Two lieges—King Lanius, who is of royal blood, and King Grus, the usurper—now share the throne of Avornis. The former wields no real power, kept impotent by the regents surrounding him. The latter mans the battle lines, determined to protect the kingdom from a fearsome, immortal god who was expelled from heaven. To the north, the city-state Chernagor is being torn asunder by a savage civil war that threatens to spill past the border at any moment. Catastrophe looms for Avornis and even two kings united may not be strong enough to save her. The kingdom’s final hope lies in the recovery of the Scepter of Mercy, lost for four centuries. But the mighty talisman is in the hands of the Menteshe—barbarian nomads who are vassals of the terrible exiled god—and now that the Banished One wants to consume the entire world, they will never relinquish its power.
The Scepter of Mercy, Harry Turtledove’s epic fantasy trilogy, continues with The Chernagor Pirates, the second volume in an adventure that pits man against man, and man against immortal. Originally penned under the pseudonym Dan Chernenko, it is an unforgettable tale that demonstrates the unparalleled creativity and unique storytelling prowess of the Hugo Award–winning master world-builder.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Chernagor Pirates
Book Two of the Scepter of Mercy Trilogy
By Harry Turtledove
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Dan Chernenko
All rights reserved.
Not for the first time — not for the hundredth, either — King Lanius wondered what it would be like to rule Avornis. His ancestors for a dozen generations had been kings. They'd ruled. He, on the other hand ...
He, on the other hand, sighed and went on poking through the royal archives. Avornis was a proud and ancient kingdom. That meant it had been accumulating scrolls and codices and sheets of parchment and the occasional (often broken) potsherd for centuries. Lanius, fascinated by history, dug through them as eagerly as a miner went after a rich vein of gold.
The King — well, one of the Kings — of Avornis looked more like a scholar than a ruler. He was a tall, thin, weedy man in his midtwenties, with dark brown hair that needed combing and a beard with a chunk of dust in it down low on his right cheek where he couldn't see it and flick it away. Instead of royal robes, he wore an ordinary — in fact, rather grubby — linen tunic and baggy wool trousers. The servants had complained that he always came back from the archives covered in dust and dirt, and that robes so smirched were impossible to clean. Lanius didn't like to cause people trouble when he didn't have to.
Dispirited sunbeams came through the dusty skylights set into the ceiling. Motes of dust Lanius had kicked up danced in the light. Somewhere off in the distance, far beyond the heavy doors that shut the archives away from the rest of the palace, a couple of serving women shrilly squabbled over something or other. Lanius smiled — he couldn't make out a word they were saying.
He bent for a closer look at the latest parchment he'd unearthed. It talked about Yozgat — the great southern city where the barbarous Menteshe held the Scepter of Mercy for their master, the Banished One — back in the lost and distant days when Yozgat was not Yozgat but rather Prusa, an Avornan town.
Lanius sighed. "Why do I bother?" he muttered under his breath. Prusa had been made into Yozgat more than five hundred years before, when the wild Menteshe horsemen rode out of the hills and took the southern part of the kingdom away from an Avornis wracked by civil war. It had housed the Scepter of Mercy, once the great talisman of the Kings of Avornis, for four centuries. All efforts to reclaim the Scepter had failed, most of them horribly.
Maybe some clue in Prusa-that-was would yield a key to Yozgat. So Lanius hoped. In that hope, he kept going through the manuscripts in the archives one after another. If he didn't look, he would assuredly find nothing.
"And if I do look, I'll probably find nothing," he said, and sighed again. Odds were, all his efforts were futile. The Banished One might have been cast down from the heavens to earth below, but he remained much, much more than a mere mortal man. He'd spent the intervening years fortifying Yozgat against assault. Even if an Avornan army fought its way to the place, what could it do then? Lanius hoped he would find something, anything, to tell him.
Not on this parchment, which was a tax register and said very little about Prusa's geography. The next one ... The next one talked about a border squabble between Avornis and the Chernagor city-states at the opposite end of the kingdom. No one could be sure how, or if, the archives were organized.
One of these days, I'll have to do something about that. Lanius laughed at himself. He'd had the same thought ever since he started coming into the archives as a youth. It hadn't happened yet. He didn't intend to hold his breath waiting for it to happen. He put down the parchment that didn't interest him, got up from the chair where he'd been sitting for a long time, and stretched. Something in his back popped. With a glance over his shoulder, as though to say he'd be back, he left the archives.
Servants bowed. "Your Majesty," they murmured. Their respect might have shown that Lanius was the ruler of Avornis. It might have, but it didn't. All it showed was that he was the descendant of a long line of kings.
As though to underscore his lack of power, one of the servants said, "Oh, Your Majesty, King Grus wants to see you."
Not, King Grus wants to see you at your convenience, or anything of the sort. No one worried about Lanius' convenience — Grus certainly didn't. "Where is Grus?" Lanius asked. He seldom used the other king's royal title — as seldom as he could get away with, in fact.
"He's at the entranceway to the palace, Your Majesty, enjoying the fine spring day," the servant replied.
Lanius couldn't quarrel with Grus about that. Spring had come late to the city of Avornis this year. Now that it was finally here, it was worth savoring. "I'll meet him there, then," Lanius said.
If he hadn't gone, Grus wouldn't have done anything to him. His fellow sovereign wasn't a cruel or vindictive man. Lanius would have had an easier time disliking him if he were. The rightful King of Avornis — so he thought of himself — still managed it, but it was sometimes hard work.
Serving women smiled at him as he went past. Sleeping with even a powerless king might let them escape a life of drudgery. Lanius passed the chambers where he kept his white-mustached monkeys and his moncats. He didn't have time for the menagerie now, either.
Unfiltered by dusty, dirty glass, the sunlight streaming through the open doors of the palace made Lanius first blink and then smile. Bird-song came in with the sunshine. Warblers and flycatchers and other birds were finally coming back from the south. Lanius hadn't realized how much he'd missed their music until he started hearing it again.
Storks were coming back from the south, too, building great ramshackle nests in trees and on rooftops. They didn't sing — their voices were raucous croaks — but most people took them for good luck.
Grus stood in the sunshine, not so much basking in it as seeming to cause it. He had a knack for attaching to himself anything good that happened. His royal robes, encrusted with jewels and pearls and shot through with golden threads, gleamed and glittered as though they had come down from the heavens to illuminate the dull, gross, all-too-material earth. Their splendor made Lanius in his plain, dirty clothes seem all the shabbier by contrast.
Turning at the sound of Lanius' footfalls, Grus smiled and said, "Hello, Your Majesty. Meaning no offense, but you look like a teamster."
"I was in the archives," Lanius said shortly.
"Oh. I'm sorry." In spite of the apology, Grus' smile got wider. "That means you want to clout me in the head for dragging you out."
Lanius didn't care to think what would happen to him if he tried to clout Grus in the head. The other king was about twice his age and several inches shorter than he. But Grus, despite a grizzled beard, was solidly made and trained as a fighting man. Not much in the way of muscle had ever clung to Lanius' long bones, while he knew far less of fighting than of ancient dialects of Avornan. And so, while he might think wistfully of clouting the usurper, he knew better than to have a go at it.
"It's all right," he said now. "I'd come out anyhow. What can I do for you?"
Before Grus could answer, a priest whose yellow robe displayed his high rank walked in through the entrance. He bowed to Grus, murmuring, "Your Majesty." He started to go on by Lanius, whose attire was anything but royal, but then stopped and stared and at last bowed again. "Your Majesties," he corrected himself, and walked on.
A real teamster with a couple of barrels of ale in a handcart came in right after the priest. Intent on his work, he noticed neither king. "Let's find some quiet place where we can talk," Grus said.
"Lead on," Lanius said. You will anyhow, he thought glumly.
King Grus sat down on a stool in one of the several small dining rooms in the palace. Servants ate here; royalty didn't. Grus watched with some amusement as Lanius perched on another stool a few feet away. Perched was the right word — with his long limbs and awkward gait, Lanius put Grus in mind of a crane or a stork or some other large bird.
"This seems quiet enough," Lanius remarked. A stout door — oak barred with iron — muffled the noise from the hallway outside, and would keep people from eavesdropping on what the two kings said.
"It will do." Grus watched the younger man fidget. He wondered if Lanius had any idea he was doing it. Probably not, Grus judged.
"What is it, then?" Lanius sounded hostile and more than a little nervous. Grus knew his son-in-law didn't love him. He wouldn't have loved a man who'd taken the power rightfully his, either. As for the nerves ... Grus thought he understood those, too.
"Tell me what you know about the Chernagors," he said.
Lanius started. He thought I was going to ask him something else. Grus clicked his tongue between his teeth. He expected they would get, around to that, too. Lanius said, "You'll know a lot already. Hard to be King of Avornis" — he made a sour face at that — "and not know a good deal about the Chernagors."
"I'm not interested in all the trading they do out on the Northern Sea," Grus said. "They'll do that come what may. I'm interested in the rivalries between their city-states."
"All right." Lanius thought for a moment. "Some of them, you know, go back a long way, back even before the days when their pirate ancestors took the northern coastline away from us."
"That's fine," Grus said agreeably. "If knowing why they hated each other before helps me know how they hate each other now, I'll listen. If it doesn't" — he shrugged —" it can wait for some other time."
Grus was a relentlessly practical man. One of his complaints about Lanius was that his son-in-law was anything but. Of course, had Lanius been more like him, he would also have been more likely to try to overthrow him — and much more likely to succeed.
"What's this all about?" Lanius asked now, a practical enough question. "The Chernagors haven't troubled us much lately — certainly no sea raids on our coast like the ones in my great-grandfather's day, and not more than the usual nuisance raids across the land frontier. Thervingia's been a lot bigger problem."
"Not since Prince Berto became King Berto," Grus said. Avornis' western neighbor was quiet under a king who would rather build cathedrals than fight. Grus approved of a pious sovereign for a neighbor. Berto's father, King Dagipert, had almost made Thervingia the master of Avornis and himself Lanius' father-in-law instead of Grus. He'd also come unpleasantly close to killing Grus on the battlefield. The news that Dagipert had finally died was some of the best Grus had ever gotten.
"You know what I mean." Lanius let his impatience show. He had scant patience for comments he found foolish.
"All right." Grus spread his hands, trying to placate the younger king. "I'm concerned because the Banished One may be trying to get a foothold in some of the Chernagor city-states. With Berto on the throne in Thervingia, he won't have any luck there, and he could use a lever against us besides the Menteshe."
"I wonder if the Banished One and Dagipert connived together," Lanius said. Grus only shrugged once more. He'd wondered the same thing. Avornans had never proved it. Dagipert had always denied it. Doubt lingered even so.
"Any which way, our spies have seen Menteshe — which is to say, they've surely seen the Banished One's — agents in several Chernagor towns," Grus said.
"Milvago." Lanius' lips shaped the name without a sound.
"Don't say it." Grus shook his head in warning. "Don't even come as close as you did. That's nobody's business but ours — and I wouldn't be sorry if we didn't know, either."
"Yes." Despite the warm spring weather, Lanius shivered. Grus didn't blame him a bit. Everyone knew King Olor and Queen Quelea and the rest of the gods had joined together to cast the Banished One out of the heavens and down to earth more than a thousand years before.
Everyone knew that, yes. What no one knew, these days, was that the Banished One — Milvago, as he'd been known when he still dwelt in the heavens — hadn't been any minor deity. Lanius had found that truth in the ecclesiastical archives, far below the great cathedral in the capital.
No, Milvago hadn't been any ordinary god, a god of weather or anger or earthquakes or other such well-defined function. From what the ancient archives said, Milvago had fathered Olor and Quelea and the rest. Until they cast him forth, he'd been Lord of All.
He remained, or seemed to remain, immortal, though he wasn't all-powerful anymore — wasn't, in fact, a god at all anymore. He wanted dominion on earth, not only for its own sake but also, somehow, as a stepping-stone back to the heavens. Avornis had always resisted him. Grus wondered how long his kingdom could go on resisting a power greater than it held.
"Do you know what I think?" Lanius said.
Grus shook his head. "I haven't the faintest idea, Your Majesty." He stayed polite to Lanius. The other king seldom used his royal title. Lanius resented reigning rather than ruling. Grus didn't worry about that, as long as the resentment stayed no more than resentment. Polite still, Grus added, "Tell me, please."
"I think the Banished One is stirring up trouble among the Chernagors to keep us too busy even to try to go after the Scepter of Mercy down in the south," Lanius said.
That hadn't occurred to Grus. He realized it should have. The Banished One saw the world as a whole. He had to try to do the same himself. "You may very well be right," he said slowly. "But even if you are, what can we do about it?"
"I don't know," Lanius admitted. "I was hoping you might think of something."
"Thanks — I think," Grus said.
"If we get in trouble in the north, what can we do but try to calm it down before it gets worse?" Lanius asked. "Nothing I can see. We can't very well pretend it isn't there, can we?"
"I don't see how. I wish I did." Grus' laugh was sour as green apples. "Well, Your Majesty, the Scepter of Mercy has been out of our hands for a long time now. I don't suppose a little longer will make that much difference."
Lanius' answering nod was unhappy. Four hundred years ago, the then-King of Avornis had brought the great talisman down from the capital to the south to help resist the inroads of the Menteshe. But the hard-riding nomads had fallen on the Scepter's escort, galloped off with it to Yozgat, and held it there ever since. After several disastrously unsuccessful efforts to retake it, the Avornans hadn't tried for a couple of centuries. And yet ...
Lanius said, "As long as we go without it, the Banished One has the advantage. All we can do is respond to his moves. Playing the game that way, we lose sooner or later. With it, maybe we can call the tune."
"I know." Now Grus sounded unhappy, too. Sending Avornan soldiers south of the Stura River was asking either to lose them or to see them made into thralls — half-mindless men bound to the Menteshe and to the Banished One. And Yozgat, these days the chief town of the Menteshe Prince Ulash, lay a long way south of the Stura. "If only our magic could stand up against what the Banished One can aim at us."
"Wish for the moon while you're at it." But King Lanius caught himself. "No. Wish for the Scepter of Mercy."
"If I need to have it already before I can hope to get it —" Grus stopped. Even if he went around that twenty-two times, he'd still get caught.
"We have to try. Sooner or later, we have to try," Lanius said. But Lanius was no soldier. How much of the bitter consequences of failure did he grasp?
On the other hand, not trying to take back the Scepter of Mercy would also be a failure, a failure most bitter. Grus understood that, too. He'd never wished more to disagree than when he made his head go up and down and said, "You're right."
Lanius dreamed. He knew he dreamed. But dreams in which the Banished One appeared were not of the ordinary sort. That supremely cold, supremely beautiful face seemed more real than most of the things he saw while wide awake. The Banished One said, "And so you know my name. You know who I was, who I am, who I shall be again."
His voice was as beautiful — and as cold — as his features. Lanius heard in these dreams with the same spectral clarity as he saw. Milvago. The name, and the knowledge of what it meant, echoed and reechoed in his mind.
Excerpted from The Chernagor Pirates by Harry Turtledove. Copyright © 2004 Dan Chernenko. 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.