Silt, my latest Orion the Hunter story takes place immediately following The Empty Blade (currently with my editor, and due out around the first of the year). The Empty Blade is a pivotal story for Orion, and some of the life changes seen in that story are evident in this opening.
The brisk wind caught the hem of his long coat and the only sound was the flapping of its loose end. Orion stood at the end of the jetty, sea spray stinging his cheeks and looked out at the barren arctic ocean and ice floes beyond. Turning his back on the bleak, gray seas, he looked at the manor house, his ancestral home, called Dishia Simili, “Cold Comfort,” in the high tongue of the tir’a. A pun perpetrated by one of his ancestors.
Looking back at the frothing seas again, Orion thought of his clan and his family line. The rel were outcasts and misfits in the distant past. Pushed further and further south till they had settled on this cold misty shore eons gone.
The terrachians have a saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That certainly proved true for the rel. The harsh land shaped them and they learned to use the resources of the sea and the tundra for food, skins, and shelter. After a hundred cycles of subsistence living, the rel remembered their kin to the north and struck out across the seas to take their revenge.
For twenty generations the clan preyed on the richer lands of their neighbors, taking what they wanted at the edge of a blade. Orion’s own ancestor, the founder of the house of Rassas, took the imperial throne finally establishing his clan as the greatest warriors of his mother’s people.
The rel houses no longer needed to prey on their kin. In modern times the riches of the arctic lands had made the rel lords wealthy almost beyond measure. Much of the modern technology of the tir’a depended on minerals dug from beneath the ice sheet for their operating circuits. His own tithes, the taxes and licenses that now made him wealthy and a manor lord, came from those mines.
Orion walked the jetty, back through the boathouse toward the manor proper. As he got closer, below the scaffolding that covered the front of the house, he could see the boy Mor’oru playing in the snow with the displaced sand cat that had accompanied Messu Jefith from Pen’atha. Under Messu Jefith’s tutelage, the roundness of early teenage had given way to the lankiness of early manhood. Mor’oru now towered over his mother, though he still had some way to go to reach Orion’s proportions.
A full cycle had passed since the Emperor had awarded him his ancestral lands, but the construction continued. Much of his grandfather’s estate had fallen into deep disrepair, buffeted by wind and snow in this remote enclave. Though his tithes had made him rich, much of his fortune had been reinvested in returning the manor house and grounds to their former glory. Workmen were only absent now because of the coming winter. No one could stand to work outside in this climate during the next few months, but work would begin again when the sub-zero weather broke in the spring.
The teenager tossed snowballs at the big cat, and she shoveled up tusks full of the white powder to toss back to him in turn. Laughter rose from the scene and touched even Orion’s dour countenance with a smile.
Orion was not given to introspection, growing up in the internment camps he had not the time for self-examination. His coping mechanisms had evolved to deal with survival and left room for little else. Even the milestones of this past cycle; his reconciliation with his human father, his reunion with Messu Jefith, the granting back of the ancestral lands his grandfather had surrendered to the throne at his exile, even his ascension to, a peer of the realm and lord of the manor had not brought him the peace he had expected.
The sight of the boy and the animal, playing so innocently in the snow could touch him momentarily. Still, nothing could permanently break through the background noise of pain and rage that made up his internal universe. He simply was not wired for joy.
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