Jhegaala

Jhegaala

4.2 24
by Steven Brust
     
 

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The latest in the New York Times bestselling "Vlad Taltos" series: on the run far from Draegara, without his usual organization working for him, Vlad is going to have to do his sleuthing amidst an alien people: his own.

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Overview

The latest in the New York Times bestselling "Vlad Taltos" series: on the run far from Draegara, without his usual organization working for him, Vlad is going to have to do his sleuthing amidst an alien people: his own.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Despite witches, magical amulets and "elfs," the appealing 11th novel in Brust's bestselling Vlad Taltos series is a classic private eye thriller. Still hurting over his recent divorce and pursued by his former employer's assassins, antihero Taltos decides to get out of town for a bit and heads to a neighboring country in search of long-lost relatives. Accompanied by his familiars, telepathic flying lizards Loiosh and Rocza, with Loiosh playing the role of a classic B-movie sidekick ("What's the play, Boss?"), Taltos meets with hostile reactions and a warning not to ask too many questions. Then his remaining family in the area is wiped out in a suspicious fire, and he must uncover a complex conspiracy with stealth, brute force and an endless supply of wisecracks. Longtime fans may miss familiar surroundings and characters, but will enjoy the trip into Taltos's family's past; newcomers will appreciate the noir touches and benefit from Brust's deft touch with exposition. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

With his marriage shattered and his life in danger from the criminal Jhereg organization, Vlad Taltos (Dzur; Isola) flees to faraway Fenario, to the papermaking town of Burz, where he tries to locate his distant relatives, the Merss. There, his real troubles begin, and the irrepressible Taltos must locate his relatives and solve the city's problems with its oppressive Guilds without his usual allies. Brust's popular hero once again takes on the world armed with his wit and his military and social prowess. Fans will look forward to this latest installment. Libraries should purchase where there is demand.
—Jackie Cassada

From the Publisher
"Dzur gives us Vlad Taltos at his best." —Cinescope

"Fresh, snappy, and terribly likeable…Dzur shows you what heroic fantasy can be." —Cory Doctorow

“Steven Brust may well be America’s best fantasy writer.” —Tad Williams

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429927208
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
07/08/2008
Series:
Vlad , #11
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
113,114
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Jhegaala


By Steven Brust, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2008 Steven Brust
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2720-8


CHAPTER 1

BORAAN: A candle! As you love the Gods, a candle!

NURSE: But we have no candles!

BORAAN: How, no candles?

NURSE: They were all burned up in the flood.

DAGLER: Permit me to sell you this beeswax.

[Boraan strikes Dagler with candlestick]

[Exit Dagler, holding his head]

— Miersen, Six Parts Water

Day One, Act IV, Scene 4

The transition from mountain to forest was so gradual, I wasn't entirely sure I was out of the mountains for a while even after I had turned north; and this in spite of them towering over me to my left. But eventually, I became convinced that I wasn't getting much lower, and soon enough, there was no question that I was in deep woods, with trees I can't name so close together I sometimes had to squeeze past them and with branches so low I had to duck to avoid getting hit in the face. The combination seemed unfair.

After that I felt more confident as I headed north, giving thanks for the occasional clearing, even though in the clearings I could see the Furnace, and it hurt my eyes.

I don't like forests. I hate the trees, and I hate the bushes, and I'm not even that fond of the paths, because they have a way of either suddenly heading off in directions you don't want to go, or just stopping without giving you any explanation for their conduct. When I was running my territory for the Jhereg, if any of my people had acted like that I'd have had their legs broken.

In the Pushta, you can usually see a good distance around you; you just have to keep an eye on what might be moving through the grasses. In the mountain, at least the mountains I've been on, you can see for miles in at least a couple of directions. In the city, you might not be able to see very far, but you can identify where anyone who might want to do you harm could be lurking. Forests are thick, and anything can come from anywhere; I never feel safe.

And sleeping is the worst. I spent about three nights in the forest after I came down from the mountains, and I didn't get a good night's sleep the entire time, in spite of the fact that Loiosh and Rocza were watching for me. I just couldn't relax. When I become ruler of the world, I'm going to have inns put up along every little road and trail in that place. I would certainly have gotten lost if it weren't for Loiosh and an occasional sight of the mountain.

I waded over several brooks and streams, one of which showed signs of becoming a river soon: it seemed to be in a terrible hurry, and had a lot of force for being only a foot or so deep and maybe ten feet wide. I didn't much care for that, either.

In spite of the annoyances, I was never in any danger so far as I know (though I'm told Dzur sometimes hunt the forests). I made it through; leave it at that. The trees became lower, sparser, and the grass taller, with large, jagged boulders intruding on the landscape as if the mountain were encroaching.

"Well, for marching blind, I guess we did all right, Loiosh."

"We sure did, Boss. And only modesty forbids me from saying how we managed."

"Heh."

An hour or so later we found a road. A real road. I could have danced, if I could dance. It was getting on toward evening, and the Furnace was sinking behind the mountains. The shadows — remarkably sharp, looking almost tangible — were long, and a certain chill was coming into the air on a breeze from behind me.

"That way," said my familiar, indicating down the road to the right. Since the mountains were to the left, I'd have figured that one out on my own, but I didn't say anything. I set out.

After mountain and forest, it was a positive luxury to walk on a road; even a rutted, gouged, untended road like this. My feet thanked me, as did my left elbow, which was no longer being cracked by my sword's pommel when I raised my left leg to climb onto a rock.

For an hour or so, I saw no one and nothing save a lone farmhouse far across a field. The shadows lengthened and Loiosh was silent and my mind wandered.

I thought about Cawti, of course. A few weeks ago, I'd been married. A few weeks before that, happily married; or at least I thought so. Anyone can make a mistake.

But what was odd was how little I was feeling it. It was pleasant walking down the road, and I was in good shape from all the climbing, and the evening wasn't too cold. I knew the whole thing was going to hit me — I mean, I knew it. It was like seeing an out-of-control team barreling down on you, and watching it come closer, and knowing it's going to flatten you. Here it comes, yep, I'm about to be either killed or messed up.

Any second now. How interesting.

I could even be sort of dispassionate about it. I pondered whether I could convince her to take me back, and, if so, how? I ran through the arguments in my head, and they seemed very persuasive. I suspected they'd be less so when I actually tried them on her. And, even if she was convinced, I'd still have to deal with her politics, which is what had gotten between us in the first place.

And there was still the big problem, which was that circumstances had conspired to force me to save her. I don't know if I could have forgiven her if she had saved me; I didn't see how she could forgive me for saving her. It's an ugly burden. Eventually, I was going to have to try to overcome it.

And in the meantime, I was heading in the opposite direction, while somewhere behind there were people who wanted to get rich by putting the shine on me.

No, it didn't look good.

How interesting.

"We getting close to the water, Loiosh?"

"Wind shifted, Boss. I don't know."

"All right."

I should mention that nothing so far was at all familiar from my previous journey to Fenario, but that had been years before, and I wasn't paying all that much attention to my surroundings then.

With an abruptness that caught me by surprise, it was dark — I mean completely dark. There were small pinpoints of light in the sky, but they provided no illumination. Maybe they should have; I was told by a human physicker once that I had poor night vision. I could have had it corrected, but the process is painful, and a spell to compensate is absurdly easy. Except, of course, when you are unable to cast the simplest of spells for fear of removing the protections that keep the bad guys from finding you. So for now, little points of light or no, I was effectively blind. I wondered if failing to have that fixed when I could would end up being what did me in. Come to think of it, I still wonder.

I stepped a few paces off the road, and, having no better idea, took off my pack, spread out my blanket, and lay down. Loiosh and Rocza, I knew, would take care of any annoying beasts, and wake me if there were any dangerous ones. It wasn't until I was prone that I became aware of the sound of night insects all around me. I wondered if they were the sort that bit; then sleep took me.

Evidently they weren't the sort that bit.

I'd been walking about two hours the next day before I passed a young man driving a wagon filled with hay. I hailed him, and he stopped the horse — one of the biggest I'd ever seen — and greeted me. I had the impression he was a bit disconcerted by the jhereg on my shoulders, but was too polite to say anything.

"Which way to Burz?" I asked him.

He pointed the way I was going. "Over the bridge," he said, "in a while the road will fork, and there's a sign. You'll likely smell it after that."

"Good enough," I told him, and gave him a couple of copper pennies. He tapped his forehead, which I took as a gesture of thanks, and continued on his way.

I suddenly felt as if I was too relaxed, not paying enough attention, and resolved to stay a little more on my guard. Then it hit me that I had now made that resolution around a dozen times since coming down out of the mountains.

"I'm feeling safe, Loiosh. As if I'm out of danger. I can't decide if I should trust that feeling."

"I'm not sure, Boss, but I've been feeling the same way."

"Like we're out of their reach?"

"Yeah."

"Well, we probably are, but let's not trust it too much."

I found the bridge — it spanned a stream maybe twenty feet wide — and went "a while," which turned out to be most of the rest of the day. Once over the bridge, the road abruptly improved, showing signs of regular maintenance. I stopped a couple of times to eat bread, cheese, and sausage I'd gotten in Saestara (the village, not the mountain). The bread was getting stale, but it was still better than the hardtack. As I walked, I noticed that the forest, which I had thought was left behind me, seemed to be returning on my right; or maybe it was a different forest. I ought to have tried to find a map, I suppose, but I'm told they are hard to come by and rarely reliable.

Over the next several hours, the forest seemed to come closer, but avoided the road (I know, the road was dug around the forest, but I'm telling you how it looked, all right?). Eventually, I found the fork, and there was a sign just as there was supposed to be, on a stout wooden pole.

I followed it, and the road bent closer to the forest. It took us over low hills, and in places there were crops I didn't recognize in neat rows. More farmhouses appeared. The outbuildings were in good shape, and well painted. I tried not to look down on the locals for building everything out of wood; I knew that just came from living among Dragaerans. From an unbiased viewpoint, this seemed to be a more prosperous area than similar regions near Adrilankha. I wondered what Cawti would say if I made that observation to her.

The shadows lengthened, as the Furnace prepared to vanish behind the mountains, still looming up behind me. Presently, I became aware of a low rumble to my right, and I saw that the road had been joined by a fairly respectable river.

The Furnace plunged below the mountains, and it became significantly darker; still somewhat lit by the glow behind me, but — I was going to have to get used to how much more quickly it became dark, and how very much darker it was here. It had never occurred to me that the permanent overcast above the Empire might somehow provide a bit of ambient light, but apparently it does. I went another mile or so, and realized sadly that I was probably going to have to spend another night on the road.

The road curved as I came to the top of a hill, and below, still some distance away, was a very faint light. "Check it out, Loiosh."

It was a long way away; I must have covered half a mile before he returned, and from what I could see it could still be anything from a bonfire to —

"Just what you want, Boss. A nice little inn. And just beyond it, a nice little town. And, to judge from the smell, it is just the nice little town you're looking for."

"You are hereby forgiven for the last nine things that require forgiving."

"Speaking of smells, I think they have real food at the inn there, Boss. Just don't forget who your friends are."

It was full dark by the time I reached the door to the place. The light I'd seen came from two windows of oiled paper, and wasn't enough to let me see the sign. But I didn't need it by then. There was talking and laughing and the smell of bad beer and good food, stronger than the stench from — I presumed — the paper factory that I'd started to notice during the last few hundred yards.

I forced myself to ignore the growling of my stomach for a few minutes, while I stood near a window and let my eyes adjust; then I opened the thick door and stepped inside, moving at once to the side. I got a couple of glances, and Loiosh and Rocza got a couple more as I looked around. It was a two-story building, with doors in the back, but this room occupied most of the structure. A long, polished bar ran about half the length of the wall to my right, and there were a few score of people — Easterners — humans — sitting at tables, leaning on the bar, or standing against walls.

I went up to the bar, and eventually a middle-aged human came over to me. He had a pot belly and wore a sleeveless brown tunic; his arm muscles were truly impressive. Before I could say anything, he gestured toward my familiars with his chin and said, "Get them out of here."

I studied him. He looked strong, but not very fast. His eyes were brown. After a moment, he looked away. I said, "Brandy. I also want some food." He barely nodded, poured, and said, "See one of the girls about the food." He retreated to the other end of the bar. I left him a couple of coins, then went over to find a blank piece of wall.

"Ignorant prejudice, Boss. It's shameful —"

"Stay alert."

"Yeah, yeah."

Eventually a young lady came by. She was dressed in red and blue and yellow and had nice ankles as well as a tray full of mugs and pitchers. "Food," I said as she passed by.

She stopped, noticed the reptiles on my shoulders, and seemed to consider whether she ought to be upset. Eventually she decided not to be, because she said, "There are some fowls roasting, lamb stew, and a hunter's stew."

"The hunter's stew."

She nodded, then looked around. "I don't think there's any place to sit."

"I can stand."

She made an effort at smiling, then turned and walked away. I used my finely honed powers of observation to make sure the ankles looked as good from the back. They did.

It was about then I noticed that, full as the room was, there were no women there at all except the three barmaids. I wasn't sure what that meant, but it was interesting.

I picked up bits and pieces of conversation. Not much was interesting, but they were speaking Fenarian, and the purity of the accent made me miss my grandfather although it had been only days since I'd seen him.

Presently, the ankles returned with a large bowl of hunter's stew, a big spoon, and a loaf of black bread that could have fed a family in South Adrilankha for a week. I set my drink down on a shelf against the wall — probably made for that purpose — paid her, and collected the food. She inspected the Dragaeran copper carefully, but accepted it without complaint.

The stew was pork (no, I don't know why they'd call something made with pork "hunter's stew," unless it was the tenderest wild boar in the history of cooking) and onions, and a delightful variety of mushroom I'd never had before and three kinds of peppers, peas, carrots, and some other sort of legume. The bread was still warm from the oven and it was perfect. I got a few looks as I fed bits to the jhereg, but no one seemed inclined to comment — maybe because I was the only one in the place openly carrying a weapon.

I was about halfway through the bowl when a table opened up in front of me and I was able to sit down. That was better. The place was beginning to clear out a bit. By the time I'd finished eating, there were only about a dozen left, all having quiet conversations. Most of them were elderly. The hard-core drinkers. I knew the type; I'd be willing to bet thirty hours from now I'd see the same faces in here.

I called a barmaid over. This one also had nice ankles; it seemed to be a requirement of the profession. I said, "Is it possible to get a room for the night?" She had deep violet eyes, unusual for a Fenarian. She nodded and said, "You'll have to see the host."

"I will then," I said. "In the meantime, another brandy."

She headed off to get it while I relaxed and started realizing how tired I was getting. The thought of a real bed, the second since I'd left Noish-pa's, was enchanting.

I drank the brandy slowly, after it was delivered, enjoying the feeling that I was very tired and would soon rest. Then I went up to the host and asked about a room. He glanced at the jhereg on my shoulders, then nodded grudgingly, accepted a silver orb, and pointed toward a door in the back of the room.

The door led to a stairway, which ended in a hall, beyond which were doors. I opened the first one on the right, saw the bed, smiled, and stretched out on it. I gave a sigh of contentment and that's all I remember for a while.

The host was there the next morning when I came downstairs. He glanced at me, then returned to wiping down the bar. I walked out the door and took my first breath, which was no fun. Verra's tits and toenails, but it stank!

"Boss —"

"I know."

"Rocza doesn't like it."

"We'll get used to it."

"I hope not."

I tried to ignore the stench, and took a good look around.

The sign over my head showed a long pointed hat painted with red and white stripes. I didn't want to guess what they called the place. To the left was nothing. Well, okay, fields planted with wheat, and the road. To the right was a small town: a few score buildings and houses, and I could see some side streets heading off. Between some houses I could make out a river, with docks jutting out into it, and boats and barges tied to the docks, and the Furnace, bright enough that I had some trouble seeing the rest. I headed in that direction.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Jhegaala by Steven Brust, Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2008 Steven Brust. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.

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