A Shore Too Far - By Kevin Manus-Pennings

Chapter 1

In the fourth month of the Year of Rains, my father returned unexpectedly from his prayer vigils at Ith-Mock and Savrin. I received his summons in the early hours while I met with the general of the Central Guard, my father’s army. When I went to father in his chambers, he still wore his wooden prayer crown while the heavy, jewel-laden crown of state played idly in his hands.

“Kara,” he said as his valet showed me into the room. He spread his arms and gave me the long, lingering hug that I had come to associate with wars and state dinners, the hug of a man stretched by too many things. As he clung to me, the crown of state dug at my back, a sharp point with little mercy. He moved me back from him and suddenly I was glad that it was the light wooden crown that sat on his white hair and not the glittering weight he still held.

“You look well, daughter,” he said, stepping back and studying me.

“Father, three weeks is hardly enough of a vigil for someone of such sin,” I chided.

“How well you would know,” he returned. “But I am not running from guilt but toward duty, toward the security of all Avandi. Have you heard from Eric?”

My older brother ruled Abringol the largest city of the north and a port that had flourished under his leadership.

“No,” I said, “though I saw messengers carrying his banner the day before last.”

Father nodded. “They brought word to the Admiral of High Cause, the same word I share with you now.” He removed the prayer crown and set it gently on his bedside table. Then he lifted the crown of state slowly and pressed it down on his thinning hair. “A fleet of some two hundred ships is less than two days away from Eric’s northern shore.”

***** ***** *****

In an hour I was underway with 2,600 cavalry from my own East Guard. We rode steadily northward.

The rest of my faithful guard, some 33,000 infantry, were split between my provinces of Peth and Culling. I would make do with Eric’s North Guard, a somewhat smaller force of 17,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry already present in his provinces of Mulgrond, Pennett, and Kee. It would be a hard days’ ride or more to see my brother, and already great blossoms of dust rose from our hooves.

Gonnaban, my master-at-arms, rode beside and slightly behind me. His face was steady and watchful, his stubbled jaw set with a relentless determination. His gray hair was short and receding with the weight of duty done well. Though officially responsible for my safety, he had come to be my de facto chief of staff, a measured voice before many battles.

“Gonnaban,” I called to the air. “What do you make of Eric’s report?”

Gonnaban rode closer. “You know the western powers as well as I, Highness. The Sand Republics have only such navy as they have wood and that’s little enough. Dolbiri and Mun Dovar lay further west and face both the Hard Water and the Gaping Sea. They have ships enough but are too distant to have interests here.”

“And the Northmen?”

“The Northmen of Haru have only small ships, though they’ve never attacked us by sea. It’s the northern mountains that they love.”

“Yet Eric’s forts there could spoil that approach. Could they not turn to the water to bypass those forts?” I asked.

I had earned my captaincy at age twenty and served with the East Guard among my mother’s people. To the east of our lands lay the Men of the Gray Valleys and to the extreme north were the barbarians of Haru, who continually tested my father’s resolve with border violations and raids. Pushing back such a raid nine years ago, I showed promise by freeing two villages surrounded by stinking masses of Northmen. A year later, I was a major and was ambushed by a force twice my 4,000 infantry. Two hours later I had taken the day, mounds of Northmen burning under a winter sun. Six months after that, I invaded the Gray Valleys and taught them that what tribute they could not pay I would take from them. My men were covered in the ash from the mountains of that strange land, but we burned two villages and their capital. In three more years, I became High General of All Forces, and I did wicked well at my work.

“If the Northmen don’t care for the passes, why come by ship?” Gonnaban was

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