted commoners whom she enlisted on frequent “hunting trips” in the city, and whom she subsequently sometimes even corded against their will. As a lord, she displayed little desire for political power for its own sake, but rather leveraged it as a means to her own ends, which were largely to do with the distractions of pleasure and self indulgence. (1)

While the Council cared little about Lord Alli’s morals, they cared a great deal about the image their ruling body presented to the public. In this, Lord Alli was a frequent, and embarrassing, liability. Despite this, there is no record of her being sanctioned or even reprimanded by the Council for her often infamous escapades. (2)

While there is no written explanation for the Council’s leniency, it was most likely due to Lord Alli’s fertility. She was capable of bearing children, one of the last young women of noble blood to be able to make that claim. This singular quality of her physiology afforded her far more power within the Council that a woman of her age and heritage would normally wield. (3)

It was this same quality that kept me alive in the Tower those many years. (4)

—The Kyrinthan Journals, Chronicles, Chapter 20, Verses 213-220

As Borin Slayer peered down from the granite outcropping at Lord Rachel Alli’s garish, sprawling tent, he couldn’t help but cluck his tongue in disappointment. (5)

I suppose it was inevitable the girl would come to this. (6)

Through the cording, he could feel Lord Rachel’s madness growing, gripped as she was in the vise of Lord Stevron’s Words. She still fought against the Wording, though it was pointless. Somewhere deep inside her mind, even in her fitful sleep, Borin could hear her screaming. She’d always had a rebellious spirit, from the moment she’d escaped her mother’s womb. He had watched her grow up in the Axis, back when he served as second to the traitor Donovan Blade. Though he wasn’t corded to her then, her dark drives were obvious to all. How many days had he wasted fixing the messes she would make? But now it seemed her lascivious appetites were finally exacting their cost. (7)

The whole situation was such a waste. A pity, really. But this was, ultimately, a fate deserved. She should have learned better, a long time ago. (8)

Though well past midnight, Borin’s view of Rachel’s tent and the camp beyond remained clear enough, thanks to the scores of fires that glowed across the mountainside, including four at each of the corners of her extravagant accommodations. Six guardians encircled it, dutifully on watch. He knew another four were stationed inside. In times past, she would have had them in her bed, but there was none of that nonsense now. She could think of nothing but Lord Stevron. The cording didn’t usually allow for the direct sharing of thoughts, but this Worded fixation raged in her so dominantly that it echoed in Borin’s mind like a buzzing mosquito that wouldn’t go away.
Those guarding her were not mon’jalen. She had none of her own anymore, not since Stevron had somehow stolen them away to cord them to himself. That she had not replaced them was just another sign of her growing madness. But the fact that she was surrounded by mere guardians would work to Lord Varia’s advantage. When Varia and the other lords told him their plan, he quite rightly refused to have any part of it, sworn as he was to serve each Council Lord equally without bias. After much debate, however, he did at last concede he would not interfere, though only under the promise that Lord Rachel would not be hurt. (9)

Even with that concession, he of course could never let the plan pass unscrutinized; and if anything were to go awry, he would most certainly intervene, regardless of Varia’s wish. He was sworn to serve the Council Lords—a duty that sometimes meant defying their commands, though this distinction was lost on the lords themselves.
He blamed it on their training, really. Underlords were far too coddled, especially girls like Rachel who were deemed fertile. To be raised to rule is no minor undertaking, yet too often Borin had seen the duty frivolously discharged. The mentors were, on the whole, spineless sycophants, more worried for their own standing in the Axis than for the education of those under their care. There were a few good ones, but most should have been slain decades ago. (10)

His own upbringing in the Wall stood in brilliant contrast to their foolishness. Deemed too sickly and weak to serve the group, his worthless Roamer parents sold him to the guardians when he was just a boy. But the military took him in. They fed him and clothed him and forced him to fight. And fight he did. Determined to prove himself, he fought his way to the top past much stronger men. It took many years, and he gained few allies through his trials. But he kept advancing, kept improving. Why? Because his trainers demanded it of him. Improve or die—a simple, clean philosophy, one he enthusiastically continued to uphold now as Firstsworn, to the benefit of all. (11)

The underlords would gain much from spending a few years in the guardian ranks. But of course the Council would never abide such a degradation. (12)

Just then, he saw them. Ten mon’jalen, dressed as regular guardians, strolling in from the north, unhurried, subdued, like men and women coming to work. When they reached the tent, they nodded in that understated way soldiers do and spoke in low tones with the guards. As expected, there was some minor confusion. The guards weren’t scheduled to be relieved for another two hours. (13)

Check with the guards inside. Call them out. Yes, good. All but one emerged, though. Not ideal, but they could work with that. Quietly, daggers slipped into the mon’jalens’ hands, and on cue they each jammed the blade up under the chin and into the skull of their assigned targets. There were some gurgles, some shuffling, but no one called out. No Words were used, because the area would be warded against that. (14)

Two of the mon’jalen stepped inside the tent. There was a muffled yell, followed by a struggle within. A woman’s voice cried out! But then nothing. Only one of the mon’jalen emerged, carrying an unconscious Lord Rachel in his arms. Her head was bleeding profusely. The Firstsworn took note of the soldier’s face. Hurriedly, that soldier and two others gagged the lord and wrapped her in a soldier’s cloak before disappearing into the night. The remaining six dragged the bodies inside the tent, then took up their positions as guards around the perimeter. They would remain long enough to ensure Lord Rachel is safely out of the camp, then transport back into the fortress grounds. (15)

The Firstsworn lingered a few moments longer to ensure that no other guardians had been alerted. Then he rose and, climbing up and over the precipice, disappeared into the dark. (16)

A few minutes later he reached the juron, who stood waiting for him in a small cove of trees. The beast chafed against the Wording more than most, and as Borin approached, its bright owl-like eyes glared at him with obvious bloodlust. But Borin only smirked. He liked his juron angry. He believed it made them more vicious in a fight. In one smooth motion, he mounted the beast and compelled it skyward. To avoid the night watch, he directed the juron along a path away from camp, following a wide arc to enter Wordhaven from the far side of the mountain. He’d followed this route a few times before, so once the creature recognized the pattern, it carried on without need of his constant attention. (17)

Not quite six months, he thought idly as the icy night air lashed against his cheeks. That’s how much time he had before the cording killed him. He hoped it would be time enough to set right all that had gone so horribly wrong since that cursed Stormcaller had appeared, with Donovan aiding his cause. Before his corruption, Donovan Blade had been praised as the finest Firstsworn to serve the Council in five hundred years. Borin had languished for decades in near invisibility under the long reach of that traitor’s shadow. The man’s imposing size alone allowed him to dominate any room he entered. Even after Donovan’s absolute betrayal of everything they believed in, his shadow still lingered. Even now, years later, Borin could occasionally sense the lords’ lingering comparisons between him and the former Firstsworn. It didn’t matter that he had bested the larger man in single combat, even marking him with a scar to prove it. He should have slain him there, and would have if not for the interference of the Dei’lo fanatics. That fight secured Borin’s place as Donovan’s replacement, but not as his equal. He’d had to fight for every inch of the respect due him from the Council. (18)

No matter. Borin had always excelled best when underestimated, and he’d been underestimated his entire life. Donovan was not the first warrior he’d bested against all the odds and the opinions of his masters. Despite the tragedies of late that had befallen the Council, he would see it all set right again, and rid the Lands of its Remnant infection once and for all—including his former commander, whose head he would personally deliver to the Council Chambers of the Axis. The story of Donovan Blade would fade with a whimper, crushed under the boot of Firstsworn Borin Slayer, preserver of the Council Lords, destroyer of the Remnant rebellion, the greatest Firstsworn the Lands had ever seen. (19)

Some day, they will honor me, he thought, whether they want to or not. (20)

The remainder of his flight was uneventful, though stingingly cold, and by the time he arrived in the far meadows across from the Wordhaven fortress, Rachel and the other lords were already there. They encircled her on the snow-covered grass, her body strangely contorted as she floated above them several feet off the ground. He could sense no physical pain in her at the moment aside from the gash on her head, but the air was thick with the oily weight of Sa’lei. The lords were probing her. All of them. If they weren’t careful, they would easily tear her mind apart. (21)

In one effortless move, the Firstsworn slipped off the juron and landed into a run, heading directly for Varia. (22)

“I must protest, lord,” he yelled, “you risk her life!” (23)

She broke off her probe, and glared at him in open rage. Despite the frigid night air, her brow was beaded with sweat. “You dare question me, mon’jalen? What do you know of Sa’lei? Only what we let you know! Only what we tell you you can know. You know nothing compared to any of us, least of all me! You bark at me like a dog to a giant. Remember your place, or I will crush you under my heel.” (24)

“What are you doing to her?” Borin demanded. (25)

“We are breaking the fool Stevron’s hold on her, you idiot! We’re setting her free. Now shut up and do not interfere!” She turned back to the circle and joined the others in their litany of whispered Words. (26)

Borin grinned, despite his frustration. It’s pointless to threaten a dead man, Lord Varia, he mused. Still, he knew her anger wasn’t really about him. Whatever Stevron’s Wording was, it was resisting her. Resisting all of them. That she could be confounded by some no-name underlord like Stevron is what truly infuriated her. (27)

He watched a while longer as they tore into Lord Rachel’s mind. Her body, still dressed in her sleeping gown, now stained with blood, writhed and jerked in a vain attempt to get away. She screamed on occasion into her gag, but her eyes remained closed, like it was all just a dream. (28)

She was a beautiful young woman, though Borin didn’t often take note of such things. Small of frame, with that youthful vibrancy that even Sa’lei could not entirely erase. Suspended there in the night, lit by the orbs of the mon’jalen surrounding them, she looked like a rabbit snared in their trap, struggling in vain to get free. (29)

After what seemed an eternity, her face at last grew calm. Her body fell limp, and with a gentle release the lords eased her bare feet to the snowy ground. Her eyes opened and she looked around with the wonder of a child who was seeing the wider world for the very first time. It was then he noticed the mon’jalen who had injured her, looking at her with a bored expression from the other side of the circle. (30)

“Hello,” she said, smiling, and Borin instantly knew it was no longer her. (31)

“What have you done?” he demanded, looking at Varia. But it was Lord Mattim who answered. (32)

“We could not unmake Stevron’s Wording,” he said, “so we overruled it.” (33)

“You countered his Word with your own? The conflict within her will rip her mind apart!” (34)

“There’s little enough of it left as it is, Borin,” said Varia dismissively. “Stevron’s Wording was crude and unrefined. Her mind was already failing. But what remains of it will hold. She is more pliable now. But she is no longer under his control.” (35)

“You mean she’s under yours,” said Borin coldly. (36)

Then Lord Elise broke in. “It is not an ideal situation, Firstsworn.” she said, “We did the best we could for her given the circumstance. I assure you we meant no harm to her, but you know as well as we the limitations of Sa’lei in matters such as these. I hope you will not think us cruel for choosing to undo what Stevron did.” (37)

“But you didn’t, did you?” said Borin cooly. “Undo it, that is.” (38)

“She’s fine, Borin,” sighed Varia. “Stop whining! Be glad you haven’t lost another one of us tonight.” (39)

“Yes, Borin. I’m fine!” exclaimed Lord Rachel cheerfully. (40)

The Firstsworn said nothing, but simply marched over to the mon’jalen who had struck Lord Rachel, and in a move too fast to see he slit the man’s throat, and stormed off into the night. (41)

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Inherited Lands
Gideon's Dawn Waymaker

"...a work of extreme depth and breadth of vision."
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Michael D. Warden has been working professionally as a writer and editor since 1989. After several years as Managing Editor for a large publishing house in Colorado, he stepped into the adventure of writing full time. In addition to his fantasy trilogy The Pearlsong Refounding, he has written several non-fiction books, and contributed to more than 150 other books and magazines.

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Inherited Lands