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Authors: Raymond E. Feist

Talon of the Silver Hawk

BOOK: Talon of the Silver Hawk
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Raymond E. Feist

For Jamie Ann,
for teaching me things I didn't know I needed to learn


Part One: Orphan














Part Two: Mercenary

   Masters' Court









Map of the Eastern Kingdoms


About the Author

Also by



About the Publisher



— Part One —%


Death stands above me,

whispering low I know not what into my ear.

—Walter Savage Landor



He waited.

Shivering, the boy huddled close to the dying embers of his meager fire, his pale blue eyes sunken and dark from lack of sleep. His mouth moved slowly as he repeated the chant he had learned from his father, his dry lips cracking painfully and his throat sore from intoning the holy words. His nearly black hair was matted with dust from sleeping in the dirt; despite his resolve to remain alert while awaiting his vision, exhaustion had overcome him on three occasions. His normally slender frame and high cheekbones were accentuated by his rapid weight loss, rendering him gaunt and pale. He wore only a vision seeker's loincloth. After the first night he had sorely missed his leather tunic and trousers, his sturdy boots and his dark green cloak.

Above, the night sky surrendered to a predawn grey and the stars began to fade from view. The very air seemed
to pause, as if waiting for a first intake of breath, the first stirring of a new day. The stillness was uncommon, both unnerving and fascinating, and the boy held his breath for a moment in concert with the world around him. Then a tiny gust, the softest breath of night sighing, touched him, and he let his own breathing resume.

As the sky to the east lightened, he reached over and picked up a gourd. He sipped at the water within, savoring it as much as possible, for it was all he was permitted until he experienced his vision and reached the creek which intersected with the trail a mile below as he made his way home.

For two days he had sat below the peak of Shatana Higo, in the place of manhood, waiting for his vision. Prior to that, he had fasted, drinking only herb teas and water; then he had eaten the traditional meal of the warrior, dried meat, hard bread, and water with bitter herbs, before spending half a day climbing the dusty path up the eastern face of the holy mountain to the tiny depression a dozen yards below the summit. The clearing would scarcely accommodate half a dozen men, but it seemed vast and empty to the boy as he entered the third day of the ceremony. A childhood spent in a large house with many relatives had ill prepared him for such isolation, for this was the first time in his existence he had been without companionship for more than a few hours.

As was customary among the Orosini, the boy had started the manhood ritual on the third day before the Midsummer celebration, which the lowlanders call Banapis. The boy would greet the new year, the end of his life as a child, in contemplating the lore of his family and clan, his tribe and nation, and seeking the wisdom of his ancestors. It was a time of deep introspection and meditation, as the boy sought to understand his place in the order
of the universe, the role laid before him by the gods. And on this day he was expected to gain his manhood name. If events went as they should, he would rejoin his family and clan in time for the evening Midsummer festival.

As a child he had been called Kieli, a diminution of Kielianapuna, the red squirrel, the clever and nimble dweller in the forests of home. Never seen, but always present, they were considered lucky when glimpsed by the Orosini. And Kieli was considered to be a lucky child.

The boy shivered almost uncontrollably, for his paltry stores of body fat hardly insulated him from the night's chill. Even in the middle of the summer, the peaks of the mountains of the Orosini were cold after the sun fled.

Kieli waited for the vision. He saw the sky lighten, a slow, progressive shift from grey to pale grey-blue, then to a rose hue as the sun approached. He saw the brilliance of the sun crest the distant mountain, a whitish golden orb that brought him another day of loneliness. He averted his eyes when the disk of the sun cleared the mountains, lest his vision flee from him. The trembling in his body lessened as the sun finally rose sufficiently to begin to relieve the chill. He waited, at first expectantly, then with a deep fatigue-generated hopelessness.

Each Orosini boy endured this ritual upon the Midsummer Day close to the time of his birth anniversary in one of the many such holy places scattered throughout the region. For years beyond numbering, boys had climbed to these vantage points, and men had returned.

He experienced a brief moment of envy, as he recalled that the girls of his age in the village would be in the round house with the women at the moment, chatting and eating, singing and praying. Somehow the girls found their women's names without the privation and hardship endured by the boys. Kieli let the moment pass: dwelling
on what you can't control was futile, as his grandfather would say.

He thought of his grandfather, Laughter in his Eyes, who had been the last to speak to him as he climbed the lonely trail from the valley where his people dwelt. The old man had smiled as he always had—he could hardly remember a time when he hadn't seen a smile on the old man's face. Grandfather's face was like brown leather from nearly eighty years of living in the mountains, his clan tattoos upon his left cheek still black despite years in the sun. The old man's keen eyes and strong features were always framed by steel-grey hair down to his shoulders. Kieli resembled his grandfather more than his father, for they both shared the olive skin which turned nut-brown in the summer and never burned, and in his youth Grandfather had also had hair the color of a raven's wing. Others remarked that an outlander must have joined their family generations ago, for the Orosini were a fair race, and even brown hair was unusual.

Kieli's grandfather had whispered, “When the gourd is empty, on Midsummer's Day, remember this: if the gods haven't already provided you with a name, that means you're allowed to choose one you like.” And then the old chieftain had smothered him in a playful, but still strong, hug that sent him stumbling along the path. The other men in the village of Kulaam looked on, smiling or laughing, for the festival would soon be upon them, and the time of the naming vision was a joyous time.

Kieli remembered his grandfather's words and wondered if any boy actually had his name bestowed upon him by the gods. Examining the gourd, he judged he would be out of water by midday. He knew he would find water at a brook halfway down the path to the village, but he also knew that meant he had to leave the ledge when the sun was at its zenith.

He sat silently for a while, thoughts of his village dancing through his mind like the splashing foam of the brook behind the long hall. Perhaps if he set his mind free, he thought, if he didn't try too hard to find his vision, it would come to him. He wanted to return soon, for he missed his family. His father, Elk's Call at Dawn, was everything the boy hoped to be—strong, friendly, kind, resolute, fearless in battle, and gentle with his children. He missed his mother, Whisper of the Night Wind, and his younger sister, Miliana, and most of all, he missed his older brother, Hand of the Sun, who had returned from his own vision but two years earlier, his skin burned red by the sun, except for a pale print of his own hand where it had rested all day upon his chest. Their grandfather had joked that Hand was not the first boy to have come to his vision while asleep. Hand had always been kind to his younger brother and sister, taking care to watch over them when their mother was out gleaning the field,
or showing them the best places to find ripening berries. Memories of those berries, crushed with honey and served on hot bread, made Kieli's mouth water.

The celebration would be joyous, and the thought of the food that waited below gave Kieli cramps of hunger. He would be permitted to sit in the long house with the men, rather than in the round house with his mother and the other women and children. He felt a pang of loss at that thought, for the singing of the women as they oversaw the domestic chores of the day, their laughter and chatter, the gossip and the jokes, had been a part of his daily life for as long as he could remember. But he also looked forward with pride to being allowed to sit with the men of the clan.

His body shivered uncontrollably for a moment, then he sighed and relaxed as the sun warmed him further. He let his stiff muscles loosen, then moved to his knees and
attended to the fire. He placed a few fresh twigs upon the glowing coals, then blew upon them, and in a few minutes it was done. He would let the flames die down after the mountain air warmed up, but for now he was thankful for the nearby heat.

He sat back against the rocks, which were warming with the sunlight despite the lingering chill in the air, and took another drink. Letting out a long sigh, he glanced at the sky. Why no vision? he wondered. Why had he received no message from the gods granting him his man's name?

His name would be the key to his
the secret nature of his being, that thing which only he and the gods would know. Other people would know his name, for he would proclaim it with pride, but no one would know the nature of his vision and what his name said to him, about his place in the universe, his mission from the gods, or his destiny. His grandfather had once told him that few men truly understood their
even if they thought they did. The vision was only the first hint from the gods as to their plans for a man. Sometimes, his grandfather had said, the plan was a simple one, to be a good husband and father, a provider for the well-being of the village and the nation, an example for others to emulate, for it might be that his role was to be a father to someone chosen, a special one, a
and that plan would unfold long after a man's death.

Kieli knew what his grandfather would say at this moment, that he worried too much, and that he should simply put aside worry and let the gods bring to him their will. Kieli knew his father would say the same, adding that to hunt or give counsel in the long house, or to be a good husband, first one must learn to be patient and to listen.

He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the breeze in the mountains. It spoke to him as leaves rustled in
the cedars and pines. At times the wind could be a cruel companion, cutting through the heaviest of furs with a bitter, freezing edge. At other times it was blessed relief, cooling the hottest days of summer. His father had taught him of its voices and taught him that to learn the language of the wind was to be one with it, as were the hawks and eagles who built their nests among the craggy peaks. A screech split the morning air, and Kieli's head turned with a snap as a silver hawk struck at a rabbit less than a dozen yards from where he rested. The silver hawk was the rarest of the hawks of the high mountains. Its feathers were actually grey, with a mottling of near black around the head and shoulders, but an oily sheen upon the wings caused the bird to glisten with silver highlights when it sped through the clear sky. With a single beat of its wings, the hawk gripped the struggling rabbit tightly
and launched itself into the air. Like a kitten carried by its mother, the rabbit hung limply from the bird's talons, as if resigned to its fate. Kieli knew the animal had gone into shock—nature's kindness as pain and thought were dulled. He had once seen a stag lying motionless on the ground, awaiting the hunter's final mercy with a knife, felled by an arrow that hadn't killed it.

In the distance he saw other birds wheeling lazily in the morning air, catching thermals off the rapidly heating rocks so that they could glide in search of a meal. Turkey buzzards, he knew. Their large wingspan allowed them to drift on the rising hot air while they scanned below for the dead and dying. Ungainly and ugly on the ground as they hopped to the carcass of a fallen animal, on the wing they were majestic.

To the south he saw a black-tailed kite balanced in midair, tail pointed downward while its wings beat quickly for two or three strokes, then halted to allow it to fall slightly, then beat again, to hold the kite in place above its
intended kill. Then, with stunning swiftness, it stooped, talons extended downward, and with precision bordering on the supernatural, struck the ground in a tight arc, lifting off without even a moment's hesitation, a squealing vole clutched in its claws.

From the distance, forest sounds reached him. The rhythms of the day and night were different, and now the diurnal residents of the forests below were making their presence felt as their nocturnal neighbors sought out shelters in which to sleep. A woodpecker industriously sought out insects in the bark of a nearby tree. From the pattern of the sound, Kieli knew it was the large red-topped who was digging out his meal; his tapping was slow, thunderous and persistent, unlike the more dainty staccato of his smaller, blue-winged cousin.

The sun rose higher in the morning sky and soon the fire died, unneeded as the heat of day returned to the rocks. Kieli resisted the temptation to finish drinking the last of his water, for he knew that he must harbor it until he was ready to descend the trail. He could drink his fill at the creek below, but he had to get there first, and should he waste his water now, there was no guarantee he would safely reach the creek.

It was rare that a boy perished upon the peaks, but it had happened. The tribe prepared each boy as fully as possible, but those who had failed to survive the naming ordeal were considered to have been judged by the gods as lacking and their families' mourning was a bitter counterpoint to the celebration of Midsummer.

BOOK: Talon of the Silver Hawk
5.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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