About the Author
Taran Matharu is the author of the Contender trilogy and the New York Times–bestselling Summoner series. He lives in London, England. Follow him on Twitter at @TaranMatharu1.
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A Fine Welcome: Othello's Journey
A Summoner Short Story
By Taran Matharu
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 Taran Matharu, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Othello did not want to leave. The sun was setting, and the Dwarven Quarter was more beautiful than he had ever seen it. The grass had just been shorn, leaving a heady scent in the air. It mixed with the sweet tang of the newly bloomed winter heather, the purple flowers stirring with the chill breeze as he walked alone through the great tents of his people.
Buildings loomed above him — and Othello knew he had reached the edge of the settlement. He turned and took in the sights one last time. A human king had forced the dwarves to live in the slums of the city, full of crumbling buildings and windowless ruins. Yet, the dwarves had cleared it, putting up their tents and gardens and tunneling beneath to house the thousands that had been forced into the tiny ghetto. Othello felt a flush of pride. In the face of impossible odds, they had turned it into a paradise.
He would miss it all terribly. Sleeping in his room deep within the earth, enveloped in the cool silence of the soil. Helping his father in the workshop, sweating in the golden glow of the flames and sparking metal. Strolling in the gardens with his mother and sister, listening to the old fables of their ancestors.
Othello sighed and trudged away, disappearing into the dilapidated streets that bordered his home. It was time.
The sky was dark when he reached the city center, which housed the horse markets. Despite the hour, the stalls were bustling with activity, and the roads were jammed with heaving horses and carriages. Humans were packed shoulder to shoulder, hurling offers at parading horses displayed on a raised wooden stage.
There was only one way through, and Othello did not hesitate. He ducked low and darted beneath the bellies of the horses, thankful for his short stature. In moments he had made his way to the edge of the crowds, where his transport awaited him.
Tucked away in a side street was a mule cart, overloaded with potatoes. A weasel-faced man sat at the front, a look of annoyance plastered across his face.
"Hello," Othello said. "I'm —"
"Bugger off, short-arse," the man snapped, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "Be off with ye. I won't be buyin' nothin' from ye t'day. I'm waitin' for a customer."
"I'm your customer, they told me to meet you here," Othello growled, pointing at a street sign above. "Pennyworth Street, at the sixth bell?"
Even as he spoke, a bell began to toll nearby, announcing the hour. Othello crossed his arms and waited for the brassy knells to finish.
"Nah," the driver said, a look of confusion across his face. "I'm supposed to be takin' up a summoner to Vocans. Now, I know it were gonna be a commoner, 'cos a rich un' would be gettin' a fancy carriage or summat. But it certainly weren't no half man."
"I'm a summoner," Othello said, ignoring the racist slur — it wasn't worth the argument. "If we don't leave now I'm going to be late."
"Where's yer demon, then?" the driver said, cocking his head defiantly.
"I'm going there now to get one," Othello snapped, exasperated. At least, he hoped he would.
"What's yer game?" the man said, leaning forward and peering at Othello. He glanced over his shoulder furtively, as if a group of dwarves might be sneaking up on him.
"Ain't never heard of a dwarf summoner," the man continued, wrinkling his nose.
"No game. Look, here's some silver," Othello said, pulling a handful of silver shillings from his pocket. "Will that get me there?"
The driver had been hired by Vocans, so Othello shouldn't have had to pay at all, but he did not want to be late. First impressions were so important, and Othello knew that, being a dwarf, he already had an uphill struggle.
"All right," the driver said, snatching the money from Othello's hand before he could change his mind. "But keep yer hands to ye'self. These potatoes are for the army, not for thievin' dwarves."
Othello glanced at the potatoes. They were in pitiful condition; half of them were already sprouting and they were caked in fresh manure. They stank worse than the night soil carts that emptied the public privies.
"You have my word," Othello said, shaking his head.
The man grumbled and shifted over, allowing Othello enough room to perch on the side. Grumbling, he cracked his whip, and the mule whinnied and began to trot down the cobbled streets. It was not long before they made their way out of Corcillum's outskirts and onto the road to the front lines — and Vocans.
Privately, Othello both rejoiced and lamented. He had never spent more than a few hours away from his family. Now, it could be weeks.
He distracted himself by trying to picture what kind of demon he might be given. His experience was fairly limited. He had seen demons with their summoners before, usually battlemages, the graduated officers of Vocans.
Buzzing beetles with gaudy carapaces and fearsome stings. Dogs the size of horses, with four eyes, fearsome claws and bushy manes along their spines. Bipedal felines with saber-like fangs. He could not picture himself with any of them.
"So, let's say I believe ye," the driver said, interrupting Othello's thoughts. "Are ye the only dwarven summoner?"
"Aye," Othello whispered.
But it wasn't true, technically. His twin brother, Atilla, also had the ability to summon. He remembered the yellow-faced inquisitor — Rook, that was his name.
How he had laid his hands on theirs, and had sensed the power within them.
How Atilla had stormed out when they were told. What Atilla had called Othello, when he accepted his place at Vocans and Atilla did not.
His guts twisted with guilt. He turned his thoughts to his mother. His sister. His father.
It was his love for his family and his people that made leaving home so hard. Yet it was for them that he left at all. The dwarves were second-class citizens. Well, that was not true, they were not even considered citizens at all. Yet ... the new king, Harold, offered some hope. He was different.
He had invited the dwarves to fight and earn their citizenship. To become recruits in his army, and join his war against the orcs of the southern jungles. Othello would be the first dwarven summoner and officer. He would have real power, and would rub shoulders with the most powerful leaders in the land. And ultimately, he would earn their respect ... and freedom for his people.
There were no lights on the road they traveled, and the moon did little to illuminate their way. Instead, the driver had lit a grubby lantern containing a sputtering candle, which allowed Othello to see the swaying stalks of corn on either side of them.
It was so dark that it was a surprise to Othello when they suddenly turned onto a wooden drawbridge and the castle reared above him, a silhouetted monolith in the shadowed sky.
"Yer here," the driver snarled. "Be off with ye."
Othello jumped down, with a helpful shove from the driver. He winced as the blood rushed to his legs, and he staggered away from the foul-smelling cart.
Moments later he was alone, the courtyard silent but for the rattle of the retreating cart's wheels.
"So ...," Othello muttered, waving a hand in front of his face. He could barely see it. "A fine welcome this is."
He edged forward, until his feet met a small ledge of stone. It was the beginning of a staircase. Then, as he took his first tentative step, a square of light appeared ahead as a pair of huge wooden doors were thrown open.
"Is that Othello?" a woman shouted.
A ball of blue light flickered into existence, floating toward him. It spun, a glowing orb hanging in the air just ahead of his face. Somehow, Othello thought it would give off heat like a flame, but when he reached out a hand, he felt nothing but the chill bite of the air around him.
"Come on up," the woman said.
Othello stumbled up the stairs, eager to be out of the cold.
He found himself staring at a raven-haired woman with piercing gray eyes and a fair complexion. She wore an officer's blue uniform.
"Welcome to Vocans, Othello," she said, smiling. "Let's get started."
Excerpted from A Fine Welcome: Othello's Journey by Taran Matharu. Copyright © 2016 Taran Matharu, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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