The Way of the Shield releases on October 9th.
The museum was on Fenyon Street, on the stretch between the Parliament House and the Royal College campus—the triangle of city blocks that wasn’t quite in any neighborhood. Upon approach, it looked like a large noble house, with wide marble stairs from the street to the giant, open doors.
Jerinne stopped on the front steps. “Who lived here?” she asked absently.
“I don’t think anyone,” Dayne said. “Most of this block is owned jointly by the College and Parliament. These houses are used as guest lodgings for scholars and other important visitors to Maradaine.”
“So the museum usurped one?” Jerinne asked.
“I’m sure that wasn’t the language used. The museum, in all likelihood, is a joint project of the Royal College and the Parliament. Not to mention some nobleman holding the purse.”
They reached the main doors, where two King’s Marshals had guard duty, in their crisp blue and white coats, matching felt caps and tasseled rapiers.
“A pair of Tarians!” one of them said, with more than a little contempt in his voice.
“What brings you two out here all dandied up?” the other asked. Dayne thought this was particularly ironic, given their standard uniform.
“We’re here for the opening of the museum,” Dayne said. “I was informed it was a public event.”
“Public event,” the first one said, with a strange nod that was half neck-crack. “But we’ve got two members of Parliament, quite a few nobility rubbing elbows in there. Care must be taken.”
“Meaning you’ve got to check your swords and shields here, with us,” the second said.
Jerinne stepped forward, “Why would we have to—”
“Because we’ve got to keep people safe,” the first marshal said. “You Tarians know about that.”
“Exactly, we are members of the Tarian Order and as such we should be given—”
“You’re not members,” the second marshal said. “You’re a Candidate and Initiate. I know blasted well what those marks on your collars mean. Now you can either turn in your arms and enjoy the museum, or you can dust your feet on the walkway.” Dayne knew pips and ranks as well, and this marshal was a marshal chief—equivalent to captain in the Constabulary. Regine Toscan, by his brass nameplate. Not worth picking an argument with over no matter what. Surprising that someone of that rank would be working the door at this event.
“It’s fine,” Dayne said, unhooking his sword. “We’re here for culture, Jerinne. Not a fight.” He passed it and his shield to the first marshal, and Jerinne did the same.
“Thank you, friends,” Chief Toscan said. “You can collect your belongings upon your exit.”
As the walked away Jerinne whispered in his ear, “That was complete posturing. They think—”
“That security of this event is their responsibility,” Dayne said. “We’re not here to use our weapons. It’s fine.”
Dayne looked around the entry hall, which truly was a grand and impressive lobby. A lot of work had to have been done to transform this building into the museum. Portraits of every king of Druthal for the past twelve centuries filled the walls. Maradaine the First hung just to the left of the door, with a brass plaque identifying him and his reign. It circled the room chronologically, with gaps at the entryways to other exhibits. Intricately woven ropes barred off entry to the other exhibits.
Along the back wall, in front of the disastrous kings of the seventh century, a small stage had been assembled. Several well-dressed people milled about up there, as well as other men in scholastic robes. Dayne didn’t recognize anyone up on the stage, but the two men in dark suits with silk cravats were clearly members of Parliament. Flanking the stage were two sweeping stairways, leading to a balcony rounding the entire room, and presumably containing additional exhibits.
Dayne searched through the crowd, looking to see if his new friends from The Nimble Rabbit were around. The crowd was diverse, though it mostly consisted of minor nobility, mixed with several students from the Royal College. But he was thrilled to see how many people were here, and the attention to detail that was being paid, both to the museum itself and the spectacle of the event.
What thrilled Dayne the most was the servers. Someone had spared no expense on this event, as a dozen servers weaved their way among the crowd with trays of culinary delights and cups of wine. The servers were dressed in authentic eleventh-century outfits, including the red neckerchiefs covering their faces. They looked exactly like the classic depictions of the ad-hoc army that filled the streets in 1009 to help reclaim the city and the throne for Maradaine XI.
Someone put a lot of money and care into making this happen.
“Dayne!” A woman’s voice called through the crowd. Warm, refined, and so very familiar. Dayne turned to its source, his heart quickening just at the thought of who it might be.
There she was, the very picture of Druth elegance, her richly embroidered peach dress complimenting her fair skin, though with her white gloves and the lace veil on her hat, very little of her skin was to be seen. Her delicate blond curls spilled down her back, and her dark blue eyes hinted at wisdom beyond her age. She cut her way across the hallway, one handmaiden at her side.
“Lady Mirianne,” he said with a bow. Jerinne, he noticed out the corner of his eye, followed his lead.
“No bowing,” Lady Mirianne said. Her gloved hand touched the side of his face, leading him back to standing. “How is it you are here?”
“I’ve only just come back to Maradaine, my lady,” Dayne said. “If I may, this is Jerinne Fendall, second-year Initiate to the Order.”
“Your servant, my lady,” Jerinne said, offering her hand.
“I have no need of more, Miss Fendall.” Mirianne took her hand gently. “Lady Mirianne Henson, daughter to the Earl of Jaconvale.”
“How is your father?” Dayne asked.
She gave a playful slap to his arm. “I’ve not seen your beautiful face for nearly three years and you ask after my father.”
“I’m sorry, my lady,” Dayne said. “I only thought it—”
“Proper, as always. Dear, sweet, proper Dayne. He’s quite well, happy at the estate in Jaconvale. He’s not a fan of traveling to the city anymore, so the household here is effectively mine.” She turned to her handmaiden. “Is he not adorable?” Her smile was a treasure, Dayne had almost forgotten how lovely she was.
“I should have asked after you first, my lady.”
“No,” Lady Mirianne said. “How are you back in Maradaine?”
Dayne glanced over to Jerinne, and at the handmaiden. “It is an involved tale, lady, and not one for public telling.”
She nodded. “Of course. I will hold you to a private counsel later.” She gave a light trill of a laugh, and a knowing wink to her handmaiden. Turning back to Dayne, she added, “I know why you are here, of course. A history museum must have been like honey to a fly.”
Dayne grinned, despite himself, taking another look around the wide entry hall. “I have to admit, this is incredible. I’m amazed at what they’ve done.”
“Thank you,” Lady Mirianne said. “It was quite the undertaking.”
“You had a hand in all this?” Dayne asked. Of course, he should have guessed it. If anyone had both the means and the desire to make a monument to Druth history, it would be the Earl of Jaconvale and his daughter. It was through them he had developed his own love for the subject, as well as the sponsorship that led him to the Tarian Order.
“Mostly organizing the funding. Professor Teal and his team were the real champions.” She pointed over to the stage, where Teal and other scholars now sat patiently behind the Parliamentarians.
“Will he be speaking?” Dayne asked. During his Initiacy he had had the privilege to sit in on a handful of lectures at the RCM. Professor Teal was a living treasure of Druth history, possibly the most knowledgeable and dynamic speakers on the subject.
“Not until the fools from the Parliament have their chance to babble,” Lady Mirianne said. She took his hand. “Let me show you something.”
“What?” Dayne asked, surprised at her soft gloved hand staying curled around his.
“There’s an exhibit you should see. Please.”
“But . . .” They hadn’t actually opened the exhibits yet. “The speeches.” He said it halfheartedly. He knew the Parliament speeches would be less than thrilling.
“It won’t take long,” she said. She turned to her handmaiden, “Jessel, keep company with Miss Fendall.”
“As you say, Lady.” Jessel curtsied.
Lady Mirianne pulled Dayne to the side as he gave one last look over to Jerinne. The Initiate merely smirked at Dayne, and then gave her attention to Jessel.
Dayne followed along after Lady Mirianne, and they slipped under one of the ropes, with Lady Mirianne nodding to one of the servants as they went. They entered a back stairwell, Lady Mirianne giving Dayne the same impish smile she would use back at her father’s manor when she snuck into the stables. As they ascended, he wondered if her intentions had anything to do with an exhibit.
“Don’t even look at this room,” she said when she pulled him off the stairs on the next level.
“But I thought—”
“You’re just going to get angry.” She went to the opposite end of the gallery.
“Why would I get angry?” Dayne asked, but then he saw the large portrait filling one entire wall. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the monstrosity. “The blazes?”
“I knew you’d hate this,” she said, coming back to his side.
The portrait was of ten eleventh-century figures, recognizable to even a casual student of history. “The Grand Ten? In a portrait together?”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Lady Mirianne said.
“They were never all in the same room together!” Dayne said. “Most of them never even met!” And yet, here, in the museum curated and blessed by the Druth Historic Society, the Grand Ten sat and stood together, in one enormous portrait. Of course, each one of the Grand Ten were instrumental in the Reunification of 1009, key figures in history. Dayne wouldn’t deny that. But the tendency to rewrite history, to pretend that they had been some sort of united club that organized the Reunification—that set his teeth on edge.
“I know,” Lady Mirianne said. “It was the Honorable Mister Barton’s idea. His one adamant insistence.”
“Mister Barton? Who is that?”
“He’s in the Parliament. Traditionalist from our archduchy.”
“Why did he insist on this?” Dayne asked.
“He’s very passionate about the Grand Ten. He even commissioned the portrait from his own purse.”
“Waste of money,” Dayne said. “It’s just bad history.”
“I’m well aware,” Lady Mirianne said. “Though if you look at it as an ten individual portraits put together, it is well done.”
Dayne nodded. “Individually, yes. All classically done.” They all were at their most iconic. Geophry Haltom, The Parliamentarian, with his red neckerchief, like the servers were wearing downstairs. Baron Kege, The Lord, with broken manacles on his wrists and his head held high. Oberon Micarum, The Warrior, in the full uniform of a Spathian Master. “I was just talking to the Grandmaster about how Oberon is the main reason why the Spathians still stand.”
“And Xandra Romaine?” she asked.
“And Xandra Romaine, yes.” It hurt his heart that the Order was not only considered a relic, maintained just out of gratitude to two historical figures, but that this narrative was so ingrained that they didn’t even have to explain it to each other.
Then he looked over to The Mage—Xaveem Ak’alassa—an Imach whose magical skills were instrumental in defeating the leader of the Incursion and restoring Maradaine XI to the Druth throne. The depiction of Xaveem was ridiculous: Druth clothing, and a skin tone only slightly darker than the rest of the group. Save the curved blade on his hip, there was nothing in his appearance to identify him as Imach.
“Classically done, indeed,” Dayne said. “This sort of history is troubling. It inflates the importance of some people for the sake of narrative, ignoring the important work of people like Lief Frannel or Hanshon Alenick, or—”
“Please don’t get too upset,” Lady Mirianne said, cutting him off from his rant. That was probably wise, and she knew him well enough to not let him get worked out over these things. “This isn’t what I wanted to show you.”
“Of course,” Dayne said, turning away from the aggravating painting. “Lead on, my lady.”
She took his hand. “Enough with the ‘my lady’, Dayne Heldrin. Especially when we’re alone.”
“That’s asking quite a lot,” Dayne said.
“I have the privilege of asking a lot,” she said, flashing another mischievous smile. “I am a Lady, after all. This is it.”
The new room opened up into a wide oval, with twelve mannequins on small platforms, forming a semicircle. Each mannequin was faceless, dressed with uniforms, armor, and weapons, some of which were centuries out of style. Only two had modern design, in the center of the semicircle. The one on the left wore the same gray coat and tunic that Dayne was wearing, save the coat bore the epaulets and insignia of a Master. That mannequin stood in classic Position Three, round shield high and short sword held low.
The brass plaque at its feet read “Master of the Tarian Order”.
The other mannequins each represented a different Order, almost all of which had long been inactive or disbanded—all but the Tarians and the Spathians, represented by the other central mannequin. The Vanidian—forest guardian with axe and bow. The blue uniformed Hanalian, the antecedent of the King’s Marshals downstairs. The fully armored Grennian. The healing master Ascepian. Pike-wielding Braighian. All these mighty and honored Elite Orders that had been abandoned or folded into the army or other new organizations.
“This is . . . incredible,” he said, his voice cracking just a bit in his attempt to hold back the tear in his eye.
“I knew you would appreciate it.” She came up behind him, placing her arm in the crook of his elbow. “Mister Barton insisted on the Grand Ten. This . . . this is what I insisted on.”
A smile found its way to Dayne’s lips. “You really were listening to me.”
She stepped around and faced him. “Always.”
Dayne couldn’t resist her any longer, and had no reason to. He bent down to kiss her.
Before he could, screams cut through the air.
Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King’s Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.
When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.
Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.
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