Authors: Jr. L. E. Modesitt
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic
The Death of Chaos
by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Copyright © 1995
Cover art by Darrell Sweet
A Tor Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
175 Fifth Avenue New York, N.Y. 10010
Tor® Books on the World Wide Web: http://www.tor.com
Lerris returns in the long-awaited sequel to The Magic of Recluce. Candar is being invaded and Lerris must become the greatest wizard of all time-or see his whole world destroyed!
For my parents, again,
with more understanding, and for Carol Ann
Part I - FINDING CHAOS
I'D JUST APPLIED the thinnest coat possible of a satin finish on the black oak wardrobe for the autarch of Kyphros-Kasee- when I felt the presence of horses, and their riders. Krystal was not with them, and I didn't like the idea of the Finest tramping up to the shop without my consort, but as subcommander of the autarch's forces, Krystal's schedule wasn't exactly predictable.
I finished the section of the wardrobe I had been working on before I met the troopers outside the stable. The stable hadn't been my idea, but Krystal's, and she had paid for most of it, especially the part that doubled as a bunkhouse for her personal guard. Funny things like that happen to the consort of the second-highest-ranking military officer in Kyphros, not that either of us had planned where we would end up when we-and Tamra and a few others-had been thrown out of Recluce years earlier because we hadn't been “ordered” enough for the black Brotherhood--or my father.
“Greetings, Order-master!” In the green leathers of the autarch's Finest, Yelena sat easily on the brown gelding.
I'd known Yelena from my first days in Kyphrien, when I'd been fortunate to best the white chaos-master Antonin and rescue Tamra. Yelena had been my escort part of the way on that troubled trip, but she still called me order-master and threatened to lash any member of the Finest who even hinted at any familiarity. If she weren't so serious about it, it might have been funny, but I understood her reasoning, and couldn't say it was wrong. People had this idea that I was a great wizard because I'd managed to get rid of three white wizards. One of them had actually plagued not only Kyphros, but all of the continent of Candar.
“ Greetings, Leader Yelena.”
She wrinkled her nose. “What's that smell?”
“It's a satin-finish varnish-except it's got a touch of some other things that make it more like-”
“Enough, enough...” The broad-shouldered squad leader grinned as she dismounted. “Until I met you, I always thought woodworkers were small little men who hid in their shops, toiling endless days in the dark until they produced something like magic.”
“You have the endless-days part correct, and I'm not that big.”
She shook her head. So I am a bit taller than the average Kyphran, who tend to be shorter and darker than people from the north or from the island continent of Recluce. That didn't make me that big a person.
“Where is Krystal?”
“The subcommander is meeting with the autarch, and will be here shortly.”
“So, why are you here?” I looked down at the varnish-stained cloth in my hand. “I've got to get back to the wardrobe, or I'll have the demon's own time getting the finish to match.”
“Commander Ferrel wanted to make sure that no one disturbed the subcommander.”
That didn't make much sense. If Ferrel didn't want Krystal disturbed, why weren't the guards with her?
“How many for dinner, Master Lerris?” Rissa was still barefoot and wore trousers that looked more like shorts. I'd given up on correcting her, but I had noticed that she only used the term “master” when others were present. Rissa had grown up not far from the burned-out buildings I'd received from the autarch and rebuilt, but Yelena had rescued Rissa from bandits who killed Rissa's consort and daughter not long after we moved in. Rissa hadn't spoken at first, but my uncle Justen- the only true gray wizard in Candar, or perhaps anywhere-had been convinced that being around Krystal and me would heal her. Besides, at the time, Justen had had his hands full in rebuilding Tamra's abilities and confidence after her near disastrous encounter with Antonin when the white wizard Sephya had taken over Tamra's body.
So... I'd done what I could for Rissa, and so had Krystal, and it had gotten to be nice to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning. That way, I could concentrate on setting up my workshop and getting customers. Krystal was a good cook, not that she ever had any time for it, being the chief military trainer and administrator of Kyphros. I still was a bit amazed, when I thought about it, that Kyphros, like ancient Westwind, was run basically by women. Unlike Westwind, they didn't run out men or tromp all over them. It just happened that in Kyphros, most of the people with the ability to govern seemed to be women. That was fine with me, since I never had any inclinations along those lines.
“He's off somewheres again,” snorted Rissa. “Master Lerris... dinner? How many?”
“How would I know?” I turned to Yelena. “How many do you have?”
Yelena frowned gently. “We ate before we left, and they have their rations.”
“Would you join us? And why aren't you with the subcommander?” Was Krystal being sent off somewhere else again?
“Not tonight. The subcommander told me to tell you that the wizard Justen and his apprentice would be arriving with her.”
I took a deep breath. As usual, things were getting complicated. Krystal had been out for the past eight-day, doing something with the local levies around Ruzor, and I'd hoped to have some time with her. Now the whole world was arriving. Yelena, who usually joined us, even if her troops didn't, wasn't going to, and that meant something worse was about to happen.
Yelena smiled gently, understanding my thoughts.
“Five, so far. And make sure we have some ale for Justen.”
Rissa shook her head and padded back into the house.
“-to get back to your finish. I am sure I wouldn't wish to spoil a piece meant for the autarch.”
“How did you know?”
She shrugged, turned, and motioned to Weldein and Freyda and two others I didn't know. Weldein grinned at me, and I gave him an exaggerated shrug.
As I turned back to the shop, I wondered, not for the first time, how anything could be kept a secret in Kyphros. Inside, I took a fresh cloth and dipped it into the finish and began to rub it into the wood. “Rub” is really the wrong term, because there's almost no pressure involved. The finish I had cooked up was thin and took a long time to dry. I needed to apply several coats, but the eventual result was a hard, but almost invisible coat-without magic-and that was what I'd wanted with the wardrobe, because the doors generally took a beating.
The inlaid design glistened and seemed to stand out from the dark wood. Inlay work was, for me, the hardest part. Not the grooving or the channels in the base wood-that was a matter of patience and care-but the creation of the inlay pieces themselves. The grain has to add to the design and not just appear as though it had been stuck there any old way. I also tended to make my inlays a shade deeper, but that meant ensuring that the base wood was fractionally thicker to avoid sacrificing strength.
The design was a variation on the autarch's flag-an olive branch crossed with a blade-golden oak set in the base, black oak on the panel above the doors. That was it-nothing else to mar the smooth finish of the piece. That sort of work is tricky, because any flaw is instantly noticed. Errors in more elaborate inlays often aren't seen.
I was probably extra sensitive to flaws in woodworking, and in wood, because one little flaw when I was working as an apprentice for my uncle Sardit had gotten me exiled from Recluce, carted across the Eastern Ocean and dumped in Candar to discover the “truth” of order, with only a staff, except it was a special staff, bound in order and black iron. Because I was a potential order-master, one of the so-called blackstaffers, no one had told me much, and I had gotten into more and more trouble. I'd been chased out of Freetown, chased out of Hrisbarg, and generally on the run across Eastern Candar until I ran into Justen. Then, I'd thought he was just a gray wizard, and I was glad to be his apprentice. It took me more than a year to find out he was my uncle-and well over two centuries old. So I'd ridden with Justen, almost gotten possessed by one of the white wizards bound centuries earlier in the ruins of Frven. Justen saved me there, and then had taught me how to heal sheep, and a few other things. Nothing went quite as planned. I'd rescued and healed a street slut in Jellico. That hadn't been such a good idea, because all unlicensed healing there was forbidden, and I'd had to leave Justen and, once again, ride for my life, heading west across Candar.
Eventually, I'd gotten through the Easthorns--through storms and snows in those towering mountains-and made my way to Fenard-the capital of Gallos. I actually found a place with a woodworker, old Destrin, and got back to working wood. There I lasted about a year before I did something else stupid-I infused some chairs we made with extra order. The extra order reacted with the chaos in the Prefect's officers, and some were burned. That meant I had to leave Gallos, but not until I'd found a suitable match for Destrin's daughter Deirdre.
At that point, Gallos and Kyphros were fighting an ugly war, fomented and fueled by Antonin, one of the nastier white wizards I'd ever had the displeasure of running across. I'd found out that Krystal had joined the forces of the autarch of Kyphros. So I went to Kyphrien, the capital of Kyphros, to see if I could help, although my skills were certainly weak compared to those of Antonin.
After rescuing some of Commander Ferrel's Finest and disposing of one white wizard, I reached Kyphrien. I found Krystal had worked her way up to the number two position in the Finest, and that I'd missed being with her-except I'd been too stupid to see that. Of course, it wasn't that simple. Nothing is. So, I'd had to go seek out Antonin. He and his white colleague Sephya had enslaved Tamra, who had been exiled from Recluce with me. Sephya had started to take over Tamra's body-that's how the body-switchers prolong their lives-and both of them tried to tempt me. Because after two years of refusing good adult advice, I'd finally gotten around to reading The Basis of Order, I had this half-finished idea that I could stand up to Antonin. I did, sort of. In the end, he died because, after I'd figured out that I had to break my own staff because part of my soul and abilities were locked in it, I'd managed to separate him from the forces of chaos. His castle came apart, and Tamra and I had barely made it out. Tamra lost half her mind, and I'd rebuilt it-with Justen screaming from half a country away that I couldn't, but I did anyway. Then I got a reward for the success of surviving my stupidity and was smart enough to tell Krystal I loved her. After that, I built the house and shop and tried to get back to woodwork and avoid unnecessary wizardry.
And all of it happened just because I hadn't applied the glue clamps right to a tabletop in my uncle's workshop in Recluce.
I shook my head because Justen and Tamra were arriving, and reminiscing wasn't going to finish the wardrobe. I actually got the finish on before three more horses clinked into the yard. I shrugged, set the cloths aside, and hurried out into the cool fall breeze. When winter nears in Candar, the air carries an acrid tang, not quite musty, not quite bitter-something to do with the graying of the leaves.
My dark-haired and black-eyed subcommander got a hug first, men a kiss, almost as soon as her boots hit the ground. Tamra and Justen were still mounted-Justen, as always, on Rosefoot.
“You did miss me.” Krystal grinned.
“I always miss you.” I hugged her again.
“Don't seem so pleased, Krystal,” said Tamra.
“I am pleased. Someday you'll understand.” Krystal gave me another hug, and a long, lingering kiss, and I didn't even mind where the hilt of her sword jabbed into my guts.
“Disgusting...” Tamra swung off her horse. She wore her usual dark grays, with a scarf to set off her red hair. The scarf was blue this time, matching her ice-blue eyes.
Justen slipped off Rosefoot with an ease borne of long practice and looked at his apprentice. “We can stable all three horses, Tamra.”
“Give him hell, Krystal,” said Tamra as she took the reins of Krystal's chestnut.
In her own way, Krystal was, and we were both enjoying it, but we eventually went inside, where Krystal slipped off for a moment to wash up while I washed in the kitchen and then joined the others at the table.
Rissa had set a loaf of fresh bread on the table along with olive butter and some redberry preserves she'd gotten from somewhere. I missed the pearapples of the north, but Kyphros was really too warm to grow them.
Tamra reached for the bread. The redhead was always hungry, but stayed as slim as a rail.“One good thing about visiting you, Lerris-good food. You're getting fat and sloppy, though.”
“Hardly. My trousers are looser.”
“Rissa must be letting them out.”
“I do believe I saw you with a needle the other day,” offered Justen, looking at Tamra.
Tamra flushed. Rissa giggled. Justen raised an eyebrow at Tamra, his still-unruly apprentice. I had learned a lot as Justen's apprentice, and could have learned more if I hadn't been forced to leave him because I hadn't paid any attention and healed that street slut in plain sight in Jellico. That had gotten all the Viscount's troops after me. I'd been lucky to survive and would have done better if I'd listened to Justen more, but Justen was like all the wizards who dealt with order. Besides telling me to read The Basis of Order, he didn't volunteer much. Tamra didn't seem to be doing much better than I had, and, as with me, Justen still wasn't saying much.
By all rights Justen should have been a doddering old fool, since he had been born over two centuries earlier, according to what I'd eventually figured out. He never admitted anything, except that he did happen to be my uncle and that he too had left Recluce. That also explained why my father-who was even older than Justen-had been extraordinarily evasive about our family history, and just about everything else. That lack of knowledge had gotten me, and a lot of other young exiles from Recluce-poor dangergelders-into a bunch of trouble. A lot of them died, and I almost did on more than one occasion. Ignorance is deadly, especially when it's not apparent.
Justen just looked middle-aged, with brown hair that occasionally streaked with silver-gray if he had been working hard in dealing with order-or various disasters-like when he finally bottled up the demons of Frven. Then again, in retrospect, I didn't feel that bad about that, even if I had nearly killed him, since he was the one who created that mess-he and my father. Of course, neither one had bothered to tell me. That's what dealing with order-masters is like. They never reveal much because they believe it doesn't mean anything if it isn't hard-earned. That's also why most order-masters or chaos-masters don't live that long.