The Baen Free Library is a section of the Baen site where a good number of books is offered for free download, as a way to sample authors and their works. During one of my visits, I discovered the existence of a series of short stories collections, grouped by year of publication: as it often happens, anthologies can be mixed bags, but I found a few stories that truly caught my attention: in my next posts dedicated to shorter works I will review the ones that I liked most in this collection from the best of 2016.
A quite unexpected fantasy tale in a collection where I believed I would find only SF stories, and one that I enjoyed very much. It focuses on two young brothers whose father, one of the king’s trusted generals, leaves for war and never comes back, though he won the decisive battle.
As a form of compensation, the king decides to accept the two kids’ oath of fealty and enrolls them into the Cohort, the group of children from which one day will come Princess Cern’s closest advisers. It’s a move that raises more than one eyebrow, since the two youngsters – Pohut and Innel – come from a commoner family and have no backing whatsoever at court. Worse still, the Cohort, a sort of college for the chosen of the highborn families, is a place where the children should learn how to handle life at court – in other words, they tend to practice prevarication, ruthlessness and duplicity.
The two brothers find themselves out of their element in more ways than they can count, or, as the author describes it, “they were dropped into the world of the Cohort like a pine cone onto a thundering river”, but the elder Pohut – mindful of his father’s last words to him before leaving for war, “make me proud” – decides that they will face all hardships together and refuses to bow to the widespread propensity for nastiness, keeping a low profile and biding his time. I leave to you the pleasure of discovering the rest of the story…
This is a delightful, touching tale that I enjoyed very much and that has compelled me to look for more works from this author.