An Excerpt From Nimuar's Loss
By Camille Gabor
[Information on Nimuar's Loss]
CHAPTER ONE: Vildecaz Castle
The west wall near the kitchen-garden needs repairing," Nimuar, Duz of Vildecaz
announced as he sat down to the mid-day meal with his two daughters. "I've put a
fixing spell on it, but it won't last more than a week. The men will have to get
mortar and bricks out there soon." They were in the family dining room in the
main part of Vildecaz Castle, and while smaller than the Great Hall by half, it
was still intended for many more occupants than these three. He was in his
scholar's long, deepblue doga over a tan hupslan, both of which showed the wear
of long use, more due to his absent-mindedness than any lack of funds or poor
manners. His appearance was a bit untidy, his silvery hair not quite combed, his
short beard a little scruffy, his light-brown eyes slightly distracted, yet his
manner toward his daughters was sincerely affectionate.
"I'll have Hoftstan Ruch
get a crew to work on it this afternoon," said Ninianee, the older of the two.
She had been out for most of the morning, supervising the fall pruning of the
espaliered fruit trees all along the south and west walls of the castle, and was
about to go to work on the standing orchard beyond the eastern wall. "Just as
soon as the trees are all done. The magic should hold long enough for that." She
had not had time to change out of her leather brikes and drugh-ox wool smock;
her profusion of russet ringlets were haphazardly confined by a thin, golden
doublecoronet and a Mozh-cloth scarf that was nearly a match for her clear, light-green eyes. With a glance at her sister--a year younger
than she--Ninianee said, "You and Ver Mindicaz must have had a busy morning,
what with the shipment of spices from Fah, the last of the harvest coming into
the castle, and the new cheeses to store as well; knowing Ver, you're made lists
of every pepper-corn and dried plum; she won't have relied on a magical tally."
At the mention of the major-cook, Erianthee nodded her lovely head, as graceful
as a deer and as beguiling as a feysprite. Unlike her sister, she was properly
dressed for dining in a gaunel of amber-colored tassel-cloth over a guin of fine
Fahnine cotton; she might have entertained aunts, uncles, and cousins--if there
were any willing to visit--in such clothing and bring no slight upon her father
or their guests. Everything about her was charming, from the shape of her eyes
to the turn of her ankles. "Yes. I think we have all the provisions for
preserving fruits and stocking the ice-house arranged so they'll only need a
little magic in the summer to keep them going until next year's harvest. We
should have all our plans for the winter finished tomorrow."
By the standards of
the Porzalk Empire, Erianthee was the prettier of the two, beautifully curved
where Ninianee was lean, elegant where Ninianee was energetic, captivating where
Ninianee was bewitching, having classic loveliness--softly waving honey-colored
hair and dark-brown eyes in a pert, gorgeous face that lacked the suggestion of
tempestuousness that turned Ninianee's reserve to something more compelling than
what some thought was shyness.
"Now then," said their father as if he had been
interrupted. He reached for a small saucer and put a pinch of salt in it and
then added a few drops of wine from his goblet, then held it up on a tripod of
the thumb and two fingers of his right hand. "May Agnith, The Preternatural,
goddess of all things magical, of continents and seas, of ideas and talents,
protect us and keep all our spells true." He stood, the saucer still balanced on
his three fingers.
Ninianee did the same as Nimuar had done, rising and going
about the ritual with the precision of habit. "May Hyneimoj,
The Ineffable, goddess of mammals, hunting, games of chance, storms, and going
to war, keep us from harm."
Erianthee had her salt-and-wine ready. "May
Analahor, The Inspirational goddess of mortality, rebirth, agriculture, arts
visible and invisible, intuition, and victory, uphold Vildecaz." She, too, rose,
holding her saucer on her thumb and two fingers as her father and sister were
The three little saucers were raised and set down on a single red-painted
board hanging from the elaborate oil-lamp above the table, from which a
forearm-long tubular bell depended; Nimuar struck this with his knife and its
pure tone sounded, lingering on the air, pleasant and persistent as the
promising aroma of their food, its footling tone making the whole occasion more
"A good omen," Nimuar announced, for once delighted at this formality;
the omens were often much harder to interpret.
Their Meal Rite complete, the
three sat down once more and reached for the covered platter and raised the lid;
a wonderful odor of apricots, sweet onions, and chicken filled the room.
beamed, letting out a long, satisfied, "Aaaaah," before reaching for a serving
spoon as he pulled the platter toward him. "Ver knows what I like, harvest or no
"There's four-colored rice, too," said Erianthee, opening the covered
dish nearest her. "With new butter."
"The last ship from the Zjin-Fah brought
the rice, didn't it?" asked Nimuar, whose memory was not what it used to be, and
hadn't been for nearly two decades, when he had lost his magical battle with
Yulko Bihn, and with it, the knowledge of Agnith's Treasure and all it had
bestowed upon him.
"Yes, Papa," said Ninianee, reminding him gently, "We bought
five sacks of it, and Ver stored them in the grain-closet in the pantry. There
are another five on order for the spring."
"Oh, yes," said Nimuar a bit vaguely.
"Five sacks should last through fall and winter. Possibly until the next sacks
come." Before either of his daughters could speak, he added, "I like real food
so much better than magical food, don't you?"
"I certainly do,"
said Erianthee, entering into this frequent topic of conversation as if it were
new and exciting. "Magical food is so tiring to create and its nourishment
hardly lasts half a day."
"To say nothing of the complications it can create,"
said Ninianee. "Regular food is best, no doubt, especially when Ver Mindicaz
cooks it." She picked up the covered basket of roasted yams and took one
gingerly before handing the basket to her father, exchanging it for the chicken
platter and serving herself. "There's pork ribs under the long cover," she
added, moving that platter a little nearer.
"What are you going to do this
afternoon?" Nimuar asked his daughters, looking from Erianthee to Ninianee and
"I'm going to finish up the kitchen inventory with Ver, and then I'm
going to have a good long soak," said Erianthee, taking the platter from
"I've got more work to do so we can complete the harvest. The fruit is
in, and half the fields have been reaped, but there's a lot more to tend to
before we're finished." Ninianee reached for the butter. "I'll want a soak
myself, come nightfall."
"I'll tell Skoniz to keep the bath-house warm and the
water ready," said Erianee. "Probably he should ready the servants' bath-house
as well." She wrinkled her nose. "After a hard day in the field, they'll need
it. The soldiers will undoubtedly want to bathe, too."
"Thanks for attending to
that." Ninianee scooped a dollop of butter onto her plate and cut it in half,
then passed the small tub to Erianthee. "I'll tell the harvest crew to stop by
the bath-house before supper."
"You're both taken care of--that's good," said
Nimuar with a hint of a sigh. "I'll go back to my library, then, and continue my
research. You will be on your own, but you know how to manage." He was about to
eat when something more occurred to him. "I have books coming from the library
at Buin Joam; they should arrive shortly. They will be carried by an official
This was news to his two daughters, but
they took it in stride. "I'll have Hoftstan post someone to watch for it."
"Thank you," said Nimuar, and fell to eating in earnest, and for the rest of the
meal only engaged in cursory conversation.
* * *
A carving of Womotomaj, The
Fabricator, hung in the traditional location, over the main fireplace in the
Great Hall, his hands filled with a jumble of little castles and towers and
bridges, as suited the god of all things constructed; looking up at him with his
face lit from the fire beneath casting unsteady shadows that changed his
appearance with every flicker, Ninianee was reminded that the oldest son of
Hyneimoj was also the god of lying and deceit.
She drew up a chair and sat down,
letting the waning evening soak into her bones along with the warmth of the
fire. It was late, and she had finally come in from her bath only to be told
that Senkei, their best spell-hound, was hunting the upper floors for magical
intrusions and spill-overs, a process that required the upper rooms be empty
while the spell-hound did his work. Wiggling her bare feet toward the flames,
she let herself enjoy this moment; had the chair been more comfortable she might
have fallen asleep, but the sturdy frame nudged her through her downy,
deep-brown jaem-cotton night-wrap from the Zaralk region to the southeast of
Vildecaz. There was just enough discomfort from the chair keeping her awake
enough to hear her sister's quiet approach. Without looking around, she said,
"How's our father doing, Eri?"
"You know he gets edgy when the spell-hounds are
patrolling. He's like you in that. Hardly surprising, given how things are. I
left him in his study working on a guardian spell to reinforce the removal of
snooping spells, something not too complicated. He can manage that, and it does
him good to practice. Who knows? it may prove helpful--it certainly can't harm
us." Erianthee pulled another chair up to the fire and sat down; she, too, was
dressed for bed, her night-wrap of Mozh-cloth, soft and luminous as a morning cloud. "I worry about him. He never seems to get any better."
"But he's not worse, either, and that is not a bad thing," said Ninianee. She
shaded her eyes and turned toward Erianthee, taking note of the shine of the
fire on Erianthee's dark-gold hair.
"No," Erianthee allowed. "Do you think we
should contact Poyneilum Zhanf again? Do you think he could--"
At the mention of
their father's old teacher, Ninianee frowned. "What more could he--or any of the
Priests of Mirvex-Doz--do that he hasn't tried already?" She felt her lovely
lethargy begin to slip away.
"I don't know," Erianthee answered. "But Nin, if I
have to leave for Court soon, I wish I could feel a little better about leaving
him. You take fine care of him, but you can't be everywhere all the time.
Particularly not--" She stopped.
"You've said this for the last three years.
Every time you are summoned to the Imperial Court, you fret about Papa."
Ninianee smiled to reassure her. "You mustn't worry about him. I'll be here, and
I'll let you know if anything happens. I'm not so incapacitated that I can't
handle such a duty."
Erianthee sighed. "I wish you could come with me." Ninianee
sat up slowly.
"That's...impractical." "I know, and I understand why you
can't come," said Erianthee, her voice dropping.
"But it would be so much nicer,
having you with me."
"Oh, no." Ninianee shook her head. "You're far more suited
to Court life than I am. You get on with people better than I do: you're
charming, you're pretty, and your magic is entertaining, unlike mine. Mine would
be inconvenient at Court. Bontaj! It's inconvenient here." She made no apology
for swearing. "At least here my ability to communicate with fur-bearing animals
is a useful talent, and, as for the other part of it, here at Vildecaz I can
prepare for the three nights without apprehension, no matter what happens." "But
you've turned twenty-three, Nin, and you haven't--"
official suitor or two? Someone to serve as an escort and bed-partner, if not a
husband? And where would I find a man who wouldn't mind accommodating my...variations in the capital?" Ninianee suggested sardonically. "You know why I
haven't. Nor have you, and you're almost twenty-two."
"Not an official one, no.
But I do have possibilities." She blushed as if she were ten years younger.
I could stand Maeshar of Otsinmohr, I could have an official suitor tomorrow.
And he would use his suitorship to make claims on Vildecaz that would make this
Duzky a part of the Porzalk Empire, which would be the end of our autonomy. He
would marry me and our separate authority would be gone, and so, I suspect,
would he. I couldn't be party to that, even if I loved Maeshar." She made a
face. "If only his land didn't share such a long border with ours, it would be
easier to avoid him, and I wouldn't have to be so blunt in my refusals."
wouldn't be such a terrible official suitor," Erianthee protested.
shook her head in disgust. "If you think so well of him, you make him your
Erianthee shook her head. "It's different for me."
certainly is. You have all the men at Court to choose from, and they know what
kind of magic they're getting with you." There was no jealousy, no rancor in
this remark, only a kind of ruefulness.
"But I don't like to think of you being
lonely, Nin," said Erianthee. "It's bad enough that you can't come to Court with
me, but for you to have to remain alone--"
Ninianne got up and put another cut
branch on the fire. "I'm used to it. And luckily there is more than Maesham to
"How can you be used to it?" Erianthee asked. "When you never know
until the first night of the full moon what--"
She stopped and glanced around,
as if recalling that they might be overheard.
"That's why it
wouldn't be wise to go to Court," said Ninianee drily, and sat on the arm of the
chair she had occupied.
"Don't worry, Eri, I'll be fine, and so will Papa. He's
still gathering information on Agnith's Treasure, and that will occupy him for
some time." Erianthee allowed herself to be distracted. "Do you think it really
"I don't know. It may. Or they may--who knows if it
is a single thing or many? But it might not be real. Whatever it is--or they
are--there is so much said about it that I can't imagine anyone would know it if
they stumbled across the real thing." She laughed a little, to hide her
skepticism. "It's strange, isn't it, to think Papa was once a powerful-enough
magician to do all those spells, to summon Agnith herself?"
"Do you think he
ever did?" Erianthee asked. "Summon Agnith?"
Ninianee shrugged. "I think what
matters is that the old Emperor believed it, twenty years ago; you could
probably find out if Riast believes as his great-uncle did, while you're at
No." Erianthee spoke with unusual firmness. "I'd have to deal with
Riast's heir, and Prince Bozidar is a trying young man; he acts as if he were
already Emperor Bozidar VIII."
"Zlatz! He wants to be your official suitor, does
he?" Ninianee lifted one eyebrow. Erianthee locked her hands together. "No. He
wants to be my unofficial suitor." In spite of her concern, Ninianee could not
suppress an impish smile.
"How very awkward."
"It is," Erianthee said. "You
don't know what he's like."
"Have you mentioned it to Dowager Empress
Godrienee?" Ninianee asked. "If you haven't, you shou--"
"She mentioned it to
me, shortly before I left last time I was at Court. It was mortifying."
Erianthee put her hand to her mouth as if to restrain herself from saying
anything further. "The Dowager was so very understanding, and warned me that
Prince Bozidar is not very trustworthy, and that he was known
to be sportive with women."
"Perhaps it's a family trait: I have met his father,
and Emperor Riast is no one I would want to have to depend upon," Ninianee
stared into the fire, as if reading the omens there.
"Don't say that." Erianthee
put her finger to her lips. "You don't know if he has spies in the household."
"He probably does, and spells, too, until Senkei is through hunting them down,"
said Ninianee. "Surely we're not the only people in the Empire to have doubts
about Riast II." She stood up and stretched. "In fact, I wonder why he bothers
with us. What kind of foes are we? Most of our relatives will have nothing to do
with us, and I can't imagine either of our neighbors--Maeshar or Hircaj
Chogrun--would be part of a conspiracy against the Emperor, and even if they
were, that we would be included in it. Our talents cannot determine events. You
and I have no fortunes beyond our share of Vildecaz, and Papa left the Court so
long ago, his influence--what little he had left--is gone. You have more power
at Court than he does, now."
"But not the way you mean," said Erianthee. "And if
Papa is really so powerless, why does Yulko Bihn come here? He defeated Papa in
their magical duel. He was the one who blasted Papa's mind, so he must know how
little Papa retains of his former pow--"
"He comes here to gloat," said Ninianee
firmly. "He has a deep desire to reassure himself that Papa is still . . . as he
is, so he can continue to relish his triumph. He won their duel by guile, and
that makes him uneasy, as well it should. Papa lost, but Yulko Bihn did not
truly win, and he knows it. So he has to remind himself that Papa is still
unable to challenge him again." She looked up to the gallery as Lomcoz
Terichovee, the master of the mews, came to the high railing. "Is everything
taken care of?"
"Yes. Senkei hunted out four minor spells; nothing to be
concerned about. Heijot Merinex removed them." Lomcoz motioned to the
castle-magician, a fairly ordinary fellow in a magician's long gaihups secured
with a sash of the Dyskeleoc School.
"The castle is clear. We
may all go safely to bed," Heijot Merinex announced as he patted Senkei's head.
"Good," said Erianthee. "I'm worn out."
"I am, too," said Ninianee. "I could
sleep all day and all night." She reached out to give Erianthee a good-night
hug, and was surprised when her sister clung to her. "Bontaj. What's the
Erianthee let go of Ninianee. "Nothing really. Just pre-journey nerves.
I wish I knew what provisions have been made for my travel."
"That'll come soon
enough, Eri," said Ninianee, and stepped back. "See you tomorrow, probably not
"You have more work to do in the wall-orchards?" Erianthee asked.
"No; the vineyards, on the lower terrace," said Ninianee, and made her way out
of the Great Hall, glad that the first night of the full moon was still four
* * *
[Information on Nimuar's Loss]
copyright ©2007 Camille Gabor, All Rights Reserved