Novel Excerpt: A Game of the Forever Throne

#30days30authors I’m presenting a panel at the Virtual Fantasy Con #VFC2017 this October on “Realism in Fantasy Warfare.”  It’s a stick in my craw that a lot of fantasy writers, especially writers of high fantasy, do not give enough consideration to the battles and wars that their characters are embroiled in.  If you’re going to have vast armies that are going to fight for the fate of kingdoms, even if you don’t spend much time on those battles, you need to give consideration to how those armies are being supplied, funded, moved and maneuvered.  You need to think about chain of command, morale, and methods of enforcing discipline.

In the high fantasy piece I’m working on, The Forever Throne, Vaughn is (at least apparently) a stock example of a lost heir who must reclaim his throne from the army that destroyed his kingdom.  But he has been raised as the son of a forester (who is, in truth, a loyal knight who served his parents).  The people of the land are not going to follow him just because he’s the heir.  They need to believe he can win, and that he can keep and maintain the throne once he’s won it.  So where does he start?

This is where.

Chapter 5

If you can’t get them to salute when they should salute and wear the clothes you tell them to wear, how are you going to get them to die for their country?

George S. Patton

“Good folk of Ford village,” Vaughn began.  His voice cracked a little at the end of the phrase and his cheeks grew hot.  That was not likely to help his case.  He cleared his throat. “Thank you for coming.”

The villagers were crowded into the tiny Church of All Gods, which was the only church in the village because building them was expensive and labour-intensive.  It was a pretty building with high archways, a real stained-glass window depicting Galena, the Earth Goddess (who was, Vaughn now noticed, cradling a Tree of Life in Her hands,) smiling up at laughing Silashandra while She spilled stars from the Holy Cauldron out into the firmament, and an amazing plethora of truly inspired wood carvings that crawled up those archways, mostly showing cavorting nature spirits and dancing land-wights.  The front of the double church-doors, now propped open, were carved and stained with the Holy Star of the Faith and its radiating eight points of light; and there was a tempura mural ablaze with colour on the East wall depicting the Holy Phoenix of Resurrection.  He thought that almost everyone in the village, or at least a member of their family, had come, and that was good; though he found it a bit intimidating to address that many people.

You’re going to need to address a lot more than this soon enough, he reminded himself, and that gave him the courage to begin.

“We’ve all heard the rumours,” he said, with a quick glance to Yvan.  His guardian gave him a subtle nod.  “Brigands; raiders; troublemakers; and now some priest of the Edification rolling through the land out of Betlic and the rest of South Peaks.”  Here he gave a nod to the grey-haired priestess Aliana and the caretaker who tended the church; whom, Jeri had told him, had made no secret of her distrust of “organized religion.”  “I think it’s time we created a means to defend ourselves.  A small militia who are charged with the guardianship of the village.”

Murmuring began.  Vaughn was pleased to see that a bunch of the villagers were nodding to themselves, especially Old Lady Dessel, who was a seamstress and the village gossip, and that was a good sign because people tended to listen to her.  But then Dorn, the butcher, stood up; and Bailiff Grimm, who was directing the meeting, officially recognized him.  He scratched at his dark beard and he said, “We can’t afford it.”

Vaughn had been anticipating this response and he smiled.  “I’m glad you’re so frugal, Master Dorn; but actually, I think we can.  If I might run it all past you?”  The butcher scowled, but he folded his meaty arms and gave him a firm nod.

“Right then. I think we need to start with a half-dozen young men; perhaps a dozen within the year, if all goes well,” he explained.  “Uncle Yvan would train them and command them.  We’ll need armour and weapons.

“I’ve been studying a little about warcraft, and I’m thinking the most abundant material we’ve got to make armour is cowhide.  We can form it into leather plates and cowhide round shields.  If we have an old copper pot or something, we can hammer out a decent center-boss.  Uncle Yvan can teach us how to build that stuff, and we can use quilted shirts with plates in the vitals until we get that all made.  Eventually we can probably even work up to chainmail.  But that will take time.”

“And money,” grumbled the butcher.

“Yes Master Dorn; I was getting to that,” he said, biting down on his impatience.  “Now, weapons are the hard part.  We can start with fire-hardened spears and simple war clubs or hammers.  Then we can build up from there.  We can trade for the metal; I’ve brought in a surplus of fox and wolf furs this year and I’d be happy to contribute them.  Master Eric and Journeyman William could hammer out arrowheads easily enough since they already make ours; and pike-blades aren’t that different, though I’m sure it would take a little working to get the shape and balance right.”  Among the books in the library was a spectacular arms and armouring manual, with detailed instructions and diagrams; though oddly, much of it was made with brass and not steel.  “I understand swords are a little more complicated, and we should probably purchase them from a swordsmith; but we don’t need them right away.  They can come later too.

“Supporting our militia is where the real expense is going to come in.  Obviously, men who are patrolling and fighting can’t be doing other things, and they’ll need time to train too.  We’ll have to combine the training and other forms of work any way we can.  Fortunately, strength training combines well with farm work –” the audience erupted into a titter – “and patrols combine well with forestry and hunting.”

“You’ve been thinking about this for some time, haven’t you, Master Vaughn?” the Bailiff asked.  His expression was contemplative and a little suspicious.  It took Vaughn aback.  He wonders if I’m trying to take over somehow, doesn’t he? Vaughn ruminated.  And in a way, his suspicions were accurate; he just had no idea how far it went, and how little it would affect his position.

Yvan smiled at him encouragingly.  Despite the misgivings, and stormy expressions, of the bailiff and the butcher, Vaughn could tell that the crowd was leaning his way.  But he had yet to come to the crux of his argument.

“Yes, I have, Master Bailiff.  But there’s more.  We could possibly turn such a band into a means of making some coin for the village too.”

“How do you propose to do that?” Master Donovan, the tailor, demanded.  “I mean; let’s be honest, young Master Vaughn.  You’re proposing that we maintain our own military caste.  And soldiers are a drain on resources; there’s just no way around it.”

“You’re absolutely right, Master Donovan; except when they’re a drain on someone else’s resources.”

He cocked his head and studied Vaughn curiously.

“How many merchant caravans in the area might want a few armed men to protect them from bandits?” he asked.  “How many farmers might want someone to watch over their livestock as they take them to market?  Or, alternatively, how would Ford like a small tariff to be paid to use the landing or the road?”

A low murmur spread through the crowd.  There were a couple of affirming – and approving – nods.  Avarice replaced suspicion in Bailiff Grimm’s eyes, and Vaughn knew he would have to watch out for him.

“What say you all?” the Bailiff asked.

“Aye!” the village shouted.

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