Recluce 07 - Chaos Balance

BOOK: Recluce 07 - Chaos Balance
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Chaos Balance
Chaos Balance

TheChaosBalance

The Chaos Balance

 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Copyright © 1997

Edited by David G. Hartwell

A Tor Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010

Tor® Books on the World Wide Web: http://www.tor.com

 

 

To Lara, and her mother

 

 

Chaos Balance
I

 

THE ANGELS OF darkness made the Roof of the World their home, and after deceiving the followers of light who had eagerly welcomed them, they wielded the ancient and dreadful weapons of Heaven and vanquished those who rejoiced in the light.

   In those first dark years, there were none at first among the dark ones who could descend to the lower lands and bear the heat, and the lords of mankind, their true daughters, and their consorts rejoiced that this was so.

   For the angels of temptation bore blades that slashed through armor and loosed arrowheads that treated iron bucklers as if they were rotten wood, and they raised a mighty stronghold called Westwind, anchored on Tower Black, that rivaled Freyja in power. And the followers of light, who had ages earlier forsaken the powers of the heavens, relinquished the barren heights to the dark angels and their evil powers.

   The dark angels were women who made a mockery out of hearth and home, who reviled men and laughed as they destroyed all the armies of the Westhorns sent against them, as they forced the great lords to heap dust and ashes upon their own heads and to bend their knees and pay tribute, and to stand helplessly as their daughters were tempted from their hearths and consorts.

 
 Yet an even more deadly evil was to flow from the Roof of the World, and none knew it, from the mighty Nylan, smith of the angels, he who builded the Tower Black, he who forged the blades of night and the arrows of the storms....

         Colors of White

         (Manual of the Guild at Fairhaven)

         Preface

 

 

Chaos Balance
II

 

THE WIRY AND silver-haired man paused at the end of the causeway from Tower Black, his breath white in the sunlit chill. His eyes lifted from the cleared stones that led from Tower Black- the tower whose stones he had wrested from the mountains, the tower he had raised to shelter the angel crew of the Winterlance.

   Another dozen steps before him, the causeway melded into the metaled road. Beyond the road was the expanse of softening snow that stretched in every direction-eastward to the kay - plus - deep drop-off that overhung the high forest, and to the mountains that bordered Westwind on the south and west. Softening or not, the snow was still well over Nylan's head just about everywhere and twice that in spots. That depth explained the ski traces and trails that paralleled the road, though many were just there as remnants of training exercises for the newer guards.

   From the mountains to the south rose Freyja; that impossibly ice-needled peak that dominated the Roof of the World, glittering through the cold green-blue skies.

   Nylan, wearing only a light jacket over his smithing clothes, walked slowly out to the road, nodding at the barely raised patterns in the snow to his right that marked the walls outlining the outdoor weapons practice yard.

   Beyond the practice yard the stones of the road rose slowly to the west, past the smithy he had built, to the canyon that held the stables carved out of the stone of the mountainside itself. A thin plume of white smoke rose from the forge chimney. To his left, the road ran eastward for a hundred paces or so, then curved northward over the stone bridge that marked the channel for the tower drains and outfalls. Beyond the bridge, the metaled road began to climb the slope to the top of the ridge, and the watchtower.

   Nylan shivered as his eyes traversed the snow-covered slope to the north, east of the road. Beneath the melting snow lay the ashes that were all that remained of the armies of Gallos and Lornth-and of a third of the guards of Westwind. Once the snow melted, in the eight-days ahead, he hoped that the spring grasses would cover that desolate grayness quickly.

   From the east his eyes turned south, toward the hummocks where dark stones had begun to protrude from beneath the snow. Three large cairns-and twenty-two individual cairns-bore witness to the harshness of two years of struggle against the lords of Candar and the Roof of the World itself.

   Yet Tower Black held more than the nine survivors of the thirty-one from the Winterlance who had made planetfall. More than two score filled the six levels of the black stone tower-most of them women and refugees who had sought a new life on the Roof of the World. Of the seven ship's officers, there remained four-Ryba, Nylan, Saryn, and Ayrlyn. Of the twenty-four elite marines, five remained-Huldran, Llyselle, Istril, Siret, and Weindre.

   Outside of Daryn, the blond young standard-bearer from Gallos who had been wounded on the north side of the ridge and protected by Hryessa-no one wanted to cross the spitfire from Lornth-Nylan was the only adult male remaining in Westwind, scarcely surprising given Ryba's distrust of most men.

   He began to walk uphill between the heaps of snow and ice that flanked the road toward the smithy. Until an eight-day earlier, the road itself had been covered with that ice and snow, packed into a thick crust, but with midday temperatures slightly above freezing, Saryn had had the guards clear the sections near the tower, extending the cleared areas daily- as much to begin physically conditioning the upper bodies of refugees as for the need to return the road to the condition necessary for the timber carts that would begin to roll once the way to the high forests below Westwind was clear.

   The smith frowned as he turned off the road and crossed the packed snow, to the door of the smithy. This winter there had been enough wood for the furnaces, and for hot water in the bathhouse, unlike the first winter on the Roof of the World. They'd still had to slaughter some of the sheep for lack of fodder, but only a few.

   Nylan eased open the smithy door, closing it behind him, before he spoke to Huldran. “You were up here early.”

   “It was noisy this morning. Dephnay was howling, and neither Siret nor Istril could quiet her. So,” the stocky blond guard beside the forge shrugged, “all three were awake. Yours, thank darkness, don't howl. They just babble. But I don't sleep that well with babbling.”

   “I'm sorry, Huldran.”

   “It isn't your fault. Istril keeps telling me that, as if every guard doesn't know it.”

   “She didn't have-”

   “Ser . . . you're not perfect and neither is the Marshal, but between the two of you, you've saved us, and a lot of women on this forsaken planet. No one else could have designed and built Tower Black.”

   Nylan reached for the leather apron.

   “Not much left in the way of charcoal.” The stocky Huldran fed another set of short logs to the forge fire. “We're back to starting with wood coals.”

   “Saryn said the wood crews could do a charcoal burn early this spring. She's got enough bodies.”

   “Warm bodies we've got,” Huldran snorted. “Trained guards we don't, and two of the best are Siret and Istril.” She broke off.

   “I know. I know.” And Nylan did. Both the silver-haired guards had children less than a year old, and both children were his-through Ryba's manipulation of the last residue of angel high-technology. He tightened his lips. While he loved both Kyalynn and Weryl-and Dyliess, his daughter by Ryba-having been an involuntary and ignorant stud still grated on his nerves.

   Yet what could he do? He had to admit Ryba had been right about the cultures that surrounded them, and angels weren't exactly welcomed anywhere. Nor did he feel right even thinking about leaving his children, whether he'd been an involuntary stud or not.

   Yet Ryba was getting harder and harder to take, and each day felt like a balancing act. Ryba, former captain of the U.F.F. Winterlance, was now Marshal of Westwind, and undisputed ruler of that chunk of the Westhorns known as the Roof of the World-a land so high and cold that very few of the locals could survive more than short stretches outside in full winter. Then, Ryba and all of the surviving ship's marines-now the guards of Westwind-were full-blooded Sybran, born to an even colder heritage than the Roof of the World, unlike Nylan and Ayrlyn.

   Nylan shook his head and removed his jacket, hanging it on one of the wooden pegs beside the front double doors. Reminiscing and mentally complaining wouldn't forge blades-and Ryba wanted more of the deadly weapons he had developed. For her all-too-accurate visions indicated that, in the seasons and years ahead, scores of women would seek out the refuge that Westwind had become. Was that his destiny-armorer of the angels, forger of weapons of death and destruction? And involuntary stud? So far he'd avoided repeating that-since the great battle-but he could feel the pressure building.

   The smith took the flat and crude shovel formed from lander alloys and eased the scarce charcoal from the basket across the forge coals. He nodded to Huldran, and the blond guard pumped the great bellows while Nylan took out his hammers and a strip of lander alloy-not that there was much left, but he would use it while he could. Then he'd have to figure out another way to make high-quality blades-if he could.

   On the forge shelf rested a local blade-broken and melted around the edges from the devastation Nylan had created by merging one dying weapons laser with the “order fields” of this unknown world, so like and yet so unlike the powernets he had ridden as the engineer of the Winterlance. More than a thousand such local blades were stacked, like cords of wood, behind the smithy. Some were whole, some partly melted, and some broken.

   A wry smile crossed the smith's lips. And a year ago he'd worried about metal stocks?

   “Ready, ser?” asked Huldran.

   “Ready as ever.” He laid the alloy on the coals. From bitter experience he'd learned that, in the initial stages of forging blades, the softer local iron had to be forge-welded into the alloy, not the other way around.

   By the time the midday chimes rang from the tower, they had managed to flatten the iron of the local blade into the strip of alloy, flatten the mixed metals, fold them and flatten them once, twice, and three times, then yet again. A dozen or more such fold-weld-flattenings, and Nylan would have metal ready to forge into a blade itself. He knew that even more of the pattern-welding would have been better, but time was short, and Ryba less than perfectly patient. In any case, the later forge steps would go more quickly.

   All winter long he and Huldran had forged blades, spurred on by Ryba's insistence that every guard-every recruit- should have at least two of the shortswords that were equally deadly as blades or missiles. All of the blades were essentially modified copies of the pair that Ryba had brought down from the Winterlance-the Sybran nomad blades the Marshal and former captain of the angel ship had carried and practiced with throughout her service career.

   “I'll bank the coals, ser, not that we've much to bank.”

   “You up to starting one of your own this afternoon?”

   “Why not?”

 
  “Then dump some logs on the fire.”

   Huldran grinned. “You going to practice after you eat? That's dangerous.”

   “I'll be careful.” Either Saryn or Istril or Siret would single him out. He and Ryba avoided practicing skills against each other-there was too much resentment there for it to be safe for either of them.

   Nylan racked the hammers and checked the metal blank that would soon be another deadly shortsword, then eased on his jacket before heading out of the smithy and down toward the tower.

   A handful of newer guards, led by Murkassa, one of the first locals to seek out Westwind, walked swiftly down from the canyon that held livestock and mounts, but they were several hundred paces up the road from the smithy. The round-faced and brown-haired guard lifted a hand in greeting, and Nylan returned it before turning onto the road.

   Nylan had barely cooled off before he stepped through the main door to Tower Black. He squinted in the far dimmer light of the tower, but took a deep breath of the fresh-baked dark bread that Blynnal did so well and the aroma of something else-the mint-spiced stew, he thought, probably created around the remnants of the deer that Ayrlyn had brought in two days earlier, after the light dusting of snow from a spring storm.

   “Nylan?” Istril, carrying her son Weryl in her arms, motioned from the de facto nursery on the left side of the tower entry area.

   He turned and crossed the stones of the entry hall.

   Her face was slightly flushed, as though she had been outside in the cold. Weryl's face was also red.

   “You were outside?” Nylan asked.

   “We walked up to the stables with Siret and Kyalynn. Ydrall went with us, but she was cold the whole way. Kyalynn and Weryl just babbled the whole time.” Istril grinned down at her son. “The cold like this doesn't bother him at all.”

   “With what you wrapped him in, I imagine not.”

   “I am glad you got another snow cat. Once I have it tanned, it will make a good parka.”

   “For a year or two.” Nylan laughed.

   “Da!” offered Weryl, thrusting a chubby hand toward his father.

   “Da to you, too,” returned Nylan, taking his son, and still half wondering at the circumstances that had resulted in three of the four infants in Westwind being his-when he'd only slept with Ryba at that time.

   “We'll have five more lambs,” the silver-haired Istril announced quietly.

   “Practicing your healing, again?”

   Weryl tugged at Nylan's index finger, his grip firm. Nylan smiled at his son.

   “The more healers the better. You and Ayrlyn can't do it all, and what happens if you're hurt, like in the big battle with the Lornians and the Gallosians?” asked Istril.

   “I was glad you'd practiced.”

   “So was the Marshal. Her arm was a mess.”

   “You wouldn't know it now.”

   “She used to get tired faster when she practiced blades, but she's almost over that now,” noted Istril.

   “Slow, she's faster than anyone else.”

   “Except you and Saryn. You're as fast as she is, but you don't like to go for the kill. Saryn's even more of a killer than the Marshal.” Istril held out her arms for Weryl. “You need to eat. He's eaten.”

   “What about you?” asked Nylan as he handed his son back to Istril, disengaging Weryl's fingers from his own index finger.

   “Antyl will watch him while I eat.” Istril smiled warmly and carried their silver-haired son back to the nursery.

   Nylan turned, then stopped to avoid running into one of the cooks.

   “Greetings, ser.” Blynnal bowed her head, about all she . dared bow, as pregnant as she was and carrying the large baskets of fresh-baked bread up from the kitchen on the lower level of the tower.

   Nylan had no doubts about the father. Blynnal had worshiped Relyn before the one-armed man had slipped out of Westwind one step ahead of a vengeful Ryba. And Relyn had worried a lot about the cook-pretty, but timid, and one of the few women in Westwind with no desire to lift a blade against the majority of men in Candar.

   After following Blynnal past the lower tables, Nylan slipped around her and into the space at the end of the bench at the first table, the position that had always been his. The hearth to his right was dark-but between the warmth that drifted up from the kitchen on the level below and the residual heat from the wood-fired furnace, the high-ceilinged room was warm enough.

   Saryn sat across from Nylan, while Huldran eased onto the bench on Nylan's left. Ayrlyn, her flame-red hair seemingly glinting with its own light, slipped onto the bench across from the smith-engineer.

   Even before Nylan poured the steaming tea in his mug, Ryba sat down at the end of the table in the only chair in the great hall.

   “How is the forging coming?” she asked politely.

   “We're working on two more blades,” he answered. “From what I figure, that will bring us to nearly a hundred of them- about a score more than two per guard. We've had to go back to starting the forge with wood, and we'll be out of charcoal in another eight-day.”

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