Old Bishop Anodis, who had been watching the new arrival with the keen, fierce gaze of a gull confronting a newcomer to his favorite scavenging ground, arose. "I must say, and I feel no shame in admitting it, that I have thought very little of this... this Raed. Elias has perhaps made mistakes, but His Holiness the Lector Ranessin has offered to mediate, to try and find a way to bring peace between Aedonites, including, of course, their honorable pagan allies," he nodded perfunctorily in the direction of Gwythinn and his men, "but all I have heard is talk of war, and the spilling of Aedonite blood in revenge for petty insults." "Petty insults?!" Isgrimnur fumed. "You call the theft of my duchy a petty insult, Bishop? Let you come home to find your church a... a damned Hyrka stable, or a nest of trolls, and see if you find it a 'petty insult'!" "Nest of trolls?!" said Binabik, rising. "And this only proves my point," Anodis snapped, wielding the Tree in his knotted hand as though it were a knife to hold off bandits. "See, you shout at a churchman when he seeks to correct your foolish ways." He drew himself up. "And now," he waved the Tree at Jarnauga, "now this... this... bearded hermit comes to tell tales of witches and demons, and drive a wedge larger still between the only sons of the High King! Who does that benefit, eh? Who does this Jarnauga serve, eh?" Red and shaking, the bishop collapsed into his chair, taking the flagon of water his acolyte brought and drinking thirstily. Simon reached up and pulled on Binabik's arm until his friend sat down. "I am still wanting an explanation for 'nest of trolls,' " he growled under his breath, but at Simon's frown he pursed his lips and was silent. Prince Josua sat staring for some time at Jarnauga, who bore the prince's eye as calmly as a cat. "I have heard of the League of the Scroll," Josua said at last. "It was not my understanding that its adherents tried to influence the ways of rulers and states." "I have not heard of this so-called League," Devasalles said, "and I think it is time this strange old man told us who sends him, and what it is that endangers us—if it is not the High King as many here seem to think it is." "For once I agree with the Nabbanman," Gwythinn of Hernystir called out. "Let Jarnauga tell us all, that we may decide whether to believe him or drive him from the hall." In the highest chair Prince Josua nodded. The old Rimmersman looked around at the expectant features, then raised his hands in a strange gesture, touching fingers to thumbs as though to hold a slender thread before his eyes. "Good," he said. "Good. Thus we are on the first steps of the road, the only road that might possibly lead us out of the mountain's black shadow." He spread his arms, as though drawing the invisible thread out to great length, then opened his hands wide. "The story of the League is only a small story," he began, "but it fits inside a larger story." Again he walked to the door, which a page had closed to keep the warmth in the high-raftered hall. Jarnauga touched the heavy frame. "We can close this door, but that does not make the snow and hail go away. In the same manner, you can call me mad—that will not make he who menaces you go away, either. He has waited five centuries to take back what he feels is his, and his hand is colder and stronger than any of you can understand. His is the larger story, inside which the tale of the League is nestled like an old arrowhead stuck in a great tree, over which the bark has grown thick until the arrow itself is hidden. "The winter that is upon us now, the winter that has dethroned summer from its rightful place, is his. It is the symbol of his power as he reaches out and begins to shape things to his will." Jarnauga stared fiercely, and for a stretching moment there was no sound but the wind's lonely singing beyond the walls. "Who?" Josua asked at last. "What is the name of this thing, old man?" "I thought you might know. Prince," Jarnauga replied. "You are a man who has learned many things. "Your enemy... our enemy... died five hundred years ago; the place where his first life ended lies beneath the foundations of the castle where your life began. He is Ineluki... the Storm King,"
33 From the Ashes of Asu'a ''STORIES within stories," Jarnauga intoned, shucking off his wolf-skin cloak. The firelight revealed the twining snakes that banded the skin of his long arms, occasioning fresh whispers. "I cannot tell you the story of the League of the Scroll without you first understanding the fall of Asu'a. The end of King Eahlstan Fiskeme, he who constructed the League as a wall against darkness, cannot be separated from the end of Ineluki, whose darkness is now upon us. Thus, the stories are woven together, one strand upon the other. If you pull a single thread away it is just that—a single thread. I defy any man to read a tapestry from a solitary strand." As he spoke Jarnauga ran slender fingers through his knotted beard, smoothing it and arranging its great length as though it were a kind of tapestry itself, and might lend some sense to his story. "Long before men came to Osten Ard," he said, "the Sithi were here. There is no man or woman who knows when they came, but they did, traveling out of the east, out of the rising sun, until they settled at last in this land. "In Erkynland, on the site where the Hayholt now stands, they made their greatest work of hands, the castle Asu'a. They delved deep into the earth, laying its foundations into the very bones of Osten Ard, then built walls of ivory and pearl and opal stretching up higher than the trees, and towers that stood against the sky like the masts of ships, towers from which all of Osten Ard could be seen, and from which the sharp-eyed Sithi could watch the great ocean bounding the western shore. "For countless years they lived alone in Osten Ard, building their fragile cities on the mountain slopes and in the deeps of the forest, delicate hill-cities like icy flowers, and forest settlements like earth-bound boats with many sails. But Asu'a was the greatest, and the long-lived kings of the Sithi ruled there. "When men first came, it was as simple herders and fishermen, wandering over some long-vanished land bridge in the northern wastes, fleeing some fearful thing behind them in the west, perhaps, or merely looking for new grazing lands. The Sithi paid them no more mind than they did the deer or the wild cattle, even when the swift generations multiplied, and Man began to build himself stone cities, and forge bronze tools and weapons. As long as they did not take what was the Sithi's, and stayed on the lands the Eri-king had allowed them, there was peace between the peoples. "Even the empire of Nabban in the south, glorious in its arts and its arms, that put all mortal men of Osten Ard beneath its long shadow, caused no concern to the Sithi, or their king, lyu'unigato." Here Jarnauga looked about for something to drink, and as a page filled a flagon for him the listeners exchanged looks and puzzled murmurs. "Doctor Morgenes told me about this," Simon whispered to Binabik. The troll smiled and nodded, but appeared distracted by thoughts of his own. "There is no need, I'm sure," Jarnauga resumed, his voice raised to recapture the attention of the muttering throng, "to speak about the changes that came with the first Rimmersmen. There will be old wounds enough that shall be opened without dwelling on what happened when they found their way across the water, out of the west. "But what must be spoken of is the march of King Fingil down out of the north, and the fall of Asu'a. Five long centuries have covered much of the story with the debris of time and ignorance, but when Eahlstan the Fisher King chartered our League two hundred years ago, it was to find and preserve such knowledge. Thus, there are things I will now tell you that most of you have never heard. "At the Battle of the Knock, and Ach Samrath Plain, and in the Utanwash—at one place and another Fingil and his armies triumphed, and drew the noose tight around Asu'a. The Sithi lost their last human allies at the Summerfield, Ach Samrath, and with the Hernystiri routed there were none among the Sithi who could stand against northern iron." "Routed by treachery!" said Prince Gwythinn, red-faced and trembling. "Naught but treachery could drive Sinnach from the field—the corruption of the Thrithings-men, stabbing the Heraystiri in the back in hopes of some crumbs from Fingil's bloody table!" "Gwythinn!" Josua barked. "You have heard Jarnauga: these are old wounds. There is not even a Thrithings-man present. Would you leap across the table and strike Duke Isgrimnur, since he is a Rimmersman?" "Let him try," growled Einskaldir. Gwythinn shook his head, abashed. "You are right, Josua. Jarnauga, my apologies." The old man nodded, and Lluth's son turned to Isgrimnur. "And of course, good Duke, we are here the thickest of allies." "No offense was taken, young sir," Isgrimnur smiled, but beside him Einskaldir caught Gwythinn's eyes and two stared hard at each other. "So it was," Jarnauga continued, as if there had been no interruption, "that in Asu'a, even though its walls were bound with old and powerful magics, home and heart of the Sithi race though it was, still there was a sense that things were at their ending, that the upstart mortals would throw down the house of their elders, and that the Sithi would pass from Osten Ard forever. "lyu'unigato the king dressed himself all in mourning white, and with his queen Amerasu spent the long days of Fingil's siege—which quickly became months, then years, for even cold steel could not throw down the work of the Sithi overnight—listening to melancholy music, and the poetry of the Sithi's brighter days in Osten Ard. From the outside, in the camps of the besieging northerners, Asu'a still seemed a place of great power, wrapped tight in glamour and sorceries... but inside the gleaming husk the heart was rotting away. "There was one among the Sithi, though, who wished it otherwise, and was not content to spend his last days keening over lost peace and ravaged innocence. He was lyu'unigato's son, and his name was... Ineluki." Without saying a word, but not without a good deal of noise, Bishop Anodis was gathering his things together. He waved his hand for his young acolyte, who helped him to his feet. "Your pardon, Jarnauga," Josua said. "Bishop Anodis, why are you leaving us? As you can hear, there are dreadful things moving against us. We look for your wisdom and the strength of Mother Church to guide us." Anodis looked up crossly. "And I should sit here, in the midst of a war council I never approved of, and listen to this... this wild man speaking the names of heathen demons? Look at you all—hanging on his words as though they were every one from the Book of the Aedon." "Those of whom I speak were born long before your holy book, Bishop," said Jarnauga mildly, but there was a fierce, combative tilt to his head. "It is fantasy," Anodis grunted. "You think me a sour old man, but I tell you that such children's tales shall lead you into perdition. The greater sadness, though, is that you may drag all our land down with you." He sketched the sign of the Tree before him like a shield, then tottered out on the arm of the young priest. "Fantasy or no, demons or Sithi," Josua said, rising from his chair to survey the assembly, "this is my hall, and I have asked this man to tell us what he knows. There will be no further interruptions." He cast his eye about the shadowed room, then sat down, satisfied. "Well you should attend now," Jarnauga said, "for this is the meat of what I bring you. I speak of Ineluki, son of lyu'unigato the Eri-king. "Ineluki, whose name means 'here is bright speech' in the Sithi tongue, was the younger of the king's two sons. Together with his older brother Hakatri he had fought the worm Hidohebhi the Black, mother of the red worm Shurakai that Prester John slew, and mother as well of Igjarjuk, the white dragon of the north." "Your pardon, Jarnauga?" One of Gwytbinn's companions stood. 'This is strange to us, but perhaps not all unfamiliar. We Hernystiri know stories of a black dragon, the mother of all worms, but in them she was called Drochnathair." Jarnauga nodded, as a master at a pupil. "That was her name among the first men in the west, long before Hem built the Taig at Hernysadharc. Thus do bits and pieces of older truth survive in the stories children hear in their beds, or soldiers and hunters share around a campfire. But Hidohebhi was her Sithi name, and she was more powerful than either of her children. In the killing of her, which itself became a long and famous story, Ineluki's brother Hakatri was horribly wounded, burned by the worm's terrible fires. There was no cure for his injuries or their unending pain in all of Osten Ard, but neither did he die. At last the king had him put in a boat with his most trusted servant, and they passed away over the ocean toward the West, where the Sithi hoped there was a land beyond the setting sun, a place without pain, where Hakatri might be whole again. "Thus Ineluki, despite the great deed of slaying Hidohebhi, became his father's heir under the shadow of Hakatri's fall. Blaming himself, perhaps, he spent long years in the pursuit of knowledge that likely should have been barred to man and Sithi alike. At first he may have thought that he could make his brother well, bring him back from the uncharted west... but as with all such quests, soon the search became its own reason and reward, and Ineluki, he whose beauty had once been the silent music of the palace of Asu'a, became more and more a stranger to his people, a searcher in dark places. '"So it was that when the men of the north rose up, pillaging and slaying, to encircle Asu'a at last in a ring of poisonous iron, Ineluki was the one who set his mind to defeating the trap. "In the deep caverns below Asu'a, lit by cunning mirrors, grew the witchwood gardens, the place where the Sithi tended the trees whose strange wood they used as the southern men used bronze, and as the northerners used iron. The witchwood trees, whose roots, some say, reached down into the very center of the earth, were tended by gardeners as sacred as priests. Every day they spoke the old spells and performed the unchanging rituals that made the witchwood thrive, as the king and his court in the palace above sank more and more into despair and forgetfulness. "But Ineluki had not forgotten the gardens, nor had he forgotten the dark books he had read, and the shadowy paths he had walked in search of wisdom. In his chambers, where none of the others came anymore, he began a task that he thought would be the saving of Asu'a and the Sithi. "Somehow, causing himself great pain, he procured black iron, which he gave to the witchwood trees as a monk waters his vines. Many of the trees, no less sensitive than the Sithi themselves, sickened and died, but one survived. "Ineluki wove this tree 'round with spells, with words older perhaps than the Sithi, and charms that reached down farther even than the witchwood's roots. The tree grew strong again, and this time poisonous iron ran through it like blood. The caretakers of the sacred garden, seeing their charges blighted, fled. They told lyu'unigato the king, and he was concerned, but seeing as he did the end of all things, would not stop his son. What use was witchwood now, with bright-eyed men all around, and deadly iron in their hands? "The growing of the tree sickened Ineluki, even as it did the gardens themselves, but his will was stronger than any illness. He persevered, until at last it was time to reap the sought-for harvest. He took his dreadful planting, the witchwood all shot through with baleful iron, and went up into the forges of Asu'a. "Haggard, sick to madness, yet full of grim resolve, he watched the master smiths of Asu'a flee before him and did not care. By himself he heated the forge fires hotter than they had ever been; alone he chanted the Words of Making, all the while wielding the Hammer That Shapes, which none but the High Smith had ever held before. "Alone in the red-lit depths of the forge he made a sword, a terrible gray sword whose very substance seemed to breathe dismay. Such hideous, unholy magics did Ineluki call up during its forging that the very air of Asu'a seemed to crackle with heat, and the walls swayed as though struck by giant fists. "He took the new-forged sword, then, into his father's great hall, thinking to show his people the thing that would save them. Instead, so terrible was his aspect, and so distressing was the gray sword, shining with an almost unbearable light, that the Sithi ran in horror from the hall, leaving only Ineluki and his father lyu'unigato." In the deepening hush that surrounded Jarnauga's words, a quiet so profound that even the fire seemed to have stopped sputtering, as though it, too, held its breath, Simon felt the hairs on his neck and arms stand upright, and a strange dizziness creep though him. A... sword! A gray sword! I can see it so clearly! What does it mean? Why does the thought stick in my head? He scratched hard at his scalp with both hands, as though in his pain he might shake the answer loose. "When the Eri-king at last saw what his son had made, he must have felt his heart turn to ice in his chest, for the blade Ineluki held was no mere weapon, but a blasphemy against the earth that had yielded both iron and witchwood. It was a hole in the tapestry of creation, and life leaked away through it. " 'Such a thing should not be,' he told his son. 'Better that we should go into the forgetful void, better that the mortals gnaw on our bones—better even that we had never lived at all than such a thing should ever be made, let alone used.' "But Ineluki was maddened with the power of the thing, and horribly tangled in the spells that created it. 'It is the one weapon that will save us!' he told his father. 'Otherwise these creatures, these insects, will swarm over the face of the land, destroying as they go, obliterating beauty they cannot even see or comprehend. It is worth any price to prevent that!" " 'No,' said lyu'unigato, 'No. Some prices are too great. Look at you! Even now it has worn your mind and heart away. I am your king, as well as your sire, and I command you to destroy it, before it devours you utterly.' "But to hear his father demand such a thing, the unmaking of what he had nearly died a-forging—and only done, as he thought, to save his people from final darkness—drove Ineluki past all caring. In that moment he lifted the sword and struck his father down, killing the king of the Sithi. "Never before had such a thing been done, and when Ineluki saw lyu'unigato lying before him he wept and wept, not only for his father, but also for himself, and his people. At last he lifted the gray sword up before his eyes. 'From sorrow have you come,' he said, 'and sorrow you have brought with you. Sorrow shall be your name.' Thus he named the blade Jingizu, which is the word in Sithi-tongue." Sorrow—a sword named Sorrow... Simon heard it in his mind as an echo, bouncing back and forth through his thoughts until it seemed it would drown out Jarnauga's words, the storm outside, everything. Why did it sound so terribly familiar? Sorrow... Jingizu... Sorrow... "But the story does not end there," the northerner said, his voice gaining strength even as its spell flung a pall of unease over the listening company. "Ineluki, more maddened than ever by what he had done, nevertheless took up his father's crown of white birchwood and proclaimed himself king. So stunned were his family and folk by the murder that they had no stomach to resist him. Some actually welcomed the change in secret, five in particular who, like Ineluki, had been angered by the idea of passive surrender to the surrounding mortals. "Ineluki, with Sorrow in his hand, was a force unbridled. With his five servants—whom the terrified and superstitious northerners named the Red Hand for their number and fire-colored cloaks—Ineluki took the battle outside the walls of Asu'a, for the first time in almost three years of siege. Only the sheer numbers, the iron-wielding thousands of Fingil's horde, prevented the night-terror that Ineluki had become from breaking the siege. As it was, if the other Sithi had rallied behind them it could be that Sithi kings would still walk the battlements of the Hayholt. "But Ineluki's people had no will left to fight. Frightened of their new king, horrified by his murder of lyu'unigato, they instead took advantage of the mayhem caused by Ineluki and his Red Hand to flee Asu'a, led by Amerasu the queen and Shima'onari, son of Ineluki's dragon-doomed brother Hakatri. They escaped into the dark but protective ways of Aldheorte forest, hiding from the blood-mad mortals and their own king. "Thus it was that Ineluki found himself left with little more than his five warriors in the guttering skeleton of Asu'a. Even his powerful magics had proved too little at the end to withstand the sheer numbers of Fingil's army. The northern shamans spoke their weirds, and the last protective magics fell away from the age-old walls. With pitch and straw and torches the Rimmersmen set the delicate buildings to burning. As the smoke and licking flames rose, the northerners routed out the last of the Sithi—those who had been too weak or timid to flee, or who had felt too much loyalty to their immemorial home. In those fires Fingil's Rimmersmen did terrible deeds; the remaining Sithi had little strength left to resist. Their world had come to an end. The cruel murders, the heartless tortures and ravishings of unresisting victims, the laughing destruction of a thousand exquisite and irreplaceable things—with all these Fingil Redhand's army put his crimson stamp on our history, and left a stain that can never be removed. Doubtless those who had fled to the forest heard the screams and shuddered, and wept to their ancestors for justice." "In this last, most fatal hour Ineluki took his Red Hand and climbed to the summit of the tallest tower. He had decided, it seems clear, that what the Sithi could no longer inhabit would never be the home of men. "That day he spoke words more terrible than any he had spoken before, more baleful by far than even those which had helped bind the substance of Sorrow. As his voice boomed out above the conflagration, Rimmersmen fell screaming in the courtyard, faces blackening and with blood running from their eyes and ears. The chanting rose to an intolerable pitch, and then became a vast scream of agony. A huge flash of light turned the sky white, followed a moment later by a darkness so complete that even Fingil, in his tent a mile away, thought he had been struck blind. "But, in some way, Ineluki had failed. Asu'a still stood, and still burned, although now much of Fingil's army lay waning and dying on the ground at the tower's base. In the tower top itself, strangely untouched by smoke or flame, the wind sifted six piles of gray ash, scattering them slowly across the floor."