Authors: Olan Thorensen
The Pen and the Sword
is an original work of fiction. Any resemblance to people and places is
maps to help orient the reader to the planet Anyar, a website is under
. Additional maps,
background, side stories, and information on the series will be added as the
list of major characters is given in the back of the book.
word is mightier than the sword.
Ahiqar (Assyrian sage)
pen is mightier than the sword.
”—1839; taken from the play
by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
are only two powers in the world, saber and mind; at the end, saber is always
defeated by mind.
who thinks the pen is mightier than the sword has not been stabbed with both
quill may be mightier long term, but the sword wins short term.
others, an enigma paced the room, the click of his heels on the polished plank
floor synchronized to alternate heartbeats. Yet
didn’t think of
himself as an enigma but as an imposter.
of them knew the truth. How could they? Or maybe he was a mirage, something
they wanted to exist so badly that nothing would shake their unwavering belief.
light appeared in the corner of his vision. He turned his head toward the
source—a full moon peeking through an open window. The second moon had already
set. The scent of coralin vine flowers, pungent and sweet, wafted into the
room. Once he thought the odor alien, but now he pulled the aroma deep into his
lungs, anchoring himself.
just once to see the one big moon again, the one I was born under, or to smell
jasmine or pines,” he whispered to the night. At times, the longings were a
probing knife, though only a pang this night.
be ready in a few minutes,” called a woman’s voice from the next room.
fine,” he responded.
all the time you want
take forever, or go without me
turned from the window and strode to stand before a full-length mirror framed
in fine-grained kaskor wood. A stranger stared back, wearing a plain but finely
tailored dark brown suit of clothes over a sturdy physique marred by a scar
from his forehead edge to above the right ear and a sudden limp, as both men
turned to complementary side views. They each raised one hand to gently stroke
their head scars, while their other hands reached down to rub the shins below the
we can do about the head scar,” they’d told him. “The limp and ache in your leg
will fade with time, although you may notice it during cold and damp weather.”
mentioned was the third scar, angry across his left side, the injury healed
after his nearly dying. He remembered all three moments, the impact on his leg
and the pain that only came later, a searing sensation as a jagged wood
fragment slashed his head, and the flash of light and then darkness, awakening to
agony. Three scars and a limp as lifelong companions, the scars always visible
and the limp and ache recurring enough for him to . . . remember.
voices. Soon they would come for him. He looked deep into the eyes in the
mirror, eyes that could hold anyone’s focus: a rare pale color that in
different lights changed chameleon-like among shades of blue, gray, and
sometimes an unidentifiable hue, unsettling the object of their attention. Not
that the man realized the effect.
man standing before the mirror had brown hair. It had darkened in the first
year after his arrival, now with only streaks of the original color left. How
his hair darkened, he didn’t know, although he assumed it was tied to what the
Watchers had done to him. He also remembered himself as young, with an
unassuming form, a confident pleased-with-himself manner, a secure and
comfortable future, and no urge for noble commitments. A man who knew his place
in life and was content. In contrast, while the man in the mirror might appear
young, a closer look belied the impression. Not that the face was older, merely . . .
more lived. A determined face, a face with responsibilities, with resignation,
with apprehension, a face foreseeing an unchosen future.
man standing before the mirror remembered who he
been, while part of
the man in the mirror longed for the same, someone with a quiet, unexciting
life. Someone without monumental responsibilities. A different life from that
of the man in the mirror; the man before the mirror had seen much, accomplished
much, and lived thirty years in the last four. He was a man who knew his life
would not be quiet. It would a meaningful life, one with joys and darkness, a
life of making a difference, but also a life of burdens as heavy as a mountain.
Both men recognized an irrevocable moment; after today, there was no turning
back. The parting smile needed no words, because the men knew they would not
see each other again. A smile of melancholy farewell. As they stared at each other,
the man before the mirror morphed until the two men became one. He shifted his
shoulders to adjust the new suit of clothes.
again. The women’s voices he recognized, one in particular. She and others had told
him this day was stirring, exhilarating, inspirational, and other words holding
no weight for him. They were words he didn’t want to hear, words whispering
“duty,” even if not voiced. She chided him for behaving as if it were an
appointment to have his teeth pulled. In her annoyed remonstrations, she would
never understand the depth of his reluctance. His acceptance would never be
matched by any yearning for what others assumed for him—or themselves.
There would always be questions:
Did all this really happen? Am I insane? Has
it been nothing more than a dream? A nightmare? Who am I? Do I even exist? Will
there ever be answers?
A wry smile followed the last question and a gentle
shake of head attested to his expectation. No, there would be no answers. There
was only . . . to be.
musket ball splintered a wooden crate twelve inches from where Yozef Kolsko crouched
for protection. He might have cried out, though if he did, the sound vanished within
the cacophony of hundreds of screaming voices, musket and pistol fire, and the
clash of metal.
splashed across his arm, after the battle axe wielded by the man next to him at
the barricade cleaved a raider from neck to navel. Yozef stared at the warm, bright
red coating on his arm, calmly satisfied the blood came from someone else.
looked up to see a scarred, tattooed man charging with a spear leveled at his
gut. Although time slowed, his reflexes betrayed him. He’d only just brought
his own spear around to ward off the blade when a jolt of searing agony enveloped
his midriff. He looked down at a blade end attached to the spear shaft, the
rest of the blade buried in his flesh, blood spraying outward.
Kolsko jerked upright in bed, gasping, hands covering his abdomen, sweat
running down his face. His heart pounded against his ribs and subsided only when
he recognized his bedroom.
had thought the nightmares were behind him. The attack on the abbey happened a
month ago. Thirty-six Anyar days. After the attack, his dreams relived the
terror and blood of that awful day.
threw back the covers, stood naked by the bed for a moment, then pulled on a
robe and walked out to the veranda. A weather front had pushed through hours earlier,
and now the sky blazed with stars undimmed by competing lights of civilization.
Around the town of Abersford, after the sun set and while hard-working people
slept, no lights marked human presence.
he took several deep breaths, his pulse eased, and his sweat turned chill. He
recognized the Anyar night sky but would never quit missing the constellations
of Earth. Whatever the distance to Earth, it was far enough that the shifting
view lost any terrestrial star pattern—no Orion, Big Dipper, Southern Cross.
flash caught his eye, streaking briefly before burning up. It took him a moment
to recognize a meteor and not a vehicle of the Watchers, as he had named them.
wonder if they’re up there looking down on Anyar the way they said they studied
wasn’t the first time he’d had this thought. When Joseph Colsco’s San Francisco
to Chicago flight accidently collided with the alien vessel, the occupants
saved him but wouldn’t return him to Earth. His only contact had been with an
artificial intelligence—Harlie, he named it—created to communicate with him. Despite
his pleading, Harlie never wavered that Yozef couldn’t return to Earth, because
he had knowledge of the Watchers’ existence.
creators were studying the mystery of who transplanted humans to other planets
and why. The AI gave Joe the options of either being terminated, as presented in
its dry and toneless voice, or being placed on another planet inhabited by
humans. Despondent and afraid, he chose to live and awoke in the care of strangers
who’d found him unconscious and naked on a beach.
mind drifted from the Watchers to his new life. The first months were hard.
Torn from his life and cast among a strange people and society, he’d adjusted
and found a place, albeit drastically different from his previous life. In
introspective moments, he wondered which life was better—the comfortable,
mundane one on Earth or the one here in the town of Abersford, Keelan Province,
Island of Caedellium, on planet Anyar.
shook his head.
always a safe
say it isn’t interesting
rubbed the scar on his lower left leg. The medicants had removed the stitches
two sixdays ago—two Anyarian weeks—but the leg was still tender. He’d been
lucky. The musket ball ricochet tore a two-inch gouge that nicked the shinbone.
They said the wound wasn’t serious, but the leg might ache after sudden weather
changes or when he got older. The former effect was already evident.
himself in the middle of a musket-and-blade battle was one more shock in the
last two years. He had accepted his fate enough to start a new life, had found
friends, had had an affair with a local farm woman, had introduced technology
unknown on Caedellium, and was on the way to becoming wealthy by local
standards, when the harder reality of this world was thrust on him by a mercenary
night air brought shivers. Enough wondering for tonight
The nightmare faded.
Yozef Kolsko walked back to the bedroom, lay down, pulled the covers over
himself, and let sleep come again.
were also awake and thinking of recent events. Culich Keelan, hetman and leader
of the sixty-thousand-member Keelan clan, sat in his study, rereading reports
about the raid on St. Sidryn’s abbey and the adjacent town of Abersford. The
raiders were Buldorians, freebooters from the Ganolar continent, yet the real
enemy was the Narthon Empire. Caedellium and its twenty-one clans had seemed too
distant to be threatened by conflicts plaguing the rest of Anyar. The Caedelli
had blithely assumed their large island, off regular trading routes and not
near major continents, prevented temptations for annexation. They were wrong. The
Narthon Empire coveted their island.
aggressive Narthani had roared out of the northern reaches of the Melosia
continent three hundred years earlier and systematically subjugated people and
nations until a coalition of neighboring realms stopped their expansion. When
the Narthani first appeared on Caedellium six years ago, it was in the guise of
mere traders. The naïve Preddi Clan accepted Narthani presence and was oblivious,
until too late, to the surreptitious plan to enthrall the island. With shocking
speed, the Narthani destroyed the Preddi Clan, usurped their province for
Narthani colonists, and coerced two adjacent clans, Eywell and Selfcell, into
alliance. Culich Keelan feared that only time separated similar threats to other
Buldorian raids carried out under Narthani tutelage reinforced his fears.
Although the attack on St. Sidryn’s was the first overt move on Keelan Province,
Culich suffered no illusions it would be the last. More trouble brewed. The
Buldorians were only a foretaste; the main thrust was yet to come. No one clan
could withstand the Narthani, and he chaffed at his failure to convince enough
of the other clan hetmen of the threat level he foresaw.
with too many nights, Culich’s sleep had eluded him. Rereading reports was
better than lying in bed, trying to avoid looking to the future and fearing an
abyss might stare back.
hundred and sixty feet away in Keelan Manor, another person was awake. Maera Keelan
lay in bed, covers pulled up to her chin, eyes open. She couldn’t hear her father,
but somehow knew he was awake and worrying. Everything her father knew about
the Narthani threat, so did Maera. She had been his scribe and assistant the
last five years, sitting as recorder on important meetings and drafting much of
his correspondence. It was an unusual role for any Caedelli female, and even
more so for one only twenty-three years old (twenty-one Earth years). However,
Meara wasn’t just anyone. The hetman’s eldest daughter possessed a brilliant
mind restrained by acceptable roles in Caedelli society.
she had been a son, everyone would assume her destined to be the next hetman.
But there were no hetwomen. Instead, she helped her father where she could,
studied Caedellium history, taught herself languages of other peoples of Anyar,
and played the role of hetman’s daughter. She was already late in performing
one duty to her father and clan, a duty she had accepted all of her life. There
would be a marriage advantageous to the clan, and she would produce children. Because
her father had no sons and Maera was who she was, everyone, including her, expected
one of her sons to be the next hetman. That she hadn’t yet performed this duty
was partly due to the prospective suitors’ reluctance to take a wife who was
too intelligent, too opinionated, and too assertive, no matter the advantages
of a familial liaison to a clan as important as Keelan.
her fears about the Narthani intertwined with thoughts about marriage and
children. She wasn’t as reticent as her father to look toward the future, but
for her, the abyss also threatened any future children of
Preddi City, General Okan Akuyun slept fitfully until rising to go to his
study. While the commander of all Narthani on Caedellium was not a habitual
suffered doubts, most of which he shared with his wife,
Rabia, but not all.
Buldorian raids had gone as planned, except for the last, the first raid on
Keelan Province. He didn’t know any details of the raid’s failure, because the
Buldorians had sailed for home without reporting back to Akuyun. That one
failure didn’t matter. The successful raids, plus other actions meant to
destabilize the Caedelli clans, had proceeded well enough that he and his
command staff were near deciding it was time to move to the next phase—direct
action against the clans. The first steps would be to ratchet up raids by
Eywell and Selfcell, forcing the neighboring clans to concentrate on defending
their own provinces and minimizing aiding one another. Soon, Akuyun would commit
his Narthani troops to invade and force the islanders to fight open field
battles, where his professional troops could use combined infantry, artillery,
and cavalry to crush enough of the clans to compel the others to accept
acceptable progress, Akuyun believed it his duty to worry. Any failure fell
eventually to him, in both his own mind and that of the Narthani High Command in
Narthon, but he reassured himself that nothing seemed to stand in their path,
barring unforeseen factors that couldn’t be accounted for in any plan.