L. E. Modesitt, Jr., master of science fantasy, returns to the world of Corus to continue the epic trilogy begun in Alector's Choice. It is the story of the fall of a great civilization and the tale of the Alector, Colonel Dainyl, and Captain Mykel, the Corian human with special abilities.
The world Corus has been redesigned to become the new home of a superior race from a distant world whose very life depends on drawing sustenance from the biological life force of a planet. Meanwhile, their plans are supervised by a staff of Alectors, who in effect rule the world. The Alectors alone have access to the huge flying Pteridons they have bred, and the superior weapons that underpin their psychic talents.
The time is now fast approaching for the transfer of the whole population from the old world nearly bled dry of life force to Corus. But neither the Alectors (who will be reduced in status when the real powers arrive) nor the local humans (who seem destined to become no more than cattle, though they know nothing of this) are ready. And the mysterious Ancient Ones, the true natives of Corus and assumed to have died out in eons past, still survive, and they have their own powers. The situation builds toward an explosive climax.
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L.E. MODESITT, JR. lives in Cedar City, Utah.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
Mykel leaned forward on the ancient chair in the officers' mess, finishing rubbery egg toast a good glass before morning muster, thinking about how much more training his battalion needed, and debating whether he should extend the mounted unit maneuvers practice another week. Another ten days might help, if he canceled end-day passes. He shook his head. That would be too hard on both mounts and morale. He'd known that rebuilding Third Battalion would be difficult and take time, but he had his doubts about whether he'd be allowed that time.
Captain Vield walked through the doors to the mess and straight toward Mykel.
Mykel offered a pleasant smile, although he distrusted the purposeful stride of the captain, not personally, but because Vield was the colonel's adjutant. The captain's aura was a golden brown that suggested a background in the Lanachronan farming district. Mykel silently warned himself, far from the first time, not to comment on what the aura revealed. He kept reminding himself because his growing sense of the depth of life and its ties to the land was so new, and he had yet to get adjusted to it---or to know truly its extent. He'd always had a extraordinarily good sense of aim with a rifle, but the seeing of auras was all too recent. From what he'd overheard, that sort of talent was something like what the alectors were supposed to have, and the last thing he needed was to have an alector examining his abilities, not that anyone had ever suggested that. Still...he had the feeling that concealing the ability was for the best, especially where alectors were concerned.
"Colonel Herolt would like a moment of your time before muster, sir. At your earliest convenience."
"I was just finishing, Captain." Mykel stood, glancing around the mess. The plastered walls had once been white, but time and decades of food preparation had turned them a light beige. Even the yearly whitewash succumbed to the underlying beige within a few weeks.
The only officer in the mess from Third Battalion was Captain Culeyt, and he was eating with one of his former comrades---an undercaptain from Fourth Battalion. Rhystan had not eaten yet, nor had any of Mykel's undercaptains.
Mykel could sense Vield's eyes following him as he left the mess. Since the campaign in Dramur, Mykel had been far more aware of others' feelings about him---or their scrutiny---as a result of the life-sensing that was a complement to his vision and not restricted to where his eyes focused. He crossed the stone-paved courtyard in the light before dawn, making his way to the regimental headquarters building.
The outer anteroom was empty, and the door to the colonel's study was ajar.
"Majer Mykel, come on in. Close the door behind you."
Colonel Herolt did not rise when Mykel stepped into the study, but merely gestured for him to take a seat. "How are you this morning? How are you coming with getting Third Battalion back into shape?"
"We're working at it, sir."
"I've noticed." Herolt paused. "I'd like to give you more time, but we don't have it." His eyes fixed on Mykel. "We've received two sets of orders from Myrmidon headquarters."
"Yes, sir." Mykel smiled politely, waiting. From the earlier conversation with the colonel when Mykel had been given command of the Third Battalion, Mykel knew that whatever mission was assigned to Third Battalion would be difficult.
"Fourth Battalion will be going to Iron Stem to maintain order there after all the difficulties. I had thought about sending you and Third Battalion, but the other requirement seems particularly suited to your capabilities, Majer. Second Battalion is returning from the grasslands, and reports permanent casualties over thirty percent. Fifth Battalion is still operating out of Northport, and Sixth Battalion is finishing up the relocation of the Squawts from north of the Vedra. That doesn't leave me---or you---much choice."
Mykel nodded, waiting. A year earlier, he would have asked for details immediately and inquired about the high casualties taken by Second Battalion. One thing he had learned was that such inquiries would not be answered, and would only irritate the colonel.
"Majer Hersiod and I will be briefed by the Marshal of Myrmidons tomorrow about Iron Stem. It's a more delicate...situation."
"Yes, sir," Mykel understood. He didn't like what Herolt was suggesting---that Mykel was lacking in finesse and just about everything besides battlefield and anti-insurgent tactics---but there was little enough he could or should say.
Herolt smiled again. "There are armed groups in the south similar to the Reillies, and they have been causing trouble in the hills west of Hyalt."
Hyalt? That was about as far as one could get from anywhere, even more isolated in some ways than Dramur, Mykel reflected.
"The leader and the worst of the troublemakers were handled by a Myrmidon squad several weeks ago, but the others have gone to ground and scattered throughout the region. This is similar to what you encountered in Dramur, but on a smaller scale. You should be able to handle it, while completing your retraining and rebuilding Third Battalion."
"Do we have any information on the troublemakers, sir?"
"Very little. The High Alector of Justice believes that stronger local control is necessary in the area, and part of your deployment will require that you facilitate the re-building of a local Cadmian garrison there. There was only a small local garrison there. It was scarcely more than a patroller outpost, and the rebel elements wiped them out.
"Third Battalion will take a transport ship to Southgate first. There you will oversee the remainder of the training of two companies going to Hyalt. They're locally recruited Cadmians. The officers and squad leaders will come from the contingent in Southgate, but you will be in charge, Majer. You will continue training them on the ride to Hyalt. You're expected to arrive there around the first week of summer. While you are pacifying the rebels, you will supervise the rebuilding of the garrison in a larger and more permanent locale and install the local Cadmian cadre there. You're to have Third Battalion ready to ride out a week from Octdi. You'll embark from the Elcien pier...."
Mykel listened as the colonel went on to outline the schedule and the details of the embarkation plan.
"...and now you know what I do, Majer." Herolt stopped and looked at Mykel.
"Do we know to what degree the locals supported the rebels?"
"The local merchants and crafters were the ones who reported the rebel activity and who requested assistance in establishing a large local patrol force. The High Alector was reluctant to create a large locally controlled peacekeeping force, and that's why a local Cadmian garrison will be established."
Mykel kept an attentive expression in place, walling away his consternation. The ride from Southgate to Hyalt would take between two and three weeks. Spring had begun two weeks earlier, and that meant he would have less than a month to work with the new Cadmians before they began the ride to Hyalt---and that was if Third Battalion embarked on the Duarches' transport within the week. Hyalt didn't sound that different from Dramur, except that he wouldn't have to deal with a prison mine and independent local seltyrs. But then, he suspected there would be something else. There always was.
As the most junior battalion commander, he had known that he would get the least-agreeable deployments and duties, but more than half the rankers in Third Battalion were little more than recruits themselves, and three of his company commanders were junior undercaptains.
"I did mention the sort of duties that would fall to Third Battalion, Majer, did I not?"
"Do you have any other questions?"
That was a perfunctory question, Mykel knew, because the colonel had already indicated that he had provided all he knew---or would say. Still... "If you obtain any additional information or briefing materials, sir, I would very much appreciate being able to study them."
"Anything we get, Majer, you'll certainly see." Herolt smiled and stood. "I'm expecting Majer Hersiod to tell him about his assignment to Iron Stem."
With a nod, Mykel slipped out of the colonel's study and made his way to the north wing of the building and his own, far smaller study. He did not see Hersiod, and that was probably for the best. He also hadn't liked the almost casual way that the colonel had dismissed the high casualties inflicted on Second Battalion, although the grassland nomad brigands were reported to be far better horsemen than the mounted rifles. In the past, from what he recalled, the Myrmidons had dealt with them, but it was clear that had changed, and he doubted he would find out why any time soon, because Third Battalion would have left Elcien before Second Battalion returned and the colonel wasn't about to answer questions from Mykel that didn't pertain to Third Battalion. Not for the first time, Mykel wished that he had access to one of the rumored Tables of the alectors, the ones that were supposed to show what happened anywhere on Corus.
While he waited for his officers, Mykel unrolled the maps until he found the one that showed the southwestern areas of Corus, from Southgate to Soupat and north to Krost and the west to Hafin. After unrolling the map and securing the corners with lead map weights, he took out the calipers and measured the distance from Southgate to Zalt and then north and back south to Hyalt. Six hundred twenty vingts, roughly, or more than two long weeks, at least twenty days on the road. Given that, he could understand the need for a larger permanent garrison in Hyalt, but he had to wonder why one had not been established earlier.
As always, Rhystan was the first to arrive.
"Good morning, sir." Rhystan's deference had concerned Mykel at first when he had first taken command of Third Battalion. Rhystan had been senior to him when they had both been captains, but Mykel hadn't been about to argue when the Marshal of Myrmidons and the High Alector of Justice had promoted him to majer over Rhystan. The senior captain in Third Battalion, Rhystan commanded Sixteenth Company.
"Good morning." Mykel gestured to the center chair across the desk.
"Swerkyl said that the colonel received a dispatch early this morning---well before breakfast, delivered by pteridon."
"You know things before I do." Mykel laughed easily. "Did Swerkyl know what was in it?"
"He never does. He just assumes the worst." A wry smile appeared on Rhystan's thin lips, then vanished. "How bad is it?"
"We had two choices---either go and do patrol duty in Iron Stem..." Mykel paused. "...or what we got, and that's another bunch of rebels in the hills, this time in Hyalt."
"From what I heard from Clensdyf about the Iron Valleys, the colonel was kind."
"Fourth Battalion is going to Iron Stem." Mykel stopped and gestured for Culeyt to enter the study. Behind him were the three undercaptains. He waited until all five officers in their maroon-and-gray uniforms were seated in the small study that had once been Majer Vaclyn's and was now assigned to him. In the center was Rhystan. To his right was Culeyt, who had been recently promoted from undercaptain and transferred from Fourth Battalion to take over Fourteenth Company. Loryalt, Fabrytal, and Dyarth were all undercaptains. Fabrytal was the most junior, a former senior squad leader from Fourth Battalion, but he was commanding Fifteenth Company, Mykel's former command and the only company besides Sixteenth Company that had come out of the Dramurian campaign largely intact. Fourteenth Company had been left with a core of some forty seasoned rankers, but Thirteenth and Seventeenth Companies had been effectively wiped out, necessitating their re-formation with a majority of recruits and only a handful of experienced rankers pulled from elsewhere in the regiment.
Mykel waited for a moment. "First off, I'm changing the drills for the next week. We'll be moving out to the broken-ground training area from now on. We'll be working on tactics against irregulars."
The red-haired Loryalt raised his eyebrows, but did not speak.
Rhystan saw the expression, and the faintest smile crossed his thin lips.
"I can see you have a question, Loryalt," Mykel observed.
So did Rhystan.
"You're wondering why we're moving onto broken terrain training when Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Seventeenth Companies still are not up to standards in field drills." Mykel's words were an exceedingly charitable assessment of the three companies, mainly troopers barely more than recruits with squad leaders who had mostly been rankers promoted earlier than what would have been normal. "First, the break will do your men good. Second, we've gotten orders."
"So soon?" murmured Fabrytal almost inaudibly.
"The Myrmidons smashed some rebels in Hyalt, but not all of them. We're being sent to finish the job. That includes training some local Cadmians in Southgate and on the ride from there to Hyalt. They'll be manning a new garrison in Hyalt, and in addition to running down the remaining rebels, we get to supervise building the garrison and setting up the local structure there." Mykel shook his head. "I know. They're calling it a local garrison, but they're taking recruits from Southgate. Officers and squad leaders, too."
"The hardasses, probably," suggested Rhystan.
"Almost certainly," Mykel agreed. "The colonel emphasized that Third Battalion was in charge."
"When do we leave, sir?" asked Culeyt.
"A week from Octdi, from Elcien...." Mykel went on to explain the schedule. As he did, he could only hope that he and his captains could make the next two weeks as effective as possible in improving the readiness and skills of Third Battalion.
Copyright © 2006 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
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