Mystic Empire (Bronze Canticles Series #3)by Tracy Hickman, Laura Hickman
Eighty Years have passed since the Mystics founded Calsandria, and now their nation is mired in politics and bloodlines. A woman with no magic, Theona Conlan leads the desperate search for the missing Prince of House Arvad. In the faery realm, Dwynwyn learns that slave creatures are mastering a magic that threatens the fragile peace between the faeries and their… See more details below
Eighty Years have passed since the Mystics founded Calsandria, and now their nation is mired in politics and bloodlines. A woman with no magic, Theona Conlan leads the desperate search for the missing Prince of House Arvad. In the faery realm, Dwynwyn learns that slave creatures are mastering a magic that threatens the fragile peace between the faeries and their enemies. And while the goblin Lunid builds a device to reach across worlds, her masters plot to use it for their own dark ends. But unknown to them all, the gates between realities are about to burst open and plunge humans, faeries, and goblins into a war that can be won only with an undiscovered magic...
One that will unite--or destroy--three worlds.
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Mystic EmpireBook Three of the Bronze Canticles
By Tracy Hickman Laura Hickman
Warner AspectTracy and Laura Hickman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Bards
The 591st year of the Dragonkings was to mark the centennial of the Election Fields Rebellion-a celebration of the moment that put the spark of life into the embryonic ambitions of the mystics. The hundred-year anniversary was to be a cause of tremendous celebration everywhere the mystics called home. All prepared to commemorate the Election Centenary with whatever revelry they could manage. Most of those who claimed allegiance to the mystic guilds could boastfully trace at least one of their own ancestral lines back to the founding mystic clans and thereby laid their special claim to the festival as well. The tales of their ancestors who made the arduous journey to the heart of the lost and fallen Rhamasian Empire and claimed its ancient capital as their own had moved beyond pride to political necessity; power and social status had become a question of heritage.
The mystics had expanded their influence from the security of their mountain citadels high in the Forsaken Mountains to the distant settlements in the Eastern Marches and the Provinces- places whose names sounded more solid than the tentative huts that clutched at those wild lands. There was the sense in every mystic community that the promise of a magical empirewas within their collective grasp, especially evidenced by the widely anticipated union of two of the most powerful guild houses in that same year-the House of Conlan and the House of Rennes-Arvad.
Yet, even as the eyes of all the mystics were fixed on their own triumphs and glory down the hundred years of their history, one alteration went unnoticed: the Deep Magic had been changing, too, like a sealed jar of water left on coals long thought cold. Quiet and forgotten, it was about to explode.
Bronze Canticles, Tome VI, Folio 1, Leaf 25>
The slats of the wide closed door rattled under the banging fist.
"Hold on! Hold on!" yelled the cooper. He stood stooped over, fitting the staves of the large barrel together carefully inside the temporary upper metal hoop, the bottom ends of the staves gouging into the dirt floor of the shop. Fitting the "rose"-the setting of each stave inside the metal hoop at the base of the barrel-required his concentration; it was certainly no time for him to be disturbed. "Mera! Could you see to the door?"
"I'm gettin' the supper on!"
The fist slammed several times into the door in quick succession.
"Hold on there!" cried the cooper once again toward the door. The banging stopped. "Mera-just leave it to the girl and give us a hand, will you?"
"I'll not be leavin' this stew, Hengus, were it for the Dragon-Talker hisself calling," the woman's voice called back from the open doorway into what passed as their home. "Last time the girl burned the stew, and you gave us the what for!"
"Damn, woman! It's the door!"
"Then answer it! I'm trying to make us a home in this forsaken place!"
Hengus shook with frustration, his hands slipping. The carefully crafted barrel rose collapsed, the ring falling and rolling loudly into a corner of the shop as the staves splayed outward, clattering against the packed-dirt floor. The cooper would have liked to swear more but knew that he would call more of his wife's ire down on him if he did. This frustrated him all the more, so he raised his wide stained face toward the roof of the shop and roared incoherently toward the ceiling.
The door rattled again, the blows from the outside sounding more insistent than before.
"Coming! I'm coming," Hengus rumbled. He was a large man-largest in the village-and stronger than any two of the local farmers put together. He was naturally large of frame, but bending staves from dawn to dusk had accentuated his already broad shoulders. Sweat glistened from his black curly hair, which he preferred kept short, though lately, it had become more difficult to find anyone who could cut it properly. He also preferred to be clean-shaven, but, as evidenced by the thick stubble on his face, that, too, was becoming a rare extravagance in his life.
He straightened up, turned, and started for the door, then hesitated. Reaching down, Hengus picked up his cooper's hammer, hefted its weight, and then reached for the door latch with his left hand, the hammer cocked back over his head in his right.
"Please let us in," came the high-pitched voice.
"It's late-we keep decent hours here. Come back when it's light."
"Please!" The voice was muffled but urgent through the slats of the door. "We need help!"
Hengus set his jaw. They all needed help, he thought, but he reached forward with his hand and pulled back the heavy wooden bolt that held the door closed.
Two men tumbled into his shop through the door, each seeming to support the other as they fell to the dirty floor. They were young, Hengus could see, having barely seen two decades by the look of them. They were coated in dust from the road and smelled as though they had not had a reasonable cleaning in over a month. Still, both wore sandals of remarkable, if somewhat worn, craftsmanship and carried packs on their backs beneath their drab cloaks of sturdy, dull green cloth, but it was their tunics that drew the eye of the cooper at once; even through the coating of powder over them he could see that they were white and that the cloth itself shined in places.
Hengus raised his hammer menacingly. "What do you want?"
One of the young men rolled over, his slender chest working hard as he gasped for breath. His face was pinched and hawkish with small, narrow eyes. The youth's beard had once been carefully trimmed but was now showing itself as having had neglect for some time. It was his high voice Hengus had heard through the door. "Where-where are we?"
"You come banging down my door in the dark of night and don't even know where you be?" Hengus's voice rumbled menacingly as he spoke.
The narrow-faced youth held up his open hands, whether in surrender or defense, Hengus couldn't judge. "Please-we just need to rest for a while-and find out the name of this place."
"This be Wellstead," the cooper answered cautiously, gripping his hammer tighter, his muscles drawing taut in anticipation. "And I be Hengus-and that's all you'll be asking until I get some answers of my own!"
The second youth, drawing himself up on all fours, spoke haltingly in a richer, baritone voice. "Wellstead, eh? We're still in the Eastern Marches, Gaius. Somewhere around a hundred miles south of Traggathia, I think."
"Taking me to places I've never heard of again, Treijan?" Gaius asked through a gulping breath.
"It's a place a good deal further beyond 'never heard of,'" Treijan replied. "'Never heard of' would be relatively close comparatively."
"That's enough out of both of you," Hengus growled. He reached down with his free hand, gathered up the back of Gaius's tunic, and dragged him to his feet. "Out with you both-back to wherever you came from."
"Hengus Denthal, you put him down at once!" His wife stood framed in the doorway to the kitchen. She was a good foot shorter than he was and moved like a bird. She had every appearance of being frail, but Hengus knew better through long experience.
"Mera! Strangers and trouble are one and the same," Hengus whined. "We've enough problems on our own without taking on theirs."
"And whose fault is that?" Mera replied, her dark hair stuck out at odd angles from her thin face, quivering as she spoke. "Come out to the frontier, you said; let's get us a new start, you said; leave our troubles behind, you said. So we listened to that Pir Aboth talk about how wonderful it would be to serve Satinka in the Marches and came on those stinking colony ships and dragged what little we had out here-and for what?"
"We're the only cooper in this village!" Hengus shouted.
"We're the only anything in this village!" Mera shot back. Her dark eyes were blazing but softened suddenly as she turned toward Gaius, still hanging from Hengus's grip. She smiled slightly, self-conscious of her two missing teeth. "Please pardon my husband-he don't know no better. Ain't seen as much of the world as I have in my time."
"That's quite all right, madam," Gaius said as Hengus slowly lowered him to the ground. "We don't mean to bring you any trouble."
"Oh, ain't that nice," Mera cooed, patting down her rebellious hair. "No need to worry about the trouble; we've got a surplus of it-could make a living off of it, if there were a market, you might say."
"Perhaps we can help with that," said the second young man as he stood. He was slightly shorter than the first, with close-cropped dark hair that seemed to bristle from his head. The man's beard showed signs of careful crafting, its edge extending from in front of the ears in a graceful sweep down a strong jawline before it turned abruptly upward and joined at his mustache. A single tuft of hair nestled in the cleft of his chin, an island beneath lips that seemed to naturally smile. His cheeks were apple-rosy, matching his warm, shining eyes. He extended his hand to the slack-jawed and obviously entranced woman. "Please call me Treijan. This is my companion, Gaius. We are-"
"Bards." Mera giggled suddenly as though she were a girl half her age. "I recognized the tunics."
Hengus frowned deeply. "Bards? Then you're mystic heretics come to plague us in our misery."
"No, Master ... Hengus, isn't it?" Treijan said in his smoothest voice. "We come to sing the songs of the ancients; tell tales of forgotten heroes and search for those who long for a better life."
"Which we would gladly do for you another time," Gaius interjected quickly as he extracted his tunic from the cooper's slackening grip. "Treijan, say good-bye to the nice family. We don't know how long it will be before-"
"But this good man is a cooper," Treijan replied at once, gesturing with a warm smile toward Hengus. "Coopers are esteemed highly in the councils of Calsandria; in fact, as I recall, there is a desperate need for coopers. It would be disrespectful not to return his hospitality and that of his family."
"It would be disrespectful to wait until our problems caught up with all of us, Your High-"
Treijan shot a warning glance at his traveling companion as he abruptly held up a warning finger.
"-and-mighty fellow bard-singer," Gaius finished lamely. "We must be going at once."
"We've seen no sign of our friends for a while," Treijan said in a voice smooth as oil on still water. "I think we might afford the courtesy of answering these good people's questions regarding the doings in the world beyond Wellstead. And who might this be?"
Hengus turned toward the kitchen door once more. His daughter's dirty face was peering wide-eyed around her mother's skirts. "I've something to show you," Treijan said to the little girl, crouching down as he reached into his pack.
"We'll have none of your tricks, mystic," Hengus said quickly, though he suddenly realized that the hammer in his raised hand was getting a bit heavy. "If the priest were to find you here, he'd as soon burn down my shop as see you breathing."
"No tricks, Master Hengus." Treijan nodded, still smiling at the little girl. "And believe me, your local priest would rather not know that I was anywhere near him."
The young man pulled out a small folded tapestry cloth which measured barely the length of both his arms. From where he stood Hengus could not see what image the threads made, but he saw the eyes of both his wife and his daughter go wide in wonder.
"Please, Master Hengus, come around and see."
Hengus lowered the hammer and carefully stepped around to where he could see the tapestry. Light from the fires cooking the bound barrel staves he had made earlier in the day illuminated the glittering threads, but he was astonished to see that the threads seemed to be in constant motion, weaving and reweaving themselves in a blur of speed.
"Satinka protect us!" Hengus muttered in awe.
Treijan smiled at the comment but continued to look at the wide-eyed little girl. "Would you like me to tell you a story?"
The girl hid her face in her mother's skirt.
"Go on, now," Mera urged insistently. "Listen to the nice bard." The girl peeked one eye out of the folds in the cloth and managed to nod just once.
"Well, a long, long time ago, there was a great kingdom where all the towers were sparkling white; where the days were never too hot and the nights were never too cold. There was always fruit on the trees and vegetables in the gardens. The torusks were tame and well behaved, and everyone was happy."
The threads on the tapestry suddenly came alive, forming a breathtaking image of narrow, achingly beautiful towers against a brilliant blue sky. Mountains appeared in the distance, and the lake beyond the towers shimmered.
The girl looked out from the folds in amazement.
"This was Calsandria-the greatest city in the world and the jewel of the entire Rhamasian Empire," Treijan continued quietly. "It was a place where every man could make a difference and every woman find peace. It was a place where children played with the most marvelous toys ever dreamed of. Now, how old are you, uh-"
"Edis," the mother prompted.
"How old are you, Edis?"
The girl remained silent but held up both hands, all fingers and thumbs.
"Ten? My, you are getting older, aren't you?" Treijan smiled.
"Well, I'm very sad to tell you that even more than ten years ago-even more than tens of ten years-this wonderful place was lost and vanished."
The image on the tapestry faded away, the threads merging into the same light tan of the rest of the cloth.
"It vanished, all right," Hengus snorted in derision. "The Dragonkings burned its Mad Emperors right off the face of Aerbon, that's what vanished 'em."
"As though they've done us any good," Mera snapped. "Shut up and listen!"
"But this story has a happy ending," Treijan continued to the child. "A long time ago, though not nearly so long ago as Calsandria, there was a man named Galen ..."
The threads on the tapestry suddenly reappeared, weaving themselves into the image of a handsome man whose features were strong, his chin held confidently up in a look of strength and defiance.
"Galen was also of the Pir-just like you-but he discovered that he had a special gift from the ancient gods-gods who were older even than the Dragonkings-a gift for the magic of the ancient Rhamasian kings." The tapestry wove and rewove itself to the words that Treijan spoke. "He found that there were many who had this same gift, so he gathered them together out of all the human lands. He sent his son, Caelith, into the terrible peaks of the Forsaken Mountains, and there, led by the ancient gods, he found the long-lost Calsandria left in ruins."
Hengus nodded. "I told you the Dragonkings-"
"Hush!" Mera commanded in no uncertain terms.
"If you live seven times as old as you are now"-Treijan smiled to the girl-"it still would not be as long as the mystics have been in the mountains, rebuilding the majesty of Calsandria. Now its towers shine again, and its name calls to all those who wish to partake in its glory."
Gaius stood at the door, listening. "It's gone quiet, Treijan. We've got to go."
"A city of mystics." Hengus sniffed as he spoke. "A nation of heretics."
"No, not at all," Treijan said, folding up the tapestry quickly and stuffing it back into his pack. "Everyone is welcome there-mystic and commoner both have a place in the glory of Calsandria. Besides, I would think that a concerned husband and parent like yourself would consider not only his own situation but that of his wife and child."
Hengus's eyes narrowed. "You be threatening me?"
"Not at all," the bard said easily as he stood. "There is a place for everyone in Calsandria-especially a talented cooper like yourself-where a fine living might be had."
"And about which we shall tell you another time," Gaius said hurriedly. "Treijan, we've got to go now." "Besides," Treijan continued, ignoring his companion as he smiled and gently stroked his hand down the child's hair, "one never knows when one of your own might suddenly be found to be one of the Elect. Here among the Pir it is a tragedy. In Calsandria it blesses the entire-"
"By Hrea!" Gaius suddenly shouted, stepping back from the door. He held his hands up in front of his face, both hands splayed wide. Treijan's eyes widened as he put his arms quickly around the woman and child, pulling them down close behind his friend. Hengus angrily stepped forward, reaching his meaty hand down toward the insolent bard.
Excerpted from Mystic Empire by Tracy Hickman Laura Hickman Excerpted by permission.
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