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Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: Tor, 2005
Series: The Saga of Recluce: Book 13
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Ordermaster is the 13th book in the Saga of Recluce and the direct sequel to Wellspring of Chaos. The cooper Kharl has no sooner taken possession of the estate bestowed upon him by Lord Ghrant of Austra for his aid in quelling the revolt of Ghrant's dispossessed brother, when he is summoned back to the capital. Hagen, his friend the lord-chancellor, needs help in dealing with rebellious nobles. After a bloody campaign, in which Kharl discovers and is forced to use even more deadly order magery, civil order is restored and Ghrant's throne firmly secured. But Kharl is now a famous and feared public figure, the Lord's Mage, and his notoriety makes him uncomfortable.

To his surprise, Kharl is soon called upon again by Lords Ghrant and Hagen, this time to return to his homeland of Nordla as envoy, because Nordla has become the next target of Hamorian expansion. Back in his hometown of Brysta, he discovers that his old enemy Egen is engaged in a plot with the Hamorians to take the throne from his father and open Nordla to the enemy. Kharl has to find a solution, for the sake of both the land of his birth and his adopted new country.


Chapter One

"You sure you'd not be wanting more, ser?" The ample Adelya stood in the archway from the kitchen to the breakfast room.

Kharl smiled as he eased back the straight-backed oak chair and stood. He glanced down at the green-trimmed white plate---it was the plain china---on which remained a half slice of egg toast. "More, Adelya? I couldn't finish everything you cooked. It's been a long time since I've eaten so well." That wasn't quite true. He'd eaten that well as Lord Ghrant's guest in Dykaru, but, he reflected, he'd never eaten under his own roof as he had for the last two eightdays.

He still had trouble believing that he was lord of Cantyl. He'd studied the figures laid out in the ledger by Speltar, the estate steward, and seen and counted the golds in the strong room below. He was wealthy, if modestly so by the standards of lords, and that was something he'd never expected, never dreamed. Not for a man who had been a cooper in Brysta most of his life, and a carpenter's assistant on the Seastag after he'd been forced into exile by Lord West's son Egen.

From that exile had come all the events---and the magely talents---that had led him to become lord and master of Cantyl and its lands. Cantyl was a modest estate, as estates went, roughly some ten kays by five, with timberlands and vineyards, enough fertile ground to provision the lands, and more than a few rugged and rocky hills. There were a handful of fruit trees on the slope south of the main house, but they were barely an orchard.

The only things missing were his sons, but he had no way to reach Arthal, and he'd sent a message on Hagen's Seastag, the next ship of the lord-chancellor's merchant fleet scheduled to port in Brysta. It was chancy as to whether his letter would actually reach Merayni in Peachill, where Warrl stayed with his aunt, but Kharl had to try.

"You be sure you've had enough, ser?" asked Adelya. "The way you've been working, more like a field hand than a lord..."

"Hard work makes me feel better," Kharl replied.

"You could have someone---"

"I'm a better cooper and carpenter than anyone I could pay." Kharl grinned. "And I'm more trustworthy, too."

Adelya tried not to smile, and failed.

"Besides, how can I learn about Cantyl if I don't work it?"

"You sound like Lord Koroh. He was Lord Julon's father."

Hagen had mentioned in passing that Julon had held the estate before Lord Ghrant, but had not mentioned any details.

"Good lord, Koroh was." Adelya straightened. "You sure you don't need any more?"

"I'm most certain." With a smile, Kharl turned and walked from the breakfast room down the rear hall to the south doorway. It was really a service entrance, but it was closest to the small barn that he was converting into his private cooperage. He enjoyed working with wood, and once he received the oak he had ordered, he could begin to make barrels for the vineyard. That would save Glyan, the head vintner, more than a few golds over the course of the year, and it would give Kharl the sense that he was adding to the worth of Cantyl.

Once outside in the chill sunlight, he walked briskly down the gravel path toward the small barn. Although the first days of spring had been cool for Austra, the heavy sandstone walls of the house had kept it pleasant during the past eightdays as Kharl had worked to learn about his holding, studying the accounts, walking the lands, and building his cooperage.

Without hesitation, Kharl slid back the barn door and stepped into what had once been a secondary stable. At some point, he'd need to put in a better set of doors, but his first task was to finish removing the remaining stalls.

For a good two glasses, Kharl worked in the small barn, carefully loosening and breaking down the last of the stall walls, taking out pegs and the occasional nail, so that the planks and cut timbers could be reused. He had three piles in the center of the dirt floor.

After finishing with the eighth stall, he straightened. Despite the coolness of the day, sweat beaded on his forehead, and he blotted it away with the sleeve of the heavy gray shirt he'd worn as the carpenter's assistant on the Seastag.


Kharl turned to see Speltar, the estate steward, standing in the open doorway. "Good morning, Speltar."

"That it is, ser. You've been working hard."

"I can't build a cooperage here until I've got the space ready."

The steward nodded. "I should have the listing ready this afternoon." He paused. "For the equipment we talked about yesterday."

"What did we forget?" Kharl grinned. "Or I forgot?"

"We'd talked about varnish or shellac for the flooring here..."

Kharl looked at the dirt floor inside the east end of the barn, a space where there had been ten stalls, then glanced to Speltar. "I can't believe there were so many stalls. There were ten here, and there are twenty in the main barn."

"Lord Julon had four teams," replied the short and slim steward, nervously pushing back his wispy reddish brown hair, not that there was enough to cover his balding pate. "He had four horses to a team, and they weren't used for work around the lands. So we needed stalls for the shire horses, mostly in winter, and stalls for the fancy teams."

"Where did he drive them?"

"Oh, he took two teams to Valmurl. One team pulled the carriage most of the way, and then he made his entrance with the other." Speltar cleared his throat. "About the varnish?"

"What about it?"

"I was talking to Dorwan about it. He had a suggestion."

Kharl nodded. He'd already learned that Dorwan never volunteered anything directly to him, but always suggested things to Speltar. The forester, for all his size and bulk, was almost painfully shy, and it would take a while before he was at ease with Kharl---or anyone new to the estate. "It was probably a good one."

"Yes, ser. You know the flagstone walk in front? Well...years back, Lord Julon had flagstone squares cut, big thick squares, and he was going to have them polished for a summer porch. Ah...the porch never got built. Dorwan says that the flags, more than enough to floor your cooperage anyway, are still there, in the back of the storage shed above the vineyard building. They were smoothed, but never polished."

Kharl laughed. "Those would be better than a timber floor, especially around the forge." He paused. "I know how to lay a plank floor. I can't say I know how to lay a stone floor that well."

"Dorwan says his boy Bannat and he can do it. Take less than an eightday. Need some lime for the mortar, but that's a sight cheaper than varnish."

"Does he have the time, without neglecting what he does in the woodlands?"

"Still early for poachers, and word's out that Lord Kharl's a mage." Speltar grinned shyly. "Dorwan says that he and Bannat can start leveling and packing the clay underneath tomorrow."

"What do you think?"

"Stone'll last longer than wood, ser. We already have the flags. If we have to cut the timbers...all we have is softwood."

"What you're trying to tell me is that a softwood floor won't last, and that we could sell the good spruce timbers to the carpenters and shipyards in Valmurl for good coins, and besides that, you can get some use out of the flagstones stored in the shed, and free up some storage space."

"There is that, ser."

Kharl shook his head. "It's a good idea. We should do it. If I don't see Dorwan today, and you do, tell him that I appreciate his thoughtfulness. I'll tell him, but..."

"Yes, ser. He's a mite...reserved."

"Begging your pardon, ser..." came a young voice from behind Kharl. "There's a vessel under steam headed for the pier. Da said you'd want to know, ser."

Kharl turned to see a dark-haired girl of ten or so---Glyan's daughter Rona. She was the unofficial messenger around Cantyl. "Thank you."

"Yes, ser." Rona smiled. "Do you want me to tell Da anything?"

"Not yet. Why don't you come down to the pier with us? That way, if I need you to take a message..."

"Yes, ser!"

Kharl and Speltar walked up the rise from the small barn to the main house, then took the graveled lane that led down to the east and to the pier. Rona followed several paces behind. The lane split a large sloping meadow into two sections of roughly equal size---although the grass was still winter brown, with just the barest hints of green showing beneath the dead thatch. The meadows were bordered by stone walls, beyond which, on the south-facing slopes, were the vineyards that produced much of the income from the estate, mainly from the sale of the pale amber Rhynn, considered a desirable wine with poultry and fish by those well-off in Valmurl and Bruel. In the brief time he'd been at Cantyl, Kharl had discovered that he actually liked good wine, and he suspected that his past dislike of wine had not been a distaste for wine but a repugnance for bad wine---and that had been all that he'd ever tasted. Still, a good lager was his favorite.

The incoming vessel was already well past the harbor mouth and steaming toward the pier, a thin trail of smoke dispersing into the blue-green sky.

"You weren't expecting a ship?" asked Kharl.

"No, ser."

Kharl tried to make out the vessel. It wasn't the Seastag, but with the twin masts, and the midships paddle wheels, it could have been her twin. "Looks like one of Lord Hagen's vessels."

"Aye," offered Speltar. "Looks much like the Seacat. Captain Druen stops here now and again for timbers, and for the wine."

Kharl and Speltar reached the pier before the ship, but not before Dorwan and his assistant, the wiry Norgal.

"You'll be handling the lines?" Kharl asked.

"Yes, ser," replied Dorwan.

"Good." Kharl paused. "Dorwan...Speltar told me about your idea for the cooperage floor. Using the old flagstones, that's much better than using softwood. Thank you."

Dorwan nodded. "My duty, ser."

"That may be, but I...

Copyright © 2005 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


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