Madouc (Lyonesse Series #3)by Jack Vance
The World Fantasy Award-winning third volume of the Lyonesse trilogy brings attention to the faerie changeling Madouc. Where princess Suldrun once meekly endured the proprieties of Castle Haidion, Madouc defends herself with rotten fruit. Vexed, King Casmir arranges a contest to marry her off, but Madouc has other ideas, and enlists the stableboy "Sir Pom-pom" on an impromptu quest to find her father. During their travels, they encounter swindlers, faeries, trolls, ogres, a knight in search of his youth, and a relatively pedestrian item known as the Holy Grail. As the sorcerers Shimrod and Murgen investigate portents of cataclysm in the world of magic, Casmir plans a murder that will bring all the lands under his iron rule; however, his ambitions will be complicated by one small but important oversight--he's failed to allow for Madouc!
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South of Cornwall, north of Iberia, across the Cantabrian Gulf from Aquitaine were the Elder Isles, ranging in size from Gwyg's Fang, a jag of black rock most often awash under Atlantic breakers, to Hybras, the 'Hy-Brasill' of early Irish chroniclers: an island as large as Ireland itself.
On Hybras were three notable cities: Avallon, Lyonesse Town and ancient Ys1, along with many walled towns, old gray villages, castles of many turrets and manor houses in pleasant gardens. The landscapes of Hybras were varied. The Teach tac Teach, a mountain range of high peaks and upland moors, paralleled the length of the Atlantic foreshore. Elsewhere the landscape was more gentle, with vistas over sunny downs, wooded knolls, meadows and rivers. A wild woods shrouded the entire center of Hybras. This was the Forest of Tantrevalles, itself the source of a thousand fables, where few folk ventured for fear of enchantment. The few who did so, woodcutters and the like, walked with cautious steps, stopping often to listen. The breathless silence, broken, perhaps, by a far sweet bird call, was not reassuring in itself and soon they would stop to listen again.
In the depths of the forest, colors became richer and more intense; shadows were tinged with indigo or maroon; and who knows what might be watching from across the glade, or perched at the top of yonder stump?
For many years the Elder Isles were ruled from Castle Haidion at Lyonesse Town, until Olam III, son of Fafhion Long Nose, removed the seat of government to Falu Ffail at Avallon, taking with him the sacred throne Evandig and the great table Cairbra an Meadhan, 'the Board of Notables'3, and the source of a whole cycle of legends.
Upon the death of Olam III, the Elder Isles entered upon a time of troubles. The Ska, having been expelled from Ireland, settled on the island Skaghane, where they rebuffed all attempts to dislodge them. Goths ravaged the coast of Dahaut, sacking the Christian monastery on Whanish Isle, sailing their longboats up the Cambermouth as far as Cogstone Head, from which they briefly menaced Avallon itself. A dozen princelings vied for power, shedding much blood, wreaking much grief and bereavement, exhausting the land, and in the end achieving nothing, so that the Elder Isles became a patchwork of eleven kingdoms, each at odds with all the rest.
Audry I, King of Dahaut, never abandoned his claim to sovereignty over all the Elder Isles, citing his custody of the throne Evandig as basis for his assertion. His claim was angrily challenged, especially by King Phristan of Lyonesse, who insisted that Evandig and Cairbra an Meadhan were his own rightful property, wrongfully sequestered by Olam III. He named Audry I traitor and caitiff; in the end the two realms went to war. At the climactic battle of Orm Hill the two sides succeeded only in exhausting each other. Both Phristan and Audry I were killed, and finally the remnants of the two great armies straggled sadly away from the bloody field.
Audry II became king of Dahaut and Casmir I was the new king of Lyonesse. Neither abandoned the ancient claims, and peace between the two realms was thereafter fragile and tentative.
So went the years, with tranquillity only a memory. In the Forest of Tantrevalles halflings, trolls, ogres and others less easily defined, bestirred themselves and performed evil deeds which no one dared punish; magicians no longer troubled to mask their identities, and were solicited by rulers for aid in the conduct of temporal policy.
The magicians devoted ever more time to sly struggles and baneful intrigue, to the effect that a goodly number had already been expunged. The sorcerer Sartzanek was one of the chief offenders; he had destroyed the magician Coddefut by means of a purulence, and Widdefut through the Spell of Total Enlightenment. In retaliation, a cabal of Sartzanek's enemies compressed him into an iron post which they emplaced at the summit of Mount Agon. Sartzanek's scion Tamurello took refuge at his manse Faroli, deep within the Forest of Tantrevalles and there protected himself by dint of careful magic.
That further events of this sort might be avoided, Murgen, most potent of the magicians, issued his famous edict, forbidding magicians employment in the service of temporal rulers, inasmuch as such activity must inevitably bring magicians into new conflicts with each other, to the danger of all.
Two magicians, Snodbeth the Gay, so-called for his jingling bells, ribbons and merry quips, and Grundle of Shaddarlost, were brash enough to ignore the edict, and each suffered a severe penalty for his presumption. Snodbeth was nailed into a tub to be devoured by a million small black insects; Grundle awoke from his sleep to find himself in a dismal region at the back of the star Achernar, among geysers of molten sulphur and clouds of blue fume; he too failed to survive.
Although the magicians were persuaded to restraint, travail and dissension elsewhere were rife. Celts who had been placidly settled in the Daut province Fer Aquila became inflamed by bands of Goidels from Ireland; they slaughtered all the Dauts they could find, elevated a burly cattle-thief named Meorghan the Bald to the kingship and renamed the land Godelia, and the Dauts were unable to recapture their lost province.
Years passed. One day, almost by chance, Murgen made a startling discovery, which caused him such vast consternation that for days he sat immobile, staring into space. By degrees his resolution returned and at last he set himself to a program which, if successful, would slow and finally halt the momentum of an evil destiny.
The effort preoccupied Murgen's energies and all but eliminated the joy in his life.
The better to guard his privacy, Murgen set out barriers of dissuasion along the approaches to Swer Smod, and, further, appointed a pair of demoniac gatekeepers, the better to turn back obstinate visitors; Swer Smod thereupon became a place of silence and gloom.
Murgen at last felt the need for some sort of alleviation. For this reason he brought into existence a scion, so that he might, in effect, live two existences in tandem.
The scion, Shimrod, was created with great care, and was by no means a replica of Murgen, either in appearance or in temperament. Perhaps the differences were larger than Murgen had intended, since Shimrod's disposition was at times a trifle too easy, so that it verged on the frivolous: a condition which was at discord with current conditions at Swer Smod. Murgen, nevertheless, cherished his scion and trained him in the skills of life and the arts of magic.
In the end Shimrod became restless and with Murgen's blessing he departed Swer Smod in all good cheer. For a period Shimrod wandered the Elder Isles as a vagabond, sometimes posing as a peasant, more often as a peregrine knight in search of romantic adventure.
Shimrod at last settled into the manse Trilda on Lally Meadow, a few miles into the Forest of Tantrevalles.
In due course the Ska of Skaghane perfected their military apparatus and invaded North and South Ulfland, only to be defeated by Aillas, the gallant young King of Troicinet, who thereupon became King of both North and South Ulfland, to the grievous distress of Casmir, King of Lyonesse.
Less than a dozen magicians remained extant throughout the Elder Isles. Some of these were Baibalides of Lamneth Isle; Noumique; Myolander; Triptomologius the Necromancer; Condoit of Conde; Severin Starfinder; Tif of the Troagh; and a few more, including some who were little more than apprentices, or tyros. A goodly number of others had recently passed from existence: a fact suggesting that magic might be a dangerous profession. The witch Desmëi for reasons unknown had dissolved herself during the creation of Faude Carfilhiot and Melancthe. Tamurello also had acted imprudently; now, in the semblance of a weasel skeleton he hung constricted within a small glass globe in Murgen's great hall at Swer Smod. The weasel skeleton crouched in a tight curl, skull thrust forward between the crotch formed by the up-raised haunches, with two small black eyes glaring from the glass, conveying an almost palpable will to work evil upon anyone who chanced to glance at the bottle.
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This installment while adequate is much slower than the other two books and sections repeat themselves frequently. This book comes in third out of three in the series.
This trilogy is a must read. It has been comfortable stowed in my top ten for more than a decade, and nothing has yet dethroned it.