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Faery Lands Forlorn
A Man Of His Word: Book Two
By Dave Duncan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 D.J. Duncan
All rights reserved.
Behind the veil
Eastward from the bare crags of the Agoniste Mountains, the land fell off in scabby ridges and gullies, sere and drab. Rare oases like green wounds pitted the valleys, but otherwise that desolate country was fit only for antelope and wild goats, watched over by buzzards drifting in the thin blue sky. Below the hills, a roasted desert stretched away to meet the surf of the Spring Sea.
In the main, the ironbound coast of Zark was as deadly and inhospitable as the interior. Yet, at long intervals where some trick of the landscape caught the nourishing sea wind or cool springs gushed from the rocks, life erupted in abundance. There the soil yielded crops of uncountable variety. The people dwelt there, on islands encircled half by ocean and half by desert. Whereas in other lands the earth spread its generosity widely, in Zark it hoarded all its goodness into these few green enclaves, like rich emeralds knotted on a string.
Richest of them all was Arakkaran, a narrow land blessed with twisting valleys of deep soil and legendary fertility. Its wide bay was the finest harbor on the continent. Many trade routes met in its markets, depositing wealth there in heaps to be fondled by the soft-fingered merchants: dates and pomegranates, rubies and olives, costly vials of perfume, intricate rugs, and the silver fish of the sea. From distant lands came gold and spices, elvish arts and dwarvish crafts, pearls and silks, and merfolk pottery unequaled in all Pandemia.
The city itself was beautiful and ancient. It was noted for its cruelty, and for fine racing camels. It boasted of a history written in blood. Near the close of Ji-Gon's Campaign, the young Draqu ak'Dranu had turned back the Imperial legions at Arakkaran, and there they won their revenge nine centuries later under Omerki the Merciless. During the Widow War, the city had withstood a siege of a thousand and one days.
From the loud and overscented bustle of the markets, it climbed by slope and precipice, in a tapestry of nacreous stone and flowering greenery. Trees had wedged in every unused crevice, hanging welcome shadow over steep alleyways and winding stairs. On the crest of the hill, celebrated in many ancient stories, the Palace of Palms was a marvel of domes and spires and towers, graced with lush parks and exotic gardens, as widespread in itself as many a respected town.
Throughout recorded history, a sultan of Arakkaran had ruled in that palace. There had been many sultans; their names and deeds were uncountable as the shells of the beaches. Some had held sway over half of Zark, while others had barely controlled the docks. A few were celebrated for justice and wisdom; many had been despots of a savagery to make the Gods recoil. No single family had ever dominated for long, no dynasty prevailed; old age had rarely troubled them.
Whatever he had been—warrior or statesman, tyrant or scholar, poet or giver of laws—every sultan of Arakkaran had invariably been renowned for his ferocity and for the number and beauty of his women.
From the dark cold of Krasnegar, Inos stumbled through a curtain of jewels into blinding light and a heat that took her breath away. Her willful feet carried her several paces farther before she felt them returned to her control.
But Rap and Aunt Kade were in danger—without even pausing to take stock of where she was, she spun around and rushed blindly back to the drape.
There was nothing there to stop her except many dangling strands of gems, flickering and tinkling in the breeze. A moment earlier she had passed between the strings with no trouble at all, but now she bounced on, stubbing her toe and almost falling. From this side, apparently, the curtain was as impenetrable as a castle wall. Yet it still shimmered and rippled. Infernal sorcery! She thumped fists on it furiously.
"Anger will not help," said a harsh male voice behind her.
She wheeled around, screwing up her eyes against the glare.
He was big, as tall as a jotunn. His pale-green cloak billowed and danced in the breeze, making him seem even larger. Yet in a moment she could make out his ruddy-hued face, and the thin line of red beard framing it. He was a djinn, therefore. Of course.
Under the cloak he wore voluminous pajamas of emerald silk, but she doubted he had just climbed out of bed. The scimitar hanging at his side, for example, its hilt glittering with diamonds—not a comfortable sleeping companion. The miscellaneous gems scattered from his lofty turban to the curled-up toes of his shoes, and especially the wide cummerbund of solid emeralds encircling his waist ... no, those were not believable bed wear. And no matter how slim he was, that incredible belt must be excruciatingly tight. It was a wonder he could breathe in it.
His face was thin and intense, his nose aquiline, and his eyes hard as rubies. He was not very much older than herself. The size of him! Those shoulders ...
The arrogance! He was enjoying her inspection. Whom had he intended to impress?
"Your name and station, wench?"
She drew herself up, miserably aware of her ruined leather riding habit, bloodstained and filthy; aware also that she must be haggard with fatigue—eyes like open sores, hair in yellow tangles. "I am Queen Inosolan of Krasnegar. And you, lad?"
Her insolence made fires flicker in his crimson eyes. Her head would barely reach his shoulder, and that emerald sash alone would buy her whole kingdom, even if the gems did not go all the way around him.
"I have the honor to be Azak ak'Azakar ak'Zorazak, Sultan of Arakkaran."
"Oh!" Dummy! Had she expected him to be a cook or a barber, dressed like that? The diamond medallion on his turban was worth a fortune in itself. Remembering in time that she was wearing jodhpurs, not skirts, she bowed.
The young giant studied her disapprovingly for a moment. Then he swept an expansive gesture with a large, red-brown hand and doubled over as if to touch his turban to his knees, making Inos wince. Obviously that emerald cummerbund was not tight at all—his waist really must be that narrow, and his back was even broader than she had suspected. He flicked himself upright again as if such gymnastics were no problem at all, but she could not tell if they were a compliment or a mockery.
Sultan! Rasha had claimed to be sultana, and this lad was far too young to be her husband. Of course that was assuming that Rasha was what she had seemed when she had first appeared in the tower—middle-aged and thick-bodied. There had been an even more revealing glimpse later, when Sagora had replaced himself with Andor. Startled by the occult transformation, Rasha had momentarily become an ugly old woman. The svelte maiden image would have been the illusion, obviously. Sorcerers lived a long time, but most likely this very tall and youthful sultan was Rasha's son, or grandson.
A surge of exhaustion closed over Inos like a dark wave. She was in no state to deal with sultans, or sultanas, or sorceresses.
And then the jeweled drape tinkled. Inos spun around as Aunt Kade came through. Kade! Short and plump and blinking watery blue eyes at the brightness, but oh, how welcome!
"Aunt!" Inos hugged her fiercely.
"Ah, there you are, dear!" She sounded tired, but quite calm. She seemed blissfully unaware of her disreputable appearance—rose-and-silver gown all stained with tea, bedraggled snowy hair fluttering in the hot breeze.
Inos took a deep breath and forced herself to display suitably ladylike behavior. "How nice that you can join us, Aunt! Let me present you ... the Princess Kadolan, sister of my late father, King Holindarn of Krasnegar. The sultan ... er ..."
"Azak!" snapped Azak.
"Sultan Azak." Inos was not at her best at the moment.
"Your Majesty!" Aunt Kade curtsied, with no perceptible wobble. She was again demonstrating her astonishing durability.
The sultan frowned, registering aristocratic surprise at these two waifs appearing in his domain. When he clenched his jaw, the fringe of red beard rippled. Of course he could not possibly be as stupendous as he thought he was, but Inos decided she would go so far as to class him as noteworthy. Again making his curious gesture, he bowed to Kade—deeply, but less deeply than before. Then he went back to staring at Inos.
"Your father? You are a queen in your own right?"
Indignant, Inos opened her mouth and then firmly closed it again; a queen with only two loyal subjects should be discreet. Which reminded her of her other loyal subject—
"Aunt, where is Rap?" She turned back to the curtain of jewels and pushed at it. It was still immovable from this side, a one-way curtain.
"Still in the chamber, I expect, dear."
"The slut is in there, I presume?" Azak inquired.
Inos and her aunt both turned to stare at him.
"The woman who calls herself Sultana Rasha? You have met her? She is beyond that drape—wherever that may be?" He folded his arms imperiously.
"Beyond that drape is Krasnegar, my kingdom!" Inos shouted, feeling her threadbare self-control starting to rip. This ordeal had been going for a whole day and night, and she just couldn't take much more. "I want to go home!"
"Indeed?" He seemed skeptical. "You have no magic of your own, either of you?"
"None!" Inos shouted.
"Inos!" Kade frowned disapprovingly.
The djinn shrugged. "Well, I am no sorcerer, merely the rightful ruler of this domain. For sorcery you must deal with the bitch."
"Is she not your ... Well, if you are sultan here, then what is she to you?" Inos demanded, still ignoring glances from Kade.
The djinn scowled grotesquely at the magical drape behind them. "You have met her, I presume?"
"Queen Rasha? I mean Sultana—"
His already ruddy face darkened and reddened even more. "She is no queen, no sultana!
She was a dockside harlot who illicitly acquired occult powers. Now she styles herself sultana, but there is no truth in that! None!" Just for a moment, his anger betrayed his youth.
But Inos knew that Rasha had not truly impressed her as royalty. She had not sounded right, or moved right—
"What a marvelous view you have here!" Kade exclaimed, firmly changing the subject.
For the first time, Inos took a serious look at where she was. The room was big, much larger than Inisso's chamber of puissance, but not unlike. It was obviously located high up, it was circular, and it had four windows. If those similarities were important and not just coincidence, they must mean that this also was a sorcerer's chamber. A sorceress's, of course. Rasha's.
The walls were of white marble, supporting a huge bulbous dome of the same milky rock. There were no windows in the great shell, but light flooded it from somewhere, apparently through the stone itself. Moreover, that strange brightness pulsed with inexplicable, eerie movements that Inos could see perfectly well out of the corner of her eye, but not when she looked straight at them. Then the shiftings ceased and there was nothing there except smooth translucent marble; while the haunting would have started somewhere else. Creepy!
And the view that her aunt had mentioned—the four wide openings were larger by far than the casements in Inisso's tower, triple-arched and not merely unglazed, but lacking even shutters. Obviously Arakkaran's climate was kinder than Krasnegar's.
To her left, the austere yellow light of morning streamed in from a newborn sun, aiming a golden sword at her across the sea. All through her childhood, seaward had meant northward—the Winter Ocean. At Kinvale, although it was well inland, seaward had meant westward, toward Pamdo Gulf. Sea to the east was wrong, horrifying. It told her she was appallingly far from home.
Southward, towers and more pointed domes obscured much of the view, but she could tell she was high in some castle or palace. Beyond them she glimpsed a coastline of dry brown hills falling to white surf, stretching off to meet the sky. Craggy peaks to the west were already almost lost in a heat haze. They were much higher and rockier than the Pondague range, and obviously desert.
Fatigue and despair crushed down on her. She struggled to recall childhood lessons from Master Poraganu, wishing she had been more attentive. Djinns were tall, fierce folk, with reddish skin and hair ... djinns lived in Zark ... desert and sand. Those mountains looked bare as any desert she could imagine. But Zark was somewhere in the extreme southeast of Pandemia, about as far from Krasnegar as it was possible to be. Which would explain why Master Poraganu had not gone into details, and why she had not listened.
Her eyes went again to the shining water eastward. That must be the Spring Sea, and she remembered Mistress Meolorne talking about silk once, long ago.
"Is this truly Zark?" Kade exclaimed. "How thrilling! I have always wanted to see more of Pandemia. This will be a very informative and educational visit." She beamed warningly at Inos.
"Arakkaran is a small, poor place compared to the Impire," Azak proclaimed, "but its people are a proud and noble race, jealous of their own ways and their independence. We draw our strength from the desert, scorning the decadence of those who dwell in milder climes."
Oh, just juicy! Barbarians.
Again Inos tried the infuriating drapery of gems; again it refused to admit her. What was Rasha doing? Was Rap all right, or had the impish legionaries finally broken down the door? Her legs wobbled with weariness, but she must stay close to this impossible sorcery in the hope that somehow it would lead her home again.
Azak's eyes had made her think of rubies on first sight, but now they had darkened to garnets and were regarding her with a haughty stare that reminded her of Firedragon, the stallion.
"You truly have no occult power ... your Majesty?"
Inos shook her head, feeling weary now beyond speech. A whole world between her and Krasnegar, and Rap. Rap? Suddenly she realized that, more than anything else, she wanted Rap here beside her. Solid, dependable, reliable Rap. How strange! Rap?
The sultan fingered his beard thoughtfully. His feet had not moved since she entered. They were enclosed in very soft-looking shoes that curled up absurdly at the toes. Certainly not desert wear. Rather decadent, in fact.
"That is indeed curious."
"In what way?" Aunt Kade inquired, casting another worried glance at Inos.
"Because the sorceress slut has cast a spell upon me. By rights you should both have been turned to stone before now."
"Turned to stone!" Inos and Kade echoed in chorus.
He nodded. "Anyone who grants me my correct honorific ... I wonder if the curse works only on my own subjects, not strangers? No, the ambassador from Shuggaran was smitten."
It would have been kind of him to have mentioned the matter sooner.
"This petrification," Kade murmured, obviously deeply offended by the idea, "is it ... reversible?"
He glanced in surprise at her—Kade's queries were often much sharper than her appearance led one to expect, "In the beginning it was not. The first half dozen or so victims are still statues. Now the jade usually restores them to life after a week or two."
"That is the most disgustingly stupid thing I have ever heard of!" Inos said.
"I told you—she is a whore, an evil woman, and spiteful."
"She must also be half-witted, if she did not see what would happen with a spell like that loose! Six people died before she changed to a sorcery she could undo?"
He shrugged. "But why were you not immobilized when you gave me my legal title?"
Obviously he had expected it to happen. That realization left Inos at a loss for words.
"The effects of my curse are limited to the palace itself," the big man mused. "Can it be that this odious sorcerous chamber is excluded?"
Again Inos looked around. She could see nothing obviously sorcerous, only an excessive amount of bright-colored furniture, much of it ugly and garish, intermixed with ill-suited statuary. Nor could she see any doorway. The floor, where it was visible, was a spectacular mosaic of vines and flowers, all intricately intertwined and as brightly hued as a swarm of butterflies, but the effect was ruined by a litter of rugs, as gawdy and mismatched as the furniture. Everything looked expensive, but nothing fit or blended. Whoever had assembled the collection had been sadly lacking in even the rudiments of taste. One glance at this warehouse would give Duke Angilki a seizure.
Excerpted from Faery Lands Forlorn by Dave Duncan. Copyright © 1991 D.J. Duncan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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