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Clan and Crown


Thrones and Dominions


The rocket sputtered for a moment, then rose swiftly above the worn cobblestone courtyard of the old fortress. It hissed upwards in a column of fire, trailing golden sparks and a faint smell of brimstone as it climbed until, without warning, it burst loudly into a shower of silver. The crowd gasped in wonder.

High above the courtyard, two richly dressed boys about fifteen Earth years in age clapped their hands in wonder. They huddled together in a window cut in the wall of the keep thirty meters above the gawking populace. One of the boys shouted aloud when the rocket burst above Castle Edron.

"Quiet! The Protector will hear us," the other boy said. "He'll make us join the others."

"He is nowhere about, Majesty."

"Ah." Nothing like those rockets had ever been seen on the whole planet of Tran. Even kings should be able to gawk at them without losing status.

But, Ganton thought, kings must think first of their dignity, and for the opinions of the nobility. No monarch ever needed his lords' good opinions more than I do. Another rocket arced across the darkening sky. This one trailed blue sparks. "Oh-look!" he cried. The True Sun had long set, but the Firestealer was high enough to cast baleful shadows and light the summer sky above the fortress capital of Drantos.

Ganton shouted again as yet another rocket burst. Ganton son of Loron, Wanax of Drantos, he might be; but he was also nine years old, fifteen according to the reckoning of the starman Lord Rick; and the rockets were fun to watch. "Perhaps we could make weapons from those," Ganton said. "Do you think so?"

"The Lord Rick says he will," Morrone answered.

He speaks in those tones, Ganton thought. They all do, when they speak of Lord Rick. They never sound that way when the talk is about me. They rebelled against my father. The wonder is that I lived this long. It is no time to be Wanax, but I have no choice of times.

More rockets flashed upward from the palace courtyard. Each sent down silver and gold showers. One burst with a loud sound.

"Was it like that?" Morrone asked.

"Louder," Ganton answered. "Much louder." He had no need to ask what Morrone meant. "It was just a year ago."

"A whole army," Morrone said. "All killed in an instant-"

"No. Only their leaders were killed. We yet had a battle to win. Not that it was difficult, with the Wanax Sarakos dead, and all the starmen kneeling to Lord Rick. But the armies of Sarakos were defeated by good Drantos warriors, not star weapons."

Morrone nodded, but Ganton thought his companion didn't really believe it. Sarakos had conquered nearly the whole of the Kingdom of Drantos. Until the great battle, Sarakos held the entire County of Chelm and most lands of the other great lords. His writ ran everywhere except into the hills where Ganton had hidden with the Lord Protector and the remnants of the loyalist forces. Sarakos had defeated the best Ganton had, had killed the first Lord Protector. Then the starman Lord Rick had come with the wild clansmen who obeyed his wife's father, and in one day, one grand battle- More rockets flashed upward. "You spend fire-powder with both hands," Morrone said.

Ganton shrugged. "It is no small thing, the birth of the Lady Isobel as heiress to the greatest lord of Drantos. Besides, the firepowder was given to me by Lord Rick himself. Come, can't I show my pleasure at the honor he does me, to have his child born in my capital?" And without my leave, although I would have given it cheerfully. He felt Morrone draw away, and wondered if his friend were angry. Ganton had few enough friends, and almost none his own age; soon, he supposed, Morrone too would treat him as Wanax rather than friend. All too soon. And that would be right and proper, but it would be lonely as well- "There," Morrone said. He pointed toward the horizon to the south. "I can just see it. The Demon Sun."

Ganton shuddered slightly and hoped that Morrone wouldn't notice. Only a star, the starmen had said. A star that wandered close to Tran every six hundred years. Not a demon at all, only a star.

"It might as well be a demon," Morrone said, as if reading his thoughts. "The Demon Sun comes, and we live in The Time. His voice lost its banter, and took on the singsong notes of a priest. "The Time draws near, when oceans will rise. Storms shall rage, and gods will come from the skies to offer gifts. Woe to those who trade with gods, for after the gods depart there shall be smoke and fire and destfuction-" Morrone broke off as suddenly as he had begun. "There's someone coming." He pointed. "On the south road. "There, just below the Demon Sun."

Ganton stared into the dusky light. One of the Earthmen had told him that the Firestealer was as bright as a hundred full Moons, but the words meant little to Ganton. He was willing to believe that a place called Earth was the home of humanity, but the thought held little impact for him. Tran was home enough.

The light of the Firestealer was more than bright enough to see by, but it made for tricky light, and cast strange shadows. But yes, there was a large party riding up to the south gate of the town. "Merchants, I'd say," Ganton muttered.

"Doubtless. From the southern cities, by their clothes. What would they be doing here?"

"Come to make obeisance to me," Ganton said. He chuckled.

"It may be," Morrone said. He sounded very serious.

Ganton laughed aloud. "The southern cities would sooner give up their gods than their councils and assemblies and meeting halls. What could they possibly gain?"

"Lord Rick's protection," Morrone said.

And once again that tone, Ganton thought.

"Caravan ho!" The guard's challenge faintly reached their high perch.

"They're too late," Morrone said. "The gates are locked for the night. But surely they know that.

Someone in the caravan shouted to the sentries. Ganton couldn't hear what was said, but it seemed to cause a stir. "Officer of the day!" the sentry shouted.

Ganton frowned in puzzlement and looked at his friend. "What do you see?" he asked. "Who could cause such excitement?"

Morrone shook his head. "I can't make it out."

"The starmen have tools to see with," Ganton said. "They call them binoculars." He said the unfamiliar word gingerly. "Binoculars."

"You should have them," Morrone said.

Ganton shrugged. "Whose? They are the personal equipment of the starmen, and there are no more than a dozen of those-binoculars-in all this world of Tran. How should I have them?"

"You are Wanax!" Morrone said. "These starmen are not great lords. The Lord Rick himself is no more than Eqeta of Chelm. Aye, and that only through his wife's first husband. Ach. The Eqetassa Tylara no more deserves that title than I do. Less, for I was cousin to the last Eqeta, and she no more than his unbedded wife."

Ganton stared in amazement. He had heard complaints before, but none so open. "Yet when you speak of the Lord Rick," Ganton said. "Your voice. You speak of him as you would of-of Yatar."

"Your pardon, Majesty. I spoke in haste-"

"You will not do this to me!" Ganton shouted. "Finish what you have begun. What is this you say? If you have complaints against the Lord Rick, say them now. Speak to me as friend-"

"I say no more than do hundreds of your loyal nobility," Morrone said. "We respect the Lord Rick, and we would follow him-but we fear his upstart family. We fear they will bring their kilted barbarians to Drantos by scores."

"I would they would bring tens of scores of their archers," Ganton said.

"Perhaps. But when they loose their gullfeathered arrows who will wear the grey Tamaerthan plumage? Your enemies or your friends?" His voice fell.