Well … that was a fail on the scheduling front. Here I was yesterday, ignoring my computer and happily thinking I’d actually scheduled things in advance, and then my mother mentioned that my post was blank, and I thought … oops. And then I did it again today with the E for Eurydice one, which wasn’t even supposed to go out today! So foolish.
Leaving Eurydice for tomorrow, so who is Damian Raskae? The greatest swordsman of the nine worlds, the captain of the Red Company, and the best friend of Fitzroy Angursell, of course!
He naturally is going to make it into a lot of stories. I like to write about friendship, and different forms of love, and the idea of excellence–and the problems the pursuit of excellence can cause. (For you must give something up, if you are going to become the greatest at something else, no?) Damian is a rather intense sort of hero, but unlike most, he has friends.
If you’ve read Till Human Voices Wake Us you might know him as Raphael and Kasian’s father, whom Raphael has a very difficult relationship with. We don’t meet him in the book, but he’s there. Raphael and he do not get along; it will be several books, I think, before they meet again and mend or mar their relationship entirely.
Before then we’ll see Damian in his youth, before he becomes the greatest swordsman of the nine worlds, before he becomes the captain of the Red Company, when he first meets Fitzroy (not-yet-Angursell) and begins to have adventures.
Here’s an excerpt from “Victi Magnificamur” (not yet published; come back for V and you’ll get the rest of the story), which takes place around the same time as Stargazy Pie (after the Fall of Astandalas) and involves an old soldier telling the story about how he was the 149th soldier defeated by Damian Raskae one day.
From “Victi Magnificamur”:
“So there we were, the joke company, made up of the newbies and the dregs of other companies—I know why I was there well enough! We stood there, thinking how we were the laughing-stock of the army, and here we’d gone and captured the Red Company. Our Jak came forward, and bowed like it was a court, and said: ‘I am Jakory Goldlake, captain of the 31st Goldlake and Varra. You, I presume, are the Red Company. You perceive that we have you surrounded. I have had the bugler call for the rest of our company, which is, I fear, larger than yours, and within earshot.’
“Damian Raskae bowed. And yes, it was obvious it was him: he was as blond and as handsome as the stories say. A kinglier man I have never seen. I hated him on sight. He said, ‘I am Damian Raskae, Captain indeed of the Red Company. I perceive that you are a man of skill at tracking; are you as skilled with the sword?’
“Young Jak bowed again. ‘I am tolerably well acquainted with its use, sir.’
“We were in this clearing in the woods, a mile or so from the road, near a stream. The Red Company had obviously just stopped for a rest; their horses were grazing but they hadn’t taken off their tack or set up camp or anything. They all held weapons, but even with only two of our units there were fifty of us, and five to one odds without a defensive wall aren’t what anyone wants.”
“Even with a defensive wall,” Domina Black murmured, and Zorey had to smile.
“True. So we were all standing there on edge, and I have to say my thoughts were bloody, but Young Jak was near me. I was a lieutenant then, and he knew I’d been in bad places but was better than most with weapons. He liked to make sure he knew when I went for blood. I was mad. I’d never understood why people admired the Red Company, I thought they were fools, and seeing them there in our power I despised them.”
Several people made small movements or noises of surprise. Zorey shrugged, grinned ruefully. “That’s how I was then. The Trigoon Wastes and the West Collian campaign had marked me. But I didn’t do anything, our Jak keeping me back. And then Damian Raskae smiled and spoke again.
“‘You have done us the honour of mentioning that the rest of your company is approaching. This will bring the odds against us to the region of fifteen to one, if my knowledge of imperial companies is not altogether inaccurate.’
“‘No, that is our number sir; and yours is famously ten, some of you warriors of the highest renown.’
“He bowed again—both of them did, most politely.” Zorey paused at another stir in the crowd, as some of the middle-aged members smirked. The younger ones were lapping it up, of course, old-fashioned courtesy was making a resurgence. The ones his age, who’d lived in the latter days of the Empire, knew he spoke the truth. “This is how people spoke in those days, I assure you, though the words are perhaps a little different. It’s been a long time.”
“That’s how you were going to arrest them?”
“I told you, this was an honourable company, and Young Jak hadn’t been to a real war yet. Old campaigners like me could have told him to stop yakking on—but he didn’t ask me, he knew what I’d suggest doing—and we were looking at the Red Company. Five men and five women. They didn’t look a match for ten of us, let alone a hundred and fifty. We just didn’t want them to do something stupid and heroic.
“Neither did their captain, it seemed, for he kept looking at Young Jak, kept smiling, and finally said, ‘I do not think my companions will be inclined to go with you without a struggle, and nor do I expect you to let us continue on our way without one.’
“‘I remind you that we are one hundred and fifty to your ten; I also say that we are required to bring you alive before the Emperor, and he is my liege lord.’
“‘You are currently fifty to ten, but that is no matter. We seem to be at an impasse, unless my friends think otherwise?’
“One of the women, I think it was one of the sisters Avramapul—” Zorey paused at a movement from Domina Black, as if she’d shaken out her hair, and was haunted by a sudden wistfulness he rarely felt. He was tired, he reminded himself. “—One of the sisters Avramapul said, ‘I would consider it, but we are expected at a wedding, if you recall.’
“‘That is true,’ replied her captain, as if he’d forgotten. ‘Captain Jakory, I am certain you realize that if we were to fight en masse, or indeed en mêlée, some of your number would be killed, and some of ours injured or perhaps killed—which would be grievous to us and disappoint your Emperor.’
‘And yet you say you will not come peaceably, and so we must fight.’
‘In this age of the worlds, it appears we must. But I ask you, would you consider settling the matter by single combat?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘It is a common practice in some regions. I mean that you are tolerably acquainted with the sword, and I have some skill at that art myself, and I suggest that you and I fight for the right of passage—ours to go free if I win, yours to take us if I lose.’
“We all just stared at him for a moment. I don’t know what Young Jak was going to do, because before he spoke one of our young hotheads, a nobleman’s younger son who went by the name of Taft, stepped forward, saluted, and said. ‘Please, sir, may I have leave to duel this man?’
“Damian Raskae bowed to him. ‘By all means, if your captain prefers.’
“Young Jak flushed, but he was a cool-headed young man and he started to smile—I could see from where I was standing, though I kept being distracted by that ruddy eagle owl clacking its beak at me, and I was getting impatient. Then our Jak said, ‘Captain Raskae, if you can defeat my company in single combat then yours can go freely on your way.’
“It was a good response, I remember thinking at the time. Half of our company jeered and whistled and did things like that, for were we not of the imperial army? Also you need to know this was still relatively early days for the Red Company, and Damian Raskae had yet to make his name as the greatest swordsman on the nine worlds.” Zorey paused. “It was because of this that he did.”
He remembered afresh the look on Damian Raskae’s face as he lifted his head and laughed, and the expressions on those of the companions he could see. “Fitzroy Angursell the poet whooped as loud as any of our young blades, and the others looked, well, wary but trusting.” He paused again, sipped a bit of water, added more quietly, “I’ve never forgotten that trust, how they had confidence that their captain would get them safely out of the pickle they were in. I think it was then I started to realize why people loved them.”