Torque Edwards was born in 2382 in the Dukedoms of Weiland to Garath Edwards, a renowned adventurer, and Samantha Singleton, of a declining aristocratic family. He studied magic at the Vatzit School of Wizardry. His early years as an adventuring wizard are fueled both by his desire to earn the respect and intimacy of his father, and by his involvment with a prominent black-orc from the Kratanak Outlands named Dreadmanifold. His father is reserved with Torque, refusing to speak to Torque about his personal life, despite being open with others. Torque cannot understand his father's reserve. Dreadmanifold takes Torque's father's place, as an admirable and honorable figure, loyal to his own lover, who chooses Torque as someone in whom he can confide. At the age of thirty, Torque retires from adventuring, and becomes engaged to be married to a member of Weiland's aristocracy. Fortunately for those of us who like a good adventure story, he finds himself off on a desparate bid to rescue some friends of his from a capricious Prince in far-away Goss. On this adventure, he meets and falls in love with Marta. He breaks off his engagement, but cannot bring himself to return and face his mother, who was counting upon the marriage to restore her position in the aristocratic heirachy, and also counting upon his not growing up to be a wandering philanderer like his father.
Marta and he travel extensively, and settle after a few years in Gripp and have three children. Torque teaches at the Vatzit School. Marta runs a gymnasium. Once again, Torque is drawn away from home, and this time he finds himself transported to another time, where he meets his father when his father was in his late twenties: Torque is older than he. Torque dares not reveal to Garath his true identity, although he does go by his true name, which Garath professes to like. And so Torque comes to understand at last the predicament his father was in as Torque grew older and came to look more like his lost friend from youth, and how difficult it must have been for his father to know all that Torque would go through with him and for him in the past, and not knowing how Torque's efforts to return to his wife and children in his own time would end. Torque does manage to make it back to his own time, where he is at last united with his father. His father died in 2443 at the age of 98. Torque wrote his autobiography in three volumes soon after that. The first volume is The Windmills. Torque Edwards himelf died at the age of 95 in 2477. He taught at Vatzit School until the day before his death.
The Windmills begins in 2388, when Torque is six years old. His two sisters, Kate and Lucy, are twelve and fourteen. His father is away on a trip. He is playing by a stream one evening when a rustling in the bull-rushes catches his attention. He investigates. He finds a demon crouching in the water staring at him. He screams and runs. It pursued him. The demon is only a few steps behind him. Torque stumbles. The demon bumps into a tree. Torque gets up and keeps running. It is almost dark when he reaches his garden and runs into his house. He shakes with fear, and tells his mother he was chased by a demon. His mother does not believe him. It is common for children to make this claim in Weiland, and many of them turn out to be liars. If the government finds out, however, they take the child from his family so that they can protect him. His mother does not want Torque to be taken away, and she thinks he is making it up after hearing tales of his father's adventures.
It is two months before his father returns. During that time, the same demon finds and chases Torque whenever Torque is alone outside. He stops going out alone. No-one but Torque sees the demon. The demon never touches him. His mother and sisters relax. They are more confident that he is lying. If it were a real demon, surely it would kill him?
Garath returns, hears his son's story and declares that the entire family will move to the Vale of Wortham in the south of Weiland. The city of Gripp, in the Vale of Wortham, is home to the Vatzit University, a school for wizards. Garath knows that the demon will not come near Gripp. It is not the wizards' magic that deters the demons. The wizards understand what the demons are doing, who they work for, and what questions to ask to determine if a child is lying. When they find a child who is not lying, they hire someone to track the demon down by following its footprints, and then kill it. Garath already knows the questions, and he has asked them. What color is the demon's skin. How did it move? What did its eyes look like? Did it breath? Did it have teeth? If it had teeth, did it have saliva? He chooses not to pursue the demon, but to flee from it. We don't know why he makes this choice.
Garath's family travels two days later to the Vale, despite the bitter protestations of the three women. In the Vale, they find a big house and have their belongings brought from their old home. Samantha still does not believe in the demon, and Garath will say little about it, because he does not want her to worry. He would rather she resented him than be worried for the safety of her son and daughters. Torque's sisters are angry at him for causing them to part from their friends.
A year later, however, the family is content with their new estate. Garath is home half the time. When he is home, he spends his entire time with his family. Samantha is happy, the sisters are happy. Torque would like to be happy, but he cannot forget the demons. When his father is away, he gets scared, even though he has not seen the demon since they moved. Without Garath, his mother gets tired and anxious looking after the estate and the children. His sisters are haughty and commanding. All of them patronize him. They do not go so far as to mock him for what they believe to have been his lies about the demon, but they treat him as if he were a brat who will do anything to get his father's attention. Torque starts to resent his father for going away.
When Torque is 11, his sisters are 17 and 19, his mother is 53, and his father is 68. Everyone is at home one day and a woman shows up. Here name is Cardil Faymar. Samantha suspects, and she is correct, that Cardil was Garath's lover on a recent adventure of his. She is running from her uncle's men, who are trying to find out from here where she has hidden something precious. She runs to Garath because she can think of nowhere else to go. These men are going to kill here, whether they find out what they want to know or not.
Samantha is furious to find "that woman" in her own house. She insults Garath behind his back when speaking to his daughters. They pass her insults on to Torque. Garath refuses to throw Cardil out. She stays a week. He and Cardil make a plan, and they set off together. He returns two weeks later. During these two weeks, his mother is heartbroken and miserable. She is afraid that Garath will not come back, but she tells her children that she never wants to see him again. Torque decides that he is going to hate his father.
The next month, Torque enters the Vatzit University as a boarding student. He tried to win a scholarship, but failed. Garath pays the fees gladly. Torque does not want to take anything from his father, but his ambition forces him to accept, and he leaves for school.
Over the next twelve years he is at school. As he grows older, he sees less and less of his family. At times, he misses his father so much that he goes home. His father is glad to see him, but guarded. Each time Torque returns confused, and decides once again that he should hate his father for being the distant, callous man that he is. We do not explain Garath's behavior in this book, but in a later one.
Torque graduates at the age of 23 and works as a town wizard for a year in one of Gripp's magic shops. The staff consists of his boss, who is an accomplished wizard, himself, and two adjutants. The job pays $60k/yr. He is single and he has enough money to start paying back his father. Garath accepts the money and says that he admires Torque's desire to repay. Torque thinks that his father is making fun of him.
Torque spends his free time with his school friends. They meet in Delia's Arms in Gripp, which is an adventurer's stopping place on the road between Weiland and Ursia. There he meets Cardil Faymar, now ten years older, but still looking the same, thanks to longevity drugs. His father is taking these drugs too, as is his mother. The drugs are expensive. Torque's mother says the only reason she stays with Garath is because he buys her these drugs. The truth is that Garath has already signed over the majority of his estate to Samantha, so she is richer than he is. He talks about his father with Cardil. She speaks highly of him, Torque speaks ill of him, but he is not convincing.
Torque and his friends meet a traveling salesman, notable for his obesity, who boasts of being a time-traveler. They laugh at him. He is upset. He gives one of Torque's friends a newspaper that he claims is a daily from ten years from now from one of the Dukedoms in the north of Weiland. They all read the paper, and they are impressed by how much trouble this fool has gone through to impress them. Not for a moment do they believe him: he is not the first person they have met who claimed to be a time traveler. Usually these people try to sell you knowledge of the future. The only thing that distinguished this man from the others was that he never tried to sell them anything, even though he claimed to be a traveling salesman. Because of this distinction, Torque's friend promises to keep the paper for eleven years, just to see.
A year later, Torque gets a job on the Outland Relations Council of North Wortham. He is the wizard on the council, and is to act as emissary in times of contact with orcs from the outlands. It pays $100k/yr and he gets to study Outland culture, learn the local orcish, and perhaps make a name for himself.
When he gets to North Wortham, he is disappointed. Only one of the council members has actually met an orc, and the garrison of three hundred soldiers stationed in North Wortham, in the southernmost foothills of the Kratanak Mountains, is regarded in the Weilandic Armed Forces as a backwater where you can send incompetent men and be sure they will do no harm. Nevertheless, Torque takes the time to learn orcish. Most of what he reads and hears about orc culture is self-contradictory, but he thinks he has learned a few things, not only about orcs, but about their leaders, the black-orcs. He hopes to meet one of these. In fact, he plans to go out and look for one.
He starts ballooning as a hobby. He makes the balloons out of conjured cloth, fills them with conjured foam, and has them lift him in a conjured wood basket. He surveys the border between the homelands and the outlands (sapien territory and orc territory), a border marked by frequent stone pillars, and held sacred by the orcs despite their military superiority to the sapiens. He asks himself, 'Why do they hold that border sacred? Why don't they come down out of the mountains and take our land?' No-body on the council has an adequate answer.
Torque learns to make space bridge thrusters. He no longer needs the balloon, he can just use the thruster and the basket. He ventures out over the borderlands. On one such trip, after dozens of uneventful ones, he sees five hundred orc soldiers camped not ten kilometers from North Wortham. A black orc stands among them, and looks up at Torque through field glasses. Torque makes haste back to town and warns the council.
The black orc was Stockansteel. Torque was fortunate that Stockansteel's nephew, who keeps a wyvern, was away scouting, or the wyvern would have forced him to land immediately.
A week later, Stockansteel's five hundred orcs clashes with Dreadmanifold's seven hundred in the borderlands. Stockansteel withdraws south into North Wortham. He camps in a wood and sends his soldiers out to take food from the surrounding farms. His nephew takes to the air above the wood on his wyvern, and Torque, seeing the wyvern, knows he cannot fly around in his sluggish magical contraption.
Dreadmanifold hesitates to follow. But when he sees that Stockansteel might cut through North Wortham and escape to the east, he decides to go into North Wortham and get him. We don't know why these two black orcs are fighting one another. Stockansteel still has not been driven out, so the local forces must be too weak to oppose him. In that, Dreadmanifold is absolutely right, the Council is in a panic, and the army refuses to attack the orcs. A few skirmishes wounded a dozen men with no orc casualties. The orcs wear metal armor, but they carry only wood clubs. The North Wortham soldiers have leather armor and swords.
Dreadmanifold moves south. Torque, despite the disapproval of his fellow councilors, who are thinking of fleeing the province, goes to Dreadmanifold's camp, talks to Dreadmanifold, and returns safely. He tells the council they must try to blockade Stockansteel's way south, and Dreadmanifold will take him back to the outlands.
Two days later, the North Wortham soldiers cower in the hedgerows south of the wood when Stockansteel's troops are attacked by Dreadmanifold's. It is a big scrap in the forest. Torque does not see the wyvern aloft, so he hoists his vacuum thruster basket. If Stockansteel is the victor, he wants to warn the soldiers to run. But the wyvern is up there, hiding in the sun. Its rider has a long sharp sword, dives down, and cuts the thruster from Torque's basket.
Torque hits the dirt in the forest. Six if Stockansteel's soldiers try to take him prisoner. He thinks they are trying to kill him. Dreadmanifold appears on the scene and rescues him. Torque gets off Dreadmanifold's horse at the south side of the forest, and limps to his own forces. He has a twisted ankle. But Torque now owes Dreadmanifold a life-debt. Soon after, Stockansteel's force is routed, and scatters in all directions, including south through the North Wortham lines, spreading havoc for weeks all about.
It's not long before Dreadmanifold calls to collect. He asks Torque to go to the Valley of the Windmills, off to the west of Weiland, and steal their Stone of Mithril-Finding, something that was stolen by adventurers two years before from Dreadmanifold's people. He has doubts. Dreadmanifold tells him that a life-debt is one where you can either do what you are asked, or kill yourself. You are not obliged to do it if you would rather kill yourself. Torque agrees to do get the stone.
Torque has a good reputation after his escapades in North Wortham. Weiland awarded him the Silver Star for bravery. He gets a job as an inspector for a bank that is considering lending money to the Valley of the Windmills, or rather, investing it in a new Mithril mine there. Torque will not reveal he is a wizard. This will allow him to interrogate people with the beguile spell, and look for Mithril with the a wind-vein spell. The Windmill people do not have any wizards.
Torque gets a warm welcome from Claudio, the chancellor of the Valley of the Windmills. He has spacious quarters and good food laid on for him. The chancellor wants to show Torque the windmills and pulleys, but torque insists upon seeing the alleged Mithril mine first. They take him there.
There is a vein of Mithril apparent on the wall of one chamber. Several seasoned miners attest to its depth and richness. The chief miner gets out the Mithril-stone and demonstrates how the surface contains Mithril. But torque scans the stone depths and measures the intensity and direction of the maeon wind with his own instruments and spells. He suspects a fraud. Later, when he has analyzed his measurements, he is certain the vein is shallow, and that the Chancellor knows it to be so. Either that, or the miners are fools and the Mithril-stone does not work.
Torque confronts Claudio. Claudio confesses, and explains the Valley's dilemma. The spirit matter ropes of the windmills are worn out, and they cannot pump water into the valley. Their Mithril mines are exhausted, so they cannot pay for new ropes. They must hope for a fresh vein. But they cannot start mining for a fresh vein without the windmills to water the crops and keep his people fed. At the moment, they are importing food and spending their reserves. He takes Torque on a tour of the mechanisms. Torque says they can get the spirit matter ropes very cheaply from Gripp, and he might be able to interest the bank in a smaller loan to pay a wizard or two to come out and try to duplicate the existing divine ropes. Torque has a few tries at making ropes himself, and the results are promising.
Torque starts planning how he can steal the stone.
The valley worships Valerian, a male god with a temple in the city serving the valley's 5000 inhabitants with three priests. The head priest gives a sermon against the outsiders who will lie and cheat and rob the valley. Torque can't speak the local language, but he learns of the sermon.
Torque is soon to leave. He attempts to steal the stone, but he is caught in the act. He tries to escape, but before he can let off any spells, the chancellor, his friend, appears, and exclaims his amazement. Torque is so ashamed, he does not act. The chancellors son, Fabio, clubs Torque on the back of the head and knocks him out (fl=15, thr=-14+20 quadruple formidability, thr=4, rolls a 16 for double-damage). This fellow Fabio is a terror in the town, dueling expertly in the Valley's detailed dueling style and protocol. Torque has seen him in action several times already, and is amazed at his speed and grace.
Torque is in jail. The priest gets his listeners all fired up, claiming Torque not only is a thief, but endangered the entire nation with his schemes to bring powerful wizards into the city. Valeria wants Torque dead. Valeria wants the valley to buy their ropes from him, not wizards. That's how he has always made money out of the valley: by shipping them spirit ropes at a huge profit. Now he hopes that bankers will invest in the windmill system and buy the cables from him. Via the priest, Valerian accuses Torque of treason: endangering the windmills, and high theft.
After languishing in jail for three weeks, Torque hears his alleged crimes in court, and is thrown back into his cell. He looks out the small barred window across the square. He sees his father sitting at a table drinking coffee. He is certain that his father is here to rescue him, and will most likely do so as soon as he has finished his cup of tea (actually, Garath was going to come back at night with his sword). He does not want his father to rescue him, so he puts his own escape plan into operation immediately. He gets away, goes on to steal the Mithril stone, joins his father, and escapes the city with the help a few flash spells and surrounding sponges. His father is delighted with the display, picks up his sword outside town, and they jog for the valley's end.
Fabio and half a dozen horsemen show up. Torque is out of spells. He is too tired to think straight. His father asks him if it would be okay if he, Garath, took a part now. Torque says he can if he likes. Garath says he has waited twenty-five years for this moment, and steps up to fight with Fabio, who has dismounted confidently. Moments later, Fabio is unconscious on the ground (Garath is a 40th level adventurer. Fabio is a 15th level local swashbuckler). Garath knocks another man off his horse with a rock, and father and son are riding out of the valley while the remaining men are fleeing.
Torque sees his father clearly now, in the excitement of the escape. He sees a man who loves his son, and is proud of him. He loves his father. His father is the greatest man he has ever met. The smile and the nod was always pride in his son, not scorn.
This is the end of The Windmills. In it, Torque has learned that he should be his own judge of character, and thus comes to peace with his father.
Their commander stood absolutely naked. Fiver or six orcs clustered about him. He towered a full head taller than them. They looked pale and weak in comparison. His skin was black, so black I thought it might have a hint of blue to it. But it was oily, too, so that light from the torches flashed off him as he pushed the orcs aside and stepped towards me. His muscles were so sharply defined, they reminded me of one of Ric's welded plate-metal people. His eyes were red around the iris. His head was bald. I assumed he had shaved it, along with his eyebrows, but the fact is that black ocs have no hair at all.
His mouth jutted out from his face.and when he opened it to speak, I saw his teeth were all pointed, the canines as prominent as those of a dog.
"Welcome," he said, in Latin. His voice was deep, even, and unhurried, "Where is my sentry?"
"He appeared to be sleeping," I said, "But I am sure it was a ruse to lure me into the camp."
His mouth broke into a smile, in which he pulled his lips back from his teeth. I found the sight intoxicatingly dreadful.
"Cob!" he shouted, "Get your drunk ass over here."
The sentry did not appear, so he dispatched a soldier. "Get him."
He turned to face me. "My name is Dreadmanifold. Commander in Chief of the Bootika Armed Forces."
"I am Torque Edwards, emmisary of the North Wortham Council."
"What do you want?"
"We do not presume to intrude upon your affairs, sir, but we beg that you give us some hint of your intentions, so we may receive you with proper anticipation."
"Your council is graceful and magnanimous. I have intruded upon your land, terrified a number of your people, taken water from your rivers, and stolen grain from your fields. I do so out of necessity, but with regret."
"It is not for us," I said, "to pass judgement upon a strong and able commander. We realize that you have reasons for your actions, reasons that we outselves would no find compelling."
The soldier Dreadmanifold had dispatched returned, pulling the sentry by the ear. The sentry was dazed, I think from drink, but he was now bleeding from a half a dozen places on his face. The soldier pushed him to his knees and backed away.
Dreadmanifold walked up to him.
"Yo!" he said, in Orcish, which I was delighted to find I could understand. But the sentry didn't look up. "Yo! Get your head up, you piece of crap!" The sentry jerked his head up and looked Dreadmanifold in the eyes.
"You drunk, boy?"
Dreadmanifold knelt down, grasped the man by the neck with one hand, and sniffed at his breath.
"You're drunk," he said. He grabbed the man's head in both hands and twisted it violently. I heard a dull cracking sound, and Dreadmanifold let the orc crumple dead to the ground.
I stood with my mouth open, looking from Dreadmanifold to the corpse. I had never seen a man killed before. The soldiers around me seemed as stunned as I was. All but one, who looked at me and chuckled. I returned his gaze, and realized I had my hand on my neck.
"Forgive me, emissary," Dreadmanifold said, "Discipline in an army must be immediate."
I stared at him. It was quiet in the camp. The soldiers were asleep, despite Dreadmanifold's shouting. The combined snoring of five hundred orcs was like the purring of a fat house-cat.
"Emissary, are you thirsty?"
"That was brutal," I said.
"Pardon me, emissary?"
"I said that was brutal."
Dreadmanifold pulled his head back.
"Ha!" he said, "Do you eat lamb, Mr. Edwards?"
"Yes," I said.
"You eat lamb," he said, "and I kill drunk sentries."
Dreadmanifold said to his soldiers, "Flat-face say I too bad to bear. So I say, You take baby-sheep."
They laughed, although their laughter seemed a little forced to me, not that I was one to judge the nature of an orc's laughter at that point in my life.
"Emissary," Dreadmanifold said to me, "You eat lamb, which makes you brutal in our eyes."
"I'd not lie to you, boss-man," I said, "It be fine eating. What be bad about it?"
The soldiers snarled and hefted their clubs and staffs.
"Woe there, boys!" Dreadmanifold said, "Put them away. Put them away, I say. You ain't got the picture. Flat-face don't know no better."
They sheathed their blades and stepped back.
"Emissary, despite your best intentions, you have offended my men, who are jumpy this evening."
"I had no idea," I said.
"Of course not."
"Is it an offence for me to speak your language?"
"No, it's an offence to eat lamb," he said, "But we are digressing. Let me tell you why I am here in your territory. I'm here to settle a blood debt with my enemy Stockandsteel who you must know is camped in your forest south of here. Stay out of my way and I will take him for you. Blockade his way south, if you can."
"Goodbye, Mr. Edwards."
The soldiers escorted me out of the camp.
The basket struck the ground at about ten meters per second. I tumbled out and curled up, winded. I wretched and gasped. When I looked up, six orcs in Stockandsteel's uniforms were jogging towards me, eyes on the forest around them, their big boots pounding through the undergrowth. As they drew near, the leading orc looked straight at me. He had an iron-shot staff in two hands. I couldn't read his boar-like face, but I decided that they wre not taking prisoners. In this I was very much mistaken, although I did not know it at the time, and my misconception was to cause me a great deal of trouble.
I struggled up and tried to run, but my ankle was twisted. I turned and enveloped the leader in sponge. The others hesitated for a moment, but then spread out and moved in around me. I backed up against a tree. I tried to stuff another one's lungs with rubber, but either my aim was off, or he felt it coming and got out of the way.
I was out of spells. I panted hard. What could I do? What could I do?
Dreadmanifold and his warhorse exploded out of the forest to my right. He saw me and reigned up.
The soldiers stood between us. Dreadmanifold looked at ma and at them. Nobody moved. The warhorse's breath came in loud rythmic bursts.
"Would you owe a life-debt to me, Mr. Edwards?" he said.
I could not believe my luck. A life-debt? Of course I would owe him a life-debt, whatever it was. I'd even give up eating lamb if he asked me.
The soldiers watched us. The battle clamored in the forest around us.
"Yes, commander," I said, "I will owe you a life-debt."
"Do not move, then," he said, "Do not act. It is the law."
He dismounted with his staff in his hands.
The soldiers jesticulated at one another urgently. Finally one of them said, "I is the man now, you see my stripes," he pointed to his uniform "You lick your sticks take it. We could make the roll."
And so it was that Dreadmanifold, in chain mail and red leather boots, his helmet lost in the fight, stood outnumbered five to one. The new leader cried out and they all attacked him at once. Dreadmanifold jumped at one of them, forcing the fellow to step aside and break their circle. Dreadmanifold was out of of the circle in a moment. The soldiers dashed after him.
It was like a dance after that, the soldiers rushing around, and Dreadmanifold dancing between them, now thrusting at one, now darting away from another. Once, he leapt from a log, in full armor, and summersaulted.
The soldiers fell one by one, knocked to the ground by a kick to the head, or a blow from Dreadmanifold's massive fist. It took maybe thirty seconds, and only the leader was left. The two of them stood off from one another. The soldier bowed. Dreadmanifold nodded. They lept into a duel, their staffs clattering. Dreadmanifold watched his opponent carefully. Occasionally he nodded, or clicked his tongue. Just as I was beginning to relax and enjoy their display of prowess, Dreadmanifold smacked the soldier in the teeth with the pommel of his sword, and the soldier collapsed.
Dreadmanifold remounted his horse immediately, rode to me and offered me his arm. I mounted up behind him. Two soldiers were rising to their elbows. One shook his head and shouted to the other.
"He spanked you hard, boy, I saw!"
"Just like I spanked yo' momma last night, dog's breath."
Dreadmanifold looked at each of the orcs he had defeated, and then spurred his horse into the forest.