Authors: Tom Deitz
He raised the sword on high, moved body, thought, and will in a certain way that pierced the Overworld, then swung down again—and tore the sky asunder.
“Zeff of the Ninth Face,” Avall roared, through the wind and lightning he had summoned and was about to release, “your fate is mine, and it starts for you tomorrow!”
And with that he aimed the sword at the top of a distant mountain. And once again he clove the sky asunder. Fire blazed up on the horizon as a tree he could not see yet knew existed exploded into fire.
A firm pressure curled around his sword arm, and fingers pried at his palm. “No, brother,” Merryn whispered. “It’s a joy and a temptation. But never forget that first and foremost it’s a weapon.”
Rann reached up to unbuckle the chinstrap. “It’s rained for three days,” he chuckled. “I hope that’ll be sufficient to forestall any fires your … impulse may have ignited.”
“Not for Zeff,” Avall snapped. “Not ever.”
A Bantam Spectra Book / August 2002
SPECTRA and the portrayal of a boxed “s” are trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Copyright © 2002 by Tom Deitz
Map by James Sinclair
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books.
Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.
… fire and war and a forest and a valley—and a fabulous hold hewn into a mountainside …
Torchlight gleamed on the smooth copper alloy that surfaced the eleven siege towers ranged in a shot-long file at the foot of what had once been a long, grassy slope—a slope now studded with neat rows of alert, though seated, warriors, each with a naked sword laid crossways across his or her mail-clad knees. That same light showed on the dozen trebuchets atop that slope, and on the dozen more of each device secreted in the woods a quarter shot behind the ridge that rimmed half that incipient battleground.
Lesser fires flared in the field before the towers, their furtive, shielded flames fixed at precise intervals along a palisade of carefully cut posts twice as tall as a man. The adversary waited behind that barrier, vigilant in the twilight—yet token resistance at best, in view of the massive hold looming at its back. Their presence there was a feint: a calculated show made solely to enforce the illusion of overwhelming opposition.
Flames smaller yet dotted the massive arcades that spangled
the upper third of the hold—Gem-Hold-Winter, to be precise—from end to end, north to south: more torches, with the odd glow-globe thrown in. The effect was to wash the upper reaches of that edifice with vertical stains of crimson, as though it burned already. Its roots were white, however: white as ashes—or white as a too-hot forge—save where a span-wide crack six spans high showed like the shadow of a blasted tree just south of its center, its edges softened by the soot of recent conflagration.
Only the mountains beyond the hold were not firelit. Yet even there the last rays of a setting sun limned scarlet edges along the snowcapped peaks of Angen’s Spine, whose bulk was already one vast black cutout against a sky purpling into night.
War could be beautiful
, thought Vorinn syn Ferr-een, as more torchlight touched that which crowned his head: the high-domed helm of the War Commander of the Kingdom of Eron, which he had worn since this campaign had begun—though without that which now encumbered its lower rim: the narrow band of the Regent’s circlet, which he had worn for less than a hand. Light glanced off Vorinn’s mail, too, and off the embroidery bordering his surcoat of Warcraft crimson that soaked up firelight like water soaked up salt.
For perhaps a dozen breaths, he studied the vista before him, then turned smartly and strode back into the forest that cloaked the heights opposite the besieged hold.
It was a forest that also cloaked an army—the Royal Army of Eron, in fact, come here to Megon Vale to quell an … impropriety wrought by an increasingly powerful and rebellious sect within a powerful and long-established clan.
Had it only been half an eighth?
Vorinn wondered, as long, strong strides carried him through a gate in his own palisade and thence past forges, armories, and clusters of four-man tents, interspersed with supply caravans and corrals well stocked with horses. There were mess tents, too, and bathing tents, and larger tents that marked the headquarters of clans, crafts, and officers of state.
In the center of the whole vast, sprawling array stood a tent only slightly larger than the rest, its canvas dyed the maroon of Clan Argen. Argen was not Vorinn’s clan, however, but that of another, less martially inclined, man who also happened, though imprisoned, to be Vorinn’s brother-in-law—and King. A cluster of smaller tents nestled against the larger one, these the province of what had been that Sovereign’s household.
—Which were now Vorinn’s to do with as he would, though he had not spent even one night there, having come to the Regency a scant four fingers past.
Which was why he had demanded—and been granted by his anxious Council—half a hand alone. He was ready now. Ready to confront the future.
They were waiting for him when he ducked inside the tent: a dozen anxious warriors, half of whom were kin. He sought the latter from reflex, notably his vigorous, middle-aged uncle, Tryffon syn Ferr, Craft-Chief of Warcraft; and the Chief of Clan Ferr itself: his aged two-father, Preedor. Lady Veen was there as well: Shift-Chief of the Royal Guard; along with a few more clan- and craft-kin—mostly cousins. For the rest, there was a scatter of men and women drawn from other clans and crafts than Ferr and War—notably Nyll of Gem and Eekkar of Myrk—for it would be unwise to make what now looked to be a long-term siege seem but a single clan’s endeavor.
Four of them were new anyway, because four of the faces Vorinn was accustomed to seeing around this table were moving—and
in a way that betokened a quick return. He tallied the absentees grimly: Rann syn Eemon-arr, the captive King’s bond-brother, who had been Regent as recently as that afternoon; the half brothers Lykkon and Bingg syn Argen-a; Myx syn Eemon-ine; and Riff syn Ioray. He did not name them what some already did, however, which was either rebel or traitor. A decision on that awaited more information.
For now, he had to confront not one but two all-but-impossible occurrences.
“Chiefs and Commanders,” he murmured in general
acknowledgment, as he claimed his accustomed place to the left of the vacant King’s Seat, pointedly ignoring the chair to its right, which had belonged to the King’s chief adviser: that same absent Rann.
“Lord Regent,” a few voices murmured back, given force by the solid rumble of Tryffon, who was an island of stability amid a sea of chaos and rumor.
Vorinn glanced around in search of a squire, expecting the ever-attentive Bingg to appear with wine and food unasked. But it wasn’t that smart, sprightly thirteen-year-old who served them, but an unfamiliar young woman in Woodcraft’s brown and orange. Still, wine was wine, and Vorinn accepted the well-cooled mug with courtesy, took two sips, then addressed the assembly at last.
“Have we found someone to give a clear account?” he asked with so much force to his voice that what he had intended to be a casual query came close to being a demand—a tendency he would have to watch. His gaze fixed first on Veen, then on Tryffon.