Stone Unturned

Here’s the next Ethshar novel, at least in theory — but right now I’m pretty upset about it, because when I opened the file to pull this sample I discovered that a little over two thousand words are missing. The most recent file I can find is from January 2013, but I last worked on it in March 2013, and according to my records had ten pages more than any file I can find. Gaah!

Anyway, this is what I’ve sometimes called “the Big Fat Ethshar novel,” and it may actually wind up as three (or more) intertwined stories, rather than one big one. If it does get subdivided, this will be the opening of Lord Landessin’s Gallery.

Morvash of the Shadows leaned over the rail, ignoring the glares of the crewmen who obviously wished passengers would stay below, out of sight and out of their way, while the ship maneuvered up the Grand Canal into the heart of Ethshar of the Spices. One advantage of being a wizard, though, was that no one was going to actually order him to move, so he was able to stay where he was and watch as the warehouses of Spicetown slid by to starboard. If he stretched a little and peered forward he could see the yellow walls and red tile roof of the overlord’s palace, but judging by the shouted orders and the men hauling ropes the ship would not be going that far.

Indeed, a moment later the first mooring line was flung to a waiting dockworker, and the ship’s forward motion stopped. Morvash watched with interest as that first rope was used to haul a much larger, heavier rope, which was then secured to a bollard at the end of a wooden dock. A second line quickly followed, then a third and a fourth; when those had been pulled tight, securing the ship to the dock, two more were added. That seemed unnecessarily thorough to Morvash, but he assumed the sailors knew what they were doing. Their movements seemed assured and practiced.

Once all six lines were secured the gangplank was run out, and the bustle on the deck shifted focus. Most of the sails had been taken in before venturing into the crowded waters of the canal, but now the remaining canvas was furled and various parts of the ship’s superstructure were secured or rearranged. It all seemed to be happening very quickly.

Morvash turned his attention to the dock just as a carriage came rattling to a stop. He squinted, trying to see better; the coach was painted in the family colors, maroon and silver, so it was probably his uncle’s. He straightened up, turned toward the stern, and called, “May I go ashore now?”

The captain was standing on the afterdeck, keeping an eye on his ship and crew, but now he glanced down at the wizard. “Please yourself,” he said.

Morvash nodded, and made his way to the gangplank.

His feet had just landed on the dock when the carriage door opened and a man stepped out, a man considerably fatter than Morvash remembered his uncle to be, and with gray hair rather than black – but it had been a long, long time.

“Morvash?” the fat man called.

“Uncle Gror?” Morvash picked up his pace, and the two men met and embraced midway between the ship and the coach.

“Welcome to Ethshar of the Spices!” Gror exclaimed. “You’ve grown!”

“I would hope so,” Morvash said. “I was eight the last time you saw me.”

Gror laughed. “And here you are, a grown man and a wizard! It’s been too long.”

“You could have come to visit,” Morvash said. “My mother and Uncle Kardig would have been glad to see you.”

“Oh, I’ve seen all I need of Kardig,” Gror said, slapping Morvash on the back. “He’s here every year, and all he does is complain about the prices.”

“I can believe it,” Morvash replied. “But when was the last time you saw my mother?”

“Far too long ago, I admit it,” Gror said. He looked past his nephew at the ship. “How was your voyage? Do you have luggage?”

“The journey went well enough,” Morvash said. “We had calm seas, and I was able to frighten off the pirates near Shan with a simple pyrotechnic spell.”

“I don’t suppose the captain saw fit to pay you for defending his ship?”

“Of course not. But I did eat better after that.”

“And your luggage?”

“I’m afraid there’s a lot of it – possibly more than will fit in your carriage. Shall I hire a wagon to have it brought to the house?”

“Oh, I’ll have my staff fetch it. Just tell the captain.”

“I think that would be the purser’s concern, but I’ll tell someone.”

“I hope there won’t be any serious pilferage.”

Morvash laughed. “Uncle, I’m a wizard! Nobody steals from a wizard. I’ve drawn runes on every case, just to be sure.”

Gror looked intrigued. “What sort of runes? What do they do?”

Morvash smiled and leaned close. “Nothing,” he whispered. “But they look like magic, and that should be enough.”

Gror smiled back. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t meddle with a wizard’s belongings if I saw mystic runes on them. Come on, then, say your farewells to the captain, and let’s get home.”

Morvash started to say something about it not being his home, but he caught himself. It was his home now, at least for the moment. Instead he turned back to the ship and called out.

Twenty minutes later the carriage rolled through the elegant gates of Gror’s mansion on Canal Avenue, in the heart of the district still called the New City more than two centuries after it was built. The gates were wrought iron, depicting a pair of dragons; the house itself was of fine yellow brick, with broad windows, white-painted trim, and a red tile roof. It blended nicely with its neighbors. Morvash looked up at the elegant facade and frowned; except for the bright colors it seemed rather plain, with no turrets or gargoyles. In fact, most of the buildings here seemed pale and insubstantial compared to the architecture of his native city, Ethshar of the Rocks – wood and brick and plaster, instead of the dark, solid stone structures of home. It probably came of using the materials that came readily to hand; after all, it was called Ethshar of the Rocks for a reason, while Ethshar of the Spices was built on clay and sand.

A footman opened the carriage door, and another was holding open the door to the house; Morvash climbed out of the coach, then waited for his uncle to lead the way inside.

“I hope you’ll like it here,” Gror said, as they crossed the forecourt. “As I understand it, you’re planning an extended stay?”

“Yes,” Morvash said. “Uncle Kardig… well, he and Mother think it would be unwise to show my face in the Rocks or Tintallion for the foreseeable future.”

“Is it as serious as all that?”

“I don’t really know,” Morvash admitted, as they climbed the steps. “It seems to be. But honestly, Uncle Gror, I didn’t have any choice. Doing what they wanted would have been a violation of Wizards’ Guild rules, and I swore to obey the Guild law – I could be killed if I broke it.”

“Did you tell Kardig that?”

“Of course!”

“I suppose he thought you were just making excuses. I know he had really been looking forward to having a wizard in the family.”

Morvash stepped past the footman into the hall, planning to reply, but once he was inside the house he stopped dead. “By the gods!” he said.

Gror smiled at him. “Impressive, isn’t it?”

“All these statues!” Morvash said, staring.

“Lord Lendessin collected them,” his uncle said. “The whole house is jammed with statuary of one sort or another.”

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