Following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of Here, There Be Demons, the third book in the Chronicle of Pip of Pandara series. Appreciate reader comments:
Pip sat at the large wooden desk, staring down at the pile of documents overflowing its top. He shook his head, and then bowed it, cupping his hands to either side, fingers entwined in his flame red hair.
“This is not how it was supposed to be,” he said to himself. “A soldier is not supposed to have to battle stacks of paper.”
Through slitted eyes he stared down at the unruly parchments piled there, silently swearing that they seemed to have grown in number in the few minutes he’d been staring at them. There were supply requests from the quartermaster’s office with Tamara’s untidy scrawl at the bottom of each. Tamara, a fairy of wood and water, did double duty as chief of the quartermaster unit and chief trainer for scouting and reconnaissance. It was the second duty that she much preferred, but her ability with figures had forced Pip to give her the additional duty of keeping track of the many supplies needed to keep his small army feed, clothed and equipped. The volume of requests from her office, though, was her way of getting back at him for the odious office duty which she hated, a fact that she reminded him of each time they met. Beneath that was a smaller pile of documents, mainly from his two regimental commanders, Godfred and Melchor, informing him of their training schedules, plans for recruitment to fill the ranks, and notifications of disciplinary actions—thankfully, there were only a few of these—mostly for minor infractions.
That each of his subordinate chiefs felt it necessary for him to see so much paper was for Pip a constant source of frustration.
What he really ached to do was be out in the field, working with the still green soldiers of Pandara’s national army. No, he reminded himself; fully a third of the ranks were filled by beings from the Land of Fire, making it a combined Pandaran-Land of Fire force. He had yet to think of an appropriate name, so everyone kept the name, National Army of Pandara, shortened to NAP by the soldiers and officers alike. That name would have to go, he thought. He did not want to lead a force called NAP, it sounded too much like a band of vacationers whose aim was to find a place to . . . take a nap. But, try as he might, he’d been unable to think of a more suitable designation.
He felt the beginning of a headache, a dull throbbing at his temples that always came when he wrestled with naming the army. Oh well, that’ll have to be a task for another day. He took the quill pen from its ivory holder, dipped it in the inkwell until the tip was black, and quickly scribbled his name at the bottom of each document. When he’d signed the final document, he stacked them neatly to the left side of his desk. After putting the pen back in its holder, he leaned back and sighed deeply.
A few moments later he sat upright. “Norbert,” he called. “Norbert.”
His aide-de-camp, Norbert, rushed into the office.
“Yes, your highness,” he said. “What do you require?”
Pip looked up at the young soldier. The gold star on his collar, signifying his recent promotion to lieutenant, reflected the light from the lamp on Pip’s desk.
“What I require, Norbert, is for you to call me commander, not your highness. We are in the army here, not the throne room. Here I am the commander.”
“B-but, your high-, er commander, you are the heir to the throne, second only to her majesty, Queen Daphne. It hardly seems appropriate for me not to–”
Pip waved his hand in a choppy motion, causing the young man to stop mid-sentence with his mouth hanging open.
“That is an order, Lieutenant. We will follow military discipline in this army. Am I clear?”
Norbert’s back straightened and he threw his shoulders back.
“Aye, sir, commander, sir,” he said.
“Good,” Pip said. He smiled. “Now, I want you to take this forsaken paperwork from my desk and return it to the authors. I am going to my quarters to have a few words with Lady Zohra, and after that you and I will go on an inspection of the army, so get our horses ready.”
“Aye, commander.” Norbert beamed a broad smile as he gathered the papers. “Should I bring the mounts to your quarters?”
“No, I’ll meet you at the stables.”
Norbert clicked his heels and bowed his head slightly. Pip would have preferred a salute, but the man was holding the documents against his chest with both hands.
“Aye, commander, I will wait for you at the stable.”
Pip rose as Norbert marched smartly out. He could not restrain a smile, thinking that young Norbert just a short time before had been a farm boy, new to the army, when Pip had taken him on the mission against the evil tyrant Tenkuk in Barbaria. The lad had acquitted himself well in that operation, and upon his return, Pip had made him his aide, recently promoting him to a rank befitting the aide-de-camp of the army commander.
Pip adjusted his tunic as he walked toward the door. At the door, he took his sword from the rack and belted it around his waist. Chuckling, he exited his office. Zohra, he knew, would chide him for wearing it when he visited her in her chambers, but he didn’t want to take the time to return to his office for it before joining Norbert at the stable.
As he’d guessed, his wife’s eyes went directly to the sword at his waist when he entered the bedchamber.
“So, now that I’m heavy with child, my husband finds it necessary to arm himself before approaching me,” she said wryly. “Am I truly that unattractive?”
Pip pulled up short, his mouth agape. For a few heartbeats he was at a loss for words. Unattractive? His Zohra? Far from it. He’d found that as her belly grew rounder with the life she carried inside her body, she seemed to become radiant, that he desired her even more. When he gazed upon her face, his breathing stopped, and his heart beat so fiercely he feared it would burst from his chest.
“No, my dearest wife,” he said when he could at last find his voice. “You are without doubt the most beautiful woman in all of Pandara; nay, the most beautiful in the entire known and unknown universe.”
Zohra, now in her sixth month of pregnancy, lowered her gaze. Her cheeks darkened. She could not stifle the smile that turned her carmine lips upward. But, Zohra of Avia, of the Eagle Clan, was not one to let her victim off easily.
“If I am truly such a beauty, then why do you find it necessary to wear your sword in my presence?”
Pip looked closely. He saw the twitching of her lips, and knew that she was having her amusement with him. He let out the breath that he’d been holding. Since she became pregnant, Zohra had been subject to many swings of mood, she desired many strange and exotic foods, and at times could not hold food in her stomach, especially in the early mornings. He could never know when her words were in jest or the signal for an angry outburst of recrimination or tears. Truly, he thought, what a child did to a woman’s body and mind was amazing—and quite frightening. At least now, though, she seemed to be in a playful mood.
“I am on my way to the stable,” he said. “I am riding with Norbert out to inspect the regiments at training outside the city. It would have been out of my way to have to return to my office for my sword. Please forgive me, my dear, for bringing it into your bedchamber.”
Zohra put her hands over her mouth. Her body shook. Then, she burst out laughing.
“Truly, Pip,” she said between gasps of laughter. “You are far too easy. You know I do not mind. In fact, I would like very much to ride with you. Being confined to this castle is driving me mad.”
That Pip could easily understand. Zohra had been one of her tribe’s most fearless warriors, spending much of her day on horseback patrolling the boundaries of their land and fighting off bandits and predators. Since learning of her impending motherhood, however, Queen Daphne had, through the palace physician, ordered that she remain within the confines of the structure, lest some misfortune befall the child she carried—a child that would fall just behind Pip himself as heir to the crown that the good Queen Daphne, Pip’s aunt, wore.
“I know how you feel, goodwife,” he said. “But, we can take no chances of harm coming to our son.”
“Or, daughter, good husband.” She put the cloth she’d been embroidering down on the table at her knees and smiled up at him. “You know there is as much chance of the child being a girl as a boy, given the numbers of girls born to my people, more in fact.”
She slapped the table, hard enough to make it jump, and cause Pip to flinch.