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Authors: David Feintuch

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic

The Still

BOOK: The Still
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The Still
David Feintuch

PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF DAVID FEINTUCH

THE SEAFORT SAGA

“A delightful book, intelligent and carefully written. Discerning SF readers will devour it and wait impatiently for its other volumes to appear. Feintuch’s book, depicting a stellar navy of exacting brutality and devotion to duty, possesses much the same flavor as C. S. Forester’s Hornblower novels. Hornblower fans will probably toast Feintuch in their wardrooms.”
—The Washington Post Book World
on
Midshipman’s Hope

“Science fiction fans who love exciting action and adventure shouldn’t miss [it].”
—Lansing State Journal

“An excellent entertainment.”
—Analog Science Fiction and Fact

“Wonderful reading and nonstop enjoyment.”—Raymond E. Feist, author of the Riftwar Cycle

“An excellent job of transferring Hornblower to interstellar space. Plot, characters, and action make this a thoroughly enjoyable read.”—David Drake, author of the Hammer’s Slammers series

THE RODRIGO OF CALEDON SERIES

“This complex, unconventional fantasy is a strong recommendation for Feintuch’s skill as a novelist. Readers who may have let a distaste for military SF prevent them from checking out Feintuch’s work should reconsider; this is an interesting writer who isn’t afraid to take risks.”
—Asimov’s Science Fiction

“Popular SF author Feintuch (The Seafort Saga) makes his fantasy debut with this adept tale of sword and sorcery . . . Compelling and charged with plenty of action.”
—Publishers Weekly

To Morris Feintuch. He did his best.

Contents

Prologue

Part I

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Part II

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Part III

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Part IV

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Prologue

W
HEN I WAS YOUNG,
before a wasting illness gripped her, Elena Queen of Caledon took me to the secluded vault that held the Vessels. I was barely twelve, and in the dank windowless corridor a nameless dread prickled my spine. I didn’t want to think about our Power, or behold its implements.

Deep in the bowels of Castle Stryx, at the corridor’s end, a smoky torch hissed and sputtered in a sconce. Brusquely, Mother dismissed Chamberlain Willem and the ever-present sentries.

The Queen withdrew a chain with two keys from her bosom. Facing the massive bronze door that barred the vault, she inserted each key into a recess so deep it swallowed her whole arm.

She paused, and a fleeting smile warmed her eyes. “Don’t worry, Roddy. The locks won’t eat my fingers.”

“I didn’t—I wasn’t ...”

“You hadn’t heard? Perhaps it’s best for now.”

The second tumbler clicked; the door swung open. She ushered me into the vault.

Dusty oaken chests filled much of the chamber. I picked at the hasp of the nearest. “What’s inside?”

“Leave it. We’ve not come to muse over keepsakes.”

“How about this one?” I bounded across the cell. “What’s that ewer? Why are these swords—”

She stamped her foot. “Stop racing about. Must you finger everything in reach?”

Sullenly, I threw myself on a trunk, but Mother settled on a dark walnut bench, patted the seat beside. “Rodrigo, never speak of what I show you.”

I sat at her side. “I won’t, not even to Rustin. By the True I swear.”

Her hand shot out to cover my mouth. “Hush. You’re too young for such vows.”

“But Hester says ...”

“I say.” Abruptly she was Queen.

“Aye, madam.” I made the short bow of assent. Still, pride coursed within. “I only meant to assure you—”

“And you have. But I include family, not just your playmates. Even Uncle Mar.”

I shifted, impatient at her caution. “You said you’d show me the Vessels.” Somewhere beyond the light, water dripped.

“Then pay attention. We ride this afternoon to Warthen’s Gate, so I haven’t much time. What do you see?”

My eyes darted to an ornate marble stand, on which a crimson pillow rested. Atop sat a gleaming pitcher. I recalled her whispered stories in the night. “Is that the Chalice?”

“Well said.”

I jumped to my feet, peered at its luminous surface. “May I hold it?”

“No you’d better—”

“Please?”

She sighed. “For a moment. But carefully.”

I took the ewer from its pillow, sat to examine it. “This pours the stillsilver.”

“Yes.” Her fingers brushed the damp hair at the nape of my neck. The tenderness startled me. Since my father died, she’d seemed ever more distant, and our quarrels had grown more fierce. Perhaps she was hardening me for the isolation of the throne. Perhaps she preferred my brothers. I never knew.

“Go on, Roddy.”

I tried to concentrate. “You pour into the bowl. The Receiver.”

“Receptor.”

“Then it happens.” I regarded the empty Chalice. “Show me.”

Her laugh was brittle. “I can’t.” Her hand fluttered to the golden clasp in her hair.

“Please, Mother.”

“What did I tell you about my Power?”

“That it’s gone. But not for me. Show me how to use it.”

“When the time nears.”

“Later, always later.” I stamped my foot. “Always you treat me as a child.”

“As you are.” Her tone cooled.

“Or perhaps you fear my betrayal!”

“Don’t be a fool.”

“I’ll bet you showed Elryc, and he’s just eight.”

“Roddy, didn’t I tell you the Power won’t manifest until I die?”

“You love him more! You’re planning to renounce me!”

Her slap stung. “That does it.” She was on her feet. “Out!”

“But I only—”

“Now you’ll go to Willem.” Her voice was low, an omen I should have heeded earlier. “If your father saw you he’d knot his fists in shame. Renounce you? Don’t remind me of it while you try my patience!” She shoved me from the vault, locked the bronze doors behind us. The tumblers clicked loudly as they fell into place.

“Madam, I pray thee ...”

She strode down the corridor, a firm grip on my sleeve. Her guards fell in alongside. “It’s too late for courtesy and high speech, Rodrigo.
When
will you learn to hold your tongue?” She swept me along. “To the Chamberlain, this very moment!”

Afterward, my rump smarting, I yearned for the solace of my comrade Rustin, in his family’s keep that bestrode the harbor, but I was sent in haste to make ready for our journey through the hills to the Warthen of the Sands, Mother’s distant vassal.

Uncle Margenthar, Mother’s spokesman in matters of state, came along, as did his son Bayard and half our court. Were the Duke of Eiber to sweep down from the north, Castle Stryx would be ill-tended. But no mishap befell the realm.

The very day we returned I raced to tell Rustin the wonders I’d beheld. He presented me with a magnificent young stallion he’d trained, the best horse I’d ever seen, and I dissolved in tears.

Summer storms swept the granite battlements, Mother’s peasants scythed wheat in the baking sun, and riding my glorious new mount through fields and town and rutted roads, I began to grow out of my childhood.

It was then I knew the torment.

Part I
Chapter 1

T
HUNDER RUMBLED ACROSS THE
ramparts and cobbles of the keep. Gray sheets of summer rain reduced the courtyard of the donjon to an inland sea of mud that lapped at the battlements.

Safe within, I smoothed my damp hair and knocked at Mother’s chamber, exhilarated from a long gallop to outrun the sudden summer storm. Below, Stryx harbor whipped into a froth and hurled whitecaps across the low shore road. Perhaps when the Still of Caledon was mine at last, I would choose my own weather, and ride free of care.

At Mother’s iron-belted door, Nurse Hester met me with her customary scowl. “She’s resting well. Say nothing to rile her, or I’ll—” She subsided, wrinkling her nose at Ebon’s sweat redolent on my leather jerkin. As always, Hester’s speech was too free. She’d nursed me from infancy, as she had Mother before, and our rank held no awe for her.

“Hold your tongue, old woman.” Then, quickly, before she could shrivel me with a fierce reply, “How is she?”

Her gnarled hand whipped round. I flinched, but she only waved a swollen knuckle under my nose. “Think you that lanky and long makes you a man, Rodrigo?” Her voice scratched like a blade on glass. “Courtesy marks a true nobleman, and grace!” With that, she hobbled to Mother’s bedside, dabbed her dozing lady’s forehead with a damp towel.

“My lady, the
boy
Rodrigo”—I reddened at Hester’s emphasis—“answers your summons.” As if in emphasis, thunder rumbled the windowpane.

Mother blinked, focused her troubled blue eyes on mine.

I bowed to Elena, Queen of Caledon. Mine was the informal bow, the house bow, scarce more than a nod, but required of me nonetheless. I blurted, “How do you feel?”

“Roddy.” A smile eased creases worn by long months of pain. “Sit.” She patted her plump featherbed.

“Madam, he’ll soil the linens; he’s come from that great stinking horse.”

“Then have them changed; it’s past time you let me sit by the window.” Mother tapped the teal coverlet. Obediently, I perched at her side. Her brow wrinkled at the sway of the bed on its ropes. Hester muttered disapproval, but retired to the scarred plank table across the bedchamber.

I asked, “Do the herbs help?”

“I’m long beyond that.” Mother’s tone was cross. “As well you know.”

“Lord Tannel said—”

“Elwyn Tannel is a fool, like all surgeons and physickers. If I didn’t chew his dreadful lozenges he’d nag me to my grave faster than this disease of wasting.” She grimaced. “Lord knows of what the tablets are made. Stable droppings and frog’s bowels, or whatever Estland vogue holds sway this season.”

I kneaded my knuckles, waiting.

She asked, “You rode with Rustin?”

“He was attending Llewelyn. Ebon and I raced almost to Whiecliff before the clouds gathered.”

“With Elryc and Pytor?”

“No!” I grimaced. “I see enough of my brothers.” If I let them, they’d follow me everywhere. Elryc, eleven, sniffed constantly, and Pytor whined more man any boy of eight should be allowed. They trailed me about the castle grounds, sometimes urging me to join their games, but often merely to see what I was about. Perhaps they even reported to some inquisitive noble of Stryx. We were none of us free from schemes, liaisons, intrigues of state.

BOOK: The Still
6.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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