The Stardowns

The Stardowns is a large expanse of unclaimed, unsettled prairie. Shooting stars arc across its sky without surcease, dozens to hundreds at a time. It borders Gallant to the north, Ravel to the west, Genji to the east, and the mysterious, bone-white forest of the Feylands to the south. Though its very center may have a great concentration of coalpure, no one is excavating it anymore. The biological weapon known as vivi mortis, unleashed by the Sunset Nations at Dalewind Pass, has made its mark here. Animals afflicted with what many call a “curse” have mysteriously congregated in this land, as if compelled to come. And it’s too difficult to justify the cost of dealing with them. It would be unusual to meet anyone in the Stardowns.

However, a Knight of the One named Ser Amala Hawkwood has led a buildup of Gallant’s forces in these lands. (“Ser” is Gallant’s gender-neutral form of “sir.”) She has long suspected that the Warlord Venice Cabral of the Sunset Nations wants to use the Stardowns as a “backdoor” into Gallant. For an entire year, Ser Hawkwood failed to get support for such a buildup, especially because it could heighten tensions with Gallant’s allies to the south. But Venice Cabral is known as a brilliant strategist, and Ser Hawkwood was able to convince the Court that he could indeed find some way to safely transport a large force across the Stardowns without detection. For her efforts, the Court forced the crown to give Ser Hawkwood command of a reconnaissance force of troops and the use of Tower Arcadia, a run-down watchtower in the Stardowns.

Ser Hawkwood is known not merely as a great warrior with her sword and shield but also as an effective commander. She sleeps out in the field alongside the troops. She pulls more guard and patrol duty than her soldiers. She allows the quarters inside Tower Arcadia to be used by those beneath her in the chain of command. She eats only after her troops have eaten, and she takes point when going into danger. What’s more, she does all of this while maintaining discipline with a disarming sense of warmth and humor. Such habits have inspired such an intense degree of loyalty among soldiers that the Crown has found it necessary to constantly change Ser Hawkwood’s command post out of fear she might inspire such a vast following of troops that she could attempt a coup. Those who know Ser Hawkwood say such a fear is completely unfounded and that the Knight of the One is a warrior-scholar who respects the core concepts behind the civilian control of a military power.

Much to the Crown’s dismay, Ser Hawkwood has transformed Tower Arcadia into a full-blown military installation. No longer a mere old watchtower, it is now a fort in all but name. She is convinced that Venice Cabral will stage an all-out assault on Gallant from the direction of the Stardowns, and she is constantly writing to the Crown and Court to send more troops. She has also requested that scholars be sent to Tower Arcadia to oversee research into vivi mortis, the biological affliction that Venice Cabral and his Sunbreakers unleashed at the Battle of Dalewind Pass.

The Stardowns happens to be one of the major settings for my novel, The Crossroads. Because I live in the Stardowns so much in my imagination, I found myself writing music about it. If I had a piano on those rolling hills and plains, I’d play this: