Anrel Murau, a simple scholar, is secretly the notorious revolutionary Alvos the Orator--the Empire's most wanted man. On the run and nearly penniless, Anrel finds himself forced to seek refuge in the capital city's Pensioner's Quarter, a den of thieves, murderers, and con men. Barely scraping out an existence on the fringe of respectable society, Anrel never forgets his demands for justice, nor the love of the woman he left behind.
The civil unrest that has long been simmering in the Empire is beginning to boil over into violent protests and Anrel's enemy, Lord Allutar, continues to corrupt the Grand Council.
But Anrel's alter-ego, Alvos the Orator, has taken on a life of his own and many factions of the Grand Council seek a way to harness his followers' political might for their own ends. Which means they need Anrel to take on a surprising new role and gain access to one of the Empire's greatest secrets to stop the rampant evil.
The adventure of Alvos the Orator continues with more action, more intrigue, and more suspense than ever before as Anrel seeks to at last clear his name and seek retribution against his old enemy once and for all.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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About the Author
LAWRENCE WATT-EVANS has written more than a dozen fantasy novels. He lives in Maryland.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Lawrence Watt-Evans has been a full-time writer and editor for more than twenty years. The author of more than thirty novels, over one hundred short stories, and more than one hundred and fifty published articles, Watt-Evans writes primarily in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comic books. His short fiction has won the Hugo Award as well as twice winning the Asimov's Readers Award. His fiction has been published in England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Poland, France, Hungary, and Russia
He served as president of the Horror Writers Association from 1994 to 1996 and after leaving that office was the recipient of HWA's first service award ever. He is also a member of Novelists Inc., and the Science Fiction Writers of America. Married with two children, he and his wife Julie live in Maryland.
Read an Excerpt
In Which Anrel Murau Returns to Lume and Faces a Dismaying Reception
The sun was directly overhead, but a cold winter wind blew fiercely from the northwest, sucking away the sun’s warmth and chilling Anrel Murau to the bone as he came stumbling up to the gates of Lume.
Two guards watched his approach with mild interest, but made no move to assist him. They wore the red and gold colors of the burgrave of Lume, rather than the green and gold of the Emperor’s Watch. There had been a time when Anrel found the division of duties, where the emperor’s men were responsible for keeping order within the capital while the burgrave’s men merely guarded the walls, to be perversely amusing, but right now he was far too concerned with other matters, such as not freezing to death, to care about such details.
The cold was not even what most troubled him; rather, it was his recent memories. He had, just that morning, seen a woman hanged for witchcraft—and not just any woman, but the sister of Tazia Lir, the woman whom Anrel had hoped to marry. He had tried to prevent the hanging by rousing the townspeople of Beynos to free poor Reva, but without success; she had been enchanted by the abominable Lord Allutar Hezir, landgrave of Aulix, and had quite literally put her own head in the noose.
It seemed to Anrel that Lord Allutar was responsible for all the great disasters in his life, of which Reva’s death was the latest—but not the least. Anrel had not merely seen her hang; he had heard her neck snap. He would have shuddered at the memory had he not already been shivering with cold.
Seeing his own hopes thus dashed by Reva Lir’s death, Anrel had fled the scene by diving off a bridge into the icy Galdin River, and had then made his way on foot to Lume.
He had not tried to reach Tazia, to speak to her, and his heart ached with the realization that he would probably never see her again, but he had not dared to make the attempt. He could not believe that Tazia could ever forgive him for allowing Reva to die, and he could not bring himself to face her after so ghastly a failure—better to know he was no longer welcome in her presence than to actually see the grief and anger on that beautiful face. He had spoken to no one in Beynos; he had simply swum away, leaving behind his history and his hopes.
This was not the first time he had abandoned his old life and set out to start anew. When he had seen his friend Lord Valin li-Tarbek murdered by the same landgrave of Aulix who would later hang Reva Lir, Anrel had given a fiery speech in Naith, the capital of the province of Aulix, denouncing the landgrave. That had gotten Anrel branded a traitor, and had turned him into a fugitive.
He had found a new place with the Lir family, but now that was gone. He had nothing left to him but the clothes on his back, the dagger that had once belonged to his father and was now concealed in his boot, and a few dozen guilders hidden in his pockets and the lining of his once-elegant but much-abused brown velvet coat.
He did not even know how much money he had; a seam had torn open while he was in the river, and several coins were lost forever in the dark, icy water.
Swimming while fully dressed in midwinter was a foolish thing to do, and Anrel had been suffering for it ever since. His hat had been carried away by the current and was lost, so he had been walking bareheaded in the cold, his coat, blouse, and breeches soaked through. The wind had dried his clothes, yes, but only at the cost of all his body’s stored heat, and he had not been very warmly dressed to begin with. His hands and feet and ears were numb, and he was shivering uncontrollably. He wished there were a watch fire at the gate where he could warm his hands, but the guards had none; they were dressed in several layers of wool and leather and apparently felt no need for additional heat.
“You look miserable,” one of the guards said, sounding not at all concerned, as Anrel neared the gate.
“I am,” Anrel said, clapping his gloveless hands against his sides and trying to keep his teeth from chattering. “My hat blew into the river, and the weather was considerably warmer when I left the inn in Beynos.”
“And what brings you to Lume?” the other guard demanded.
“I’m coming home after visiting my uncle in Aulix,” Anrel said, feigning surprise at the question.
“Where is home, then?”
“The Court of the Red Serpent, number four, third floor, at the rear,” Anrel said. That had been his home during the four years he had lived in Lume as a student at the court schools, and still came readily to his tongue. He did not want to admit being homeless, or give some fictional address he might stumble over or later forget.
“Student or clerk?” the guard asked, demonstrating that he knew who lived in Red Serpent Court.
“Clerk now,” Anrel replied.
The soldier nodded, and raised his pike so that Anrel could pass. “If you’ve been gone for a while, you should know—there’s a curfew in effect now. No one is to be on the streets between midnight and dawn.”
That was bad news. Anrel had known there was considerable unrest in the capital, as there was many places in the empire, but he had not realized it had reached that point. “Thank you for the warning,” he said. He hesitated, then asked, “Is there anything else I should know? Did I hear something about a prince?”
The guards in Beynos had told him the empress had borne a son, and the news had been confirmed, but Anrel wanted to judge what these guards thought of this birth.
“Prince Lurias,” the guard said. He smiled as he spoke, obviously pleased by the news. “Born three nights ago. Mother and child reported to be doing well, thank the Father and the Mother!”
Whatever discontent might be abroad, it had not reached the level of stifling this man’s delight at the birth of an heir to the throne. Anrel managed to stop shivering enough to smile in return. “Wonderful! And … there were rumors at the last inn that demons had been seen in the streets. Is that why the curfew was set?”
The smile vanished. “No,” the guard said. “There are no demons. Just rumors.”
“There are foreign magicians at the palace,” the other guard said. “Who knows what they might be doing?”
Anrel looked from one man to the other, trying to judge what he should believe. Did the first guard know what he was talking about, or was his denial mere instinct?
“It’s just rumors,” the first guard insisted, annoyed. He waved for Anrel to pass. “Go on, then, get on to the Court of the Red Serpent!”
“Thank you,” Anrel repeated, ducking his head and hurrying forward, past the two guards and into the shadowy passage through the ancient city walls.
The “gate” was far more than a simple gate, of course. The guards were posted at the outer end of a sixty-foot stone tunnel, where massive wooden doors stood ready to be slammed shut, and iron gratings could be dropped into place on a moment’s notice. The floor of the tunnel was hard-packed dirt for the first fifteen feet, but then Anrel’s boots thumped onto thick oak planks, blackened by centuries of shoe leather—planks that Anrel knew could be retracted into the walls, revealing pits and other traps beneath.
The corridor smelled of stone and damp. Dark shafts led up into the walls and ceiling here and there, where other defenses lurked, their exact nature a military secret.
Anrel could also feel less tangible defenses—the magical wards that generations of sorcerers had woven around the city. The burgrave of Lume was responsible for maintaining and extending those spells, and for that reason the title was generally given to the most powerful sorcerer in the empire. Normally burgraves, who ruled towns and cities, were outranked by the landgraves who administered the sixteen provinces, and were assumed to need less powerful magic than the margraves who guarded the empire’s borders; accordingly, they were usually chosen from the second or third tier of sorcerers. The position of burgrave of Lume was an exception, and the present incumbent, Lord Koril Mevidier, was said, despite his relative youth, to be the most formidable magician in the world.
Certainly the wards Anrel felt as he made his way through the passage were strong ones. He supposed that most people would be completely unaware of them, but he was the son of two sorcerers, and although he had deliberately failed the trials himself, rather than ever risk facing whatever doom had befallen his parents, Anrel had inherited some magical talent. He honestly did not know how strong his gift might be, since it had never been evaluated accurately by a sorcerer, but it was definitely real. He could feel the wards as a faint crawling on his skin, a slight tingle, a vague pressure on all his senses, and he knew they were powerful indeed.
Those wards, and the various more mundane traps and devices, had helped Lume hold out against attackers many times, though it had been almost a century since a foe had gotten close enough that the gates had been closed and the defenses readied. Not since the Barley King’s War had an enemy besieged the capital, but the emperor still saw to it that the walls and gates were properly maintained and manned, and Lord Koril had obviously tended and elaborated the protective spells.
Of course, that maintenance had contributed both to the empire’s security and the emperor’s financial difficulties.
Right now, though, despite all these intriguing features, what interested Anrel the most about the gate was that it sheltered him from the bitter wind, and was leading him into the city.
Lume was the capital of the Walasian Empire, but it was also the only place left in all the Bound Lands where Anrel thought he might still have connections he could draw upon in establishing a new home, and a new life, for himself. Everywhere else he had ever lived was now closed to him.
He had been born in a village called Verien, in the province of Aulix, but his life there had been swept away when his sorcerer parents died horribly, apparently from a spell gone wrong. He had been a child, only four years old, and remembered almost nothing of Verien. He had no family there, no friends, no debts owed or owing.
After he was orphaned he had gone to live with his uncle, Lord Dorias Adirane, the burgrave of Alzur, and had sometimes visited the provincial capital at Naith, but in Alzur and Naith he was now a fugitive, condemned to death for sedition and inciting a riot. Some faint hope lingered that perhaps someday he could once again make contact with his uncle, and with his cousin, Lady Saria, but for now he dared not attempt it. To return to Alzur or Naith would be to put his head in a noose as surely as Reva Lir had.
When he had escaped from Naith he had fallen in with the Lir family—Garras Lir, his wife Nivain, and their three daughters. They were travelers, with no permanent home, because the four women were all witches—practitioners of magic who did not have the blessing of the empire, who had not passed the trials to become recognized sorcerers, who had not placed their true names on the Great List that the imperial court maintained. Witchcraft carried the death penalty, but it was rarely enforced; it was too useful to have magicians who would take the time to dowse for wells, treat fevers, tell fortunes, and perform a hundred other little magics for the common people, magics that the acknowledged sorcerer-lords could not be troubled to provide.
The death penalty had been enforced for poor Reva because she had dared to try to perform a binding on Lord Allutar himself. The landgrave’s sorcery had proved far more effective than Reva’s witchcraft, and she had been sent to the gallows not so much for the crime of witchcraft, but for her effrontery in using it on Allutar.
Technically, Anrel himself was a witch, but he had never used his abilities to earn a living. The Lir women had given him some rudimentary training in witchcraft, but he had as yet done nothing of any significance with it. If he were to be hanged it would be for his speeches, not for witchcraft.
Anrel had traveled with the Lirs for a season, but now that he had allowed Reva to die he believed himself to be as outcast from their company as he was from Alzur or Naith or Verien. That life, as the Lir family’s friend and Tazia’s would-be husband, was behind him.
But before he had made his treasonous speech in Naith, before he had antagonized anyone, Anrel had spent four years at the court schools in Lume. He had made friends there—not as many as some of his classmates, but he had not by any means been a hermit. He knew a few students who still remained in the capital, and was on friendly terms with some of his old professors, and had acquaintances among the clerks and shopkeepers and taverners. He had come to Lume in hopes of using these contacts to start fresh.
He had no idea what he would do once he had established himself, but there would be time to work that out later. For now he wanted a warm fire and a warm meal and walls that kept out the wind.
And then he emerged from the tunnel, past the two immense doors into the sunlit plaza beyond, and he was once again in Lume, the greatest city in all the known world, capital of the Walasian Empire, home to the Emperor Lurias XII. The plaza before him was paved with fine stone laid in elegant patterns, and the buildings surrounding it rose to as many as six stories in height, their hundreds of glass windows gleaming in the midday sun. Every street leading out of the plaza passed under a grand stone arch, and raised walkways, twenty feet up, connected these arches into a network, almost a second level of streets, though this upper level was reserved for watchmen, soldiers, and couriers.
People of all ages, of all shapes and sizes, wearing every sort of attire, were going about their business. A nobleman’s carriage rattled across the pavement, the coachman holding his whip ready should anyone be slow to clear the way.
Anrel had never before entered this gate on foot; in the past he had arrived by coach. Still, he had done that often enough that he had no trouble in finding his route; he crossed the plaza, dodging the other pedestrians, and hurried under the arch that led into Cutler Street. That eventually took him through another arch into Blacksmith Square, where he followed Saddler Street down to the Promenade along the bank of the Galdin.
Some of the people he passed paused to stare at his shabby attire; his velvet coat was almost in ruins now. An ugly brownish stain tarnished the lace at his throat, and although it was not visible under the coat, he could feel that a shoulder seam on his shirt had ripped open.
There had been people of all classes in the streets he had followed, and he had not particularly stood out, but on the Promenade the dandies and their ladies were on display, with furs and fine woolens to keep out the cold. Not just one carriage, but half a dozen, rolled along the red brick pavement, brass fittings and gilt trim glittering. Here, his battered clothing drew sniffs, snubs, or disapproving stares from almost everyone.
Anrel ignored them. Ahead he could now see the ramparts of the emperor’s palace looming above the streets and the river, the red painted mouths of cannon protruding from the battlements. Behind those defenses several towers rose, their bronze-wrapped spires gleaming in the sun.
He was not going that far along the Promenade, though; half a mile short of the palace he turned right under the Magistrates’ Arcade, and began making his way through the maze of squares and alleys that surrounded the court schools and the Lesser Courts. He passed the ruined entrance of the Court of the White Dove, where a sorcerer’s hurried defense against an attempted assassination two centuries ago had rendered several buildings uninhabitable—no one could sleep there and remain sane—and turned down Chalkcutter’s Alley.
Dozens of students and clerks were going about their business, despite the cold; most were wrapped in good woolen cloaks, though, not dressed in near rags. Anrel thought he glimpsed a few familiar faces hurrying by, head down, but no one gave any sign of recognizing him. The only people who paid him any attention at all were those who stared at his inappropriate clothing.
Then he spotted faded red curves on a pillar ahead, a sinuous figure that was now little more than a blur, but which had once presumably been a painting of a red serpent.
He knew his own familiar little room was undoubtedly occupied by some eager newcomer by now, but he hoped to take shelter, at least initially, with one of his former neighbors. He turned in at the pillar, under the arch carved with a fanged, inhuman face, and hurried through the passage to the octagonal courtyard, where seven tenements faced each other across the cobbles.
The door to number four was closed, locked and barred, and his knock went unanswered. When at last he was convinced there would be no response, he turned away, shivering, to look at the other doors.
Little Orusir tel-Panien had had the ground-floor front at number three; Anrel decided to try there next. The door was closed, but opened when he tried the latch; he ducked into the hallway, glad to be inside.
No one had ever accused the landlords here of overheating the tenements in winter, but the corridor was still warmer than the outside air, with the familiar smell of cheap wine and boiled cabbage that seemed to permeate most of the student tenements in the city. Anrel stretched a little, unhunching his shoulders for the first time in hours, then turned his attention to Master tel-Panien’s door. He knocked.
“Just a moment,” came the reply.
Anrel waited, and a few seconds later the latch rattled, and the door swung open a few inches. Orusir tel-Panien’s timid, beardless face peered through the crack. “Yes?”
“Ori? It’s me. Listen, I need a place to stay.”
“Do I know … oh, by the Father, is that you? Anrel Murau?” Tel-Panien stared.
“Yes, it’s me,” Anrel said.
“What did you do to your hair?”
Anrel sighed. “Bleached it, for the sake of a woman.”
“And where’s your cloak? You must be freezing!”
“Yes, I am,” Anrel agreed.
“What are you doing here? I thought you went home to your uncle in Aulix!”
“I did,” Anrel said. “It didn’t go well. Could I come in?”
Tel-Panien glanced over his shoulder, then turned back to Anrel. “I … I’m sorry, Anrel, but I don’t think that would be wise.”
Startled, Anrel said, “Why not?”
“Things have changed since you left, especially since the solstice. The court was not pleased with how the Grand Council turned out.”
Anrel blinked, trying to guess what the Grand Council had to do with anything. “I don’t understand,” he said.
Ori peered out into the passage warily; seeing no one else, he continued, “There are rumors everywhere, and I don’t know what to believe, whether it’s the empress or the Lords Magistrate or the burgrave of Lume or someone else who ordered it, if anyone actually ordered it, but the watch has been keeping a very close eye on us all. We don’t dare do anything to draw their attention.”
“Why not?” Anrel demanded. “What are they going to do?”
“You tried the door at number four?”
“Yes, I did,” Anrel acknowledged. “It’s locked.”
“By order of the watch. They hauled everyone out of there. Some of them were released, but ordered to find other lodging. Some never came back, and we don’t know what became of them. Deola Arimar never came back; neither did Sabirin li-Karopiel. Old Vardissier—the landlord, you remember?”
“I paid him rent three times a season,” Anrel said dryly. “Of course I remember him.”
“When he came home he was limping and something was wrong with his left hand. He wouldn’t talk about it. He packed everything up, locked up the place, and went to stay with his sister in Kerdery.”
Ori glanced up and down the hallway again. “You know about the Grand Council?” he asked.
Anrel knew more about the Grand Council than he had ever wanted to, but he did not immediately see what the connection was. “I know something about it,” he replied warily.
“You know they meet in the ruins of the Aldian Baths because the emperor doesn’t trust them in the palace?”
“I heard something about that,” Anrel admitted.
Ori sighed. “All the wrong people were elected—at least, the emperor thought so. The empress was furious. And she and the emperor and the others all say it was clerks and students who were responsible. This Alvos, who started a riot in Naith and got Derhin li-Parsil elected—they say he was a student at the local College of Sorcerers, and of course Master li-Parsil was a clerk. Students passed the word to other cities, they say, and many of the troublemakers on the council were clerks and students—after all, we’re the ones who have studied rhetoric and oratory, and argued about every mad theory of government ever devised, so when the call went out for candidates for the Grand Council, students and clerks spoke up. The emperor apparently expected a bunch of merchants and farmers, but that wasn’t what he got, so now they blame all of us, they’re watching us …” He shuddered.
“I see,” Anrel said, dismayed. He made no mention of the fact that he, himself, was the infamous Alvos; he had invented the name in a vain hope his true identity would remain unknown when he gave his speech in Aulix Square, and while the magistrates had quickly learned who he was, apparently that news had not reached the general population. Nor were other aspects of the tale accurate; he had not been a student at the Provincial College of Sorcerers. In an attempt to shift the subject away from his own folly, he asked, “I had heard there was a curfew; is that part of the same effort?”
“But surely you can let a friend stay for a night?” Anrel pleaded. “Just until I find a place of my own? I don’t want to defy the curfew.”
“I don’t think so,” Ori said, shaking his head. “They’ll want to know who you are, why you’re here—you said you had a falling-out with your uncle?”
“Well, with others in Alzur, really.”
“You have no cloak, you have no post, you are no longer a student—I’m sorry, Anrel, but it’s too dangerous. You don’t belong here anymore.”
“Oh, but Ori—”
“No, Anrel. I’m sorry. Others may be more generous, but I cannot risk it. Go away, please. Now.” He pushed the door.
Anrel resisted for a moment, then stepped back and let it close.
He had no choice, really; what was he going to do, force Ori to take him in? No, he would need to find somewhere else. Perhaps Dariel vo-Basig, over in the Court of the Blue Dragon? Dariel had always been fond of defying authority.
In small ways, at any rate.
Anrel tugged his ragged coat more tightly about him, then stepped out into the courtyard. He turned toward the passage out of Red Serpent Court.
A watchman was standing atop the arch, watching him. The afternoon sun gleamed from his brass helmet, and he had his gray woolen cloak flung back to reveal the green and gold tunic of the Emperor’s Watch.
Anrel grimaced, then waved cheerfully and trudged onward, trying not to remember Tazia’s face or the sound of Reva’s neck snapping.
Copyright © 2010 by Lawrence Watt-Evans