Authors: Tom Deitz
Merryn cried one last time.
Strynn, my sister. Rann …
Silence answered. Silence within a greater void.
But the cold was stronger and she acquiesced to it, let it reel her in like a fish on a line. Back and back and back, to where sensations slowly returned.
Where there was a redness behind closed eyelids.
Where men shouted encouragement in endless weapons drills.
Where the air smelled of smoke and sweat and horses and drying dung. And spring.
Where the taste of fear in her mouth was like wine in its intensity.
Where she was cold beyond reason.
So cold …
Too cold to live. A vibration in her bones, a clatter in her ears like thunder, was her own teeth chattering. A pain like twin daggers in her breast was her lungs fighting to breathe ice. Her heart beat wildly as it tried to pump frozen blood.
She blinked once at a world where even the most minor stimulus was orders of magnitude too intense.
And then found a place within herself to hide. …
Bantam Books by Tom Deitz
SUMMERBLOOD (coming soon)
the folks on the forum:
many gone; none forgotten
in memory of Edge and Jen
Anne Lesley Groell
Brenda Hull Linda Jean Jeffery
he plague came and the plague went, and a third of the adult men in the cold, snowswept kingdom of Eron went with it, and one in nine of the women, with the bulk of all casualties in their prime. No clan or craft was spared in that land of scholar-artisans, but some were dealt harsher blows than others, with many crafts being virtually obliterated, while others—those that remained sequestered in the remoter winter holds—managed to survive relatively intact.
The upshot was an alarming decline in the population of that realm, which would not have been so troubling had Eron not possessed an adversary across the sands to the south: Ixti, which sometimes cast covetous eyes not only on the resources of its northern neighbor, but also on the works of its fabled craftsmen. And while Ixti, too, had felt the plague’s lash, it was not so severe in that hot, arid realm, and so Ixti’s population recovered more quickly.
It was in part to meet that threat (real or imagined—for an ominous desert called the Flat divided the two kingdoms, making casual contact difficult), that the High Sovereign of Eron, acting in concert with the Council of Chiefs, ordained that all Eronese women of childbearing age must produce at least three offspring. So it was that, eighteen years after the plague, young Eddyn syn Argen-yr, great-grandson of the Craft-Chief of his clan, and one of the three most acclaimed
smiths of his generation, raped Strynn san Ferr of Warcraft, hoping thereby to get her with child and force her into marriage—for no Eronese children were allowed to be born without an acknowledged father, whether or not that man was the actual sire.
Strynn, however, had other plans, and promptly wed her childhood friend, Avall syn Argen-a, who was at once Eddyn’s cousin, her own bond-sister’s twin brother, and (along with Strynn herself), one of the other two most accomplished smiths. Complicating matters was the fact that Avall and Eddyn each had a powerful patron within their mutual clan—patrons who had been rivals for three generations and had no qualms about using their talented two-sons to continue their decades-long game of one-upmanship. Eddyn’s patron even commanded sufficient influence to save him from the exile normally granted rapists, but the whole affair threatened to cause sufficient trouble that the three—Eddyn, Strynn, and Avall—were dispatched to remote Gem-Hold-Winter to sit out the cold season, during which Strynn’s child would be born. Nor would that time be spent idly. All three were assigned to complete one item apiece for the royal regalia: a sword, a helm, and a shield, each to be decorated with a gem of the craftsman’s own finding.
And so, at the end of the autumn festival called Sundeath, Avall, Strynn, and Eddyn set out for Gem-Hold-Winter, in the company of more than a hundred of their countrymen. Among this number was a young man from Priest-Clan named Rrath syn Garnill, whose quick mind and interest in natural history had brought him to the attention of a secret cabal within that clan dedicated to preserving its ascendancy in an ever-more-secular age. A longtime admirer of Avall’s, Rrath continued to shadow the young goldsmith—
, during an attack by a birkit—a wild carnivore something between a cougar and a bear—Avall seemed willing to let Rrath die rather than face the beast himself. Rrath promptly attached himself to Eddyn, who welcomed even that minor victory over his rival.
And there matters rested in Eron.
Meanwhile, in Ixti, Prince Kraxxi and his younger brother,
Azzli, had begun to chafe at the restrictions of royal birth, as well as at King Barrax’s obvious favoritism of Azzli, who was the child of love rather than politics. Eventually, neither brother could stand the tensions at court any longer, and so they conceived a plan to sneak into Ixti’s wilder regions in order to hunt geens—man-sized reptiles that walked on their hind legs, and that were rumored to possess more than bestial intelligence. Such a foray would soon have been necessary in any event, all highborn young Ixtian men being required to kill a geen before they could be considered adults—and Kraxxi having just reached his majority.
Unfortunately for Kraxxi, the hunters became the hunted, and their camp was attacked by geens. Even worse, during the ensuing confusion, Kraxxi accidentally slew his beloved younger brother. Since kinslaying was a capital offense in Ixti, Kraxxi found himself with few options, and chose what he considered to be slow suicide: daring the desert wastes of the Flat in hopes of reaching Eron, which he had long desired to visit. Though he began his journey alone, he soon found himself joined by his three best friends: Elvix, Olrix, and Tozri, a set of half-Eronese triplets who constituted his personal guard.
Against remarkable odds, all four reached Eron’s southernmost citadel: War-Hold, where Avall’s martially inclined twin sister, Merryn, had been stationed for the winter. And where Kraxxi, in his assumed identity of Krax, a merchant’s son, managed to fall in love with Merryn, even as his royal father laid a price on his head.
And back at Gem-Hold-Winter, Avall had been reunited with his bond-brother, Rann, for whom he cared more than anyone in the world, and had met Kylin, a talented blind harper only a little older than he, Rann, and Strynn. In spite of their proximity to each other, Avall and Eddyn maintained an uneasy peace—until Avall, working in Clan Argen’s private vein in the mines that mazed the hold’s foundations, found a curious gem the like of which he had never seen. His initial intent was simply to mount it in the helm he was crafting for the High King, but in the process of fitting it, he let it touch an open cut on his hand—whereupon
he found his senses altered, so that he could suddenly do much finer work than heretofore. Intrigued, he soon discovered that the gem had other powers as well, notably that it could confer the ability to share minds upon any group of people who primed the stone with blood. He and Rann were the first to join that way—by accident. But Strynn, from whom he had become somewhat estranged, was not far behind, and the two of them promptly began to grow closer.
Then came the great discovery. One night as Avall lay awake clutching the gem, he found himself in mental contact with his sister, Merryn, far away in the south. Thoroughly shaken, Avall quickly realized that control of instantaneous communication across great distances would cement Argen-a’s position as most powerful of the three septs of Clan Argen, as well as ensuring its continued close access to the King.
Trouble was, Eddyn had spied on Avall and had discovered, to his dismay, that his rival was doing even better work than before—and doing it too quickly to be natural. Determined to locate the source of Avall’s advantage, Eddyn learned of the gem—and drew the same conclusions as Avall regarding the role such a discovery would play in clan politics, namely that it would make
sept ascendant, as well as possibly redeeming his damaged reputation.
Meanwhile, Avall and Rann had decided to dare the unthinkable: a cross-country trek through the dead of winter to Eron’s capital, Tir-Eron, in order to inform Avall’s patron of their find. Little did they know, however, that two days after their departure Eddyn and Rrath would also leave Gem-Hold, seeking to waylay Avall’s party and capture the gem for themselves. But even Eddyn was unaware that Rrath had a second agenda: to secure the gem for his own faction within Priest-Clan. For the gem, it seemed, provided strong evidence that the soul was not confined to the body and could perhaps access Eron’s eightfold god directly, eliminating the need for Priest-Clan’s intercession. Rrath therefore drugged Eddyn and the two of them detoured by a secret Priest-Clan holding, where they were interviewed and
given a means of locating the gem, as well as a patrol of experienced warrior-priests to accompany them.
Nor were Avall, Eddyn, and their accomplices alone in having their lives disrupted by the gem. Kraxxi had been witness to Merryn’s first contact with her brother, and had quickly determined how that had been accomplished. Realizing that instant communication would give Eron an advantage in any war, and knowing that his father desired war with Eron, Kraxxi decided to take news of Eron’s new potential weapon back to his father’s court, hoping thereby to gain a pardon for himself. And so he, too, set out in the dead of Eronese winter, heading south into the Flat, having tricked Merryn into facilitating his escape. Furious—and hurt, for she truly did love Kraxxi, and he her—Merryn pursued him, but was captured by outriders of the Ixtian army, who promptly took her to their main camp, where she was briefly reunited with Kraxxi. For his part, Kraxxi would say nothing save that he would speak only to King Barrax—who was not in camp.
ended with both Merryn and Kraxxi under threat of torture.