Zandru's Forge (Clingfire Trilogy #2)by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Deborah J. Ross
In the era of The Hundred Kingdoms, a time of war and unrest, a legendary friendship is forged between king and keeper which will lead to a new destiny for Darkover.
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ZANDRU'S FORGEBOOK TWO OF The Clingfire Trilogy
By MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY AND DEBORAH J. ROSS
DAW BOOKS, INC.Copyright © 2003 The Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe great red sun of Darkover slanted across the courtyard at the entrance to Arilinn Tower on a morning in early autumn. Polished granite interspersed with translucent blue stone formed the floor and two walls. They were shaped and pieced together so artfully that not a blade of grass or tendril of ivy rooted there. Rising sharply, the walls framed a canyon where the chill of the night lingered. At the far end, the graceful sweep of arch enclosed the rainbow-hued Veil through which only those of pure Comyn blood, the caste of Darkovan aristocracy Gifted with psychic powers, could pass. In the dawn's oblique light, the Veil resembled a waterfall of coruscating rainbow colors.
When he'd crept into the courtyard in the darkest hour of the night, Varzil Ridenow had not dared to approach the Veil too closely. Even here, in this corner where he'd curled up to doze fitfully until dawn, he felt its power dancing along his nerves.
If there had been any other way ...
The words echoed in his mind like the refrain of a ballad. He was a Ridenow and he had the gift of laran, the true donas. He had known this since he first heard the Ya-men singing their laments in the far hills under the four Midsummer moons. He'd been eight, old enough to realize there was something beyond what could be seen or touched, and old enough to know he should keep quiet about it. He'd seen the way his father Dom Felix Ridenow, grew silent and tight-jawed on the subject. Now he was sixteen, older than most when they began their Tower training, and his father would like nothing better than to forget the whole matter and pretend his youngest son was normal.
Varzil had journeyed all the long leagues from his home to Arilinn along with his father and kinsmen, to be formally presented to the Comyn Council. His older brother, Harald, who was heir to Sweetwater, had passed a similar inspection three years ago, but Varzil had been too young to come along then. His present recognition was clearly a political maneuver to bolster the status of the Ridenow. Many of the other great Houses still regarded them as upstarts, barely more civilized than their Dry Towns ancestors. It galled them to accord any Ridenow the respect of a true equal.
The peace that Allart Hastur had forged between his own kingdom and that of Ridenow was neither so long nor so deep to blur the memory of the bloody conflict that had come before. Dom Felix was never anything but scrupulously polite to the Hasturs, but Varzil sensed their doubt-their fear.
If there had been any other way ...
He would not have had to creep from the Hidden City at this scandalous hour, to wait half-frozen for someone inside the Tower to let him in. He hoped that would happen soon, before his absence was discovered and a hunt mounted. The Council session was all but over, with little further business to conduct. Dom Felix would not tarry, not with catmen sighted in the hills near the sheep pastures.
Varzil drew his cloak more tightly and set his teeth to keep them from chattering. The finely woven garment was meant for courtly show instead of protection against the elements.
Praise Aldones, it had been a clear night.
Through the long hours, Varzil felt the swirl and dance of psychic forces behind the Tower walls. The harsh bright energy of the Veil scoured every nerve raw, leaving him sensitive to the slightest telepathic whisper.
Much of the work of a Tower was done during the hours when ordinary men slept, to minimize the psychic static of so many untrained minds. This close to the city, even the occasional stray thought or burst of emotion, hardly worth calling laran, became cumulative, low-grade interference, or so he'd been told. For this reason, Towers like Hali and the now-ruined Tramontana stood apart from other human habitation. In the long quiet hours of darkness, Gifted workers sent messages across hundreds of leagues through the relays, and charged immense laran batteries, used for a myriad of purposes, including powering aircars, lighting the palaces of Kings and mining precious minerals, even performing the delicate healing of minds and bodies.
Varzil had drowsed and woken a dozen times that night, each time resonating to a different pattern. Whenever he roused, it seemed that his senses had grown keener. With his mind, he felt colors and music he had never known existed. He heard voices, a word here and there, phrases shimmering with secret meaning that left him hungry for more. The rainbow Veil no longer glinted from a distance, it reverberated through the marrow of his bones.
Movement caught Varzil's attention, a shadow among shadows. Slender, gay-furred, bent over like a little wizened man, a figure slipped through the Veil. It halted, an empty basket clutched in its prehensile fingers, and stared at him.
Varzil sat straighter, pulling his thin cloak more tightly around his shoulders. He recognized the creature as a kyrri, although Serrais, seat of the Ridenow, had few of them as servants. They were said to be highly telepathic, but dangerous to approach. His father, in preparing him for the visit to Arilinn, warned him about their protective electrical fields. Nevertheless, he reached out one hand.
"It's all right," he murmured. "I won't hurt you."
Something brushed against the back of Varzil's skull, at once feather-soft and grating, as if sand were being rubbed into his skin. But no, it was inside his head. Suddenly, a sensation of curiosity flickered through him and vanished as quickly.
The creature was studying him. Did it want something? He had no food-and then he realized he thought of it as an animal, instead of an intelligent, if nonhuman, being.
Without a sound, the kyrri hurried away. Varzil watched as it crossed the outer courtyard and turned aside at the street. He felt as if he had been tested in some mysterious fashion, and he did not know if he had passed.
"Look down there!" a voice cried from above. "Some ne'er-do-well rascal has camped upon our doorstep!"
Varzil craned his neck back to stare up at a balcony running alongside the Tower to either side of the arch of the Veil. Two older boys leaned over, pointing. They looked to be in their late teens, their voices already deepened, waists and hips slender but with the shoulders of young manhood.
"You there! Boy! What are you doing here?"
Something in the voice rankled Varzil's nerves, or perhaps lingering irritability from the encounter with the kyrri drove him to snap back, "What business is it of yours? I have come to see the Keeper of Arilinn Tower, and that isn't you!"
"How dare you speak to us in such a manner!" The youth in the Tower leaned over. "You impudent good-for-nothing!"
The second boy pulled his friend back. "Eduin, you gain nothing in taunting him this way. He can do us no harm where he is, and he is clearly no street beggar. These words are unworthy of you." He spoke with the accent of a lowland aristocrat.
Varzil scrambled to his feet, heart pounding. A dozen retorts leaped to his mind. His hands curled into fists. He kept his teeth clamped tightly together, though the breath hissed through them. He had not spent the better part of his years shrugging off far worse insults, only to lose his temper now.
What was he doing, to provoke a confrontation this way? What was wrong with him? Courtesy cost nothing, but insults might well create future enemies. If he succeeded, these boys would become his fellow students. Beside, the only person whose opinion mattered was, after all, the Keeper himself.
Not trusting himself to say anything further, Varzil simply bowed to them. It was the only thing he could think of which would not make matters worse.
The boy named Eduin retreated from the balcony, muttering something about proper respect for the dignity of the Tower. Varzil was concentrating too hard on holding his tongue to catch all the words. But the other youth, the one who had cautioned restraint, remained.
Varzil raised his eyes. The sun caught the brilliant red of the other boy's hair, the luminous gray eyes, the regular features. Both Tower lads wore simple clothing, tunics with wide leather belts, with no clue as to clan or rank.
"Boy," he called down, and this time the word carried no insult. His voice was strong and clear, as if he'd trained as a singer. "What do you want with the Keeper of Arilinn Tower?"
"I've come to-I want to join the Tower." There it was.
For a long moment, the youth continued to study him. With a nod and, "Wait here," he disappeared back into the Tower.
Varzil let out the breath he did not know he had been holding. While he tried to calm himself, the Veil shimmered and parted like an iridescent waterfall. A man in a loose white monitor's robe stepped through. Gray dominated his chestnut-red hair and lines framed his mouth and underscored his eyes. A few paces behind came the youth from the balcony. This close, Varzil was struck by the other boy's commanding sense of presence.
The man in the white robe paused, his gaze flickering over the colors of Varzil's cloak, the gold and green of his clan.
"Vai dom ..." Varzil broke the silence. "I am Varzil Ridenow, younger son of Dom Felix of Sweetwater I have come to seek training here. Will you be so kind as to escort me to the Keeper?"
The taut mouth softened into a glimmer of a smile. "Young sir, I can imagine nothing more appropriate. I certainly wouldn't presume to decide what to do with you."
Varzil approached the Veil, as the white-robed man indicated. He'd never been so close to such a powerful matrix device before, only personal starstones or the telepathic damper the Ridenow household leronis had used when his mother had one of her fainting spells.
He held up one hand, fingers extended but not daring yet to touch the Veil. Besides a thing of beauty, what was it? Two people-three if he counted the kyrri-had passed through it as if it had been a tissue of gauze.
He turned his head to see the monitor watching him intently. Another test, then. He set his jaw and strode ahead.
The Veil looked like a thin rainbow mist, and he had expected it to feel cool and perhaps damp. The instant it touched him, it shifted, engulfing him. He gasped, drawing in breath tainted with the metallic taste of a thunderstorm. The skin of his entire body tingled, each hair erect. The small muscles around his eyes twitched. He could not feel his fingertips.
The next instant, he stood trembling in a windowless cubicle. Although he was no longer directly within a matrix field, he sensed the power in the little room, as if it were itself a laran device. Turning to look behind him, he made out shapes, blurred and shadowy. Was this some kind of trap? Another test?
Then the white-robed monitor stepped through the rainbow shimmer. The youth followed him, grinning.
"I told you so," the youth said.
Told him what? Varzil wondered.
The man moved his hands as if manipulating something and Varsil's stomach plummeted to his feet. No, he still stood upon a solid floor, but the room itself was rising. It stopped a moment later and they stepped through an arched doorway that appeared in one wall. The lighted room beyond it opened onto a broad terrace.
Surely not even the ballroom of the greatest castle on Darkover could be so grand, Varzil thought. Tapestries covered the walls, glowing with rich colors, depicting scenes of hunting parties, chieri dancing in the forest beneath the four moons, eagles soaring over the Hellers. The floor tiles formed an intricate mosaic pattern that was at once lavish and soothing to the eye. At the far end of the room, a fire filled the air with warmth a touch of incense.
Armchairs and a long bench piled with cushions formed a rough half circle around the fireplace. A woman and two men sat there, talking in low tones. The woman met Varzil's gaze. She was about the age of Varzil's favorite aunt, short and compact without being fat, the wrinkles around eyes giving her the appearance of being perpetually on the edge of laughter. She got to her feet and dismissed the men with a gesture, something no woman in Varzil's family would ever dare to do.
"Off with you, too, Carlo," she told the red-haired youth.
"But-" he protested.
She folded her arms across her ample, shawl-wrapped chest, silencing him. "What happens now is not your affair."
The youth delivered an impeccably polite bow and left the room through the archway at the far end, but not without a quick wink at Varzil.
Varzil's breath caught in his throat. After the years of longing, the months of planning, the night's escape, and the long hours of waiting, things were happening much too fast.
Once, while climbing the craggy hills near Serrais in search of eagle feathers, Varzil had lost his footing and tumbled down a pebbled slope. Rock and sky had whirled together as stones pelted his body from a dozen different directions at once. He'd slid to a stop and lain there for a long time, panting and bruised, gazing up at the cloudless sky with amazement that he was still alive.
He felt that way now, although his body was unhurt. Dimly, he heard the woman's voice talking about a hot breakfast. He felt her hands on his shoulders, guiding him to a chair beside the fire.
"Sweet Evanda, you're half frozen!" she exclaimed. "Not to mention-" Varzil could not follow her next words, "-energon channels-just as if you've been working two solid nights without a break!"
The next moment she pressed a cup of steaming jaco into his hands. He felt the heat through the heavy ceramic with its intricate incised pattern, the smoothness of the glaze. The jaco had been sweetened with honey and laced with some herb he did not recognize. He swallowed it obediently, though it burned his tongue Only then did he realize how badly he was shivering.
"Here, get this into you," the woman said, handing him a bowl heaped with some kind of nut porridge and topped with cream. "Can you hold the spoon?"
Varzil's fingers curled around the handle. His hand shook, but he managed a mouthful of the stuff. Whatever happened, he was not going to be fed like a baby.
The porridge turned out to be a mixture of oats, hazelnuts, and dried apples, seasoned with cinnabark. It tasted wonderful, blending the earthiness of the grain, the crunchiness of the nuts, and the chewiness of the fruit.
Varzil's vision returned to focus and his hands steadied. He thanked the women, adding, "This is very good."
"It should be," she said, again reminding him of his aunt. "Eat it all up.
Excerpted from ZANDRU'S FORGE by MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY AND DEBORAH J. ROSS Copyright © 2003 by The Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Marion Zimmer was born in Albany, NY, on June 3, 1930, and married Robert Alden Bradley in 1949. Mrs. Bradley received her B.A. in 1964 from Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, then did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1965-67.
She was a science fiction/fantasy fan from her middle teens, and made her first sale as an adjunct to an amateur fiction contest in Fantastic/Amazing Stories in 1949. She had written as long as she could remember, but wrote only for school magazines and fanzines until 1952, when she sold her first professional short story to Vortex Science Fiction. She wrote everything from science fiction to Gothics, but is probably best known for her Darkover novels.
In addition to her novels, Mrs. Bradley edited many magazines, amateur and professional, including Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, which she started in 1988. She also edited an annual anthology called Sword and Sorceress for DAW Books.
Over the years she turned more to fantasy; The House Between the Worlds, although a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, was "fantasy undiluted". She wrote a novel of the women in the Arthurian legends -- Morgan Le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and others -- entitled Mists of Avalon, which made the NY Times best seller list both in hardcover and trade paperback, and she also wrote The Firebrand, a novel about the women of the Trojan War. Her historical fantasy novels, The Forest House, Lady of Avalon, Mists of Avalon are prequels to Priestess of Avalon
She died in Berkeley, California on September 25, 1999, four days after suffering a major heart attack. She was survived by her brother, Leslie Zimmer; her sons, David Bradley and Patrick Breen; her daughter, Moira Stern; and her grandchildren.
- Date of Birth:
- June 30, 1930
- Date of Death:
- September 25, 1999
- Place of Birth:
- Albany, New York
- Place of Death:
- Berkeley, California
- B.A., Hardin-Simmons College, 1964; additional study at University of California, Berkeley, 1965-1967
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