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Chapter VI

Jaella’s father shook Allen’s hand as he studied the lieutenant. “You have my thanks, but words mean little compared to my daughter’s safety.”

The two men stood in the courtyard before the Ielior townhouse. It pressed near against the outer wall of Aciel’s center ring that was dominated by the palace, set off from the street and wall by a high fence and elaborate gardens. A cobblestone pathway lined with small evergreens led from the road to the gate, which blended into a tall hedge that hid the house from view.

“Dinner is waiting in the dining hall, but I wanted to meet you first and invite you in,” Kiers Ielior said as he released Allen’s hand. “And to thank you for finding my daughter and seeing to her.” Jaella’s father was a tall, broad man, well-muscled. Kilin had told him what he knew of the Ielior family when they’d caught up that afternoon, after Jaella had taken her leave with a final insistence that he come to the dinner that evening.

Until his nominal retirement some years before, Kiers Ielior had been one of the King’s lesser known but most well-traveled legates. For the better part of two decades until he decided to settle down in the capital, he had carried the King’s orders and overseen the royal will in every part of the kingdom, helped to solidify the ever-shifting strife of the noble alliances behind the king’s will, and had borne treaties and trade agreements between Rylar and its neighbors, escorted by upwards of a legion of the King’s Guards. Not himself a military man, he nonetheless had the tall, straight bearing of a Guard and the fluid movement of a swordsman. He gave off an air of solidity and gravity.

“I couldn’t have done anything less, sir,” Allen replied.

“Perhaps not,” Kiers said, “but you did it, and for that I am grateful. Enough standing around outside. Let us go in to dinner.”

Kiers led the way into the townhouse, up the stairs and past the carved statuary that marked the entrance. When they arrived there, the dining hall was brightly lit, and the long table was set only at one end with service for four. Jaella and her mother, Asella Ielior, would fill the other two spots when they arrived. A butler stood near the door to the dining hall, surveying the setting and waiting for the family and guest.

“The ladies will be down shortly, sir,” the butler said. Then he added to Allen with a nod, before he turned away again, “My deep thanks as well, lieutenant, for your service to the young lady. She is the light of this place.”

Allen inclined his head in response.

The two of them were seated, only to rise a few moments later as the women joined them. Asella and Jaella were clothed in evening dresses popular in Aciel that season, backless and hugging the hips, with flaring skirts to dance. As they entered, Jaella drew Allen’s eyes until the rest of the room faded away. The young lieutenant was striking. Her hair flowed dark and black down her back, and the dress carried the subtle grace of her movements into an alluring glide that was absent in her uniform.

Asella had a mature and lightly silvered beauty, and only the barest hint of lines at the corners of her eyes as she smiled at him, kissed him on both cheeks in welcome, and moved around the table to stand beside her husband.

Jaella smiled at him as well as she approached with her mother and repeated the kissing performance before she made her way around the table to stand across from him.

The butler pulled the chairs back for Asella and then Jaella and sat them, and then Kiers and Allen took their seats as well. Kiers sat at the head of the table with Allen on his left, and on his right were his wife and daughter.

The meal began to arrive in courses, and wine and mead were poured in moderation. Throughout the evening, as the courses were carried into the room and each was discussed and tasted, the four carried on a sedate and pleasant conversation. Allen was thanked again, and Asella held his hand between hers as she looked into his eyes and expressed her gratitude, but soon enough, to his relief, the topic turned from the inexplicable attack in the alley to more general topics, of which food and wine and travel made up a great part. Politics were mentioned and discussed, and toasts offered to the king’s health, to fair travels, to good company, and to fast friends at need.

All told, as the evening passed, Allen began to thoroughly enjoy himself. It had seemed formal and flat at first, but the conversation and animation of the family had become apparent even in the fashionable setting, and when the talk turned to subjects other than himself, he willingly added his opinion.

In time the evening began to wind down, and the drowsy haze of a good meal and good company settled over them. The ladies retired, leaving Kiers and Allen to continue the discussion of trade with the north that had been the topic of the evening for the past few rounds.

“It’s imperative,” Kiers was saying, “that the northern trade come through Rylar. If the trade is diverted into the east and makes its way to Karn instead, it bodes ill for the estates along the River Aela, the main conduit for those goods. Fully half of the king’s most trusted nobles hold estates along the river. And while the land there is rich for farming, the nobles to the north and west have their mines to support them. If the finances of the estates there are disrupted, the balance of power in the kingdom will shift to the king’s dissenters—the greater portion of which are in the north and west, outside of the heart of the kingdom in the newer provinces. The profits of their gold and iron mines are only currently balanced by the trade in jewels, furs, and amber that come down the Aela.”

“I understand,” Allen said. “I’ll keep an eye on the king’s interests in the Aela’s trade, and support it if I am able.”

Kiers nodded at him. “Good. One more soldier who knows what’s really important.”

The two of them had been drinking for a while, and were feeling very mellow, by the time Allen took his leave.

It had been a good evening, and though he had not had a chance to talk to Jaella as casually as he liked, he was sure to see her around the palace. He was also glad to have met her parents, who seemed to be very insightful in their respective ways. Her mother had been pleasant and conversational over the food and its origins, and she had added a number of pertinent stories about travels in those very lands that had given a unique breadth and perspective to the dinner.

When he returned to the barracks, Kilin was waiting up, and he was obliged to recount the entire evening, or at any rate as much of it as he could recall.

“He talked about trade on the Aela and the king’s finances?” Kilin asked, surprised. “I’d always heard Kiers Ielior was close-lipped about politics, especially ones that concerned the king.”

Allen shrugged. “We talked about food and travel as well, politics just seemed to naturally follow.”

“Still, he must have liked you, or thought you could use the information.”

“What am I going to do with it? I’m just a junior lieutenant. If someone is going to protect the river trade, it would have to be someone with more pull than me.”

“You forget you stand out, sometimes, I think,” Kilin said. “That mark makes people trust you, and see you as influential.”

“Hmm,” Allen replied, but he didn’t deny the truth of it. Though he didn’t spend much time thinking about it, he got far more attention than was the usual due of a junior lieutenant.

“Maybe you’ll have a chance to influence things one day, and Kiers wanted to make sure you did it in a favorable way. I would gamble my last silver that he didn’t do anything tonight without some sharp maneuvering behind it.

“And that you like his daughter is only going to make it easier for him to influence you, you know,” Kilin added with a grin.

“What?” Allen dropped his belt with a start. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on, it’s obvious. Whenever she’s in the room, you spend the entire time staring at her.”

“I do?” Allen asked, though it was probably true. It was difficult to take his eyes off her.

“You should ask her to a dance. Solen knows there’s enough of the things around the palace, and you’re not always on duty.”

“Aren’t the balls reserved to the nobles or by invitation only? Mark or not, I’m not a noble.”

“Usually, but in your case it doesn’t matter. So many of the Guard officers come from the nobility that the king’s ancestors began the tradition of a standing invitation to all Guard officers to join the dances and other palace functions when free from duty. It prevents having to keep track of and send an invitation to every transient officer in the capital, and so avoids accidentally forgetting anyone. Your uniform is all the invitation you need.”

“I’ll ask her then, one of these days.”

“Ask her for Kaisa’s day, this week, it’s a lucky day for love and there’s always a dance.”

Allen glanced over at his friend, as he collected the belt and set it off to the side. “You’re being helpful.”

“You need to get out more and this is a good opportunity. Meet some people, get them to see your mark, collect some patrons. Your career won’t go anywhere otherwise.

“And,” he added, “get the girl too.”

“Are you planning on being there?” Allen asked.

“Alas, no, I have other plans. Those dances are horribly boring, after the hundred and tenth time you’ve been forced to go.”

Allen snorted. “Some help you are then, abandoning me to the wolves. How am I supposed to know who’s who?”

“No worries,” Kilin grinned. “Jaella has fine teeth of her own to keep them off of you, and she knows everyone.”

“You’ve planned it all out then, have you?”

“You need a push once in a while to get you away from all the armor and tactics. I am simply providing the opportunity.”

“Fine,” Allen said. “I’ll ask her the next time I see her. Glad to see you’re back to your usual plotting self.”

“I do but try my humble best,” Kilin replied.

Beneath the joking façade, he knew that Kilin’s advice was deadly serious. If he wanted an extended career in the Guard, he needed noble support. Without a family of his own to provide those connections, he had to rely upon his own contacts. Networks of such aristocratic connections were woven throughout the Guard, and the better his own network was the more easily he would be accepted by the other officers, offered promotion, and generally find his life and orders more palatable. The Guard, like most of the kingdom it seemed, functioned in a great part based solely on whom you knew.

“Don’t forget either,” Kilin added, “dinner tomorrow night at my parents’ place.”

Allen nodded as stowed his dress uniform. “I won’t forget.” He wondered for a moment if Kilin had been responsible in some way for setting up the dinner, and perhaps the dinner at Jaella’s as well. Even if so, despite the high-handed meddling with his career, Kilin was acting in Allen’s best interests.

His dreams as he slept that night were full of the goddess beneath her crescent moon, an image which kept changing into Jaella, then into the King, and finally dissolving into a wordless freedom as he flew threw the air on the wings of a hawk. Through it all an echo of “Nitharn…Nitharn…” came like the hoot of an owl, and he could smell the pale blossoms of the goddess’ glade.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2008 at 1:15 am and is filed under A Northern Heart. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “Chapter VI”

  1. anon y mouse Says:

    So, you wouldn’t like OOKing? How ’bout a ‘YAY!’ as long as there’s more in the post?

    Is the proximity of Jaella’s family’s house to the palace a reflection of their station?

    I like the similarities between the names Asella and Jaella. In fact, I like the names you’ve come up with in general; both people and place names. I generally come up with names that are punny,if anything, but don’t know how to create new names.

    Is Kiers monologue about trade and taxes foreshadowing of what’s to come and what Allen will be involved in? Possibly sending him north?

    All in all, I think I like Jaella’s family.

    I also like what Kilin’s doing for Allen; that’s true friendship, helping him out by explaining the situation. Allen really doesn’t have a lot of prospects otherwise. A lot of times, especially in the upper crust, it’s whom you know and can influence who are important; or, at least, more important than what you can do.

    “Nitharn…”, that sounds ominous.

    -A. mouse

  2. Ryan Says:

    Interesting chapter. It strikes me as very odd that Jaella and her mother would leave the table before “the men get down to business.” Jaella’s a guard herself, and her mother seems very well-informed. Also, Kiers’s discussion of trade is interesting, but it’s also one-sided. The continuing development of politics and and the situation in the region is nice, though.

  3. cat Says:

    “and had bourn treaties and trade agreements.. ”
    Do you mean ‘borne’?

    ‘jewels, furs, and ambers that come down the Aela.”…’
    You don’t need to close the speech bubbles if someone is continuing to speak, Just put a new set around the next bit of speech on the next line or it looks like someone else is talking and everyone wonders who says what (it happened when Allen talked to Killin too). It looks weird but it kinda meankes sense…

    “I’d always heard Kiers Ielior was close-lipped about politics, especially ones that concerned the king.”

    Hahaha! Is Allen’s Goddess putting naughty things in poeple’s wine? LOL

    Hmm, ‘Nitharn’…

  4. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Glad you like the names, Anon. I could tell you how I come up with them, but then all the mystery would be gone. I’d rather have you think I spend hours doing astrological analysis for each name.

    Where the house is is definitely important. In an old city like Aciel, your proximity to the palace indicates the age of your family and its historical preeminence. Jaella’s family is in the inner circle, but not overly close to the palace. It’s more what you would call a comfortable distance. They aren’t in the middle of the court, but they are definitely a lesser player in it.

    Jaella and her mother aren’t leaving to “let the men get down to business” really; they’ve been talking all along. It’s more that Allen and Kiers are going to drink some more and the women sensibly decided to go to sleep–they know all about Kiers’ view on trade. Maybe I’ll add a couple of lines to clarify.

    Ahh, borne, indeed. And thanks for the mention of the quotation marks, Cat.

    Allen’s goddess is probably not past drugging wine if it will get the effect she wants. Of course, you could attribute Kiers’ loquaciousness to Allen’s vast charisma….

    or not. I think Allen is a bit outplayed this evening, whether by Kiers’ deliberate arrangement or his goddess’ hand.

  5. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    I will do something demonic and cruel to people who OOK. It reminds me of the librarian orangutan in Pratchett’s novels, without the casually bent metal to explain the meaning behind the ook.

    “Nitharn” is the Oakwood where the Goddess sleeps. Mentioned in the last chapter. It’s also called the Great Forest; it extends over fully a third of the north, from just inside the eastern border of Rylar, where the Aela runs, all the way east to the eastern nations, south until it reaches the mountains that border Karn, and north until it flattens into the plains of the tribes. It is larger than the entire kingdom of Rylar.

  6. cat Says:

    I’ve just realised that I’m pointing out all these errors and my spelling is completely hypocritically lousy ‘cos my fingers can’t type quick enough for my brain…. the shame….

    The name Nitharn rang a bell but I can’t put my finger on it yet. It’ll come.

    If you’re looking for a Goddess who smoothly gets her own way all the time try reading David Eddings’ Sparkhawk trilogies (there’s 2.) Aphrael is a naughty little miss whom I’ve become very fond of as a character:)

  7. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    I’ve read the Sparhawk trilogies, but it’s been a while. I think I’ve read all of Eddings’ stuff. Always good. His gods and goddesses are interesting, but not exactly what I’m modeling the gods in this world on. They’re too human, at one level. I like that about them, but it’s not what I want to do here.

  8. MeiLin Miranda Says:

    Do not talk to me of dances, boy! I’m in the middle of writing the last ball of the season! bah!

    I’m enjoying it. Intrigue enters. All about the intrigue.

  9. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Bring on the dances, girl! Let’s have a fine romp in the palace halls, and all the chandeliers will shudder and break with the sound of the footfalls!

  10. nabi al-raml Says:

    Ooh, I just love it! 😉 And you’re safe from any ToMU-related comments from me, especially as I like staying away from any demonic and cruel things being inflicted on me.

    Poor Allen, being maneuvered by both Kiers and Kilin. of course it doesn’t like it’ll be too bad for him. Patronage or at least support and favor by an important noble (he might have been a ‘lesser-known’ legate, but he apparently still has some high standing aside from his nobility to get that house) could do a lot for Allen if he needs to move in highly politicized court circles for some reason. Looking back, I realize it said that right in the chapter. That’s what I get for reading while being distracted by delicious pizza.

    I liked the listing of trade goods that come down the Aela; I just listened to a lecture series on the Vikings/Scandanavians which repeatedly mentioned how profitable trading in amber was for them. I don’t know why, but I always love to see the inner-workings of a world; divinities, trade routes, social hierarchies, etc. Economics and socio-political descriptions are inestimably boring to me in the real world, somehow fantasy makes it all better.

    Ooo, seems like someone’s about to get a divine message. Do we get to meet his mysterious goddess in her glade? Also, I’m tantalized by the series of images that cycled in his dreams.

  11. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    In regards to “Ooh, I just love it”…

    Brat. 😛

    I think the politics of a fantasy world help to elaborate the story, and in that way they are interesting to the reader. Real world politics are frequently distant from us or something we don’t agree with, and so we get tired of hearing about them and endlessly debating them with people who refuse to agree with us. Real world politics are exhausting. And Americans at least don’t have the habit of personal distance and the allowance of separate opinions when it comes to political debates. So we avoid them when we’re in mixed company.

    We’ll meet the goddess eventually. That I promise. Tonight’s dream is just a dream, spun from Allen’s own head. I’ll leave the reader to guess at what that series of images means.

  12. nabi al-raml Says:

    Heh. I comment to annoy.

    I agree about why the politics in a fantasy story are more interesting in real life (politics is?). I’m still chocking most of my interest in that and religious and cultural life to the anthropology training. Just be prepared for praise (somehow you’ll bear it) and interest from me when you do any world describing.

  13. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    I’m just kidding with you, Nabi. You play on my Twitter, I play on your response.

    Maybe I should use emotes more often…. Behold, for I hold all power of the mighty edit. 😉 I added one.

    Anthropology and social psych have always been interesting subjects to me, so I’m with you on the interest in finding out about new cultures, be they fantasy or real.

  14. nabi al-raml Says:

    Oh I know you were kidding. I was teasing back.

    Gasp! An emote! I bow before your power of the mighty edit. I’m going to go construct a cargo cult around the concept; back later. (Hey, if Prince Phillip can have one, why not other people)

  15. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Jeeves, remind me to look up cargo cult!

  16. nabi al-raml Says:

    Right away, sir.

    They’re really interesting. If you don’t feel like using/trust the internets, try “Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches” by Marvin Harris. It discusses cargo cults as well as several other interesting cultural practices.

  17. tallfrog Says:

    Hi there, I honestly really do just love your story =P

    But ok, I’ll follow that up with some real comments. I really enjoy the characters and the world building and all the intrigue about “his” goddess.

    In this chapter however there were a couple things that I didn’t like as much as normal. First, the huge blocks of text about trading just about put me to sleep. If you could break that up or spice it up somehow I think it’d be better. Second, Allen flat out tells us everything about the mother. We don’t have a chance to really see the mother character much so that bit just feels forced to me. Like there wasn’t enough time to show us that character so we just got the important bits spoon fed. Not very interesting.

    But I do promise that I love your story and will continue to read it!

  18. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Hey Tallfrog, thanks for the comment. You have a point. I probably should have added more description about the family and dinner and paced it out more slowly.

    The block about trade is important, but I could break it up into more of a question and answer dialogue, and have Allen contribute to the discussion and reflect more on the information he hears. I’ll keep it in mind for the next revision of this chapter.

  19. anon y mouse Says:

    Darn it. I was hoping to learn your secrets about coming up with names. Like I said, I can sometimes come up with punny names, like Tabatha Katherine for for a character with an affinity to felines, but I’m not so good at coming up with new names. I might just have to steal some of yours, add or subtract some letters to them, and call them my own. 😀

    “Demonic and cruel” is an appropriate response to OOKers considering the main character of MU is a half-demon and enjoys pain.

    😉 Oh no, not the power of the mighty edit! 😉 Where can I get such power?

    -A. mouse



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