Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King's Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.
When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.
Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.
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From the Trelan docks, on the northern bank of the great Maradaine River, the city of Maradaine smelled of tar, horses, burning oil, and sweat. The scent hit Dayne Heldrin like a wet sack, but he was amazed at how much he missed it, how immediately he recognized it. This wasn’t home, but it was very close to it. It was far more home than Lacanja had been for the past two years.
A small crowd gathered right at the foot of the gangplank, demanding the attention of the ship’s recent passengers. They shouted and waved, ready to sell trinkets or sweets. Several old men were waiting with rolling carts, anxious to help people with their trunks. Dayne had let most of his fellow passengers leave the ship first, partly from politeness, but mostly in the hope it would thin out this crowd.
“You, you!” one old man called out to him. “You need help, yes?”
Dayne was carrying his trunk over his shoulder. Heavy,but nothing he couldn’t handle. If this man tried to carry it, Dayne feared it would break his spine.
“No, thank you,” Dayne said and continued to walk by.
The man pulled his cart along as Dayne walked. “No, sir, please. Allow me.”
“I’ve got it.” Dayne knew this aggressive helpfulness was simply this man’s way of making of living. The old man’s arms were bare, wearing short sleeves in the warm spring sun. A faded tattoo of a ship’s helm and hash marks showed he had given twenty years to the Druth Navy. Given the man’s age, that had to have been during the war years.
“Then maybe you need a carriage? Or a room to rent?”
“No to both,” Dayne said. “I know where I’m staying, and it isn’t far.”
“Where’d you come from?”
“Oh, lovely city,” the old man said. “Tell you what, I should have gone there when my tour ended. Could have gone to any city on the coast, and I chose here. Stupid mistake.”
“I didn’t care for it,” Dayne said. That was an understatement. Enough misery and failure had befallen him in his two years in Lacanja to last a lifetime.
A pair of newsboys came up to Dayne as well, holding out newssheets from rival presses.
“Where’d you come from, mister?”
“Why you got a shield, mister?”
“You want to know what’s going on, mister?”
“That a real sword, mister?”
“Off, scads,” the old man said. “The man’s a Tarian Knight. Don’t you know anything?” He then snarled, and the boys ran off.
“Tarian Knight” was not the proper term, even if he had been an Adept or Master in the Order. It was a common mistake that Dayne wasn’t going to bother to correct. Instead he handed a half-tick coin to the old sailor, and pointed to the small group of men standing on a low crate holding up a crude wooden placard. “The True Line Lives” was painted in blue letters.“I want to know what that’s about.”
“Foolishness,” the old man said, taking the coin. “How long’ve you been gone?”
“This doesn’t make it down south?”
“First I’ve seen it.”
The old man chuckled. “That’s comforting. The stupid hasn’t infected the rest of the country.”
“Is it dissent against the throne?”
“Against the king, not the throne, to hear those folk. Their whole point—I’m just telling you what they say, I think it’s bilge.” There was something in his tone that was a bit too apologetic, like he was telling Dayne what he thought Dayne would want to hear.
“I understand,” Dayne said. He noticed a fewmen—dockworkers, oystermen, something of that nature—moving over to the men on the crate, walking with the predatory swagger that comes with a few beers. Men who had the intention to start things. Keeping an eye on them, he nodded for the old sailor to go on.
“It’s popped up since the old king died,” the sailor said. Dayne had already left for Lacanja before King Maradaine XVII died, and his son took the throne as Maradaine XVIII. Some major news of the royal house had reached him: he knew the new king had married, and then the queen had died in childbirth. He had heard some talk about the Parliament wanting to force the king to remarry to produce an heir. “This sort of thing was even around when Seventeen first took the throne back in the day, but I think you’re a bit young for that.”
“Yes, but I read about it,” Dayne said. The dockworkers were moving in. Dayne got a count of them—eight men, all stout of arm and back. One of the drunken dockworkers had picked up a rock from the ground. Dayne put down his trunk. “One moment.”
The dockworker had wound back his arm and hurled the rock at the men on the crate. Dayne dashed across the distance, bringing up his shield. The rock clanged against it and dropped to the ground.
“Step away, gentlemen,” Dayne said. “No need for this to escalate.”
“Who are you to say what?” the main dockworker asked. He came up, puffing up his shoulders in his approach. This was a man who was clearly used to intimidating people with his height and muscles. With most people, he’d probably succeed.
With Dayne, he had to crane his neck. Dayne was at least a head taller.
“I’m the one who said ‘step away.’”
“Ayuh, what’s with this fool?” another dockworker said.“Who carries a rutting shield anymore?”
“He’s got a sword, too,” the third said. That one looked a bit nervous. “And he’s in uniform.”
“Ain’t a constable or river patrol.”
“He’s a Tarian, you dunces!” the old sailor shouted.
“Look,” the lead dockworker said, still trying to stare Dayne down. “We’re going to show these traitors we don’t like their kind on our docks.”
“They have a right,” Dayne said.
“You’re going to stand up for their disloyal sewage?” He glanced around Dayne to look at the three men on the crate. “You’ve got a thrashing coming, you do.”
“I’m going to defend their right,” Dayne said. “Even if they’re wrong.”
“Wrong to want an unsullied bloodline on the throne?” the center man on the crate snarled back. Dayne sighed a bit. He feared that was what this was about. Some people never move on.
“Shut it,” the lead dockworker said.
“You aren’t helping,” Dayne muttered.
“Come on, boys,” the lead dockworker shouted to his mates. “We’ve still got numbers here.”
“No,” Dayne said firmly. “You will leave these men unmolested.”
“You’re going to stop us?” The rest of them found their courage and took a few steps forward.
“I’m a Tarian,” Dayne said. “And I will stand between them and harm.”
Dayne wasn’t being completely honest with them, but he doubted any of them were familiar enough to read the pips on his uniform collar. To truly call himself a Tarian, he’d have to have reached the rank of Adept. He was just nearing the end of the second year of his Candidacy. He might be promoted to Adept in a few days, but . . .
But that was definitely not why he had been recalled to Maradaine.
“You’ll get a thrashing, too, Tarian,” the dockworker scoffed. “We’ll knock you back a whole century, where you belong.”
Dayne knew he had to disable the leader in a way that would dissuade the rest from fighting. He knew he could hold off all eight of them, but not without hurting them. And that would hardly be fitting for a Tarian, especially a second-year Candidate hoping to make Adept.
As the dockworker took a swing at Dayne, Dayne crouched down, bringing his shield into the man’s chest. Rather than knocking him to theground, Dayne went up, raising his shield high with the man on top of it.
The man flailed about uselessly while Dayne held him nine feet off the ground.
“Stand down and disperse,” Dayne said firmly to the rest.“Before anyone gets hurt.”
The dockworkers scattered.
Dayne smirked. Feats of strength usually let him avoid an actual fight. He looked up at the leader. “I’m going to put you down, and you’re going to walk away, yes?”
Dayne tilted his shield and let the man slide to the ground in a crumpled heap, and then he scrambled away.
“Thank you—” the leader of the True Line started.
“It’s what I’d do for anyone,” Dayne said. “No matter how distasteful I find their views.”
He went back over to the trunk, which the old sailor was diligently guarding. “So you see what that’s about,” the old man said.
“I thought it had gone away,” Dayne said.
“Yeah, well,” the old man said. “New king, he . . . he’s not who his father was, you hear? Doesn’t inspire the same adulation.”
“There is a proper line of succession!” a man on the crate yelled. “You should know, Tarian, of Romaine’s Gift.”
“Shut your blight hole!” the old man shot back. Dayne had had enough of this encounter. It was well past time to make his way to the Tarian Chapterhouse.
“Thanks, sir,” Dayne said, giving him another coin.“You’ll excuse me, but I think I see a friend here for me.” The man let him go, not arguing with getting two ticks for little effort. And, indeed, on the far side of the dock, standing up on a tall crate, there appeared to be a Tarian Initiate, searching the crowds.
Grandmaster Orren had sent someone to escort him. Even if it was just an Initiate, that could not be a good sign. This was not to be a joyous homecoming.
Excerpted from "The Way of the Shield"
Copyright © 2018 Marshall Ryan Maresca.
Excerpted by permission of DAW.
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