|Sorrow... Simon's head was whirling, and he had difficulty drawing breath. The torchlight seemed to be flickering wildly. The hillside. I heard the wagon wheels... they brought Sorrow! I remember it was like the Devil in a box... the heart of all sorrow.
"So Ineluki died. One of Fingil's lieutenants, as he breathed his last breath minutes later, swore that he had seen a great form billowing out of the tower, crimson as coals in a fire, writhing like smoke, grasping at the sky like a huge red hand..."
"Nooooo!" Simon shouted, leaping up. A hand reached up to restrain him, then another, but he shook them off as though they were cobwebs. "They brought the gray sword, the horrible sword! And then I saw him! I saw Ineluki! He was... he was... '
The room was wobbling back and forth, and staring faces—Isgrimnur, Binabik, the old man Jarnauga—loomed up before him like fish leaping in a pond. He wanted to say more, to tell them all about the hillside and the white demons, but a black curtain was being pulled before his eyes, and something was roaring in his ears....
Simon ran in dark places, and his only companions were words in the emptiness.
Mooncalf! Come to us! There is a place here prepared for you!
A boy! A mortal child! What did it see, what did it see?
Freeze his eyes and carry him down into shade. Cover him with clinging, stinging frost.
A shape loomed before him, an antler-headed shadow massive as a hill. It wore a crown of pale stones, and its eyes were red fires. Red was its hand, too, and when it clutched and lifted him the fingers burned like fiery brands. White faces flickered up all around, wavering in the darkness like candle flames.
The wheel is turning, mortal, turning, turning... Who are you to stop it?
A fly he is, a little fly...
The crimson fingers squeezed, and the fiery eyes glowed with dark and infinite humor. Simon screamed and screamed, but was answered only by pitiless laughter.
He awoke from a strange swirl of chanting voices and clutching hands to find his dream mirrored in the circle of faces that bent over him, pale in the torchlight as a fairy ring of mushrooms. Beyond the blurry faces the walls seemed lined with points of glinting light, mounting up into the darkness above.
"He's waking up," a voice said, and suddenly the glimmering points came clear as rows of pots hanging on racks. He was lying on the floor of a pantry.
"Doesn't look good," said a deep voice nervously. "I'd best get him some more water."
"I'm sure he'll be fine if you want to go back inside," the first voice replied, and Simon felt himself squinting and goggling until the face that went with it was no longer a blur. It was Marya—no, it was Miriamele, kneeling beside him; he couldn't help noticing how the hem of her dress lay crumpled beneath her on the dirty stone floor.
"No, no," the other said: Duke Isgrimnur, pulling nervously at his beard.
"What... happened?" Had he fallen and struck his head? He reached up to fell gingerly around, but the soreness was general, and there was no lump.
"Keeled over, you did, boy," Isgrimnur grunted. "Shouting about ... about things you saw. I carried you out here, fair busted a gut doing it, too."
"And then stood there staring at you lying on the floor," said Miriamele, her voice stern. "It's a good thing I was coming in." She looked up at the Rimmersman. "You fight in battles, don't you? What do you do when somebody's wounded—stare at them?"
"That's different," the Duke said defensively. "Bandage 'em if they're bleeding. Carry 'em back on their shields if they're dead."
"Well, that's clever," Miriamele snapped, but Simon saw a secret smile tug at her lips. "And if they're not bleeding or dead, I suppose you just step over them? Never mind." Isgrimnur closed his mouth and tugged at his beard.
The princess continued to wipe Simon's forehead with her dampened handkerchief. He couldn't imagine what good it was doing, but for the moment he was content to just he back and be tended to. He knew that soon enough he would have to explain himself to somebody.
"I... I knew I recognized you, boy." Isgrimnur said at last. "You were the lad at Saint Hoderund's, am I right? And that troll... I thought I saw..."
The pantry door opened wider. "Ah! Simon! I hope you are feeling more of yourself now."
"Binabik," Simon said, straining to sit up. Miriamele gently but firmly leaned on his chest, forcing him back down. "I did see it, I did! That was what I couldn't remember! The hillside, and the fire, and... and..."
"I know, friend Simon, I was understanding many things when you stood up—not all things, however. There is still much unexplained in this fiddle."
"They must think I'm a madman," Simon groaned, pushing the princess' hand away, but nevertheless enjoying the moment of contact. What was she thinking? Now she was looking at him like a grown girl looked at a troublesome younger brother. Damn girls and women both!
"No, Simon," Binabik said, crouching down beside Miriamele to look him over carefully. "I have been telling many stories, our adventuring together not least among them. Jarnauga has confirmed much that my master was hinting at. He also received one of Morgenes' last messages. No, you are not thought mad, although I think still many are doubting the real danger. Baron Devasalles especially, I am thinking."
"Ummm," Isgrimnur scuffed a boot on the floor. "If the lad's hale, I think I'd better go back in. Simon, was it? Yes, well... you and I, we'll talk more." The duke maneuvered his considerable bulk out of the narrow pantry and clumped off down the hall.
"And I will be going in, too," Miriamele said, briskly chasing the worst of the dust from her dress. "There are things that should not be decided before I have been heard, whatever my uncle thinks."
Simon wanted to thank her, but could think of nothing to say while lying on his back that would not make him feel more ridiculous than he presently did. By the time he decided to throw over his pride, the princess had gone in a swirl of silks.
"And if you are recovered to sufficiency, Simon," Binabik said, extending a small, blunt hand, "then there are things we must hear in the council hall, for I am thinking Naglimund has never seen a Read quite the like of this one."
"First of all, young one," Jarnauga said, "while I believe all that you have told us, you must know that it was not Ineluki you saw on that hillside." The fires had burned down to dreaming coals, but not a soul had left the hall. "If you had seen the Storm King, in the form he must now wear, it would have left you a blasted, mindless shell lying beside the Anger Stones. No, what you saw—beside the pale Norns and Elias and his liegemen—was one of the Red Hand. Even so, it seems miraculous to me that you came away from such a night-vision whole in heart and mind."
"But... but..." As he began to remember what the old man had been saying just before the wall of forgetfulness had crumbled, spilling the memories of that horrible night—Stoning Night, the doctor had called it—Simon was again puzzled and confused. "But I thought you said Ineluki and his... Red Hand... were dead?"
"Dead, yes; their earthly forms burnt away utterly in the last scorching moments. But something survived: there was someone or something that was able to recreate the sword Sorrow. Somehow—and it did not need your experience to tell me, for this is indeed why the League of the Book was made—Ineluki and his Red Hand survived: as living dreams or thoughts, perhaps, shades held together only by hate, and by the terrible runes of Ineluki's last casting. But somehow the darkness that was Ineluki's mind at the very ending did not die.
"King Ealhstan Fiskeme came three centuries later to the Hayholt, the castle that stood upon the bones of Asu'a. Ealhstan was wise, and a seeker after knowledge, and he found things in the ruins beneath the Hayholt that made him aware that Ineluki had not been completely unmade. He formed the League of which I am a member—and we are dwindling fast now, with the loss of Morgenes and Ooqequk—so that old knowledge would not be lost. Not only knowledge of the Sithi's dark lord, but other things, too, for those were evil times in the north of Osten Ard. Over the years it was discovered, or rather guessed at, that somehow Ineluki, or his spirit or shade or living will, had become manifest again among the only ones who might welcome him."
"The Norns!" Binabik said, as if suddenly a bank of fog had been swept away before him.
"The Norns," Jaraauga agreed. "I doubt that at first even the White Foxes knew what he had become, but soon his influence in Sturmrspeik was doubtless too great for anyone to say him nay. His Red Hand, too, has come back with him, although in no form seen before on this earth."
"And we had thought that the Loken worshiped by the Black Rimmersmen was only our own fire god, from heathen days," said Isgrimnur, wondering. "If I had known how far they had strayed from the path of light..." He brushed his fingers against the Tree that hung upon his neck. "Usires!" he breathed softly.
Prince Josua, who had been listening silently for a long while, leaned forward. "Buy why, if it is indeed this demon out of the past who is our truest enemy, does he not show himself? Why does he play at cat's-paw with my brother Elias?"
"Now we are coming to the place where my long years of study atop Tungoldyr cannot be helpful," Jarnauga shrugged. "I watched, and I listened, and I watched, for that was what I was there to do—but what goes on in the mind of such as the Storm King is more than I can guess at."
Ethelferth of Tinsett stood and cleared his throat. Josua nodded for him to speak.
"If all this is true... and my head is a-swimming with it all, I tell you... then maybe... I can guess at the last." He looked around, as though expecting to be shouted down for his presumptuousness, but seeing in the faces around him only worry and confusion, he cleared his throat again and went on. "The Rimmersman," he tilted his head toward old Jarnauga, "said that it was our own Ealhstan Fiskeme who was first a-noticing that this Storm King had come back. That was three hundred years after Fingil took the Hayholt—or whatever was its name then. It's been nigh two hundred year since. It sounds to me as though this... demon, I suppose, has taken a long time to get strong again.
"Now," he continued, "we all know, we men that've held land in the midst of greedy neighbors," he snuck a sly look over at Ordmaer, but the fat baron had gone quite pale some time before, and seemed insensible to innuendo, "that the best way to keep yourself safe, and purchase yourself time to grow strong, is to have your neighbors fight each other. Seems to me that's what's going on here. This Rimmersgard demon gives Elias a present, then gets him a-fighting with his barons and dukes and such." Ethelferth looked around, hitched his tunic and sat down.
"It's not a 'Rimmersgard demon,'" Einskaldir growled. "We're shriven Aedonite men."
Josua ignored the northerner's comment. "There is truth to what you say. Lord Ethelferth, but I think those who know Elias will agree that he also has designs of his own."
"He didn't need any Sithi demon to steal my land," Isgrimnur said bitterly.
"Nevertheless," Josua continued, "I find Jarnauga, and Binabik of Yiqanuc... and young Simon, who was Doctor Morgenes' apprentice... all too uncomfortably trustworthy. I wish I could say I did not believe these tales, I am not sure yet what I believe, but neither can I discount them." He turned to Jarnauga again, who was prodding at the nearest fire with an iron poker. "If these dire warnings you bring are true, then tell me one thing: what does Ineluki want?"
The old man stared into the fire, then poked it again vigorously. "As I said. Prince Josua, my task was to be the League's eyes. Both Morgenes' and young Binabik's master knew more than I of what might lurk in the mind of the Master of Stormspike." He raised a hand as if to ward off more questions. "If I had to guess, it would be to say this: think of the hatred that kept Ineluki alive in the void, that brought him back from the fires of his own death..."
"What Ineluki wants then," Josua's voice fell heavily in the dark, breathing hall, "is revenge?"
Jarnauga only stared into the embers.
"There is much to think on," the master of Naglimund said, "and no decisions to be lightly made." He stood up, tall and pale, slender face a mask before his hidden thoughts. "We shall return here tomorrow sunset." He went out, with a gray-cloaked guard on either side.
In the hall men turned to look at each other, then rose, clustering in small silent groups. Simon saw Miriamele, who had never had her chance to speak, go out between Einskaldir and the limping Duke Isgrimnur.
"Come, Simon," Binabik said, tugging at his sleeve. "I think I will be letting Qantaqa run, now the rains have gentled some. Of such things we must take advantage. At this point I have still not been robbed of my liking for thinking as I walk with wind in my face... and there is much that I should be thinking."
"Binabik," Simon said at last, the shocking wearying day sitting heavily upon him. "Do you remember the dream I had... we all had... in Geloe's house? Stormspike... and that book?"
"Yes," said the little man gravely. "That is one of the things I am worrying with. The words, the words you saw, they catch at me. I am fearing there is a dreadfully important riddle in them."
"Du... Du Swar..." Simon struggled with his muddled memories. "Du..."
"Du Svardenvyrd, it was," Binabik sighed. "The Weird of the Swords.
The hot air beat painfully on Pryrates' hairless and unprotected face, but he would allow no discomfort to show on his features. As he strode across the foundry floor, robes flapping, he was gratified to see the workmen, themselves masked and heavily cloaked, stare and flinch at his passing. Buoyant in the pulsing forge light, he chuckled as he briefly fancied himself an arch-demon striding the tiles of Hell, petty underdevils scattering before him.
A moment later the mood fell away, and he scowled. Something had happened to that little wretch of a wizard's boy—Pryrates knew it. He had felt it as clearly as if someone had jabbed him with some sharp thing. There was some strange, tenuous bond still between them from Stoning Night; it bit at him, and gnawed at his concentration. That night's business had been too important, too dangerous to bear any kind of interference. Now the boy was thinking of that night again, probably telling all he knew to Lluth, or Josua, or someone. Something serious needed to be done about that nasty, prying boy.
He stopped before the great crucible and drew himself up, arms folded upon his chest. He stood that way for no little while, already angry, growing angrier at the wait. At last one of the foundrymen hurried up and clumsily bent a thick-breeched knee before him.
"How can we serve you. Master Pryrates?" the man said, voice muffled by the damp cloth wrapped across his lower face.
The priest stared silently long enough to change the man's partially-revealed expression from discomfort to real fear.
"Where is your overseer?" he hissed.
"There, Father." The man pointed to one of the dark openings in the foundry-cavern wall. "One of the crank wheels be gone on the winch... your Eminence."
Which was gratuitous, since he was still officially no more than a priest, but the sound of it was not unharmonious.
"Well... ?" Pryrates asked. The man did not respond, and Pryrates kicked him hard on his leather-clad shin. "Get him, then!" he shrilled.
With a head-wagging bow the man limped off, moving like a toddling child in the padded clothes. Pryrates was aware of the beads of sweat forming on his brow, and of the inmace-spewed air that seemed to bake his lungs from the inside, but nevertheless a brief grin stretched his spare features. He had felt worse things: God... or Whoever... knew he had faced worse.
At last the overseer came, huge and deliberate. His height, when he finally shambled to a halt and stood looming over Pryrates, was almost enough in itself to be regarded as an insult.
"I suppose you know why I've come?" the priest said, black eyes glittering, mouth taut with displeasure.
"About the engines," the other replied, voice quiet but childishly petulant.
"Yes about the siege engines!" Pryrates snapped. 'Take off that damned mask, Inch, so I can see you when I speak to you."
The overseer reached up a bristle-haired paw and peeled back the cloth. His ruined face, rippled with burn scars around the empty right eye socket, reinforced the priest's sensation that he stood in one of the anterooms of the Great Inferno.
"The engines are not finished," Inch said stubbornly. "Lost three men when the big one collapsed Drorsday-last. Slow going."
"I know they're not finished. Get more men. Aedon knows there are enough slagging about the Hayholt. We'll put some of the nobles to work, let them get a few blisters on their fine hands. But the king wants them finished. Now. He's going into the field in ten days. Ten days, damn you!"
Inch's one eyebrow slowly rose, like a drawbridge. "Naglimund. He's going to Naglimund, isn't he?" There was a hungry light in his eye.
"That's not for such as you to worry about, you scarred ape," Pryrates said contemptuously. "Just have them finished! You know why you were given this loftier place—but we can take it back... ."
Pryrates could feel Inch's stare on him as he walked away, could feel the man's stonelike presence in the smoky, nickering light. He wondered again whether it had been wise to let the brute live, and if not, whether he should rectify the error.
The priest had reached one of the broad stairheads, with hallways leading left and right, and the next flight of steps ahead, when a dark figure abruptly slid from the shadows.
The priest, whose nerves were such that he might not have cried out if struck with an axe, nevertheless felt his heart quicken.
"Your majesty," he said evenly.
Elias, in unintended mockery of the foundrymen below, wore his black cloak-hood pulled close around his face. He went that way always these days, at least when he left his chambers—just as he always wore the scabbarded sword. The gaining of that blade had brought the king power such as few mortals had ever had, but it had not come without a price. The red priest was wise enough to know that the reckoning of such bargains was a very subtle science.
"I... I cannot sleep, Pryrates."
"Understandable, my king. There are many burdens on your shoulders."
"You help me... with many. Have you been seeing to the siege engines?"
Pryrates nodded, then realized the hooded Elias might not see it in the dark stairwell. "Yes, sire. I would like to roast Inch, that pig of an overseer, over one of his own fires. But we will have them, sire, somehow."
The king was silent for a long while, stroking the hilt of the sword. "Naglimund must be crushed," Elias said at last. "Josua defies me."
"He is no longer your brother, sire, he is only your enemy," Pryrates said.
"No, no..." Elias said slowly, thinking deeply. "He is my brother. That is why he cannot be allowed to defy me. That seems obvious to me. Is it not obvious, Pryrates?"
"Of course, your Majesty."
The king pulled his cloak tighter around him, as though to keep out a cold wind, but the air that billowed up from below was thick with the heat of the forges.
"Have you found my daughter yet, Pryrates?" Elias asked suddenly, looking up. The priest could faintly see the eye-gleam and shadow of the king's face in the cavern of his hood.
"As I told you, sire, if she is not gone to Nabban, to her mother's family there—and our spies do not think so—then she is at Naglimund with Josua."
"Miriamele." The exhaled name drifted down the stone stairwell. "I must have her back. I must!" The king extended an open hand, slowly closing it into a fist before him. "She is the one piece of good flesh I shall save from the broken shell of my brother's house. The rest I shall tread into dust."
"You have the strength now, my king," Pryrates said. "And you have powerful friends."
"Yes." The High King nodded slowly. "Yes, that is true. And what of the huntsman Ingen Jegger? He has not found my daughter, but neither has he returned. Where is he?"
"He still hunts the wizard's boy, Majesty. It has become something of a... grudge," Pryrates waved his hand, as though trying to banish the uncomfortable memory of the Black Rimmersman.
"A great deal of effort, it seems to me, has been spent trying to find this boy who you say knows a few of our secrets." The king frowned and spoke harshly. "I wish as much trouble had been expended on my own flesh and blood. I am not pleased." For a moment his shadowed eyes glinted angrily. He turned to go, then stopped.
"Pryrates?" The king's voice had changed again.
"Do you think I shall sleep better... when Naghmund is thrown down, and I have my daughter back?"
"I am sure, my king."
"Good. I shall enjoy it even more, knowing that."
Elias slipped away, up the shadowed corridor. Pryrates did not move, but listened as the king's retreating footsteps blended with the hammers of Erkynland, whose clangor sounded monotonously in the deeps below.
VORZHEVA was angry. The brush trembled in her hand, and the red line trailed onto her chin.
"See what I have done!" she said, irritation thickening her heavy Thrithings accent. "You are cruel to rush me." She blotted her mouth with a kerchief and began again.
"By the Aedon, woman, there are more important matters afoot than your lip-painting." Josua stood up and resumed his pacing.
"Do not speak so to me, sir! And do not walk like that behind me..." she waved her hand, searching for words, "... to and fro, to and fro. If you must throw me out into the corridor like a camp follower, at least I will first make myself ready."
The prince picked up a fire iron, then stooped to poke at the coals. "You are not being 'thrown into the corridor,' my lady."
"If I am your lady," Vorzheva scowled, "then why may I not stay? You are ashamed of me."
"Because we will speak of things that are not your concern. If you have not noticed, we are preparing for war, I'm sorry if that inconveniences you." He grunted and stood, laying the poker carefully back against the hearth. "Go speak with the other ladies. Be glad you do not have to carry my burdens."