Inda by Sherwood Smith
Table of Contents
Raves for Inda
“The world creation and characterization within Inda have the complexity and depth and inventiveness that mark a first-rate fantasy novel. What makes the characters complex is that Sherwood Smith is not content to have good guys and bad guys. Indeed, just when we think it’s safe to hate somebody, she throws us a curve and makes the bad guy’s motives complicated and at least somewhat understandable. Everybody is able to justify his actions as being ‘in the best interests’ of the kingdom. The result is a powerful beginning to a very promising series by a writer who is making her bid to be a major fantasist after all. By the time I finished, I was so captured by this book that it lingered for days afterward. This was not convenient—I had stories of my own to write. But I was haunted. I had lived inside these characters, inside this world, and I was unwilling to let go of it. That, I think, is the mark of a major work of fiction . . . you owe it to yourself to read Inda.”
—Orson Scott Card
“Inda’s an exceptionally likeable character, and his formerly nomadic, military-centered culture is interesting as well, particularly the conspiracy of women unnoticed by most of the men. Many fans of old-fashioned adventure will find this rousing mix of royal intrigue, academy shenanigans, and sea story worth the effort.”—Locus
“The book is set in a world so intricate and real that it’s hard to step out of and hard to forget. Filled with magic and glamour, it houses a culture unique for its openness and warlike ability. The crown jewel of this story is Inda, but all the of the characters spring to life with humor and interesting nicknames, as well as intriguing political agendas. Smith’s rich details and imagery tie this story together. Complex and compelling.”—San Jose Mercury News
ALSO BY SHERWOOD SMITH:
Copyright © 2006 by Sherwood Smith.
All Rights Reserved.
DAW Books Collector’s No. 1371.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
eISBN : 978-1-101-03443-9
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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First Paperback Printing, August 2007
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HECHO EN U.S.A.
I would like to thank my editors: Betsy Wollheim for her insightful advice, and Debra Euler for her cheerful and prompt returns whenever I had questions.
I’d like to thank all the people who read Inda in various drafts, especially my writing group, The Horse Latitudes. They patiently listened to me maunder and agonize, and gave me not just one but several reads. Finally and most gratefully, Beth Bernobich, who generously gave of her limited time to go through this story again and again for me.
Last, music is always problematical—a writer says Such-and-such was my inspiration, and the reader thinks, I hate that band! Still, I will pass on for anyone interested in such things: the first time I heard the soundtrack for Amistad, and did not know what it was, I was stunned—for the second and last tracks sounded just like the scrubs on the open plains, and the end of the sixth like the Hymn to the Fallen.
“LET’S go fight the girls!”
Inda Algara-Vayir’s shout signaled the end of morning chores. Broom handles clattered against the stable walls and buckets thumped down as the boys of Castle Tenthen whooped with joy. Dawn had brought the first clear day of a late spring. After winter’s bleakness, the sunlight shafting from the still-low northern sun cheered the castle’s people going about their work.
For the young, it meant the first war game of the year.
“What’s your plan, Inda?”
“What’re we gonna do, Inda?”
Some of the older stable hands laughed as the boys romped like pups, exchanging shoves and yapping questions that no one listened to. Might as well be barks.
A hard thump across Inda’s back came from cousin Branid, the tallest and oldest of the boys. “Be a short war if the girls aren’t ready for us.” Some of the other boys paused, and Branid added, smirking, “Unless you want us to attack ’em while they’re up studying scrolls with your mother, or restringing the bows.”
Inda shook his head. “They’ll be ready. Worked it out with Tdor at breakfast. Both to finish by midmorning bells.”
The boys yelled again, then Inda said, “We’ll have a short one today. On account of the mud. Later in the week, if the ground dries, we’ll have our first overnight game.”
This time the cheer the boys sent up was very close—as close as they dared—to the notorious academy fox yip.
The girls waiting at the lakeside heard the cheer and grinned at one another in readiness.
And up on the castle walls, some of the Riders on sentry duty and the women of the Princess’ Guard who were on watch smiled, remembering the first war games of spring in their own youth, for these were the days in Marlovan history when both men and women guarded the castle walls, men outward, women inward.
One of those Riders’ sons sent a sour look at Branid, then muttered to Inda, “Liet says we??
Branid sneered. “Everyone knows Liet’s full of bran gas.” He jerked his thumb toward the forge, from which smoke rose into a still sky. To Branid, everyone’s value or truthfulness related strictly to their rank. Liet’s family were distant cousins to the Algara-Vayirs, and Liet’s brother did not train for the Riders, but worked in the forge. “Now if Joret said anything . . .”
“Liet?” Inda ignored Branid from habit. Yes, Tdor had grinned in a strange way while they’d talked. He’d thought it caused by spring’s arrival. So, the girls had a ruse.
Someone punched Inda. “Where’ll we find ’em?”
Inda jabbed his thumb back over his shoulder. “Down lakeside.” He sighed inwardly, wishing he’d thought up a good plan, but he hadn’t believed it wouldn’t rain yet again by the time morning chores were finished. “Let’s go,” he said aloud in Marlovan, unaware of his shift from Iascan to the language of his ancestors, the language of war. No, he thought, make the plan when I see the girls. More like a real fight anyway.
The echo of the midmorning bells bounced off stone walls as the boys raced out of the stable yard, through the massive side gates that were now standing open, and down a trail toward the finger of the lake that was one of their favorite battlegrounds, well away from the thick growth of cattails and the sharp, waxy leddas. As soon as they passed the budding hemlock and the great ferns all covered with shiny, pale green leaves, they saw the girls at the lake edge ranged behind a waist-high fort. From this distance, the girls’ voices sounded like gulls as they jumped up and down screeching taunts and threats in a mixture of Iascan and Marlovan. A couple of generations ago only Marlovans had spoken in the language of war, but time, peace, and intermarriage with the Iascans they’d conquered and now lived with made it more practical for everyone to understand one another. Nobody thought about it: Marlovan was for war drill, and Iascan for regular life.
That is, simple for the castle folk. When dealing with outsiders, the language used could change the intent of words, if not the meaning. This was why the princess—Fareas-Iofre—had decreed they always use Iascan with outsiders.
“Let’s get ’em!” Cousin Branid yelled, looking back for followers.
“Parley first,” Inda countered, and the boys slowed.
Branid snorted. “You didn’t lay down the rules this morning? I would have. M’ grandmother says, you always lay down the rules first to your men, or—”
“Didn’t have time,” Inda said, once again cutting into Branid’s half-boast, half-whine, familiar since early childhood. “Set ’em now. See what they reveal.”
The boys slowed to a stop, eying the girls, who continued to yell insults, waving their arms and capering about, some slapping their butts, others holding up the backs of their hands and wiggling the fingers. Insults meant to entice the boys to attack now. Inda scanned them until he found Tdor, his betrothed, right in the middle, brown braids flapping against her skinny back as she hopped.
“They’ve got to have a whole mess o’ mudballs behind there,” a Rider captain’s son observed. “All ready to throw.”
“And they want us to charge now,” Inda agreed. “So let’s go easy. Spread out, start picking up your weapons.”
The boys studied the enemy’s stronghold as they sauntered forward, bare toes digging down in the pungent mud. The girls’ fort was built in a semicircle, stones in front, then mud and brush, the edges curving back to the lake shallows. Water was as effective a barrier as rock, as they’d learned from generations of plains-riding forebears.
There were a lot more girls down there than boys, now that the older boys had gone either riding on spring border patrol with Inda’s father, or to the royal city as part of Tanrid’s Honor Guard. A lot more girls, but Inda wasn’t sure they were all there. It was hard to count, the way they jumped around.
The boys picked up clumps of turf and mud and piled their weaponry into their smocks. They stopped within hailing distance.
“Take the fort or capture commanders?” Inda called.
“Commander only,” Tdor yelled back, as Inda had expected.
Whoever captured the other’s commander won. Shorter game.
“No,” Tdor yelled. “Honor system: death blow you’re dead, otherwise you can fight.”
Good. Taking prisoners meant having to guard them, and Inda needed every one of his boys.
The rules of war having been established, the stable master’s son asked, “Charge in a line?”
“No. Three prong,” Inda said, putting his evolving strategy into the form of an order. “You lead left, Vrad. You right, Cousin Branid. I got the middle.” Tanrid, Inda’s older brother, had told him over the winter to try to break superior numbers into smaller groups, and Inda had used much of his free time scouring through old records, trying to find accounts of battles wherein the strategies Tanrid mentioned had worked—or hadn’t. “Divide ’em. On my whistle, all swoop on Tdor.”
Inda looked about, saw comprehension, jerked his chin up, and the boys charged, yelling wildly, pausing only to throw mudballs. Branid, trying both to run fastest and throw the hardest, was the first to slip on the slimy mud and fall, the girls’ mudballs pelting him with pitiless accuracy. He looked around in despair and was relieved when he saw two of the other boys go down face forward, each under his own slurpy brown hailstorm.
Inda watched them all, sensing that something was not quite right. His offensive charge progressed steadily despite the formidable barrage of defensive mudballs. He ducked as a big, squishy one whizzed overhead and straightened up—just in time to catch one square on his temple. He scrubbed his sleeve over his eyes, squinted against the sting, and glimpsed Vrad and another boy reaching the fort. They began climbing over, Vrad glancing back toward Inda.
“In! In!” he yelled, motioning them to close on Tdor.
He expected the girls to form around her, but she leaned up on the fort and whistled once.
New shrieks caused all the boys to turn their heads toward a clump of trees. At that moment what had looked like scrubby brush broke apart. Dead branches and old grass arced into the air as a flying wedge of girls raced round to flank them.
“Awww,” Inda moaned, and the boys lost what little order they’d had. All that screeching and jumping had been a decoy!
Tdor grinned in triumph at Inda from the fort wall. He grinned back. A good ruse, but he hadn’t lost yet.
He kept throwing his mudballs, looking around to assess his forces as best he could through smeared vision until a tackle from behind splatted him face-first into the mud.
“Pin his joints,” came a brisk female voice.
Feet thumped onto each elbow, sending pangs up his arms. He pulled his knees under and stuck his butt in the air in a desperate attempt to fight free and the feet lifted away. He scrambled up, ready to defend himself, but no one attacked.
Tdor saw him rubbing mud from his eyes. “Runner!” she said in a low voice; they were no longer enemy commanders.
Boys and girls all stopped fighting, watching the tall, sturdy young woman in Runner blue who trotted down the path. It was Chelis, Fareas-Iofre’s youngest personal Runner.
Chelis scanned the group, now fairly equally coated in mud. In the center of the boys she spotted a short figure with light brown curls escaping from a mud-draggled braid, his brown eyes just visible in an equally mud-smeared face.
“Indevan-Dal.” Chelis brushed her fingers over her heart.
Indevan-Dal. Inda’s name with the courtesy title and Chelis’ salute caused silence. Just like that rank had been reestablished; Inda was no longer another mud-covered boy, he was now second son of the Prince and Princess of Choraed Elgaer.
“You’re wanted by Fareas-Iofre right away,” Chelis said, using the Marlovan word for the princess’ rank, Iofre, though the rest of her words were in peacetime Iascan.
Inda frowned. Summoned before his mother? Midmorni
Chelis recognized both the consternation and the blank eyes of rapid internal review. “Messenger from the royal city,” she murmured, exactly as ordered. She added in a low voice, “I suggest, if I might, you stop by the baths.”
Inda nodded once, then loped up the trail toward the castle. The massive high walls, built of honey-colored stone, reflected warmly in the bright morning sun. Above the walls, long rows of windows set into deep arches in the main building—the glass casements framed by thick iron-reinforced shutters for defense—reflected gleams of light from the lake. Each corner tower also reflected shards of morning light, rendering the castle as mellow in appearance as a castle ever can be; it was home, as familiar and as comfortable as the brackish-smelling breeze coming off the marshy expanse north of the lake, where a line of servants, dressed in brown-dyed cotton-wool, walked a stone-flagged trail, carrying baskets that would at day’s end be full of leddas to be boiled and dried and woven into shoes and belts, singing as they went.
Their world intersected with the children’s only rarely, despite proximity; the leddas harvest song, weirdly minor-key and ancient—from long before Norsunder had nearly swept humankind from the world three millennia ago—went unremarked as birdsong as the children began talking.
Almost all. Tdor waited patiently, for she’d seen Chelis glance her way, her brows lifted just a little.
The boys followed Inda toward the castle. Over their talk rose Branid’s whine, “I knew those girls were there, but I thought Inda knew, too. Now, if you’d just followed my command—”