Read Nightlord: Shadows Online

Authors: Garon Whited

Tags: #Parody, #Fiction, #Fantasy

Nightlord: Shadows (6 page)

BOOK: Nightlord: Shadows
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A mild vertigo hit me. It was rather like a sudden change in air pressure, or in temperature. Like going from deep, hot water to a cold room. Or, no, more like coming out of a dream, or the wearing-off of a drug. I was myself again. The world came back into focus around me, real again, instead of a backdrop to something else. The world was real, instead of shadows dancing on a stage. But where was the stage? What did I miss, distracted by the shadows? What was I missing now, on the stage instead of in the audience?

How long did all this take? Two hours? Three? It wasn’t dawn, yet; I knew that much.

I raised an arm to hold on to Bronze until the vertigo passed. When it did, she lifted her head and me with it. I stood, stroked her nose.

“Feel better?”

She snorted fire, a purely voluntary act, which told me
I’m better than I was, and I started out awesome.

I laughed and agreed with her before gathering up swords and heading back down to the shrine.

The three were still there. The went from sitting to down on the left knee, right fist planted on the floor.

I nodded at Torvil. He held out both hands—the one I’d cut was no longer bleeding. I glanced at the floor; there was no blood to be seen. I was pretty sure it had dripped from their hands, spattered on the stone, and crawled over to me. Some time ago, it had slithered up through my armor and clothes to sink into my skin.

Creepy, but I can live with it. So to speak.

“Torvil, will you accept this sword from my hand?” I asked.

“I will.”

“What will you swear?”

“To my King I swear loyalty and bravery. To the Crown I swear to be just and fair as far as my mortal wisdom will allow. At my King’s command, I swear to grant mercy, or to withhold mercy; to take life, or to grant it; to harm those from whom my King shall lift his grace; to heal and help those upon whom my King’s grace shall descend.”

As he spoke, shimmering lines of magic formed over him. They wove in and out all through him, almost glittering as they twisted and writhed into complex patterns. The patterns of the magic merged with the patterns of his spirit, matching them, binding with them, and sinking into them.

That is one damn good oath
, I thought.
I would bet money I don’t have that Raeth and Bouger had something to do with it.

We talked about knightly virtues—
I
talked—on the trail to Crag Keep. They seemed to think most knightly virtues consisted of knowing who to hit and being good at it. I expanded on that a little with legends of Camelot and similar guff.

Now Torvil had a magical oath that reminded me of the oath Keria gave me. Correction: Torvil just swore an oath binding himself to my service and to the service of the kingdom. Like it or not, he wasn’t just any knight; he was now
my
knight.

I laid the weapon in his open hands.

“Stand, Sir Torvil.”

His eyes lit up and he bounced to his feet as though gravity was a myth. He practically vibrated, standing to attention.

I repeated the process with Kammen and Seldar—excuse me, Sir Kammen and Sir Seldar—and the three of them stood there in wonder, looking at each other and at their new swords.

“Careful with those,” I cautioned. “They’ll cut almost before the edge touches. And tend to your cuts. While you’re doing that, I’ll get some of the extra meat. Meet me in the throne room and you can have some
dazhu
steaks.”

Whistling, I strolled back out. A moment later, echoing up the tunnel, I heard them cheering.

We sat around the firepit while they ate and chattered. The light from the fire reflected from the arched ceiling and I wondered if it was plated with brass or gold. It was certainly too bright to be bronze. I was also curious who put it there, assuming it wasn’t something the mountain did on its own. The shifting of light and darkness did interesting things in my vision; color swam back and forth with the flickering of the fire.

I enjoyed the smell of the meat, but food isn’t really my thing after dark. Bronze crunched on some wood, just to be companionable; she likes combustibles. I finally got around to removing the horsecollar; she was very patient about that, and I felt bad about not realizing I should have done it sooner. I also fed her a few of the links and scratched her between the eyes. A normal person would need a railroad spike to do that effectively, but my fingernails can be quite dangerous. She enjoyed the scratching.

“I am still amazed,” Seldar was saying, “that we are knights. I feel no different.”

“I feel kinda scared,” Kammen said. The other two looked at him. “Well, yeah. I do. I mean, I’m still training t’be a knight, or was. I ain’t sure I’m really ready for going off and conquering Rethven.”

“Are you doubting the King?” Torvil demanded.

“Never. I saw something coming today, but I didn’t think it’d be like this. I just expected to be, I dunno, bigger. Inside. Or something,” Kammen finished, lamely. Seldar nodded.

“I know just what you mean. I am very glad to be knighted, but I do not yet feel like one. Does that make sense?”

“I think so,” Torvil said. “When do we start to be really knights? After our first battle?”

“You already started,” I told them. “Now, what do you think you still need to be a good knight? Kammen?”

“I’m good with a sword and shield, I think, but pretty shaky with a lance. I can use a bow. I hate maces and flails, ’cept from horseback, so I ain’t so good with ’em, either. I just don’t see how I can be a knight. I mean, yes, because you say, but maybe you see something I don’t, and I’d like to see it, too, if I can.”

I nodded, thoughtfully, and almost said what I was thinking. Nobody is ever going to live up to the example of Galahad, probably not even Lancelot. Which was fair, I suppose; I was certainly no Arthur.

“There is a difference,” I said, slowly, still thinking of what it meant—or what it
should
mean—to be a knight, “between being a knight and being worthy of it. I believe you are worthy of it. It is up to you to justify my faith in you.”

“How long’ll that take?” he asked.

“The rest of your life. Someday, when you’re dying, you’ll have an instant to look at your life and see if you did the best you could. Only then will you know if you were worthy.”

The three looked at each other. I could almost see thoughts flicker between them.

“Lord?” Torvil asked.

“Yes?”

“When do we start?”

“I guess that depends. You guys came here for a purpose, right?” They nodded. “Are you done?”

“We’re done when we get back,” Torvil said. “We have to make the journey, make sacrifice, stand vigil over our swords all night, endure any tests or trials or visions, and make it back, all without going mad.”

“Or getting killed,” Seldar added.

“I imagine that would be an unsatisfactory ending to your quest,” I noted. “Vigil ends at dawn, I’m guessing?”

“Yes.” Three-way stereo. It’s eerie how they do that. It looks as though I’ll have to get used to it.

“Then you pack up and head back to Mochara?”

“Yes.”

I fiddled with the four lengths of chain still attached to the horsecollar. I bent some links open, carefully, and hooked others together to make two equal chains.

“First, you finish what you started. As a general rule, that’s a good one. Sometimes you have to learn to walk away from things—there’s a thin line between determined and stubborn—but in just in general. What happens after you finish your quest?”

“We are knighted,” Seldar said, “in the normal course of events. Since that has already occurred, we will be presented before the orders of knighthood that our fathers deem fitting.” Torvil and Kammen glanced at each other.

“Um,” Kammen said.

“Yes?”

“What do we name our swords?” he asked.

“Whatever you like,” I told him. “They’re yours.”

“But you gave ’em to us. Well, sorta.”

“And I’m also giving you the right to name them,” I said, smoothly. “Use them. Get a feel for them. Then decide on names for them. Fair?”

“Very much so, Your Majesty,” Kammen agreed. Torvil cleared his throat and I nodded to him.

“Which Order do we belong in?” Torvil asked.

“Which Order do you think you belong in?” I replied.

“Shadow,” the three of them said, in unison.

“So be it. But I may change my mind. I need to know what’s been going on in my kingdom since the incident at the Edge of the World.”

“That will take some time, Your Majesty,” Torvil pointed out. “Rethven’s a big place, and we usually just get traders from along the coast.”

“Rethven isn’t my kingdom,” I pointed out.”

“Well, yeah, I guess,” Torvil said, dubiously. “You haven’t conquered it, yet. But even just on this side of the mountains, it’s three days just to get to Mochara.”

“On foot,” I agreed.

Bronze was really good about it. I was gone for years and already I have an errand for her. She might have given me a slightly reproachful look, but I did tell her she could come back as soon as the three were in sight of Mochara. The cart was barely big enough for the three of them, but with Bronze towing it, they made very good time. I just hoped she wouldn’t set fire to the wooden axle at those speeds.

I sat on the bridge over the moat, watched them go screaming southward on one of the canal roads—the one on the west side, as it happens—and thought about the future.

What have I learned? I’ve obviously been asleep for a while. Long enough for a city to be built on the coast. Long enough for the mountain to move from the Eastrange out to the plains. And, judging by the canals, I’d say it’s been long enough for the mountain to
grow
canals. This stonework isn’t individual blocks; it’s smooth, unbroken stone, like the towers and buildings of the mountain itself.

So, a long time. Possibly a
very
long time.

I could have asked a lot of questions of my three new knights, but that’s hard to do when worshipful faces are looking at you. It feels like letting them down, somehow, to admit ignorance. I’m going to have to work on slowly breaking it to them that I’m neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Maybe, while they were assembling an historical account of Karvalen, they would ask themselves why I needed it.

As my first guess, I’ll say I’ve been asleep for a hundred years or more. That’s lots of time for a city to grow. A hundred years is probably too long for anyone I knew to still be alive. On the other hand, Tort is supposed to be alive… possibly very old, as she is “the Lady Tort,” so we’ll see. If I’m wrong and it’s much less than a century, I can revise my thinking. I wouldn’t mind being wrong.

I glanced up at the mountain, now covered in a city of sculpted buildings.

But I don’t think I am.

Interlude

“Got him!” Tyrecan said, sitting bolt upright, white eyes snapping wide open.

“Where?” Hagus asked.

“I’m checking now,” he replied, eyes focused on things beyond the confines of the room. His hands moved slowly, as though guiding tendrils of invisible smoke. “East of Vathula… more south… about…” Tyrecan frowned and his eyes focused on the room again. “Damn. He’s in that haunted mountain.”

“Well, of course he would be,” Hagus said, disgusted. “Figures. Get a look, will you?”

“I’m working on it,” Tyrecan replied, moving to stand before his largest mirror. “You go get Rakal and let him know, then tell the Prince.”

“He prefers to be called ‘king,’ you know.”

“He can prefer to be called God-Emperor of the Underworld. He’s still just a prince.”

“I won’t argue. But don’t let him hear you talk like that, Tyrecan,” Hagus cautioned. “Call him ‘my lord’ if ‘king’ offends your sensibilities.”

“I can live with that,” Tyrecan replied, waving a beringed hand before the rippling surface of the mirror.

“We should also put that sword away,” Hagus added.

“Good luck with that,” Tyrecan muttered, concentrating on the mirror.

“I’m serious. If it notices, it could ruin everything.”

“Maybe that’s why Parrin wanted it kept out with the fighting, rather than here.”

“But now he’s ordered it recalled,” Hagus pointed out.

“It doesn’t read a mind deeply enough to tell the difference,” Tyrecan assured him. “Nor does it have any interest.”

“It’s a sword that speaks within minds,” Hagus argued. “It’s bound to know something is wrong with her.”

“So? It’s not going to figure out what; it’s not a demon. It’s a dragon,” Tyrecan told him. “That’s not what bothers me. My worry is that it could set fire to everything if we make it suspicious. We really need a specialist in elementalism to deal with that thing. It frightens me.”

“Me, too. And we’re trying to capture its master. Does that make us crazy or desperate?”

“I think it’s either desperate or too old to care.”

“You could be right. But, on the subject of an elementalist, do you think we could sound out someone in Arondael?”

“Not without risking the whole operation.” Tyrecan sighed. “I say we get Rakal to call it back and put it away; he’s got servants enough.”

“I doubt that. I saw what it did to that cavern-village under the Klastok peaks in the north. It took
days
before it aired out enough to send in looters. And that valley, the one with the
galgar
farms? Is anything growing there, yet?”

“I see your point.”

“I’m just saying we need something to keep it in before we have Keria send for it,” Hagus insisted. “Something with spells to block its ability to communicate as well as to hide it.
I
, for one, don’t want an undead king showing up unexpectedly.”

“Isn’t that what we’re trying to do?”

“Not right now. Eventually, ‘his majesty’ wants a face-to-face encounter with the monster, but I’m still not convinced that’s the best course.”

“He says he’s the only one who can capture it,” Tyrecan argued. “I’m not sure I fully agree, though.”

“Oh?” Hagus asked, arching an eyebrow.

“I don’t see how a sick old man stands a chance against something like him. Maybe he just wants to die, but I’ve given up trying to figure out what the prince really wants. I don’t trust him.”

“Neither do I, but I’m also too old to care,” Hagus remarked.

“Point taken. But the monster might fix that sooner than we expect,” Tyrecan pointed out.

“Just keep track of him. We don’t need surprises.”

BOOK: Nightlord: Shadows
11.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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