Authors: Scott Lynch
Working with hands that shivered as though the air were freezing, Locke slipped the bolt on the cage’s door and let it fall open. He then swung himself gingerly around the corner, from the exterior to the interior, and with one last burst of dreadful vertigo reached out and slammed the door shut behind him. He sat down on the floor of the cage, gasping in deep breaths, shaky with relief and the aftereffects of the poison.
“Well,” he muttered, “
was fucking hideous.”
Another elevator cage full of noble guests drew upward, twenty feet to his right; the men and women in the cage looked at him very curiously, and he waved.
He half dreaded that the cage would lurch to a halt before it reached the ground and start to draw back up; he decided if it did that he would take his chances with the Palace of Patience. But the cage continued all the way down; Vorchenza must still be tied to her chair, out of the action. Locke was on his feet when the cage settled against the ground; the liveried men who opened the door peered in at him with wide eyes.
“Excuse me,” said one of them, “but were you…did you…were you
this cage when it left the embarkation platform?”
“Of course,” said Locke. “That shape you saw, darting out from the tower? Bird. Biggest gods-damned bird you ever saw. Scared the piss right out of me, let me tell you. I say, are any of these carriages for hire?”
“Go to the outer row,” said the footman, “and look for the ones with the white flags and lanterns.”
“Much obliged.” Locke rapidly perused the contents of Doña Vorchenza’s coin purse; there was a very satisfactory quantity of gold and silver inside. He tossed a solon apiece to the liveried men beside the cage as he stepped out. “It was a bird, right?”
“Yes, sir,” said the other man with a tip of his black cap. “Biggest gods-damned bird we ever saw.”
THE HIRED carriage left him at the Hill of Whispers; he paid very well—the “forget you made this run” sort of well—and then he walked south through Ashfall on his own. It was perhaps the sixth hour of the evening when he returned to the hovel, bursting through the curtained door, yelling as he came—
“Jean, we have one
of a fucking problem—”
The Falconer stood in the center of the little room, smirking at Locke, his hand folded before him. Locke took in the tableau in a split second: Ibelius lay motionless against the far wall, and Jean lay slumped at the Bondsmage’s feet, writhing in pain.
Vestris perched upon her master’s shoulder; she fixed him with those black-and-gold eyes, then opened her beak and screeched triumphantly. Locke winced at the noise.
“Oh yes, Master Lamora,” said the Falconer. “Yes, I’d say you
have one hell of a fucking problem.”
The Throne in Ashes
THERIM PEL WAS once called the Jewel of the Eldren; it was the largest and grandest of the cities that the lost race of ancients left to the men who claimed their lands long after their disappearance.
Therim Pel sat at the headwaters of the Angevine River, where they poured in a white torrent from the mountains; it sat beneath their craggy majesty and was surrounded by rich fields for two days’ ride by fast horse in any other direction. In the autumn, those fields would be swaying with stalks of amber—a bounty fit for the seat of an empire, which Therim Pel was.
All the cities of the south knelt before the Therin Throne. The engineers of the empire built tens of thousands of miles of roads to weave those cities together. The empire’s generals manned them with patrols to put bandits down, and maintained garrisons at smaller towns and villages to ensure that commerce and letters could flow, without interruption, from one end of the empire to the other—from the Iron Sea to the Sea of Brass.
Karthain and Lashain, Nessek and Talisham, Espara and Ashmere, Iridain and Camorr, Balinel and Issara—all those mighty city-states were ruled by dukes who took their crowns of silver from the hands of the emperor himself. The few dukes who remain in present times may wield great power, but they are self-declared; the high lineages dating back to the time of the Therin Throne have long been severed.
The Therin Throne entered into decline when the Vadrans appeared from the north. A raiding sea-people, they took the Throne protectorates on the northern half of the continent; they named the seven great rivers that flowed to the northern sea their Seven Holy Marrows, and they discouraged the Throne’s efforts to reclaim its territory by smashing every army it sent north. Weakened, the Therin Throne could not sustain the effort, and so it was diminished. Diminished, but not broken.
It took the Bondsmagi of Karthain to do that.
The Bondsmagi were newly formed in the city of Karthain; they were beginning to expand the reach of their unique and deadly guild to other cities, and they showed little sign of catering to the angry demands of the emperor in Therim Pel. He insisted that they halt their activities, and they are said to have replied with a short letter listing the prices for which His August Majesty could hire their services. The emperor sent in his own royal circle of sorcerers; they were slain without exception. The emperor then raised his legions and marched on Karthain, vowing to slay every sorcerer who claimed the title of Bondsmage.
The emperor’s declaration of war was a test of resolve for the new guild’s rules. For anyone who dared to harm a Bondsmage, they had publicly vowed reciprocity that would be awful to behold.
During his march to Karthain, the emperor’s soldiers managed to kill about a dozen.
Four hundred Bondsmagi met the emperor’s legions just to the east of Karthain; the sorcerers condescended to offer a pitched battle. In less than two hours, one-third of the emperor’s forces were slaughtered. Strange mists boiled up from the ground to mislead their maneuvers; illusions and phantasms tormented them. Flights of arrows halted in the air and fell to the ground, or were hurled back upon the archers who had loosed them. Comrade turned upon comrade, maddened and misled by sorcery that could chain a man’s actions as though he were a marionette. The emperor himself was hacked to pieces by his personal guard. It is said that no piece larger than a finger remained to be burned on a pyre afterward. The empire was soundly defeated—its surviving generals routed, their remaining soldiers scampering like message-runners for Therim Pel.
But the affair did not end there. The Bondsmagi in conclave decided to enforce their rules, and to enforce them in such a fashion that the entire world would shudder at the thought of crossing them, for as long as men might have memories.
They worked their retribution on the city of Therim Pel.
The firestorm they conjured was unnatural. Four hundred magi, working in concert, kindled something at the heart of the empire that historians still fear to describe. It is said that the flames were as white as the hearts of the stars themselves; that the column of black smoke rose so high it could be seen from the deep Iron Sea, far east of Camorr, and as far north as Vintila, capital of the young Kingdom of the Seven Marrows.
Even this hideous conjuring could not touch Elderglass; those structures in the city built by Eldren arts survived unscathed. But everything else the fire touched, it ate; wood and stone and metal, mortar and paper and living things. All the city’s buildings and all the city’s culture and all the city’s population who could not flee before the magi began their work were burnt into a desert of gray ashes—a desert that settled a foot deep across a black scar baked into the ground.
Those ashes swirled in the hot wind at the foot of the one human-crafted object the magi willingly preserved: the throne of the empire. That chair remains there to this day, in the haunted city of Therim Pel, surrounded by a field of ashes that time and rains have turned into a sort of black concrete. Nothing grows in Therim Pel anymore; no sensible man or woman will set foot within that black monument to the resolve of the Bondsmagi of Karthain.
It was they who broke the Therin Throne with that unearthly fire; they who cast the city-states of the south into hundreds of years of warring and feuding while the Kingdom of the Seven Marrows grew powerful in the north.
It is that image that comes to mind when most men think to cross a Bondsmage—the image of an empty chair standing alone in a dry sea of desolation.
Justice is Red
THE FALCONER MOVED his fingers, and Locke Lamora fell to his knees, gripped by an all-too-familiar pain that burned within his bones. He toppled onto the floor of the hovel, beside Jean.
,” said the sorcerer, “to see that you survived our little arrangement at the Echo Hole. I am impressed. Even despite your reputation, I had imagined we were too clever for you. Only this afternoon I thought it was Jean Tannen alone that I sought; but this is something finer by far.”
“You,” spat Locke, “are a twisted fucking
“No,” said the Bondsmage, “I obey the orders of my paying client. And my orders are to make sure the murderer of my client’s sisters takes his time in dying.” The Falconer cracked his knuckles. “
I regard as a windfall.”
Locke screamed and reached out toward the Bondsmage, willing himself forward through the pain, but the Falconer muttered under his breath, and the racking, stabbing sensations seemed to multiply tenfold. Locke flopped onto his back and tried to breathe, but the muscles behind and beneath his lungs were as solid as stones.
When the Bondsmage released him from this torment, he slumped down, gasping. The room spun.
“It’s very strange,” said the Falconer, “how the evidence of our victories can become the instruments of our downfall. Jean Tannen, for example—you must be a
fighter to have taken my client’s sisters, though I see you suffered in doing so. And now they’ve struck back at you from the shadelands. A great many divinations are possible when one of my kind can get his hands on the physical residue of another man—fingernail parings, for example. Locks of hair.
Blood on the edge of a knife.
Jean groaned, unable to speak from pain.
“Oh, yes,” said the Falconer. “I was certainly surprised to see who that blood led me to. In your shoes, I’d have been in the first caravan to the other side of the continent. You might even have been left in peace.”
“Gentlemen Bastards,” hissed Locke, “do not abandon one another, and we do not run when we owe vengeance.”
“That’s right,” said the Bondsmage. “And that’s why they also die at my feet in filthy fucking hovels like this one.”
Vestris fluttered from his shoulder and settled into another corner of the room, staring balefully down at Locke, twitching her head from side to side in excitement. The Falconer reached inside his coat and drew out a sheet of parchment, a quill, and a small bottle of ink. He uncapped the bottle and set it down atop the sleeping pallet; he wet the quill and smiled down at Locke.
“Jean Tannen,” said the Falconer. “What a
name; easy to write. Easier even than it was to stitch.”
His quill flew across the parchment; he wrote in great looping whorls, and his smile grew with every letter. When he was finished, his silver thread snaked out around the fingers of his left hand, and he moved them with an almost hypnotic rhythm. A pale silver glow arose from the page in his hands, outlining the curves of his face.
“Jean Tannen,” said the Falconer. “Arise, Jean Tannen. I have a task for you.”
Shuddering, Jean rose first to his knees and then to his feet. He stood before the Falconer; Locke, for his part, still found it impossible to move.
“Jean Tannen,” said the Bondsmage, “take up your hatchets. Nothing would please you more at this moment than to take up your hatchets.”
Jean reached beneath the sleeping pallet and took out the Wicked Sisters; he slipped one into either hand, and the corners of his mouth drew upward.
“You like to use those, don’t you, Jean?” The Falconer shifted the silver threads in his left hand. “You
to feel them biting into flesh…. You like to see the blood
. Oh, yes…don’t worry. I have a task you can set them to.”
With the sheet of paper in his right hand, the Falconer gestured down at Locke.
“Kill Locke Lamora,” he said.
Jean shuddered; he took a step toward Locke, then hesitated. He frowned and closed his eyes.
“I name your given name, Jean Tannen,” said the Bondsmage. “I name your given name, the truthful name, the name of the spirit. I name your name.
Kill Locke Lamora.
Take up your hatchets and
kill Locke Lamora.
Jean took another halting step toward Locke; his hatchets rose slowly. He seemed to be clenching his jaws. A tear rolled out of his right eye; he took a deep breath, and then another step. He sobbed, and raised the Wicked Sisters above his shoulders.
“No,” said the Falconer. “Oh,
. Wait. Step back.”
Jean obliged, backing off a full yard from Locke, who sent up silent prayers of relief, mingled with dread for whatever might come next.
“Jean’s rather soft-hearted,” said the Falconer, “but
the real weakling, aren’t you?
the one who begged me to do anything to you as long as I left your friends alone; you’re the one who went into the barrel with his lips closed when he could have betrayed his friends, and perhaps lived.
know how to make this right. Jean Tannen, drop your hatchets.”
The Wicked Sisters hit the ground with a heavy thud, bounced, and landed just beside Locke’s eyes. A moment later, the Bondsmage spoke in his sorcerous tongue and shifted the threads in his left hand; Jean screamed and fell to the ground, shaking feebly.
“It would be much better, I think,” said the Falconer, “if
were to kill
, Master Lamora.”
Vestris screeched down at Locke; the sound had the strange mocking undertones of laughter.