Authors: Michael O'Neill
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic
Book 3 of “The Casere” Series
Copyright © 2015 by Michael O’Neill
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Book Layout ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com
Cover art by Darko Tomic. All rights reserved
The Marquis (Book 3 of the Casere)/ Michael O’Neill -- 1st edition.
For Di and Hollie, with much love
“Fate leads him who follows,
and drags him who resist”
Conn Macleod, British, highly decorated and retired Army Major, had “inherited” a method of passing from his dimension (21
Century “Earth”) to another; one that turned out to be not dissimilar in terms of time and climate but very different in terms of landscape and technology. It was at a stage of development not dissimilar to 9
Century “Earth”, before the great technological advances that created great population increases and destructive wars.
Equipped and prepared with the knowledge of his world, Conn il Taransay, as he becomes known, rapidly changed this new world, and by influence and success, all those around him. He used his gold to buy land, and then started an agrarian revolution by enclosing the land, introduced “new” technology like the horse collar, the scythe, the light plough, horse drawn planters and reapers, and a range of new crops – including maize, rice and potatoes – all from seed that he carried with him in small quantities. Within the enclosed paddocks, he bred livestock for speciality breeds of sheep, goats and cows. He also applied the same practices to the breeding of pigs and chickens, and more importantly still in the breeding of horses and mules – creating breeds suitable for warfare, the towing of carriages and carts, and the plough. The genes that allowed this development was carried within the four horses and one donkey that he took with him through the “portal”.
His agrarian practices quickly created produce for trade and his specially designed and constructed ships carried that produce to all parts of Meshech – the name of the continent that he found himself in. As well as grain, his ships carried a vast array of product created by the “factories” he built wherever he could. Some of the first items traded include output from his textile factories; where his water powered spinning and weaving technologies quickly produced the finest woollen and linen fabrics ever seen – as well as rugs, blankets and knitted products. Over time, silk was added to the product range, and when a suitable climate was found, cotton.
From the farms and orchards he produced spirits, wines and beer, and well as oils – both for consumption as well and industrial and medicinal purposes. Mundane items such as farming equipment, wheelbarrows, lanterns, candles, soaps, cosmetics, barrels, ropes, and a multitude of other day to day necessities all joined the range of produce that he traded throughout Meshech and from which he financed the continued expansion of his political and trading “empires”.
His factories also produced items for his military activities; fine swords, laminated bows and helmets, arrows, and armour for his soldiers and also his horses. With potential opponents fighting with swords, lamellar and rudimentary chainmail on large ponies, Conn created an army of cavalry mounted on big, strong horses, fully armoured in brigantine, and armed with powerful bows, long lances and sharp swords. They were supported by an infantry of pikemen and longbow archers, and further supported by specialist trained Logistics and an Engineering Corps.
He had opportunity to put his soldiers – wiga – to the test some six years after his arrival, when Rakia, one of the demesne ruled by a King – called a Healdend – decided to instigate and support a war between their neighbour, and kindred demesne called Gatina, and Gatina’s other neighbour, Trokia. Conn took his outnumbered but highly trained army – or fyrd – some 2000 miles across Meshech to assist Trokia, and eventually defeated the Gatinan fyrd. In the process he gained more wealth, more land, and more children.
Some years later he led his fyrd into Rakia proper to remove the Rakian threat, and to bring peace to Meshech; revealing that behind the Rakian aggression was another nation – the Axum.
The Axum, the major tribe in a nation of people who call themselves the Ancuman (first born) – once ruled Meshech but had been defeated and exiled some three hundred years previous. They had been defeated by a coalition of the ancestors of the Silekians – another tribe of Meshech – and the Twacuman. The leader of the combined forces of Silekians and Twacuman was called the Casere.
The Silekians were the first of the Priecuman (third born) to arrive in Meshech, and they were later joined by other tribes called the Moetians, Trokians, and Gatinans. Over time, these tribes had offshoot nations – the people of Rakia, Lykia, Cyme and Kania.
The Twacuman are the second born, and are a nation of people unlike the Axum or the Priecuman in nature and disposition; seemingly devoid of any of the seven deadly sins. When Conn “arrived” in Meshech, he in fact arrived in the land occupied by the Twacuman people of Halani, and he was received as an honoured guest after he saved their Aebelings from being captured by a band of Rakians slavers. The inexplicable nature of his “arrival” was put down to him having stumbled into a magical cave under the influence of Gyden – or Goddesses – that ruled, somewhat distantly, all of the tribes of Meshech.
Conn was later given, by the very Aebelings that he saved, and to everyone’s surprise, a long lost token – a medallion – that grants the wearer the title of “Feorhhyrde” – the meaning of which is later determined to mean “Guardian” – and a medallion from Sytha that was worn by the ruler of all Twacuman. Unknown to himself, Conn found himself responsible for the survival of an entire tribe of people, who seemed very capable of doing it for themselves.
With the war in Meshech fought and won, Conn makes plans to lead an armada of ships to Sytha – and more specifically the demesne of Rila where he is the Marquis. With over a dozen ships carrying goods and people, Conn plans to leave in the spring of 874. With most of the ships having left, Conn finds that his departure is delayed, and when he does finally depart, he departs into an unnatural storm, and ends up not quite where he planned.
Some weeks into the voyage they crossed the equator and switched seasons. From the very beginning the weather had been atrocious. Overcast, heavy rain, and minimal visibility made navigation almost impossible except for the position of the rising and setting sun. They knew they were going in the right direction but other than that, nothing. When the weather did clear, suddenly, they found themselves facing a beach and an unrelenting wind that resulted with their junk being stuck on a sand bar. It was a very inauspicious way for them to arrive wherever they had arrived. They also faced a very unwelcoming number of wiga on the beach.
They were starting to feel quite hot standing in full armour on the deck of the junk. Although it should be getting colder, autumn was certainly warmer than they expected it to be. That being said, the mountains behind the wiga were adorned with white peaks, so snow had started to fall somewhere.
‘What are the chances? Turn up in a foreign land, get stuck on a sand bar on a dying boat, and to be attacked by – what – three hundred wiga.’ Conn hated the irony.
Derryth was looking at the beach with the telescope. ‘Pretty good I’d have thought. You are after all turning up unexpected and uninvited. Anyway, how much time do we have? They don’t seem intent on attacking us just yet.’ They both looked at Njil and Brys, who had just returned from inspecting the innards of the junk.
Sir Njil von Joban, Thane, and Commodore of Conn’s maritime forces was his most experienced sailor. Before joining Conn’s forces he was a pirate and had from very early in life lived as if his life depended on his sailing skills. Because it did. Conn trusted him so much that he had the best ship in his fleet – not that this was it. He was not impressed with the turn of events.
‘Well, bad news first. The tide is not going out; it’s coming in. So we have less time than I thought. We will start to be hit by big waves in less than two hours would be my guess.’
They then looked at Brys. Sir Brys il Akarah had a long history with Conn. Ethnically a Gatinan, he was a wiga for Rakian when he was captured by Conn and made prisoner for almost a year – and made to spend his time building roads. Released, he stayed out of the way so as not to become involved in the war between Rakia and Conn. Given an honourable way of changing sides, he did so, and saved the lives of many of his kin in the process. That notwithstanding, he had found staying in Meshech uncomfortable so had volunteered to be Major of Conn’s battalion in his expedition across the sea.
‘The good news. We have plenty of arrows; they can’t storm the ship because they would all die, and if we disembark and head to shore we “could” possibly be victorious but our losses would be enormous given that it is hard to swim and protect yourself from arrows. Of course, there is another factor – if our ship breaks up, we will all probably die either by drowning or when struggling to shore. Are we sure that they are actually going to attack us?’
Derryth thought so. ‘They have set themselves up on the beach so that they can defend if we land – so it seems like they intend to. For some reason they seem to have taken an adverse reaction to our arrival. Perhaps we can go and talk to them?’
Conn nodded. ‘We’ll consider that option soon.’ He had other concerns, and turned to Njil. ‘What would we do if they,’ he pointed to the shore, ‘weren’t there?’
Njil answered quickly. ‘Easy, I’d hitch all the horses – and people – and get them to pull us in to somewhere safer. If I could get the horses off the ship, of course.’
Conn moved to the rail and looked down at the waves and water below ten foot below. ‘So I guess I need to go and ask if they can give us a hand. Do you think they know what a white flag means?’
There were more than three hundred wiga on the beach now; another hundred had just turned up on horseback. Conn’s thoughts were broken by the sound of a loud noise below decks. It sounded as if something was trying to kicking a hole in the side of the ship.
Followed by Derryth and Brys, Conn raced down the drawbridge to the hold; this junk was a special version with a deep hold for the transportation of lots of cargo or animals such as horses. There were thirty on this vessel. Conn arrived to see the ostler scuttling away from the sight of Balios attempting to destroy his stall. He stopped when he saw Conn arrive, and snickered in a “got your attention now?” kind of way.
Conn walked up and patted his nose. ‘Balios, what is the matter. I know it’s hot down here. We are going to get you off as soon as we can … just be patient.’
It was the wrong thing to say. The big stallion reared up, almost hitting his head on the upper desk, and roared again. The rest of the horses in the hold all neighed nervously.
‘Okay, I gather that “be patient” is the wrong answer? All right. I’ll open the gate. You can go up to the deck if you want...’
Brys called out. ‘Why does he want to go to the deck?’
‘I don’t know … he seems happy with the idea though.’ Conn opened the door to the stable and Balios carefully, without rushing, walked out and then up the drawbridge. As quickly as he had disappeared, he was back again, and walked down to Conn. He looked at Conn in a “you are a daft Priecuman”, kind of way, butted him in the stomach, and then roared again; his neigh echoing through the hold. All the other horses then started to carry on, neighing and stomping.
Conn raised his hands in defeat, ‘All right. I understand now.’ He looked at Brys and Derryth. ‘Let all the horses go. Balios doesn’t want to go alone – apparently.’
With looks of disbelief on their faces, the two men walked down the aisle, opening gates and taking halters off horses. After they had done the last one, Balios turned around and headed up the drawbridge again, and all the other horses dutifully followed.
Njil looked at Conn in confusion. ‘They aren’t all going to easily fit up there…’
‘I know.’ They followed the last horse up, and as they go to the deck they watched the last horse doing something inexplicable; leaping over the side rail into the ocean.
All Conn could do was exclaim. ‘You have got to be kidding me.’
They joined everyone else at the rail as they watched the thirty horses swim to shore. Alana raced to his side. ‘Papa, what is Balios doing?’
‘I wish I knew. However, if I could tell him what to do, I say…’ Conn stopped and thought for a moment. He called out, ‘Njil, lower the whaleboats. Brys, I want fifty men ready to leave in five.’
The two boats were lowered by the davits on the side of the ship, and men clamoured over the side on ladders. From there they watched Balios arrive and wait on the beach until all the horses were out of the water. With a mighty roar he then turned and led a charge of the horses directly towards the cavalry waiting on the shore. Balios and his brother and sister horses were at least a hand or two taller than anything on the beach as a result of the enormously successful horse breeding program conducted on Conn’s demesnes in Meshech over the last decade. Consequently, Conn could only imagine what was going through the minds of the wiga as they saw the herd of animals rushing towards them, and instead of stopping, racing in and between them. As he arrived Balios roared again and the ponies they were riding suddenly start to buck and rear, and by the time the herd had passed through the cavalry, ducking and weaving, nearly all wiga had been dislodged and found themselves on the sand, lucky not to be trampled. Free of their riders, the local horses then joined the stampede, and they all disappeared over a sandbank into silence until Balios roared again, and suddenly the now much larger herd of over a hundred horses appeared over the horizon and headed directly towards the wiga massed on the beach.
The wiga then scattered like flies on a picnic blanket; any sense of cohesion or formation lost as they raced off the beach over the sand dunes and for any trees they could find. As he rowed toward the shore, Conn instructed Njil to get the ropes and the harnesses ready.
The three whaleboats surfed their way to the beach, and from the sand, Conn, Derryth and Brys raced with their men up on to the shore. There was no one to stop them. They arrived to find Balios doing something new again; his herd of horses were all gathered around in a circle – all looking in. They seem to have taken prisoners.
Derryth shook his head as they arrived at the rumps of the horses.
‘Well, that is definitely NOT something you see every day. I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren this story.’
‘How can you embellish this story?’ For someone from a people who never told lies, Derryth was a master embellisher.
‘Embellish? How can you embellish what we have just seen? They are not going to believe me anyway.’
Brys posted guards as Conn walked up beside the black and white stallion, patting him on the rump. ‘Thank you Balios, we can take it from here.’
Balios snickered, and the horses just all walked away and started to graze on the salt bush.
Left behind were six very scared and confused Priecuman. They had no weapons, they all seemed to have been run over by their horses; such was the condition of their apparel. They were not of the usual Meshechian tribes – what was it that Lile called the other tribe in Sytha? – Samrian.
Somehow they had landed in Samria.
As Conn got closer, he could understand Lile’s confusion – they did look a lot like him; especially their light eyes – brown, greens and blues. Unlike him however, they didn’t have blond hair – their hair was brown and their skin was decidedly more olive than the very Nordic Conn. In fact, they looked just like his children.
They looked at him fearfully, their hands in the air.
Conn told them to put their hands down.
One spoke. ‘You are not Ancuman.’ It was a statement rather than a question, but a question was in the tone. It came from a middle-aged woman. ‘You are Priecuman but you are not Samrian. This is very confusing…’
‘That is true – we are all from a place called Meshech.’
‘Meshech? Never heard of it…’
‘That I can understand because it is about eight weeks south by ship.’
‘Eight weeks? Amazing. The only ones that we know of that arrive from across the ocean are the Ancuman from a place called Kishdah. So is Meshech a part of Kishdah – and are you all minions of the Ancuman?’
Conn laughed. ‘No, I am certainly not. The Ancuman and I do not have a healthy relationship. To date, it has been extremely unhealthy for them.’
She looked relieved at this information, though not totally sure as to where they stood. When she noticed Derryth, she was more confused, almost flustered.
She addressed him directly. ‘Excuse me, but are you one of the people they called Twacuman – from somewhere called … Iladion?’
‘Yes, I am a Twacuman, but I am from Halani in Meshech. It would be my kin who are from Iladion.’
‘So what are you doing here? And what just happened then?’
Derryth shrugged. ‘I don’t have an answer for either question.’ He looked at Conn.
Conn first introduced himself and then his companions. ‘I am Conn il Taransay, Eaorl of Rakia in Meshech, and Marquis of Rila in Sytha. This is Derryth il Halani, and Brys il Akarah, Major of my fyrd. As for us being here – I don’t know YET – but I do know I need to get my ship off that sand bar. Do you think you might be able to help?’
‘Are you under the employ of the Healdend of Samria?’
‘No, I am not.’
'So you are not here to kill us or take us prisoner?'
Conn shook his head again. ‘Nope, you are free to do whatever – as long as it doesn’t involve trying to kill us.’
She laughed as she sent one of her men away to assemble her fyrd.
‘I think that opportunity has passed, don’t you? Anyway, since you are not Ancuman, and you have a Twacuman with you; we are delighted to be able to help. I just need to find all my men…your horses seem to have scattered them far and wide.’
Balios joined them as they walked to the water’s edge. The woman looked at the horse walking beside them in amazement. ‘He is an Elfina isn’t he?’
‘He is. Have you seen one before?’
‘No, never. They haven’t been seen for hundreds of years. Probably seven hundred years. I imagine there are some in Iladion, but we haven’t seen anyone from Iladion for hundreds of years either, so we don’t know if they have any. I only know of them from stories about the expulsion of the Ancuman by the Casere. We arrived here after that time so all we have are the stories. It’s the colour; I was told that when a horse is touched by a Gyden, they go half white because they are blessed. It also helps explain why my fyrd was defeated by a herd of horses.’ She stopped and looked at him. ‘Did you say
of Rila in
‘Indeed – I was on my way there when I got deposited on your beach.’
‘So you were on your way from Meshech to Sytha and you ended up here – washed up on a beach. Have you executed your navigator?’
‘It wasn’t his fault.’
‘So who is responsible for such an error?’
‘In situations like this I like to blame the Gyden.’
‘Gyden? It is said that if a Gyden lands you in trouble, you haven’t understood the directions.’
Conn laughed. ‘Directions? What directions?’ He then explained the conditions of the last five weeks.