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Authors: Miles Cameron

The Fell Sword

BOOK: The Fell Sword
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MILES CAMERON

GOLLANCZ
london

For the reenactors

Table of Contents

Prologue

The Emperor

Chapter One

Liviapolis – Morgan Mortirmir

A
s the Red Knight left the abode of the Wyrm of the Green Hills and rode south to the Inn of Dorling, Morgan Mortirmir, late of Harndon, sat in class in the Imperial capital of Liviapolis.

The classroom in which he sat was over a thousand years old; it featured dark oak benches and solid desks that sat four students per bench. The benches had, carved in so deeply you had to wonder how the professors and tutors had missed the vandalism, the graffiti of a hundred generations of would-be magisters in ten languages and in Archaic itself. The windows were mullioned and leaded and offered only the haziest glimpse of the outside world to the bored or frustrated mind.

Morgan shared his bench with three other students: two of the religious sisters from one of the great cities dozens of convents for women of noble blood, sisters Anna and Katerina, almost invisible in long brown gowns and wimples, and his sole near-friend, the Etruscan whose father was Podesta of the foreign merchants, Antonio Baldesce.

The logik master looked over the class.

‘Someone who is not Mortirmir,’ he said. ‘Tell me why.’

Sixteen students in advanced hermetical thaumaturgy squirmed.

‘Come, come, my children,’ Magister Abraham said. He was a Yahadut – the first Morgon had ever met. He was one of the kindest of the masters – until he felt he had been ignored.

His eyes locked on the young Etruscan. ‘Baldesce?’ he asked, his voice rising a half-octave in academic impatience.

The silence was painful.

‘Let me restate the problem,’ Magister Abraham said in an increasingly dangerous tone. ‘Why can you
not
wield the hermetical power directly inside your own memory palace?’

Sister Katerina made a slight sound – more like a moan than anything.

Sister Anna bit her lips.

Baldesce was not the sort of boy – young man – to writhe. ‘No idea,’ he said. He shrugged. ‘But if I am permitted to guess—’

‘Don’t,’ Abraham spat. ‘Guesses do not interest me at this stage. Very well, young Mortirmir?’

Mortirmir couldn’t render
potentia
into
ops
, but he head read every grimoire available and every scroll of philosophy, ethical or practical, that he could lay hands on. He met the magister’s eye – and hesitated.

If he
didn’t
give the answer, would they like him better?

Probably not. And sod them, anyway.

‘Magister, I think you
can
manipulate the
aethereal
directly inside your own memory palace. I suspect you
shouldn’t.
’ Mortirmir shrugged, as Baldesce had shrugged, but it was a different gesture altogether – Mortirmir’s shrug implied there was more to say rather than Baldesce’s indifference to the question.

Magister Abraham scratched his chin under his long beard, his eyes on Mortirmir. ‘Why do you think such an odd and heretical thing?’ he asked. He was trying – and failing – to hide that he was pleased.

‘Vetronius’s Gladius Capitalis. Heraklitus’s
θανατηφόρα σπαθί
.’

Sister Anna winced at his pronunciation of High Archaic, which was the Alban and not the local Morean.

Magister Abraham had the odd habit of tapping his teeth with his fingers, and he did so. When he had ink in his fingers, he sometimes stained his teeth.

He nodded. ‘Yes. The Fell Sword. A weapon that will perform the same way in the real and in the
aethereal
implies that it can be forged inside the memory palace and then used – anywhere.’ He allowed himself a slight smile. ‘What would be the – result? – of such a use inside the memory palace?’

He paused for a heartbeat, and fifteen students paled to think of the literal destruction of the carefuly tended memories and workings.

‘But you wouldn’t know, would you, Mortirmir?’ Magister Abraham asked. It was a rhetorical question. Now it was the magister’s turn to shrug. ‘Scamper off, little ones. Alchemy is waiting for you. Mortirmir, stay.’

The other students hurried out, many with heads bent to avoid catching the master’s eye. He sometimes issued work at the end – massive lightning strikes of work, carefully or carelessly applied.

Mortirmir sat and fiddled with his paternoster until the last student left, and then rose as gracefully as his fast-growing body could manage and went to face the master.

The older man frowned. ‘You have a brilliant mind,’ he said. ‘And you work harder than most of these louts.’ He shrugged, and handed Mortirmir a rolled scroll. ‘I’m sorry, young man. Sorry to twit you on your failings, and sorry to have to give you this.’

Mortirmir didn’t even need to open it. ‘Summons? From the Patriarch?’

The magister nodded, and left the classroom. As he opened the door, Morirmir heard Baldesce’s voice, and Zervas – another Morean student – say something – and they all laughed.

He had no way to know if they were talking about him, but he hated them all in that moment.

The summons in his hand meant that he would be tested one more time for powers, and if he could muster none, he’d be sent forth. He’d worked his whole life to come here.

And now, he’d failed.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to be a child prodigy.

Morgan Mortirmir was sixteen and growing so fast that none of his clothes fit properly. His face was so young that despite his size, he could, at times, easily pass for twelve. He was tall and thin, but not in the way that might have given him authority or dignity. He was gawky and, even worse, covered in adolescent acne that burst constantly into white-headed pustules all over his face, so that the Morean sisters in his Practical Philosophy class called him ‘the Plague’.

And Morgan knew he was the Plague. He was too young to be at the school and worst of all – and for all his phenomenal intelligence – he lacked any ability to manipulate the world directly through
phantasmia
or even through alchemy. He had all the potential in the world.

He just couldn’t get a grip on the raw stuff of power. He couldn’t make
potentia
into
ops.

But he was intelligent enough to know when he was not wanted. And no one in the great school of Higher Philosophy and Metaphysics wanted any part of him except as a scapegoat. They didn’t want him to quote the authorities he’d memorised, or to explain to them the fine points of how the
aethereal
worked in terms of mathmaticka. They wanted him to wield power, or leave.

He sat in a small tavern in the greatest city in the civilised world and stared into a cup of wine.

After a while, he stared into another.

And then a third.

All day, every day, his magisters had thrust him into situations meant to unlock his powers. His ability to detect a casting – even the faintest emanations from Cravenfish, for example – earned him praise from the magisters. Every one of them agreed that he ought to have talent. His score on
potentia
was – phenomenal.

But they’d ceased to say it so loudly or so often. And today the Patriarch, who had to review each candidate for admission, and pass him as theologically reliable before granting a degree, had sent for him.

Sunday next.

Mortirmir bit his lip to keep from crying, but it didn’t work and he wept. It was bitter, stupid self-pity, and he hated the sheer childishness of it even as he wept harder. The Patriarch would send him home.

Home wasn’t even so bad. It simply represented the loss of everything he’d ever wanted. He wanted Liviapolis – magnificent women clad in glittering artifice talking about philosophy with men who wrote books rather than swung swords. Here, not barbaric Harndon, was where he belonged.

Or maybe not.

They didn’t even send a girl to his table to pour his wine. He got a stale-faced old criminal with a leer. He waved for another.

‘Pay first,’ the man said, accenting his Archaic for the meanest understanding.

Mortirmir wore an Alban jupon, boots, and a sword. Hence he was a barbarian and had to be treated like a fool.

He looked down into the cup of dark red wine. Better wine, in fact, than he would ever have at home – a wine to which the wines of Alba were mere shadows of the true form.

He cursed. He had all the theories down pat. He just couldn’t do the deed.

The Plague.

He’d had it as a child, or so they said – and the medical magister, who took the most interest in him, had said with terrible finality that the plague sometimes caused lesions on the brain that killed the ability to channel power.

He ordered a fourth cup of good wine and decided – again – to kill himself. It was a mortal sin and his soul would burn in hell for eternity. He thought that was fitting, because by doing so he’d
hurt God.
God who desired that sinners repent and come to him.
Take that, you fuck!

It was a tribute to the duality of human nature as his philosophical masters taught it that on his fifth cup of wine he could see the terrible, stupid flaws in his own theology.

And then, of course, there won’t be any more wine.

At which point the evening took a turn that surprised him.

A lovely young woman – older than him and more worldly, but well dressed and obviously prosperous, paused in front of his booth. She looked around nervously, then with more annoyance.

Drink bolstered him. He rose and bowed – feeling more graceful than usual. ‘My lady? May I be of assistance?’ he asked in his best High Archaic – which seemed even more fluid than usual. His greatest accomplishment at home in Harndon had been his ability to read and write the true High Archaic, and here even the criminals spoke it. In the Morea, it was their native tongue.

She turned, and her smile beamed like the light from a bullseye lantern. ‘Ah, sir, my pardon.’ She blushed. ‘I am not used to speaking to a man in public,’ she said, and her fan came up and covered her face, but not fast enough to cover the cavalry charge of colour that swept over her neck and—

He looked around. It was hours since he had walked in – he’d ignored the summons to evening prayer, and so had some of the other patrons, but his stomach suddenly suggested that he needed to temper his new-found hobby of drunkenness with some food. Even if he planned to jump off a bridge later. Falling on his sword was out – it was too long.

He found himself sitting again, rather like a dream. In some corner of his head, a voice said
I guess I’m pretty drunk.
He had, in fact, been drunk before – twice. But not like this.

‘You could sit with me?’ he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

She peeped, with just her eyes, from behind her fan. ‘Really, I couldn’t,’ she said. ‘I’m waiting for my father – who is late – by the Virgin Parthenos, there is no place here for a lady to sit.’

He thought she was perhaps nineteen, but his experience of ladies – most especially – of Morean ladies – was extremely limited. There were the nuns in his philosophical classes, but all of them wore full veils, and he knew nothing about them beyond their voices and the speed with which he annoyed them.

He couldn’t tell whether she was beautiful or plain or ugly as wretched sin, but he already enjoyed her blush and her courtesy. ‘Please – sit with me, and I will not trouble you,’ he said. He stood up – wondering when he’d so rudely sat down. ‘Sit here, and I will wander the room until your father comes—’

He suited action to word, and her fan shot out and pressed him back into his seat. ‘You will do nothing so foolish, although your offer is gracious for a barbarian,’ she said. She pushed him lightly and he was sitting again, and she was sitting, too.

It was like leafing through an illustrated Bible. He had to guess at the parts that were missing – when had she sat down? Had she been graceful?

‘How do you come to be in our fair city?’ she asked.

Mortirmir sighed. ‘My mother sent me to University,’ he said, with a little too much self-importance, he could tell.

‘You must be very intelligent!’ she said.

He smiled bitterly. ‘Very intelligent,’ he muttered.

The taverner was suddenly there – the old bastard was nearly spherical, with no hair on his head and he was pouring something from a pitcher, and the girl giggled and thanked him and the room spun a bit. ‘I am,’ he agreed. ‘I’m so smart that . . .’ He searched for something to say.

You are so smart that you answer every single question in any class even when you know it annoys your peers, so smart you don’t understand humour, so smart that you can’t talk to a girl, so smart you can’t work the simplest
phantasm.

She flicked her fan. ‘Where is my father?’ she asked rhetorically. The sober, analytical part of his mind noted that she didn’t look around when she said it. He theorised that she was used to being waited on, and probably couldn’t take care of herself. She smiled. ‘Are you from a good family? And what is a good family, among barbarians?’

She was funny. He laughed. ‘My father is a lord,’ he said. ‘Well – he was. Then he died. It is complicated.’

BOOK: The Fell Sword
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