Here’s another annotated snippet. It picks up where the first snippet, which you can find at https://robhowell.org/blog/?p=56 concludes.
As before, I’ll add occasional annotations indented and italicized.
Morning, 1 Hjerstmoanne, 1712 MG
I followed her to a long, low, rambling building running along a ridge around Achrida. It served as the primary home of the Mrnjavcevic family, the leading clan of the Dassaretae, one of the two tribes that had squabbled for control of Achrida for centuries.
The Dassaretae was an actual tribe in the Balkans. It’s not a particularly well-known one, though, and it seemed a cool name so I chose it as one of the tribes. The same goes for the Mrnjavcevic family. Even though I’m writing fantasy novels, I love researching history too much to not steal fun names and places.
The old woman who guarded the door had never liked me. The look on her face made it clear I remained unworthy to sully her honored halls, but she allowed me to enter without comment. Vukasin had probably told her to expect me. She led us through the labyrinth of rooms and hallways.
“How big is this place, anyway?”
This exchange is a bit of foreshadowing that becomes important later in the book. Readers of Where Now the Rider will see where it comes into play.
Piri gave me a sly smile, but otherwise ignored me. Eventually we reached and the polished oak door that led to Vukasin’s sitting room and office. The grim doorwarden, knocked and opened the door at his response, not quite lifting her nose up at me. Not quite.
Vukasin sat at his desk, his hands full of various papers. He was a short man, but wide and powerful. His eyes were the color of basalt, which seemed appropriate to me, as he was as strong and deliberate as the mountains. The Zupan of the Dassaretae needed such strength, I guessed.
The historical Vukasin Mrnjavcevic was a general and later the military governor of a part of modern Macedonia. Interestingly, Marko Mrnjavcevic, his son, becomes the Prince Marko of Serbian legend that I refer to often in these novels.
“Sevener. I expected you, but not so soon. Still, I’m told many things have happened.”
“Yes, Zupan. It seemed wiser to come sooner rather than later. I know I owe you a great debt, and I would not have you think I am not grateful.”
Zupan is an another historical term. An easy place to use something different besides leader or ruler.
“I know you are not ungrateful. I would never have worked with you had I thought you were.”
“I appreciate your trust in me.”
“You’re welcome. Maja, pour us some water.” He waved at the chairs before his desk. Piri and I sat while Maja went to a sideboard and poured goblets of cold lakewater sweetened with pomegranate. I took a sip before beginning.
There’s a scene in A Lake Most Deep where Svetislav rows Edward out into the lake to discuss the Gropa Council. In that scene, Svetislav handed Edward a mug to dip lakewater out to drink. That actually happened to me in Ohrid. I took a short boat cruise into the lake and the captain handed out a couple of cheap mugs for us to drink from the lake. It was, in fact, delicious, and that’s why I make such a point of it in these novels.
“I don’t know entirely what you know, but here are the basics.”
He waved a dismissive hand. “I knew almost everything yesterday. The people who tried to intimidate Honker Harald and his family after his daughter found one of Gibroz’s thugs dead near Biljana’s Springs were led by Markov, one of Gibroz’s lieutenants.”
“I’m not surprised. You supplied all the people who got the information, after all.”
“Yes. And you used them well.”
I shrugged. “Markov was working for the Emperor.”
“I suspected that was the case.” Vukasin’s nostrils flared, but otherwise, he expressed no emotion at the news that his lord had betrayed him.
Obviously, this is my way of summing up The Eyes of a Doll. I hate exposition, and in some ways it’s not relevant to Where Now the Rider, however, it’s part of Edward’s character development, which I touch upon in the following paragraph.
In my homeland, thegns would have flocked to his banner to avenge that betrayal. My mind filled with memories of looking across the field at thegns who had done just that for Cynric when his son, Penwulf, my lord, had betrayed him. My father had fought under Cynric’s banner on that day, and I had killed him.
Vukasin cleared his throat and I returned to the moment.
“He wanted a war between Ylli of Lezh and Gibroz so that you could not have a base of power against him,” I said.
More foreshadowing, in a way. Let me just say I’m perfectly willing for you all to remember the Emperor’s paranoia. It could be a reoccurring theme. Could be.
“Yes, or her.”
Vukasin smiled. “This is Achrida. Things change. Yes, we Dassaretae are more prominent now, but never underestimate the Enchelei, even if it has only been a few months since you exposed Pal and his crime. Vesela may not have expected to take over as zupan so soon, but she helped lead the Enchelei all her life.”
The Gropa and Enchelei are, like the Mrnjavcevics and Dassaretae, historical.
I nodded, quiet again for a moment, then looking deep in Vukasin’s eyes. “I’m sorry for those who died.”
His black eyes turned even darker. “I know. I am too.”
We sat with our memories for a moment.
“You didn’t kill them, though,” continued Vukasin. “That was the Emperor’s people.”
“Welcome to the Empire.” Piri’s face bore that sardonic smile again.
“And today I think I know everything,” Vukasin said as he leaned back.
“What have you learned now?”
“I learned that you are prompt in paying your debts. That’s not an insignificant thing in this city.”
“I have no doubt,” I said sarcastically. “What else?”
“I wasn’t sure about Gabrijela.”
I looked at my hands. Eventually I added, “Yes, Gabrijela was helping the Emperor.”
“And her fate?”
“She’s gone. Sebastijan is taking her to the Great City.”
“We just watched them leave before coming here,” added Piri.
“So now what?” Vukasin stared at me.
“I think I’ll go back to the Faerie and get drunk.”
Vukasin chuckled. “While I agree that’s an excellent idea, I was thinking a little more into the future. You stopped in Achrida on the way to serve the Emperor. I got Piri’s message this morning that you’re not going to serve him now. Where will you go?”
“I wish I knew. I suppose I could go back to Ivan Yevgenich. He’s been dealing with Demmenkreisen for a year now. Or maybe somewhere else in the Kreisens. The Periaslavlans have noticed more than the usual raiding all along the Rueckenberge.”
“His izba isn’t where I really want to spend the rest of my life, as good a man as he is.” I shook Raakel’s ghost out of my mind. “And in the Kreisens I’d have to serve some lordling raiding villages. I don’t know of a single one of them as worthy of my service as Penwulf, and he was an oathbreaker and a fool.”
This is an example of the synergy of writing I Am a Wondrous Thing. I actually really like these paragraphs. It lets me build a whole world around Achrida while still being focused on Edward.
It’s also an example of serendipity. When I started writing Wondrous Thing I had no intention of putting Edward into it. Then I realized I had already done so in A Lake Most Deep and he had to make a cameo. Even though I didn’t intend it, his appearance strengthens these Edward books.
Another note about Edward in Wondrous Thing. I actually struggled to write his part because I kept putting myself too much into his head, especially since I did not want him a POV character.
“The Old Empire? Or Matara? Take the trade route across the lakes and see fair Markanda and points east?”
“Perhaps.” I shrugged. “Vukasin. I just don’t know. After I get drunk I’ll talk with Piri and Zoe about it.”
Vukasin rested his dark eyes on me without saying anything. I watched dust float through a sunbeam sneaking through Vukasin’s shuttered window. Piri made no motion.
I intend for the Adventures of Edward Aethelredson to be a recurring series where readers don’t have to have read the earlier books to enjoy the story. And in general, I think I succeeded.
However, there’s no doubt that these first three are tied together for the reason that I detailed in the last snippet. Taken together, they will make Achrida Edward’s home.