Dùthchas of the Clan McClintock
(Formerly northern California and southern Oregon)
High Kingdom of Montival
(Formerly western North America)
May/Satskui 17th, Change Year 46/2044 A.D./Shōhei 1
“That looks like a training kata as much as a dance,” Reiko said to her guard commander the morning after their arrival at Diarmuid Tennart McClintock’s steading.
I must ground myself in practicalities for now, she thought. That dream… I wish I could remember more.
Heat and light, desolation, thirst, fear. Then the looming castle, and the knowledge that death or transfiguration awaited within.
Or do I wish to remember more? Father told me of his visions, but I also saw how they rode and drove him. Have I the strength to bear that burden without breaking? Because I must.
A drum thuttered and a flute played. Two of the McClintocks moved in perfect unison, the broad four-foot blades of their greatswords flashing in the early sun. Every dozen or so moves they would face each other, parrying with a hard clang of metal on metal as the flats met, then turning and slashing at arm-thick wooden posts with a great shout… and taking a section off with each blow. Reiko blinked at the hard thock sounds—when her people used live steel in practice like this, they struck at water-soaked mats of woven rice straw rolled up and tightly bound around a bamboo post.
“It is a kata, Majesty,” Egawa said, frowning intently. “And those things aren’t as clumsy as they look. Not as fast as a katana, of course, but then they are more than twice the weight—around five pounds, from the one I hefted. In a duel, I would be confident against either of those men, but in a melee… even in my armor, I would not like to be hit by one.”
This was evidently a slack season for the local people, whose way of life didn’t involve nearly as much steady grinding toil as that of the rice-growing peasants and sea fishermen she was familiar with. The fall-planted crops wouldn’t be ready for harvest until after midsummer, and the spring crops were in the soil and needed only weeding. At home they would be planting the first early rice; this month was named for that.
Out in the river was a curious device like a waterwheel on an anchored boat, which operated a helix-like rotating wicker scoop that lifted salmon into holding pens. It wasn’t working now, though if you looked for a moment you could see the four-foot forms of the Chinook working their way upstream; a question had revealed there was a strict quota enforced by some religious taboo she couldn’t quite grasp on how many of the great fish could be taken in any one spot or time, to preserve the breeding stock. The allowable numbers taken from the first run were in brine-tubs and smoking-racks or waiting in wicker-fenced ponds to be eaten fresh. They did some hunting here all the year around—winter was the main trapping season for furs—but late fall was both the main salmon run and the time to hunt fat beasts migrating downward from the mountain pastures, and preserve them for the cold season by smoking and salting and pickling, in jars and in underground pits lined with ice. She couldn’t imagine wanting to live this way, but in the abstract it had its merits.
So this was a time for visiting and music and the arts, or dancing and sport of the sorts difficult in winter; sport mostly consisted of running, leaping, wrestling, shooting, tossing rocks and logs, and practicing with their arms.
“Individually they are not bad at all,” Egawa said. “Their coordination is elementary at most, though.”
A few of her Imperial Guards were shooting their yumi at the targets, weapons that looked very odd to the McClintocks because their grips were two-thirds down from the upper tip. So did the shooting style, which started with bow and arrow held high and then drawn as it was lowered. The results opened their eyes though, and produced some enthusiastic cheers.
“But there are many of them,” Koyama said, startling her a little; he’d been very silent since the… alarming incident with the shamaness yesterday. “Majesty, I think that book the Princess gave us speaks the truth. The jinnikukaburi outnumber us by about three to one. The Montivallans outnumber them around four to one… which means there are…
“Twenty of them for each of us?” Egawa said, sounding slightly alarmed.
“Somewhere between twelve and twenty,” Koyama said. “If we wish to involve them in our war—and yes, we do, we must—it would be well to keep in mind all the implications.”
She nodded at that, including the parts which would be tactless to speak aloud; she didn’t think anyone but Princess Órlaith spoke her language, but she wasn’t absolutely sure. According to the records, Japan had been more or less a client state of the old Americans between the end of the Pacific War in Shōwa 19 and the Change in Heisei 10, though it had been a gentle overlordship if you didn’t count the terrible destruction at the end of the struggle, the hand of power mostly kept hidden in the sleeve. Certainly Japan had achieved unimaginable heights in numbers and wealth during that period.
Nippon’s need for help against the jinnikukaburi was urgent… but it would be unfortunate if the price in the long term was a renewal of tributary status. On the other hand…
Egawa grunted. “The Montivallans are six thousand miles across the Pacific from our homeland,” he said. “While the jinnikukaburi are far too close across the Sea of Japan. It is good to think in the long term, Grand Steward Koyama-san, but first we must ensure that there is a long term for us, other than as jinnikukaburi night-soil fertilizing their paddies.”
“Hai, sore ha ichiri aru,” Koyama said, acknowledging the point.
“And six thousand miles is much further than it was before the Change,” Reiko said. “For good and ill. And as General Egawa says, the Americans… Montivallans, rather… do not wish to literally devour us.”
They looked over to the target range. The High King’s Archers were unlimbering their weapons, ready to make a contest of it. Órlaith was with them. She strung her bow by stepping through between string and belly, bracing the lower end against her left boot and bearing down with a thigh as she pushed up on the other limb with a twisting flex. That made the long hard muscles of her leg and arm stand out for a moment like living metal.
Odd style, but it works, Reiko thought, fascinated.
At first glance the Mackenzie yew longbows looked unsophisticated next to the seven-foot higoyumi, with their complex laminations of bamboo and hard wood and rattan, their binding bands of silk cord and coats of lacquer. Órlaith put an arrow to the string; the nock point was marked by a lead ring crimped to the hemp cord, which Reiko thought was clever. The Montivallan flicked a glance at her target—a man-shape of wood about a hundred and fifty yards distant—then drew and shot in a single motion. The method also looked odd to Japanese eyes; it started with the bow held down and the arrow pointing at the ground and the torso leaned forward, and ended with the body slightly crouched and feet wide-braced. In between was a twisting, writhing motion that looked as if it threw the torso between string and bow.
A whirr of cloven air and a solid thunk an instant later. Two more shafts were in the air when the first struck, and they grouped tightly in the target’s chest.
“Those yew bows are more than they appear at first glance,” Egawa said thoughtfully. “I examined several. The handpiece is a solid block of hardwood, with a cut-out so that the arrow can shoot through the center. And the yew of the limbs is a natural lamination—heartwood for compression on the belly, sapwood on the back for tension. They shape each into a double curve, you cannot see it when they’re strung. Quite effective. I prefer ours, I think they have less vibration and hand-shock, and we do not need a separate type for horseback use, but these are much quicker and cheaper to produce.”
Koyama nodded; his position as Grand Steward made him a connoisseur of costs and benefits. Reiko made a gesture of agreement as well, without taking her eyes away.
Edain came up to the archers. He was wearing only his bracer, kilt and knee hose and ankle boots, and the thin gold torc of a handfasted man; there was more grey in the disturbingly abundant hair on his chest and belly than in his oak-colored curls, and you could see the way the scars—mostly—stopped where his body-armour would cover his blocky thick-muscled torso. He spoke to Órlaith, and they both planted a dozen arrows in the short dense green turf at their feet. When they began to shoot the master-bowman moved with the unhurried precision of a hydraulic machine.
“Fetch my bow,” Reiko said over her shoulder.
One of the troopers hurried off; when he returned Reiko removed the haori she was wearing with her riding hakama. She tied on the black leather muneate plastron, slung a quiver with the golden chrysanthemum mon on its red lacquered surface, and donned the shooting gloves. Then she bound on a headband of white cloth with a single red dot in the middle of the forehead.
Egawa coughed discretely. “Majesty, you are quite good with the sword and very good with the naginata, staff and spear. So sorry, but with the bow you are merely… good.”
Reiko nodded. “Hai, sensei,” she said.
Teacher was both irony and truth; he’d overseen her martial education and administered much of it personally. When he had you under his thumb in a dojo or on the practice ground, there was neither deference nor mercy in Egawa Noboru.
“But I am good enough not to disgrace us, and I need the practice,” she said.
Egawa and Koyama watched as she adjusted her swords and walked off with bow in hand. After a moment Koyama spoke consideringly:
“The loss of Saisei Tennō was a terrible misfortune. But since then… we are lucky. So far,” he added when Egawa stirred.
“Don’t call anyone really lucky until their grandchildren are polishing their grave marker at Obon and lighting incense,” the soldier said dryly. “But, yes, so far we are… less unlucky than we might have been.”
“Now that’s interestin’,” Edain said with fascination in his voice, watching Reiko shoot. “Doesn’t seem natural, with the grip at the arse-end of the bow like that… but it doesn’t hurt either, eh? At seventh and last, it’s what the arrow does that counts.”
“Handy for horseback, too,” Órlaith said, moving her right arm in a circle to make sure the tendons were loose.
With the bow she was a bit above average even by Mackenzie standards, but unlike her father not even close to Edain’s level and would probably have had trouble enlisting in the High King’s Archers. Mainly because she didn’t have the time to focus on it; Mackenzies were a people of the bow, and started around the age of six. The exercise today was welcome. She hadn’t lost any edge, but it had been harder than it should have been. Physical skills like shooting the bow were things that had to be continuously maintained, not learned and set aside.
And today felt better than yesterday, more like a real day.
She didn’t want to rest too long, though. When she stopped she could feel the loss catching up with her again. Part of her wanted to just stop and let it crush her. It was going to be like that, a climb with falls.
“You can’t really use a longbow for mounted work,” she went on.
“Aye, you can, that,” Edain objected stoutly; the Clan also tended to be a bit defensive about their preferred weapon’s limitations. “It’s not easy, granted.”
“Granted a dog can walk about on its hind legs; the which is neither pretty nor swift and the amazement of the thing is that it’s done at all,” Órlaith retorted. “But for all it’s longer than a longbow, that she’s using would be near as easy as a horse-archer’s recurve, mounted. The height of it being all above the gripping hand and so not likely to hit horse or saddle.”
“Heads up,” Heuradys cut in to the technical discussion.
A drum was booming somewhere distant. The McClintocks all tensed for a moment, then relaxed at the pattern.
“Traveler coming, no’ a McClintock, but nae danger either,” Diarmuid said. “Tha gocaman are aa’ at their work, forbye. Gocaman, watchers,” he added, out of courtesy to the guests.
Reiko shot, lowered her bow, and frowned—Órlaith thought because she was trying to follow what the tacksman had said. That turned to a sober nod of approval as she parsed it out and realized he meant that the sentries at the approaches were alert.
They’re a ceremonious lot, these Nihonjin, the Montivallan princess thought. But there’s a streak of hard common sense in most of what they do. Businesslike, you might say. And Reiko not least. They’ve all learned in a stringent school, with no holidays.
Diarmuid went on, slightly louder, as his household began to chatter and point northward: “No need to cluck aboot like chickens, twa guests from outside in twa days is nae the sea rising to crush the land, nor yet the sky fallin’!”
Though it’s certainly not usual, Órlaith thought. From what he’s told me over the years, four outsiders a year is normal here, counting tinkers and peddlers.
A rider came into sight on the north bank of the river, which was steeper than this side on the stretch of the Rógaire that held Diarmuid’s holding. There was a ferry, a flat-bottomed scow linked to a cable rigged between two tall trees on either bank. The river wasn’t so wide here that a bridge would have been expensive beyond bearing, but the ferry was something that could be taken up quickly in an emergency without losing a capital asset.
The tiny figure dismounted, shoved the little craft into the water, and convinced all three of the horses onto it, not without what looked like some sharp argument involving tentative hooves and vigorous head-tossing at the insecure footing. That loaded it to full capacity or a bit more, and the passenger cautiously worked the crank that carried it across the swift current. On the south bank the rider vaulted easily back into the saddle and cantered in their direction.
“Royal courier,” Órlaith said after a moment.
She recognized the tack, the breed of the nondescript but enduring ponies, and the tight riding leathers that made it easier, or less hard, to take the brutal pounding of their duties.
“Aye,” Diarmuid said. “Dòmhnall, he’ll need stabling fra those thrae nags.”
“We’ve nae room, nor much hay, nor oats,” the young man with the ragged ear pointed out. “I cannae magic them oot o’ the ground, ye ken, nair pull ‘em frae ma backside.”
“Well, find wha’ ye can!” Diarmuid said.
He looked slightly harassed; the Tennarts kept only a few dual-purposes horses of their own, and were massively overloaded with the Royal party’s beasts. The manure for their fields was only a partial compensation.
“We’ll be on our way soon, Diarmuid, that we will,” Órlaith said gently.
It was a perfectly legitimate anxiety, since there was simply no easy way to get more fodder or oats into the steading; no amount of gold could compensate for the fact that there was no wagon road. He’d already driven all his own livestock up to the shielings, the mountainside summer pastures, considerably earlier than was wise given the possibility of late freezes or snow on the heights. Bad weather now could cost his family assets it would take years to fully replace. She reminded herself to check on that later; gold could replace livestock, since an animal carried itself, and though Diarmuid wouldn’t ask she’d see any losses replaced.
The courier drew rein and raised a hand in salute. It was a woman; Órlaith recognized her, one of the small corps of endurance riders the Crown reserved for urgent work. Susan Mika—Clever Raccoon—was a slender dark wire-tough youngster in her late teens or early twenties, with her black braids done up high on the back of her head in a fashion out of the eastern marchlands of the Kingdom. Right now she looked a decade older with exhaustion and a liberal coating of mud and dust and mixtures of the two, and anyway she’d never specified her birth-year.
She’d shown up at court eighteen months ago with a recommendation from the High King’s friend and blood-brother Rick Three Bears, who was prominent in the loose government of the Lakota tunwan… and her uncle. And accompanied by a private note that the bearer had good if unspecified reasons not to want to go back to the makol, the short-grass prairies where her people hunted the buffalo. Not anytime soon, if ever, and as a favor to his old comrade-in-arms could Rudi find her something to do anywhere else in Montival, please.
Even for a Lakota she rode well and had passed the tests for the couriers with flying colors, though this wasn’t generally the sort of work women did among the folk of the Seven Council Fires. Which might have been involved in her wanting to leave home, though she had said not a word about it. She had all the quick hot pride of the lords of the high plains though, and had added a few Lakota touches to her standard gear: fringes down the outside of her pants, and beadwork on the sheath of her shete, the broad-bladed curved cutting sword common east of the Rockies, and on her bow-case.
“Scephaŋši, lila tanyan wacin yanke,” Órlaith said, in her tongue: “Good to see you, cousin-who-is-female.”
It wouldn’t have been polite to use personal names while she was speaking Lakota. Not in public among strangers; and anyway, she actually was a cousin by that people’s rather elastic definition, since Órlaith’s parents had been formally adopted by Rick’s father’s extended family while they were on the Quest before she had been born. She’d spent a long summer stay there in her teens that she remembered very fondly, and had acquired a Lakota name herself: Wanbli win, Golden Eagle Woman.
“Han, mis eya, scephaŋši,” the courier replied. “You too, cousin.”
In English again, Clever Raccoon went on a little awkwardly: “I’m really sorry to have this duty, Your Highness. Your father… sorry if I’m putting my foot in it, but… he was always really good to me. He… he understood and…”
It was getting easier to accept condolences. She was starting to feel them as tributes to her father, rather than blows on her own heartstrings to make her soul quiver in pain. She’d yet to come across anyone who’d known him who hadn’t been touched in a good way when their world-lines crossed.
Except for his enemies, and they’re mostly dead, Órlaith thought dryly.
The messages were rolled in sealed tubes of boiled varnished leather. She took a deep breath and accepted them.
The first had the Chancellery seal. It was from Father Ignatius, the priest-monk from the Order of the Sword of St. Benedict who’d been Lord Chancellor of the High Kingdom as long as there had been a High Kingdom. He’d also been one of the original nine who’d gone on the Quest to Nantucket with her father and mother after the Sword of the Lady, and was the only person who’d ever made her seriously consider being a Christian. If her father hadn’t been… well, her father… it might have worked. She could see the calm tilted almost-black eyes and steady, almost compulsively reasonable voice in her mind as she broke the wax, twisted the cylinder open and read.
The first part was simply information, typewritten: Your father’s funeral will be held at Dun Juniper in late October, with your grandmother Lady Juniper presiding.
She nodded: that was Samhain, the festival of the dead, though the Christian priest wasn’t outright saying so. And who else to conduct it but his mother, she who had been Goddess-on-Earth for so long?
In the interim, Her Majesty your mother wishes you to return to her and the remainder of your family at Castle Todenangst, bringing your father’s remains and traveling as quickly as is possible without giving offense, and recommends that you mainly use the West Valley Railway with as few diversions as possible. A special hippomotive—
—which was a treadmill arrangement with gearing to let horses propel a train much faster than they could on their own hooves—
—will be waiting at the Eugene salvage station and relays of fresh horses at the appropriate rest points. The High Queen strongly recommends that your Japanese guests be invited to stay at an appropriate estate near Todenangst until the most urgent family matters are concluded. I concur.
Beneath that was a note in his own neat script:
My child, your father was my King, who it was an honor to serve before all others, saving only God, the Virgin, and Holy Mother Church. But even before that he was my comrade-in-arms, and we fought together against the Adversary’s minions. Presiding at his and your mother’s wedding was the proudest purely human moment of my life as a priest. Above all, and always, he was my friend. No man ever had a better. Beloved child, I grieve with you as at the loss of a dear brother.
Her mother’s was shorter and simpler: My golden girl, bring him home to us.
She shuddered and bent her head, holding the stiff rolls to her forehead until a stab of physical pain broke the moment. Then she took a long breath and looked up. Heuradys was standing ready, not pushing forward, just… there.
Thank her Grey-Eyed Lady, Herry always will be there for me, all our lives.
It made everything seem less… crushing. Not less painful, but less hopeless.
“Herry, Mom wants me to join her at Todenangst. And…”
She handed over the messages. “Family only,” Heuradys said, reading them quickly and nodding. “I completely understand, Orrey. Look, why don’t I put up Her Highness and the rest of her menie at Ath?”
“Can you?” Órlaith asked, sighing a little with relief; that would be very convenient, since Barony Ath was close to Todenangst—not to mention being near a railway line and hooked into the heliograph net. “They’ll be there for a while, not just a day or two. They’re probably going to feel isolated enough without trying to split them up. But Mom and the Chancellor are right, it’ll be better to keep them out of town or Todenangst for now. Close but not right there.”
“I think so…”
She paused to consider. “Right, my lord my father is out at Campscapell being Count, there’s some vassal dispute that needs to be tamped down before the swords come out, barons being barons, and Lioncel is with him and so are Azalaïs and the kids, by Hera of the Hearth it’s almost indecent how much my lord father loves being a granddad… Diomede is out on Barony Harfang with Ysabeau and the rest of my disgustingly numerous nieces and nephews.”
“Who swarm like vermin upon the earth,” Orlaith said with a faint smile; that was an old joke between them—in fact, Heuradys delighted in being an aunt and was an adored presence in their lives.
“Exactly. No rugrats in residence, so it’s just Mom and Yolande the Little Sister from Hell and Auntie Tiph at the manor house. Between Castle Ath and Montinore Manor there’s plenty of room and supplies for the whole Nihonjin party. We’ll put Reiko in the Royal Suite.”
“Tell your lady mother to bill the Crown.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, she’s never shy about sending in receipts. And Mom will love having exotic guests, an Empress will be just nuts and cream to her, and Auntie Tiph will want to know what’s going on and take a look at their gear and methods, so it’s no problem at all. I can shuttle back and forth to Todenangst as needed, then bring them up when it’s time.”
“Let’s do it, then,” Órlaith said. “I want to see Mother and John and Vuissance and Faolán… but I’m afraid of it, too. It’s going to tear everything open again.”
Heuradys put a hand on her shoulder, and then they hugged.
“It’s like pulling out an arrowhead,” she said. “You have to go through it to get to the other side.”
“If there’s time,” she said. “Da… what happened to Da was just the beginning, I think. You know the saying: sometimes you just have to go on fighting with an arrow in you.”