This week, I’m sharing out the current drafts of the prologue and first chapter of The Book with a little bit of commentary. Click here if you’d like to to start from the beginning!
In the second scene of the first chapter, we return to Lastern and offer up the perspective of Lennais (len-EYE-iss), another focal character. I had tried a few different (more direct) ways of introducing him before coming upon this one. As it currently stands, out of all the opening matter, this is the scene with which I am most satisfied.
“Father should be out, shortly,” piped the coal-haired boy as he re-entered the forechamber.
Lennais acknowledged the comment with a distracted nod, surveying the room around him. The midday sun lanced through a few well-positioned windows and sent streaks of light along a floor of hewn stone, beaming off the ornate pot of an exotic plant amidst the otherwise modest furnishings. Like his two companions who stood stiffly to either side behind him, he was wrapped in a long hooded cloak of brown wool, its cowl covering his nose and mouth. A pair of mercenary soldiers who stood outside the door through which they had come remained at their post.
The only other among them, a well-dressed woman who looked to be the boy’s mother, placed a hand upon the child’s shoulder. “I just had a fresh batch of biscuits baked if you would like some while you wait,” she offered pleasantly. “Or perhaps some spiced wine?”
“My thanks,” Lennais responded, “but we do well enough.” She smiled politely and inclined her head.
Another minute passed before the banker came forth to meet his guests, holding a hand over his mouth in a vain attempt to stifle the rough burps which escaped his lips. “Ah, welcome,” he greeted after a forced swallow. “My apologies; I was not expecting you for another few hours. But, no matter – it is good to meet you, yes.” He clasped his hands together as his features were graced by a grin that oozed the murk of insincerity.
“Where shall we speak?” asked Lennais.
“Right this way, my friend,” the banker gestured.
Lennais followed him into a smaller back room which was lit by slotted windows in the ceiling. His two companions came close in tow, keeping behind him when he stopped before the desk at which the banker seated himself.
The banker was a tall but portly fellow, clad in an ostentatious array of brightly colored silks and linens, sporting a short cap of black curls which trailed down the sides of his square face to meet the neatly braided beard which dangled from his chin. He laced his fingers together and leaned forward across his desk, raising his brow as he inspected his potential clients. “Now, then – what sort of transaction are you looking to make?”
Lennais stepped forward, producing a golden auring from a pouch within his garment. “I have some lucrative business with a few Avenic merchants.” He turned the gold piece over in his hand and made a show of scrutinizing it. “But they don’t care much for Lasterene coin.” He set it upon the banker’s desk. “I was told you are the man to facilitate me.”
The banker smiled again and picked up the coin. “Ah, you need Indolic Standards.” He opened a drawer in his desk and withdrew a larger coin, offering it over. “You were told right, my friend.”
Lennais took the piece for examination. The coinage left over from the fall of the Candaens was plentiful, and still used as international currency. Unlike the Lasterene aurings, which bore a crown on one side and a scepter the other, the Indolic Standard Gold Piece was only single-struck, displaying a simple sun with nine thin rays drawing out toward the edge. The specimen Lennais held was light in his palm, and in good repair.
“You could travel the world the rest of your life and not find a better deal than what I can give, my friend,” the banker continued. “Three standards to four aurings.” He must have seen Lennais’s eyes widen, for then he chuckled, “I have a lucrative arrangement of my own.”
“A respectable offer,” Lennais agreed, tossing the coin up and catching it. “Shall we make an exchange?”
The banker pushed himself to his feet and stepped over to one corner of the room, retrieving a small chest which he hefted upon his desk, then pulled a key from one of his various pockets to open. “How many are you looking to acquire?”
“More than that.” When the banker gave him a suspicious look, Lennais nodded to his companions, who quit the premises to return momentarily hauling a larger chest between them. Lennais unlatched the lid and threw it back, revealing the soft gleam of the aurings piled within.
For a moment the banker stared, then nodded as his smile slowly returned. He made his way over to the heavy door behind him, produced another key to unlock it, and pulled it open. He entered the vault and grunted as he pushed out a sizeable trunk, then removed the cover and waved a hand proudly over its contents.
The gold inside had even more splendor than Lennais’s own. “These appear to be in exceedingly good condition for being more than three-thousand-year-old coin,” he observed.
The banker shrugged amicably. “Gavendail still mints them, you must know. I have a fresh source, and men like yourself get to take advantage of this generous bargain. Everyone profits.”
Lennais reached into his cloak and withdrew a dagger.
The banker started, taking a step back and holding his hands up before him. “Come, now… They may not be Candaenic, but they are still good coin. Gold is gold, my friend.”
“Gold is gold,” Lennais conceded, giving the coin another thoughtful turnover. He then drove the tip of his dagger into it; rather than denting, it scraped, revealing the black underneath. “But this is gilt iron.”
With a mournful sigh, the banker put down his hands and regarded the counterfeits, lowering his voice. “Your merchants need not know that before they accept payment. An attractive offer, a weighted casket… They are busy men.” That slimy grin made another appearance. “I am prepared to give you one for one, auring for standard. You will get twice what you pay for, I promise you. Everyone profits.”
“I fear your time for profiting on forgery is at an end,” Lennais remarked. “This operation cannot be allowed to continue.”
The banker pursed his lips. “Think carefully before doing anything foolish. I have guards waiting outside.”
“So do we.” Lennais gestured at his companions, who removed their cloaks to reveal suits of chainmail underneath, over which lay light sleeveless surcoats emblazoned with the crown-and-sword sigil of the First Order. “And they do not fight for false coin.”
Sir Lennais Sorell, Vice Commander of the First Order of the Crown, removed his own cowl and drew his sword. A tall and lean man, two years from thirty, he possessed the copper-tan skin of the north, a sharp nose, and deep brown eyes which matched the neck-length shag of locks above.
The knight fixed the grimacing banker with a steely stare and leveled his sword. “In the name of His Royal Majesty King Malcolm IV, you are hereby commanded to submit yourself into the custody of the Court for the crime of circulating tender counterfeit to a currency recognized by the Crown, in full knowledge of the same.”
The banker’s face grew pale and his tongue stumbled, but he had few enough words to mitigate the accusation. He fumed silently but thankfully offered no resistance as Sir Ken Pollinder stepped forward to take him by the arm.
“Sir Baltan,” Lennais continued, slipping his sword back into its scabbard, “see to the confiscation of all monetary assets on the premises.” They would need to sort through everything the banker had, weeding out the counterfeit and using the legitimate to compensate those who were given false coin.
“All of—” the banker shook his head fervently as Ken escorted him from the room, looking back to the commander in despair. “You cannot, sir! Owl take you, these are—this is everything I have! My household earnings, my—my entire fortune!” He may have protested further, but the knight who held him turned him roughly about and continued marching him out of the building.
Lennais gave a nod to Baltan Clay, who set about to gathering the variety of chests and coffers together for transport, and stepped back into the forechamber. The banker’s son was huddled close against his mother, watching fearfully as his father was taken away from him. The wife regarded Lennais with a look of disgust, pulling her arms protectively around her child.
When Baltan came out behind, hoisting the first of the smaller chests over his shoulder, Lennais leaned over and said quietly, “We’ll not be likely to miss a small pouch of aurings, I should think.” The other knight offered back a quizzical look, but when he followed the commander’s eyes to the other two, he gave a hesitant nod before proceeding out the door. It is unlikely that the whole of the banker’s capital was gained illicitly, Lennais told himself, and more so that his family played party to his unsavory business.
He stepped toward the woman and child. “I know this is not an easy thing to bear, but if your husband should prove cooperative, he will be shown leniency,” he offered as a token of condolence. In response, the wife wrinkled her nose and spat at his feet. Lennais inclined his head. “May the Emerald Scholar guide you to prudence in your hardship,” he spoke with earnest before exiting the banker’s hold.
Lennais returned to the coach his party had taken as Ken was chaining the banker within it. He tasked a few of the city guards who had accompanied them with helping Sir Baltan load up the other carriage while he took inventory of the collected coinage.
It had taken over two moons’ time to track down the origin of the counterfeits’ circulation, involving three similarly set up exchanges, none of which accomplished much other than to give the Crown a healthier stock of foreign currency. It was difficult to determine how many times the forged pieces had changed hands by the time they were reported, let alone who along the line had been complicit in the scheme. Lennais supposed that those used to handling Lasterene coin might not immediately realize how much heavier an Indolic Standard should have been, or perhaps the initial outflow was typically done in large quantities as the banker suggested, but it seemed likely that the man they had just arrested was not the only guilty party.
With the distribution point removed, things could at least begin to normalize. From where the independent banker was receiving these coins, however, was another matter entirely. He could be persuaded to give up his source for some measure of clemency, Lennais did not doubt, but it was as likely as not that they came from across the sea, in which case all that could be done would be to keep an eye out for other potential distributors, should they be approached to pick up the arrangement.
He said as much to the Minister of the Treasury when he returned to court later that day.
“Mm,” the minister shook his head and waved his hand. “Little we can do but to stay vigilant,” he concurred. Hector Callistan was brother to the late queen, a wiry man with a bowl of fading blond atop his head and a close-trimmed beard encircling his mouth. “Belike we shall have Elbon issue a warning to the merchantry, now that our dispenser has been uncovered.” He set his hands upon his hips and looked away, twisting his mouth up as he sighed. “But that will be a matter for later. Excellent work, Commander. You’ve saved the realm a share of grief that might have been, I have no doubt.”
“You honor me, my lord,” Lennais bowed. “Though it was hardly my work, alone.”
“Lennais of Lithmark,” came an amiable voice behind him. “Will you ever learn to take a compliment?”
Lennais turned at the approach of Sir Galfrey Hornswell, Captain of the First Order. Though not quite so tall as Lennais, his commanding presence might have been enough to convince one otherwise were the two not standing adjacent. Straight and hard-bodied with piercing green eyes, his short-cropped hair had gone grey while his thin mustache and small triangular beard remained black as tar. Galfrey the Grand, he was called, Lennais’s greatest teacher and the finest knight he had ever known.
“Well met, sir,” Lennais greeted. “I am glad to see you have returned.”
Galfrey nodded. “As did His Majesty, amidst the night.” His tone took a turn for the somber. “Walk with me, Lennais; I fear we have foul tidings to discuss.”