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Authors: Jr. L. E. Modesitt

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The Death of Chaos (2 page)

BOOK: The Death of Chaos
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   While we ate the bread and waited for Krystal-my consort and subcommander-while she washed up, Tamra, Justen, Rissa, and I sat around the table. Like a lot in the house, it was a reject, something that hadn't quite worked out the way I'd intended. The table was octagonal, with an inlaid pattern. The reason it was a reject wasn't that it was bad, but that it had been commissioned by Reger. He had been a produce factor in Ruzor, until he fell out of an olive tree and broke his neck. How he could have broken his neck with a fall of only about six cubits was beyond me, but he'd had too much wine and was arguing with his brother. Anyway, it's hard to collect a commission when the person who commissioned it is dead. So we had a table that was far too elegant for the main room of a woodworker's home.

   Krystal had told me it was fate, and that I should have at least one good piece of my own. “Would you trust an armorer who had only misshapen blades on his walls? A mason who lived in a house with crooked walls?” she had asked, and there was certainly some logic in that.

   I tried the bread, but, conscious of Tamra's gibe, not the olive butter or the preserves.

   “Have you reread The Basis of Order recently?” asked Justen, who ignored food unless he really needed it.

   “No,” I admitted.

   “It might be worth it.” He turned to Rissa, sitting on a stool at the side of the table closest to the cooler. “Is there any more of that dark ale?”

   Rissa slid off the stool with the grace that all the Kyphrans seemed to have, for which I envied them, and set the pitcher before Justen. “Hurlot says that his is the best. So does Ryntar. This comes from Gesil's casks, and he spends more time brewing and less in the market.”

   “Good.”

   “I still don't see how you can drink that,” mused Tamra.

   “Neither does my brother. Or he didn't.” Justen looked at me. “About The Basis of Order...”

   “I've been busy. There's the wardrobe for the autarch, and I had to do the dining set for-”

   “Lerris... you don't have any competition. You could spend a little time studying.”

   “What for? I'm a woodworker.”

   “You're also considered one of the most powerful wizards in Kyphros, even when you're just pretending that you're only a poor woodworker.”

   Krystal slipped into the seat next to me, wearing just the green leather trousers and a plain shirt. She'd left off the short jacket with all the gold braid. “I'm sorry. Kasee kept me. We have a problem-another one.” Krystal looked toward Rissa. “Some of Justen's ale would be good.”

   “Justen's ale, yet?” asked Tamra under her breath.

   I ignored her.

   Rissa brought Krystal a mug and poured ale from the pitcher.

   Krystal took a long, and very deep, swallow before continuing. “The new Duke of Hydlen has occupied the brimstone springs in the Lower Easthorns.”

   “Brimstone?” asked Rissa.

   “That's for powder. You mix it with nitre and charcoal,” Tamra explained.

   “Explosive powder isn't that useful,” I ventured. “Any chaos wizard-”

   “That may be the problem.” Krystal sighed and turned to Justen. “You've heard of Gerlis, haven't you?”

   Justen pulled at his chin. “Yes. He's a body-changer. He's also probably the most powerful white wizard in Candar now.”

   “He's the court wizard to the new Duke-that bastard named Berfir,” explained Krystal.

   Dukes changed often in Candar, almost as often as the powerful white wizards changed bodies.

   “Where did he come from?” asked Tamra.

   “Berfir's the head of the Yeannota clan. His family has owned the rangelands between Telsen and Asula for ages. We don't know much more, except he raised an army, made some agreements with the merchants on taxes, and... poof... one day Duke Sterna died and named Berfir his heir. Very neat.”

   “You think Gerlis had something to do with it?” Tamra poured herself more redberry.

   “Who can tell? If he didn't, he's certainly taken advantage of the situation.”

   Rissa got up and stirred whatever was in the big stewpot and the noodles that had been simmering in the other pot. The odor of onions and lamb drifted across the table, and I licked my lips.

   “What does this all have to do with the brimstone springs?”

   Krystal shrugged. “We don't know yet, but Kasee thinks that it bears watching, and that means sending a detachment to do the watching.”

   “When do you leave?” I asked.

   “I don't. Ferrel says that it's her turn to take a trip. She's been stuck in Kyphrien running the Finest for years, and it's up to me to see how it feels. She's tired of everyone second-guessing her. Besides”-Krystal grinned and looked at me-“she says I've been neglecting you, and neglecting order-masters isn't a good idea.”

   I liked Ferrel even more, assuming she'd said that, or Krystal for thinking of me. Then, I'd always liked Ferrel-ever since she'd returned my knife at that first dinner I'd had with the autarch. I'd left my knife with the captives I'd freed in order to charge the first white wizard with a staff. That had been a very dumb thing to do, even if it had worked. Anyway, when I'd first come to Kyphros, Ferrel had confirmed my rescue efforts by returning the knife. “What does Kasee-I mean the autarch-think?”

   “Her Mightiness the autarch agrees that the experience of standing in for Ferrel will do me good.”

   “Experience rarely does anyone good,” grumped Justen. “It just does them in.”

   “How about some real food?” Tamra looked toward the stove.

   “It's almost ready,” said Rissa.

   I got up and began to pass out plates, brown crockery things I'd purchased in Kyphrien with the last of the stipend the autarch had bestowed on me for ridding Kyphros-and Candar- of some unwanted white wizards. I had spent most of those coins on building the house and workshop, and in getting tools. Good tools are expensive, and I still didn't have everything I really needed.

   Justen was the only nonwhite wizard I knew who really made a decent living from wizardry, and he traveled across most of Candar to do it.

   Because I was technically master of the house, although Krystal was certainly far more important, Rissa set everything in front of me, and I got to ladle out the stew and noodles while Rissa set out two big long loaves of steaming dark bread. I made sure Tamra got enough stew and noodles to choke her.

   For a time, no one spoke, and the only sound was of eating. Tamra slurped even more than some of the junior guards in the Finest, hardly ladylike, but Tamra had never wanted to be a lady anyway.

   I caught Justen's eye, and my uncle shook his head, but I wondered if he were shaking it more at my judgment than Tamra's manners. Krystal ate with the quiet efficiency I had noted the first time I met her, and I reached under the table and squeezed her knee.

   “Tell Ferrel to be careful,” cautioned Justen.

   “Ferrel is very careful. You don't survive to be guard commander if you're not.”

   I squeezed Krystal's leg just above the knee again, glad that she would not be doing the scout mission. White wizards were always dangerous.

   “You need to eat more, Master Wizard,” said Rissa, gesturing at Justen. “The birds, they eat more than you. So do the ants.”

   “It's not good to overdo anything,” said Justen with a laugh.

   “Then don't overdo the starvation,” answered Rissa.

   Even Tamra grinned, and Justen did eat a few more bites of stew and noodles before he spoke again. “How did the autarch find out about the springs?”

   “Travelers. The spring is on the main east road to Sunta. The Hydlenese troops closed the road, and there were some very unhappy travelers.”

   Travelers made sense. The water route, going down the Phroan River from Kyphrien through central Kyphros to Felsa, then down the metaled river road to Ruzor, the only real port in Kyphros, and taking a coaster to one of the ports in Hydlen, was just as fast and a lot easier, if longer. It was also much costlier; so some travelers preferred the mountain way, but few traders.

   “You think the Duke meant for Kasee to find out?” asked Krystal.

   “How long had the Hydlenese held the spring before you found out?” asked my uncle the gray wizard.

   Krystal nodded. “I'll mention that to Ferrel.”

   “Is there any more of that dark ale?” asked Justen.

   Rissa handed him the pitcher, and he half filled his mug.

   “Benefits of being a gray wizard.”

   “White wizards don't get those benefits,” I countered.

   “When you get a little older, you'll get gray, too, Lerris. I guarantee that.”

   I hoped I didn't get either gray or into terrible puns.

   After more talk about everything from the unseasonable rain-rain more than once every two eight-days was unseasonable in Kyphros, even in winter-to the autarch's decision to try to open the old wizards' road through northern Kyphros, Krystal yawned. “I'm sorry, but... it has been a long day.”

   “Shoo...” said Rissa.

   We shooed, leaving Tamra and Justen sitting at the table, talking about the Balance between order and chaos. I understood the Balance well enough, having played into Antonin's hand myself by creating too much order in Fenard. But once you understand that order and chaos must balance, one way or another, there's not that much else to be said. You try to live by it, although I wasn't about to give up crafting the most orderly woodwork I could. I wasn't about to put extra order into my pieces, though. That was the sort of mistake I didn't want to repeat.

   Krystal smiled softly at me when I shut the door.

   “You...”

   “I was tired... I was tired of people talking.”

   Still marveling that I had not seen her warmth when first I had met her, I opened my arms.

   Later, much later, when Krystal lay asleep beside me, her face as open and as innocent as a child's, I watched her for a long time, knowing, somehow, that the latest wizard business would drag us all into it.

   Outside, I could hear the faint clinking of whoever was on guard. Sometimes, I still shook my head at it all-the very idea of a woodworker's shop and home being guarded by the autarch's troops, because his consort was so important.

   I kissed Krystal on the cheek. She murmured sleepily and squeezed my hand. I finally rolled over, snuggling up beside her again.

 

 

5.Death of Chaos
II

Nylan, Recluce

 

THE BLACK STONE exterior of the hillside building frames a series of windows overlooking either the harbor of Nylan, the Gulf of Candar, or the great Eastern Ocean. On only the north side are there no windows. The windows-both those that slide open and the larger central expanses of glass that do not-are framed in black oak fitted so closely that the lines of the mitred corners are invisible. Behind the south-facing second-story window with the optimal view of both the harbor and the breakwater is the main council chamber of the Brotherhood.

   In the late afternoon, whitecaps crown the two-cubit-high waves off the southern tip of the isle continent of Recluce. The same cool fall wind that raises the whitecaps blows through the narrow western windows of the chamber and out the equally narrow eastern ones. The three councilors sit behind the antique curved table that faces the now-empty chairs reserved for those meeting with the Council.

   “Maris, do you have any sense of what is coming?” The broad-shouldered mage in black looks at the bearded man.

   The thin-faced woman lifts a goblet and sips the green juice. Her eyes gaze blankly out the wide window in the center of the southern wall, but she says nothing.

   “You seem to think I'm blind because I'm a trader. We see things. We just see them differently,” offers Maris, the fingers of one hand brushing his square beard. “That's one of the reasons why the Council has a trader, and not just-”

   “Heldra represents the people, and you-” Talryn begins slowly.

   “Spare me the fancy words, Talryn.” Maris sighs. “Heldra is a mage who is also a marine leader. She represents arms, and the people with the coins to buy them. She also likes to play marine leader in her spare time. I also represent coins, the traders with coins, and I detest playing with blades. You represent the order-masters of the Brotherhood, who have few coins, but the black iron warships and the power of wizardry. Arms, coins, and power, that's what we represent, and you've got two votes in real terms because no one can make the Brotherhood do anything. But you need our coins, and I need your visions.” Marts pauses and sips from his goblet. “I can see that there will be problems in Candar, but exactly where? I can also see that we're back to the problem of chaos focuses again. Chaos focuses disrupt things in Candar, and that disrupts trade-every time. But when? And in what market?”

   “It doesn't seem to hamper the Hamorian traders,” observes Heldra.

   “They deal in mass-produced, low-cost goods, and that's what people buy in troubled times. We deal in quality goods, and those are what people don't buy when there's trouble.”

   “Maybe you traders should take the words from the Hamorians' scrolls.”

   “Heldra, you can't be that stupid...” Mans fails to keep the exasperation from his voice. “The only true commodity we could produce and export is iron, and you and Talryn have-”

   “Enough,” rumbles Talryn. “You were speaking about the problem of chaos focuses.” His eyes flicker toward the water beyond the harbor where the Gulf and the Eastern Ocean run together. His fingers twist around the stem of his goblet. “We don't have a problem with chaos focuses right now. The last one was Antonin, and young Lerris took care of him. Rather neatly, I might add.”

   “Too neatly.” Heldra's sharp green eyes swing from Talryn to Maris and back to Talryn. She purses her lips. “He cannot have been as ignorant as he seemed when he left here. No one could have been that ignorant, not with Gunnar as his father.”

   “He was,” insists Talryn. “You didn't teach him. I did.”

   “You said we don't have a problem with chaos focuses now. That would indicate that we might before long.” Maris fingers his beard again.

   “All that chaos that Lerris released has to go somewhere.” Talryn's fingers leave the stem of the goblet.

   “Have you talked to the Institute?” pursues Heldra.

   “Gunnar, you mean? He may be a weather mage, but he's not a real part of the Brotherhood,” points out Talryn. “The Institute-Gunnar, anyway-hasn't exactly been an ally of the Council, even if he hasn't ever actively opposed the Council. If I asked, all he'd do is quote the Balance. Besides, his son is part of the problem-his son and his brother.”

   “That's what I mean. Gunnar's the one who pushed his son into early dangergeld. Why?”

   “Heldra...” Maris offers an exasperated sigh.

   “He sent his son into dangergeld long before we detected his power. The boy didn't really even know why he was going, for darkness's sake.” Talryn clears his throat. “And Gunnar told us that Lerris could be a danger to Recluce if he didn't undertake dangergeld early. That doesn't exactly sound like favoritism, even from the head of the Institute.”

   “Yet, barely two years after Lerris completed dangergeld training, he took on and defeated a white master who was also a chaos focus? We didn't train him as an order-master. So who did?” Heldra sets down the goblet. “The whole thing is still hard to believe.”

   “You're both forgetting one thing,” suggests Maris.“Who did young Lerris just happen to run into within an eight-day of arriving in Candar?”

   “Justen.” Heldra nods. “It was no accident.”

   “Maybe not,” responds Maris, “but you haven't answered my question. Are we going to have problems with another chaos focus? How soon? It might be nice for us traders to know where we could run into trouble-before it happens.”

   “Trade, always trade,” mutters Heldra.

   “Trade pays the bills, and supports the trio, not to mention the Council and a lot of the Brotherhood's expenses.”

   “Trade is important,” interjects Talryn, “and we're still likely to have a problem with the next chaos focus. I personally think it's going to be Gerlis, but I can't tell you when. Not yet, anyway.” Talryn pours greenberry into his empty goblet and takes a sip. “The amount of chaos seems to be growing in Hydlen, and we don't know any other whites there. There's something happening in Sligo, too.”

   “Wonderful.” Maris coughs. “We have young Lerris in Kyphros, Gerlis in Hydlen, Justen going wherever he wants, and now you tell me that there's going to be more trouble in Sligo. But you can't tell me when.”

   “The trouble in Sligo is your humble would-be hermit,” Talryn points out to Heldra.

   “Is that the smith who wanted to be a scholar and teach the world?” asks Maris. “Sammel?”

   Talryn nods. “There are some volumes missing from the hidden shelves. Old volumes, some attributed to Dorrin.”

   “You were all so worried about Lerris.” Maris frowns. “He seems to keep to himself. If this Sammel has all that old knowledge...”

   “So Sammel has old knowledge? Who outside of Recluce-or Justen-has the ability to apply it? That's exactly why I worry about Justen.” Heldra shrugs. “He was an engineer, and gray wizardry is the sort of bastardization that could destroy us all. Where chaos is concerned, nothing is certain. We didn't know Lerris would become an order focus, either. Who's to say he might not follow Justen?”

   “We have time if that should occur.” Talryn sips his greenberry. “Gerlis is a more imminent problem. Especially with Colaris pushing to reclaim the Ohyde Valley.”

   “Ohyde hasn't been part of Freetown for hundreds of years.” Maris snorts.

   “They haven't forgotten, and Colaris is using the issue to stir people up.”

   “Just send one of the trio,” suggests Heldra.

   “Just in case.” Maris nods. “Have the Llyse pay a port call in Renklaar.”

   “As you wish,” Talryn answers.

   “What about Lerris? Or Gunnar?” asks Heldra.

   “Right now, there's nothing to be done. Do you want to take on Gunnar?” Talryn looks at Heldra. “Or those he's gathered at the Institute?”

   “No, thank you. Let sleeping dragons lie.”

   “You've been talking to Cassius again. We've never had dragons on our world. He admits they didn't exist on his, either.”

   “Gunnar's still a sleeping dragon!”

   “What about Justen?” asks Maris.

   “Justen doesn't usually confront chaos focuses; he somehow works around them.” Talryn takes a deep breath. “That might be why he's survived so long. Somehow, he can anticipate what will happen.”

   “You seem to be hinting...”

   “I think young Lerris is going to get sucked into dealing with one chaos focus after another. Justen is a gray wizard. We all know that.”

   “Lerris can't keep surviving chaos focuses,” observes Maris. “Each one will get stronger.”

   “That's going to be a real problem,” adds Heldra. “We'll be right back in the mess that existed in the time of Fairhaven, and we don't want that. Even Gunnar wouldn't like that.”

   “No.”

   “No.”

   The three look to the whitecapped surface of the Eastern Ocean beyond the harbor.

 

 

BOOK: The Death of Chaos
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