Chapter One Snippets
Epik’s throat burned with the fire of a thousand suns. Well, maybe not a thousand suns but at least two or three. His tongue stroked around his mouth, feeling like the sandpapery tongue of a cat, dry, and without any attachment to him.
“Could I have a sip of water?” he croaked.
“No. Water is for the weak. Are you weak?”
Epik knew the right answer. And he knew the honest one. He didn’t answer. His shoulders burned, too. And his neck, it ached with pain and stiffness. Becoming a knight was proving difficult. Even more difficult than he had at the outset.
His body was sore in places he never knew muscles existed, places like the fold of skin between his shoulder blades and the lower arch of his back. There was also one tender spot on his thigh, above the knee. Epik’s neck had never been so taught and frozen. And the lactic acid built up at the base of his spine.
Yes, becoming a knight was proving much more difficult than he had ever imagined… But also, different.
“And it’s ‘may I’.’” Sir Wallack, the fat man sitting across from Epik said, stuffing his napkin into the neck of his shirt. “Now have another bite of the chicken.”
“I don’t think I—” Epik managed to say with his cotton mouth before being cut off.
“I didn’t I ask if you wanted it.”
Epik looked for the darkest piece he could find. For skin. For fat. But the chicken breast in front of him was absent of anything useful to his dry mouth, including flavor.
Yes, becoming a knight was far different than he’d imagined. There was far less fighting and a good deal more eating.
“Eat up,” Sir Wallack said. He stood and strode behind Epik. The halfling couldn’t see what, but then he felt yet another thick book get placed on the growing stack on his head.
Epik’s neck wavered a moment. “One more bite!”
Sergeant—that is, Captain Todder looked out his office window. Outside, the sun was bright. There was hardly a wisp of a cloud in the sky. The Bay, however, was choppy as a silent wind gusted—the first whispers of fall. White capped waves bounced against several of the ships now bustling toward the river.
If there was one thing Todder could say for the king, and really there were several things he could say, but the one that came to mind now: the king had a knack for business. Everything was bustling, not just the ships. But all manner of businesses were booming—even the magic shops that had briefly been closed were now open and thriving. Todder had never seen Dune All-En so busy. So prosperous.
King Epiman had even seen fit to call back the Navy. And now, a monstrous destroyer lurked ominously in the center of all the commotion in the Bay. Its large sails were folded, as the ship was anchored in the center of it all, but its cannons were poised and ready.
Todder tapped his finger against his chin, deep in thought—deep for him might be shallow for most, but being a tall man, he was in the water at least to his knees—where many of the folk of the city would be drowning. He was having trouble getting used to the idea of captain. It was just… Well, it was just he’d been a sergeant for so long, almost his whole twenty-year career, up until that troll business a few months back where he had left his post and helped defend the city. He even helped dethrone the false king, Nacer. And the new king, King Epiman, had seen fit to promote him all the way to captain.
And really Todder had never been good with names, now it seemed not even his own. Captain Todder, he thought, reminding himself.
Captain Todder, he thought again.
Nope, this time he hadn’t thought it. This time, it was actually his name being called out loud.
“Uh, Captain,” the watchman at the door said. “You needed to see me?”
“Yes,” Todder said, nodding.
He was getting a bit better with names. But perhaps that was due to the name tags now adorning all military uniforms. One such name tag was looking Todder square in the face. Its owner, a stout young man by the name of Schulz, stood in front of Todder’s desk with a questioning look on his face.
Todder was forgetting something.
“Right,” he uttered, remembering. “The paperwork.”
He handed a fat stack of folded parchment over to Corporal Schulz.
“Whoa.” Schulz felt the weight of it. “How many this week?”
“Over a hundred,” Todder said. “A hundred new recruits. K’nexes is doing a right fine job. And you lot, well, it all goes to you, too. Now doesn’t it? Each week we get a whole bunch of new watchmen. Each week they’re out patrollin’ and catchin’ more criminals. And then those criminals… well, they end up in the stack.”
“But what’ll we do when—”
“Don’t you say it,” Todder said. “The day there’s no crime in Dune All-En is the day I’m dead… or worse.”
Todder gave the lad a look. “Well, Corporal Schulz, best be on your way.”
“It’s, um, Shultz, sir.”
Todder stared at the tag above the lad’s left breast. “Nope, believe it says Schulz, right there. No T.”
“Well, my father pronounces it—”
“Listen, son, why don’t you have the tailor just put in that T, if it’s so important.”
“But my father—”
Todder sighed. “Fine. Corporal Schultz,” he said, emphasizing the T. “Please send those down to be filed.”
“Too much T, sir.”