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One Sold
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-197-X
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Medieval
eBook Length: 274 Pages
Published: November 2004



From inside the flap

Dure is a city where dreams die, a dark and gritty mining settlement under the heel of the imperial Talarian League. The city walls draw a prison of fog on coastal cliffs around Elysa Ustanon, a prostitute who learns that she is the first of three prophesied Dreamers who will shatter the illusion of reality." Sea storms bring Rourke Artomey, a famed investigator and man of science running from his own illusions. Rourke works to end a rash of abductions that have plagued Dure but quickly finds himself staring down Elysa’s strange powers.

Elysa and Rourke are soon caught within a web of political and religious intrigue. Regional governors vie for the imperial throne. Merchants and burghers scheme, balancing conquered and rogue nations within a plot to control the trade of the known world. Religious schools compete to inherit a post-apocalyptic afterworld. All the while, a secret order of knights, keepers and shapers of the realm’s hidden history, works to insure that truth and magic are neither sold to the highest bidder nor stolen.

Reviews and Awards

"Mr. Moore has a fine descriptive sense. He knows his world to the last cobblestone ... He has a flair for a well-turned phrase ... One Sold is a good read for those who enjoy fantasy placed in a well-drawn and detailed world."

Jeanette Cottrell, author of Sliding on Rainbows
http://www.ebook-reviews.net/fantasy.shtml



One Sold (Excerpt)


Chapter One: Tremors

An old sailor once told Elysa the air was wet because of a river in the ocean. His hair had smelled like the breeze on the cliffs, a heady mix of sea musk and smoke. She had since lost all memory of his face, but could still see the purple scar that ran down from his elbow, wrapped around his forearm and ended just above the top of his hand. He boasted he had been cut by a thick line of tackle that went suddenly taut with the weight of a monstrous shark.

"Nearly took my arm off, he did."

They always tried to impress her and she wondered why.

A warm current from the south carried tropical air to Dure, he had explained, but the cold wind dropped from the mountains and the mines. The resulting fog roiled like smoke or steam. It was the ever-present ceiling of the city. Its mists made a scrim that diffused all light, washed all detail and left a film of moisture over everything. Rain fell almost every day.

The gray heaviness struck Elysa. She found herself near the western gate, having traced the northern wall of the city from the brothel district. It had been a long walk, but she had no memory of taking the steps. Her robe was soaked through and clung to her legs and arms. Strands of black, wet hair fell from beneath her hood and were pasted along her thin face.

"You know the law."

An officer approached wearing the heavy yellow coat of the Talarian constabulary. His wide hood was drawn, revealing a handsome, fatherly face framed by an open helmet. He eyed the muted red robes that marked her profession. One gloved hand sat atop the hilt of his sheathed broadsword. The other was flat to her face.

"I?m not working now."

"Working or not. You know?none of your kind are allowed on the docks."

"I?m shopping," she said, offering her empty basket as proof. "I?m shopping. Here. I even have a list."

The ink had blossomed on the wet paper. The officer smiled.

"Nothing to buy here," he said. "And these men have nothing to do with you until the sun goes down."

She wanted to ask, what sun? He was a captain, an educated officer and from Talar. Durians did not speak of a sun, but rather of a diffused glow that was daytime. Indoors, one found memories of milder climes. Warm reds and yellows of the ever-stoked flames danced upon soft, cured wooden beams and studs. What fog there was rose gently from pots of soup, fish and clams with potatoes. Life and comfort survived in shelter. But outside, the world was without color.

"Regardless," he continued, "what prostitute does not hear the news? You must know to stay in your brothel. What fool wanders about now?"

Shamhat had disappeared only a week ago. She was dark skinned, from the desert. Prized. There were others also missing from the brothels. Some said she had taken a man to her room. He had worn a hood and would not remove it. The two of them had vanished without any trace but his muddy footprints, which were said to have ended mysteriously just within her doorway.

"We?re no safer in the brothels," she said.

But the captain had already lost his patience. "Turn around. The market is behind you, though I advise you to return to your room."

Elysa turned, walked slowly back toward the market and beyond it, the brothels. The guards laughed quietly to themselves. Some joked and one called out. He said he soon had a break coming. She should come back then. The Talarian captain gave him a swat.

"A Talarian Legionnaire musters more respect when he speaks to a lady! You will find yourself back in the militia!"

Elysa wondered if the captain were the type to visit the brothels. Such men spoke respectfully in the end, as men who know customers were not always right. Those who laughed and joked?they had never taken a whore.

Thunder rumbled across the sky, beginning far to the west over the sea and rolling in, splitting somewhere above the city. She turned to see activity breaking loose upon the ships. Giant stone causeways carried the road beyond the gate, connecting islands and sharp outcroppings in a gentle way winding toward the sea, to a pier just past the jutting stones. The ships moored there were cast in blue and gray at the close border between visible things and those lost to the mist. Not many ships, for most of Dure’s commerce?metal from the smelters and forges, wood from the south?traveled the inland River, Cruen, on wide, flat barges.

A single ship from Eile hurriedly unloaded crates of wine for the Talarian elite. Another vessel, a lone and curiously unmarked sloop, bobbed lazily on the growing swells just beyond the Eilean freighter. Perhaps an emissary traveled aboard that sloop, or a rich merchant. A war frigate sat in protection over several smaller vessels, all flying triangular Talarian pennants. Men climbed into the masts. Sails rose quickly and ropes flew about like whips. The sky began to darken even further and, within minutes, looked as it did at night.

***


Rourke stood in the harbormaster’s office, flexing the muscles of his legs and arms after days of travel in the cramped sloop. His bunk had been comfortable enough, but bad weather had kept them below deck. There had been little room to move, especially with Bug in the same cabin. Rourke was not prone to seasickness, but had been deprived of both light and fresh air and, as a result, suffered headaches and nausea. The sailors had offered little more than hardtack and water, despite the cost of the passage. The captain was an old friend, so Rourke refrained from complaining.

A large fire spat and popped in a metal stove in the center of the office. The winds fell upon the seaward wall. The wall facing the city, however, was open from the waist level up. Windows on the other walls viewed the docks. Men rushed to unload the last crates and tie down the ships before the storm arrived.

Rourke’s cloak was as wet as if he had dropped it over the side of the sloop, but it had become soaked by the mist. He stared straight into a drop of water on the rim of his hood, waiting for it to fall. His eyes must have appeared crossed to the harbormaster.

"Welcome to Dure then and all of that." The harbormaster was a short, fat man, whose face bristled with thick gray hairs, like a brush. "Pull back that cowl, now, will you?"

Rourke complied. The hood fell upon his back. Another dark-haired Eilean, another traveler. Rourke hadn?t wished to arrive with too much notice. A handsome, but not striking, man with sharp features common to the island folk and enough lines on the wiser, less frivolous parts of his face to show he was reaching middle age with an uncommon knowledge of the workings of the world.

"I was told only to present this," he said.

He flicked the water from his hand and removed a leather document pouch from the folds of his cloak. The pouch fell onto the counter with a soft, wet sound. The harbormaster rubbed the tips of his fingers together and then reached for the pouch, carefully removing a folded paper. He laid it flat on the counter and brought a pair of glasses to his eyes.

Rourke continued. "The sloop carries no cargo. That is to say, I am the cargo."

The master paused, then looked up from the pouch. "Never been here...to Dure, I mean. Have you?"

"No."

"I never forget a face. I?ll be here twenty-five years tomorrow, and yours is a new face."

"It is just myself, my man and our equipment. The sloop has orders to return to Talar as soon as I am ashore."

"Welcome to the City of Mists, Mister...Artomey. Rourke Artomey. Eilean? I think you?ll regret leaving yourself stranded. Eile is a much fairer place. It?ll be some time before that sloop is able to leave, what with the storm. So you might reconsider."

"I have not been to Eile in years," Rourke replied.

The master smiled dumbly, his bristles standing at attention. His teeth were brown and crooked. Then he lowered his gaze back to the paper, breathed in heavily, and let out a loud whistle.

"You come under the chancellor’s seal? I?ll have to check on this."

Outside, crates fell and men shouted. More voices followed, and then the cluck of chickens. The harbormaster closed his eyes and mouthed silent curses.

"Worthless. All of them." His eyes snapped open. "Is your sloop stowed?"

"The crew sees to it," Rourke replied. "My man is handling our baggage."

"You have my thanks. We?ll be lucky to get those frigates battened down before the storm hits with half their crews up in the brothels."

The habormaster then disappeared beneath the counter and returned with a large wooden mallet, its head softened on both ends by years of use. Turning quickly, he shouted.

"Rutter!"

There was no answer.

"Rutter, damn you, answer me! What’s going on out there?"

Then, from outside: "Under control, Hack! We?ve got it!"

Chickens clucked closer to the door, to the windows. As he walked across the room to the wall that opened to face the city, Habormaster Hack shook his head. He lifted the creaking door of an enormous lamp and lit the wick. A beam of light shot through the mist and up to the city gate. Shutting the beam on and off rapidly by pulling a lever several times, he frowned as he peered at the city. Feathers and noise burst up from the deck then, and a chicken perched on the counter.

"A luxury port of call, eh?" he said. He flipped the lever several more times. "Sleeping at their posts! Where is that captain of theirs?"

Then he proceeded to slap the hammer against a gong swaying next to the counter. A peal of thunder slammed down into the city just as the hammer struck. Hack hit the gong again, several times. Rourke fought the urge to cover his ears. Finally, a light blinked near the city’s gate.

"There we are."

He played the lamp rapidly. Responses came from above. One light. Two in rapid succession. Intermittent long and short lights. It lasted for at least a minute. Hack spoke the language fluently, working the lamp more quickly than Rourke could follow. Finally, the harbormaster opened the lamp and blew out the flame. Then he turned to Rourke.

"Well," Hack said. "It seems so then."

"My man will take our equipment."

"You?re welcome to wait out the storm here, but I imagine your business is urgent."

"It is."

"That your man? Quite a specimen."

Standing outside the doorway, looming like a thunderhead was Bug, hunched over with his head lowered so he could see into the office. A pile of boxes sat beside him, rising to half his height, but up to Rourke’s chest. The crates were wrapped in thick, ropy netting.

Rourke nodded, then swept aside the wet gray-black hair over his eyes. Retrieving the document from the counter, he folded it into the pouch as he left the office. Hack laughed.

"Perhaps I?ll see you again before that sloop sets sail," he said.

Bug, all seven feet and three hundred pounds of him, hopped and stammered with excitement. Water beaded on his bald head and ran down his face like tears.

"Ready? Ready to go to the city?" His voice was thick, as if he were on the verge of choking on his fat tongue. He pointed up the causeway.

"Yes, Bug. We are ready. He is impressed we are so important."

"I...I remembered!"

"You remembered what?"

"All of the things! All of the things you told me to bring!" He lumbered around the pile of boxes and began to point them out through the netting, one by one. "Chemicals. Powders. Glass. Glass I am not allowed to touch."

"Except..."

"Except when you tell me. But I must be careful. Very, very careful. What else?"

"Do you have the letter?" Rourke asked. Bug stood motionless for a moment. "The letter from the very important chancellor."

"Yes! Yes! Here, in my shirt. Take it out?"

"No."

Bug’s entire face puckered in confusion. "No?" he asked.

"It will get wet."

Then, suddenly, Bug brightened. "Can we eat here? They have chickens! Chickens!"

"Yes, Bug, but the chickens up there are easier to catch. Some of them are already cooked. And a storm is on its way. We have to hurry."

"We can go, then? To the city?"

Rourke nodded and pointed toward the boxes. Bug smiled a grin of wild, crooked teeth and wrapped his arms around the entire pile, gripping the thick ropes of the netting on the far side of the load. With a groan, he hefted the boxes up to his chest as if they were one.

"Ready!" he declared.



***