Authors: Michael Dalton
The Wizard’s Daughters
Copyright 2014 by Michael Dalton. All rights reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. References to real people, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. Any similarity to persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover illustration by Ellinsworth
Cover design by Wicked Book Covers.
Table of Contents
This book, though based on real people, places, and events, is best viewed as a work of alternate history. As such, certain liberties have been taken with elements of geography and the historical record.
The gate guards at the town of Weilburg stood two watches each night, one from four in the afternoon to midnight, and the other from midnight to eight in the morning. The guards who stood the midwatch were supposed to remain awake until dawn, but the captain of the guard was a drunkard and had long since stopped checking to see if his subordinates were doing their duty. As a result, the town had no watch to speak of from about one in the morning until the guards on the daywatch woke their brethren when the sun rose, lest the captain catch them all sleeping.
Since the guards each took their turns sleeping through the midwatch, it was an arrangement that had worked well for all, save those few unfortunate souls who arrived at the town gate before the guards awoke, expecting entry. However, since nearly all of those folk were farmers bringing their goods to market—farmers who knew better than to cause trouble for the guards by complaining to the captain—they had learned to arrive after dawn to avoid a tedious wait at the gate.
The man who arrived that morning as the sun rose was not a farmer, but fortunately for the guards he was also not a bandit who might have unlocked the gate for his compatriots to raid the town. Such a thing had not happened in many years in any case, or the town fathers would have been more careful in their choice of men to lead the town guard.
Two farmers hoping to reach the market before their competition had arrived a few minutes earlier and sat patiently in their wagons on the bridge over the river outside the wall. They regarded the man with a trace of wariness, for he was armed and had the hard look of one used to fighting for a living. He wore a rapier on one hip and a shorter blade on the other. The hilts of both sparkled with jewels, but there the man’s fortune appeared to end. His tall leather boots were badly worn and muddy, his clothes were soiled and trail-worn, and his cloak was tattered about the hem and caught with thorns and dead leaves. He carried a pack over his shoulder, but it seemed to have little inside it beyond the bedroll that poked out the top.
The man ignored the farmers and approached the gate. Finding it shut up despite the apparent late hour, he scowled and rapped on it several times.
“You’re wasting your time,” one of the farmers said. “Won’t be opening that ‘til the guards wake.”
The man lifted an eyebrow. “They’re asleep?”
“Aye,” the other farmer said. “They like their rest, unlike those who must bring food for their table.”
The man looked back at the gate, then cast his gaze up and around the gatehouse.
“Might be a few minutes,” the first farmer said. “Might be another hour. Won’t open for certain until the clock rings eight. That’s when the captain has to get up from his ale-sleep.”
The man stepped back and walked around the gatehouse. As the farmers watched curiously, he inspected one corner of the wall, then reached for a gap where two stones came together. He dug his fingers in and pulled himself up. Working his feet and hands around the corner of the guardhouse, he scaled the wall in a few moments.
“What are you doing?” the first farmer called out.
“I don’t like waiting,” he replied as went over the edge. Then he was gone.
When Erich von Jülich-Berg landed in the alley on the other side of the wall, he found himself in the midst of a pile of offal he had missed seeing in the morning shadows. He shook off what he could, but the error completed the befouling of his clothes; his mood, though, was already as foul as it could get.
Not for the first time in the past few days, he felt for his purse, knowing what little was there but wanting to reassure himself that the few remaining pieces of silver within had not slipped through his fingers like the rest of his money. It was enough for a few days of food and rest at most; between now and then, he needed to find some employment or be reduced to pawning his weapons. And should that happen, the prospects of restoring his fortunes would recede even further.
To his left, a dog was urinating on the wall. Erich would have paid it no mind, except that he noticed it appeared to be passing
streams, not one, as if it had some strange deformity. But before he could make out what it was, the dog stopped and ran off down the alley.
Out in the street, Erich glanced carefully around to determine if he had been seen coming over the wall, but the farmers appeared to be correct and the guards were nowhere to be found. Straightening his cloak around himself, he headed off in search of an inn.
He had to balance his need for rest—not to mention a bath—against his limited funds. He would not be hired in his current state, but he would also likely need at least a few days to find employment.
He reached the town square in a few minutes, passing a few townspeople out on their morning business. One woman wrinkled her nose at him, and he shook his feet again in an attempt to get the rest of the horse droppings he’d landed in off his boots.
In one corner of the square, he saw a modest two-story inn. A fat woman with enormous breasts was sweeping night soil and other debris away from the door. She looked up as he approached.
“Do you have rooms?”
“Five coppers a night,” she replied. “Three if you just want space in the common room.”
“What about a bath?”
She snorted. “Baths are four coppers. Eight if you want hot water. I’ll make it seven for you. You need one worse than a stable-hand in high summer, and I don’t want you stinking the place up.”
The woman showed him to a small room on the ground floor, then returned ten minutes later to tell him the bath was prepared.
Erich followed in mild confusion. She led him to a large wooden bathtub in the kitchen, steam rising from it. He was distracted from the prospect of taking a bath in the kitchen by the brass contraption hanging on the rim of the tub. It was about the size of a cookpot, but sealed on top. A tube on the bottom led into the water, and hot steaming water flowed out of a nozzle on the front.
“What is this?”
“It heats the water. Mage down the street sold it to me. Impressive, eh? Fastest hot baths in town.”
She twisted a knob and the water stopped flowing, then lifted the thing off the tub and put it away. Erich felt the water, which was nearly scalding.
As his surprise subsided, he looked up at the woman.
“Must I bathe here?”
She shrugged. “Best I can do. This isn’t the emperor’s palace. Take it or not, but it’s paid for and I have work to do.”
Resigning himself to the indignity of it, Erich undressed and climbed into the bath, groaning as the heat from the water spread through him. He soaked for a while just to ease his aching muscles, then began scrubbing the stink and road filth from his body. He washed his hair and then his clothes and bedroll as best he could. The woman came through the kitchen a few times, but paid him no mind.
By the time the bath had cooled, Erich was clean and the water was filthy. He tied his hair back, then hung his clothes by the fire and waited for them to dry. With no other choice, he stood there naked.
“Done?” The woman had returned.
“Well, that’s a mighty improvement.” She looked him over, paying more attention to the scars on his arms and chest than anything else. “Swordsman, eh?”
“That’s a hard life you look to have lived.”
“You might say that.”
She tossed him a rag to cover himself. Erich wrapped it around his waist as the woman began throwing his bathwater bucket-by-bucket out the back of the kitchen into the alley.
“I am in need of work,” he said. “I don't suppose you know of anyone hiring sellswords?”
“I do not. You might ask at the smith’s up the street. Or hang around the common room tonight. Bound to be something.”
The washing had not restored Erich’s clothes to their original state, but if they were still stained and frayed, they were no longer caked with trail dirt and smelling of old sweat and his jail cell. Still, he felt considerably better, at least until he went to buckle on his sword. The old leather belt, already frayed, parted as he tightened it, sending both blades clattering to the floor.
Erich cursed and bent to inspect the belt. This had happened before and he had mended it before, but the leather was so worn now it had come apart at the spot of one of his previous mendings. It would need to be replaced, or he was risking another breakage at a time when it might be considerably less convenient.
The woman had directed him to the smith’s. Well, as if he needed it, he had another reason to go now.
The little automaton lay mostly in pieces on the table. The shell was comprised of two brass hemispheres about six inches in diameter, one empty, the other half-filled with small brass rods, gears, and springs attached to eyehooks around the inside. The half-shell had a hexagonal socket in its center and was pierced six times around its circumference with slots about an inch long. Through the slots the man at the table meticulously slid the automaton’s legs, each eight inches long when perfectly straight but jointed twice along their length. One end of each leg was a brass spike; the other end was a thin plate with five holes drilled through. One hole—the largest—slid over a gear inside the hemisphere while others were attached to various rods and springs in the interior: three springs and two rods per leg.
The man moved very slowly. Long practice had taught him patience was the most important element of the assembly process. Rushing the assembly risked getting things out of alignment or bending some key component or overstretching a spring. Bit by bit the automaton came together until it rested on its six legs like a large brass spider.