The story itself is changing. I finally realized how to integrate the Naomi plotline, and the next chapter cuts back to Sneax and the crew from the original novels, which means--unfortunately--that I can't show it to you without giving away major spoilers for Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki. That in turn means that this is it for Wolfgang and Salamatu and "Sketch in My Notebook". I hope you liked this chapter, but... If you want to see how it ends, it looks like you're gonna have a long wait.
The good news is that Alan and I have an appointment on Friday to talk about the cover design for Priest of Loki. God willing, I'll have the book out before Christmas--at least in e-book form. I haven't decided about printing yet. I may wait to print Priest of Loki and Sneakatara Boatman and the Crown of Pluto all as one book just based on costs.
Anyway, here is the last bit of Chapter 1 of this story, which doesn't yet have a title. I guarantee that it won't be called "Wolfgang and Salamatu". If missed the first bits:
Wolgang and Salamatu
Chapter 1: The Hunt (Part 3)
Afterwards, the King is joyous. Effusive.
“...absolutely magnificent,” he says. “Come out to hunt boar and wind up taking a troll! I tell you, Wolfgang, seeing you out there battling that beast was like witnessing your father on the field at Gaevin’s Grove.”
Wolfgang is tired, wrung out from terror and unexpected sorcery, and he thinks the comparison to his father’s triumph is as ludicrous as anything he has ever heard. It is the King’s comparison to make, however, and Wolfgang can hardly walk away. “Thank you, Your Grace,” he manages. “I am pleased to have survived.”
“You did more than survive, my boy. Much more. I am impressed.”
“You honor me, Sire.”
“Not yet, I haven’t. But perhaps I shall. You would make an excellent captain in the Royal Lancers, I think. What say you to that?”
Wolfgang’s heart drops into his stomach. He should have seen this coming but his mind still feels slow in the aftermath of battle, and now he fears it is too late. If the King has already made up his mind…
“It is too much,” he says at last. “Besides, I already serve Your Grace in the Royal--”
“Yes, yes, the Royal Engineers,” the King says dismissively. “It is important work, I’m sure, but it is not the stuff of heroes now, is it? It is not the calling of your House, man. Anyone can fix a bridge or tune a sigil, Wolfgang. My Lancers need men to captain them. Men like you.”
It is only with effort that Wolfgang keeps from shaking his head. I would like to see my father fix a bridge or tune a sigil, he thinks. The man had an arm of forged from iron and a voice for the battlefield, but he knew shite about the arcane arts and couldn’t have sat still long enough to learn them, even if you yourself had commanded it, Your Grace. But this argument can mean nothing to the King. The man has spent his entire adult life steering the Kingdom of the Western Isles through all the dangers that the Known World has to offer. If he has kept his kingdom safe from the depredations war, it is only because he has had hard men at his command, men who are ready to beat back the forces of chaos and oppression that have been rising on the Continent these past fifty years and more. This King has fought piracy and heresy and the Legion of the Red Lord, and through it all, he has seen his kingdom triumph. The mechanics of arcane engineering are as far beneath him as are the financial struggles of some minor House, save that the House in question once belonged to his close friend and mentor during the war.
Still, Wofgang sayd, “I need no honors, Sire. I am content, truly.”
“Are you?” the King asks.
“I do what I do because I can. My service is different than my father’s, but it is still service.”
The King frowns. “So you admit that service matters?”
“Of course it matters,” Wolfgang replies.
“Good.” The King smiles, and Wolfgang can see that he has made up his mind.
“No,” the King says, “I’ve heard enough. There are times when a king must listen, and there are times when he must simply decide. I told you before that it is part of my duty to see that my subjects are put in places where they can succeed. The same is as true of you as it is of any man.”
“You have said you will serve if called. Is this not true?”
Wolfgang bows his head. “You know that I will.”
“Then it is done. I expect to see you at the palace tomorrow morning. You are dismissed.”
The King flicks the reins on his horse, and in a moment he is gone. In his aftermath, several of the courties stare at Wolfgang, alternately enraged, intrigued, or visibly envious of the King’s attention. At length Duke Foghorn rides past and stops, nodding his head in Wolfgang’s direction. He says nothing, but when he turns, he gives the courtiers a look that could curdle milk. Then he turns back and pats Wolfgang on the shoulder. “Congratulations, captain.”
“I-- Thank you, my lord.”
Foghorn smiles at Wolfgang and then turns once again to stare at the pages and assorted hangers-on who have still not peeled their eyes away from where Wolfgang is standing. “What are you fools looking at?” he barks. “You stare like landed trout while your liege lord rides in the other direction. Move!”
The courtiers jump and scatter as if from a lightning strike, and Wolfgang sighs. “Thank you again, my lord.”
Foghorn merely nods and turns his horse. “My pleasure.”
In another moment, Wolfgang is alone. He looks around the clearing, sees that Salamatu is kneeling by her horse, that the horse itself is still writhing on the ground. His own horse is tethered nearby; she must have gathered it up while he was talking to the King because he remembers seeing the stupid beast bolt during the fight. The dog Zen is looking at him as well, a certain sadness in its eyes, and though Wolfgang has not yet considered it, he wonders suddenly how badly Salamatu’s horse is hurt. In spite of everything, the day’s killing might not be done just yet.
Salamatu reaches down and touches her horse’s leg, head bowed as if in prayer. The moment stretches, and Wolfgang feels the touch of grief. The ranger and her horse are obviously close. Wolfgang wonders if he should offer to slit the beast’s throat, or if this is the kind of woman would prefer to do the deed herself. Horses are ever the innocents in combat. The first time Wolfgang saw his father cry, it was for a horse who’d broken a leg taking a jump.
When Salamatu looks up, Wolfgang asks, “Can she make it back, do you think?”
Salamatu’s face is sweat-stained and tired, but she looks content. “I think so. I set the leg and did what I could. She’ll not carry me back to Wanderhaven, but she should live.”
“You fixed a broken leg? On a horse?”
Salamatu stands, mouth quirked. “I’m not completely useless, you know.”
“I should say not. But I’ve never heard of anyone healing a horse.”
“Priests. What do they know?” Salamatu asks. A cloud passes across her face.
“Fair enough,” Wolfgang replies. “Do you, uh, need a ride back to the city then?” Wolfgang walks over to his own horse, starts untying the reins where Salamatu has the animal tethered. “Cobalt here may not be much of a war mount, but he can at least carry the two of us back to Wanderhaven.”
Salamatu walks over, places a hand on the saddle opposite Wolfgang’s, and looks him in the eyes. “Why captain, I thought you’d never ask.”
“You heard that, huh?”
“I’m pretty sure everyone heard it. By tomorrow, I expect it will be the talk of the city.” Wolfgang shakes his head, puts one foot in the stirrup, and prepares to mount. Salamatu look at him crossly. “What are you doing?”
“I’m getting on my horse. Did we not just establish that we’re riding back to the city together?”
“And you think you’re mounting first? Why? So I have to wrap my arms around you like some useless damsel whom you just saved from a troll?”
“Good!” Salamatu slides her own foot into the stirrup on the opposite side and mounts with incredible grace. “Climb up behind me. The King will be halfway to Wanderhaven by now, and we need to get going if we’re to catch up on the back of an over-burdened animal.”
Wolfgang can only stare. “So I am to sit behind you, wrap my arms around you?”
“Relax, captain. My virtue is safe, I assure you. You are pretty enough, sure, but I think I can control myself, at least until we are within the city walls.”
“That’s not what I--”
“And if you try anything, I’ll cut off the hand that tries is.”
“Gods above, woman. If you hadn’t just saved me from a troll, I would fear for my life.”