Read The Death of Chaos Online

Authors: Jr. L. E. Modesitt

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic

The Death of Chaos (6 page)

BOOK: The Death of Chaos
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
5.Death of Chaos
VII

 

A GRAY SKY brooded over Kyphros, but the wind was light when Yelena-the squad leader who'd escorted me on the first part of the effort against the white wizard Antonin-and three troopers met me outside the stable. The air smelled more like rain than fall.

   Krystal and her guards had left early, far earlier, and I knew she wouldn't have come home the night before-except that I was leaving. Gairloch's saddlebags were full, not only with some apprentice-type tools, but with travel bread and hard cheese. I had some fruit stashed away also, and a heavier jacket, a waterproof, and the bedroll I'd gotten in Howlett when I first came to Recluce. The canteen held redberry, but I knew that wouldn't last. All in all, Gairloch was laden.

   For some reason, when I thought of the bedroll, made in Recluce, I wondered about my parents. I could have written, and sent the letter by a trader, but I'd almost felt as if they'd been the ones to throw me out, to send me on my dangergeld. And I'd never even known that my father, the great Gunnar, was a Temple master and head of the Institute for Order Studies.

   Should I write? I still didn't know as I stood there in the yard.

   “Good morning, Order-master.”

   Yelena's greeting cut off my speculations.

   “Good morning, Leader Yelena.” I swung onto Gairloch and flicked the reins. He didn't need the hint; he was already moving toward the main road.

   Wheeee... eeee.

   “Yes, I know. You thought we'd given this up.” I patted Gairloch on the neck, and he whuffed once.

   “One never gives up being an order-master.” Yelena rode up beside me, and I had to look up at the squad leader. Her mount was a good four hands taller than Gairloch.

   “Like one never gives up being a member of the Finest?”

   “You die with your boots on, anyway.”

   “You are so cheerful this morning.” I thwacked Gairloch too hard for a mere pat, but he only whuffed again.

   Weldein tried to suppress a grin. Freyda and the other guard-Jylla was her name, if I recalled correctly-rode silently behind us.

   My fingers strayed to the replacement staff in the converted lance holder. It was just solid lorken, but bound in iron- without the sort of order infusion that my old one had possessed. Of course, I'd given it that infusion, without really knowing it. As Justen had pointed out, that was one of the problems. Recluce-and my father-hadn't taught me enough, and I still didn't understand why.

   “It's better than doing guard duty around the citadel.”

   “Speak for yourself,” said Jylla cheerfully.

   “Women,” muttered Weldein.

   Since we were outnumbered, I saw no reason to comment, but shifted my weight and hoped that the day stayed cool.

   I pulled the staff from the holder and began to run through the mounted exercises, since I rarely practiced them, my infrequent sparring being generally on foot.

   After a time I replaced the staff, conscious that Freyda had been watching. I raised my eyebrows.

   “Only the red bitch is better, I think.”

   I tried not to choke. “The red bitch?”

   “The gray wizard's apprentice. The subcommander made us spar against her.” Freyda winced. “My ribs still hurt, and that was three days ago.”

   “You sparred with her yesterday, didn't you, Order-master?” asked Yelena. The question was not quite a question.

   “Yes. I think I held her to a draw.”

   “She had a few new bruises, I think.”

   Tamra? I'd actually bruised her? I shook my head.

   Yelena gave me a bemused smile as Freyda and Jylla exchanged glances. I fingered the staff, then concentrated on riding. We had to go through Kyphrien to get to the east road, and the mixed odor of overcooked lamb and goat, onions, and less mentionable items struck me long before we got onto the avenue. The babble was the same as always.

   “... Mytara, if I've told you once about eggs...”

   “... finest bronze in Candar...”

   “You'd think that she'd appreciate a solid provider, but, no, she's got to insist on a dandy, one with a pretty face. What will she do when she's got three offspring, and needs money for a serving girl? Does she think of that...”

   “... and you could have walked the lake and not dampened your boots...”

   “Let Hyrella tell your fortune! A mere copper. Will you grudge a mere copper to learn your fate?”

   “... best pies in Kyphros...”

   “Thief! Thief! Get the little scamp!”

   My eyes darted to the thin figure who pounded down the cobblestone road, scuttled between two women, and darted into a narrow alleyway leading down toward the river.

   The heavyset merchant puffed to a stop and glared at Yelena. “You serve the autarch, and you let him get away! Why didn't you stop him?”

   Yelena reined up, and so did I. Several passersby turned.

   “Well, why didn't you stop him?” The man's heavy waxed mustaches waved as he panted out his question.

   “I would have had to ride over people,” answered Yelena.

   “That's no answer. You let a thief get away! I intend to let the autarch know of this... disgraceful...”

   “... there goes Fusion again...”

   “... too fat to chase anyone and too crooked for anyone to help him...”

   Fusion turned. “I heard that. Liars! Liars!”

   “...too fat...”

   “... too full of himself, he is...”

   Yelena struggled to keep a straight face, as Fusion rolled his bulk back to face me. “You! Tell those guards to chase the thief.”

   “Me?” I shook my head. “He's gone. What did he steal?”

   “He took some olives, right from the barrel. Scooped them up and ran off.” The fat man waddled toward me.

   “... kid could have used the olives more than Fusion...”

   “You're that famous order-master! Why don't you make sure there's order here in Kyphrien?” Fusion's acrid breath hit me harder than his words as he leaned forward, his face less than two cubits from me. Why was it that people like Fusion recognized me and some of the Finest didn't? Probably because Fusion watched parades like the one Kasee gave on my return to Kyphros, and the soldiers were working or on picket duty- or something.

   “I presume he was hungry,” I said evenly, letting Gairloch back away.

   “So he was hungry! He stole my olives, and what are you going to do about it?” Fusion stepped forward to close the distance between us again.

   Yelena fingered her blade, and Freyda and Jylla watched with impassive faces.

   “Let me understand this,” I temporized. “This young thief was so hungry that he took some olives out of the barrel right in front of your eyes?”

   “Of course. How else would I have seen him?”

   “Does not that tell you something? He is either terribly arrogant, terribly stupid, or terribly hungry. If he is arrogant or stupid, he will try something like that again, and, before long, someone will catch him.” I cleared my throat. “Unhappily, if he is that hungry, he will steal again also, and he will be caught.” I tried to think through what I should say as the merchant jabbed a fat finger at me.

   “You won't do anything? A fine wizard you are!”

   I caught his eyes. “You are wealthy. You are well fed, and you have the means to protect yourself. You are angry because a boy made a fool out of you, and you want to blame someone else. This thief is long gone. I am not a white wizard who sniffs after blood. Nor am I a white wizard who burns people into cinders. What do you want?”

   “I want justice!”

   I grinned. “But you have justice. A hungry boy has been fed, and you have warned everyone about a thief. Is that not justice? Or would you call it justice if a white wizard threw a firebolt and turned that hungry thief into ashes?”

   “Bah... the autarch will hear about this... you'll see... you'll see...” Fusion gave me a last glare before turning and waddling away.

   “... not a bad answer for a young wizard...”

   “... not thai good...”

   “... he's right about Fusion. He's too well fed to chase his young wife around the bed... forget about thieves...”

   We continued riding along the stone-paved street that would lead to the east road.

   “That wasn't a bad sermon,” said Yelena. “Do they teach you that in wizard's school?”

   “There isn't a wizard's school. My father and Justen were always telling me to think before I spoke. People like that merchant don't give you any time to think.” My fingers touched the smooth wood of the staff, and the wood offered some comfort, although I was careful not to put any more order into the staff. You can divide your soul that way. That's really what happens to some wizards, and they don't even know it. I know. It happened to me, but I managed to get it back, mainly because Justen insisted that I reread The Basis of Order.

   “I don't believe in theft.” I coughed. I wasn't used to talking that much. Woodworking without an apprentice is quiet work. “But I don't believe that whipping or killing people desperate enough to steal food in the daylight is likely to do much good.”

   “No.” Weldein glanced toward the eastern gates less than two hundred cubits ahead.

   Jylla and Freyda nodded.

   I gave Gairloch another pat and looked back toward the autarch's residence, although I couldn't see it, and then at the road stretching ahead.

 

 

5.Death of Chaos
VIII

 

THE TALL SANDY - haired man with the heavy forearms walked along the pier toward the ship in the end berth. The light wind brought the smell of cooking from the waterfront of Nylan to the pier, mixing the oil with the scents of seaweed and fish. The steel-hulled vessel with the nameplate Shrezsan flew the flag of Hamor from a jackstaff above the stern. As he noted the nameplate, a faint smile crossed his lips.

   Wisps of steam seeped from the twin funnels. No paddle-wheels protruded from the smooth lines of the hull, but the tips of the two big screws were visible just beneath the surface of the gray water in the harbor of Nylan. The tall man stood by a bollard not quite half his height and closed his eyes, concentrating on the ship. After he had stood silently for a time, a steam-powered tractor puffed by, then slowed.

   “Is that you, Magister Gunnar?”

   Gunnar opened his eyes and turned to the dark-haired woman in black coveralls. He inclined his head.

   “Caron. From Sigil. I took your order ethics class at the Temple in Wandernaught.”

   “I'm sorry, I did not recognize you.” He gestured toward the ship. “I'd heard about the new Hamorian steamers, and I wanted to see one.”

   “She's a beauty. Fast, too.”

   “Shrezsan-that's not a Hamorian name. I wonder...”

   Caron laughed. “The ship belongs to Leithrrse. He came from Enstronn, but he couldn't finish dangergeld. He's a prosperous merchant in Hamor, sometimes even acts as an envoy for the Emperor-not here, of course.”

   “No... I suppose not.” Gunnar paused. “The steel seems almost as tough as black iron, and the propellers are smooth-finished.”

   Caron nodded. “They've built some warships that are even faster, according to the mate, lots of them, with more on the way. He looked over his shoulder when he told me.”

   “If they can do this, I'd not be surprised if they're going to arm them with cannon.”

   Caron looked down the pier and back. “They have. Hundreds maybe. That's what one of the sailors was saying in the White Stag.”

   Gunnar pulled at his chin. “Take a lot of iron.”

   “Hamor's got a lot.”

   “I suppose.” Gunnar looked beyond the ship, out toward the Gulf and Candar.

   A steam whistle blew, and Caron flashed a brief smile. “That's for me. They need to load this up. It was good seeing you, Magister Gunnar.”

   “Good to see you, Caron.” Gunnar took another look at the Shrezsan, then stepped back next to the bollard and closed his eyes once more.

   The steam whistle tooted twice more; and a pair of gulls swooped down and across the stem of the steamer.

   A wake left the next pier, a pier guarded and apparently empty, for all that the ripples signified a departing ship.

   Gunnar's eyes opened and followed the unseen ship for a time. Finally, he shook his head and walked back toward the shops at the foot of the pier.

 

 

5.Death of Chaos
IX

 

WE HEADED SOUTHEAST from Kyphrien on a packed clay road wide enough for three horses or a wagon and one horse, riding through the hills of red clay covered with fine sand, patches of grass, and desert olive groves, meticulously tended, their leaves gray in the early winter light. Between the groves were villages, so small they had no kaystones, no squares, just white-plastered houses with red tile roofs and handfuls of children scattered in odd places-on stone walls or tending sheep or driving oxen with long wands.

   By mid-morning, the high gray clouds began to break, but the wind remained light, although it had changed direction, coming from the north, and seemed more chill than in Kyphrien.

   Riding past the olive trees, I wondered how many of the groves belonged to Hensil, the trader who had commissioned the chair set. Somehow, I liked Antona better than Hensil, although I couldn't say I liked her occupation better. They both catered to human appetites, but I have never liked the idea of any trade in human beings. Then again, just because he was richer, was Hensil any better than Fusion, who had wanted me to punish a starving boy? Food traders withheld food for those who had more coins, and traders in women effectively withheld sex for those who had more coins. Except-I shook my head- women could think, and olives presumably didn't.

   “You look worried, Order-master,” commented Yelena.

   “Comparing olives and women,” I mumbled.

   Jylla and Freyda grinned at each other.

   Weldein brushed back his longish blond hair and said softly, “You have to think about that?”

   Even I had to smile.

   The olive groves diminished to scattered stands, and eventually gave way to sparser hillsides covered with low and gnarled cedars. The villages grew less frequent, as did travelers. We stopped to water the horses around midday at a narrow stream running between two hills. To our right, downstream, a small flock of sheep had churned the grass around a damp area into a long streak of brown on brown.

   “Good thing they're downstream,” offered Yelena.

   About to scoop up a mouthful of water, I stopped, deciding a little orderspelling on the water wouldn't hurt. Yelena drank from her canteen. So did Weldein, but I wanted to save the redberry in mine. So I orderspelled some water. I could almost feel the grit and some chaos spill out.

   “How can you drink that?” asked Jylla. “Won't you get the flux?”

   “Very carefully,” I told her. “I wouldn't drink it if you don't have to.”

   “But you are.”

   “I orderspelled it.”

   Freyda and Jylla looked at each other and shook their heads. After that, I stood beside Gab-loch and took out the cheese and hard biscuits.

   “Would you like some?” I offered a small wedge of the white cheese to each of them. Even the Finest aren't exactly that well off.

   “Thank you,” said Weldein and Yelena.

   Freyda and Jylla nodded thanks.

   “How long will it take to get to Lythga?” According to Krystal, the trip was four days hard riding to Jikoya, and then another two to Lythga and that part of the Lower Easthorns.

   “A little over six days,” answered Yelena after swallowing half the wedge of cheese in a single bite. “The way you're going to Hydlen is almost an eight-day longer.”

   “I really don't want to ride up the direct route to Arastia. That's like announcing my arrival with a large trumpet and saying, 'Hello, Gerlis, here I am.' It's not that healthy.”

   Yelena frowned. “You went up against the first chaos wizard alone.”

   “Then I was even younger and stupider. Actually, that was my second. Antonin didn't have an army camped next to him. The first one did, and I ran like hell, and was very lucky to escape.” I didn't point out that being able to shield myself from the troops' seeing me had helped a lot, and they still almost got me shooting off arrows blind. That shielding hadn't worked against the wizard, only the troops, and it wouldn't work against Gerlis himself. “Also, the point is to get back to Kyphrien with enough information to let the autarch know what is happening.”

   That got a snort from Jylla, and I looked over at her, standing beside her mount. She turned pale.

   “You made your point, Lerris.” Yelena's tone was dry.

   “What point?” I really wasn't that angry, but I had been irritated.

   She shook her head.

   “I'll still be lucky to get back in one piece.”

   “I have great confidence in you, Order-master.”

   I was glad someone did.

   I packed up the cheese, orderspelled more water, and used some of it to wash my face. Below us, the sheep milled around more, and then drifted farther away from the road.

   “I'm sorry,” I said quietly to Yelena as we rode onward and away from the sheep.

   “There's nothing to be sorry about.” She paused. “You know what makes you dangerous, Lerris?”

   “Me, dangerous?”

   “You,” she affirmed, glancing back toward the three who followed several lengths back and lowering her voice. “You just do whatever needs to be done. You do it with as much force as you can.”

   “That's practical. You do it the best way you can. If you have to do it, then do it. And if you don't, then don't.” I was embarrassed and started looking at the road ahead, for sheep, for kaystones, for anything.

   The hills got flatter on the road to Dasir, and the sun got hotter, and the light breeze died down.

   Kaaa... cchwwww! I rubbed my nose and tried not to sneeze again.

   Jylla's sneeze wasn't much more delicate than mine.

   With the lower hills, the packed dark clay of the road had turned drier, redder, and dustier.

   Kaaachewwww!!!

   “You have an impressive sneeze,” offered Yelena.

   “Thank you.” My nose was running, reddish from the dust that seemed everywhere.

   “It's been a dry year, this side of Kyphrien,” she went on. “That causes the dust. But it's better than the mud.”

   Between coughing and sneezing, I wasn't sure that dust was preferable to mud. Being an order-master is helpful for keeping away flies and bugs, but it doesn't do much for dust. I itched everywhere and wondered if The Basis of Order dealt with itches. That was the problem, though. When you need to learn something it's late, often too late. I sighed and resolved to read through the book that evening.

   With each step, the dust rose. And the dust rose and fell, and poor Gairloch's legs looked like he wore boots made of red dust. I just wore a cloak of the stuff.

   Khhaaa... cheww!

   Overhead, the late fall sky had turned a cheerful blue-green, and bright, and the wind had died, making the day seem warmer, warm enough that by mid-afternoon I was sweating, and thin lines of mud ran down my cheeks.

   My backside was sore by the time the sun hung on the edge of the low hills behind us. Kyphrien already seemed impossibly far behind. I was still sneezing, and my nose was running red mud. My eyes itched, and I wanted to club Gerlis to death with my staff, just to get things over with sooner.

   “We'll stay there.” Yelena pointed to a kaystone on the left side of the road that said “Matisir.”

   I squinted down the road toward a clump of buildings that seemed slumped between two low hills.

   “The barracks is right off the square, if you can call it a square.”

   Jylla sighed. Weldein flicked his reins.

 
 Matisir contained perhaps ten buildings. One was the barracks for outliers and transient members of the Finest, and one was a long stable. Both were of mud brick covered with a thin layer of white plaster that the red dust and rain had turned an uneven pink. They had red-tiled roofs.

   Across the flat grassless expanse that was a square, by the virtue of a large stone tablet commemorating something, was a two-story structure, also of mud bricks, but without the plaster, with a peeling signboard bearing a crude picture of a fireplace.

   “That's the Old Hearth,” explained Yelena. “Local herders go there. New recruits... once.”

   We rode straight to one end of the stables. I took the smallest stall, and unsaddled Gairloch.

   Kaaachew...

   “Still sneezing, Order-master?” asked Yelena.

   “Damned dust...” I kept brushing Gairloch until he looked clean, and until I had a second coat of dust. Then I found some feed for him and a bucket of water. About that time a bell rang. The others-except for Yelena-had left.

   “Our rooms are there,” she explained. “You rate an officer's space.”

   The room was narrow-less than five cubits deep and only about ten wide, with a single shuttered window-no glass, no hearth. I set everything on the floor. There was no table, only a single narrow canvas cot. If I had an officer's space, I felt sorry for Weldein, Jylla, and Freyda.

   “Dinner won't be long, when the second bell rings.” Yelena left, carrying a bedroll and her knapsack.

   First, I beat the dust out of my clothes, standing outside my room.

   “You'll just get dusty tomorrow,” observed Weldein from a good dozen cubits upwind.

   “That's tomorrow.”

   I found the washroom and a pump, and used almost two buckets of water-cold water-to get the dust and mud off me. I blew red mud from my nose, dug red clots from my hair, and washed red mud from between my toes, from dust that had sifted down my boots. Finally, I got clean enough that the world didn't smell like red grit. Then I shaved. As I was drying, the second bell rang, and I had to scramble back into my clothes.

   The three trestle tables were mostly filled, although the majority of those eating seemed to be outliers, both from their pale green leathers and shirts and the talk.

   “... Oyster... he says he's desperate enough for the Old Hearth...”

   “... anyone that desperate?”

   “... swings a sword like a meat chopper...”

   “... know anything about the new wizard in Hydlen?”

   “Berfir is an overgrown herder with a big sword...”

   “... which kind...”

   “... bread, demon-damn it...”

   Yelena gestured to me, and I found a seat on the long bench near the end where an outlier wearing a gold-braided vest sat in a chair.

   “This is local leader Ustrello. Order-master Lerris.”

   “I appreciate the hospitality.” I inclined my head.

   “You are the one who bested the white wizard and discovered the secrets of the wizards' roads, are you not? The ones no one else has been able to ride?” Ustrello appeared short, but broad, with white mustaches and shoulders that many oxen could have wished for.

   “I was fortunate enough to do so.” I felt embarrassed about having told Yelena about the roads, and then discovering that no one else could find them. That was another unfinished project, although it had lost its urgency when I had killed Antonin.

   Yelena smiled.

   Ustrello inclined his head to the woman between us, with hair in which blond and silver intertwined in a long braid piled on top of her head. “This is my consort-Tasyel.”

   “Is this the famous wizard, the one who did all the marvelous things, and the one with the strongest pony in the world?” She looked from Ustrello to me, as if in confirmation.

   “Gairloch will be pleased to know that he is the strongest pony in the world, and I am pleased to meet you, Tasyel.”

   “Is it true that you have an invisible sack that can never be emptied?”

   I groaned, shaking my head. “You have met Shervan?”

   “Shervan?” Both Ustrello and Tasyel looked puzzled. Yelena smothered a grin.

   “I stopped in Tellura when I first came to Kyphros. I had... cast a spell over some of my possessions... so that I would look like a less tempting target for bandits. When I took something out of a spelled saddlebag, one of the outliers-his name was Shervan-said I had an invisible sack.” I shrugged. “I tried to explain, but he was telling everyone about my miraculous sack.”

   Ustrello laughed. “I have not met Shervan, but I have met his story. All the outliers tell it. I am almost sorry to learn the truth.”

   “There is certainly more that the wizard is not telling, or he would not be a wizard.” The leader's consort winked at me.

   “Alas... the truth is sometimes discouraging.”

   “Yes... but you have not eaten, and we would not let anyone, especially a famous wizard, go away hungry.” She picked up the huge serving dish and thrust it at me. From the smell it was some form of curried goat stew.

   “Thank you.” Curried, peppered goat or not, I was hungry and took a helping almost as big as those of the outliers.

   Yelena handed me a long basket, and I broke off a suitably impressive chunk of dark moist bread that was still steaming.

   “And the olives, they are also special.” Tasyel pressed a small bucket of olives on me.

   As I took a handful, absently, I wondered about the little thief that Fuston had wanted me to catch and punish. “They look special.” I dipped the bread in the goat-it was even hotter than Rissa's burkha. My forehead broke out in sweat, and I noticed that Yelena had taken a small bite, and a much smaller serving than I had. Her eyes twinkled.

   “We're famous for our goat!” Ustrello almost had to yell over the voices from around us. “Nowhere in Candar is it as hot! Tasyel makes the very best.”

   Tasyel beamed, and I swallowed, reaching for whatever was in the pitcher in front of Yelena. Bread without the goat and the fruity fermented teekla helped. I only felt as though I had swallowed half a chaos wizard's fireball.

   “You like it?”

   “I've never tasted anything like it anywhere.”

   Ustrello beamed in turn. Yelena covered her mouth. I ate some more of the bread before I took a much smaller second mouthful of the goat. My forehead still beaded in sweat.

   “The wizard, he eats pretty good, better than you fancy soldiers.” Ustrello jabbed at Yelena.

   “He's a wizard. I'm not,” countered Yelena, chewing another mouthful of the good bread-without spiced goat. “He's used to dealing with fire.”

   I was also hungry. I hadn't eaten that much for breakfast, not as early as I'd gotten up to see Krystal off, and not that much cheese and biscuits at midday. So I kept eating, but had to take another large chunk of the bread.

BOOK: The Death of Chaos
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Way They Were by Mary Campisi
Spirited Ride by Rebecca Avery
Speak to the Earth by William Bell
The Night of Wenceslas by Lionel Davidson
Técnicas de la mujer vasca para la doma y monta de maridos by Óscar Terol, Susana Terol, Iñaki Terol, Isamay Briones
All the Beauty of the Sun by Marion Husband