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  • Writer's pictureL.L. Stephens

Excerpt: The Second Stone (Hans)


Here is the first (well, actually second) excerpt I will be sharing from The Second Stone, Book 3 of the Triempery Revelations. The book picks up soon after the end of Book 2: The Kheld King.


You will notice the Leur's Ring in the illustration at left. It figures prominently in this excerpt. If you have not yet read either Sordaneon or, especially, The Kheld King...


THERE WILL BE MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THOSE BOOKS



Epigraphs.


You will notice that going forward in the series, epigraphs precede every chapter. These short quotations from in-world sources provide extra insight, perspective, and color to the characters and the Worlds of the Creation. I had a lot of fun with them and think readers will too.


This scene from early in The Second Stone has Marenthro trying to persuade Stefan's brother and heir Handurin, now eighteen, to return to Essera. It's only been 24 hours since Marenthro gave back Hans' childhood memories and informed him he is Heir to Essera's throne... and a lot of other things.


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Time is not a linear dimension. It is a mistake to think of Time as a constant, that a year in one World is a year in another. We have but to consider the existence of Gsch, which is forever a single moment. A moment can be an eternity. A year can be ten thousand. And ten thousand years can be a World reborn.


Cibulitus, Annals of the Return, Dissertation on Immortality




“I need to know more about the dream.”

Hans stood before the windows of a house in the oldest part of the city, though not the wealthiest. He had found it only after much searching, at the end of an alley lined with shops, boarded-up doors, and iron-barred windows. The rustic wood-panel door had displayed the number he sought. However, the afternoon-shaded courtyard beyond that door was completely at odds with the shabby environs of the rundown neighborhood. Paved with tiles and surrounded by walls covered in vines and dainty white flowers, the courtyard suggested an unassuming permanence.

Hans found the sight of Marenthro seated on an antique chair to be both odd and disturbingly familiar. His memories had integrated enough that the wizard no longer seemed strange, or maybe it was just that so many odd things were happening to Hans, this was simply another occurrence.

The cabinet beside which he stood was certainly antique. Its carved dark wood gleamed with an intricate design of flamingoes and llamas and proud men in Inka headdress mounted on horseback. Something about it struck Hans as very this world and he appreciated the contrast with the man he faced.

Relief showed plainly on Marenthro’s face.

“I’m glad you came to me. I would not have forced your return.”

Hans resented the assumption. “I’m not here because I want to return. I’m here to tell you I haven’t decided. I can’t explain at all why part of me thinks I could do this. I’m not even sure I should. I cannot get past the dreams and… other things. Every hair on my body tells me going back might be dangerous.”

“It will be.”

“You’re not exactly helping your cause.” Hans paced toward the table. “The only thing I’ve decided is that I need more information. As things stand, you’re the only one I know who might have it.”

Though clearly disappointed, the wizard nodded and settled back in his chair. “You have questions, of course. If I can answer them, I will.”

“Mine are simple enough. My family is dead. My grandfather, my brother. Other people too. I remember that. It wasn’t just dreams. I remember being at Gustan and people talking and the things they said. Somebody killed a lot of people. Who did it, Marty?” He would never forget the hideous visions haunting his mind. “Was it Sordan?”

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

“‘Sordan stands alone.’” Hans said it dully as he turned away and paced back. “I had… a dream, last night. A new one, about Stefan and how he died. And that’s what the voice of whoever killed him said: ‘Sordan stands alone.’”

“Yes.” A kind of grim comprehension fell across Marenthro’s perfect features. “I can see why it would.”

Hans leaned his forehead against the polished edge of the cabinet and closed his eyes. “For years I have woken up from horrible dreams about my grandfather. I mean, I know now that it’s my grandfather. And it’s always the same. He’s dying, burning, and he cries out a name: ‘Dorilian.’ And in last night’s dream, Stefan’s dream, I heard that name again… and I saw the same man. That is when he said ‘Sordan stands alone.’” Seeing that Marenthro watched him intently, he knew he had stumbled onto something important. “Marty, I have heard that name before, and now I remember where. I used to hear people talk about Dorilian when I was a boy. Stefan said his was a demon breed, that he wasn’t even human. He said it last night again in the dream. And Dorilian is from Sordan, I remember that too, and that his family is sworn against mine — blood-sworn, bitter enemies. My mother and Stefan called him a killer—”

“Stefan hated the very sound of his name. And your mother should have known better.” Marenthro sighed, then looked away. An ineffable sadness lurked in the hardness of his features and the dead tone of his words, as if some hope had already died within him. “Your family’s enemies led many astray after Marc Frederick’s death. It was easily done. Dorilian is not an easy man to like, and the enmity on both sides is genuine. You will hear much of it should you return. Yet things are not always as they appear on the surface.”

“Are you saying Dorilian is a friend?” Everything about that idea went against what Hans knew.

“No. He may well prove the greater enemy. If so, he will be a terrible one. He is not the enemy you seek, however… nor will he be the one who seeks you.”

“But he killed Marc Frederick—”

“A great many think that. I tell you he did not.”

“Then who did? All I ever see is a man wearing a blood-spiked crown. If that’s not Dorilian, then who is he? And does he want to kill me now? Why? I can’t make sense of shadows and dreams!”

Marenthro set down the wine glass he had been holding. Whatever substance filled it looked velvety and rich, red as blood. “Marc Frederick died because he shared in the deaths of hunted princes — and Stefan died because he insisted on slaying the Highborn.”

“The Highborn.” It was a word that as a child Hans had overheard often but never really understood.

“You call them ‘not even human.’”

“Then Dorilian—”

“Dorilian is Sordaneon, and the Sordaneons are Highborn, very high and very proud. Their lineage goes back to the days of the first kings and the gods who defeated the Aryati. His bloodline is bound to that of the Rill, one of the Entities upon which the Triempery is founded.” Marenthro stood and placed his hand upon the naked table between them. The wood surface shimmered, became smooth and pale and fluid, and then an image appeared there. Hans drew closer and saw that it had become a map with every mountain, every river, in perfect relief. Marenthro indicated the singular land mass of ivory, gold, and green framed within blue. “The Highborn Triempery was a confederation of nations: The Kingdom of Essera, which Marc Frederick came to rule—” he pointed to what was probably the north, then moved his hand to the middle, which was dominated by a large inland sea, “—the Hierarchate of Sordan—” then lower still, “—and the Nuarchate of Mormantalorus.”

“That’s practically the whole continent.”

Marenthro nodded. “World-ruling. It was intended to be. The Second Creation was new and needed builders.” He pulled back his hand. “Until eighty years ago, all three parts of the Triempery were Highborn ruled. But the bonds between them had begun to decline. And then Marc Frederick ascended to Essera’s throne.”

His grandfather. Hans glanced up. “That mattered?”

“Greatly. Mormantalorus refused to align with a ruler who was not Highborn, who moreover was half-Mentan with Kheld blood in his veins. The Sordaneons,” the wizard redirected attention to the belly of the land, “would have joined with Mormantalorus had Marc Frederick not prevented them from it. But the bond of Highborn brotherhood was broken — and people have been trying to rearrange the Triempery’s pieces ever since.”

“Rearrange them? Into what?”

“Empires take as many shapes as those who would rule them.”

Hans touched the map, traced the bright silver line that bisected the continent from north to south. Childhood memories pushed to the fore, of a river thick with barges and ships, and also a city of canals and palaces above which rose a hill crowned by something immense and shining.

The Rill.

The memory startled him because he had never seen anything like it anywhere else, neither before nor since.

“Stefan rode the Rill once,” he remembered. “He called it unnatural.”

“It is as natural as a Creation’s eternity sundered into three parts. Or a structure that exists through the whole of Time.” Marenthro allowed a hint of a smile. “Leur’s Creation includes many wondrous elements. You are heir to all of them.”

Which was part of the problem. Hans’s inheritance was incomprehensible, but the dangers that awaited him were crystal clear.

“You still haven’t told me who killed Marc Frederick. Or who killed Stefan. Don’t you think that’s something I ought to know going in?”

“Very well… for all the good it will do you. It was Nammuor Varehos.”

Nammuor. The answer settled between them like a lump of stone: shapeless, dull, and undefined.

“All right, then. Who, or what, is Nammuor?”

“The ruler of Mormantalorus.”

Though that explained a little, it wasn’t much. Nammuor was a person, then — maybe even the man with the crown — but Mormantalorus was a land so distant that Hans had only heard rumors of it and whispers of rebellion, nothing that he had understood as a child. Now he saw it on the map, a shape of green and blue and red. He still knew nothing about it.

“But Sordan has just as much reason—”

“Maybe more,” Marenthro agreed. He sat again in the chair, the grandness of which lent him a professorial solemnity. “As I said before: that enmity runs deep. I did not say enough. It runs far deeper than your brother Stefan’s hatred or its repercussions. It goes all the way to the last years of a Wall Lord’s rule and the first of Marc Frederick’s reign. With your family gone, the Sordaneons hold clear claim to Essera. There are ancient reasons why they should, and ancient promises to bind them to it. If you do not return, Dorilian Sordaneon will have no choice but to pursue that claim.”

“And you want me to believe he had nothing to do with my family’s murders?”

“The only thing I want you to believe is the truth.”

Hans brushed his hand on the edge of the table, testing the grain of its dark ancient wood. “I wish I knew what that was.”

“I can only tell you what I know. It is for you to believe… if you can.”

“I have a hard time believing things just because someone says so.” Hans took a seat across from Marenthro, a wooden chair also of dark wood. “Can I see my grandfather’s ring again?”

Hesitant but curious, Marenthro brought forth The Leur’s Ring and laid it on the wooden table between them. The map vanished as abruptly as it had appeared. Now the table held only the ring, enfolded in silk-gray cloth, a threat and a promise of all that existed between the two people — one mortal and one very likely not — who studied each other warily across that tabletop domain. Hans reached out, with a steady hand this time, and unwrapped it, retrieving the ring and holding it carefully between thumb and forefinger just as Marenthro had done. Above that ring, his gaze met that of the wizard.

“Marenthro,” Hans spoke slowly. He took care to phrase his next words as a request. “If I ask but one thing of you, one thing and never again—”

“Handurin—”

“Just hear me out. This is my grandfather’s ring. Marc Frederick was wearing it when he died, right? He had to have been, because you said it yourself: it never left his hand while he lived. You… can take me back to the day he died.”

Marenthro inhaled sharply and turned his face away.

Undeterred, Hans pressed on. “I know you have the power, Marty. I’ve heard it all my life. I overheard Marc Frederick say you have command over Time itself. You brought him from another world, maybe even this one! A past. So why not use your power to help me understand? Send me back to the day Marc Frederick died and make me the ring upon his finger. This ring. It was there. That is all I ask, that you show me the truth. I want to see who killed my grandfather and all those others — see it for myself. Show me the face of my enemy. Then I will know.”

“Magic does not work the way you are asking — neither does Time.”

“Then do it a way that does work.”

Marenthro’s calm, questing gaze melted first into perplexity, then retreated further yet into a mask of regal detachment. His handsome face became ominously stern, as though he were a schoolmaster staring down a schoolboy who had suggested an obscenity. His copper-bright gaze narrowed.

“Do you realize what you are asking?”

“Nothing that does not lie within your ability.” Hans was suddenly sure of it.

Marenthro remained silent and would not answer, though indecision weighed in his unwavering stare. That look etched a path into Hans’ very mind. How not, when what was asked was so much? So intense was that gaze, so unrelenting, that Hans fought down a rising fear of this man who but moments before had smiled upon him so warmly. He held up the ring and watched Marenthro’s gaze follow it.

“This is the ring you would have me claim as heir to my brother and grandfather, a ring and a throne with a history of bloody death. You want me to go back to a home I barely remember to pick up a birthright I never asked for and face an enemy I don’t even know. All I ask, before I make that decision, is a chance to know who that enemy is. To really know. Is it Sordan? Mormantalorus? Someone else? Whatever or whoever it is, I need to be sure… otherwise I will distrust every person I see, question every ally I find to help my cause. You say you cannot give me a future, but you took away my past — and I think I deserve to be given back a piece of it.”

“It is not your past you ask for, but another’s.”

The wizard rose and walked to the windows overlooking the night. A network of lights spread itself beyond the glass, a city clinging precariously to a mountainside. Watching Marenthro in such deep contemplation, Hans grasped the enormity of what he asked — and that it was not impossible. Had it been, Marenthro would have denied him at once. That there could be a choice in such a thing at all put an unbridgeable distance between the wizard and other men.

“Marty?” he pleaded. “If I return, I will be surrounded by lies. At least arm me with the truth.”

It might have been minutes, or hours, but Marenthro withdrew from the windows, pulling the velvet draperies shut to darken them. Then he walked to each fixture, turning out the lights. Light from the courtyard briefly flooded the room, then that was also shut out. Darkness closed over them but Hans felt Marenthro’s presence even more acutely. His heart leaped, pounding, into his dry throat.

For you, Grandfather, he thought. Because you died… and Stefan too. Because I don’t know who killed you or why. I have just asked Marenthro to prove he’s a wizard — and it looks as though he’s going to do it!

Hans jumped when Marenthro’s hand closed warm and solid over his own and the ring he still clutched in his fist.

“Give me The Leur’s Ring, Handurin.”


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All of the above is unedited, so keep that in mind. Edits begin soon and I will correct this excerpt if changes are made.


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