Read an Excerpt
Chapter one —At The Ruby Winespout
At the beginning of rhododendron time two of my spies were fished out of the river with their throats cut from ear to ear.
The banked masses of leaves, black-green and shining, burst —it seemed in the course of a single morning —into explosions of color. The blossoms scattered flecks and rushes, swathes and coruscations of all the colors of the rainbow across the dark green leaves. Color rioted and scents perfumed the air. And two good men were dead.
Anger and self-contempt were useless. Anger at the waste of human life, contempt that I had asked Nogan the Artful and Lifren the Soft to spy for me; and now they were dead. I told my friends what I intended to do. Their reactions were predictable.
"It is impossible."
"You cannot go running headlong into danger!"
But Seg Segutorio, regarding me with his mocking gaze much modified by thought, said, "You probably need to let some of the bad humor out, Dray. Your blood is getting thick. We'll just toddle along to this infamous Ruby Winespout and exercise our muscles a trifle."
Good old Seg!
"And our brains."
"Oh, aye," said Seg. "Brains." His fey blue eyes regarded me with amusement, clearing both mockery and thought. "Between us, we've not used our quota all that well, have we?"
I was surprised.
In all the concerns pressing in on us as we sought to assist a shattered empire to regain its strength with one hand and with the other repel fishlike marauders from over the curve of the world, I had thought Seg secure. He had overcome his grief for his wife Thelda and was now, I was convinced, the mostbalanced of us all. Except and despite that he could become a wild and raving maniac if he got into a spot of hand-to-hand. As the best Bowman of Loh in all Kregen, in my view, Seg Segutorio could handle himself in any situation. He was a comrade, the greatest comrade any man could have, and I relied on him absolutely.
"I don't know what you're on about for yourself, Seg. But if you're referring to the bother I'm having with Drak over this emperor of Vallia nonsense—"
He interrupted with the ease of valued friendship.
"No troubles you can put a shaft into. I've managed to steer clear of half a dozen designing families with marriageable offspring. Since Thelda —well, Dray, I'll tell you. I feel like those flowers out there."
So that was it.
We were standing in the long room with the serried windows overlooking a panorama of gardens dropping away to the River Havilthytus. The imperial palace, the Hammabi el Lamma, rearing imposingly on its artificial island in the river, had now become a place I could tolerate. The profusion of flowers helped, for the place always struck cold and hard. Delia had with her usual skill contrived comfort from the rooms of the apartments in the Alshyss Tower given over to our use.
Here in Ruathytu, the capital city of the Empire of Hamal, we people of Vallia were never allowed to forget we were strangers. We had concluded a magnificent treaty with the Hamalese and their new emperor, Nedfar, and everything looked promising for the future. We had to patch the empire together again for the Hamalese, and resist with the last drop of blood in our bodies the devilish Shanks who raided us all.
Seg shifted his belt on his hips, settled it. He coughed. "The problem now is those rogues in The Ruby Winespout. They are a notorious gang—"
"So we'll stroll along, as you suggest, and take a look."
Copyright © 1982, Kenneth Bulmer.