The World of Novi
THE MALLORN COMPANY CHRONICLES
Copyright Lowell R. Matthews Copyright © 1996–1998
Chapter 1: Dinner at Captain Jack's
Alvaron—Monday, Lifesong 21, 3869 A.R.
With the interviews over for the time being and his newborn company now numbering 33 brave recruits, Finlaure passed the word for everyone to come to Captain Jack's that night. Then, with an offer that left Captain Jack singing a happy tune, Finlaure and Lyridia rented out his common room, and made a few other preparations to ensure that the celebration to honor the creation of the Mallorn Company would be a smashing success.
Aerin, carrying all his worldly goods stuffed into a duffel bag, was one of the first to arrive in the late afternoon. As he entered the common room, a wonderful assault on his senses left him stunned and enthralled. The serving tables groaned with steaming platters of all manner of fish and fowl, roast beef and mutton, savory stews, cheeses, breads, sauces, and vegetarian specialties. The last table to catch Aerin's eye overflowed with pastries and sweets. Aerin was amazed that Captain Jack, whose inn was, after all, not all that much more sophisticated than his uncle's, could create such a feast.
At last a hint of delicate perfume intruded upon Aerin's awareness. His attention turned from the feast on the tables to one of another kind as he turned to face a woman of great beauty with a wondrous air of majesty. Her sable hair and hazel eyes, which hinted at her blended race, were complemented by her Alvaronan gown of rich crimson and cloth-of-gold.
"Good evening, and welcome to our celebration," she said warmly in honeyed alto tones. "I believe you are my lord's newest recruit, no?"
"Ah... ah... I suppose so, my lady," Aerin stammered while sketching a hasty bow.
"Please, don't be shy. You are our honored guest tonight. I am Dame Lyridia Brightmoon, late of the Black Rose Academy. And you are...?"
"Oh, please, call me Aerin, my lady."
"Very well, Aerin. Let me add my welcome to that of my lord when I say, 'Welcome to the Mallorn Company, where all are equal until their actions distinguish them.' Serve yourself, then, Private Aerin, and find your place. My lord Captain Finlaure has assigned you to the fourth table." With a graceful sweep of her maunched arm she pointed the way.
"Thank you, my lady," Aerin managed to say, even though his breath had caught in his throat. Without further hesitation he moved to fill his plate, taking a huge helping of savory roast beef and a pile of luscious pastries. After topping it off with a great goblet of rich red wine, he walked very carefully to his table. It was set for four, but at present was occupied solely by a battle-scarred Sisomi and the remains of his well-devoured meal.
As Aerin took his seat, the veteran lowered his emptied tankard and gave Aerin a frothy grin. "Greetings, youngster. I be Grandin Flintfist, at yer service. That roast o' beef's first-rate, ain't it?"
"It smells divine." Aerin offered his hand. "I'm Aerin, at your service." Grandin had to wipe his hand before accepting Aerin's, but as they clasped, Aerin noticed a long scar on Grandin's forearm and evidence of a broken nose. Immediately afterwards, Aerin began to attack his meal while Grandin went to fetch a refill.
Pausing to look around the room, which was now filling up with lines forming both at Dame Lyridia's station by the door and at the tables, Aerin observed one Erovi and one more Sisomi who closely resembled Grandin. The other guests were divided about evenly between Novani (Humans) and Eldani (Elves).
As Grandin returned with a second full plate and tankard, two Novani joined their table. The first, an Almori, looked like a steppe nomad only slightly touched by civilization, while the second, an Almareni, wore clerical garb of a Paragonian cut, black and white and bearing the gold sword and balances of Hadrak the Law-Giver. As the four traded introductions around the table, Aerin learned that the Almori was Nikolai Borissovich Nabokov, professional tracker, and the priest of Hadrak was FatherAndrew mac James Herrons of Paraven, capital of the mighty island kingdom of Paragon to the south.
As the dinner and conversation progressed, it became clear to Aerin that at his table Grandin had the most personal grudge against Henryk Eisennar the Iron Chancellor, his Iron Knights and Triple Talons, Order and Legion. Grandin and his older brother GrominLeopardsclaw(currently seated across the room) had joined the army of Kenax, their homeland, in Firesong as it mobilized to meet the growing threat to all of Mormelar's neighbors. Sparsely populated and weak Canmorel had already fallen, and large portions of northeastern Taurangel were soaked in blood.
Sadly, the entire combined armies of Canmorel, Taurangel, Kenax, Taur Pelanna, and Ulvarin, which joined to form the Eldani–Omikhani Alliance (EOA), were barely a match for the multifaceted strength of the Mormelaran armies. By Glowing, the Iron Chancellor was prepared to break the back of the EOA armies and to drive them out of Taurangel at the least, yet fate intervened. The Chancellor decided that he could no longer tolerate the Eastern Alliance being formed by his small and weak, but nevertheless annoying, eastern neighbors. He therefore launched a preemptive invasion of the Eastern Alliance, scoring great successes, but this allowed the EOA forces to hold their ground in Taurangel for the time.
The watchful interlude proved all too brief, because in Graying, just before the onset of bad weather, the Mormelarans launched a massive push which drove the EOA forces in northwestern Taurangel across the river border into Kenax, inflicting great losses. Both Grandin and Gromin were sorely wounded, barely escaping with their lives. Grandin held out his weapon arm, his right, and mused, "That g!d! pig-faced Iron Knight's battle-axe did this t' me—broke both bones in m' forearm. I been thankin' Arkan ever since fer m' armor, fer w'out it, I'da lost it fer sure. An' then t' add insult t' injury, his f!ing horse kicked me in th' nose." After draining his tankard for the fourth time, he told how he and Gromin had been evacuated, making their slow, painful way to their cousin's house in Alvaron.
As Grandin's story ended, Aerin noticed that the last recruit had been welcomed by Lyridia and that Finlaure had made his entrance, resplendent in gold, white, and green. At 6'10" he stood taller than anyone else in the company, even the other Eldani, and his pale-blonde hair and violet eyes set him apart from the darker Hydri and still darker Savi. His rich Allonan surcoat bore the arms described to Aerin by Father Andrew as "per bend sinister vert and argent, in dexter chief a swan close Or, in sinister base an oak tree of the first." Aerin wondered where the strange but intriguing words came from, but he could clearly see the golden swan on green on Finlaure's upper right side and the green oak on white on his lower left.
When Finlaure and Lyridia had taken their seats at the head table, the Company of the Mallorn was complete. Finlaure saw that everyone had been seated, so he stood and raised his golden goblet high in his right hand. "A toast, ladies and gentlemen, to us: Long live the Mallorn Company!"
"HUZZAH!!" The cheering and drinking went on for several minutes before Finlaure continued.
"It gladdens my heart to see all of you come to follow me in striking a blow against tyranny!" Up went the goblet again, and the cheers followed.
"A blow against injustice!"
"A blow against hatred!"
"A blow against the poison of racism!"
"A blow against the Iron Chancellor!"
At last the cheering subsided, allowing Finlaure to turn to more serious matters. "Ladies and gentlemen, as of now, the Company will have two officers, Dame Lyridia and myself. I will be your Captain—" again he was interrupted by cheering, "and my lady betrothed, who is a talented Magician and a veteran, as am I, of the War of the Lions in Allon, will be your Lieutenant.
"All of you are now equals, as Privates of the Company of the Mallorn. You must put aside your birth and upbringing, high or low, and any prejudices attached thereto. You will learn to act as one. This includes those of you whom I have formally accepted as squires for the sake of your Orders and those others of noble blood. As of now ALL of you are my squires. As we enter our training as a unit, some of you will distinguish yourselves and increase in rank. That challenge is before you, and I expect all of you to prove your merit.
"Because I am Eldani, our unit will naturally tend to emphasize Eldani tactics and appearance—but again, I will not tolerate racial prejudices in my Company. I have created it to fight such prejudices! All of you, especially our Onovani and Omikhani representatives, will be encouraged to participate in all aspects of our training. You will learn from us, and we will learn from you.
"Indeed, I am counting on the strength of the differences in our army to win the day. When the Mormelarans discover that all of the races have banded together to fight the accursed 'racial purification' of the Iron Chancellor, they may have second thoughts about his propaganda!
"But the Iron Chancellor and his Iron Knights are to be considered the enemy. And probably the Triple Talons too, whoever they are; I just heard of them for the first time tonight. That shows you why we all have to train together and do things properly, to find out what each of us knows and doesn't know. At any rate, we will aim our destructive power toward the true believers and away from the general populace. I simply cannot believe that the common folk know the truth.
"Let me reassure you, and the common folk of Mormelar when the time is right, that all of my intentions are honorable. I seek no throne or chancellorship for myself. Indeed, I would prefer to return authority to the throne where it belongs—surely the boy-king Johanan has no place in the terrible deeds done in his name—or to place one of the old Mormelaran aristocracy on the throne instead. We will do what Arisa wishes.
"Now to more practical matters. All of our arrows and quarrels will have gold-colored heads and shafts with green fletching. This will be our trademark, and will be used except when stealth dictates otherwise. All of us shall wear this surcoat—" at which point Finlaure lifted up a green surcoat with a golden Mallorn tree in its center. "The gold tree is a Mallorn tree and will be our standard. All of us, myself included, shall lay aside our family arms for the time being, because WE are now a family!
"Finally, if any of you do not possess an enchanted weapon, I will provide enchanted steel or iron, or their equivalents. If you need armor, I will provide enchanted steel hauberks and breastplates, or even enchanted robes and cloaks if you prefer not to use armor. All of us will use the cloaks preferred by my kindred, which will aid us with the more stealthy skills. And, of course, food will be provided, but it probably won't all be like this," he grins.
After the laughter and cheers subsided, Finlaure gave his parting thoughts. "Enjoy your feast, but remember that we meet at dawn at the Earendil, pier 13. You can't miss it," he grins. "I had thought at first to find a friendly neighboring country in which to train, but we shall not have to leave Alvaron after all. My Aunt Idril has graciously offered us the use of her estate on Victor Creek, so we will sail upriver as far as we can, and then go the rest of the way on horseback. Be warned, gentlemen, my aunt doesn't use her estate very much, and it can be a little wild, with Orcs and worse. We may get a chance to practice BEFORE we get to Mormelar." He raises his goblet one more time. "To Victory!"