From the second draft, another sample chapter (in two parts). I've already posted earlier sample chapters from two other subplots. Read and enjoy (and feel free to comment):
Plots and Plans - Part I
Nazvasta Ulvic Vintner, younger brother of the late Branad Ulvic Vintner and until his death claimant to the vacant Markan Throne, looked around his study and nodded in satisfaction. The smell of old books mixed with the equally pleasant smell of wood polish. He looked at the two servants and smiled.
"Gena and Yeran, an excellent job as always."
Both servants bobbed their heads and gave a small curtsy.
"Back to the palace with you and remember, that if anybody asks, you've been-"
"Tidying the yard," Gena completed for him, while Yeran hid a giggle with a hand.
Nazvasta smiled. He doubted if the two girls - he still thought of them as girls, though Gena had almost as many years as he - were half as discreet as they claimed, but both were as good as illiterate, so could pass on none of his secrets. Once one servant knew a thing, all did.
He watched them leave by the old service tunnel, used by his grandfather to reach the observatory without leaving the comfort of the palace. Staflan had liked his comforts. Many had forgotten the tunnel even existed, so few ever bothered to come here. And now Staflan's grandson used the place as his study.
Morran Barr Fynn - Nazvasta's opposite number in Marka - had tried many times to infiltrate this room, but every one of his spies had been uncovered and either sent home, or given unpleasant duties elsewhere.
He had thought of acquiring a couple of sylphs for cleaning his study. The creatures were loyal, as well as intelligent, companionable and very discreet. He considered it now for a few moments, remembered that he disliked sylphs' natural odor, and dismissed the idea again.
The main room of the observatory - he had installed a false ceiling to trap most warmth, essential for his books in winter - formed his study. Or, as he preferred to call it, his library. Rows of books lined every wall bar one, shelved as high as he could reach. Two reading desks, three chairs and eight light-crystals completed the furniture.
The unshelved wall boasted an impressive fireplace he could walk into, the stone surround carved into every animal the sculptor's imagination could remember. Above that the only decoration in the room: a lone painting of a ship battering her way through heavy seas.
Even though the servants had gone, he was not alone.
"Recalling everybody from Marka may prove a strategic blunder," said his companion. Nazvasta's most trusted advisor, many in the palace forgot Fareen-y-Vintner even existed. Not that the gwerin hid from view, but she rarely pushed herself forward. "You have warned Marcus you intend to move against him."
Nazvasta regarded the gwerin. "A little late to concern yourself about that now?" He raised an eyebrow. "Besides, we need our people here once the inevitable happens."
Fareen's pale-brown eyes glittered. Even in this light, the cat-slit pupils stood out against her irises, betraying her sylph heritage. Her earpoints twitched. "Zenepha will fall," she said. "And Marcus is best placed to replace him."
"Our plan failed. Thanks to a sylph."
Fareen managed a small smile. "Better to stop the invasion from Re Taura, no matter how politically complicated the result has turned out for us. Zenepha's position has been considerably weakened."
"At least the questioning of our people as they return yields some results."
Fareen nodded. "Some surprising results. Will you set up a school?"
Nazvasta grimaced. Many of the officers and men who had served temporarily under Marcus Vintner spoke highly both of his rival and the sylphs he employed as scouts and messengers.
"Tempting," he answered. "But the struggle might be over quickly, and we will have Marcus Vintner's school."
Fareen stroked her chin. "Short-sighted," she murmured, hoping for a change of heart. "The struggle might not be over quickly."
"True," admitted Nazvasta, "but the worst that can happen is Marcus attacking us full on. He will either win or lose. Either way, there is only need for one scout training school."
Fareen shook her head, eyes solemn. "The worst that will happen is that Marcus decides to ignore us," she said. She changed the subject, though she would return to it at another time. She dared not tell him that she had already authorized Mikhan to establish a sylph scout school and training had already produced some promising young scouts. Another secret she must keep a little longer.
"There is something else you have forgotten."
"You have a gwerin advisor." Fareen smiled. "But Marcus has two. Or will have, once Zenepha falls."
Captain Indelgar Manin da Saar leaned back in his chair and rested his hands on the back of his head. His companion sipped at a dark drink.
"Is anything wrong with your alovak?" asked the questioner.
"Of course not, just waiting for it to cool a little," replied Indelgar. He had nothing against the questioner as such, but the man's line of work left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. Not that Indelgar had been put through a full interrogation, but persistent and thorough questioning made him feel like a suspect.
"Tell me about the scouts," prompted the questioner. "Many of your colleagues spoke highly of the sylphs Marcus uses instead of soldiers. Very good, a few say they are."
Indelgar snorted. "Better than very good. They're excellent. We knew within hours in Marka everything going on hundreds of milas away."
"They do seem very impressive." The questioner smiled. "And they communicate by whistles that, ah, humans cannot hear."
"That pretty much sums it up."
"Why can we not hear them?"
"No idea," replied Indelgar. "But they can. Their information is second to none and a commander is kept informed right up until the moment he commits to battle." He forced a smile. "Are we getting some?"
"Perhaps," replied the questioner, before changing the subject. "Right, so after serving with Lance-General Kestan, you ended up as second to Commandant Treylfor."
"Yes." Indelgar leaned forward for his alovak.
"What did you think of the Cadisterans, both men and their commander?"
Indelgar's green eyes flashed and he sipped his alovak before answering. "You expect me to talk about these men as if they are enemies. They are my friends!"
The questioner smiled indulgently. "Captain Indelgar," he said, as if addressing a recalcitrant child, "today's friend can become tomorrow's enemy in the blink of an eye. We do not seek to harm Cadister or any of your other so-called friends, but they might seek to harm us."
"Why?" Indelgar shrugged. "We are all part of the Markan Empire now."
Again, that condescending smile. "Perhaps we are. But it is better to be prepared. Now, the Cadisterans, please."
Indelgar shook his head, but acquiesced. "Independent minded but tough fighters. They first came to Marka with little experience, but showed themselves to be quick learners and very, very adaptable. They adopt new tactics very quickly, without forgetting the old. Adaptable and flexible, treat enemies with a healthy respect rather than contempt, and they are well led."
"But a small officer corps," pointed out the questioner.
"A highly efficient officer corps," countered Indelgar, before taking more alovak. "Recruited on merit and not birth. Many are former private soldiers. Their army relies more on experienced sergeants than young, highborn officers."
"I seem to recall you are not from a poor family." The questioner's eyes betrayed inner laughter as he spoke.
"Only way I could become an officer here," retorted Indelgar. "Whatever you think of my wealth, at least my advancement since has been by merit."
The questioner inclined his head. "Granted. You are highly commended and His Majesty has spoken of you."
A frown furrowed Indelgar's brow. "This is the part I don't understand," he complained. "Who is His Majesty? Verdin refused to return home and says that his father's renunciation stands."
The questioner looked surprised. "Nazvasta Ulvic Vintner is His Majesty," he replied. "Or will be once the sylph in Marka steps aside. Times have changed. We cannot let Marcus Vintner take the throne and, if he does, we must remove him."
Indelgar gaped. It seemed that a war he believed to be over had instead only just begun. "There is something else I'd like to know," he said.
The questioner paused. "Ask," he said.
"What is your name?"
The questioner's condescending smile returned. "It is a requirement of our service that we do not share names with those we interrogate," he replied.
Indelgar leaned back. "So you can hide behind anonymity," he remarked. "Many would see that as cowardice." Siranva, but he hated this wordplay! Unlike his father, he had always avoided politics, considering it a dangerous profession. But it seemed that politics had now snared everybody from Sandester who had marched under Marcus.
"They are not my rules, Captain Indelgar," protested the questioner.
Indelgar leaned forward to drain his alovak. "It strikes me that the man who now wants us to put him on the Markan throne is frightened to trust us." He gave an offhand gesture with an arm. "Here we are, being interrogated almost as if we are criminals. And you can tell Naz-bloody-vasta I said that."
Again, that glint of humor in the questioner's eyes. "Safer for you if I did not," he replied. "Or you might learn for yourself exactly how we do deal with criminals."
Somehow, Indelgar failed to see the funny side of the quip.