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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lord of the Isles / David Drake ; edited by David G. Hartwell. —
ISBN 0-312-85396-3 (acid-free paper)
I. Hartwell, David G. II. Title.
First Edition: August 1997
Printed in the United States of America
David Drake has long been one of the foremost names in fantasy and science fiction adventure. For years a majority of his work has been in the popular military SF genre, but his origins lie in fantasy. He is widely respected for the detailed accuracy of his fiction: "He does homework intelligently; his books are marked by factual research, and then by insight into what those facts add up to," says The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
Now, in Lord of the Isles, Drake returns to fantasy with a towering and complex epic of heroic adventure filled with passion and magic, set in an extraordinary and colorful world where the elemental forces that empower magic are rising to a thousand-year peak.
"David Drake's work here is original, engrossing, and instantly credible. After all the hackneyed, repetitive fantasy I've read recently, Lord of the Isles seems quite wonderful."—Stephen R. Donaldson
To Dan Breen
My first reader, and a striking example of how different very similar people can be.
Sandra Miesel helped a great deal with the microstructure. Tom Doherty and Harriet McDougal made equally important suggestions regarding the macrostructure at the beginning and the end of the process respectively.
In a different fashion, the fact that I didn't have to revert to composing in longhand in the middle of the novel is due to the efforts of Mark L. Van Name and Allyn Vogel. People who know computers as intimately as Mark and Allyn do find my needs peculiar, but they expended enormous effort to satisfy me.
A NOTE TO THE READER
I've stolen all the verse quoted within this novel from Greek and Latin poets. Celondre is Horace, whose Odes I carried through Basic Training and into Vietnam. Rigal is Homer, and the passage quoted—to me, the most moving passage in literature—is from the Iliad. Etter is Hildebert of Lavardin; there's more to Medieval Latin than hymns and drinking songs, though I'll admit I found Hildebert a pleasant surprise.
No translation does justice to its original. These—mine—don't purport to do so.
The general religion of the Isles is based on Sumerian beliefs (and to a lesser degree, Sumerian practice). I have very roughly paraphrased the funeral service described herein from verses to the Goddess Inanna.
I think I should mention one thing more. The magical phrases (voces mysticae) quoted throughout the novel are real. I don't mean that they really summon magical powers; personally I don't believe that they do. But very many men and women did believe in the power of these words and used them in all seriousness to work for good or ill.
Individuals can make their own decisions on the matter, but I didn't pronounce any of the voces mysticae while I was writing Lord of the Isles.
Chatham County, NC
Tenoctris the Wizard paused on the spiral stairs to catch her breath and twitch a strand of gray hair back behind her ear. The crowd in the courtyard below cheered wildly: the Duke of Yole and his advisors must have come out of the palace to tell his people of the victory that rumor had already proclaimed.
Six months ago Tenoctris would have been one of the inner circle standing with the duke on the palace steps. The Hooded One had replaced her in Duke Tedry's favor.
Tenoctris sighed and resumed her climb. If she were still Yole's court wizard, the people wouldn't have a victory to cheer. Not a victory like this one, at any rate.
Tenoctris wasn't a great wizard in the practical sense. She had a scholar's mind and a jeweler's soul; large-scale works were for other folk. She saw and understood the forces which had to be shifted; she simply didn't have the psychic strength to manipulate them.
And perhaps she saw and understood too well. Tenoctris couldn't possibly have struck the blow that the Hooded One had delivered; but she realized that actions of that magnitude must have consequences beyond those the wizard intended. Consequences that even Tenoctris couldn't predict.
A slit window facing the harbor lighted the next turn of the staircase. Tenoctris paused again, though the top of the tower was only one further spiral above her. She wasn't a young woman, and she'd never been an athlete.
It was a bright, brilliant day. When the sun rose higher the courtyard would be a shimmering inferno, but for now the high walls of the citadel shadowed the ground and cooled the air with the mass of their chill stones.
Duke Tedry had come outside to address his people because the audience hall within the palace wasn't nearly large enough for the crowd this morning. Everyone in the city below the walls had tried to squeeze into the citadel, and many of the folk from the countryside had come hotfoot as well when the story winged its way across the island.
Rumor said Duke Tedry had defeated—had utterly destroyed—King Carus and the royal fleet. That much was true. King Carus—Carus who had crushed a dozen usurpers; Carus, the greatest King of the Isles since King Lorcan, the founder of the line—was drowned and all his fleet drowned with him. The other part, the rumor that in a few months the Duke of Yole would have consolidated his position as the new King of the Isles...that was another matter.
Tenoctris opened the trapdoor and climbed out onto the small platform she used for observing the courses of the stars. She could see the many miles to the horizon in all directions.
Tenoctris was perspiring, more from nervous tension than as a result of the climb. She could feel the powers building, focused now on Yole itself. She didn't know what was going to happen, but the feeling boded a cataclysm as surely as the hair rising on the back of one's neck gives an instant's warning of a lightning bolt.
Below Tenoctris the hats and caps and bonnets of the citizenry of Yole solidly filled the courtyard. Duke Tedry stood in silvered armor in the deep doorway to the palace proper. Behind him were five of his closest advisors; and below the duke, seated in an ornate black throne that servants had carried from the audience hall to the base of the steps, was the hooded figure of Yole's court wizard.
"My people!" cried the duke, a big man with a voice to match. Besides his natural speaking ability, three arches of expanding size framed the doorway and formed a megaphone to amplify his words. "This is the greatest day in your lives and in the history of Yole!"
The cheers of the crowd echoed within the stone walls, frightening seagulls from the battlements. The birds wheeled, crying a raucous accompaniment to the human noise.
Tenoctris shook her head. A week ago the people of Yole would have jeered their duke except for fear of the soldiers quartered throughout the city. At least the seagulls held to a consistent opinion.
Duke Tedry wasn't a popular ruler, because his taxes and fines squeezed all classes of society to the edge of poverty—and sometimes beyond. The warships drawn up on stone ramps around the harbor were costly to build and even more costly to crew and maintain. The professional soldiers who would fight aboard the triremes at sea and in armored regiments on land were a greater expense still...but those soldiers and the well-paid oarsmen guaranteed the duke would stay in power for as long as there was something left on Yole to tax for their pay.
"My might has overwhelmed Carus, the so-called King of the Isles, with all his ships and men!" the duke said. "Carus and his forces came to face me. They perished every one beyond the sight of land! My power destroyed them before they could strike a blow!"
The crowd cheered again. Tenoctris wondered if any of them understood what the duke was saying. Duke Tedry himself didn't—of that Tenoctris was certain. As for the Hooded One...
The Hooded One refused to give his name, but he'd claimed that the chair he brought to Yole with him was the Throne of Malkar. One who sat on the Throne of Malkar became Malkar, became the essence of the black power that was the equal and opposite of the sun.
Tenoctris knew the Hooded One's throne was a replica, built according to descriptions given by the great magicians of ancient times who claimed to have seen or even sat in it. The original was rumored to be older than mankind; older even than life.
King Lorcan had ended ages of chaos when he and a wizard of a prehuman race had hidden the Throne of Malkar forever. The Hooded One was only a wizard himself; but he was a wizard whose power Tenoctris found amazing, even at this time when the forces available for an adept to manipulate were so much greater than they had been for a thousand years.
"Tomorrow my fleet will sweep westward, bringing every island under my control!" Duke Tedry said. "All the way to Carcosa, the city that for centuries has usurped Yole's rightful place as home to the King of the Isles!"
The people cheered. They were cheering their throats raw.
The Hooded One had used his violet wand to stir the mud of a pool in one of the gardens here in Yole, working sympathetic magic. His spell had collapsed the sea bottom beneath the fleet which bore King Carus across the Inner Sea in response to the Duke of Yole's threats and pretensions. Tenoctris had watched the incantation from her high platform as she now watched the duke's announcement of his success.
The Hooded One focused forces that Tenoctris saw as planes of cleavage within the cosmos; to laymen they were shimmering veils of blue light. The hues were subtly different, proving to Tenoctris that the wizard who supplanted her wasn't as completely in control of his magic as he claimed; but the remarkable strength of the forces he sent cascading toward his chosen target nonetheless took her breath away. If she hadn't seen it herself, she would never have believed that a wizard of such ability could exist.
"The wealth which flowed into Carcosa will come now to Yole!" the duke said. "All my people will dress in silk and eat from golden dishes!"
Tenoctris didn't mind being replaced as court wizard. The duke kept her on, perhaps out of sheer forgetfulness that she existed. Her needs were simple: enough food to keep her spare body alive, and the use of Yole's ancient library, which interested no one else in the palace anyway. She didn't care whether Carus was king or Tedry was king, and she would have done what little she could to prevent royal forces from crushing the rebellious Duke of Yole.
But though a victory for King Carus would have disrupted Yole and caused the deaths of many, Tenoctris knew that the Hooded One's success was a much greater danger than ever flame and swords could be. A wizard who used powers beyond human comprehension could not have the judgment to use those powers safely.
"When I was the Duke of Yole I led thousands," Duke Tedry said. "Now that I'm King of the Isles, I'll have a hundred thousand under my banner and the seas will be black with my triremes!"
The crowd cheered wildly. Did none of them feel the planes of force shifting, bearing now on Yole rather than on some stretch of empty seabed? The Hooded One's fingers twitched slightly on the arm of his throne, but even he showed no real sign of understanding the climax of the events he'd put in motion.
Tenoctris understood only too well. She felt the tower shiver beneath her and turned her head. An earthshock had raised wavelets like a forest of spearpoints from the harbor's surface. Neither the duke nor those listening to him in the courtyard appeared to have noticed.
"I am the future!" Duke Tedry cried, raising his armored fist. "All will follow where I lead!"
The second shock hit Yole like a giant hammer. Red tiles rained from roofs in the town below the citadel. A dozen buildings collapsed in mushrooms of dust, shot through with winking shards of window glass.
Tenoctris knelt on the platform and used her plain wooden athame to sketch symbols on the weathered boards. She could do nothing to save Yole. She didn't expect she'd be able to save herself either, but at such a nexus of force there was a chance for even a wizard of her limited practical abilities.
Duke Tedry drew his sword and waved it in defiance at the empty air. He shouted, but that sound and the shouts of the thousands packing the citadel's courtyard were lost in the rumble of the earth.
"Zoapher ton thallassosemon," Tenoctris said, speaking the words of her incantation calmly, as she did all things. She couldn't hear her own voice, but the effect of the syllables would be the same nonetheless.
The Hooded One jumped up in wild amazement, realizing at last the results of his own magic. His false throne split in half, then crumbled to a pile of black sand rippling with the ground shocks and spreading across the wizard's ankles.
The tower lurched as the earth—the citadel, the town, the whole island of Yole—sank fifty feet straight down. Heavy slates slid from the north roof of the palace, shattering on the pavement to fill the passage between the palace and the citadel's outer wall.
Water from the harbor poured through the streets. The sea rose in white foam all around the horizon, poising for the tidal surge that would carry it across the island. The ground dropped again, as inexorably as a rock sinks through hot tar.
"Eulamoe ulamoe lamoeu," Tenoctris said as the earth and sea roared in raging triumph. As her lips formed each syllable her athame touched the corresponding symbol that she'd drawn on the platform. "Amoeul moeula oeulam..."
Yole continued to sink with a smooth inevitability. The tower on which Tenoctris knelt wavered but didn't topple. The sea rushed from all sides with a thunder greater than that of the earthshocks that preceded it. Waves broke on the walls of the citadel, then overwhelmed the stone in spray turned to rainbows by the brilliant sunshine.
"Amuekarptir erchonsoi razaabua," Tenoctris said. She no longer felt the tension that had gripped her earlier in the morning. The forces which caused her psychic stress were being released in the material plane. The walls partitioning the cosmos had broken; the pressure faded even as it swept all Yole into ruin.
The sea rolled over what had been dry land, bringing life-forms with it. Only a few yards beneath her platform's coping, Tenoctris saw long cone-toothed jaws seize the body of a drowning man and twist away through the foaming water.
The long fin on the killer's back rippled from side to side in a motion like that of a snake swimming. The creature was a seawolf, one of a species of predatory lizards which had returned to the water. They were rare everywhere in the Isles and almost unknown here in the eastern reaches. For the most part the seawolves preyed on fish in the open waters, but occasionally they returned to land to snatch unwary victims from the shore.
The seawolves would feast well today.
"Bephurorbeth!" Tenoctris concluded.
Though the incantation's final word was inaudible in the thunderous clamor, the cosmos itself vibrated in tune with the shifting powers. Forces met from a thousand angles in perfect balance around Tenoctris. The tower sank beneath the curling waves, but the platform and Tenoctris upon it separated from the remainder of the crumbling structure.
She couldn't save Yole. Perhaps she could save herself.
Bodies and pieces of wood bobbed amid the foam. Tentacles dragged under a window sash, then released it as inedible and fastened on the gray-headed man who had been in charge of tax collection for the Duke of Yole. A huge ammonite rose, its body concealed within a curled shell with all the shimmering colors of a fire opal. Tenoctris stared into one of the great slit-pupiled eyes behind the forest of twenty or more tentacles.
The ammonite sank again, carrying the tax collector with it. Its tentacles were sliding the body toward the parrot's beak in the center of the ammonite's head.
Searing blue light surrounded Tenoctris. The stars spun above her for a thousand years, wiping her memory the way pumice grinds a manuscript clean for another hand to write upon the surface.
Unimaginably far from her in time and space, ocean roiled above the fresh grave of Yole.