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From the Trade Paperback edition.
Peace has come to the realm of Eron, and with it a new High King: young, inexperienced Avall, victor in the war against Ixti, sole possessor of the magical gems taken from the mines of the frozen north. But as Eron attempts ...
Peace has come to the realm of Eron, and with it a new High King: young, inexperienced Avall, victor in the war against Ixti, sole possessor of the magical gems taken from the mines of the frozen north. But as Eron attempts to heal from the bloody conflict and a devastating plague, unrest once again grips this troubled land, stirred up by a secret cabal of powerful priests who call themselves the Ninth Face.
Avall struggles to quell the unrest and to understand and control the boundless magic of the mysterious gems. At the same time, his twin sister, Merryn, must make her own arduous journey a step ahead of those who would gladly claim her life. But it is the fanatical leaders of the Ninth Face who pose the greatest danger. They have put in motion a deadly plan to drive Avall from the throne, destroy the power of the noble clans, and take possession of the gems themselves–all in the name of their unbending god. For Eron the choice is stark indeed: an imperfect and inexperienced king...or the tyranny of the righteous.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Tests and Tempering (Eron: Tir-Eron’High Summer: Day XL’midday) It was the most beautiful weapon in Eron’and the most deadly.
It was one of the three most beautiful objects in Eron, and had been made, in large part, by Eron’s most beautiful woman. Who also happened to be its best bladesmith’ and its third best smith of any kind.
Never mind that she was Avall syn Argen-a’s wife, and thereby consort to the High King of all Eron.
None of which explained Avall’s reluctance to touch that weapon now. The Lightning Sword, some had begun to style it, though it wasn’t lightning that blade brought from the Overworld, but something less easily defined’and more potent.
Avall’s slim, callused hand hovered a finger’s length above the gold-leafed ropework casting that comprised the hilt. A ruddy gem gleamed balefully midway along its length’a gem there was good reason to assume was what most of his countrymen would have called magic.
That was why he hesitated, swallowing apprehensively, as he let his gaze slide around the room.
It was the topmost chamber of the least-used tower in the lofty, rough-rock pile called the Citadel, which was the seat of Eron’s High King’which title, for a quarter year, and much against his will, was now Avall’s. The walls slanted slightly inward and were made of beige sandstone, smoothed to an even, grainy finish, but with no ornamentation save a band of interlace relief at waist level. The floor was stone as well, beneath vaults of a different stone, and the sturdy oak table-safe against the wall opposite the single door was likewise hewn from stone. Narrow windows marking three cardinal directions matched the door for height; and the warm light of summer afternoon lanced in through the western one, flooding the chamber with a cheery radiance at odds with Avall’s anxious scowl.
His shadow brushed a pair of stone benches flanking the oak-barred entrance, the nearer of which was occupied by his two closest friends’who appeared by turns frustrated, nervous, and impatient, clutching, as they did, the rest of the royal regalia. The younger, his cousin, Lykkon syn Argen-a, would be twenty the upcoming autumn; the elder, Avall’s bond-brother, Rann syn Eemon-arr, would be twenty-one at summer’s end. Like Avall himself, they were middle-sized young men, tending toward slim, as did most of their countrymen, and with the near-ubiquitous dark blue eyes and handsome, angular faces of High Clan Eronese. At the moment, all three sported short-cropped black hair growing out from the close-clip they’d affected during the recent war with their southern neighbor, but shoulder length was far more typical.
They were even dressed alike, in soft indoor slippers, house-hose, and short-tunics that favored their slender bodies. Avall and Lykkon were in Argen’s maroon; Rann, in Eemon’s midnight-blue, quartered with Stone’s black and silver. An incredibly beautiful shield spanned the space between the floor and Lykkon’s knees. Kite-shaped, it was, though curved; made of alloys the working of which was denied to Avall’s sept of Smithcraft; and ornamented with patterns that, while not quite traditional interlace, nevertheless evoked it.
Rann held the helm in his lap. A gem identical to that in the sword gleamed between the gilded-bronze browridges’a gem Avall had found himself, when the helm had merely been part of a commission for a now-incapacitated King, and he but an ordinary smith, newly raised to manhood. Were it not for the gleaming nasal between the gaping eye sockets, it would strongly resemble a skull; what with its gently domed crown, and the angular cheek guards to either side that mimicked jawbones.
Lykkon exhaled pointedly, drumming his fingers on the shield’s upper rim. “It won’t bite,” he chided, when Avall’s hand showed no sign of moving.
A deep breath, and Avall picked up the sword by the scabbard, yet even so it nudged at him, like a pet demanding notice. Or a serpent poised to strike. Turning, he motioned his companions to their feet and unlocked the door one-handed, before following them out and to the left, up a curving stair that spat them out on the roof one level higher. Inward-curving mer- lons rose around them like stone fingers,though whether they shielded those within or the world without, Avall wasn’t certain. Only two of the Citadel’s towers rose higher, visible as shadows against the north face of the gorge in which Tir-Eron lay. Lore’s tower was taller, too, but it was farther down the Ri-Eron and blocked from view by the stair turret. Not that height was needed in any case, as much as the privacy it afforded. For, in spite of being utterly exposed, no one else in Tir-Eron could see what transpired there.
“I’m trying to test some things,” Avall told Rann, who stood nearest. “And while this isn’t the best place for what I plan, it’s the only one available without traveling for at least a hand.”
Rann’s reply was one of those absent, preoccupied nods that served him as conversation of late.
A shadow flickered across Avall’s face, but he suppressed the urge to confront its cause. There’d be time for that later: time and more time. “Lyk,” he continued pointedly, “I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I want you to observe this very closely.”
Lykkon likewise nodded, and stepped closer to the stone table that Avall had caused to be erected, with great secrecy, in the middle of the tower three days before.
Atop the polished granite lay a hand-thick slab of the strongest steel Eronese metalsmiths had yet contrived. That, in turn, was covered by a span-wide strip of white velvet, which shrouded an oblong mass raised another hand above the steel.
Avall whisked the fabric away, revealing a series of identically sized ingots of every major metal known in Eron, ranged from soft gold and tin to alloyed iron, all interspersed with lengths of oak, ash, pine, and maple, and four kinds of glass. The whole row was slightly shorter than the sword blade.
“’Waiting proves nothing but patience, “ Avall informed Lykkon, to preempt his cousin quoting the ancient proverb. And with that, he retrieved the helm from Rann and set it upon his head, twisting his neck to ensure a proper seat, while Rann moved to buckle it beneath his chin. A metallic rustle to his left was Lykkon fitting the shield to his outstretched arm. Avall fumbled for the grip, careful not to trigger what a onetime rival had set there.
And then there was no more cause for delay. Waving his friends back to the relative safety of the turret, he slapped his free hand against the helm in a certain way, even as his other squeezed the shield’s grip. Hidden studs triggered hidden barbs in helm and shield alike, and metal bit into his flesh, drawing blood, then feeding it by embedded lengths of rare bloodwire to the thumb-sized red stones gleaming between his eyes and within his fist. A deep breath, and he unsheathed the sword, fingers already seeking one final trigger.
Found, and then that hand, too, fed the gems blood.
And with that feeding, Avall was fed in turn.
Power ran up his arm from the sword, and met more rushing toward it from the shield, and the two collided in his brain, which was itself being empowered by the gem in the helm.
And so he stood there, poised and tense, as his mind sought to wrest those forces into balance.
A moment it took, while they warred within him, for the regalia had been made for the previous High King and suited the paths of his mind more precisely than Avall’s. Then, abruptly, he was ready. Had he wanted to call down lightning to smash the surrounding stones or reduce his companions to chunks of charred meat, he could have done so with a twitch of a finger.
Yet when he closed his eyes and envisioned the Overworld, and the sword ripping a gateway through to that place, and gathering up matter there like jam scooped onto a knife, he tried to make the smallest rent possible and retrieve the merest mite of Overworldly matter he could manage.
Even so, the sword tingled in his hand.
And when he could wait no longer’when the sword was like his impassioned manhood desperate for release in the throes of lust’he slowly lowered it until the blade was a finger above the ingots.
And let it fall.
Metal rang, and the sky rang, and power flowed out of him like water from a broken jar. The world turned stark white for half a breath, and smelled of hot ores and scorched wood. Rather like a forge smelled, actually. But if this was a forge, Avall was Lord Craft himself’and it was blasphemy to claim so close an identity with The Eight.
He was vaguely aware of Lykkon easing nearer, and of Rann hanging back, before his vision cleared enough to witness what he had wrought.
The sword had sheared through the wood like a scythe through new grain, and the path of its passing showed clear down to the underlying steel, which had also begun to part. The other ingots had likewise been sundered. Which he’d expected. What he’d been curious about was how the damage would manifest beyond the point of impact’to determine whether it was heat or some other energy that accompanied the weapon’s use.
“What do you think, Lyk?” he asked his kinsman.
Lykkon fanned smoke away and squinted closer. “As best I can tell, there’s no correlation between melting points of metal and extent of damage. The steel shows signs of damage farther out than the lead, and the tin’s just cut straight through, with no sign of melting at all.”
Avall blinked within his helm. “And the glass?”
“Raise the sword.”
Avall did and found that the blade did not come away cleanly. Instead, one glass ingot rose with it, as though the sword were a log that had frozen in ice. Lykkon touched the ingot gingerly, then gave it an experimental tug. It resisted briefly, then came free showing a narrow channel where the blade had been. But no sign of melting.
“Not the same effect,” he mused. “Beyond that, I’ll need to do some measuring. But my guess’” He paused and looked at Avall. “My guess is that some substances either go straight to smoke and vapor, or straight to the Overworld.”
Avall could wait no longer. Resheathing the sword, he snaked his other arm free of the shield, then reached up to remove the helmet, grateful to taste clear air and see open sky. Setting the regalia aside as though it were any Common Clan soldier’s gear, he inspected the ingot more closely. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Not much melting.”
A shrug. “You tell me.”
Lykkon scowled. “I don’t know what it means. But if we’re right: If that thing draws matter from the Overworld, which manifests here as energy, like the shield sends energy from here to there, where it manifests as well, we don’t know how it manifests’I think what we have here is a case where you’ve sent matter to the Overworld. Otherwise, there’d be some sign of melting along all the relevant junctures, and there isn’t.”
“You said it could’ve vaporized,” Rann reminded him.