Authors: Angus Wells
Sacrifices fir the Sea God, Burash
The assassin kicked bones aside to expose manacles set into the rock, snapping them about Bracht and Calandryll’s ankles before cutting the cords that bound their hands.
Bracht stooped instantly, testing the chains. From above came laughter and the priest’s booming voice.
“Too stout to break, those bonds. Save Burash grant you mercy, you pay for your affront.”
The water rose, creeping up their legs, overtopping their boots. Lapping ripples touched Calandryll’s face and he spat salt water from his mouth, craning his head back, seeking to hold lips and nose clear of the flow. He heard Bracht shout, “Courage!,” the cry abruptly cut off by a dreadful choking.
In moments, the level was risen above Calandryll’s head, his ragged breath sucking in not air, but water. He floated, turned this way and that as blind panic set him to thrashing, arms flailing wild as he sought hopelessly to thrust his head upwards, into the air.
Calandryll felt death touch him. . . .
by Angus Wells
Please be sure to ask your bookseller
for these other Bantam Spectra books
by Angus Wells:
The Books of the Kingdoms
WRATH OF ASHAR
THE WAY BENEATH
For Janna Silverstein . . .
. . . “Talent alone cannot make a writer.
There must be a (wo)man behind the book.”
meant, in the language of Kandahar, Great Watchtower, and so it seemed the city was. It rose in great terraces of stone against the older rock of the Kharm-rhanna, where the mountains thrust deep into the heart of the land, where the three great rivers—the Shemme, the Tannyth, and the Yst—fell down from the peaks, dividing about the city brooding above like some lithic sentinel, a hypabyssal guardian. Tier upon tier climbed the steep slopes, the buildings like battlements, cut through with roadways and bridges and great sweeps of stairs, all rising toward the single massive edifice that dominated the heights, walled and turreted and towered, the pennants of the Tyrant fluttering purple and gold from the ramparts. It seemed so high that from the topmost towers an observer might stare out across all of the Tyrant’s domain. To Kharasul in the west and Vishat’yi in the south, Mherut’yi to the east, on the edge of the Narrow Sea. And it was to that latter direction eyes looked now, troubled. All Nhur-jabal was a defensive wall about the Tyrant’s citadel, that great fortress the final bastion of authority in Kandahar, from its founding by Cederus to now, when
Xenomenus ruled. And the rule of Xenomenus was threatened.
To the west the flag of rebellion waved, raised by Sathoman ek’Hennem, Lord of the Fayne, and a wilier enemy than Tyrant or any who advised him had anticipated. Already he controlled the eastern reaches of Kandahar, from Mherut’yi to Mhazomul down the coast, inland to Kesham-vaj and Bhalusteen; already he had defeated an army, proclaimed Xenomenus upstart and usurper; already, in the east, folk hailed him Lord and named him Tyrant. That they would turn as readily against him was small consolation to the hereditary ruler: to achieve that end he must be defeated. Not driven back to his lonely keep, but roundly and soundly—above all, visibly—defeated. Xenomenus wanted the Fayne Lord’s head on a pikestaff, to be carried from town to town until all Kandahar knew he was beaten and dead. And yet—the corpses feeding the crows about Kesham-vaj testimony to this—Sathoman ek’Hennem still lived, and triumphed, and threatened to bring down the Tyrant, neither the legions nor the sorcerers at Xenomenus’s command able to deliver the rebel to just fate.
It was a dilemma that seemed emphasized by the cold wind that wafted down from the Kharm-rhanna, winter’s breath, and Xenomenus shivered as he peered eastward.
Instantly, galvanized by the tremor, a flunky stepped forward, draping a cloak of purple brocade about his master’s narrow shoulders. Xenomenus accepted it unaware, feeling no warmer, the cold pervading him less physical than an emanation of doubt, turning from the parapet where he stood to face the throng attending him. Sunlight sparked bright from the rings covering his fingers as he gestured dismissal to the servants and sycophants. He waited until they were gone from earshot into the tower, the doors of glass swung shut, then touched the band of jewel-studded silver encircling his smooth forehead as if to
draw inspiration from that badge of his office and looked to those who remained.
There were seven, all older than he by several years, three at least attendant on his father, three who had known his grandfather. They were of sundry shape and size: tall and short, most slender, but two obese, their physiognomy no less varied, their hair ranging in color from glossy black to age’s weary yellow. Some wore a patrician look; others might have been tradesmen. All wore robes of black, the subfusc woven with cabbalistic emblems in silver thread. Xenomenus frowned, not knowing the expression lent him a petulance that was echoed in his voice.
“Well, gentlemen”—he laid a deliberately scornful emphasis on the honorific—“it would appear your colleagues have as yet found this hedge rabble too much for them.”
“My lord, they had not anticipated the gramaryes left by Anomius.” The speaker paused, continuing when Xenomenus offered no response, “And the Faye Lord struck with unprecedented swiftness.”
“Swift enough he commands the eastern coast.” The Tyrant drew his cloak tighter about him, contesting the nervousness these men, for all they served him and no other, induced. “Swift enough he holds a third of my domain. Too swift, it would seem, for you.”
“Our divinations warned of this,” said the oldest, his voice dry as his wrinkled skin, like some withering tree, “and had . . .”
Xenomenus’s hand chopped air, silencing the comment. A younger man glanced warily at the reckless oldster, clearing his throat to signal caution. “Lord Xenomenus,” he ventured, “what Rassuman says is, in part at least, true—we divined a stirring in the occult fundus, but vague . . . not of such proportion as this.”
“But you are the Tyrant’s sorcerers!” Now Xenomenus paused and cleared his throat, hearing the petulance in his voice, carefully deepening his tone.
“If you of all the mages in this world could not discern the pattern, then who might?”
“Indeed,” Rassuman murmured, concealing a sour smile.
“The vagueness itself is a portent,” the younger wizard said, “a thing we have debated long.”
“And do you grace me with your conclusions?” the Tyrant snapped.
The wizard ducked his head, not quite a bow. “In part it was Anomius’s doing,” he said evenly, fixing Xenomenus with a stare, “but that obfuscation was enabled by some other agency, something within the occult fundus too deep for even our powers to penetrate.”
The Tyrant’s frown became one of perplexity and he asked, “What do you say?”
“I—we—are not sure, my lord. Such vision was, and is, denied us. It would seem that perhaps the gods themselves cloud the matter.”
“Do you say Burash turns against me?” Xenomenus’s swarthy features paled, his eyes slitting, a hand rising involuntarily to the coronet. Swiftly the seven sorcerers shook their heads, murmuring reassuring negatives. Xenomenus said, “Then what? Or whom? Do you explain yourself, Cenobar.”
The wizard nodded, his face a carefully bland mask. “As best I may, Lord Tyrant, but even we are fallible.” He ignored the twisted smile of agreement that met his comment and continued, “Certainly Anomius left behind him such cantrips as gave great aid to Sathoman ek’Hennem, but even so there was a clouding mightier than such as he might produce. It was as if powers greater even than Burash stirred, and in their stirring raised up vapors to blind our occult sight.”
“Greater than Burash?” the Tyrant gasped. “What power is greater than our Sea God?”
“There were gods before Burash,” said Rassuman.
“The First Gods are gone,” said Xenomenus, “gone of their own volition into the Forbidden Lands. And
their offspring banished into limbo, bound there by their parents’ machinations. Tharn and Balatur play no part in our world.”
“Aye, so all know.” Cenobar nodded. “But still we could not see, still something clouded these events.”
Xenomenus sighed, his shoulders slumping beneath the brocade, and when he spoke again his voice was plaintive.
“And so this hedge lord takes my land? So he flaunts my authority and threatens to bring my realm into civil war?”
“On that we yet have some say, Lord Tyrant.”
Xenomenus turned to the new speaker, a grossly fat man, whose beard and robe retained hints of his last meal: “Then say on, Lykander.”
“It is our opinion, my lord, that Burash stands with us in this affair, and that while we were not able to prognosticate the uprising we may yet quell it.”
Xenomenus cheered at this, his face brightening. “This is such talk as I would hear,” he enthused. “How shall it be done?”
“Anomius is the key,” said Lykander.
“A dangerous key,” said Cenobar, interrupting, falling silent as Xenomenus raised a hand.
“Dangerous, aye,” agreed the fat sorcerer, “but not so powerful as to stand against all of us.”
“He slew Zytharan,” said another, “and left me maimed.”
Lykander glanced at the twisted hand offered in evidence and said, “But still you heal apace, Andrycus, and your hand will soon be whole again. I say we must use him.”
Xenomenus saw himself usurped, the debate among the wizards, and clapped his hands. “You bear the scars of battle, Andrycus,” he said, “and I mourn Zytharan’s demise. But still I’d hear how that puking traitor may win us a victory over the rebels he once served.”
Lykander smoothed his beard, dislodging crumbs, and said, “There is some dissension among us on this
matter, Lord Tyrant. Some adhere to my belief that we must use Anomius to unlock ek’Hennem’s hold; others deem him too dangerous.”