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Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press is proud to bring you The Muse of Music! This is the second title since our relaunch under are new redesigned logo and brand. It is written by Enrico Toro and David Carrico. Cover illustration and layout by Emily Mottesheard.
The Muse of Music is an expanded version, with new material, of the stories originally published in the Grantville Gazette, the magazine of the 1632 Universe, the Ring of Fire. Continue reading “NEW 1632 Book Release! “The Muse of Music””by
Words from Eric Flint
1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 20 Chapter 12 Three day’s ride from Agra August, 1634 Her patience growing short in the afternoon heat, Dara’s favorite leopard yowled and spat at her handler, ready to hunt. Dara grinned, ready … Continue reading →
1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 20
Three day’s ride from Agra
Her patience growing short in the afternoon heat, Dara’s favorite leopard yowled and spat at her handler, ready to hunt.
Dara grinned, ready as well, welcoming the prospect of release from the tension being around Aurangzeb always provoked in him. Now, if only they could begin. His small army of beaters had started the day before, working through the night to drive all the wild game resident in several square kos toward where the hunting party lay in wait. The camp was loud with the voices of men and animals, many of Father’s more notable umara present to witness the hunt and curry favor with the wazir and princes.
Seeking distraction, Dara again took up the gun he’d had as a wedding gift from Father last year, the inlaid piece monstrously heavy yet reassuring in its solidity. He sighted down the nearly two gaz of barrel, arms immediately trembling from the weight of iron, ivory inlay, and mahogany. Among the many refinements, the weapon sported one of the new flintlocks rather than the traditional matchlock, and even had a trigger rather than lever.
“Here,” he grunted.
Body slaves overseen by his Atishbaz gunsmith, Talawat, hurriedly set up the iron tripod needed to support the hunting piece while he struggled to hold position.
“Ready, Shehzada,” Talawat said.
Trying to keep the weight under control, Dara slowly lowered the gun onto the mount. Talawat slotted the pin into place that would hold the gun’s weight when aimed, easing the awkward weight from Dara’s arms. The prince knelt and placed the butt of the weapon on the cushion another slave hurriedly set in place.
Rubbing the ache from his biceps, hoofbeats drew Dara’s attention. He looked down the gradual slope to the pair of watering holes that formed the two sides of the killing zone for the hunt. About one hundred gaz of grassy clearing lay between the slowly-drying watering holes, with about half that much distance between grandfather’s tent and the open space. The beaters were working toward that spot in a steadily shrinking circle.
One of Asaf Khan’s men emerged from the wood line at a gallop, crossing the clearing and pounding up to the camp. In a fine display of horsemanship, the sowar swung down from his mount to land lightly a few paces in front of Dara’s grandfather.
Standing in the shade of his tent, Asaf Khan stepped forward and listened as the young trooper made his report: “At least a hundred head of blackbuck and red antelope, a small herd of nilgai, Wazir. Tiger spoor was also found, but no one has laid eyes on it, yet. Should not be long, now, before the first of the beasts make an appearance.”
Asaf Khan dismissed his man. Gray beard dancing, the aging but still-powerfully-built wazir called out: “A tiger would make a worthy prize for one of my grandsons!”
“Perhaps for Dara, grandfather. He has yet to take one,” Aurangzeb drawled from inside the tent.
Dara watched Asaf’s smile dim before he turned and answered, “One tiger could never be enough for the sons of Shah Jahan.”
“I did not say it was, Asaf Khan,” Aurangzeb replied, striding from the tent into the sun.
“I will kill it, grandfather!” Shah Shuja, crowed, raising his bow. Born between Aurangzeb and Dara, Shuja seemed always afire with desire to please his elders. At eighteen he was a man grown, however, and larger than Dara by a head. Of course, that head was rarely full of things other than those he might hunt, fight, or ride.
Asaf turned to face his eldest grandson. “And you, Dara?”
“I will take what it pleases God to place before me.”
“Pious words,” Asaf said, nodding approval.
Behind grandfather’s back, Aurangzeb shook his head and commanded his horse be brought up.
“Where are you going?” Asaf asked, edges of his beard curling down as he frowned.
“I will take the animals my brothers miss. That way I am sure to have a good day hunting.”
Shah Shuja grunted as if punched in the belly, face darkening. He too had been shamed by the poem making the rounds of the court. Further, there was the wager.
Doing his best to ignore the insult, Dara gestured at his leopards. “Brother, that is why I have brought my cats, to run down escaping game.”
Aurangzeb shrugged, took up a lance. “Then I will race your cats, and beat them to the kill as well.”
Asaf stepped toward Aurangzeb, raising hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I would advise caution, Brave One. If there is a tiger in among them, it will easily overtake a horseman. They can only be hunted safely from elephant back.”
Aurangzeb shrugged again. “Then it will be as God wills it,” he said, putting spurs to his tall horse and speeding off to the left of the firing line and the sole exit to the killing ground, a trail of attendants and guards in tow.
“Here they come!” cried one of grandfather’s cronies.
As the man’s cry faded, a small herd of blackbuck, no more than eight animals, spat from the line of brush and trees. Bounding with the outrageous speed of their kind, the antelope seemed to fly across the open ground.
Dara shook his head, irritation flaring. Blackbuck were perfect game for his hunting cheetahs but he couldn’t risk one of the cats attacking Aurangzeb or his horse.
Dara held out a hand. Talawat filled it with one of his lighter pieces, match cord already glowing. Shouldering it, Dara picked his target: a good-sized, healthy animal just behind the leading beast.
He heard Shuja’s bowstring slap bracer. A moment later Shuja muttered angrily.
Ignoring all distraction, Dara’s world shrank to the chest of the beast he’d chosen. Finding it, he moved his point of aim two hands ahead along the shallow arc of its jump.
He pulled the lever and averted his eyes at the very last moment.
The gun thundered.
Dara handed it off to Talawat as the blackbuck fell, heart shot. The gunsmith handed him another piece.
Shuja shouted, his second arrow striking the lead buck in the belly.
Dara ignored the cheering of his grandfather’s entourage, chose another buck, aimed, fired. Another clean hit to the chest. The antelope collapsed after a few strides.
“Well done, Talawat. Your guns speak truly,” he said, passing the weapon off.
Talawat bowed, presenting another piece. “Shehzada is too kind.”
Taking the third gun in hand, Dara waited a moment, allowing the smoke to clear. Behind him, Talawat’s apprentices busied themselves reloading the discharged weapons.
“Your modesty is a sign of fine character, but” — Dara tapped a knuckle against the gun’s hardwood stock — “in this instance, misplaced.”
Talawat smiled and bowed again before gesturing at the field. “I merely prepare the weapons, Shehzada; it is not everyone that has your fine eye for shooting.”
Shuja downed another of the blackbuck with an arrow that nearly passed through the animal. The first beast he’d hit finally collapsed, blood frothing from its muzzle.
The remains of the herd cleared the firing line, only to run into Aurangzeb and his mounted party. Dara’s brother took an antelope with his spear as its herd mates ran past. Leaving the weapon behind and spurring his horse into a gallop, Aurangzeb switched to the horse bow. The prey were far faster than his mount, stretching their lead even as Aurangzeb drew, aimed, and loosed twice in quick succession. Each arrow struck home in a separate neck, a fine feat of archery.
Asaf’s cronies cheered, as did Shuja, who had approached Dara.
Cradling his gun, Dara smiled, despite himself.
Aurangzeb cased his bow while sending his finely trained mount circling back among his followers with just the pressure of his knees, an act of understated pride in its own right.
“I should have ridden instead of standing here with you and your guns,” Shuja grumbled, loud enough for Dara to hear.
Dara did not answer, even when his younger brother ordered his horse brought up and left to join Aurangzeb.
He watched his grandfather instead, pondering the old man’s place in the family history as well as his possible future. Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan had turned against his own sister to support Father when Dara’s paternal grandfather, Jahangir, passed and the succession came into question once again. Dara had himself been hostage and surety against his father’s loyalty after that first rebellion, and was no stranger to the price of failure for princes engaged in rebellion. Shah Jahan and his allies had emerged victorious, but it had been a close-run and uncertain thing, all the way to the end. Asaf had been rewarded with position, titles, and power, though recent failings had reduced his favor at court. Father was considering removing him from the office of wazir and sending him off to govern Bengal.
Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 07 Then, she recited the name of their mentor, destroyed with them. Bax Nkley Kreaquab octou Naccor Jute. Resident within Coherence, adept of the Naccor Jute. Her mates, as she herself, had been named by … Continue reading →
Gods of Sagittarius – Snippet 07
Then, she recited the name of their mentor, destroyed with them.
Bax Nkley Kreaquab octou Naccor Jute. Resident within Coherence, adept of the Naccor Jute.
Her mates, as she herself, had been named by their mentor. Their names now vanished forever also.
As Bax Nkley Kreaquab had named her, so now by ancient right and custom did she rename him, as his sole surviving disciple.
She considered the matter for a time before deciding on Trac Lei Taquin dnat Varro. Vexation beyond Measure, failure now in Chaos.
She would miss her mates, especially Izzique. Her mentor, not in the least. He had been worse than most of the wretched lot.
Finally, she renamed herself. The name Occo Nzha Rubattan had also been bestowed by their mentor. Slaughterer of Shadows. The change here took longer than it had taken to choose her former mentor’s new name. All the possibilities she’d quietly considered in the past — and discussed with absolutely no one, of course — were inappropriate in light of the new situation.
Eventually, she settled on Occo Nasht Jopri, Seeker of Shadows.
Occo Nasht Jopri Kruy, to be formal about it. Widow Seeker of Shadows.
For a wonder, while she was at it, Bresk made no more than two caustic remarks on the subject of wasted time and both of those were terse. You couldn’t say that her familiar maintained silence, though. He farted almost continuously.
“My vengeance will be epic,” she predicted. Then, turned and headed toward her flyer.
On the way, Bresk waxed eloquent on the necessary distinctions between epic, mythic, legendary and delusions of grandeur.
It took only a short time to travel from the site of destruction to the temporary camp that had been erected by the Envacht Lu. As usual, the association that served the Nac Zhe Anglan commonwealth as a combined investigatory agency and repository of creed status and records had arrived on the scene quickly. They’d already been setting up their camp when Occo arrived.
Once she established her credentials, they’d allowed her a full planetary cycle for grieving and renaming before they would begin their examination of the site. That was standard practice. The Envacht Lu were never to be trifled with, but in their own unyielding and rigid manner they were not unreasonable.
As soon as Occo began bringing the flyer down next to the Envacht Lu encampment, Bresk began complaining.
“Why are you landing here? Only a cretin or a masochist would set up next to the Envacht Lu. Hot is bad enough without adding nosy to the mix — and you watch! They’ll have spies crawling all over us.”
“Shut up. We’re not camping here. I just need to have the names recorded.”
“By established custom and practice, you can do that any time within the next four years — and that’s using Mellan’s solar cycle as the standard.”
The home planet of the Nac Zhe Anglan, Mellan, orbited an F0 star. The only reason it had a habitable biosphere was because of its considerable distance from its sun. Mellan’s year was twice as long as that of most inhabited worlds in the Nac Zhe Anglan commonwealth.
“Shut up,” she repeated “I can’t wait. Not with the name I still need to add.”
Bresk rolled its eyes outward until the facets had all but disappeared. “Oh, don’t tell me.”
“Occo Nasht Jopri Kruy Gadrax,” she repeated.
As was normally true, the Envacht Lu’s scribe was an Ebbo. Occo didn’t know the markings used by the species well enough to determine its scholastic affiliation from the scars and tattoos on its carapace. Under the circumstances, it hardly mattered. All Ebbo colleges were devoted to formal procedures, exactitude, meticulousness, and precision. They were really a quite tiresome species. Occo had never understood why the Envacht Lu insisted on maintaining the relationship with them. Presumably, it had something to do with the history of the order, most of which had never been made public.
The scribe still had its mandible poised above the tablet. The electronic tip blinked yellow-green-violet, repeating the sequence every second. If Occo recalled Ebbo protocols correctly, that signified necessity-to-crosscheck-and-doublecheck.
“You are certain about this?” the Ebbo asked. Its — his? — voice box had an unpleasant twang to it. Most Ebbo were neuter but Occo thought this one might be male, as that species reckoned genders.
She was tempted to curse the wretched creature, but that would be pointless. Ebbo reacted to invective the same way they reacted to everything. Find the registered protocol and behave accordingly. She might as well scream insults at the moons.
“As I have now said twice, yes. I am quite certain. Record my name as Occo Nasht Jopri Kruy Gadrax.”
The Ebbo’s vestigial wings opened slightly and snapped shut, making a little clicking sound. That was the equivalent of a Nac Zhe Anglan rubbing her thorax. Every intelligent species had some equivalent gesture. Humans called it a “shrug” and used a particularly subtle body movement for the purpose. So Occo had been told, anyway. She’d never met a member of that species in person.
“As you wish,” said the Ebbo. The electronic mandible tip clittered briefly on the tablet screen. “It is done.”
Occo turned and left the Records hut. She had to pause briefly at the aperture to let the security program cycle through its protocols before it opened. Programmed by Ebbo, clearly enough. They couldn’t even produce an opening in a simple hut without piling on embellishments.
“Say better, ‘we’re done’,” jibed Bresk, as Occo headed toward their flyer. “Just what I always dreamed of, since the day I was decanted. A suicide mission.”
She ignored it. No point in doing otherwise. In their own way, familiars were as devoted to rituals and rigmarole as Ebbo. Short of having it annulled, there was no way to avoid the coming sarcasm.
“Widow Occo Nasht Jopri, outlaw. We could add ‘fanatic’ and ‘monomaniac’ as well. Off on her formally registered mission to massacre whatever parties she deems guilty and if she’s like most outlaws of record she won’t be any too particular about the ‘deeming’ part.”
The familiar issued a particularly loud and long fart. “Humans have a term for this, you know. They call it ‘going Grendel.'”
Despite herself, the weird term caught her attention. “Going what?”
“Grendel. One of the monsters — one of the many, many, many monsters — in their many, many, many legends. They must really have trouble sleeping at night. Anyway, there’s a whole ancient song cycle devoted to the creature. Well, technically, it’s devoted to the hero. Somebody by the name of Beowulf. Is there a species in the galaxy with sillier names than Humans? But the monster’s much more interesting.”
“I’m not interested.”
“Of course you are. I’ll start from the beginning. Brace yourself, this will take a while.
“Hwæt wē Gār-Denain gear-dagum
hu ðā æþelingasellen fremedon.”
Not for the first time, Occo considered annulment. By the time she clambered back aboard the flyer, however, she’d decided against it. There was no reason to think another familiar wouldn’t be just as obstreperous. She could try doing without one entirely, of course. But . . .
The things were undeniably useful. She kept reminding herself of that as the flyer lifted into the air. It was . . . not easy.
“ond gefrætwadefoldan scēatas
Leomum ond lēafum . . .”