The Saga of the Trillium
By Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1990 Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, and Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
Once again, from down in the outer ward of the beleaguered Citadel, a blazing blue-white light dazzled the eyes of the watching royal family, and those of the courtiers and the Oathed Companions gathered with them on a balcony at the mid-level of the great keep. An attendant clap of thunder hit their ears a split second later.
King Krain uttered a groan of despair. "By the White Lady, this time there can be no doubt! The sorcerer Orogastus has indeed called down lightning from a clear sky, and this stroke has breached the wall of the inner ward!"
Labornoki foot soldiery came surging by the hundreds through the broad, newly made gap. They were closely followed by mounted knights led by the brutal General Hamil. The charging attackers flattened the valiant Citadel defenders as easily as the hurricane blasts marshgrass. Moments later there was a third blinding magical flash, and then a fourth, and after each one enemy hordes poured through fresh breaks in the fortifications.
"It is the end," said the King. "If that ancient rampart with its multiple bastions can be pierced by the uncanny bolts of Orogastus, then there is no way the great keep itself can long remain secure."
He turned to one of the Oathed Companions. "Lord Sotolain, bring my armor. And you, Lord Manoparo, I charge with the safety of our dear Queen and Princesses. Take them to the innermost stronghold of the keep, where you and your knights must defend them to the last drop of your blood. The rest of you, prepare to engage the foe at my side."
Queen Kalanthe simply nodded; but Princess Anigel broke out in piteous weeping, and so did the ladies-in-waiting. Princess Haramis stood like a frowning image of marble, only her great blue eyes and shining black tresses relieving the pallor of her skin and the white gown and cloak she wore. Princess Kadiya, dressed in her mannish green leather hunting kit, unsheathed her dagger and brandished it.
"Sire — dear Father! — let me fight and fall at your side! Rather this than I cower away with sniveling women while the flatlander bastards conquer Ruwenda!"
The Queen and the nobles gasped, and Princess Anigel and the ladies left off their bewailing in astonishment.
Princess Haramis only smiled coldly. "I think, Sister, that you put rash stock in your prowess as a fighter. These are not larval raffins fleeing your toy spear in a hunt, but armed stalwarts of King Voltrik shielded by the enchantment of a black-hearted sorcerer."
"It is said by the Oddlings," Kadiya retorted, "that a woman of the royal house of Ruwenda shall bring about the fall of Labornok by slaying its wicked king!"
"And you have nominated yourself as our savior?" Haramis uttered a bitter laugh, and then tears sprang into her eyes, sparkling like a freshet bathing blue glacier ice. She cried: "Leave be, silly one! Spare us your foolish posturing. Can't you see how you distress our Mother?"
The Queen drew herself up proudly. She, like Anigel, wore the traditional Ruwendian court day-dress of unadorned satin, with its lattice-smocked sleeves and bodice. The girl's dress was a soft rose-color; but that morning the Queen had bid her handmaidens tire her in a gown and cape as crimson as blood.
Kalanthe said: "My heart is filled with sorrow and fear for all of us, but I know my duty. Kadiya, put not your faith in Oddling prophecies. Our Nyssomu servants have fled the Citadel for the safety of the Mazy Mire, leaving us to face the foe. As to your warrior pretensions ..." She began to cough, for billows of smoke were rising up the wall as other magical devices of the invaders cast fireballs that ignited the wooden buildings of the inner ward. "You must remain with us, as befits your rank and station."
"Then I will be your defender," cried Princess Kadiya, "and that of my sisters. For if the Oddling prophecy is known to King Voltrik, then he dare not leave one of us royal women alive! I intend to sell my life dearly, and I will join Lord Manoparo and the Oathed Companions shielding you, and die with them if fate decrees."
"Oh, Kadi, you can't!" sobbed the Princess Anigel. "We must hide and pray for the White Lady to rescue us!"
"The White Lady is a myth!" Kadiya said. "We can only save ourselves."
"She is no myth," Anigel murmured, so softly that her voice was almost drowned in the clamor of the fighting going on twenty ells beneath.
"Perhaps not," Haramis conceded, "but it seems that she has abdicated her guardianship of this unhappy country. How else could the Labornoki host have crossed the pass, traversed the Mire, and fallen upon the Citadel with impunity?"
"My daughters, be silent!" said the King. "The enemy will attack the keep at any time, and I must soon leave you."
He bade them all withdraw from the open balcony into the chamber beyond, which had been furnished as a solar for the royal women. The bright silken cushions and gilded chairs had been kicked aside by mailed feet, and a tapestry frame lay sadly overturned near the cold hearth, together with abandoned books and a dulcimer with its painted sounding-board all cracked. The King now addressed himself to his second daughter, speaking with great sternness.
"Kadiya, you do ill to dismay your mother and sisters with foolhardy behavior and talk of Oddling nonsense. Would King Voltrik have asked for Haramis's hand if he gave credence to this fairytale about female warriors? It is my duty as lord of this realm to defend it or perish in the trying. But it is your duty to live and comfort your mother and sisters. And be assured that your burden is lighter than that of our poor Haramis, who will no doubt in the end have to submit to Voltrik after all."
At that all of the ladies-in-waiting burst into fresh wails, and the knights began to shout, and there was such a tumult of weeping and cries of "Nay, never!" that they scarcely heard the new fusillade of smaller occult explosions outside, and the clash of arms, and the screams of the wounded and dying.
"Quiet! Quiet, all of you!" cried King Krain.
But they would not, for he was not a monarch who ruled absolutely, through force of character, but rather one who had always encouraged his subjects to treat him as a father and adviser.
For four hundreds, ever since the failed invasion of Labornok's King Pribinik the Foolhardy, the nation had been at peace. Crime and domestic strife had been almost nonexistent in Ruwenda — except for the occasional thief or homicidal madman, and the seasonal depredations of the abominable Skritek, which gave an excuse for knightly quests. During the extended peacetime military science had languished and the Oathed Companions forgot all they had ever known of strategy or tactics. The Kings of Ruwenda let their subjects do almost as they pleased, provided that justice and tranquillity generally prevailed and the usual revenues poured into the royal treasury. Traditionally, Ruwenda had no standing army. The Oathed Companions were the designated enforcement arm of the throne, and the hill-forts were manned by rotating cadres of free citizens from the Dylex Country, who were excused from taxes thereby. Ruwendian lords and ladies of the manor governed their tiny fiefdoms with a light hand, following the example of the throne, and everyone had prospered except the lazy, who did not deserve to.
Isolated little Ruwenda had seemed to be the happiest land in the entire Peninsula, if not in the known world ... until the magic spells of Orogastus unlocked the Vispir Pass to covetous Labornok and traced out the secret route that King Voltrik's army had followed through the Mazy Mire to the Citadel.
Ten days was all it had taken. None of the magical storms or fog-phantoms or other disasters that had defeated King Pribinik plagued Voltrik. In fact, the abominable Skritek themselves were rumored to have allied with him! Under the aegis of the sorcerer Orogastus, Labornoki forces had quickly reduced the hill-forts to rubble, sacked the nearby Dylex townships and sent their inhabitants fleeing to the remote eastern counties, and come almost without hindrance to the outer bulwarks of the ancient Citadel itself. Soon it would fall to Voltrik, and the kingdom with it.
As the beleaguered Ruwendian royalty and their courtiers wrangled and wept, there suddenly came another tremendous flash of light and an ear-splitting detonation. The thick walls of the keep shook like a wattle hut before the winter monsoon. For an instant shocked silence prevailed within and without the Citadel. Then from below arose a roar from ten thousand throats and a triumphant sounding of buglehorns. It was plain that the gate of the huge central structure itself had been blasted open and the invaders were rushing inside.
Now Lord Sotolain came with the King's armor and quickly helped him to harness, and Krain sighed as he hefted the heavy sword of his great-great-great-grandsire Karaborlo, which he and his Companions knew he would wield bravely but ineptly. Neither the magnificent suit of shining steel inset with sapphires nor the crowned battle-helmet with its effigy of a platinum lammergeier could make King Krain more than he was — a mild-tempered middle-aged man, great of heart and mind but hopelessly unfit to be a warrior.
When his helm had been laced on he made his final farewell to his family. "I have been a scholar and not a fighter, and this I do not regret. For long generations our beloved land has known only peace. We have been protected — or so we were taught to believe — by the Archimage Binah: she who is called the White Lady, the Lady of the Flower, the Guardian, the Keeper of the Black Trillium. Numbers of us standing here on this day of misfortune saw her and heard her as she wrought marvelously at the birth of our triplet Princesses. The Archimage told us that all would be well, but she also spoke mysteriously of a particular destiny and dreadful tasks awaiting the royal daughters. We did not understand her words, and most of us — even I myself — all but lost the memory of them. But let us ponder them now, for they may give us a measure of hope. Frankly, I do not know where else to look for it."
He opened his metal-clad arms and gently embraced and kissed the Queen. Then came Haramis, whose face alone was still unstained by tears, and Kadiya, submissive at last, and golden-haired Anigel who could not leave off from sobbing.
After bidding goodbye to his friends, he once again most solemnly charged the venerable Lord Manoparo and the four knights with him, who smote their armored bosoms in a gesture of fealty and drew their swords. Then the King turned away. With his highborn squire Barnipo bearing the royal shield ahead of him, he strode through the solar door with most of the Oathed Companions following after. It was time for him to fulfill his own destiny, and not a one of those left in the room doubted what it would be.
As night fell on that day of conquest, the fires of the Citadel dwindled and merged their smoke with the miasma rising from the Mire. The knoll on which the Ruwendian capital stood seemed to be an island in a sea of turbulent cloud. Labornoki knights under General Hamil, who had emerged victorious from the last stand of the Oathed Companions, brought the vanquished King Krain and his squire Barnipo before King Voltrik, Crown Prince Antar, and the sorcerer Orogastus. A few score other noble Ruwendian captives were there in the throne room, heavily fettered and well guarded, in order to witness the capitulation of their nation. The banner of Labornok, scarlet with three golden crossed swords, hung on the wall behind the throne, where Voltrik now sat.
Krain was now near death, bleeding heavily from deep wounds in the right arm and groin, and had to be supported by two of Hamil's knights as he was led forward and forced to his knees at the feet of King Voltrik. One of his captors flung down Krain's battered azure shield with its Black Trillium device all but obliterated, and the other knight cast atop it the King's broken sword. Hamil himself tore off Krain's helmet, removed the platinum royal coronet set with sapphires and amber, and held it high for all to see. The squire Barnipo, unhurt and unbound, trembled behind his liege in the grip of Lord Osorkon, Hamil's second-in-command, a gigantic knight wearing gory black armor.
"Well met, Royal Brother," Voltrik said to Krain. His fang-edged helmet visor was open and he seemed to smile at the defeated Ruwendian monarch from within the open jaws of some fantastic, bejeweled saurian. Voltrik's chased and ornamented armor of gold-plated steel shone brilliantly in the torchlight, and he lounged akimbo on the throne of Ruwenda with one leg crossed jauntily over the other. "And do you now submit to me?"
"It seems I have little choice." Krain's voice was a husky whisper.
"Do you submit without condition," Voltrik demanded, thrusting the Ruwendian coronet beneath the stricken ruler's nose, "knowing that only by swearing thus will the noble and common inhabitants of your vanquished Citadel be spared death?"
"I will surrender ... if you spare also the lives of my Queen and three daughters."
"That," said the sorcerer Orogastus, in tones as implacable as the strokes of a death-gong, "cannot be. They must die, as you must. And as part of your submission you shall tell us where in this great warren of crumbling masonry they have secreted themselves."
"Never," Krain said.
Now Crown Prince Antar ventured to step forth and confront his royal father. "But surely, Sire, we do not make war on helpless women!"
"They must die," Orogastus repeated flatly. And King Voltrik nodded assent.
"Your wizard fears them because of the ridiculous Oddling prophecy!" Krain exclaimed. "But it is arrant nonsense, Voltrik — a nursery tale! Only a few months ago, you would have taken my eldest daughter Haramis as your bride —"
"But you scorned an alliance with Labornok," Voltrik said suavely, rolling the coronet around and around one finger as casually as an embroidery hoop. "And you replied to my gracious suit in words of haughty disdain."
"Tact never being a long suit of you snotty Ruwendians," General Hamil injected, grinning. "And now may you choke on the insolent fruit you have so long cultivated."
The gathering of Labornoki knights and nobles roared with laughter until King Voltrik lifted one hand. "I put my trust in the mighty Orogastus, who is my Grand Minister of State as well as the Court Sorcerer. And it is he who has foreseen disaster to my house at the hands of a royal Ruwendian woman, not some slime-skinned Oddling tale-teller. So your wife and daughters must die, Brother Krain, as must you. But if you submit to me humbly and turn them over to me, then your passing and that of your womenfolk shall be merciful, with a single sword stroke, and those of your people who swear fidelity to Labornok shall be spared."
Krain lifted his bruised chin. "I will not submit, and I will not deliver my women into your hands."
Voltrik held high the coronet, and then crushed it to a twisted mass between metal-gauntleted hands and dropped it in front of the kneeling Krain. "Do you know your family's fate if you do not surrender to me? And that of your knights here gathered in chains?"
King Krain did not answer.
Voltrik's craggy brow darkened with anger and his fingers drummed impatiently on one shining golden cuisse. When the King of Ruwenda remained stubbornly silent, Voltrik commanded: "Bring in four chargers!"
One of the Labornoki captains hastened to obey.
A shocked murmur came from the prisoners, and the squire Barnipo blanched in sudden fear and twisted in the grip of his captor.
"Ho!" General Hamil laughed. "This white-livered youth knows full well what manner of death the mockers of Labornok may expect. See how unstained his armor is — a coward, beyond a doubt. It would be a salutary thing if he were to be the first to participate in this small demonstration of Your Majesty's just punishment."
"No! No!" shrieked Barnipo. "God and the Lords of the Air have mercy on me!" He struggled frantically until the black-armored Lord Osorkon smote him in the face with his closed bare fist, whereupon the boy subsided weeping and groaning. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Black Trillium by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton. Copyright © 1990 Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, and Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.