Read Hand of the King's Evil - Outremer 04 Online

Authors: Chaz Brenchley

Tags: #Fantasy

Hand of the King's Evil - Outremer 04 (7 page)

'What danger do you imagine, Sieur Anton, in the heart of Tallis? We are far from Surayon.'

'That is not our only enemy, Magister. We are just one day's ride from the border, and we left a much-reduced garrison behind us.'

'Do you think the Sharai will know that, and raid at our tail?'

The question forced a reluctant smile. 'No, Magister. But I am a soldier, and I have watched from a high place for years now; perhaps it is become a habit.'

'No bad habit, for a soldier. I do not criticise your choice, Sieur Anton. Tell me, have you ever fought in a war?'

'No. Skirmishes only, and that one night at the
castle
...'

There was an obvious question leading on, but only impertinence could ask it.

'Nor I,' Fulke said, girting him the answer regardless. 'We are soldiers by training only, I know the frustration of that; but the God will use us in His time, and I believe that time is now. Come, I have something to show you. Do not be afraid.'

He produced a candle from his sleeve, a candle of white and black tapers intricately plaited into one; stooping, he snatched a brand from the fire and lit its several wicks.

'Forgive me, Magister, but I have seen the King's Eye opened before, and found nothing in it to be afraid of.'

'I think you will not have seen how I intend to use it.' And then, a seemingly irrelevant question, 'Why do you call me Magister, as the brothers do? The Rule does not require it of knights.'

'They are not life-sworn to the Order, as I am.'

'No. A curious creature you've made of yourself, Sieur Anton - neither true brother nor truly knight, despite your dress. Well, let it stand. The God will dispose all, when He brings us to the test. In the meantime, watch and learn.'

Fulke murmured a few words, and passed his hand across the candle. Its feeble yellow light grew incandescent in a moment, as its flickering flames stilled and rose like white-hot rods of steel.

This was nothing new to Anton, familiarity had almost — almost!—worn the wonder out of it. He couldn't understand the marshal's words, nor see how those words could cause these things to happen, but he was no superstitious peasant, to fear what he could not understand. The Sharai practised forbidden magic, the Surayonnaise were sorcerers, and a sensible man would fear both even as he fought them; Fulke was the God's man, a priest as much as a warrior, and what he wove here was miraculous and blessed.

What he wove was light, bending those columns of rigid flame with word and touch and gesture until they spread out and down like fingers, until they broke apart into a thousand threads that glowed like golden wire. The threads made a tapestry, an intricate image in the air; Anton saw the whole of the Sanctuary Land, all of Outremer spread out before him like a map.

'See,' Fulke said, and the map moved and swelled, fraying into invisibility at its edges as the centre spread wider and more detailed, 'here is Surayon where we are bound, where we hope to come. Nothing can be Folded in the King's Eye.'

There it was indeed, couched between its mountain walls: smallest of the five states that made the Kingdom, little more than a single broad valley. Despite himself, Anton bent low to peer at it. Any more detail, and he might be looking to see the arch-sorcerer, the Princip in his palace, working at his spells
...

'That is not what I mean to show you, though,' Fulke said. Surayon swirled away; for a moment Anton felt like a hawk, swept from his soaring by a wind too strong to beat against. A wind driven by another man's will, and that will strong enough to break him, feather and bone, if he tried to resist its forcing
...

Almost he managed a smile then; he didn't often think himself bird-delicate or vulnerable to storms. But he didn't often have a companion like Fulke, so focused, so determined, so certain of his course. It occurred to him that they could both perhaps benefit from a little self-doubt, a passing touch of humanity; except that the last time he'd let himself be touched by human feeling he'd been betrayed, he might have been destroyed, he carried the damage of that touching yet
...

And then there was no more time for thought, as he stooped — yes, very like a hawk — and was dragged down once more towards this strange and glowing landscape, this map of wonder. A moments disorientation, where he had to remember that he still had a body and that it was under his command, that he could draw back from the King s Eye; he did so, and a frowning effort helped him to identify the land laid out before him. That had been Less Arvon that had just rushed past him, swifter than any hawk could
fly,
this was Tallis now, and not so far from where he actually stood on solid rock and earth. A day's journey to the east, perhaps, a day closer to the rising mountain-range.

It rose, or he fell; or neither of those, but it appeared so. He saw hills and valleys etched in light, and it was more and more like falling as his field of view narrowed to one particular valley that seemed to open and engulf him; detail massed before his eyes and the surrounding hills loomed high on either hand. He lost sight of the horizon, and couldn't properly see even the ridge he stood on, for this dazzling tapestry thrown over.

What he could see was a river that ran like living, livid gold, not yet at its natural size but soon, surely, if it and he drew any closer. He could see no sign of man's work in the valley, no trees or planted fields, though the true land was fertile and farmed; when he squinted, he thought he could make out a roughness on the hillsides, as though the King's Eye were sharp enough to delineate individual rocks. Nothing moved among them, there was no sign of anything that lived.

He had thought himself familiar with the Kings Eye, he'd boasted so, but he'd never encountered it like this: only as a map, a chart scrolled with lines of light for ink upon an unseen parchment, or else as a model showing all the shapes of hills and cities. This was something entirely other, where a man might find his map burn like a fiery landscape all about him.
You will not have seen how I intend to use it,
Fulke had said, and Anton would not argue with him now.

'What is this,' he murmured to the man at his side, what have you brought me to?'

'The heart of a miracle,' Fulke replied. 'Here, take my hand, and follow close.'

Anton couldn't turn his eyes from the glittering marvel that had swallowed him. Like a hawk come to ground, he stood now on the river's bank or so it seemed, although he could not hear the water's movement. If it were water. He had heard stories in his childhood of a land where rivers ran with molten gold; he'd never thought to see it, never truly believed it till this moment.

He felt Fulke

s fingers close around his, and grip tighdy. He could almost find comfort in that, though not enough; when the marshal tugged at him he resisted, or his body did, lacking his consent to move. It was only Fulke's soft laugh that impelled him to take one step forward, and then another.

It was as though he had crossed a border he could neither see nor sense. He was wreathed in steam suddenly, that seemed to be rising from the river which was hissing now beside and below him, though it had appeared quite silent before. Even the hot, swirling steam had a golden gleam to it, dazzling and stinging his eyes. He blinked, rubbed at them and found his skin damp to the touch. Cautiously, he touched his tongue to his finger; the acrid, burning taste of it made him spit.

Again, Fulke laughed. 'Do not try to drink the water, Sieur Anton. It would be fatal to you.'

'Where are we?'

'In Tallis, as you saw - and yet not in Tallis, as you might find it by riding. By the God's grace and the power of the King, we are granted a passage into the Eye at need, into any place that the Eye can show us.'

'Even into Surayon?'

'Aye, even there,' bitterly. 'But there is like this, a golden desert country in the God's eye, not the land given to us for our habitation; and we have found no way to step from this to that. Even the God does not grant us wings, Sieur Anton,' for all the world as though he knew how that hawk's image lingered. 'If I blew out this candle, you would find yourself back on the ridge, beside your blazing beacon. I shall do so shortly, and you will. One may walk beneath the lid of the King's Eye, and so come safely to the place one seeks; one may use it as the preceptor does, to overview any part of the Kingdom and what moves there; or one may use it as I have tonight, to come to this half-land that resembles our own, and is not.'

Anton nodded, striving hard to appear calm in the grip of wonder. 'What point, then, in the journey? Why have you brought us here?'

'For a meeting. We should find a man here, to whom I have taught a
little
of this skill. He is no priest, but if his faith is as strong as he proclaims it, if he serves the Kingdom and the God, he should have managed to cross from our world into this. It is a useful attribute, to have a place to meet that is hidden from enemies and doubtful friends alike; why else would the God and the King between them have given us this blessing?'

That didn't answer the greater half of Anton's question,
why have you brought me with you, why seek me out for this?
He held his peace, though, and simply followed Fulke a short distance away from the river, till they were free of the clouds of steam.

Then, 'Blaise!' Fulke's voice echoed strangely in the flat, lifeless air. 'Blaise, if you are here, show yourself.'

A shadow moved from behind a rock upslope of them — but no, it was not a shadow. A man, rather, in dark, drab clothing. With a start, Anton recognised the name, and then the man. Blaise had been the Lady Julianne's sergeant at the Roq; did he now serve Marshal Fulke? Seemingly so. The strangeness of that, though, was overborne by something stranger, as Anton's first thought caught up with him. The man cast no shadow as he stumbled down towards them, both hands wrapped protectively around a candle. A glance up at the sky confirmed what should have been impossible, that there was no sun to make shadows.

Anton had only ever seen Blaise dressed according to his rank and allegiance, as an Elessan soldier; it was plain from his greeting to Fulke, an awkward 'Magister', that he had once worn other garb. Easy to guess that Blaise had been a brother once, had lost the right to wear the habit and now clung to what little was left him. Less easy by far to divine what service he did Fulke and the Order now, dressed as he was in rough homespun such as any landsworn peasant might wear, gabbling as he was in what seemed to be terror barely and badly disguised.

'Magister, I have done as you bade me, but I don't know if it is an angel or a devil I follow, I cannot tell; and this place your power has brought me to, it is as hot and dead as hell itself, I cannot be easy in it...'

'None the less, you must learn to use it as I have shown you, as you have tonight. Not my power, Blaise, but the God's; or the King's, rather, given by the God's grace. Trust, and do not be afraid.'

As well tell a rock not to stand, Anton thought, or a river not to flow. Even here, those laws applied.

'We will be swift, though; we ought not to linger where we can come only on sufferance. Tell me briefly, then, whatever you have seen and done these last days.'

'Magister, I found the wandering preacher, and his band. I have not joined them, quite; they are saints all, I think, or else they are possessed. They do not speak to strangers, I have never seen them speak among themselves. But I am not the only one who follows at a distance.'

Fulke frowned at that. 'I want you close. Have you heard him preaching?'

'Oh yes, Magister. The plague runs ahead of him, and he follows it from village to village; at
every halt he heals the sick -I
have seen that, and it is terrible: one touch from the relic that he carries and even the dying, even the damned are whole again, our own people or Catari, no difference - and then he speaks. He speaks of war as you do, war against Surayon the cursed, the Folded Land. Then he moves on. Those he has healed, those he has touched join with his disciples; others follow. We are not an army to make war with,' at last a glimpse of the soldier through his fear, 'there are old men and children, women too among his disciples, and they carry no weapons; but the number grows every day. Even a rabble may be dangerous ...'

'Even a rabble can win a war, if it is armed with faith,' Fulke responded. 'Have you learned his name yet, or whence he came?'

'No, Magister. He never says.'

'Get closer, then. Speak to him directly, ask him outright. Find a way. He has claimed a share of my war; it may be that he is a weapon of the God, to swing the fight to us.'

'Or an instrument of devils, Magister, to turn it against us. There is something cold in him, and in his people.'

'That too, it may be so. Find out, Blaise. However you need to.'

'Magister, I will try. . .'

'To try is to fail before you begin. Do it, Blaise. That is my command.'

And then Fulke leaned forward and blew out the sergeant's candle, whose flame he had shielded so nervously within his palms. Nothing changed, except that the man was no longer there. There was no noise in his leaving, no swirl of light or shade; only his absence, so sudden that Anton wondered for a moment if he had ever actually been there at all.

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