- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Kian reached the bottom rung of the metallic rope ladder and looked down. From the chamber entrance the ladder had appeared to disappear into the top of a very large beenut tree. It still did. The rope was of a material different from any he had seen before, and it seemed to grow out of the trunk where the spreading branches formed the crown.
Well, he had been a tree climber as a boy. He was twenty-one now, and it had been some time since he had practiced, but he remembered. What fun it had been, peering in the windows of the palace from his secret perch and watching the comings and goings of the sycophants and courtiers.
This was a different world—but perhaps not too different, he thought as he clambered easily down the close-set branches of the beenut tree. The vegetation of this frame seemed exactly like that of his own. His half brother had climbed a similar tree in the park in Franklin and discovered a gauntlet with remarkable properties. Kian now wore an identical pair.
The armored gloves made climbing easier, but he could hardly say how. Well, yes, he could: he found that he could easily hang on to a branch by just a couple of fingertips, feeling no strain. It was as though there were muscles in the gauntlets aiding every move his hands made. Because he was a roundear, he knew, they worked just as well for him as for Kelvin.
He let go of a branch and dropped the remaining distance to the base of the tree. Catching his breath, he looked up but could not see the ladder or the cliff face with its open metal door. The secret was well hidden; he realized that he should mark the spot well in his mind, in case he ever wished to return to his own world.
The birds sang just as they did at home. There was no difference, so far, in anything. He found himself surprised, even though he knew this was the nature of the frame worlds. His grandfather Zatanas had tried instructing him on the nature of reality and what he called the magic art: worlds might differ, but not the fundamentals of nature and magic.
More recently Kian had read the parchment book he had found in the chamber before taking the gauntlets and the alien weapon, and launching his own adventure. Each overlapping world, he had learned, was almost like the ones touching it, but with small, subtle differences. "You may even meet yourself, or someone like yourself," Lester Crumb had said.
Kian shook his head. That didn't seem unreasonable for others, but he knew that his father would not be duplicated here. John Knight, after all, had come from a distant frame where they called the world "Earth." He had never figured out quite how his father had crossed over; it seemed to have involved war magic of a sort not understood in Rud. But John Knight was unique—and therefore so were his sons.
Kian had gone only a short distance along the stream, admiring its blue water and leaping fish, when another sound reached him: a tinkling, musical note.
He paused, trying to locate the source. It seemed to come from a large oaple. He walked that way, staring hard into the branches where three long silver belts or spirals hung and twisted in the river breeze. Twirling, they touched each other to produce the sounds.
When he reached the tree he discovered that the belts were indeed spirals. Each had the apparent fragility of snakeskin, but was metallic except for an underlay of leather. They were silver, too: real silver, in a pattern like that of overlapping scales. He removed a gauntlet, fitted a thumbnail under a scale, and tried to pull the scale loose. It remained fast: the organic and inorganic were seemingly one.
Kian considered. Could he still find the large beenut tree and the ladder? Yes, he had marked the fact of the river making a sharp bend, and certainly such a large tree—one big enough to laugh at floods, if trees could laugh—was readily found. The chimes, whatever they were, might be to mark the upcoming bend.
He tested the scale of one of the skins with the point of his knife. It came away silver. Silver like that had to be very pure.
Could snakes here have scales of silver, in the same way that dragons back home had scales of gold? No, that hardly made sense. Dragons were virtually immortal beasts with powerful gizzards. The gizzards ground up weighty stones that the dragons swallowed in the course of centuries to pulverize their food internally. The food was rough, because dragons hardly chewed anything that no longer struggled, and even those big stones got worn away. They contained gold, and that gold migrated in due course to the brightly shining scales. Thus the gizzard was the key to the dragon's gold. But snakes—who could imagine them with gizzards? They swallowed their prey whole and let their digestive juices handle it. No stones in them!
He went on. When he judged it was noonday, he stopped to rest and eat the lunch Jon had packed for him. "Don't tell Les," she had whispered. "He complains that I'm not feeding him well. I don't want him to grow a paunch like his father's. He just might be jealous." Kian had smiled and teased her in the manner Kelvin was always doing. She was easy to tease and to be with—this boyish, pretty girl whose ears were pointed, though she was Kelvin's sister.
Thought of his ears caused him to pull down the lightweight stockelcap. He wore it for concealment. Only a fool would choose to wear such a thing on such a warm day! Yet he might meet someone, and if this frame was not totally unlike home, his round ears would set him apart. Pointed ears had always been considered natural, and round years unnatural. Best that he wear the cap despite the discomfort.
He checked himself with the little mirror Heln had slipped into his travelsack, first adjusting the stockelcap, then smoothing his light blond mustache. It was essential to pay attention to appearances regardless of what frame he was in! He knew, and had known since near infancy, that he had a striking figure and a reasonably handsome face. There had been a time when that was important to him, and perhaps someday such a time would come again.
He resumed his journey along the road. At home this path would have taken him through the mountainous region near Franklin. Not far from dragon country. He smiled. Well, he wasn't about to venture into dragon country, if that existed here! Unless, of course, his father and mother existed in this world, in such a region.
Soon he would have to swallow one of the dragonberries in his pack and see if they worked. Not even Heln knew about these. If the berry made him sick, as it did most people, he would take no more. But roundears could eat them and not be poisoned, not fatally, anyway. The berries enabled Heln to take flight astrally, her spirit homing in on some distant person or place while her body slept. Because she was a roundear—and Kian was a roundear, too. He, his half brother, Kelvin, their father, and Heln were the only folk he had ever encountered with ears of this unnatural shape. What an advantage, if the berries worked for him!
The road forked. Impulsively he followed the side branch into the mountains. He felt more comfortable this way, though he could not have said why; after all, at home it would have taken him into the domain of the dangerous wild things. Maybe he was just trying to be an adventurer, as his father was: someone who would choose the wild way.
A deoose crossed his path soon after lunch, and a bit later a fleet-footed meer bounced out of the bushes and then across the path in sprightly leaps. Red moss was on every tree; it was really still much like home. Possibly there were dangers similar to those in his own frame. At this stage he preferred familiar dangers!
As if in response to his thought, a bearver reared up from some appleberry bushes and greeted him with a loud woof. Then, perceiving that he stood his ground, it came out on the road and began a stalking advance.
Kian started to draw his sword, which was a properly polished blade his mother had chosen. But bearvers were large and unreasoning beasts, dangerous at all times. He knew he might be able to kill it, but he also knew that the chance of that was slight. One swipe from that huge paw could disarm him, gauntlets or no, and then—why hadn't he fled the moment he saw the predator?
Even as he foolishly drew the blade, another thought occurred. What about the alien weapon he carried? That might scare the beast so that it would think better of charging him. No known opposition could cow a bearver, but the unknown might.
Kian drew the weapon from its soft, curved alien scabbard. He pointed it, letting the gauntlet on his hand control his action. Then he tried to tell the glove to aim ahead of the beast, rather than trying to destroy it. This was partly because if the weapon were only partially effective, the effort would enrage the beast, making things worse, and partly because he preferred merely to scare it away if he could, and partly to see whether he had this kind of control over the gauntlets. He was in trouble, granted, but if he got out of this he might learn something that would help him the next time.
He—or the gauntlet—aimed the weapon. His—or its—finger squeezed. From the bell-shaped muzzle there came a series of sparks and a low hissing. The bearver gave a bark and charged.
Kian didn't have time to consider. The gauntlet straightened the weapon, this time taking dead aim, and pressed the trigger. And again the result was a few sparks and hissing. There was no evident damage to the bearver.
What was this, a toy?
Disgusted and now thoroughly scared, Kian dropped the weapon and leveled the sword. But the bearver, unpredictable as always, now swerved in its charge. Kicking its big heels back in a frolicsome manner, it made an ungainly leap over to the side of the road and plowed into the fringing bushes. It paused to look back, seeming almost to grin; then it woofed comically and disappeared.
"Bearvers will be bearvers," Kian remarked, weak with relief. It was a common saying at home. A bearver might decide to eat a person, or it might simply amuse itself by scaring a victim into loosening his bowels. He was thankful that his bowels had only twitched as the monster charged, and that his pantaloons were not in need of washing. He had escaped both death and shame, this time.
Now the road was descending into a valley, a lush region that should have held farms. There was nothing of the sort. In another oaple tree hung another of the spiral chimes. Parchment-thin yet curled into stiffness.
He stared at the silver and listened to its tinkle while he ate a few appleberries. A chill ran up and down his back; he had a feeling that something was wrong. Through the mists far below in the valley, among rocks that had rolled down over the centuries, he could see a movement. People—maybe a crowd. From this distance they seemed short and broad, reminding him of Queeto, his grandfather's dwarf apprentice. In the midst of the crowd, a little to the front and grasped by either hand, was a taller, slimmer person. It was hard for Kian to see, but this could be a woman or a girl of normal stature.
He strained his eyes, wishing that he could make things out better. The dwarfs gathered with the prisoner—for so she seemed—at a spot between two upright rocks the size of horses. Two of the dwarfs did something that produced a flash of silver. Then all the small people withdrew, leaving the woman or girl apparently shackled between the two stones. The small ones disappeared the way they had come.
What was this—a human sacrifice? It had that aspect. Was the woman a criminal? The dwarfs magical creatures? Just what had he come upon? It was probably a bad idea to interfere—but for all he knew, the woman could be his mother. Surely not—yet how could he be certain?
Half running, wishing he had a horse, he descended the slope in as fast a fashion as he could manage. He did not know how long the woman would be there, or what sort of danger he might face. He just had to know, lest he forever regret it.
When he broke through the bushes and faced her at close range, he was startled by her beauty. Her slim arms were stretched on either side, tethered by chains of silver. She had long blond hair, and deep blue eyes, and a figure that—
"Leave! Oh, leave!" she begged. He had no difficulty understanding her, because she used the language of home. Her head bobbed in the direction of a perfectly round hole in the side of the cliff. "Before it comes! Before it slithers out and devours us! Please!"
"You need help," he said, drawing his sword. Her lips were lying to him, he thought, while her eyes were speaking truth. She did not want him leaving her to some terrible fate.
"No! No! It will come soon! The appointed one! The one that always comes!"
"You're intended as a sacrifice?" He went closer, sword in hand.
She tossed her head, her hair flipping from her left ear and exposing it for the first time. Now he understood: she was round-eared! Round, not pointed! As it was back home, so it must be here. Roundears either hated for being different or at best barely tolerated.
"It's coming!" she cried. "I hear it!"
Indeed, there was a strange slithery sound coming from that hole. The whisper of it sent the hairs on the back of his neck tingling.
"I'm not afraid of it, whatever it is," he lied. This was surely worse than what he had faced before! And what was it, anyway? A burrower the size of a bearver? A tunneler through solid rock? Whatever it was, the size of that hole made him shudder. He fixed his eyes on the dread aperture and waited, knowing that whatever appeared was not going to run or tease.
So suddenly as to be startling, a large silvery snout thrust from the hole, just in time to catch a ray of sunshine that lighted the cliff's face. Then a flat silvery head emerged, followed by a long, long, undulating silver body. It was a serpent as large around as a war-horse.
A serpent covered all over with silver scales—surely real silver. Just as at home a dragon's scales were real gold. This serpent must be the overgrown version of the snakes from which the silver skins had come. It was as large as the legendary anaconda John Knight had told about. Kian had thought that to be a mere story. Some story. This thing could swallow a man and his war-horse together!
Kian doubted it could help, but he reached for the alien weapon he carried. His hand slapped only the holster, the weapon itself was gone. He had neglected to pick it up after his encounter with the bearver. The weapon, worthless though it might be, was back there on the road.
"Run! Run!" The girl was shaking with terror, and whimpering, but still she tried to warn him away.
Not a chance. His legs wouldn't work for him now. His gauntlets and his sword had to work together to save them. With the gauntlets, he had to believe, there was at least a chance of accomplishing something.
The serpent emerged sinuously all the way from the hole, lifted its head, and reared back. The eyes swayed above his own. A long, drawn-out hiss like that of a salivating dragon came from the mouth. Then that dread mouth opened, revealing dagger-length crystalline fangs. Drops of clear liquid fell to the ground, spattering and hissing and emitting little puffs of steam. Where the drops struck grass, the grass writhed, turned black, and crumbled into ash.
What a beast! What a monster! At least as formidable as the dragons. Wait till Kelvin heard about this—if Kelvin ever did hear about it. If Kian survived to tell him. If.
The beady black eyes looked into his. They held him as the body writhed behind the head, getting into better position for attack. The head and fangs moved closer. The body coiled around under that elevated head as if independent of it, the tail section undulating in unnerving fashion.
Kian found himself staring into bottomless pits. Beady eyes? Now they were windows into some kind of hell. He saw, peripherally, the open nostrils and the bright spots reflecting from the flashing scales. He felt overwhelmed.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. This was magic. The magic a snake used to immobilize its prey. All the prey had to do was break that gaze and flee, and the snake would not be able to catch it, but somehow that seldom happened. Now Kian understood why. He couldn't break the gaze.
The snout darted suddenly, along with the long, flat, enormous head. The mouth opened wide, the fangs dripping their corrosive poison. The girl screamed.
He tried to snap out of it. He tried to raise the sword. The gauntlets, unaffected by the serpent's spell, raised his unresisting arms and his sword-hand for him.
The left gauntlet grasped the lower jaw of the serpent. The right gauntlet swung the sword hard at the serpent's eye. The blade rebounded from silver scales, leaving a barely detectable groove. His arm felt the jolt, and pain lanced through his shoulder.
Excerpted from Serpent's Silver by Piers Anthony, Robert E. Margroff. Copyright © 1988 Piers Anthony Jacob and Robert E. Margroff. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.
Posted January 18, 2013
This series combines great good guys terrific bad guys and wonderful themes. The foreshadowing is wonderfully hidden so the book is slightly misterious as well.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 22, 2013
Posted May 20, 2012
No text was provided for this review.
Posted May 8, 2009
No text was provided for this review.