Excerpts from The Sword and the Pen

Excerpts from the forthcoming fantasy novel The Sword and the Pen by Mark Schaefer


Drunk and destitute, Dunmearh Swordsmith
Sat silently as the stranger at the bar
Began loudly to berate the barman over money.
Most of the men eating their meals did not notice.

Nevertheless, the newcomer noisily continued
Complaining concerning the cost of his beer.
“From Belianax to Broadland have I borne goodwill,
Giving to good men gold for their wares

“Why now would I give wages for my libation,
A liquid lacking the liveliness of effervescence
Eschewing and erasing any enjoyment in the bubbles,
Because thy beer, good barman, is flat!”

Fury filled the face of the barman,
Bending to bring to bear a club—

“What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m writing the record of our voyage,” Meharanganar Toreanastrarax replied, looking up from his parchment.

Dunmearh Swordsmith looked at his companion with a now-frequent expression—the one he found himself wearing whenever the latter lived into the eccentricity Dunmearh had come to know well.

“I know that, Meha. But why are you writing it like that?”

“I thought you’d appreciate our story as a Greatvalish epic poem. I’m getting the alliteration right, aren’t I?”

“Yes, it’s fine,” Dunmearh said. “It’s just—a bit much. We don’t even write poetry like that in Greatvale anymore. Our poems are like anyone else’s—they rhyme and are about love.”

Meharanganar looked at Dunmearh with a mix of disappointment and pity. “Love poems are inadequate to the task of writing about a hero of Greatvale!”

“First, I’m no hero. Second, if you’re going to do it, then you should at least write it in Greatvalish. Oððe forstentst þu niht þone spræce Greátdæles?”

Meharanganar considered Dunmearh’s words. “I understand it just fine. But I fear I could not write well enough in it to do the language justice.”

“Well, there you go, then. Just write it in regular prose like any good storyteller.”

“May I, at least, put a poem at the beginning of each chapter?”

Dunmearh sighed. “Fine. But no more than two stanzas.”

“Agreed!” exclaimed Meharanganar, returning to his parchment. He paused and looked up again. “I may need three for the first chapter. I have already written them besides.”

“Fine,” said Dunmearh. “Just go easy on the flowery language. I need this account to get my citizenship back. I can’t afford to lose any support because people think they’re reading some old saga from their school days.”

Meharanganar looked visibly disappointed. “If you insist. But asking a man of letters such as I to refrain from using the gifts the Good Mother has bestowed upon me—”

“I know, I know: it’s a great sin against the Art. Use them—just . . . judiciously.”

“I shall!” Meharanganar replied, grinning, and returned to his work.

Dunmearh turned toward the door of the small, candle-lit cabin where Meharanganar insisted on doing his work and went out. He climbed the ladder to the main deck and walked toward the rail at the front of the fo’c’sle. It was just past sunset, and the ship was catching a strong westerly breeze, propelling it toward the Sunrise Lands and home—well, his former home, anyway. With luck and Thura’s blessing, it would be home once again.

From Chapter 1

Drunk and destitute, Dunmearh Swordsmith
Sat silently as the stranger at the bar
Began loudly to berate the barman over money.
Most of the men eating their meals did not notice.

Nevertheless, the newcomer noisily continued
Complaining concerning the cost of his beer.
“From Belianax to Broadland have I borne goodwill,
Giving to good men gold for their wares.

“Why now would I give wages for my libation,
A liquid lacking the liveliness of effervescence
Eschewing and erasing any enjoyment in the bubbles,
Because thy beer, good barman, is flat!”

The proprietor of the Star and Mule was not pleased. “You would speak ill of my ales?”

“I mean no offense,” the newcomer continued.  “I merely wish to state that I do not wish to pay for a libation that lacks effervescence. Without it, the beer is not as enjoyable.”

The bartender ducked behind his bar and produced a large club. He pointed the club in the newcomer’s direction. “I’ve about had it with you foreigners coming into our country and shitting on our ways!”

A murmur went throughout the bar’s patrons. Most of them had ignored this argument until that moment. The newcomer could feel the rising tide of antipathy around him. He stood out enough as it was—wearing the robes, cowl, and satchel of a cloistered scholar in a den of ruffians.

“Good sir!” he pleaded. “I mean to pass no judgment on Broadland ales! I simply do not like them and wish not to pay for a drink I do not enjoy.” That seemed like an eminently reasonable statement, and the newcomer felt it ought to have lowered the temperature somewhat.  It did not.

The bartender came out from behind the bar and waved his club at the newcomer. “So, our ales are not good enough for you foreigners. And yet, here you are, in our lands. A man might think it odd for an outlander to spend his time in a country he has so much contempt for!” The murmurs in the crowd were turning into outright rumbles.

The newcomer started backing up toward what he had hoped was the door, but having misremembered the layout of the tavern, he was backing up into a small alcove without any means of escape.

“Good sir!”

“Don’t you go thinking you can talk your way out of this, stinking outlander!” The bartender swung the club high above him as the newcomer dropped and began to cower. He held up an arm in a pathetic attempt to shield himself from the barman’s wrath. The bartender began to swing.

The downstroke never arrived. The newcomer looked up to see a man with long hair tied back on the top, wearing what looked like the vestiges of a fighting kit, with his muscular arms flexed and his hand holding onto the head of the bartender’s club, preventing the enraged man from moving it in any direction.

“You don’t really understand the concept of customer service, do you, Yvan?” the man said. “Give the man back his shilling and let him be.”

“You stay out of this, valie. You’re no better than the rest of ’em. In fact, you’re worse.”

“Probably, but that’s exactly the reason you should listen to me now.”

Given that the bartender could still not extricate his cudgel from the stranger’s grip, he relented. If it were to come to blows with this man, the bartender would lose. Quickly. He let go of the club. “I’ll give the outlander his damned shilling. I don’t want to see him in here ever again.”

“Something tells me that won’t be a problem,” the stranger said. “But, just in case you should have a lapse in hospitality, I’ll hold on to your club for now.”

The bartender grunted and returned to his bar. The stranger turned toward the newcomer, who was still sitting on the floor with his arm up trying to shield himself.

“You alright?” the stranger said.

“I consider myself so, good sir! I cannot thank you enough for your kind intervention on my behalf,” he said as he rose and dusted himself off.

“Well, you’re welcome, I guess. Though, to be honest, it wasn’t so much about defending you as it was about putting that ass in his place. The beer here is terrible—but it’s like that throughout Broadland. They don’t ferment it long enough.”

“I see. Nevertheless, whether intentional or unintentional, you have done me a kindness, and I should like to repay it. May I purchase you a beverage?”

“Sure. A beer would be great.”

The newcomer did a double-take. 

“I mean, it’s shite but it’s still beer.”

“An expansive attitude!” the newcomer said before heading to the bar and repurposing his returned shilling to pay for his new protector’s beer. He took the mug and returned to the table in the alcove where the other man had been sitting.

“I’m Meharanganar Toreanastrarax of Denesatiriux in Illax,” the newcomer said as he took his seat at the stranger’s table.

“Good Lady, that’s enough name for eight people. I’m Dunmearh Swordsmith. Thank you for the beer.”

“You are welcome, Sir Dunmearh,” Meharanganar said.

“No ‘sir.’ Just Dunmearh.”

“But you have on some armor remnants; are you not a knight?” 

“No. This is just what’s left over from my army kit. I was in the ēorodas.”

“You’re from the Republic of Greatvale!” Meharanganar exclaimed. “I understand now why he called you ‘Valie.’”

“Yeah, please keep your voice down. Greatvale isn’t terribly popular in here. And it’s Folkdeed—not republic.”

“Yes, yes! I remember now. We have some non-kingdoms in the Sunset Lands; there, they are called ‘republics’ and are primarily city-states. Greatvale is the only one in the Sunrise Lands, is it not?”

“It is,” Dunmearh replied with a small measure of pride. All Greatvalers took pride in having rejected what they saw as the barbarism of kings in favor of a much more enlightened society. “But that’s exactly the reason we’re not very popular abroad. Everyone thinks we’re out here fomenting revolution or something.”

“First of all, I never said, ‘But that’s exactly the reason you should listen to me now.’”

“You did. You may not remember doing so, but you did.”

“Alright, but I certainly never said, ‘Good Lady, that’s enough name for eight people.’”

“No, you didn’t. But it’s cleverer than what you did say.”

“And where do you get off writing what I’m thinking? How do you know I answered ‘with pride’?”

“If you’re not going to allow me to write this story in verse, then you must give me license to interpret inner states as I please. I perceived you were proud of Greatvale’s republicanism, and so I have written it thus.”

“It’s folcdædscipe. I keep telling you that.”

“Yes, yes. Now go away and let me write this the way I see fit.”

“Just don’t attribute to me any inner states that will look bad before the Ealdormoot.”

“I shan’t. Now, off with you.”

Meharanganar nodded appreciatively. “Yes, the citizens of the republics of the Sunset Lands are oft viewed with suspicion in the realms there as well. But I am grateful to you, good citizen.”

“Yeah, well, I’m no longer a citizen of the Folkdeed,” Dunmearh replied. 

“Oh, did you—”

“It’s a long story,” Dunmearh continued.

“I have time, good sir.” 

“That may be, but I’ve just met you, Meh, uh, Meh—”

“Meharanganar Toreanastrarix.”

“That’s not going to work. Is there a shorter version of that name?”

“Family members sometimes call me ‘Meha’ but that’s—”

“Meha will do. ’Cause I’m not gonna remember Marararagararana.”

Meharanganar tried to decide whether to be annoyed by his interlocutor’s impropriety with Illaxian naming conventions but decided in the end that he was not exactly surrounded by friendly people at the moment, and having this displaced Greatvaler on his side was the more important consideration at present.

“As you wish.”

“What are you even doing here, Meha? You’re obviously a scholar of some sort. Hanging out in rotten taverns doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing your type usually does.”

“I came here because I heard this was a good venue in which to enlist the services of sell-swords.”

Dunmearh laughed. “Sell-swords! What do you need a sell-sword for? Borrow too much money for books from the wrong people?”

“Your japes, good sir, are not necessary. I am here to enlist men for a quest.”

“A quest!? Is there a damsel in distress somewhere? Are there dragons to be slain?”

“I do not expect we shall find any damsels, but there may be dragons,” Meharanganar replied without irony.

Dunmearh stared at the strange man opposite him in his cloister garb. The man’s eyes had an odd fire that walked the line between passion and lunacy.

“You’re not joking, are you?”

“No, good sir. I am not.”

“Where is it you expect that you might find dragons, then?”

“In the Hidden Lands.”

Dunmearh was grateful that he had not been drinking his beer, for he would certainly have spat it out when Meharanganar mentioned the Hidden Lands. “The Hidden Lands? You’re mad. The Hidden Lands aren’t real. Sailors have been all over the southern Middling Sea, and there’s nothing there.”

“There is, and I know the way.”

. . .

Dunmearh was not sure how much more he wanted to entertain this madman, but having nothing else to do that day, he sighed and decided to dive in.

“The Hidden Lands are a myth. They’re just a bunch of stories that old priests tell to scare the faithful or to justify their power. There is no fabled homeland of humanity with floating houses and magical creatures.”

“Do you think the name ‘Hidden Lands’ an accident? The Lands were hidden by Illa-va-alla to protect humanity in its infancy. All the human tribes migrated from the Hidden Lands. Why, the Elder Tongue itself was the common speech of the Hidden Lands.”

“Yes, I know the myths. They do teach us to read in Greatvale.”

“I had no intent to condescend, good sir. I merely wish to point out that there is a reason why no one has found the Hidden Lands since the migration.”

“Do tell.”

Meharanganar unshouldered his satchel and produced a book and a small scroll. “Can you read the Elder Tongue?”

“It’s enough for me to speak both Greatvalish and Brallanish.”

“That doesn’t count—Greatvalish is just old Brallanish.”

“It counts.”

“As you say.” Meharanganar unrolled the scroll and placed the book on one corner to keep it from rolling up again. He opened the book to a page he had marked with a ribbon. He began to read.

Yo pehu b’djusithu! Mur-b’guduthu genot-hepu, mur be-araliapu pai bu-araliapu ir seshi-zo-va-zo bo-dogopu umko. Tung-ka avak nai ul b’kududhifa’ithu. Baya me, Illa-he-Kuduma, bobo-thuvam.

“Mortals! Having forsaken your home, ye shall not return, lest ye do so by that same direction ye traveled thence. This path is only for the wise. For I, Mother of the World, have decreed it.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that.”

“Good. Because here is the clue.” He pointed to a word on the scroll. “This word—seshi-zo—means ‘that direction,’ but the word also means ‘east.’”

“Yes, I know. Wynflæd Sælithend thought so. Approached from the east and found nothing. She and her whole crew were eventually killed by pirates when they sailed too far into the western Middling.”

“So they do educate you in Greatvale! That is precisely correct, good sir! She was a radical in her ideas. The more traditional approach is to interpret seshi-zo as ‘direction,’ and I believe that to be the correct interpretation.”

“But lots of people have tried that. Pored over legends, looked at maps, and tried to reconstruct the exact route that, say, Wulfred the Founder took or Ulisanax, or any of the legendary founders of the nine ancient realms. They never succeeded. There’s nothing out there but empty sea.”

Meharanganar considered his companion with astonishment. “You are quite well-read for a sell-sword and ex-patriate soldier.”

“I told you it was a long story.”

“And someday I shall hear it, Illavalla willing. And you are correct: everyone who has tried to sail backward along the paths taken by the first to leave the Hidden Lands has failed—because none of them listened to the instructions.”

Dunmearh was still quite convinced his new acquaintance was mad, but he had a deep respect for people who were capable of looking at an old problem with new eyes. He often found such radical reinterpretations thrilling. “How so? It seems pretty clear on its face.”

“Does it? The text says, ‘ye shall not return, lest ye do so by that same direction ye traveled thence.’ In what direction did the earliest pioneers travel?”

“Well, depending on who you think was first—probably Ulisanax—then northeast, toward what is Carmadh today. But they tried that. They sailed that route and found nothing.”

“Ah, yes! But what direction did they travel in to sail it?”

A dawning realization began to appear on Dunmearh’s face. 

“Southwest. They traveled southwest!”

“Indeed, they did!” Meharanganar said, reveling in his companion’s sudden epiphany. “The words seshi-zo-va-zo mean ‘that same direction’ not ‘that same route.’ Everyone who has tried to sail to the Hidden Lands—”

“Has been going in the wrong direction!” Dunmearh interrupted. “But how could anyone traveling from Carmadh travel northeast? That’s landward.”

“You don’t have to travel northeast from your position, wherever you are. You have to travel northeast to the Hidden Lands. That means you have to approach them from the southwest. Only then will you be able to see them.”

Dunmearh was fascinated by this strange man’s thinking. It was different, that was for certain. But did it matter? He could still be a lunatic, and the Hidden Lands could still be nothing other than myth. 

“So that’s why you came to this flea-bitten tavern to find sell-swords—to crew an expedition to the Hidden Lands by traveling from the southwest.” He picked up his mug and took a deep draft of the annoyingly flat Broadland ale.

“That’s exactly correct,” Meharanganar replied. “I figured that someone might be willing to come along for a fee of seventy-thousand Illaxian guilder.”

Dunmearh stopped, removed the mug from his lips, and set it down slowly on the table. He took a deep breath and gathered himself before looking across the table at his new friend.

“See, Meha. You should have led with that. I’m in.”