Thursday, 2 May 2013

Preview: All The King's Bastards


They can't do that.” I rubbed at the stone set in my forehead.

My uncle Orlyan didn't look happy either. He leaned forward, heavy arms resting on the table between us, which complained loudly over the noises of the camp that were filtering through the fabric of the tent. Beyond that the sounds of a thousand axes reached us the from forest edge as land was cleared around the Eyrie, now to be known as the town of Roken, the northernmost point of the new Client State of Alendia. His clients were arriving in droves and making the lands of the Alendi their own. He and my father had succeeded magnificently and would both be the richer for it.

By contrast, I had just learned that I'd done even less well than I'd thought.

They can and they have,” my uncle repeated. “You were tried in your absence for the least of the charges against you, illegally raising troops in the name of the Assembly, and you were found guilty and sentenced.”

It's unconstitutional.” It was; no citizen of my class could be tried on any charge unless he was present to defend himself. Aside from the fact that I would have argued that I was technically innocent of the charge, though it was true that I'd gained the authority after I'd raised the troops. Until now I had considered that a mere detail.

You think I'm making this up, Sumto? The official notification of your exile is on its way here as we speak, and the legality of it is beyond question. The junior Consul raised the issue of your legal status with the Assembly, the Censor consulted the roles, the Pontifax Maximus himself scoured the temple's records and found that you had not so much as an ounce of gold stored there. Your legal status is Freeman, not citizen, your rights under the law that of a commoner. The Consul feigned surprise, the matter of your trial was passed to the Urban Praetor and the evidence against you reviewed, a judgment made and sentence passed before the sun went down that same day. You are a commoner under the law and you raised troops. You are guilty by definition. It's done and there's nothing we can do about it.”

I watched him watching me as the news sank in, slowly. “Tradition...” I let the sentence trail off. Traditionally the children of a Patron held the same class. But according to the constitution, class was established by gold held within the temples, relics of an ancient past when we held such buildings sacred. There was no heredity of class within the constitution; that the absence of personal wealth was traditionally overlooked for the offspring of the highest classes had no weight under the law. I re-arranged my internal landscape to accommodate the fact. Under the constitution I was a commoner, a man without sufficient surplus wealth to secure even the sixth class. Unrepresented and unprotected by the rights gained by membership of a class. The consequences were enormous, and the implications significant. It was too much to take in. It changed everything.

I stood up and began pacing the confines of Orlyan's command tent, thinking frantically. “My father was present at that meeting?”

He was. There was no division. How could there have been? It was a constitutional matter, beyond law or statute. It came as a complete surprise, but no one spoke against it.”

I kept my back to him as I poured wine for us and carried a cup back to the table for him, gulping down a good mouthful of my own as I did so.

I still couldn't sit. I was lost and I knew it. “There will be other charges.”

Of course, and it is clearly planned that you be absent for each trial.”

At least there was that. Each charge would be tried individually, a calendar month between them. To bunch charges together was a tool of tyrants; the assumption being that with so many charges the defendant must be guilty of something; conviction of one or more charges was almost assured. Thank fate for the constitution, at least in this instance.

I need to get some gold lodged with the temples and secure a class before the next trial,” I muttered, glancing his way as I passed, heading back to get more wine. I was exhausted, despite two days rest in Twobridges as his client's guest. “That way I can't be tried in absentia again.” And as an exile I clearly couldn't attend, so the rest of the charges would then have to await my return from exile. It was just putting things off, but that looked like being the best I could hope for.

The price of gold is on the rise.”

It would be. Patrons and Equestes were scrabbling to buy enough to secure their children's class, and their rights under the law, lest the same trick be pulled on them. Doubtless my father was not among them.

I gave it a moment as I poured more wine, a moment where Orlyan could comment that my father was taking care of it. My uncle sat silent, just as I'd expected. I turned back and raised my glass in ironic salute. “Next time you speak to my father, assure him that I have enough gold to secure at least the sixth class. No need for him to intervene on my behalf.” At least I hoped I had enough gold.

Orlyan's lips twitched but he didn't quite smile. He knew as well as I that no such intervention had been planned. “You managed to bring something out of the north, then?”

I had. Caliran had cleared the gold from my treasury at Darklake, but he and his men had been slain on the shore and the gold recovered by my men. I'd planned to use it to pay the maniple their spoils of the campaign. In fact, it had already been lodged with Orlyan's own camp treasurer for that purpose. I'd taken leave of Trethant and Parast, the two centurions , just minutes ago, having relinquished command of them as soon as we entered the camp. They were supervising the counting of the gold as their last duty to me. I just hoped there was enough to leave a little left over for my needs. Five thousand in gold would do. I might be lucky. I doubted it.

I gave an absent nod as I paced back to the table and sat down again. If there wasn't enough for me, I'd have to borrow the coin. A problem in itself. I didn't have a good reputation for returning borrowed money. After the events of today became common knowledge, I wouldn't have much of a reputation at all, with criminal and exile added to the count against me.


For the next two days I didn't do anything but rest. I developed a wet cough that came with a fever. The healers called it pneumonia and weren't surprised to hear that I had nearly drowned in the waters of Darklake. Or maybe I had drowned. My memories were fuzzy and confused, though two visions stood out strongly; myself as the husband of Jocasta and at peace, and myself as blood drenched warrior bringing ruin to the world. I shied away from both visions of the future, deeming each to be as impossible as the other. Aside from which, prophecy and religion go hand in hand and I do not choose to think of myself as a tool in the hand of some mythical god. In any case, I spent the next days under the care of the camp healers. The fever broke and the cough faded fast under their care but I stayed where I was. I needed the rest. Also, I had nowhere to go.

The healers had put me in a room of my own, as though I were an officer. I still held the white rod, still had imperium until the letter from the Assembly arrived to strip it from me, so technically I suppose I was. Meran ran errands for me and gathered supplies for a journey. He'd taken the news of my exile well; but then he probably didn't fully grasp what it meant.

I slept and ate and healed. No one visited, save Meran and the healers. There was plenty of time for the reality of my situation to sink in.

I can't have clients,” I told Meran as soon as the thought occurred to me.

He scrunched up his ugly, scarred face as he turned his attention from the clothes he packed. New clothes bought from the traders who had come to Roken to supply the burgeoning population. I didn't ask him where the money came from. It was probably his own. “It's temporary.”

I let the matter drop. He was a freedman and I was a freeman, our status under the law little different. He was free to do as he chose and had apparently chosen.

I have to write to Elendas.” I'd been meaning to do so anyway, to give him advice, make suggestions, formalize matters between us. His small kingdom would have had no status under our law as the Assembly had already put it beyond our borders. No citizen could pass north of Roken under the agreement I had made with the Keeplords. Everyone seemed to want the same thing. But between Elendas and I, there were issues to be addressed. Our relationship would be informal, and in any military sense I could only have helped him with foreign mercenaries. To advise and assist him I could have sent only slaves or foreigners. Now I couldn't do anything. He was not my client.

Does he need to know?”

I leaned my head back against the wall and looked up at the ceiling. “News will reach him. From here to Twobridges, from there to him.” My gaze wandered around the room, fell to the bedside table where a few loose leaves of paper lay. They were the maps of Darklake that I had taken from Caliran before his library had burned. Somehow they had come through intact and been unpacked here as part of Meran's attempts to organize me. I'd send the maps to Elendas, explain the situation, and probably never hear from him again. At least someone would make use of them. Darklake might still develop into the wealthy town I had imagined. Not that it would do me much good. I wasn't his patron. He wasn't my client. He owed me nothing.

A year isn't so long,” Meran offered as he put a writing table on my lap, setting out ink, pen and paper for me.

I knew what he meant. In a year my exile would be over. After the gold from Darklake was disbursed to the men of my maniple there had been two thousand in gold left for me. Not enough, but better than nothing. I needed more. Elendas might not be my client but there were the maps, and they had a significant value. And he had money. My money once, to be sure, but it was his now. I'd have to word the letter with care, but I saw no reason why he should not buy the maps for a reasonable sum. Enough to fix my most immediate problem, at least.

That money, when it arrived, would be lodged with my Uncle. He had agreed that he would, when I made the money available, send word to my father to place five thousand coin to secure me membership of the sixth class. After my exile was done I would have at least that status, and my legal right to acquire clients would be regained. Although I would not have much to offer them. The rights and privileges of the sixth class were nothing compared to those of the Equestes or Patrons.

And I would have the stigma of exile permanently hanging over me. Sumto the exile, to add to the list of black marks against my name. True, the Assembly would not be able to arrange trials in absentia while I was exiled. But I would still face the remaining charges on my return. Any optimism about the future faded over the horizon when I thought of it.

Stop sighing,” Meran sounded impatient.

I didn't realize I had. “What about you?”

He shrugged. “I'll take my chances with you.”

I didn't want to point out how well that had worked out for him so far. “Tunics.”


Buy the men tunics, the centuries of Trethant and Parast. The best quality you can find.” My mind was starting to clear from the fever and exhaustion. I had promises to keep, even if they were promises I'd made only to myself

He shrugged and left, not asking why. I had always liked him for that.

With what I promised myself would be my last sigh, I bent to the task of writing to Elendas, organizing what I wanted to say and how best to say it. It took a while.


Word from the Assembly arrived the next day. My Uncle Orlyan brought it to me himself. He also brought one of his officers with him.

He tossed the letter into my lap without any hint of formality. “As commander in the north, I've already been informed of the contents in dispatches. Read it and obey it.”

The room seemed crowded and I felt at a disadvantage. I was still in bed, though the healers had told me I was well enough to leave and should be moving if I expected to regain my strength. I'd pleaded exhaustion, which wasn't far from the truth. The last weeks had taken their toll, depleting my resources to the point where I felt I could lay in bed for weeks and do nothing but eat and sleep. A read, maybe. A woman would be nice but not really necessary. Nothing had been said, but I was sure they were rationing the amount of wine I took with meals. And it was well watered. If it weren't for Meran sneaking in the odd bottle, I would have been out of bed days earlier. As it was, I was content to stay there, crawling from my pit only to make the short journey to the latrines and the bathhouse. Slowly, I was starting to feel better.

Until now.

I eyed the letter where it lay, the seal of the Assembly seeming to glare at me like a malevolent eye. They were out to get me. Not all of them, certainly, but enough. They were putting their minds to it, whoever they were. First the charges, and then the idea of trials in my absence. Stripped of rank and class, and exiled, I would make an easy target should they want to finish the job.

I picked up the letter and broke the seal. There was really no other option. I skipped over the contents, picking out the significant meaning.

Having been found guilty of raising troops without authority... lay down imperium and its protections, giving them into the hand of the first representative of the city encountered... to be beyond eight hundred miles of the city by the middle of the sixth month, not to return within our borders for one year from that date on pain of death.

I didn't bother with the rest. Leaning from my bed, I scooped up a satchel containing my letter of authority and the white rod of my imperium and passed it to my uncle.

Orlyan took it without a word. He checked the contents and then passed the satchel to his witness. He frowned blackly at me for a moment and then tossed another letter on the bed at my feet. “Get up and be about it,” he told me, and left without looking back

The other letter was from my father. Well, I needed a distraction.


You were supposed to spy in the north, not embark on a war of conquest. I assumed you would understand that the imperium was a sinecure and a legal fiction, not a tool for your use. You have made a mess for us that it is going to take time to clean up. The ants' nest is stirred and will take time to settle. Better that you are out of things, dealt with as far as certain factions within the Assembly are concerned. Still, some good has come of it; I now know more than I did and have potentially gained some leverage over certain others of my peers. Better it had been done quietly, but at least it is done.

Sapphire will stay in the north, so don't wait for him. While you are in exile, you might as well be doing something useful. A king who owed me much has recently died, leaving his Kingdom of Brithada to me in his will. I have no time to deal with this. Go to Brithada and interview his illegitimate heirs, for none are legitimate; select the one most likely to be malleable and offer him client status. The mere knowledge that he has my backing should be enough to quell opposition and see him to his throne. You may call for military support from Ysindral if needs be. Make sure there is no need. Armies cost money and that money would be wasted in this instance.

Orlyan will provision you.

Try not to make a mess. Destroy this.

The letter was unsigned.

Your loving father, Valarian,” I muttered sarcastically to myself.

Both angry and dispirited, perhaps depressed, I got myself out of bed and went for a bath. I needed to think and I always do my best thinking while soaking in hot water.


The afternoon found me wandering the camp, more or less aimlessly. I had fresh clothing and physically felt better than I had since my incarceration at Undralt. My body was looking forward to weeks, perhaps a whole year, without being battered, burned or half drowned. I felt well, both rested and recovering, but I still hadn't made any decision. I knew I would have to talk to my Uncle about Valarian's suggestion before I left, but the middle of the month was far enough away that I didn't feel pressed. Each day I remained here was a day that I was fed without cost. And money was the ever present problem. Trethant had come through with a little over two thousand in gold for my use but that was already earmarked for another purpose. If I didn't take my father's offer I would be pressed for funds. If I took the job on, I would be funded sufficient to make it possible to carry out the task. My choices were between penniless and idle or just hard-up and with a job to do.

Neither course of action appealed to me.

The camp was pretty much empty during the day. My Uncle was using his men to drive a road south; the road north having been abandoned due to recent events. To either side of that work in progress, the forest had been cleared for half a mile. The trees didn't lie where they were felled, but were dragged up to the new town of Roken, to be laid down for timber or fashioned into log cabins that would serve the new population for their first year or more, until they could afford better. I climbed the walls to watch the process for a while, until a sentinel politely asked me to bugger off. That stung, but he was right to do it. As I climbed down and turned to scan the near empty camp, I wondered what I thought I was doing.

Thinking. Or trying to. I had to go somewhere, and I would have to make a decision. Other Patrons might send their sons a long list of friendly clients who would put them up for a year in good style, but not mine. Not that I can blame him much; I'd abused his familial generosity shamelessly over the years. I could hardly blame him that it had run out now, when I actually needed it.

South would mean passing through, or at least close to, the city before I started putting eight hundred miles between me and it. That didn't seem like a good idea either. East would take me to Our Sea in fairly short order, and west would take me to the western sea almost as quickly. Of the two, I preferred Our Sea; we don't call it ours for no reason. It would be safer, and the western sea had nasty things called tides to contend with, not to mention fierce storms that could wreck any vessel not protected by a weather mage. Also in the west was Brithada, where my father wanted me to go; though it was rather more south than west, I'd already calculated that river and sea passage would be a far easier route to the sea than slogging through endless miles of dense and mountainous woodland..

In some ways the decision seemed an easy one. Do what my father wanted and take some money to get it done. The simple fact was that I didn't want to. I ran through the options again, and again saw that there weren't any. Still I prevaricated. There was no rush. I could make the necessary journey in plenty of time. I could rest here before heading west, through the lands of the Ensibi, for whom this war had originally been fought, to the border of the Kingdom of Aratria where there was a mighty river and plenty of river traffic to the coast and the port of Vantira. Then to sea.

The dangerously storm-ridden western sea. There was plenty of time. I didn't have to decide now, so I wouldn't. I turned and walked in the shadow of the wall and let my mind settle on unnecessary things.

Maybe I should write some letters home; to my mother and sisters. Maybe later. Or Jocasta.

I winced. What would I say to Jocasta? You were right to leave me. I'm... I sighed, kicked a clod of earth thrown up by hob-nail boots. Broke. A commoner. An exile. Not worthy of you. Not by half. Maybe never was.


I needed a diversion. Something to keep my thoughts from running in circles, something to keep me from dwelling on... well, the past. That was the problem. Everything I wanted was in the past; I was left with what was possible. All the advantages I'd taken for granted since childhood were gone. My Uncle hadn't so much as invited me to dine with him, though he must know I was well enough to make that short journey. He wouldn't. I was the wrong class.

True, I mused as I headed for the north gate, thinking to take in a view of the Eyrie as it transformed itself into the new town of Roken, true that we had never exactly been close. Also true that in other families I might have volunteered some of the intelligence I had gathered about the north. An invitation to speak more of it over a meal might then have been forthcoming. But he hadn't asked and I hadn't offered him anything. In fact, I'd sent but one letter to my father from Darklake, and that spare of information. I'd assumed that Sapphire would be giving regular reports, had alluded to that in the letter by use of the phrase, 'ask Sapphire for details,' and 'you will have learned from Sapphire.' Well, where was Sapphire now? In the north, doing the same job, the job that my father had clearly never truly needed me for. It had been, as he had said, a sinecure. Something to do that would advance my career and place me as a useful piece on his game board; just like my Uncle. I didn't doubt for a second that half the people migrating to Roken were my father's clients. Probably more than half. My Uncle may have fought the war but I was pretty sure my father had funded it.

I was doing it again. Dwelling, brooding. I lifted my head and straightened my back. Just ahead of me, the two guards on the gate turned at my approach. My footsteps crunched on the gravel that had been compacted onto stone slabs to form the surface of the road. They watched but made no move to bar my passage. Now that the area was secure, they were there to keep an eye on things, not challenge everyone who passed.

I looked past them at the mile or so that lay between us and the Eyrie. There were two or three hundred people in sight , leading draft horses pulling out the stumps of trees or dragging the logs up to the new town. The cleared land would be used for pasture, I guessed. The walls were being repaired; Roken would remain a walled town. Behind me I could hear wagons on the new road, passing through the fort. The sound of it all drifted to my ears on a warm breeze as I stepped between the guards.

New tunic, patron?”

I stopped and glanced at the soldier who had spoken. His voice didn't seem baiting but good humored, so I responded in kind. “Can't afford one,” I told him. “And it's patron no more.” I was bored. If they wanted to talk, I'd stop and talk a moment.

We heard, patron.” He didn't sound happy about it. “Trethant's century is billeted by ours,” his attention was focused on the wagons behind me.

And that's not all we heard,” the other chimed in. “we heard you stood against an army on your own after doing for a priest by drowning him and damn near drowned yourself to do it, and that after a full night's fighting and worse the day before.”

Word gets around, patron.”

Hetkla told that they found you in Learneth, having taken on the whole town and beat them so thoroughly there was nothing left for the men to do.”

Then rode out after your enemies alone and dealt with the last of the necromancers while you were about it.”

And that with a head wound newly treated.”

That hadn't been the way it had happened, but I couldn't see any easy way to tell the truth of it. “I had good men with me all the way,” I told them.

The noise of the wagons was louder now and the two men moved a little to watch them as they closed on the gate.

Veterans,” the first soldier agreed. “Hard men to impress.”

I glanced over my shoulder. I needed to move to clear the road, and their attention wasn't on me any longer. I stepped through the gate.

You ever need the loan of a tunic...”

I glanced back but neither soldier was looking at me as they raised a hand to halt the wagons. won't need to look far to find one.”

There was nothing to say and no one waiting to hear it, so I left them to their duties and headed for Roken. Maybe there was some beer left in the keep of the Eyrie.

Though this time I'd have to pay for it.



  1. Poor Sumto, nothing ever works out for him. lets see how sumto handles this curveball. How is the progress on the editing and cover image?

  2. He's pretty tough, our Sumto. There are a lot of conclusions and resolutions, hence my earlier comment that it's the end of the series - but I'm thinking the end of this section now. Effectively the four books are one novel.

    Edit's coming along nicely. Cover is agreed; Keith Draws is a bit of a genius on the quiet and came up with an idea I could never have thought of. Both soon, then. Maybe the end of the month? Yes, with luck the end of this month.

    All the best.

  3. Great!! looking forward this book

  4. Thanks G, I have the book back from my editor. So we are on schedule for the end of the month.

  5. Good news, read your Preview looks like sumto is as lucky as always:)

  6. Well, he tries to be good and make better decisions, but it is very hard for him. ;)

  7. If the editing is finished and just the cover image is the remaining issue, might there be a possibility to purchase eARC of "All the kings bastard"? Just dying to to read it :)

  8. Hi Bani. I'm sorry to report that it's the edit; always takes a bit of time. Only a few days to go, my friend. Patience isn't a virtue, imho, but sometimes... when there's no choice... :0) I'll release the same day I complete the edit. Soon. Very soon.