Looks like he might catch a hilt on his own necklaces and hang himself. Josua hurriedly explained the events of the last two days, which were the real reason the Raed had not continued. Devasalles, who, like the rest of the assembled lords, had doubted but accepted the prince's claim of illness, raised his eyebrow but said nothing. "I could not talk openly; I still cannot," Josua amplified. "In the mad crush, the muster of local forces, the comings and goings, it would be only too easy for someone of bad faith or one of Elias' spies to take the news of our fears and plans to the High King." "But our fears are known to all," Devasalles said, "and we have made no plans—yet." "By the time I am ready to speak of these things to all the lords, I will have made the gates secure—but you see. Baron, you do not yet know all the story." With that the prince proceeded to tell Devasalles all the latest discoveries, of the three swords and the prophetic poem in the mad priest's book, and how these things matched with the dreams of many. "But if you will tell all your liegemen this soon enough, why tell me now?" Devasalles asked. By the doorway Isgrimnur snorted; he, too, had wondered this same thing. "Because I need your lord Leobardis, and I need him now!" Josua said. "I need Nabban!" He stood and began a circuit of the room, facing the walls as though he studied their hangings, but his gaze was focused on a point somewhere leagues beyond the stone and woven cloth. "I have needed your duke's pledge from the beginning, but I need him more now than ever I did. Elias has given Rimmersgard, for all practical purposes, to Skali and his Kaldskryke Raven-clan. Thus he has put a knife against King Lluth's back; the Hernystiri will be able to send me many fewer men, forced as they will be to keep a quantity back to defend their lands. Already Gwythinn, who a week ago was chafing to be at Elias, is anxious to return and help his father defend Hernysadharc and its outlands." Josua whirled to stare Devasalles in the eyes. The prince's face was a mask of cold pride, but his hand twisted at his short-front, something neither Isgrimnur or the baron failed to notice. "If Duke Leobardis ever hopes to be more than a lackey to Elias, he must throw in his lot with me now." "But why do you tell this to me?" Devasalles asked. He looked honestly puzzled. "I know all of this last, and the other things—the swords and the book and all—make no difference." "Damn it, man, they do!" Josua snapped back, his voice rising almost to a shout. "Without Leobardis, and with Hernystir under the northern threat, my brother will have us as snug as if we were nailed in a barrel, and also he is dealing with demons—and who can know what dread advantage that means?! We have made some small, feeble attempt to counter those forces, but what good will come of it—even if it succeeds, against all likelihood—if all the freeholds have been already thrown down?! Neither your duke nor anyone else will ever answer King Elias with anything but 'yes, master,' from now on!" The baron shook his head again, and his necklaces chinked gently. "I am confused, my lord. Can it be that you do not know? I sent a message to the Sancellan Mahistrevis in Nabban by my fastest rider the night before yesterday, telling Leobardis I believed you would fight, and that he should move to put his men into the field in your support." "What?" Isgrimnur leaped up, his astonishment echoing the prince's. They both stood swaying over Devasalles, their expressions those of men ambushed by night. "Why have you not told me?" Josua demanded. "But my prince, I did tell you," Devasalles sputtered, "or at least, since I was advised you might not be disturbed, I sent a message to your chambers with my seal on it. Surely you read it?" "Blessed Usires and his Mother!" Josua smacked his open left hand against his thigh. "I have only myself to blame, for it sits even now on my bedside table. Deornoth brought it to me, but I was waiting for a quieter moment. I suppose I forgot. Still it is no harm done, and your news is excellent." "You say Leobardis will ride?" Isgrimnur asked suspiciously. "How are you so sure? You seemed to have more than a few doubts yourself." "Duke Isgrimnur," Devasalles' tone was frosty, "surely you realize I was only fulfilling my duty. In truth, Duke Leobardis has long been in sympathy with Prince Josua. Likewise, he has feared Elias is becoming overbold. The troops have been on alert for weeks." "Then why send you?" Josua asked. "What did he think to discover that he did not have already from me, through my messengers?" "He sought nothing new," Devasalles said, "although there has been far more learned here than I think any of us bargained for. No, he sent my embassy more to make a show for certain others in Nabban." "There is resistance among his liegemen?" Josua asked, eyes bright. "Of course, but that is not unusual... nor is it the source of my mission. It was to undermine resistance from a closer source." Here, although the smallish chamber was obviously empty but for the three of them, Devasalles darted a look on all sides. "It is his wife and son who resist most strongly his making common cause with you," Devasalles said at last. "You mean the eldest, Benigaris?" "Yes, else he or one of Leobardis' younger sons should have been here in my stead." The baron shrugged. "Benigaris sees much he likes in Elias' rule, and the Duchess Nessalanta..." The Nabbanai emissary shrugged again. "She, too, favors the High King's chances," Josua smiled bitterly. "Nessalanta is a clever woman. Too bad that now she will be forced, willy-nilly, to support her husband's choice of allies. She might well be correct in her misgivings." "Josua!" Isgrimnur was shocked. "I only jest, old friend," the prince said, but his expression belied him. "So the duke will go into the field then, good Devasalles?" "As soon as possible, Prince Josua. With the cream of Nabban's knights in his train." "And a strong dollop of pikemen and archers as well, I hope. Well, Aedon's grace on us all. Baron." He and Isgrimnur said their farewells and went out into the dark corridor, the bright colors of the baron's chamber left behind them like a dream abandoned at the lip of awakening. "One person I know will be very glad of this news, Isgrimnur." The duke raised a questioning eyebrow. "My niece. Miriamele was very upset when she thought Leobardis might not come over. Nessalanta is her aunt, after all. She'll be glad of this news, indeed." "Let us go tell her," Isgrimnur proposed, taking Josua's elbow and guiding him out toward the courtyard. "She may be with the other court ladies. I'm tired of looking at whiskery soldiers. I may be an old man, but I still like to look on a lady or two from time to time." "So be it." Josua smiled, the first unforced example Isgrimnur had seen in several days. "Then we'll go by and visit your wife, and you may tell her about your undiminished love of the ladies." "Prince Josua," the old duke said carefully, "you'll never be too damn old or exalted that I can't knuckle your ears, just you see if I can't." "Not today, Uncle," Josua smirked. "I'll need 'em to appreciate just what Gutrun has to say to you." ^ The wind soughing in off the water carried the smell of cypress. Tiamak, wiping beads of sweat from his brow, gave silent thanks to He Who Always Steps on Sand for the unexpected breeze. Coming back from checking his trap line he had felt the storm-charged air descend on the Wran: hot, angry air that came and would not go away, like a marsh crocodile circling a leaking skiff. Again Tiamak wiped his forehead dry, and reached for the bowl ofyellowroot tea steeping on the firestone. As he sipped, not without some pain to his cracked lips, he worried over what he should do. It was Morgenes' strange message that disturbed him. For days its ominous words had rattled in his head like pebbles in a dry gourd as he poled his boat through the byways of the Wran, or made his way to market in Kwanitupul, the trading village that crouched along the outlet stream from lake Eadne. He made the three-day flatboat trip to Kwanitupul once every new moon, putting his unusual schooling to good advantage at the marketing stalls, helping the smaller Wrannamen merchants to bargain with the Nabbanai and Perdruinese traders who worked the Wran's coastal villages. The taxing journey to Kwanitupul was a necessity, if only to earn a few coins and perhaps a bag of rice. The rice he used to supplement that occasional crab too stupid or too cocksure to avoid his traps. There were not many crabs so obliging, however, which was the reason Tiamak's usual table fare was fish and roots. As he crouched in his tiny, banyan-perched cabin, anxiously turning over Morgenes' message for the hundredth time, he thought back to the bustling, hilly streets of Ansis Pelippe, Perdruin's capital, where he and the old doctor had first met. As much as the clamor and spectacle of the vast trading port, a hundred, no, many hundreds of times the size of Kwanitipul—a fact that his fellow Wrannamen would never believe, provincial, sand-scuffing louts that they were—it was the smells Tiamak remembered most strongly, the million shifting scents: the dank salt smell of the wharves, spiced with the tang of the fishing boats; the cook fires in the street where bearded island men offered skewers of bubbling, charred mutton; the musk of sweating, champing horses whose proud riders, merchants and soldiers cantered boldly down the middle of the cobbled streets, letting the pedestrians scatter where they might; and of course, the swirling odors of saffron and quickweed, of cinnamon and mantinges, that eddied through the Spice District like fleeting, exotic solicitations. Just the memories made him so hungry he almost wanted to weep, but Tiamak steeled himself. There was work to be done, and he could not be distracted by such fleshly obsessions. Morgenes needed him, somehow, and Tiamak had to be ready. In fact, it had been food that had brought him to Morgenes' attention, all those years ago in Perdruin, The doctor, on some kind of apothecarical search through the trading districts of Ansis Pellipe, had bumped into and almost knocked over the Wrannaman youth, so intently was young Tiamak eyeing an array of marchpane on a baker's table. The doctor was amused and intrigued by the marsh lad so far from home, whose apologies to the older man were so full of carefully -learned Nabbanai idiom. When Morgenes learned that the boy was in Perdruin's capitol to study with the Usirean Brothers, and was the first of his village to leave the swampy Wran, he bought him a large square of marchpane and a cup of milk. From that moment on Morgenes was as a god to the astounded Tiamak. The smudged sheet of parchment before him, even though itself a copy of the original message that had fallen to pieces from handling, was nevertheless becoming hard to read. He had stared at it so many times, however, that it no longer mattered. He had even placed it back into its original ciphers and retranslated it, just to make sure he had not missed some subtle but important detail. "The time of the Conqueror Star is surely upon us..." the doctor had written, in the course of warning Tiamak this would likely be his last letter for a long while. Tiamak's help would be needed. Morgenes assured him, "... if certain dreadful things which—it is said—are hinted at in the infamous lost book of the priest Nisses..." were to be avoided. The first time he had gone to Kwanitupul after receiving Morgenes' sparrow-borne message, Tiamak asked Middastri, a Perdruinese merchant with whom he sometimes drank a bowl of beer, what dreadful things were happening in Erchester, the city where Morgenes lived in Erkynland. Middastri said he had heard of strife between the High King Elias and Lluth of Hernystir, and of course everyone had been talking about the falling out between Elias and his brother Prince Josua for months, but beyond that the merchant could think of nothing special. Tiamak, who from Morgenes' message had feared danger of a vaster and more immediate sort, had felt a little better. Still, the import of the doctor's message tugged at him. "The infamous lost book..." How had Morgenes known the secret? Tiamak had not told anyone; he had wanted to surprise the doctor with it on a visit he had planned to make next spring, his first time ever north of Perdruin. Now it appeared Morgenes already knew something of his prize—but why didn't he say so? Why should he instead hint and riddle and suggest, like a crab carefully poking the fish head out of one of Tiamak's traps? The Wrannaman set down his bowl of tea and moved across the low-ceilinged room, hardly rising from his bent-kneed crouch. The hot, sour wind began to blow a little more strongly, rocking the house on its tall stilts, lifting the thatch with a serpentine hiss. He searched in his wooden chest for the leaf-wrapped thing, carefully hidden below the stack of parchment that was his own rewriting of Sovran Remedys of the Wranna Healers, what Tiamak secretly liked to think of as his "great work." Finding it at last he brought it out and unwrapped it, not for the first time in the last fortnight. As it lay beside his transcription of Morgenes' message, he was taken by the contrast. Morgenes' words were painstakingly copied in black root-ink on cheap parchment, beaten so thin a candle flame held a handsbreadth away might puff it into flame. The other, the prize, was scribed on a sheet of tight-stretched skin or hide. The reddish brown words trailed crazily across the page, as though the writer had been a-horseback, or sitting at the table during an earth tremor. This last was the jewel of Tiamak's collection—indeed, if he was right about what it was, would be the crowning gem of anyone's collection. He had found it in a great pile of other used parchments a trader in Kwanitupul was selling for scribing practice. The trader had not known who the chest of papers had belonged to, only that he had gotten it as part of a blind lot of household goods in Nabban. Fearing that his good fortune might evaporate, Tiamak had stifled the urge to question further and bought it on the spot—along with a sheaf of other parchments—for one shiny Nabbanai quinis-piece. He stared at it again—although he had read this more times even that Morgenes' message, if such was possible—and especially at the top of the parchment, not so much torn as gnawed, whose disfigurement ended with the letters "... ARDENVYRD." Was not Nisses' famous, vanished volume—some even called it imaginary—named Du Svardenvyrd? How had Morgenes known? Tiamak had not yet told anyone of his lucky find. Beneath the title the northern runes, smeared in some places, flaking away into rust-colored powder in others, were nevertheless quite readable, written in the archaic Nabbanai of five centuries gone. "... Bringe from Nuanni's Rocke Garden
The Man who tho' Blinded canne See '
Discover the Blayde that delivers The Rose
At thefoote of the Rimmer's greate Tree
Find the Call whose lowde Claime
Speakes the Call-bearer's name
In a Shippe on the Shallowest Sea—
—When Blayde, Call, and Man
Come to Prince's right Hande
Then the Prisoned shall once more go Free..." Below the strange poem a single name was printed in large, awkward runes "NISSES." Although Tiamak stared and stared, inspiration still remained anguishingly distant. At last, sighing, he rolled the ancient scroll back in its jacket of preservative leaves and tucked it into his burrwood chest. What, then, did Morgenes want him to do? Bring this thing to the doctor himself at the Hayholt? Or should he instead send it to another wise one, like the witch woman Geloe, fat Ookequk up in Yiqanuc, or the fellow in Nabban? Perhaps the wisest plan was merely to wait for Doctor Morgenes' further word, instead of hurrying off foolishly without full understanding. After all, from what Middastri had told him, whatever Morgenes feared must still be a long way off; there was certainly time to wait until he knew what it was that the doctor wanted. Time and patience, he counseled himself, time and patience... Outside his window the cypress branches groaned, suffering beneath the wind's rough handling. The chamber door flew open. Sangfugol and the lady Vorzheva leaped up guiltily, as if they had been caught in some impropriety, although the length of the chamber separated them. As they looked up, wide-eyed, the minstrel's lute, which had been propped against his chair, tilted and fell over at his feet. He hurriedly caught it up and held it against his breast as though it were an injured child. "Damn you, Vorzheva, what have you done!?" Josua demanded. Duke Isgrimnur stood behind mm in the doorway wearing a worried look. "Be calm, Josua," he urged, tugging at the prince's gray Jerkin. "When I have the truth from this... this woman," Josua spat. "Until then, stay out of this, old friend." Color was returning fast to Vorzheva's cheeks. "What is your meaning?" she said. "You knock in doors like a bull, and shout questions. What is your meaning?" "Do not seek to gull me. I have just come from speaking to the gate-captain; I am sure he wishes I had never found him, so angry I was. He told me that Miriamele went out yesterday forenoon with my permission—which was no permission, but instead my seal attached to a false document!" "And why do you shout at me?" the lady asked haughtily. Sangfugol began to sidle toward the chamber door, still clutching his wounded instrument. "That you know full well," Josua growled, the flush finally beginning to fade from his pale features, "and stay where you are, harper, for I am not done with you. You have been much in my lady's confidence of late." "At your command. Prince Josua," Sangfugol said haltingly, "to ease her loneliness. But of the Princess Miriamele I swear I know nothing!" Josua moved forward into the chamber, swinging the heavy door shut behind him without a look back. Isgrimnur, nimble despite his years and girth, skipped out of its way. "Good Vorzheva, do not treat me as though I were one of the wagon boys you grew up with. All I have heard from you is how the poor princess is sad, the poor princess is missing her family. Now Miriamele is gone out of the gate with some villain, and some other confederate has used my seal ring to give her safe passage! I am no fool!" The dark-haired woman returned his stare for a moment, then her lip began to tremble. Angry tears started in her eyes as she sat back down, long skirts rustling. "Very well. Prince Josua," she said, "cut my head off if you like. I have helped the poor girl to go away to her family in Nabban. If you were not so heartless, you would have sent her yourself, with armed men to escort. Instead, all she has for company is a kind monk." She pulled a kerchief from the bosom of her dress and dabbed her eyes. "Still, she is happier that way, than to be cooped up here like a bird in a cage." "Tears of Elysia!" Josua swore, throwing his hand in the air. "You foolish woman! Miriamele wanted only to play at being an emissary—she thought to find glory by bringing her Nabbanai relatives into this struggle on my side." "Perhaps it is not fair to say 'glory,' Josua," Isgrimnur cautioned. "I think the princess honestly means to help." "And what is wrong with that?!" asked Vorzheva defiantly. "You need the help of Nabban, do you not? Or are you too proud?" "God help me, the Nabbanai are with us already! Do you understand? I have just seen Baron Devasalles an hour gone. But now the High King's daughter is out needlessly wandering the land somewhere, with all of her father's troops about to go into the field, and his spies swarming everywhere like maggot-flies." Josua waved his arms in frustration, then slumped into his chair, long legs stretched before him. "It is too much for me, Isgrimnur," he said wearily. "And you wonder why I do not declare myself a rival for Elias' throne? I cannot even keep a young girl safely under my roof." Isgrimnur smiled dolefully. "Her father didn't have much luck in keeping her either, as I recall." "Still." The prince brought his hand up to knead his brow. "Usires, my very head throbs with it all." "Now, Josua," the duke said, casting a look at the others to warn them to keep silence, "all is not lost. We must simply put a troop of good men out to beat the bushes for Miriamele and this monk, this ... Cedric or whatever..." "Cadrach," said Josua tonelessly. "Yes, then, Cadrach. Well, a young girl and a holy friar cannot move that quickly afoot. We shall simply put some men to horse and get after them." "Unless the Lady Vorzheva here has hidden horses for them as well," Josua said sourly. He sat up. "You haven't, have you?l" Vorzheva could not meet his gaze. "Merciful Aedon!" Josua swore. "That is the final trick! I shall send you back to your barbarian father in a sack, you wildcat!" "Prince Josua?" It was the harper. When he got no response he cleared his throat and tried again. "My prince?" "What?" Josua said irritably. "Yes, you may go. I will have words with you later. Go." "No sir... that is, did you say the monk's name was... Cadrach?" "Yes, so the gate-captain said. He spoke with the man a bit. Why, do you know him, or know his haunts?" "Well, no, Prince Josua, but I think the boy Simon met him. He told me much of his adventures, and the name sounds quite familiar. Oh, sir, if it is him, the princess may be in some danger." "What do you mean?" Josua leaned forward. "The Cadrach Simon told me of was a rogue and a cutpurse, sir. That one also went in the guise of a monk, but he was no Aedonite man, that's sure." "It cannot be!" Vorzheva said. The kohl around her eyes had run onto her cheeks. "I have met this man, and he quoted me from the Book of Aedon. He is a good, kind man. Brother Cadrach." "Even a demon can quote the Book," Isgrimnur said, shaking his head sorrowfully. The prince had sprung to his feet, and was moving to the door. "We must put men out at once, Isgrimnur," he said, then stopped and turned back, taking Vorzheva by the arm. "Come, lady," he said brusquely. "You will not undo your damage, but you may at least come along and tell us all you know, where you have hid the horses and all such." He pulled her to her feet. "But I cannot go out!" she said, shocked. "Look, I have been weeping! My face, it is terrible."