Sword of the Bright Lady

BOOK: Sword of the Bright Lady
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Published 2014 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books

Sword of the Bright Lady.
Copyright © 2014 by M. C. Planck. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopy­ing, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, ex­cept in the case of brief quotations em­bodied in critical articles and reviews.

The characters, organizations, companies, products, and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or organizations or companies, currently or previously existing, or existing product names is coincidental and is not intended by the author.

Cover illustration © Gene Mollica
Cover design by Nicole Sommer-Lecht

Inquiries should be addressed to

Pyr

59 John Glenn Drive

Amherst, New York 14228

VOICE: 716–691–0133

FAX: 716–691–0137

WWW.PYRSF.COM

18 17 16 15 14 5 4 3 2 1

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Planck, M. C., author.

Sword of the bright lady / M.C. Planck.

pages cm — (World of prime; Book One)

ISBN 978-1-61614-988-8 (paperback) — ISBN 978-1-61614-989-5 (ebook)

1. Fantasy fiction. 2. Magic—Fiction. I. Title.

PR9616.4.P56S96 2014

823'.92—dc23

2014012143

Printed in the United States of America

For Mom, who never stopped hoping I would create.

Contents

1. Wooden Sticks and Iron Men

2. Interview with a Priest

3. Visions

4. A Trying Experience

5. Duel

6. Aftermath

7. Public Relations

8. Window Shopping

9. A Flock of Gulls

10. Old-Time Revival

11. Fire in the Sky

12. Door-to-Door Salesman

13. Road Trip

14. Enter the Troubadour

15. Recruiting Drive

16. Friday Night Lights

17. Fight Club

18. The Show Must Go On

19. Thick as Thieves

20. On the Road, Again

21. Showdown at Old Bog

22. Fight of the Living Dead

23. As the Crow Flies

24. A Bit of Poetry

25. Bottled Water

26. Bull by the Rifle

27. Boot Camp

28. Into the Wild

29. The Price of Victory

30. Death by Politics

31. Revival

32. Return

Acknowledgments

About the Author

1.

WOODEN STICKS AND IRON MEN

He woke in front of a comfortable fire crackling in a stone hearth, in a narrow and uncomfortable bed, and not alone. Sleeping, the girl looked no more than sixteen. Black hair, and he knew it was not his wife. With relief he saw she was still dressed.

But he was naked except for underwear, and that was quite awkward. A dream, of course; any minute now would come the part where he was late for a math test.

Startlingly realistic for a dream, with the pungent smell of wood-smoke and dirt, and, yes, body odor. The girl needed a bath. Not terribly pretty, and no one he recognized. That struck him as quite unsatisfying for a dream. Indeed, the entire room had an unbearably rustic feel, a primitive cabin with the cluttered look of constant occupation. One wall was stone; the others rough-hewn wood, like the bench in front of the fire. Odd bits of a household lay about, and something about them disturbed him. In the firelight it was hard to tell, but though he saw clothes and wicker baskets, firewood and stoneware, something was missing.

Telephones. TVs. A stereo. A light, or even a lamp. These were the things that were absent. He could see nothing in the room that lived on electricity.

A remarkably subtle observation for a dream, he thought. He rubbed his face where the rough blanket had made it itch and waited for the dream to do something.

Then he remembered. He had been cold and lost. He remembered an impossible night sky reflecting off a blanket of untouched snow. He also remembered putting the dogs in the truck, driving out to the hot, dry riverbed for a walk. But the memories didn't connect. There was no bridge between them.

With some unease, he noted that the dream hadn't gone anywhere. The girl stirred in her sleep, the fire crackled, but nothing changed.

All in all, he didn't like this dream. Time to wake up.

He'd had nightmares before, the terror of sleep paralysis and the sensation of losing control. Voice was the one thing you kept; you could still scream, though it was always a struggle, and the sound would awaken you. He drew in a breath, and barely had time to wonder how easy it was before the bellowing shout flew out of him, unrestrained.

The girl shrieked and fell out of bed, and he almost went with her, tangled up in blankets and confusion. Why were his ears ringing? He should have produced no more than a choking cry and then the sensation of falling forward into wakefulness.

Instead, the girl on the floor burst into tears and the door across the room flew open, revealing an old white-haired man in a nightgown, fear and anger on his disheveled face.

Christopher was as surprised as any of them. He lay there trying to understand why he wasn't waking up.

“Helga,” the old man said, and his face began to clear, a smile settling into the creases like it belonged there.
“Stanser skriking, du er skremmende gutten.”

The girl sat up, sniffling. Looking at Christopher seemed to calm her. He knew he was nothing threatening to see, half naked and clutching the blankets to himself, trying to shake the sleep from his head.

Except there was no sleep there. In the welling of a strange and terrible fear, he reached out and slapped the coarse wooden paneling with the back of his hand. Hard, so hard the pain made him wince, and a spot of blood appeared where the skin had split. Instinctively he put his hand to his mouth, and the metallic tang of blood spread truth through him like a poison.

The old man offered the girl a hand, and she climbed to her feet. They exchanged words in their incomprehensible language. She went to the fireplace, lifting an upturned wicker basket and setting it aside to let flickering light flood the room. Christopher's brain registered that she was wearing a nightshirt as she pulled a tattered dress over it; that she was older than she first appeared, perhaps eighteen; that she turned now to preparing breakfast with a clanking of pots and pans. His brain processed this automatically while the old man came to the bed, adjusted the blankets and made soothing noises. Christopher took it all in but could not make sense of it, could not progress past the brute fact that lay before him.

He was not dreaming
.

“Kan du forstÃ¥ meg?”
asked the old man, gentle and concerned.

“Where am I?” Christopher demanded. “How long have I been here?” With no answer forthcoming, Christopher put his hand to his chin and found a hint of stubble. A day's worth, at most.

The recognition that he had been in his own bed twenty-four hours ago did not turn out to be comforting. How could he have gone from sand to snow without memory?

“Where are my pants?” he asked, searching for something concrete from his past, his semi-nakedness now terrifying.

The old man guessed his concern, and a laughing comment to the girl sent her to the rack that stood near the fireplace. From it she extracted his jeans and T-shirt. She gave them to him, failing to hide her curiosity over the copper rivets in the denim pockets.

Turning back to her fireplace was all the privacy she was going to give him. Under the blankets he slid into the clothes, grateful for the armor, however thin. Dressed, he felt like a man again.

“Do you speak English?” he demanded.

“TÃ¥lmodighet, min herre
,” the old man said with a grin.
“ Piken arbeider sÃ¥ fort som hun kan.”

That was clearly a “no,” although a friendly one. With another smile, the old man ducked back into his room, returning dressed in a dingy white robe belted with rope. The girl handed the man a steaming cup, and he sat on one end of the bench near the fireplace, sipping his drink. The girl offered Christopher a cup, too.

The sheer normalcy of it all required Christopher to accept the cup. The girl poured herself one and returned to overseeing a pot hung over the fire. The tea was tart and musty, a flavor he had never encountered before. The hot drink made him realize how hungry he was, and he stared at the pot. The girl noticed and blushed. She filled a wooden bowl and handed it to him.

He shoveled food into his mouth with a crude wooden spoon, downing three mouthfuls before he stopped to see what he was eating. Boiled oatmeal, flavored with peas. Unbidden, an ancient nursery rhyme sprang to mind.

Peas porridge hot,

peas porridge cold,

peas porridge in the pot

nine days old.

Monks and fireplaces, stoneware and serving girls, a flickering torch on the fireplace mantel. It looked like medieval Europe. Except medieval Europe didn't exist anymore. Even the smallest villages of the old Eastern Bloc countries had electricity now.

Or did they? Maybe he was in some remote Siberian village. Or a Scandinavian hippie commune. A plane crash, amnesia, wandering around in the dark. That was an explanation, or at least a possibility.

“My name is Christopher Sinclair,” he told them, wiping the last of the porridge out of the bowl with his fingers.

“Pater
Svengusta,” replied the old man with a bow of his head, an obvious introduction.
“Og dette er vÃ¥r kjær
Helga,” he added, pointing at the girl.

“Nice to meet you,” Christopher said, although all things considered, it wasn't. “The porridge was very good,” he told Helga, although it wasn't either. Lumpy, soggy, and without even a grain of sugar. Still, he smiled when he gave her back the bowl, and her face started to glow.

He thought about the kind of girl that would get into bed with him without even knowing his name but blushed when he complimented her porridge. Maybe it was a French commune.

“Thank you very much for the food and shelter,” he said, looking around for his shoes. “But I really ought to be going now.”

Helga was already busy with dishes, but Svengusta watched him with keen interest. Christopher found his sneakers next to the fire-place. They weren't completely dry yet. He put them on anyway.

“Where is my wife?” he asked, fingers fumbling with the lacings. If he had been on a plane, Maggie would have been on it with him. What if she were still out there? He had to go and look for her, now. The urgency rose like a fountain, drawing him to the door where he struggled with the wooden bar that held it closed.

Svengusta followed, concern on his face. The old man jabbered in his foreign tongue. Christopher brushed him aside, driven by panic. When the bar finally fell away, he pushed out into the snow and gulped down the open air of freedom.

The air of freedom was cold. Freezing cold, turning his breath to thick fog in the hard light. He ignored it and stumbled on. The snow was shallow, three or four inches, but the cold leached through his wet shoes like lightning.

After twenty feet, his arms wrapped tight, shaking in the chill, he could go no farther. A village lay around him, silent and dismal—peasant huts, hardly better than log cabins, with thatched roofs. Not a single antenna, power line, or satellite dish to be seen. He was closer to the middle of nowhere than he had ever imagined possible.

BOOK: Sword of the Bright Lady
13.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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