Read From a High Tower Online

Authors: Mercedes Lackey

From a High Tower

BOOK: From a High Tower
7.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

TITLES BY MERCEDES LACKEY

available from DAW Books:

THE NOVELS OF VALDEMAR:

THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR

ARROWS OF THE QUEEN

ARROW'S FLIGHT

ARROW'S FALL

THE LAST HERALD-MAGE

MAGIC'S PAWN

MAGIC'S PROMISE

MAGIC'S PRICE

THE MAGE WINDS

WINDS OF FATE

WINDS OF CHANGE

WINDS OF FURY

THE MAGE STORMS

STORM WARNING

STORM RISING

STORM BREAKING

VOWS AND HONOR

THE OATHBOUND

OATHBREAKERS

OATHBLOOD

THE COLLEGIUM CHRONICLES

FOUNDATION

INTRIGUES

CHANGES

REDOUBT

BASTION

THE HERALD SPY

CLOSER TO HOME

CLOSER TO THE HEART*

BY THE SWORD

BRIGHTLY BURNING

TAKE A THIEF

EXILE'S HONOR

EXILE'S VALOR

VALDEMAR ANTHOLOGIES:

SWORD OF ICE

SUN IN GLORY

CROSSROADS

MOVING TARGETS

CHANGING THE WORLD

FINDING THE WAY

UNDER THE VALE

NO TRUE WAY

CRUCIBLE*

Written with
LARRY DIXON
:

THE MAGE WARS

THE BLACK GRYPHON

THE WHITE GRYPHON

THE SILVER GRYPHON

DARIAN'S TALE

OWLFLIGHT

OWLSIGHT

OWLKNIGHT

OTHER NOVELS:

GWENHWYFAR

THE BLACK SWAN

THE DRAGON JOUSTERS

JOUST

ALTA

SANCTUARY

AERIE

THE ELEMENTAL MASTERS

THE SERPENT'S SHADOW

THE GATES OF SLEEP

PHOENIX AND ASHES

THE WIZARD OF LONDON

RESERVED FOR THE CAT

UNNATURAL ISSUE

HOME FROM THE SEA

STEADFAST

BLOOD RED

FROM A HIGH TOWER

Anthologies:

ELEMENTAL MAGIC

ELEMENTARY

*Coming soon from DAW Books

And don't miss THE VALDEMAR COMPANION edited by John Helfers and Denise Little

Copyright © 2015 by Mercedes Lackey

All Rights Reserved.

Jacket art by Jody A. Lee.

Jacket designed by G-Force Design.

DAW Book Collectors No. 1693.

DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).

All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES—MARCA REGISTRADA HECHO EN U.S.A.

ISBN 978-0-698-13979-4

Version_1

Contents

Also by Mercedes Lackey

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Foreword

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

D
EDICATION:

To Oklahoma and especially the people of Claremore, home to poetry, comedy, bold change, and kindness. Oklahoma was part of the Wild West, and it brings us all adventures even now. Thank you for being good to me and to our household. We may be weirdos, but we're your weirdos.

Foreword

I don't normally write a foreword for the books in this series, but this time I thought I'd give you all a little warning. In this book, I'm going to be heavily referencing an author utterly unheard of in the US: Karl May. This 19th-century German writer of American Westerns is the bestselling writer of
all time
in Germany. His books, particularly
Winnetou and Old Shatterhand
,
Old Surehand
, and
Old Firehand
, are still widely in print. Many movies have been made from them (mostly using the Czech Republic as a stand-in for the American Southwest, and Italian actors as Native Americans). There are Karl May Festivals all over Germany every year, where avid fans watch reenactments and plays based on the books and dress as their favorite characters, not unlike Western-themed, outdoor versions of American SF conventions. Karl May mania has created over a century's worth of fans just as rabid as any would-be Jedi or Trekker.

Karl May's closest contemporary counterpart is probably J. K. Rowling, but it remains to be seen whether the popularity of Harry Potter will persist for 150 years, as the popularity of Winnetou has in Germany.

I have no explanation for this. We're not exactly talking Shakespeare, here. Karl May literally writes
himself
as the hero of the
Old Shatterhand
series. The books themselves are incredibly self-indulgent; May's heroes never, ever put a foot wrong.
Old Shatterhand
is such a powerful puncher that he levels his opponents with a single blow; never having faced a grizzly before, he kills one with a knife; never having seen a buffalo, he takes down an enormous bull with a single shot to the heart! Winnetou is the noblest of “noble savages,” and is so accurate in predicting the movements of his enemies that you'd suspect psychic powers. May strongly encouraged his readers to believe that
he,
personally, was the hero of his works, despite never once having set foot on US soil, much less gone as far as the West, a fact that is painfully obvious to anyone who reads the original German or the one good translation I was able to find. He wrote in the first person, named his hero “Charlie” (the English version of Karl), then dressed as Charlie and encouraged all his fans to assume Charlie's adventures were his own. And yet hundreds of thousands of Germans read and reread the books obsessively, and no less a personage than Albert Einstein said that the adventures of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand brightened his childhood.

Perhaps the explanation is the simplest possible: despite the defects (and they are many), and despite an egotistical self-aggrandizement that led him to dress like Old Shatterhand, and even commission a rifle that replicated the “magical” 25-shot carbine the hero carried (although I have no clue whether or not the thing ever actually worked), Karl May wrote a rattling good story. If he was a “hack,” remember that the definition of a “hack” is this: a strong, dependable horse that can always be relied on to get you where you want to go.

There are worse things to be.

Prologue

B
LESSED
Mary, it is bitter.
Friedrich Schnittel did not take his coat off after closing the door to the single room he and his family inhabited in a ramshackle building on the inaptly named
Gartenstrasse
in Freiburg. There was no point in taking it off. It was only a little warmer inside than it was outside. The single room, with its peeling wallpaper and single window with rags stuffed in every crevice, was mostly heated by the bodies of his family, when all was said and done.

His eight children crowded around him, waiting to see what he would produce out of his coat, but they knew better than to clamor at him. And they knew better than to grab for the loaf of day-old bread, the head of cabbage, and the little pot of rendered fat that was all he had to show for an entire day of work stacking crates of wine. He passed these treasures over their heads into the hands of his heavily pregnant wife, Maria. Eight pairs of eyes followed the food with longing and hunger. Maria sat down beside the hearth on a tin bucket, and propped a piece of chipped tile on her lap to use as a cutting board. The cabbage wasn't very good, or very large, but Maria chopped it fine and added every bit, including the stem, to the pot over the tiny hearth. Meanwhile, Friedrich sat down on the bit of ruined masonry that he used for a stool on the side of the hearth opposite her. They didn't have any furniture to speak of; if they'd had anything, it would have been broken up and added to the fire long ago. The only reason they had anything at all to burn was because three of the four oldest children spent all day scavenging every bit of wood or crumb of coal they could find within walking distance of their home. They were good at it, finding even the smallest scraps and the thinnest twigs, but they were competing with many others in similarly impoverished circumstances.

The eldest boy had a different task: he took whatever jobs people would give a nine-year-old boy, which in the winter, wasn't much.

Friedrich stuck his feet, shod in his cracked, rag-wrapped, and ill-fitting shoes, so close to the tiny fire that if the flames had been enthusiastic he might have been in danger of scorching them and surveyed his family with the eye of despair. Eight children, six boys and two girls, all of them clad in every scrap of clothing they possessed, all of them staring at his wife with desperate longing as she cut the loaf into ten absolutely equal pieces and scraped a bit of the lard over the surface of each piece. All of them with the pinched, slightly grayish faces of those to whom hunger was ever present, and soap unheard-of.
Dear God,
Friedrich thought, sadly.
Oh, dear God, why did You make Maria so . . . fertile? I know that You have told us to be fruitful and multiply, but surely You meant that for wealthier men than me. . . .
The Priest at Saint Martin's Church said that it was a blessing that they had so many children, and that none of them had died, but Friedrich could not see how it could possibly be a blessing to have so many children when not one of them could get a full belly no matter how hard he worked.

Especially not in the winter, when they needed full bellies the most.

Maria looked up at him sharply, as if she had gotten wind of his thoughts. But then she looked back down at her task, which was no easy one, slicing so carefully through the bread so as not to waste a crumb and carefully apportioning the lard so that everyone got the same tiny amount. When she had finished, she carefully—almost reverently—handed it over, slice by precious slice, into the outstretched hands. Then she protected her hand with her threadbare skirt and lifted the pot off the hook, took her own battered cup, and apportioned one cup of the cabbage soup to each of nine bits of abused tin or chipped pottery that the children passed her. When she had given Friedrich his, she lifted the kettle and poured out the rest—exactly a cupful—into her own vessel.

They all ate slowly, carefully, dipping the bread into the broth and taking tiny bites and then, when the bread was gone, drinking what remained, and chasing the little bits of cabbage remaining with fingers and tongues until the vessels could not have been cleaner had they been scoured. Maria sent Pieter, the oldest, for the bucket of water in the corner, refilled the pot, and hung it back over the fire. They would all drink hot water if they got too cold, and to ease the complaints of still-empty stomachs.

While they were relatively warm, and had
something
in their bellies, the children all piled together on the heap of rags that they called a bed, made of rags too small to be patched into clothing or too coarse to wear. In moments they were asleep. Maria sighed, and rubbed her belly. “I wish it was summer,” she said, sadly. “I long for green things and vegetables to eat. I feel I will die without them. Ramps! Oh, if only I could have ramps!”

Friedrich winced. Of course she would crave what she couldn't have. Vegetables in winter? Other than cabbage and potatoes, they were dearer than meat. When she had been pregnant in the summer, she had wanted meat, which they couldn't afford at any time, and pickles. Now in the winter, she craved green things. But . . . this time was a little different. This time it seemed to him that her face was thinner than before, and more strained, and that there was a feverish, haunted look about her eyes. Was she voicing more than her usual complaints and cravings?
Could
it be that this time bearing the child would kill her?

And then what would
he
do? He couldn't work and watch over the children at the same time! Panic rose in his throat, though he kept his face stoic.

“Rampion,” she said wistfully. “Oh, for a heap of rampion.”

Unable to bear any more of this, or the frightened feeling in his belly, he stood up, abruptly. “I'm going back out,” he said gruffly. “By now everyone has cleared out from the winter market. I might find some cabbage leaves or onion tops, or maybe some spilled oats or barley.” He turned without another word and went out the door. As he closed it, he glanced behind, through the closing door. She was sitting there, still rubbing her swollen belly. He tried not to feel angry with her, but it was hard. What was he supposed to do? Conjure up food out of nothing? It took almost everything he could earn just to keep a roof over their heads!

It was dark now, but that was all the better so far as he was concerned. No one would see him rummaging in the fouled straw left after the farmers at the winter market packed up their remaining wares and beasts and left. He was no longer too proud to hunt for the old discarded cabbage leaves, or even, if the light was good enough, pick through the straw for grain the hens might have left. Thanks be to God, there was a full moon and the snow was thin. That made foraging easier.

But before he reached the market square his attention was diverted.

He thought he saw a flash of light where no light should be, on the other side of a wall that surrounded what had once been a fine old house that was now as rundown as any other place in this slum. No one lived there, to his knowledge, and it had been boarded and locked up for as long as he and Maria had lived in this neighborhood. But behind that wall, it occurred to him, was what was left of a garden. And even a garden long-deserted might have things still growing in it that were worth salvaging. Roses bore hips that made good tea, and might give Maria some strength. There might be herbs. Maybe at one time there had even been vegetables, and some might still be there, half-wild. Perhaps there were withered apples.

The thought was father to the deed. He found a place where he could scale the garden wall, and in a moment, he was over.

He realized as he dropped down the other side that the “light” he had seen must have been the full moon reflecting off a glass witch-globe in the center of the garden. But that was not what caught his attention.

No . . . what caught his attention was that somehow, some way, this garden was not a useless garden full of half-choked flowers and weeds, but—a
vegetable
garden. And more than that, it was a vegetable garden that was cultivated, and as full of produce as if it was harvest season. By some miracle, there was not so much as a flake of snow on the ground, nor were the plants frost-killed and rotting.

There were squash, kohlrabi, and beans, onions, kale and cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and beets and turnips. There were peas, potatoes, radishes, leeks, parsnips, and the rampion that Maria craved! He felt nearly faint at the sight of so much food.

There was no sign of life in the house . . . and he did not hesitate for a moment at the theft he was about to perform.
My children are starving. And no one has
touched
this garden. It would be a sin for it to go to waste and freeze and rot.

An hour later, he was over the wall again, wearing his coat and jumper only, with his shirt over his back stuffed full of vegetables and serving as a sack.

Maria wept when he spilled out his bounty on the hearth; wept, and gathered it all in, marveling and looking up as if to say something. But he didn't stop to answer her questions, for this was an opportunity that might never come again, and while he had moonlight, he was going to steal as much as he could. After all, he had already
stolen;
the sin was committed, the deed was done, and he thought that
how much
he took really didn't matter at this point. How was it the old saying went?
Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.
By the time the moon went down, the children were awake again, and there were vegetables stacked everywhere in the room, and herbs hanging upside down in bunches from a string knotted between two nails on the wall. The kettle of hot water now held more vegetables stewing away merrily, and potatoes baking in their jackets in the ashes, and they all went to bed again, exhausted, but knowing that, for the first time in more than a year, they would wake up to something to eat.

In his dreams he continued to fill his shirt and bring out more food. But in his dreams, it wasn't only vegetables he was looting; when he pulled up beet and turnip tops, there were loaves of bread and even a sausage or two attached to the greens.

But then, he almost always dreamed of food. The children probably did, too. At least when he woke to the first light this morning there was something to fill his stomach.

He would have very much liked to have lingered over his breakfast of roasted potato the way the children did, but he was well aware last night might have been a fluke. Surely, whoever had planted that garden was going to notice and take measures to protect it. So when he went out in the thin morning light to see if there was work again at the vintner, he detoured by the old house, fully expecting to find that he had been mistaken—that it
was
inhabited, and the occupants were now incensed over his raid on their garden.

But the shutters on the street side were all closed and locked, and it was silent as only an empty house could be.

He still didn't believe in his luck. Perhaps they didn't awaken in the morning as poor people had to. He passed on; he could not count on a second night of raiding. This was only a brief moment of luck, surely.

He did find work that day, though not at the vintner, but turning a manure pile at the stable. It was filthy, stinking work, but he didn't care; besides his pay, he managed to get his hands on some coarse burlap grain sacks that had the seams ripped open. Truth to tell . . . he hid them under his coat to sneak them out, since even a sack that could no longer hold anything was worth something, but he doubted that anyone would miss them in time to connect their disappearance with him. He had also taken the time to chip some salt from the block that the horses licked and fill his pockets with it. Salt was salt, the vegetables would be even better with salt and herbs, and he had eaten worse than horse saliva.

He tried not to think about how easy stealing had suddenly become . . . then resolved to repent of it as soon as he could. But right now . . . well . . .

I have starving children and a wife who may not live to give birth unless I do something.

He arrived home with his burden of burlap, bread and little pot of lard to open the door to the unaccustomed aroma of cooking. Instead of sending him out to look for an odd job, Maria had sent Jakob, the eldest boy, out farther afield to find wood. Once again, potatoes roasted in their jackets beside the fire, and the kettle was full of chopped vegetables. His children looked at him with hope instead of desperation, and there was a little color in Maria's cheeks.

He had made another detour past the house and its walled garden—and there was still no sign of life. He resolved to loot as much as he could tonight.

When he went out at moonrise, he had with him real sacks now, since Maria had managed to sew them up again, and Maria had come up with clever ways to store the rest of the bounty during the day, sending the three eldest besides Jakob out to forage in the rubbish. Baskets with broken bottoms could still be filled as long as you didn't move them. Pots broken in half could be tied up with foraged twine to hold peas and beans. Since he had pulled things like onions and beets up whole, she had used an old country trick and braided the tops together so they could be hung on the wall, on bent nails painstakingly straightened with a stone and a brick.

BOOK: From a High Tower
7.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Tough To Love by Rochelle, Marie
The Sibyl by Cynthia D. Witherspoon
Sleeping through the Beauty by Puckett, Regina
The Secret Island by Enid Blyton
Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne
Regeneration by Pat Barker
Fires of Autumn by Le Veque, Kathryn