Excerpt from 'The Magician of Earolyn'

 

Chapter 1: Cistern

 

Damnation it’s hot, thought Commander Jacol Naus as he wiped the sweat from his brow.

 

He climbed a set of steps to the top of a lookout tower protecting the Cistern's East Gate. Warped, wooden planks creaked and moaned under the weight of his athletic frame. He was in excellent physical condition. But on a night like this, even the slightest exertion made his tunic stick to his skin.


For seven years, Jacol had served as a member of the Guardians, the military force sworn to serve the Empress and protect the citizens of Earolyn. Still, in spite of his oath, Jacol loathed the heat. He reeked of dirt, sweat, and time.


He turned from the stairway and entered the lookout tower. Flickering torchlights cast an orange glow within the chamber. The creatures of the night sang their songs through the open tower windows. Their discordant melodies echoed against the tower’s iron-clad walls.


"Report,” Jacol said.

 

Three Guardians were stationed there. One looked over the city to the west. The other studied a void of darkness to the east. The third, an over-pretentious youth named Erran, tripped over his boots and scrambled to the center of the chamber. He raised his right hand over his chest, his palm faced downward in salute. Jacol knew Erran well – all too well. He mentally prepared himself for the inevitable verbal barrage.


"Commander! All scout patrols have returned except Alpha-Five, who should have arrived before sun fall ... there have been no sightings of tigerwolves or bearclaws in the surrounding area … however, it was during this same time last year we experienced our last tigerwolf infestation. More importantly, we’re at reduced strength due to bad eggs in the morning’s breakfast … stomach sickness … reinforcements are advised." He clicked his heels, punctuating the end of his report. Air rushed into his deflated lungs. Erran brimmed with confidence, as though expecting high marks for such a thorough summary.

 

Jacol's mind buckled with an internal grimace. He struggled to keep his face serious. "Well then, I’m glad I didn't eat the eggs this morning," Jacol heard muffled snickers coming from the other two Guardians.

 

"Yes, Commander," Erran said hesitantly. He furrowed his brow and took a half step backward, as if disappointed his report wasn't taken more seriously.

 

Jacol took a calming breath. "Go to the Command Center. They are to reassign patrol Beta-Three to protect the iron shipment coming from the mines. It’s to arrive early in the morning, so they must leave within the hour. I saw most of them at the evening sup, so I know their numbers are strong."

 

“Commander … what about Alpha Five? … They haven’t reported.”

 

“You have your orders, Guardian."

 

Erran acted to speak again, which Jacol met with an icy stare. This time, Erran wilted and remained silent. Then, in a flurry, he snapped to full attention and proceeded to give the most animated, silly looking salutes Jacol had ever received. Jacol returned his salute less emphatically. Erran barreled to the staircase forcing Jacol to move slightly aside to avoid a collision. He exited the tower in a roar of squeaking steps and booted feet.

 

Jacol walked to the edge of the tower, which overlooked Cistern’s entrance. He watched Erran scurry towards the East Gate as if his life depended on every precious second. Upon reaching it, Erran screamed, "Open the Gate upon special orders from Cistern's Commander of the Guard. It’s an emergency!"

 

Erran bounced like a child urgently searching for a latrine. Receiving no immediate response, he ran to the gate and banged his fists against the massive wooden door. "I said – it’s an emergency – by order of Cistern's Commander of the Guard!"

 

Looking from the tower above, Jacol shook his head. I really need to talk with that boy, he thought.

 

A reverberating clunk rumbled through the night, signaling the release of the iron bars that held the gate in place. Slowly, it swung open. Erran hurtled forward, apparently misjudged his speed, and rammed his shoulder into the edge of the gate. The force of the collision unceremoniously dumped him upon his rear. The young Guardian sat up, stunned for a moment. He waited for the door to swing fully past him before flinging himself through the opening into the city.

 

A dull ache found its way behind Jacol’s eyebrows. He rubbed his temples and sighed. Damnation. That boy needs a whole lot more than a good talk, he thought as the gate rumbled closed.